EDGE OF THE CITY
July 4 San José, Costa Rica
Felipe liked Juan Santamaría Airport. The Immigration agents were usually friendly,
the Customs procedure was perfunctory, and security nonexistent. It was a terrorist's
dream, and Felipe was a terrorist.
Nothing about his appearance suggested his lifelong occupation, which was one
of the reasons he had achieved middle age in a field where an early end was frequently
caused by a small mistake or a plan that failed to take into account all the variables. Failure meant quick death for the headstrong fanatics or a life in prison for the
Felipe had learned these rules through the unfortunate experiences of many others,
and accepted them as a routine part of his work environment, or as he called it,
his profession. He was a careful planner and prided himself on analyzing every risk
before deciding on a course of action. He was successful because he recognized and
utilized the strengths and weaknesses of his own personnel, consistently overestimated
the abilities of his opponents, and left nothing to chance. To those interested
in promoting mayhem, a Felipe plan was a thing of beauty.
A casual inspection of Felipe as he waited in the Immigration line, passport
in hand, showed nothing out of the ordinary. He exactly fit the role he had chosen
for himself for this phase of the operation. He wore a pair of tan slacks, a white
silk shirt opened at the neck, a navy blue sports coat, and a pair of well-shined brown
Italian loafers, all bought in Buenos Aires the day before. His graying black hair
was wavy, and combed straight back. He was what some women would call handsome without
knowing exactly what appealed to them. His tanned face looked friendly enough, but
something about his expression suggested that his smile masked an attitude of condescending
Everything about him to the smallest detail conformed to produce the image he
strived for. He appeared to be just another middle-management Argentine businessman,
come to Costa Rica to arrange a deal to sell the friendly natives products they didn't
want and couldn't use, but would probably buy anyway.
But to the more discerning eye, there were two things about the man that he could
disguise but couldn't entirely hide. One thing was his height and build. Felipe
was almost six feet tall, an unusual height in South America, so he stood with his
knees slightly bent to appear an inch or two shorter and he slouched his shoulders and
inflated his stomach to give the appearance that he was slightly overweight.
The other thing was his eyes. His expression looked bored, but, without moving
his head, his eyes constantly darted from side to side, casually taking in everything
and everyone in the large room. In a part of the world where at least a trace of
Indian blood was commonplace, there was still something unusual about the way his eyes
slanted. An astute anthropologist might surmise that there was a hint of the plains
of central Asia in those eyes, generations removed.
Such an astute and discerning pair of eyes were watching Felipe, and they belonged
to Lieutenant First Class Fernando Almeda of the Peruvian Dirección Nacional Contra el Terrorismo
. Almeda was five persons behind Felipe on the Immigration line, listening to a rather
staid, middle-aged, loquacious Argentine matron he had met on the plane. Wearing
one of his cheap polyester suits, there was nothing remarkable about him to draw
the attention of anyone. It was a look he cultivated as part of his job. He tried to
concentrate on what the matron was saying, something about the volcanos surrounding
the city of San José, but he couldn't tear his gaze away from the back of Felipe's
After four years of searching for Felipe, a fruitless search that had taken Almeda
to countless Third World capitals and through half of the most inhospitable jungles
on the planet, he had begun to doubt the very existence of the man. Yet, by an unforeseen stroke of luck and with a little good police work on his part, there they were,
in the same room, and Elena was with him. If his luck held, he could get both of
It was Elena who had led him to San José, to Felipe. Five hours earlier Almeda
had been in Buenos Aires, in another airport in another country. He had just completed
an assignment, giving a lecture on Sendero Luminoso
, the scourge of Peru and Felipe's professional affiliation, to a class at the Argentine
Army Staff Intelligence School. He knew his material and had offered a variation
of the same lecture in most of the countries of the Western Hemisphere, so he considered these speaking commitments to be a welcome respite from the chase, something he
did as part of his duties whenever the trail grew cold.
Then Almeda had seen Elena at the airport in Buenos Aires. He had been waiting
at the Ladeco Airlines gate for his return flight to Lima. As usual, the flight
was late in arriving and the passengers had been advised that their plane had experienced
some administrative difficulties in leaving Lima Airport. When the plane finally
arrived, Elena had been the first person off the flight.
