The Mobius Man

The Mobius Man

by Malcolm Shuman, M. S. Karl

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Hunting Mexican guerillas, a CIA agent fights to regain his memory and stay alive

David doesn’t remember the bomb going off. In fact, he doesn’t remember anything at all. He was on a mission in Buenos Aires when the explosion sent a piece of shrapnel into his skull, and it missed killing him by a fraction of an inch. His memory in tatters, he returns to the United States to heal, meeting his wife for what seems like the first time. His memory will return gradually, the doctors say, but for now he feels like half a man—half a man who is about to take on a mission.

In Mexico, the CIA has been paying a guerilla organization to keep radical militants at bay. When their liaison with the rebels is found dead, David is sent to discover who killed him and why. Though his memory might never return, as he slips deeper into the shadowy world of Mexican outlaws, David will see things he’d just as soon forget.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497663275
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 08/26/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 221
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

M. S. Karl is a pseudonym of Malcolm Shuman, an American author and archaeologist from Louisiana. After serving in the US Army, Shuman pursued doctoral studies in the field of cultural anthropology. He has been on the faculty of universities including Texas A&I and Louisiana State, and continues to work as a contract archaeologist. Shuman has also published fifteen mystery novels under various pseudonyms. He lives with his wife in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Malcolm Shuman is an American author and archaeologist from Louisiana. After serving in the US Army, Shuman pursued doctoral studies in the field of cultural anthropology. He has been on the faculty of universities including Texas A&I and Louisiana State, and continues to work as a contract archaeologist. Shuman has also published fifteen mystery novels under various pseudonyms. He lives with his wife in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

Read an Excerpt

The Mobius Man

A Pete Brady Mystery

By Malcolm Shuman


Copyright © 1982 Nordon Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-6327-5


It began with a man in a Mexican jail and a phone ringing in Langley because a police lieutenant had been bought. It began with a man in a hospital wondering what had happened to him. It began on the campus of a college nobody outside the state had ever heard of. Or maybe it began with me that day, looking down through thin plumes of cloud at the corrugated mountains that were beginning to slope down into the greenness of the Gulf coastal plain, wondering what I would say when I met him.

I supposed I would begin with my name, I would tell him that my name was Dennison, and I was here to help him. He would not ask me who I represented because he would know. To the others, I was a freelance writer, on assignment from a major magazine to do a study on tourism. Or Mexican oil. Or whatever the hell seemed likely at the time. It was all a lie, of course, but beyond it I couldn't go. They would have to settle for lies, but at least we would all be even, for the time being.

Because it was all supposed to come back. The doctors had said so, and Leah had said so, and the deputy director had said so, and so it must be true.

I had been extremely lucky, the doctors had agreed. Another millimeter. A plate in the head was a small price to pay, and, in the meantime, it would all come back. They had promised.

So I looked at the green of the plain and saw the mouth of a river and thought of the people down there. What would they say if I told them what we were doing was for them? A long time ago the deputy director had been to Harvard. Maybe he could explain it.

The plane banked, and I saw highway streaking under us with the crawling bugs that were cars. Seconds later we were skimming banana trees and houses. At the last instant, concrete appeared to catch the wheels and the jet bounced hard once and then settled. I buttoned my collar, adjusted my tie, and merged with the other passengers filing into the aisle as the big plane stopped. The dark-haired stewardess smiled and said goodbye, and I smiled back and started down the metal stairs into the hot Mexican sun. By the time I reached the terminal, my clothes were stuck to my body and it was worse inside. I collected my single valise and headed for one of the waiting cabs. After Mexico City the heat of the Gulf lowlands was agony. I sat back and listened to the driver tell me in bad English that he had once worked in the United States as a bracero. I started to tell him that we were doing it for him, too, but he would not have understood, because all he wanted to do was go back and earn enough to keep the inflation at arm's length. Or maybe he would just stay this time. After a while I got tired of listening and looked out the window. The houses were squalid, but the boulevard was nice, and there was a statue of somebody or other at the traffic circle. The driver gave him a name and said he was a politician like all the rest.

We left the boulevard and headed down a street clogged with cars. The air grew heavier with the wet heat of the swamp that had been cleared to build the city, and from nearby came the mud smell of the river. The buildings of downtown shone white against the cobalt sky. They were an effort to make the town a city, but they failed. It was still a little portage on the river, where Indians from the hills came down occasionally to stare at the oil trucks on the highways. It was a terminus and a crossroads and, for the Indians, a beginning, and the smell of oil still reeked out of the river mud and hung in the exhaust fumes of the trucks and buses. There was a nice park on the outskirts, the driver said. A good place to take pictures. They had carved stones from a bygone civilization. He would take me there later if I wanted. But not now. It was too hot.

