The Dead Still Walk [The Johnny Walker Series]
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by Gary Towner
Description: Ex-CIA Johnny Walker of all people should have known Charlie wouldn't die easy. Soon after they meet again, this time atop a Mexican pyramid ruin, agent Summers squirms, rope-bound between two pillars. She's become an unwilling pawn of Charlie's evil plan to wreak revenge on Walker. Charlie never was known for fighting fair--at the apex of the battle between them, Charlie puts Walker into a deep hypnotic trance with a buzzword his thugs got from Walker's psychiatrist after they shot him. A sudden noise brings Walker out of his frozen state, but as Charlie pulls the trigger, two shots ring out.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [347 KB]
Reading time: 219-307 min.
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Assignment to Kill
Not everyone knows that it was President Truman who created the C.I.A. In 1951, the Office of Policy Co-ordination (OPC) and the Office of Special Operations [OSO] melded into one giant organization, the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. The primary function of the CIA was to provide a means for Washington to achieve its goals when diplomacy wasn't an option. To ride shotgun over these covert actions, Allen Dulles was appointed the first Chief of Clandestine Services.
In time, in ways best described as in the interests of National Security, a score of secret splinter factions evolved within the auspices of the newly formed agency. Many were so secret that even the President wasn't told of their existence. One such "invisible" group had the code name "Bloody Mary." Its leader was an abrasive excuse for a human being named Keith Rhiner. A gaunt little man, Rhiner had the face of a pugilist who had lost the last four of his battles. His beady gray eyes and bald head left a lasting impression on everyone who met him.
Also on the list of not-generally-known is the fact that in March 1952, the presiding CIA eggheads drew up a plan to overthrow the Guatemalan government through selective assassinations of as many as fifty-eight key leaders. The coup was code-named Operation Success and the plan, though never officially carried out, proposed first toppling the freely-elected Presidente of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and his closest aides--then terminating his high-level supporters.
President Truman sided with the president of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, who proposed they work together to overthrow Arbenz, whose left-wing politics angered the both of them. Truman told the CIA to go ahead and initiate Operation Success, which meant first shipping guns and money to Guatemalan exiles. By the time President Eisenhower took office, the decision had been made to accelerate the coup with carefully orchestrated low-profile assassinations. The CIA called such operations a "nerve war."
Overall control was eventually given to Rhiner, who proceeded to hand-pick the professional killers who would train the people who were to carry out specialized assignments in Guatemala. Though the proverbial desk jockey, Rhiner was perfect for the job. He was a ruthless sociopath with the scruples of a petty tyrant. Even his own people feared him. Nonetheless, the agents who were to carry out these assassinations were highly-trained killers with the ability to obey directives without pity, anytime, anywhere Rhiner thought their special expertise was needed.
But with unrestrained power over life and death, there's always the temptation to emulate God. Some feared that Rhiner might even let his legions loose on American citizens someday. He was overheard saying, "Congressmen are like dogs with fleas. Only in their case one shouldn't kill the fleas; one should kill the dogs." What he meant by that, or why he would say such a thing, wasn't clear. There were rumblings in Washington that he bore watching.
The "training sessions" he subjected his men to were mostly carried out at "The Farm," the CIA's West Point, located near Williamsburg, Virginia. Many of the fledgling killers were recruited in their senior years of college. The exceptional trainees were sent to the CIA's Demolition HQ.
It was here they were taught tactics that contradicted the dictates of the Geneva Convention almost entirely. Graduates of these schools of dirty tricks came to call the CIA community "The Company."
Contrary to popular belief, not all sanctioned killings are carried out by locals. Often the terrain where the target resides prevents the use of, say, a sniper rifle or a grenade launcher. Sometimes the target is so tightly guarded that even planting an explosive in his tailpipe is virtually impossible. So the kill often involves stealth and nerves of calculated steel; it involves close and personal combat. The kill itself is often violent, and all too often, bloody.
Guatemala is, in any case, a country with a bloody history. In 1520, the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado was sent from Mexico by Hernan Cortes with the express mission of conquering Guatemala. He achieved his goal through vicious attacks on the indigenous people he found in his travels, who were mostly defenseless Indians. Their eventual conversion to Christianity was at sword-point. The Spaniards had brought with them a number of Mexican Indians who called the land "Guatemala." In Nahuatl--their language--it means, "Land of Trees." With miles and miles of forests in the area, it was only natural that the name would stick.
Coban, Guatemala, founded in 1543 by Dominican priests, is a moderate-sized town of enchanting beauty built in a valley surrounded by lush green mountains. Geographically, it's a mere four-hour bus ride from Guatemala City, the "Third City of the New World." The area is rich in flora, fauna, and pure blue-tinted lakes. It has sparkling waterfalls and an incredible cave system that will challenge any spelunker worthy of the name.
It was little wonder that it was here that Presidente Arbenz had chosen to build his country retreat. He called it "The villa Cama de la Rosa." It's located on the tallest hill in the area, overlooking fifty acres of resplendent tree-studded flower gardens and fountains; it takes up a city block on well-kept grounds, and is surrounded by ten-foot high walls accessible only through an iron gate. Its cream-colored four-story expanse includes a multitude of balconies and a thick draping of lush red bougainvillea. This serene setting is marred only by the uniformed guards at every one of the twenty windows facing the gardens, with at least ten more stationed on the roof, each man alert, each man clutching an AK-47 machine gun.
