home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | форум | collections | читалки | авторам | add



TWO

"Plausible," I'D SAID in Washington. "Yes, sir. Just how plausible can you get? Does this lady know what she's let herself in for?"

"She knows," Mac said. "That is, she doesn't know the details; she preferred not to hear them, which was only natural. But she knows that it will hurt, and that she won't be pretty to look at for a couple of weeks. Certainly she has been consulted. She has agreed." He frowned at me across the desk. "There are two things for you to keep in mind. She has to survive, of course. She even has to be able to function after a fashion within a reasonable time, say three or four days. On the other hand, it must be convincing. Just a dramatic black eye and some spectacularly damaged clothing won't buy her a thing except a ticket to the bottom of the Bay."

"I see," I said. "Do I get to know what it's all about, sir, or would you prefer to keep me ignorant."

"A man slipped through our fingers down there, last year," Mac said. "We'd been after him for a long time; he was high on the removal list. He was finally spotted right here in Washington. There was no real error made, but as you know, for diplomatic reasons we do not operate within certain zones, of which metropolitan Washington is one. It is preferred that we take no action within twenty-five miles of the city." He grimaced. "It is a reasonable requirement, I suppose, but the people who set these limits often have no idea what their regulations mean to the people who have to do the work."

"No, sir."

"When the subject finally departed from Washington, he made for Annapolis. From there, he soon disappeared, leaving behind our agent, dead."

I raised my eyebrows. "No error, you say, sir? Getting killed is a serious mistake, in my book."

Mac shrugged. "I'll grant that, but Ames was a good operative, and he had reason to believe he was dealing with one man only. Apparently he ran into something bigger down near Chesapeake Bay."

"Ames?" I said. "I worked with him in California, a couple of jobs back."

"I know." Mac did not look up. "That is another reason I thought you might like to help out with this business, even if it means postponing your date in Texas."

I laughed shortly. "You're an optimist, sir. Some things don't postpone very well. Gail is not the patient type. As for Ames, he was one of those portable-radio jerks. I came close to making him eat the thing, one transistor at a time. Goddamn a man who'll climb an eight-thousand-foot mountain just to turn on that kind of noise. On the other hand, I'll hand it to him, he did fry a mean flapjack, and he had a way with fresh-caught trout-" I stopped. After a moment, I said, "They got him from behind, didn't they?"

"Yes. He was found on a beach with a broken neck. Apparently somebody slipped up on him while he was stalking the subject. How did you know?"

"He would get excited and forget to watch his back. It never seemed to occur to him that somebody might be stalking him. I warned him. Ah, hell. Scratch Ames, a good man with a skillet."

"Yes," Mac said. "As I was saying, after the killing, the subject disappeared completely. Some months later, he was reported in Europe, although he had not been seen leaving the country by any of the usual channels."

"Who was it?"

"His name doesn't matter," Mac said. "One of our people took care of him over there. I checked with other departments, and found that this wasn't the first mysterious disappearance from that neighborhood. They suspect the existence of a cell or organization with a way station, a cooling-off place, somewhere along the Bay, where fugitives can be hidden indefinitely until transportation is ready for them. Ships move up and down the Bay all the time, remember: big, ocean-going ships. In theory, they can be stopped and searched until they pass the Chesapeake Capes, at the mouth of the Bay, and get three miles out to sea. In practice, searching a ship of any size, under way, is an awkward proposition."

I said, "According to what I recall from my brief association with the U. S. Navy, Chesapeake Bay is some two hundred miles long and up to twenty miles wide. The map shows rivers, swamps, bays, inlets, islands-"

"The nautical term is chart."

"Excuse me, sir. Chart."

"Your point is well taken, however," Mac said. "With our limited facilities, it would be fruitless to try to search such an area for a camouflaged waterfront hideout. And we don't even know that it's on the water, although everything indicates that the pickups are made by boat, and it seems likely that the deliveries are made the same way. But in any case, it's a job well beyond our resources, which is why we approached the problem from a slightly different angle."

