Man From U.N.C.L.E. 02 - The Doomsday Affair, page 1
A beautiful spy who wanted Napoleon Solo to help her defect from Thrush was killed instantly when a lei of ginger flowers thrown around her neck suddenly exploded.
Illya Kuryakin followed the trail of a mysterious Chinese-American who had been reported dead in a plane crash years ago—but who was now a Thrush agent.
And in California…
Deep in the interior of a mountain, technicians in a secret laboratory completed building the device that would destroy the world…
Isolated incidents, thousands of miles apart—yet they were all to play a part in the new Man From U.N.C.L.E. adventure, THE DOOMSDAY AFFAIR!
Incident in Pink Hawaii
AN INSTANT BEFORE, she had been alive.
One moment she was laughing, so darkly lovely that she’d ignite a faraway look in any man’s eyes. Simply being in the same room with her could be an unnerving experience, yet she’d been anxious to unburden herself, frightened, troubled, wanting to get down to the serious business of a confidential talk with Solo on the subject of a mutual enemy.
“Let me get out of this lei and into something more comfortable,” was what she’d said. And then abruptly she was dead.
Napoleon Solo stood immobile, staring at the bewitching corpse without a face. He swallowed hard, thinking she was the loveliest corpse between where she lay on the pink shag rug—and eternity.
For this moment checkmated by shock, he caught a glimpse of himself in the pink mirror. Deceptively slender, no more than of medium height, he had the smart appearance of a young intern, a Madison Avenue account exec, a youthful professional man swinging his way through the fabled gay pads of the globe. He looked like anything except what he was: a diamond-hard, exhaustively trained enforcement agent for perhaps the most important secret service in the world, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
His smile was easy, distilled of genuine warmth and an inner glow of a healthy, finely honed body. His jacket and slacks were impeccably tailored with a Brooks Brothers quality, but the disarming cut concealed a strapped-down Berns-Martin shoulder holster housing its hidden U.N.C.L.E. Special, thirty-seven ounces of deadly weapon, including silencer.
Solo shook his head, stunned, even while a substantial fragment of his precision-trained intellect warned him that he could join her in eternity in the seconds it was costing him to recover from the horror and outrage of her murder. He’d encountered sudden death often, in his work with U.N.C.L.E., but this girl was so young, so lovely—and so abruptly mutilated.
He glanced at the gold face of his Accutron watch, mechanically noting the time. Time no longer had meaning for Ursula, but he still operated for an agency where time was forever of the essence.
A faint breeze faltered in hesitant curiosity in the pink window drapes. The fabric bent inward gently and then expired against the full-length windows as if the breeze had darted in terror back out to the sandy beach which lay like stained carpeting between the pink hotel and the incredible blue of the sea.
Solo broke the spell at last, stepped forward and bent down beside the dead girl.
He scraped his fingers over the rug, attempting to assemble the atoms of flower and string that had recently been a lei of ginger flowers tossed over Ursula’s head in a laughing Aloha at the Honolulu International Airport less than an hour ago.
Solo shook his head again, refusing to accept it. Murder from a lei?
He scowled. Aloha meant both hello and goodbye. Hail and farewell. So long, Ursula. She’d reached up with those golden arms to remove the lei over her head and the mechanism concealed in the bright ginger flowers had blown her face away. There had not even been time for her to cry out, or for Solo to reach her from across the pink bed.
Solo straightened up, shaking off the horror of her sudden and brutal death. It was as if someone compounded of evil had searched diligently to find the most heartless manner of death for lovely Ursula Baynes-Neefirth. She was vain about that classic perfection of her delicately hewn face. Blow it away, then. They’ll seal her casket and sew her in a shroud.
He warned himself for the last time that emotionalism in his job was taboo because it softened him, strangled his thought processes, rendering him ineffective to his profession and to himself.
In the next instant, Solo began to move efficiently, as if unaware of the corpse on the pink carpeting.
From his attaché case he drew a small chrome, plastic and metal rectangle that fit snugly in his palm. From an upper edge he pulled two thread-like antennae that trembled reed-like in the scented breeze in from the banyan park.
He pressed a button on the sender set, blew into the golden netted speaker, waited a moment and then spoke slowly, enunciating clearly: “Bubba. This is Sonny. Acknowledge. Mayday. Acknowledge, please.”
He pressed a second button and stood staring, his eyes fixed on the beach without seeing it Waikiki was loud with laughter, bright with bikinis, busy with surfboards and children building castles in the sand. The sea lay milk-blue with the sun shimmering on it.
And in the midst of all this pleasure he was concerned with death.
Death and failure. Ursula’s death. His own failure. More than a lovely girl had blown up when that ginger lei had exploded.
From where does death always strike? From the most innocent-appearing sources of all. A lei of ginger flowers had erupted in violent murder and his chance to find Tixe Ylno had gone in that sudden flash of time.
He grimaced. You got in a place like this, a pink resort hotel in an unreal Pacific vacationland, and you relaxed. And death struck. And failure. It was over, and months of intensive preparation were fragmented like the petals of those ginger flowers.
