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Authors: Donald Hamilton

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She said, “What is there to check against, Helm? He describes Caselius as a big man with a beard; a Cossack type with a great rumbling laugh. It sounds unlikely on the face of it—it’s a much too conspicuous appearance for a man engaged in secret work—but it could be a disguise Caselius affects on occasion. Anyway, it’s the only description we have, so we can’t argue with it. Taylor describes the organization. It’s their standard organizational setup, so he’s probably fairly close there. He describes several typical operations. Some are on record. He could have learned about them at our end. The information’s supposed to be confidential, of course, but he had the reputation of being very persuasive. Other operations, there’s no way of checking. If somebody photographed a certain secret document, returned it to its proper place in the files, and sent the negative to Caselius, how can we know until the stuff is used against us?”

I asked, “Is there any possibility that Taylor himself is Caselius, and took this way of getting out from under?”

Sara glanced at me sharply. “Where did you get that idea? Did the woman say anything—”

I kicked myself, mentally. I should have remembered that I was dealing with the intelligence mind, and kept my trap shut. To an intelligence agent, there’s no such thing as somebody figuring something out for himself. The information must have been leaked to him by somebody else—preferably somebody who wasn’t supposed to have talked and must be identified and punished. In this respect, the intelligence mind is indistinguishable from the security mind. When dealing with either intelligence or security people, there’s only one motto to follow: don’t be bright, they don’t recognize the existence of brains.

“She didn’t have to say anything,” I said. “It’s a fairly obvious gimmick, isn’t it?”

Sara said, rather stiffly, “I don’t know how obvious it is. We have considered the theory, of course, and it’s very interesting that you should mention it right after having a long conversation with… You’re sure Mrs. Taylor didn’t suggest it to you in some way, maybe quite indirectly?”

“Quite sure,” I said. “I dreamed it up all by myself.”

“Well,” she said, still dissatisfied, “well, we don’t take it too seriously, but we are checking his movements over the past several years and seeing if there’s any correlation with what we know of Caselius’ operations. Taylor did move around a great deal, doing articles for various publications, and as a prominent American journalist he had contacts everywhere. There’s a lot of hate-America propaganda these days, you know; but there are also a lot of government officials in a lot of countries who’ll tell an American things they wouldn’t tell anybody else. Generally they’ve got an ax of some kind to grind, and hope Uncle Sam will supply the whetstone, given the right kind of publicity. Taylor was a genius at sniffing out these people, apparently. And he was also, I gather, the kind of flamboyant character who’d get a big kick out of writing himself up as a master spy, complete with Cossack beard and rumbling laugh, and collecting money for the piece, just before he pretended to be killed and took refuge on the other side of the iron curtain. He had that kind of a sense of humor, they say.”

Her voice was disapproving. Obviously she didn’t like flamboyant humorists.

I said, “Of course, he doesn’t have to
be
Caselius. He could just have been working for the man and decided that things were getting too hot for him and it was time to run to the boss for shelter. But could he have carried it off for years without his wife’s knowing about it?”

Sara said, “It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? However, she
was
shot, apparently. We don’t really know how well the Taylor family got along. Men have been known to get tired of their wives, particularly if the wives happened to learn too much about them.”

“She’s under the impression he saved her life,” I said. “Or says she is, which may only mean that one of them is a hell of a good actor. Well, let’s sum it up. We can take the Taylor article two ways. One, it’s the straight dope, and Taylor just learned too much for his own good, somehow, and made the mistake of publishing it. So he was lured into a deadfall and killed to keep him from spilling whatever else he might have found out that he hadn’t put in this article and might put in the next. His wife happened to survive, and was released after they’d observed her long enough to be pretty sure she didn’t know enough to do any damage.”

“Yes,” Sara said. “It could be that way. In which case you’re wasting your time with her.”

