Code To Zero
HISTORICAL NOTE: The launch of the first American space satellite, Explorer I, was originally scheduled for Wednesday, January 29, 1958. Late that evening, it was postponed to the following day. The reason given was the weather. Observers at Cape Canaveral were puzzled: it was a perfect, sunny Florida day. But the Army said that a high-altitude wind called the jet stream was unfavorable.
Next night, there was another postponement, and the same reason was given.
The launch was finally attempted on Friday, January 31.
From its beginning in 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency… has spent millions of dollars on a major program of research to find drugs and other esoteric methods to bring ordinary people, willing and unwilling alike, under complete control—to act, to talk, to reveal the most precious secrets, even to forget on command.
—Thomas Powers, from the Introduction to The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, by John Marks
1 5 A.M.
2 6 A.M.
4 6.30 A.M.
5 7 A.M.
6 7.30 A.M.
7 8 A.M.
9 8.30 A.M.
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13 12 Noon
15 1 P.M.
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19 3 P.M.
20 3.30 P.M.
21 3.45 P.M.
22 4.15 P.M.
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29 8 P.M.
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34 12 Midnight
35 1 A.M.
37 2.30 A.M.
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40 6.30 A.M.
42 7 A.M.
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44 10.45 A.M.
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51 4.30 P.M.
52 7.30 P.M.
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54 10.29 P.M.
55 11 P.M.
56 12 Midnight
57 1.30 A.M.
58 8.30 A.M.
59 4 P.M.
60 8.30 P.M.
61 9.30 P.M.
62 10.48 P.M.
The Jupiter C missile stands on the launch pad at Complex 26, Cape Canaveral. For secrecy, it is draped in vast canvas shrouds that hide everything but its tail, which is that of the Army’s familiar Redstone rocket. But the rest of it, under the concealing cloak, is quite unique…
He woke up scared.
Worse than that: he was terrified. His heart was pounding, his breath came in gasps, and his body was taut. It was like a nightmare, except that waking brought no sense of relief. He felt that something dreadful had happened, but he did not know what it was.
He opened his eyes. A faint light from another room dimly illuminated his surroundings, and he made out vague shapes, familiar but sinister. Somewhere nearby, water ran in a cistern.
He tried to make himself calm. He swallowed, took regular breaths, and attempted to think straight. He was lying on a hard floor. He was cold, he hurt everywhere, and he had some kind of hangover, with a headache and a dry mouth and a feeling of nausea.
He sat upright, shaking with fear. There was an unpleasant smell of damp floors washed with strong disinfectant. He recognized the outline of a row of washbasins.
He was in a public toilet.
He felt disgusted. He had been sleeping on the floor of a men’s room. What the hell had happened to him? He concentrated. He was fully dressed, wearing some kind of topcoat and heavy boots, though he had a feeling that these were not his clothes. His panic was subsiding, but in its place came a deeper fear, less hysterical but more rational. What had happened to him was very bad.
He needed light.
He got to his feet. He looked around, peering into the gloom, and guessed where the door might be. Holding his arms out in front of him in case of invisible obstacles, he made his way to a wall. Then he walked crabwise, his hands exploring. He found a cold glassy surface he guessed was a mirror, then there was a towel roller, then a metal box that might be a slot machine. At last his fingertips touched a switch, and he turned it on.
Bright light flooded white-tiled walls, a concrete floor, and a line of toilets with open doors. In a corner was what looked like a bundle of old clothes. He asked himself how he got here. He concentrated hard. What had happened last night? He could not remember.
The hysterical fear began to return as he realized he could not remember anything at all.
He clenched his teeth to stop himself from crying out. Yesterday… the day before… nothing. What was his name? He did not know.
He turned toward the row of basins. Above them was a long mirror. In the glass he saw a filthy hobo, dressed in rags, with matted hair, a dirty face, and a crazy, pop-eyed stare. He looked at the hobo for a second, then he was hit by a terrible revelation. He started back, with a cry of shock, and the man in the mirror did the same. The hobo was himself.
He could no longer hold back the tide of panic. He opened his mouth and, in a voice that shook with terror, he shouted, “Who am I?”
The bundle of old clothes moved. It rolled over, a face appeared, and a voice mumbled, “You’re a bum, Luke, pipe down.”
His name was Luke.
He was pathetically grateful for the knowledge. A name was not much, but it gave him a focus. He stared at his companion. The man wore a ripped tweed coat with a length of string around the waist for a belt. The grimy young face had a crafty look. The man rubbed his eyes and muttered, “My head hurts.”
Luke said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Pete, you retard—can’t you see?”
“I can’t—” Luke swallowed, holding down the panic. “I’ve lost my memory!”
“I ain’t surprised. You drank most of a bottle of liquor yesterday. It’s a miracle you didn’t lose your entire mind.” He licked his lips. “I didn’t get hardly any of that goddamn bourbon.”
Bourbon would explain the hangover, Luke thought. “But why would I drink a whole bottle?”
Pete laughed mockingly. “That’s about the dumbest question I ever heard. To get drunk, of course!”
Luke was appalled. He was a drunken bum who slept in public toilets.
He had a raging thirst. He bent over a washbasin, ran the cold water, and drank from the tap. It made him feel better. He wiped his mouth, then forced himself to look in the mirror again.
The face was calmer now. The mad stare had gone, replaced by a look of bewilderment and dismay. The reflection showed a man in his late thirties, with dark hair and blue eyes. He had no beard or moustache, just a heavy growth of dark stubble.
He turned back to his companion. “Luke what?” he said. “What’s my last name?”
“Luke… something, how the hell am I supposed to know?”
“How did I get this way? How long has it been going on? Why did it happen?”
Pete got to his feet. “I need some breakfast,” he said.
Luke realized he was hungry. He wondered if he had any money. He searched the pockets of his clothes: the raincoat, the jacket, the pants. All were empty. He had no money, no wallet, not even a handkerchief. No assets, no clues. “I think I’m broke,” he said.
“No kidding,” Pete said sarcastically. “Come on.” He stumbled through a doorway.
When he emerged into the light, he suffered another shock. He was in a huge temple, empty and eerily silent. Mahogany benches stood in rows on the marble floor, like church pews waiting for a ghostly congregation. Around the vast room, on a high stone lintel atop rows of pillars, surreal stone warriors with helmets and shields stood guard over the holy place. Far above their heads was a vaulted ceiling richly decorated with gilded octagons. The insane thought crossed Luke’s mind that he had been the sacrificial victim in a weird rite that had left him with no memory.
Awestruck, he said, “What is this place?”
“Union Station, Washington, D.C.,” said Pete.
A relay closed in Luke’s mind, and the whole thing made sense. With relief he saw the grime on the walls, the chewing-gum trodden into the marble floor, and the candy wrappers and cigarette packs in the corners, and he felt foolish. He was in a grandiose train station, early in the morning before it filled up with passengers. He had scared himself, like a child imagining monsters in a darkened bedroom.
Pete headed for a triumphal arch marked Exit, and Luke hurried after him.
An aggressive voice called, “Hey! Hey, you!”
Pete said, “Oh-oh.” He quickened his step.
A stout man in a tight-fitting railroad uniform bore down on them, full of righteous indignation. “Where did you bums spring from?”
Pete whined, “We’re leaving, we’re leaving.”
Luke was humiliated, to be chased out of a train station by a fat official.
The man was not content just to get rid of them. “You been sleeping here, ain’t you?” he protested, following hard on their heels. “You know that ain’t allowed.”
It angered Luke to be lectured like a schoolboy, even though he guessed he deserved it. He had slept in the damn toilet. He suppressed a retort and walked faster.
“This ain’t a flophouse,” the man went on. “Damn bums, now scram!” He shoved Luke’s shoulder.
Luke turned suddenly and confronted the man. “Don’t touch me,” he said. He was surprised by the quiet menace in his own voice. The official stopped short. “We’re leaving, so you don’t need to do or say anything more—is that clear?”
The man took a big step backward, looking scared.
Pete took Luke’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Luke felt ashamed. The guy was an officious twerp, but Luke and Pete were vagrants, and a railroad employee had the right to throw them out. Luke had no business to intimidate him.
They passed through the majestic archway. It was dark outside. A few cars were parked around the traffic circle in front of the station, but the streets were quiet. The air was bitterly cold, and Luke drew his ragged clothes closer about him. It was winter, a frosty morning in Washington, maybe January or February.
He wondered what year it was.
Pete turned left, apparently sure where he was going. Luke followed. “Where are we headed?” he asked.
“I know a gospel shop on H Street where we can get free breakfast, so long as you don’t mind singing a hymn or two.”
“I’m starving, I’ll sing a whole oratorio.”
Pete confidently followed a zigzag route through a low-rent neighbourhood. The city was not yet awake. The houses were dark and the stores shuttered, the greasy spoons and the newsstands not yet open. Glancing at a bedroom window hung with cheap curtains, Luke imagined a man inside, fast asleep under a pile of blankets, his wife warm beside him; and he felt a pang of envy. It seemed that he belonged out here, in the predawn community of men and women who ventured into the cold streets while ordinary people slept on: the man in work clothes shuffling to an early-morning job; the young bicycle rider muffled in scarf and gloves; the solitary woman smoking in the brightly lit interior of a bus.
His mind seethed with anxious questions. How long had he been a drunk? Had he ever tried to dry out? Did he have any family who might help him? Where had he met Pete? Where did they get the booze? Where did they drink it? But Pete’s manner was taciturn, and Luke controlled his impatience, hoping Pete might be more forthcoming when he had some food inside him.
They came to a small church standing defiantly between a cinema and a smoke shop. They entered by a side door and went down a flight of stairs to the basement. Luke found himself in a long room with a low ceiling—the crypt, he guessed. At one end he saw an upright piano and a small pulpit; at the other, a kitchen range. In between were three rows of trestle tables with benches. Three bums sat there, one at each table, staring patiently into space. At the kitchen end, a dumpy woman stirred a big pot. Beside her, a gray-bearded man wearing a clerical collar looked up from a coffee urn and smiled. “Come in, come in!” he said cheerfully. “Come in to the warm.” Luke regarded him warily, wondering if he was for real.
It was warm, stiflingly so after the wintry air outside. Luke unbuttoned his grubby trenchcoat. Pete said, “Morning, Pastor Lonegan.”
The pastor said, “Have you been here before? I’ve forgotten your name.”
“I’m Pete, he’s Luke.”
“Two disciples!” His bonhomie seemed genuine. “You’re a little early for breakfast, but there’s fresh coffee.”
Luke wondered how Lonegan maintained his cheery disposition when he had to get up this early to serve breakfast to a room full of catatonic deadbeats.
The pastor poured coffee into thick mugs. “Milk and sugar?”
Luke did not know whether he liked milk and sugar in his coffee. “Yes, thank you,” he said, guessing. He accepted the mug and sipped the coffee. It tasted sickeningly creamy and sweet. He guessed he normally took it black. But it assuaged his hunger, and he drank it all quickly.
“We’ll have a word of prayer in a few minutes,” said the pastor. “By the time we’re done, Mrs. Lonegan’s famous oatmeal should be cooked to perfection.”
Luke decided his suspicion had been unworthy. Pastor Lonegan was what he seemed, a cheerful guy who liked to help people.
Luke and Pete sat at the rough plank table, and Luke studied his companion. Until now, he had noticed only the dirty face and ragged clothes. Now he saw that Pete had none of the marks of a long-term drunk: no broken veins, no dry skin flaking off the face, no cuts or bruises. Perhaps he was too young—only about twenty-five, Luke guessed. But Pete was slightly disfigured. He had a dark red birthmark that ran from his right ear to his jawline. His teeth were uneven and discolored. The dark moustache had probably been grown to distract attention from his bad teeth, back in the days when he cared about his appearance. Luke sensed suppressed anger in him. He guessed that Pete resented the world, maybe for making him ugly, maybe for some other reason. He probably had a theory that the country was being ruined by some group he hated: Chinese immigrants, or uppity Negroes, or a shadowy club of ten rich men who secretly controlled the stock market.
“What are you staring at?” Pete said.
Luke shrugged and did not reply. On the table was a newspaper folded open at the crossword, and a stub of pencil. Luke glanced idly at the grid, picked up the pencil, and started to fill in the answers.
More bums drifted in. Mrs. Lonegan put out a stack of heavy bowls and a pile of spoons. Luke got all the crossword clues but one—“Small place in Denmark,” six letters. Pastor Lonegan looked over his shoulder at the filled-out grid, raised his eyebrows in surprise, and said quietly to his wife, “O! what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”
Luke immediately got the last clue—Hamlet—and wrote it in. Then he thought, How did I know that?
He unfolded the paper and looked at the front page for the date. It was Wednesday, January 29, 1958. His eye was caught by the headline U.S. Moon stays earthbound. He read on:
Cape Canaveral, Tuesday: The U.S. Navy today abandoned a second attempt to launch its space rocket, Vanguard, after multiple technical problems.
The decision comes two months after the first Vanguard launch ended in humiliating disaster when the rocket exploded two seconds after ignition.
American hopes of launching a space satellite to rival the Soviet Sputnik now rest with the Army’s rival Jupiter missile.
The piano sounded a strident chord, and Luke looked up. Mrs. Lonegan was playing the introductory notes of a familiar hymn. She and her husband began to sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” and Luke joined in, pleased he could remember it.
Bourbon had a strange effect, he thought. He could do the crossword and sing a hymn from memory, but he did not know his mother’s name. Perhaps he had been drinking for years and had damaged his brain. He wondered how he could have let such a thing happen.
After the hymn, Pastor Lonegan read some Bible verses, then told them all that they could be saved. Here was a group that really needed saving, Luke thought. All the same, he was not tempted to put his faith in Jesus. First he needed to find out who he was.
The pastor extemporized a prayer, they sang grace, then the men lined up and Mrs. Lonegan served them hot oatmeal with syrup. Luke ate three bowls. Afterwards, he felt much better. His hangover was receding fast.
Impatient to resume his questions, he approached the pastor. “Sir, have you seen me here before? I’ve lost my memory.”
Lonegan looked hard at him. “You know, I don’t believe I have. But I meet hundreds of people every week, and I could be mistaken. How old are you?”
“I don’t know,” Luke said, feeling foolish.
“Late thirties, I’d say. You haven’t been living rough very long. It takes its toll on a man. But you walk with a spring in your step, your skin is clear under the dirt, and you’re still alert enough to do a crossword puzzle. Quit drinking now, and you could lead a normal life again.”
Luke wondered how many times the pastor had said that. “I’m going to try,” he promised.
“If you need help, just ask.” A young man who appeared to be mentally handicapped was persistently patting Lonegan’s arm, and he turned to him with a patient smile.
Luke spoke to Pete. “How long have you known me?”
“I don’t know, you been around a while.”
“Where did we spend the night before last?”
“Relax, will you? Your memory will come back sooner or later.”
“I have to find out where I’m from.”
Pete hesitated. “What we need is a beer,” he said. “Help us think straight.” He turned for the door.
Luke grabbed his arm. “I don’t want a beer,” he said decisively. Pete did not want him to dig into his past, it seemed. Perhaps he was afraid of losing a companion. Well, that was too bad. Luke had more important things to do than keep Pete company. “In fact,” he said, “I think I’d like to be alone for a while.”
“What are you, Greta Garbo?”
“You need me to look out for you. You can’t make it on your own. Hell, you can’t even remember how old you are.”
Pete had a desperate look in his eyes, but Luke was unmoved. “I appreciate your concern, but you’re not helping me find out who I am.”
After a moment Pete shrugged. “You got a right.” He turned to the door again. “See you around, maybe.”
Pete went out. Luke shook Pastor Lonegan’s hand. “Thank you for everything,” he said.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” said the pastor.
Luke went up the stairs and out into the street. Pete was on the next block, speaking to a man in a green gabardine raincoat with a matching cap—begging the price of a beer, Luke guessed. He walked in the opposite direction and turned around the first corner.
It was still dark. Luke’s feet were cold, and he realized he was not wearing socks under his boots. As he hurried on, a light flurry of snow fell. After a few minutes, he eased his pace. He had no reason to rush. It made no difference whether he walked fast or slow. He stopped and took shelter in a doorway.
He had nowhere to go.
The rocket is surrounded on three sides by a service gantry which holds it in a steel embrace. The gantry, actually a converted oilfield derrick, is mounted on two sets of wheels which run on wide-gauge rails. The entire service structure, bigger than a town house, will be rolled back 300 feet before the launch.
