DISCLAIMER - None of these characters belongs to me - a cause of much regret, I assure you - I'm just playing with them for a while. I'll put them back where I found them, I promise. The story, on the other hand, such as it is, is mine, copyright August 2001.
Colonel Luis Montoya stood on his balcony in the quiet darkness, sipping a glass of particularly fine wine. It was good to be able to take a moment to relax after the events of the day. Don Aguilera's death was stirring up far too much trouble. Montoya didn't much care about the man's demise, but he did not appreciate the ramifications of it. Whether Fuentes was behind the assassination or not, he wanted the killer - and soon. If there was one thing Montoya really didn't want, it was to be made to appear ineffectual.
As he looked around, Montoya's eye was suddenly caught by movement in a window opposite him. It was one of the upstairs rooms at the hotel. With a frown he realised that it was the one he had ordered to be sealed - the killer's room. The shadow was still moving furtively inside it. Well, well, this was an interesting development - and it merited further investigation. At once Montoya was all business again. Calling for soldiers to accompany him he set out to discover who the intruder was.
It was arguable who was the more surprised when Montoya entered the previously locked hotel room to find Doctor Helm inside. At any rate, Montoya hid his surprise better. The doctor simply looked guilty as he turned to face the men standing behind him. But guilty of what?
"Well, well, Doctor Helm, looking for anything in particular?" There was an indefinable air of smugness about the colonel as he waited for a reply.
Thinking fast, Helm was all too aware of the soldiers waiting behind Montoya. "As a matter of fact I... thought I might lend you a hand," he finally declared, brightly.
"Oh, indeed, I'm all ears." Montoya walked closer, watching the doctor curiously. What exactly was going on here?
"As a scientist I'm a trained observer. Thought I might spot something that your soldiers had overlooked," Helm elaborated.
"And, er..." Montoya glanced around questioningly, "any luck?"
The doctor smiled self-deprecatingly. "I'm afraid not."
"Really, doctor, such dedication to your work - and to my investigation - is truly admirable. Almost unbelievable..." Montoya let his voice trail off, not quite accusing.
Helm chose to ignore the veiled threat. He had other, more pressing, concerns. "And the killer, Colonel... any progress?"
"Sadly, he too remains a mystery." Montoya's eyes were sharp as he pinned the doctor with his gaze. "But never fear, no one can hide from Montoya forever."
The doctor said nothing as Montoya held out his hand, indicating that he should precede him from the room. He had no choice but to obey - not that there had been much of use to him inside. He still didn't know who the assassin was - only that his target had not been Don Aguilera. An innocent man was dead - because of him, the killer's intended victim.
Caught up in his thoughts, it took Helm a moment to realise that Montoya had dismissed his soldiers and that they were now alone in the deserted corridor. He turned to leave, but the cool voice halted him.
"Leaving so soon, doctor? I believe we have matters to discuss," said Montoya with that infuriatingly knowing smile of his.
"I don't think so." Helm tried to appear casual; Montoya couldn't know anything. "I already told you, I found nothing."
"Perhaps that is so," Montoya agreed easily, "but I think you already know more about this assassin than I do. Would you care to share that information? I should have thought you would want to see Don Aguilera's murderer brought to justice."
"I do," said Helm, his voice sharper than he had intended. "But truly, Colonel, I don't know..."
Montoya's eyes narrowed in annoyance. "I know that you are concealing something from me, doctor."
"And why would you think that?" Helm put as much innocence into both his tone and his expression as he could manage.
Watching the change which came over the doctor's face, Montoya laughed softly, then shook his head. "You are an accomplished liar," he conceded, "but I am better at reading those around me than you might wish. In my position it is a necessary skill. There are always those who come to me, speaking sweet words, while in their hearts they wish me ill."
"Surely not, Colonel. Why would anyone wish you harm?" Helm tilted his head in question, his eyes wide and disingenuous.
"Don't play games with me, doctor!" Montoya warned, his voice low and dangerous.
