The Dead Still Walk by Gary Towner by Gary Towner - Read Online

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Summary

Ex-CIA Johnny Walker of all people should have known Charlie wouldn't die easy. Soon after they meet again, this time atop a Mexican pyramid ruin, agent Summers squirms, rope-bound between two pillars. She's become an unwilling pawn of Charlie's evil plan to wreak revenge on Walker. Charlie never was known for fighting fair—at the apex of the battle between them, Charlie puts Walker into a deep hypnotic trance with a buzzword his thugs got from Walker's psychiatrist after they shot him. A sudden noise brings Walker out of his frozen state, but as Charlie pulls the trigger, two shots ring out.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781633557802
List price: $3.99
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The Dead Still Walk - Gary Towner

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Chapter 1

Assignment to Kill

Coban, Guatemala

Not everyone knows that it was President Truman who created the C.I.A. In 1951, the Office of Policy Co-ordination (OPC) and the Office of Special Operations [OSO] melded into one giant organization, the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. The primary function of the CIA was to provide a means for Washington to achieve its goals when diplomacy wasn’t an option. To ride shotgun over these covert actions, Allen Dulles was appointed the first Chief of Clandestine Services.

In time, in ways best described as in the interests of National Security, a score of secret splinter factions evolved within the auspices of the newly formed agency. Many were so secret that even the President wasn’t told of their existence. One such invisible group had the code name Bloody Mary. Its leader was an abrasive excuse for a human being named Keith Rhiner. A gaunt little man, Rhiner had the face of a pugilist who had lost the last four of his battles. His beady gray eyes and bald head left a lasting impression on everyone who met him.

Also on the list of not-generally-known is the fact that in March 1952, the presiding CIA eggheads drew up a plan to overthrow the Guatemalan government through selective assassinations of as many as fifty-eight key leaders. The coup was code-named Operation Success and the plan, though never officially carried out, proposed first toppling the freely-elected Presidente of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and his closest aides—then terminating his high-level supporters.

President Truman sided with the president of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, who proposed they work together to overthrow Arbenz, whose left-wing politics angered the both of them. Truman told the CIA to go ahead and initiate Operation Success, which meant first shipping guns and money to Guatemalan exiles. By the time President Eisenhower took office, the decision had been made to accelerate the coup with carefully orchestrated low-profile assassinations. The CIA called such operations a nerve war.

Overall control was eventually given to Rhiner, who proceeded to hand-pick the professional killers who would train the people who were to carry out specialized assignments in Guatemala. Though the proverbial desk jockey, Rhiner was perfect for the job. He was a ruthless sociopath with the scruples of a petty tyrant. Even his own people feared him. Nonetheless, the agents who were to carry out these assassinations were highly-trained killers with the ability to obey directives without pity, anytime, anywhere Rhiner thought their special expertise was needed.

But with unrestrained power over life and death, there’s always the temptation to emulate God. Some feared that Rhiner might even let his legions loose on American citizens someday. He was overheard saying, Congressmen are like dogs with fleas. Only in their case one shouldn’t kill the fleas; one should kill the dogs. What he meant by that, or why he would say such a thing, wasn’t clear. There were rumblings in Washington that he bore watching.

The training sessions he subjected his men to were mostly carried out at The Farm, the CIA’s West Point, located near Williamsburg, Virginia. Many of the fledgling killers were recruited in their senior years of college. The exceptional trainees were sent to the CIA’s Demolition HQ.

It was here they were taught tactics that contradicted the dictates of the Geneva Convention almost entirely. Graduates of these schools of dirty tricks came to call the CIA community The Company.

Contrary to popular belief, not all sanctioned killings are carried out by locals. Often the terrain where the target resides prevents the use of, say, a sniper rifle or a grenade launcher. Sometimes the target is so tightly guarded that even planting an explosive in his tailpipe is virtually impossible. So the kill often involves stealth and nerves of calculated steel; it involves close and personal combat. The kill itself is often violent, and all too often, bloody.

