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Authors: Stephen Hunter

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BOOK: Point of Impact
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“Ah, lemme see, nine-eight-eight, twenty-twenty, room fifty-eight.”

“From the exchange, I’d say it’s out by the airport, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I could hear jets overhead. You know, Nick, why don’t you pass on it? It’s no big deal, these guys call in with shit all the time, that’s all. If it’s important, he’ll call back. Take some time, sort it all out. Put all
your pieces back together, it’s no problem. I’m sorry I even mentioned it.”

“No, I ought to give the guy a call. You never know. Talk to you.”

Nick hung up, fished for another quarter, and dialed the number quick before it vanished from his head. He got a desk clerk, identifying the place as the Palm Court, and asked to be put through to room 58. The phone rang and rang and rang.

“I guess he ain’t there,” said the clerk.

“Hey, where are you?”

“It’s just off I-ten at the airport exit. We’re on the left, two down from the Holiday Inn.”

“Great, thanks,” said Nick, looked at his watch, and with a sigh decided to go back to work.

The Palm Court Motel turned out to be a shabby nonchain budget joint familiar by type out of half a hundred third-rate dope deals that Nick had either watched or busted or simply listened to. It was one of those cinder block places painted in gaudy, once-fanciful colors and built in the early fifties when Americans were just discovering their automobiles and the seductions of a bright band of highway to ride to the horizon.

He pulled into a stall, found room 58, near the stairway on the first floor, bathed in the fluorescent glow of two Coke and two Pepsi machines. He knocked hard on the door. Nick was a big man, almost two hundred, and though extremely strong, never quite looked it. He had a soft, mulchy body and wore his hair in a longish crewcut. He was wide, really, rather than big; and the hair was a bit blond and the eyes bluish. He looked more like a junior minister or a soap salesman than a federal agent.

His gift was for friendly perseverance—a virtue learned from Myra. He thought of before as his Hot
Days. There’d been a time when he’d burned to lock criminals away, to test himself in the streets and sewers, to save America from itself. In service to that dream he’d driven himself monastically for close to his first five years in the Bureau. He was always pushing himself, and yearned to go on the raids, the big busts, to get assigned to the Counter-Terrorism Squad or the Bank Robbery Rolling Stakeout Team. He wanted to kill a bad man in a fair gunfight, that was his goal.

Then it all came apart in Tulsa. Since then he’d surrendered both his body and his career in making up for that one botched moment, in trying to drive it from his mind.

But sometimes, lying there, hearing Myra’s tortured wheezing next to him or seeing, in the moonlight, the skeletal silhouette of The Chair, it would come back over him with the force of an unexpected blow.

God, you hit the girl

That’s what Base had said.

Nick would get up and be physically ill. He’d stagger into the john and blow his food for an hour, and come out reeking and shaking and so full of hate for himself and his botched moment, leaden with infinite, futile regret.

He realized his fingers were bleeding from pounding on the door.

“Mister! Hey, mister, I don’t think he’s there!”

Nick looked up from his fade-out to see a maid.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “sorry. Say, you see the guy? What kind of guy was he?”

“Older guy, you know. Nothing special. Just another traveler.”

“How long ago he leave?”

“I didn’t never see him leave. They came to visit him. Then they left. You a cop?”

“I’m with the FBI. Who came to him? What kind of guys?”

“Guys in suits, you know. Like you. Younger maybe. Darker maybe. That’s all. Left, oh, maybe, ten minutes ago.”

“Do me a favor, go get the manager.”

The manager was a geezer in a Hawaiian print shirt so garish it looked like a nuclear nova, hurling gobs of orange light off into the universe. It was quite a shirt for such a scrawny old rat who smelled of bourbon and deodorant.

Nick flashed badge and ID and told the guy to pop the door.

“You got a warrant or anything?”

It amazed him, the lip he had to take. It was television and the movies. Ten years ago it was all, Yes sir, thank you sir, what can we do sir. Now everybody thought the FBI was a bunch of fascists and had an attitude to throw.

“What are you, a lawyer?” Nick asked. “The guy wants to talk to me. Maybe he’s sleeping. Come on, you don’t need a hassle here. Just do me the favor, okay?”

“No, it’s that this guy was a bastard. He insisted on this room. The one next to the Coke machines. It wasn’t even made up yet. But he threw a horror show. So that’s why I didn’t want to come crashing—”

“Just pop the lock, and let me do the talking,” Nick said.

