SAN CAFÉ casts a ribald, satirical eye on Latin American leftist politics and American corporate greed. Security consultant Bobby Gatling anticipates a working vacation in the Central American nation of San Cristo. But revolutionaries challenge a government controlled by Bobby’s client, Mobys Inc., the world’s largest coffee retailer.
A jungle ambush and the disappearance of an Italian priest deepen Bobby’s involvement. He must lead a challenging manhunt while dealing with a Marxist presidential candidate fond of gourmet cooking, a delusional Cristano army officer, bloodthirsty American mercenaries, a purple-haired Italian journalist-diva and Mobys’ domineering CEO—as well as Bobby’s nominal boss, the beautiful, gun-toting Maria Skavronsky.
THE SHOTS SEEMED BOTH NEAR AND DISTANT, Capitán Enrique Hauptmann-Hall reflected. Like voices cackling in a far corner of the house while a man tried to sleep off a night of drinking with important clients in the company of elegant whores. Assuming he actually had heard shots. Could not the late afternoon rain pelting the highlands and the unnerving jungle gloom have distorted his senses? For five months rain had fallen. Now October—presaging the end of the rainy season—had begun, but the skies offered no hint of relief. How noble yet awful the sacrifices one made in a country like San Cristo—his country and that of his fathers—where wet and dry seasons marked the passage of time, and nature stubbornly maintained its power to disrupt and destroy. Hauptmann-Hall signaled the sargento to halt the patrol, stilled his breathing and listened intently to the rain splattering the jungle canopy of oak and laurel. He had only to remain calm and observant. But how was a civilized man to make sense of such wild terrain even if it provided one of the finest coffee growing environments in the world and thus the lifeblood of the nation? Thirsting for oxygen at such a high altitude, he took a deep breath to clear his head. He had only to use his reason. What then did he know? He had heard—or thought he had heard—sharp noises. Suspicious noises. And he had seen—or thought he had seen—the sargento just steps ahead of him cock his head. Seeking confirmation of his suspicions—or delusions—Hauptmann-Hall glanced at his distinguished American guest. Bobby Gatling, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who had spent most of his thirty-year career in Special Forces, stood motionless. Taking his cue from Hauptmann-Hall, he held his Beretta in his right hand, his index finger poised along the gun’s barrel. Something had attracted the capitán’s attention. Had he missed it? True, this kind of work was a young man’s game, but given his experience tracking terrorists and enemy soldiers in jungles, deserts and mountainous terrain all over the world, there was no excuse for anything to get by him. On the other hand, the highlands, as he understood it, had experienced only small, random acts of violence over the past months. If anything should have drawn attention in this jungle, it was Bobby Gatling. At six-foot-five, he towered above the patrol’s soldiers, all indígenas—native Indians dark, short and stocky. Hauptmann-Hall forced a smile. Perhaps he had acted in haste. Bobby held his position a moment longer, swiveled his head then holstered his Beretta. Removing his green baseball cap, he brushed his right hand across his close-cropped, graying hair. Reflexively, he lowered his hand to his right ankle to which, as always, he’d strapped his KA-BAR fighting knife. Hauptmann-Hall attempted to blink the moisture out of his eyes. He could not let the colonel’s presence unnerve him. General Gomez had called regarding the colonel’s visit the previous evening as Hauptmann-Hall prepared for bed in a village several kilometers from the brigade’s base. The sargento had procured a house for him—hardly worthy of a man of his stature but suitable given the conditions. The men would shelter in the local school grateful to have a roof—no matter how leaky—over their heads. Bobby nodded at Hauptmann-Hall. This was the capitán’s show. He was only an observer doing a favor in return for a favor he might extract from General Gomez sometime in the future. He had contacted Gomez before arriving in San Cristo the day before and agreed to the general’s request that he accompany the patrol on its last day of a modest three-day field exercise—little more than a walk in the woods. As commander of San Cristo’s