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Eden's Gateby David Hagberg
The Grand Hotel was old but elegant, and as Bill Lane looked down on Main Street from his third floor front window the police were setting up traffic barricades for the Fourth of July parade due to start in a couple of hours. The morning was cool, in the high fifties, and the sky was perfectly clear, the Flathead mountain range to the east like a Chamber of Commerce poster.
Someone knocked at the door and he went to answer it. He was a husky, thick-shouldered man in his mid-forties with blue, observant eyes. He still had the graceful movements of an athlete and this morning he was dressed in a light cashmere sweater, Pierre Cardin jeans, and hand-sewn soft leather boots. A small pixie of a girl smiled sweetly up at him when he opened the door, a serving cart in front of her.
A fire engine gave a single blast on its siren, and she giggled. "I've brought your breakfast, Mr. Clark," she said. "But you're going to want to get downstairs pretty soon if you want to get a good spot."
"I thought I might watch the parade from up here," Lane said, smiling. The girl couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen, with the all-American fresh-scrubbed look of small town. She had freckles and a complexion that was otherwise flawless with no makeup. Frannie would be a little jealous, though not much.
"No, sir, it wouldn't be the same."
"You don't say."
"Yes, sir. And after the parade there'll be the festival in the park. It's worth going to see. Lieutenant Governor Branson is coming in, and there'll be speeches and all that stuff. But it'll be cool."
The fire engine gave another test blast on its siren, answered by a couple of police cars. Lane had to laugh. Kalispell was like something out of his midwestern childhood, and he'd forgotten how sweet and uncomplicated places like this could be. Or at least appear to be on the surface.
"Let me set this up for you before it gets cold, sir," the girl said, and Lane stepped aside so that she could push the serving cart to the table by the windows.
With a population of just over twelve thousand, the town was Montana's seventh largest. The surrounding mountains, lakes, and forests were achingly gorgeous. But coming in early last night by air he'd been able to pick out only a few lights here and there outside of town. Most of the state was scarcely populated. And the people liked it that way for one reason or another.
The girl opened the serving cart's leaf and handed Lane the bill and a pen to sign it with. "You don't have to add anything extra. There's already a service charge. They do it at all the hotels around here now."
Lane signed it, added a good tip anyway, and handed it back to her. "It sounds as if the natives are getting restless out there already."
"Oh, no, sir. The Flatheads won't be coming in for the parade, mostly. They usually don't. But they don't ever cause any trouble."
"Do you mean Indians?"
The girl put the pen and bill in her apron pocket. "Yes, sir. But the reservation is south of the lake, down around Polson. They don't come up here much. But it used to be different. My dad told me about it."
"Maybe they want to be left alone," Lane said. "I think that a lot of people come out here for the same reason. Nobody bothers them. Just like they want it."
"Where did you hear something like that?"
"I don't know. Read it somewhere, I guess."
A flinty, suspicious look came into the girl's eyes, and she didn't look so young or innocent as before. But it only lasted a moment,and then she was smiling sweetly again. "I'll be going. Enjoy your breakfast."
"I don't suppose the real estate offices would be open today, would they?"
"Not until tomorrow. Are you thinking about buying something? My aunt May has her own agency. Kalispell Realty. Over in the mall."
"I'll look her up," Lane said, and he saw the girl to the door, locked it when she was gone, and secured the safety chain.
He checked the window again; already people had begun to gather for the parade, bringing their lawn chairs and picnic coolers with them. The town was all decked out in red, white, and blue bunting swinging from streetlamps. A squad of men who looked to be in their fifties, wearing bits and pieces of military uniforms, marched by. A blue and white police car was parked on the corner, but the cop was nowhere in sight. Nor were the people he'd come here to make contact with. But that would change soon.
He stepped away from the window and took his 9mm Beretta from the waistband beneath his sweater at the small of his back. He cycled all nine rounds out of the breach to check the action, then removed the magazine, reloaded the rounds in the same order they had come out, and stuffed the gun back in his waistband.
Breakfast was softly scrambled eggs, a rasher of medium-done bacon, hash browns, tomato juice with a slice of lemon, and unsweetened hot tea, also with a slice of lemon. He sat down to it, one eye toward the goings-on down on the street, and the other on the door. He was a man who did not like surprises not of his own making, and he had a feeling that this town, or at least the surrounding countryside, had plenty of them.
After breakfast he had a smoke by the open window. The street was filling up with people now, many of whom had already set up along the curbs. There were kids and dogs everywhere. In the distance to the northwest he could hear several different marching bands warming up, and every few minutes the fire engine would give a blast on its siren.
Lane used his cell phone to make a local call. Everything would depend on timing, he thought as he waited for it to go through.
Frances Shipley answered it on the first ring, her husky British accent mellifluous and out of place almost anywhere except in Londonor on stage. He and Frannie, who was a lieutenant commander in Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, had been married for one year. Lane could not imagine a life without her. Together they headed a super secret and very tiny organization of troubleshooters for the White House and number 10 Downing Street called simply "The Room."
"Yes," she said.
"I'm getting set to head downstairs. Is everything ready on your end? Tommy's in place?"
"He's about a half-block out. Looks like he's eating an ice cream cone. Cheeky bugger."
"Ah, some people have all the luck."
"Yes, don't we, darling?" Frannie said sweetly.
"Any sign of our people? I haven't seen anything from here yet."
"They're in town."
"Okay, don't call me, I'll call you." Lane said, and he was about to switch off.
"Watch yourself, William," Frannie cautioned.
"You, too. Ta-ta." Lane broke the connection, pocketed the phone, and pulling on a light Gucci leather jacket, left his room and headed downstairs.
