On the way to the Lido deck, I stopped at Don’s room, and assured myself that the Basque was going to be on the radio while the rest of us were ashore. I opened Don’s door, unannounced, then greeted his bedmate. She held up her radio. I pulled mine out, and then turned it on.
“You’re Number One, for the remainder of the mission,” I said, into my small device. I had heard my own voice come out of her micro-machine. The devices were so well made, and modulated, that there had been no interference squeal, which might have otherwise garbled my message.
“And you?” she sent back to me.
“Cherub,” I transmitted.
That ‘handle’ had been given to me by a sitting president of the United States. There was no more cherished prize, than to receive a nickname directly from the commander-in-chief, but I had not been happy with mine. My looks, I knew, explained the origins of the name, but its lack of any macho flavor had bothered me throughout my entire career. It did, however, provide constant entertainment to all who worked with me.
“And Don?” the woman went on.
“Andre,” I said directly, not using the device.
The Basque broke out into one of her rare charming smiles.
“Once we’re ashore, you start making your rounds. Don’t call either of us unless it’s vitally important, as the radios will be revealed. Try to wait, unless it’s critical, for us to call you.”
We all had earpieces, but wearing such aberrant devices would give us away as quickly, and surely, as having a metallic voice speak from inside our pockets.
“Good luck, Indy,” the Basque whispered to me, off the air.
I prayed that she would not stay locked away in their cabin.
The Lido deck was pulsing with milling passengers. They had completed their breakfast, and were being cleared to go ashore. Ordinarily, Benito would have been at the head of the gangplank. Nobody was there. Marlys was not behind the bar. Don and Dutch were nowhere to be seen. I had not performed a last minute operations plan. I shook my head in frustration with myself. The plan should have kicked off with all of us together, everyone re-checked individually for his or her role in the mission. Instead, the mission was proceeding as if we were all scouts at some grand jamboree, aimless until forces outside our control mandated action. I checked my Breguet. It was eight-fifteen.
“All right everyone,” I yelled over the bedlam, waiting for things to marginally settle. “Okay, you can go ashore, but meet at the bar, on the other side of the docks, before you take off anywhere. Later, there will be free drinks for everyone.”
That brought a round of cheering. “The ship sails at one o’clock,”
I hollered, even louder. “If you miss it, you’ll be in Provideniya for the winter!”
That elicited stony silence.
Outside of the cemetery, and the Anthropology Museum, there was absolutely nothing to do in Provideniya. There was a single grocery store, which any local convenience mart in America could put to shame for variety of products and price. There were no shops. No places of interest at all. A library and a theater were long closed. Hence the passengers would all collect at the bar; head out from there, then meet back there to drink the remainder of the day away. The town’s backwardness was the primary reason for no customs or immigration processing. Neither was needed.
The day was cold and windy. The sun remained high overhead, in its accustomed place. My vest was sufficient protection in such weather, but a ride on the Tundra Cat would be frosty indeed. Discomfort would have to be endured, and ignored. Hoping that at least one of my stalwart assault team members was in place, I headed for the bar. Nobody was drinking. Passengers were just gathered, talking to one another. My team was in readiness. Even Günter and Borman.
“Do you want me to clean the table,” Marlys queried as she produced a clean towel in her right hand.
The table wasn’t dirty. Don and Dutch came over.
“We’re going to the cemetery now,” Don said.
I checked my watch.
“Your radio code is ‘Andre,’” I informed him, “and the Basque is ‘Number One,’ I’m ‘The Cherub.’
It was too early to head over to the museum. In fact, it was one of those rare times when there was nothing to be done.
“Let’s go,” I said, getting up from the table.
To accompany Don and Dutch to the cemetery to see about the boy made sense. It would occupy me and keep me from making a mistake. It would also keep me from being seen just sitting around, appearing to be waiting for something. Missions succeeded on action and timing. They often failed, however, on nuance, or on the smallest details, which might have been overlooked.
The Russian tank had never moved from its position threatening the ship. The tankers all slept in bags under their tank. I noticed movement, as we passed, and envisioned the men taking advantage of the free booze nearby. And, of course, Marlys’ splendid charms. Speaking no Russian, I deduced that the translation for ‘beautiful woman,’ in Providenya had to be the same as that for ‘stranger.’
We walked among, and around, the metal grates and fences surrounding each grave in the cemetery. We came to the end of the point. The high point over looked the entire harbor, and the mountains beyond. Providence Bay extended as far North as our eyes could see. I looked down, searching for the Zodiac. Filipe would be manning it, but I had no idea how he was going to explain launching it from up above the Lido deck. No action stirred aboard the ship. Suddenly, from below me, four heads popped up. The boys all jeered at our shock and surprise.
“There’s a small cave down here,” the Khromov boy said, up to us.
