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Chapter Two

I walked half a block at a pace just a trifle faster than the main flow. Then I re-crossed the street, slowed, and gave half a dozen grimy windows filled with moth-riddled mats and hammered brass atrocities more attention than they deserved. By the time I reached the end of the long block, I was sure: the little man with the formerly white suit and the pendulous lower lip was following me.

I moved along, doing enough dodging around vegetable carts and portable Jimii shrines to make him earn his salary. He was a clumsy technician, and working alone. That meant that it was a routine shadowing job; Julius didn't consider me to be of any special interest.

At an intersection ahead, a sidewalk juggler had collected a cluster of spectators. I put on a burst, slid through the fringe of the crowd and around the corner. I stopped, counted to ten slowly, then plunged back the way I had come, just in time to collide with my pursuer, coming up fast.

We both yelped, staggered, groped for support, disengaged, muttering excuses, and separated hurriedly. I crossed the street, did an elementary double-back through an arcade, and watched him hurry past. Then I hailed a noisily cruising helicab that had probably been condemned and sold by the City of New York Transit Authority a dozen years earlier.

I caught a glimpse of him standing on the corner looking around worriedly as we lifted off over the rooftops. I didn't waste any sympathy on him; he had been carrying a heavy solid-slug pistol under one arm, a light energy gun under the other, and at least three hypo-spray syringes under his left lapel—probably containing enough assorted poisons to suit any personality he might take a dislike to.

I took out his wallet and riffled through it; there were a couple of hundred Algerian francs, a new two cee American bill, a folded paper containing a white powder, a soiled card imprinted with the name of a firm specializing in unusual photographs, one of the photographs, a week-old horoscope, and a scrap of paper with my name scrawled on it. I didn't know whether it was Julius' handwriting or not, but there was enough of a UN watermark showing to make the question academic.

The cab dropped me in the wide plaza in front of the down-at-heels aluminum and glass Army-Navy-Air Club. I gave the driver the little man's two hundred francs. He accepted it without comment; maybe New York had thrown him in on the deal with the heli.

* * *

I had an hour or two to kill. It would be necessary to stay away from my room long enough to give Julius—or anyone else with an interest in my movements—adequate time to look over the evidence planted there to satisfy himself about my mission in Tamboula.

Meanwhile, food was in order. I dodged the outstretched palm of a legless fellow mounted on a wheeled board, and pushed into the cool, pastel-tinted interior of the club, where chattered conversations competed with the background throb of canned music.

In the split-level dining room, I found a table by a sunny window. I had a surprisingly good lunch, lingered over a half-bottle of Château Lascombe '19, and watched the officers of the opposing armies scheduled to go into combat an hour after sundown. They shared tables, chatting and laughing over the brandy and cigars. The bright green of the Free Algerian uniform made a handsome contrast with the scarlet of the Imperial Moroccans.

It was either a civilized way to wage war or a hell of an idiotic way for grown men to behave—I wasn't sure which. I turned my attention from them and devoted the next hour to a careful study of Felix's instructions.

Sunset was beginning to color the sky when I left the club and walked the four blocks to the King Faisal. Just opposite the marquee, a uniformed chauffeur seemed to be having turbine trouble. He stood peering under the raised hood with a worried expression. I went past him and a pair of shady-businessman types, who started a vigorous conversation as I came up, fell silent as I went through the door.

Inside, a slight, colorless European in a tan suit was leaning against the end of the lobby news kiosk. He gave me a once-over that was as subtle as a left hook.

At the desk, the tubby, Frenchified little Arab day manager rolled his eyes toward the far end of the counter. I eased along, made a show of looking through the free tour maps.

He sidled over, perspiring heavily. "M'sieu'—I have to tell you—a man was interrupted searching your room this afternoon." His voice was a damp whisper, like something bubbling up through mud. His breath did nothing to lessen the similarity.

"Sure," I said, angling myself so that the nearest operative could hear me without straining. "But how about the Casbah?"

The manager blinked, then got into the spirit of the thing. "I would have held him for the police, but he made a break for it—"

"Say, that's fine. I've always wanted to see those dancing girls. It is true about the raisin in their belly-button?"

"That fellow—" The manager's eyes rolled toward a tall, thin man who was standing nearby, leafing through a picto-news that looked as though his lunch had been wrapped in it. "He has been here all the afternoon." His voice dropped still more. "I don't like his looks."

I nodded. "You're right," I said loudly. "And he's not even reading; his lips aren't moving."

The newspaper jerked as though he'd just found his name in the obituaries. I went past him to the elevator, waited until the man in the tan suit had followed me in and got settled; then I stepped back off. He hesitated for a moment, then showed me an expression like a man who has just remembered something, and hurriedly got off. I promptly got back on, turned, and gave him a nice smile that he failed to return as the doors closed.

Riding up, I did a little rapid thinking. The clowns in the lobby were a trifle too good to be true; the manager's little contribution was part of the performance, just in case I failed to spot them. Julius wanted to be sure I knew his eye was on me.

I punched a button, got off a floor below my own, and went along to the fire stairs. Palming the little 4mm Browning dart gun Severance had given me, I pushed through the glass door, and went up past a landing littered with used ampoules and the violet-tinted butts of dope-sticks. I came out in the shadows at the end of a poorly-lighted corridor.

My room was halfway along on the left. I put my finger-ring microphone against the door, placed my ear against the ring. I heard the clack of water dripping in the bathroom, the hollow hum of the ventilator, sounds from beyond the windows—nothing else.

I keyed the door quietly and went in; the room was empty, silent, sad in the early-evening light. The key to my briefcase lay where I had left it. I shone my UV pen-light on it, examined the wards; the fluorescent film with which I had coated the web was scored.

