Travel Thursday Encore: It’s Not Stalkerish, It’s Training

At the request of someone who shall remain nameless–yes, it’s tough going through life without a name, but hang in there, persevere, so on–here’s the story of surveillance training in Mexico City.

The Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, better known as UNAM, is located on the south side of the huge metropolis known as Mexico City. I knew this huge campus better than most of the 270,000 students—if you can believe that number—having been all over with friends instead of just one particular part of the campus, whatever their study area might be. Finding it extremely amusing that the lady I would be following—to hopefully catch her bastard criminal boyfriend—would be coming out of the Law building, I set up shop on a bench under a tree and waited.
As I killed time I made sure I was ready for a lengthy tail, with plenty of money in case I had to hail a taxi, plus copious amounts of small coins necessary for buses and collectives, and more than enough metro tickets. My atlas of the city was tucked into the side pocket of my camera bag, which I was carrying not only on the off-chance of taking some pictures of the target in question but also for camouflage; my jeans, light jacket, and baseball cap rounded out my touristy look.
I had received a picture of the lady I’d be tailing by fax, which didn’t help much, but I figured I’d be able to recognize her. The written description claimed she had streaks of blonde hair, even more likely painted in this country than in others, and I was sitting close enough to the front door to keep a watch on it, but of course no one had told her she had to use this exit.
If I’d had more time, I could have set this up properly, having a man at every door, pictures of her to show people, more than enough men to put a box around her, backups in case someone was spotted. Surveillance would be made harder by the fact that I didn’t know how experienced the target was. Would she know enough to spot a tail, or be completely oblivious? Depending on that answer, I could then formulate my approach to the situ–
No time left to wonder; there she was.
The photo hadn’t shown it, but she was very attractive, pretty enough to turn a man’s head briefly, though no movie star. Her hair had been blonde once, as a kid, but had changed somewhere along the way. Nice legs, better than average figure, didn’t dress rich enough to make me think her body had been surgically enhanced. Too bad she was hanging around the bed of a major-league bad guy. . .
But none of that mattered. Much to my delight, I found she was wearing a bright red sweater, one that I would be able to see from a distance; I’d have no problem keeping her in sight.
She led the way to the metro, dropping down the stairs into the bowels at the beginning of line 3. The ends of each line were always crowded, and it was going-home time for most, so it made for an incredibly tight space as we waited for the next train. The crowds, as with everything else so far, had its good and bad points: I was almost certain not to be spotted, of course, but if she made a sudden move, I would be hard-pressed to stay with her.
She got on through the last door of one car, forcing me to enter the first door of the next one. I did not find this satisfactory at all; if it hadn’t been so crowded, I would be able to see her through the windows of the always-closed connecting doors, but the crush made it impossible to see anything.
The metro left, northward-bound. I stayed near the entrance and looked up at the route above the center seats. I knew the stations by heart, but I wanted to see on which side of the cars the doors would open. The poster didn’t say; either someone had taken the info I needed down or all the doors opened on the same side all the way down the line. I knew which one of those alternatives I preferred, since it would be impossible to get from one side of the sardine-like train car to the other in a hurry.
At every stop, so far all of them on the same side, I held on to the bar while swinging my head just enough to see out the door. Many of the people getting on didn’t like it, and it was best in such cases to be inconspicuous all the time and not raise a scene, but it was the best compromise I could get away with.
Things only got worse, if that was possible, as we headed toward downtown. All the people who worked between there and the university and lived toward the north were trying to pack the sardine tin ride even tighter. It was getting harder for me to keep an eye on the exit at every station, and there were more than a few irritated people by now.
Finally, at the tenth station, Centro Medico, I saw the flash of red about ten feet in front of me. I quickly stepped out and moved away from the door, then waited for all the rest to get on and off. I wanted her to get a bit ahead of me, but I hadn’t realized this was a transit point to line 9. When I did, I moved after her at one and a quarter speed, not enough to look suspicious, just another guy who was in a hurry. I made the most of my weaving talents, learned from years of trying to avoid being caught by linebackers and safeties and sadistic soccer defenders–well, that last one was redundant. I even skipped the escalator; if I’d realized I’d actually used the dreaded stairs, I would have been surprised at myself, but this time speed and mobility were more important than my irrational hate—fear?—of the sedentary climbing apparatus.
Though it was full, it was not the worst I could have drawn. If she had gotten off two stops later at Balderas, the transit point between lines 1 and 3, it would have been a complete seething mass of insect-like humanity, being one of the three busiest stops, kinda like Times Square on New Year’s Eve when someone was handing out thousand-dollar bills.
Sorta. . .
I followed the target, hoping no one else was wearing something so brightly red, as she led me to the line 9 landing that would head for Observatory. Good; we would be heading away from the center of town, so it wouldn’t be as full. The landing was still crowded, but not like the last two. I reasoned I could be as much as two cars away from her this time.
I watched her as she checked the time; apparently satisfied by what the watch told her, she leaned back against the wall and let the first train fill up. I suspected we had made good time from the University and she was in no hurry now. This told me she was probably going home from here, maybe on foot. Luckily a few other people decided to chance the next one, so I didn’t look like I was waiting for her.
Unfortunately, time turned out not to be the case.
Line 9, not the last to be built–somehow it was done before line 8–had far fewer stations than the earlier-built routes, and in only three stops we were at the end of the line, Tacubaya. Of course it was crowded, since everyone had to get off, but I managed to consistently be about 20 feet behind her as I surreptitiously checked my map book while keeping an eye on both her and the other peds. I especially had to watch out for vendors, who often set their wares up in the middle of the walkways during the lonely day and were now in the middle of everything.
As I finally got to the page, I found with a shock that it wouldn’t be needed. She was not heading for any of the exits or the connecting trolley lines; she was heading for the transfer point with line 1.
Line 1 had been built in the late sixties, the first, this time being logical in a numerical sense. It went all the way from west to east while cutting through the center of town. The west terminus was also the west bus station, for those who took the one-hour commute from their homes in the nearby city of Toluca. But it was soon discovered that this line was carrying far more people than the other two lines at the time, and none of the planned routes would do much to ease that. The solution was to build another line that would start and end at the same place, but bypass the center so people going from one end to the other could avoid the heavy crowds in the center.
In this they were only partially successful, but it was still easy to tell the difference, I thought as I kept the tail, immensely suspicious; I couldn’t figure out why she’d hop from one line to the other. It was very possible that I’d been spotted; another thought was that she did this all the time in case someone was following her, but that didn’t jive very well with her time check. Still. . .
Line 1 was seething, far more than line 3. This time I managed to get into the same car and keep an eye on the back side of her red sweater. I noticed she was standing near the door, so I stayed close to my own exit.
She got off after only two stops, at Chapultepec. Hardly anyone else exited at this station, but there were many people waiting to get on, most of them tourists who had been at the park all day and were now heading downtown.
Now I saw what she’d done and had to admire her logic. Instead of getting off at what was sure to be the busiest transit point in the world, she’d taken a more circuitous route, and had probably saved time and a few gropings in the bargain. Now she waited for everyone to get into the cars before making her way out of the station, where I followed her up the stairs at a discreet distance, knowing that the first thing we would come to would be a fountain, followed by the fence delineating the huge park. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was almost seven. Time flew on the metro, though it didn’t feel like it in the crowds. I knew the park ordinarily closed at five but was kept open late on Fridays and Saturdays, probably till dusk.
