LONGARM AND THE HOSTAGE WOMAN [066 5.0]
By Tabor Evans
U.S. Deputy Marshall Custis Long is in Laredo, Texas, after completing a difficult assignment—escorting an unruly federal prisoner from Mexico City back to the united states for trial—when he is lured back across the border and subsequently taken hostage by a man who wishes to trade him for the prisoner—a man who has embezzled over $200,000 from the federal government, money that has not been recovered. Longarm, unarmed and securely locked in a room guarded by several mexican gunmen, must figure out a way to escape and foil the plot to release the embezzler and recover the stolen money. 215th novel in the “Longarm” series, 1996.
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Printing history Jove edition / November 1996
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Longarm sat in a saloon in Laredo, Texas, having a drink of whiskey before he went to his hotel room and fell into bed. It was only mid-afternoon but he was bone-weary and sleepless from a harrowing three-day trip from Mexico City with a prisoner. He’d been sent to the Mexican capital to fetch back a man who was accused of having embezzled nearly two hundred thousand dollars from the Federal Reserve banking system. The man had been a well-placed employee in the Treasury Department and he’d simply seen his chance and grabbed money meant for a federal bank in San Antonio. Then he had fled to Mexico, never expecting to be caught. But he had been, and he was being held in a jail in Mexico City while the United States government got the Mexican government to agree to extradite the man. Longarm, to his disgust, had drawn the assignment of fetching back a crook that he deemed no more than a bank clerk. It had meant a hell of a lot of train riding and spending more time in Mexico City than Longarm had cared for, but that hadn’t been the rough part that had led to all the loss of sleep. The prisoner had been hard to handle and Longarm had had to resort to force and handcuffs and wrist irons on several occasions. The worst of it had been the warnings, by Mexican officials and by telegraph from the marshal’s service, that Longarm should expect an attempt or attempts, at any time, by interested parties to free the man. The money had not been recovered and it had been pointed out, by those who knew, that a man with $200,000 hidden somewhere in Mexico would have a lot of friends.
So it had been three days of virtual sleeplessness. Longarm knew that he could have stayed in Mexico City and waited for another officer to assist him, but he’d decided he’d had enough of the place and was ready to get his prisoner across the border and head himself back to his home base in Denver.
It had been less than an hour since he’d turned the prisoner over to four Texas lawmen who would transfer him on to San Antonio to jail and then to a federal court. Longarm had never been so glad to see the back of a man in all his life. He’d gotten a receipt, headed for the nearest hotel, gotten a room, and then had stepped into the nearest bar to wash a little of the railroad dust out of his throat before he lay down to sleep the clock around.
The prisoner, Earl Combs, might have been a glorified bank clerk but he hadn’t looked or acted much like one. He’d been as much trouble as he could manage to be. Even in shackles he’d tried to give Longarm difficulty until the United States deputy marshal had been forced to let the man understand how painful the barrel of a revolver could feel on the side of the head. Combs was a burly man in his mid-thirties, gone to fat a little, but otherwise strong and hard and determined not to go back to the United States. Longarm had commandeered the conductor’s compartment for the trip, figuring it would be best to keep Combs out of the sight of the other passengers and the other passengers out of the sight of Combs. As it was, Combs had to be pulled and jerked onto the train while he loudly and repeatedly offered ten thousand dollars to anyone who would help him escape. It had helped that the man didn’t speak Spanish.
Longarm sat tiredly at the table and shook his head, remembering the ordeal. He’d come into the saloon only to buy a bottle to take back to the hotel with him, but then he’d decided he was too tired and too het up to sleep. He’d thought to have one drink in the roomy confines of the saloon—roomy after three days in the small compartment on the train—but now he decided to have another. He could feel the first one starting to unwind him and he figured he’d give it an extra push.
He knew why he’d drawn the damnable assignment. It was his boss’s idea of a good joke. Billy Vail, who looked like someone’s sainted old grandfather, was, Longarm decided, about the meanest bastard ever to put on a badge and call himself the chief marshal for any territory served by the marshal’s service. It had been Longarm’s bad luck to have just finished a long hunt for a train robber in the New Mexico Territory. He’d come back to headquarters figuring he deserved a nice long rest and frequent visits to a lady friend who was a dressmaker. But if there was anything that Billy Vail couldn’t stand it was to see Longarm at peace and making a good job of fun and relaxation. And then it had been another case of bad luck that Longarm had been in Billy Vail’s office when the request for a deputy to go to Mexico City to extradite Combs had come in. It had tickled Billy’s sense of whimsy to talk, for about half an hour, about what good times he’d had in the Mexican capital in the past. When Longarm, out of good manners, had carelessly begun to agree with him that, yes, it was a hell of a place, Billy had jumped him with the offer of a quick trip.
Longarm looked sourly into his glass, thinking dire thoughts of how he was going to get back at the old goat. He’d think of something. Naturally, Billy had meant to send him from the moment the request had come in, but he couldn’t just out and out tell Longarm. No, he had to build it up and make it sound like some sort of damn vacation. And then, if that wasn’t enough, when Longarm protested, Billy had said that Longarm had to go. It wasn’t a job he could entrust to just anyone. When Longarm had pointed out that since it was a Treasury crime, it was more a job for a marshal nearer to the border, he’d said, “Ought to be somebody out of the southeast district at the very least.”
But Billy Vail, who Longarm knew had already volunteered his services and probably already knew what a bitch of a task it would be, had tried to look shocked.
“This is a Mexican and a border job, Custis, and there’s nobody who knows that country better than you. Hell, I’d hate to think how many horses you’ve bought in Mexico and then shipped back at government expense and sold them off for a profit. Why, a man with that kind of experience can damn near think like an embezzler.”