That meant that by now Julius was scanning copies of a number of carefully prepared letters and notes establishing my anti-UN, anti-Julius sentiments. It was risky secondary cover to use with a man as sensitive of personal status as the General, but Felix had decided on it after a close study of his dossier. Give a man what he expects to find, and he's satisfied; at least, that was the theory.

* * *

For half an hour I puttered, putting away shirts, arranging papers, mixing another drink. At the end of that time I had completed my inspection and was satisfied that nothing new had been installed in the suite since I had seen it a few hours earlier. The IR eye still peered at me from the center knob on the chest of drawers, and the pin-head microphone in the plastic flower arrangement was still in place. I hung a soiled undershirt over the former; the audio pickup didn't bother me. I'd just make it a point to move quietly.

It was almost dark now—time to be going. I made a few final noises in the bathroom with running water and clattering toilet articles; then I flipped off the lights, made the bed creak as I stretched out on it, then rose carefully, entered the closet, and soundlessly shut the door.

Following Felix's written instructions, I unscrewed the old-fashioned fluorescent tube from the ceiling fixture, pressed the switch concealed in the socket; the hatch in the end wall rolled smoothly back. I stepped through, closed it behind me, went along a narrow passage that ended in an iron ladder leading up.

At the top, I cracked my head in the dark. I felt for the latch, lifted the panel, and pulled myself up into the stifling heat of the dark, cramped room Severance had fitted out as my forward command post. It wasn't much to look at—a seven-by-twelve-foot space, low-ceilinged, blank-walled, with a grimy double-hung window at one end giving a view of irregular black rooftops, and, far away, tall palms like giant dandelions against a sky of luminous deep blue.

I closed the shutters and switched on the ceiling light. A steel locker against the wall opened to the combination Severance had given me; if I had made an error, a magnesium flare would have reduced the contents to white-hot ash.

I pulled the door wide, took out a limp, fish-scale-textured coverall with heavy fittings molded into the fabric at the small of the back and the ankles. I pulled off my jacket, struggled into the garment. It was an optical-effect suit—one of the CBI's best-kept secrets. It had the unusual property of absorbing some wave lengths of light and re-emitting them in the infra-red, reflecting others in controlled refraction patterns. It was auto-tuned over the entire visible spectrum, and was capable of duplicating any background pattern short of a clan Ginsberg tartan. I couldn't walk down le Grand Cours in Paris in it without causing a few puzzled stares, but in any less crowded setting it was as close an approximation of a cloak of invisibility as science had come up with. It was the Cover Lab's newest toy, and was worth a hundred thousand cees in small, unmarked bills in any of the secret marketplaces of the world.

The second item I would need was a compact apparatus the size and shape of an old-style cavalry canteen, fitted with high-velocity gas jets and heavy clips that locked to matching fittings on the suit. I lifted it—it was surprisingly heavy—and clamped it in place against my chest. Broad woven-wire straps stitched into the suit took up the weight. I tried the control—a two-inch knob at the center of the unit.

Immediately I felt the slightly nauseous sensation of free-fall. The surface of the suit crackled softly as static charges built and neutralized themselves against the field-interface. Then my toes were reaching for the floor. My focused-phase field generator was in working order.

I switched it off, and gravity settled over me again like a lead cape. I checked the deep thigh-pockets of the suit; there was a pair of three-ounce, hundred-power binocular goggles, a spring-steel sheath knife, a command-monitor communicator tunable to the frequencies of both combatants as well as the special band available only to Felix. I pressed the send button, got no reply. Felix was out.

In a buttoned-down pocket, I found a 2mm needler, smaller and lighter than the standard Navy model I normally carried. Its darts were charged with a newly developed venom guaranteed to kill a charging elephant within a microsecond of contact. I tucked it back in its fitted holster with the same respect a snakehandler gives a krait.

I was hot in the suit. Sweat was already beginning to trickle down my back. I switched off the lights, opened the shutters and the window, crawled through and found a precarious foothold on a ledge.

The air was cooler here. I took a couple of deep breaths to steady my nerves, carefully not looking down the sheer five-hundred-foot face of the building. I groped the communicator from my pocket, made another try to raise Felix. Still nothing. I would have to move without the reassurance of knowing that someone was available to record my last words.

I twisted the lift control. At once, the close, airless pressure of the field shut away the faint breeze. Tiny blue sparks arced to the wall at my back. I was lifting now, feeling the secure pressure against my feet drifting away. I pushed clear, twisting myself to a semihorizontal chest-down position, and waved my arms, striving for equilibrium, fighting against the feeling that in another instant I would plummet to the pavement. It was a long way down, and although my intellect told me my flying carpet would support up to a half-ton of dead weight, my emotions told me I was a foolish and extremely fragile man.

I touched the jet control lever, and at the forward surge, my vertigo left me; suddenly I was a swift, soundless bird, sweeping through the wide night sky on mighty pinions—

A dark shape loomed in front of me; I gave the field-strength knob a convulsive twist, cleared an unlighted roof antenna by a foot. From now on, I told myself, it would be a good idea to do my pinion-sweeping with a little more caution. I slowed my forward motion and angled steeply up.

The lights were dwindling away below—the glitter of l'Avenue Organisation des Nations Unis, the hard shine from the windows of hotels and office buildings. The sounds that floated up to me were dull, muted by the field. At an estimated five-hundred-foot altitude, I took a bearing on the blue beacon atop the control tower at Hammarskjöld Field, a mile east of the town. I opened my jets to full bore and headed for the battlefield.


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