By Randy Wayne White
Hardcover, 368 pages
List Price: $25.95
On a snowy, January evening in Manhattan, I was in the Trophy Room of The Explorers Club when I saw, through frosted windows, men abducting a woman as she exited her limousine.
It wouldn't have made a difference, but I knew the woman. She was Barbara Hayes-Sorrento. Senator Barbara Hayes-Sorrento, a first term powerhouse from the west, who had won the office once held by her late husband.
Well, not much difference. The senator was my dinner date for the evening. No romantic sparks, but I liked the lady.
It was six p.m., already dark outside. The Trophy Room was a cozy place. Fireplace framed by elephant tusks, maps of the Amazon scattered, a mug of rum-laced tea within easy reach. I was the guest of an explorer who was also a British spy. Sir James Montbard. Friends called him Hooker because of the steel prosthetic that had replaced his left hand.
Hooker was a secondary reason for visiting New York. The primary reason was the hope of a new assignment from my old boss, a U.S. intelligence chief. Clandestine work sometimes requires a cover story. Friends sometimes provide it.
It was no coincidence that Barbara Hayes was free for dinner, or that my neighbor, Tomlinson, had been in the city until the day before, lecturing on "psychic surveillance" at an international symposium.
I had kept my social calendar high profile, and I'd stayed busy.
Hooker and I had been planning a trip to Central America. He believed that warrior monks had sailed west in the 1300s, escaping with plunder from the Crusades. He said it explained why, two centuries later, the Maya believed in a blonde, blue eyed god, Quetzalcoatl, and so made a fatal mistake by welcoming the murderous Conquistadors.
I wasn't convinced. But renewing contacts in Latin America was important now, so I'd agreed to join his expedition. This was our third night at the Explorers Club, using its superb library.
When Hooker excused himself to freshen his whiskey, I stood, stretched, and strolled to the widow because it was snowing — a rare opportunity for a man from the tropics. I had an unobstructed view of the street below. It was 70th Street, a quiet one-way, two blocks from Central Park. It connects Park Avenue and Madison.
I could see Barbara Hayes-Sorrento as she got out of her car. She wore a charcoal coat, stockings and high heels. Her briefcase looked darker for the confetti swirl of snowflakes
The woman was leaning into a limo, saying goodbye to a fellow passenger when a taxi rear-ended the limo from behind. Not hard.
I knew that the passenger was a teenager from Minnesota she had mentioned earlier, on the phone. A kid named William Chaser, who'd won an essay contest, and an escorted trip around the city. Something to do with the United Nations. Barbara had volunteer to meet him at the airport.
When Barbara jumped back, surprised, a man wearing coveralls and an odd pointed cap stepped to the driver's door, blocking it. A smaller man grabbed Barbara's shoulder. Her reaction was a warning glare.
The woman's expression changed when the man didn't let go. Barbara swung her briefcase, but missed. It tumbled into the slush. Barbara tried kicking. One sensible black shoe went flying.
I was turning toward the stairs as the man began pushing her toward a taxi that had stopped in front of the limo. The woman's lips formed a cartoon O of shock. Her mouth widened into a scream.
It was a silent scream. The Explorers Club is one of the brick and marble tall ships from a previous century. Neither car horns nor a lady's scream could pierce her elegant armor . . . .