Elspeth woke up worrying about Luke.
She lay in bed for a few moments, her heart heavy with concern for the man she loved. Then she switched on the bedside lamp and sat upright.
Her motel room was decorated with a space-program theme. The floor lamp was in the shape of a rocket, and the pictures on the walls showed planets, crescent moons, and orbital paths in a wildly unrealistic night sky. The Starlite was one of a cluster of new motels that had sprouted among the sand dunes in the area of Cocoa Beach, Florida, eight miles south of Cape Canaveral, to accommodate the influx of visitors. The decorator had obviously thought the outer-space theme appropriate, but it made Elspeth feel as if she were borrowing the bedroom of a ten-year-old boy.
She picked up the bedside phone and dialed Anthony Carroll’s office in Washington, D.C. At the other end, the phone rang unanswered. She tried his home number with the same result. Had something gone wrong? She felt sick with fear. She told herself that Anthony must be on his way to the office. She would call again in half an hour. It could not take him longer than thirty minutes to drive to work.
As she showered, she thought about Luke and Anthony when she had first known them. They were at Harvard when she was at Radcliffe, before the war. The boys were in the Harvard Glee Club: Luke had a nice baritone voice and Anthony a wonderful tenor. Elspeth had been the conductor of the Radcliffe Choral Society and had organized a joint concert with the Glee Club.
Best friends, Luke and Anthony had made an odd couple. Both were tall and athletic, but there the resemblance ended. The Radcliffe girls had called them Beauty and the Beast. Luke was Beauty, with his wavy black hair and elegant clothes. Anthony was not handsome, with his big nose and long chin, and he always looked as if he were wearing someone else’s suit, but girls were attracted to his energy and enthusiasm.
Elspeth showered quickly. In her bathrobe, she sat at the dressing table to do her makeup. She put her wristwatch beside the eyeliner so that she would know when thirty minutes was up.
She had been sitting at a dressing table wearing a bathrobe the first time she ever spoke to Luke. It was during a panty raid. A group of Harvard boys, some drunk, had climbed into the dormitory building through a ground-floor window late one evening. Now, almost twenty years later, it seemed incredible to her that she and the other girls had feared nothing worse than having their underwear stolen. Had the world been more innocent then?
By chance, Luke had come to her room. He was a math major, like her. Although he was wearing a mask, she recognized his clothes, a pale gray Irish tweed jacket with a red spotted cotton handkerchief in the breast pocket. Once alone with her, Luke had seemed embarrassed, as if it had just occurred to him that what he was doing was foolish. She had smiled, pointed to the closet, and said, “Top drawer.” He had taken a pair of pretty white panties with a lace edging, and Elspeth felt a pang of regret—they had been expensive. But the next day he asked her for a date.
She tried to concentrate on her makeup. The job was more difficult than usual this morning, because she had slept badly. Foundation smoothed her cheeks and salmon-pink lipstick brightened her mouth. She had a math degree from Radcliffe, but still she was expected to look like a mannequin at work.
She brushed her hair. It was reddish-brown, and cut in the fashionable style: chin length and turned under at the back. She dressed quickly in a sleeveless shirtwaist dress of green-and-tan-striped cotton with a wide dark brown patent-leather belt.
Twenty-nine minutes had elapsed since she tried to call Anthony.
To pass the last minute, she thought about the number 29. It was a prime number—it could not be divided by any other number except 1—but otherwise it was not very interesting. The only unusual thing about it was that 29 plus 2x2 was a prime number for every value of x up to 28. She calculated the series in her head: 29, 31, 37, 47, 61, 79, 101, 127…
She picked up the phone and dialed Anthony’s office again.
There was no reply.
Elspeth Twomey fell in love with Luke the first time he kissed her.
Most Harvard boys had no idea how to kiss. They either bruised your lips with a brutal smackeroo, or opened their mouths so wide you felt like a dentist. When Luke kissed her, at five minutes to midnight in the shadows of the Radcliffe Dormitory Quad, he was passionate yet tender. His lips moved all the time, not just on her mouth but on her cheeks and her eyelids and her throat. The tip of his tongue probed gently between her lips, politely asking permission to come in, and she did not even pretend to hesitate. Afterwards, sitting in her room, she had looked into the mirror and whispered to her reflection, “I think I love him.”
That had been six months ago, and the feeling had grown stronger since. Now she was seeing Luke almost every day. They were both in their senior year. Every day they either met for lunch or studied together for a couple of hours. Weekends they spent almost all their time together.
It was not uncommon for Radcliffe girls to get engaged in their final year, to a Harvard boy or a young professor. They would marry in the summer, go on a long honeymoon, then move into an apartment when they returned. They would start work, and a year or so later have their first baby.
But Luke had never spoken about marriage.
She looked at him now, sitting in a booth at the back of Flanagan’s Bar, arguing with Bern Rothsten, a tall graduate student with a bushy black moustache and a hard-bitten look. Luke’s dark hair kept falling forward over his eyes, and he pushed it back with his left hand, a familiar gesture. When he was older, and had a responsible job, he would put goop on his hair to make it stay in place, and then he would not be quite so sexy, she thought.
Bern was a communist, like many Harvard students and professors. “Your father’s a banker,” he said to Luke with disdain. “You’ll be a banker too. Of course you think capitalism is great.”
Elspeth saw a flush rise at Luke’s throat. His father had recently been featured in a Time magazine article as one of ten men who had become millionaires since the Depression. However, she guessed he was blushing not because he was a rich kid but because he was fond of his family and resented the implied criticism of his father. She felt angry for him and said indignantly, “We don’t judge people by their parents, Bern!”
Luke said, “Anyway, banking is an honorable job. Bankers help people to start businesses and provide employment.”
“Like they did in nineteen twenty-nine.”
“They make mistakes. Sometimes they help the wrong people. Soldiers make mistakes—they shoot the wrong people—but I don’t accuse you of being a murderer.”
It was Bern’s turn to look wounded. He had fought in the Spanish Civil War—he was older than the rest of them by three or four years—and Elspeth now guessed he was remembering some tragic error.
Luke added, “Anyway, I don’t aim to be a banker.”
Bern’s dowdy girlfriend, Peg, leaned forward, interested. Like Bern, she was intense in her convictions, but she did not have his sarcastic tongue. “What, then?”
Luke pointed upward. “I want to explore beyond our planet.”
Bern laughed scornfully. “Space rockets! A schoolboy fantasy.”
Elspeth leaped to Luke’s defense again. “Knock it off, Bern, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Bern’s subject was French literature.
However, Luke did not appear to have been stung by the sneer. Perhaps he was accustomed to having his dream laughed at. “I think it’s going to happen,” he said. “And I’ll tell you something else. I believe science will do more than communism for ordinary people in our lifetime.”
Elspeth winced. She loved Luke, but she felt he was naive about politics. “Too simple,” she said to him. “The benefits of science are restricted to the privileged elite.”
“That’s just not true,” Luke said. “Steamships make life better for seamen as well as for transatlantic passengers.”
Bern said, “Have you ever been in the engine room of an ocean liner?”
“Yes, and no one was dying of scurvy.”
A tall figure cast a shadow over the table. “Are you kids old enough to drink alcoholic liquor in public?” It was Anthony Carroll, wearing a blue serge suit that looked as if he had slept in it. With him was someone so striking that Elspeth uttered an involuntary murmur of surprise. She was a small girl with a petite figure, fashionably dressed in a short red jacket and a loose black skirt, with curls of dark hair escaping from under a little red hat with a peak. “Meet Billie Josephson,” said Anthony.
Bern Rothsten said to her, “Are you Jewish?”
She was startled to be asked so directly. “Yes.”
“So you can marry Anthony, but you can’t join his country club.”
Anthony protested: “I don’t belong to a country club.”
“You will, Anthony, you will,” said Bern.
Luke stood up to shake hands, nudged the table with his thighs, and knocked over a glass. It was unusual for him to be clumsy, and Elspeth realized with a twinge of annoyance that he was instantly taken with Miss Josephson. “I’m surprised,” he said, giving her his most charming smile. “When Anthony said his date was called Billie, I imagined someone six feet tall and built like a wrestler.”
Billie laughed merrily and slid into the booth beside Luke. “My name is Bilhah,” she said. “It’s biblical. She was the handmaiden of Rachel and the mother of Dan. But I was brought up in Dallas, where they called me Billie-Jo.”
Anthony sat next to Elspeth and said quietly, “Isn’t she pretty?”
Billie was not exactly pretty, Elspeth thought. She had a narrow face, with a sharp nose and large, intense, dark brown eyes. It was the whole package that was so stunning: the red lipstick, the angle of the hat, the Texas accent, and most of all her animation. While she talked to Luke, telling him some story about Texans now, she smiled, frowned, and pantomimed all kinds of emotion. “She’s cute,” Elspeth said to Anthony. “I don’t know why I never noticed her before.”
“She works all the time, doesn’t go to many parties.”
“So how did you meet her?”
“I noticed her in the Fogg Museum. She was wearing a green coat with brass buttons and a beret. I thought she looked like a toy soldier fresh out of the box.”
Billie was not any kind of toy, Elspeth thought. She was more dangerous than that. Billie laughed at something Luke had said and swiped his arm in mock admonishment. The gesture was flirtatious, Elspeth thought. Irritated, she interrupted them and said to Billie, “Are you planning to beat the curfew tonight?”
Radcliffe girls were supposed to be in their dormitories by ten o’clock. They could get permission to stay out later, but they had to put their name in a book, with details of where they planned to go and what time they would be back, and their return time was checked. However, they were clever women, and the complex rules only inspired them to ingenious deceptions. Billie said, “I’m supposed to be spending the night with a visiting aunt who has taken a suite at the Ritz. What’s your story?”
“No story, just a ground-floor window that will be open all night.”
Billie lowered her voice. “In fact, I’m staying with friends of Anthony’s in Fenway.”
Anthony looked sheepish. “Some people my mother knows, who have a large apartment,” he said to Elspeth. “Don’t give me that old-fashioned look, they’re terribly respectable.”
“I should hope so,” Elspeth said primly, and she had the satisfaction of seeing Billie blush. Turning to Luke, she said, “Honey, what time is the movie?”
He looked at his wristwatch. “We’ve got to go,” he said.
Luke had borrowed a car for the weekend. It was a two-seater Ford Model A roadster, ten years old, its sit-up-and-beg shape looking antiquated beside the streamlined cars of the early forties.
Luke handled the old car skillfully, obviously enjoying himself. They drove into Boston. Elspeth asked herself if she had been bitchy to Billie. Maybe a little, she decided, but she was not going to shed any tears.
They went to see Alfred Hitchcock’s latest film, Suspicion, at the Loew’s State Theatre. In the darkness, Luke put his arm around Elspeth, and she laid her head on his shoulder. She felt it was a pity they had chosen a film about a disastrous marriage.
Around midnight they returned to Cambridge and pulled off Memorial Drive to park facing the Charles River, next to the boat house. The car had no heater, and Elspeth turned up the fur collar of her coat and leaned against Luke for warmth.
They talked about the movie. Elspeth thought that in real life the Joan Fontaine character, a repressed girl brought up by stuffy parents, would never be attracted to the kind of ne’er-do-well Cary Grant had played. Luke said, “But that’s why she fell for him—because he was dangerous.”
“Are dangerous people attractive?”
Elspeth turned away from him and looked at the reflection of the moon on the restless surface of the water. Billie Josephson was dangerous, she thought.
Luke sensed her annoyance and changed the subject. “This afternoon, Professor Davies told me I could do my master’s degree right here at Harvard if I want.”
“What made him say that?”
“I mentioned that I was hoping to go to Columbia. He said, ‘What for? Stay here!’ I explained that my family’s in New York, and he said, ‘Family. Huh!’ Like that. Like I couldn’t possibly be a serious mathematician if I cared about seeing my little sister.”
Luke was the eldest of four children. His mother was French. His father had met her in Paris at the end of the First World War. Elspeth knew that Luke was fond of his two teenage brothers and doted on his eleven-year-old sister. “Professor Davies is a bachelor,” she said. “He lives for his work.”
“Have you thought about doing a master’s?”
Elspeth’s heart missed a beat. “Should I?” Was he asking her to go to Columbia with him?
“You’re a better mathematician than most of the Harvard men.”
“I’ve always wanted to work at the State Department.”
“That would mean living in Washington.”
Elspeth was sure Luke had not planned this conversation. He was just thinking aloud. It was typical of a man, to talk without a moment’s forethought about matters that affected their whole lives. But he seemed dismayed that they might move to different cities. The solution to the dilemma must be as obvious to him as it was to her, she thought happily.
“Have you ever been in love?” he said suddenly. Realizing he had been abrupt, he added, “It’s a very personal question. I don’t have any right to ask.”
“That’s okay,” she said. Any time he wanted to talk about love, it was fine with her. “As a matter of fact, I have been in love.” She watched his face in the moonlight, and was gratified to see the shadow of displeasure flicker across his expression. “When I was seventeen, there was a steelworks dispute in Chicago. I was very political in those days. I went to help, as a volunteer, carrying messages and making coffee. I worked for a young organizer called Jack Largo, and I fell in love with him.”
“And he with you?”
“Goodness, no. He was twenty-five, he thought of me as a kid. He was kind to me, and charming, but he was like that with everyone.” She hesitated. “He kissed me once, though.” She wondered whether she should be telling Luke this, but she felt the need to unburden herself. “We were alone in the backroom, packing leaflets in boxes, and I said something that made him laugh, I don’t even remember what it was. ‘You’re a gem, Ellie,’ he said—he was one of those men who shorten everyone’s name, he would have called you Lou for sure. Then he kissed me, right on the lips. I nearly died of joy. But he just went on packing leaflets as though nothing had changed.”
“I think he did fall in love with you.”
“Are you still in touch with him?”
She shook her head. “He died.”
“He was killed.” She fought back sudden tears. The last thing she wanted was for Luke to think she was still in love with the memory of Jack. “Two off-duty policemen, hired by the steelworks, got him in an alley and beat him to death with iron bars.”
“Jesus Christ!” Luke stared at her.
“Everyone in town knew who had done it, but nobody was arrested.”
He took her hand. “I’ve read about that kind of stuff in the papers, but it never seemed real.”
“It’s real. The mills must keep rolling. Anyone who gets in the way has to be rubbed out.”
“You make it sound as if industry were no better than organized crime.”
“I don’t see a big difference. But I don’t get involved anymore. That was enough.” Luke had started talking about love, but she had stupidly moved the conversation on to politics. She switched back. “What about you?” she said. “Have you ever been in love?”
“I’m not sure,” he said hesitantly. “I don’t think I know what love is.” It was a typical boy’s answer. Then he kissed her, and she relaxed.
She liked to touch him with her fingertips while they kissed, stroking his ears and the line of his jaw, his hair, and the back of his neck. Every now and again he stopped to look at her, studying her with the hint of a smile, making her think of Hamlet’s Ophelia saying: “He falls to such perusal of my face, as he would draw it.” Then he would kiss her again. What made her feel so good was the thought that he liked her this much.
After a while he drew away from her and sighed heavily. “I wonder how married people ever get bored,” he said. “They never have to stop.”
She liked this talk of marriage. “Their children stop them, I guess,” she said with a laugh.
“Do you want to have children someday?”
She felt her breath come faster. What was he asking her? “Of course I do.”
“I’d like four.”
The same as his parents. “Boys or girls?”
There was a pause. Elspeth was afraid to say anything. The silence stretched out. Eventually he turned to her with a serious look. “How would you feel about that? Having four children?”
It was the cue she had been waiting for. She smiled happily. “If they were yours, I’d love it,” she said.
He kissed her again.
Soon it became too cold to stay where they were, and reluctantly they drove back toward the Radcliffe dorms.
As they were passing through Harvard Square, a figure waved to them from the side of the road. “Is that Anthony?” Luke said incredulously.
It was, Elspeth saw. Billie was with him.
Luke pulled over, and Anthony came to the window. “I’m glad I spotted you,” he said. “I need a favor.”
Billie stood behind Anthony, shivering in the cold night air, looking furious. “What are you doing here?” Elspeth asked Anthony.
“There’s been a muddle. My friends in Fenway have gone away for the weekend—they must have got the dates mixed up. Billie has nowhere to go.”