I said, “She’s a bright girl; I’ve wasted more time in worse company.” The woman beside me stirred; perhaps she took the remark personally. I went on crisply: “The other possibility is that Taylor is either Caselius or is working for him, and the article was just a kind of smokescreen he threw out when it was decided that the time had come for the character of Harold Taylor, American journalist, to be dramatically withdrawn from circulation. In this case, of course, the article isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. What about the wife? Did he try to kill her to shut her up, or was there perhaps a lot of shooting to make his so-called death look plausible to her, in the midst of which she took a bullet accidentally? In that case, she’s still innocent, and we’re still wasting time playing with her. Or is she in cahoots with him, an accomplice sent back to serve some sinister purpose, now that he no longer dares show himself in his old haunts? In that case, explain her wound.”

“Plastic surgery,” Sara said.

“She’d have to love the guy a lot to let herself in for spending the rest of her life with a scarred neck and a baritone voice.”

“Maybe the surgeons promised to make her as good as new when the job is done, whatever it is,” Sara said. “Anyway, women do strange things for men.”

“And men for women,” I said, “and so endeth our philosophy lesson for the day, inconclusively. Are there any final remarks you’d care to add before we adjourn the meeting?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said, and hesitated. “No, but… Helm?”

“Yes?”

“If you find Caselius…” Her voice trailed off.

“Yes?”

She drew a deep breath and turned to face me. “Before you… before I help you any further, I must know what you intend to do. Are you going to try to smuggle him back to the States as a prisoner, or will you just turn him over to the Swedish authorities?”

I glanced at her, a little surprised. “Honey,” I said, “that’s none of your damn business. I have my orders. Let it go at that.” Then I frowned. “What do you care? Do you have a yen for this mystery man?”

She drew herself up haughtily. “Don’t be vulgar! But—”

“Quite apart from his value to the other side,” I said, “which I’ve heard estimated at a couple of armored divisions or the equivalent in fully equipped missile bases, you said yourself he’s responsible for several deaths among your colleagues, in addition to what may or may not have happened to Harold Taylor.”

She said coldly, “I’m not responsible for Caselius’ conscience, Helm. I am responsible for my own.”

I said, “Okay, honey. Spell it out.”

“You’ve been sent to kill him, haven’t you? That’s your job, to hunt down a human being like an animal and destroy him! And I’m supposed to… to assist you in accomplishing your mission!”

“Go on,” I said, as she hesitated.

She said, “I’m in
intelligence,
Mr. Helm. I’m a spy, if you like, and it’s not a very respectable profession, I’ll admit, but my job is to collect and evaluate information. It is
not
to act as a hound dog for a hunter of men! Not that you look to me like a very efficient hunter, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is…” The ash from her cigarette dropped into her lap, and she brushed at it quickly, annoyed by the distraction, and returned her attention to me. “There’s a man called Mac, isn’t there? And there’s an organization that hasn’t got a name, but they call it the wrecking crew, or sometimes the M-group. The M stands for murder, Helm!”

I hadn’t heard that one. Some smart-alec must have come up with it since my time. “You’re telling it, honey,” I said. “Keep it coming.”

Her head came up sharply. “Damn you, don’t call me honey! Do you know where I got this information? Not from our side, from theirs! For years we’ve been hearing sly propaganda about an American
Mordgruppe
—hearing it and laughing at it and combating it as best we could, thinking it was nothing but their clumsy effort to justify their own dirty assassination teams. I can remember, when I was stationed in Paris, laughing myself silly when somebody asked me in all seriousness about this fellow called Mac, in Washington, who points a finger and someone dies. ‘My
dear man,’
I said, giggling,
‘you can’t really believe we operate like that!’
But we do, don’t we?”

I said, “Finish the story, Sara. Let’s pass the rhetorical questions.”

She said, “I knew there was something odd when we were notified you were coming… Helm, don’t we
stand
for anything? Have they actually succeeded in dragging us down to their level? Is the world simply divided into two hostile camps, with no moral distinction between them? I had to have a look at you; that’s why I went to Gothenburg this morning, even though it was terribly bad technique. I had to see what kind of a man... I’m not going to do it, Helm! I’ve given you all the help you’re going to get. As a matter of fact—”

“As a matter of fact, what?”

