ONE’S STILL OUT THERE
by Salvatore Buttaci
Nell’s face lit up again. In his daydream, she held Baby Brian in her arms, sang lullabies, rocked him quiet till peacefully he fell asleep. Dixon imagined he could read her mind clear across the world. She missed him. She wanted him back home. Her pretty face there in the haze of reverie made him ache with longing.
The muezzin’s prayerful cries to Allah from the height of the minaret snapped Dixon back to the real world. He wondered if Allah was listening. Say, he thought, two enemies ask for Allah’s help. Which one does he favor? Which enemy? And when both enemies are heavy into espionage, murder their stock in trade, which one does Allah root for? Dixon laughed out loud.
Outside his hotel window, Jerusalem sparkled gold. A fiercely oppressive midday sun kept David ben Gurion Street a ghost walk. Marketers were content to remain at home inside their cool stucco walls. The only movement he saw was the same black tom cat race its paws several times over the hot pavement. Black cat. Prayers to heaven. Dixon was not one to place trust in signs. He had a job to do.
“Anything out of place,” TK had ordered, “and you get on the horn. Somebody ducks down an alley you think suspicious, you ring up, understand? Don’t mess up again.”
Dixon instinctively reached his hand into the side pocket of his dark double-breasted jacket and touched the Ruger SP-101. He called the gun his “difference,” because that’s what it made when somebody tried to prematurely retire him from the spy game he had grown cold enough over the years to love. Days ago he told TK, “Me and Difference. That’s the way we travel. Like true lovers,” and the chief, out of his catalog of faces, gave Dixon back the one where he stretches thin bloodless lips over bared yellowed teeth, and said, “Watch out for love, Dixon. Sometimes what you think is love turns out an ass-biting snake.”
Two days ago in Calcutta he had donated to the River Ganges three floaters. Heavy hitters all the way from Spain, the two of them spoke their Castillian, complete with lisp, right up to the flash of Dixon’s Ruger. Como thta uthted now, amigoth? You think you can play potsy with Putin and then with the same chalk draw little hearts with us in them? Adioth amigoth!
But TK called him down on it. “Three? Didn’t we make it clear there were four? Maybe you weren’t listening. Didn’t Madrid say that? So three of those caballeros are face down bloating-blue on the stenching Ganges slime while number four, Cuatro, is out there looking for some revenge. Good show, Dixon. Good show. That kind of unfinished business is enough to turn ‘covert’ into the last of VQ-12!”
Four, not three? One was still out there? Last seen in the Holy City, harboring very unholy plans. It was up to Dixon to do his own brand of quick transformation magic. He would find Theñor and this time sever the tie that linked the Spaniards with the Russians. Then he’d earn some R & R. Fly the big El Al home.
When the hotel phone rang, he let it ring three times till the ringing stopped, then waited for it to ring again. When it did, he lifted it from its cradle, said nothing. He waited, but nothing sounded on the other end. After awhile he hung up the phone. TK had told him to wait for the three rings. It was a safe phone, but this time, maybe a coincidence? Maybe someone else, not TK, not Henderson, someone else. Maybe Theñor wanting to know why the hell I deposited so many slugs into his three amigoth, why I singlehandedly and with so much passion dumped each Spaniol into the stinking Ganges.
Again he let his right hand caress the butt and barrel of his Difference. Oh, Theñor, you need to get up real early in the morning to outsmart me. You may be the early bird, but I’m Judd Dixon, the earlier worm. I ain’t died yet, and here’s my word, I ain’t dying now.
Still, it made him uneasy when the phone rang again. Three rings and it stopped. Then it started a new first ring. Dixon picked it up and waited. This time he heard TK say, “You hanging tight?”
Dixon sighed, but not the way he did when a mission was over and he could exhale deep cathartic breaths, happy to be alive, eager to bark up another tree that needed felling. This time the sigh spelled relief. It was TK.
“Yeah. Status quo. You sure Cuatro’s in Jerusalem?”
“He’s in Jerusalem. Somewhere on your street,” TK said. “Don’t underestimate this one. Remember, he got past you, didn’t he?”
It was a question that hardly needed an answer. TK was good for the rhetorical. Dixon kept silent, then TK said, “One of the boys will come by within the hour.” Dixon thought to himself, probably Henderson. TK and he were somewhere inside the Gates of the Old City. They were here to insure his mop-up left things squeaky clean. Dixon balked at first. He tried to make it clear, yeah, he messed up, but he was good on his own to repair the damage. He didn’t need help.
An hour dragged, then “Open up, Guy. Henderson.”
Dixon opened the door to Henderson. Behind him stood TK and… Cuatro?
“Surprised?” asked TK. “Didn’t I say you messed up?”
“Dixon saw the revolver in TK’s hand.
“What the hell…”
“Hell,” said Cuatro. “for you, Theñor.”
Again a flash of Nell. TK a secret agent! A flash of Madrid. There were only three! There was no fourth man. A flash of days ago, his Difference smoking in his hand, now rested too far away in his pocket.
“Who’s the enemy?” he managed to say to three smiling faces. Then a final flash of TK’s gun and the sun went out in Jerusalem.