Highlands Brigade, Gomez could prove a valuable resource given the nature of Bobby’s mission. Regrettably, the task was taking its toll on his bad right knee, but the patrol would soon reach the finca—the coffee plantation where he and Hauptmann-Hall would spend the night. The next morning Bobby would compliment the general on what a formidable obstacle the Highlands Brigade posed to the budding but incompetent revolutionary movement seeking to turn nearby Azcalatl National Park into an autonomous political entity. The alliance having been firmed, Bobby would return to the capital, Ciudad San Cristo, to coordinate additional security arrangements for the major American corporation that had contracted with his employer, Crimmins-Idyll Associates, global provider of paramilitary and security services. Hauptmann-Hall, despite the colonel’s seeming reassurance, raised his hand to his chest. An unknown malevolence seemed intent on sucking the air from his lungs. True, this was only a training exercise. Still, the risk of danger remained ever present in places such as this, even if the previous two days had proved uneventful. Bobby gazed back at Hauptmann-Hall. “¿Hay problema?” he asked softly. Is there a problem? Drawing upon his resolve, discipline and God-given station, which placed him above the men of the patrol—racial and social inferiors—Hauptmann-Hall willed his breathing to return to normal. He could not—would not—permit the jungle to light a fuse in the dark places of his imagination. Sín duda—without doubt—he had not heard shots at all. Most likely a tree—possibly several—had fallen elsewhere in or above the ravine. In the dank highlands all things rotted and became corrupt. Hauptmann-Hall put aside his fear only to yield to exhaustion. His legs ached. His usual physical pursuits focused on golf with clients and horseback riding in the capital’s wooded park on Sunday afternoons. Surely the men also would be weary. “¡Sargento!” he called. The sargento approached. “¿Señor?” “The men. We should give them a rest.” The sargento spread the patrol out in a circular defensive perimeter, each man within sight of the man to his left and to his right. Hauptmann-Hall pulled down on his poncho to keep his backside dry and lowered himself to the ground. How long should the men remain here? Finca Jiménez with its large and welcoming main house stood somewhere on the ridge just above them. Twenty minutes pause seemed appropriate. Surely the colonel, who limped now and then, would welcome a short respite. He set his unfamiliar M16 rifle—General Gomez declined to make newer M4s available—against a tree and reached into his small daypack. It contained his laptop and a satellite modem with which he hoped to follow the fútbol friendly in Montevideo between the Azcalatls, San Cristo’s national team, and Uruguay. A man who did not love fútbol—who did not appreciate the effort, discipline and teamwork required of any successful enterprise—was not a real man. As to the rest of his equipment, one of the men carried it. The sargento maintained possession of the patrol’s radio, rendered useless whenever they descended into a ravine. Bobby withdrew a water bottle from the side of his own green daypack. “¿Está bien?” he called. Are you all right? Hauptmann-Hall waved. All was now well indeed. What could possibly have alarmed him? Workers from the nearby finca tending the coffee trees? Perhaps. The spirits of the highlands so feared by the indígenas? Such nonsense! Sín duda, this altitude played cruel tricks on the minds of the savage and uneducated. Granted, the air was not as thin as atop Azcalatl, the nation’s last active volcano and holy to the indígenas. But here a man of refined blood—German, English, Italian and Spanish forebears all affirming his pedigree—might easily mistake the clamor and din of nature—red in tooth and claw as Tennyson, if he remembered correctly, described it—for a threat. Enrique Hauptmann-Hall was, after all, an urban sophisticate. The scion of a prominent banking family, he maintained a web of business and social connections, which included General Gomez. Understandably, he knew little of the rainforest—a dripping sea of green in which a man’s boots drew sucking sounds from a drenc
David Perlstein is the author of Slick! and two non-fiction books, God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible and Solo Success: 101 Tips for Becoming a $100,000-a-Year Freelancer. He lives in San Francisco.