Billie had lied about where she was spending the night, Elspeth recalled. Now she could not return to her dorm without revealing her deception.
“I took her to the house.” He meant Cambridge House, where he and Luke lived. Harvard men’s dormitories were called houses. “I thought she could sleep in our room, and Luke and I could spend the night in the library.”
Elspeth said, “You’re crazy.”
Luke put in, “It’s been done before. So what went wrong?”
“We were seen.”
“Oh, no!” Elspeth said. For a girl to be found in a man’s room was a serious offense, especially at night. Both the man and the woman could be expelled from the university.
Luke said, “Who saw you?”
“Geoff Pidgeon and a whole bunch of men.”
“Well, Geoff’s all right, but who was with him?”
“I’m not sure. It was half dark and they were all drunk. I’ll talk to them in the morning.”
Luke nodded. “What are you going to do now?”
“Billie has a cousin who lives in Newport, Rhode Island,” Anthony said. “Would you drive her there?”
“What?” said Elspeth. “But it’s fifty miles away!”
“So it will take an hour or two,” Anthony said dismissively. “What do you say, Luke?”
“Of course,” Luke said.
Elspeth had known he would comply. It was a matter of honor for him to help out a friend, regardless of inconvenience. But she was angry all the same.
“Hey, thanks,” Anthony said lightly.
“No problem,” Luke said. “Well, there is a problem. This car is a two-seater.”
Elspeth opened the door and got out. “Be my guest,” she said sulkily. She felt ashamed of herself for being so bad-tempered. Luke was right to rescue a friend in trouble. But she hated the thought of his spending two hours in this little car with sexy Billie Josephson.
Luke sensed her displeasure and said, “Elspeth, get back in, I’ll drive you home first.”
She tried to be gracious. “No need,” she said. “Anthony can walk me to the dorm. And Billie looks as if she might freeze to death.”
“Okay, if you’re sure,” Luke said.
Elspeth wished he had not agreed quite so fast.
Billie kissed Elspeth’s cheek. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said. She got into the car and closed the door without saying goodbye to Anthony.
Luke waved and drove off.
Anthony and Elspeth stood and watched the car recede into the darkness.
“Hell,” said Elspeth.
Stenciled on the side of the white rocket is the designation “UE” in huge black letters. This is a simple code—–
H U N T S V I L E X
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
-so UE is missile number 29. The purpose of the code is to avoid giving clues as to how many missiles have been produced.
Daylight crept stealthily over the cold city. Men and women came out of the houses narrowing their eyes and pursing their lips against the biting wind and hurried through the gray streets, heading for the warmth and bright lights of the offices and stores, hotels and restaurants where they worked.
Luke had no destination: one street was as good as another when none of them meant anything. Maybe, he thought, he would turn the next corner and know, in a flash of revelation, that he was someplace familiar—the street where he was brought up, or a building where he had worked. But every corner disappointed him.
As the light improved, he began to study the people he passed. One of these could be his father, his sister, even his son. He kept hoping that one of them would catch his eye and stop and embrace him, and say, “Luke, what happened to you? Come home with me, let me help you!” But perhaps a relative would turn a cold face to him and pass by. He might have done something to offend his family. Or they might live in another town.
He began to feel he was not going to be lucky. No passer-by would embrace him with glad cries, and he was not suddenly going to recognize the street where he lived. Simply walking around fantasizing about a lucky break was no kind of strategy. He needed a plan. There must be some way to discover his identity.
He wondered if he might be a Missing Person. There was a list, he felt sure, of such people, with a description of each. Who kept the list? It had to be the police.
He seemed to remember passing a precinct house a few minutes earlier. He turned abruptly to go back. As he did so, he bumped into a young man in an olive-colored gabardine raincoat and matching cap. He had a feeling he might have seen the man before. Their eyes met, and for a hopeful moment Luke thought he might have been recognized, but the man looked away, embarrassed, and walked on.
Swallowing his disappointment, Luke tried to retrace his steps. It was difficult, because he had turned corners and crossed streets more or less at random. However, he had to come across a police station sooner or later.
As he walked, he tried to deduce information about himself. He watched a tall man in a gray homburg hat light a cigarette and take a long, satisfying drag, but he had no desire for tobacco. He guessed he did not smoke. Looking at cars, he knew that the racy, low-slung designs he found attractive were new. He decided he liked fast cars, and he was sure he could drive. He also knew the make and model names of most of the cars he saw. That was the kind of information he had retained, along with how to speak English.
When he glimpsed his reflection in a shop window, what he saw was a bum of indeterminate years. But when he looked at passers-by, he could tell if they were in their twenties, thirties, or forties, or older. He also found he automatically classified people as older or younger than himself. Thinking about it, he realized that people in their twenties seemed younger than he, and people in their forties older; so he had to be somewhere in between.
These trifling victories over his amnesia gave him an inordinate sense of triumph.
But he had completely lost his way. He was on a tawdry street of cheap shops, he saw with distaste: clothing stores with windows full of bargains, used furniture stores, pawnbrokers, and grocery stores that took food stamps. He stopped suddenly and looked back, wondering what to do. Thirty yards behind him, he saw the man in an olive-colored gabardine raincoat and cap watching the TV in a store window.
Luke frowned, thinking, Is he shadowing me?
A shadow was always alone, rarely carried a briefcase or shopping bag, and inevitably appeared to be loitering, rather than walking with a set purpose. The man in the olive cap matched the specification.
It was easy enough to check.
Luke walked to the end of the block, crossed the street, and walked back along the other side. When he reached the far end he stood at the curb and looked both ways. The olive raincoat was thirty yards behind him. Luke crossed again. To allay suspicion, he studied doors, as if looking for a street number. He went all the way back to where he had started.
The raincoat followed.
Luke was mystified, but his heart leaped with hope. A man who was following him must know something about him—maybe even his identity.
To be sure he was being followed, he needed to travel in a vehicle, forcing his shadow to do the same.
Despite his excitement, a cool observer in the back of his mind was asking: How come you know exactly how to check whether you’re being followed? The method had popped into his head immediately. Had he done some kind of clandestine work before he became a bum?
He would think about that later. Now he needed bus fare. There was nothing in the pockets of his ragged clothes; he must have spent every last cent on booze. But that was no problem. There was cash everywhere: in people’s pockets, in stores, in taxicabs, and houses.
He began to look at his surroundings with different eyes. He saw newsstands to be robbed, handbags that could be snatched, pockets ready to be picked. He glanced into a coffee shop where a man stood behind the counter and a waitress served the booths. The place would do as well as anything. He stepped inside.
His eyes raked the tables, looking for change left as tips, but it was not going to be that easy. He approached the counter. A radio was playing the news. “Rocket experts claim America has one last chance of catching up with the Russians in the race to control outer space.” The counterman was making espresso coffee, steam billowing from a gleaming machine, and a delicious fragrance made Luke’s nostrils flare.
What would a bum say? “Any stale doughnuts?” he asked.
“Get out of here,” the man said roughly. “And don’t come back.”
Luke contemplated leaping the counter and opening the cash register, but it seemed extreme when all he wanted was bus fare. Then he saw what he needed. Beside the till, within easy reach, was a can with a slit in the top. Its label showed a picture of a child and the legend “Remember Those Who Cannot See.” Luke moved so that his body shielded the box from the customers and the waitress. Now he just had to distract the counterman.
“Gimme a dime?” he said.
The man said, “Okay, that’s it, you get the bum’s rush.” He put down a jug with a clatter and wiped his hands on his apron. He had to duck under the counter to get out, and for a second he could not see Luke.
In that moment, Luke took the collection box and slipped it inside his coat. It was disappointingly light, but it gave a rattle, so it was not empty.
The counterman grabbed Luke by the collar and propelled him rapidly across the café. Luke did not resist until, at the door, the man gave him a painful kick in the ass. Forgetting his act, Luke spun round, ready to fight. The man suddenly looked scared and backed inside.
Luke asked himself what he had to be angry about. He had gone into the place begging, and had not left when asked to. Okay, the kick was unnecessary, but he deserved it—he had stolen the blind children’s money!
All the same, it took an effort for him to swallow his pride, turn around, and slink away like a dog with its tail between its legs.
He ducked into an alleyway, found a sharp stone, and attacked the can, venting his anger. He soon busted it open. The money inside, mostly pennies, amounted to two or three dollars, he guessed. He put it in his coat pocket and returned to the street. He thanked heaven for charity and made a silent promise to give three bucks to the blind if he ever got straight.
All right, he thought, thirty bucks.
The man in the olive raincoat was standing by a newsstand, reading a paper.
A bus pulled up a few yards away. Luke had no idea where it went, but that did not matter. He boarded. The driver gave him a hard look, but did not throw him off. “I want to go three stops,” Luke said.
“Don’t matter where you want to go, the fare is seventeen cents, unless you got a token.”
He paid with some of the change he had stolen.
Maybe he was not being shadowed. As he walked toward the back of the bus, he looked anxiously out the window. The man in the raincoat was walking away with his newspaper tucked under his arm. Luke frowned. The man should have been trying to hail a taxicab. Maybe he was not a shadow, after all. Luke felt disappointed.
The bus pulled away, and Luke took a seat.
He wondered again how come he knew about all this stuff. He must have been trained in clandestine work. But what for? Was he a cop? Perhaps it was to do with the war. He knew there had been a war. America had fought against the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific. But he could not remember whether he had been in it.
At the third stop, he got off the bus with a handful of other passengers. He looked up and down the street. There were no taxicabs in sight, and no sign of the man in the olive raincoat. As he hesitated, he noticed that one of the passengers who had got off the bus with him had paused in a shop doorway and was fumbling in his pockets. As Luke watched, he lit a cigarette and took a long, satisfying drag.
He was a tall man, wearing a gray homburg hat.
Luke realized he had seen him before.
The launch pad is a simple steel table with four legs and a hole in the middle through which the rocket jet passes. A conical deflector beneath spreads the jet horizontally.
Anthony Carroll drove along Constitution Avenue in a five-year-old Cadillac Eldorado that belonged to his mother. He had borrowed it a year ago, to drive to Washington from his parents’ place in Virginia, and had never gotten around to returning it. His mother had probably bought another car by now.
He pulled into the parking lot of Q Building in Alphabet Row, a strip of barracks-like structures hastily erected, during the war, on parkland near the Lincoln Memorial. It was an eyesore, no question, but he liked the place, for he had spent much of the war here, working for the Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. Those were the good old days, when a clandestine agency could do more or less anything and did not have to check with anyone but the President.
The CIA was the fastest-growing bureaucracy in Washington, and a vast multimillion-dollar headquarters was under construction across the Potomac River in Langley, Virginia. When it was completed, Alphabet Row would be demolished.
Anthony had fought hard against the Langley development, and not merely because Q Building held fond memories. Right now the CIA had offices in thirty-one buildings in the government-dominated downtown neighborhood known as Foggy Bottom. That was the way it should be, Anthony had argued vociferously. It was very difficult for foreign agents to figure out the size and power of the Agency when its premises were scattered and mixed up with other government offices. But when Langley opened, anyone would be able to estimate its resources, manpower, and even budget simply by driving past.
He had lost that argument. The people in charge were determined to manage the CIA more tightly. Anthony believed that secret work was for daredevils and buccaneers. That was how it had been in the war. But nowadays it was dominated by pen-pushers and accountants.
There was a parking slot reserved for him and marked Head of Technical Services, but he ignored it and pulled up in front of the main door. Looking up at the ugly building, he wondered if its imminent demolition signified the end of an era. He was losing more of these bureaucratic battles nowadays. He was still a hugely powerful figure within the Agency. “Technical Services” was the euphemistic name of the division responsible for burglary, phone tapping, drug testing, and other illegal activities. Its nickname was Dirty Tricks. Anthony’s position was founded on his record as a war hero and a series of Cold War coups. But some people wanted to turn the CIA into what the public imagined it to be: a simple information-gathering agency.
Over my dead body, he thought.
However, he had enemies: superiors he had offended with his brash manners, weak and incompetent agents whose promotions he had opposed, pen-pushers who disliked the whole notion of the government doing secret operations. They were ready to destroy him as soon as he made a slip.
And today his neck was stuck out further than ever before.
As he strode into the building, he deliberately put aside his general worries and focused on the problem of the day: Dr. Claude Lucas, known as Luke, the most dangerous man in America, the one who threatened everything Anthony had lived for.
He had been at the office most of the night, and had gone home only to shave and change his shirt. Now the guard in the lobby looked surprised and said, “Good morning, Mr. Carroll—you back already?”
“An angel appeared unto me in a dream and said, ‘Get back to work, you lazy son of a bitch.’ Good morning.”
The guard laughed. “Mr. Maxell’s in your office, sir.”
Anthony frowned. Pete Maxell was supposed to be with Luke. Had something gone wrong?
He ran up the stairs.
Pete was sitting in the chair opposite Anthony’s desk, still dressed in ragged clothes, a smear of dirt partly covering the red birthmark on his face. As Anthony walked in he jumped up, looking scared.
“What happened?” Anthony said.
“Luke decided he wanted to be alone.”
Anthony had planned for this. “Who took over?”
“Steve Simons has him under surveillance, and Betts is there for backup.”
Anthony nodded thoughtfully. Luke had got rid of one agent, he could get rid of another. “What about Luke’s memory?”
Anthony took off his coat and sat behind his desk. Luke was causing problems, but Anthony had expected as much, and he was ready.
He looked at the man opposite. Pete was a good agent, competent and careful, but inexperienced. However, he was fanatically loyal to Anthony. All the young agents knew that Anthony had personally organized an assassination: the killing of the Vichy French leader Admiral Darlan, in Algiers on Christmas Eve in 1942. CIA agents did kill people, but not often, and they regarded Anthony with awe. But Pete owed him a special debt. On his job application form, Pete had lied, saying he had never been in trouble with the law, and Anthony had later found out that he had been fined for soliciting a prostitute as a student in San Francisco. Pete should have been fired for that, but Anthony had kept the secret, and Pete was eternally grateful.
Now Pete was miserable and ashamed, feeling he had let Anthony down. “Relax,” Anthony said, adopting a fatherly tone. “Just tell me exactly what happened.”
Pete looked grateful and sat down again. “He woke up crazy,” he began. “Yelling ‘Who am I?’ and stuff like that. I got him calmed down… but I made a mistake. I called him Luke.”
Anthony had told Pete to observe Luke but not to give him any information. “No matter—it’s not his real name.”
“Then he asked who I was, and I said, ‘I’m Pete.’ It just came out, I was so concerned to stop him yelling.” Pete was mortified to confess these blunders, but in fact they were not grave, and Anthony waved aside his apologies. “What happened next?”
“I took him to the gospel shop, just the way we planned it. But he asked shrewd questions. He wanted to know if the pastor had seen him before.”
Anthony nodded. “We shouldn’t be surprised. In the war, he was the best agent we ever had. He’s lost his memory but not his instincts.” He rubbed his face with his right hand, tiredness catching up with him.
“I kept trying to steer him away from inquiring into his past. But I think he figured out what I was doing. Then he told me he wanted to be alone.”
“Did he get any clues? Did anything happen that might lead him to the truth?”
“No. He read an article in the paper about the space program, but it didn’t seem to mean anything special to him.”
“Did anyone notice anything strange about him?”
“The pastor was surprised Luke could do the crossword. Most of those bums can’t even read.”
This was going to be difficult, but manageable, as Anthony had expected. “Where is Luke now?”
“I don’t know, sir. Steve will call in as soon as he gets a chance.”
“When he does, get back there and join up with him. Whatever happens, Luke mustn’t get away from us.”
The white phone on Anthony’s desk rang, his direct line. He stared at it for a moment. Not many people had the number.
He picked it up.
“It’s me,” said Elspeth’s voice. “What’s happened?”
“Relax,” he said. “Everything is under control.”
The missile is 68 feet 7 inches high, and it weighs 64,000 pounds on the launch pad—but most of that is fuel. The satellite itself is only 2 feet 10 inches long, and weighs just 18 pounds.
The shadow followed Luke for a quarter of a mile as he walked south on Eighth Street.
It was now full light and, although the street was busy, Luke easily kept track of the gray homburg hat bobbing among the heads crowded together at street corners and bus stops. But after he crossed Pennsylvania Avenue, it disappeared from view. Once again, he wondered if he might be imagining things. He had woken up in a bewildering world where anything might be true. Perhaps the notion that he was being tailed was only a fantasy. But he did not really believe that, and a minute later he spotted the olive raincoat coming out of a bakery.
