Even a ‘Blue’ call means a bad mark for an agent unless his ‘Reasons in Writing’ are unanswerable. London’s radio schedules round the world are desperately tight and their minute disruption by even one extra call is a dangerous nuisance. Strangways had never suffered the ignominy of a ‘Blue’ call, let alone a ‘Red’, and was as certain as could be that he never would do so. Every evening, at precisely six-fifteen, he left Queen’s Club, got into his car and drove for ten minutes up into the foothills of the Blue Mountains to his neat bungalow with the fabulous view over Kingston harbour. At six twenty-five he walked through the hall to the office at the back. He unlocked the door and locked it again behind him. Miss Trueblood, who passed as his secretary, but was in fact his No. 2 and a former Chief Officer WRNS, would already be sitting in front of the dials inside the dummy filing cabinet. She would have the earphones on and would be making first contact, tapping out his call-sign, WXN, on 14 megacycles. There would be a shorthand pad on her elegant knees. Strangways would drop into the chair beside her and pick up the other pair of headphones and, at exactly six twenty-eight, he would take over from her and wait for the sudden hollowness in the ether that meant that WWW in London was coming in to acknowledge.
It was an iron routine. Strangways was a man of iron routine. Unfortunately, strict patterns of behaviour can be deadly if they are read by an enemy.
Strangways, a tall lean man with a black patch over the right eye and the sort of aquiline good looks you associate with the bridge of a
destroyer, walked quickly across the mahogany panelled hallway of Queen’s Club and pushed through the light mosquito-wired doors and ran down the three steps to the path.
There was nothing very much on his mind except the sensual pleasure of the clean fresh evening air and the memory of the finesse that had given him his three spades. There was this case, of course, the case he was working on, a curious and complicated affair that M had rather nonchalantly tossed over the air at him two weeks earlier. But it was going well. A chance lead into the Chinese community had paid off. Some-odd angles had come to light-for the present the merest shadows of angles-but if they jelled, thought Strangways as. he strode down the gravel path and into Richmond Road, he might find himself involved in something very odd indeed.
Strangways shrugged his shoulders. Of course it wouldn’t turn out like that. The fantastic never materialized in his line of business. There would be some drab solution that had been embroidered by overheated imaginations and the usual hysteria of the Chinese.
Automatically, another part of Strangways’s mind took in the three blind men. They were tapping slowly towards him down the sidewalk. They were about twenty yards away. He calculated that they would pass him a second or two before he reached his car. Out of shame for his own health and gratitude for it, Strangways felt for a coin. He ran his thumbnail down its edge to make sure it was a florin and not a penny. He took it out. He was parallel with the beggars. How odd, they were all Chigroes! How very odd! Strangways’s hand went out. The coin clanged in the tin cup.
“Bless you, Master,” said the leading man. “Bless you,” echoed the other two.
The car key was in Strangways’s hand. Vaguely he registered the moment of silence as the tapping of the white sticks ceased. It was too late.
As Strangways had passed the last man, all three had swivelled. The back two had fanned out a step to have a clear field of fire. Three revolvers, ungainly with their sausage-shaped silencers, whipped out of holsters concealed among the rags. With disciplined precision the three men aimed at different points down Strangways’s spine-one between the shoulders, one in the small of the back, one at the pelvis.
The three heavy coughs were almost one. Strangways’s body was hurled forward as if it had been kicked. It lay absolutely still in the small puff of dust from the sidewalk.
It was six-seventeen. With a squeal of tyres, a dingy motor hearse with black plumes flying from the four corners of its roof took the T-intersection into Richmond Road and shot down towards the group on the pavement. The three men had just had time to pick up Strangways’s body when the hearse slid to a stop abreast of them. The double doors at the back were open. So was the plain deal coffin inside. The three men manhandled the body through the doors and into the coffin. They climbed in. The lid was put on and the doors pulled shut. The three Negroes sat down on three of the four little seats at the corners of the coffin and unhurriedly laid their white sticks beside them. Roomy black alpaca coats hung over the backs of the seats. They put the coats on over their rags. Then they took off their baseball caps and reached down to the floor and picked up black top hats and put them on their heads.
