Tanner's Tiger Page 29

“Well, now,” he said suddenly. “A flock of cars is one thing, but you can’t expect a little egg crate like this to trail one of those.”

I didn’t understand at first. I thought he meant the truck, and wondered if he might be making a joke, and if I perhaps ought to laugh at it.

Then I looked out at the clearing and got the joke but didn’t laugh. Because it wasn’t just a clearing. It was an airstrip, and there was one hell of a big silvery jetliner perched on it.

“Now in this particular sort of water,” said the Jolly Aviator, “I don’t know that I’d use bait at all. I think I’d drop some dynamite and see what came to the surface.”


“Did you see the size of that bird, though? You could put the chopper in its luggage compartment.”


We had landed the chopper about a quarter of a mile from the landing strip, and now we were walking back along the dirt road in a reasonable facsimile of silence. Arlette’s entrance had shaken them up, all right. Unless I was very far off the mark, they were about to fill up the plane with all the people they had snatched and beat it out of the country in a hurry. If we didn’t do something, Arlette and Minna would be spending the rest of August in Havana.

It wasn’t surprising that they were shook up. Arlette and I had dropped in on them once when nobody was home, and whatever traces we had left behind was enough to put four men on guard duty all night. Arlette’s second visit, combined with the general hysteria we had created throughout Montreal, must have nudged them over the edge. They wouldn’t be kidnaping anybody else now. They’d just put the last load of prisoners on the plane and send all the evidence home to Fidel.

“We’ve got three guns,” I told them. “Mr… uh, the captain here, he’ll use his own. I’ll hang onto the thirty-eight. That leaves one of you fellows for the thirty-two automatic. It’s the lightest of the lot. Have either of you had any experience with handguns?” They hadn’t. “Well, which of you is best with a rifle? Who’s done the most shooting?”

Neither of them had done any shooting. Seth remembered that he had been fair with an air rifle at a shooting gallery on Times Square some years back. That put him one up on Randy and earned him the gun.

“There’s a lot to be said for basic training,” I told them. “If only there was a way you could do your eight weeks and then cop out-”

“They don’t approve of that,” Randy said.

“They call it desertion,” Seth said, “and frown on it.”

“It’s a shame. Maybe you won’t have to shoot anybody. If you do, just point the gun at the person you want to shoot. And squeeze the trigger. If you jerk it, you’ll hit something else. Here-” I took the clip out and showed him how to aim and fire while we walked along.

Randy, the unarmed one, must have read Mao’s book on guerrilla warfare. He bent over from time to time, picking up throwing-size stones and filling his pockets with them. He also got hold of a stick about five feet long, which he said would be useful for hitting people over the head. All in all, I figured he would be capable of doing more damage to the enemy than Seth, and perhaps as much as the rest of us, too.

We walked a little farther, and I put my finger to my lips, then motioned to the others to follow me in the rest of the way at twenty-yard intervals. We would make less noise that way. I picked out a cluster of trees on the perimeter of the landing strip, some thirty yards from the plane, perhaps twice that distance from the concrete-block structure. I crouched there in the shadows and waited until they joined me one by one.

I watched the plane and the building. The aircraft, as far as I could tell, was empty now. There were guards flanking the doorway of the building and three more guards, rifles slung across their shoulders, were smoking cigars down at the far end. I had no idea who was inside the building or what was going on there. It had no windows.

The guards were a far cry from the ones who had done duty at the pavilion. These were old line barbuda types, with full Fidelista beards and loose-fitting khaki fatigues. There was something extremely effective about those uniforms. The men gave off an aura of insolent competence, and I matched the four of us against the five of them, balanced our three guns (and one stick, and a few rocks) against their five rifles, and I hoped Minna would enjoy Havana. It would be hot as hell this time of the year, and they wouldn’t be likely to have air-conditioning, but the winters would be mild and pleasant and-

My mind was starting to do that again. I shook my head, hoping the motion might rearrange some of the cells. There had to be a way. If we could get the jump on one or two of the guards, that would make a big difference. We would have the use of their rifles and lower the odds against us. Arlette could call to them, coax them aside with the promise of sexual delight-

Not very likely. Arlette was inside the goddamned building.

I took a deep breath and plunged right back in again. One way or another, we could split up the guards and bump two of them. Then, armed with their rifles and our own pistols, and shooting from ambush, we could probably gun down the other three.

Then what?

Then we would have the building under siege, for whatever good that might do. With our guns pointing at the only door of a windowless building, we would at least be in a strong bargaining position. We couldn’t get in, but they couldn’t get out, and it would be to their obvious advantage to work a deal. At the very least, we could get them to release Minna and Arlette to us, and we could disable the truck and the cars so that they couldn’t come after us. We could even take one of the cars – that would be part of the terms of the deal – and we’d wreck the others and leave the one where the helicopter was parked.

