Man from u n c l e 02.., p.7

Man From U.N.C.L.E. 02 - The Doomsday Affair, page 7

 

Man From U.N.C.L.E. 02 - The Doomsday Affair
 


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Solo caught her arms, gripping her gently and yet firmly. Her lips quivering, the hysteria building in her, she tried to break free. She could not.

  She burst into tears, crying suddenly in hurting sobs. “Oh, please let me alone.”

  “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. And I don’t believe you want me to.”

  “You’re crazy!” She screamed it at him. I never saw you before you walked in here. I never heard of you. That’s the way I want it.”

  “No. You don’t know me. But you know—inside—that I’m trying to fight whoever it was who killed Ursula. And you know that whatever chance you have of staying alive depends on your working with me, helping me. Maybe the odds against you are bad. I tried to help Ursula. I couldn’t do it. But I’ll try to help you—and you know that your chances are better with me than without me.”

  She shook her head, her mouth trembling, her body shaking. “No. I’m afraid. I only want to stay alive, that’s all I want. I haven’t seen Ursula not for years. That’s the truth. What could I know? Don’t drag me into it. Please don’t.”

  “Am I dragging you into it, Barbry? You knew Ursula was frightened—and I believe you know why. Ursula’s death was decided a long time before she arranged to meet me in Hawaii.”

  The girl sobbed openly now, almost lost in mindless hysteria. She repeated over and over, “I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid.”

  “Why, Barbry, why?”

  “No. I don’t know. Let me alone.”

  Solo sighed and dropped his hands to his side. “What if I do let you alone, Barbry, what then?”

  “I’ll be all right.” But she pressed her trembling hands over her face.

  “No. When you walked in here and saw me in that chair, you almost fainted. Why? Because you were afraid I had come—from whom, Barbry? From the man who had killed Ursula?”

  “No. I don’t want to talk about it.”

  “You know something else, too, Barbry. If you even suspect the identity of the man who sentenced Ursula to death, you must realize that you, too, are in the same danger that she was. You’ve got to have help to stay alive. I can walk out—or I can stay. That’s up to you. Either way, you’ve got to face it. Alone. Or with whatever help I’m able to give you. There’s a big organization behind me, Barbry, and I can offer you whatever power they possess to help you.”

  “I’m so alone. I’m so afraid.”

  “You’ve been alone and you’ve been afraid ever since Ursula died. It doesn’t have to be that way any more.”

  Barbry straightened slightly. “What can I do?”

  Solo sighed. “I want whatever information you have on Ursula. You won’t be adding anything by telling me that she worked as a spy for Thrush. We know that. We know she was trying to break away. That’s why she was killed. What we need are the people she worked with in the immediate past inside Thrush. Anything you know about them, any of them. Maybe you even know the reason why she wanted to quit the conspiracy. Whatever you tell me I promise to keep in strictest confidence. But it might be the key that will open up this whole affair.”

  Barbry Coast stood immobile and stared up at him for some seconds. He saw that she was looking at him for the first time. She had been until this moment so wrapped up in the ball of fear that her life had become that she’d been incapable of turning her attention outside her own confused, terrorized mind.

  Her face was rigid, pallid. She walked away from him, moving woodenly, her thoughts spinning. She appeared hardly aware of what she was doing. She went behind a screen, dropped the robe and dressed in that same abstracted way.

  At last she said, “I don’t know why I trust you. Maybe like you say I’ve got no choice. I’ve got you or nobody…Ursula trusted you, and she died…but maybe at least she wasn’t alone when it happened. Maybe the way things are with me right now that’s all that matters.”

  Barbry Coast sat across the white-linen covered table in a restaurant booth. She turned the daiquiri slowly in her fingers. “You’re right. I am scared. I’ve been out of my mind. Since Ursula was killed, it’s as though I’ve been sitting around waiting for them to come for me. I knew they’d find me sometime. I changed my name, my act, everything about me—and all the time I knew it wasn’t any good.”

  “I got to you first. You’re going to be all right.”

  She drew little comfort from his reassurance. She’d lived too long with her desperate terror to have it easily allayed. “It’s not much of a life being a goldfish in a San Francisco night-joint, but it’s all the action they gave me, and I’m stuck with it—and I’m honest enough to tell you I’m scared to die.”

