When the voice of authority calls, Tony Hawkin assumes there is a glitch. After all, why would the nation possibly require the services of a man who runs the gift shop in the FBI building? But there's no mistake, and soon Tony finds himself in the middle of Mexico, pursued by a ruthless killer, and hot on the trail of a priceless work of art. He has to find the painting, determine its authenticity, and return it safely to Washington. There's only one problem: everybody wants this particular painting. Now Tony must summon all his wits and courage to outsmart the forces of international espionage--tracking down the painting was easy, escaping the clutches of the KGB, the Mafia and Mossad is more than he bargained for. And then there's the man, the one with a predeliction for guns and sharp knives. Suddenly, all Tony can think of is the warm comfort of his shop in D.C., and the sound of small voices: ""Hey, mister, how much for the chocolate handcuffs?"" Will he ever see those little faces... At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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September 14, 1987
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Excerpt from Montezuma's Revenge by Harry Harrison
From a pigeon's eye view, and there are pigeons enough in our nation's capital, fed and fat from tourist popcorn and sandwich crusts, the National Gallery looked just as it always has done. White marble, domed and impressive, a suitable repository for the finest art from all over the world displayed for the pleasure of the American citizenry. Here the sweat-soaked sons of Kansas and California, Texas and Maine sought welcome relief from the steam-bath heat and shattering glare of a Washington summer, wallowing in wide-eyed wonder before the fleshy expanses of the Rubens matrons, shuffling glazed-eyed past the exuberances of the impressionists, while all of this time they were unaware of the human drama being played out in their midst.
If their attention had not been elsewhere they might have noticed him standing to one side in the book and art shop, a man with a decidedly worried expression that kept slipping back to his face no matter how he tried to dispel it with a professional smile. He was thin, of medium height, tanned and jet haired, his nose slightly too large for his face although he was not unhandsome for all of it, his smoothly pressed suit was beige and unassuming, his neatly knotted tie of an austeretone; he stood erect yet at ease with his hands clasped behind him, master of all he surveyed--which was indeed the case.
"Mr. Hawkin," a rounded, pink sort of girl said, trotting up to him with a thick book extended before her. "A gentleman wants this but there's no price in it ..."
"Master Drawings of Degas, second edition, eight ninety-five plus tax."
She thanked him breathlessly, impressed by this feat of total recall, eyes swimming moistly like fish behind their thick lenses, and hurried back to her customer. All appeared to be as it should be, postcards, books, prints, colored slides selling briskly, a run on Ingres items, which was to be expected with the loan exhibition upstairs of the artist's Roman sketches, but said run craftily countered by preordering of Ingres items so that the racks stayed full and the profits mounted. Yet, despite all this, all was definitely not as it should be as Hawkin's quick glance at the heavy-set man in the black suit proved. While ostensibly displaying an intense interest in the file of Fragonard prints he was in reality staring intently at Hawkin who caught a quick glint of those deep-set eyes and turned hurriedly away, the smile slipping from his face yet one more time, pushed from position by memory of those same eyes and even colder voice earlier that morning.
"Be available at noon," he had said, nothing more, then moved silently away among the racks.
Hawkin's first reaction had been anger; who was this stranger to come here and speak to him in this manner? The security office was close by and Legree, the chief, was luxuriating there in hisrolls of fat and keeping them firm with coffee and cake to tamp his ample breakfast down.
"Just be available," he ordered in his calorie-rich voice. "If the man says be there, then be there. I know him. He's government."
Government. They were all federal employees, but government piped in this respectful tone of voice meant something above them, another agency, the weight of authority visited. So Hawkin had waited and it had done his temper no good at all. Normally a peaceful man, a relatively happy individual secure in his position and getting pleasure from his work, he had now been rudely shocked from his complacency and he did not like it. All morning the man from government had been in sight and, more often than not, showing a greater interest in the manager than in the goods displayed, with those eyes of his, not unlike spotting scopes half hidden under the jungled ledge of his brow, radiating a peculiar piercing power that was continually disturbing and eventually caused Hawkin to brood uneasily and to wonder what crimes he might secretly be guilty of. As noon approached the tension grew and he welcomed the minor relief of correcting an overring on one of the registers. But as he turned away from the machine he started visibly when he discovered the thickset man now standing no more than a foot away from him.
"Your office," was all that was said and Hawkin led the way in silence, almost eagerly now that the moment had arrived.
"Cigarette?" Hawkin asked, sliding the box across the desk, then withdrawing it and lighting one himself at the solemn shake of the other's head. "Now what is it I can do to help you?"
"My identification." With grim precision he extended his hand and flipped open the leather case to disclose the glittering badge inside, a gesture quite familiar to anyone who has so much as ever glanced at a television, then snapped it shut again almost instantly. "Davidson, Federal Bureau of Investigation. I am here on a matter of great importance."
Behind his calm expression Hawkin's subconscious hauled up a number of criminal possibilities, visions of all traffic violations, stop lights passed, unthinking expectorations on sidewalks. No, this was foolish, the agent could not be here for minor items like these. Didn't the FBI handle only major offenses? This thought simply changed the internal display to kidnapped babies, bombed airplanes, stolen cars streaking across state lines, a ghastly parade speeding through his mind. What could he possibly be guilty of?