The parade was a half hour from starting and downtown was full. Shops such as clothing stores and hardware stores, and banks, post offices, city hall, and libraries were closed for the holiday. But places like restaurants, gift shops, bakeries, and ice cream shops were open and doing a land office business. There was probably no one left in town who wasn't here, and the tourists were easy to spot because their boots and jeans were too new, and they stood around self-consciously.
Lane spotted the woman across the street coming out of an art gallery specializing in Indian and cowboy artifacts. She was very tall and slender, wearing a light yellow dress with large blue polka dots, and a very large, gay nineties sort of summer hat that on her looked fantastic. Her maiden name was Gloria Swanson, and like her namesake she had wanted to become a serious actor. But because of a lack of talent she'd never made it. In her late forties, however, she still turned heads.
Lane waited in the crowd as she made her way across the street and went inside the Grand Hotel. He followed her inside in time to see her enter the lounge and take a seat at the empty bar. She tooka cigarette out of her handbag, but before she could get out her lighter he was there with a match.
"Just like in the movies," he said.
She turned to look at him, her eyes soft, almost unfocused, her expression supremely indifferent. Close up he could see the lines under her makeup. "Thank you," she said, taking the light.
"Mind if I join you?"
"Yes," she said. "I do mind." She turned as the bartender, a young man with a large mustache and thick arms, came over, and she ordered a Sapphire martini; up, very dry, very cold. "Two olives, darlin'," she reminded him.
"Yes, Mrs. Sloan."
If her husband had used his real name hers would have been Mrs. Helmut Speyer, wife of a former East German Stasi intelligence officer and hit man. The West German BND had lost track of him after the Wall came down, and it wasn't until a few weeks ago that he was positively identified masquerading as Herbert Sloan here in Montana.
The bartender took his time making her drink, and when he was finished he came to the end of the bar where Lane had seated himself.
"What'll it be, sir?" he asked. His smile was fake.
"I'll have the same as hers, but if it's not as cold as outer Siberia you'll have to do it again."
The bartender leaned a little closer. "Whatever your game is, pal, it's not going to work. Just a word of advice? She's a married lady, and her husband and his pals don't take kindly to assholes."
"Nice speech." Lane grinned at him. "But I don't think the management would take kindly to its guests being treated like this."
"Let's see your room key."
Lane laid it on the bar. "Make that a Gibson, would you? Olives give me gas."
The bartender's brows knitted for a second, but then he nodded stiffly. "Sorry for the misunderstanding, sir. But this time of year we get all kinds in here." He glanced down the bar at the woman. "We tend to take care of our own."
"An admirable sentiment."
The bartender went to fix the drink and a moment later two men walked in. One of them was tall and very husky, his light brown hair cut very short in the military style. He wore khakis and a bush jacket, and he remained standing by the door to the lobby. If he wascarrying a gun, Lane decided, it wasn't in a shoulder holster. He wore an earpiece.
The other man, much shorter, more compactly built, with short steel gray hair, a thin mustache, dressed in gray slacks and a blue blazer over an open collar white shirt, came directly across to the woman, who turned to him and offered her cheek.
"I thought I'd find you here," the man said with a hint of irritation. He was Helmut Speyer, aka Herbert Sloan.
"I was tired of waiting," his wife said languidly.
The bartender broke off from making Lane's drink. "Good morning, Mr. Sloan. Care for something?"
"A glass of beer."
Speyer glanced briefly at Lane, and then turned back to his wife and said something too low to be heard. Lane looked over at the man standing by the door. He was Ernst Baumann, aka Ernest Burkhart, Speyer's chief of staff and bodyguard. He was staring at Lane. The German Federal Police also had warrants for his arrest on several charges of murder, arson and kidnapping, including three car bombings.
Lane nodded pleasantly and smiled at the man, then turned around as his drink finally came.
"No trouble, sir," the bartender warned softly. "Please."
"There'll be no trouble from me as long as my Gibson is cold," Lane said loudly enough for the others to hear.
"Finish up now," Speyer told his wife. "The parade is just about to start."
Lane sipped his drink, and he had to admit that it was a lot better than he expected it would be. "This is just fine," he said. "Tell the lady for me that she has good taste."
An old man, wearing a tired sport coat at least two sizes too large, his right hand in a pocket, came shuffling up Main Street. He was obviously in a lot of pain. A few people in the crowd gave him sympathetic looks, but most ignored him. He looked like a bum. He stopped in front of the Grand Hotel, hesitated for a few moments as if he was trying to make up his mind about something, then threw the last of his ice cream cone in a trash barrel and went inside.
The front desk clerk spotted him, but before he could decide what to do, an attractive woman dressed in a short cotton skirt, a brightlycolored blouse, and sandals entered from the street. She took off her large sunglasses and came over.
"Good morning, madam," the clerk said.
"Ms.," Frannie corrected him, smiling sweetly. "I was rather wondering if you have a king size nonsmoking for the next five days. Everyone else in town seems to be booked."
"I'm sorry, no," the clerk said. He was a married man with three children, but he was so captivated by her looks and by her English accent that he didn't see the old man enter the lounge.
"Could you just check to make absolutely certain, ducky?"
The old man walked into the barroom. He looked so harmless that Sergeant Baumann took a moment to react. Jew, he thought, but it was already too late because the old man had pulled a gun out of his pocket and pointed it directly at Speyer's head from a distance of only a few inches.
Speyer turned around and grinned, a hard, flat, expressionless look in his dead gray eyes. "Well, it's the Fourth of July and a patriot is here to celebrate. Care for a drink, old-timer?"
The old man cocked the hammer on the military Colt .45 which had to be as old as he was, and Baumann, who had started forward, stopped short. "I know who you are, Schweinhund."
"Then you have me at the disadvantage," Speyer replied calmly. "I don't think I've ever seen you before, but I've met so many people." He turned to his wife, who sat with her mouth half-open in a smile. "Do you recall this gentleman from your Hollywood days, my dear?"
