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IN THE JUNGLES outside of Havana, Cuba, a squadron of black ducks crossed the sky at dusk, like bats. According to the tourist guidebooks it was considered a very bad omen. The ducks arrowed together, seeking evening prey among the numerous gnats and insects rising from the island's steaming jungles.
Then, as one, the flock of black ducks veered, quacking in instinctive fear as they skirted the imposing edifice of a grim fortress perched atop sheer, rugged cliffs high above the sea. Curling ocean waves crashed against the rocks below with a roar like a lion, guarding the citadel.
The treacherous road that led up to the spiked front gate of Morro Castle stopped in an ancient courtyard. Knotted vines protruded from the ground, buckling the flagstones. No welcome mat lay at the foot of the barred wooden doors; the daily newspapers had not been delivered in some time. An ominous sign announced in Spanish No Soliciting.
Over the years, the dark fortress had been used by an endless stream of torturers, mad scientists, and megalomaniacs with their tiresome schemes of taking over the world. By now, the locals had stopped paying much attention to Morro Castle, tending instead to their cane or tobacco fields, knowing that in an emergency some hero would eventually rectify the situation and all would go back to normal again.
As the sun set across the Caribbean, and soupy clouds gathered for an evening squall, Morro Castle's new inhabitants were up to the usual hi-jinks....
"Asombroso!" cried the Cuban intelligence colonel, astounded as he sat back in a creaking wooden chair, clapping a hand to his head to hold his beret in place.
His hair was black and thick, his bloodshot eyes dark and flashing. He wore a rumpled khaki uniform, adorned with numerous stars and medals he had pinned on himself. Some of them hung crookedly from his uniform, because when in front of a mirror, the Cuban colonel spent more time admiring his huge black beard than studying the neatness of his dress.
Across the stone-walled tower room, the Russian colonel said placidly, "Da, Comrade Enrique." Unlike his companion's, his own olive uniform was immaculate and well pressed. He used a ruler and a level every morning to make sure his medals hung straight. "Here, see for yourself."
The Russian stood up to place a SECRET folder on the rugged wooden table in the center of the chamber. Rusty manacles dangled from the edges of the table, and faded reddish stains adorned the hewn boards. Other torture instruments hung from hooks on the walls, available for the use of any of the castle's tenants; all of the equipment had been left behind as a courtesy by the castle's former inhabitants, before the revolution.
The Russian colonel knocked a jingling manacle out of the way, more interested in the photographs he removed from the folder. He held them up to the flickering light. The Cuban colonel hurried over to see the photo of the redheaded man--a face he had observed many times on WANTED posters, arrest warrants, propaganda leaflets. "Ai! It is him!" Astonished, he said, "Sacred mother of a dog, Ivan! This is incredible!"
"Our peerless KGB has verified it utterly" Ivan said with a sniff.
"I thought the KGB was disbanded with the fall of the Soviet Union," Enrique said.
The Russian shrugged. "It is now part of the Ministry of Mapmaking. New department, same job." He held a second photograph up to the flickering light. "See for yourself, Comrade."
As he looked more closely, Enrique saw that it couldn't be the same man, not in the same place, not with the same clothes. Could it be some hoax ... or was it exactly what they had been hoping for?
"Come," said Ivan, gathering his photos and clapping a hand on the Cuban's shoulder, "this is our chance. They say that Communism is dead, just because it is in a coma. But you and I know better: There are millions of loyalists toiling around the world, ashamed to admit their true feelings, their longings for the glory days of the Soviet Empire, their innermost hopes for a glorious future. Ali they need is a little victory to make them feel better, just one small country to topple in a revolution--like in the old days, when everyone was eager to embrace the loving principles of Stalinism--"
Ivan had a faraway look in his eyes, and he stared off at the wall, as if gazing at some glorious, distant sunrise. Enrique was lighting a cigar. Ivan's voice then took on a hard, intense quality as he continued: "Once we bring one country down, my friend, the loyalists of the world will rise up with their hammers and their pitchforks and their Molotov cocktails and their nerve gas and their intercontinental ballistic missiles, and they will throw off the intolerable shackles of their horrible capitalist tormentors!"
Enrique shook his head in wonder. He was frankly baffled by capitalists and their strange way of life. The only time he'd ever seen a real, horrible capitalist tormentor was when he'd once been assigned to a firing squad detail, and he hadn't really gotten a good look at the man through the gunsights.