“Toi, encore,” he said under his breath. “You again.” He wondered briefly why he had spoken in French, then he put the thought out of his mind. He had more pressing concerns. There was no further room for doubt: two people were following him in a smoothly executed relay operation. They had to be professionals.
He tried to figure out what that meant. Homburg and Raincoat might be cops—he could have committed a crime, murdered someone while drunk. They could be spies, KGB or CIA, although it seemed unlikely that a deadbeat such as he could be involved in espionage. Most probably he had a wife he had left many years ago, who now wanted to divorce him and had hired private detectives to get proof of how he was living. (Maybe she was French.)
None of the options was attractive. Yet he felt exhilarated. They probably knew who he was. Whatever the reason for their tailing him, they must know something about him. At the very least, they knew more than he.
He decided he would split the team, then confront the younger man.
He stepped into a smoke shop and bought a pack of Pall Malls, paying with some of the change he had stolen. When he went outside, Raincoat had disappeared and Homburg had taken over again. He walked to the end of the block and turned the corner.
A Coca-Cola truck was parked at the curb, and the driver was unloading crates and carrying them into a diner. Luke stepped into the road and walked to the far side of the truck, positioning himself where he could watch the street without being seen by anyone coming around the corner.
After a minute, Homburg appeared, walking quickly, checking in the doorways and windows, looking for Luke.
Luke dropped to the ground and rolled under the truck. Looking along the sidewalk at ground level, he picked out the blue suit pants and tan oxfords of his shadow.
The man quickened his pace, presumably concerned that Luke had disappeared off the street. Then he turned and came back. He went into the diner and came out a minute later. He walked around the truck, then returned to the sidewalk and continued on. After a moment, he broke into a run.
Luke was pleased. He did not know how he had learned this game, but he seemed to be good at it. He crawled to the front of the truck and scrambled to his feet. He looked around the nearside fender. Homburg was still hurrying away.
Luke crossed the sidewalk and turned the corner. He stood in the doorway of an electrical store. Looking at a record player for eighty bucks, he opened the pack of cigarettes, took one out, and waited, keeping an eye on the street.
He was tall—about Luke’s height—and his build was athletic, but he was about ten years younger, and his face wore an anxious look. Luke’s instinct told him the man was not very experienced.
He spotted Luke and gave a nervous start. Luke looked straight at him. The man looked away and continued walking, edging to the outside of the sidewalk to pass Luke, as anyone might to avoid contact with a bum.
Luke stepped into his path. He put the cigarette into his mouth and said, “Got a light, buddy?”
Raincoat did not know what to do. He hesitated, looking worried. For a moment, Luke thought he would walk by without speaking; but then he made a quick decision, and stopped. “Sure,” he said, trying to act casual. He reached into the pocket of his raincoat, took out a book of matches, and struck one.
Luke took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “You know who I am, don’t you?”
The young man looked scared. His training course had not prepared him for a surveillance subject who started to question the shadow. He stared at Luke, dumbstruck, until the match burned down. Then he dropped it and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, pal.”
“You’re following me,” Luke said. “You must know who I am.”
Raincoat continued to act innocent. “Are you selling something?”
“Am I dressed like a salesman? Come on, level with me.”
“I’m not following anyone.”
“You’ve been behind me for an hour, and I’m lost!”
The man made a decision. “You’re out of your mind,” he said. He tried to walk past Luke.
Luke moved sideways, blocking his path.
“Excuse me, please,” Raincoat said.
Luke was not willing to let the man go. He grabbed him by the lapels of the raincoat and slammed him against the shop window, rattling the glass. Frustration and rage boiled over. “Putain de merde!” he yelled.
Raincoat was younger and fitter than Luke, but he offered no resistance. “Get your damn hands off me,” he said in a level voice. “I’m not following you.”
“Who am I?” Luke screamed at him. “Tell me, who am I?”
“How should I know?” He grasped Luke by the wrists, trying to shake his hold on the lapels of the raincoat.
Luke shifted his grip and took the man by the throat. “I’m not taking your bullshit,” he rasped. “You’re going to tell me what’s going on.”
Raincoat lost his cool, eyes widening in fear. He struggled to loosen Luke’s grip on his throat. When that failed, he began to punch Luke’s ribs. The first blow hurt, and Luke winced, but he retained his hold and moved in close, so that subsequent punches had little force. He pressed his thumbs into his opponent’s throat, choking him. Terror showed in the man’s eyes as his breath was cut off.
Behind Luke, the frightened voice of a passer-by said, “Hey, what’s going on here?”
Suddenly Luke was shocked at himself. He was killing the guy! He relaxed his grip. What was the matter with him? Was he a murderer?
Raincoat broke Luke’s hold. Luke was dismayed by his own violence. He let his hands fall to his side.
The guy backed away. “You crazy bastard,” he said. The fear had not left his eyes. “You tried to kill me!”
“I just want the truth, and I know you can tell me it.”
Raincoat rubbed his throat. “Asshole,” he said. “You’re out of your goddamn mind.”
Luke’s anger rose again. “You’re lying!” he yelled. He reached out to grab the man again.
Raincoat turned and ran away.
Luke could have chased him, but he hesitated. What was the point? What would he do if he caught the guy—torture him?
Then it was too late. Three passers-by had stopped to watch the fracas and were now standing at a safe distance, staring at Luke. After a moment, he walked away, heading in the direction opposite to that taken by his two shadows.
He felt worse than ever, shaky after his violent outburst and sick with disappointment at the result. He had met two people who probably knew who he was, and he had got no information.
“Great job, Luke,” he said to himself. “You achieved precisely nothing.”
And he was alone again.
The Jupiter C missile has four stages. The largest part is a high-performance version of the Redstone ballistic missile. This is the booster, or first stage, an enormously powerful engine that has the gargantuan task of freeing the missile from the mighty pull of earth’s gravity.
Dr. Billie Josephson was running late.
She had got her mother up, helped her into a quilted bathrobe, made her put on her hearing aid, and sat her in the kitchen with coffee. She had woken her seven-year-old, Larry, praised him for not wetting the bed, and told him he had to shower just the same. Then she returned to the kitchen.
Her mother, a small, plump woman of seventy known as Becky-Ma, had the radio on loud. Perry Como was singing “Catch a Falling Star.” Billie put sliced bread in the toaster, then laid the table with butter and grape jelly for Becky-Ma. For Larry she poured cornflakes into a bowl, sliced a banana over the cereal, and filled a jug with milk.
She made a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and put it in Larry’s lunch box with an apple, a Hershey bar, and a small bottle of orange juice. She put the lunch box in his school bag and added his home reading book and his baseball glove, a present from his father.
On the radio, a reporter was interviewing sightseers on the beach near Cape Canaveral who were hoping to see a rocket launch.
Larry came into the kitchen with his shoelaces untied and his shirt buttons done up awry. She straightened him out, got him started on his cornflakes, and began to scramble eggs.
It was eight-fifteen, and she was almost caught up. She loved her son and her mother, but a secret part of her resented the drudgery of taking care of them.
The radio reporter was now interviewing an Army spokesman. “Aren’t these rubberneckers in danger? What if the rocket goes off course and crash-lands right here on the beach?”
“There’s no danger of that, sir,” came the reply. “Every rocket has a self-destruct mechanism. If it veers off course, it will be blown up in mid-air.”
“But how can you blow it up after it’s already taken off?”
“The explosive device is triggered by a radio signal sent by the range safety officer.”
“That sounds dangerous in itself. Some radio ham fooling around might accidentally set it off.”
“The mechanism responds only to a complex signal, like a code. These rockets are expensive, we don’t take any risks.”
Larry said, “I have to make a space rocket today. Can I take the yoghurt pot to school?”
“No, you can’t, it’s half full,” she told him.
“But I have to take some containers! Miss Page will be mad if I don’t.” He was near to tears with the suddenness of a seven-year-old.
“What do you need containers for?”
“To make a space rocket! She told us last week.”
Billie sighed. “Larry, if you had told me last week, I would have saved a whole bunch of stuff for you. How many times must I ask you not to leave things until the last minute?”
“Well, what am I gonna do?”
“I’ll find you something. We’ll put the yoghurt in a bowl, and… what kind of containers do you want?”
Billie wondered if schoolteachers ever thought about the amount of work they created for busy mothers when they blithely instructed children to bring things from home. She put buttered toast on three plates and served the scrambled eggs, but she did not eat her own. She went around the house and got a tube-shaped cardboard detergent container, a plastic liquid-soap bottle, an ice-cream carton, and a heart-shaped chocolate box.
Most of the packs showed families using the products—generally a pretty housewife, two happy kids, and a pipe-smoking father in the background. She wondered if other women resented the stereotype as much as she did. She had never lived in a family like that. Her father, a poor tailor in Dallas, had died when she was a baby, and her mother had brought up five children in grinding poverty. Billie herself had been divorced since Larry was two. There were plenty of families without a man, where the mother was a widow, a divorcée, or what used to be called a fallen woman. But they did not show such families on the cornflakes box.
She put all the containers in a shopping bag for Larry to carry to school.
“Oh, boy, I bet I have more than anyone!” he said. “Thanks, Mom.”
Her breakfast was cold, but Larry was happy.
A car horn tooted outside, and Billie quickly checked her appearance in the glass of a cupboard door. Her curly black hair had been hastily combed, she had no makeup on except the eyeliner she had failed to remove last night, and she was wearing an oversized pink sweater… but the effect was kind of sexy.
The back door opened and Roy Brodsky came in. Roy was Larry’s best friend, and they greeted one another joyously, as if they had been apart for a month, instead of a few hours. Billie had noticed that all Larry’s friends were boys, now. In kindergarten it had been different, boys and girls playing together indiscriminately. She wondered what psychological change took place, around the age of five, that made children prefer their own gender.
Roy was followed by his father, Harold, a good-looking man with soft brown eyes. Harold Brodsky was a widower: Roy’s mother had died in a car wreck. Harold taught chemistry at George Washington University. Billie and Harold were dating. He looked at her adoringly and said, “My God, you look gorgeous.” She grinned and kissed his cheek.
Like Larry, Roy had a shopping bag full of cartons. Billie said to Harold, “Did you have to empty half the containers in your kitchen?”
“Yes. I have little cereal bowls of soap flakes, chocolates, and processed cheese. And six toilet rolls without the cardboard cylinder in the middle.”
“Darn, I never thought of toilet rolls!”
He laughed. “I wonder, would you like to have dinner at my place tonight?”
She was surprised. “You’re going to cook?”
“Not exactly. I thought I’d ask Mrs. Riley to make a casserole that I could warm up.”
“Sure,” she said. She had not had dinner at his house before. They normally went to the movies, to concerts of classical music, or to cocktail parties at the homes of other university professors. She wondered what had prompted him to invite her.
“Roy’s going to a cousin’s birthday party tonight, and he’ll sleep over. We’ll have a chance to talk without interruption.”
“Okay,” Billie said thoughtfully. They could talk without interruption at a restaurant, of course. Harold had another reason for inviting her to his house when his child would be away for the night. She glanced at him. His expression was open and candid—he knew what she was thinking. “That’ll be great,” she said.
“I’ll pick you up around eight. Come on, boys!” He shepherded the children out through the back door. Larry left without saying goodbye, which Billie had learned to take as a sign that all was well. When he was anxious about something, or coming down with an infection, he would hang back and cling to her.
“Harold is a good man,” her mother said. “You should marry him soon, before he changes his mind.”
“He won’t change his mind.”
“Just don’t deal him in before he puts his stake on the table.”
Billie smiled at her mother. “You don’t miss much, do you, Ma?”
“I’m old, but I’m not stupid.”
Billie cleared the table and threw her own breakfast in the trash. Rushing now, she stripped her bed, Larry’s, and her mother’s, and bundled the sheets into a laundry bag. She showed Becky-Ma the bag and said, “Remember, all you have to do is hand this to the laundry man when he calls, okay, Ma?”
Her mother said, “I don’t have any of my heart pills left.”
“Jesus Christ!” She rarely swore in front of her mother, but she was at the end of her rope. “Ma, I have a busy day at work today, and I don’t have time to go to the goddamn pharmacist!”
“I can’t help it, I ran out.”
The most infuriating thing about Becky-Ma was the way she could switch from being a perceptive parent to a helpless child. “You could have told me yesterday that you were running out—I shopped yesterday! I can’t shop every day, I have a job.”
Becky-Ma burst into tears.
Billie relented immediately. “I’m sorry, Ma,” she said. Becky-Ma cried easily, like Larry. Five years ago, when the three of them had set up house together, Ma had helped take care of Larry. But nowadays she was barely able to look after him for a couple of hours when he came home from school. Everything would be easier if Billie and Harold were married.
The phone rang. She patted Ma on the shoulder and picked it up. It was Bern Rothsten, her ex-husband. Billie got on well with him, despite the divorce. He came by two or three times a week to see Larry, and he cheerfully paid his share of the cost of bringing up the boy. Billie had been angry with him, once, but it was a long time ago. Now she said, “Hey, Bern—you’re up early.”
“Yeah. Have you heard from Luke?”
She was taken aback. “Luke Lucas? Lately? No—is something wrong?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
Bern and Luke shared the intimacy of rivals. When they were young they had argued endlessly. Their discussions often seemed acrimonious, yet they had remained close at college and all through the war. “What’s happened?” Billie said.
“He called me on Monday. I was kind of surprised. I don’t hear from him often.”
“Nor do I.” Billie struggled to remember. “Last time I saw him was a couple of years ago, I think.” Realizing how long it was, she wondered why she had let their friendship lapse. She was just busy all the time, she guessed. She regretted that.
“I got a note from him last summer,” Bern said. “He’d been reading my books to his sister’s kid.” Bern was the author of The Terrible Twins, a successful series of children’s books. “He said they made him laugh. It was a nice letter.”
“So why did he call you on Monday?”
“Said he was coming to Washington and wanted to see me. Something had happened.”
“Did he tell you what?”
“Not really. He just said, ‘It’s like the stuff we used to do in the war.”’
Billie frowned anxiously. Luke and Bern had been in OSS during the war, working behind enemy lines, helping the French resistance. But they had been out of that world since 1946—hadn’t they? “What do you think he meant?”
“I don’t know. He said he would call me when he reached Washington. He checked into the Carlton Hotel on Monday night. Now it’s Wednesday, and he hasn’t called. And his bed wasn’t slept in last night.”
“How did you find that out?”
Bern made an impatient noise. “Billie, you were in OSS, too. What would you have done?”
“I guess I would have given a chambermaid a couple of bucks.”
“Right. So he was out all night and he hasn’t come back.”
“Maybe he was cattin’ around.”
“And maybe Billy Graham smokes reefer, but I don’t think so, do you?”
Bern was right. Luke had a powerful sex drive, but he craved intensity, not variety, Billie knew. “No, I don’t think so,” she said.
“Call me if you hear from him, okay?”
“Sure, of course.”
“Be seeing you.”
“Bye.” Billie hung up.
Then she sat at the kitchen table, her chores forgotten, thinking about Luke.
Route 138 meandered south through Massachusetts toward Rhode Island. There was no cloud, and the moon shone on the country roads. The old Ford had no heater. Billie was wrapped up in coat, scarf, and gloves, but her feet were numb. However, she did not really mind. It was no great hardship to spend a couple of hours in a car alone with Luke Lucas, even if he was someone else’s boyfriend. In her experience, beautiful men were tediously vain, but this one seemed to be an exception.
It was taking forever to drive to Newport, but Luke seemed to be enjoying the long journey. Some Harvard men were nervous with attractive women, and chain-smoked, or drank from hip flasks, smoothed their hair all the time and kept straightening their ties. Luke was relaxed, driving without apparent effort and chatting. There was little traffic, and he looked at her as much as at the road.
They talked about the war in Europe. That morning in Radcliffe Yard, rival student groups had set up stalls and handed out leaflets, the Interventionists passionately advocating that America should enter the war, the America Firsters arguing the opposite with equal fervor. A crowd had gathered, men and women, students and professors. The knowledge that Harvard boys would be among the first to die made the discussions highly emotional.
“I have cousins in Paris,” Luke said. “I’d like us to go over there and rescue them. But that’s kind of a personal reason.”