She made straight for the entrance, but the guard, one of the short guys in epaulets, wouldn’t let her through. I got as close as I could and took out a light meter from my bag to point it toward the castle on the hilltop, listening intently. She asked the guard how she could get to Paseo de la Reforma if she couldn’t cross through the park, so he pointed the way to take the long route, which would eventually lead her to the Statue of Diana, I knew. She thanked him and went on her merry way.
Obviously dissatisfied with the remaining light at dusk to take the picture, I went up to the guard and asked him, in very broken Spanish, how to get to the Presidente hotel, which I well-knew was a little past the Anthropology Museum. I was offered the same route as the red sweater, so there was no suspicion when I began following her again; in fact, I had to hide a grin when the cop told me to simply follow the lady.
It was a pretty long walk, and darkness had just about set in, but the red sweater was visible a long way away. She seemed to be walking fast, faster than her natural pace, and for the first time I noticed that though she had just gotten out of classes, she carried no books. I made my stride longer, but it was clear she was outdistancing me.
I tried to hold my breath as we passed a bus depot, the ancient machines spewing even more poison into the air; hopefully no birds would crash on my head. A little farther on we came to an oxygen booth, where for a minimal price you could get one minute of the pure life-giving gas, but I had no time for that, even if the line had not been so long.
It seemed like I’d been following her for hours. Due to my exertions of the day, I was getting pretty tired, but I’d never had a problem with simple walking; one foot in front of the other and ignoring the pain signals from the feet was all it took. What was so hard about that? I couldn’t rest until I got back to the hotel anyway, so pain and fatigue didn’t matter, right? Right? Somebody answer me. . .
Finally we arrived at a place I recognized, a big old building that would lead onto Paseo de la Reforma. I wondered how I could cross the huge street without drawing attention from her.
When I got to the huge street, she was gone.
I did not panic; instead I looked around like a simple lost tourist. It was an unusually quiet moment on the street, which meant there was a red light down by the Anthropology Museum. There were no taxis, buses, collectives, or even cars pulling away from my position. So where the hell was she?
Suddenly I saw the flash of red across the street, coming out of an underground tunnel. Glancing hastily to the right, I saw the entrance to the sub-surface passage, which hadn’t been here the last time I’d passed through. Quickly making my way down the stairs, I ran through the tunnel at full speed, some wise guy assuring me the cars couldn’t get me down here. I managed to ignore that as I climbed slowly up the stairs, catching my breath and making sure she wouldn’t notice me.
I found myself right in front of the statue of Diana, and the lady in red was gone again. Too bad the bronze figure couldn’t tell me. Venus might have, but not Diana, though technically I was doing some hunting, and she was the huntress. . .
My mind was babbling, so I had to choke those thoughts down ruthlessly. Glancing right, I could see the long line of Paseo de la Reforma heading toward the Zona Rosa; no red. She could have gone into one of those buildings, but I doubted it. Then I looked past the statue at the freeway which passed underneath. She was not on the bridges bordering to either side. So left it was.
I had a swell time crossing the entrance to the freeway. To my disgust, a station wagon stopping in front of me, where a woman was driving and a man rolled down the window to ask me directions. Not wanting any delay and trying not to feel sorry for them, I gave them a quick “no hablo espanol” and walked past the wagon. I noticed the woman laughing as she started the car up, and I had time to see she was good-looking before going on; instincts popped up in the strangest places. . .
Before me was the part of Paseo de la Reforma that headed away from downtown; it would continue through the rest of the city and become the highway to Toluca, but right in front of me was a long, tree-lined walk that would lead to the Art and Anthro museums. Even though it was crowded, I saw no red among the walkers.
That left only the street that followed in the direction we’d been heading. There was a huge building occupying the space between the street and the freeway entrance, so I had to get to the side of it to see down the street. There, far in the distance, I saw the lady in red.
Trying not to grin, I picked up the pace, but let her remain quite a bit ahead of me. Once or twice I lost sight of her, but by the time I had reached the place she had disappeared, I’d caught sight of her again. It turned into another long and boring walk.
I’d been closing in on her, sensing she was reaching her destination, when she dropped from sight again. This time she was nowhere to be found, and I was stopped by a red light at the intersection. I did not allow my frustration to show, though I did shake my head in disgust for a small instant.
It was enough; the shake had moved my head to the left far enough to see a red sweater entering the building across the street. Fate played tricks on me all the time, and sometimes I managed to pay her back. . . or something like that.
Knowing it was too late to cross the street behind her, I waited for the green light in front of me and crossed that street, then waited for the next light to cross left. This cross street dead ended into the building, so once I made it across I climbed the stairs and went in.
Having no idea about the building as I went in through the double doors, I realized the first glance didn’t help. Didn’t seem like an office building, but there were a number of desks to the left side. The corridor that led from the doors continued forward for about twenty feet before being interrupted by a security gate. Interesting!
Completely ignorant, I was not about to try to talk my way in. Instead I looked around, as if searching for someone, which was true, then sighed and reclined against the wall by the door. Any person noticing me as I glanced at my watch would assume I was waiting for someone. . . which was true as well.
To pass the time I read the bulletin board behind me, instantly noticing every single ad had a sports theme: doubles partner needed, new volleyball team being developed, so on. Nothing about skating, I thought wryly as I read every single one.
Turning back to the doors and heading outside, on the steps I had just mounted, I spotted a man sitting and reading a newspaper. Next to him was a small window that various people approached, passing off sports equipment to him; he opened the window and tossed the equipment inside haphazardly, showing the dedication of workers all over this country.
Feeling the weariness, I sat on the stone railing of the stairs, at the very bottom. Still a little elevated from ground level, I could now see, off to my right, a swimming pool beyond the fence. I had more than enough evidence, but wanting to make sure, I took out the atlas and quickly located where I found myself at the moment.
Chapultepec Sporting Facilities and Country Club.
Now what? Did I check in and inform the locals to get some surveillance to my location on the double? I was really tired, and I had no wish to do any more following. I also didn’t feel like waiting, since she might be in there quite a while.
I was still looking at the map book when she came out. Sitting facing away from the doors, I knew she wouldn’t recognize my back, but I also didn’t want her to see me and maybe recognize me later. I was a bit surprised to see her again so soon, but I noticed she now had a bag; a bit of logic told me she probably had a locker and had only come to pick something up.
I waited for her to get ahead again. She did not cross the street this time, but walked back in the direction we had come from. I was just about to get up and follow when I heard a male voice calling her name. Luckily it was dark enough for me to stare at the caller without suspicions being aroused.
The man was in the center divider of the street; not waiting for permission from the traffic light, he dashed across at the first opportunity to where the target was waiting patiently. When he jumped onto the sidewalk she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, calling him Tigre, which inspired me to roll my eyes like a teenage girl at what was obviously a nickname he’d given himself to try to affect impressionable young ladies like her.
They talked for less than a minute, and then she walked away laughing. Tigre came towards me, climbing the stairs and going in, giving me a smile as he passed. I smiled back and gave a shake of my head as if to announce I was suitably jealous.
Making sure Tigre wasn’t watching me, I finally got up and followed the target again. She had a long head start by now, but this side of the street was much less crowded; I had no trouble keeping her in sight until we got to Paseo de la Reforma again. As soon as she made the turn toward the Anthro museum, she flagged down a passing collective mini-bus.
In a flash I was sitting at one of the many benches on the sidewalk and whipping out my telescopic lens. There was just enough light to make out the logo—Route 2—and I could even see her paying the driver and finding a seat before the bus managed to get back into the heavy traffic.
I thought about flagging down a taxi, but instead went back to the club, calling it in along the way, requesting two surveillance teams: one to jump the bus route and hopefully follow it in time to see her get off, and the other to take over for me at the club, for I had a very sneaking suspicion about Tigre. . .

