PLEASE DON'T THINK I'm being callous, or anything, when I say it was kind of a relief. It blew away, so to speak, the cobwebs of illusion. It was tough on Louis, but he wasn't a particularly good friend of mine, and it made everything sharp and clear. We could all stop kidding each other now.
I mean, the message was plain: we were through with the phony glamor and politeness. We were through with lovely ladies in filmy peignoirs smiling seductively as they passed out the loaded highballs; we were through with the trick psychology, the slick dialogue, and all the rest of the Hollywood jazz.
Instead, we had, on deck, harsh reality in the shape of a tough woman with delusions of persecution and grandeur, in jeans, packing a shotgun, with a murderous giant to do her bidding. And below, in the swaying and weaving little steel prison of a cabin, we had some more crude reality in the form of a man with a dislocated shoulder, perhaps a cracked skull, certainly a broken nose and several missing front teeth, bleeding copiously. It was an effective antidote to dreams. We weren't going to walk out through an unbolted door and take over the schooner with a wave of the hand. Well, I hadn't ever thought we would, really.
Teddy stared in horror at the beaten man on the floor. She gagged suddenly and scrambled into the head-to use the nautical term-and was sick. I bent down and looked Louis over. I patted him around the body and found no tools or weapons of any kind. That figured. I opened his shirt and looked at his shoulder. It was dramatic. Nick had practically torn the arm off, as you'd rip a drumstick from a cold roast chicken.
What had happened was pretty obvious. Robin hadn't brought me on deck just for fun. In spite of Teddy's confession, she'd remained suspicious of her husband, and she'd had me up there to tease him. She'd let him see us talking cozily together, knowing that, if guilty, he couldn't help but wonder if I was giving him away right before his eyes. She'd known he couldn't stand the pressure; he'd have to go to me for reassurance as soon as possible.
She'd waited for him to betray himself by slipping below to talk to me. When he came back, she'd simply turned Nick loose. With his arm twisted out of its socket, Louis would have talked, all right. He would have told her everything she wanted to know, and all it had got him was a smashed face and a crack on the head. I couldn't help wondering if the brutal embellishments had been Nick's idea or Robin's. I wouldn't have laid bets either way. She was no longer the warm and lovely woman I'd held in my arms; but then, that woman had never really existed.
There wasn't anything I could do for the arm except lash it to Louis' side with his shirt so it wouldn't flop around when I heaved him into the bunk. He paid no attention. He'd been hit hard enough, undoubtedly, to have a concussion; he might even die. I looked into the cubicle next door. The kid had pulled herself together, but she was having trouble pumping out the plumbing. I gave her a hand.
As we struggled with the machinery, the schooner took a sharp list to starboard, and solid green water sluiced briefly across the outside of the smaller porthole above the john. I had to grab Teddy and brace myself to keep both of us from being thrown into the pipes and valves.
I said, "Hell, are we sinking?"
She giggled in spite of herself. "Haven't you ever been on a sailboat before? They all sail on their sides, silly. It's just getting a little gusty out there, and the wind seems to've hauled more abeam." Her amusement faded abruptly. "Matt, now there's nobody to help! What are we going to do?"
I knew what I was going to do, but I could hardly tell her about it. I had no choice now, if I'd ever had any.
She clung to me desperately. "What's going to happen to us?" she breathed. "Where is that woman sending Papa and the rest of us? You didn't tell me. If we can't get away before she puts up on board that ship, what will happen to us?"
If she didn't want to know, she shouldn't ask. I said, "My impression is, we'll be taken overseas to a country where there are some specialists waiting to torture hell out of us-that is, unless there are facilities and experts on the freighter."
Her eyes were wide and shocked, "Torture?"
"Torture," I said. "Don't be naive. Take a look at Louis, for a practical illustration of what happens to people who know things other people want to know."
"Your daddy has some very special information," I said, "and I happen to be connected with a government agency that has aroused a lot of curiosity over there. They had a lady scheduled to take the trip voluntarily, but she died. Well, you know. You were at the motel that night."