Guatemala is, in any case, a country with a bloody history. In 1520, the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado was sent from Mexico by Hernán Cortés with the express mission of conquering Guatemala. He achieved his goal through vicious attacks on the indigenous people he found in his travels, who were mostly defenseless Indians. Their eventual conversion to Christianity was at sword-point. The Spaniards had brought with them a number of Mexican Indians who called the land Guatemala. In Nahuatl—their language—it means, Land of Trees. With miles and miles of forests in the area, it was only natural that the name would stick.

Coban, Guatemala, founded in 1543 by Dominican priests, is a moderate-sized town of enchanting beauty built in a valley surrounded by lush green mountains. Geographically, it’s a mere four-hour bus ride from Guatemala City, the Third City of the New World. The area is rich in flora, fauna, and pure blue-tinted lakes. It has sparkling waterfalls and an incredible cave system that will challenge any spelunker worthy of the name.

It was little wonder that it was here that Presidente Arbenz had chosen to build his country retreat. He called it The villa Cama de la Rosa. It’s located on the tallest hill in the area, overlooking fifty acres of resplendent tree-studded flower gardens and fountains; it takes up a city block on well-kept grounds, and is surrounded by ten-foot high walls accessible only through an iron gate. Its cream-colored four-story expanse includes a multitude of balconies and a thick draping of lush red bougainvillea. This serene setting is marred only by the uniformed guards at every one of the twenty windows facing the gardens, with at least ten more stationed on the roof, each man alert, each man clutching an AK-47 machine gun.

It was Monday, March 9, 1953. This night, partially illuminated by spotlights, the guards had lapsed into a false sense of self-confidence. El Presidente wasn’t due to arrive until the morning, and his top aide, Antonio Garcia Defacto, had already ensured that Arbenz would see only perfection in his quarters and in the disciplined staff alerted to his coming. Defacto was five feet seven, and best described as plump.

Even among his fellow Guatemalans, Defacto was considered comically short, and it was a sore subject few of his peers dared bring up in his presence. He also had a string-bean mustache that his detractors suspected was drawn on with a marking pen. But his sunken brown eyes warned he was not to be trifled with; there were rumors that he was the leader of the infamous Guatemalan death squads, the sure-fire way all third-world rulers have of effectively dealing with their detractors. The CIA especially wanted Defacto out of the way.

This night, there was the smell of roast pig in the air as several of Arbenz’s advance men turned a large spit over an open bonfire down in the courtyard. The smoke spiraled up and seemed to engulf the entire villa roof, causing the eyes of the guards posted there to water. They heard the spit-turners’ idle chatter and were lulled into complacency by the serenity and beauty of the night.

The landscape, though pleasing to the eye, presented a security hazard to those who were charged with protecting the villa. For one thing, the lateral view from each balcony was completely obscured by the flowery shrubbery. Those on the higher balconies did, however, have an unobstructed view of the lower balconies. The frontal view was deceptively breathtaking. Perhaps the guards could be forgiven for not noticing the arrival of two shadowy figures scaling the walls at the far end of the grounds. They might even be forgiven for not noticing the abrupt silence of the two spit-turners moments later.

The two black-clad intruders, individually seasoned but on their first mission together, hugged the side of the building for a moment, then dashed to just under the larger balcony in the center. They silently played scissors and rocks, and then the taller of the two threw a grappling hook up to the twenty-foot high balcony and began climbing; this, as his shorter colleague took out a shiny object he wore on a chain around his neck, kissed it, then made his way to a drainpipe. In seconds, he was also silently climbing. His ascent was so animated it was as if he, too, were smoke, rising to the roof to sting the eyes of the guards.