“Sonny. This is Bubba. Acknowledging. Over.” It was Illya’s voice, and he felt a sense of relief.
The small sender-receiver in his hand crackled and then was still. Solo prowled the room, counting, and then he crossed to the corridor door, listened a moment and opened it.
Illya Kuryakin grinned at him from beneath a thatch of golden hair. A slender Slavic type, his enigmatic smiling hid all his emotions and thoughts. Congenitally a loner, he was clever and physically adept; Solo had learned that Illya was a good man to have at his side in a tight spot. It was easy to think that Illya was like a machine, computing danger and finding solutions for it, fashioned for this specific purpose. Sometimes nothing seemed to exist for him but the task assigned to him. Of Russian origin, Illya had worked behind the Iron Curtain—sometimes with the knowledge and consent of the authorities, and, when necessary, without it. He’d trained himself to move fast and never to look back because he’d learned the unpleasant way that the devil takes the man who is caught.
At the moment, Illya wore the smartly crisp uniform of a hotel bellhop, and for all the expression in his high-planed face he might well have had no interest in this world except the size of his anticipated tip.
He said, “You mentioned Mayday.
Solo spoke flatly: “She’s dead.”
Illya pushed by him, entering the room. He stood for a full second staring at the lovely body, the faceless corpse. He shook his head. “A lei,” Solo said.
“What?” Kuryakin spun on his heel.
“She was pulling it over her head. Some kind of mechanism. It blew to bits, along with everything else. It was like a Chinese firecracker, then there was this blast of air—the vacuum. It was all over before I could move.”
Illya straightened. “Who sold her the lei?”
“Who put it over her head?”
Solo removed a cigarette lighter from his pocket, flicked it so the fire flared.
He extended the lighter to Illya. “She’s on here, whoever it was. The moment I heard that well-wishing, no-charge bit, I lit a cigarette and snapped her picture. You might want to print them; you’re on the roll, in all your bellhop glory.”
Illya nodded, took three small black plastic cups from Solo’s attaché bag. He tore open foil sacks of powder developer and setting chemical, added water from the bathroom tap in the three cups.
He broke open the cigarette-lighter camera and inserted the protected film roll into the first cup. The protective skin over the film dissolved on contact with the liquid.
Working, Illya spoke over his shoulder, “What did you learn from her?”
Solo shook his head. “Nothing. She was scared.”
“We already knew that.”
“I tried to get her to relax.”
“Three months,” Illya said. “Shot.”
“Never mind beating me over the head with it.”
“I’m not blaming you.”
“Maybe I’m blaming myself.”
“She was a spy. She was trying to quit Thrush. She must have known better. Why should she think she could make it?”
“I promised her.”
“Whoever planned to kill her had it arranged well in advance—”
“That’s for sure. No one knew she was meeting you here except the two of us, Waverly, and the man from the President’s staff.”
“Somebody knew it.”
Solo prowled the room, turning this over in his mind. Kuryakin continued working and none of what he must have been thinking showed in his flat, impassive face.
“Somebody knew where Ursula was going to be, and where, when and how to bypass her fears, her instinct for preservation, her caution—and mine!” Solo spread his hands. “It takes its own kind of intellect to come up with a scheme so simple, and so foolproof.”
Abruptly Solo stopped talking and strode across the room to the baggage rack where the single beige Samsonite weekender bag had rested since the bellhop placed it there when he came into this room with Ursula. The clatter of their relaxed voices still clamored in his brain.
He reached for the bag and withdrew his hands at the precise instant Illya spoke warningly from the bathroom door: “Watch it!”
They stared at each other and Solo gave Illya a somber caricature of a smile.
“You’re all systems go again,” Kuryakin assured him with a faint grin.
Solo strode to his attaché case, returned with a handheld explosive detector. He ran it across the case, along its sides. Gently he turned the weekender over and repeated the process without getting a reaction from the minute needle.
He tossed the detector to Illya, who returned it casually to the attaché case.
Solo released the catches and opened the case. He stared into it, not speaking. After a moment he was aware of Illya beside him, as speechless.
Inside the suitcase were two objects; otherwise it was bare. There was a letter addressed to Ursula Neefirth, King’s Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas. There was no return address, but the cancellation showed San Francisco, 2 P.M., July 12. Beside the letter, carefully coiled, was a silver whip that glittered when it caught the errant rays of the sun.
Solo opened the envelope, removed the single sheet of cheap typing paper. He unfolded it and held it so that both he and Illya could scan it.
“Meaningless,” Illya said.
“If it’s a code, it’s their own private make,” Solo said.
“The whip?” Illya said. “Does this register?”
Solo frowned, aware of the tail-end of a thought flashing through the deep crannies of his mind, darting, but landing nowhere. There was a meaning to the whip, something that had been revealed to them in the briefing on Ursula Baynes-Neefirth at the New York headquarters of U.N.C.L.E.
“It’ll come to me,” he said coldly. “It’s got to.”
