A Short Story by Charles Alverson

Sergeant Ortega knocked on the polished mahogany door.
Come, Garcia said without looking up from his interminable paperwork.
Colonel, Mrs. Vega is here--again. Will you see her?
Have you searched her?
Not yet, colonel.
Why not?
It seemed a waste of time unless the colonel was going to see her.
Searching a beautiful young woman is never a waste of time, Ortega, the colonel said, looking up into his secretary's high-cheeked, Indian face. Search her--carefully but not excessively--and bring her in.
Yes, sir.

The door closed behind Ortega. Garcia pushed aside his paperwork and anticipated seeing Mrs. Vega again. How many times in the last three months had she sat in the hard chair opposite his desk and pleaded for the life and freedom of her husband? And how many times had she resisted his subtle hints that her cooperation could considerably improve her husbands condition and might even result in his release? He didn't bother to count. But this time, an important element had changed.

Not thirty minutes before, Garcia had received word from his private sources at the military prison that Vega--a liberal, a troublemaker and a regrettably proud and stubborn man--had died as the result of a very strenuous interrogation session which Garcia himself had conducted until the early hours of that morning. Garcia prided himself on the intelligence network which enabled him to know everything that happened in his small but important domain as it happened. It had taken him years to develop and perfect. Of course, by noon everyone at headquarters--and many beyond its thick, stone walls--would know of Vega's unfortunate death, but Garcia knew then. And that information was valuable in his campaign to break Mrs. Vegas will as surely as he had broken her husbands body. Garcia got up and looked at himself in the gilt mirror behind his desk. Did his knowledge show on his smooth, round face? He thought not. There was another of Ortega's elusive knocks on the door.
After a suitable interval, Garcia spoke, and the door opened revealing Mrs. Vega and Ortega behind her. That will be all, Ortega, Garcia said, getting up to show Mrs. Vega to the black leather sofa against the wall of framed photographs of himself and important visitors and returning to his chair. Allow no one-no one-to enter this office until I call you, Garcia added. Neither of them heard the door close behind Ortega.
It is pleasant to see you this morning, Mrs. Vega, he said, and this was very true. It amazed Garcia to think that this vibrant, young woman--she could not have been over thirty--was intimately connected with the wreck--the hulk--of a man he had left sobbing brokenly in his cell only a few hours before. Her full, softly rounded figure was in sharp contrast to the classical structure of her pure Castilian features. The impact of the blackness of her elaborately twisted hair, the whiteness of her strong, even teeth, the redness of her smooth, full lips could not be exaggerated. Garcia began to think that perhaps he had done Mrs. Vega a favor in freeing her for a more suitable attachment.
I'm sorry, colonel, Mrs. Vega said quietly, that I cannot find it pleasant to come to see you with my poor husband lying in one of your cells.

That morning Mrs. Vega was more desirable than ever. Her dignity was no less, but somehow Garcia sensed that her previously unyielding manner had softened ever so slightly. Her blindingly white blouse was as starchily correct as ever, but Garcia could almost imagine the soft-hard impression of a nipple pressing against it. And--yes!--his eyes did not deceive him. The second button below her smooth, white throat was half undone. Was this not an omen?
It is unfortunate, madam, Garcia said smoothly, that the security of the state demands such measures. But let me assure you that things are not so dark as you might imagine. Everything is possible.
You mean, she began, looking up at him beneath eyelashes luxuriant in their blackness, there is hope?
There is more than hope, madam, Garcia said, getting up from his chair and moving toward her. There is certainty.
Certainty? He saw confusion in her dark eyes. I don't understand.
I mean, Mrs. Vega--Maria--that I can deliver your husband to you this very day. If---
If-- she repeated, as Garcia took another step toward her.
If you could see your way clear to--to cooperate. His right hand made a gesture across his lower body which said nothing and everything and then rested on his hip, a thumb hooked behind his thick, black belt.
Exactly. You could see your husband today in your own home. Garcia was pleased that he could tell her the literal truth. To torture a woman's husband to death in the line of duty was one thing; to lie to his widow was quite another.
Mrs. Vega said nothing. She looked up at Colonel Garcia, her eyes level with his gleaming brass belt buckle. There was a long, long silence before at last she spoke: Yes. Yes, I will cooperate.
Good--good! Garcia said hurriedly. You are very wise. You will find--
When may I see my husband?
Did she not understand the meaning of the word cooperation? All in good time, Garcia said a bit brusquely. But first-- His hand repeated the motion across his body and came to rest again on his hip.

Mrs. Vega raised her fine head until her eyes met Garcia's. Her look was so intense that he nearly had to turn his eyes away. Then, after a long pause, her right hand stole up and touched the side of her elaborate hairdo. Sinuously, like a python uncoiling, a long braid of her midnight hair slipped until it fell over her white blouse like a deep shadow on snow. The effect was as shockingly erotic as if she had bared her breasts.
Colonel Garcia gasped, felt himself stirring, and his right hand unconsciously began to undo his belt.
No, she said, slipping to her knees before him, let me do it.
Garcia's hands fell uselessly to his sides, as she deftly freed the belt, and he hardly felt her fingers as they swiftly unbuttoned his flies. His tight trousers resisted, but she urged them down over his pudgy thighs to his knees and then to his ankles. He shuddered with delight as his custom-made silk shorts followed, whispering as they brushed his legs.
Garcia scarcely dared look down as he felt her soft hand on him. Then, in a movement almost too fast to see, her right hand came from behind the thick tendril of hair across her breast holding a long, thin knife. Not until he felt the knife tear into his soft belly did it occur belatedly to the colonel that Mrs. Vega, too, might have private sources of intelligence.
In the outer room, Ortega heard his commander's scream. He counted slowly to five and then, unbuttoning his holster as he went, walked slowly toward the door.

2000 Charles Alverson

Author: Charles Alverson chas@eunet.yu Agent: Lora Fountain