It was Monday, March 9, 1953. This night, partially illuminated by spotlights, the guards had lapsed into a false sense of self-confidence. El Presidente wasn't due to arrive until the morning, and his top aide, Antonio Garcia Defacto, had already ensured that Arbenz would see only perfection in his quarters and in the disciplined staff alerted to his coming. Defacto was five feet seven, and best described as plump.
Even among his fellow Guatemalans, Defacto was considered comically short, and it was a sore subject few of his peers dared bring up in his presence. He also had a string-bean mustache that his detractors suspected was drawn on with a marking pen. But his sunken brown eyes warned he was not to be trifled with; there were rumors that he was the leader of the infamous Guatemalan death squads, the sure-fire way all third-world rulers have of effectively dealing with their detractors. The CIA especially wanted Defacto out of the way.
This night, there was the smell of roast pig in the air as several of Arbenz's advance men turned a large spit over an open bonfire down in the courtyard. The smoke spiraled up and seemed to engulf the entire villa roof, causing the eyes of the guards posted there to water. They heard the spit-turners' idle chatter and were lulled into complacency by the serenity and beauty of the night.
The landscape, though pleasing to the eye, presented a security hazard to those who were charged with protecting the villa. For one thing, the lateral view from each balcony was completely obscured by the flowery shrubbery. Those on the higher balconies did, however, have an unobstructed view of the lower balconies. The frontal view was deceptively breathtaking. Perhaps the guards could be forgiven for not noticing the arrival of two shadowy figures scaling the walls at the far end of the grounds. They might even be forgiven for not noticing the abrupt silence of the two spit-turners moments later.
The two black-clad intruders, individually seasoned but on their first mission together, hugged the side of the building for a moment, then dashed to just under the larger balcony in the center. They silently played scissors and rocks, and then the taller of the two threw a grappling hook up to the twenty-foot high balcony and began climbing; this, as his shorter colleague took out a shiny object he wore on a chain around his neck, kissed it, then made his way to a drainpipe. In seconds, he was also silently climbing. His ascent was so animated it was as if he, too, were smoke, rising to the roof to sting the eyes of the guards.
The balcony man was lean but muscular, his cobalt-blue eyes barely concealing his determination. He'd just pulled himself cat-like over the railing when he heard the glass doors opening. He slid to one side and held his breath as the doors swung wide, pinning him to the wall behind one of them. He recognized Defacto at once. His training briefing had told him that Defacto would be there; he just hadn't planned on it being so easy to find the man alone. A known chain-smoker, Defacto had gone to his balcony to take in the view and smoke what was to be his last cigarette.
The professional killer instinctively reached for his shiny Taurus 82 .38 revolver, but thought better of it. The weapon was anything but CIA issue, but it had been bequeathed from his Aunt Gerdie, and he had grown quite attached to it. When fired it was as noisy as New Year's Eve at Times Square, however, so he knew better than to use it now. It was too bad it wouldn't take a silencer fitting. The guards were everywhere, and his fellow assassin couldn't knock all of them out; his friend was good, but not that good. His mind racing, he considered using a knife; but what if Defacto cried out as the blade hit home? No, this kill would have to be as silent as a broken doorbell.
He reached into his belt and brought out his garrote. This grisly device, sometimes called a "cutter" by those intimately familiar with it, is basically a wire with wooden handles at each end. The British SOE and the American OSS first used these for covert operations in WWII. CIA operatives considered it a weapon of last resort, and it was one he'd only used on fence posts during training exercises. Still, with a wire noose around your neck, you can't scream no matter how hard you try. It was a logical choice.
As Defacto leaned over the railing, he didn't notice the dark figure positioning himself behind his right shoulder. His assassin silently made a cross-body movement with his left hand; then he raised his right hand, the one holding the other end of the garrote. Now he looped it around Defacto's head in a sweeping semi-circular, counterclockwise motion.
The surprised Defacto spit out his cigarette and attempted to pull the wire away from his throat. In that hairy instant, he managed to drive his fingers beneath the wire while attempting to hurl himself backward. But the man with the cobalt eyes yanked the ends of the wire tighter while kicking the backs of Defacto's knees. Defacto slumped, and the subsequent knee in his lower back turned into a maneuver that he couldn't counter. Cobalt Eyes made a quick turn of his body so the two were back-to-back, a move that hoisted Defacto off his feet. I never thought of trying that on that fencepost, he thought.
As the wire cut deeper, first the tips of Defacto's fingers flew off into the night, then his head separated from his torso, and his involuntary twitching stopped in a heartbeat. The assassin let go of both handles and turned to face his headless victim. As blood squirted onto his face, the horrified operative slowly slid the body to the ground. There was a tinge of regret in his eyes as he wiped his face free of the dark red gore. The technique had worked perfectly, but that practice fencepost hadn't bled like a fire hydrant with a blown gasket. He swore to himself: No more garrotes. Ever.