"Sacred nostril of a yak!" Enrique said, puffing his cigar smoke into Ivan's face. Ivan coughed. "Are you sure this will work? Pedrito Miraflores is a madman"--he decided he'd better quickly cover himself--"a loyal Communist madman, but a madman nonetheless. If we put your plan into effect, we could get into more trouble than we bargain for."
The Russian shook his head with a smile. "Or it might be an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up."
Just then, the single bulb that lit the dim room buzzed and died with a pop. The only light came from Enrique's cigar. "Come," Ivan said. "Let us go down to the Operations Office, where there is better light."
Deeper inside Morro Castle, switchboards and radar receivers were strung along a fortified outside wall that opened to the churning sea. Uniformed operators moved about. Everyone paused to look up as the two colonels entered, then they briskly went back to work with redoubled efforts. (Rumors of impending layoffs had rippled through the staff of the evil fortress.)
A reedy, nervous-looking aide hustled over to hover beside Colonel Enrique, awaiting his orders. Enrique ignored him.
"I have more evidence that Miraflores has a double," Colonel Ivan said. "We have an espionage photographer in New York. He operates as an undercover mime near the Office of Naval Intelligence. He took these photographs." The Russian snapped his fingers, indicating an attache case on a console.
The reedy aide dashed over to the case, rummaging through papers and folders and antacid wrappers until he dragged out a sheaf of photographic enlargements, labeled Other Evidence.
"There, Comrade, is the proof!" the Russian colonel said. "Is it not wonderful?"
The aide handed the photos to Colonel Enrique, who fanned them out, staring at the top image. The curious aide crept close enough to peer over the Cuban colonel's shoulder, but Enrique elbowed him sharply in the ribs; the aide scuttled away, holding his side.
The color portrait showed a roguish man in stained jungle combat clothes and a big red star upon his cap. The cap covered shaggy red hair, as if he had sawed it to the proper length with a serrated knife. Two guns hung at his hips, a bandolier of bullets crisscrossed his chest, and several grenades had been clipped to his belt.
"I am already quite familiar with our man Pedrito Miraflores" Colonel Enrique growled.
Colonel Ivan said smugly, "Now look at the other one closely."
It was a formal studio portrait of what appeared to be the same person, the same red hair and blue eyes, but some sort of alter ego--this young man was an American naval officer holding his cap under his arm and staring with wide, bewildered eyes toward the camera. His red hair had been neatly cut and combed.
"Tom Smith" Enrique read the label below the portrait. "Lieutenant junior grade." He looked up in astonishment. "Holy brother of a lemur! They do look just alike, even side by side. That is too much to wish for. Don't tell me they're both the same height and weight!"
"They are," said the Russian colonel. "They also both speak Spanish and English perfectly. It would be ideal for us to make a switch."
Enrique shuffled up two more snapshots, one of each: Pedrito Miraflores swinging into a sports car on a Havana street, grinning hugely as if he knew he was posing for a spy camera. In the other photo, his spitting image, Lieutenant Tom Smith, stood looking somewhat mystified as he received an engineering award amongst top Navy brass.
"Sacred tailbone of a mollusk," Enrique said, scratching his huge beard and shaking his head in disbelief. His dark eyes shone with the possibilities. "The good God bless the KGB, or the Ministry of Mapmaking, or whatever they're called these days! This could be the greatest intelligence coup of all time! What if we could make a switch? By putting Pedrito in his place, we could infiltrate the United States intelligence service, while using Smith as a scapegoat down here. That Navy buffoon could take the fall for all of Pedrito's crimes."
"I thought you'd like my ideal," the Russian colonel said. "We will get our best man, Bolo, to oversee all the details." He raised his bushy eyebrows over watery gray eyes, then lowered his voice. "Now how about another case of those cigars, Enrique? Monte Cristo No. 2. My, uh, wife likes them very much."
Ignoring the request, the Cuban colonel whirled to snap at his aide, who still stood nursing his sore ribs. "Quick, quick--get Maria! We must begin immediately. This is a marvelous plan for us to set in motion."
The aide dashed off, returning a moment later with a straggly haired brunette woman, whose face wore the hardened, deadly look of a dedicated revolutionary. Her mouth was an angry line. "Si, Colonel?"
"Fast, fast, Maria!" Enrique said. He fumbled in the photos and eventually found a phone slip, peeling it from the back of one of the enlargements. "Get this number. Plan G goes into operation at once, at once!"