"He looks like a Jew," she said, and she turned back to reach for her drink, slopping a little of it on the bar.
"There you are," Speyer said. "But you must forgive my wife's rudeness. Do you have a name?"
Baumann edged closer, and the old man caught sight of him in the mirror behind the bar. All of a sudden he thrust the muzzle of the .45 forward so that it touched Speyer's left cheek just below the eye. His hand began to shake. "You son of a bitch, before I kill you, you're going to remember." He raised the gun barrel and slashed it across Speyer's face, opening a small gash which instantly started to bleed.
The bartender had eased to the end of the bar where he picked up a phone.
"Put the telephone down, young man, or I'll shoot this man first, and then you," the old man called out. His accent was German. The bartender did as he was told and spread his hands out.
"Whatever the problem is, mister, we can work it out," he said.
"Two or three hundred grams of pressure on this trigger should do the trick nicely, I think," the old man said. "One month before the Wall came down. Me, my wife, my son, and my daughter could wait no longer, so we decided to escape. With all that was happening, Hoennecker on the way out, Gorbachev turning his back on us, I thought it was time. The guards were lax. So many were going over to the west. Nobody cared any longer, but nobody knew when another crackdown would come."
"Is that what this is, a case of mistaken identity?" Speyer asked. Blood ran down his cheek but he made no move to try to stanch the flow. "You think that I was a German border guard?"
"I never said that," the old man said calmly.
Speyer pursed his lips, realizing his stupid mistake. "I thought I heard--"
"Kapitän Helmut Speyer. The East German Secret Police, Stasi. Just happening by that night." The old man shook his head, the memory obviously painful. "You shot and killed my son and wife while I was atop the wall trying to help them over. Then you took my fourteen-year-old Lisa and offered to trade her life for mine."
"You took yours, obviously, though I don't know what you're talking about."
"I took mine because the West German police were right there and pulled me the rest of the way over. I had no choice. And by the time I could get to a place where I could see, you and she were gone."
Speyer shook his head. "I was never there--"
"I saw the records," the old man shouted. "You raped her first, and then you gave her to the guards who raped her until she was dead."
"No," Speyer said.
"Oh, yes," the old man said. His finger tightened on the trigger.
Bill Lane fired two shots, the first catching the old man in the left armpit, spinning him around, and the second catching him in the heart. His hand went to the fatal wound which erupted in a spray of blood as he fell to the floor, dead.
The sudden silence in the barroom was deafening. The bartender's mouth dropped open. "Holy shit, man, you shot him."
"I didn't like the odds," Lane said. "Besides, I know the crazy old bastard. He tried to come after me in Washington a couple of months ago." He slipped off the bar stool, and cocked an ear to listen. So far there were no sirens. "So what's the story, folks? Self-defense?"
"Who are you?" Speyer demanded.
"Let's just say that I'm a friend," Lane said. "And as of this moment I'm a murderer, unless you can help."
Speyer helped his wife down. "Get the car and bring it around back, Liebchen. And hurry, would you please?"
Gloria gave Lane a worried look, then gathered her purse and left.
"What happened here, Willy?" Speyer asked the bartender, but keeping an eye on Lane. "Was it an accident?"
"Whatever you say, Mr. Sloan."
"Okay, we have about two minutes, maybe less," Speyer said. "Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?"
"Like I said--" Lane had begun when the muzzle of Sergeant Baumann's pistol touched his temple.
"Mr. Sloan asked you a question."
"Do you trust the bartender?" Lane asked casually.
"That doesn't matter. You just have to trust that I'm not going to pull the trigger if you piss me off," Baumann said.
"John Clark. Until a few years ago I worked for South African Intelligence. I'm a freelance now."
"What are you doing here?" Baumann asked.
"Looking for a job."
"Working for me?" Speyer said, surprised.
"I'm good at what I do."
"Killing old men?" Speyer asked.
"Shit," Lane said, flinching. It was enough to throw Baumann's concentration off. Lane grabbed the sergeant's pistol, twisted it out of his hand, and stepped aside as he brought his own gun to the man's face. "Actually I do pretty good disarming stupid people, too."
"Son of a bitch," Baumann swore.
"Actually my mother was a saint, and I'll thank you to remember that in the future, or I'll take you apart bit by bit, verstehen?" Lane said. He handed Baumann back his gun. "Are you going to help me?" he asked Speyer.
"Are you wanted by the police?"
Lane hesitated. "Not in the United States."
A siren sounded outside. This time it was continuous and headed their way, not a test blast for the parade like earlier.
"The old man came in with a gun, and this gentleman shot him in self-defense. Have you got that, Willy?"
"Yes, sir," the bartender stammered.
"We were never here."
"There'll be a coroner's hearing. When you're released, come look me up and we'll talk," Speyer told Lane.
He turned, stepped over the old man's body, and headed to the back door. Baumann followed him, and at the end of the bar he turned and gave Lane a look that was anything but friendly.
"Don't try to follow me, or I'll kill you," Lane told the bartender when Speyer and Baumann were gone. "I'm not going to be arrested here."
Lane safetied his gun, stuffed it back in his waistband, and walked out into the lobby. The clerk was gone, and Frannie was crouched down in front of the front desk. She blew him a kiss. Lane reached the front door, but the cop car was stuck in the crowd a half block up Main Street. No one outside had heard the gunshots, which meant that the call to the police had probably come from the desk clerk. And there had already been so many sirens this morning that this one was being mostly ignored. It was better this way, he thought. Less chance of an innocent bystander getting in the middle of things, something they had worried about. Or some trigger-happy cowboy jumping up and taking potshots. That would have been great.
