When Buchanan wakened, he was soaked with sweat, his lips so parched that he knew he had a fever. He swallowed several aspirins from the first aid kit, almost gagging, forcing them down his dry throat. By then, it was after dawn. He and Wade were in Merida, 322 kilometers west of Cancun, near the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan Peninsula. Unlike Cancun, Merida evoked an old-world feeling, its great mansions dating from the turn of the century. Indeed, the city had once been called the Paris of the Western World, for in former, richer times, millionaire merchants had deliberately tried to make Merida like Paris, where they often went on vacation. The city still retained much of its European charm, but Buchanan was too delirious to care about the tree-lined avenues and the horse-drawn carriages. “What time is it?” he asked, too listless to peer at his watch.
“Eight o’clock.” Wade parked near a not-yet-open market. “Will you be okay if I leave you alone for a while?”
“Where are you going?”
Wade answered, but Buchanan didn’t hear what he said, his mind drifting, sinking.
When he wakened again, Wade was unlocking the Ford, getting in. “I’m sorry I took so long.”
So long? Buchanan thought. “What do you mean?” His vision was bleary. His tongue felt swollen. “What time is it now?”
“Almost nine. Most stores still aren’t open. But I managed to get you some bottled water.” Wade untwisted a cap from a bottle of Evian and tilted it toward Buchanan’s parched lips.
Buchanan’s mouth seemed like a dry sponge, absorbing most of the water. Some trickled down his chin. Frustrated, he tried again and this time managed to swallow. “Give me more of those aspirins.” His throat sounded as if it were wedged with stones.
Buchanan nodded, grimacing. “And this bitch of a headache won’t stop.”
“Hold out your hand. I’ll give you the aspirins.”
Buchanan’s left hand felt weak, and his right hand suddenly became spastic again. “Better put them in my mouth.”
Buchanan swallowed the aspirins with more water.
“You have to keep your strength up. You can’t survive on just water,” Wade said. “I brought doughnuts, milk, and coffee.”
“I don’t think my stomach would tolerate the doughnuts.”
“You’re scaring me,” Wade said. “We should have gone to the doctor I know in Cancun.”
“We’ve been over this,” Buchanan murmured. “I have to get out of the country before the police sketch is circulated.”
“Well, what about orange juice? At least try the orange juice I brought.”
“Yes.” Buchanan murmured. “The orange juice.”
He managed three swallows.
“I found a woman unpacking boxes, getting ready for when the market opens,” Wade said. “She sold me this straw hat. It’ll hide the gash on your head. Also I bought this serape. You can drape it over the bandage on your arm when you pass through emigration.”
“Good,” Buchanan said weakly.
“Before that, I phoned several airlines. For a change, you’re in luck. Aeromexico has a seat available on a flight to Miami.”
Buchanan inwardly brightened. Soon, he thought. Soon I’ll be out of the country. I can sleep when I’m on the plane. Wade can phone ahead and have a team waiting to take me to a clinic.
“There is a problem, though,” Wade said.
“Problem?” Buchanan frowned.
“The flight doesn’t leave until twelve-fifty.”
“Until? But that’s. . what?. . four hours from now.”
“It was the first flight I could get. Another one left earlier for Houston. It had a seat, but it also made a stop en route.”
“What do I care about a stop? Why didn’t you book me on it?”
“Because the stop was back in Cozumel, and the man I spoke to said you had to get off the plane and then reboard.”
Shit, Buchanan thought. Cozumel, near Cancun, was one of the airports he needed to avoid. If he had to leave the plane and pass through a checkpoint, a guard might. .
“All right, the twelve-fifty flight to Miami,” Buchanan said.
“At the airport, I can’t buy your ticket for you. It draws attention. Besides, the clerk will want to see Victor Grant’s passport. Very few people give somebody else their passport, and certainly not when they’re about to leave the country. If the police have told the attendants to be on the lookout for anybody who acts suspiciously, that might be enough for them to wait for you to arrive and question you.”
“Question both of us.” Buchanan fought to focus his vision. “You made your point. I’ll buy the ticket.” He peered out the window, seeing traffic increase, frowning at the pedestrians crowding past the Ford. “Right now, I think we’d better drive around town. I get nervous staying parked like this.”
As Wade steered into a break in traffic, Buchanan used his trembling right hand to reach behind him and pull a waterproof plastic pouch from his back pocket. “Here’s Ed Potter’s ID and passport. Whatever pseudonym I’m using, I always carry his documents. There’s no way of predicting when they might come in handy.”