“I have a personal reason too, I’m Jewish,” Billie said. “But rather than send Americans to die in Europe, I’d open our doors to refugees. Save lives instead of killing people.”
“That’s what Anthony believes.”
Billie was still fuming about the night’s fiasco. “I can’t tell you how mad I am at Anthony,” she said. “He should have made sure we could stay at his friends’ apartment.”
She was hoping for sympathy from Luke, but he disappointed her. “I guess you both were a little too casual about the whole thing.” He said it with a friendly smile, but there was no mistaking the note of censure.
Billie was stung. However, she was indebted to him for this ride, so she swallowed the retort that sprang to her lips. “You’re defending your friend, which is fine,” she said gently. “But I think he had a duty to protect my reputation.”
“Yes, but so did you.”
She was surprised he was so critical. Until now he had been all charm. “You seem to think it was my fault!”
“It was bad luck, mainly,” he said. “But Anthony put you in a position where a little bad luck could do you a lot of damage.”
“That’s the truth.”
“And you let him.”
She found herself dismayed by his disapproval. She wanted him to think well of her—though she did not know why she cared. “Anyway, I’ll never do that again, with any man,” she said vehemently.
“Anthony’s a great guy, very smart, kind of eccentric.”
“He makes girls want to take care of him, brush his hair and press his suit and make him chicken soup.”
Luke laughed. “Could I ask you a personal question?”
“You can try.”
He met her eyes for a moment. “Are you in love with him?”
That was sudden, but she liked men who could surprise her, so she answered candidly. “No. I’m fond of him, I enjoy his company, but I don’t love him.” She thought about Luke’s girlfriend. Elspeth was the most striking beauty on campus, a tall woman with long coppery hair and the pale, resolute face of a Nordic queen. “What about you? Are you in love with Elspeth?”
He returned his gaze to the road. “I don’t think I know what love is.”
“You’re right.” He threw a speculative look at her, then seemed to decide that she could be trusted. “Well, to be honest, this is as close to love as I’ve ever come, but I still don’t know if it’s the real thing.”
She felt a pang of guilt. “I wonder what Anthony and Elspeth would think of us having this conversation,” she said.
He coughed, embarrassed, and changed the subject. “Damn shame you ran into those men at the House.”
“I hope Anthony won’t be found out. He could be expelled.”
“He’s not the only one. You might be in trouble too.”
She had been trying not to think about that. “I don’t believe anyone knew who I was. I heard one of them say ‘tart.”’
He shot a surprised glance at her.
She guessed that Elspeth would not have used the word “tart,” and she wished she had not repeated it. “I suppose I deserved it,” she added. “I was in a men’s House at midnight.”
He said, “I don’t think there’s ever any real excuse for bad manners.”
It was a reproach to her as much as to the man who had insulted her, she thought with annoyance. Luke had a sharp edge. He was angering her—but that made him interesting. She decided to take the gloves off. “What about you?” she said. “You’re very preachy about Anthony and me, aren’t you? But didn’t you put Elspeth in a vulnerable situation tonight, keeping her out in your car until the early hours?”
To her surprise, he laughed appreciatively. “You’re right, and I’m a pompous idiot,” he said. “We all took risks.”
“That’s the truth.” She shuddered. “I don’t know what I’d do if I got thrown out.”
“Study somewhere else, I guess.”
She shook her head. “I’m on a scholarship. My father’s dead, my mother’s a penniless widow. And if I were expelled for moral transgression, I’d have little chance of getting another scholarship. Why do you look surprised?”
“To be honest, I’d have to say you don’t dress like a scholarship girl.”
She was pleased he had noticed her clothes. “It’s the Leavenworth Award,” she explained.
“Wow.” The Leavenworth was a famously generous grant, and thousands of outstanding students applied for it. “You must be a genius.”
“I don’t know about that,” she said, gratified by the respect in his voice. “I’m not smart enough to make sure I have a place to stay the night.”
“On the other hand, being thrown out of college is not the worst thing in the world. Some of the cleverest people drop out—then go on to become millionaires.”
“It would be the end of the world for me. I don’t want to be a millionaire, I want to help sick people get well.”
“You’re going to be a doctor?”
“Psychologist. I want to understand how the mind works.”
“It’s so mysterious and complicated. Things like logic, the way we think. Imagining something that isn’t there in front of us—animals can’t do that. The ability to remember—fish have no memory, did you know that?”
He nodded. “And why is it that just about everyone can recognize a musical octave?” he said. “Two notes, the frequency of one being double that of the other—how come your brain knows that?”
“You find it interesting too!” She was pleased that he shared her curiosity.
“What did your father die of?”
Billie swallowed hard. Sudden grief overwhelmed her. She struggled against tears. It was always like this: a chance word, and from nowhere came a sorrow so acute she could barely speak.
“I’m really sorry,” Luke said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Not your fault,” she managed. She took a deep breath. “He lost his mind. One Sunday morning he went bathing in the Trinity River. The thing is, he hated the water, and he couldn’t swim. I think he wanted to die. The coroner thought so, too, but the jury took pity on us and called it an accident, so that we’d get the life insurance. It was a hundred dollars. We lived on that for a year.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about something else. Tell me about math.”
“Well.” He thought for a moment. “Math is as weird as psychology,” he said. “Take the number pi. Why should the ratio of circumference to diameter be three point one four two? Why not six, or two and a half? Who made that decision, and why?”
“You want to explore outer space.”
“I think it’s the most exciting adventure mankind has ever had.”
“And I want to map the mind.” She smiled. The grief of bereavement was leaving her. “You know, we have something in common—we both have big ideas.”
He laughed, then braked the car. “Hey, we’re coming to a crossroads.”
She switched on the flashlight and looked at the map on her knee. “Turn right,” she said.
They were approaching Newport. The time had passed quickly. She felt sorry the trip was coming to an end. “I have no idea what I’m going to tell my cousin,” she said.
“What’s he like?”
“Queer? In what way?”
“In the homosexual way.”
He shot her a startled look. “I see.”
She had no patience with men who expected women to tiptoe around the subject of sex. “I’ve shocked you again, haven’t I?”
He grinned at her. “As you would say—that’s the truth.”
She laughed. It was a Texan colloquialism. She was glad he noticed little things about her.
“There’s a fork in the road,” he said.
She consulted the map again. “You’ll have to pull up, I can’t find it.”
He stopped the car and leaned across to look at the map in the light of the flash. He reached out to turn the map a little, and his touch was warm on her cold hand. “Maybe we’re here,” he said, pointing.
Instead of looking at the map, she found herself staring at his face. It was deeply shadowed, lit only by the moon and the indirect torchlight. His hair fell forward over his left eye. After a moment he felt her gaze and glanced up at her. Without thinking, Billie lifted her hand and stroked his cheek with the outside edge of her little finger. He stared back at her, and she saw bewilderment and desire in his eyes.
“Which way do we go?” she murmured.
He moved away suddenly and put the car in gear. “We take.…” He cleared his throat. “We take the left fork.”
Billie wondered what the hell she was doing. Luke had spent the evening smooching with the most beautiful girl on campus. Billie had been out with Luke’s roommate. What was she thinking about?
Her feelings for Anthony had not been strong, even before tonight’s calamity. All the same, she was dating him, so she certainly should not be toying with his best friend.
“Why did you do that?” Luke said angrily.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t intend to, it just happened. Slow down.”
He took a bend too fast. “I don’t want to feel like this about you!” he said.
She was suddenly breathless. “Like what?”
The smell of the sea came into the car, and Billie realized they were close to her cousin’s home. She recognized the road. “Next left,” she said. “If you don’t slow down, you’ll miss it.”
Luke braked and turned onto a dirt road.
Half of Billie wanted to arrive at the destination and get out of the car and leave behind this unbearable tension. The other half wanted to drive with Luke forever.
“We’re here,” she said.
They stopped outside a neat one-storey frame house with gingerbread eaves and a lamp by the door. The Ford’s headlights picked out a cat sitting motionless on a windowsill, looking at them with a calm gaze, disdainful of the turmoil of human emotion.
“Come in,” Billie said. “Denny will make some coffee to keep you awake on the return trip.”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I’ll just wait here until you’re safely inside.”
“You’ve been very kind to me. I don’t think I deserve it.” She held out her hand to shake.
“Are we friends?” he said, taking her hand.
She lifted his hand to her face, kissed it, and pressed it against her cheek, closing her eyes. After a moment she heard him groan softly. She opened her eyes and found him staring at her. His hand moved behind her head, he pulled her to him, and they kissed. It was a gentle kiss, soft lips and warm breath and his fingertips light on the back of her neck. She held the lapel of his rough tweed coat and pulled him closer. If he grabbed her now, she would not resist, she knew. The thought made her burn with desire. Feeling wild, she took his lip between her teeth and bit.
She heard Denny’s voice. “Who’s out there?”
She pulled away from Luke and looked out. There were lights on in the house, and Denny stood in the doorway, wearing a purple silk dressing gown.
She turned back to Luke. “I could fall in love with you in about twenty minutes,” she said. “But I don’t think we can be friends.”
She stared at him a moment longer, seeing in his eyes the same churning conflict she felt in her heart. Then she looked away, took a deep breath, and got out of the car.
“Billie?” said Denny. “For heaven’s sake, what are you doing here?”
She crossed the yard, stepped onto the porch, and fell into his arms. “Oh, Denny,” she murmured. “I love that man, and he belongs to some woman!”
Denny patted her back with a delicate touch. “Honey, I know just how you feel.”
She heard the car move and turned to wave. As it swung by, she saw Luke’s face, and the glint of something shiny on his cheeks.
Then he disappeared into the darkness.
Perched on top of the pointed nose of the Redstone rocket is what looks like a large birdhouse with a steeply pitched roof and a flagpole stuck through its center. This section, about 13 feet long, contains the second, third, and fourth stages of the missile—and the satellite itself.
Secret agents in America had never been as powerful as they were in January 1958.
The Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, was the brother of John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State—so the Agency had a direct line into the administration. But that was only half the reason.
Under Dulles were four Deputy Directors, only one of whom was important—the Deputy Director for Plans. The Plans Directorate was also known as CS, for Clandestine Services, and this was the department that had carried out coups against left-leaning governments in Iran and Guatemala.
The Eisenhower White House had been amazed and delighted by how cheap and bloodless these coups were, especially by comparison with the cost of a real war such as that in Korea. Consequently, the guys in Plans enjoyed enormous prestige in government circles—though not among the American public, who had been told by their newspapers that both coups were the work of local anticommunist forces.
Within the Plans Directorate was Technical Services, the division that Anthony Carroll headed. He had been hired when the CIA was set up in 1947. He had always planned to work in Washington—his major at Harvard had been government—and he had been a star of OSS in the war. Posted to Berlin in the fifties, he had organized the digging of a tunnel from the American sector to a telephone conduit in the Soviet zone and had tapped into KGB communications. The tunnel remained undiscovered for six months, during which the CIA amassed a mountain of priceless information. It had been the greatest intelligence coup of the Cold War, and Anthony’s reward had been the top job.
Technical Services was theoretically a training division. There was a big old farmhouse down in Virginia where recruits learned how to break into houses and plant concealed microphones, to use codes and invisible ink, to blackmail diplomats and browbeat informers. But “training” also served as an all-purpose cover for covert actions inside the U.S.A. The fact that the CIA was prohibited, by law, from operating within the United States was no more than a minor inconvenience. Just about anything Anthony wanted to do, from bugging the phones of union bosses to testing truth drugs on prison inmates, could be labelled a training exercise.
The surveillance of Luke was no exception.
Six experienced agents were gathered in Anthony’s office. It was a large, bare room with cheap wartime furniture: a small desk, a steel file cabinet, a trestle table, and a set of folding chairs. No doubt the new headquarters at Langley would be full of upholstered couches and mahogany paneling, but Anthony liked the Spartan look.
Pete Maxell passed around a mug shot of Luke and a typed description of his clothes while Anthony briefed the agents. “Our target today is a middle-ranking State Department employee with a high security clearance,” he said. “He’s having some kind of nervous breakdown. He flew in from Paris on Monday, spent Monday night in the Carlton Hotel, and went on a drinking binge on Tuesday. He stayed out all last night and went to a shelter for homeless people this morning. The security risk is obvious.”
One of the agents, “Red” Rifenberg, put up a hand. “Question.”
“Why don’t we just pull him in, ask him what the hell goes on?”
“We will, eventually.”
Anthony’s office door opened, and Carl Hobart came in. A plump, bald man with spectacles, he was head of Specialized Services, which included Records and Decrypting as well as Technical Services. In theory, he was Anthony’s immediate boss. Anthony groaned inwardly and prayed that Hobart would not interfere with what he was doing, today of all days.
Anthony continued with his briefing. “But before we tip our hand, we want to see what the subject does, where he goes—who he contacts, if anyone. A case like this, he may just be having trouble with his wife. But it could be that he’s giving information to the other side, either for ideological reasons or because they’re blackmailing him, and now the strain has gotten to be too much for him. If he’s involved in some kind of treason, we need all the information we can get before we pick him up.”
Hobart interrupted. “What’s this?”
Anthony turned to him slowly. “A little training exercise. We’re conducting surveillance on a suspect diplomat.”
“Give it to the FBI,” Hobart said abruptly.
Hobart had spent the war in Naval Intelligence. For him, espionage was a plain matter of finding out where the enemy was and what he was doing there. He disliked OSS veterans and their dirty tricks. The split went right down the middle of the Agency. The OSS men were buccaneers. They had learned their trade in wartime and had scant respect for budgets and protocol. The bureaucrats were infuriated by their nonchalance. And Anthony was the archetypal buccaneer: an arrogant daredevil who got away with murder because he was so good at it.
Anthony gave Hobart a cool look. “Why?”
“It’s the FBI’s job, not ours, to catch communist spies in America—as you know perfectly well.”
“We need to follow the thread to its source. A case like this can unlock a horde of information if we handle it right. But the Feds are only interested in getting publicity for putting Reds in the electric chair.”
“It’s the law!”
“But you and I know it’s horseshit.”
“Makes no difference.”
One thing shared by the rival groups within the CIA was a hatred of the FBI and its megalomaniac director, J. Edgar Hoover. So Anthony said, “Anyway, when was the last time the FBI gave us anything?”
“The last time was never,” Hobart said. “But I’ve got another assignment for you today.”
Anthony began to feel angry. Where did this asshole get off? It was not his job to hand out assignments. “What are you talking about?”
“The White House has called for a report on ways to deal with a rebel group in Cuba. There’s a top-level meeting later this morning. I need you and all your experienced people to brief me.”
“You’re asking me for a briefing on Fidel Castro?”
“Of course not. I know all about Castro. What I need from you are practical ideas for dealing with insurgency.”
Anthony despised this kind of mealy-mouthed talk. “Why don’t you say what you mean? You want to know how to take them out.”
Anthony laughed scornfully. “Well, what else would we do—start a Sunday school for them?”
“That’s for the White House to decide. Our job is to present options. You can give me some suggestions.”
Anthony maintained a show of indifference, but inside he was worried. He had no time for distractions today, and he needed all his best people to keep an eye on Luke. “I’ll see what I can do,” Anthony said, hoping Hobart might be satisfied with a vague assurance.
He was not. “My conference room, with all your most experienced agents, at ten o’clock—and no excuses.” He turned away.
Anthony made a decision. “No,” he said.
Hobart turned at the door. “This is not a suggestion,” he said. “Just be there.”
“Watch my lips,” said Anthony.
Reluctantly, Hobart stared at Anthony’s face.
Enunciating carefully, Anthony said, “Fuck off.”
One of the agents sniggered.
Hobart’s bald head reddened. “You’ll hear more about this,” he said. “A lot more.” He went out and slammed the door.
Everyone burst out laughing.
“Back to work,” Anthony said. “Simons and Betts are with the subject at this moment, but they’re due to be relieved in a few minutes. As soon as they call in, I want Red Rifenberg and Ackie Horwitz to take over the surveillance. We’ll run four shifts of six hours each, with a backup team always on call. That’s all for now.”
The agents trooped out, but Pete Maxell stayed back. He had shaved and put on his regular business suit with a narrow Madison Avenue tie. Now his bad teeth and the red birthmark on his cheek were more noticeable, like broken windows in a new house. He was shy and unsociable, perhaps because of his appearance, and he was devoted to his few friends. Now he looked concerned as he said to Anthony, “Aren’t you taking a risk with Hobart?”