  “Do you know how Ursula got mixed up with Thrush in the first place?”

  She was silent for some seconds. At last she looked up. “We were doing this act. We were free—and dating a lot. We didn’t even realize that most of our dates were with military men. They were alone, had money and were looking for fun. We just got together. Then this man came along—he was a Chinese-American, a truly ugly man, though I’ve met a lot of ugly men who were nicer than the handsome ones. But not him. He told us what a high percent of our dates were with men involved in top-secret military and missile matters. He said he could get us booked only into fine clubs near these missile and military centers and that we could make more money than we’d ever dreamed of making simply by repeating to his men anything that our dates said to us. I didn’t want to do it, and I told him those men never talked about secret matters. But Ursula laughed at me, and he knew better anyhow. He said all men boasted when they drank too much, especially with women.

  “Ursula went for it, right from the first. She warned me that I might get in trouble unless I agreed. When this man came back for our answer, we both said we’d agree to his deal. But he said he only wanted to hire Ursula at that time. The reason—well, he said he could contact me later.

  “I got ill then, seeing that Ursula had joined this man’s organization. Suddenly we got a complete new set of bookings. But I was too nervous. I was getting ulcers worrying about Ursula and what was going to happen to us. We broke up the act. She went on working for them, and I tried to change my name and lose them. I was afraid—even then.

  “Once Ursula and I met, accidentally, for a little while. She was thin, pale, nervous, tense, scared. She wanted out, but didn’t know how to get free—and stay alive.

  “We had a silly code made up of hip words, and I wrote to Ursula in our secret code begging her to make a break, to get away and to turn herself in to the C.I.A., the government, anyone who could help her.”

  Solo handed her the letter he had found along with the silver whip in Ursula’s suitcase. “Is this the letter?”

  Barbry smiled wanly. “Yes. That’s it. It’s just a jumble of zero-cool words. The only way you can understand it is to know what the other person is talking about. Ursula knew. I never heard from her again. After I wrote her, I got frightened again. I dyed my hair again, I left Chicago suddenly, and turned up out here with my new act and my new name. But I know they’ll find me. They can find anybody they want to find.”

  “Who is ‘they’? The Chinese-American that originally approached you and Ursula?”

  “Yes. Him. The rest of them. But him mostly. He’ll find me if he wants to.”

  “Could you make it easy for him?”

  “What?” She shook her head, her eyes dilating.

  “I want you to let him find you. We need you to bring him out—so we can trap him.”

  She shook her head. She stared at him. Her face was milk white, and her eyes empty Her lips moved, but she did not speak. He leaped up, going around the table because she fainted suddenly, her face striking hard, straight down.

  IV

  ILLYA AWOKE and found himself lying curled upon a red and brown Mexican rug.

  He shivered, opening his eyes. Remembering the injection given him by Sam Su Yan, he was astonished to find his mind was clear.

  “Ah. He wakes up. Our guinea pig.” He heard Sam’s voice
somewhere above him.

  He turned his head, but the light pained his eyes, and suddenly his whole body twitched as he had seen spastics quiver.

  He tried to speak, but the words were garbled, meaningless, and his tongue felt thick in his mouth.

  He heard Sam’s amused chuckle, mixed with something new—a woman’s contemptuous laughter. He tried to turn again, but every time he tried to move at all, his body reacted in violent and disjointed spasms.

  He stared up at Sam standing like a bony vulture above him.

  “Yes.” Sam was pleased. “We are getting about the same reactions from our human guinea pig that we elicited from our other animals in the lab. Your mind is quite clear, is it?” His smile was sour. “No sense your trying to say yes or no; it won’t come out that way. The only sounds you can make are those mindless grunts of the idiot, the spastic, the victim of stroke or brain damage. Try to get up. Come on. Get up on your feet!”

  Illya turned his body, aware of the tremors that went through him. When he ordered his arms to support him, his legs bent or straightened, or simply trembled while his arms flew in wild, useless motions.

  Sam and the woman laughed again. She moved closer now, in lime green shift, high heels, her hair a golden red. Illya saw her as the kind of new discovery he wouldn’t want to introduce to the boys.