To be continued. . .

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore: Cold War, Cold Weather, Cold Everything, Part 2

Mürren, Switzerland

The fun part of the cold war: how to have a secret rendezvous with a babe from the “other side.”

Feeling satisfied with things, and hoping the storm forecasted by the local weather pundits wouldn’t arrive till tomorrow, I backtracked my steps until I found my bike and shoved back down the road. Not long after that I found myself in the town of Lauterbrunnen, the Valley of Loud Waters. . . sounds more mysterious in English. I’d read in the promotional stuff that morning that the Lauterbrunnen Valley was the visual inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s sketches and watercolors of Rivendell, and of the river itself, but since I’d never been able to get through that book, it didn’t mean anything to me. Cool landscapes, though.
Anyhoo, good enough place as any for lunch, with plenty of time to finish my ride and get to where I needed to be. Problem was, after having schnitzel for breakfast, what to do for an encore?
Well, there was always more schnitzel. . .
I sighed as I looked out at the pedestrians, mostly tourists, probably searching for a place to eat as well, but there was no easier way to spoil a meal than to think of business during it, so there. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting back uphill to Mürren, not on my own power, anyway.
About an hour later, after a rich dessert and some easy downhill pedaling, interspersed with many more photos, I made it to the particular funicular I’d need to get back, which turned out to be an ugly long gray plastic-looking box, not at all like the colorfully painted ones of countries to the east. As I paid the toll and let the guy place the bike in the back rack, I took a glance uphill and realized I’d never been on a train this steep. “Sixty-one percent incline,” the driver told me cheerily once inside. “But no accidents in over a hundred years.”
I was about to ask if that meant there’d never been an accident on the line, or if there’d been an accident over a hundred years ago, but once the jolt that signified we were on our way occurred, I decided I really didn’t want to know. As I stomped to the rear to take some more photos, the funicular did its job quickly and safely, so I gave the driver a tip–with orders to spend it on his wife or kids–and went back to biking downhill for a while longer, realizing the day had been kinda fun and photographically worth it, and that was besides getting the mission going.

{This section is written from conversations we had when we met again}
Of all the things she’d heard about Switzerland, the one she most wanted to see, yet least expected to, were the cows with the giant bells. And there they were, mooing and bawling but mostly just chewing the cud without moving; perhaps they were tired of hearing the bells under their snouts too.
Feeling like she’d walked halfway up the mountain by now, Nikki was relieved to reach the pond she’d been told about, where she waved back to the little kid running around with her dog. She could see what all the hilarity was about, since the geese in the pond were amusing themselves by swimming slowly so that they stayed just out of the dog’s mouth-snapping range. Even from here you could sense the dog’s frustration, which was kinda sad but still funny, especially to a kid.
Turning back to look in the direction away from the pond, she once again noticed the bell around the cow’s neck and wondered if she was pining for matching earrings.
The cow, not her.
Feeling hot and sweaty, she pondered just how cold the pond water must be. Probably glacial, though she’d managed to survive that polar-bear swim thing in the past. But no, she’d rather take a shower when she got to the place, if the place had one. Come to think of it, she had no idea what it was: a lean-to, a rustic cabin, a chalet? The guy had only told her to walk a certain path for so far. Well, he was probably looking for her out the window, and she was pretty sure she wouldn’t walk past it without seeing it. . .
For some reason the thought of becoming a mummy in one of these snowy canyons made her laugh. Then she wondered about the last time she’d laughed back home. . . then wondered if she’d have to work on that, lest the people in her office think she was hiding something. But no, it was a dour place, full of dull people with no imagination and no curiosity. As long as she pretended to be one, the security service would have no reason to suspect a thing.
Still, she was just realizing what a huge step this was. Not that she hadn’t before, but suddenly it didn’t seem so simple. Or maybe, since there was no going back after she met with the guy from the other side. . . the immediacy of the whole thing was now pressing onto the back of her brain.
There, that had to be the place. Just in time, too, with her legs protesting. She’d thought she was in shape, but there weren’t many mountains back home. . .

