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As he stepped from his apartment, Colonel Robert Quesada turned back and promised the two French whores, "Je reviens tout de suite."

"Ah, oui, mon general," begged the women. "Vite. Vite. II est isole ici."

Quesada followed the veranda around the building. Rain poured from the roof in a curtain of water He stayed close to the building to prevent the splattering streams from spotting his slacks and polo shirt.

In the garden, water covered the cobblestones of the walkway. Wind tore the silk trees and bougainvillea. The gusts created shifting patterns of color and shadow as the birds of paradise and orchids and copas de oroswayed in the decorative floodlights.

His Cuban heels clicking across Spanish-patterned tiles, Quesada followed the shelter of the verandas to the wrought-iron gate. Leaning into the storm, he washed his face with rain. He gulped a mouthful. He sloshed the water around in his mouth to wash away the brandy and the taste of the whores' perfumes.

The call from his militia commander had interrupted an afternoon and evening of pleasure. With Senora Quesada and the children remaining in the Colonia San Benito mansion, the colonel had allowed himself the luxury of the young Frenchwomen during his stay at his family's estate. Soon, he would continue on to La Escuela.

At "The School," military discipline ruled. Regulations denied diversions for the soldiers until they completed their course of instruction. The officers and staff enjoyed the pleasures and entertainment of Miami, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. Sometimes Quesada arranged for his South American friends to enjoy a night of comforts at his finca, only minutes from the installation by plane or helicopter. Though he reserved the two Frenchwomen for himself, Miami and Cancun furnished pale-skinned blondes and redheads — with their soft, pouting lips and creme-smooth yet disco-muscled thighs — for the Argentines and Chileans and exiled Bolivians in the guest rooms and beds of the Quesada finca.

If the storm had not swept in from the Pacific this afternoon, his superiors in the International Alliance would have expected him to continue on to La Escuela. Though his pilots had assured him the helicopter could make the thirty-minute flight to Reitoca in safety, he enjoyed the excuse of the weather delay. Meetings and planning sessions did not thrill him like the two young blondes. He would fulfill his duty to the International Alliance when the weather cleared.

This detail tonight would deny him the pleasures of the two Paris girls for only a few minutes.

Turning his back on the garden, he stepped to the security entry. His magnetically encoded identity card opened the steel gate.

As the electric motor whirred to roll the gate across, a hard-eyed young soldier glanced through the bulletproof glass of the guard post. He gave his colonel a sharp salute. Returning the salute, Quesada followed the walkway to the family offices.

Mendez waited with a report. A militia lieutenant feared for his pitiless violence, Mendez stood five foot six and weighed two hundred fifty pounds. The man's fat hid iron muscles. His smiling moon face hid the sadism of an inquisitor. Quesada had seen Mendez thumb out the eyes of a boy who would not betray his father.

Rainwater drained from the gray Finca de Quesada uniform that Mendez wore. Mud stained the man's pants up to and above the knee. In the hours since Quesada received the report of the foreigners in the Cadillac attacking the Popular Front Forces, Mendez had visited the roadside villages and isolated farmers in the area. If a shopkeeper or campesino or shepherd had seen the foreigners, they would tell Mendez.

"This is information on the foreigners?" Quesada asked.

"Yes, padron. I went to many places, questioned many people. They spoke only of a plane."


"Today, early in the afternoon." replied Mendez. "Down and then gone. But the colonel of Las Boinas Verdes radioed with much more. The foreigners talked with the soldiers. They said they were North American mercenaries traveling to Honduras to fight."

"To Honduras?"

"Yes. They told the soldiers Honduras."

"You have descriptions?"

"One, blond, blue eyes, tall. Another, darker, but also Anglo. The third, a North American who spoke Spanish. Graying hair, perhaps a Puerto Rican. There was a fourth. The soldiers think he is Indian. He did not speak to the soldiers. They all covered their faces."

Quesada considered the information. Four foreign soldiers en route to Honduras. But if they went to fight the Sandinistas, why did they travel through Morazan? Contrascoming from Texas, Miami and New York flew to Tegucigulpa by jet, then took small planes to El Paraiso. From there, trucks took them to the war.

Could the foreign mercenaries be traveling to La Escuela? Quesada would radio the comandantewith the descriptions. Perhaps, through some incredible error or breach of security, they had intended to come to the finca.

Impossible. No officer at the school would give a recruit or hired instructor the location of the fincalanding strip. That would risk betrayal of Quesada and risk the secrecy of La Escuela.

No, that could not be the answer. The question of the foreigners' identities and purpose might never be answered. But if they remained in the area, or traveled on through Morazan, Mendez or one of the other men Quesada employed would receive the information. Then Mendez would question the foreigners.

"Colonel!" The radio operator called out from the other office. "A message on the Yankee radio."

Quesada went to the communications room. The radio operator left the colonel alone to review the transmission.

Friends in Washington had supplied Quesada with several radios. Circuitry designed by the electronic engineers of the United States National Security Agency assured secret and secure communications between the fincaand San Salvador and between Quesada and his fighting units in the mountains.

Now a light glowed on one of the sophisticated consoles, indicating that the radio had received and automatically recorded a coded "burst" transmission. Quesada slipped on the headphones and listened. An electronically detoned voice droned the message.

"Sources in the capital report dispatch of three American paramilitary operatives to Salvador. Salvadoran national will assist operatives in mission to kidnap you with intent to return you to United States."

Quesada went cold. Despite the warmth of the humid, stormy night, he shivered as fear and rage seized him.

His friends in Washington had saved him again. The first time, they had ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to delay an arrest warrant. The delay allowed him to escape Miami for Salvador.

But now the North American death squad that had annihilated his soldiers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, who had driven him from the sanctuary of his Miami mansion, now that death squad pursued him to Morazan.

Three American operatives. And a Salvadoran national.

Quesada laughed. Before, he fought in their country. Now they came to him.

They had stepped into the mouth of the devil.

Here, they would die hideously.

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