  Sam Su Yan noticed Illya’s rapt staring at the woman. He laughed. “I’m afraid women will be of little use to you in your condition, my friend—unless you enjoy tormenting your mind by seeing what you cannot touch. This is Miss Violet Wild, Kuryakin. I’m sorry I cannot remain here any longer to enjoy the side-effects of my revenge upon you. More urgent matters demand my immediate attention. I’m sure you’ll forgive me. Miss Wild will see you safely put away.”

  Illya struggled frantically on the floor, managing to get to his knees before he was attacked by a sudden fit of violent trembling and sprawled out face down upon the carpeting. He lay still there watching Su Yan and Violet Wild leave the room.

  He stayed face down, panting against the carpeting, his body dissociated from the messages of his mind. It was as if the drug had scrambled his nerve centers. Every order from his mind only seemed to confuse and aggravate his nerves and muscular controls.

  Lying there he felt the pressure of his shoulder holster, of his gun. They were so sure of themselves they had not even bothered to disarm him.

  Painfully, and after many false starts, and falls and wild muscular spasms in his legs and arms, Illya fell over on his back.

  Exhausted, he lay for a moment before he attempted any other moves. Then, his forehead sweat-beaded, he ordered his right arm to reach for the gun in his holster.

  His left arm trembled and waved in a wild arc. But when it fell, it landed on the holster, although there seemed little sense of feeling in his fingers.

  He could see his hand lying on the holster.

  He bit his lip, sweated, afraid that his arm might suddenly fly away from the holster in another spasm. Closing his eyes tightly, he ordered his right hand to close on the holster, to cling tightly. His left hand closed on the holster, but his arm quivered all the way to his shoulder.

  Afraid even to compliment himself upon this small success, Illya forced his hand to inch upward toward the gun butt.

  His shirt was sweat-damp, his eyes burning with perspiration by the time he forced his quivering, fatigue-aching hand to close on the gun butt.

  He said the words over and over in his mind. Draw. Draw the gun. Draw.

  Suddenly his left arm moved, yanking the gun from its holster. Then it swung in wide arcs, gyrating, shaking, no matter how his mind screamed at it to lie still. The fingers loosed and he watched the gun sail halfway across the room and go sliding under the bed.

  He sagged back on the carpeting, too tired to care. His left arm continued to tremble.

  He managed to turn his head and saw that his luggage had been brought into this room and stood with two green lightweight lady’s weekenders.

  He remembered Su Yan’s words: “Miss Wild will see you safely put away.”

  He breathed heavily, going over in his mind the implications of this mild statement. His mind remained clear, but he made the noises of a cretin idiot and his movements were those of one who suffered from epilepsy, or a crippling stroke, or brain damage at birth. He could not even control any of his movements.

  Miss Wild will see you safely put away.

  Put away where?

  He managed to search the room by flailing about, lifting his head only to have it fall back hard upon the floor. He was alone. They were certain he wasn’t going anywhere.

  He managed to hurl his right arm upward and allow it to fall across his shirt pocket and the ball-point pen clipped upon it.

  Minutes later he had it closed in his fist and his shaking thumb had pressed down, releasing its point.

  Holding the pen as if his life depended upon it, he rolled across the room to the small desk. Quivering, his body jerking in strange and uncoordinated spasms, he pulled himself up to his knees. He reached out and pulled the small stack of hotel stationary toward him.

  The papers fluttered out around him and he sprawled out, holding the pen in his fist.

  He closed his eyes as tightly as he could after setting his shaking fist at the top left hand corner of the sheet of white paper. He gripped the pen with all his strength even though this caused the rest of his body to react in paroxysms.

  He took his time. He knew he could not hope to do more than to print his given name and the word help. Even this pushed out of the balcony would be enough to alert the other U.N.C.L.E. agents in the immediate vicinity.

  He exhaled at last, dropping his head upon his arm. He cried out his success in wild laughter, recoiling from the unnatural sounds pouring across his mouth. He didn’t care, it was laughter. It was triumph. It was mind over convulsive muscle.

