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Secret Agent Sam
By Kathleen Creighton
SilhouetteCopyright © 2005 Kathleen Creighton
All right reserved.
The tiny airstrip simmered in the afternoon heat, denied out of functional necessity even the small solace of trees. To Cory Pearson's eyes the ragged cluster of clapboard buildings with rusting tin roofs that apparently served as hangar and maintenance sheds as well as terminal and business offices seemed to have hunkered down beneath the pounding sun with the silent endurance of penned livestock.
The taxi driver who had brought them from Davao City cut off the elderly car's engine -- to keep it from overheating, Cory imagined -- which of course rendered the air inside the cab unbreatheable within roughly three seconds. Feeling his breath catch in an instinctive effort to keep that awful heat out of his lungs, Cory hurriedly thrust a handful of bills at the driver across the back of the seat and opened his door. On the other side of the car, his best friend and favorite photographer, Tony Whitehall, hefted the cases containing his cameras onto his knees and did the same. Hot air rushed inside the car like the breath of a ravenous beast.
"God," Tony said, the profanity halfhearted and forlorn.
"Beats a monsoon, or so I'm told," Cory said cheerfully as he hooked the strap of his laptop carrier over his shoulder and climbed out of the car. "Hard to see how, but if we're still here in a few weeks, I guess we'll find out."
Tony just grunted.
The two men waited in stoic silence while the driver -- spare, wiry and apparently eternally cheerful -- retrieved their bags from the trunk of the cab. Returning their nods and muttered thanks with more nodding and smiling -- Cory's tip had been generous -- the driver climbed back behind the wheel and started up the engine with a rackety explosion of noise and exhaust. He drove off with a full-armed wave of farewell from his open window.
"You couldn't have picked a hotter month to do this?" Tony inquired as they stood motionless and watched the taxi undulate and seem to hover above the ground in the distant shimmer of heat waves. Moving from the spot seemed almost too great a task; the heat sat on their shoulders like a burden.
"Believe me, it was a whole lot cooler when I started negotiations last November." Cory bent and picked up his bag and Tony did the same, and the two men began walking slowly toward the uninviting-looking cluster of buildings. "When Fahad al-Rami finally gave me the go-ahead to do the interview, I didn't argue. I said, "Tell me the time and place, and I'm there."
Tony paused and set his bag down long enough to fish an already damp handkerchief out of the pocket of his jeans. "Yeah, well, I just hope we get something out of this -- besides one hell of an interview, I mean."
Cory glanced at him. "The hostages, you mean." Tony, in the process of tying the handkerchief pirate-style around his shiny mahogany-colored head to protect it from the blazing sun, didn't reply. Cory faced forward again, squinting even though the photosensitive lenses of his glasses had already adjusted to the glare. "Goes without saying. Not that I'm holding out much hope."
Tony's sunglasses flashed toward him briefly as he picked up his bag. "Why not? They've released other hostages."
"For money. The Lundquists are missionaries -- in most cases like this the churches back home are too poor to pay the ransom."
"Then why the hell'd they take 'em?"
"Probably didn't know who they were getting. Just scooped up a bunch of tourists from a seaside resort. The way I understand it, the Lundquists just happened to be vacationing there at the time."
"Poor devils," Tony said. Then, in a blunt tone and with a thrust of chin that might have been taken for callous if Cory hadn't known him so well, he asked, "So, why keep them? They've had 'em for what, going on a year, now? Why not cut their losses? Turn 'em loose or kill 'em. One or the other."
"I expect they're hoping to get something for their trouble -- leverage of one kind or another." Cory pulled open a door marked Office and held it for Tony to squeeze through with his assortment of bags and cases. "Which is why I don't hold out much hope for us securing the release of any hostages through this interview. It's not like I have anything they want."
Tony grunted as he nudged past him, then paused to let his eyes adjust to the dimness. "Other than the interview, you mean," he said as he began lowering bags to the dusty linoleum floor.
"Hell," Cory said with a grin as he let the door close behind him, "they had that for the asking."
Tony took off his sunglasses and tucked them into his shirt pocket, then threw him a grin back. "A favorable interview. Maybe they're figuring on holding the hostages over your head so you'll make sure and show them and their cause to the world in a sympathetic light."
It was a possibility that had already occurred to Cory, and another reason he didn't entertain high hopes of bringing those hostages back with him. Not through negotiations, at any rate. As far as other means...he had some ideas on that score.
Which he was keeping to himself, for the moment. What Tony didn't know couldn't hurt him. And it could probably save a whole lot of arguing.
He dropped his overnighter on the floor and eased his laptop down beside it as he surveyed the room. Except for the two of them it seemed to be empty of people, the atmosphere rendered only slightly more tolerable than the outdoors due to the valiant efforts of a rackety fan sitting on a wooden countertop. The counter divided the room roughly in half. Furnishings in the half Cory and Tony occupied consisted of a wooden bench to the left of the entrance and a soft-drink vending machine on the right. Beyond the bench was a door marked with the universal male and female symbols indicating toilets. On the wall next to the door was a cork bulletin board sporting faded pictures of tropical resorts and sunset beaches, and above that, black letters individually pinned in an arch spelling out, WELCOME TO SEA CHARTERS.
On the countertop, a stack of brochures fluttered intermittently in the breeze from the oscillating fan. Behind the counter, a computer monitor sat atop a gunmetal-gray desk, its screen turned discreetly away from public view in the manner of airline ticket counters everywhere. Beyond that, through a bank of windows partly obscured by bamboo blinds, Cory could see an expanse of sunbaked earth interrupted by splashes of yellow-and-brown grass. Beyond the grass, before a backdrop of distant palm trees, a large twin-engine plane sat waiting on a hard-packed dirt runway.
In the shade of one low-slung wing, a slim figure wearing a dark blue baseball cap and khaki cargo pants belted over a white T-shirt lounged against the slanting fuselage. Nearby, moveable steps waited below an open doorway located in the rear of the plane, between the wing and the tail.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God," said Tony -- who hadn't been a practicing Catholic in years -- as he came to stare past Cory's shoulder. "S'pose that's ours?"
"Pretty much has to be, since it appears to be the only thing out there with wings," Cory said absently, his attention distracted, for the moment, by that distant figure under the aircraft's wing. Something about her...
"That's a damn Gooneybird," Tony said as if Cory hadn't spoken, his voice hushed. "I didn't think those tail-draggers were still flying."
"Gooneybird?" Cory glanced over at him, laughing a little.
"Come on. That would be Second World War, right?"
Tony was staring reverently out the windows. "Yup. Douglas DC-3. They were the workhorse aircraft during World War Two. Commercial airlines flew 'em after the war -- hell, they pretty much started commercial passenger service. That's a damned antique out there."
Excerpted from Secret Agent Sam by Kathleen Creighton Copyright © 2005 by Kathleen Creighton. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is another treatise on PTSD. It's not clear from the start (unlike Top Gun's Return). Still, I was wondering all through the first part of the book why I wasn't being drawn in to the story. Interesting setting, good characters (though I want to see Tony's story too!), but somehow the obstacles seemed contrived and the whole thing didn't draw me. By the end of the book it was better, but it's definitely not the best of her books for me. Hmmm, I should read One Good Man again - that one I've liked for years, but it may well have aspects of this fascination with PTSD too.
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!