I went on figuring out other minor details because they were more easily resolved than the major one – namely, getting to the first two guards to start the game. Or did we really have to do it in stages? We did have three guns, and we were hidden and they were in the open, and-

And we were sixty yards away from them. I wasn’t sure the.32 would carry thirty yards, not to mention accuracy. And I knew the Magnum, with all its power, could barely be sure of hitting the building, let alone the guard in front of it. The.38 came closest to what we needed, and if only it had a longer barrel, it might have been accurate enough for plinking at people sixty yards away. In someone else’s hands, that is. Not mine.

Then how-

Ah, I thought. Forget the guards on the door, because one couldn’t possibly sneak up on them. But how about the three at the far end of the building? They were goofing off, and they were within easy pistol range of what looked like fairly thick woods. We could get to them. It wasn’t easy, but it was feasible. We would have to stay in the woods and work our way all around the perimeter of the landing strip. A long walk, but we would have good cover all the way and for a large part of the trek we would be out of hearing range.

Then three quick shots, or as many as it took to dispose of the three loafers. We would be in the dark while the other two guards would be outlined against the walls of the building.

I liked the odds.

“Evan?” Randy was whispering into my ear. “Got anything?”

I nodded. Then the door of the building opened, and the two guards flanking it snapped to attention, and the three bearded loafers threw away their cigarettes and came forward.

“Tell me.”

A short, stocky type came through the door and headed for the jet. He was wearing a flying suit, heavy boots, goggles, and a crash helmet. He was either the pilot or a man looking for a masquerade party. He crossed over to the plane and climbed a flight of steps, disappearing into its belly.

Two more bearded types followed him from the building. After them came several clean-shaven men in close-fitting khaki slacks and blouses. Guards from the pavilion, I guessed.

“The plan, Evan.”

The big jet engines kicked in and the pilot began the warm-up. I tried counting the guards, but they were moving around too much. It looked, though, as if there were more guards than we had bullets. One of them came out of the building now, his left hand fastened upon the forearm of a tall man in a rumpled suit, his right arm around the man’s waist. He walked the man across the clearing to the plane. The man in the suit was a Negro. At first I thought the guard was leading him that way to keep him from resisting, but when they drew closer, I saw that it wasn’t that at all. The Negro trudged on like a zombie. Either they had him drugged to the eyes or else he was ninety-five percent dead.


I clenched my teeth. “The plan just washed out,” I said. “It went down the drain.”

He passed this bit of information on to the rest of them, speaking in a thin whisper that couldn’t entirely hide his nervousness. I watched the guard lead the Negro up the steps and into the midsection of the big jet. Then more guards were following him, each with a man or a woman in tow. They would tuck their passengers into the plane and turn around and go back for more.

There were about four men to each woman. There were a few children, but not many of them. All of them, men and women and children, walked in the same robot fashion, shuffling along like the living dead. All of them had wide, glassy eyes and wore rumpled clothing.

And all of them, men and women and children, were Negroes.

I sat there watching this little parade without even trying to guess what it was all about. The Cubans were stealing Negroes. Male Negroes, female Negroes, juvenile Negroes. Fidel was starting a Negro collection. He wanted Cubans to develop a natural sense of rhythm. He-

Then they brought out Arlette and, a few Negroes later, Minna. It was easy to spot them. In that company they looked positively bleached. In other respects, however, they differed not at all from the rest of the plane’s passengers. Their eyes were every bit as glazed, their walk the same fumbling stumbling shuffle.


Something happened when I saw her. I realized, for the first time since her disappearance, that deep down inside I had not expected to see her again. A part of my unconscious mind had quietly written her off as dead, even while I was rushing around searching for her. I felt this way without ever being aware of it, and now I was seeing her again, and she was alive.

There was sudden intense pressure behind my eyeballs. Then my eyes were wet, and tears spilled down my cheeks like raindrops on a windshield. I was not sobbing. I was sitting still, breathing normally, remaining quite calm while silently crying my eyes out.

My tears were still flowing when Minna disappeared into the plane. There were a few more Negroes, and then a youngish woman in a brown and white uniform. The stewardess? The idea was unlikely enough to stop the flow of tears. I saw that the woman was carrying a small black bag and decided she must be a nurse. Someone had to be giving those zombies their periodic dosages of drugs. She looked equal to the task. Her face somehow reminded me of Claude.

Of course they needed the nurse aboard the plane. Otherwise they would need a full complement of guards to keep the passengers tractable. This way they would slump in their seats all the way to Havana and-

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