Don sat down and took something from one of his overcoat pockets. He passed it to the boys. I looked at him. It was a bottle of rum. I sighed. I would have hoped that we would attempt to have the boy sober and functional for the action parts of our plan. At least we might have tried. Don detected my obvious displeasure. He reached up, and then pulled down on the edge of my Banana Republic vest.
“The boy doesn’t drink, at all. The rum is for his friends.”
I smiled back at the big man, again understanding why I liked and trusted him so much. I crouched down, motioning the Russian youth to come closer. His friends were already drinking their bottle of rum.
“You must keep your friends here. They must not attract notice. That is vital to our plan, if you want to come with us.”
The boy nodded vigorously, looking troubled. Worried, I thought, because we might withdraw our offer. The United States did not have the best reputation in the world for keeping its promises. I put my hand on his shoulder.
“I promise you, as one man to another, that you will get aboard that ship, and you will have a life in the United States. On my honor.”
He said nothing, while pressing my hand with his own.
“We’ll be back, or someone will. You have a hard job. You have to sit tight and do nothing. Can you do that?”
The boy said “yes.”
“Let’s go,” I announced, not really knowing if I would see the boy again.
Outside the bar the tankers were gone, but the tank was still there. I went in through the door to the old warehouse. About forty passengers were already back, and they were bellied up to the bar, drinking shots like sailors on payday. The tankers mingled among them.
Marlys worked up and down the long row of assembled pallets. She looked at me, giving me only an inscrutable expression. I made a beeline for the same back table I had sat at before. Once there, I sat down. I turned slightly, so I could take in the whole room. Hathoot strode in behind me and approached the end of the bar, where Borman and Günter conversed and drank, in spite of my lecture about being sober for the mission. That Dutch was not with them was the best news I could hope for. The three officers sat together. My watch said nine-thirty. We were still early. I motioned for Marlys, who came to my side almost immediately.
“I need a piece of paper,” I whispered to her.
She left, and then returned. I took a small yellow pad from her hand. I marveled that she had found such a thing in a broken down warehouse in Siberia. Yemaya was astounding in so many ways. I took out my Mont Blanc, and then began to write, using very small letters. It was a note to my control officer, involving matters of citizenship for the Basque and for the Khromov boy. When finished, feeling like I had penned my last will and testament, twice in twenty-four hours, I folded the paper and waved for Marlys once more
She took the note, plus the pad, and then brushed my ear with her lips, as if grasping its content. Her lips were like a flow of hot lava crossing the surface of my right lobe. I touched the appendage, letting my hand linger there. Marlys worked the back of the bar again. I saw her gaze my way, as I held my ear. We stared at one another for what seemed like many minutes. Don and Dutch approached my side. I let my hand fall, as nonchalantly as I could.
“Hathoot took off for the museum. How long do you want to give him?” Don asked.
I struggled not to show embarrassment. Once more, I had let personal affairs interfere with the mission. I hadn’t even noticed Hathoot’s exit. I motioned for both big men to sit. They complied.
“How is this going to go down,” Don inquired, “since we’re about to do it?”
Don and Dutch were visibly nervous. I understood. It was their first mission, and their first exposure to ‘wet work.’
Violence was not natural to human beings, especially not civilized human beings. They had to be taught it. And they had to be trained in it over a long period, before they mastered it. I counted on neither man to commit violent acts. I was reserving that role for myself alone. But I was not about to lay out a scheme that had bloodshed in it. I would rather work with both men, while they were suffering from physical shock, than have them, or one of them, back out on me at the very last moment.
“I don’t know,” I lied, and then moved them into action. “Let’s go.”
Khromov wouldn’t know how to deal with Hathoot, since the boxes he was attempting to pass off were not something he really intended to sell. Hathoot might penetrate the charade, all too easily. The man might be evil, but he was for certain intelligent, and long experienced in trade. We trudged to the museum. A few passengers lounged outside on the fractured concrete walk way. We entered through the double doors of the main entrance. Don had been to the museum many times before, so I relied on him for guidance.
A long staircase was set into the side of a wall, just before us. I could see no one within eyesight. Don and Dutch started up the stairs. I quickly pulled the automatic from my pocket, removed the suppressor from my vest, and then screwed the two well-machined tools together. I was done and ready before we had taken ten steps upward. Neither Don nor Dutch detected any change. I carried the assembled weapon down, next to my side. It was almost invisible, unless you looked directly at it.
Solid wooden floors squeaked under the weight of our passage, as we walked along a narrow hall. Arriving at a solid door, near the end of the passage, Don held his ear close. I motioned for him to open the door and enter. Don followed my instructions, while Dutch lined up behind him. From behind the big men, I spotted Hathoot, standing next to the director, holding small objects in his hands. His was a puzzled look. I brought the silenced automatic up, aimed carefully, and then shot him in the exposed muscle of his right thigh. I closed the door carefully behind me, hearing a shocked, choking cry and the thump of his fall to the floor.