Almeda had recognized her at once, in spite of her change in appearance. She
had dyed her brown hair red and was expensively dressed in a dark blue business suit
from some European designer, offset by a pair of bright red high-heeled shoes and
purse that matched her new hair color. She looked exquisite, a far cry from the way she
had looked in the jungle fatigues she had worn in the only picture they possessed
of her. But she still had the limp, an unwelcome souvenir of a firefight with the
Peruvian army in 1987. She disguised it with an exaggerated and provocative swaying of her
hips as she walked, but Almeda had recognized it for what it was: a limp that resulted
from a .223-caliber bullet ripping through her right thigh.
She had been in a hurry after she cleared her overnight bag through Argentine
Customs, and Almeda had made a decision. He could have had her arrested right there,
but he had wanted more. He wanted Felipe, so he had followed her to the Aero Argentina terminal. There she had caused Almeda to make a few more painful decisions. She
had passed through the metal detectors on her way to the departure gates, but Almeda
couldn't follow her, yet. He had still been armed, and he was only cleared with
his weapon for the flight to Lima. Lacking time to make further arrangements, he had gone
into a men's room and reluctantly dropped his prized S&W 9-mm Model 59 into a trash
can. He then had passed through the checkpoint and found Elena just as she boarded
Aero Argentina Flight 112 for Montreal, with stops in San José, Miami, and New York.
Almeda had rushed back to the ticket counter and bought a ticket for Montreal,
since he had no idea where Elena would be getting off the plane. He had been the
last person to board, so while his luggage was headed home to Lima, he was on his
way to destinations unknown.
As he went to his seat in Coach, he had passed Elena, sitting alone in First
Class and reading a magazine. She had taken no notice of him as he passed, but he
had committed her seat number to memory. Then he had settled in to worry during
the five-hour flight to Costa Rica, the first stop. He was acting independently and alone,
following a known terrorist across South America, and none of his superiors knew
where he was. Wanting to keep a low profile, he stayed in his seat.
Almeda had been less than gratified when Elena got off the plane in San José.
Costa Rica had extradition treaties with very few countries, and Peru wasn't one
Then the situation had escalated into something more dangerous. As he got up
to follow Elena, he had seen Felipe standing among the passengers who had been seated
three rows behind him in Coach. The shadow he had been chasing for years was getting
off in one of the few places in the world where he couldn't arrest him, legally at
least. Almeda knew that he had to find a phone as soon as possible.
* * *
Felipe was next in the Immigration line. He put down his travel bag, took a
cigarette from his pack and put it in his mouth, and then searched his pockets for
his lighter. Elena was ready, anticipating his needs as usual. She had a lighter
in her hand and, without thinking, brought the flame to his cigarette. Felipe dragged deeply
on his cigarette and the hint of a frown crossed his face before he smiled graciously
and said, "Thank you, señorita."
Elena realized her mistake at once. They were not supposed to be together.
She lowered the lighter, somewhat embarrassed, while Felipe took a few seconds to
glance past her, casually examining his fellow travelers waiting on the Immigration
It was a typical collection of Argentine tourists and businessmen. Behind Elena
was a family of four who apparently had come to enjoy the weather. The father carried
the family's coats over his arm. It was July, winter in Argentina, but in the mountains of Costa Rica it was always late spring and the coats were no longer necessary.
He was about thirty and held his young son in his arms while he stared at Elena
with barely concealed interest.
Felipe was used to watching men watch Elena. After all, they were in Latin America,
and a beautiful woman was always to be admired, much in the same way a fine painting
or a breathtaking vista was to be admired.
The young man's wife obviously didn't agree with the convention. She held her
daughter by the arm and concentrated all her energies into glaring a hole in the
side of her husband's face. After a few seconds he felt the heat and, after giving
his wife a sheepish sideways glance, decided that it was time to change his watch nonchalantly
to local time. It wasn't done well.
Felipe took in the rest of the people waiting on line. Behind the Argentine
family was an unremarkable couple, a middle-aged man in a polyester suit and a woman
engaged in a one-way conversation. He assumed that they were married because the
man nodded at everything the woman said but didn't seem to be listening at all.
Emilio was near the end of the line, looking as scruffy as ever, and maybe a
little nervous. He was a five-foot-nine hulk of a man, with dull simian features,
no neck, and shoulders that seemed freakishly wide. The overall effect was somewhat
scary, but he was brave, resourceful, and totally dedicated to the cause. Felipe had put
Emilio's bad looks to good use, placing him in charge of screening new Sendero
recruits for past government connections. In other words, Emilio was his interrogator.