"Si, Colonel! At once!" Maria seized the slip of paper, scanned the numbers, then stuffed the paper in her mouth, chewing it to bits before the colonel could stop her. He admired her dedication.
She grabbed the phone as if she were trying to subdue it, then dialed the number. "Operator," she said, her mouth still stuffed with wet paper. Her inflection remained deadly. "Operator--get me the New York Office of Naval Intelligence. I must speak with Lieutenant Tom Smith."
THE STENCILED LETTERS on the translucent glass door read Lieut. (jg) Tom Smith, USN, Missile Security Section. Then, in larger letters, it proudly stated Office of Naval Intelligence.
"I just don't get it" Lieutenant Smith said. He sat at his desk in full uniform, scratching his bright red hair.
The phone rang beside him, but he ignored it. He couldn't afford to be distracted at this crucial moment as he studied the missile plans, trying to fathom how this design was different from the thousand similar plans he had approved for massive funding requests.
Two well-dressed civilian contractors fidgeted in front of him, looking at each other through narrowed eyes, as if afraid Smith might catch them at a prank. Both contractors carried other blueprints tucked under their arms.
"It's perfectly simple, Lieutenant Smith," one contractor said, seemingly perplexed that Smith did not grab the phone as it rang a second time. "The design is exactly the same as all the other ones you approved, only different."
"Then why do we have to fund new development, if this one's exactly the same?" Smith asked in confusion.
"It's substantially modified," the second contractor answered smugly.
"I don't know, gentlemen," Smith told the contractors, smoothing the curled edges of the blueprints spread out on his neat, military-issue gray desk. A List of Things to Do Today sat next to the IN box; very few of the items on the list had been checked off.
As if miffed at being summarily ignored, the phone rang a third time.
"There are so many new developments that I can't keep them straight)." He gestured toward the corner of his office, where a drawing board groaned under the strain of heaped plans for new missile systems. The blueprints awaited his approvals, or revisions, or signatures, before they could be filed.
The first contractor reached forward to point at intricate lines scrawled on the blueprint. "Lieutenant Smith, you must admit this missile system is secure."
The second contractor exulted with an eager grin, "This modified design is so complex, it takes twelve years of college for anyone to operate it! The new concept is a testament to how much respect we hold for the education and intelligence of our proud men in uniform."
Smith shook his head and looked up at them, bewildered. "But I can't make head nor tail of it."
"Exactly, that's the point!" the first contractor said. "Completely secure. You're one of our most capable men, and if this system baffles you, imagine how it will confound our enemies! No enemy agent will ever be able to thwart this system, and our nation will be safe."
Smith continued to look up at the first contractor. "Then how can we use it, if nobody can understand it?"
The first contractor said patiently, tucking additional rolled blueprints under his arm, "You just push this red button, and the system handles the rest! Look, Lieutenant Smith, nobody is asking you to understand it. As a Naval Intelligence officer, all you have to do is stamp it approved!"
Smith frowned down at the plan, shaking his head. "If only the instructors at the Naval Academy had talked about these missiles a little more..."
He sighed deeply and picked up a rubber stamp, flipping it over to read APPROVED in reverse letters. Then he rummaged in his desk drawer for an inking pad, before finally banging the stamp haphazardly on the blueprint.
Jubilant, the two contractors whisked away the plan. Without bothering to roll the blueprint they rushed out the door, heading down the hall to the next office, where they would go through the same process with another set of plans and another Naval Intelligence officer with another rubber stamp.
Smith stared after the contractors, sighed deeply again, then finally noticed the incessantly ringing phone. He snatched up the handset, pressing it to his ear. "Yes? How may I help you?"
"Is this Lieutenant Smith?" a woman's voice asked. He thought he heard a crisp Cuban accent in her words.
"Yes," Smith answered.
"Lieutenant Tom Smith?" she continued. "Junior grade?"
"Office of Naval Intelligence?"
"Missile Security Section?"
"Yes, yes. Is this a sales call?" He looked forlornly down at his List of Things to Do Today.
"We just wanted to be absolutely certain, Lieutenant Smith. This is your lucky day--we have some exciting news for you, senor."
Brightening, Smith pulled himself closer to his desk. "What is it? Who's calling?"
"This is Maria calling from, uh, Pan-Latin Airways. Congratulations! You have just won our contest? Despite her attempts to sound like an American professional public relations specialist, the singsong quality of her voice carried an underlying coldness.