Suddenly he felt a sharp jab to his kidneys, and cursed under his breath at his own idiocy. Obviously, Defacto hadn't been alone in the room behind those doors. This man must have been on the phone or otherwise diverted to have arrived so late. But arrive he had, and that machine gun butt to his backside was going to leave a bruise the size of an ostrich egg. Cobalt Eyes tensed, fully expecting that the next sound he'd hear would be an all-out alarm--or the pitter-patter of AK-47 slugs ripping through his body.
He slowly turned around to face a man he judged to be at least seven feet tall. The giant's physique was definitely the result of years of steroid-enhanced bodybuilding. His green, gold-trimmed uniform and polished shoes made it a no-brainer that here was the creme de creme of the Presidente's elite personal bodyguards. His oval clean-shaven face showed only a bland expression, but his gold-braided officers' field service cap looked slightly askew. He slowly removed the strap binding the machine gun to his back--and inexplicably crumpled to the floor. The seven-inch blade of a Ka-Bar fighting knife was sticking out of the center of his back, and blood was drenching the entrance wound.
"God, Walker, do I have to do everything?" the shorter of the operatives rasped.
"Jeez, Charlie, what took you so long?"
Under all that bootblack, the thirty-year-old John Walker had the beginnings of crow's feet and brow wrinkles and he was in peak physical condition; but after what he'd just gone through, he looked spent. His cohort, the twenty-seven-year-old Charlie Lopez, had one of those faces reminding one of a Latin movie star that women just couldn't get enough of. He had long hair, black as coal just as was Walker's, and he had a whimsical smile that was beguiling even to strangers. During training, where they'd first met, Walker had razzed him mercilessly about his sexual exploits. Charlie's penetrating brown eyes always sparkled, even in the dimmest light. Looking like an exhilarated kid who had just inherited a toy factory, he reached down to retrieve his knife. He pulled it out and wiped it on the lifeless body.
Walker noticed that Defacto's blood was still flowing, and his boots were getting splattered. He took a giant step away. Charlie laughed at him when he bent over the railing and relieved himself of his breakfast.
"Walker, what did you think was going to happen when you used that cutter? People bleed. Get over it. We were sent here to make people bleed."
Charlie licked his Ka-Bar free of the last of the blood for emphasis, and shoved the blade back into the sheath strapped to his leg. Walker saw this and had another go at upchucking.
Finally Walker straightened up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and spoke with a spatter of vomit as he asked, "How in the hell did you get here without anyone hearing you? How do you do stuff like that?"
Charlie just smiled and pointed to the rope dangling from the balcony above, culminating a foot above Walker's balcony floor.
"How could you know this guy wouldn't cry out when that blade hit him?"
"I can hit a tick on a weasel at twenty paces, Ol' Buddy. I hit what I aim for. You drive the blade home between the thirteenth and fourteenth vertebrae, and the heart is right there in the line of fire. If the target has any screaming to do, it'll be in his next life. Works every time. Weren't you in the same class I was at the Farm?"
"I never could hit anything with one of those pig-stickers."
"Practice, my friend."
"I doubt I have enough years left to learn to throw as well as you. Bet I can shoot straighter than you, though."
"I'd think twice before I tried it on me if I were you."
Walker rolled his eyes. "I thought there was a guard up there. How the heck did you get by him?"
Charlie playfully shoved Walker to the balcony rail and pointed up. Walker could just barely see two lifeless arms hanging down over the railing above. Obviously, Charlie had dropped down from the roof after surprising the guards. Who knew what kind of killing spree Charlie had enjoyed on the roof before he had come to save Walker's ass?
"I thought our orders were to just smack Defacto here to make a statement, not to kill the entire Guatemalan advance guard. You didn't have to snuff them; you could have just knocked them out, like we planned."
Charlie whirled the surprised Walker around and drove him hard into the glass doors. He tightly held the winded Walker by the neck flap of his jacket.
"Don't you ever tell me what I should or shouldn't do, or I just might forget we're friends!" Charlie hissed. This as he shook Walker so hard his head made a spider web in the glass pane. "You just don't get it, do you? There is nothing, nothing so sublime as the taking of a life. There is nothing I can imagine that's more exhilarating. And hey, best of all, we're sanctioned to do it. We get to do it legal! You've killed before. You must have felt it. That piece of garbage squirting blood down there at your feet...surely you don't feel any regrets for what he was?"
Walker, his face covered in blood and vomit, shook his head a reluctant no. Charlie released his friend as suddenly as he'd unnerved him. Walker, his labored breathing finally in check, said, "Look, we've done what we came here to do. Let's get the hell out of here before somebody gets their kicks doing us in."
"My sentiments exactly. I'm going to be moving as fast as shit through a goose, though. You might want to at least try and keep up with me, Ol' Buddy."
"Any particular reason you want to leave that fast? I was planning on leaving the way we got here--slow and easy. Wait a minute--you didn't leave any calling cards up on that roof, did you?" Walker asked.
Charlie's smirk said it all. As the two retraced their steps along the walls beneath the villa balconies, Walker whispered, "Careful, those spit-turners may have big mouths."
