For All Nails #305: The King's Justice
by Johnny Pez
King Fernando III of New Granada felt that he was showing admirable restraint when he said to his pilot, "Mary, are you certain?" instead of "Mary, are you insane?" Fernando had been brought here to the Nueva Granada from a reception at the Presidential Palace by his secretary, Oscar Ortiz, who had refused to say why. He had found Captain Mary Smith, chief pilot of the Nueva Granada, holding a man at gunpoint, bound and gagged, in her cabin aboard the airmobile. She claimed he was Martin Falcone, a former Army Intelligence officer from Mexico, and an agent of former Secretary of War Vincent Mercator.
Fernando had heard the name before; Alexander Elbittar had mentioned having dealings with the man between the overthrow of the Hermión regime and the Bali massacre. Since then, he, along with the rest of Mercator's retinue, had vanished from sight. That had been over six years ago.
Fernando had spoken to Smith in English, and she answered decisively in the same language. "Oh, yeah, I'm sure. I never forget a face."
Queen Sophia spoke up. "How did you find him?"
"Me and some of the crew of the Nueva were pub-crawling earlier tonight, and I recognized him at a place called the Red Parrot," said Smith. "We grabbed him and brought him here, then I called up Serjeant Gomez and had him bring you two."
There was a surreal quality to the situation that Fernando found most unnerving. Vincent Mercator had been the most wanted man in the world, since setting off a hydrogen bomb at a meeting of Kramer Associates executives on Bali on Christmas morning 1974. The incident had ultimately led to the invasion and occupation of New Granada in the Alliance War. If Mercator were to be captured now . . . .
"Remove his gag, please," Fernando ordered. "Let us hear what your man has to say for himself."
Gomez kept a gun trained on the bound man while Smith pulled the gag from his mouth. Falcone -- if it was Falcone -- remained defiantly silent.
"Are you Colonel Falcone?" Fernando asked him.
"I would like to speak to a lawyer," the man answered.
"That is not possible," said Fernando.
"You are holding me against my will," the man said. "That is a crime here in Argentina, and you will have to answer for it."
"If you are Martin Falcone," said Fernando, "then you are a wanted man in Argentina, and my crew acted properly in taking you into custody."
"In that case," said the man, "please turn me over to the authorities. You have no jurisdiction over me."
"As it happens, I do," Fernando said. "The Nueva Granada falls under the right of extraterritoriality. New Granadan law holds sway here, and under that law, I, as sovereign, have the power to conduct legal proceedings. It is not a power I have ever had cause to exercise, but thanks to your associate Mr. Elbittar, I do have this power. And under that power, I have chosen to detain you as a material witness concerning the whereabouts of Vincent Mercator. If, that is, you are in fact Martin Falcone, formerly of the Army of the United States of Mexico. Do you wish to confirm or deny this?"
There was a long pause before the man said, "Yes, I am Martin Falcone."
"Thank you," said Fernando. "Now, can you inform me as to the whereabouts of Vincent Mercator?"
"He is dead."
It took a moment for Fernando to wrap his mind around Falcone's pronouncement. "Dead? How can he be dead?"
Falcone shrugged as well as he could under the circumstances. "He was an old man. Old men die. He was dying even while he planned the strike against el Pulpo. A cancer. Two weeks after the bomb went off, he passed away on board the Cochise and was buried at sea."
Smith spoke up suddenly. "Remember right after the Bali bombing, when all those men that looked like Mercator started turning up? And they all turned out not to be him? I bet he planned it that way the whole time, to leave people wondering."
"Can you prove that Mercator is dead?" Fernando asked.
"Not directly, no," said Falcone. "But you may remember that in his vitavised speech, he made certain demands of the governments of Scandinavia, Australia, and other nations, and threatened them with similar attacks if they did not comply. They ignored his demands, and suffered no consequences. Secretary Mercator had only the single device he used against el Pulpo. The rest was a bluff, and the nations called his bluff. It did not matter. He struck the blow he meant to strike."
"He was mad," Fernando stated, "and both Bali and New Granada payed the price for his madness. And what is more, he failed. Kramer Associates suffered a blow, but it was not a mortal blow. The company is still the largest in the world, and still growing. And if K.A. no longer claims to be a world power, that was a claim it gave up before Mercator's attack, when it turned over its weapons to the Taiwanese government."
There was another pause before Sophia said, "Do you believe him? Do you believe Mercator has been dead all along?"
"It would explain why nobody has been able to find him after searching the world for six years," said Fernando. He turned back to Falcone. "And what became of the Cochise?" It had been the prototype for the USM's fleet of atomic-powered submersibles, and Mercator's people had made off with it twelve days before the Bali bombing.
"We scuttled it, about twenty miles beyond the mouth of the Rio de la Plata," said Falcone. "It was the Secretary's last order."
Fernando felt a sense of anticlimax. For six years, Vincent Mercator had been the world's greatest villain, a terrorist armed with his own atomic arsenal. Now he was gone. He had never been there at all. It had all been one last mad trick by a dying lunatic.
"May I go now?" Falcone asked. "You have what you wanted."
Fernando considered Falcone's request, then said, "Very well."
"What?" Smith exclaimed. "You're letting him go?"
"As I said," Fernando explained, "Mr. Falcone is a material witness concerning the whereabouts of Mercator. Now that we know that Mercator is dead, we have no further reason to hold him."
"Suppose he's lying?"
"That has no bearing on the question. Mr. Falcone has given his statement, and that is all that I required of him. I might also add, Captain Smith, that holding on to him would necessarily involve informing President Taveras that members of my flight crew have been kidnapping people off the streets of Buenos Aires, which would be awkward for a number of reasons. No, my decision stands."
Falcone turned to face Smith then. "How unfortunate for you, Alexandra. You will be cheated of your revenge."
Smith's expression showed contempt. "Mister, I don't need revenge. I'm the goddamned chief pilot of this bird. I kept the king and queen there safe and sound while the whole motherfucking Bornholm Alliance was trying to track 'em down. You know what that makes me? A big damn hero! I even got an executive pardon from Governor-General Carter fucking Monaghan, courtesy of His Majesty there. Fuck revenge, I've got a motherfucking life!"
To Fernando's surprise, Falcone burst into laughter. "And here I thought the age of miracles was over. Your Majesty, you've done the impossible: you've taught Alexandra Stapleton the value of loyalty. For that, I salute you."
Shaking his head, Fernando said, "Serjeant, please see that our guest is safely escorted off the Nueva Granada. The Queen and I have a reception to return to."
(Forward to FAN #306: Domestic Scene.)
(Forward to 14 June 1981: Sallah Bread.)
(Return to For All Nails.)