It would also be worth my trouble to visit the museum downtown. I could walk there tonight from my hotel. And somewhere near it, I thought, there is another building, and inside a room there is a man, and he is wondering who they will send and how he should prepare. He would be lying against a wall, trying to soak up the coolness it drew from the ground, and he would be listening to the sounds of the river, and if he were lucky there would be a little barred window through which he could smell it, and he would be trying to will away that wall and put himself on the other side, and he would realize at last that he could not do it and so, to save his sanity, he would try to forget where he was and the heat that had him dripping sweat and maybe he would think then of snow and the cold wind down deserted streets and the hollow sound of volga taxis hurrying down nearby Michurinsky Prospekt. And, of course, he would think of her, warm next to him in the bed, and for a while it wouldn't be so bad. There were all sorts of tricks you could do.

I paid the driver, braved the molten sun, and slipped into the big, cool hotel lobby where a bored clerk sat watching television. I didn't have a reservation, but that was no problem. He gave me a room on the third floor and sent up a one-armed bellhop with my bag. It wasn't the best hotel in town, but I thought the one-armed bellhop gave it atmosphere. In all, it was slightly rundown and the carpeting on the stairs had seen a few thousand feet too many. But it was a short walk to downtown and nobody watched your comings and goings.

The room had a double bed that sagged slightly, a blurry mirror over an old bureau, and a big ceiling fan that the boy with one arm switched on. The window looked down on a courtyard that once had been nice, before they had let the grass grow and patrons park their cars there. Like so many second-rate Mexican hotels, it had been someone's mansion, in a time you only read about in history books.

I closed the louvers and took off my coat, tie, and shirt, and lay down on the bed to watch the fan blade go around and around toward nowhere. I was tired, my energy wrung out with sweat. I wanted to sleep, but I was too keyed, and my thoughts kept going to him—the man in the cell—and to the deputy director, and then back to me. The months of retraining had rebuilt me. Physically. And the controller had patiently gone over the last mission, taking me at a hundred and twenty kilometers an hour through the streets of Buenos Aires, then into the safe house where they were holding our man. And our man had told him about the booby trap and the explosion. I couldn't because I never knew what had hit me.

The doctor said it was the mind's way of protecting itself. The mind was a strange thing; it would take a while to convince itself that I was still alive, and until then it would hold out the past that was the real me. But I would recover it all. Relearning would be easy.

And maybe it should have been. They made me an outpatient and sent me home to Leah. She was a beautiful woman with the hazel eyes of a cat and I watched them narrow as she dropped her clothes and reached out for me. And then, moments later, I saw her eyes change once more as we lay side by side on the bed.

"Maybe it was the pills," I told her, "the little plastic vial they had given me."

"Flush the pills," she said, angry in her frustration.

I watched her bite her lip, and said nothing. I wanted her, had thought about it for days as the picture of her emerged in my therapy sessions, and was stirred to life by her first visit in the hospital. I had wanted her now, but for some absurd reason, there was something wrong.

It was a matter of time. That was what the therapist told me the next day at the hospital, in a ward civilians never see. There were other patients, but there was a silence which pervaded the pastel rooms. You did not ask questions for fear the truth might be told. There was a man without a face, whose eyes were two holes in a mass of bandages. He was rebuilding his muscles to the point where he could walk without more than a minor limp. One day he stopped coming and I supposed it had become time to give him another face. And there was a man with no arms who was learning to use two metal and plastic ones. It was just a question of retraining the body.

I was an asthmatic in a cancer ward. That's what their eyes said. But there was no time to be depressed. The mornings were filled with exercises. There was an attendant six and a half feet tall who appeared from nowhere whenever I tired. He called me "sir," but there was an implied menace in his voice. Leah came at noon, right after the session with the psychologist, and whisked me to safety in the apartment she had rented nearby. After the training was over we could return to our home in Kensington. But it was a long drive and meanwhile the agency would pay for an apartment, so I could grope my way back without the interruption of neighbors and relatives.

Maybe, I thought, it was just the pastel rooms, and the guilty silence. Maybe it would all come back, the physical and the mental. A little had come back of my life before, but it had the nature of a screen memory, without feeling, without depth. Flattened affect, the psychologist explained kindly. A common occurrence. When you have been to the brink the only reality is now.

The next evening Kestering came to see me, and we knew it was all over. He coughed too much, and said he wished the weather would get on with spring, and he smiled apologetically at Leah whose eyes spit back fire. He passed one hand over his bald head, sipped his martini, and then made a steeple of his fingertips. The doctors were pleased, he said, my section chief was pleased, and he was pleased. I was probably a little bored with the routine now and ready to try my hand at life again. Then he asked how I thought the basketball standings would come out, looked at his watch, and apologized for staying too long.

Leah locked the door behind him and put on the safety chain, as if to guarantee his exclusion, and stood for a long time with her fists clenched at her side.

"What could I do?" I asked her. "They paid my salary, this apartment, rehabilitation." I didn't mention the little vial of pills.

"To hell with them. To hell with him. Don't you see, David? It's their fault it happened to begin with. Now they think they can give you a few pills and send you right back. Well, it isn't fair."

"You mean they sent back damaged goods."

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to. Well, what can I say? I have to be able to function on some level. At least with my work—"

"Damn your work! What about us? Why don't they just give you the time? If we just had a chance to get away, take a cruise, for example."