The balcony man was lean but muscular, his cobalt-blue eyes barely concealing his determination. He’d just pulled himself cat-like over the railing when he heard the glass doors opening. He slid to one side and held his breath as the doors swung wide, pinning him to the wall behind one of them. He recognized Defacto at once. His training briefing had told him that Defacto would be there; he just hadn’t planned on it being so easy to find the man alone. A known chain-smoker, Defacto had gone to his balcony to take in the view and smoke what was to be his last cigarette.

The professional killer instinctively reached for his shiny Taurus 82 .38 revolver, but thought better of it. The weapon was anything but CIA issue, but it had been bequeathed from his Aunt Gerdie, and he had grown quite attached to it. When fired it was as noisy as New Year’s Eve at Times Square, however, so he knew better than to use it now. It was too bad it wouldn’t take a silencer fitting. The guards were everywhere, and his fellow assassin couldn’t knock all of them out; his friend was good, but not that good. His mind racing, he considered using a knife; but what if Defacto cried out as the blade hit home? No, this kill would have to be as silent as a broken doorbell.

He reached into his belt and brought out his garrote. This grisly device, sometimes called a cutter by those intimately familiar with it, is basically a wire with wooden handles at each end. The British SOE and the American OSS first used these for covert operations in WWII. CIA operatives considered it a weapon of last resort, and it was one he’d only used on fence posts during training exercises. Still, with a wire noose around your neck, you can’t scream no matter how hard you try. It was a logical choice.

As Defacto leaned over the railing, he didn’t notice the dark figure positioning himself behind his right shoulder. His assassin silently made a cross-body movement with his left hand; then he raised his right hand, the one holding the other end of the garrote. Now he looped it around Defacto’s head in a sweeping semi-circular, counterclockwise motion.

The surprised Defacto spit out his cigarette and attempted to pull the wire away from his throat. In that hairy instant, he managed to drive his fingers beneath the wire while attempting to hurl himself backward. But the man with the cobalt eyes yanked the ends of the wire tighter while kicking the backs of Defacto’s knees. Defacto slumped, and the subsequent knee in his lower back turned into a maneuver that he couldn’t counter. Cobalt Eyes made a quick turn of his body so the two were back-to-back, a move that hoisted Defacto off his feet. I never thought of trying that on that fencepost, he thought.

As the wire cut deeper, first the tips of Defacto’s fingers flew off into the night, then his head separated from his torso, and his involuntary twitching stopped in a heartbeat. The assassin let go of both handles and turned to face his headless victim. As blood squirted onto his face, the horrified operative slowly slid the body to the ground. There was a tinge of regret in his eyes as he wiped his face free of the dark red gore. The technique had worked perfectly, but that practice fencepost hadn’t bled like a fire hydrant with a blown gasket. He swore to himself: No more garrotes. Ever.

Suddenly he felt a sharp jab to his kidneys, and cursed under his breath at his own idiocy. Obviously, Defacto hadn’t been alone in the room behind those doors. This man must have been on the phone or otherwise diverted to have arrived so late. But arrive he had, and that machine gun butt to his backside was going to leave a bruise the size of an ostrich egg. Cobalt Eyes tensed, fully expecting that the next sound he’d hear would be an all-out alarm—or the pitter-patter of AK-47 slugs ripping through his body.

He slowly turned around to face a man he judged to be at least seven feet tall. The giant’s physique was definitely the result of years of steroid-enhanced bodybuilding. His green, gold-trimmed uniform and polished shoes made it a no-brainer that here was the crème de crème of the Presidente’s elite personal bodyguards. His oval clean-shaven face showed only a bland expression, but his gold-braided officers’ field service cap looked slightly askew. He slowly removed the strap binding the machine gun to his back—and inexplicably crumpled to the floor. The seven-inch blade of a Ka-Bar fighting knife was sticking out of the center of his back, and blood was drenching the entrance wound.

God, Walker, do I have to do everything? the shorter of the operatives rasped.

Jeez, Charlie, what took you so long?

