The Spanish Connection

Nick Carter

The Spanish Connection

Dedicated to The Men of the Secret Service of the United States of America

One

It was Hawk and he was being arch. He had not had much practice at it, nor would he have been good at it even if he were in top form.

"Do you ski, N3?" he asked me on the phone.

"Of course I ski. Very well, too, if I may say so"

"Pack your skis. You're going to Spain."

"Tough skiing in Spain," I said. "No snow"

"Correction. Sierra Nevada. Translation. Snow-covered mountain."

"Oh, maybe it snows now and then…"

"You'll have a companion."

"Also a skier?"

"Very much so. Also an expert on the drug scene. On loan from the Narcotics Division of Treasury."

"A snow bird?"

"Very funny. You'll both be meeting a party at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada."

"Called…?"

"Sol y Nieve."

"Translation: 'sun and snow/ No, Sir. I mean, who is the party?"

"Brief you later. For now, get a plane out of San Diego to Ensenada."

"Ensenada?"

"A small fishing town in Baja California."

"I know what it is and I know where it is. I even know its special smell. What has a desert town to do with skiing?"

"You'll be picking up the Treasury agent there."

"Ah."

"Be nice to her. We need her expertise."

"Her?" Warning bells jangled in my nerve centers.

"Her."

"What is this? Am I supposed to be a nursemaid for female narcs?"

"You're there to see that the meeting comes off."

"Meeting?"

"Between her and one of the links in the Turkey-Corsica-California chain. He wants to sing. I want to hear the music before his throat is slit."

"Sir, sometimes you…"

"Don't say it! The address is La Casa Verde. Ask for Juana Rivera."

"And then?"

"Bring her with you to Washington."

"When?"

"On the next plane out of Ensenada."

"Right." He could not see my clenched fist.

"Nicholas!" sighed Hawk. He suspects me of frivolity.

I hung up. After closing a case in the Philippines that had the stench of overripe coconuts, I had flown to San Diego from Hawaii just two days ago. I was only beginning to get the kinks out of my muscles and the tension out of my psyche. Killing is never pleasant, I had overdone my quota in P.I.

Best to put it all out of sight, out of mind — with the help of a bevy of beautiful starlets on location in San Diego for a television series. But now…

I rang the desk clerk, informing him of my most regrettable change in plans, and requested that he get my bill ready. I then rang the airport and learned that the next plane to Ensenada would take off in an hour and a half.

If I cut short my needle-pointy shower, I could just make it.

* * *

Baja California is a tail hanging down from California proper. No one seemed to know quite what to do with it. For many years it was the subject of a great deal of controversy between the United States and Mexico. After haggling over possession of the desert strip for many months, the Mexicans finally gave in and agreed to take it.

I settled back in my seat and slept all the way to the small dirt-strip airport outside the tiny fishing village called Ensenada. The word actually means "inlet," or "little stream," if you go in for fascinating trivia.

When I stepped out of the plane into the blazing sunlight, the glare was so intense I put on a pair of sunglasses.

A new Mustang taxicab stood by the door of the operations tower, and I hailed the driver for a ride into town. After bumping through rutted roads and sagebrush and greasewood-covered savannahs, we finally rolled into the main street of the town.

La Casa Verde — which was supposed to be colored green, if my Spanish still serves, but was actually a kind of vanishing pastel lime — was at the end of a sagging block where it lay sunning itself like a lizard on a rock.

I got out of the cab, took my bag, and strolled into the lobby. After the blazing sunlight, it was pitch dark inside the motel, but I could see the mustachioed youth making a pretense of interest in my arrival. I waved him aside and picked up the house phone.

"Diga." It was a girl at some miniature switchboard.

"Would you please connect me with Señorita Juana Rivera?"

"Ah, yes." There was a click and a long ring.

"Diga." It was another girl.

"Juana Rivera?"

"Si."

"Do you speak English?"

There was a hesitation. "Jess?"

