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A Game of Authors

Frank Herbert

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  About the Author

  Frank Herbert

  Smashwords Edition - 2013

  WordFire Press

  ISBN: 978-1-61475-077-2

  Copyright © 2013 Herbert Properties, LLC

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Book Design by RuneWright, LLC

  Published by

  WordFire Press, an imprint of

  WordFire, Inc.

  PO Box 1840

  Monument CO 80132


  Book Description

  In pursuit of a scoop, American journalist Hal Garson follows up on a mysterious, desperate letter that points to the whereabouts of legendary author Antone Luac, who vanished without a trace in Mexico years ago. The celebrated writer's disappearance is an enduring mystery, and Garson senses this story will make his career. Despite warnings, he travels to isolated Ciudad Brockman and begins asking questions . . . too many questions, which place him in the crossfire of a local crime lord, a Communist insurgent group, and finally to the imprisoned writer—and his beautiful daughter—who may not want to be found.


  Chapter 1

  Hal Garson, a tall, blond young man with deep-set blue eyes beneath bushy brows, stepped off the Mexican National Railways’ train from Guadalajara, plopped his suitcase in the yellow dust.

  Ciudad Brockman—here the search really begins, he thought. And then: The trouble with Antone Luac was that he was too good a cynic. People are of two minds about a successful cynic: they admire his wit, and they fear his attention. A successful cynic can’t just disappear. People secretly want him to come to a bad end—and they want the gory details.

  The somber look of Ciudad Brockman caught Garson emotionally. It lay brooding and silent in the siesta-time heat, crouched against a dun-colored mountain like a last stronghold of feudalism held at bay. The mountain formed a threatening backdrop for the city profile of orange roof tiles and jagged steeples.

  The look of the place was fitting, all of a piece with the letter from Eduardo Gomez Refugio. The letter had come to Garson in Seattle, forwarded through a magazine that had published a Garson short story about a Mexican brasero in the United States.

  “Dear Ser: I rid you history in magzine all aboat good Mejicano werk in Unitd Stados. I want much to go Unitd Stados for brazero werk. Now I werk for bad man gangster from Unitd Stados. He is sicret in Ciudad Brockman. He esend meny brazero to Unitd Stados. Never esend mi, Eduardo Gomez Refugio. I giv all history to you ser when you esend mi United Stados for werk brazero. Plis to be very sicret aboat letter to you. He kill mi. You come to Ciudad Brockman and see I spik truth werds. You ask at Tintoreria Nueva York my cousin Lalo. He to tell mi when you say it and nobody lern. For truth my wards I esend letter of gangster to see his fingerprints for F.B.I. of Unitd Stados. Also his name.

  Yours affectionately,

  Eduardo Gomez Refugio

  Enclosed had been a sheet of bond paper, and on it in a small script a shard of prose—beautifully simple, tantalizing for its incompleteness; a satiric love scene between someone called Elena and someone called Harold. On the back of the sheet was a signature in the same hand: Antone Cual—and what looked like a grocery list in Spanish.

  The prose and name carried an odd sense of familiarity to Garson. And the letter with its air of conspiracy, its plea for caution and secrecy, made him chuckle.

  But there had been something pathetic about the Mexican’s plea—a story behind the letter’s labored English that told of a struggle to conquer an alien tongue with nothing more than a dictionary and possibly a phrase book.

  Garson’s atlas showed Ciudad Brockman more than 3,000 miles south of Seattle, deep in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Much too far away for the answering of a plea from a half-illiterate Mexican. The letter and enclosure were touched by mystery, but not worth an expenditure of time by a professional writer whose working hours were mortgaged to previous commitments.

  He was on the point of filing the letter under unfinished business—in case he ever happened to visit Ciudad Brockman—when his gaze again rested on that neat, concise signature: Antone Cual. Garson’s eyes made a sudden reversal of direction, and the impact of what he saw brought a tremble to his hand as he bent over the paper.

  Cual is a simple anagram on Luac! he thought.

  He got out the correct volume of his encyclopedia, found the reference:

  “Luac, Antone: born Slagville, Iowa, March 21, 1884. Began newspaper career Chicago, Ill., 1908. Reported Mexican revolution 1912–13 for New York Herald. Went to Europe for Associated Press at start of World War I. Returned January 1919 to career as novelist. His better known works: A Handbook for Heaven and Hell, Downright Ditties, Choose Your Weapons, The Kaiser’s War. Luac disappeared in Mexico in August, 1932, in company with Anita Peabody, wife of his friend, Alan Peabody, San Francisco drama critic. Peabody later obtained a divorce, naming Luac correspondent. Several attempts to trace the couple have failed. This is considered one of the celebrated disappearances of the Twentieth Century (See also “Famous Missing Persons” by George Powell Davis.)”

  Garson found his copy of A Handbook for Heaven and Hell. The prose from the mysterious letter carried the same casual, biting simplicity.

  The fire of discovery began to burn in Garson. He called his agent in New York, explained about the letter from Mexico. His agent caught some of the same fire. Two days later, Garson had a promise from a national magazine to underwrite part of the expenses for an investigation, or to pay all of the expenses if the story proved true.