But looking at Emilio, Felipe saw that he had a problem. While the brute was
perfectly at home in the jungles and mountains of Peru, he was definitely out of
place in the International Arrivals Building of Juan Santamaria Airport wearing the
first suit he had ever owned.
"Next!" the Immigration agent yelled.
Felipe turned around and put Emilio out of his mind for the moment. It was his
turn and the young Immigration agent was sitting behind the counter, looking at him
expectantly. Felipe picked up his travel bag and handed the agent his worn Argentine
passport. He looked bored as the Immigration agent thumbed through it.
"Welcome to Costa Rica, señor
. You have been here before?"
"No, sir," Felipe answered, putting a hint of an Italian accent into his Spanish,
as many upper-class Argentines like to do. "This is my first time here."
"You travel quite a bit," the smiling Immigration agent observed as he continued
looking through Felipe's passport, but Felipe was unconcerned. The passport was
an expert forgery made the day before by a man who had since died.
"Today business means travel," Felipe observed dryly.
"Are you traveling alone?"
"How long will you be staying?"
"And where will you be staying, señor
"The Hotel Europa," Felipe answered, a hint of impatience in his voice.
The agent didn't seem to notice. He took his time going through the passport,
looking for entry stamps from trouble spots like Peru and Nicaragua. There were
none. "The Hotel Europa is very nice, señor
," he said as he typed the information from Felipe's passport into the computer terminal
in front of him, then pressed Enter. The screen changed and gave him the routine
message: No Restrictions, Cleared for Entry
. The agent stamped the passport and closed it. "Straight ahead to Customs. Enjoy
your stay in Costa Rica, señor
," he said, handing Felipe his passport. "Next!"
Felipe put the passport in his pocket, picked up his travel bag, and started
toward Customs. From the corner of his eye he managed to catch a glimpse of Elena
handing her Spanish passport to the Immigration agent. It appeared that the beautiful
Spanish lady and the young Immigration agent were both looking forward to their official
Felipe found his one suitcase circulating on the baggage carousel. He picked
it up and waited briefly in the Customs line before he was waved through, his suitcase
unopened and uninspected. There was a line of red Nissan taxis waiting outside and
he jumped into the third taxi in line. The taxi took off as Almeda watched.
While still waiting in line, Almeda heard Elena tell the Immigration agent that
she would be staying at the Hotel Del Rey. Her passport was stamped and she was
passed through. He watched her pick up three suitcases from the baggage carousel
and head for the Customs line.
Almeda was gratified to see that the Customs agent thought the pretty lady and
her luggage deserved a special inspection. They talked and laughed while Almeda
waited for the Argentine family to finish their Immigration inspection. Finally
they were passed through and it was his turn.
Almeda handed the Immigration agent his Peruvian passport and it was received
as if it were a pair of dirty socks. But then the Immigration agent remembered his
manners and gave his official smile to the Peruvian. "Welcome to Costa Rica, señor
. Have you been here before?"
"No, this is my first time."
"Business or pleasure?"
Almeda instantly saw from the perplexed look on the Immigration agent's face
that he had given the wrong answer. The prefix on his passport number indicated
that he was a Peruvian government official and the sharp young agent had caught it.
, isn't this passport issued by your government for official travel?" he asked.
Almeda tried to recover. "Yes, it is," he answered confidently. "I'm with the
Ministry of Agriculture. I was on my way to a conference in Montreal, but the conference
isn't for another three days. As the plane was landing I saw how beautiful your
country is and I decided to spend a day or two here."
The agent appeared dubious of Almeda's explanation. "May I see your airplane
Almeda handed his ticket folder to the agent, and while he went through it Almeda
saw the Customs agent close Elena's suitcases in the line in front of him. Panic
was setting in, but Almeda forced himself to concentrate on his present predicament.
The Immigration agent handed him back his ticket folder and said, "This is very
. I see you have no baggage tags attached to your ticket folder."
"I didn't bring any. I had planned to shop in Montreal for some new clothes,
but I guess that now I'll do my shopping here."
The Immigration agent appeared unconvinced at this explanation. While he typed
Almeda's information into his computer, he asked sarcastically, "You would rather
shop in San José than in Montreal?"
Elena was leaving the terminal with her bags. Almeda decided to go on the offensive.
"Have you had any dealings with the French, señor
?" he asked the Immigration agent, disgust dripping from his voice.
The agent immediately got the implication. "Only in my official capacity, fortunately."
"Then you should understand why I would prefer to spend my time in Costa Rica
rather than with them in Montreal. I don't speak French and I find them to be less
than understanding about my linguistic shortcomings."