{The rest of this story has been redacted by seven intelligence agencies. . .}

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore: Cold War, Cold Weather, Cold Everything, Part 1

Mürren, Switzerland

The fun part of the cold war: how to have a secret rendezvous with a babe from the “other side.”

I couldn’t remember if I’d been to Mürren before, since all these quaint little mountain villages look alike, unless you memorize which mountain went where. Even then, except for the Matterhorn, mountains weren’t all that easy to tell apart, even the Eiger, which I knew was one of those around me. . . somewhere. I didn’t bother looking at the map right now.
Savoring the schnitzel, as well as the alliteration, for as long as I humanly could, I soon realized it was time to get going. Looking very much like a tourist, something to be glad for this once, I made my way to the cable car. I didn’t like to go on any kind of transportation after eating, considering there were times I got motion sickness out of the blue, but I figured this was a short enough ride, and really, I had no choice.
I certainly didn’t remember ever taking a bike ride around a place like this. I’d been on plenty of funiculars, but again, one looked like every other, and as for waterfalls, I was pretty sure I’d never visited an interior one, not counting the restroom at the Madonna Inn, so odds were this was a new place for me, and I would treat it as such. I also knew I’d never been to that revolving restaurant that played such a big part in an old James Bond movie, but since it was bound to be tremendously overpriced because of that, I wouldn’t have gone anyway. I didn’t know if I could take photos while on the bike, even cruising downhill instead of pedaling, but I’d find out soon, even without kneepads. I just hoped I wouldn’t be going downhill when I saw a spectacular view that simply had to be photographed, and have to trudge back uphill. . .
But no use crying over milk not spilled yet, or bridges not burned. {Why yes, I do love to mix metaphors.} After only ten minutes I turned to see if I could spy the town down there between the hills and all the twists and turns of the road. Knowing how strict everyone was in this country, I’d made sure I had the right road by checking that the signs had little “bikes allowed here” stick-figures-poppin’-wheelies next to the street names, and now I saw one that also included a “viewpoint” sign, so I dumped the bike there and got the camera ready. Not that the town was all that great a shot, as mentioned earlier, but at least the mountains cast some interesting shadows. Which made me realize it was a pretty warm day, all things considered. Sure it was spring, but it was spring in the Swiss Alps, and all those mountains were white, and stayed that way year-round. Which meant that the waterfall later on would be icy, and the temp would no doubt drop rapidly at nightfall, or even if it got cloudy. So yeah, right now I was sweating in my t-shirt, but the backpack had a sweater and heavy jacket just in case. Of course the backpack itself was helping me sweat, but that couldn’t be avoided.
After about an hour of cycling–downhill–and shooting, I finally reached my destination, Trümmelbach Falls, at the base of the Jungfrau. . . sorta. The waterfall was actually inside the mountain, and with a name that basically translated to “Stream that sounds like a drum,” it wasn’t hard to figure what my ears would be subjected to in the near future. Still, it was one of those things you had to check out once in your life, and it couldn’t be as loud as backstage at a Rush concert. . . right?
I left my bike in the assigned area, checked my watch one more time, and made my way to the elevator, which I personally thought shoulda been on the outside, with glass walls, to take in the views, but that was just me. I took another glance at the clock function on my pedometer as I made my way through the caverns, saw I was right on time, and suddenly found myself outside, kinda; not a total outside, but rather a vertical tunnel hollowed out by millennia of water runoff, with the roof collapsed and letting in the sunshine, which was kinda weird in this setting but sure helped to make a lot of pretty rainbows in the spray. Since I was supposed to be a tourist, I took as many photos as I could, trying not to show up the others but still coming up with angles and possibilities that never came to the minds of the non-professionals in the cavern.
Protecting the camera from the spray, I leaned over to look down the twisting narrow channel, almost like a flue, but didn’t get very far before I was warned not to; not like I’d been planning to take a shower, but okay, whatever. Too bad I didn’t have a video camera, because neither words nor photos could do justice to the power and speed of the water rushing down through the mountain.
Okay, time to get to bizness. And there she was, wearing jeans and a tight t-shirt, her blonde hair gathered in back with a blue ribbon; the overall impression was one of cuteness rather than all out beauty, but I hadn’t seen her face yet, at least not beyond her photos. Not that it mattered, of course, but even less so this time, especially inside a damp thundering cavern. Still, it never hurt, in fact would probably help her cover. But more on that later. . .
At first I thought the recognition signal was silly, but the more I put my brain to it, the more I knew it would work, if everyone could keep from giggling. After all, who carried only one rollerblade?
So that was her, but how to let her know I was the guy she had come to meet? I could picture tons of guys coming up to her and asking what the deal was with only one rollerblade, as an opening line. Well, in that case, don’t ask the question, assume the answer. But not something stupid, like, “Did you lose the other one?” Of course, she might reply with “No, I found this one,” but not likely. Play it safe. . .
“Let me guess,” I shouted over the roar. “You’re taking it to be repaired.”
She’d startled a little to find a guy right beside her, but she figured that was due to the roar in front of her. So she dimpled at me and told me, “You’re very smart. About the blade, and to talk to me in English.”
“You prefer German?”
“Not at all! Do I sound like I know German?”
Not knowing what that would sound like, or not sound like, and not wanting to waste my vocal chords on inconsequentials, and trying not to wonder why she spoke English so perfectly, I pointed to a certain part of the waterfall while yelling directions in her ear. When someone walked by too close, I shouted that the water falling past us was going at four thousand gallons per second. Her laugh told me she thought I’d made that up, but I’d actually read that in the brochure. Not that I wasted time assuring her of it, of course.
I could sense the adrenaline running through her like she could barely keep from screaming. . . not that anyone would hear her, or blame her for finding out if she could go louder than the water, but it still might make people look over and maybe get a good look at her meeting partner, which would be a very bad thing. . .
It was over quickly; any observer would assume I’d been coming on to her and got shot down. . . which made me struggle not to grin.