Under all that bootblack, the thirty-year-old John Walker had the beginnings of crow’s feet and brow wrinkles and he was in peak physical condition; but after what he’d just gone through, he looked spent. His cohort, the twenty-seven-year-old Charlie Lopez, had one of those faces reminding one of a Latin movie star that women just couldn’t get enough of. He had long hair, black as coal just as was Walker’s, and he had a whimsical smile that was beguiling even to strangers. During training, where they’d first met, Walker had razzed him mercilessly about his sexual exploits. Charlie’s penetrating brown eyes always sparkled, even in the dimmest light. Looking like an exhilarated kid who had just inherited a toy factory, he reached down to retrieve his knife. He pulled it out and wiped it on the lifeless body.

Walker noticed that Defacto’s blood was still flowing, and his boots were getting splattered. He took a giant step away. Charlie laughed at him when he bent over the railing and relieved himself of his breakfast.

Walker, what did you think was going to happen when you used that cutter? People bleed. Get over it. We were sent here to make people bleed.

Charlie licked his Ka-Bar free of the last of the blood for emphasis, and shoved the blade back into the sheath strapped to his leg. Walker saw this and had another go at upchucking.

Finally Walker straightened up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and spoke with a spatter of vomit as he asked, How in the hell did you get here without anyone hearing you? How do you do stuff like that?

Charlie just smiled and pointed to the rope dangling from the balcony above, culminating a foot above Walker’s balcony floor.

How could you know this guy wouldn’t cry out when that blade hit him?

I can hit a tick on a weasel at twenty paces, Ol’ Buddy. I hit what I aim for. You drive the blade home between the thirteenth and fourteenth vertebrae, and the heart is right there in the line of fire. If the target has any screaming to do, it’ll be in his next life. Works every time. Weren’t you in the same class I was at the Farm?

I never could hit anything with one of those pig-stickers.

Practice, my friend.

I doubt I have enough years left to learn to throw as well as you. Bet I can shoot straighter than you, though.

I’d think twice before I tried it on me if I were you.

Walker rolled his eyes. I thought there was a guard up there. How the heck did you get by him?

Charlie playfully shoved Walker to the balcony rail and pointed up. Walker could just barely see two lifeless arms hanging down over the railing above. Obviously, Charlie had dropped down from the roof after surprising the guards. Who knew what kind of killing spree Charlie had enjoyed on the roof before he had come to save Walker’s ass?

I thought our orders were to just smack Defacto here to make a statement, not to kill the entire Guatemalan advance guard. You didn’t have to snuff them; you could have just knocked them out, like we planned.

Charlie whirled the surprised Walker around and drove him hard into the glass doors. He tightly held the winded Walker by the neck flap of his jacket.

Don’t you ever tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, or I just might forget we’re friends! Charlie hissed. This as he shook Walker so hard his head made a spider web in the glass pane. You just don’t get it, do you? There is nothing, nothing so sublime as the taking of a life. There is nothing I can imagine that’s more exhilarating. And hey, best of all, we’re sanctioned to do it. We get to do it legal! You’ve killed before. You must have felt it. That piece of garbage squirting blood down there at your feet…surely you don’t feel any regrets for what he was?

Walker, his face covered in blood and vomit, shook his head a reluctant no. Charlie released his friend as suddenly as he’d unnerved him. Walker, his labored breathing finally in check, said, Look, we’ve done what we came here to do. Let’s get the hell out of here before somebody gets their kicks doing us in.

My sentiments exactly. I’m going to be moving as fast as shit through a goose, though. You might want to at least try and keep up with me, Ol’ Buddy.

Any particular reason you want to leave that fast? I was planning on leaving the way we got here—slow and easy. Wait a minute—you didn’t leave any calling cards up on that roof, did you? Walker asked.

Charlie’s smirk said it all. As the two retraced their steps along the walls beneath the villa balconies, Walker whispered, Careful, those spit-turners may have big mouths.

