For All Nails #111A: The Osterman Weekday
by Noel Maurer
The phone beeped.
Joseph Osterman had been a happy man, but by the time he woke up he couldn't remember why. He looked over at the clock. The ugly white-on-black digits read eight-four-two. Too late for him to really be angry at the man on the other end of the line.
"Qué demonios, puto?" Apparently he wasn't awake enough to follow through on that last thought.
"Joe? This is Bob Contreras."
Suddenly, Joe was awake. "Bob Contreras? Bob? Que pasa, porque me llamas ahorita?" He shuffled into a sitting position, which woke up his wife.
"Hhuh, Joe? Who is it?" she mumbled. Neither of them were early risers, especially not in August, when the kids weren't in school.
"Nobody, querida. Go back to sleep. " Putting his hand over the mouthpiece, he whispered into the phone. "Bob Contreras! Tell me you're not in Mexico."
"Worried about me or your jefe, Joe?" Bob sounded neither amused nor angry, which wasn't like Bob at all.
"Mi jefe, of course. He pays me." Joe paused for a second. "Oye, Bob, gimme a minute to change phones."
"Fine. Hurry. It's important, Joe."
Joe nodded, although there was no way Bob could know that. "I figured. That's why I gotta change phones." He punched the hold button on the set -- when you had Joe's job, you soon learned the advantage of installing more than one phone line in your house. FN1 He kissed his sleeping wife on the cheek and padded downstairs, butt-naked. No matter. Frank had gone off to the Navy, Jenny was certainly at her summer job already, and little Joe wouldn't be awake for another three hours. He went downstairs, settled his lanky frame on the couch, and picked up the receiver on the endtable. "Bob?"
Joe's mouth twitched. "What's this about? You shouldn't be calling me at home."
"Normally I wouldn't, but I trust this line more than the one at your office. Oye, I want you to meet someone. Hoy."
Joe blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"I need you to meet someone."
"You need me to meet someone? I don't owe you any favors, Bob, not after that s--t you pulled with the whole Ek thing. You know how much goddamned damage control I had to do after that?"
"Joe, I had to leave the country for that. Burnt ships." Bob didn't sound irritated. He sounded calm. That was when Joe started to worry.
"Okay. What is it?"
"I can't tell you over the phone. I know that sounds strange. Look, I've heard some things here that are downright frightening, terrifying even. Meet this person. Please." Bob's tone was dead, almost a monotone -- this was serious.
Joe sighed. "Where?"
"There's a bar in Terminal B at Andrew Jackson Field. Can you be there at noon?"
Joe blinked. "Noon? Today?"
"Joe. Please. Go and see."
Joe sighed. "Why me?"
There was a brief exhalation on the other end of the line. "You're close to the President, but not too close. Oye, Joe, I can't say any more over the phone. Just go to the airpark. You'll understand then."
"This has to do with the President?" asked Osterman.
"Alright, then. I'll go." He wanted to ask Bob more, but couldn't. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. But they had been friends once. More importantly, Bob said this involved the President, and it was Osterman's job to protect the President's back. If that meant getting himself over to the airpark, it meant getting himself over to the airpark. "Who am I meeting?"
"Her name is Bianca Hammer. She'll recognize you. Thanks." The line went dead. Joe sighed again, and got off the couch with the grunt. Noon, eh? Enough time for a shower, then. Leave around eleven, shouldn't be much traffic then. Scratching his chest, he went upstairs, idly wondering what could have Bob Contreras acting so strangely.
- Texcoco, México Central, USM
- 14 August 1974
- 11:56 AM
Few people are happy in an airpark bar. If they're travelling, then either they want to get to their destination, in which case they're anxious about catching their airmobile, or they don't want to go, in which case they're usually getting as drunk as possible in a terribly mechanical way. If they're waiting for someone, the same conditions apply. The only really happy people in an airpark bar are either on their way out or too drunk to care.
Joan Kahn was waiting for someone. She was waiting at one of those annoyingly small and annoyingly high tables that dot bars the world over. Why are the tables like that? she wondered. The chairs are so high that you get shorter when you hop off. Impossible to keep your dignity. I guess they keep short men from pestering you, she thought. In Mexico, that often came in handy.
It was turning out to be harder than she thought to keep from fidgeting with her red wig, but dislodging it would blow her cover. So she fingered her beer mug, and stared at the folder sitting at the table. Innocuous documents individually, all of them, even the status report in a sense, but they added up to a revolution. Which was why she was in Mexico City.
A tall man with a badly trimmed scalplock walked in, his limbs looking faintly uncoordinated. It was almost noon, but it seemed like he had just woken up, shadow covering most of his head and face, deep bags under his brown eyes. And he was wearing denim pants and a camiseta reading "United States Marine Corps" on it. Joan smiled. Sights like that reminded her she was in a foreign country, something easy to forget at an airpark.
He looked around the bar, a slightly confused expression on his face. Joan wagged a finger at him, a vague cross between a wave and a salute. The tall man nodded, and sauntered over.
"Bianca Hammer?" he asked. She was proud of the name. It was so ridiculous no one would think it was fake, and it was as different as you could get from "Martha Stewart."
"Joe Osterman," she replied. It wasn't a question. "Sit." Osterman was so tall he probably would get shorter even on these ludicrous perches. No defense there, but he didn't seem like the type to throw the wave FN2 at women in airpark bars. Not wearing what he was wearing, not even in Mexico. Osterman warily got into one of the chairs. He really did resemble a bird. "Yeah." He stuck out his hand. "I'd say it was nice to meet you, but the technical term for that would be a lie." They shook.
Joan nodded. "I honestly can't say the same. I am glad you decided to meet me, Mr. Osterman."
"Loquesea. Who are you?" He looked interested almost despite himself.
"Bianca Hammer, Mr. Osterman. Here." She pushed the envelope over towards him. Well, she didn't push it exactly -- the table was so small that pushing it would have just shoved into onto the floor. She more like wiggled it in his direction.
"Take them home, Mr. Osterman." She checked her watch. "Read them over. Then send them to anyone you'd like." Osterman moved to open the folder. Joan put her hand on it. "No. Wait till I'm gone. Right now, I'm going to kiss you, and then I'm going to board an airmobile."
"What? Are you nuts?" He pulled back. "Is this some sort of joke?"
She put her hand on his. "It's no joke, Mr. Osterman. When you read what's in that folder, and I strongly suggest that you don't open it until you get to your office, you'll understand what all the cloak-and-dagger stuff is about. Now kiss me, so that if anyone followed us they'll think it was just an affair."
"F--k no. Tell Bob ... "
She leaned in and kissed him. He jumped back. The tall chair clattered to the floor. "What the f--k!"
Joan stood, uh, down off her chair. "Dammit, I knew you'd go back to her!" she yelled.
Osterman repeated himself. "What the f--k!"
The other patrons in the bar were looking at them. One big Mexicano-looking fellow in a plaid shirt came over. He was wearing an Army-surplus battle cap. "Is this chavo bothering you?" he asked Joan.
"No, no, it's my fault," she said. I should have been an actress, she thought. "I'm sorry." Osterman was already on his way out of the bar, looking back at her like she might explode at any moment, leaving blood and gore all over the bar. But that was all right. If anyone was watching they'd think Osterman was here to visit his mistress. If they weren't, no harm done. The important thing was that he was leaving with the folder tucked under his arm.
Forward to FAN #111B (14 August 1974): You Can't Go Home Again.
Forward to Joan Kahn: The Defector.
Foward to USM politics: Call the Police There's a Madman Around.
Forward to Contreras family: Hanging on the Telephone.
Return to For All Nails.