;o)

Travel Thursday: More Training in Mexico City, part 2

Hopping into a taxi to my favorite eating spot, I had to fight the urge to look behind me, wondering if my pursuers had their own car or were taxiing as well. Embers was quite a distance to the northwest, but since the first visit, when I’d realized they made the best burgers in town, I’d been a steady customer, and now I wasn’t about to eat anywhere else when I could help it.
Unfortunately the restaurant didn’t open for another hour; since when, dammit? Not knowing what else to do, certainly not going to another place to eat, I wandered down the block, where I came across a movie theater, for some reason also closed on a Sunday afternoon; ditto the bookstore. Damn siesta system, I grumbled as I wondered why this practice also extended to the weekends.
Turning the corner, looking for any way to pass the time, as if by divine guidance I came across an arcade. Even more surprising, they had games I grew up on, like Asteroids, Centipede, Submarine, and particularly Galaga. Despite not having played for so long, I vowed to get the highest score in Galaga on my first try, and I did, but that mostly spoke to the non-formidableness of the competition.
Next I placed my coins on the side of the air hockey table, signifying I had winners. It was a little known fact–okay, no one knew–that while I had played this game all over the world, I’ve never lost a series. The closest was at Disneyland, where I had to come back from a 6-3 score (takes 7 to win) down two games in a best of seven, yet had managed to save the day and earn a free dinner for myself and my British friend in town for a visit. I’d also won a big bet in the arcade at the Luxor in Las Vegas, leading people to wonder what I was doing in an arcade in Vegas, on my only trip there, but that’s another story.
Once I got to play I just hit the puck back for a while, until I felt my oats–wherever that saying came from–and loudly announced the next shot would score. During snorts of disbelief my opponent set up his best defensive position–yes, I gave him as much time as he wanted–and then proceeded to dismay him completely with a double bank.
After that I played some Grand Prix, particularly enjoying the track where I’d learned to drive, as well as the streets of Monte Carlo, but that seemed like cheating, so I moved on to the more exciting Kill-the-Mutants shoot-’em-up. This was a three player game, and I found myself facing off against two teenage girls, which sent shivers up my spine despite my having shooting medals from the Marina Corps.
All three off us shot at the same time, and lasted about the same before being shot ourselves. Checking the scores, I saw that the pretty one at the end had done pretty well, and since I was actually familiar with these weapons, I’d performed excellently. But then I saw the scores of the girl next to me and was completely appalled to find she’d beaten my already higher score than anyone else had ever achieved!
The man in charge of the arcade came by to give her a prize while commenting, “On the subway scene, you’re not supposed to shoot the puppy dogs, just the rabid ones. And that little old lady wasn’t going to do anything to you.”
Suspicious, I checked the ammunition supply; she’d used four times as much as me! Apparently she’d mistook the sniper rifle for an automatic. That explained a lot, but it only led to what had to be the most chilling rapid-fire giggles I’d ever heard. . .
So into the game had I been that I’d neglected the clock, and once I checked I knew the grill had to be on full heat by now; I didn’t run back to Embers, no matter what witnesses might say. Once seated and sipping an orange refreshment, order made, I looked around to make sure the decor was exactly the same, in particular finding the old sign over the doorway that read “All our hamburgers are made from genuine 100% beef.” The message was not meant to reassure, since right above it was a photo of two horses laughing. . .
The menu consisted of over 70 varieties of burgers, though by now you know exactly my preference; as I’d told them before, “I like my burgers like my women: nude.” Though they liked to argue that if I added cheese to the bare meat and bread I should call it a lingerie burger. . .
Across from me two young teens, not that different from the ones in the arcade, were biting into their burgers, close enough for me to see what they’d ordered. One had gone with the mushroom special, and I preferred not to watch her eat it. Besides, the other would be more amusing, as I’d overheard her ordered the Roquefort cheese, which I knew was marinated in champagne. For a girl who’d mostly likely never imbibed the firewater, this just might make for some interesting viewing. . .
But then they flirted with the waiter, right in front of their folks, and that was that for the fun. . .
As I stumbled out of the restaurant about an hour later, instinctively thinking about that restaurant down south called the Stuffed Pig, I pretended having to remember which way to go. Even though this wasn’t exactly familiar territory, one was never lost in Mexico City as long as you were close to the subway. Eventually I hopped onto Line 6, riding it south toward downtown, feeling giddy because it only took me a few seconds, once I’d started actually looking to find my shadows; only two of them, looking about as young as the chess player I’d replaced, and seemingly doing their best to stand out, with their dour determined countenances. For a moment I felt insulted, then remembered this was all for their benefit, their training, no matter how much they tried to make me think they were checking up on my own skills.
They were standing in the next car, faces plastered against the plexiglass, not even bothering to look away when I smiled at them; I wondered what they would do if I stuck out my tongue at them. Instead I pondered if they were being graded on not being spotted, because they’d failed that part. But now it was time to shake them. . .
Acting just short of hammy, I let out a big yawn as I stood up and moved through the equally tired bodies toward the door. I was sure I was making it look natural, not arousing the suspicions of the two chasers as the bright orange train landed at Chabacano station, where I exited. Walking parallel toward the front, I didn’t have to look back to know they were following.
The buzzer that signaled the closing of the doors went off, and at that very last moment I shoved my way back into the Metro, quickly turning to see if the shadows had managed to copy my move. One had indeed gotten his hand in to stop the doors from closing, and of course they obediently reopened, at which time the two guys jumped inside. . . so intent on accomplishing that task that they didn’t see their quarry jump back out until the train was moving and I waved at them as they passed by.
Walking briskly but not rapidly enough to arouse suspicion, I made my way through the labyrinth of corridors that led to the platform of the other line that stopped at Chabacano station. To keep myself calm I remembered that in this very place I’d come across the filming of “Total Recall” many years ago.
By the time I reached the next train I figured the guys had gotten off at the next stop and phoned in, so their buddies were no doubt alerted by now. And they would be expecting me to do the logical thing: get off the metro and onto the streets, maybe take a taxi or a bus. But if I worked quickly enough, I should be able to get to my destination before they caught on. . .
Oh right, the destination. Why, the airport, of course. . . not to fly out, which would be outside the rules, but maybe the chasers didn’t know that. Still, I was supposed to pretend it was all real, so laying down a false trail should earn some brownie points. . .
It actually didn’t take that long to arrive at Benito Juarez airport, though as usual I had to remind myself the actual subway station was Terminal Aereo, not Aeropuerto. My first stop was the map shop, where I was well known, enough to be on a first-name basis with most of the babes and have a credit account. Less than five minutes later I exited with a few maps, then quickly made a round of the airlines. Mexicana Airlines was the only one with available seats for the next day, so I made reservations, using the fake credit card I’d been issued. As I walked over to Aeromexico I wondered why the hell I had given my real name. . . then remembered I wanted them to find the reservations. So with that in my head I used a different name to grab a seat on a flight a week from now. . . though not so different that they couldn’t figure it out eventually.
Knowing I was probably overdoing it, I used the same technique at Delta for two weeks from now, then realized I was having fun and tootled over to the Lufthansa desk, where I spoke German to an older man and made reservations for the following month to Frankfurt, with a stopover in NY.
Not sure what else to do, I finally put on my headphones to drown out the sounds of the airplanes as I walked along Ignacio Zaragosa for awhile, until I felt safe enough to catch a bus downtown. There was a hotel I liked very much a few blocks from the main square, but I was well-known there, so I played it safe and avoided it. From there I really overdid it and took three taxis before going back into the subway, coming out in downtown anyway, but a few blocks away in another square, the Alameda. It was too late for my favorite English bookstore or the art museum at San Carlos to be open, so I walked around the flower-strewn plaza to see if I had any more followers, buying a pancake here or there from the young gals manning–er, womaning–the portable grills that looked to be cannibalized from ice cream strollers.
Then, as I looked up–and up and up–I figured it’d been a long time since I’d promised my old buddy Katarina to take her to the Mirador, the truly expensive restaurant a floor below the observation level on what was still one of the tallest buildings south of the United States, the Torre LatinoAmericana. Plus I’d never been up there at night, though word was it was one of the most romantic locations in all of this giant city.
Sigh. Katarina might be married, moved away, or any of hundred possibilities. But knowing you never won if you didn’t try, I got on the phone while staring at the building across from the tower, the one that had the sculpture of the dragon in-and-outing through the windows. . .
While I waited for someone to pick up I thought about the howls when they caught sight of my expense report tomorrow, and it filled me with much delight. . .

