Ross Thomas: Ah, Treachery!

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Ross Thomas Ah, Treachery!
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    Ah, Treachery!
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    Политический детектив / на английском языке
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Ah, Treachery!: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Cashiered U.S. Army major Edd “Twodees” Partain is working as a clerk in Wanda Lou’s Weaponry in Sheridan, Wyoming. That is, he works there until the tall man in the lamb’s wool topcoat walks into the shop and announces that a certain secret operation that took place in El Salvador is about to hit the media fan. For Partain, the visit from the man in gray leads to an unforeseen career move. Flying to L.A., the ex-major is grilled by a woman hiding out — in a $2000-a-day hospital room — from the “Little Rock folks.” Millicent Altford is a rainmaker, and a good one. adept at shaking the money tree for deserving politicos. Her secret war chest is missing $1.2 million, and she wants Partain to ride shotgun while she gets it back. And that leads Partain across the continent to Washington, where the blunders of U.S. covert action in Central America are at last percolating up through the political ranks. A storefront organization called VOMIT — Victims of Military Intelligence Treachery — is trying to defend a network of former intelligence operatives, soldiers, and covert warriors, including Partain himself, from a plot to keep the truth buried. VOMIT has its hands full. Because Twodees Partain is making even more enemies than he used to, a number of bags containing $1.2 million are floating around, and some old El Salvador hands are stirring up the ashes of political sin — with corpses sprawling from Georgetown to Beverly Hills...

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Ross Thomas


To Laura Sereno

He loved treachery but hated a traitor.


Chapter 1

At 7:33 P.M. on Christmas Eve in 1992, the tall man with hair the color of pewter entered Wanda Lou’s Weaponry in Sheridan, Wyoming, and pretended not to recognize Edd Partain, the cashiered Army Major turned gun store clerk.

Outside, which was exactly 21.8 miles south of the Montana line, the weather was cold and dry with both the humidity and the Fahrenheit down in the low teens. Yet the man with the short gray hair wore what some executive down in Denver or even Santa Fe might have worn — a lamb’s-wool topcoat of springtime weight with raglan sleeves and a conservative houndstooth check. On his feet were a pair of black thin-soled loafers, well on their way to being ruined by Sheridan’s two-foot accumulation of dirty snow.

Edd Partain let the gray-haired man look around for almost two minutes before offering a polite throat-clearing noise followed by an equally polite question: “Help you with something?”

The man nodded but still didn’t look at Partain. “I need a last-minute gift or two,” he said to a display of allegedly bulletproof vests. “Any suggestions?”

“Depends,” Partain said. “For either Mom, the Mrs., or the girlfriend, you’d do well to consider the relatively rare and eminently collectible .25-caliber Walther PPK — the streamline nineteen-thirteen vest pocket model, of course. For dear old Dad, perhaps a bespoke Purdy shotgun, which we can order from London, although we’ll need a five-thousand-dollar deposit and delivery might take two, three, even four years. But old Dad’ll appreciate your generosity and enjoy the years of anticipation.”

The man turned from the bulletproof vests, walked slowly to the counter, leaned on its glass top with both hands and stared at the ex-Major with eyes whose color and warmth, Partain noticed, still resembled river ice just before the thaw.

“I wasn’t absolutely sure it was you, Twodees,” the man said. “Not till you opened your mouth and the crap flowed out.”

“And I scarcely recognized you, Captain Millwed, what with all that new gray hair.”

“Colonel Millwed.”

“My God. The Army would never — but of course it would. And has. Congratulations.”

Colonel Millwed ignored the suspect commendation and asked, “Wanda Lou around?”

“Wanda Lou, like Marley, has been dead these seven years. The Weaponry has passed on to Alice Ann Sutterfield, Wanda Lou’s lovely daughter.”

“She around?”

“Not until Boxing Day — Saturday.”

The Colonel turned to give the gun store another quick inspection, then turned back to ask, “The lovely daughter pay anything?”