"I have?" Smith asked. "But I don't even enter contests. I never gamble."
"This is a contest you don't have to enter," Maria said. "You were the millionth person to enter the World Trade Center this month."
"There must be some mistake," Smith said, flipping back through the calendar on his desk. "I've never even been to the World Trade Center."
"Oh, I'm sorry. You should go there--I hear it's a wonderful place." He heard Maria shuffling papers. "Ah, sorry, you were the millionth person to enter the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine."
"I've never been there either. What city is that in?"
Maria's voice became deeper, colder, very deadly. "You were the millionth person to pass Forty-Second and Broadway."
"Senor, you won, do you hear? You won!" Her voice began to rise and become more frantic: "I don't know how you won, I'm just trying to do my job. Why are you giving me such a hard time? Do you want me to cry or something?" She sounded close to hysterics. "Oh, my God, now my supervisor is looking at me! Are you trying to get me fired?"
"Oh," Smith said, finally coming to his senses." I didn't mean to get you in trouble. I'm so sorry."
"Look, Mr. Smith, just be happy. You're name is at the top of the list. You won a trip, and everyone else won little marshmallow candies shaped like skulls to help them celebrate the day of the dead. You're the big lucky winner, okay? The big man. Everybody is going to envy you!"
Smith seemed taken aback. "Uh, okay, what did I win? I've never won anything before."
Maria's voice became bright and happy again. "You have won an all-expense-paid three-day tour to the beautiful country of Colodor in South America. The finest hotels, the best cuisine. Three marvelous days in the beautiful capital city of Santa Isabel! You lucky, lucky boy! So just pick up your tickets at Pan-Latin Airways and away you go!"
Smith looked at the phone, excited but then curious. "Colodor? Santa Isabel? I've never heard of it."
"Ah, senor, Colodor is the pearl of South America! Lovely, lush, full of scenery and culture. And Santa Isabel has much history and interesting architecture."
"If you say so, but it still doesn't even sound like a real country. In fact, it sounds like something made up for a pulp-fiction adventure story."
"Now, now, don't be ridiculous," Maria said, her voice soothing. "How could you win a trip to a country that doesn't exist? It is a very important country in South America. I should know: My brother runs the Department of Education there--and also the Department of Plumbing and Insect Control!"
He swiveled in his chair and squinted closely at the large map of the world on his wall. Smith had joined the Navy to be more like his hero, Admiral Nelson, exploring the vast world on majestic sailing ships, defending the British Empire. Smith hadn't really anticipated sitting at a desk and stamping blueprints for his entire career.
"I'm looking at my map right now, miss, and I don't see Colodor anywhere in South America." He was more perplexed than suspicious.
"It is near Colombia and Ecuador," Maria answered smoothly, "but unfortunately the mapmakers' union has been on strike. You won't find Colodor shown on many charts. A very messy situation with the Ministry of Mapmaking. My family has nothing to do with that, I swear!"
"Oh, that explains it" Smith said, relieved. He jotted down the information he needed to pick up his prize tickets, thanked Maria politely, and then hung up the phone.
In a blessed moment of silence, Smith stared over at the stack of incomprehensible blueprints on his drawing board. Then, with a wistful glance over his shoulder, he focused on the map of South America again, imagining where the mysterious Colodor might be located.
He threw the whole pile of blueprints off his drawing board, stood up, and straightened his uniform jacket before walking out the door. He would just have to see the place for himself!
Back in the Operations Office deep in Morro Castle, Maria narrowed her dark eyes and gave a deadly nod to the Russian and Cuban colonels. "Lieutenant Tom Smith has fallen right into our clutches."
Colonel Enrique let out a whoop. "Ai! Plan G is at last underway!" He clapped a congratulatory hand on his bearlike comrade's broad shoulder. "Make sure Bolo is ready to do his part."
Colonel Ivan beamed, raising his bushy eyebrows. "Da, the switch will be a success." He snapped shut his briefcase. "Now, about those cigars, Comrade Enrique?"
Posted November 5, 2002
Sure to be a best seller, "Ai! pedtito" will appeal to everyone from you teacher to your great aunt betty. I personelly think this was the most creative thriller ever concived by man. So if you are tired of sitting down and being bored, then this is the perfect book for you to read. If you ask me, this is the perfect book for anyone from teenagers to senior citizens.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.