“He’s an asshole.”
“He’s your boss.”
“I can’t let him close down an important surveillance operation.”
“But you lied to him. He could easily find out that Luke isn’t a diplomat from Paris.”
Anthony shrugged. “Then I’ll tell him another story.”
Pete looked doubtful, but he nodded assent and moved to the door.
Anthony said, “But you’re right. I’m sticking my neck all the way out. If something goes wrong, Hobart won’t miss a chance to chop my head off.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Then we’d better make sure nothing goes wrong.”
Pete went out. Anthony watched the phone, making himself calm and patient. Office politics infuriated him, but men such as Hobart were always around. After five minutes the phone rang and he picked it up. “Carroll here.”
“You’ve been upsetting Carl Hobart again.” It was the wheezy voice of a man who has been smoking and drinking enthusiastically for most of a lifetime.
“Good morning, George,” said Anthony. George Cooperman was Deputy Chief of Operations and a wartime comrade of Anthony’s. He was Hobart’s immediate superior. “Hobart should stay out of my way.”
“Get over here, you arrogant young prick,” George said amiably.
“Coming.” Anthony hung up. He opened his desk drawer and took out an envelope containing a thick sheaf of Xerox copies. Then he put on his topcoat and walked to Cooperman’s office, which was in P Building, next door.
Cooperman was a tall, gaunt man of fifty with a prematurely lined face. He had his feet on his desk. There was a giant coffee mug at his elbow and a cigarette in his mouth. He was reading the Moscow newspaper Pravda: he had majored in Russian literature at Princeton.
He threw down the paper. “Why can’t you be nice to that fat fuck?” he growled. He spoke without removing the cigarette from the corner of his mouth. “I know it’s hard, but you could do it for my sake.”
Anthony sat down. “It’s his own fault. He should have realized by now that I only insult him if he speaks to me first.”
“What’s your excuse this time?”
Anthony tossed the envelope onto the desk. Cooperman picked it up and looked at the Xerox copies. “Blueprints,” he said. “Of a rocket, I guess. So what?”
“They’re top secret. I took them from the surveillance subject. He’s a spy, George.”
“And you chose not to tell Hobart that.”
“I want to follow this guy around until he reveals his whole network—then use his operation for disinformation. Hobart would hand the case over to the FBI, who would pick the guy up and throw him in jail, and his network would fade to black.”
“Hell, you’re right about that. Still, I need you at this meeting. I’m chairing it. But you can let your team carry on the surveillance. If anything happens, they can get you out of the conference room.”
“And listen. This morning you fucked Hobart up the ass in front of a room full of agents, didn’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“Next time, try and do it gently, okay?” Cooperman picked up Pravda again. Anthony got up to leave, taking the blueprints. Cooperman said, “And make damn sure you run this surveillance right. If you screw up on top of insulting your boss, I may not be able to protect you.”
Anthony went out.
He did not return to his office right away. The row of condemned buildings that housed this part of the CIA filled a strip of land between Constitution Avenue and the Mall with the reflecting pool. The motor entrances were on the street side, but Anthony went out through a back gate into the park.
He strolled along the avenue of English elms, breathing the cold fresh air, soothed by the ancient trees and the still water. There had been some bad moments this morning, but he had held it together, with a different set of lies for each party in the game.
He came to the end of the avenue and stood at the halfway point between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. This is all your fault, he thought, addressing the two great presidents. You made men believe they could be free. I’m fighting for your ideals. I’m not even sure I believe in ideals anymore—but I guess I’m too ornery to quit. Did you guys feel that way?
The presidents did not answer, and after a while he returned to Q Building.
In his office he found Pete with the team that had been shadowing Luke: Simons, in a navy topcoat, and Betts, wearing a green raincoat. Also there was the team that should have relieved them, Rifenberg and Horwitz. “What the hell is this?” Anthony said with sudden fear. “Who’s with Luke?”
Simons was carrying a gray homburg hat, and it shook as his hand trembled. “Nobody,” he said.
“What happened?” Anthony roared. “What the fuck happened, you assholes?”
After a moment, Pete answered. “We, uh…” He swallowed. “We’ve lost him.”
The Jupiter C has been built for the Army by the Chrysler Corporation. The large rocket engine that propels the first stage is manufactured by North American Aviation, Inc. The second, third, and fourth stages have been designed and tested by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena.
Luke was angry with himself. He had handled things badly. He had found two people who probably knew who he was—and he had lost them again.
He was back in the low-rent neighbourhood near the gospel shop on H Street. The winter daylight was brightening, making the streets look more grimy, the buildings older, the people shabbier. He saw two bums in the doorway of a vacant store, passing a bottle of beer. He shuddered and walked quickly by.
Then he realized that was strange. An alcoholic wanted booze anytime. But to Luke, the thought of beer this early in the day was nauseating. Therefore, he concluded with enormous relief, he could not be an alcoholic.
But, if he was not a drunk, what was he?
He summed up what he knew about himself. He was in his thirties. He did not smoke. Despite appearances, he was not an alcoholic. At some point in his life he had been involved in clandestine work. And he knew the words of “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” It was pathetically little.
He had been walking around looking for a police station, but he had not come across one. He decided to ask for directions. A minute later, as he passed a vacant lot fenced with broken corrugated-iron sheeting, he saw a uniformed cop step through a gap in the sheeting onto the sidewalk. Seizing the chance, Luke said to him, “How do I get to the nearest precinct house?”
The cop was a beefy man with a sandy moustache. He gave Luke a look of contempt and said, “In the trunk of my cruiser, if you don’t get the fuck out of my sight.”
Luke was startled by the violence of his language. What was the man’s problem? But he was tired of tramping the streets and he needed directions, so he persisted. “I just need to know where the station house is.”
“I won’t tell you again, shitbrain.”
Luke was annoyed. Who did he think he was? “I asked you a polite question, mister,” he snapped.
The cop moved surprisingly fast for a heavy man. He grabbed Luke by the lapels of his ragged coat and shoved him through the gap in the sheeting. Luke staggered and fell on a patch of rough concrete, hurting his arm.
To his surprise he was not alone. Just inside the lot was a young woman. She had dyed blonde hair and heavy makeup, and she wore a long coat open over a loose dress. She had high-heeled evening shoes and torn stockings. She was pulling up her panties. Luke realized she was a prostitute who had just serviced the patrolman.
The cop came through the gap and kicked Luke in the stomach.
He heard the whore say, “For Christ’s sake, Sid, what did he do, spit on the sidewalk? Leave the poor bum alone!”
“Fucker has to learn some respect,” the cop said thickly.
Out of the corner of his eye, Luke saw him draw his nightstick and raise it. As the blow came down, Luke rolled to one side. He was not quite fast enough, and the end of the stick glanced off his left shoulder, numbing his arm momentarily. The cop raised the nightstick again.
A circuit closed in Luke’s brain.
Instead of rolling away, he threw himself toward the cop. The man’s forward momentum brought him crashing to the ground, and he dropped the nightstick. Luke sprang up nimbly. As the cop got up, Luke stepped close to him, waltzing inside his reach so that the man could not punch him. He grabbed the lapels of the uniform coat, pulled the man forward with a sharp jerk, and butted him in the face. There was a snapping sound as the cop’s nose broke. The man roared with pain.
Luke released his grip on the lapels, pirouetted on one foot, and kicked the man in the side of the knee. His battered shoes were not rigid enough to break bones, but the knee has little resistance to a blow from the side, and the cop fell.
A part of Luke’s mind wondered where the hell he had learned to fight like this.
The cop was bleeding from the nose and mouth, but he raised himself on his left elbow and drew his gun with his right hand.
Before it was out of the holster, Luke was on him. Grabbing the man’s right forearm, he banged the hand on the concrete once, very hard. The gun immediately fell from his grasp. Then he pulled the cop upright and twisted the arm so that he rolled onto his front. Bending the arm up behind the man’s back, he dropped, driving both knees into the small of the man’s back, knocking the breath out of his lungs. Finally, he took the forefinger and bent it all the way back.
The cop screamed. Luke bent the finger farther. He heard it snap, and the cop fainted.
“You won’t beat up any more bums for a while,” Luke said. “Shitbrain.”
He stood up. He picked up the gun, ejected all the shells, and threw them across the lot.
The whore was staring at him. “Who the fuck are you, Elliott Ness?” she said.
Luke looked back at her. She was thin, and under the makeup her complexion was bad. “I don’t know who I am,” he told her.
“Well, you ain’t no bum, that’s for sure,” she said. “I never saw an alky that could punch out a big fat prick like Sidney here.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking.”
“We better get out of here,” she said. “He’s going to be mad when he comes round.”
Luke nodded. He was not afraid of Sidney, mad or otherwise, but before long there would be more cops on the scene, and he needed to be elsewhere. He stepped through the gap in the fence onto the street and walked away quickly.
The woman followed him, stiletto heels clicking on the sidewalk. He slowed his pace to let her catch up, feeling a kind of camaraderie with her. They had both been abused by Sidney the patrolman.
“It was kind of nice to see Sidney come up against someone he couldn’t push around,” she said. “I guess I owe you.”
“Not at all.”
“Well, next time you’re feeling horny, it’s on the house.”
Luke tried not to show his revulsion. “What’s your name?”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Well, Doris Dobbs, really,” she admitted. “But what kind of name is that for a good-time girl?”
“I’m Luke. I don’t know my surname. I’ve lost my memory.”
“Wow. That must make you feel, like… strange.”
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s the word was on the tip of my tongue.”
He glanced at her. There was a wry grin on her face. He realized she was making fun of him, and he liked her for it. “It’s not just that I don’t know my name and address,” he explained. “I don’t even know what kind of person I am.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wonder if I’m honest?” Maybe it was foolish, he thought, to pour out his heart to a whore on the street, but he had no one else. “Am I a loyal husband and a loving father and a reliable workmate? Or am I some kind of gangster? I hate not knowing.”
“Honey, if that’s what’s bothering you, I know what kind of guy you are already. A gangster would be thinking, ‘Am I rich, do I slay the broads, are people scared of me?’”
That was a point. Luke nodded. But he was not satisfied. “It’s one thing to want to be a good person—but maybe I don’t live up to what I believe in.”
“Welcome to the human race, sweetheart,” she said. “We all feel that way.” She stopped at a doorway. “It’s been a long night. This is where I get off the train.”
She hesitated. “Want some advice?”
“If you want people to stop treating you like a piece of shit, you better smarten yourself up. Have a shave, comb your hair, find yourself a coat that doesn’t look like you stole it off a carthorse.”
Luke realized she was right. No one would take any notice of him, let alone help him discover his identity, while he looked like a crazy person. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “Thanks.” He turned away.
She called after him, “And get a hat!”
He touched his head, then looked around. He was the only person on the street, male or female, without a hat. But how could a bum get a new suit of clothes? The handful of change in his pocket would not buy much.
The solution came fully formed into his head. Either it was an easy question, or he had been in this situation before. He would go to a train station. A station was generally full of people carrying complete changes of clothing, together with shaving tackle and other toiletries, all neatly packed in suitcases.
He went to the next corner and checked his location. He was on A Street and Seventh. On leaving Union Station early this morning, he had noticed that it was near the corner of F and Second.
He headed that way.
The first stage of the missile is attached to the second by explosive bolts wrapped around with coil springs. When the booster is burned out, the bolts will detonate and the springs push the redundant first stage away.
The Georgetown Mind Hospital was a redbrick Victorian mansion with a flat-roofed modern extension at the back. Billie Josephson parked her red Ford Thunderbird in the parking lot and hurried into the building.
She hated to arrive this late. It seemed disrespectful of her work and her colleagues. What they were doing was vitally important. Slowly, painstakingly, they were learning to understand the mechanisms of the human mind. It was like mapping a distant planet, the surface of which could be seen only through breaks in the cloud layer that were tantalizingly brief.
She was late because of her mother. After Larry left for school, Billie had gone to get the heart pills and returned home to find Becky-Ma lying on her bed, fully dressed, gasping for breath. The doctor had come right away, but he had nothing new to say. Becky-Ma had a weak heart. If she felt breathless, she should lie down. She must remember to take her pills. Any stress was bad for her.
Billie wanted to say, “What about me? Isn’t stress bad for me too?” But instead she resolved anew to walk on eggshells around her mother.
She stopped by the admissions office and glanced at the overnight register. A new patient had been brought in late yesterday, after she had left: Joseph Bellow, a schizophrenic. The name rang a bell, but she could not recall why. Surprisingly, the patient had been discharged during the night. That was odd.
She passed through the day room on the way to her office. The TV was on, and a reporter standing on a dusty beach was saying, “Here at Cape Canaveral, the question on everyone’s lips is: ‘When will the Army attempt to launch its own rocket?’ It must be within the next few days.”
The subjects of Billie’s research sat around, some watching TV, some playing games or reading, a few gazing vacantly into space. She waved to Tom, a young man who did not know the meaning of words. “How are you, Tommy?” she called. He grinned and waved back. He could read body language well, and often responded as if he knew what people were saying, so it had taken Billie months to figure out that he did not understand a single word.
In a corner, Marlene, an alcoholic, was flirting with a young male nurse. She was fifty years old, but she could not remember anything that had happened since she was nineteen. She thought she was still a young girl and refused to believe that the “old man” who loved and cared for her was her husband.
Through the glass wall of an interview room she saw Ronald, a brilliant architect who had suffered head injuries in a car crash. He was doing tests on paper. His problem was that he had lost the ability to deal with numbers. He would count with excruciating slowness on his fingers in the attempt to add three and four.
Many patients had forms of schizophrenia, an inability to relate to the real world.
Some of the patients could be helped, by drugs or electric shock treatment or both, but Billie’s job was to trace the exact contours of their disabilities. By studying minor mental handicaps, she was outlining the functions of the normal mind. Ronald, the architect, could look at a group of objects on a tray and say whether there were three or four of them, but if there were twelve and he had to count them, he would take a long time and might make a mistake. This suggested to Billie that the ability to see at a glance how many items are in a small group is a separate skill from the ability to count.
In this way, she was slowly charting the depths of the mind, locating memory here, language there, mathematics somewhere else. And if the disability was related to minor brain damage, Billie could speculate that the normal ability was located in the part of the brain that had been destroyed. Eventually, her conceptual picture of the mind’s functions would be mapped onto a physical diagram of the human brain.
At her present rate of progress, it would take about two hundred years. However, she was working alone. With a team of psychologists, she could progress much faster. She might see the map completed in her lifetime. That was her ambition.
It was a long way from her father’s suicidal depression. There were no quick cures in mental illness. But the mind was still largely a mystery to scientists. It would be much better understood if Billie could speed up her work. And then, perhaps, people like her father could be helped.
She went up the stairs to the next floor, thinking about the mystery patient. Joseph Bellow sounded like Joe Blow, the kind of name someone might make up. And why had he been discharged in the middle of the night?
She reached her office and looked out of the window on to a building site. A new wing was being added to the hospital—and a new post was to be created to go with it: Director of Research. Billie had applied for the job. But so had one of her colleagues, Dr. Leonard Ross. Len was older than Billie, but she had wider experience and had published more: several articles and a textbook, An Introduction to the Psychology of Memory. She felt sure she could beat out Len, but she did not know who else might be in the running. And she wanted the job badly. As Director, she would have other scientists working under her.
On the building site she noticed, among the workmen, a small group of men in business clothes—wool topcoats and homburgs instead of overalls and hard hats. They looked as if they might be getting a tour. Looking more closely, she saw that Len Ross was with them.
She spoke to her secretary. “Who are those guys being shown around the site by Len Ross?”
“They’re from the Sowerby Foundation.”
Billie frowned. The Foundation was financing the new post. They would have a big say in who got the job. And there was Len making nice to them. “Did we know they were coming today?”
“Len said he had sent you a note. He came by this morning to pick you up, but you weren’t here.”
There had never been a note, Billie felt sure. Len had deliberately failed to warn her. And she had been late.
“Damn,” Billie said with feeling. She rushed out to join the party on the building site.
She did not think about Joseph Bellow again for several hours.
Because the missile was put together in a rush, the upper stages use a rocket motor that has been in production for some years, rather than a new design. The scientists have chosen a small version of the tried-and-tested Sergeant rocket. The upper stages of the missile are powered by clustered assemblies of these small rockets, known as Baby Sergeants.
