Prose Header

Circles in the Sand

by Gary Clifton

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


“A name, Liz?” He flashed a hint of smile. The scar was still prominent on his upper lip. It had been spring in Barcelona. The Russian had been passive, then knocked out four of Carlos’s teeth. She’d slit the big man’s throat with a Barlow knife she was carrying in her bra. The incident had been a genuine hell of a mess.

Carlos said, “Even if I had a name to give you, I wouldn’t last until Saturday in here. For all the hell I know, you...?”

“You went over to Kaminsky’s outfit, Carlos, not me. Dammit, Johnny’s yours too... although you’ve never acknowledged his existence. Never a card, nor a word.”

“I never believed he was mine. Still don’t. You were doing half the guys in the section.”

She slouched back in her stiff chair, exhaling a large cloud of smoke. “Guess I should have ordered a DNA test. Dammit, I still have the carpet burn scars on my knees from that week we spent in Cairo. It was you, Carlos, and nobody else.”

He studied the ceiling with a trace of nostalgic thin smile. “That was indeed a very fine time.”

She stifled a cough. “My throat’s so dry I can hardly talk. Will they give us anything to drink?”

“You’re the dignified celebrity guest. They wouldn’t give me squat, but maybe if you asked those two birddog clowns outside, they might hustle up a cup of coffee. God, I could use it.” He had always been a coffee addict.

She rapped on the steel door. The key clicked in the lock and Blondie pushed it open.

“The dust is horrible. Any chance of a couple cups of coffee?” She ginned up the smile, which didn’t escape Carlos.

Blondie nodded and moved away to fetch coffee.

Carlos took a pull on his Marlboro. “New friend there, Liz?” His familiar grin was broad, showing the brilliantly white, artificial denture he had earned in Barcelona. “Do you ever get out of character?”

She sighed. “You know the CIA, dude. Do what you gotta do. And that includes that name you’re holding. And double bad in this case, your son is hamburger if you don’t cooperate.

“We know the individual is male and an accountant in Mexico City. Langley knows he got away with a hundred million of Kaminsky’s dollars. They bag that guy, and Kaminsky would give up half his sources to get his hands on him. Langley would trade him to Kaminsky like a rented mule. Please, Carlos, for God’s sake, please. It’s our son and frankly, my ass, if I don’t deliver.”

He held her gaze steadily. “Please, please” was definitely out of Liz’s normal repertoire. As with everyone and everything in the clandestine world, the truth was always subject to opinion.

A rap at the door and Blondie appeared with two Styrofoam cups of steaming black liquid. He handed both to Liz and backed out the door.

She peeked through the small window. Blondie rejoined Dark Hair, leaning on the fence ten or twelve feet away and they quickly seemed to engage in casual conversation, ignoring the shack where Liz and her long-time paramour sat.

She rather awkwardly handed over a cup of the coffee, her long nails somewhat of a hindrance to use of her fingers. Carlos sipped, then gulped. He apparently had been denied coffee as he’d hinted. Liz set her cup on the table.

“The name, Carlos?”

“Will Langley help me here, Liz? Maybe at least get me transferred to some place on a real road in the real world. Beyond that fence is the end of the damned world. You got zero chance of busting outta this place. Hell, there are only five other prisoners here and not one speaks English.”

She actually saw it before he realized what had happened. She would have expected no less. His eyes showed alarm, followed almost instantly by glassing up. Spilling the last drops of coffee across the table, he doubled over, clutching his stomach as best he could handcuffed to a table. His face contorted in intense pain.

“It’s Compound 1080Z, love. Odorless, tasteless, water... or coffee soluble. The lab rats at Langley painted my lovely nails with it. Must have dropped a fleck or two in your coffee when I handed it to you.”

“Bitch,” he groaned, clawing at his mid-section.

A quick check out the window showed Blondie and Dark Hair still chatting amiably out of earshot. From a small purse, she withdrew a glass vial marked “sleep aid” and waved it in the air.

“The poison is deadly, Carlos. Fatal in just over a minute and leaves no trace. But, love, I have the antidote right here. That Mexican accountant seems a fair trade for this little jar of life juice. His name and address, quickly.”

“Damn you, Liz,” he gasped.

She held the small bottle higher.

“What about our son?”

“There is no son, Carlos, no Johnny. When you abandoned us in Caracas seven years ago, he developed typhus and died a month later. I tried to reach you, but you’d become a trusted member of the Kaminsky operation.”

“No Johnny? Kaminsky?” He gasped, “You said Langley sent you.”

“They did, Carlos... to extract this guy’s name by any means necessary. Read your mail, fool, and you’d have known Johnny was gone years ago.” She waved the bottle.

He spat, “Eric Estrella... He’s in the...” A shudder of pain interrupted. “He’s in the Edificio Contrara in the Plaza of the Americas.” His eyes were wild with pain. “In the name of God, Liz, give me that bottle.”

Liz smiled and dropped the vial. It shattered on the concrete floor as she dug the heel of her stiletto into the shattered bits.

“My God, Liz, I am dead.” His expression assumed an odd, placid, look of resignation; his voice a weak rattle.

“You are dead, Carlos... but not as dead as you’re gonna be in sixty seconds.”

He desperately kicked out the window, generating a combination of alarms, which Liz figured could be heard in El Paso.

Through the window, she saw Blondie and Dark Hair coming on the run. Experience told her they would never suspect her, not at first, at least.

As Blondie burst in, Liz said in her most practiced panic, “My God, he’s had some sort of seizure. I must get back to D.C. immediately. The President is waiting on the results of this interview.”