"I see your point," the agent said as he finished typing the information from
Almeda's passport into his computer. He hit Enter and received the routine clearance
message. As he was stamping the passport, Almeda saw Elena get into a taxi outside
the terminal. The taxi immediately drove off.
"Straight ahead to Customs, señor
," the agent said as he handed Almeda back his passport. "Enjoy your shopping in
Almeda was passed through Customs without a second glance. He went to a pay
phone near the entrance to the terminal and, using his credit card, dialed Colonel
Savraada's direct headquarters line in Lima. Savraada, the chief of Peru's antiterrorist
force, picked up the phone on the first ring.
Ten minutes later Almeda hung up the phone with a better understanding of his
situation. It was worse than he had imagined. There was no help available to him
from the Peruvian embassy since the staff there consisted only of the ambassador,
his secretary, and his driver. Almeda had hoped to be able to use a military attaché to help
him, but there were none assigned to the embassy since there was no reason or plausible
excuse to have any; Costa Rica didn't have an army for a military attaché to consult with.
But the colonel had made some arrangements. Reinforcements would be arriving
in San José on the 10 P.M. American Airlines flight from Lima, and they would be
carrying the diplomatic pouch. Savraada promised that it would contain everything
they would need. Almeda was on his own until then.
Almeda had given him the seat numbers occupied by Felipe and Elena on the Aero
Argentina flight and had suggested he use his influence to check with the airline
and find out what names they were traveling under, since the names on their passports
and on their plane tickets had to match.
Savraada had the information in minutes. Felipe was traveling as Enrique Velasquez
on a forged Argentine passport. Elena was using the name of Janine Roldan, a Spanish
national. Her passport was genuine, which meant that sometime during her life she had taken the trouble to set up a bona fide second identity for herself, or that
her real name was Janine Roldan. Savraada had said he would have it checked out.
His instructions to Almeda had been brief and necessarily vague: Locate Felipe
and Elena, find out why they were in Costa Rica, and take no action unless it looked
like they were preparing to leave.
Almeda hoped the two terrorists planned to stay a while. He considered himself
a detective, not a murderer, and didn't relish the prospect of drastic action.
Emilio, still waiting on the Immigration line, watched the dejected-looking man
with no luggage hang up the phone and go to the currency exchange counter. Emilio's
interest increased when he saw that the money Almeda took from his wallet to exchange
for Costa Rican colónes was in intis, the currency of Peru.
As Emilio approached the Immigration counter, his Bolivian passport in hand,
Almeda left the terminal for the bright sunshine outside and got into a taxi.
Once he arrived in town, Almeda called the Hotel Del Rey and asked for Janine
Roldan and Enrique Velasquez. He was told that they weren't registered there, which
came as no surprise to Almeda. He hadn't really expected Felipe and Elena to tell
the Immigration agent where they would actually be staying. Next he bought a copy of the
Costa Rican tourist guide and started calling every hotel listed.
that Elena was staying at the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn as Janine Roldan. Felipe
was not registered there or at any other hotel in San José under the name Enrique Velasquez.
He hired a taxi which took him to the Holiday Inn. It was an imposing glass-and-marble
seventeen-story behemoth, easily the tallest building in the city. The hotel faced
a large plaza and there was a line of taxis pulled up in front, waiting for fares. Almeda had his driver park on the far side of the plaza so that the entrance
to the hotel was visible to them. The driver was perplexed, but since the meter
was running he kept his questions to himself.
Almeda settled back to wait and watch. Just before seven o'clock Elena, dressed
in dark blue jeans and a red blouse, came out of the hotel. She was still wearing
the red high heels and carried the red purse. She got into the first taxi in line
and it took off from the curb with a screech of tires.
* * *
Time has passed the Gran Hotel by, and that is the historic establishment's saving
grace, the quality that makes it unique. It is an Old World hotel still going strong
in an awakening and rapidly modernizing part of the New World.
The hotel sits on a small plaza next to the National Theater and has all the
amenities found in Old Madrid. Surrounding the entrance of the building is a café
with tables and chairs that extend into the plaza. Inside the ornate front doors
the lobby stretches to the front desk, with a restaurant occupying one side of the lobby and
a casino the other. Both are open and busy all night long.
Sitting in the casino at a blackjack table, Emilio was passing time, losing money,
and watching the front door of the hotel when Elena came in. Either she didn't see
Emilio or she ignored him as she passed through the lobby and to the bank of elevators opposite the front desk. She pressed the elevator call button and waited.