  That was how he found himself standing beside a railroad track in Mexico, staring moodily at Ciudad Brockman.

  His eyes detected a cross on the mountain like a white hole in the blue sky. It prodded his memory of the city’s history learned from his quick research. The cross testified to the Latin passion for monuments to human agony. General Brockman’s peon legions had held out on that mountain top against ten times their number of Spaniards. Two years of death, torture, and cannon shells for the men on the mountain while the Spanish soldiers lived with the defenders’ women in the city.

  The mountain and city seemed to say to Garson: “We have seen passion, misery, death and tears before. What is one more story of these things to us?”

  A nervous laugh at such dark thoughts escaped Garson. He looked around for a taxi.

  Ahead of him a cobbled avenue lined by scarred, dusty trees and high-walled cornfields stretched across the valley floor toward the city and overhanging mountain. The avenue carried traffic of two slow motion burros and a peon. Muddy plaster peeled from the walls lining the avenue, half obliterating the splashed red paint of election announcements.

  Over it all, the sun, like a giant ember, seared everything to dusty silence.

  To Garson’s l
eft under the open shed of the railroad station, Indians sat on benches—men with huaraches on their feet, dirty white trousers, and the hand-embroidered white shirts they wore to market; the shawled women in black or Carmelite brown dresses, like brooding hens, like pieces of the earth. Children played in the dust beside tethered pigs and chickens. Some of the Indians slept with their heads tilted back, faces hidden beneath straw sombreros. Others stared silently at Garson.

  They saw the gringo cut of his clothes, the harsh jaw line, the air of purpose about him. From these things the cinema-steeped Mexicans built a picture of something secretive and official. Before nightfall they were telling each other that he must really be an American secret agent come to investigate the local mystery: the Hacienda Cual.

  There was no sign of a taxi. Garson wondered if he would have to walk the sun-scorched avenue. At every other station in Mexico he had been overwhelmed with offers of service. Here, no one approached him.

  Then, a group of Indians standing with their backs to him near a wall at the far corner of the station moved aside. Garson saw the hood of an automobile. He stepped forward to get a better look, and the car moved away from the wall.

  It was a black limousine with a wooden box newly roped onto the rear. But Garson’s attention remained fixed on the young woman in the rear seat. She had reddish auburn hair, large eyes of a darkness that seemed to trap the light, a complexion like translucent alabaster that—in this latitude—spoke of seclusion, of an old-world custom that hid the fair virgins behind high walls and alert duennas.

  As the limousine moved past him, the woman turned, stared directly at Garson. She seemed to catalog him and discard him all in the time that it took her long lashes to flick once over her eyes.

  The limousine turned up the avenue, gathered speed. And only then did Garson’s mind—assembling the other elements of the scene—tell him that the man beside the driver had worn crossed bandoliers, studded with cartridges, and held a rifle sternly upright.

  And Garson thought: I’d disappear in Mexico myself for something like that! And for the first time, it occurred to him to ask himself: Just what did Anita Peabody really look like? Was she as beautiful as that? The newspaper pictures he had seen—faded and with the woman appearing somehow lumpy in the flapper costume of the era—had left Garson dissatisfied.

  A church bell began tolling in the city: a hollow, off-key sound that echoed from the mountain. And now, a pinch-faced boy ran around the station wall, stopped in front of Garson. The marks of Spain and the New World were pressed into the boy’s features as though by a sculptor with a heavy thumb.

  “Libre, Señor?” asked the boy.

  “Libre” translated to “taxi” in Garson’s mind. He said, “Sí.”

  The boy jerked Garson’s suitcase from the ground, led the way at a dog trot through the silently staring Indians. On the opposite side of the station where the limousine had been there was a telephone. Soon, a taxi appeared on the cobbled avenue, bouncing and careening as it sped toward them.

  The El Palacio Hotel was a one-story building, tile-floored, dim and cool behind a deep arcade that fronted on a garden plaza. The lobby held three rows of tables that could have been transplanted unchanged from a New York soda parlor, circa 1900. They were marble-topped, set in spindle-legged wrought iron baskets. The chairs had the same unsubstantial twisted-wire appearance.

  Two delicatessen cabinets flanked the hotel’s registration desk. The glass fronts of the cabinets revealed rows of bottled beer, American process cheeses, and slabs of Spam.

  The clerk was a dark-skinned little man with bright hard eyes, a delicate line of mustache, and the hawk beak of a grandee.

  He wrote a room number after Garson’s signature in the heavy register, said, “Gabriél Villazana, a sus ordenes, Señor.”

  Garson’s mind did its usual slow-motion translation, noting that the clerk had identified himself as Gabriél Villazana.

  He gave his when-in-doubt answer: “Gracias.” The clerk nodded, waved up an urchin who staggered along beneath Garson’s bag.

