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Authors: Donald Hamilton

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BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
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Back in my room, I changed into slacks and a loose sports jacket that gave me a little more freedom than my Sunday suit. Then I opened my suitcase and took out the Smith and Wesson revolver. Mac had wanted to fit me out with some cute luggage lousy with secret compartments, but I’d pointed out that this, if discovered, would be a dead giveaway, whereas anybody who wore hats and boots like mine could probably get away with having a six-shooter—a five-shooter, to be exact—rolled up in the top of a pair of pajamas. If my stuff was examined, it would just go with my gaudy Western character.

I held the weapon for a moment, weighing it in my hand. It was compact and powerful and deadly. The hammer was shrouded so there was nothing to catch in your pocket; a low, grooved cocking piece let you shoot single-action when accuracy was important and you had the time. Not that it would ever qualify as a target pistol. I didn’t like it much. It was too much cartridge for too little gun. It was an ugly, sawed-off little beast, it kicked like a mule, and when it was fired indoors the muzzle blast from the two-inch barrel sounded like an atomic explosion.

The last time I’d worked for Mac there had been a war on, and we’d been allowed to pick our own weapons. For firepower, I’d used a quiet, accurate little .22 and got along fine. But everybody was regulation-happy these peaceful days, and current armaments regulations for people in my category specified a cartridge of no less authority than a .38 Special, a requirement they’d probably got from listening to some cop, since it’s standard for most police departments. Of course, we weren’t cops— quite the contrary—but that thought wouldn’t cross the bureaucratic mind.

I rolled the little monster up in my pajama top again and tucked it back into its nest. Even if I’d liked it, tonight wasn’t the time to wear it.

I took the knife from my pocket, next. It looked like an ordinary jackknife with a stag handle, except that it was just a little bigger. It wasn’t in the regulations. The sections dealing with lethal cutlery were even more ridiculous and impractical than those dealing with firearms, so I’d decided to ignore them. What I had was a folding hunting knife of German Solingen steel. There were two blades, a corkscrew, and no tricks except that, when the large blade was opened it locked into place, so it couldn’t close accidentally on your fingers, no matter what resistance it met in dressing out game—or in any other occupation you might find for it. I’d got it from the pocket of a Nazi officer after my own knife had jammed and broken between his ribs and my partner of the moment—a girl named Tina—had had to save the situation with the butt of a gun.

It wasn’t as big as a fighting knife ought to be, by a long shot, and it wasn’t worth a damn for throwing, being balanced all wrong. But it was inconspicuous enough so that I could carry it anywhere, and even be seen paring my fingernails with it, without attracting much attention except for my bad manners. I’d carried it through the last year of the war, and through fifteen years of peaceful, married, law-abiding existence, when I never touched another weapon but still couldn’t quite bring myself to go totally unarmed. I’d never had occasion to use it, as the saying goes, in anger. Well, there was always a first time, but that time wasn’t tonight.
No weapons except in a clear and deadly emergency,
Mac had said.

I made a face at the dresser mirror. I was just teasing myself. I put the knife in a drawer and temptation behind me. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my attractive, blue-haired, female
, you understand, as much as I’d trust anybody on a job like this. I’d done some checking with official sources while I was supposed to be changing for dinner; and she was the right girl, all right, operating from the right place: an exclusive little shop called Sara’s Modes.

She had a perfect record in attendance and deportment, and she’d been thoroughly examined by her department for loyalty and right thinking: she was certified pure. The fact that she’d blown my cover within five minutes of my landing was undoubtedly a clumsy accident due to over-eagerness. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But a man with my background can’t help having a certain feeling about an assignation that puts him in a lighted phone booth in a deserted park in a foreign city in the middle of the night...

I had no trouble at all in finding the booth. It shone like a Christmas tree, at the edge of a little open area that ran down to the water to join the concrete promenade along the sea wall. There was grass for the kids to play on and benches for watching parents and nursemaids, but the place was empty now.