The old guy made a face, and let Nick know how reluctant he was, and Nick realized he was being played for a ten-spot, but he just put his dumb, patient look on, and waited the performance out and finally the man unlocked the door.

The first thing Nick noticed as he stepped inside was the blood. The blood everywhere. On the walls, on the
bed, on the mirror, on the ceiling. Classic arterial spatter pattern.

“Aghhhhhhh!” the maid screamed.

“Holy fuck,” said the manager.

“All right,” Nick said, “you two, out. This is a crime scene. You go on in and call eight-eight-five, three-four-three-four and ask for Agent Fencl. You give him the address, tell him it’s a real bad eleven-twenty and that he should get the troops out fast before the city boys get here. Tell him Nick is already here, do you understand?”

The old guy’s eyes were broadcasting Station P.A.N.I.C. but he ran off to do what he was told.

Nick edged into the room. It was a slaughterhouse.

Most of the killing had been done on the bed. It was soaked in blood and there were jet sprays all over the wall above the headboard. Nick thought they’d hit him with axes and from the gore on the walls figured that maybe two or three whackers had gone to it. He could see blood-soaked adhesive tape where they’d splayed him to the bedpost to work on his soft areas with the axes. But Eduardo wasn’t there.

Nick could see a blood trail leading off the room into the bathroom. Jesus, the guy chopped and mangled like that, he had somehow tried to crawl into the bathroom.

Nick could see his bare feet now, pigeon-toed in that loose way that prerigor bodies often have, where there’s no will or dignity, and the limbs just arrange themselves into random patterns as defined by gravity. He walked delicately over to the bathroom doorway and leaned in to look down at the body. He noted a broad but old bare back and sinewy muscles. Eduardo still wore his suit trousers, blood-soaked white linen. The head was skewed to the right and Nick could see the profile of an elegant, perhaps aristocratic face with balding white hair and an aquiline nose. A bondage of electrician’s tape
crudely encircling the lower head locked a wad of cotton into his soundless mouth. The visible eye was open wide, in horror, and the face—as did the whole body—seemed almost to be floating on a tide of blood. So much blood.

Nick stared. Why the hell would he crawl in here? Why die on a bathroom floor instead of in a bed? Why roll off the bed and crawl, dragging your guts and lungs and organs into the bathroom? But then he followed the man’s splayed left arm and at the end of his hand Nick saw his finger pointing—no, writing. He’d written something in his own blood on the white linoleum floor.

But as Nick watched in horror, the tide of blood seeped farther out in satiny, blackish splendor from the ravaged body of Señor Eduardo, and it engulfed the word that he had written. Just as it vanished, however, Nick made it out.

It said

The forensics people had been there an hour and the body had finally been carted off and Hap Fencl was still yelling at and being yelled at by a captain of homicide in the New Orleans police department in the never-ending turf war between local and federal agencies, particularly on crimes that seemed initially solvable, when, finally, Nick, down the hall on a pay phone, made contact with Wally Deaver.

Deaver was now head of security for a large pharmaceutical firm in Boston and it had taken the better part of the intervening time for Nick to track him down.

“Walter Deaver.”

“Wally? Hey, Wally, you’ll never guess—”

“Nick Memphis, man, I’d know your merry tone anywhere. How the hell are you? How’s Frenchtown? Gumbo still hot?”

“That it is, old pal. Now listen, there’s a little something that’s come up I wanted to—”

“Nick, you ought to give up the Bureau and join me out here. Jesus, Nick, money, money, money, there’s so much money to be made, it would be great for Myra and you could—”

“Yeah, sounds great, this is no line of work for banking any bucks, that’s for sure, not if you stay straight. Listen, Wally, there’s some old busine—”

“How’s Myra?”

“She’s great,” he lied. “Anyway, you remember just before you left you gave me a list of snitches you said might call. You’d given ’em my number instead of any of the guys in your own outfit because you were so pissed off about policy?”

“Yeah. What, did one of them go sour on you?”

“Boy, did he go sour. Somebody whacked him, but good. He looks like that Panther Battalion got hold of him.” He was referring to the Salvadoran Ranger Unit that had shot up a village and killed almost two hundred women and children, a story that was all over the news a month or so ago when the investigation drew so much attention. “I figure couple of guys worked him over with fire axes. Whacked his action like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Oh, Jesus. He must have crossed the Colombians. Those guys are barbarians. You mess with them and they mess with you right back.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“So which of my bad boys was it?”

