By Ben Coes
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2011 Ben Coes
All rights reserved.
HARDWICK'S CAFÉ AND BISTRO JAMISON CENTRE MACQUARIE, AUSTRALIA
Josiah Glynn walked briskly through the air-conditioned suburban mall, calmly surveying the shops, restaurants, and people. Jamison Centre was a dump. Out-of-the-way, tired, lousy, lower-middle-class shops; half-empty, badly lit restaurants. The only people he saw ambling about the musty-smelling, windowless mall were blue hairs, too old to remember what good food tasted like.
That was the point though. Out of the way.
Glynn felt a patch of cold sweat beneath his armpits, but less than he had anticipated. Certainly less than he had envisioned when he got dressed that morning. Despite his precautions, or perhaps because of them, he was nervous. He breathed deeply. He was fifteen minutes late, but that was intentional.
"These fuckers can wait," he whispered to himself as he ambled casually past a shoe store. Glynn knew it was false bravado, but he needed the bravado, the confidence, to get him through the next ten minutes.
The drive to Jamison Centre from the Customs and Border Protection Service had taken three hours. If he'd driven straight there, it should have taken fifteen minutes. But Glynn had taken a slow, circuitous, out-of-the-way route through the far-flung suburbs of Canberra. A random route. The entire drive, he'd kept one eye glued to the rearview mirror, looking for anyone who might be following him. As far as he could tell, no one was.
Glynn's job was to oversee quality assurance for Australia's Customs and Border Protection Service's e-commerce site, where Australian citizens could apply online for passport renewals. Glynn tested the servers and databases, running various checks on the site to get rid of bugs, broken links, algorhythmic anomalies, and other malfunctioning lines of code. Because he spent all of his working hours in the bowels of the Customs' databases and IT infrastructure, Glynn also had access to any and all information about people coming into or out of Australia.
As he strode toward the bench directly in front of Hardwick's Café, he heard the faint dingdong of his iPhone telling him he had a text message.
P4 not logged out. where are you jg? MM
Glynn's supervisor, Megan McGillicuddy, looking for him. He tapped her a quick text:
Forgot. pls sign off for me. CU in am. sorry!
God, how he despised Megan. If all went according to plan, in approximately ten minutes he would never have to speak to the bloated, cantankerous sow ever again.
He stepped to the empty bench and sat down. He scanned the crowd at Hardwick's. He saw only senior citizens and a single woman with stringy red hair, stuffing a burger into her mouth.
Then, standing in the checkout line of a pharmacy across the way, he noticed someone staring at him. A white-haired man. Or was it blond? They made eye contact. The man paid and exited the small storefront. In his left hand, he carried a large paper shopping bag. He walked casually across the mall and sat down on the bench.
"Mr. Glynn," the man said. "I'm Youssef."
Up close, Glynn saw that he had a mop of bottle-dyed blond hair and olive-toned skin.
"You don't look Arab," said Glynn. "Well, I suppose your skin does."
"Shut the fuck up. It doesn't matter what I look like. You'll never see me again. Do you have the information?"
"Yes, but can we talk? Why do you need the information?"
Youssef looked at Glynn, incredulous that he would be asking questions. His casual, laidback manner turned venomous.
"Stop asking questions," he said slowly and menacingly. "To your left, past my shoulder: do you see the two men sitting at the Thai restaurant?"
"The one with the red baseball hat has a silenced handgun aimed at your skull right at this very moment. Can you see it?"
Glynn looked over. He caught the sight of a silencer, aimed at his head.
"So tell me the information," continued Youssef, a threat in his soft voice. "I am more than happy to pay you, Mr. Glynn. I don't care about the money. But if you ask me any more questions, or if you ever speak of this transaction, you will die a quick and bloody death. I can't guarantee that it will be painful but if I could, I'd make it really fucking painful. It's up to you whether you die right here, right fucking now, or live to spend some of that beautiful money sitting in the bag at my fucking feet."
"Sorry," Glynn muttered, his eyes darting about. "I'm very sorry."
"Calm down and relay the information. When you have done so, I will stand up and walk away. I will leave behind this bag. Inside, there is a million gorgeous dollars with Josiah Glynn's name written all over it."
"Dewey Andreas entered Australia February twelfth, almost exactly one year ago," said Glynn.
"Port of entry?" demanded Youssef.
"Melbourne. That's in Victoria, in the south, on the coast."
"I know where the fuck it is, jackhole. Purpose of visit?"
"He listed tourist. But he didn't fill in the return-by date."
"The return-by date?"
"He didn't say when he was leaving Australia," explained Glynn. "And we have no record of him leaving."
"Is that all you have? That's worthless dogshit."
"There's more," Glynn whispered conspiratorially. "After three months, he filed a work permit at the Cairns Customs office."