The two spit-turners may, at one time, have indeed sounded an alarm, but Charlie silently stepped over their bodies to carve a piece of roast pig off the spit, having previously ensured they wouldn't alarm anyone but Saint Peter. Walker caught the leer. Was this the friend he'd had such fun with at all those college toga parties? How could he have missed the metamorphosis from a gentle, compassionate friend to a heartless killer in all those CIA training sessions they'd had together?
A cold shiver ran up and down his back. He'd never seen such evil in anyone's eyes in all his life. He cursed himself for not noticing Charlie's momentary departure from norm when they first arrived on the villa grounds. The slit throats of the spit-turners glistened, highlighted by the flickering light of the raging bonfire. To Walker's dismay, their eyes stared off into the night, frozen in the last horrific moments of their life.
Walker gasped, but he kept close behind Charlie as he threw his grappling hook over the outer walls and began scampering up.
"You just had to do it. You just couldn't wait to put another notch on your ego, could you?"
"Hey, when you're good you're good. Man, I'm better than good; I'm great."
Walker almost said, I wouldn't brag about it, but he thought better of it; they weren't out of the deep end of the pool. Not yet.
Dropping down from the top of the wall, Walker started to run, anxious to put as much distance as he could between him and the villa--and Charlie, if possible. But Charlie reached out from behind and yanked Walker down, forcing him to join him with his back pressed hard against the partition. Walker opened his mouth to complain, but Charlie shushed him, silently placing two fingers to his pursed lips.
The silence was deafening. What's Charlie waiting for? Walker wondered. He had his answer when a series of muffled explosions sent violent tremors in all directions, knocking both men off their feet. Walker leapt to the gate; he arrived just in time to see tongues of flame erupt from every window of the villa. In seconds, the entire roof was ablaze. It sounded like a hundred freight trains smashing into a mountain of granite.
The cries of burning guards echoed throughout the night, and Walker saw at least two jump from the roof completely engulfed in flames. A huge fireball rose like a hot balloon high into the air. Ashes and burning debris flew everywhere, raining down like crimson hail from Dante's Inferno. The smell of the fire, smoke, and burning flesh permeated the air like an inescapable poisonous cloud.
"Do I do good work, or don't I?" Charlie said, flashing one of his infectious smiles. The fire in his eyes matched the fires on that roof.
Walker was in awe, but it wasn't the fires he was watching. The explosive grandstanding was one thing, but the true nature of his friend was most troubling. And it wasn't just the killing, either. After all, the two were specialists in that area. This was Walker's twelfth mission, but the first with his old friend Charlie at his side. What awed him most was the fact that Charlie enjoyed it so. He killed indiscriminately. Needlessly.
Walker understood surgical killings. He even understood and condoned killing by necessity. But wholesale wanton killing without any form of remorse? It violated all his beliefs, all his morals. He would have to report Charlie when they got back...no, as soon as he could get to a telephone or radio. He'd let Rhiner handle it. Friend or no friend, Charlie was certifiable. Charlie'd hate it, but he needed a lot of help. Walker was as sure as he could be about anything about that.
The need to put some distance between the two and the still-exploding villa was becoming urgent; even above the noise they could hear the wail of distant fire engines. The two buried their combat clothes, after removing disguises similar to what locals would wear from their backpacks and donning them quickly; they silently used water from their canteens to wash the black smudges from their faces. Walker hid Aunt Gerdie's legacy under his shirt beneath his belt, and Charlie taped his CIA-recommended Walter PPK under the pants leg opposite his knife.
The orders said to head for Guatemala City, where the two would be contacted and given further instructions. Getting there was fraught with danger, however.
The chicken bus-ride the next day was noticeably quiet; the tension between the two had grown to a brooding. Walker feigned exhaustion, but there wasn't much chance he'd actually catch some shuteye. He couldn't get the sounds of those poor burning souls out of his head, any more than he'd been able to the previous night. It disturbed him now that Charlie was sleeping like a drugged baby.
He knew he had some serious thinking to do. Should he turn Charlie in? Should he leave Charlie to fend for himself and run the hell away from him? Also, there was the growing disillusionment with his CIA involvement. Should he hand in his resignation when he got back? Would they let him? He'd heard about Rhiner's temper. Would Rhiner let him quit?
Finally, exhaustion got the better of him, and he slid into a troubled sleep. He kept dropping off, but the bus driver seemed to aim for every pothole in the road. Every one jarred Walker awake, and the bruises from the jarring made his whole side feel like an electric eel wanted in.
The crowded bus reeked of gasoline and unwashed human flesh; it was nothing like what was touted in the tourist brochures at every station it stopped. The rusted exterior looked to be twenty years old. If it had ever had a fresh coat of paint, not a hint of it had survived to prove it.
It was obvious that someone had removed the muffler, and the entire rear of the bus was black from years of uninhibited exhaust. When the driver used his brakes, which was rarely, a loud screech signified his attempt.
At the back, an elderly woman with two wooden cages full of noisy chickens kept hurling Guatemalan obscenities at no one in particular. As for seats, in every one, three people were squeezed in side-by-side, and many were left standing in the aisle. It occurred to the troubled Walker that everyone found an excuse to talk excessively non-stop in a mishmash of Guatemalan dialects, most of which he couldn't understand.
