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Cabo San Lucas, California, USM
September 9th, 1969

Soi-disant Secretary of War Vincent Mercator was not a happy man.
Yet it was not the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that made
him so, he reflected, but the kidney stones and angina pains of
creeping age. How intolerable, to be defeated on the point of ultimate
victory, by something as commonplace as the passage of time! He
laughed wryly to himself.

The gyropter set down on the pad at the 'private resort', blowing
sand and dried leaves across the lawn. Mercator received crisp salutes
from the resort's staff, nodded in return as he walked down to the
beach, his bodyguards rapidly staking out a perimeter.

From intelligence reports, Mercator had formed a mental picture of
Doctor Urquell as a short spindly barracoon, the kind seen lolling on
Chapultapec streetcorners, but with an oversize head and bad glasses.
In truth, Urquell was at least six feet tall, brawny, with a Jefferson
bonecrusher grip.

He still wore the bad glasses, Mercator noted, and felt vindicated.
Urquell was pacing the white sand beach, wearing a pair of blue bathing
trunks, stopping every few moments to furiously scribble notes and
snort to himself. Every once in a while he would step into a patch of
hot sand, yelp, and run into ankle-deep waves. His handler of the week,
Miss Cameron-Diaz, lay comfortably on a lounge chair watching his
antics, wearing a white floppy hat and a pair of sunglasses. Simply
magnificent; a pity she was tainted with _la fiebre negra_.

Mercator pitched his voice, an old courtroom skill. "Doctor Urquell!
Apparently our Mexican climate agrees with you! In all confidence, I
must say, I never thought I would see you without that little bow tie."

"Holy smokes! Secretary Mercator! What are you doing here?"

"I've come to visit you, my boy."

Miss Cameron-Diaz stretched and rose. "I suppose that's my cue to leave.
I'll see you later, Esteban," pecking Urquell on the cheek.

"Have a good day, honeybunch!"

"Senor Presidente," she said, looking him directly in the eye over her
sunglasses. Mercator did not correct her.

Urquell grinned shamelessly as a dog as she walked away. "Frannie sure
is a beautiful woman. A byoo-ti-ful woman!" and made that strange
snorting sound again. It was, Mercator realized, his laughter.

"That she is. Come, my boy, walk with me."

Small talk with Urquell reminded Mercator of his wife's astrological
prattle; the key was to make the appropriate noises at the correct phrases
of jargon, whether it was zodiacal houses or nuclear cross-sections.

"With the gun design completed, and the Super... oh, I don't know... I
guess I've been having doubts about this whole thing."

Mercator stopped. (In the distant palm trees, a rustle.) "Doctor Urquell.
Before you go on, let me tell you something. I myself chose you -- yes,
you -- to head our nuclear program. I recognized your brilliance from
a continent away. I know what your press says, that I am a racialist,
that I am a madman, that I am _loco en la cabeza_. And they might even
be right! But I know men; I know greatness." Mercator took Urquell's
hands into his.

"These, these are _las manos del sino_. They control the destiny of
nations. With them, you can make a nation great; you can make a race
great. Or you can humble those who laughed at you, those who rejected
you, those who mocked you and betrayed you behind your back.  Let me
be candid with you, my boy. Of course I wish to use you. But unlike
your former employers, I am frank with you about this; and I see no
reason why you should not use me in turn. One hand washes the other,
isn't that right? That's right."

Light dawned in Urquell's eyes. "That's right!" And he laughed his very
peculiar laugh again.

To be continued...