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Where Nowhere Begins

by Gary Clifton

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Dubinski spotted the kid from a hundred feet. An Ivy League grad intent on changing the world. Tall, fit, with close-cropped blonde hair, which instantly identified him as an American and, to anyone of the cadre of nosy spies lurking about, as a garden-fresh, know-nothing employee of the C.I.A.

Ecuador, partly “pacified” by the U.S.-Canadian Front, remained basically a lawless wasteland minimally under the control of the Commandante de la Policia Nacional, with a command structure cloned along the lines of the Al Capone and company model.

The plain truth was that Ecuador, although under nominal control of Langley, was mostly dominated by whichever government could pony up the most bribes, provide weapons, and murder key members of the opposition.

At this point, Langley had bragging rights, but its grip was temporary at best. The United States, after decades of inflation and squandering money on unwinnable wars, was not the financial giant of Dubinski’s youth.

The kid walked right past Dubinski on the concourse.

“Do you suppose the pigeons fly in Belfast today?” Dubinski called out the recognition signal.

The newly trained killer whirled.

“It’s me you’re looking for, kid.” Dubinski forced a thin smile. “Go into attack mode and that cop over there is programmed to blow your head off.”

He gestured to a portly uniformed cop leaning on the wall thirty feet away eating an apple. He was bluffing. The cop knew nothing of their activity but would have shot the kid out of hand for any minor disturbance, anyway.

“You’re Snapshot?” The kid gave Dubinski, graying and haggard, an up-and-down, obviously expecting the Dean of Students at his snooty alma mater.

“Yup.” Nobody has briefed this kid on what I actually do down here. Or is he the doomsday messenger, sent to end my useless life?

“You tight with the cops down here, Snapshot?”

“I ask the questions. What is your name?”

“Facemask...uh, if you’re Snapshot.”

“My name is William Dubinski. I mean what’s your given name?”

“Not supposed to say.”

Dubinsky looked toward the uniformed cop. “Well, they told me you were subject to Profile 27.”

“My God, man, don’t let him shoot me. My name is Lester Formack.”

The anti-fear programming was still a work in progress. If Lester could survive two weeks in this hellhole, he might return... flee actually, to the States, find a wife, and make himself a life with a home in the suburbs — if there were any suburbs. Dubinski was sure that some semblance of that lifestyle still existed, although he only really knew what Langley told him. The States were only a distant memory.

Dubinski head-motioned toward the debris-littered lobby. Lester followed like a trout on a hook.

As they passed a seedy, balding man leaning on a wall reading a newspaper, Dubinski said, “Good morning, Alexi.”

“Cheers, Dubinski. New blood, hey?” He gave Lester the once-over.

Lester blurted, “Who?”

Dubinski grinned. “Sinister Russian spy. Lives in my hotel.”

Despite his outward levity, he was incapable of not watching the Russian peripherally as he crossed the lobby. Is this the one? Is this the instant? Do the Russians have a cohort, a hitter, stashed ahead... Perhaps Iran owns the tamale vendor standing just outside the front door?

As they stepped out into the sticky hot, humid equatorial swelter, Lester gasped. “Good show, Mr. Dubinski, your vehicle is parked on the sidewalk.”

In the poverty of Ecuador, Dubinski was never assigned or allowed use of any of the newer, high-tech equipment Langley lavished in other theatres. His gasoline-powered, battered green Dodge with no hubcaps was waiting faithfully by the front door. He’d actually seen the sleek hovercraft issued to operatives in other theatres of action, but no such pricey equipment would be wasted in Quito.

“It’s Bill, Lester, Bill. Good observation. Langley pays plenty of taxpayer dollars in bribes for that coded license plate. It’s ticket- and tow-proof. It’s parked by the front door, because it’s mostly theft-proof unless the cops steal it. And it’s damned nearly impossible plant a bomb in it while it’s parked next to a thousand pedestrians.”

Lester looked at him, skeptical, uncertain. “Cops steal your car?”

Dubinski studied the kid. Perhaps this guy’s actually been sent on a legitimate Langley mission?

What’s our assignment today, Mr...?”

“It’s still Bill. And we’re assisting the Ecuadorian National Police in apprehending two U.S. citizens for illegal possession of firearms. Gunrunners to the rebels. They gotta load of assault weapons, all stolen in the U.S. Federal police will wait until they have the cash, then steal the money and any guns they haven’t unloaded. Remember, kid, assist down here means observe from outside pistol range.”

“Guns, how do you know...?

“Looked in the back of the van last night. And no, there is no Fourth Amendment or any other damned amendment in Ecuador. We looked at the evidence.”

This kid does not seem to know my main function. Dubinski felt a slight gust of relief.

The kid stared, expression again skeptical.

“Remember: assist and observe in Ecuador are synonymous terms. There are enemy forces at every damned turn down here, all vying for some handhold on the police. Langley still pays the best. Next month, the cops may swear allegiance to the Russians. And, with a little luck, you won’t be here when that happens.”