He worked his way through the crowd in the opposite direction from the cop car and turned right on First Street. The primary scenario was for him to show up at Speyer's ranch outside of Crazy Horse on the Flathead River northeast of town sometime tonight. The local police would have issued an all-points bulletin for his arrest by then; armed and dangerous. And they would have called the state police for help. The manhunt would hit all the radio stations and television feeds, and it would be on all the police frequencies, something they were pretty sure Speyer's people regularly monitored. John Clark would be legitimized.
When he reached the dark blue Range Rover that had been leftfor him this morning three blocks from the hotel, there were more sirens behind him converging on the murder scene. A big Lincoln Navigator SUV with dark tinted windows came around the corner. Lane unlocked his car and opened the door as the Lincoln pulled up. The back door opened and Speyer beckoned to him. "Come with us."
Gloria was in the backseat with him. Baumann was driving. "I'm not going to leave my stuff behind," Lane said.
"Don't be a fool," Speyer said. "The police know your name, and they'll be looking for this car."
"It can't be connected to me."
"Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"I was going to find out where you live and come out to see you tonight."
"You'd be dead before you got within a mile of me," Speyer said with mounting frustration. He said something to Baumann who was watching the rearview mirror. His bodyguard nodded. "I'm sending Ernst with you."
"Whatever you say." Lane got behind the wheel and closed the door. He took out his phone and, keeping it below the level of the windows, hit the speed dial button. Baumann and Speyer got out of the Lincoln and said something else to each other.
"Yes?" Frannie asked, breathless. She wasn't expecting his call so soon.
"Change of plans. Baumann is coming with me."
Speyer climbed into the Lincoln's driver's seat and Baumann shut the door.
"Are you in the Rover?" Frannie asked.
"Right," Lane said. He broke the connection and slipped the phone in his jacket pocket. Baumann came over and got in the passenger seat as Speyer took off.
"What do we do now?"
"We're going back up to Center Street where we can pick up Highway Two. That'll take us out of town, and give us some time to figure out what you're up to."
"What about the cops?"
Baumann pressed his earpiece a little closer. "They're still busy at the hotel." He was receiving police frequencies in the earpiece.
Lane started the car and pulled out. By the time they reached the highway a half-dozen blocks west of town the Lincoln was nowhereto be seen. Traffic was very light. The sirens behind them had finally stopped.
"You were told to stay at the hotel. Why didn't you?"
"I didn't want to get arrested."
"Why not? You said you didn't have a record, and Willy would have backed up your self-defense story. In a few days you'd have been in the clear."
"The gun I'm carrying isn't registered, and it doesn't have a serial number, for starts."
"Let's see it," Baumann demanded.
"Not a chance in hell," Lane told him. "At least not until I'm someplace that I consider safe."
The highway went east past the fairgrounds back into town, crossing Main Street a few blocks noth of the hotel. The crowds were thick downtown, but there were no signs of the police.
"You said that you worked for South African Intelligence?"
"That's right, until about five years ago."
"Who was your boss?"
"Roger deKlerk, and he was a dumb son of a bitch."
Baumann's lips pursed. "What brought you to the States?"
"I had a job in Vienna, and when it was over I had a choice of going to South America or coming here. I chose here."
"Seemed like the right thing to do at the time." He took out a cigarette and lit it without offering one to Baumann. "I don't like being crowded." He laughed. "And this is virgin territory, isn't it? Ripe with opportunities and all that?"
"Who was the old man?" Baumann asked.
"That one will wait until I can talk to your boss. I think he'll be interested in making a deal."
"Why did you come to Kalispell?"
"I was following ... the old man."
"What was he doing here?"
"What, are you dense or something? He came here to find Speyer and kill him. And he damn near succeeded."
They crossed the Stillwater River, a couple of fishermen on its banks, as they headed toward the airport. A Delta jetliner was just coming in for a landing.
"And you just happened to be there in the bar, hustling the captain's wife, when all this happens," Baumann said. "What the hell are you trying to pull?"
"For Christ's sake, you dumb kraut, the old man was Meyer Goldstein. He used to work for the Wiesenthal Center in Vienna as a special investigator."
"So that story about his wife and children at the Wall was a lie?"
"I don't know. But Speyer was high on Goldstein's list because your boss helped hide some old SS officers with ties to the KGB in trade for Nazi gold left over from the war. It's what financed your move here, I expect. The Wiesenthal Center wanted to get its hands not only on those guys, but on what they figured was a major stash that Speyer might know something about. But Goldstein got unhinged and he wanted the past buried. Most of his family was gassed in the Holocaust, and he wanted to put an end to it."
"You said he tried to kill you."
Lane shrugged. "I lied. I followed Goldstein who I knew would lead me to your boss sooner or later. And I figured that one favor might deserve another."
"You want a part of the gold?"
"Very astute," Lane said disparagingly. "Next question: How did I know about Goldstein in the first place?"
Baumann's jaw tightened. "I was getting to it."
"My job in Vienna was for a client in Buenos Aires who wanted some records destroyed. Easy enough, but one thing led to another and I stumbled on Goldstein."
Baumann gave him a very hard look. "You expect me to believe such a story?"
"I don't care whether you do or not," Lane said cheerfully. "I didn't come all this way to hold your hand. I came to save your boss's life--something you should have been able to do yourself--and ask for a job. One down, one to go."
State Highway 2 merged with State Highway 40, and a sign said HUNGRY HORSE, 10 MILES. Baumann told him to turn right, and they headed east toward the mountains, Glacier National Park, and the Continental Divide, one of the very few wilderness areas left in the entire United States.
Except for its large size, Speyer's mountain enclave would have looked at home in the Swiss Alps. A split-rail fence followed a crushed gravel driveway to a sprawling chalet. A sweeping veranda faced a broad, meandering stream and natural trout pools that reflected the not so distant snow-capped mountains. Several outbuildings,at least two of which looked like barracks, were across a field. A Bell Ranger helicopter sat on a pad beside a grass runway. A Gulfstream bizjet was parked in a hangar whose door was open. The entire compound was in a large clearing surrounded by dense forests.