Emilio shifted his attention from Elena to the front window of the hotel. He
saw Almeda get out of a taxi and stand outside behind a palm tree to watch Elena
through the front door.
Emilio went to the house phones hanging on the wall behind the blackjack table
and dialed a room. When the phone was answered he said, "Elena's here and she brought
a tail from Peru."
While Emilio was on the phone, he watched as the elevator doors opened and Elena
got on. As soon as the doors closed, Almeda entered the hotel, went to the elevator
bank, and watched the floor indicator light. Elena's elevator stopped on the third
floor and stayed there. Almeda took a seat in the café and focused his attention on
Emilio was still on the house phone while he watched Almeda. He listened for
another minute, then hung up and walked out the side door of the hotel.
Fifteen minutes later the elevator doors opened and Elena came out, carrying
a large manila envelope, but no purse. She headed straight out the front door, paying
no attention to Almeda as she walked past him.
Almeda wasn't certain, but it looked to him like something new had been added
to Elena's fine features. There was some swelling under her left eye.
Elena made a left as soon as she left the hotel and started across the crowded
plaza at a quick pace. Almeda got up and followed her, staying 100 feet behind.
She held the manila envelope to her chest as she walked, her other arm swinging
free. She still had the wiggle and attracted quite a bit of attention, making her easy to follow.
At the end of the plaza she crossed the street, with Almeda still behind her.
They were in the shopping district, the stores were all closed, and the streets
were deserted. Halfway down the block, she turned into the large, open entrance
of a new office building.
Almeda followed to the entrance of the building, stopped, and peered around the
edge of the wall. It was a modern indoor shopping mall, with small shops occupying
both sides of the corridor. They were all closed, but the corridor was well lit
and the lights were on in every shop. He couldn't see Elena, but he could hear the rapid
clicking of her high heels echoing off the walls, ahead and to the left. She was
still in a hurry.
He took a good look around. He was the only one on the street. Following the
sound of the high heels, he entered the mall, and came to an interior intersection.
He stopped. He could still hear Elena walking. She had turned left at the intersection. He peered around the wall and caught sight of her. She was walking down a metal
stairway leading to a lower level. He counted sixteen stairs as she disappeared
from view, her heels ringing on the metal stairs. Then she took twelve more steps
on concrete and the sound stopped.
Almeda tiptoed down the corridor and stopped at the top of the staircase. He
peered down, but saw no sign of her. Then the sound of her footsteps on concrete
resumed. She was again walking away from him, one level below. Trying to be silent,
he descended the stairs and saw her. She wasn't bothering to disguise the limp, but something
else was different. She turned at another intersection in the mall and he resumed
Then it came to him. She had been swinging both arms freely as she walked.
She had gotten rid of the manila envelope.
As the click-click
of Elena's footsteps became more distant, he ran back to the staircase. There was
a trash receptacle at the foot of the stairs. He quickly went through it, listening
to Elena fade away. It contained nothing but trash.
He looked at the stores near the staircase, thinking. There was a travel agency,
a shoe store, a gift shop, a photo shop, and a leather-goods shop. He focused on
the photo shop and walked toward it, taking small steps. Twelve brought him to the
front door, and he saw it.
Elena had pushed the envelope through the large mail slot set in the bottom of
the glass door, and it was faceup on the floor inside the store. Written in large
letters on the front of the envelope was FROM FELIPE.
He lay facedown on the ground in front of the door, opened the mail slot, and
put his right arm through. He couldn't reach the envelope, but he was only inches
away. With his arm still in the mail slot, he inched himself forward as far as he
could go, until his shoulder was painfully pressed into the mail slot, his face against the
glass. As his fingers tightened on a corner of the envelope, he heard footsteps
behind him, close. Still holding the envelope, he tried pushing himself from the
door with his left arm. He managed to slide just six inches back before his chest was forced
into the concrete.
Almeda tried to turn his head to look at the man, but a foot on his neck forced
his face into the ground. He was having a hard time breathing and his arm was hurting
as it was pressed against the lip of the mailbox. He tried again to pull his arm
from the mail slot, but it was impossible. He was caught good.
"Sendero?" Almeda asked, his lips brushing against the ground as he spoke.
"That's right," a harsh voice answered.
Almeda felt the man's weight shift on his back and neck as his passport was removed
from his jacket pocket and his wallet from his back pants pocket. He heard the sound
of pages turning.
