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For All Nails #208: The Merchant of Guadalajara

Angel Island, California, USM
24 January 1975

"So," said Joan Kahn as Timothy Liddy let himself into their hotel room, "what
did the coroner's office have to say about their Juan Diego?" [1]  She was
reclining on the sofa, looking at him over the back.

"No conclusions," Liddy answered.  "Fingerprints gone, lower jaw gone.  Based
on what's left of the upper jaw, they can neither prove nor disprove that it's
our boy."

"In other words, the fellow in Argentina isn't Mercator, and this fellow might
not be Mercator either."

"That's about the size of it," said Liddy.

"You know, Tim," said Kahn, "it occurs to me that the CBI probably had an
enormous file on Mercator."

"Oh, Vincent had a whole room all to himself," Liddy assured her.  "Two rooms,
actually.  One held all the files, and the other was an exact replica of his
office at Coyoacán."

Kahn nodded her understanding.  "The better to allow you and your agents to
think like him."

"Exactly," said Liddy.  There was an odd --- something --- about his voice,
though, that belied his casual attitude.

"Just how far back did your files on him go, anyway?" Kahn wondered.  "Back to
his days as a garrison commander?  Back to his days in the Presidential Guard? 
Back to his days as a lawyer?"

This time, Liddy didn't answer.  Instead he said, "You've got something on your
mind, haven't you?"

"I've been thinking about Mercator.  'Our boy', as you call him.  It occurs to
me that in spite of all his talk about the 'Kramer-CNA axis', he never actually
took any action against the CNA."

"Unless you count those border clashes in the late '60s and early '70s," said

"Oh, I know all about those border clashes," Kahn responded.  "I know that they
all started on the Mexican side of the border, never on the CNA side. [2]  As
though someone in the CNA were trying to provoke Mercator into doing something
rash --- something that would justify an atomic response."

"I didn't know you'd gone back into the conspiracy theory business," said

"I never stopped.  It's just that for the last few months, I've been working on
someone else's conspiracy theory.  The one where Vincent Mercator is a deadly
threat to the CNA, and always has been."

"He was certainly a threat to your boss," Liddy pointed out.

"I've been thinking about that, too."  Kahn suspected that she sounded
demented.  That was all right.  The more demented she sounded, the better. 
"Obviously, the documents I gave Osterman at the airpark found their way into
Moctezuma's hands.  That's what set off the impeachment crisis, after all.  So
why would Mercator bother trying to steal the copies in New York?

"And did you ever notice how Felipe and Astrid [3] would go all quiet whenever
I mentioned Steven?  I didn't understand then, but I do now.  It wasn't
Mercator who shot Steven and burned down the Justice Press, it was Kramer
Associates, and Felipe and Astrid knew it.  Did you?"

Liddy remained silent.

"Not that that really matters," Kahn continued.  "If Mercator didn't kill
Steven, he certainly killed plenty of other people.  But, you know?  He killed
scores of Mexicans, and thousands of Indonesians and Australians and Taiwanese,
but to the best of my knowledge, he never, ever, killed a single Tory."

"Unless you count Stephen Urquell," Liddy pointed out.

"Who was, as you've pointed out to me on countless occasions, a traitor to the
CNA who deserved to die.  And so Vincent Mercator killed him."

"Because Mercator was working for the CNA the whole time," Liddy said with a
mocking smile.

"He certainly didn't act like an enemy.  Mason always insisted the CNA had
nothing to fear from Mercator.  At the time, it must have sounded crazy, but as
it turned out, he was right.  Mercator could have conquered the CNA any time
between 1953 and 1962, but he didn't.  Maybe Mason wasn't crazy.  Maybe he knew
something about Mercator that nobody else did.  Maybe he knew that Mercator was
a CBI agent."

"Do you have any idea how insane that sounds?" Liddy asked.

Kahn nodded.  "It sounds completely insane.  Until you start to look at it
objectively.  He never attacked us, even when he had us completely outgunned. 
He never allowed himself to be provoked by anything we did to him.  And have
you ever noticed that 'Mercator' isn't a real name?  It's actually the Latin
word for 'merchant'.  Mercator said it came from a German ancestor who worked
as a peddler.  I think it was just a joke that had to be explained away after
he became a national figure."

Kahn blinked.  She was letting herself get sidetracked.  "Anyway, I guess what
I'm really asking is whether you'd like to either confirm or deny my
suspicions, based on any knowledge you might have as a former director of the

"If I deny it," Liddy wondered, "do you plan to shoot me?"

Oh, so he knew about the gun, did he?  Oh, well.  Kahn raised her right hand
above the back of the sofa to show him the .38 caliber pistol she had pointed
at him, and answered, "No, this is just some insurance for me.  Feel free to
say yes or no, whichever you prefer."

After a moment's pause, Liddy said, "Yes, he was with the CBI.  He sent us his
resignation a week before he seized power."

Kahn frowned slightly.  "Damn.  I have no idea whether you're telling me the
truth or not."  With a sigh, she motioned him away from the door, then rose
from the sofa, calmly walked over and let herself out.  Then she ran down the
corridor to the stairwell and flew down four flights of stairs to the exit at
the bottom.

As she emerged from the hotel, Kahn absently thumbed the pistol's safety on and
stuck it into the waistband of her trousers, then buttoned her jacket over it. 
Back in the CNA you could get 20 years for carrying a concealed handgun the way
she was doing.  Here in Mexico, you didn't even need a permit.

Their boat was docked half a mile away at the marina.  Joan Kahn made for it at
a fast walk.


[1]  A generic name given to all unidentified male bodies discovered in the
USM.  Unidentified female bodies are called Juana Diegos.

[2]  For an example, see FAN #5, "Out of Uniform".

[3]  See #128 "En Vivo de Martinica" and #144 "Where Are They Right Now?" In
the former, Joan is the woman in the blue evening dress at Felipe's card table.