Illya glanced at his watch. “Meantime, it’s been thirty minutes up here.”
Solo loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt and, in the same downward movement, unbuckled his belt, unzippered his trousers and stepped out of them.
At the same time, Illya was removing his bellhop’s uniform. They exchanged clothing with maximum speed and efficiency.
Illya checked his watch again. “When you’ve been out of here for five minutes, I’ll call the police and notify the desk—before I walk out…And don’t forget to use the service elevator, will you?”
Solo donned the bellhop uniform. With the trousers on, he crossed the room, returning from the bathroom with the strip of developed film. Drying it beneath the light for a moment, he held the strip under a magnifying glass, scanning along it.
“There she is,” he said. “Looks like a Chinese doll, doesn’t she? A real little death doll.”
EVEN IN THE FLESH, the flower girl looked like a doll.
Solo found her in the terminal building at the Honolulu Airport.
He moved through the crowds, thinking how easy it had been. The only delay had been in changing from the bellhop uniform into jacket and slacks in the men’s room at Kapiolani Park. Carrying his attaché case, he had returned to his rented Chevy and crossed town, going directly out to the airfield.
The look of her was the sharpest image in his mind.
And suddenly he had seen her, exactly as if she had stepped from the snapshot.
He paused a moment, and then strode toward her. There were other girls around her, all colorfully dressed in muumuus or draped in holukus, brightly printed with flowers. But the Chinese girl stood out from them as if she were alone.
She wasn’t quite five feet tall but her figure and everything else about her was perfect: the delicate China skin, the black hair worn straight, starched and ironed almost to her shoulders. She looked as though if you turned a key in her back she’d say, “mama” or “daddy”.
He sidled through laughing groups, delightfully working his eyes back and forth over her, finding her more elegant than the gay strings of leis on her arm.
And then he remembered the lei she’d thrown over Ursula’s head, and some of the beauty of her faded.
The impact of his unwavering gaze somehow communicated itself to the Chinese doll.
Solo saw her head jerk up, her almond eyes, black and frightened suddenly, recognizing him. Fear seeped down from her eyes and her lips parted.
She shook her head.
Solo walked faster.
She turned, looking around like a small, trapped animal. Then she brought her gaze back to Solo’s face.
She looked ill. She reached out futilely toward the girl nearest her, then changed her mind and did not speak to her after all. Instead, she dropped the leis from her arm, pushed between the girls in front of her and ran toward the exits.
The girls turned, chattering like mynah birds, calling after her, some of them laughing.
Solo changed his course, tacking hard right toward the doors and the street.
“Look where you’re going, young man!”
A stout woman had caught his arm and was shaking it with vigorous disapproval.
Far ahead, he saw the girl’s darting run. She went racing past startled people. He tried to follow her with his eyes, but then he had to bring his attention back to the woman who was shaking him, and to the women around them. There were a dozen of them, none under sixty, all being shepherded by a uniformed island guide.
Solo apologized, trying to push his way through them. They all wore leis, carried straw plunder bags and wore comfortable shoes. Clearly they were on an all-expense tour straight from the Midwest.
“I beg your pardon,” Solo
“What’s your hurry, young man? Why don’t you look where you’re going?” the woman said.
“Make him stay after school, Esther!” one of the other women laughed.
Reminded that she was not in the corridors of her school, the large woman released Solo’s arm, flushing slightly. She said again, “You should look where you’re going.”
Solo nodded, trying to step through them and the confusion they created. They milled around him and the bronze-skinned guide like sheep, all bleating at once.
He managed to reach the brink of the flock and he backed away, still nodding, but headed toward the street exits again.
The woman and her French poodle yelped at the same instant. Solo stopped cold, turning.
She was as tall as Solo in her spike heels. She was metallically sleek from her stockings to her hat, as if her beauty were something anodized upon some long-submerged framework.
He found himself startled because she was all in pink, and the carefully trimmed poodle was dyed a matching pink. The color brought back the room in the hotel at Waikiki, and the dead girl.
He stepped around the pink, yapping dog, aware that the herd of women was milling around, bleating toward him again.
He ran for the doors. He went through them, but the delay had given the China doll all the time she needed to elude him.
He stopped on the sun-bright walk, looking around. Cars were lined in the parking area. He brought his gaze back to the walk. The girl was gone. He had lost her.
Solo stood unmoving for a moment. The sharp pop of a starting motorcycle snagged his attention and he heeled around toward it.
The cycle missed, caught, and smoke flared. The cycle raced out from between two cars, coming directly toward Solo and the exit of the airport.
Solo stepped forward, seeing the bright muumuu of the China doll behind the cycle operator. The boy wore a gaudy purple and yellow shirt and skin tight pants. His thick black hair was cropped close to his skull. His ancestry was a wild mixture of Hawaiian, Chinese, Polynesian. He was stocky, keg-chested, shoulders bunched with muscles, a bull neck, thick lips, a flat wide nose, black eyes under thick brows, a narrow forehead.
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