“Never mind,” she said. “You can protest through channels, of course. You can try to have me removed from my post.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. I reached for the door handle. “Don’t worry about a thing, Sara. Just go back to collecting and evaluating important information… Well, I’d better be getting back to the hotel, and I guess I’d better arrive on foot, since I left that way.”

She said, “Helm, I—”

“What?”

“Don’t sneer just because I—”

“No sneer was intended, honey. I respect all your finer feelings, every last little one of them.”

“Can’t you understand how I feel? Can’t I make you see how
wrong
it is?”

My wife had asked me that, too. She’d wanted me to understand how she felt, and I’d understood perfectly. She’d wanted me to see how wrong it was, and I’d seen. They all see what’s wrong with the world, and tell you all about it—as if you’d never noticed it before—but none of them has any practical suggestions about how to fix it. One day we’ll all live on chemicals and never kill a living thing. Meanwhile, we eat meat and take the world as it is. At least some of us do.

“Good night, Sara,” I said, getting out of the car.

Walking away, I was aware of a quick, glowing arc at the corner of my vision as she flicked her cigarette away into the dark. The car door slammed shut behind me. The little Volkswagen motor in the tail of the Ghia started to turn over, and stopped abruptly. I heard her muffled cry. Then they were on top of me.

Lead with your right and take your licking like a man,
Mac had said, but it was a good thing I’d taken the precaution of leaving the knife behind. It was a wonderful, tempting spot for it. There’s nothing like a knife when you’re outnumbered three to one and fighting in the dark. But I didn’t have it, and I wasn’t supposed to know judo or karate, and as far as I’m concerned fist fighting is for kids. I did get one of them lightly with my knee, hoping it would seem accidental, and I bruised my knuckles on the other two, swinging wildly.

Then they had me by the arms, and a couple more were shoving Sara Lundgren along the walk toward me.

8

They took us back through the trees into the little clearing where there was some illumination from the gaudy phone booth, from the lights along the sea-wall promenade, and from the open sky that had the faint yellow glow that goes with any big city, anywhere in the world. The stars looked weak and far away. They’d been much closer, I remembered, back home in New Mexico.

I wasn’t really scared, however. We were over the first hurdle. If killing had been on the program, I figured, I’d have been dead already. That had been the greatest risk, considering the circumstances, and it was past. Now we were playing games. All I had to do was keep the rules clearly in mind, and I’d be all right. Well, relatively all right. I don’t suppose any normal man really enjoys being beat up.

The three of them went to work on me again. They were quite amateurish about it. I got pummeled here and there, I got a cut lip and that would probably turn into a black eye, and a hole in the knee of my slacks when I went down. I was glad I’d had the forethought to change from my good suit. Each one of my attackers was very careful to offer himself to me, wide open, every time he came in to take his swing. You had to hand it to them. They were brave men. They exposed themselves to kicks that would have maimed them for life, to blows that would have killed them—and every time I managed to break free I’d put my head down and charge in swinging like the hero of a TV saloon brawl, and they’d all pile on top of me, and we’d start all over again.

I caught glimpses of Sara between her two guards, first struggling and calling my name and pleading with them to stop, then standing breathless and defeated, and finally, woman-like, beginning to tuck herself in and button herself up and smooth herself down mechanically even as she continued to watch the proceedings with fear and horror. It took me a while to locate the sniper. Finally I caught a glimpse of him among the trees beyond the phone booth, a dark shadow holding a weapon that gleamed dully as he watched my performance, no doubt, with a critical eye.

It’s a foregone conclusion that they’re going to test you out carefully before they accept you as harmless,
Mac had said, and now I was undergoing my entrance exams. The surprising, and encouraging, thing was that they’d still bother. Even if they’d had no evidence against me before, which wasn’t likely, just catching me here with Sara, the local undercover representative of Uncle Sam, was enough to tell them all they needed to know about me. As a stupid free-lance photographer, I was totally unmasked. But it seemed as if I might still be able to do business as a stupid intelligence agent, a thing I’d barely dared hope for, although Mac had obviously had it in mind when he arranged my advance publicity. Apparently these people needed me for something. Otherwise, why hadn’t they either killed me or simply ignored me?

BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
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