"I thought we were supposed to be specialists of a sort, sir. What's the matter with all the bright government boys with college degrees and button-down collars-the clean-cut lads who can teach judo to the Japanese and shoot a silhouette target to shreds in three-fifths of a second, starting with their hands tied behind them? Can't they manage to find this subversives' bus stop by themselves?"

Mac looked up. "You're forgetting Ames," he said.

"You said the man he was after had been taken care of."

"To be sure." Mac's voice was cold. "There are, however, some people in the neighborhood of Annapolis, not forty miles from here, who share in the responsibility. An organization like ours cannot afford to overlook interference, particularly when it results in the death of one of our people. That is why I asked that the job be assigned to us." He made a little face. "The others were glad to let us have it. Apparently there are some local political considerations that make it awkward to handle. You might keep that in mind."

"Yes, sir," I said. "So our objective is really teaching these outsiders to be careful who they bump off."

"Let us say," Mac said carefully, "they must learn not to monkey with the buzz saw when it is busy cutting wood."

There was a silence. I looked past him, out the bright window and could see one of the shining white buildings in which earnest men conduct the nation's business openly, with reporters in attendance. I thought about how nice it would be if it could all be handled like that.

I said, "Yes, sir. So we are throwing this agent of ours, Jean, down the rathole to see where she comes out. If she comes out. What makes you think they'll fall for her alcoholic act, sir?"

"That is your job, to make them fall for it," he said. "Don't forget, they will want to fall for it. They do not normally get any of our senior people alive and willing to talk. They'd like to know more about us. There's still a body of official opinion over there to the effect that no decadent democratic society could possibly support a tough agency like ours; that we're a fiction invented by our opposite numbers over there to excuse their failures. There are people over there who would be very glad to have an agent of ours put on exhibit. I think they will take the bait if it is properly presented."

I nodded. "And suppose they do accept Jean for what she claims to be, a potential deserter, what then?"

"Her original orders were to identify the route and the lay-over station, as well as the people involved, as far as possible. Then she was to extricate herself by any available means, and report. No other action was required of her."

"I'd say it was plenty, sir."

"Yes. Unfortunately, I have had to modify those orders in the light of new information." He hesitated, then he drew a piece of paper towards him, took the ball-point desk pen out of its holder and printed a single word. He replaced the pen and pushed the paper across the desk towards me, turning it so that I could read what he had written. "Do you know what that word means, Eric?"

I looked at the paper. The word, printed in capital letters, was AUDAP. It meant nothing to me. "No, sir. They play so many games with the alphabet around here, I've given up trying to figure them out."

Mac took back the piece of paper and drew an ash-stand closer. He burned the paper carefully, powdered the ashes, and tripped the trap to let them fall into the base of the stand.

"That word," he said, "represents one of the most highly classified secrets in Washington, and you've never seen it, of course."

"Of course."

"It's very, very secret," he said. "Only we and the Russians know about it, nobody else."

"I see."

"They do not, however, know as much as they would like. Do you know anything about submarines, Eric?"

"Yes, sir. They travel under water."

"Until recently this was not strictly true," Mac said. "Until recently, a submarine was a surface vessel capable of submerging for short periods of time. Even so, it was a potent naval weapon. Why?"

"I suppose, because when it's submerged, you can't see it."

"Precisely. And with the advent of, first the snorkel, and then nuclear power, enabling the boats to go under water and stay there, this advantage has increased tremendously. Radar doesn't work under water. Sonar is relatively short range and unreliable; besides, the instrument has to be in the water to be effective. This makes it impractical for use from fast search airplanes; the only way large sea areas can be efficiently patrolled." He looked at me across the desk, like a teacher in a classroom. "Do you know which weapon of ours the Russians fear most?"

I shrugged. "The big bombers, I suppose, sir. Or the Atlas missiles with nuclear warheads."

"If they haven't found some kind of an answer to bombers yet, after all the time they've had to work at it, they're not as smart as I think. And the big intercontinental ballistic missiles still have to be fired from fixed sites which can be located by intelligence work-we don't make it very difficult-and more or less neutralized by other missiles or by sabotage. No, the weapon they really fear is the weapon they can't neutralize because they can't find it. It is the weapon we operate out of Holy Loch, Scotland: the Polaris submarine." Mac got up and walked to the window and spoke without looking around. "Of course, what I have told you is the Navy version. An Army or Air Force man might give a different picture. Still, the admiral who explained the situation to me was most persuasive."