The driver, who also was a Chinese Negro, looked nervously over his shoulder.
“Go, man. Go!” said the biggest of the killers. He glanced down at the luminous dial of his wrist watch. It said six-twenty. Just three minutes for the job. Dead on time.
The hearse made a decorous U-turn and moved at a sedate speed up to the intersection. There it turned right and at thirty miles an hour it cruised genteelry up the tarmac highway towards the hills, its black plumes streaming the doleful signal of its burden and the three mourners sitting bolt upright with their arms crossed respectfully over their hearts.
‘WXN calling WWW… WXN calling WWW…
WXN… WXN… WXN…’
The centre finger of Mary Trueblood’s right hand stabbed softly, elegantly, at the key. She lifted her left wrist. Six twenty-eight. He was a minute late. Mary Trueblood smiled at the thought of the little open Sunbeam tearing up the road towards her. Now, in a second, she would hear the quick step, then the key in the lock and he would be sitting beside her. There would be the apologetic smile as he reached for the earphones. “Sorry, Mary. Damned car wouldn’t start.” Or, “You’d think the blasted police knew my number by now. Stopped me at Halfway Tree.” Mary Trueblood took the second pair of earphones off their hook and put them on his chair to save him half a second.
‘… WXN calling WWW____WXN calling WWW____’
She tuned the dial a hair’s breadth and tried again. Her watch said six-twenty-nine. She began to worry. In a matter of seconds, London would be coming in. Suddenly she thought, God, what could she do if Strangways wasn’t on time! It was useless for her to acknowledge London and pretend she was him-useless and dangerous. Radio Security would be monitoring the call, as they monitored every call from an agent. Those instruments which measured the minute peculiarities in an operator’s ‘fist’ would at once detect it wasn’t Strangways at the key. Mary Trueblood had been shown the forest of dials in the quiet room on the top floor at headquarters, had watched as the dancing hands registered the weight of each pulse, the speed of each cipher group, the stumble over a particular letter. The Controller had explained it all to her when she had joined the Caribbean station five years before-how a buzzer would sound and the contact be automatically broken if the wrong operator had come on the air. It was the basic 杭州品茶资源 protection against a Secret Service’transmitter falling into enemy hands. And, if an agent had been captured and was being forced to contact London under torture, he had only to add a few hairbreadth peculiarities to his usual ‘fist’ and they would tell the story of his capture as clearly as if he had announced it en clair.
Now it had come! Now she was hearing the hollowness in the ether that meant London was coming in. Mary Trueblood glanced at her watch. Six-thirty. Panic! But now, at last, there were the footsteps in the hall. Thank God! In a second he would come in. She must protect him! Desperately she decided to take a chance and keep the circuit open.
‘WWW calling WXN____WWW calling WXN____Can
you hear me?… can you hear me?’ London was coming over strong, searching for the Jamaica station.
The footsteps were at the 杭州洗浴会所双飞服务 door.
Coolly, confidently, she tapped back: ‘Hear you loud and clear… Hear you loud and clear… Hear you…”
Behind her there was an explosion. Something hit her on the ankle. She looked down. It was the lock of the door.
Mary Trueblood swivelled sharply on her chair. A man stood in the doorway. It wasn’t Strangways. It was a big Negro with yellowish skin and slanting eyes. There was a gun in his hand. It ended in a thick black cylinder.
Mary Trueblood opened her mouth to scream.
The man smiled broadly. Slowly, lovingly, he lifted the gun and shot her three times in and around the left breast.
The girl slumped sideways off her chair. The earphones slipped off her golden hair on to the floor. For perhaps a second the tiny chirrup of London sounded out into the room. Then it stopped. The buzzer at the Controller’s desk in Radio Security 杭州洗浴按摩全套图 had signalled that something was wrong on WXN.