“Eight-sixty an hour,” Partain said. “But since I usually work a sixty-hour week — with no time-and-a-half, I’m ashamed to admit — the pay’s all right. For Wyoming. Besides, my wants are few and I serve them myself.”

“Emerson on masturbation?”

“Or possibly Thoreau.”

“So what did Alice Ann say after you told her about you and the Army and all?”

“She never asked and I never volunteered. But I knew they’d eventually send someone to tell her — maybe a freshly minted and slightly pompous second john who’d caught some colonel’s eye. Or more likely, an overage-in-grade captain. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when you popped in, although I’m flattered they’ve sent a bird colonel to do the deed.”

“Don’t be flattered,” Millwed said. “I volunteered.”

“I should’ve guessed. But why now? Why not last year? The year before? Or even six months from now?”

“The New York Times get out here?”

“Yes, but I don’t buy it. To keep au courant I rely on Sheridan’s sprightly daily and the BBC world service.”

“No TV?”

Partain frowned. “Really think I should buy a set?”

“Only if you’re crazy about fires and jackknifed semis. Stick with the BBC. They’ll have it soon enough.”

Partain looked up at the old building’s stamped tin ceiling, as if in search of a leak. “So it’s all coming out,” he said to the ceiling, then let his gaze resettle on Colonel Millwed. “But the sanitized version, I suppose, with some kind of respectable imprimatur.”

“It’ll come out in Spanish first, with the U.N.’s seal of approval,” the Colonel said. “The U.N. believes — or pretends to anyway — that it’s dug up all the real bad shit, but you and I, Twodees, we know better.”

“And you come in the guise of what — a friendly warning?”

“Are warnings ever friendly?” the Colonel asked, obviously expecting no answer. “But if warnings give you the hives, think of my visit as the gentle nudge, which sure as shit’s better than the hard shove.”

Partain nodded thoughtfully, then brightened and gave Millwed a patently false smile. “Sure I can’t sell you a little something now that you’re here, my Colonel? Perhaps a nice cheap just-in-case throwdown?”

Millwed returned the false smile tooth for tooth, revealing his to be a peculiar off-white. Even his teeth are going gray, Partain thought as the Colonel said, “Just looking, Twodees. That’s all. Just looking.”

Only one customer dropped in after the Colonel left, but she bought nothing. At 9 P.M., Partain activated the alarm system; lowered the outside steel shutters; made sure the steel back door was locked and bolted; switched off the lights; locked the front door, and walked the three blocks to his one-room apartment atop his landlord’s two-car garage.

Inside, Partain inspected and discarded his mail that included a Christmas card from a local bank where his checking account at last look was $319.41. He drank some bourbon and water, heated and ate a frozen Tex-Mex dinner, then sat up until midnight reading Freya Stark’s The Valleys of the Assassins for the third time. He went to bed with the realization that, save for the Stark, this had been a virtual replay of all his Christmas Eves since 1989.

On Christmas morning the pounding on Partain’s door awoke him at 7:02. He rose slowly, put on a shabby plaid robe, went to the door and said, “Who the hell’re you?”

A woman shouted the reply. “It’s me and you’re fired.”

Partain opened the door to reveal the too-thin, too-blond, 39-year-old Alice Ann Sutterfield. She stood shivering on the landing in the 11-degree temperature despite her gloves, sweater, flannel-lined jeans, boots and a heavy three-quarter length car coat. Her throat and mouth were hidden by a green and white wool scarf. Left exposed were crimson cheeks, glowing nose, squinty hazel eyes and dark brown eyebrows that betrayed the provenance of her butter-yellow hair.

She examined Partain warily, as if expecting some sort of violent reaction, but when he merely said, “And Merry Christmas to you, Alice Ann,” she sniffed and brushed past him into the apartment.

After closing the door, Partain turned to find her, the scarf now loosened, standing slightly hipshot in the middle of the room. She was trying to glare at him with those squinty hazel eyes but her attempt only confirmed Partain’s theory that squinty eyes, regardless of color, are incapable of really good glares.

“I don’t want you in my store ever again, Edd, and I want my store keys right now.”

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