"Yes, sir."

"Each Polaris submarine carries sixteen Polaris missiles," Mac said, regarding the sunny view outside. "At present the range is about a thousand miles, but it is being extended. We have-the exact number is confidential- say, half-a-dozen of these submarines operational, but more are being built. Even the half-dozen already on patrol in northern waters give the man in the Kremlin a great deal to think about at night, I should imagine. Six times sixteen is ninety-six nuclear missiles, waiting invisibly under the ocean within range of his major cities. The submarines don't even have to surface to shoot. There's nothing he can do about them-unless he can locate them first." He paused. "The word I wrote down for you, AUDAP, stands for a little gadget just invented known as an Airborne Underwater Detection Apparatus."

There was a short silence. Mac swung from the window and returned to his chair and sat down facing me. He put the tips of his fingers together delicately, and looked at them.

"We don't know," he said, "the mind of the opposition. We don't know how close they are to taking the big gamble. We do know that, even discounting Navy enthusiasm, the Polaris submarine must be a powerful deterrent. But if they should get their hands on a device that gave them some hope of neutralizing that deterrent-" I shrugged expressively.

"Have they?"

"No," Mac said. "The device is safe. The plans are safe. However, the man who invented the device and drew up the plans has disappeared, a gentleman named Dr. Norman Michaelis."

"I see." I frowned thoughtfully. "Was he kidnapped or did he go under his own power?"

"He was on vacation, resting up from his labors on AUDAP. He disappeared while sailing alone on the Bay in a small boat. The wind dropped towards evening, as it does. Some people in a power boat offered him a tow, but he refused it, saying he'd work his way in under sail. Well after dark, the friends with whom he was staying went out in a motor cruiser to see how he was making out. They found the boat sailing merrily along on the evening breeze with no one on board."

"The fact that he refused a tow might indicate something."

"If you don't know sailors," Mac said, "it might. However, a real sailboat man-as Michaelis seems to be

– would rather spend all night trying to get home on a whisper of breeze, rather than be snatched into port at the end of a towline."

"I'll take your word for it," I said. "This nautical kick is out of my line."

"The details don't matter, and the question of whether or not Michaelis absconded voluntarily is also quite irrelevant. Whatever he knows, he can be made to tell, you know that. If they once get him over there, and their experts get to work on him with the latest drugs and interrogation techniques, he will talk freely whether he wants to or not. They all do. It must not be allowed to happen. That is why we-you-have to take such drastic means to bring matters to a head where Jean is concerned. We have to sell them on her, very quickly. If we have luck, and Michaelis and she are held for the same shipment- apparently they don't ship very often, which improves our chances. But they have to be persuaded to take her soon, while he is still within reach."

"This is getting to be quite an order our girl is being handed. Now, not only does she have to fool these people, learn all about them and their organization, whatever it is, and make her getaway, she's got to escape with a helpless Ph.D on her back."

"Dr. Michaelis isn't quite helpless. As a matter of fact, he's well under fifty, athletic, and considered handsome in some quarters."

"Sure. They're all personality kids, these days, and in a tough spot I'd trade them all for one ugly old-timer with store teeth or no teeth at all."

Mac said, as if there had been no interruption, "And I am not ordering Jean to escape with Dr. Michaelis, even if she does have the good fortune to reach him."

I looked at him. "I'm kind of slow, sir. You have to bring me along by easy stages."

"If she can rescue him, that will be fine," Mac said quietly, "but as you point out, it could well turn out to be an impossible task."

"So?"

"Jean's orders are quite simple and specific," Mac said. "You may as well know what they are; they apply to you if by some remote chance you should find yourself in a position to carry them out." He looked at me over the desk. "Our instructions specify only that the knowledge in Dr. Michaelis' head must not leave the country," he said deliberately. "How to achieve this result is left entirely to the discretion of the agent on the spot. No questions will be asked. Do you understand?"

I drew a long breath. "Yes, sir," I said. "I understand."


предыдущая глава | Murderers Row | THREE