"Leah, suppose I'm not ever all right. Suppose sex is out for me. Part of the injury to the brain. Suppose I'm like this from now on."

"But it's not true." Her eyes were cat slits. "It didn't kill that part of you, the doctor said so."

"It hasn't killed the wanting." I walked over to the picture window that looked down on the city. In the distance I could see the pale whiteness of the Washington Monument. Or was it a reflection? "I love you," I told her, and wondered if the words sounded flat. "I also think I'm pretty good at my work. They showed me my file. Now they want me back. Am I supposed to tell them to go to hell?"

"I want you back, goddammit, and I'll tell them to go to hell. Goddammit, David, they're using you—using us, and if you let them it will go back to exactly the way it was before."

"Was there something wrong before?"

"You never noticed. You were too interested in your work." She shrugged and gave a bitter little laugh. "That's a hell of a thing, you know? I mean, that it has to come down to this. Jesus, David, you never paid any attention. How could you? You were never here half the time. I'm not married to you, I'm married to that damned agency, and yet even when you're home I'm excluded from everything it does. Whenever we have people over, I have to sit with the wives and listen to you make guarded little references, see the smiles of the in-jokes, and even when they bring you back half dead they just tell me it's line of duty. I'd rather share you with another woman. At least I could touch her."

"I didn't know."

"No." She rubbed her crossed arms as if she were cold. "I mean, having you was enough. Wasn't it? And then I realized when you came back from the hospital—" she turned toward me and her eyes were wide now, like a cat's in darkness, and there was a plaintiveness in her voice— "I realized it wasn't enough. I need a life, too. I'm not willing to go back to the way it was before. For just a few days I've had you to myself and I want to keep you."

I held her for a long time and thought, but no answers came. That night we lay beside each other again, and I felt her toss and turn as if an invisible body bore down on her, and I saw her legs arch slightly in her sleep and heard the muffled cries she gave, and for the first time I began to wonder if she had been trying to tell me more about the life before, and if so, what his name could have been.

Later I told myself I was being paranoid. Somehow it would all work out, so I tried to put it aside and lay listening to her breathe and hoped that it would not find its way into my dreams. But it did. She and Kestering each had an arm and they were pulling me apart and I watched from outside of myself and saw my arms come off and it didn't hurt. Because when I looked down at my shoulders I saw straw coming out of the empty sockets. I woke up and sweated in the darkness. Ten stories below, the Washington traffic moved down silent streets and yet up here I could not even hear it. I suddenly yearned for the sounds of horns and cops' whistles and sirens.

The call came two days later. Only it wasn't a call, it was a different man sitting where the therapist usually sat. He told me his car was downstairs and I followed him down. The sun was bright on the windshield, but there was a cold wind down the Potomac and the people in the street were bundled up, for spring would not come for another month. We stopped in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and my driver reached across and opened my door and I understood that I was to get out. Lincoln watched me come up the steps, sad and distant in his marble isolation, and I pushed my hands deep down into my overcoat pockets to cut the chill. A flashbulb went off and I flinched.

"It's a cold day to take a walk," Kestering said from beside me and I went back down the steps with him. His smile was apologetic, just like it had been when he stood outside my door. "After all you've been through, it would be a hell of a thing to die of exposure."

"I don't expect to die for a while yet," I said.

"No, of course not." He looked down at the pavement and poked it with his umbrella. A motorbike passed and its noise blotted out any chance of speech for a time. When it was gone he said, "I'm sorry, your wife, I mean ..."

There was a awkward silence, and then he tried again, "She's a very beautiful woman, it isn't the first time, I mean, that a wife's reacted that way. Some of my duties require—I never know what to say, you know. They all see me as a villain. Maybe I am. I used to worry about it. Now I'm too old. Calloused, I suppose." He gave me a sideways glance and twisted his lips into something between a smile and a grimace. "I have a job for you, David."

I felt a wind colder than the one outside pass through me. "What kind of a job?"

"Mexico. Two days, a week, ten days at most. An interview. Should be easy, but ..." His shoulders said, "Who knows?"

"Where is the person you want me to interview?"

"In jail."


He nodded, and let a boy and a girl holding gloved hands pass before he went on. "This is Paul LaCour," he said, bringing out a glossy file photo. The man in the picture might have been in his mid-forties, with a fleshy face and a dark spade beard that made him resemble Mephistopheles. Even under the ideal conditions of the studio the face looked smug and sensual. "LaCour was our man for Tabasco, Veracruz, and Chiapas. Applied for Mexican citizenship. Imported hardware—pumps and such and Christ-knows-what—for people with farms in the jungle. Some of those places are so remote the stuff has to be airlifted in. He was our liaison with Adolfo Santos."

The first picture was replaced by another, but this time it was harder to read the features because they were blurred. The photographer had caught Santos off guard and the eyes were slightly narrowed. Not a bad face, under the stubble, perhaps a little on the ascetic side, and neither young nor old.


Excerpted from The Mobius Man by Malcolm Shuman. Copyright © 1982 Nordon Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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