NINE. . 1

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

Buchanan arrived by nightfall. He’d driven west on Route 10 from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, past numerous small towns into Texas, toward Beaumont and Houston and finally. .

His headache, combined with the pain in his side, had forced him to rest several times along the way. At Beaumont, he’d rented a hotel room in midmorning so that he could shave and shower and sleep for a couple of hours. The hotel clerk had looked puzzled when he checked out at noon. That was no good, attracting attention like that. It wasn’t any good, either, that his scarcity of cash forced him to use his credit card to rent the room. Now there was a further paper trail, although by the time Alan, the major, and the captain traced him to the hotel, he’d be long gone, and they still wouldn’t know his destination. Sure, if they checked the records of his past assignments, they might guess it, but he’d had a great many assignments in the six years since he’d known Juana, and it would take them quite a while to make the connection between her, New Orleans, and San Antonio. By then, he’d be somewhere else.

He ate takeout food while he drove, hamburgers, french fries, po’boys, tacos, anything to give him fuel, washing it down with plenty of Coca-Cola, relying on the soft drink’s calories and caffeine to maintain his energy. Three times, he pulled off the busy highway and napped at a rest stop. He parked the rented Taurus near the toilet facilities so that the noisy coming and going of vehicles and travelers would prevent him from sleeping too deeply, for he knew that if he did truly sleep, he wouldn’t waken until the next day.

He had to keep moving. He had to get to San Antonio and begin the urgent process of finding out what had happened to Juana. Why had she failed to meet him? What trouble had caught up to her? Despite his pain and confusion, he had sufficient presence of mind to ask himself if he was overreacting. A promise made six years ago to a woman whom he hadn’t seen since then. A plea for help in the form of a cryptic postcard.

Maybe the postcard didn’t mean what he thought. Did it make sense for Juana to contact him after so long a time? And why him? Wasn’t there anyone else whom she could ask for help?

What made him the logical choice?

He didn’t have answers. But this much he knew for certain: Something had happened to him.

Something terrifying.

He tried to establish when it had begun. Perhaps when he’d been shot in Cancun, or when he’d injured his head while he made his escape, swimming across the channel. Perhaps when he’d been tortured in Merida and had struck his head on the concrete floor. Or possibly later when he’d been stabbed and had again struck his head.

The more he considered those possibilities, he didn’t think that they were the source of his fear, however. No doubt they were contributing factors. But as he analyzed the past weeks, as he replayed his various traumas, one incident disturbed him more than any.

The trauma had not been physical. It had been mental.

It threatened his sense of identity.

Or rather, multiple identities. During the past eight years, he had been more than two hundred people. On some days, he had impersonated as many as six different people while attempting to recruit a series of contacts. During the past two weeks, he’d been confused for Jim Crawford and had identified with Peter Lang while he’d impersonated Ed Potter and Victor Grant and Don Colton and. .

Brendan Buchanan.

That was the trouble. After disposing of Victor Grant, he’d expected to be given yet another identity. But at the Alexandria apartment, Alan had told him that there wouldn’t be a new identity, that he was being transferred from field operations, that he would have to be. .

Himself.

But who the hell was that? He hadn’t been Brendan Buchanan for so long that he didn’t know who on earth Brendan Buchanan was. On a superficial level, he didn’t know such basics as how he liked to dress or what he liked to eat. On the deepest level, he was totally out of touch with himself. He was an actor who’d so immersed himself in his roles that when his roles were taken away from him, he became a vacuum.

His profession wasn’t only what he did. It defined what he was. He was nothing without a role to play, and he realized now how brutally the realization had struck him that he couldn’t be Brendan Buchanan for the rest of his life. Thus, to escape being Brendan Buchanan, he would become Peter Lang. He would hunt for the most important person in Peter Lang’s world. And possibly in his own world, for the more he thought about it, the more he wondered how positively his life would have changed if he had stayed with Juana.

I liked Peter Lang, he thought.

And Peter Lang had been in love with Juana.

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