"It's in the northern part of Queensland. Way up on the coast."
"Is that it?"
"There's something else. He was required to list his job on the form. He's working at a station."
"Ranch. He works on a ranch."
"What's the name of the ranch?"
"He didn't write it down. He's not required to."
Glynn felt his heart pounding like a snare drum, the palms of his hands sweating.
Youssef stood up, stared hatefully down at Glynn, and then, as if by magic, his face transformed itself into a warm smile that nearly made Glynn forget about it all.
"Not bad, Mr. Glynn. I feel as if my money has been well spent today. Remember my warning." He nodded at the Thai restaurant. Then he held his index finger up against his temple, pretending it was a gun.
"Yes, of course."
"Good luck to you," said Youssef. He turned and walked away from the bench.
Glynn eyed the green and red paper shopping bag sitting on the linoleum floor next to him. He reached for the bag, opened it up, and stared down at the bricks of cash stacked inside.
But Youssef was already gone.
SEMBLER STATION COOKTOWN, AUSTRALIA
The stallion kicked up clouds of dust as he galloped along the dry country path. Deravelle's muscles rippled across his broad haunches, the line between shoulder blade and hip straight despite the weight now on his back; a worn leather saddle, on top of that a large man, who leaned forward on the horse's sinewy incline. After more than an hour at a gallop, the rider eased up and pulled back on the horse's reins. Deravelle slowed. The rider let the big horse catch his breath at a slow trot. Soon, the horse's rapid, heavy exhale was the only sound that could be heard across the plain.
The rider paused and looked around. Low hills covered in grass, stub wheat, and cypress. Empty vistas of blue sky. Untouched ranch land in every direction. A barbed-wire fence running north in a rickety line as far as he could see.
The afternoon sun blazed down dry but viciously hot. The man's shirt was off and a day's worth of dirt was layered on top of a rich brown tan. Thick muscles covered the man's chest, torso, back, and arms. On his right bicep, a small tattoo was hard to see beneath the dark tan; a lightning bolt no bigger than a dime, cut in black ink. But what stood out the most was a jagged scar on the man's left shoulder. It ran in a crimson ribbon down the shoulder blade and stuck out like a sore thumb. Most of the other ranch hands suspected it was a knife wound but no one knew for sure.
The terrain was empty and lifeless for as far as the eye could see. A few large, bulbous clouds sat lazily to the west, just seeming to rest off to the side of the light blue sky. It was almost silent, with only the occasional exhale from Deravelle, or a light whistle from time to time as a slow wind brushed across the dirt veneer of the plain.
Sembler was the largest cattle ranch—or "station" as they were referred to in Australia—in Queensland. More than 18,000 head. Out here, however, in the northwest quadrant of the 12,675-acre ranch, the rider couldn't see a single head. On hot days like today, the cattle stayed south, near King River, at the southern edge of Joe Sembler's property.
Dewey glanced down at the last post of the day. It was almost seven o'clock. He sat up in the saddle, lifted his hat, and ran his hand back through his hair. It had grown long now, having not been cut in the year since he'd arrived in Australia. He reached down and took a beer from the saddlebag. Cooler than one might've supposed, the thick leather insulating the bottle from the scorching heat. He guzzled it down without removing the bottle from his lips. He put the empty back in the saddlebag.
When Dewey first arrived at Sembler Station, the temperature would sometimes reach a hundred and ten degrees. Some days he thought he wasn't going to survive the heat. But he did. Then fall and winter came and the weather became idyllic in Cooktown, temperatures in the sixties, cool nights. In winter, green and yellow grass carpeted the land for as far as you could see.
When Dewey's second summer rolled around, he once again feared he wouldn't survive the heat. But now, as he felt the power of the tropical sun on his back, felt the first warmth of the beer, as he appreciated the utter solitude of a place where he didn't have to see another human being for hours on end, he realized he was starting to like the Australian summers.
Dewey reached into the saddlebag, took out a second beer, and took a sip. For the first time in a long time, he let thoughts of the past come into his head. He glanced down at his scar. After more than a year, he was used to it by now. It was part of him. When the other ranchers asked about the scar, Dewey didn't answer. What would they think if he told them the truth? That he got it from a Kevlar-tipped 7.62mm slug from a Kalashnikov, fired by a terrorist sent to Cali to terminate him? How, in a shabby motel bathroom, he'd cut back the skin with a Gerber combat knife, then reached into the wound with his own fingers and pulled the bullet out? How he'd sutured the cut with a needle and thread from a traveling salesman's sewing kit, then turned, Colt .45 caliber handgun cocked to fire, as a terrorist kicked the door in, machine gun in hand?
Who would believe that this quiet American with the long hair and the jagged scar had been, at one time, a soldier? That he'd been First Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta. That he loved the feeling that came next that day in that Cali motel room, the feeling he got as he fired his .45 and blew the back of the terrorist's skull across the motel room wall.