There were at least a half-dozen men dressed in plain BDUs (Battle Dress Utilities) doing work around the place. They looked up as the Range Rover came up from the highway and pulled up in front of the chalet.
"I didn't spot any surveillance on the way in," Lane said conversationally. They were five miles off the highway here.
"That's the whole idea," Baumann replied.
"Then my hat's off to you. I should have seen them."
One of the workmen in BDUs came over as Baumann and Lane got out of the car. He was a large, hard-looking man. He carried a Glock 17 in a shoulder holster, and he wore a flesh-toned earpiece.
"The captain is expecting you, sir," he told Baumann. "He'll meet you at the pool."
"Get this under cover, Carl, and take it apart. I want to see an inventory as soon as possible."
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," Lane warned him.
"I think we can handle it, sir," the guard said with a smirk. He made to get in the driver's seat.
Lane shrugged. "Just take it back in the woods, or somewhere else, if you would. It'll minimize your casualties."
A glass door in the veranda opened and Speyer came out of the house. He beckoned to them.
"Just a minute, sir, we have to take care of something first," Baumann called up to him. A couple of the other guards, sensing that something was going on, stopped what they were doing and looked up.
"Like I said, Ernst, I think we can handle this," Carl said politely. He was clearly not liking the situation he was in.
"What did you bring with you?" Baumann asked.
"A few weapons, some fragmentation grenades, a couple of LAWs rockets, a few RPGs, and fifty kilos of Semtex," Lane said. "Wasn't time to pick up the rest. I was traveling light."
Carl reached inside for the car keys, but Baumann stopped him. "Are they wired?"
"Of course. I don't want just anybody pawing through my stuff. That's one of the reasons I thought it wasn't wise to leave the car parked in town. Killing a Jew is one thing, but blowing up half of Kalispell would be another."
Carl strode around to the back of the Rover, and inspected the door lock, hinges, and the window glass and frame. The back of the car was packed with what appeared to be ordinary luggage. He looked up. "I don't see any leads."
"Inside the door," Lane told him. "The mains are fiber-optics, embedded in the glass. You can't see them."
"Can we take it from the inside?"
Lane shook his head. "Pressure switches behind the backseat."
"We could put it up on a hoist and take the floor out."
Lane had to laugh. "Crude. But it'd be a neat trick if I was in a hurry and had to get my shit out of there."
"All right, smart-ass, we'll trace the circuitry--"
Lane wagged a finger at him. "Take the fuse cover off and it blows. Put a multimeter in the cigarette lighter and it blows. Disconnect the battery and it blows. Break the back window and ..." He grinned. "Boom."
Even Baumann had to smile. "Are you going to tell us, or do we have to lose a few men to find out on our own?"
"Pop the gas filler door," Lane said. "The button is on the floor left of the driver's seat."
"Thank you," Baumann said. "As you suggested, we would like to minimize our casualties." He nodded for Carl to get to it, and he motioned for Lane to precede him up to the house.
They started away from the Rover, but Lane snapped his fingers and turned back. "By the way, Carl, tell your demolitions man to take it slow."
"What the hell are you talking about now?"
"Oh, if he's any good he'll figure it out," Lane said pleasantly. "But you might just mention to him that I had a Swiss connection in my wild youth."
A large indoor pool with a curved, tinted glass ceiling and walls looked down on a long valley rimmed by the mountains. A large section of the wall had been slid back, and four ceiling fans made it pleasant. Speyer, a bandage on his cheek, was seated at a patio table, sipping a glass of wine. Baumann led Lane over to him and they sat down.
"Mr. Clark, finally. I wanted to thank you for saving my life back there, although your timing was a little close."
"I had the advantage, I knew it was coming," Lane said.
"Let me have your gun, please."
Lane took out his pistol and started to eject the magazine, but Speyer held him off.
"No, don't unload it. Give it to me as it is." He held out his hand and Lane gave him the gun.
There was another patio table on the deck outside the pool enclosure. A brown pottery hurricane lamp sat on the table. Speyer fired one shot, and the lamp disintegrated.
"A nine-millimeter bullet carries a terrific impact, but have you thought about using a higher velocity weapon? Perhaps one whose magazine holds more rounds?"
"This gun's an old friend. We've been through a lot together, and it's never let me down."
Speyer carefully lowered the hammer and switched the safety lever. He put the gun on the table. "The name you used to register at the hotel is a fake, although interestingly enough the credit card is valid. What does that mean?"
"John Clark was a real person who died eight years ago in Arlington, Virginia. Car accident. It's one of the American passports I use."
"What's your real name?"
"John Browne, with an e."
"Social security number?"
"I'm not an American, so I don't have a social security number. But I have a South African national identity code." Lane gave him the number.
Baumann picked up a phone and repeated the information.
"Don't you want to take my fingerprints?" Lane asked.
"We already have them," Baumann said.
Speyer was watching him closely. "So, Mr. Browne with an e, late of South African Intelligence, what do we make of you?"
"I came here looking for a job."
"You took a big chance, didn't you? Shooting a man in the heart in cold blood and in front of witnesses is extreme in the least." Speyer poured another glass of wine. "Carrying an unregistered weapon, driving around in a car not licensed to you, and loaded with illegal weapons and explosives. Weren't you concerned about getting stopped?"
"No," Lane said unconcernedly. "I knew that you would hire me.You'd be a fool not to. I have the skills that your organization needs."
Speyer considered that for a moment. "We could kill you, I suppose. Dispose of your body and that would be the end of it. Nobody would come here looking for you. Willy is trustworthy. The local police are thinking about turning over the investigation to the state police who will in time turn it over to the FBI. But that might take weeks because so far there's no identification on the man you killed."
