Authors: Robert Ward
an otto penzler book
THE SILVER CESSNA glided down from the clouds and landed without a hitch at the private J. T. Hodges Airport in West Co- vina. Only seconds after it rolled to a stop, the side door slid open, portable steps dropped to the ground, and the blond female flight attendant stood by the top step and said good-bye to the muscular Arab, Kafi , dressed in his black silk tracksuit. The wiry bodyguard's head swiveled left and right as he traced the airport for signs of danger. When he was certain the coast was clear, he turned and nodded to a figure who waited just inside the plane's exit door. A few seconds later, stocky, burr-headed South African Karl Steinbach, whose parents had moved the family from Germany, dressed impeccably in his $10,000 silk Prada suit and his $5,000 bespoke Lobb shoes, walked down the silver steps. Just behind him was the second bodyguard, the apelike Welshman, Colin Draper. Like Kafi , Draper scoured the horizon for signs . . . a metallic glimmer, any evidence of an FBI agent hidden behind the eucalyptus trees to the north.
He saw nothing, no one.
Still, the two bodyguards didn't rest easy until they'd crossed the steaming tarmac and deposited their charge, Steinbach, into the black Cadillac Escalade which waited just about twenty yards away from the silver plane. Within five seconds, both of them had joined Steinbach in the backseat and shut the doors. The uniformed chauffeur locked the doors from his control panel, turned up the AC, and the elegant limo pulled away. Inside, Karl Steinbach clicked on his favorite movie,
House of Games.
He'd seen the David Mamet written and directed movie six times but never tired of it. The low elegance of the machine-gun dialogue and the endless twists of the plot pleased him in a way that no mere action thriller ever could.
But today he couldn't lose himself in it. Indeed, the things on his mind were of such a serious nature that he had trouble watching at all. This deal â and its myriad complications â had to work. It had to, and it would . . .
(But what if it didn't? What if something went wrong?)
Nonsense. He wouldn't allow himself to think about that. Every thing was under control, and it was going to work just the way he'd set it up.
He watched as Lindsay Crouse shot Joe Mantegna at LAX. Usually that was the high point of the picture for him . . . but now he glowered out at the window, feeling a roiling in his belly, a tension in his neck.
He squeezed the leather armrest with his right hand.
The flight in, the landing, and the subsequent drive-away were a total success. It was all running like proverbial clockwork. It was all going to work out. It had to and it would.
But in any human endeavor, there are plans and plans.
Take FBI Agent Michael Perry. As Steinbach and his little crew headed into Silver Lake, Perry was sitting on an old and battered projectionist's chair on the roof of the white stucco snack bar in an abandoned drive-in called The Floodlight. The dusty parking lot was covered with blowing newspapers and ancient popcorn boxes. It was all very American Gothic, but Perry wasn't concerned with the atmospherics of the place. Perry had been watching the Steinbach landing through his high-powered Canon 10 Ã 30 binoculars. He had seen the whole efficient event: the plane coming in, the landing, and the drive-away. And as soon as Stein- bach's car had left the runway and headed into town, Perry took a bite of his cold burrito and hit the speed dial on his cell phone.
The phone had barely rung once before a voice on the other end answered. The man receiving the call was Oscar Hidalgo, a Mexican FBI agent who was thirty-four years old. He sat across the seat from his partner, Agent Jack Harper, thirty-five. The two men were diametrically opposite. Hidalgo was five foot six inches tall and weighed nearly 200 pounds. He was the strongest man at FBI Headquarters in Westwood, California. On a good day, he could dead-lift 359 pounds. Harper was thin and looked almost brittle, belying the fact that he was the champion boxer and karate man in the unit. Harper had also been an all- American college lacrosse player at the University of Maryland, where he'd been known as the quickest and toughest midfielder in the United States. He could run all day, and seemed impervious to hits from hulking defensemen. His lacrosse nickname was Scary.
Now Hidalgo spoke:
“Chef H. Here. What's happening, baby?”
“The enchilada is on the fire,” Perry said.
“How high's the flame?”
“Smoking, man,” Perry said. “So if you don't want supper to burn, you guys should get a move on.”
“We're rolling, baby,” Hidalgo said. “'Cause we're some hungry dudes. How about Moyer and Rosenberg?”
“They're inside the diner and ready to eat,” Perry said.
“Good,” Hidalgo said.
There was a small silence from Perry. Most people wouldn't have noticed it but Hidalgo had worked with Perry before and knew that if the voluminous talker hesitated there must be a reason for it.
“What's up?” Hidalgo said.
“I'm afraid we have two dinner cancellations,” Perry said.
“Snyder and Bond?” Hidalgo used two other agents' code names.
“'Fraid so. Seems they're dining with other people.”
“Who?” Hidalgo looked over at Harper, who was frowning as he weaved seamlessly in and out of traffic.
“They're out with the new clients in town. They're all going to Disneyland to see the fireworks.”
“I see,” Hidalgo said in a controlled way, which belied the sudden bolt of anger he felt inside.
He put the phone on hold and looked over at Jack.
“Snyder and Bond aren't going to be there. They got called away by Homeland Defense. There's an orange alert at Disneyland.”
Harper punched the steering wheel.
“Oh that's nice,” he said. “They got you and me walking into a warehouse full of villains, and our backups are down in Ana- fuckingheim saving Goofy.”
“We could abort if you think it's too risky, Jackie.”
“And let the Kraut run all the way back to his castle somewhere in the Black Forest? No fucking way! We finally got him here, and we're not letting him go.”
“Then we're going in?”
“What the fuck else?” Jack said. “When it's time for dinner, a man's gotta eat.”
Hidalgo clicked back on the phone.
“We're going to go get us our dinner now.”
Perry started to laugh.
“What's so funny?” Hidalgo demanded.