Teddy glanced at me. "Did you really kill her, Matt?"
"Let's not go into that," I said. "It's complicated and irrelevant. Anyway, I've been drafted as a replacement. I'm sure there are long lists of questions just waiting to be asked both Dr. Michaelis and me, and all kinds of fancy drugs and devices to make sure we're properly co-operative."
Teddy licked her lips, looking up at me. "But-but I don't know anything!" she cried. "What do they want with me?"
"Well, you annoyed Mrs. Rosten," I said. "You were a contributing factor in getting her all wet, remember. And then you had the bad judgment to show up just at sailing time; and as I told you, your daddy knows something quite important; and one of the best ways to get information out of a stubborn man is to go to work on somebody he happens to be very fond of."
"You mean-you mean they'd hurt me just to get him to talk?" She glanced at me, and looked away. "I'm sorry. That's a pretty selfish attitude, I guess. I just-i've never been in anything like this before."
I helped her out of the head, wishing she wouldn't keep showing flashes of something kind of honest and likable. I mopped some blood off the cabin floor and helped her get settled there with a pillow, since she didn't want to share the bed with Louis, who was breathing in a funny way and showed no signs of regaining consciousness. I tried to make myself comfortable, sitting on the dresser. It was the only vacant space left. From there, I could look out through the cabin porthole, but the only view was of white-topped waves that occasionally washed up against the glass.
They got higher as the afternoon passed, and the motion got more violent. I wasn't surprised when at last Teddy got up quickly and vanished into the head. After all, she'd already done it once; she'd have it in mind. She came out looking pale and miserable and curled up with her pillow, but presently she had to rush in there again. This time she stayed so long I finally went in after her.
She was really in bad shape, too sick to give a damn about the humiliation of having me see her and help her. It was a long nightmare afternoon, and it didn't get much better after it turned into night, with Louis making strange breathing noises in the berth and the kid deathly seasick in the john. It didn't seem quite fair. What I was going to do to Michaelis was bad enough without my having to prepare for it by holding his little girl's head and wiping her chin.
I got her out of the head at last, and she was curled up on the floor, moaning, a small, bedraggled ball of misery, when the motion of the schooner changed quite perceptibly. I switched off the electric light by the dresser and looked out through the porthole. Out in the darkness, the waves, that had been marching off at an angle to the schooner's course, were moving right along with us; we'd changed direction. There were footsteps overhead, and the sounds of ropes being hauled through blocks. I slid off the dresser and bent over the kid.
"Snap out of it, Teddy," I said. "Something's happening. Brief me."
I had to shake her a couple of times before she'd let me help her to her feet. She looked out the porthole and listened. "We're heading straight down wind," she said. "I think we're about to jibe."
"Isn't that dangerous?"
I'd seen it happen on a small scale, years ago, when one of our group had accidentally jibed a twenty-five-footer in training. The guy had been careless, the wind had got behind the mainsail, and the boom-a toothpick compared to the Freya's massive spar-had slashed across the cockpit like a scythe; in an instant, the boat had been lying flat on its side, half full of water.
Teddy laughed at me. She seemed to be feeling better, suddenly; perhaps because the motion had lessened, now that we were running straight before the wind.
"Oh, an uncontrolled jibe could dismast the ship, but with that woman at the wheel and Nick to handle the main sheet and backstays-"
"What's a sheet? I forget."
She glanced at me over her shoulder. "You don't really know very much, do you?"
I said, "I haven't been puking all over the damn boat, either, small stuff. Let's not get into a comparison of our seagoing abilities, huh? What's a sheet?"
"The main sheet is the line-rope to you-controlling the mainsail." Her voice was stiff. "To jibe under control, or wear ship as they used to call it, Nick's got to get the sail sheeted flat aft so it can't swing, and the starboard backstay set up taut; then Mrs. Rosten will bring the stern through the wind… There!"
There was a lurch, and I felt the schooner heel over to the left-excuse me, to port. Above us, blocks squealed and spars creaked; the whole ship seemed to sigh, taking the strain of the masts and rigging a different way.