"Where did you come from?" Almeda asked.
"Originally from Ayacucho, Lieutenant First Class Fernando Almeda. How about
"Lima," Almeda answered, gasping for breath. "I mean, where did you come from
The man took his foot off Almeda's neck and placed it on the ground next to his
face. The pressure on Almeda's chest eased slightly. Breathing was easier, but
he still couldn't move. He took a few deep breaths.
The man was chuckling. "From under that staircase behind us, city boy, where
I was waiting for you. I came to tell you a story, then you can tell me one. Okay?"
"I'm listening," Almeda answered, resting his forehead on the ground.
"I want to tell you a story about how the Indians used to catch monkeys in our
"I think I know that one," Almeda said, taking two breaths to say it.
"Maybe you used to know it, but you must have forgot. Otherwise, you wouldn't
be in this fix." He sounded like he was enjoying himself. "Anyway, when the Indians
wanted to catch a monkey, they cut a small hole in a coconut and put some berries
in it that monkeys like. Soon a monkey would come along and put his hand in the hole
and grab the berries in his fist. But, you see, the hole was too small to let the
monkey's fist out, so the monkey just sat there with his fist in the coconut, holding
the berries. He wouldn't let go of those berries, no matter what, even when the Indians
came back. Of course, he would try to run, but he couldn't get far dragging the
coconut. So the Indians would catch the monkey, and you know what they had to do
to separate that monkey from that coconut?"
Almeda didn't answer. He hadn't been listening while the man was telling his
story. Instead, he had been working on a cap on one of his rear molars with his
tongue, loosening it and trying to get it off.
Almeda's silence seemed to enrage the man. He again stood on Almeda's back with
both feet, pulled his head by the hair with one hand, and put his other hand in front
of his face. The thick hairy fingers held a long, ugly knife.
Almeda worked the cap free just as the man shifted his grip, letting go of Almeda's
hair and clamping his hand over his mouth. Almeda watched in horror as the man slashed
his trapped arm with the knife.
"I think you guessed it," the man laughed. "They had to cut that monkey's arm
Almeda was surprised that he didn't feel the cut. His arm was numb. But he
saw the blood pumping out through his cut jacket and shirt. He couldn't breathe
with the hand over his mouth, but he could smell the man's hand. It reeked of onions
and sweat. He felt dizzy and struggled to stay conscious. He recognized the symptoms of
shock and knew he wasn't going to last long. Then he heard the sound of high heels
on the concrete of the upper level. Elena was returning.
"Now your story," the man commanded. He removed his hand from Almeda's mouth,
pulled back his head by the hair, and put the blade of the knife under Almeda's throat.
"Quickly, how did you know Elena would be here?"
Almeda rolled the cap around his mouth and the capsule fell out of the recess
cut into the interior of the cap, but the capsule had rolled under his tongue. He
tried to find it as his torturer applied a little pressure with the knife, cutting
his neck. "We have an informant," Almeda answered. The knife cut deeper into his skin as
The pressure on his neck was relieved and once again Almeda could see the knife
in front of his face. He felt the blood running down his neck.
"Who's the informant?"
"I don't know. But it's one of your big people."
"Elena? Is it Elena?"
"I don't know. Maybe." Talking had dislodged the capsule. He found it and
pressed it against his upper teeth as he heard Elena descending the stairs.
"Maybe I believe you," the man said. "Now tell me another story. What are your
With his tongue Almeda placed the capsule between his upper and lower molars
as the man once again slashed his arm. This time Almeda felt the pain.
"Tell me, or I'll cut your arm off before you die."
"Emilio! Don't kill him yet," he heard Elena shout.
Emilio wasn't listening. "Tell me," he said as he slashed Almeda's trapped arm
again. "What are your instructions?"
"I was told that Emilio's a filthy pig who doesn't wash his hands," Almeda rasped
through clenched teeth, struggling against the pain. "I was to arrest you and get
you a bath."
"Arrest me?" Emilio yelled, enraged, as he slashed Almeda's arm again and again.
Almeda was able to ignore him, fascinated by the sight of the blood pumping from
his mangled arm. Then he bit into the capsule and swallowed.
* * *
Suite 306 was the biggest suite in the Gran Hotel and contained two bedrooms,
three bathrooms, and a stateroom with a stocked bar. It was usually reserved for
visiting heads of state and captains of industry, but Felipe had managed to reserve
it for himself.
