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For All Nails #119: The Defector

by Johnny Pez (with thanks to M.G. Alderman for the newspaper clipping)

News Item, The Times
August 12, 1974


VERACRUZ, U.S.M. - Reality and fiction came close to blurring on July 13 in Mexico when the hit vita show Sábado gigante en vivo was interrupted for the live news bulletin announcing the arrival of defecting C.N.A. pilot Lt. Alexandra Stapleton. The agitated lady pilot, shouting pro-Jeffersonist slogans, had to be forcibly restrained and removed from the view of the cameras. While the diplomatic controversy over the evidently deranged Miss Stapleton's defection has since died down, the issue was once again returned to the news after the firm of Sánchez-Ruyters Statistics, based out of Novidessa, issued a report on August 8 saying that almost 60% of Mexican viewers polled initially thought that the news bulletin was another part of the comedic variety show, which sometimes spoofs current events using sketches mirroring popular vita news magazines. Miss Stapleton, at last report, was still in residence in Mexico City, though President Moctezuma's government has not taken any interest in her claims of knowing important secrets, which may be just as fictional as the sketch comedy she interrupted.

Mexico City, C.D., USM
14 August 1974
9:44 AM

Joan Kahn was a happy woman, which was unusual given the circumstances. In her bag she was carrying what was probably the most important set of documents in the world, and she was on a mission (God how she had come to loathe that word!) to hand them off to a Mexican government official.

Stepping off the airmobile at Jackson Field the night before had felt like waking up from a bad dream. Despite the red wig that hid her hair and the mirrored sunshades that hid her eyes, she felt more like herself than she had since ... well, if truth be told, since that night in San Cristóbal back in January.

Getting away from New Orleans was part of it. She had been there exactly three times before in her life, each time on one of Steven Taylor's silly book tours, being interviewed on vita and radio shows and doing signings in various bookstores. She hadn't had a chance to do any sightseeing, so all she knew about the city was what she'd seen from the back of the livery FN1 while being shlepped from place to place.

Going there with Timothy Liddy ten days before had been worse than the book tours; habits of caution that had been sensible in Ciudad Camacho seemed horribly out of place in the CNA. If anything, Tim had been even more furtive and paranoid, perhaps because he feared that his former subordinates at the CBI were scouring the country in search of him. He was absolutely convinced that he was being followed by spies from around the world, and Kahn had grown sick of the whole routine very quickly. Every phone call, whether to Bobby Contreras in Palo Alto or to his father right there in New Orleans, had to be made from a pay phone, and each time from a different pay phone. They couldn't go anywhere or do anything without scouting ahead of time to make sure they weren't walking into an ambush.

Now, she was all alone in Mexico City, and it felt like being alive again. She felt as much at home here as she did in Brooklyn City. This was where she had assembled the materials for her Pedro Hermión book. Hours spent poring over century-old documents in government archives, reading through secondary sources at the Hamilton National Library, even the waitressing she had done to support herself, all now seemed to shine brightly through a warm haze of nostalgia. Walking along United States Boulevard across from Alameda Park on a clear Wednesday morning, Kahn was on top of the world.

Her noon meeting with Osterman and subsequent flight back to New Orleans were a couple hours away. She was tempted for a moment to stop in at Macchio's on Andrew Jackson Boulevard for brunch, but decided against it. It had been, let's see, eight years now since she had worked there, but there was still a chance that Ralph or one of the regulars might recognize her, despite her disguise. Instead, she decided to try something called the Big Bang Burger Bar, wedged in between a goods emporium called Norton's and a Pineapple Inn. FN2 She doubted whether the burgers were kosher, but you could never go wrong with a garden salad. She was making her way towards the order line, thinking with distaste about those oversized rats they ate in Ciudad Camacho, when another woman nearly ran into her.

"Holy shit! Ev!" the woman burst out in an unmistakable Manitoban accent, though most of the Manitobans Kahn knew were pretty fastidious about swearing.

This put Kahn in something of a dilemma. She didn't want to be recognized as herself, or as Martha Stewart for that matter, but neither did she want to be mistaken for this Ev person. FN3

The profane Manitoban solved her dilemma for her by saying, "Oh shit, I'm sorry, lady, I mean señora, I thought you were someone else. Habla ingles?"

"Like a native," Kahn couldn't help saying.

"Jesus Bloody Christ, am I glad to see another Tory," the woman said. "You wouldn't believe the kind of shit I've been through."

