8

“Scotch and. .?” Buchanan felt the back of his neck turn cold.

“That’s a code name for yet another undercover military group,” Holly said. “It works with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the CIA to infiltrate the Central and South American drug networks and destroy them from within. But since those foreign governments haven’t sanctioned the presence of plainclothes American soldiers-armed soldiers, using false names-on their soil, the operation is very much against the law.”

“Either you’ve got one hell of an imagination, or your sources must be in a mental ward,” Buchanan said. “Whatever, it doesn’t concern me. I don’t know anything about this stuff, so why. .?”

“You used to work for the ISA, but six months ago you were transferred to Scotch and Soda.”

Buchanan stopped breathing.

“You’re one of numerous Special Operations soldiers assigned to covert duty-wearing civilian clothes but armed and carrying forged identities-who are, in effect, functioning as a military branch of the DEA and the CIA in foreign countries.”

Buchanan slowly straightened. “All right, now I’ve had enough. That’s it. What you’re telling me. . what you’re accusing me of. . is preposterous. If you said that kind of nonsense in front of the wrong people, some fool-a politician, for example-might actually believe you. And then I’d be in crap to my eyebrows. I’d be answering questions for the rest of my career. Because of a damned fantasy.”

Is it a fantasy?” Holly reached in her camera bag and brought out a copy of the Cancun police sketch of him, as well as copies of the photographs that Big Bob Bailey had shown Buchanan in Fort Lauderdale. “These don’t look like a fantasy.”

Buchanan’s chest ached as he examined the police sketch and the pictures of him getting off a plane in Frankfurt, accompanied by Bailey, and of him in front of the jail in Merida, accompanied by Garson Woodfield from the U.S. embassy. Some of the pictures were unfamiliar. They showed him on a powerboat in the channel near Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale, stopped next to another boat, talking to Bailey. The latter photograph had been taken from shore (Buchanan recalled turning and seeing Holly lower her camera), and the angle had been chosen so that it included a Fort Lauderdale sign in the background.

For God’s sake, Buchanan thought, these photographs were supposed to have been destroyed. What happened in Fort Lauderdale after I left? Didn’t the team do its job?

“So?” he asked, fighting not to reveal his tension. “What are these supposed to mean?”

“You’re really amazing.”

“What?”

“You sit there with a straight face and. . You’d deny anything, no matter how strong the evidence was,” Holly said.

“These aren’t evidence of anything. What are you talking about?”

“Come on. They show you posing as three different people.”

“They show three men who look a bit like me, and whatever they’re doing, it certainly doesn’t look like any secret-agent stuff.”

“Jim Crawford. Ed Potter. Victor Grant.”

“Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Curly, Larry, and Moe. I don’t know what you’re talking about. And speaking of questions- which you’re awfully good at coming up with but don’t seem to like to answer-I’ll ask you again. How did you know my name? How did you know I’m a soldier? How the hell did you know I’d be on this train?”

Holly shook her head. “Confidential.”

“And the junk you’re accusing me of isn’t? Look, there’s a good way to prove that you’re wrong about me. A simple way. It’s very easy. You know my name is Buchanan. To prove I’ve got nothing to hide, I even showed you my driver’s license. You know I’m stationed at Fort Bragg. So check on me. All you’ll find is that I’m a captain whose specialty is field training. That’s all. Nothing else. Nothing dark and mysterious. No cloak-and-dagger stuff.”

“I did check,” Holly said. “And you’re right about one thing. All I found out was what you just told me. There’s plenty of paperwork about you. But you travel around so much on these mythical training exercises that I couldn’t find anyone who’d actually ever met you.”

“You asked the wrong people.”

Who? Tell me who to ask. Not that it would make a difference. I take for granted that anyone you told me to ask would by definition be part of the conspiracy.”

“Lady, do you know what you sound like? The next thing you’ll probably tell me is that I had something to do with the two Kennedy assassinations, not to mention Martin Luther King’s.”

“Don’t be condescending.”

“What I am is pissed off.”

“Or pretending to be. I’ve got a feeling you’re all smoke and mirrors, layers within layers. Your name. Your ID. How can I be sure that Buchanan isn’t just another pseudonym?”

“For God’s sake. .”

“Let’s consider Delta Force, which is classified but everybody knows about it. It isn’t nearly as covert and shadowy as ISA or Scotch and Soda. The members of Delta live off base. They have average civilian apartments. They drive average civilian cars. When they get up in the morning and go to work, it’s just as if they’re going to any other job, except that their job is practicing how to blast their way into hijacked planes and rescue hostages. They wear civilian clothes. They carry civilian ID. Fake ID. Bogus names and backgrounds. No one who lives around them has any idea of who they really are or what they really do. In fact, most people at Fort Bragg don’t have any idea, either. If members of Delta use that kind of cover, how deep would the cover be for someone who belonged to much more secret operations like ISA or Scotch and Soda?”

“You can’t have it both ways, Holly. You say you want the truth, but apparently you don’t intend to trust a single thing I say. What if I said I did belong to this Scotch and Soda thing? You’d probably say I was lying and actually belonged to something else.”

“You’re very skilled. Honestly. My compliments.”

“Suppose you were right?” Buchanan asked. “Isn’t it foolish of you to accuse me of being some kind of spy? What if I felt threatened? I might have tried to keep you quiet.”

“I hardly think so,” Holly said. “You wouldn’t try to do anything to me unless you knew you could get away with it. I made sure I was protected.”