A three-hundred-pound Guatemalan woman had muscled her way onto the end of Charlie and Walker's seats of imposition. Walker, squeezed in the middle, suffered in silence as the lady kept overlapping his space. The view through the filthy half-open windows was a collage of green hills and occasional blurred but colorful native Indians walking to the marketplaces scattered along the road.
Walker noted with mild displeasure that the sky was dark gray. Hearing a gurgling sound, he looked behind him. A pleasant-looking Guatemalan woman had her blouse partially unbuttoned. She'd pulled out one of her breasts and was suckling, in open view, a baby that couldn't have been more than four weeks old. She caught Walker's dumbfounded stare and gave him a condescending smile.
Walker finally tore himself away from his fixation and resumed staring straight ahead. Charlie had been bounced awake and he kept himself busy flirting with a teenybopper who'd turned in her seat up ahead to stare, venting her curiosity at him. When he smiled back, while blowing her a kiss, she turned shy and sank below the top of her seat. Every so often she would pop her head up and Charlie would blow her another kiss, thus perpetuating an endless cycle. When he wasn't doing that he played with the Saint George medal he always wore on a chain around his neck, along with his dog tag.
Saint George was himself an interesting character. He'd clawed his way up to an important post in the Roman army, but he'd abdicated his position, defying the Emperor--who demanded that everyone, including Christians, make sacrifices to his favorite pagan gods. When they martyred the old boy in 304 A.D., the Emperor's wife, Alexandria, was so taken by the Saint's courage that she converted to Christianity too.
It turned out to be a big mistake. The Emperor was so enraged he had her put to death for her defiance to him. On the Catholic medallion commemorating Saint George, there's a dragon depicted. It's said that represents Satan, and the scene represents St. George crushing all evil.
Walker had once asked Charlie why he would wear such a thing, since he was a devout atheist. Charlie told him it was all he had of his mother, a whore by trade, who was a heavy smoker who'd died of breast cancer when he was only ten. His father took out his grief at her loss by regular beatings, an albatross around his neck that Charlie accepted until he was sixteen. He'd been on his own since then, and he said he didn't care what became of his father once he was free of him.
Walker had sympathized and related how his own father, a dirt farmer in Surprise, Arizona, had died when Walker was very young. It was a massive heart attack, but the only thing he ever beat to a pulp while he was alive was saltine crackers. He'd regularly pulverize a pile of crackers to cool his soup. Walker reminisced about how his mother had died, too, just recently, of a massive stroke also brought on by untreated hypertension.
Walker was startled out of his reverie when the bus was suddenly pelted with raindrops that made unsettling pitter-patter thumps on the roof. He shut his eyes again, and tried to drown out the bad memories with good ones. He prayed the trip would be over when he opened them again, but that wasn't meant to be. Every so often he'd drift off, but the bus would hit a pothole, or a backfire would jar him back into full consciousness.
His thoughts kept going back to Charlie. How could Charlie be so normal one minute, and turn into a monster the next? Walker did his best to remember happier, more innocent times. The two were like brothers. Those college frat parties had been fun, but what they referred to as "sex orgies" every Friday night while at the Farm learning bad habits, well, they were unconsciously inane.
The Blue Mongoose was the perfect hangout if one wanted to let his hair down, to unwind after a rigorous day learning all about outlawed weaponry such as bullets that exploded on impact and machine guns with hi-tech silencers, mastering do-it-yourself napalm concoctions, mixing poisons that could kill without leaving a trace, and learning little things like twenty-six ways to force an enemy to commit suicide.
After work every Friday the two would live it up on the dance floor, the Wurlitzer jukebox blaring into the wee hours, monopolizing a table in the back. Charlie drew women like a fish market draws stray cats. All he had to do was sit there, his shirt open at the top, revealing his more-than-ample chest hair and his dangling shiny Saint George medal. He'd sit, girls at each knee smothering him with kisses and vying for his attention. He kissed back with unbridled passion, and the women he attracted couldn't get enough of him.
Walker was no slouch regarding the ladies in those days either, but he was more discriminating. He'd spot the most beautiful woman in the room, then he'd literally drag her to the table. It was a crude way to pick up a date, but it sometimes worked. When it didn't, Charlie was generous enough to supply Walker with one of his rejects. It didn't matter, because the two were irreverent in those days and they had a little gag they loved to pull on the unsuspecting.
After the kissing and the drinks had lost their sizzle, Charlie would excuse himself. In a few moments he'd return with a wooden cage. He'd plunk it down in the centre of the table, and he would open a sliding door. Out would strut a live chicken, cackling as it went. Walker would pull his chair back a foot and straighten out his long legs while all eyes were on the chicken.
He'd trained the egg-layer to perform just one little trick. It would hop down from the top of the table and onto Walker's lap. Then it would strut down Walker's leg, only to turn around and head for his fly zipper. The ladies rarely noticed Walker's wink to Charlie. When the chicken pulled down Walker's zipper, a jack-in-the-box contraption popped out an erect white sock designed to shock the most stolid of women. And shock it did.