As Luke negotiated the grid of streets leading to Union Station, he found himself checking, every minute or two, to see whether he was being followed.
He had lost his shadows more than an hour ago, but they might now be searching for him. The thought made him fearful and bewildered. Who were they and what were they doing? His instincts told him they were malevolent. Otherwise, why watch him secretly?
He shook his head to clear it. This baseless speculation was frustrating. There was no point in guessing. He had to find out.
First he had to clean himself up. His plan was to steal a suitcase from a train passenger. He felt sure he had done this before, at some time in his life. When he tried to remember, French words came into his head: “La valise d’un type qui descend du train.”
It would not be easy. His dirty, ragged clothing would stand out in a crowd of respectable travelers. He would have to move fast to get away. But he had no alternative. Dee-Dee the whore had been right. No one would listen to a bum.
If he were arrested, the police would never believe he was anything but a deadbeat. He would end up in jail. The thought made him shiver with fear. It was not prison itself that scared him so much as the prospect of weeks or months of ignorance and confusion, not knowing who he was and helpless to make any progress in finding out.
Ahead of him on Massachusetts Avenue he saw the white granite arcade of Union Station, like a Romanesque cathedral transplanted from Normandy. Thinking ahead, he figured that after the theft he would have to disappear fast. He needed a car. The knowledge of how to steal one came into his mind immediately.
Close to the station, the street was lined with parked cars. Most would belong to people who had taken trains. He slowed his pace as a car pulled into a slot ahead of him. It was a two-tone Ford Fiesta, blue and white, new but not ostentatious. It would do fine. The starter would be operated with a key, not a handle, but it would be easy to pull out a couple of wires behind the dash and bypass the ignition.
He wondered how he knew that.
A man in a dark topcoat got out of the Ford, took a briefcase from the trunk, locked the car, and headed for the station.
How long would he be gone? It was possible he had some business at the station and would be back in a few minutes. Then he would report his car stolen. Driving around in it, Luke would be in danger of arrest at any minute. That was no good. He had to find out where the man was going.
He followed him into the station.
The grand interior, which this morning had seemed like a disused temple, was now bustling. He felt conspicuous. Everyone else seemed so clean and well dressed. Most people averted their eyes, but some looked at him with expressions of disgust or contempt. It occurred to him that he might run into the officious man who had thrown him out earlier. Then there would be a fuss. The guy was sure to remember.
The owner of the Ford joined a line at a ticket window. Luke got in line too. He looked at the ground, not meeting anyone’s eye, hoping no one would notice him.
The line shuffled forward and his mark reached the window. “Philadelphia, one-day return,” he said.
That was enough for Luke. Philadelphia was hours away. The man would be out of town all day. His car would not be reported stolen before he returned. Luke would be safe in it until tonight.
He left the line and hurried away.
It was a relief to be outside. Even bums had the right to walk the streets. He returned to Massachusetts Avenue and found the parked Ford. To save time later, he would unlock it now. He looked up and down the street. Cars and pedestrians were passing constantly. The trouble was that he looked like a criminal. But if he waited until there was no one about, he could be here all day. He would just have to be quick.
He stepped into the road, walked around the car, and stood at the driver’s door. Pressing his hands flat against the glass of the window, he pushed down. Nothing happened. His mouth felt dry. He looked quickly to either side: no one was paying him any attention yet. He stood on tiptoe, to add the weight of his body to the pressure on the window mechanism. At last the pane of glass slid slowly down.
When the window was fully open, he reached in and unlocked the door. He opened it, wound up the window, and closed the door again. Now he was ready for a fast getaway.
He considered starting the car now and leaving the engine running, but that might draw the attention of a passing patrolman or even just an inquisitive passer-by.
He returned to Union Station. He worried constantly that a railroad employee would notice him. It did not have to be the man he had clashed with earlier—any conscientious official might take it into his head to throw him out, the way such a man might pick up a candy wrapper. He did everything he could to make himself inconspicuous. He walked neither slow nor fast, tried to keep close to walls when he could, took care not to cross anyone’s path, and never looked anyone in the eye.
The best time to steal a suitcase would be immediately after the arrival of a large, crowded train, when the concourse was thronged with hurrying people. He studied the information board. An express from New York was due in twelve minutes. That would be perfect.
As he looked at the board, checking which track the train would come in on, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
He looked around. He must have seen something out of the corner of his eye, something that had triggered an instinctive warning. What? His heart beat faster. What was he afraid of?
Trying to be inconspicuous, he strolled away from the board and stood at the newsstand, examining a rack of daily papers. He took in the headlines:
Army Rocket blast soon
Slayer of 10 is Nabbed
Dulles assures Baghdad group
Last chance at Cape Canaveral
After a moment he looked back over his shoulder. A couple of dozen people crisscrossed the concourse, hurrying to or from suburban trains. A larger number sat on the mahogany benches or stood around patiently, relatives and chauffeurs waiting to meet passengers off the New York train. A maître d’ stood outside the door of the restaurant, hoping for early lunch customers. There were five porters in a group, smoking.…
And two agents.
He was quite certain what they were. Both were young men, neatly dressed in topcoats and hats, their wingtip shoes well shined. But it was not their appearance so much as their attitude that gave them away. They were alert, raking the station concourse with their eyes, studying the faces of the people they passed, looking everywhere… except at the information board. The one thing they were not interested in was travel.
He was tempted to speak to them. Thinking about it, he was overwhelmed by a need for simple human contact with people who knew him. He longed for someone to say, “Hi, Luke, how are you? Good to see you again!”
These two would probably say, “We are FBI agents and you are under arrest.” Luke felt that would almost be a relief. But his instincts warned him off. Every time he thought of trusting them, he asked himself why they would follow him around surreptitiously, if they meant him no harm.
He turned his back to them and walked away, trying to keep the newsstand between him and them. In the shadow of a grand archway he risked a backward look. The two men were crossing the open concourse, walking from east to west across his field of vision.
Who the hell were they?
He left the station, walked a few yards along the grand arcade of its front, and re-entered the main hall. He was in time to see the backs of the two agents as they headed for the west exit.
He checked the clock. Ten minutes had passed. The New York express was due in two minutes. He hurried to the gate and waited, trying to fade into the background.
As the first passengers emerged, a frigid calm descended on him. He watched the arrivals intently. It was a Wednesday, the middle of the week, so there were many businessmen and military types in uniform, but few tourists, and only a sprinkling of women and children. He looked for a man his own size and build.
As passengers poured through the gate, the people waiting surged forward, and a traffic jam formed. The crowd around the gate thickened, then spread, with people pushing through irritably. Luke saw a young man of his size, but he was wearing a duffel coat and a wool watch cap: he might not have a spare suit in his haversack. Likewise, Luke dismissed an elderly traveler who was the right height but too thin. He saw a man who looked just right but carried only a briefcase.
By this time at least a hundred passengers had emerged, but there seemed to be many more to come. The concourse filled up with impatient people. Then he saw the right man. He was Luke’s height, build, and age. His gray topcoat was unbuttoned to show a tweed sport coat and flannel pants—which meant he probably had a business suit in the tan leather bag he carried in his right hand. His face wore an anxious look, and he walked quickly, as if he were late for an appointment.
Luke slipped into the crowd and shoved his way through until he was directly behind the man.
The throng was dense and slow moving, and Luke’s target moved in fretful stops and starts. Then the crowd thinned a little, and the man stepped quickly into a gap.
That was when Luke tripped him. He hooked his foot firmly around the ankle in front of him. As the man moved forward, Luke kicked upward, bending the target’s leg at the knee.
The man cried out and fell forward. He let go of both briefcase and suitcase, and threw his hands out in front. He crashed into the back of a woman in a fur coat and she, too, stumbled, giving a little scream, and fell. The man hit the marble floor with an audible thump, his hat rolling away. A split second later the woman went down on both knees, dropping a handbag and a chic white leather suitcase.
Other passengers quickly gathered around, trying to help, saying, “Are you all right?”
Luke calmly picked up the tan leather bag and walked quickly away. He headed for the nearest exit arch. He did not look back, but he listened intently for shouted accusations or sounds of pursuit. If he heard anything, he was ready to run: he was not going to give up his clean clothes easily, and he felt he could probably outrun most people, even carrying a suitcase. But his back felt like a bull’s-eye target as he walked briskly toward the doors.
At the exit, he glanced back over his shoulder. The crowd was milling around the same spot. He could not see the man he had tripped, nor the woman in the fur coat. But a tall man with an authoritative air was scanning the concourse keenly, as if looking for something. His head swivelled suddenly toward Luke.
Luke stepped quickly through the door.
Outside, he headed down Massachusetts Avenue. A minute later he reached the Ford Fiesta. He went automatically for the trunk so that he could hide the stolen suitcase—but the trunk was locked. He recalled seeing the owner lock it. He looked back toward the station. The tall man was running across the traffic circle in front of the station, dodging cars, heading Luke’s way. Who was he—off-duty cop? Detective? Nosy parker?
Luke went quickly around to the driver’s door, opened it, and slung the bag onto the backseat. Then he got in and slammed the door.
He reached under the dash and found the wires on either side of the ignition lock. He pulled them out and touched them together. Nothing happened. He felt sweat on his forehead, despite the cold. Why was this not working? The answer came into his head: wrong wire. He felt under the dash again. There was another wire to the right of the ignition. He pulled it out and touched it to the wire on the left.
The engine started.
He pressed the gas pedal, and the engine raced.
He put the transmission into drive, released the parking brake, flicked the indicator, and pulled out. The car was pointing toward the station, so he did a U-turn. Then he drove off.
A smile crossed his face. Unless he was very unlucky, he had a complete set of fresh clothes in the bag. He felt he had begun to take charge of his life.
Now he needed somewhere to shower and change.
The second stage consists of eleven Baby Sergeant rockets in an annular ring around a central tube. The third stage has three Baby Sergeant motors held together by three transverse bulkheads. On top of the third stage is the fourth, a single rocket, with the satellite in its nose.
The countdown stood at X minus 630 minutes, and Cape Canaveral was buzzing.
Rocket men were all the same: they would design weapons, if the government wanted, but what they dreamed about was outer space. The Explorer team had built and launched many missiles, but this would be the first to break free of the earth’s pull and fly beyond the atmosphere. For most of the team, tonight’s launch would be the fulfillment of a lifetime’s hopes. Elspeth felt the same way.
They were based in Hangar D and Hangar R, which were side by side. The standard aircraft hangar design had been found well suited to missiles: there was a large central space where the rockets could be checked out, with two-storey wings on either side for offices and smaller laboratories.
Elspeth was in Hangar R. She had a typewriter and a desk in the office of her boss, Willy Fredrickson, the launch conductor, who spent almost all his time elsewhere. Her job was to prepare and distribute the launch timetable.
Trouble was, the timetable changed constantly. Nobody in America had sent a rocket into space before. New problems arose all the time, and the engineers were forever improvising ways to jury-rig a component or bypass a system. Here, duct tape was called missile tape.
So Elspeth produced regular updates of the timetable. She had to stay in touch with every group on the team, record changes of plan in her shorthand notebook, then transfer her notes to typed and Xeroxed sheets and distribute them. The job required her to go everywhere and know almost everything. When there was a hitch, she learned of it right away, and she was among the first to know about the solution too. Her title was secretary, and she was paid a secretary’s wages, but no one could have done the job without a science degree. However, she did not resent the low pay. She was grateful for a job that challenged her. Some of her Radcliffe classmates were still taking dictation from men in gray flannel suits.
Her noon update was ready, and she picked up the stack of papers and set out to distribute them. She was rushed off her feet, but that suited her today: it stopped her worrying constantly about Luke. If she followed her inclination, she would be on the phone to Anthony every few minutes, asking if there was any news. But that would be stupid. He would contact her if anything went wrong, she told herself. Meanwhile she should concentrate on her work.
She went first to the press department, where public relations officers were working the phones, telling trusted reporters that there would be a launch tonight. The Army wanted journalists on the scene to witness their triumph. However, the information was not to be released until after the event. Scheduled launches were often delayed, or even cancelled, as unforeseen snags arose. The missile men had learned, from bitter experience, that a routine postponement to solve technical problems could be made to look like an abject failure when the newspapers reported it. So they had a deal with all the major news organizations. They gave advance notification of launches only on condition that nothing would be published until there was “fire in the tail,” which meant the rocket engine had been ignited.
It was an all-male office, and several men stared at her as she walked across the room and handed a timetable to the chief press officer. She knew she was attractive, with her pale Viking looks and tall, statuesque figure, but there was something formidable about her—the determined set of her mouth, maybe, or the dangerous light in her green eyes—that made men who were inclined to whistle, or call her honeybunch, think again.
In the Missile Firing Laboratory she found five shirtsleeved scientists standing at a bench, staring worriedly at a flat piece of metal that looked as if it had been in a fire. The group leader, Dr. Keller, said, “Good afternoon, Elspeth.” He spoke in heavily accented English. Like most of the scientists, he was a German who had been captured at the end of the war and brought to America to work on the missile program.
She handed him a copy of her update, and he took it without looking at it. Elspeth nodded at the object on the table and said: “What’s that?”
“A jet vane.”
Elspeth knew that the first stage was steered by vanes inside the tail. “What happened to it?”
“The burning fuel erodes the metal,” he explained. His German accent became stronger as he warmed to his subject. “This always happens, to some extent. However, with normal alcohol fuel, the vanes last long enough to do their job. Today, by contrast, we are using a new fuel, Hydyne, which has a longer burning time and higher exhaust velocity, but it may erode the vanes so much that they become ineffective for steering.” He spread his hands in a gesture of exasperation. “We have not had time to run sufficiently many tests.”
“I guess all I need to know is whether this is going to delay the launch.” She felt she could not stand a postponement. The suspense was already killing her.
“That’s what we’re trying to decide.” Keller looked around at his colleagues. “And I think our answer is going to be: Let’s take the chance.” The others nodded gloomily.
Elspeth felt relieved. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” she said, turning to leave.
“That’s about as useful as anything we can do,” Keller said, and the others laughed ruefully.
She went outside into the scorching Florida sun. The hangars stood in a sandy clearing hacked out of the low scrub that covered the Cape—palmetto palms and scrub oaks and sharp sandspur grass that would cut your skin if you walked barefoot. She crossed a dusty apron and entered Hangar D, its welcome shade falling across her face like the touch of a cool breeze.
In the telemetry room she saw Hans Mueller, known as Hank. He pointed a finger at her and said, “One hundred thirty-five.”
It was a game they played. She had to say what was unusual about the number. “Too easy,” she said. “Take the first digit, add the square of the second digit, plus the cube of the third, and you get the number you first thought of.” She gave him the equation:
“All right,” he said. “So what is the next highest number that follows the pattern?”
She thought hard, then said: “One hundred and seventy-five.”
“Correct! You win the big prize.” He fished in his pocket and brought out a dime.
She took it. “I’ll give you a chance to win it back,” she said. “One hundred thirty-six.”
“Ah.” He frowned. “Wait. Sum the cubes of its digits.”
“Now repeat the process, and you get the number you first thought of!”
She gave him back his dime, and a copy of her update.
As she went out, her eye was caught by a telegram pinned to the wall: I’ve had my little satellite, now you have yours. Mueller noticed her reading it and explained, “It’s from Stuhlinger’s wife.” Stuhlinger was chief of research. “She had a baby boy.” Elspeth smiled.
She found Willy Fredrickson in the communications room with two Army technicians, testing the Teletype link to the Pentagon. Her boss was a tall, thin man, bald with a fringe of curly hair, like a medieval monk. The Teletype machine was not working, and Willy was frustrated, but as he took the update he gave her a grateful look and said, “Elspeth, you are twenty-two-carat gold.”
A moment later, two people approached Willy: a young Army officer carrying a chart, and Stimmens, one of the scientists. The officer said, “We got a problem.” He handed Willy the chart, and went on. “The jet stream has moved south, and it’s blowing at one hundred forty-six knots.”
Elspeth’s heart sank. She knew what this meant. The jet-stream was a high-altitude wind in the stratosphere between thirty and forty thousand feet. It did not normally extend over Cape Canaveral, but it could move. And if it was too fierce, it might throw the missile off course.
Willy said, “How far south is it?”
“All over Florida,” the officer replied.
Willy turned to Stimmens. “We’ve allowed for this, haven’t we?”
