Handley Duvall stepped outside from the Barbarossa Hotel on the South Pacific island of Hiva Faui and squinted up at the tropical sun as he mopped his brow with his handkerchief. This certainly wasn't Boston. It was at least a hundred degrees in the shade, with a humidity that nearly matched.
The electricity had gone out again in the downtown section of the capital city, something that happened at least twice a week, so even in the hotel barroom there had been little or no relief.
Duvall had been promoted last month to mid-shift foreman, which gave him the privilege of hotfooting it into town once a week for the "booze and treat" run. Booze for his shift for the week, and the treat was a visit to Madame Leone's, next door to the hotel.
This afternoon he wondered, however, if either was worth a damn. The booze was watered down and overpriced, and without air conditioning the girls at Madame Leone's would be somewhat less than appealing.
His stomach growled, a sharp wave of heartburn rising up at the back of his throat.
"Christ," he swore. He hated this place.
He started next door, when he happened to look across the street to the government-run liquor store. Yun Lo, the Chinese shift boy from the site who had come into town to help Duvall, was loading the five cases of booze into the jeep. Only there were several Chinese standing around him. He was passing out bottles of the booze to his friends in exchange for other bottles that he put into the cases, which he then loaded into the jeep.
Duvall, a large man who was over six feet tall and weighed at least two hundred pounds, could feel his blood pressure rising as he hitched up his khakis and charged across the street, the sweat pouring off him, his muscles flexing.
"Hey, you son of a bitch!" he shouted.
Yun Lo and the other Chinese looked up, startled, as did a half-dozen other pedestrians nearby.
One of the Chinese — it looked to Duvall like a woman — dropped the bottle she had been holding, and it shattered on the sidewalk as she sprinted down the street.
The others scattered as well, except for Yun Lo. He stood next to the jeep, smiling uncertainly and bowing repeatedly.
Duvall smashed his fist into the man's left shoulder, sending him skidding up against the jeep.
"You bastard! You son of a bitch!" Duvall screamed, charging after Yun Lo, who stepped aside.
Suddenly Duvall was upside down, and then he was lying on his back on the sidewalk, his head throbbing where he had hit it.
"What the hell…?" he began, and he looked up into Yun Lo's eyes. The young man was no longer smiling. He stood in a half crouch, his eyes flashing, his teeth bared.
For just an instant something in the back of his mind told Duvall to watch himself, to hold back. Hell, he had been an All-Star halfback at Iowa State. But he was damned mad. He had another eighteen months of this place… another year and a half of pure, unadulterated crap to put up with, and already he was sick and tired of it all.
He scrambled to his feet and charged the slightly built Oriental again, swinging as he came. Something very sharp and almost hot pierced his side, causing him to pull back and to the left.
There was no one out on the street now. Half a block away from them was the town square and the police station. Up the hill was the governor's mansion. But they were alone here.
Duvall stood staring stupidly at Yun Lo. The Chinese man held a long, wicked-looking knife from which blood was dripping all the way to the haft.
"You stupid bastard…" Duvall said.
Yun Lo turned and unhurriedly walked away. The knife clattered into the gutter as he disappeared around the comer, and a weakness descended over the American, who looked down at the great gash in his side from which his own blood was pumping.
He had been stabbed. Yun Lo had actually stabbed him.
Duvall staggered sideways to the jeep, then shuffled around to the driver's side and managed to climb up behind the wheel. He held his left hand firmly against the wide wound.
Somehow he managed to dig out his keys and get the jeep started. He never thought about the hospital around the comer as he pulled away from the curb and accelerated jerkily through town, going out to the seacoast highway that led fifteen miles to the other side of the island where the Hiva Faui Satellite Tracking and Receiving Station was located.
He passed a couple of trucks on the way out, and a lot of pedestrian traffic heading out to the copra drying pits and presses. But the farther he went, the weaker he became, so that after a while he was having a lot of trouble keeping the jeep on the narrow blacktopped road.
He had been stabbed. Even now it was almost impossible to believe.
Blood was leaking between his fingers, down the side of his hip and leg, but the bleeding had definitely slowed down.
Duvall glanced at the wound, and the jeep suddenly swerved to the right. At the last moment he looked up as the jeep crashed through a thick tangle of brush in the ditch beside the road and crashed into a young palm tree.
For what seemed like an eternity, the American sat in the jeep, his head against the steering wheel, his entire world going round and round. It was as bad as being drunk, the fleeting thought crossed his mind.
After a time he looked up. He was in the middle of a goddamned jungle.
Duvall tried to think. He remembered passing the main copra processing sheds, and then he had safely negotiated the hairpin turns around the cliffs. It meant he was not too far from the site. Perhaps a mile or two at the most.
He pushed open the door and stumbled out, then pulled his way to the back of the jeep. He could see the road about ten feet above him. It seemed like a thousand feet.
He started up but fell back against the jeep, his right arm flopping against the cases of booze. He looked back, then opened one of the cases, pulled out a bottle, and opened it. He tipped it up and took a deep drink. Immediately he spat it out. It had been watered down. Probably with tea and iodine. The tea for color, the iodine for bite.
He threw the bottle aside and opened a second, this one from a back row. He took a cautious drink. It was whiskey. He took another deep drink, his head spinning around for a second or two, and then he started back up toward the road.
Twice he stumbled and fell back in great pain. Each time, he took another deep drink, then started up, finally reaching the road as the tropical sun began to go down and the voracious mosquitoes came out.
Immediately he started up the gentle incline, staggering from one side of the road to the other.
Once he thought he heard a siren sounding from above, and he stopped and held his breath. But the wind was blowing up from the sea, and after a while he started up again, not at all sure he had heard anything.
It was fully dark when he came around the last bend in the access road, in full view of the radomes and the four huge satellite tracking dishes. He was numb by now, his head buzzing. He had long since discarded the whiskey bottle, most of its contents gone. But he knew that what he was seeing was all wrong. Terribly wrong.
There were fires everywhere throughout the tracking site, and now he could definitely hear sirens, and something else… gunfire. He was sure it was gunfire!
"Jesus…" he swore out loud, his voice hoarse. and he redoubled his efforts, hobbling up the road.
As he got closer he could definitely hear gunshots, and he could hear people shouting and screaming.
The site was under attack. But by whom? It didn't make sense. Nothing that had happened that day made any sense to Duvall.
The main gate was lying half off its hinges, the odor of cordite very strong, but the gunshots and cries finally ended. The siren, however, kept on wailing as Duvall cautiously approached.
There were several bodies lying on the blacktop. Some of them were dark-skinned and clothed only in loincloths. But two of them, sprawled near the guardhouse, wore khaki uniforms.
Duvall hurried over to those bodies and turned one of them over.
Christ! It was Wolchek! They had played poker together in the group last night.
Duvall looked up. What had happened here? What in God's name had happened?
He picked up Wolchek's.45 automatic, awkwardly checked to make sure there was a round in the chamber, and he cocked the hammer back and entered the tracking site. Suddenly the alarm cut off and he froze.
The silence was eerie. There were several bodies on the road ahead of him and a burned-out truck. Smoke rose from a bui ...