Brett Halliday

Caught Dead


There was plenty of time before they had to leave, but the girl was so tense and jumpy she couldn’t respond. Tim Rourke continued stubbornly, breaking off only when the phone rang beside the bed.

“I’m sorry I’m such a zero,” the girl whispered. “I have too much on my mind.”

Rourke picked the phone off the cradle. “Who is it?”

An apologetic desk clerk answered. “You said no calls, Mr. Rourke. I am aware of this. But here is a colleague of yours, Mr. Larry Howe. He is very insisting.”

“Tell him I’m not in.”

“Yes, but you see-”

“Give me that,” a new voice said, and the phone changed hands. “Tim, are you on? We’ve got a small announcement, otherwise known as an ultimatum. O.K. to come up?”

“Who’s we and what’s this about?”

“Stu Wilke from Time-Life. And Noonan-you know, the AP guy. You must have a dim idea what it’s about-this exclusive interview of yours with Alvares.”

“I’ll be glad to discuss it, Larry,” Rourke said easily. “It’s nice of you to take an interest. But this wouldn’t be the best time. I’m right in the middle of something, and she’d be very cross with me if I stopped.”

Howe swore under his breath. “Can you wind it up in a hurry?”

“You never know, do you?” Rourke said cheerfully. “Now we’ll have to go back to the beginning and start over. George in the front bar makes a pretty good whiskey sour. I recommend it. I’ll be down in twenty minutes.”

“All right, but don’t dawdle, O.K.? And don’t try to sneak out the back door. We’ve got Menendez here, and they won’t let you into the prison without him.”

“Larry, that’s an insulting suggestion.” His face was serious as he put back the phone.

The girl said, “Something’s wrong.”

“It’s Howe, from UPI,” Rourke told her. “The resident press corps never likes to be stiffed out of a story, and it seems they’ve reached Menendez.”


“The government PR guy.”

“You gave him money, didn’t you?”

“I guess not enough. But don’t worry about it. So the story isn’t exclusive-that’s not the main thing.”

She brought herself against him with a wriggling motion and touched her lips to his shoulder. “Darling Tim. I’m really ashamed of myself for my lack of performance. I wanted this one to be tremendous for you, because you’ve been so exceedingly nice and obliging. My dear, lie down. Let me be the energetic one.”

Rourke grinned and reached for a cigarette. “Your mind wouldn’t be on it.”

“Perhaps not, but would it make that much difference?”

“To really work,” Rourke said, “everybody has to give a hundred percent. That’s my philosophy, anyway. We’ll bump into each other someday. After the revolution, maybe they’ll make you ambassador.”

“Tim, you’re so funny. What time is it?” She put on her glasses so she could read the numerals on her wristwatch. Glasses and a watch were all she was wearing. She was a lithe, good-looking girl, a little too thin, but then so was Rourke. She wore her black hair long, nearly to her shoulders-it was badly tangled now-with bangs hiding her forehead. She was probably no more than twenty-two, and her quick enthusiasms and ability to do without sleep had on occasion made Rourke feel comparatively elderly.

Her name was Paula Obregon. Her mother was American, her father Venezuelan. She had spent a year at the University of Miami, studying journalism and perfecting her English, and that was when Rourke had met her-very young, very earnest, full of indignation at the lies and distortions of the bourgeois press. Rourke, of course, was the chief investigative reporter on an eminently bourgeois newspaper, the Miami News. That title meant that he was given the crime and corruption stories. After a series he wrote about gambling payoffs to high police officials in Dade County, Paula sent him one of the few fan letters he had ever received.

He took her to lunch, and presently they were spending weekends together. At the end of the school year she returned to Caracas, where her father owned a department store. She sent Rourke a Christmas card, which he never acknowledged.

Three years later, Guillermo Alvares, the man to see in Venezuela for a decade and a half, was turned out of office by a coup led by Air Corps officers. Rourke was vacationing in Trinidad at the time. Regular passenger flights between Venezuela and the United States were suspended during the crisis. Rourke’s editor phoned him and persuaded him to charter a light plane and fly to the mainland to cover the story.

As he was preparing for bed his first evening in the country, Paula Obregon, looking as cute and serious as when she had been a student in Miami, appeared unannounced at his door to ask if he remembered her. The answer to that was that he remembered her very well. She had looked him up, she said, to find out if he was interested in authentic details about the urban guerrilla movement for publication in North America. Certainly, he told her; and if his paper didn’t want the story he could sell it to a magazine. But first things first.

They celebrated their reunion by going to bed. There they had been, except for a few intervals, ever since.

Paula saw him looking at her with a smile. She whipped off her glasses.

“I know!” she said guiltily. “This is our last moment, and I should be thinking about saying good-bye properly. But I can hear the clocks ticking. Twenty minutes, you said. Please-can we go over the timetable just once more?”

Rourke groaned. “I know it by heart.”

“Except that the last time we rehearsed it,” she said seriously, “you were still a little doubtful at one or two places-”

“I’m going to be ad-libbing most of the time.”

“Yes, of course, but at the key points, and in the timing especially, that all has to be letter-perfect or we will end up very much in the soup.” She pulled the sheet to her chin. “Darling, begin at the beginning. Not because there are lives involved. Because you like me.”

“That’s a good reason,” Rourke said.

He studied the burning end of his cigarette. Alvares had been expecting the coup that ended his long residence in the Presidential Palace. He had a private plane, a twin-engined Jetstar, waiting. He reached the airstrip well ahead of the armed detachment that had been sent to arrest him, but the plane crashed on takeoff. Alvares was pulled out of the wreck, unconscious but not seriously hurt. He was now being held in the La Vega prison in Los Carmenes, a hilly district on the outskirts of the city.

There were rumors that he had been roughly handled by the soldiers, that he was now being subjected to the same brutal third-degree the political police had used on the enemies of his own regime. Government spokesmen denied these rumors, but most people in the western hemisphere had stopped believing government spokesmen. Rourke, at Paula’s suggestion, demanded to be allowed to see the prisoner. After some hesitation, the new government, anxious for quick recognition from the United States, had arranged an interview.

“I walk in,” Rourke said. “I give him the cigarettes. I ask a few nothing questions and walk out. What’s hard about that?”

“No, Tim, listen. This gets dinned into our ears over and over in the movement. Needless to say, you can’t anticipate everything, but the more you can prepare for, the less chance something goes wrong. We know La Vega inside and out, enough of our people have passed through there. But Guillermo Alvares is a special prisoner, and they may use different procedures. If they want to take the cigarettes from you-”

“I’ll throw a tantrum. I can work that-I’ve had experience enough with cops back home. Those cigarettes

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