"Interpol will have his prints."
"This is Montana. The investigation might not go that far."
"Then you have nothing to worry about."
"I never did. It's you who has everything to worry about."
Baumann tensed a little. Lane knew that this could go either way. Speyer was in the middle of something big. They knew that much from the German Federal Police, who had asked for help, but they did not know what it was. Speyer would have to be very sensitive right now, alert for anything that smacked of a coincidence.
"I don't think that you're a man who throws away valuable assets, Herr Kapitän. And that's exactly what I could be to you. In part because I am expendable."
"That's a good point," Speyer said. "You're handy with a gun, and from what I'm told you know something about demolitions. What else can you do that would make you a valuable asset?"
"I can fly the jet and the Bell Ranger I saw coming in. My French and German are pretty good, and I can get by in Spanish in a pinch." Lane grinned. "I'd like to say that I carry a five handicap in golf, but I never did like the game so I couldn't beat a nine. Do I have a job?"
"What else?" Speyer asked.
"The usual. Hand-to-hand combat, survival training, codes and code breaking, surveillance and tailing, wiretapping, sport diving, and I'm a C-rated fencer in foil and épée."
Speyer and Buamann exchanged a look. "What if I say no? What then?" Speyer asked.
"I would think that you were damned ungrateful," Lane said. He shrugged. "I would hope that there'd be no trouble here. I mean you'd let me go and all that. I suppose I'd go down to Buenos Aires. I can get another job there. But I was looking for a change of scenery. Something different."
"Gold?" Baumann asked.
"I wouldn't turn down some serious money if it came my way," he said. "But I'm willing to earn it, if you know what I mean."
Speyer took a drink. "Did you leave anything of interest in your hotel room?"
"Toiletries kit, a few items of clothing, an overnight bag. All bought here in the States, and all untraceable."
"You mentioned that the car is untraceable, too."
"I bought it from a chop shop in Miami two weeks ago. It's registered to Paul Asimov in Detroit. I have a valid driver's license in that name, too."
Speyer sat back. "I'll give you marks for inventiveness and balls."
"Thanks. What about the job?"
"We'll see," Speyer said. "You'll stay with us until we can do a background check. If everything looks good we'll talk some more. I may have a use for you after all."
Baumann rose and motioned for Lane to do the same.
"Ernst will show you to your room," Speyer said. "One thing, though, don't try to leave the property just yet. I'd hate to see something happen to you out there in the valley. There are wolves and bears around here. We don't mess with them and they don't mess with us unless someone wanders around where they shouldn't be. We've placed bait stations around the perimeter."
"I catch your meaning."
"Good," Speyer said.
The chalet's great room soared three stories to the sloped ceiling. A spiral staircase led to a broad balcony off which the bedrooms were located. A massive stone fireplace dominated the center of the room, while the main wall was glass, the view nothing less than spectacular.
"No one bothers you up here?" Lane asked.
"The captain has a number of investments in the area, and his privacy is respected," Baumann said.
They crossed the great room and went upstairs to a large, very well-appointed bedroom at the end of the hall, with a view only slightly less spectacular than from downstairs. A big bathroom included double sinks, a mirrored wall, walk-in shower, hot tub, and a toilet and bidet. A television was set in a large armoire just likein a hotel. But unlike the hotels Lane had stayed in, this room was equipped with a closed-circuit television camera mounted in the ceiling.
"Am I going to be locked in here until mealtimes?" Lane asked, looking around the room, opening drawers, trying the lights.
"On the contrary, you have free run of the compound. But don't wander off, as the captain suggested; it could be dangerous to your health in more than one way. The helicopter and hangar are off limits for the time being of course, and if you happen upon a locked door--don't try your luck."
"I have a couple of suitcases with my clothes and other things in the car that I'd like to have."
"When they're cleared they'll be brought to you," Baumann said at the door. "A word of advice, Mr. Browne, don't fuck with us, you'll lose."
Lane spread his hands and smiled. "I don't want to give anyone a bad impression. I'm here for a job. And if I get it, you and I will be working together, so I want us to be friends, or at least be able to tolerate each other. Deal?"
"Dinner is at eight. Stay out of trouble in the meantime," Baumann said. He left.
Lane took off his jacket, tossed it over a chair and went into the bathroom where he splashed some cold water on his face. The door was not locked, nor were the windows secured. The telephone had a dial tone, but the red light on the closed-circuit television camera was glowing, indicating that he was being watched. He turned on the television and switched to a local channel in time to catch a news bulletin about the fatal shooting of a so far unidentified old bum in the Grand Hotel by John Clark, a hotel guest, who had disappeared after the shooting. The only witness was William Hardt, the bartender, who told police that Clark had been seated at the bar. When the old man came in, Clark jumped up, shot him in the heart as cool as could be, and walked out.
No one had ever seen the old man before, and a manhunt was currently under way for Clark.
Speyer was leaning against a fence in the horse paddock thinking that he was going to miss all of this. Baumann came over from the house with a file folder, and said, "He checks out, but I don't trust him."
"Do you trust anybody, Ernst? Even me?" Speyer looked at his sergeant.
"Only you, sir. But the bastard showing up here was too coincidental for me. Are you going to hire him?"
"If he's who he says he is, he'll be useful."
"Apparently he is."
"The dive is going to be very dangerous, no telling what we're going to run into down there even with the engineering diagrams to guide us. It's been almost sixty years. If he can find the package, attach a line to it and guide it to the main entrance, it wouldn't matter what happens afterwards."
Baumann looked out across the paddock to the river valley and the mountains beyond. "I hate it here."
"This was never more than a temporary safe haven, Ernst. We discussed that in the beginning. And it has served our purposes admirably."