I closed my eyes. It was going to be one of those missions. I shook my head and recited the code phrase, trying not to feel absurd:

"October is the eighth month of the year."

"I beg your pardon? Oh. Oh! The apples are ripe then."

"Good girl! This is George Peabody." That was my current cover name, and Hawk had not instructed me to change it. So I was still George Peabody.

"Oh, Señor Peabody." I was pleased to hear the accent had disappeared. "Where are you?"

"I'm in the lobby," I said. "Shall I come up?"

"No, no!" she said quickly. "I'll be down."

"In the bar," I sighed, looking into the very shady end of the lobby where a man behind the bar was busy wiping glasses.

I turned and made my way into the darkened bar. The bartender looked at me. "Señor?"

"Pisco sour," I said.

He nodded and turned to make it.

I could feel the heavy air move gently behind me, wafting the scent of fresh lemons my way. I turned and saw a slim, dark-eyed, dark-haired young woman of perhaps twenty-five, with the kind of almost luminescent pale white skin that belongs to water lilies.

"George," she said in the Spanish way. It sounded like "Hor-hay."

"Juana?" I said, pronouncing it correctly midway between an «h» and a "w."

She held out a hand. I took it. Then I motioned to a table beside the wall.

We walked over. She was dainty and clean and very feminine- Her body was lithe and very nicely shaped. So were her legs. "Good old Hawk!" I was thinking. How uncharacteristic of him!

We sat down.

She ordered iced tea, settled herself in her chair and leaned forward, her eyes bright. "Now. What is this all about?"

I shook my head. "No idea. We re being briefed by my superior in Washington."

"When?"

"Tonight."

Her face was blank. "But that means that we will not be here tonight"

"Es verdad."

Her mouth hung open. "Then there will be no time for the…" She shut her mouth abruptly.

"The what, Juana?"

Her face was pink. "Me he olvidado."

"You have a short memory," I said and finished my pisco sour. Lovely aguardiente, I thought. Someday I'd have to visit Pisco, Peru.

I stood up. "Pack your bags, Juana. We're leaving on the next flight out of here."

"But you must know something about the mission…"

"Drugs," I said.

"Of course it's about drugs I"

"And the Mediterranean. We're going to Spain."

Her mouth formed an "o."

"To ski."

She drank her iced tea. "Would you kindly repeat that?"

I did so.

Then she fooled me. Her eyes lit up. "Ah! Of course, the Sierra Nevada! There is a first-class ski resort there, just outside Granada."

I stared.

"Can you ski?" she asked me.

It was the day for that question. "Yes. You?"

"Very well," she responded serenely.

"Modest, too," I thought. I spoke softly, "We'll have a ball."

The bartender was watching me. I winked at Juana, and she winked back. She was beautiful, she was exquisite, she was attainable.

* * *

As we stepped outside, the flash of light glinting off the rifle barrel drew my eye to the black hole at the end of it. The man was lying flat on the hot tarpaper roof across the street, and I knew he had me centered in the cross hairs of his scope sight.

For an instant I froze. Then I hurled Juana aside and dived in the opposite direction, toward the shelter of the doorway. The shot reverberated through the street.

"Stay down!" I shouted out to her.

"But Nick…"

"Quiet!" I hissed.

I rose quickly and ran to a window in the lobby. Keeping myself covered, I peered out of the window. Again I caught the glint of the rifle barrel. The man was still on the roof of the dry-goods store.

As I went for my gun, he steadied the rifle and fired again. The slug buried itself in the woodwork just above Juana's head. Now she was crawling back through the doorway. "Good girl!" I thought.

When I looked up again, the man had vanished.

I could hear running feet. I glanced through the dusty window and saw a man in a black suit coming out of a store down the street, looking up at the spot where the sniper had lain in wait for us.

I ran out of the hotel, waving to Juana to stay inside, and made it up the stairs of the dry-goods store two at a time to the top floor.

I was too late. He was gone.

There was nothing left on the roof but a lot of Mexican cigarette butts and a sombre ...

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