"Trust me," replied Helm, a hard edge suddenly evident in his tone, "this is no game for me."
Montoya gave a slow smile. "There is so much more to you than meets the eye, isn't there? What are you hiding, doctor? Each time I think I understand you..."
"What is there to understand? I'm a doctor, that's all." Helm's expression was once again totally bland.
"A doctor who knows how to pick a lock and who wishes to search for clues to the identity of an assassin in the middle of the night?" questioned Montoya lightly. "No, you are hiding something from me. Your eyes betray you - you are nervous, concerned..."
"If that's what you believe." The doctor interrupted him with an insolent shrug of his shoulders. "Maybe I've just had a really bad day and could use some rest. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Do you dare defy me?" There was the hint of a smile on Montoya's lips again. "I hope you realise you could be standing upon uncertain ground. I could give you to Grisham... I'm sure he would enjoy persuading you to give up your secrets."
"Why are you so concerned about these supposed secrets of mine, Colonel?" There was a genuine note of curiosity in the doctor's voice. "I would have thought you'd be more interested in catching our killer - and you can't possibly think that was me."
"No, I know it can't have been you, but you must admit you're showing an unusual interest in our assassin yourself," countered Montoya. "I can't help but wonder why."
"Perhaps I'm simply trying to do my civic duty," suggested Helm with a disarming smile.
"Perhaps, but I don't think so." Montoya laughed softly. "And I believe I would be failing in my civic duty if I didn't explore every avenue in my quest to bring our killer to justice. Wouldn't you say so, doctor? So, I really must find out what it is that you know."
"But I know so many things..." All at once, and quite unexpectedly - perhaps to both men - there was an entirely different tone to the doctor's voice.
Montoya looked up at him sharply. "Really? So, should I call Grisham?"
"Is that absolutely necessary? I always thought you would prefer to deal with such matters yourself - the personal touch." There was no mistaking the intent of Helm's words this time.
Montoya raised his brows questioningly as he regarded the enigma that was Robert Helm. This turn of events was unexpected, but Montoya would have been a hypocrite had he claimed - even to himself - that it was unwelcome. It occurred to him that the doctor was merely trying to distract him - albeit by employing unconventional means. Well, he was prepared to be distracted - for a while.
That decided upon, it only made him more convinced that Doctor Helm had secrets that were worth uncovering. That thought made Montoya smile broadly - some of those secrets would be quite literally uncovered for him, very soon, he hoped. Ah, yes, good company wasn't easy to find in a small pueblo like this - at least, not when one's tastes ran in certain directions. Still, good sense dictated that he be quite clear about what was offered before matters went any further.
"The personal touch? Oh yes, but I do..." Montoya was almost purring now. "In the right circumstances, of course. So, I wonder, what exactly are you implying...?"
"I'm not implying anything, Colonel Montoya." There was a definite gleam in the doctor's hazel eyes. "It was merely an observation." He caught and held the colonel's pale gaze. "But you are not the only one here who has learned how to read the things a man does not say aloud. The face, the body... they all have their own way of speaking."
Slowly Montoya began to circle the doctor, looking him up and down carefully and watching for his reaction to the blatant appraisal.
Helm remained quite still under the assessing gaze, not even turning his head to follow Montoya's progress.
"You surprise me, Doctor Helm," said the colonel thoughtfully. He had completed his circuit and stood in front of the doctor once more, though noticeably closer to him than before. "I did not expect a man such as yourself..."
With a knowing smirk, Helm interrupted him. "Ah, but you have already concluded that I have secrets to hide. So, how would you know what kind of man I really am?" And that was uncomfortably close to the truth, thought the doctor with more than a trace of bitterness.
Montoya pursed his lips, then nodded. "This is true. It seems I must put aside all my preconceptions about you. Then again, how can I feel safe when you are such an unknown quantity? Perhaps you only seek to make me let down my guard. Do you have designs on... my life?" Again the dark brows lifted in question.