Baumann laughed. "He was screwing deKlerk's wife, and got out of Cape Town about two steps ahead of a firing squad. Afterwards they decided to keep quiet about it, didn't want the embarrassment, I suppose."
"Then perhaps my wife will be useful after all," Speyer said.
"He dresses well, and he's obviously a ladies' man. Perhaps Gloria can keep an eye on him."
Baumann didn't know what to say. He was obviously uncomfortable.
Speyer clapped him on the arm. "Take it easy, Ernst. We have a lot of difficult, dangerous work ahead of us, but afterwards it'll be Eden." A snatch of some Americanism came to him, and it was annoying. Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. He shook himself out of what he knew could become a bad mood if he allowed himself the luxury. "What about the Swiss connection he mentioned?"
"The Rover's wiring was very sophisticated. Hans had a hell of a time with it. He told me that without Browne's clue he might have screwed up. The son of a bitch used Swiss-made superfast electrical switches that are used on American nuclear weapons. You have to wonder how the hell he got them."
"Interesting," Speyer said. "What else?"
"He has money, or at least he did have. His suitcases--all of themmatched Louis Vuitton--are filled with Armani suits, Gucci and Bruno Magli shoes and boots, silk ties, handmade shirts; everything first-class. And damned expensive."
"He came here looking for gold," Speyer said, suppressing a smile. "He's a man of expensive tastes who is probably broke, or else he wouldn't have taken such a chance. Sounds good to me, Ernst. Just the man we're looking for, and at just the right time we need him."
"That's what I mean by coincidence," Baumann said glumly.
Speyer laughed, the sound harsh, and he gave his sergeant a hard look. "Thank God for some coincidences. What would you have done if the old man had actually shot me?"
"I would have killed him."
"A little late for me," Speyer said. He took the file folder from Baumann. "Ask our guest to join us for dinner, please. Cocktails at seven-thirty, I should think."
The dining room was across the back of the house, and floor-to-ceiling windows afforded them a magnificent view of the mountains. The long table was set for four. Speyer was dressed in a smoking jacket with a bright red ascot, while his wife wore an extremely tight black cocktail dress with almost no back and a deeply plunging neckline. At her age she nearly looked ludicrous, but not quite.
"It seems as if you are who you say you are," Speyer told Lane.
"I'm glad to hear it. I was starting to get a little paranoid," Lane said. He was dressed in an Armani linen suit, Gucci loafers without socks, and a collarless white silk shirt buttoned at the neck.
A white-coated waiter came up. "Would you care for a drink, captain?" he asked. He was one of the men from outside whom Lane had seen in plain fatigues earlier in the day.
"Whatever Mr. Browne is having," Speyer said graciously.
"Dom Perignon vintage. Let's say ninety-three. But I want it very cold."
"Yes, sir," the waiter said and he left.
"Not Cristal?" Gloria asked.
Lane shrugged. "But then this is Montana, madame, not Los Angeles."
She smiled vacantly.
"Do you have any family back in Cape Town?" Speyer asked. "Wife and kiddies, mother and father?"
"My mother's in a nursing home in Willowmore, my father, who was an only child, died ten years ago, and my wife and son died in a car accident five years ago."
"How did it happen?"
Lane's eyes narrowed, and his lips compressed. "Some bloody bastards were chasing us. There was an accident and they were both killed instantly."
"Who was chasing you?"
"A couple of Russian intelligence officers."
"What happened to them?"
Lane looked up. "I killed them. Why did you want to know?"
Speyer shrugged. "Something more to check. You mentioned that you were a sport diver."
"Actually a bit more than that. I was a Special Guards UDT officer before I transferred to the Secret Service."
"Mixed gasses?" Baumann asked, curiously.
"Some, but not under combat conditions. I was trained to two hundred meters."
"Did you like that job?" Baumann persisted.
"I don't know, it was okay, I guess. Where are you taking this?"
"How hot are you in Germany?" Speyer asked.
"There's a warrant for my arrest in Austria and one in Switzerland for currency violations. They're at least three years old, and since I broke only a couple of banking laws, and nobody, especially not the Swiss, were screwed out of anything, I don't think they're looking very hard for me."
"Tell us, are you broke, Mr. Browne?" Gloria asked with some amusement.
Lane chuckled. "I'm not impecunious, if that's what you mean. But I'm not rolling in it either. I wouldn't have come here looking for a job otherwise."
The champagne came. After it was poured, Speyer proposed a toast. "To our new associate, Mr. Browne with an 'e.' That is, if he wants the job after I tell him about it."
Lane raised his glass and took a drink. The wine was very cold and quite good. "What are we after, gold in some old Nazi bunker in Germany?"
"A Nazi bunker is close, but it's not gold we'll be seeking," Speyersaid. "But all that will be made clear to you as and when you need the information. The problem is water, and a lot of it. What we want is at least a hundred meters deep. The dive would be very dangerous."
"I've done worst things, I suppose."
"The rewards would be very handsome," Speyer said.
"Don't you have any competent divers on your staff?" Lane asked.
"Frankly, no. It was an issue that we were just starting to come to grips with. Will you take the job?"
"What if I say no?"
Speyer just laughed.
Lane grinned. "Well, I did come all this way looking for employment, and I have put my arse on the line." He turned to Gloria. "Pardon the expression, madame." He raised his glass. "I'm yours, Herr Kapitän. Let's drink to, if not a long association, at least a profitable one."
"Prost," Speyer said, and they all drank.
After dinner Lane went outside on the porch to get some fresh air and have a smoke. Gloria joined him, and took a cigarette.
"It gets cold here," she said. "I'm glad we're finally leaving."
"Where are we going--that is, if I'm included in the move?" Lane asked. It was dark, and there were a billion stars in the moonless sky. The temperature had already dropped to the low fifties.
