selling handbags, sunglasses, tie-dyed dresses and other assorted merchandise. Directly ahead, a booth displayed chunky jewelry made of seashells and hammered metal.
There was no one at the jewelry stand but a young couple holding hands and a woman in an oversize beach hat, her back toward him. She had great legs. And no freckles.
"Free drink at the Sand Flea?"
A seedy youth pushed a coupon at him as Ellery debated whether to wait there or press on toward another jewelry stand.
"No th --"
The rest of the word dangled off his tongue into midair. The body beneath the beach hat had turned. It was Channing Stuart, in as brief an orange bikini as he'd ever seen. The white shirt she wore over it, which from the back suggested sedate- ness , in front framed curves that were lithe and youthful. She grinned at him, and the laughter in her eyes told him he must be gaping at her exactly as other men had at finding her so unmistakably female.
That grin set her apart, somehow. It wasn't a smile drawn carefully to placate or attract. It was easy, natural, and went all the way to her eyes. It expressed nothing more than amusement -- and maybe a warning of sparks if she got crossed.
She took the first step, and Ellery moved, meet ing her halfway. She wasn't out of her element here at all, he realized irritably.
"I'm going to do it," she said, falling into step beside him. She kept her voice low. The quick hu mor on her face didn't hide its determination.
Ellery felt an unexpected frustration.
"Do you know what you're getting into?"
"I think so. Look."
Reaching into the pocket of her voluminous shirt, she produced a piece of 35mm negative, displayed it to him, and arched an eyebrow. Her hand turned lazily in a half circle, palm up, and the film was gone.
It was unsettling how she could do that. Some kind of trick, of course. Ellery freed himself from the brief, trancelike state the act had created in him and reached inside his jacket.
"Why don't you try this?"
The blank film he extended to her was three inches by five, the same size as the one to be recov ered. He could see her dismay. It was bigger than her whole palm. Surely now she'd back down.
One quick glance at his face, and her own filled with resolve.
"Almost the size of a card. It'll be easier."
The kids on roller skates shot by again. He could feel his frustration mounting. He caught her arm, intending nothing more than to steer her and to keep their conversation confidential.
"Why? When you stand a very good chance of getting a hole in your neck like Yussuf did? Just tell me that."
She pushed his hand away.
"Because I'm going to do it! That's all. And I'll need another piece of film just like the one you brought."
They were passing a T-shirt stand. She stopped and unfolded a pink shirt, holding it up so they'd look like anyone else just here for an afternoon of fun.
"So where do I go? And when? I gather you're not thrilled about working with me. I can't help that. I'll do what you tell me, how you tell me, and if some thing goes wrong, I knew what I was getting into. It's not on your conscience. Okay? I've made financial provisions for Serafin ."
Her control impressed him more than emotion could have. Anyway, it was her decision to make. He took the pink shirt from her and tossed her a green one.
"You go to the Palacio Sol. Tomorrow."
"He was booked there?"
No names. She was good at this,
"Right. You're picking up his schedule, starting the next day. Management's expecting you. I'll be there the morning after you get in."
They began to walk again.
"And the man I'm to meet?"
Ballieu , she meant.
" Yussuf had two suites reserved for people begin ning the day I arrive." He frowned. The suites were reserved for two nights. He didn't understand that part. Why wait around? "We'll be just north of the Mexican border," he said. "Easy run if Ballieu needs to make it. Have fun in the sun, but don't drink the water."
"I thought it was throat