"I'm no danger to you, Colonel," Helm replied, his posture noticeably more relaxed. "I'm a doctor; my job is to heal, not to kill."
"Yet you have opposed my wishes and defied me more than once since you came to Santa Elena," Montoya reminded him chidingly. "You need to learn your place, I think."
"And are you the one to teach me?" enquired the doctor, his tone unmistakably arch.
"I believe that I am." Montoya stepped closer still, now clearly inside Helm's personal space. He tilted his head, looking up to meet the steady regard of the doctor's hazel eyes. "Shall we find out?"
"Is that a request - or an order, Colonel Montoya?" Thick lashes fluttered, veiling the clear gaze.
"Which would you be more likely to respond to?" the colonel asked, his smile sly.
Helm paused for a moment, seemingly considering the question with some seriousness. "For now, I think I would prefer to know that I have a choice in the matter," he decided finally.
"Very well, you may take it to be a request then," confirmed Montoya.
"In that case, I agree."
The doctor's head dropped, as if he had become quite absorbed in studying his boots. In truth, he was schooling his features to a semblance of calm - a calmness he certainly wasn't feeling. He wondered what on earth had possessed him to begin this game with Montoya. The colonel was too dangerous to be toyed with. Surely it would have been simpler to just admit that - even if he didn't know who he was, yet - he at least knew who the assassin's real target had been... himself. But that would have led to more questions - ones he wasn't ready to answer, not for Montoya.
It was all such a bloody mess... And now he had, quite literally, made his bed. Well, he told himself sternly, there were worse people he could be compelled to lie in it with - Grisham, for one.
With a shake of his head to clear away the unsettling image of Captain Grisham lying in his narrow bed, Helm looked up, abruptly realising that Montoya was speaking to him.
"And later...?" the colonel was asking.
Momentarily confused he frowned. "Later?"
"Tired of me already, doctor?" Montoya scolded. "It would be more flattering if you listened when I spoke to you. We were discussing the matter of choice, if you recall."
"Ah, yes." Helm smiled pleasantly. "Of course."
"So," Montoya continued, "if you don't wish to take my orders 'for now', what of later?"
The doctor didn't pretend to misunderstand what Montoya was asking. He had never cared for those kind of games, though. However, it was probably more tactful not to decline outright at this stage. Instead, he lowered his lashes coyly and replied, "'Later' - is open to negotiation."
"In that case," said Montoya smoothly, "perhaps you would care to come up and join me for a glass of wine. As I recall, I was enjoying one when I first noticed something amiss over here."
Drawing in a deep, steadying breath, the doctor inclined his head graciously. "I believe I should like that. And my apologies for interrupting your enjoyment earlier."
Without further comment, Montoya turned and strode away, leaving the hotel. He didn't look behind him to see if the doctor followed. He had no doubt that he would.
There was a pleased smile on his face as he went up the stairs to his rooms. Doctor Helm was an unexpected prize, but a welcome one. And this would give him leverage over the man next time he sought to defy him. After all, what would the simple townsfolk think if they learned that their doctor liked to lie with men? Such an unspeakable sin! Not that Montoya cared what God thought of his choice of bed partners.
He walked across to the side table and poured two fresh glasses of wine. Hearing the door close behind him, Montoya turned. The doctor had indeed followed him and now he lounged just inside the room, leaning negligently against the closed door.
"Make yourself comfortable, doctor," Montoya invited. "Take off your coat and have a seat."
The man moved with surprising grace, the colonel noted, as he watched Helm remove his long coat and drape it over the back of a chair. The doctor's loose-limbed gait appeared casual, but there was a poise to it that belied his nonchalance. He clearly knew how to handle himself. Montoya continued to observe him as he took a seat, making himself comfortable in the high-backed chair.
Once he was settled, Montoya approached him, holding out one of the glasses of wine.
Helm took it from him carefully, his fingers just barely brushing the colonel's as they closed around the stem of the glass. He inclined his head in thanks.
Montoya smiled slightly in return as he moved to sit in a chair facing the doctor.
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