“You sound awfully confident.” Buchanan rubbed his aching forehead. “Did you honestly think that I’d look at those photographs, lose control, and confess? Even if I did, I could deny it later. Your word against mine. Unless. ”

Buchanan reached for her camera bag.

“Hey,” she said.

He tugged it away from where it hung on her shoulder. She tried to stop him, but he held her wrists together with his left hand while he used his right hand to open the bag. Inside there was a small tape recorder, a red light glowing, a slight hum as the recorder’s wheels turned.

“My, my,” he said. “I’m on ‘Candid Camera.’ Only in this case, it’s candid audio. Naughty, naughty. It isn’t nice to be deceptive.”

“Right. Coming from you.”

Buchanan pulled the machine out and traced a wire from it to a small microphone concealed in the latch on the outside of the bag. “What were you using? An extra-slow speed on the tape so you wouldn’t have to worry about turning it over? And if you did have to turn it, you could always pretend to have to go to the bathroom?”

“You can’t blame me for trying.”

Buchanan shut off the machine. “For all the good it did you. I told you I’ve got nothing to do with this stuff you’re talking about. That’s all you have on the tape-my denial.”

Holly shrugged, looking less confident.

“No more games.” Buchanan stepped closer. “Take off your clothes.”

She looked up sharply. “What?

“Take off your clothes, or I’ll take them off for you.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“Lady, when you pick up men on trains, you have to expect they might want something more than conversation. Take off your clothes.” Buchanan banged his fist on the table.

“Get away from me!”

Outside the compartment, someone pounded on the door.

“Impressive,” Buchanan said. “Quicker than I expected.”

Holly’s expression was a combination of fright, relief, and bewilderment. “What do you-? Quicker than-?”

Buchanan opened the door. A tall man in his thirties-square-jawed, broad-shouldered, heavy-chested, an ex-football-player type-was about to ram his shoulder against the door. He blinked in surprise at Buchanan’s sudden appearance

“And who are you?” Buchanan asked. “The husband?”

The surly man looked past Buchanan to make sure that Holly was all right.

“Or the boyfriend? Come on,” Buchanan said. “I’m running out of categories.”

“An interested party.”

“Then you might as well join the party.” Buchanan opened the door wider and gestured for the man to enter. “There’s no point in standing in the hall and waking the neighbors. I just hope we all fit in this tiny compartment.”

His rugged features contorted with suspicion, the man slowly entered.

Buchanan felt the man’s wide shoulders press against him. He managed to close the door. “It’s a good thing you didn’t bring company. We might run out of oxygen.”

“Shut up with the jokes,” the man said. “Take off her clothes? What did you think you were-?”

“Inviting you,” Buchanan said.

The big man opened his mouth.

“That tape recorder’s a little too obvious,” Buchanan said and turned to Holly. “I figured you meant for me to find it. Then I’d feel safe to talk, nothing I couldn’t deny later, your word against mine, but what I wouldn’t know is that the good stuff would be transmitted by a microphone you were wearing to your partner in a nearby compartment. The only way I was going to find that microphone was by doing a strip search, so I thought I’d suggest the idea and see what happened.” He turned to the man. “And here you are.”

“You. .” Holly didn’t finish the curse.

“Hey, I meant what I told you. I’ve got nothing to do with this secret-agent stuff. But that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot,” Buchanan said. “Now is there anything else you want to ask me? Because it’s late. I’m tired. I want to get some sleep.”

“You. .”

“Yeah, I’m probably that, too,” Buchanan said.

“Come on, Holly,” her companion said.

Buchanan squeezed out of the way. With difficulty, he opened the door. “Thanks for paying for the beer and sandwiches. You really know how to show a guy a good time.”

Holly’s eyes narrowed. “I’m staying.”

“Don’t be crazy,” her companion said.

“I know what I’m doing,” she said.

“Look, this is all very interesting,” Buchanan said. “But I mean it. I’m tired.”

“And I mean it. I’m staying.”

“Fine,” Buchanan said. “Anything to convince you I’m telling the truth. You can satisfy yourself that I don’t say anything incriminating in my sleep.”

“Holly, think about it,” her companion said.

“I’ll be fine, Ted.”

“Yeah, Ted,” Buchanan said. “She’ll be fine. I promise I won’t take off her clothes. Good night, Ted.” Buchanan guided him out the door. “Stay tuned. I hope my snoring won’t keep you awake.”

In the swaying corridor, a white-haired elderly woman in a nightgown adjusted her spectacles and peered intensely at them from the compartment to the right.

“Sorry if we woke you, ma’am,” Buchanan said. He watched Ted walk along the corridor and enter the last compartment on the right. With a wave to both him and the elderly woman, Buchanan stepped back into his compartment and closed the door.

He locked it and studied Holly. “So which position do you like? Top or bottom?”

“Don’t get the wrong idea because I stayed. Ted’s really very tough. If he thinks I’m not safe with you, he’ll-”

“Bunks.”

“What?”

“I’m talking about bunks.” Buchanan reached up to grab a lever and pulled down the top one. He started to prepare the bottom one. “I don’t know what you expect to accomplish by this. But I suggest we flip a coin to see who uses the bathroom first.”

“Oh.”

“And if you don’t happen to have a toothbrush, you can use mine.”

“On second thought. .”

“You bet.” Buchanan unlocked and opened the door. “Good night, Holly.”

“Good night.”

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