One night, one of the more naive sweet young things actually fainted. As the rest of the ladies scampered away, usually screaming, Walker would fall back on his chair laughing, crashing to the floor. He and Charlie would laugh themselves hoarse every time the gag was successful.
That was the Charlie that Walker thought he knew. Yeah, he decided, Charlie was a friend then and he was a friend now. For that reason alone, he should at least try to get him some help. If there were no other assignments for the two when he checked into home base for further instructions, he'd use a phone to ask Rhiner to meet them at the airport when they landed in the States, accompanied by several husky men in white coats. Until then he could placate Charlie. After all, they were friends.
Finally, the dilapidated bus got to where it was going and the twin doors swung wide open, disgorging most of the passengers in an indiscriminate jumble. The rain continued falling in sheets, but Walker and Charlie made a beeline for the nearest building that didn't look flooded.
Guatemala City is a large, bustling, modern city by Central American standards. It thrives mostly due to el Presidente's liberal policies. He permits free expression, he has legalized unions, and he allows with minuscule restraint opposition political parties to flourish. He's even encouraged socio-economic reform. One such reform is designed to raise the living standards of the rural poor: it involves buying large tracts of mostly-unused land, and then reselling them to the underprivileged at unheard-of low rates.
Arbenz is gearing up to implement this reform, and it appears no one can talk him out of it. So gush the state-run newspapers. The fly in the ointment has been the United Fruit Company, the largest landowner in the country. Worried that they will suffer an unprecedented financial loss if Arbenz is allowed to continue in power, they've sent envoys to neighboring countries--and to Washington--complaining that "Communism" is running amuck in Guatemala. The campaign to crush this trend couldn't have been timelier, or more successful. President Truman thinks Communism is the scourge of mankind, and he has no reservations about using the CIA to intervene.
Walker and Charlie had been sent in with the express purpose of proving that Washington meant business. If they could get to Defacto, Arbenz's top aide, they could take out Arbenz himself at their whim if he refused to change course. But in Walker's eyes, that wasn't going to happen: because of Charlie's extravagance, the plan had backfired. Even Charlie had to know that the massacre at Coban would only serve to antagonize Arbenz. There was no way he'd back down now.
When Walker checked in, he anticipated Rhiner was going to be livid. The rain finally quit and Walker and Charlie made their way to the marketplace, Chichicastenango. Walker knew this place like the wrinkles on the back of his hand. A year earlier, he'd come to Guatemala on vacation to explore the caves not far from Coban. Having received his degree at the New Mexico School of Mining and Technology, he lived for exploring old mines and caves. He'd purchased almost all of his spelunking tools in this city; they had almost everything. It was his familiarity with the area, in fact, that had caused Rhiner to select him for the mission. When someone mentioned that Charlie was Walker's best friend, Rhiner thought the reunion would be perfect for the assignment he envisioned.
How wrong he'd been.
The marketplace had everything one could ever ask for in terms of fruits, vegetables, meats, live animals and even exotic-smelling incense. A crowd of excited shoppers was involved in endless noisy bickering over freshness and cost. Adding to the flurry of activity, and meeting Charlie's adamant approval, native women worked at nearly every stall, wearing the colorful traditional Guatemalan textiles.
Charlie and Walker made their way to the back of one stall in particular, where a serpentine dirt path led to steps leading down into a smoky grotto. El Semilla was a combination bar and CIA front. Though neither man had entered these portals before, Walker had been directed to find a table and wait for further orders. An operative was scheduled to contact the two and take them to a radio linkup with Rhiner. The catch was, they had four hours to kill before the meeting.
As they headed for a table, a burly Guatemalan with the face of a mutant bulldog blocked the exit behind them. Charlie looked back and signaled his alarm to Walker. He pulled back a chair and planted one foot on the center of it, then silently pulled up his pants leg. When he slowly began unraveling the tape binding his gun, Walker reached down and pulled Charlie's pant leg back down to his ankle.
"Unless he falls on you, he's harmless," Walker whispered. "So settle down. My guess is he's a friend assigned to keep the baddies from following us in here and maybe molesting us. If, however, I've misjudged him, and he does kill you, I promise I'll make it right by breaking this chair over his head."
Pacified, Charlie just shook his head and planted himself on the chair. They'd waited less than half an hour, nursing watery drinks, when Charlie made his impatience clear. "Hey, I can't take much more of this shit. I'm going to go find me a sex kitten. I saw one out there in the square that would make the Pope lose his trousers."
"Hey, save it for another time, Super Stud. If that bar over there runs out of bourbon, I just might race you for the door; that's if the two of us can shove that human mountain aside long enough. But there's plenty of booze from what I can see."
"I hate bourbon, Ol' Buddy. I got a hard on and I don't want to waste it."
"Okay, but you got two hours max. Any longer than that and I'll give that guy fifty quetzals to drag you back."
Charlie boldly walked over to the doorstopper to tap him on his shoulder. When he turned to see what was what, Charlie slipped by him wearing a smile that would have made Mona Lisa blush. Though flustered, the big man only glared at Charlie as he hot-footed it out into the marketplace.