* * *

By two p.m., Dubinski and his newbie in their Dodge had followed in last place through the narrow streets of Quito in a long parade of old, unmarked national police cars. In front, in an old passenger van, was a pair of numbskulls too stoned to look in the rear-view mirror to grasp they were leading a macabre procession which had zero chance to end well for them.

Trash littered the streets, settling into potholes large enough to swallow a Volkswagen. Thousands of hungry peasants stood, sat, or lay along the cracked sidewalks or amidst bombed-out buildings, staring hollow-eyed at the passing circus.

Lester said, “Mr... uh, Bill, all these people look like they’re starving.”

“Another bingo, Lester. But relax, they only eat humans after dark.”

Lester stared at Dubinski, gauging whether the comment was serious.

At an intersection in a dingy, nearly deserted industrial area, the lead police car pulled to the curb. The passenger exited and waved Dubinski over.

“Lester, this is the local commander, Carlos Romero. He graduated from a U.S. university and speaks perfect Americanized English. Keep your mouth shut.”

Dubinski cracked the bullet-resistant driver’s side window slightly. Carlos peered through the small opening. “They’ve about sold out, William. We’re gonna take ’em down.” He looked intently at Lester. “New man?”

“He’s okay, Carlos. No problems from us, as you well know.”

Carlos, a man who lived on the edge of the edge, said softly, “Better be certain.”

“Hand to God, Carlos.”

As the commander hurried back to join the parade, Dubinski said, “Translated that means you don’t see nothin’, Lester, understand?” Of course Lester did not understand. He was still invincible.

They rounded the next corner to see about a dozen Ecuadorian cops standing over two shoulder-length haired men, spread-eagled face down on the ground. The two prisoners were better groomed than the shabbily dressed Ecuadorian Feds.

Carlos strutted up, drew a .45 from his waistband, and shot each one in the back of the head.

Dubinski stopped fifty feet away. Lester drew a nickel plated, Smith and Wesson pistol from his boot and started out the passenger door. The weapon was one of the new prototypes which fired a carbon energy burst instead of a lead cartridge and never needed reloading

“Lester, get your ass back in here. And stick that pistol back where you found it. Any one of those cops will blow off your head to get that weapon you’re carrying. It’s worth a year’s pay down here.”

“My God, Bill, they murdered those two men.”

“Murder? An interpretive term, often misused. What you just think happened, but of course failed to see, was a lawful arrest wherein the Ecuadorian National Police were required to use deadly force. Surely they taught you that back in Virginia?”

“What the hell are we into here?”

“Serving mother and country, Lester. Welcome to the war on drugs... or what the hell ever we’re fighting for. I’ve lost my instructional manual.”

“Carlos is walking over here,” Lester said, hurriedly stuffing the pistol back in his boot.

“Open your mouth, kid and he might put a round down your throat. At which time, I’ll kill him, run for the embassy and crash the gate. You’ll get a free trip home in a tin box. I’ll be lucky if I go to Leavenworth.”

“They’d shoot American agents?”

“Kid, I didn’t see it, but those two dead dopers on the pavement didn’t shoot themselves, and they’re certainly Americans. You think the Ecuadorians see you any differently?”

Dubinski rolled down the window, forfeiting any defense it might have offered. He casually palmed the small .38 from his own boot, covering it with a hand against his thigh.

Carlos, .45 in hand, leaned in. “Tried to grab my pistol. Hadda put ’em both down.”

Dubinski said calmly, “Me and the rook hadn’t made the corner. Didn’t see what happened. Glad you weren’t hurt.”

A brief vision of Carlos’ face, if he had to shoot him, drifted across mind. He hoped Carlos understood he’d damn sure kill him out of hand if need arose. The Ecuadorian cop was a nasty, deplorable specimen who needed killing anyway.

Carlos looked across at Lester, eyes deadly. “You see it?”

Lester shook his head like a man spitting out rotten fish.

As Carlos walked away, Lester said, “They’re taking the dead guys’ boots and Levi’s. What next?”

Dubinski slipped the .38 back into his boot. “We, Lester, are going to go have lunch. They — the cops — are going to take the two bodies to the city dump, steal their car, cash and anything else of value they have , then probably drop by El Diablo so we can pay for lunch.”

“Christ, why not just leave them on the street?”

“Naked bodies left on a public street? Lester, that’s not what civilized people do.”

“Civilized? They’re animals.”

“No, Lester, territory controlled by animals — the two-legged kind — begins about two blocks up ahead. No cops, no water, no control, no toilet paper, and certainly no civilization. I don’t recommend you go down there but, if you stand on the roof of this buggy and don’t get picked off by a sniper, you can go back to Langley and tell them you actually saw the fringe area at the end of the world. You might want to add that we’re winning and doing a hell of a job. Then you’ll find they won’t have heard a word you’ve said.”

Lester sat, mouth agape.

Dubinski cranked the Dodge. “How about steak for lunch, Les...and a couple shots of tequila?”

“Can we buy a decent meal in this El Diablo place, Bill?”

“You can buy the owner’s daughter, Lester. And his wife, the whole damned cantina, and the life of his worst enemy — if you’ve got enough Yankee greenbacks in your pocket. Let’s eat, kid.”

Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

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