He tightened the twine and brushed the needles off the wind shield.
“Thanks a lot, Mac. You were great.”
The guy slipped him a dollar.
Jim nodded. The guy's wife leaned over the back seat to calm a crying toddler. A four year old stared at him through the back passenger window.
"Merry Christmas" Jim waved. The chrome fender scrapped the curb as they pull out of the lot. It was gonna be a shit show.
They'd approached him a month after Batista went into exile. They had a "delicate mission."
"Isn't my game anymore" he said.
"We know how you feel."
"Then you wouldn't have come."
"Ajax, frankly... It turned out for the best."
Not for Mosaddegh, Jim thought. The washer went off. He opened the door.
"If you'll excuse me gentleman, I have some sheets to dry."
"We can make it worth your while."
"You fellas take care now." Jim dropped some coins in the machine.
The tall one pulled out a stiff card with a number typed on it. He left it on a machine.
"Let us know."
"Three days." Jim said.
Jim cracked a beer and turned on the space heater. He filled up a dish for the strays that frequented his patio. The card stock was high quality. Sixteen points at least. He thought about the last time he talked to her.
"Hello?" said a soft voice on the other end.
"It's me." said Jim
"How are you?" she said.
"I bought a place."
"Jim." She wouldn't let him finish.
"It'll never live up to the dream."
She was right.
"Are you taking care of yourself?" he asked.
"My sister's doing better."
"Give her my love."
There was a pause.
"Goodbye, Jim." She hung up.
The next morning he called the number on the card.
The job was in Mexico. Baja, specifically. They told him he'd need help and gave him an address in Palm Springs. The fat one called his contact a "little fella."
"Who the fuck are you?" asked Rodney as he opened the door.
"That your real name."
"Does it matter?"
"This business." Rodney shook his head.
"Can I come in?"
The curtains were drawn. The furniture was old and chosen by someone else. The Price is Right played on a staticky black and white television. Jim moved a stack of books to the side and took a seat on the couch. There was a small, half finished rocking horse being whittled on the coffee table.
Rodney opened a floor level cabinet and grabbed a bottle.
"A friend brings it through Mexicali."
"Para todo mal, para todo bien." They clinked glasses.
"So..." Rodney's face lost its sparkle. "What do you know about the target?"
"That's why I'm here."
Rodney gave Jim a look, then passed him a manilla envelope. Jim opened it up.
"Operation Silver Bell" said Rodney.
Jim knew what he meant now.
"This for real?"
"He's bad for the economy. Post-war growth won't last forever, and after Cuba they don't want to take any chances."
"The dragon is hungry."
"The dragon keeps the wolves at bay."
"You worked for him?"
"Does it matter?"
Jim took his point. He thought about the fallout. This would have unintended consequences. What else was new.
"When do we leave?"
"Wheels up at 0400."
"I'll get some sleep."
"If you don't think you can do it, I need to know now."
"He really screwed you didn't he."
"You have no idea."
Jim woke up around midnight. There was a loud thunk on the roof. Everything else was quiet. He grabbed the pistol under his pillow and screwed on a suppressor. He peaked through his cracked door. Two little fellas were dressed in black and jimmying the Arcadia door with a crowbar. Boom! Boom! The glass shattered. The little fellas were toast.
"We're leavin' early." Rodney called as he racked his shotgun.
Jim grabbed his go bag and followed. He stepped over the dead fellas like a parent avoiding toys. Then he thought better.
"C'mon. Lets go." said Rodney.
Jim rummaged through their pockets. He found a candy cane and a small black notebook.
A rope ladder hung off the roof. "Up." said Rodney, facing outward to watch their six. Jim climbed. The ladder was attached to a small black sleigh. The sleigh was attached to single brown reindeer. The reindeer shifted uneasy when he saw Jim. Rodney walked up to the reindeer. "You know where we're going?" The reindeer looked away. His bridle said "Kurt" in gold filigree. The bells had been removed. "Hey Jim. You like Rudolph jerky?" The reindeer flipped a stern look back toward them, then resigned his fate. They got in the sleigh. "On Kurt." Rodney said. They took off.
The air was cool. Scattered clouds and a full moon made for easy flying. "I get it now." Jim said, flipping through the small notebook and sucking on the candy cane.
"It's a distributed network organized around a central hub. He doesn't hit every house himself. Individual teams do it for him."
"He used to make an occasional appearance. Keep up the mythos, but since..." Rodney trailed off, the bitterness heavy in his body.
What the hell happened, Jim thought.
He didn't ask.
They landed on a desert hill outside La Paz in Baja Sur. A secluded resort was nestled up to the sea-side below.
"Little present from Bob and Bing." said Rodney
"Anyone down there I should worry about."
"Mrs. is at her cousins. It's just him and the true believers.
"Usually a private contractor. Shouldn't be much to worry about."
Rodney checked the chamber on his shotgun. "I'll keep the car running."
Kurt chuffed at the comment.
"Back before sun-up." Jim assured. He checked his clip and set off down the hill.
He cut through the rusty chain-link fence. Christmas lights were wrapped around the barbed-wire spirals. He made sure the hole was big enough to egress.
A group of true believers were gathered around a pool shaped like a guitar. They were drinking imported vodka and flirting with some magazine girls he recognized from the newsstand were he bought his cigarettes.
The whole place had been decorated. Light, tinsel, votives, poinsettias and a tree brought in from god-knows-where with a star on top. A mariachi band played Christmas tunes and sang in Spanish. Who puts up with this shit year round, he thought. There was no sign of the old man.
He noticed a large casita in the back with the lights off. That one, Jim thought. He scrambled around back to avoid the eye line of the little fellas. A window was open to capture the sea breeze. He slipped in. A fire was burning and the whole place smelled like ginger bread. He felt a cold barrel press against the side of his head.
"Hello Jim" her voice was soft.
"Private Security." he said.
"You should have gone to Montana."
"That wasn't the plan."
"I've never liked the snow."
"Ironic choice of client."
She didn't answer.
"You're still in it." he said.
"He promised us Eichmann."
"The list." Jim understood now.
They'd met in Tehran while training the Shah's security forces. He'd fallen in love. She thought she had.
"Where is he now?"
"That leaves us in a bit of a pickle."
"You're the one with a gun to his head."
She was right.
"Was it ever real?" he asked.
"For a time." she said.
Ben-Gurion would have to find Eichmann on his own.
Jim climbed out the window. This business, he thought shaking his head. He saw something burning on the horizon. A boat was on fire. He looked down to the shore line. Three rafts had landed silently on the beach.
We missed the plane, he thought. They sent the contingency. The commandos swarmed through the casitas like a pack of heavily armed hunting dogs. SAS probably. British didn't do half measures. Jim ran back to the hole in the gate. Rodney took one down with the shotgun, before they got him. Kurt tore loose from the sleigh and flew off like down on a thistle. Jim scrambled back up into the hills. The barbed-wire Christmas lights went off behind him. The gun fire soon stopped.
The little fellas shut down the network voluntarily. A few true believers went rogue, but were rounded up without much fuss. The Mrs. moved in with her boyfriend in Orlando. Word spread to the parents of the world. Fishing accident was the official cause. They all came to consensus. They’d pretend to be the old man and buy the presents themselves. Jim tooled around Baja while everything settled down. He learned to surf. He moved to Toluca Lake and opened a Christmas Tree lot. He started importing mezcal through Rodney's guy in Mexicali. It hadn't been the shit show he'd feared.
Eichmann was arrested one year later.