In any event, it seemed unlikely that the management would insist upon proof of matrimony. The instructions I'd received in Albuquerque, while driving east across the country after a job in the high Sierras, had been for me to get down to El Paso right away and register as man and wife, using my own name and giving Santa Rosa as my home town, since there wasn't time to construct a fancy cover for me, and since I'd just been through that redwood country and still had California plates on the truck.
"Do you remember a girl called Sarah?" Mac had asked over the long-distance phone.
"Sure," I'd said. "You mean the one who was working for one of the intelligence outfits in Sweden? Sara Lounger? A gent on the other team gunned her down in a park in Stockholm."
"Not that one," Mac said. "Sarah with an h'. One of our own people. You encountered her in San Antonio, Texas a couple of years ago. There was a misunderstanding about identity, and you got the drop on her and searched her for weapons-quite thoroughly." He cleared his throat. "Very thoroughly indeed, she informed me afterwards, with some heat. I should think you'd recall the incident. She certainly does."
I nodded, forgetting that he could hardly see the gesture
– way off in Washington, D.C. "Yes, sir," I said. "I remember now. A tall girl, not bad looking, in a tailored sort of way. She was going under the name of Mary Jane Chatham at the time, I think. Mrs. Roger Chatham. Her code name didn't figure much in the proceedings, which is why I didn't place her at once."
"Do you remember her well enough to recognize her?"
"I think so," I said. "Brown hair, gray eyes, a good figure, if you like them long and lean, and a trained walk. Said she'd been a model once, and I believed her. Nice long legs. Shy, like a lot of tall girls." I laughed. "Sure, I remember Sarah, the big kid who could blush all over."
"You seem to have the right person in mind," Mac said, "but that last information is not part of her record."
"Make a note of it, then," I said. "She had a thing about taking off her clothes; the only female operative I ever met who'd managed to get through training with her modesty intact. Potentially good stuff, I thought, but a little on the amateur side. What's the matter, has she got herself into something she can't handle?"
"Well, you might say that," Mac said. "She seems to have run into an awkward situation in Juarez, Mexico, just across the river from El Paso. We want to extricate her before any more harm is done. You will therefore…" He told me what I would do.
"Yes, sir," I said when he'd finished. "Question, sir."
"Yes, Eric?" he said, using my code name formally, almost reprovingly. He likes to think his presentations are complete and no questions are necessary.
"What if she doesn't want to come?" I asked.
He hesitated, and I could hear the singing of miles of wire running across mountains and plains and mountains again clear to the east coast. When he spoke, his voice sounded reluctant.
"There's no reason to think she'll be difficult. I'm sure, when she sees you, she'll cooperate fully."
"Yes, sir," I said. "But not fully enough, apparently, that I can count on her giving me a recognition signal voluntarily. I have to be able to recognize her, you said. I can't just walk by with a carnation in my buttonhole and wait for her to fall upon me, her rescuer, with delight. It seems odd."
He said coldly, "Don't be too clever, Eric. I have told you all you really need to know."
"I'm sure you're the best judge of that, sir. But you haven't answered my question."
He said, "Very well. I want her back in this country. Get her out."
"How far do I go?" I persisted. He tends to be hard to pin down, when it's a question of giving explicit, unpleasant instructions concerning one of our own people. I wanted the record perfectly clear. "Do you want her badly enough to take her dead or alive?" I asked.
He hesitated again. Then he said, "Let's hope it won't come to that."
"But if it should?"
I heard him draw a long breath, two thousand miles away. "Get her out," he said. "Goodbye, Eric."
It turned out to contain an official-looking report, ostensibly the fourth and last on this particular job, from an outfit calling itself Private Investigations, Inc. It dealt with the daily activities of a subject calling herself Lila Martinez, now definitely established to be the same person as a certain Mary Jane Helm (Mrs. Matthew L. Helm), born Mary Jane Springer, whom I had asked them to locate. The subject was, it seemed, currently residing in Juarez and working in a place called the Club Chihuahua.
The document ended with the notation that this written report would summarize for my benefit information already submitted by phone. There was also a note to the effect that Private Investigations, Inc. appreciated my patronage and my check, just received. They hoped I had found their work satisfactory, and that I would call upon them again if necessary and recommend them to any of my friends who might be in need of similar discreet assistance. They reminded me that their services were not limited to tracing missing persons, but also included industrial investigations and divorce work. Signed, P. LeBaron, Manager.