Donald Hamilton: The Ambushers

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Donald Hamilton The Ambushers
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    The Ambushers
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The Ambushers: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The top-ranking American Secret Agent rides again with good writing, slick plotting and stimulating characters. "All tartly flavored with wit," says Book Week. Another in the classic Matt Helm series. Rated R for violence.

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Donald Hamilton

The Ambushers


THE NATIVES CALL IT the River of Goats, the Rio de las Cabras. In the time I was there I saw no goats, but that means nothing. I wasn't hunting goats, I was hunting a man. Anyway, we only ran up the stream a few miles, until the jungle started closing in on either side, overhanging the water blackly.

Then the Navy coxswain, who seemed to know where he was in spite of the darkness, put the junior-grade landing craft, if that's what you call it, in to the bank, and that was as far as I got to travel sitting down. I had the gun case between my knees so it wouldn't get knocked around or stepped on. The little pack, less sensitive, was down on the floorboards somewhere. I rose, kicked around, found it, struggled into it, and slung the long, heavy plastic case over my shoulder by its strap. I stepped ashore in the dark, hoping there wouldn't be any snakes or alligators to greet me.

Somebody said, "Good luck, sir. We'll be back the day after tomorrow."

The ugly little boat backed off silently-they've done some good work on mufflers since World War Il-and turned sharply and hissed and burbled away into the night, heading for open water and the ship waiting offshore. There'd be coffee ready when they got aboard, I reflected. There's always coffee when you're with the Navy, but I wasn't with the Navy any longer.

There was nothing for me to do but stand and wait, so I stood and waited. I couldn't help thinking that there was a certain resemblance in names between the River of Goats, here in Costa Verde-well, let's call it Costa Verde-and the Bay of Pigs over in Cuba, where some other men had been put ashore not too long ago under somewhat similar circumstances. They'd been trying to start a revolution and I was supposed to stop one, but the basic situation was about the same. I couldn't help remembering that they hadn't had much luck at the Bay of Pigs.

Something rustled in the jungle behind me, but I didn't turn. I stood quite still on the river bank, letting whoever was there see me motionless against the dully gleaming water, with my hands empty. I didn't know how nervous he'd be.

"Senor Hernandez?" It was a soft whisper.

"I'm Miguel Hernandez," I said.

This was a lie. The blood of the Conquistadores does not flow in my veins. I was born in Minnesota, and while I moved to the state of New Mexico at an early age, and picked up a little Spanish there, I still get along better in some Nordic tongues, not to mention English. However, for this occasion, I'd had my face and hands stained and my hair dyed. I wasn't supposed to have to fool anybody up close. On the other hand, it was considered inadvisable to advertise too widely the fact that I was a foreigner. Besides, a dark face shows up less conspicuously in the forest.

"This way, senor," said the voice. "Follow me, POT favor."

I turned deliberately and moved towards the sound. I saw a dim shape in the brush. There was a big hat and some more or less white clothing. The man moved off silently, and I followed the gleam of dirty white through the blackness, tripping over vines and getting the gun case 'hung up in tangled branches. Some people can take their jungles or leave them alone. I prefer to leave them, but I hadn't been asked.

We came into a clearing where a small fire burned. There were a lot of ragged, tough-looking, dark-faced men-about twenty, I judged-and a couple of ragged, full-bodied, dark-faced women dressed pretty much like the men, but you could tell the difference. I wondered briefly about the women; I hadn't expected any. I decided they'd been brought to make this bandit-looking crew look authentic. There were also a lot of firearms being treated in a very casual manner, including some nasty-looking little automatic weapons that caught the red of the firelight.

It used to be that a pelado with a machete was considered well-equipped, and if he had a rifle he was a great man. Now he's but nothing unless he's got a machine pistol that'll rip them off at the rate of several hundred rounds per minute. Well, the Latin temperament has never lent itself to careful, one-shot marksmanship. That's why I was there.

Of course, these weren't pelados. They had a trained, un-peasantlike look, and despite the presence of women, despite the nondescript clothes and casual manner, you could detect a military air about the encampment. My guide led me past the fire to where a man was sitting in a folding camp chair, smoking a cigar. He was a small, swarthy, mustached man in a big straw hat and soiled khakis. He needed a shave, and he was the type that misses the razor badly. Still, in some indefinable way, he managed to look quite jaunty and dapper in the flickering light. Perhaps it was the angle of the cigar that did it.

He was wearing a.45 automatic at his hip, in a military holster with a snap-down flap. If he'd locked it in his safe at headquarters, back in the capital city of Costa Verde.- the saintly name of which escapes me momentarily-the weapon might have been a little harder to get at, but not much.

"The boat came, ml coronel," said my guide. "Here is the man."

The occupant of the chair dismissed him with a wave of the hand, watching me.

"You call yourself Hernandez?"

He hadn't risen to greet me, he didn't remove the cigar to talk, and his voice was curt. So it was going to be that kind of a job. I felt a surge of sympathy for the military gent, whoever he was, who said that he could deal with his enemies, but God would have to protect him from his allies.

"Who asks?" I demanded.

"I am Colonel Hector Jiminez." He pronounced it Himayness, Spanish fashion, with the accent on the second syllable.

"Then if you are Jiminez, I call myself Hernandez," I said.

"What is your true name?"

This wasn't really a state secret. The cover was primarily for his benefit, not mine. If he wanted me to break it, that was his business. It was his country and he'd have to live in it afterward. I wouldn't. Assuming, of course, that both of us survived the mission.

"My name is Helm," I said. "Matthew Helm."

He took the cigar out at last, looked at it, and threw it aside. He looked me up and down carefully.

"All this," he said, gesturing towards the fire and the group around it, "all this for just one man. All this merely to assist one long, clever gringo with a gun. Is that the gun?"

"Yes," I said. It didn't seem like the proper time to resent being called gringo.

"Show it to me."

"You'll see it when the time comes, Colonel," I said. "Not now."

His eyes narrowed. "It was an order, Senor Helm."

"And it was refused. With all due respect," I said. "The gun was prepared in a climate much dryer than this. It was enclosed in an airtight case with silica gel to maintain it at the proper humidity. To show it now would be to expose it to moisture prematurely."

He stared at me hard for almost a minute. Then he dropped his hand abruptly to the holster at his hip. If he wanted to get rough, I didn't have a chance, but I couldn't help putting my left hand-the right was grasping the rifle-case strap-on the butt of the little.38 on my belt, ready to twist it out of its trick spring holster. I guess I could have sold my life dearly, as the saying goes, but it wasn't exactly what I'd been sent there for.

Jiminez glanced at my hand, smiled faintly, and undid the flap of his big military holster with careful deliberation. He pulled out a fresh cigar. From another compartment inside the holster, he produced a tool with which to trim it and a lighter with which to light it. Then he returned the instruments to the holster and buttoned the flap down neatly.

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