  The room was at the end of a hall off the lobby. It was a high-ceilinged space with a half wall in one corner separating shower and toilet. The light came from a skylight directly above a brass spool bed that sagged in the center. There was a mildewed smell about the room. Garson noted that a pile of dead crickets had been swept into one corner.

  Gabriél Villazana handed Garson a heavy iron key for the door, accepted his tip with a swift motion of hand into pocket, produced a yellow envelope from another pocket.

  “Para usted, Señor.”

  Garson took the envelope, saw that it was a telegram addressed to him at “El Mejor Hotel de Ciudad Brockman.”

  The best hotel in the city. He grinned, tore open the envelope. It was from his agent:

  “The Times morgue says Anita Peabody secretary-treasurer of Friends of the Poor: on first list of front organizations. Branches in Mexico. Maybe this helps. Maybe it only confuses. Good hunting.”

  Garson re-read the telegram. Something to do with the communists in this? And he thought of the bitter cynicism behind Antone Luac’s writing. Not a chance! Luac was an incipient royalist. He’d spit in the Reds’ eyes!

  He tossed the telegram onto the swaybacked bed, decided to use the siesta time for a shower, shave, and change of clothing before seeking out his contact at the Tintoreria Nueva York—The New York Dry Cleaners.

  It turned out to be a day of half-accomplishments for Garson. And the telegram kept returning to his mind, nagging at him. He wondered if there were a secret message in the telegram—something urgent his agent felt that he must know.

  Or why would he send a telegram?

  He decided finally that it was the brooding atmosphere of mystery about Ciudad Brockman causing his uneasiness. But he still did not feel satisfied.

  The Tintoreria Nueva York was directly across the garden plaza from the hotel. It fronted on another arcade behind a mosaic walk. The tintoreria had once been a residence. The patio glimpsed through a half open door behind the long wooden business counter had a cracked fountain, rows of potted plants.

  Eduardo Gomez’s cousin was a blond, Germanic type—round cheeks, a sunburned complexion, small eyes, a personality like an adding machine. What did not add up to money for this man did not exist. He gained interest only when Garson—with the aid of a phrase book—said that he had business with Eduardo Gomez.

  Through frequent reference to the phrase book and a pocket dictionary, Garson presently understood that Eduardo Gomez possibly would be in town that day—possibly the next day—possibly the following week—or perhaps not for a month.

  Garson turned the conversation to the Hacienda Cual, saw the cousin mentally retreat. A door seemed to close behind his eyes.

  A customer entered the tintoreria. The cousin excused himself.

  Garson returned to the hotel, feeling his uneasiness intensified.

  What did Eduardo Gomez write in his letter? “He kill mi.” Could there be something in that?

  Gabriél Villazana, the hotel clerk, was disposed to practice his high school English. He was also less inhibited on the subject of the Hacienda Cual.

  “Sí, Señor. Un mystery. Very big mystery.” He leaned across his registration desk. “The trucks, Señor.”

  “Trucks? What trucks?”

  “Every three, four months, Señor. They come. They go.”

  “What’s in them?”

  Gabriél Villazana shrugged. “Quién sabe?” He cocked his head to one side. “Perhaps you are interested in the Señorita Cual, Señor.” His eyes rolled heavenward. “Ah, Señor. She is a mango!”

  It turned out that a “mango” could be literally translated as “a dish.” Garson immediately recalled the queenly young woman in the limousine.

  The conversation turned to the peace and beauty of Ciudad Brockman. Gabriél Villazana emphasized that there had not been a gun fight in the plaza for almost two years.

n registered appropriate admiration, returned to the subject of the Hacienda Cual. “Is it far from here?”

  “No, Señor. One hour by car.” Abruptly, he stared at Garson with a look of shock. “But you are not thinking of going there, Señor?”

  “Why not?”

  “They kill you, Señor!”


  Gabriél Villazana became excited, lapsed partly into Spanish with bits of shattered English.

  There were guards at the hacienda. Very fierce guards. People disappeared. When one approached the Hacienda Cual there were warning shots—then . . . Again, the expressive shrug of the shoulders. And the Señor Cual, the old man, he had important friends in the government.

  Garson tried to get a description of the Señor Cual.

  It was sufficient for the clerk that the old man of the hacienda had a distinguished face, white hair, and a small beard on the chin that Garson decided must be a goatee.

  The incomplete description was another of the afternoon’s frustrations.

  Garson excused himself.

  Gabriél Villazana had one more thought. “Do you have a gun, Señor?”

  “Of course not. Why do you ask?”

  “There are people who do not like those who ask questions about the Hacienda Cual. Perhaps you would like to buy a gun, Señor. I know a man who sells them.”

  “I think not. Thanks anyway.”

  Again, the shrug of the shoulders.

  Garson returned to his room to rest until dinner time. He felt immensely tired, blamed it on the altitude.

  Maybe Eduardo Gomez will actually come to town today, he thought.

  But he did not really believe it.

  “Señor! Hssst! Señor Garson! Hssst!”

  Garson awoke. His eyes looked upward to the skylight of his hotel room. A pale mauve sunset color tinted the opaque glass.