His hands still attached to the table ring, Carlos kicked spasmodically, gasped twice, and he stopped breathing, sliding off his chair halfway to the floor, his cuffed hands holding him grotesquely partly upright.

Blondie, his eyes wide in shock, said to Dark Hair, “Robinson, you get the medics and stay here at the scene. I’ll drive Ms. Janssen back to the helicopter pad.”

Blondie trotted back the way they come inside the fenced walkway, Liz in her heels and lugging her briefcase, struggling to keep up. The alarm blaring overhead made conversation impossible.

The scheme had worked. She had Blondie well in hand and the much-sought name of the accountant in Mexico City plus an address. Mission was accomplished. She’d be out of the Langley dog house and the bonus would pay for an offshore condo and a shiny new red convertible.

The machine gunner and the two kids guarding the gate only watched as Blondie gunned the ugly vehicle they’d arrived in back out onto the dusty road.

Blondie drove the ambulance wildly back toward the helicopter, Liz pin-balling around the back seat. They had already whizzed past the helicopter pad before she noticed. “Wait, dear. We missed our turn.” She might have to terminate this dumb yokel if he didn’t do as told.

Without speaking, Blondie drove cross-country several more minutes into the endless expanse of dust and sand, Liz protesting vehemently. Several miles past the helo, he slammed the vehicle to an abrupt stop, slamming her against the back seat.

Liz regained her seat and ramped up her best come on. “Baby, I’ve seen the way you’ve looked at me ever since El Paso. I’ve got time to get out of these old hot clothes for a little personal time if that suits your purpose. I’d love it out here in the middle of nowhere.” All she needed was to be a couple of feet closer to this jerk to send him to hell.

She boosted herself slightly higher in her seat and touched the top button on her blouse. He saw the move in the rear view mirror but didn’t look back. This dummy would be history in sixty seconds. Casually leaning forward, she reached out and tenderly caressed his slender neck.

Blondie slapped her hand away and turned back in his seat. “My God, lady, you’re old enough to be my mother. Did you really think you could con anyone with a lick of sense?” He raised a .40 caliber Glock pistol and shot her between the eyes, blood and gore spewing into the rear of the ambulance.

The noise was deafening, but Liz didn’t hear it. Her limp, nearly headless body bounced violently off the back seat, then slithered to the rear floorboard against the driver’s seat.

Blondie dialed a number on his cellular. “Okay, bring the chopper to the spot we agreed on. What? No, she did what they told her and poisoned him in the interview shack. I’ve taken care of her, and I’m ready for you to get here damned quick. Stay low or you’ll get a missile for intruding their precious space.”

He listened as the other party commented at some length.

“Hell, no I’m not gonna give you the name or anything else on this cellular. My arrangement is with Kaminsky, ass, not you, no matter if you’re his chief dog-robber or not. Couple of days and you can mail Langley this bookkeeper guy’s ears if that what blows your skirt.”

He waited while the other party spoke.

“Yeah, she had an old anti-bugging device in her wristwatch, but our equipment defeated it. I have the name and address. You get nothing from me until we meet in the bank in D.C. tomorrow. Then we trade the name for a few bags of $1000 bills, which oughta weigh about as much as a dumb country bumpkin like me can carry. Maybe I’ll bring a two-wheeled dolly.”

Smiling at his humor, he hesitated as an angry voice blasted from the cellular.

“Look tough guy, I don’t give a damn what kinda firepower you’re carrying. I brought along a shoulder-firing Mark VII Stinger. You show up in that helicopter anyway but alone, we’ll see how well Langley taught me to shoot. Call me when you have a visual on this ambulance.

“And if you take a shot at me, you’d best not miss. I can make contact with Kaminsky again without you. It don’t work the other way around. You get lucky and kill me, there goes your chance of grabbing the guy Kaminsky is willing to pay millions for. By this time tomorrow, Kaminsky’s goons would be shredding you — alive — through the wood chipper.”

He hung up. Arrogantly giddy from his victory, he drove slowly further into the desert, scanning the western horizon for his rendezvous helicopter. Craning his neck to look over into the back floorboard at Liz’s body, he felt the slight scratch near where she had touched his neck.

His ears still rang from the gunshot inside a closed vehicle. Time, secrecy, and distance would preclude the CIA from getting the bad news until at least the next day. He smiled at himself in the rearview mirror at the thought of the uproar that was about to explode at Langley.

The eyes that looked back at him had taken on a new hue of triumphant belligerence. He never saw the odd glassiness forming.

Suddenly the horizon blurred crazily out of frame. An agonizing shard of pain wrenched his stomach. He slumped over in the seat, his body in extreme spasms as the ambulance drifted to a halt in deep sand.

Reality struck home. He’d heard it on the bug back at the prison compound. The scratch on his neck... Liz’s ornate fingernails. Great God, she’d killed him!

This can’t be happening. I’ve won, were his last thoughts before his body stiffened and he gasped for one final, partial breath.

The relentless hot wind quickly began mounding sand against the side of the stationary ambulance. By morning, the vehicle would be only another sand dune.

* * *

A thousand miles away, a pudgy man in a blue silk suit caught the elevator down in the Plaza of the Americas, on route to meet his mistress for an elegant lunch across the avenue.

Buenos días, Señor Estrella,” the elevator operator greeted.

Eric Estrella would never have an inkling of who Liz, Carlos, or Blondie might be. Defense and Justice would launch investigations, file complaints, expend incredible man-hours. Langley would have no knowledge of the incident.

Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton

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