"Helmut will tell you when the time comes," she said. She wasn't wearing a wrap, and she shivered. "It's too cold out here for me. I'm going in."
"I'll stay awhile," Lane said.
At the patio door she gave him an oddly appraising look. "What does impecunious mean?"
"I see," she said, and she went inside.
Lane walked down from the house toward the river. A hundred yards to the west was a small orchard of apple trees. He angled over to them, and when he was certain that no one was following him, pulled out his phone and hit the speed dial for the Kalispell number. Frannie answered on the first ring.
"Shipley and Hughes Accounting. Our office hours are from ten A.M. to six P.M. Eastern. At the tone please leave your message."
"What if this were an emergency, and I had to wait for all of that?" Lane asked.
"Don't get testy on me, love. Are you all right?"
"So far so good. They've offered me a job, diving, but according to Speyer it's not gold they're after."
"I don't know, but apparently we're going to Germany, to a Nazi bunker, so our BKA friends in Berlin got at least that right."
"I'll pass it back to them, and see if they've come up with anything new."
"Baumann is suspicious of me, so I don't know how long it'll be before they discover this phone and take it from me. It looks like we'll be leaving here soon, so keep on your toes, but don't crowd us."
"Don't take any unnecessary chances, William. This isn't rocket science, after all."
"We're in the wrong business for not taking chances," Lane said. Someone had come out of the house and was smoking a cigarette on the porch. Lane could make out the figure, but not who it was. "How is everything at your end? Is Tommy okay?"
"The dear old man is about to have a heart attack laughing at me," Frances said seriously.
"Let me guess, it was because you called the hotel clerk ducky."
"I am a Brit."
"But ducky?" Lane demanded. The figure moved off the porch and headed down the hill. "Got to go, love. I'm about to have some company."
"Take care, William."
Lane got halfway up the hill before he could see that the figure was Baumann. He waved and Bumann stopped and waited for him to come the rest of the way.
"What were you doing down there?"
"I was trying to spot one of your bears," Lane said. He grinned. "But they mustn't be out and about yet."
"You were told not to wander around."
"I didn't know that accepting a job offer meant that I'd be restricted to quarters."
"It meant that you follow orders."
Lane shrugged. "Whatever." He glanced back toward the river. "How about tomorrow? Is there any trout in that stream? I'd like to try my luck."
"There won't be any time. We're leaving first thing in the morning."
"You'll find out when we get there."
"What about my car?"
"It stays here," Baumann said. "And that'll be all the questions. You'll be told what you need to know when you need it."
In the distance to the southwest a Fourth of July rocket burst very low on the horizon. "Too bad we couldn't be in town tonight to catch the celebration. I'm in a mood to party."
"I wasn't aware that South Africans were so interested in American holidays."
Lane laughed. "Lighten up, Ernst. A party's a party. It's got to get pretty boring up here after places like Berlin. Not much to do, unless you like trout fishing or dodging bears."
Baumann's eyes narrowed. "Don't fuck with me, Browne. If you so much as fart at the wrong time I'm going to jam my hand down your throat and rip your heart out."
"Right," Lane said. He stepped around Baumann and headed back up to the house. He got two steps and he turned around. "Don't bother coming up to tuck me in, Ernst, I think I can manage on my own."
Speyer was on the veranda, drinking a beer and watching the distant fireworks. Baumann went up to him. "I don't trust the bastard."
"Don't be tedious, Ernst. We've already had this discussion, unless you've learned something new."
"He could be a plant."
"What, a BND agent all the way here from Munich? You said he checked out."
"Creating a background isn't all that difficult," Baumann said.
Speyer considered it for a moment but shook his head. "If German intelligence suspected that we were up to something, let alone where we had gotten ourselves to, they would have sent more than one man to check us out. And I don't think they would have gone so far as to kill a man just to get in my good graces."
"Maybe they faked the shooting."
"I saw the blood with my own eyes. And Browne's gun checked out. The APB is on all the wires. If the BND wanted us, they would have asked the CIA for help, and with that bureaucracy they would have raised a dust cloud all the way from Washington that we couldn't have missed."
"I hope you're right," Baumann said.
"I know I'm right, Ernst. I did some checking of my own. There is no CIA operation against us in the works. Guaranteed."
"What about the FBI?"
"My Washington contact would have heard if anything was in the wind. And there's nothing. Browne is a smart-talking bastard, but he's the right man for us at the right time and place. The moment he retrieves the package, he's yours. Until then he's mine. Do you understand?"
Baumann nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Fine," Speyer said after a beat. "Now be a good sergeant and fetch me another beer, would you?"
Speyer retired to his quarters around midnight after making sure that the night shift was on duty and nothing was going to blindside them. Gloria was lying back on the couch in the sitting room, the lights low, watching the closed-circuit television monitoring Lane's room. He was in bed and apparently asleep.
"How long have you been watching?" Speyer asked, more amused than annoyed.
She was half-drunk on champagne. She looked up and grinned. "For a couple of hours. Since he came back."
"Did he leave the bathroom door open for you, my dear?"
"Yes," she said. "He doesn't have as much hair as you, Helmut, but he has more muscles. Does that make you sore?"
"Not at all," Speyer said. "As a matter of fact I want you to keep an eye on him for me."
"He's got a big prick, too," Gloria said. She was baiting him, but it wasn't working tonight. He no longer gave a damn.
Speyer laughed. "I hope you find him amusing."
"Oh, anything but that."
"Well, we're getting an early start in the morning, so if I were you, I'd come to bed soon." Speyer kissed his wife on the cheek, then headed for the bathroom.
"Helmut, do you know what impecunious means?" she called to him.
"Of course. It means he's dead broke. Didn't you know the word?"
She turned back to the television without answering him, the vacant look back in her eyes as she poured another glass of wine.
Copyright © 2001 by David Hagberg
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