;o)

Travel Thursday: It’s Not Stalkerish, It’s Training part 2

Almost an hour later Tigre exited the club. Seeing me still on my perch, and being suspicious by nature, he stopped to see what what I was doing. Getting a sufficiently realistic growl in my voice, I muttered, “My little bitch seems to have stood me up. If she ever gets here, she’s gonna pay.”
Tigre grinned. “If you need some help. . . or if you’re not man enough to handle her, I’d be glad to take her off your hands, even though I haven’t seen her.” The grin was predatory, matching his nickname.
I managed to smile back. “I’m sure that gal who hugged you would love to hear all about it and have a good cry in the arms of a real man.”
Tigre’s grin grew wider. Though we were strangers, it was not uncommon for men to spar in this fashion around here. “You don’t see me having troubles. She would never leave me.”
She’s not yours to leave, I almost said, knowing all the time that tipping my hand for the sake of one-upsmanship was stupid. So I got up and picked up my bag. “Well, you’re welcome to her, if you think you can do a better job. In the meantime, I’m on my way to a sure thing.”
As I jumped into the first taxi, I saw the familiar face across the street, hoping he wouldn’t be so obvious when he tailed Tigre. Still, I got a bad feeling about it.
Incredibly tired–otherwise I would have walked the relatively short distance–I lurched out the taxi and through the door that had been opened by the man in the funny suit outside the Maria Isabel Sheraton. Assuring the man I was not drunk and passing on a tip, I wearily climbed the ramp and went into the hotel, where I made my way to the front desk and asked if I had any messages. The desk clerk knew me and had obviously never seen me like this. “Would you like me to call a masseuse for you?”
Just the thought of that almost put me to sleep on my feet. . .
The next day came with all the grace and speed of a man dragging himself across the desert. Ten AM found me sitting on a stone bench with a local agent-in-training named Lily on Paseo de la Reforma, somewhere between the statue of Diana and the Anthro museum. There was a huge crowd of people walking around the streets, most of them going to Chapultepec Park across the street, but more importantly there was a large number of couples sitting and walking in our vicinity, so we did not look out of place at all.
“Check in. No contact yet. Next check in half an hour.”
“Copy that, Tony. Over and out.”
Lily found herself giggling, making me give her a look of reproach. “It’s funny,” she insisted. “You guys are talking like they do in every spy movie I’ve seen.”
I didn’t answer, not wanting any such conversation to be overheard. Instead I kissed her, not very passionately according to most standards but much more steamy than any of the other couples around us. As a matter of fact, we were attracting stares, so I had to tone it down a bit; no need to get her horny, I grinned to myself.
Lily knew she was only there for camouflage, but that did not mean she couldn’t enjoy herself in the meantime. Like any woman, she fancied herself a good actress, and she didn’t mind playing the lover role at all. She also knew I would not be in town much longer, and she was sure when the target was spotted I would leave in a hurry; she giggled at the thought that some man would try to comfort her on seeing her lover abandon her in such a matter, thinking that wasn’t a bad way at all to snare a guy.
She giggled again. Here she was, kissing one man and thinking of the next. . .
I knew this would probably be the last shot at nailing the suspect, so I was torn between letting Lily come with me when the blonde mounted the bus, to provide further camouflage, or leave her here so she could be out of danger. Having no idea where the bus would take us, there might not be a chance to let her get out of harm’s way. There was no doubt she would make excellent hostage bait as well.
My thoughts were silenced when my earwig activated. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a half-hour yet, so this was probably it.
“Target spotted, wearing a bright yellow windbreaker and tight jeans. Very very tight jeans. . .”
“Keep it businesslike, Tony.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’ve got the best duty in town, sitting there and kissing that luscious–”
“That luscious can hear your every word, and knows English better than you do. I’m also taping this for your sister.”
I could almost hear the blush on the other side of the transmission, could definitely hear Lily’s ever-present giggle in my other ear. But whatever worked. . .
“Target proceeding south on Mariano Escobedo, almost to Paseo. You should be able to see her at any moment.”
“Copy. Keep up a running commentary, and keep it low.”
Lily was already ahead of me, taking my camera and long-range telephoto out. I set up quickly as she moved about ten yards down the street to pose. Keeping up a running dialogue, I told her how to pose as I clicked away, though my lens was actually focused down the street. A passerby might have found it suspicious for me to be using such a huge lens to shoot a gal so close, but obviously would come to the conclusion that I wanted an extreme close-up of her extraordinarily beautiful face. Besides, not that many people around here would be photography experts, even the tourists.
“I have her in my sights,” I told Tony, chuckling as I realized I would have said exactly the same thing if I were holding a rifle instead of the very similar-looking lens barrel. “She’s hopping into a bus. Get to your car and be ready for my next signal. Follow discreetly.”
While I said this I was already packing things as Lily hailed the minibus. There was no question of her going now, so we climbed in and found two seats together. I made sure not to look at the target as we passed her, but I was free to stare at her back all I wanted, telling Lily to be ready to get out quickly before returning to our previous roles of kissy-kissy.
It was obvious that Lily was attracting a lot of attention, so I made the decision to have her get off as if it were her stop, then join Tony in the car. Neither of them would be involved in the action; Tony was no expert in this stuff either. It would be a one-on-one.