He poured two drinks at the bar and brought them to Emilio and Elena. Emilio
sat in an overstuffed chair with the manila envelope on his lap, looking totally
relaxed and content. He took a small sip from his drink and put it down on the lamp
table next to his chair.
On a sofa opposite Emilio, Elena perched erect, looking uncomfortable and pale
except for the blue bruise under her eye. She accepted the drink gratefully and
immediately took a long gulp, then held the glass tightly on her lap.
Felipe returned to the bar, turned around, and leaned back against it, facing
them while he thought over the information he had just received. Emilio stared at
him impassively, but Elena became more uncomfortable during the silence. She took
another sip from her drink.
Felipe remained silent for a moment. Then he turned to the bar, poured himself
a drink, and said, "Tell me again how this Lieutenant Almeda died."
Emilio and Elena looked at each other as Felipe sipped his drink. Finally Emilio
turned to Felipe and said nervously, "He just died."
"One moment he was conscious and talking and the next minute he was dead?" Felipe
asked, focusing on Elena.
Elena squirmed under his gaze while Felipe waited for his answer. "I think he
swallowed a cyanide capsule," she finally volunteered.
"I thought so," Felipe said, turning back to Emilio.
"How? I had total control of him," Emilio protested. "He never had a chance
to put anything in his mouth."
"I know that," Felipe said, patiently. "The poison was already there, a cyanide
capsule located under a dental cap. All he had to do was loosen the cap with his
"How would I know that?" Emilio pleaded. "We've never had a Dinconte agent
poison himself. They're all just capitalist lackeys and they don't have the balls."
Felipe stifled a smile at Emilio's rhetoric, surprised and gratified that after
ten years this brute still believed the nonsense. "Well, this Dinconte agent did
poison himself, and it wasn't a matter of balls," Felipe explained. "He knew he
was headed for a painful death because he was questioned improperly. You left him no hope
that he might live in exchange for the information he possessed. I told you to find
out how he found us, and all you can tell me is something about an informant."
The muscles in Emilio's neck tightened as he glared defiantly at Felipe, who
coolly returned his stare. Finally Emilio lowered his eyes and said, "I got everything
I could from him."
"You didn't get enough. All you did was tell me something I already knew. Obviously
it's an informant, but who?"
Emilio turned his eyes to Elena, who glowered back at him. "He said he didn't
know who it was, but said that maybe it was Elena."
Felipe regarded Elena dispassionately, while she stared into the empty glass
on her lap, terrified. She kept looking into her glass as Felipe walked to her and
she flinched when he removed the glass from her hands.
"Of course it isn't Elena," he said as he walked to the bar and poured Elena
another drink. "That was a classic piece of disinformation. I applaud Lieutenant
First Class Almeda. Elena led them to us, but she is not the traitor. She was just
careless in permitting herself to be followed in three countries without being aware of
it. She has been punished for that, and it's over."
He brought the drink to Elena and she took a long sip, then looked up at Felipe
"It wasn't Elena because she knew she was coming here and Dinconte didn't," Felipe
said. "Otherwise, their agent would have brought luggage. Someone in Peru helped
them locate Elena and told them she would lead them to me, but that someone, that
traitor, thought I was still in Peru. So they followed her and she surprised them when
she went to the airport and boarded the flight for Buenos Aires. Almeda had no choice
but to follow her here, which is exactly what he did."
"Then who is the traitor?" Emilio asked.
"I'll find out sooner or later," Felipe answered. "Unfortunately, this little
matter is going to force us to advance our timetable. Colonel Savraada will be whispering
to the police here once he finds out his man is dead, so I think it best we be out of the country by morning."
"But the meeting with Alejandro isn't until noon," Elena said. "Changing the
time will make him suspicious."
Felipe turned to Emilio. "I know I can count on you, Emilio," he said. "Alejandro
trusts you and there's a fortune in this for him. Go talk to him. Tell him I'll
be at his hotel at two A.M."
Emilio beamed at the compliment and searched his mind for a reply, but then the
phone rang. Felipe nodded to Elena and she picked it up. "It's Cruzco," she said.
"Tell him to come up," said Felipe. Elena did and hung up the phone. Felipe
put his arm on Emilio's shoulder. "Go now, but take the stairs down, Emilio. I
think you make Cruzco nervous."
Emilio gave a small salute as he closed the door behind him.
Felipe waited with his hand on the doorknob, looking at Elena. "Sooner or later,
I think Emilio is going to be a liability," he told her.