"Do you mind if I see that badge again?" he asked. Closer examination of the shield, heavy golden metal, deeply embossed, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, number 32786, helped not in the slightest and he watched it disappear from sight a second time still no wiser. "Might I ask you what your business is, Mr. Davidson? Something about the staff perhaps?" Hopefully.
The FBI man ignored this weak gambit and removed a sheaf of papers from an inside pocket which he held to the light and proceeded to read from in a cold and courtroom witnessish manner.
"Hawkin, Antonio. Born twenty-fifth December nineteen forty on the Coyotero Apache Reservation, White Mountain, Arizona. Father's name Hawk Brother changed legally to Juan Hawkin in nineteen fifty-four in Palm City, California. AttendedSunnyslope Elementary School, South-west Junior High School, Montgomery High School, San Diego State College, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history. Service in the United States Army nineteen sixty-two to nineteen sixty-four, highest rank held Technician Fifth Class, Federal employee nineteen sixty-five until present date, currently manager bookshop in the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., unmarried, next of kin, maternal aunt Maggy Firefly, blood type O, Rh negative."
The agent's voice stopped suddenly and Tony, resisting the urge to cry not guilty, asked instead, "Is there any particular reason for this?" Davidson nodded grimly.
"You have been chosen for an assignment."
"What do you mean!"
"An opportunity to serve your country through service to your Federal Bureau of Investigation. You will be pleased to know that there were seven names on the final short list and He ..." the word was breathed with a reverential aspirate, " ... He chose you Himself, at once, as the man most qualified for the position. Not only as a loyal American but as an American American, one of the original ones, as well as being a member of a minority group."
While the agent had been talking most of the nervousness had drained away. There was no crime involved, the wicked flee where none pursueth, the recited vita cast no shame upon him, and the entire matter had shifted from the frightening to the mysterious and was edging its way toward the slightly preposterous.
"You still haven't told me what this proposed assignment is."
"It is not proposed at all, approved. He approved it Himself."
"Well I haven't, and I am certainly not going to do anything of the sort until I at least know what you are talking about."
The agent put the papers away then, choosing to ignore the suggestion of free choice, and spoke with careful precision.
"You have been selected as the first director of the Book and Souvenir Shop to be opened in the lobby of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Building."
"Thank you. I appreciate the offer but I am afraid I must decline."
"That is unacceptable. Transfer papers are being drawn up--"
"What do you mean unacceptable? I am an adult American and cannot be coerced against my will. I may have been born an Indian but my father left the reservation and saw to it that I received a good education and was drafted early like any other American boy. I've done my service. And I like it here." Volubility drove him to recklessness. "I appreciate the offer but tell J.E.H., thanks a lot, but no thanks."
Davidson leaned forward slowly, his mouth a tight-clamped slash, his eyes arctic and devastatingly penetrating. "Have you ever been investigated?" The words dropped crackling from his lips, frigid as glacial ice. "That is what you are requesting. A man who rejects an opportunity like this must have something to hide and, I can assure you, we are specialists in uncovering what men have hidden. Everything. Are you concealing something, Mr. Hawkin?"
Tony's heart gave a great leap in his chest,plunging up against the base of his throat so he could not swallow, had trouble breathing, while at the same instant a speeded-up film of the transgressions of his life rushed by the eye of memory. A seedy hotel in Nome with his captain's wife, torn-up parking tickets, certain exaggerations and interesting omissions on his income tax returns, unpaid and long forgotten utility bills, a gap in the barbed-wire fence around Camp Upton much used after hours because of its proximity to a nearby tavern; these and others of their kind raced by, minor, perhaps, and were he a Catholic they would be worth no more than a Hail Mary or two or a bit of fasting, but looming large to his lapsed Protestant conscience, growing even larger still in the presence of the dark figure of possible disinterment and retribution.
"I'm concealing nothing," he said in a sort of strangling gasp, forcing the words around his enlarged coronary pump, unconvincing even to himself and a ludicrous prospect to the silent watcher. The water carafe gave a moment's respite, but only a moment, for when he poured, the glass rattled, and his upper lip was already damp with sweat before the water reached it. You can't threaten me was what he wanted to say but did not, for he had already been threatened, so instead took refuge in dissimulation.
"Don't misunderstand, I do respect this signal honor. But I am really not qualified, you see. I am an art historian by choice and a radar repairman by necessity and know nothing about law enforcement. A fish out of water, you wouldn't want that. So for our mutual benefit ..."
"If He says you can hack it you can hack it."
"I can hack it, I can hack it," Tony muttered,cracking his knuckles on the desk before him in quiet despair. It had been so pleasant here in the National Gallery. The George Graham bracket clock on his bookshelf gently chimed the hour and at the very same instant his telephone rang. Before he could take it up Davidson had reached out and removed the receiver and held it to his own ear.
"Yes, sir!" The words were spoken with a warmth of feeling Tony had thought this crag of a man impossible of displaying, and then he had passed the handpiece across the desk. Smiling.
"You can talk now. You are speaking with Him."
Hawkin sighed with resignation and reached for the phone.