Hopefully. . .
Much to my surprise, I found myself across the street from Sullivan Park.
If it were not for the fact that these buses ran on a strict route, I would have found it too good to be true. I knew some parts of the city well, and the rest not at all. The area from Sullivan Park down to Chapultepec and in the opposite direction to downtown I knew like the back of my hand, as the old saying went; I hadn’t studied that part of my anatomy in quite a while. No one had read the front of my hand lately either, but that wasn’t important right now.
This was apparently the end of the line for the bus, since everyone got off. I waited for everyone else to leave, wondering if the target had come here to see the art exhibitions only held on Sundays. It was the same line she’d taken on Friday, but it was possible that she usually got off at another stop. No way of knowing, other than to play it out, now.
Any doubt was erased as I saw her walk parallel to the park and make no attempt to enter it. She was heading east, past the park and toward the Monument to the Mother, so she might be going to Insurgentes, one block later, to catch another bus; I sent Tony and Lily to the gas station to tank up and wait for instructions.
But the target did not go that way. As I watched, musing how lucky it was that she liked wearing bright clothes, she turned north on Sadi Carnot. I followed her a bit further behind and across the street. Being so close to Insurgentes street, this area might be said to have middle-income housing, at least as American standards go, but it was pretty high class for Mexico City, excepting the areas like the Zona Rosa, Pedregal, and Bosques de Chapultepec, where mostly narco-rich lived.
The target went only halfway down the first block before entering one of the buildings. I was sure I couldn’t follow her so soon, and had no idea which room she would be going to anyway, so I found a good place to hide across the street and watched as she climbed the front stairs, barely catching glimpses of her through the windows in the staircase.
At the second floor from the top–I still got confused with the bottom floor is ground floor and second floor is first floor and all that stuff–I saw her pause at the window and look out. If she intended to see if she had been followed, she did her job poorly. As a matter of fact, as I saw her take out a key ring and search for one, she was giving her position away. That became even more apparent when she opened the door to the right of the window, in plain sight. It made me think: was she just innocent of the techniques, or was she leading her follower into a trap?
I continued watching the windows of the apartment she had entered, seeing glimpses of two figures outlined from a light on the inside, which was very quickly turned off. Unless I could get up on this building behind me and use the telephoto, and unless they put the lights back on, I would have no idea what was going on inside, and I was certainly not going to risk being caught acting like the infamous Peeping Tom, or the local version of it. People inside dark rooms could see out much better than anyone could see in anyway, so I waited where I was, dying for a 7-up which would only be half a block away and signaling for my troops to be ready for the next order. “And leave Lily alone, Tony. You know how jealous I can get.”
One million years later, or maybe forty-five minutes, the target came out again, now clad in a flower-print dress that she was attempting to smooth down repeatedly. The timing was right for a quickie, considering that the gal wasn’t all that bad-looking, and bad guys like this one. . .
Never mind.
I informed my backup that the woman was leaving, but send only one person–in case this was a ruse–to follow her; it was still more likely my target was right here. Then I said I was going in. . .
“Be careful, darling,” I heard Lily say.
“What a great idea,” I muttered as I used a large truck to cover my crossing, then made my way into the building and took the stairs quickly but silently. Hardly pausing once I saw the cheap lock, I kicked the door open, gun held ready, and immediately saw movement in front of me. Without waiting for an invitation, I dove behind an upholstered chair and held my gun in the direction of the movement. Quickly glancing around, I saw it was a small apartment; that, added to what I thought had been going on the last hour, led me to the opinion that there was no one else in the place, though of course that was by no means positive.
Peering by the left side of the chair–most would expect me to be right-handed and look out the other way–I could not see any more movement, but my sharp eyes were able to pick out the barrel of a gun in the murky darkness of the other room. Aiming carefully, I set off one shot at the gun, then followed it with another lower and to the right, where the person would be hiding behind that dresser. I was rewarded by the whine of metal being struck, but was disappointed to hear the other bullet smack wood. The next second I heard the ricochet of the first bullet hit a wall, followed by the clunk of a gun hitting the floor.
The next sound I heard was that of a window being opened; having seen no fire escape outside, it was still not impossible for my prey to have a plan, as he was justified in his paranoia. Having to be cautious, not taking a chance that the man didn’t have another gun, I carefully walked into the other room, my own weapon at ready. A quick glance around told me I was alone, so I dashed to the open window and looked down, seeing the top of a dark head climbing down a rope. Immediately I thought about pulling the rope up, but knew there was little chance of bringing the guy in, so I settled for the next best thing: I whipped my knife out and cut the rope.
Unfortunately Adams–the bad guy in this scenario–was already far enough down to fall the rest of the way safely; I watched him get to his feet and sprint in the direction of Sullivan Park. Half-cursing for letting him get away, but pleased that he had taken that direction, I dashed down the stairs, trying to save enough breath to call in. “Inform Duke to put his plan into effect immediately. Tell him he’s the luckiest Scotsman in the world!”