Kahn was about to disengage from the profanity-spewing Manitoban with whatever politeness she could muster when her steel-trap memory came through once again. Right after she and Tim met in New Granada, there was a big stir about a North American air force pilot who had defected to Mexico along with a surveillance airmobile, a big enough stir that the one and only daily paper in Ciudad Camacho had put it on the front page. By the time the two of them had reached New Orleans the diplomatic flap had been resolved by Monaghan and Moctezuma, but the Liberals had managed to turn the whole thing into a major domestic political scandal, and the uproar had still been going on. Very probably, that pilot's defection was going to cost Monaghan the election tomorrow, and now Kahn was face to face with her: Lt. Alexandra Stapleton.

There had been all sorts of speculation about Lt. Stapleton's motives. She had appeared on Mexican vitavision spouting fervent Jeffersonist dogma, denouncing the CNA as a hotbed of tyranny and corruption. Since Kahn firmly believed that the CNA was a hotbed of tyranny and corruption (and about to become more so under Skinner), she had found herself sympathizing with the pilot.

So instead of walking away, Kahn joined Stapleton at her table and said, "Well, you know what they say about the tree of liberty."

Grinning, Stapleton said, "Now I know you're not Ev. She'd rather cut her tongue out than quote Thomas Jefferson. And I'd be bloody happy to do it for her." Turning thoughtful, she added, "Should I know you?"

Judging from the pilot's vitavised rhetoric, she had probably read some of Kahn's political pamphlets. In fact, Kahn thought she had recognized a phrase from "The New Intolerable Acts," one of her more popular efforts. But she was supposed to be in Mexico City incognito. What to say?

Maybe it was just being back in a familiar place, but Kahn suddenly felt sick to death of disguises and aliases. Just this once, just for a few minutes, she was going to be herself. Pushing the sunshades to the end of her nose, she looked at Stapleton over the rims and said, "I'm Joan Kahn."

"No bloody shit!" exclaimed Stapleton. "I've read all your books! This is unbefuckinglievable! Did you know there's a copy of your Kinkaid book in the Air Force Academy library?"

"Must be a mistake on someone's part," said Kahn with a chuckle.

"And Martin had never heard of you! Can you believe it? As soon as he said that, I should have known there was something wrong with the goddamn motherfucking bastard!" Stapleton face was twisted with hatred as she spoke. "It's his bloody fault I'm here."

"Martin who?" Suddenly Kahn's professional interest was piqued. There hadn't been any mention of any Martin in the stories she had seen and read of Stapleton's defection.

"Martin Hawke. He said he was a Mexican spy, and he said I owed it to the cause of liberty to ... "

"Defect?" Kahn suggested quietly.

Stapleton nodded angrily. "Then when I got here, nobody had even heard of him. Nobody from the police, nobody from the government, nobody! They acted like I was crazy, wouldn't give me the bloody time of bloody day, like I was some kind of bloody embarrassment. Jesus Christ, he played me for a goddamn fool. I bet his name wasn't even Martin Hawke."

"Falcone," Kahn said without thinking.


Speaking slowly, as her conscious mind was busy following the connections made by her unconscious mind, she said, "Falcone. His name is Martin Falcone. He works for Secretary Mercator. That's why nobody from the police or the government has heard of him."

Stapleton was looking at her in astonishment. "Are you sure? Skinny bloke with dark hair and a big nose?"

That tallied with Liddy's description of the Mexican spy. "That's him all right."

"How do you know about him?"

"He's been turning up lately in New Granada," said Kahn. "Keeping an eye on one of the Mapmaker's projects there. I know someone who's seen him."

"Where?" Stapleton demanded. "Tell me exactly where he is." Kahn was taken aback by the intensity of Stapleton's expression. Her gray-green eyes were like diamonds, cold and hard, as they drilled into her.

"Bogotá," Kahn said. "He was seen in Bogotá six weeks ago."

"Bogotá," Stapleton repeated, nodding. "Thank you, Miss Kahn. Thank you very much." Dropping a twenty dolar bill on the table, she stood up and walked out the door without a backward glance.

Kahn checked her watch, and saw that she'd have to skip her salad if she wanted to get to the airpark in time to meet Osterman. As she left the restaurant, Kahn found herself feeling a little sorry for Martin Falcone.

Forward to FAN #120: Careful What You Wish For.

Forward to 14 August 1974: The Osterman Weekday.

Forward to Joan Kahn: The Unforgettable Fire.

Forward to Ev and Alex: Where Are They Right Now?

Return to For All Nails.