A little farther on, I saw, the sea wall ended and the walk continued along the low shore. I could see parts of the city across the water, and the lights were reflected by the smooth black surface that was broken here and there by an eddy of current—a reminder that this was, after all, a river of sorts, not a stagnant harbor or lake. There’s no tide to speak of on this coast of Sweden, but the fresh waters of Lake Malaren, west of Stockholm, flow through the city by various channels to mingle with the salt waters of the Baltic Sea, to the east.

So much I’d learned from recent reading. It seemed like a swell place to dispose of a dead body, except that the corpse would probably wash up on one of the multitudinous rocky islands of the well-known Stockholm archipelago to seaward, or be hauled up in some Scandinavian fisherman’s net in an advanced state of decomposition... Sometimes I think I have too much imagination for this kind of work.

I looked at the brightly lighted telephone booth. There were a number of ways I could have approached it, but only one that fitted the part I was playing. I made a smart left turn and marched up to it. Nothing happened. There was no sign or sound of anybody around. The traffic of the city was a distant murmur through the trees of the park.

I got inside the booth and, to be doing something, got out my notebook and looked up the number of the man who was arranging the hunting trips that were my excuse for bringing a rifle and a shotgun into the country. It cost me several small coins to discover that in a Swedish pay phone you deposit your money before you pick up the receiver. After I figured this out, and dialed the number, I got a peculiar signal I didn’t recognize. Apparently the phones in this country played different tunes from the ones back home. The hotel switchboard must have shielded me from the shock of making this discovery earlier in the day.

While I listened, wondering what this un-American instrument would think of next, someone knocked gently on the door of the booth.


I sighed, hung up the phone, turned, took another deep breath, and pushed the door open. Sara Lundgren was standing there. You couldn’t make out the unorthodox color of her hair in the dim light. It just looked soft and bright under her little tweed hat. She looked rather pretty and feminine to me now, after an evening in the company of the taut, shorn, dark leanness of Lou Taylor. I suppose the fact that I hadn’t been quite sure I wasn’t opening the door to violence, or even death, also tended to operate in her favor.

“All clear?” I asked. My voice was steady enough, I was glad to hear.

She nodded. “As far as I can tell. My car is parked on the other side of the trees. We can sit there and talk.”

I don’t like parked cars any more than I like phone booths. All it takes is a small amount of explosive, properly activated, or a single burst from an automatic weapon. There’s no place you can go that can’t be predicted and covered beforehand. But I was just a hick photographer, or, on a different level, a superannuated retread reluctantly put back into service; I wasn’t supposed to be thinking of such things.

“You took your time with dinner,” Sara said, guiding me into a path I hadn’t seen in the dark. Her heels made small clicking sounds against the invisible pavement. “Did you have to let the woman tell you the whole story of her life? Or tell her the whole of yours? At least you could have refrained from spending an hour over the brandy! You might have realized, if you’d bothered to think, that I haven’t had my clothes off since I started for Gothenburg at midnight last night!”

It was kind of like being married again, although Beth had never been the nagging type. I found myself wondering how Beth and the kids were getting on in Reno. It wasn’t much of a place for kids. I said, “You didn’t have to follow us. You knew we’d be coming back to the hotel.”

Sara said irritably, “How do you know what I have to do? Any more than I know what you have to do. All I know is that I’m supposed to watch out for you while you’re here, at the request of your superiors, confirmed by mine. When
get an order, I obey it!”

I listened to her sharp voice, and the rapping of her smart, slim, pointed little heels, and subtracted these sounds from the total sounds of the night. I subtracted the distant traffic murmurs and the soft whisper of a vagrant breeze. That still left a little more sound than there should have been. It wasn’t anything as definite as a cracking branch or even a rustling leaf. It was just the old hunter’s instinct warning me that we shared this park with someone, or something.

Sara stopped abruptly. “Did you hear something? I thought I did.”

“No,” I said. “I didn’t hear anything.”

She laughed uneasily. “When I’m tired, I get nervous. I’ve just got the wind up a bit, I guess. Heavens, I’ve been overseas so long I’m beginning to talk like a Britisher! Come on.”