The killer walked out of the door. He. came back carrying a box with a coloured label on it that said PRESTO FIRE, and a big sugar sack marked TATE & LYLE. He put the box down on the floor and went to the body and roughly forced the sack over the head and down to the ankles. The feet stuck out. He bent them and crammed them in. He dragged the bulky sack out into the hall and came back. In the corner of the room the safe stood open, as he had been told it would, and the cipher books had been taken out and laid on the desk ready for work on the London signals. The man threw these and all the papers in the safe into the centre of the room. He tore down the curtains and added them to the pile. He topped it up with a couple of chairs. He opened the box of Presto firelighters and 杭州spa按摩会所 took out a handful and tucked them into the pile and lit them. Then he went out into the hall and lit similar bonfires in appropriate places. The tinder-dry furniture caught quickly and the flames began to lick up the panelling. .The man went to the front door and opened it. Through the hibiscus hedge he could see the glint of the hearse. There was no noise except the zing of crickets and the soft tick-over of the car’s engine. Up and down the road there was no other sign of life. The man went back into the smoke-filled hall and easily shouldered the sack and came out again, leaving the door open to make a draught. He walked swiftly down the path to the road. The back doors of the hearse were open. He handed in the sack and watched the two men force it into the coffin on top of Strangways’s body. Then he climbed in and shut the 全国高端品茶外围 doors and sat down and put on his top hat. .
As the first flames showed in the upper windows of the bungalow, the hearse moved quietly from the sidewalk and went on its way up towards the Mona Reservoir. There the weighted coffin would slip down into its fifty-fathom grave and, in just forty-five minutes, the personnel and records of the Caribbean station of the Secret Service would have been utterly destroyed.
II CHOICE OF WEAPONS
Three weeks later, in London, March came in like a rattlesnake.
From first light on March ist, hail and icy sleet, with a Force 8 gale behind them, lashed at the city and went on lashing as the people streamed miserably to work, their legs whipped by the wet hems of their macintoshes and their faces blotching with the cold.
It was a filthy day and everybody said so-even M, who rarely admitted the 杭州足疗机 existence of weather even in its extreme forms. When the old black Silver Wraith Rolls with the nondescript number-plate stopped outside the tall building in Regent’s Park and he climbed stiffly out on to the pavement, hail hit him in the face like a whiff of small-shot. Instead of hurrying inside the building, he walked deliberately round the car to the window beside the chauffeur.
“Won’t be needing the car again today, Smith. Take it away and go home. I’ll use the tube this evening. No weather for driving a car. Worse than one of those PQ convoys.”
Ex-Leading Stoker Smith grinned gratefully. “Aye-aye, sir. And thanks.” He watched the elderly erect figure walk round the bonnet of the Rolls and across the pavement and into the building. Just like the old boy. He’d always see the men right first. Smith clicked the gear lever into 杭州按摩点评 first and moved off, peering forward through the streaming windscreen. They didn’t come like that any more.
M went up in the lift to the eighth floor and along the thick-carpeted corridor to his office. He shut the door behind him, took off his overcoat and scarf and hung them behind the door. He took out a large blue silk bandanna handkerchief and brusquely wiped it over his face. It was odd, but he wouldn’t have done this in front of the porters or the liftman. He went over to his desk and sat down and bent towards the intercom. He pressed a switch. “I’m in, Miss Moneypenny. The signals, please, and anything else you’ve got. Then get me Sir James Molony. He’ll be doing his rounds at St Mary’s about now. Tell the Chief of Staff I’ll see 007 in half an hour. And let me have the Strangways file.” M waited for the metallic “Yes, 杭州夜生活杭州百花坊 sir” and released the switch.
He sat back and reached for his pipe and began filling it thoughtfully. He didn’t look up when his secretary came in with the stack of papers and he even ignored the half dozen pink Most Immediates on top of the signal file. If they had been vital he would have been called during the night.
A yellow light winked on the intercom. M picked up the black telephone from the row of four. “That you, Sir James? Have you got five minutes?”