Wade took the plastic pouch. “I can’t give you an official receipt. I don’t have any with me.”
“Screw the receipt. Just give me Victor Grant’s documents.”
Wade handed him a brown leather passport folder.
As Buchanan took it, he felt Ed Potter drain from him and Victor Grant seep into his consciousness. Weak and far from alert, he nonetheless responded to habit and began to imagine traits (Italian food, Dixieland jazz) for his new character. At the same time, he opened the folder and examined its contents.
“Don’t worry. Everything’s there,” Wade said. “Including the tourist card.”
“But I do worry.” Buchanan searched through the documents. “That’s how I’ve stayed alive this long. I never take anyone’s word for. . Yes. Okay, the tourist card and everything else is here. Where’s that aspirin bottle?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve still got a headache.” Wade looked troubled.
“And it’s getting worse.” Buchanan didn’t trust his trembling right hand. Raising his left hand, which felt wooden, he put more aspirins in his mouth and swallowed more orange juice.
“You’re sure you want to do this?”
“Want to? No. Have to? Definitely. Okay,” Buchanan said, “let’s go through the drill. I left plenty of loose ends in Cancun.” Breathing was an effort. He fought for energy. “Here are my keys. When you get back to Cancun, close up my time-share condominium office. You know who I rented it from. Call him. Tell him I’ve gone out of business. Tell him he can keep the remainder of the rent, that you’ll send him the keys as soon as you pick up my belongings.”
“Do the same thing about my apartment. Erase me. You know the places I used in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and the other resorts. Erase me from all of them.” Buchanan’s head throbbed. “What else? Can you think of-?”
“Yes.” As Wade drove along the Paseo de Mayo, Merida’s main thoroughfare, Buchanan ignored the grass-covered island that separated the several lanes of traffic on each side, anxious for Wade to continue.
“The contacts you recruited in each area,” Wade said. “They’ll wonder what happened to you. They’ll start asking questions. You have to be erased from their lives, too.”
Of course, Buchanan thought. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m more light-headed than I guessed. I have to concentrate harder. “Do you remember the dead-drop locations I was using to pass each of them messages?”
Wade nodded. “I’ll leave each contact a note, some excuse about problems with the police, along with a final payoff that’s generous enough to encourage them to keep their mouths shut.”
Buchanan brooded. “Is that it, then? Is that everything? There’s always something else, a final detail.”
“If there is, I don’t know what-”
“Luggage. When I buy my ticket, if I don’t have a bag, I’ll attract attention.”
Wade steered off the Paseo de Mayo, stopping on a side street. The stores were now open.
“I don’t have the strength to carry anything heavy. Make sure the suitcase has rollers.” Buchanan told Wade his sizes. “I’ll need underwear, socks, T-shirts. .”
“Yes, the usual.” Wade got out of the Ford. “I can handle it, Buchanan. I’ve done this before.”
“You son of a bitch.”
“I told you, don’t call me Buchanan.
“Right, Victor,” Wade said dryly. “I wouldn’t want you to forget who you were.” He started to close the door, then paused. “Hey, while you’re practicing your lines-that is, when you’re not calling me names-why don’t you try eating some of those doughnuts, so you’re not so weak that you fall on your face when you get to the airport.”
Buchanan watched the slightly bald, slightly overweight man in the lemon-colored Polo shirt disappear into the crowd. Then he locked the doors, tilted his head back, and felt his right hand tremble. At once his whole body shivered. The fever, he thought. It’s really getting to me. I’m losing control. Wade’s my lifeline. What am I doing? Don’t make him mad.
Buchanan’s shoes nudged the bag of doughnuts on the floor. The thought of eating made him nauseous. As did the pain in his shoulder. And in his skull. He shuddered. Just a few more hours, he told himself. Hang on. All you have to do is get through the airport. He forced himself to drink more orange juice. The acidic sweetness made his stomach queasy. Victor Grant, he told himself, concentrating, struggling to chew on a doughnut. Victor Grant. Divorced. Fort Lauderdale. Customizes pleasure boats. Installs electronics. Victor. .
He jerked as Wade unlocked the driver’s door and put a suitcase in the back.
“You look terrible,” Wade said. “I brought a toilet kit: a razor and shaving soap, toothpaste. .”