The car was a little Kharmann-Ghia, a Volkswagen with sex appeal. It was the only vehicle in the parking area, which was located just off a wide street carrying considerable traffic, even at this hour of the night. I hadn’t realized civilization was so close. As I watched, a motor scooter went past. A boy was driving, and a girl, nicely dressed, her skirt rippling in the wind of their motion, was perched gracefully sideways on the rear cushion: two kids on a date. I could imagine the scornful reaction of an American girl offered this breezy transportation after dolling herself up in high heels, nylons, and little white gloves. Behind me, the park was silent. Whoever was there was no longer moving around. Well, neither were we.

“Come on, get in!” Sara said impatiently. She had already seated herself behind the wheel.

I got into the vacant bucket seat, and closed the car door. It closed smoothly and heavily, like a trap springing shut. She was lighting a cigarette. The flame of the match brought her face out of the darkness, ghostly and surprisingly beautiful. It was hard to listen to her, when you couldn’t see her, and remember that she was really a very handsome woman. It was too bad she had to sound like a shrew.

“Have one?” she asked, offering me the package, perhaps as a gesture of peace.

I shook my head. “I quit. It was too much of a nuisance around the darkroom. You can’t make a really sharp projection print in a room full of smoke.”

She said, with a short laugh, “Don’t waste that photographic line on me, my friend.”

I said, “It just happens to be the truth. I’ve actually taken a few pictures in my life; that’s why I was picked for this job, remember?”

She asked, “Well, what did you learn tonight?”

“She’s coming to Kiruna with me. She wants to watch the genius at work and make sure he remembers to put film in the camera, or something. We didn’t go into her motives in detail.” After a moment I asked, “Who’s Wellington?”


“Jim Wellington. A visitor to her room, apparently not for the first time. He seemed quite at home. A big man with curly hair. Just an acquaintance, she says. She also says he’s kind of nice.”


“Or a reasonable facsimile. He mentioned the Baltimore Camera Club, giving the impression he’d once been a star member.”

“I’ll put through a query,” Sara said. She took out a notebook, turned it to face the street lights, and wrote. “Wellington… Description?”

I gave it to her. “He’s supposed to represent some U.S. plastics firm,” I said.

“Anything else to add about him?”

I shook my head. “No.”

That Jim Wellington had been a member of one of our undercover units during the war, and had made a flight across the Channel from a certain field in England on a certain date, was information I was keeping to myself for a while. Not that it labeled him, necessarily, as an honest and upright citizen; a lot of men who’d risked their necks for democracy back in those days had turned their reckless courage and their wartime training into less creditable and more lucrative channels since. But it was something I had on the man that, probably, nobody else around here had; and I wasn’t going to toss it into the common pool of knowledge until I was quite sure I had no use for it myself. Anyway, he’d kept his mouth shut about me. I could do the same for him until I saw a good reason not to.

“Anything else about the woman?” Sara asked.

I shook my head again. “Not much. She’s very good as the grieving widow, bitter but helpless to exact vengeance, now striking out bravely to build a literary career of her own. What do you people have on her?”

Sara said: “What we’ve got is this: their Peugeot sedan was thoroughly riddled with bullets. We were shown the car afterwards. There were lots of holes. They were real holes; you could see daylight through them. There was lots of blood. It was human blood; that was checked. An urn of ashes was buried later. It was inconvenient to analyze them, and it wouldn’t have proved anything, anyway. The people we’re dealing with can procure a human body to burn if they want one, and I suppose one body has about the same inorganic composition as another. The widow attended the ceremony with a bandage around her neck and tears in her eyes. The bandage was real and covered a real wound; our witness didn’t vouch for the tears. And the fact remains that Harold Taylor disappeared at a time when a lot of our people were looking for him to ask him a lot of questions—disappeared from a place he wasn’t supposed to be, a place he could only have reached with a lot of cooperation from the other side.”

I asked, “How much of the stuff in his article checks out?”

The woman beside me laughed shortly and blew smoke against the windshield. I have nothing, in principle, against women smoking, but since I’ve quit myself I must say I find the odor of perfume more attractive than that of tobacco.

BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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