"It'll be my pleasure. Just tell me when," she said, then took her compact from
behind the bar and applied some cover-up and blush to her cheeks. She checked herself
in the compact mirror and asked, "How's this?"
"Perfect," he answered, regarding her impassively.
There was a knock at the door. Felipe opened it at once and embraced Cruzco,
who then held him at arm's length and inspected Felipe. "Felipe, you still look
like a playboy. It's good to see you."
"And you still look like Santa Claus must have looked when he was in his forties,
old friend," which was an accurate description of Cruzco. He was big, overweight,
with rosy cheeks, a wide smile, a gray beard, and a head topped by a thick mane of
curly gray hair.
Cruzco looked over Felipe's shoulder and saw Elena standing at the bar, smiling
at him. He walked to her and kissed her on the cheek. "You still look like a twenty-year-old
beauty queen," he told her.
"I'm thirty, Cruzco, but I feel like I'm fifty."
Then Cruzco touched her cheek and Elena pulled away. "What is this, a battle
scar?" he asked her tenderly.
Elena nodded, but said nothing.
"How are things going in Nicaragua?" Felipe asked, changing the subject.
"As well as can be expected, but you better put your plan in operation soon.
The Sandinistas still have control of the army and most of the police, but we're
losing power. I can't keep your men hidden forever."
"We'll know tonight. It will be soon or not at all."
The telephone rang again and again Elena answered it. "It's Burgos and Escudero,"
she said to Felipe. "They're downstairs."
"You got the Calí and the Medellín Cartels together in the same room?" said Cruzco,
astonished. "How did you do that?"
"They don't like it, but neither one can afford the price I'm asking. The only
way for them to get it done is to pool their resources," Felipe answered. "Tell
them to come up," he said to Elena.
Elena spoke into the phone, then hung up and looked to Felipe. "Get some rest,"
he told her.
She went to one of the bedroom doors, waved at Cruzco, then went in, closing
the door behind her.
As soon as Elena left, Cruzco was all business. "What have you promised the
Colombians?" he asked.
"If they meet the price, every cop in New York and every federal agent on the
East Coast will be otherwise occupied for five days at the end of this month. I'll
let their imaginations work over the opportunities that will give them."
"That's a lot, but we're asking a lot. Anything else?" Cruzco asked.
"I'll explain to them that if we win in New York, then we'll win in Peru and
they'll have a friendly government right next door to Colombia. I'll promise a sanctuary
for their leaders whenever they have legal difficulties and a stable price for our
coca leaves for the next three years."
Cruzco thought that over for a moment, apparently not entirely convinced. "There's
still three problems they're going to ask about before they come in on this," he
"I try to think of everything, but let's hear them," Felipe replied, smiling.
"Okay. The American government has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists
or giving in to their demands."
"We're going to modify that policy," Felipe answered with confidence. "They'll
have no choice, but I'm going to give them an out that'll make it look like the federal
government isn't involved. Next problem."
"How about weapons?"
"I'm meeting with Alejandro de Leon right after the Colombians."
"That traitor is here, not a hundred miles from Nicaragua?" Cruzco asked, incredulously.
"Yes, and he's not to be harmed. He's got everything we need, and the beautiful
part is that it's all in the United States."
"That's a hard pill to swallow, but if you say he's necessary, then he's safe,"
Cruzco stated. "Still, I'm curious. How did you get him to come here after my comrades
tagged him last year?"
"Easy. He trusts Emilio."
"Emilio? Why would anyone trust Emilio?"
"They trained in Cuba together when Alejandro was still with the Sandinistas.
It seems that de Leon got himself involved in an indiscretion with another man and
was being blackmailed. Emilio disposed of the blackmailer and the lover for him
and kept the whole thing to himself. That made him the only person Alejandro trusts."
There was a knock at the door, but Felipe ignored it and kept his attention on
Cruzco. "You said there were three problems. The last has to be McKenna, right?"
"Yes. McKenna. He ruined the last Sendero
operation in New York. Before you can win, you're going to have to kill him to restore
some credibility to your movement. The Colombians know that, and I'm sure they know
you've been looking for him. The old Sendero
leadership has made it an issue you can't back down from."
"You know I've never agreed with the revenge vow of Sendero
. It's sometimes counterproductive and it's one of the reasons most of the previous
leaders are either dead or in jail. Still, I've devised a plan that'll bring Detective
Brian McKenna into the open. We'll get him."
Cruzco smiled. "Then answer the door and let's change the world," he said.