Walker had never been big on drinking, but he was determined to kill more than time. As he drank, he couldn't free his mind of the horrors of the previous night. Those screams. All that blood. Maybe he was in the wrong line of work after all.
"Another bourbon! And bring me the bottle," he demanded.
His audible determination startled the door blocker, but only briefly. The big man folded his arms and continued his fixation on the door.
Two hours later the new bourbon bottle had only two fingers of liquid left in it, and Walker was all but smothering his table. Charlie hadn't returned yet, but Walker couldn't have cared less. He didn't notice when a silent figure glided through the entranceway, but any other time he would have been intrigued to learn that it was a passably beautiful woman. She spoke softly to the door goon for a moment, and he stood aside to let her pass.
"Mister Walker? Mister John Walker?" she asked loudly.
Walker, unable to lift his head, cast a sidewise glance at her, but the light coming through the door into the darkened room blinded him. He shielded his eyes with a hand that felt like it weighed fifty pounds.
"Yeah, I'm John Walker. Would you mind keeping it down? I'm not myself right now."
"They told me there would be two of you. Where is your associate?"
"Look, lady, I don't know you. Are you one of Charlie's rejects? Tell him I wouldn't know what to do with a chicken now even if one came in and bit me on the ass."
"I don't know what you've been drinking, but you stink of it. As for the 'chicken,' I'm sure your 'Charlie' probably already ate it."
"Lady, you're beginning to irritate me. Go away and don't come back until you can find me an unused chicken." Relieved when she did head for the door, Walker shut his eyes and started snoring.
His visitor had more words with the door ogre and they both came back to tower over the sleeping colossus. To say they dragged Walker screaming and kicking into the back room would be to trivialize the account. They dumped Walker into a dimly-lit vertical cubical he was too inebriated to claw out of--and when the lady reached in to turn the knob, streams of ice-cold water drenched him. His screams and pleas for mercy fell on unsympathetic ears.
When the two were sure Walker had reached a satisfactory, albeit borderline level of sobriety, they dragged him back to his table.
"Now, Mister Walker, can you tell me where your 'Charlie' is? I have orders concerning both of you."
"I don't think we've been introduced," Walker said, straining to see her clearly through bloodshot eyes, "but you sure have a quaint way of getting my attention."
"I'm Castro, but my friends call me Emilia. Now, Charlie?" She gestured toward the back room.
"Well, Emilia," Walker smiled broadly, "Charlie had an itch and he should have scratched it by now. I don't know where he is."
"What was that chicken thing all about?"
"It's a long story. Consider that the ramblings of a drunken memory. I don't think you'd appreciate it anyway, and I sure don't need another shower. It was something we did a long time ago. Maybe when I get to know you better I'll tell you all about it," Walker said. His grin looked sincere, and Castro showed she accepted it with a good-natured grin of her own. "Okay, Yankee. I was sent here to take you two to a radio."
"You CIA? I thought all CIA females had pug noses with bull-rings--and bodies like Japanese sumo wrestlers."
"No, far from it. As you can see, I don't have any rings--not even on my fingers. But they did hire me to help you two in any way I can. Your CIA pays well, and a lady's gotta eat. I do have a question about the CIA. Maybe you can help me with it."
Walker smiled broadly. If someone that homely was on the team and wanted to know about the inner workings of the CIA, she'd struck pay dirt in seeking out his ego-inflated store of knowledge. He told her so while attempting a flirt.
She looked at him coldly and said, "Why does your CIA work so hard to bring down our beloved Presidente? All he wants is to make the peasants' lot a little better. You Americans should help him, not depose him. I just don't understand you Americans."
Walker's ears popped, and he found that his blurred vision had deceived him. The lady in front of him was the fairest Guatemalan he'd ever seen. In fact she was beautiful. Her long black hair flowed like ebon lava down both sides of her enticingly oval face, partially obscuring her fiery brown eyes. Her body filled her jungle khaki clothes, as if she were molten magna. Walker surmised that her CIA connections were only a means to an end. She could be a model. He was jarred sober and he feared his unmentionable was threatening to raise the table a peg or two.
He was opening his mouth to answer her question in detail when Charlie burst through the doorway with the urgency of a man running for his life. The door ogre let him pass, but he wouldn't budge when the man chasing Charlie tried to follow him in. The menacing machete-swinging didn't faze the brute in the least; he simply extended his reach to dislodge the weapon from the man's animated grip.
The enraged Guatemalan retreated, shouting obscenities in poignant broken English. Walker didn't know much Guatemalan, but the words "Leave my daughter alone, Yankee pig!" came through loud and clear.
Charlie hurriedly joined Walker at his table, but he was overcome with laughter and breathlessness. He made no attempt to hide his indecent approval of Castro.
"I take it this is Charlie," Castro said, showing no emotion. "I see he lives up to the reputation that precedes him."
"Well, hello to you too, Sweetie. Where have they been hiding the likes of you?" Charlie all but oozed testosterone.
"Put your eyes back where they belong, Don Juan. Pack up your things, Charlie. You, this big ox with a lump in his crotch, and I have to leave. We have to leave now if you want to make radio contact by dark."
