Several impressions struck him simultaneously. The terminal was stark, hot, tiny, and crowded. Everyone, except for the few Anglos, seemed in slow motion. As one of those few Anglos, Buchanan attracted attention, Mexican travelers studying him as he inched through the claustrophobia-producing crowd. He sweated as much as they did, feeling faint, wishing the terminal was air-conditioned. At least I’ll have a reason for looking sick, he thought, trying to muster confidence. He stood in a frustrating line at the Aeromexico ticket counter. It took him thirty minutes before he faced an attractive female attendant. Using Spanish, he told her what he needed. For a moment, his heart lurched when she appeared not to know anything about a reservation for Victor Grant, but then she found the name on her computer screen and with painstaking care made an impression of his credit card, asked him to sign the voucher, and peeled off his receipt.
With even greater care, she tapped keys on the computer and waited for the printer, which also seemed in slow motion, to dislodge the ticket.
But at last Buchanan had it, saying “
Almost there, he thought. Two more checkpoints and I’m through. He stood in a line to pass through a customs inspection. Mexico was lax about many things but not about trying to stop ancient artifacts from being smuggled out of the country.
The haggard customs agent pointed at Buchanan’s suitcase. “
Buchanan complied, his muscles in agony.
The agent pawed through Buchanan’s clothes, glowered when he didn’t find anything suspicious, then gestured dismissively.
Buchanan moved onward. Only one more checkpoint, he thought. Emigration. All I have to do is hand in my tourist card, then pay the fifteen-dollar exit fee.
And hope that the emigration officer doesn’t have a police sketch of me.
As Buchanan moved tensely through the crowd, he heard a slight commotion behind him. Turning, he saw a tall American shove his way past an Hispanic woman and three children. The American had a salt-and-pepper beard. He wore a gaudy, red-and-yellow-splotched shirt. He held a gym bag and muttered to himself, continuing to push ahead, causing a ripple in the crowd.
The ripple spread toward Buchanan. Trapped by people on every side, he couldn’t avoid it. All he could do was brace himself as a man was nudged against another man, who in turn was nudged against Buchanan. Buchanan’s legs were so weak that he depended on the people around him to keep him steady, but when the ripple struck him, he suddenly found that the person ahead of him had moved forward. Shoved against his back, Buchanan felt his knees bend and reached ahead to grab for someone to steady him. But at that moment, another ripple in the crowd nudged against his left shoulder. He fell, his mind so dazed that everything seemed a slow blur. When his right shoulder struck the concrete floor, the pain that soared from his wound changed his impression, however, and made everything fast and sharply focused. Sweat from his forehead spattered the concrete. He almost screamed from the impact against his wound.
He struggled to stand, not daring to attract attention. As he came to his feet and adjusted the serape over his wound, he peered ahead through the crowd and noticed that officers at the emigration checkpoint seemed not to have cared about what had happened, concentrating only on collecting tourist cards and exit fees.
He came closer to the checkpoint, breathing easier when he didn’t see a police sketch on the counter. But the terminal was so stifling that sweat oozed from his body, slicking his chest and his arms, beading on his palms.
He wiped his left hand on his slacks, then reached in his shirt pocket and gave the officer a yellow card and the fifteen-dollar exit fee. The officer barely looked at him as he took the card and the money. At once, though, the officer paid more attention, squinted, frowned, and raised his hand. “
Why? Buchanan thought in dismay. He didn’t compare my face to a sketch. Hell, I don’t even see a sketch that he can refer to. If there is a sketch, it’s back in the emigration office. But after looking at so many faces, surely the officer can’t have a clear memory of the sketch. Why on earth is he stopping me?
Buchanan used his left hand to surrender the passport. The officer opened it, compared the photograph to Buchanan’s face, read the personal information, and frowned again at Buchanan. “
Buchanan tried to look respectfully puzzled. “
The officer squinted harder and pointed toward Buchanan’s right shoulder. Buchanan looked and showed no reaction, despite his shock.
Crimson soaked his serape. What he’d thought was sweat was actually blood trickling down his arm, dripping from his fingers. Jesus, he thought, when I fell on my shoulder, I must have opened the stitches.
The officer gestured toward a door. “
The officer placed his right hand on his holstered pistol and repeated, this time sternly, “Come with me
Buchanan obeyed, walking with the officer toward a door, trying to look relaxed, as if it were perfectly natural to have blood streaming from his shoulder. He had no hope of fleeing, certain that he’d be stopped before he could push his way through the crowd and reach an exit from the terminal. All he could do was try to bluff his way out, but he doubted that the explanation he was concocting would satisfy the officer after the officer got a look at the wound on his shoulder. There’d be questions. Plenty of questions. And perhaps the police sketch would have arrived by then, if it hadn’t already. For sure, he would not be on the 12:50 flight to Miami. So close, he thought.