“Guy named Eduardo. He tried to call me, but I was out. By the time I tracked him down, they’d totaled him in a sleazoid motel out by the airport. I’m there now.”



“Oh, yeah, Eduardo,” Wally said unconvincingly.

“I made him to be about fifty-five, maybe sixty, kind of an aristocratic-looking guy. Ring any bells?”

“Yeah. Eduardo Lanzman. But guess what? He’s not a Colombian, he’s a Salvadoran. And the news gets worse. Here’s the punch line. He’s a spook.”

“A spook?”

“Yeah. I met him down there, you remember when Bush had the drug summit in Cartagena? Lots of DEA guys went down, mixed with their opposite numbers as part of the deal. He had it in Colombia, of course, but there were guys there from all over Central-A. So I meet this guy. He was in their National Police Intelligence Section from Salvo. Seemed like a decent guy. So, you know cops, we exchange cards, I tell him if he gets anything hot headed my way, he gives me a call. But someone later said he was an Asset. You know, Agency pork. Agency not as in DEAgency but as in CI Agency.”

“Hey, if he had something, why wouldn’t he call his own team?”

“You never know, Nick, in that world. Maybe it
Panther Battalion that hit him, and didn’t have anything to do with drugs, but was political. That’s a serious league down there; you piss off the wrong guys and the Comanche with the Darkened Windows comes calling at midnight.”

“You did give him my name? I was right on that?”

“If it’s the same guy, maybe. Just before I left, I went through my Rolodex and sent out a form letter. To all my snitches and contacts.”

“Great. And one more thing. You got any idea what
might mean? His last message. Maybe what he was trying to lay on me. Any idea at all?”

“Doesn’t mean a thing to me, Nick.”

“Okay, thanks, Wally.”

He put the phone down, turning the information over in his head.

“Nick, we got something. His passport.” It was Fencl, calling him from room 58.

“Guy’s name is Eduardo Lachine, of Panama City, Panama. He had a ticket stub from a flight in from Panama this
. Plane stopped in Mexico City. As we make it, he came straight here, probably by taxi. According to the hotel, he made one call—”

“To me.”

“Yeah. I guess. And that was it.”

“Are we going through his luggage?”

“That’s just it. There isn’t any luggage. The room clerk said there wasn’t any luggage either. This wasn’t a trip. He came here to see just one person. You.”

“And it killed him,” said Nick.


The colonel had attitude, that was for certain.

Not a twitch of regret touched his tough face, not a shred of self-doubt. What he got from Bob—furious rectitude, and the concealed threat of violence—he paid back in spades.

“All right, Swagger,” he said. “You’ve seen through us. What do you expect, congratulations? You were supposed to. It’s time to put the cards on the table.”

“Why’d you do that to me? Why’d you set me up to take that shot on myself and poor Donny?”

“They say you don’t trophy-hunt anymore, Swagger. I wanted to let you know that there were still trophies worth hunting.”

They were now in a small, crummy conference
room in the trailer that wore the Accutech sign near the three-hundred-yard range. The colonel glared at Bob; the others were some kind of bearded sissy Bob had seen at the range, and the suckass Hatcher. Weirdly, dominating the conference table on which it sat was a large Sony TV with VCR. Were they going to watch a show?

“What is your name, sir?” said Bob.

“It isn’t William Bruce,” said the colonel. “Though there is a Colonel William Bruce and he did win the Congressional and he was supervisor of the Arizona State Police. A fine man. I’m not a fine man. I’m a man who gets things done and I usually don’t have the time to be anything except an asshole, and this is one of those times.”

“I don’t like being lied to. You’d best come clean, or I’m on my way out of here.”

“You’ll sit there until I say so,” said the colonel, fixing those hard, level eyes on him, asserting the weight of rank.

It was a sense of command that he’d seen in some of the best officers, the men who pushed the hardest. It wasn’t inspirational, except by deflection; it was instead a gathering of will, a fury to win or die. It was a gift, too, and without it in battle an army was lost. But Bob had seen its ugliness too—that rigidity that could conceive of no other way but its own, that willingness to spend other men’s lives that came from holding one’s own cheaply but the mission dearly. This guy stunk of duty, and that’s what made him so fucking dangerous.

BOOK: Point of Impact
12.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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