Which was, after all, the case he and his partner were supposed to be pursuing.
The good food and congenial, if isolated, surroundings, did little to lift the Inspector out of the funk of frustration into which he had fallen. If they could secure hard testimony from Surtsey Mockerkin to the effect that her husband had ordered Brummel’s killing, or even that he was in all likelihood the one who had ordered it, then they could at least pick up The Mock on suspicion, and subject him to questioning. But if she refused to do even that much, they could do nothing but catch the next shuttle home. And as afraid as she was of her husband, Cardenas was not sanguine about convincing her even to admit that she knew where he was living.
They could not afford to linger a fourth day. Not without results. All they could do was pay Surtsey Mockerkin one last visit, repeat both their plea for assistance and the offer of asylum, and hope that time and contemplation had worked on her mind sufficiently to persuade her to change her position. Neither man was hopeful.
Having resigned himself to disappointment, Cardenas had already booked them out on the following day’s shuttle from San Jose to Nogales via Mexico City. Still, he reflected as he led Hyaki up the steps of the guest house, there had been times in the past when logic and reason had failed him but sheer stubbornness had paid off.
Despite the outward simplicity of the structure, their prior visit had confirmed that it employed its share of concealed servotronics, including one that must have notified her of their arrival. Surtsey Mockerkin met them in the main hallway. Her manner was guarded but confident.
“Come in. I’m in the middle of putting up some things in the kitchen.”
They followed her to a part of the house they had not previously seen. The kitchen occupied the opposite side of the building from the sitting area where they had conversed three days earlier. Outfitted to handle the needs of two or three people, it held dehumidifier-equipped, insect-proof cabinets; a small oven and stove; sink, chiller, sonic scrubber, and a floor-to-ceiling pantry. As the two federales looked on, their hostess removed dishes and tumblers from the scrubber and stacked them in an open cabinet.
“I understand that you gentlemen are getting ready to leave.”
“So we are,” Cardenas admitted. “How did you find out?”
She set a pair of brightly colored self-chilling plastic tumblers on a half-full shelf. “I have been here long enough to make some friends, you know.” Eyes that had seen too much met his. “If you’ve come to say good-bye, it was nice meeting you. If you’ve come to make a last stab at talking me into leaving, forget it.”
Trying to defuse the tension between them, he ventured conversationally, “It’s a shame we won’t get to meet your daughter. As you said before, she must be very fond of her forest walks.”
Mockerkin’s smile was humorless. “She prefers machines and nature to people. Can’t say that I blame her.”
“How about you, Surtsey? You don’t miss people, urban excitement, having things to do and places to go?”
Looking away from him, she returned resolutely to her stacking. “What I want doesn’t matter. All I want anymore is what’s best for Katla.”
She was lying, Cardenas knew. Maybe better than she knew herself. She wore boredom like an ill-fitting brassiere. Another month, maybe two, isolated in this place, and a vivacious, highly sociable woman like herself would really begin to feel the effects. Could they wait another two months for her to begin to break down?
Such decisions were simplified by the fact that they had no choice. “If you should change your mind,” he told her, “you can contact me directly.” He nodded in the direction of the compound. “The address is on the Administration’s molly. Use a secure connect.”
She avoided his gaze. “Have a nice flight, gentlemen.” A skeletal smirk crossed her lips. “Watch out for wandering farmers on your way out.”
Cardenas smiled, nodded, and turned to go. Together, he and Hyaki exited the kitchen.
“Well, that’s that,” the sergeant submitted. “We tried our best, Angel.”
The Inspector nodded as he turned toward the hallway. “If she won’t testify, much less come back, then we can’t pursue the case. It’s muertoed for sure.” He glanced behind him. “I would have liked to have met the daughter, though.”
Hyaki’s brows rose slightly. “Think she could have changed the mother’s mind?”
Cardenas shook his head. “Not if what Surtsey was telling us about her daughter is true, and I think it is.”
“That’s it, then.” Hyaki turned into the hall, heading for the front doorway. “He thinks, therefore it is.” Whereupon the big man halted so abruptly that Cardenas nearly ran into him.
Coming up the front steps was a mass of mandrills. The big, florid-faced baboons were advancing in silence. Each carried a knife that was only slightly longer than their imposing upper canines. Cardenas started moving backward faster than he had been leaving.
“Kitchen,” he growled tightly.
Looking up sharply at their sudden and unexpected reappearance, a startled Surtsey Mockerkin reached into a drawer and pulled out a pistol that, while small, was in no wise especially feminine. Peering down the barrel, Cardenas nodded curtly.
“Good. I have a feeling you’re going to need that. Got any more?”
Her expression twisted in confusion. “What are you talking about? What are you doing back here? What’s going—?”
“Here they come!” shouted Hyaki as he ripped the portable oven off the wall and heaved it at the first mandrill. It struck the ape square in its chromatically colored snout, prompting a shriek of anger and surprise.
That was the signal for the remaining primates to rush the kitchen. The narrowness of the room worked against the attackers. Unable to flank their quarry, they were forced to try and overwhelm the three humans with a frontal attack. It was immediately apparent that the two federales were not the target of the invading apes. They were simply in the way.
Knife gripped between powerful teeth, one mandrill tried to leap over Cardenas as the Inspector attempted to draw a bead on it with his pistol. He did not get the chance to fire. Surtsey blew its face off, at the same time nearly amputating one of Hyaki’s ears. Two more rushed the sergeant in an attempt to get around him. With a smaller man, the ploy might have worked. Unfortunately for the ferocious, frenzied primates, Hyaki was so big that his mere presence blocked their access to their intended victim. His own weapon flared, reducing one of the two swift-moving attackers to ground chuck.
A knife caught the sergeant’s left arm, ripping the exposed skin revealed below the short sleeve of his shirt. Hyaki brought the edge of his thick right hand around in a downward arc, slamming it against the mandrill’s rib cage. The beast screamed with fury, bounced off the wall, shook its head, and leaped at him again. Meanwhile, another had darted past Hyaki’s legs, not even bothering to take a swipe at them in passing. Teeth and blade were intended only for the woman cowering near the rear of the kitchen.
Cardenas jammed the muzzle of his pistol against the back of the baboon’s neck, indenting the fur and pressing into the flesh beneath. Screaming with uncontrolled rage, eyes blazing, it reached backward as he pulled the trigger. Fragments of baboon splattered the Inspector’s face. The mortally injured primate fumbled wildly at the wound, bouncing off cabinets and floor and screeching hysterically. As the Inspector hunted for another target, Surtsey Mockerkin put one, two, three explosive pellets into the jerking, twitching body, until there was little left of the invader except hunks of bloody meat and fur.
Having seen its companions eliminated one after another, the lone remaining simian assassin drew back its hand and flung the knife it held. The whistling blade just missed its target, whizzing past Surtsey Mockerkin’s head to bury itself in the rear wall of the kitchen. Raging in frustration, the surviving mandrill whirled, sprayed the kitchen with urine as it turned, and fled on all fours back the way it had come. They could hear it banging down the steps outside as it retreated.
Breathing hard, Cardenas helped his partner gingerly slip his wounded arm underneath the single arching spigot in the sink. Cold water immediately began to flow over the gash, mixing with the sergeant’s blood to spiral down the drain. Behind them, their hostess was still clutching her weapon in both hands, gazing wide-eyed at the carnage that had bloodied her kitchen.
“Sprayskin,” Cardenas requested tersely. When she failed to respond, he raised his voice to a shout. “Surtsey!” The edge in his voice drew her attention away from the dripping butchery. He moderated his tone. “Sprayskin: do you have any? Also disinfectant aerosol, and bandages.”