An hour later I sauntered into the waiting room of my office. Wronwright and Rove had beaten me there by several minutes and were sitting in chairs pulled close to Sheila’s desk, utterly beguiled by the five-star charms of my secretary. Rove had taken off his fake mustache and jammed it into the breast pocket of his jumpsuit, where it nestled like a tame ferret; he was yammering pleasantly about his time in Washington, and Sheila listened with genuine interest to his stream of jovial chatter. Wronwright sat there munching roasted peanuts, watching the gentle swell of Sheila’s close-fitting white turtleneck sweater. As I approached, he was just interjecting a comment about the relative merits of Turtle Wax and Dodo Juice Hard Candy Car Wax when it came to putting a gloss on the black helicopters.
“Well, Wron”, I said, as I lit a cigarette, “you ought to be able to step right into a frontline position down at the car wash.”
“Not the same thing at all, Paco. You see, the chemical composition of the paint on the helicopters…”
“Wronwright”, Rove interrupted. “I believe Detective Paco is pulling your leg. Perhaps we could adjourn to your office, Paco, and get down to the business at hand. If Miss O’Doherty will be so kind as to excuse us?” He took her hand and gave it a polite squeeze; her attempt at a regal nod was substantially undermined by a noise that sounded suspiciously like a giggle. Wronwright, not to be outdone in gallantry, extended his hand, too. “Yes, Sheila, you don’t mind if we leave you now?” Sheila shoved a small paper sack into his paw. “Don’t forget your peanuts, bub!”
We settled into my office and I laid out the deal. “Boys, there was recently a big meeting held in Peru – the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation association, or APEC – and one of the participants turned up missing at the end of the yawn-fest.”
“Who?” Rove asked.
“Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister.”
Wronwright let out a low whistle of awe (or it would have been a whistle, but as he had a mouth full of peanuts at the time, it sounded more like an oscillating fan with a bad ball-bearing).
“As I was saying”, I said, whisking peanut debris off my suit jacket with a pocket handkerchief, “Rudd never showed up for his flight. The Australian Embassy didn’t have any word from him, and didn’t know where to begin to look. I’ve been offered a sizeable reward if I can track him down.”
“By the Australian government?”, Wronwright asked.
“Well, no, actually, the Liberal Party is putting up the money.”
Rove shook his head in confusion. “You mean the Labor Party, of course.”
“No, the Liberals believe Rudd’s their best shot at getting back into power.” Rove nodded sagely.
“I’ve made a few inquiries, and it seems that Rudd went off on his own. He’s looking for the lost treasure of Capac Yupanqui, an old Inca king.”
“How did he find out about this treasure? And what makes him think he can find it?” Wronwright asked.
“He bought a map off a bellhop at the hotel where he was staying in Lima. Paid ten bucks for it.”
“But surely, “ Rove interjected, “if this bellhop really knew where the treasure was, he wouldn’t have sold a map for a measly…Hmm. Yes, I do indeed see why the Liberals are putting up the reward. So, how do we fit in?”
“Karl, I figure if you and Wronwright can help find the Australian Prime Minister, it will create a fair amount of good will here stateside; the Democrats might not be so eager to go after a couple of international heroes. And even if it doesn’t pan out that way, Rudd will certainly feel obliged to help you two relocate down under. I’m sure there’s as big a need for political operators there as there is here. And I can sure use your help in smoothing the way for our expedition into the Peruvian mountains.”
Rove thought it over for a moment, and then nodded briskly. “It just might work, Paco. When do we leave?”
* * *
A week later we got off a bus in the remote town of Mas Alla, in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes (I had shaken down the bell hop who had sold Rudd the map, so I knew he had headed here). Rove had cleared up the administrative and bureaucratic obstacles in our path, kicking them out of the way as if they’d been so many tin cans in the road, and we had made our way, via progressively less comfortable modes of transportation, from Washington to Lima to this collection of shacks and one-story stucco buildings that passed for a town. We checked into the “hotel” (an old, converted army barracks), had a bite to eat in the café, and turned in. The next morning, I went in search of a guide and some pack mules. I found both with relative ease. Pepe spoke fair English and knew all the trails into the mountains; in fact, he remembered seeing Rudd pass through – alone, ominously enough.
I returned to the hotel and found the team waiting. Karl was dressed in a blue work-shirt, cargo pants and a straw cowboy hat. Wronwright was wearing a wide-brimmed brown safari hat, with a hatband made of what appeared to be lion’s teeth, a red bandana around his neck, a khaki shirt with epaulettes and a half dozen pockets, and jodhpurs tucked into reddish-brown riding boots. I walked up to him and gave him the once-over; I snapped my fingers as it suddenly came to me.
“Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines. Right?”
Wronwright pursed his lips and gave me a disapproving stare. “You might be interested to know that this is exactly the attire recommended by the salesman at Peruvian Action Clothing Outfitters in Miami. Not like that Wal-Mart stuff you’ve got on.”
“Ok, ok. Let’s mount up.”
Very much to my surprise, we were only two days on one of the winding mountain trails when we hit the jackpot. We encountered an old fellow driving an oxcart full of hay, and Pepe stopped to speak with him. The conversation went on for quite a while before Pepe came running back to us.
“Señor Paco! I know where is your friend Señor Rudd!!”
“He is locked up in the headman’s house in a little village less than a day’s ride from here.”
“Locked up? Whatever for?”
“The townspeople are going to execute him, Señor!”
* * *