4. So Builds An Absolute Trust

Against all odds, he actually did manage to fall asleep. For all of half an hour. He woke to the sound of footsteps on the dirt floor, and a heavily accented voice. “Joe Valentine?”

He remembered just in time to sit up slowly, barely keeping the pain out of his face as he looked up.

El comandante had arrived.

The man standing by the cot looked about his age, dressed in a mud-stained cotton shirt and pants, with an M-16 in one hand and a cartridge belt slung across his chest. A fierce face, a bushy mustache and piercing dark eyes that had obviously seen more than their share of bloodshed. He’d fought with the Sandinistas in the last war, and defected afterwards, according to their intel.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Frank said. “And you would be?”

“I am Joaquin,” the guerrilla said simply, in English, to Frank’s surprise. There was another young man standing behind him-a boy, really. Giving him a second glance, Frank could see he was even younger than most of the kids they’d seen here. Fourteen, or barely fifteen, holding his gun in both hands like he wasn’t quite used to it. His face was expressionless, half hidden by dark hair flopping into his eyes. “You have information for me.”

“Where’s my partner?” Frank asked bluntly.

Joaquin gave him a look of controlled suspicion. “Your message first.”

“I don’t fucking think so.” Do not fuck with me right now, Frank’s glare said, I’m having a really bad day.

Joaquin raised one eyebrow, but when he got nothing else he finally said, “He is at the police station. He was arrested this afternoon, for starting the fight.”

The contra leader’s voice held a barely controlled scorn. Frank exhaled slowly, struggling to keep the reaction out of his face. Jack was alive. Alive. But certainly in deep shit, by every definition of the words. “And what are we doing about it?”

“For enough American dollars, we can free him,” he said, biting the words off impatiently. “I hope you have brought money with you. We will have to move quickly, if we are going to get both of you away from here before state security finds out you are here.”

Frank nodded, ignoring the tone and the look on the other’s face. He knew what Joaquin was thinking. Damn Yanks are more trouble than they’re worth. Any other time he might’ve been pissed, but right now he didn’t have the energy. They had money, all right, stashed with their weapons and their packs at the edge of town. Thank God for corrupt government officials.

He glanced at the boy standing by the table, and the woman, watching from the other side of the room, silent as a statue. Seeing this, Joaquin said, “You may speak. These can be trusted.”

So he did, reciting wearily the list of information ‘Mark’ had made him memorize, stopping only once when the woman came over to offer him a drink of water from a wooden bowl. He accepted gratefully, realizing for the first time just how thirsty he was, before passing the bowl to the boy. Their eyes met as he did so, the boy’s dark and guarded, before he turned back to Joaquin to finish.

“Give me your money,” Joaquin ordered him when he had finished, “and I will send someone to free your partner. I will return by this hour tomorrow.”

“I’m goin’ with you.” The other three looked at him with varying degrees of curiosity and disbelief as he stood up, gritting his teeth and putting one hand against the wall until he was sure he could stand on his own. “It’s with the rest of my gear, in the woods. Get me out of town and I can find it, and then I’ll bribe the local cops myself.”

Joaquin’s expression was calculating, a commander trying to assess the strength of a subordinate. The woman’s eyes held a guarded concern. “Our camp is at least two miles from here. Can you walk that far?”

Shit. But he replied stubbornly, “If I have to.” He straightened, concentrating on breathing with minimum agony, looking around for his shirt. It wasn’t here, probably ruined anyway, and the woman handed him another without a word. Pulling it on over his head, he wondered who it had once belonged to. “Gracias, señora.”

He wanted to say something else. He had a feeling like he should apologize to her, but he wasn’t sure what for. “Buenos noches, señor,” she said. “God go with you.”

They left quietly, walking single file, Joaquin in front, Frank in the middle, and the boy taking the six. The house was near the outskirts of the town, and it wasn’t too long before they were moving across open fields, following the sound of Joaquin’s footsteps in the dark.

It wasn’t until the faint lights from the town had faded completely that Frank realized she had never told him her name.

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