(Click here for our preceding chapter; go here to return to the beginning of our epic, winner of the Wasilla Public Library Award for Unobjectionable Christian Literature.)
(This episode rated EP for Excessively Pulpy.)
The flashlight’s beam illuminated the dead body of a blond young woman in a chiffon dress and angora cardigan lying face-down on a dark-red saucer-shaped stain in the scrubby earth. She looked like a department store mannequin fallen from the back of a truck. A well-polished black shoe turned her over. The woman had been shot twice in the chest, and in her small right hand was a large semi-automatic pistol.
The light quickly traveled a few feet away from the dead woman and came to rest on the corpse of a blond young man in a plaid sportjacket and rep tie. He too had been shot twice in the chest, and gripped tightly in his right hand was a pistol identical to the one in the dead woman’s hand.
A kid-gloved hand reached down and began to pull the pistol out of the dead man’s hand, which seemed not to want to let go. Captain Alexis Pym (USN) gave the barrel a sharp twist, the pistol came free, and the dead man’s arm fell back to the earth.
Captain Pym examined the pistol with his flashlight. He was dressed for the cool desert night in a tan naval officer's topcoat and a peaked khaki cap.
Behind him, at the wheel of an open air force jeep, Lt. Perkins sat looking nervous and frightened in a new nylon flight jacket and a stiff combination cap.
Several feet to the right of Pym stood Colonel Masterson, wearing his worn old leather flight jacket and his dashingly broken-in “50-mission” cap.
An open 1968 Range Rover sat nearby on this desolate hilltop pocked with a smattering of forlorn dark cacti, some ocotillo and rabbit brush.
The brisk night air smelled of old pennies and blood.
“Captain Pym,” said Colonel Masterson, “don’t you think we ought to leave all this for the police to examine?”
“No,” said Pym, not looking at the man, “I don’t think so. These two people are naval officers.”
“Christ,” said Masterson. “You -- knew them?”
“Yes,” said Pym. Awkwardly holding his light and the pistol in one hand, he popped out the magazine. “They were in my section.”
“What --” said Masterson, “were they -- undercover?”
Pym didn’t answer the question. He shone his light briefly on the magazine, then carelessly dropped the clip, letting it fall onto the dead man’s chest. Putting the flashlight under his arm, he pulled back the pistol’s slide and popped out the chambered bullet. He put the barrel of the pistol to his nose, and then tossed the pistol to the ground.
“What about those other two?” said Masterson.
He referred to two dark forms lying in the dirt about thirty feet downhill toward the road.
“Oh,” said Pym. "Those.”
Taking his flashlight from under his arm he panned its beam down the slope to illuminate the remains of two young men in blood-blotched windbreakers and well-pressed chinos. These dead men also held semi-automatic pistols in their right hands.
“Well,” said Masterson, “do ya know who they are?”
Pym flicked off his flashlight and put it in his coat pocket. He took out a pipe and tobacco pouch and began to fill the pipe’s bowl.
“Well?” said Masterson. He normally talked in an willfully gravelly and deep baritone, but now his voice cracked.
Pym put his pouch away and took out a silver-plated butane lighter.
“Company men,” he said, putting the flame to the tobacco. “CIA.”
“Jesus Christ,” said Masterson. “So what is this? Navy spooks and CIA guys shooting it out in the fucking desert?”
Pym drew on his pipe with delicate little puffs.
“So it would seem,” he said.
“Well,” said Masterson, “we gotta get back to the base and report this.”
Pym looked at Masterson for the first time since this conversation had begun.
“It already is reported,” Pym said. “To me. I am in charge of this investigation.”
“Says who?” said Masterson.
Having made sure his pipe was well-lit, a comforting pulsing bead of crimson on this chilly dark hilltop, Pym clicked his lighter shut and put it back into his pocket.
“Radio back to the base,” he said. “Ask to be patched through to Admiral Hackington at the Pentagon. He will confirm my authority in this case. And let me add this.” Pym deigned to glance momentarily even at the ghost-faced Lt. Perkins. “If either of you breathe one word about this incident to anyone at all you will both be flying day-and-night sorties over North Vietnam before you can say Jack Robinson.”