There was no response, but then I didn’t expect any; Tony had obviously switched channels to call Duke. I hit the floor running and burst into the street, hot in pursuit, just in time to see the suspect turn right on Avenue James Sullivan.
Duke–my MI6 counterpart for this training session–and I had come up with a back-up plan in case I could not apprehend Adams cleanly, but never had we expected it to work out so well. Of course we’d known the route of the bus line, so we’d drawn up several contingencies, but it was a stunner to realize we couldn’t have possibly planned it better.
Never one for running, I took it easy, just keeping the man in sight as he dashed between the paintings throughout the park. I did not want to pursue too closely, for fear of loose gunplay, and I only hoped Adams didn’t get the idea of hostages in mind. Still, the guy had to be shaken, not having expected me to be on to him so soon; he was rattled and only thinking of escape.
I could only give the painters a pitying look as I followed the swath of destruction Adams left in his wake; obviously not being much for art, the man had gone through the park without a care as to the articles on sale. I followed at a discreet distance, though not getting close enough to knock else over. As I went along, I saw one beautiful rendition of the Caracol observatory at Chichen Itza; not bothering to stop, I told the painter, a rather young man, to save it for me, I‘d be back real soon.
Adams finally came out of the park and crossed Villalongin at the movie theater, then hit River Marie; apparently he’d realized he had made a mistake earlier and should have made for the big crowds along Insurgentes, and was attempting to correct that now. When he reached Rio Lerma he crossed the street so he could get to the correct side of the next street, Rio Neva. One block away was Paseo de la Reforma, which would be even better than Insurgentes in the amount of people he could lose himself in.
A few steps before Adams hit Rio Neva, I shouted into the mic for #3 to start his run; when Adams turned the corner, he saw a man with a gun running toward him. A quick glance behind showed me still on his heels, and in the other direction of Rio Neva, another agent was coming. His only recourse was to continue on Rio Lerma.
The next cross street was Rio Guidiana, I knew, which was named after a place I was very familiar with up north. More importantly, it closed before reaching Paseo de la Reforma, so there was no need to put a man there. Adams saw this and continued on, hoping that his pursuers were not fast enough to close down either Rio Amazonas or the larger Rio Rhine {by now you should have figured out the streets in this colony were named after rivers, if you bothered to think about it.}
Both proved inaccessible to him, having more men running at him. There were even cars that burned rubber as soon as they saw him on the four-lane Rio Rhine, so he knew he had to continue on, braving the red light and barely avoiding a few other screeching cars.
Commencing to feel fatigued, but not about to give up, Adams searched for alternatives. This area of Mexico City was populated with large old mansions, which probably had guards that would help in the chase. However, if he could get into one without being spotted by either pursuers or guards, he was sure he could find a place to hide, thinking we wouldn’t have the jurisdiction or clout to force rich landowners to open their houses for a search.
To his amazement, he saw one of large mansions with the gate open, and no guards anywhere in the vicinity. As if to help him make his decision, he saw another man running toward him now, this one from the direction he was heading, pretty much cutting off his last route of escape.
It was not a hard decision to make; scooping up a fallen branch, which probably would shatter without much damage if bopped on someone’s head, he figured he could always pretend it was a gun in someone’s back.
He felt as if it was taking him forever to reach the front doors of the mansion as he now stumbled along the tree-lined cement path. Seeing that the door was made of cheap wood, he switched to overdrive and lunged his body at the door, fully expecting to go crashing in and disrupt someone’s elegant lunch.
Instead he was very surprised when the door opened and he flew through the air to land hard on the tiled floor.
“So nice o’ ye ta drop in,” he heard a Scottish burr say. “We’ve bin waitin’ for ye to stop by.” He found himself lying on the floor with a knee in his back, handcuffs quickly applied to his wrists as his arms were shoved behind his back. Then he was lifted up and turned around to face a man he knew very well: Alexander Southwood, known to some as Duke, newest graduate to the British Secret Service.
The door had been left open, and in came. . . lil’ ol’ me. Adams bared his teeth and struggled to get free, finally realizing he’d been snookered. Duke and I exchanged a high-five, though Scots weren’t all that coordinated for that kind of stuff. Then, ignoring the captive, I said, “Like taking candy from a baby.”
Adams sneered, he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. “You know you can’t hold me. You have no jurisdiction here.”
It was not often one heard the dour Scotsman laugh, but that just made this time all the more special as Duke purred, “Ya were apparently runnin’ so fast ya neglected to see the sign out front. This is the British Embassy ya were herded into. . .”
Adams collapsed like a balloon freshly punctured; it was a beautiful sight. . .
I was back in Sullivan Park, buying that painting, when I heard a voice behind me. “I think I deserve leniency. After all, I led you right to him.”
I didn’t have to turn around to realize it was the actress playing Adams’ gal. “I did think it was a bit too easy. But I don’t see why you have to be dragged into this. Go on with your life and maybe you’ll become a good lawyer, if there is such a thing.”
She didn’t question as to how I knew about her studies. “I hope you didn’t shoot up my apartment too much.”
Trying to look sheepish, but grinning too hard, I admitted there was a good possibility there was a bullet hole in her wall. “But we can look for something here that’ll cover it up. . . and then I can help you hang it. . .”

;o)