The two spit-turners may, at one time, have indeed sounded an alarm, but Charlie silently stepped over their bodies to carve a piece of roast pig off the spit, having previously ensured they wouldn’t alarm anyone but Saint Peter. Walker caught the leer. Was this the friend he’d had such fun with at all those college toga parties? How could he have missed the metamorphosis from a gentle, compassionate friend to a heartless killer in all those CIA training sessions they’d had together?

A cold shiver ran up and down his back. He’d never seen such evil in anyone’s eyes in all his life. He cursed himself for not noticing Charlie’s momentary departure from norm when they first arrived on the villa grounds. The slit throats of the spit-turners glistened, highlighted by the flickering light of the raging bonfire. To Walker’s dismay, their eyes stared off into the night, frozen in the last horrific moments of their life.

Walker gasped, but he kept close behind Charlie as he threw his grappling hook over the outer walls and began scampering up.

You just had to do it. You just couldn’t wait to put another notch on your ego, could you?

Hey, when you’re good you’re good. Man, I’m better than good; I’m great.

Walker almost said, I wouldn’t brag about it, but he thought better of it; they weren’t out of the deep end of the pool. Not yet.

Dropping down from the top of the wall, Walker started to run, anxious to put as much distance as he could between him and the villa—and Charlie, if possible. But Charlie reached out from behind and yanked Walker down, forcing him to join him with his back pressed hard against the partition. Walker opened his mouth to complain, but Charlie shushed him, silently placing two fingers to his pursed lips.

The silence was deafening. What’s Charlie waiting for? Walker wondered. He had his answer when a series of muffled explosions sent violent tremors in all directions, knocking both men off their feet. Walker leapt to the gate; he arrived just in time to see tongues of flame erupt from every window of the villa. In seconds, the entire roof was ablaze. It sounded like a hundred freight trains smashing into a mountain of granite.

The cries of burning guards echoed throughout the night, and Walker saw at least two jump from the roof completely engulfed in flames. A huge fireball rose like a hot balloon high into the air. Ashes and burning debris flew everywhere, raining down like crimson hail from Dante’s Inferno. The smell of the fire, smoke, and burning flesh permeated the air like an inescapable poisonous cloud.

Do I do good work, or don’t I? Charlie said, flashing one of his infectious smiles. The fire in his eyes matched the fires on that roof.

Walker was in awe, but it wasn’t the fires he was watching. The explosive grandstanding was one thing, but the true nature of his friend was most troubling. And it wasn’t just the killing, either. After all, the two were specialists in that area. This was Walker’s twelfth mission, but the first with his old friend Charlie at his side. What awed him most was the fact that Charlie enjoyed it so. He killed indiscriminately. Needlessly.

Walker understood surgical killings. He even understood and condoned killing by necessity. But wholesale wanton killing without any form of remorse? It violated all his beliefs, all his morals. He would have to report Charlie when they got back…no, as soon as he could get to a telephone or radio. He’d let Rhiner handle it. Friend or no friend, Charlie was certifiable. Charlie’d hate it, but he needed a lot of help. Walker was as sure as he could be about anything about that.

The need to put some distance between the two and the still-exploding villa was becoming urgent; even above the noise they could hear the wail of distant fire engines. The two buried their combat clothes, after removing disguises similar to what locals would wear from their backpacks and donning them quickly; they silently used water from their canteens to wash the black smudges from their faces. Walker hid Aunt Gerdie’s legacy under his shirt beneath his belt, and Charlie taped his CIA-recommended Walter PPK under the pants leg opposite his knife.

The orders said to head for Guatemala City, where the two would be contacted and given further instructions. Getting there was fraught with danger, however.

* * * *

The chicken bus-ride the next day was noticeably quiet; the tension between the two had grown to a brooding. Walker feigned exhaustion, but there wasn’t much chance he’d actually catch some shuteye. He couldn’t get the sounds of those poor burning souls out of his head, any