Masterson took a step toward Pym.
“I’ve flown day-and-night sorties over North Vietnam, pal. I’ve flown two-hundred-and-eighty-three sorties over Vietnam and I never got a scratch.”
“You were lucky, Colonel,” said Pym. “Perhaps you won’t be so lucky next time.”
Masterson glared at Pym.
“Hey, C-colonel,” spoke up Perkins, “l-let him carry out his d-dumb investigation. Y-you, you, you don’t want to get mixed up in this sh-shit. Sir.”
“You mean, said Masterson, addressing Perkins but continuing to glare at Pym, “you don’t want to get mixed up in it.”
“W-well, you’re right, sir. I. I. I don’t. Don’t. Sir.”
“Not too keen to fly those day-and-night sorties, either, are ya?” said Masterson.
“No,” said Perkins, very quickly. And then, after a pause, “No. Sir.”
Masterson continued to glare at Pym, who gazed back at him as if he were looking not into a man’s eyes, but off into empty space.
“Okay,” said Masterson, finally. “You can have your filthy investigation, Captain Pym. But not because I’m afraid of your, your pissant threats. No, but because I really don’t want to, to sully my hands with this, this --”
“Thank you, Colonel,” said Pym.
“All right then,” said Masterson.
In the unpleasant silence that ensued, unpleasant for Masterson and Perkins anyway, Pym stood there quite still, smoking, staring at Masterson, but somehow not acknowledging his presence.
“Um, I know I’m just the amateur here,” said Masterson, “but aren’t you supposed to, you know, look around? For shell casings, spent slugs? Evidence?”
“What ever for?”
“You mean -- ‘cause it’s so obvious these people killed each other?’
“Oh no,” said Pym. “Of course that’s what we’re supposed to think.”
“Oh,” said Masterson.
Pym took out the flashlight, clicked it on, sent its beam down the hill to the road below, where a 1956 Buick Riviera was parked next to two Honda dirt bikes.
“The Buick belonged to, or was rented by, the man and woman here. The motorcycles go with the two dead CIA fellows.”
“Okay,” said Masterson, his brow furrowed in at least feigned concentration, “I’m with you so far.”
“That leaves us with this Range Rover.”
Pym flashed his light on it, then clicked the light off.
“Who’s that belong to?” asked Masterson.
“It belongs to Hertz, but it was rented by someone called Feldschmitt -- real name: Hans Grupler.”
“Uh-huh. So he did the killings?"
“Probably,” said Pym. “He happens to be a rather notorious international assassin, him and his slut girlfriend, a woman called Marlene.”
“And -- and -- these two are out here somewhere?”
“Relax, Colonel. If Grupler is out here and he wanted us dead I assure you we would be dead already.”
Pym turned and started walking towards the side of the hill away from the road.
“C-c-colonel,” said Perkins, “m-m-maybe we, we, we should --”
“Shut up, Perkins,” said Masterson.
Pym stopped and looked down the opposite slope. Below in the starlight lay a scattering of darkened Quonset huts, trailers, old cars and pick-up trucks.
Masterson, walking as if he were crossing a pool of deep mud, came over and joined Captain Pym.
“What’s that down there?” asked Pym.
“Indian reservation,” said Masterson.
Pym flicked on his flashlight again and ran it along the ground, picking up two sets of footprints leading down the hill.
Without a word Pym started down the slope, following the footprints.
Masterson went back to the jeep.
“F-fuck this Sherlock Holmes, shit, sir,” said Perkins. “It’s not our, not our, not our --”
Masterson climbed into the front passenger seat.
“Follow him down, Perkins.”
Masterson unsnapped his belt holster, took out his .45 and racked the slide.
“But, but, but --” said Perkins.
Masterson re-holstered his pistol.
“Shut up and drive, Perkins.”
Perkins started the jeep, put it in gear, and headed slowly in the direction of the slope down which Pym had disappeared.
On the opposite side of the hill a coyote who had been lying very still behind an ocotillo now sprang up and trotted silently over to the body of Mr. Philips, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency.
(Continued here, and so on until we get to the bottom of this farrago.)