The old man didn’t seem as haywire these day, less of the surrounding reckless atmosphere he remembered from his boyhood. And if he didn’t remember, there would always be the flock of diplomats and cops and spooks and pranksters to tell him all about it.

Townsend had seen a new Dodge Viper as he came in, garaged beside the beloved ’72 Stingray. And there was the unmistakable spoor of nouveau bimbeau around the place. Probably why they weren’t out by the pool: sports pushing sixty so often don’t like competition from handsome young jocks under thirty. Especially their only begotten.

But he was mellower all around, lounging barefoot on the comfy leather couch, the Classic Edition of Town’s own tall, lean, blonde good looks. He almost felt he could talk to the guy. Almost. He’d just said, “First mission outcountry, right?”

“Yeah, my first.” He felt the unaccustomed resentment of being patronized and head-patted. Great. Move through life as a sports hero, a powerful super-cop respected by all and feared by many, then get around the Original Davis Hardley for two minutes and I’m little Opie. All you have to do is mention the fucker around DC and it’s: Hey, I knew your Dad. About fifty percent, So I’m cool like him, and fifty percent, Hiya Sonny. He asked, “Why would I be anything other than domestic?”

“Domestic,” Davis snorted, “What are the FBI and NSA? Chambermaids? You realize they’ve got this underground office in a bunker under the East Wing, four guys cranking out stupid words to use instead of ones that might mean anything?”

“I’ve had my suspicions.” He didn’t agree with his old man much, but some things were just so pat.

“So where were your suspicions when they roped you into this horseshit? Temporarily detached. I spent half my so-called career TDY’d to some clusterfucked alphabet soup or another. Why would you go play fetch for freakin’ Democrats?”

“What, you were on leave during Clinton and taking a piss during Carter?”

“Not what I’m talking about.” Davis shook his head vehemently. A head still covered with dark blonde ringlets, Townsend was pleased to note. No thinning, good teeth, but not so good as to be remods. Nice peek at his own future. But his dad continued to disown the Dems, “I worked for the country, for freedom and bullroar, the mission, whatever. Not a damned political party. Direct with re-elect assholes. That’s where Liddy and those guys got screwed: you go partisan and you’re working with numbnuts and when the shit hits the fan you can’t take cover behind national interest.”

“Well, so glad you kept your skirts free of donkey doo. But they came to me with this stuff, heavy guys with a letter from the white house about fifteen minutes after a call from my section chief. If I’d known you wouldn’t approve, I’d have turned them down cold.”

“No need for the attitude.” Davis swung up to a seated position with a limber motion, not spilling a drop of his brandy and soda. “I guess it’s just my way of warning you. Is that okay?”

Townsend was a little embarrassed how grateful he was for that concession and sentiment. He shot his father his winning pressbox smile, but of course he was immune. “I appreciate that,” he said. “It’s why I wanted to talk with you before I went. And they wanted me to talk to you, too. Go figure.”

“Who wanted?”

“Munson and Wiestler.”

“Ah, shit, Monsoon and The Weasler? Didn’t take you long to get in over your head up there, did it? Well, that’s what generally breaks you or pops you up a level, being in over your head with heavier assholes than yourself. And that little comedy team is about the deepest shit I can think of, offhand.”

“Deeper doodoo than the Republicans?”

“Look, whatever they say about the GOP, they don’t have slimeballs quite that slimy.”

“Yeah, the Pope’s considering Carville and Ginrich for sainthood, I understand.”

Davis sipped his brandy, flopped a hand. “You gotta point. But I’d put your pair of one-eyed jacks up against them for sheer scumosity any day. What’d they bring you?”

“Hailed my ass in, a few grins, handed me a file, bought me a ticket, looked at their watches.”

“A ticket to Cancun. Not bad. There’s kids your age going to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Korea, real bungholes. You’re getting Spring Break.”

“Yeah, but in off-season.” He caught the look and was secretly pleased, but added, “I’m kidding. It’s great. I’m looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to finding out what it’s all about.”

“Uh, oh. You’re the ass on line and got no need to know?”

“About the size of it. No NTKFS.”

“So what are you supposed to do? If you’re at liberty to say.”

“Of course. It’s why I came. Thing is, I haven’t got a clue.”

“Got a handler?”

“Don’t seem to.”

“Ground contact?”

“That’s what’s weird, more of an anti-contact. I’m supposed to touch up with the competition.”

“The Competition? Huh.” He pondered a minute, staring off and scratching his still-flat belly. Then shrugged. “I guess I’m just too much an old Cold Warrior, because I don’t even know who the competition would be anymore. No Soviets. Al Queda? Chinese? The Massad, maybe. For my money we’re going to have to sort those fuckers out sooner or later.”

“Another rare agreement.”

Davis smiled, as winningly and fruitlessly as his son had. “Well watch out. You’re already more of a Nazi than I ever was. Don’t kids go grow a beard and smoke a bowl and find themselves anymore?”

“We’ve got video and MySpace for that now. But anyway, I don’t even know what the mission is. But there’s some woman down there who’s looking for something because GOP is paying her to do it.”

“Some political capital in Mexico, maybe? Or not.”

“Whatever it is she’s looking for I’m supposed to find out and then, I guess, get it. If it’s something that can be got.”

“And if it isn’t, kill it?”

“Hard to say. I don’t know whether I’m supposed to instinctively know what to do when I see it or call them up for instructions. They gave me a wide-open directive.”

“That’s excellent. You’re coming along well. This is the sort of stuff you build a career on. Of course, it’s also the best way to fuck a donut and wind up in Anchorage guarding icemakers.”

“So if it’s a Castro agent trying to buy a nuke or something, what do I do?”

“Just don’t do it until the little red numbers flash down to less than 5.”

“Of course not. I told you we have video. Why do you think I got into this work?”

“I did everything I could to steer you into something useful instead.”

“Oh, I don’t know. You could have made me wear dresses and lipstick.”

“Hell, I couldn’t even make your mother wear dresses and lipstick.”

Townsend nodded affably. Okay. Passengers please note that the Don’t Go There sign is now lit.

Fortunately Davis didn’t go there. “So she’s a Mexican woman?”

“Not even close. She’s Black, actually. Wears an afro, even.”

“A retfro? Hilarious. I knew they’d come back. Shaving your head is too much trouble. People laugh at the Mod Squad naturals, but they sure beat Jerry Curl.”

“People laugh at that, too, Dad.”

“I laughed the first time I ever saw one. So what’s with her? Works for? Age?”

“About my age. Her file looks pretty freelance, NGO, not-profits, think tanks.”

“Hmm, mid twenties, old school negritude, carrying paper for the Committee To Un-Elect Bonzo. Is she hot?”

“Not sure that’s really germane in this case.”

“Then make it germane, that’s my fatherly advice. They didn’t put you on this because of your weapons ratings.”

“Say what?”

“Let me tell you something you might find useful.”

“I’d appreciate it.”

“Energy moving through a system acts to organize that system.”

Townsend sat without moving, looking at him waiting, but that was it. He said, “So did they tell you that at an academy?”

“Not in so many words.”

“Huge help, Pops. So is there anything I should watch out for in Mexico?”

“Yep.” Davis was nodding sagely. “Hongos.”

“Ongos? How should I look out for them?”

“Don’t worry about it. If you’re ready for them, they’ll find you.”

Tags: ,