He remembered the look of fear on the terrorist's face as he kicked the door open only to find Dewey standing in front of him, weapon in hand, aimed at his skull. It was a look of pure terror. It was a look of realization—realization that there would be no way for him to sweep the UZI across the air in time.
Dewey could have gunned him down that very second, but he waited one extra moment to let him experience the awful knowledge that he had lost and was about to die.
Those were the memories that formed like crystals in Dewey's mind, which opened a flood of emotion. These were the memories he ran to Australia to erase. It was hard to believe it had been a whole year. His life was monotony now. Riding the line. Sleeping, eating, drinking, riding the line. But he needed monotony to remove the memory of being hunted.
Slowly, Dewey closed his eyes, let the silence wash over him, the smell of soil and horse, the sounds of nothing. He thought about Maine. Summers in Castine, working on his father's farm. There, it had been his job to walk down row after monotonous row of tomato stalks, a pair of clippers in his hand, cutting off any brown or yellow leafing. So many rows, so many hours of endless walking those summers. Then it had been the thought of the ocean that always got him through. That at the end of the day, he would race his brother Jack from the farm, down Wadsworth Cove Road for a mile and a half, through town to the dock, where they would jump into the cold water and wash off a day's worth of sweat before heading home for supper.
He took a few more sips from the beer, reached forward, and rubbed the soft, wet neck of the black stallion.
"There we go, Deravelle. Almost time."
Deravelle turned his head to the left. Dewey followed the stallion's sight line.
In the distance, across the barbed-wire fence, the land spread out flat. He watched the land as far as he could see, but saw nothing. He tucked the empty beer bottle back in the saddlebag and prepared to head back to the stables. He looked back one last time and in the far-off distance, he saw movement. He waited and watched. A cloud of dust was the first thing he could see for sure, followed, a few minutes later, by the outline of a horse galloping toward him.
Deravelle perked up, lightly kicking the ground, but Dewey calmed him with a strong pat on the shoulder. The horse was running at a full gallop across the plain and, as it came closer, Dewey saw it was a mostly white horse; judging from its slender size a mare, with speckles of black and an empty saddle across her back.
He climbed down and stepped through the barbed-wire fence. He walked toward the rapidly approaching horse. He held his hands up, waving them, so the horse wouldn't run into the barbed-wire fence.
"Whoa there!" Dewey yelled as the horse approached.
She approached directly toward him, stopping just feet in front of him. She was a muscular horse, a jumper with a white face and black spots across her coat. She stepped trustingly toward Dewey. He raised his hands at the horse then took the reins, which were dangling from the horse's neck, securing her.
"Hey, pretty girl. It's all right. Calm down."
He let the horse smell his hand then ran his right hand along the under part of the horse's neck. It was warm and sopping with sweat.
"You're a beauty. Now what are you doing way the hell out here?"
He inspected the saddle. It was slightly worn, with a single, scuffed brass "H" affixed to the front. Beneath the back edge, HERMÈS—PARIS was branded into the leather.
Deravelle stood at the fence. Behind him, the sky was turning gray as nightfall approached.
The horse likely belonged to someone at the neighboring station, Chasvur. Perhaps she'd run away or else taken off during a ride, and someone, somewhere was walking around without a horse.
He patted the pretty horse. It wasn't a ranch hand's ride, that was clear. The saddle alone told you that. So did the horse; she was expensive-looking. None of the typical scars, scuff marks, scratches, or wear and tear from working. This was a leisure horse; a woman's horse.
Dewey took a pair of wire cutters from his belt and cut the wire near the post, then wrapped the loose wire around the post. Dewey pulled the mare through the cut in the fence line, over the low wire. Holding the mare's reins, he climbed back on top of Deravelle.
Dewey glanced at his watch: 7:35 P.M. To the east, the sky was turning into a purplish shade of black. Night was coming. If someone had fallen off the mare, or had been left behind on a ride, there wouldn't be enough time to ride back to Sembler and notify Chasvur. Whoever was out there would have to spend the night in the outdoors.
For Dewey, a night out in the middle of the Queensland nowhere wouldn't be a big deal. For someone else, it might. Especially a woman, or, God forbid, a girl. Besides, what if she was hurt? What if the mare had pulled up and the rider had been thrown off the saddle?
Behind him, a low grumble vibrated somewhere in the sky; distant thunder. Turning his head, Dewey realized that what he had thought was the night sky was much more than that. A black shroud of storm clouds intermingled with the coming night.
He smiled, and casually shook his head back and forth.
"This could get interesting." He looked at Deravelle, then the other horse, as if they could understand him. Dewey found his shirt in the saddlebag and pulled it over his head. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Coup d'État by Ben Coes. Copyright © 2011 Ben Coes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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