"I think I'll wait here, if you don't mind," Charlie said. "When Daddy finds out what his daughter and I really did in the bushes out there, he may come back with an army of avengers. They catch me out in the open and I'll have no choice but to rely on my hot-blooded Latin temper. I just might have to start World War III. Go make that call. I'll still be here--if that ugly-looking guy in the doorway doesn't decide to sit on me first."
After leaving the bar, Walker soon grew weary of Castro's insistent prodding. She'd practically dragged him through the market place as she made their way to Parque Central. The green stone Palacio Nacional, the seat of government built in 1939 by order of then-residing Presidente General Jorge Ubico Castaneda, dominated Parque Central. On the East end was the huge Cathedral Metropolitica. Built in 1782, the twin-towers-and-dome exterior of the building looked battle-scarred. Obviously there had been a recent earthquake, and the repairs had been put on hold until the money could be scrounged up or shaken loose from the corrupt officials who controlled it. Castro headed straight for the open doors of the church and pulled Walker inside.
"What's the big hurry? I've been here before, and I gotta tell you, as churches go this one's pretty bland."
"We have to beat the new curfew. I don't know why there is one, but my people tell me it may have something to do with the Presidente's country villa getting blown to bits last night. You wouldn't happen to know anything about it, would you?"
Walker shrugged his non-committal best.
"Haven't you Yankees done enough? The peasants deserve better."
Walker yanked Castro back a moment while he caught his breath. "Whose side are you on, anyway? I did notice that the square out there was kinda empty. The last time I was here it was mobbed. What's going on?" He tightened his grip on Castro's arm and she struggled to break free.
Several of the parishioners at the far end of the aisle had been lighting candles, but they glanced back at the two to see what was causing the commotion. They looked annoyed. Walker saw what a scene he was causing and he let Castro go. She ran to one of the front pews, genuflected, and then slid over, leaving a space for Walker to sit by her.
"You picked a hell of a time to get religion," he growled.
"You really don't know what's going on, do you? My people and I have known for months that your CIA is backing a coup here. If you are successful, it will destroy the only chance our poor and oppressed have had in a hundred years to break the shackles of dependency. No, Mr. Walker, I am not on your side."
"Hey, I'm not the political one here. What Charlie and I are doing is following orders. We're not high enough up the food chain to get into consequences. Answer me this, Your Highness, are you a Communist?"
Castro looked exasperated. "That's just a word, gringo. If wanting to get ahead, if wanting a good education and a better future for our young means we are Communists, then yes, we are, and proud of it."
"So you admit it?" Walker grinned.
"Oh, why do I bother? I will get you to your radio; it is what I was paid to do. But after that, you can go to hell, for all I care."
"Lady, you don't know the half of it."
"Johnny? Is it really you?" A giant of a priest was running up the aisle, grinning as though he had just found a pot of gold at the end of his rainbow. His six-foot-seven inch, three hundred and twenty-pound bowl of Jell-O torso almost tripped on his long black robe as he ran. He was bordering on giddy, yet there was a look of intelligence about him.
The elderly priest threw his arms around Walker. "I thought it was you. Why didn't you tell me you were coming? My fishing tackle hasn't had a decent workout ever since you left. Come to think of it, I should be mad at you. Why didn't you say goodbye when you left?"
"You know how...how I hate goodbyes." The good Father's bear hug had made Walker's statement halting.
"Look at you, don't you ever eat?" The priest frowned. "Is that liquor I smell on your breath? You haven't taken up any other bad habits, have you?"
"A few. Father, I want you to meet Emilia Castro, an associate of mine."
He frowned again. "Yes, I know your...associate all too well. We have said many a Hail Mary together in confession. I know why you two are here. Come with me."
Walker was startled. "Father...I've known you for how many years? I never even suspected you had ties with the rebels, let alone were working for the CIA. How long have you known I worked for the Company?"
"Well, my son, I would tell you--but then I'd have to kill you and give you the last rites afterwards." The priest laughed so hard at his little joke that he began choking; his captive audience just rolled their eyes.
The radio was in a cubbyhole beneath the church floors. Father Christopher slid a large statue of the Virgin Mary aside to reveal steps leading down.
Walker was eager to make his report, but he knew Rhiner wasn't going to like what he had to say. Father Christopher prudently motioned to Castro to follow him, leaving Walker to sweat things out in the darkened room with the illuminated dials and speaker static.
Walker's suspicions about Rhiner were on target; to say that he was livid was to ignore reality. Fifteen minutes later Walker emerged, his face white, eyes dilated. Father Christopher took one look at him and crossed himself.
"Johnny, I've never seen you so troubled. What did they say? Can I help you work it out? I always have a confessional open."
"Sorry, Father, you're forgetting--I'm not a Catholic. Even if I was...well, it's not what I've done, it's what I just got ordered to do."
"I'm sure no matter what it is, God will forgive you." He patted Walker on his back.
"No, it's not God who won't be able to forgive me for what I'm about to do. It's me."
So began Walker's perilous trek into a nightmare that would entail years of soul-searching and a brush with the occult that had no parallel, not even in fiction.