"Now we're on the starboard track," the kid said. "Nick's cast off the port backstay and is slacking off on the mainsheet… You didn't have to say that!"
She turned to face me. I could see her vaguely in the yellow glow from the bathroom, where the light was still on. She had a pale, rumpled, wrung-outlook; but she was focusing again. Her voice was shrill.
"Just because I don't have the stomach of a goat, like some people!"
"Easy, kid," I said. "I didn't mean-"
"Don't call me kid," she gasped. "I'm twenty-two years old and I'm not a kid and I know you think I'm an absolute fool, the way I've behaved. Theodora the Terrible, the ruthless murderess who can't bear the thought of blood, the irresistible siren who doesn't really want to be touched, the nautical expert who can't even keep her lunch down when it blows. Well, how would you like to be a cute little female Tom Thumb all your life? I'm not a toy, damn it, I'm a person; but try to make people believe it! Just try!" She drew a long, ragged breath. "Here we go again!"
There was again that odd stillness as the schooner came dead before the wind, and the lurch as the sails swung across and filled on the new tack.
"We must be maneuvering inshore," Teddy said. Her voice was suddenly calm again. She looked out. "I can't see anything. I bet they're sweating up there, just the two of them, working a boat this size in shallow water. I hope that woman knows what she's doing. If she puts us aground in this wind, she'll break the ship in two. We'd drown in here before anybody-Matt," she whispered, turning. "Matt, I'm sorry. Be nice to me. I'm so damn scared!"
It was the moment for me to take her into my arms and smooth the matted fair hair back from her small face and kiss her and tell her everything was going to be all right, even if I didn't mean it. It was what she wanted me to do, and I was damned if I'd do it. She at least could have stayed sick; she didn't have to get up and explain her lousy little psyche to me, as if I cared.
Abruptly, the schooner turned left for what seemed an hour, leaning over hard; then it came upright. The sound of flapping canvas reached us from above. I looked at Teddy.
"We've rounded up into the wind," she said. Her voice was strained. "They must be-taking somebody on board."
Something thumped against the side of the ship. We heard footsteps overhead. Suddenly Robin Rosten's voice was speaking in the passageway.
"Straight ahead. Not in there, that's the head-bathroom to you. It's the cabin to starboard. No, no, on your right, you lubber. Throw him in and let's get topside and give Nick a hand before we drift onto the shoals."
The man who opened the door had a seamed, whiskery face and a meaty nose. Remove the whiskers, and it was a face i'd seen in the files, but I couldn't recall the name that went with it. Well, I'd figured he'd be somebody reasonably familiar. Robin had got my code name from the conversation I'd had with Jean; but the name Matthew Helm hadn't been mentioned in that hotel room. She had to have got that from somebody who knew the two names went together.
He'd seen my face somewhere, too, and he was glad to see it again. "Mister Helm," he said. "How nice to make your acquaintance. I have been looking forward to it. You are not as pretty as the lady we were expecting, the one with such a deplorable fondness for liquor, but I'm sure my superiors will not complain
"Stow it, Loeffler," Robin said, behind him, "Never mind the corny dialogue. Just shove in the doctor and secure the door."
"Secure? Ah, you mean fasten-"
The man called Loeffler-which wasn't the name we had him filed under-got a grip on the sagging figure supported between him and Robin, and propelled him forward for me to catch. The door closed, and I was standing there with Dr. Norman Michaelis in my arms, the man I'd come to silence. I remembered Mac's words clearly: How to achieve this result is left entirely to the discretion of the agent on the spot. Do you understand?
I'd understood perfectly then, and I understood just as well now. It was a moment of triumph, in a way. I'd broken discipline and disobeyed orders to get here. I'd played gangster and let myself be drugged and imprisoned. I might never get out alive, but at least my job was finished. Jean's job was finished. I was here, and so was the subject I'd come to find. The rest, for a man of my training, was just a technical detail.