  He lifted his head, staring at the short distance to the double doors standing open to the balcony. He had only to grip the paper, roll over there and let the wind catch it. Miss Wild will see you safely put away.

  Maybe she would, Sam.

  He finally was able to force his fist to open and let the pen drop to the floor. Then he turned his attention to closing either of his hands on the paper on which he had written, Illya. Help.

  He stared at the paper upon which he had written so agonizingly.

  The sound that burst from his mouth was a sob of agony, and it sounded like one. He cried out violently, helplessly. The words his mind had struggled so long with were not words at all. There was nothing on the paper except the meaningless scribbling of a three-year-old child.

  V

  SOLO MOVED the spirits of ammonia under Barbry’s nose.

  “No.” She sat up protesting, pushing the small bottle away from her nostrils.

  “You all right?”

  A slight shudder coursed through her at the sound of Solo’s voice. Obviously, it brought back abruptly the reason why she had fainted.

  “How did I get here?” She opened her eyes, staring about her in alarm.

  “There’s nothing to be afraid of—”

  “Let me decide that.” Her voice quavered.

  “You’re all right, Barbry. You fainted in the restaurant. I didn’t want to attract too much attention to us, so a waiter and I walked you out to a taxi, and I brought you here.”

  She met his gaze. “Yes. You brought me here. Where am I?”

  “You’re all right. You’re in my room at the St. Francis Hotel.”

  “You’re a sneaky worker, aren’t you?”

  Solo smiled wryly. “Under other circumstances I’d most definitely be using all my wiles on you, Barbry. But right now I’m trying to help you, whether you believe me or not.”

  “Right now I’m not so sure.”

  He grinned at her. “I had coffee sent up. You’ll feel a lot better.” He poured a cup from the glittering silver service.

  She took the small china cup
, sipping at it, relaxing slightly.

  “Why did you bring me here, Solo?”

  “What would you do with a woman who fainted in a public place?” He sipped at a cup of coffee. The steam rose between them. “I promised to protect you. I can do it better when you’re where I can watch you.”

  “That’s all off, Solo.”

  He set his cup down, watching her narrowly. “What are you talking about?”

  “The agreement you and I made. I meant to keep it. But you’ve already broken your part of it.”

  He frowned. “Do you mind explaining that?”

  “It’s simple enough. I told you I was scared half out of my mind. You said that if I’d tell you what I knew of Ursula and the time she worked as a spy with Thrush, you’d try to help me stay alive.”

  “And I do promise that.”

  “No. You said talk. But the next thing you wanted was to use me as bait to lure a man into your trap. He’s a man I’m more afraid of than I am of the devil. Talking about him is one thing. Putting myself where I know he can get at me—I don’t want any part of that. I mean it, Solo. I’m dead afraid—and I’m not going to get involved.”

  “You are involved.”

  “Am I? Then I’m not going to get involved any deeper.”

  He stood up. He looked down at her. “I don’t blame you for being afraid. I wouldn’t think much of you if you didn’t have sense enough to be scared—”

  “Oh, I’ve got a lot of sense! I’m scared to death. Sorry, Solo, flattery won’t do it, either.”

  He smiled, “All right. But maybe the truth will, and the unvarnished truth is, Barbry, you are involved. I assure you that you are. If only because you were approached by Thrush—that means they know about you. Whatever it is they plan to do now, they may be afraid to trust you. You said for some reason they turned you down, but you didn’t tell me what it was.”

  He saw a shadow flicker across her dark eyes. She drew a deep breath. “I don’t want to talk about it—the reason.”

  “Why?”

  “Because it doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

  He shrugged. “That’s up to you, Barbry. Everything you tell me to help me may aid in saving your life. But what you want to tell me, and don’t want to tell me, that’s up to you…But there are more reasons why you’re in danger from Thrush. You wrote Ursula a letter—and even if it was in a hip jargon only the two of you would understand, it would be enough to make Thrush suspicious of you. And the very fact that you stayed with Ursula for some weeks after she started working for Thrush may mean that you—even unwittingly—met or heard from Ursula about a man that we know only by his code name—Tixe Ylno. You may have seen him, or you may know him well enough for your life to be forfeit because he’ll be afraid to let you live at this critical time in his plans.”

 
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