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Money, Money, Money

Ed McBain

1 .

THE TWO MEN ON THE NARROW DIRT STRIP were both wearing white cotton pants and shirts. They stood beside the Piper Warrior III in broad daylight, waiting for Cass to hand over the locked aluminum suitcase. She gave it to the larger of the two men, and watched as they walked to a dark blue Mercedes-Benz glistening in the sun alongside the cornfield. The doors on either side slammed shut into the stillness, and then there was only the sound of insects racketing in the scraggly woods nearby.

Today was Pearl Harbor Day, the seventh of December, though it didn’t much feel like it here in Guenerando, Mexico. Cass stood beside the airplane, sweating in the afternoon heat. She assumed there was money in the aluminum suitcase. She further assumed they were counting it over there in the Benz. She guessed that the cargo they’d be turning over in exchange for the money would be dope—either heroin or cocaine. She didn’t care much either way. She stood in the shade of a spindly eucalyptus for almost forty minutes. At last, the two men came out of the Benz and handed the aluminum suitcase back to her. The one with the mustache was grinning. He handed her a long white business envelope with a rubber band around it. The other one watched solemnly, expectantly.

“Open it,por favor,” the one with the mustache said.

She slipped the rubber band over her wrist, opened the envelope. There was a whole bunch of hundred- dollar bills in it.

“Count them,” the serious one said.

She counted them.

There seemed to be ten thousand dollars in that envelope.

“For me?” she asked.

“Para ti,”the one with the mustache said.

Damn if they weren’t tipping her!

“Well thanks,” she said.“Muchas gracias.”

“Muchas gracias,”the one with the mustache said, grinning.

“Muchas gracias,”the other one said. He was grinning now, too.

She couldn’t help grinning herself.

THE BABOQUIVARI MOUNTAINS STRETCHED northward to Kitt Peak. She flew low behind them. There was an anti-drug radar blimp in the sky over Fort Huachuca, but she had talked to other pilots who’d made the identical run dozens of times and who knew there was a so-called radar deficiency within plus-or-minus four degrees of the Kitt Peak Observatory. If she flew northward through “Gringo Pass,” as the security gap was called, she could avoid detection. Besides, she’d be on the ground again near Avra Valley in eighteen minutes, so even in the unlikely event that she did show up on radar, there wouldn’t be enough time for Customs planes to take off and chase her.

She didn’t even know the last name of the man who was paying her $200,000 to do this little job for him, a quarter of it already in a bank account back East, where she’d rented an apartment within ten minutes of laying her hands on all that cash. She’d first met him in Eagle Branch, Texas, after one of her whistle-stop hops. What she did was fly light machinery, chickens in crates, melons, computer parts, sandals, what have you, all over Mexico in single-engine planes that were new when Zapata was still a boy. She’d occasionally been dating a Texas Ranger named Randolph Biggs, who made frequent trips to the Rio Grande where he helped the border patrol dissuade wetbacks from entering the sacred shores Cass had gone to the Persian Gulf to preserve and protect. In a bar one night, he’d introduced her to this guy named Frank. Kind of cute, but no last name. Just Frank. Frank’s enough, he’d told her. She wondered now how much Randy had got for introducing him to a good pilot willing to take risks.

Instruments on the Warrior—such a mighty name for a single-engine light aircraft—were kindergarten compared to the Chinook helicopter Cass had flown during the Gulf War. Way they played it on television back home, everything was a surgical strike and nobody but the enemy suffered any casualties, which of course was a crock. More hardware up there in the Iraqi skies than she’d care to fly through ever again in her lifetime. Little different here in Arizona. Better pay, too.

She could see the lights of some quiet little desert town down below in the near distance. What’s a bad girl like you doing in a nice place like this? she wondered. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Man says fly four shipments for me from Texas to Mexico, I’ll give you fifty grand a trip, two hundred total, you tell him Mister, you’ve got a deal. This was the last of the four trips. Rented the Warrior in San Antone, nice little rig that handled like a dream. She’d drop the plane off at the Phoenix airport later tonight, as pre-arranged, hop a commercial liner back East, be snug in her own apartment long before Christmas.

There.

Just below.

The signal light.

She flashed her own wing lights, dipped in lower for a better look. When you came in low over Baghdad, it was to drop a smart bomb down Saddam Hussein’s chimney. Only trouble was they’d never got to him, ended the war too damn soon. Well, some you win, some you lose. She guessed.

She made a pass over the site, and then swung around for her actual approach into the wind. A car’s headlights came on, illuminating the strand of sand more fully. It was long and narrow. She watched the altimeter, pulled back on the flaps, leveled the pedals, glanced at the speedometer, this would be a piece of cake, douse your lights, boys, who needs them?

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