“Not really,” Stimmens said. “It’s all guesswork, of course, but we figure the missile can withstand winds up to one hundred twenty knots, no higher.”
Willy turned back to the officer. “What’s the forecast for tonight?”
“Up to one hundred seventy-seven knots, and no sign of the jet stream moving back north.”
“Hell.” Willy ran a hand over his smooth pate. Elspeth knew what he was thinking. The launch might have to be postponed until tomorrow. “Send up a weather balloon, please,” he ordered. “We’ll review the forecast again at five o’clock.”
Elspeth made a note to add the weather review meeting to her timetable, then she left, feeling despondent. They could solve engineering problems, but there was nothing they could do about the weather.
Outside, she got into a jeep and drove to Launch Complex 26. The road was a dusty, unpaved track through the brush, and the jeep bounced on the ruts. She startled a white-tailed deer that was drinking from a ditch, and it bounded off into the bushes. There was a lot of wildlife on the Cape, hiding in the low scrub. People said there were alligators and Florida panthers, but Elspeth had never seen either.
She pulled up outside the blockhouse and looked across to Launch Pad 26B, three hundred yards away. The gantry was a derrick from an oil rig, adapted for this purpose and coated with orange rust-resistant paint to protect it from corrosion by the humid, salty Florida air. At one side was an elevator for access to the platforms. The whole edifice was brutally practical, quite without grace, Elspeth thought; a functional structure bolted together with no regard for how it looked.
The long white pencil of the Jupiter C rocket seemed caught in the tangle of orange girders like a dragonfly in a spiderweb. The men called it “she,” despite its phallic shape, and Elspeth too thought of the rocket as female. A bridal veil of canvas covers had concealed the upper stages from prying eyes since it arrived here, but that had now been removed, and the missile stood revealed, sunshine gleaming off its spotless paintwork.
The scientists were not very political, but even they knew that the eyes of the world were on them. Almost four months ago, the Soviet Union had stunned the world by sending up the first space satellite, the Sputnik. In all the countries where the tug of war between capitalism and communism was still going on, from Italy to India, throughout Latin America and Africa and Indochina, the message was heard: communist science is best. A month later the Soviets had sent up a second satellite, Sputnik II, with a dog onboard. Americans were devastated. A dog today, a man tomorrow.
President Eisenhower promised an American satellite before the end of the year. On the first Friday in December, at fifteen minutes to noon, the U.S. Navy launched the Vanguard rocket in front of the world’s press. It rose a few feet into the air, burst into flames, toppled sideways, and smashed to pieces on the concrete. It’s a Flopnik! said one headline.
The Jupiter C was America’s last hope. There was no third option. If this failed today, the United States was out of the space race. The propaganda defeat was the least of the consequences. The American space program would be in total disarray, and the U.S.S.R. would control outer space for the foreseeable future.
All that, Elspeth thought, resting on this one rocket.
Vehicles were banned from the launch pad area, except for essential ones such as fuel trucks, so she left her car and walked across the open space between blockhouse and gantry, following the line of a metal conduit that housed the cables linking the two locations. Attached to the back of the derrick at ground level was a long steel cabin, the same orange color, containing offices and machinery. Elspeth entered by a metal door at the rear.
The gantry supervisor, Harry Lane, sat on a folding chair, wearing a hard hat and engineer boots, studying a blueprint. “Hi, Harry,” she said brightly.
He grunted. He did not like to see women around the launch pad, and no sense of courtesy constrained him from letting her know it.
She dropped an update on a metal table and left. She returned to the blockhouse, a low white building with slit windows of thick green glass. The blast doors stood open, and she walked inside. There were three compartments: an instrumentation room, which ran the width of the building, and two firing rooms, A on the left and B on the right, angled toward the two launch pads served by this blockhouse. Elspeth stepped into Firing Room B.
The strong sunlight coming through the green glass cast a weird light over the whole place so that it looked like the inside of an aquarium. In front of the windows, a row of scientists sat at a bank of control panels. They all wore short-sleeved shirts, she noticed, as if it were a uniform. They had headsets through which they could talk to the men on the launch pad. They could look over their panels and see the rocket through the windows, or check the color television screens which showed the same picture. Along the back wall of the firing room, a row of pen recorders stood shoulder to shoulder, tracking temperatures, pressures in the fuel system, and electrical activity. In the far corner was a scale showing the weight of the missile on the launch pad. There was an air of quiet urgency as the men murmured into their headsets and worked their panels, turning a knob here, throwing a switch there, constantly checking the dials and counters. Over their heads, a countdown clock showed the minutes left to ignition. As Elspeth looked, the hand clicked down from 600 to 599.
She handed out her update and left the building. Driving back to the hangar, her mind turned to Luke, and she realized she had a perfect excuse for calling Anthony. She would tell him about the jet stream, then ask about Luke.
That perked her up, and she hurried into the hangar and up the stairs to her office. She dialed Anthony’s direct line and got him right away. “The launch is likely to be postponed until tomorrow,” she told him. “There are strong winds in the stratosphere.”
“I didn’t know there were winds up there.”
“There’s one, it’s called the jet stream. The postponement isn’t definite, there’s a weather review meeting at five. How’s Luke?”
“Let me know the upshot of that meeting, okay?”
“Of course. How’s Luke?”
“Well, we have a problem there.”
Her heart missed a beat. “What kind of a problem?”
“We’ve lost him.”
Elspeth felt cold. “What?”
“He slipped away from my men.”
“Jesus, help us,” she said. “Now we’re in trouble.”
Luke arrived back in Boston at dawn. He parked the old Ford, slipped in through the back door of Cambridge House, and climbed the service stairs to his room. Anthony was fast asleep. Luke washed his face and fell into bed in his underwear.
Next thing he knew, Anthony was shaking him, saying, “Luke! Get up!”
He opened his eyes. He knew that something bad had happened, but he could not recall what it was. “What’s the time?” he mumbled.
“It’s one o’clock, and Elspeth is waiting for you downstairs.”
The mention of Elspeth’s name jogged his memory, and he recalled what the calamity was. He did not love her anymore. “Oh, God,” he said.
“You’d better go down and see her.”
He had fallen in love with Billie Josephson. That was the disaster. It would make a train wreck of all their lives: his own, Elspeth’s, Billie’s, and Anthony’s.
“Hell,” he said, and he got up.
He stripped off his underwear and took a cold shower. When he closed his eyes he saw Billie, her dark eyes flashing, her red mouth laughing, her white throat. He pulled on a pair of flannels, a sweater, and tennis shoes, then staggered downstairs.
Elspeth was waiting in the lobby, the only part of the building where girls were allowed, except on specially designated Ladies’ Afternoons. It was a spacious hall with a fireplace and comfortable chairs. She was as eye-catching as ever, in a wool dress the color of bluebells, and a big hat. Yesterday, the sight of her would have gladdened his heart; today, the knowledge that she had dressed up for him just made him feel even more wretched.
She laughed when she saw him. “You look like a small boy who can’t wake up!”
He kissed her cheek and slumped into a chair. “It took hours to get to Newport,” he said.
“You’ve obviously forgotten you’re supposed to take me to lunch!” Elspeth said brightly.
He looked at her. She was beautiful, but he did not love her. He did not know whether he had loved her before, but he was sure he did not now. He was the worst kind of heel. She was so gay this morning, and he was going to ruin her happiness. He did not know how to tell her. He felt so ashamed it was like a pain in his heart.
He had to say something. “Can we skip lunch? I haven’t even shaved.”
A troubled shadow crossed her pale, proud face, and he realized that she knew perfectly well something was wrong; but her reply was carefree. “Of course,” she said. “Knights in shining armor need their beauty sleep.”
He told himself he would have a serious talk with her, and be completely honest, later in the day. “I’m sorry you got dressed up for nothing,” he said miserably.
“It wasn’t for nothing—I saw you. And your fellow housemen seemed to like my outfit.” She stood up. “Anyway, Professor and Mrs. Durkham are having a jolly-up.” That was Radcliffe slang for a party.
Luke stood and helped her into her coat. “We could meet later.” He had to tell her today—it would be deceitful to let any more time pass without revealing the truth.
“That’ll be fine,” she said gaily. “Pick me up at six.” She blew him a kiss and walked out like a movie star. He knew she was faking, but it was a good act.
He returned woefully to his room. Anthony was reading the Sunday paper. “I made coffee,” he said.
“Thanks.” Luke poured a cup.
“I owe you big time,” Anthony went on. “You saved Billie’s hide last night.”
“You’d do the same for me.” Luke sipped his coffee and began to feel better. “Seems we got away with it. Has anyone said anything to you this morning?”
“Not a thing.”
“Billie’s quite a gal,” Luke said. He knew it was dangerous to talk about her, but he could not help it.
“Isn’t she great?” Anthony said. Luke observed with dismay the look of pride on his roommate’s face. Anthony went on, “I kept asking myself: ‘Why shouldn’t she go out with me?’ But I didn’t think she would. I don’t know why, maybe because she’s so neat and pretty. And when she said yes, I couldn’t believe my ears. I wanted to ask for it in writing.”
Extravagant overstatement was Anthony’s way of being amusing, and Luke forced a smile, but secretly he was appalled. To steal someone else’s girlfriend was despicable in any circumstances, but the fact that Anthony was obviously crazy about Billie made everything even worse.
Luke groaned, and Anthony said, “What’s the matter?”
Luke decided to tell him half the truth. “I’m not in love with Elspeth anymore. I think I have to end it.”
Anthony looked shocked. “That’s too bad. You two are quite an item.”
“I feel like a jerk.”
“Don’t crucify yourself. It happens. You’re not married—not even engaged.”
Anthony raised his eyebrows. “Have you proposed?”
“Then you’re not engaged, officially or unofficially.”
“We’ve talked about how many children we’ll have.”
“You’re still not engaged.”
“I guess you’re right, but all the same I feel like a rotter.”
There was a tap at the door, and a man Luke had never seen before came in. “Mr. Lucas and Mr. Carroll, I presume?” He wore a shabby suit but had a haughty manner, and Luke guessed he was a college proctor.
Anthony leaped to his feet. “We are,” he said. “And you must be Dr. Uterus, the famous gynecologist. Thank God you’ve come!”
Luke did not laugh. The man was carrying two white envelopes, and Luke had a pessimistic feeling he knew what they were.
“I’m the clerk to the Dean of Students. He’s asked me to hand you these notes in person.” The clerk gave them an envelope each and left.
“Hell,” Anthony said as the door closed. He ripped open his envelope. “God damn it.”
Luke opened his and read the short note inside.
Dear Mr. Lucas,
Please be good enough to come and see me in my study at three o’clock this afternoon.
Dean of Students
Such letters always meant disciplinary trouble. Someone had reported to the Dean that there had been a girl in the House last night. Anthony would probably be expelled.
Luke had never seen his roommate afraid—his insouciance always seemed unshakable—but now he was pale with shock. “I can’t go home,” he whispered. He had never said much about his parents, but Luke had a vague picture of a bullying father and a long-suffering mother. Now he guessed the reality might be worse than he had imagined. For a moment, Anthony’s expression was a window into a private hell.
Then there was a knock at the door, and in came Geoff Pidgeon, the amiable, chubby occupant of the room opposite. “Did I just see the Dean’s clerk?”
Luke waved his letter. “Too damn right.”
“You know, I haven’t said a word to anyone about seeing you with that girl.”
“But who did?” Anthony said. “The only sneak in the House is Jenkins.” Paul Jenkins was a religious zealot whose mission in life was to reform the morals of Harvard men. “But he’s away for the weekend.”
“No, he’s not,” Pidgeon said. “He changed his plans.”
“Then it’s him, damn his eyes,” Anthony said. “I’m going to strangle the son of a bitch with my own hands.”
If Anthony were expelled, Luke realized suddenly, Billie would be free. He felt ashamed of such a selfish thought when his friend’s life was about to be ruined. Then it struck him that Billie might be in trouble too. He said, “I wonder if Elspeth and Billie have had letters.”
Anthony said, “Why would they?”
“Jenkins probably knows the names of our girlfriends—he takes a prurient interest in such things.”
Pidgeon said, “If he knows the names, we can be sure he reported them. That’s what he’s like.”
Luke said, “Elspeth is safe. She wasn’t here, and no one can prove she was. But Billie could be expelled. Then she’ll lose her scholarship. She explained it to me last night. She won’t be able to study anywhere else.”
“I can’t worry about Billie now,” Anthony said. “I have to figure out what I’m going to do.”
Luke was shocked. Anthony had got Billie into trouble, and by Luke’s code he should be more worried about her than about himself. But Luke saw a pretext to talk to Billie, and he could not resist it. Suppressing a guilty feeling, he said, “Why don’t I go to the girls’ dorm and see whether Billie’s back from Newport yet?”
“Would you?” Anthony said. “Thanks.”
Pidgeon went out. Anthony sat on the bed, smoking gloomily, while Luke quickly shaved and changed his clothes. Although he was in a hurry, he dressed with care, in a soft blue shirt, new flannel pants, and his favorite gray tweed jacket.
It was two o’clock when he reached the Radcliffe dormitory quadrangle. The redbrick buildings were arranged around a small park where students strolled in pairs. This was where he had kissed Elspeth, he recalled unhappily, at midnight on a Saturday at the end of their first date. He detested men who switched loyalties as readily as they changed their shirts, yet here he was doing the thing he disdained—and he could not stop.
A uniformed maid let him into the lobby of the dorm. He asked for Billie. The maid sat at a desk, picked up a speaking-tube of the kind used on ships, blew into the mouthpiece, and said, “Visitor for Miss Josephson.”
Billie came down wearing a dove-gray cashmere sweater and a plaid skirt. She looked lovely but distraught, and Luke longed to take her in his arms and comfort her. She, too, had been summoned to the office of Peter Ryder, and she told him that the man who had delivered her letter also left one for Elspeth.
She showed him into the smoking room, where girls were allowed to receive male visitors. “What am I going to do?” she said. Her face was drawn with distress. She looked like a grieving widow.
Luke found her even more ravishing than yesterday. He longed to tell her that he would make everything all right. But he could not think of a way out. “Anthony could say it was someone else in the room, but he’d have to produce the girl.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to tell my mother.”
“I wonder if Anthony would pay a woman, you know, a street woman, to say it was she.”
Billie shook her head. “They wouldn’t believe it.”
“And Jenkins would tell them it was the wrong girl. He’s the sneak that reported you.”
“My career is over.” With a bitter smile, she said, “I’ll have to go back to Dallas and be a secretary to an oil man in cowboy boots.”
Twenty-four hours ago Luke had been a happy man. It was hard to believe.
Two girls in coats and hats burst into the lounge. Their faces were flushed. “Have you heard the news?” said one.
Luke was not interested in news. He shook his head. Billie said desultorily, “What’s happened?”
“We’re at war!”
Luke frowned. “What?”
“It’s true,” said the second girl. “The Japanese have bombed Hawaii!”
Luke could hardly take it in. “Hawaii? What the heck for? What’s in Hawaii?”
Billie said, “Is this true?”
“Everyone’s talking about it on the street. People are stopping their cars.”
Billie looked at Luke. “I’m frightened,” she said.
He took her hand. He wanted to say he would take care of her, no matter what.
Two more girls rushed in, talking excitedly. Someone brought a radio downstairs and plugged it in. There was an expectant silence while they waited for it to warm up. Then they heard an announcer’s voice. “The battleship Arizona is reported destroyed and the Oklahoma sunk in Pearl Harbor. First reports say that more than one hundred U.S. aircraft were crippled on the ground at the Naval Air Station on Ford Island and at Wheeler Field and Hickam Field. American casualties are estimated to be at least two thousand dead and a thousand more injured.”
Luke felt a surge of rage. “Two thousand people killed!” he said.
More girls came into the lounge, talking excitedly, and were rudely told to shut up. The announcer was saying: “No warning was given for the Japanese attack, which began at seven-fifty-five A.M. local time, just before one P.M. Eastern Standard Time.”
Billie said, “It means war, doesn’t it.”
“You bet it does,” Luke said angrily. He knew it was stupid and irrational to hate a whole nation, but he felt that way all the same. “I’d like to bomb Japan flat.”
She squeezed his hand. “I don’t want you to be in a war,” she said. There were tears in her eyes. “I don’t want you hurt.”
His heart felt ready to burst. “I’m so happy you feel that way.” He smiled ruefully. “The world is falling apart, and I’m happy.” He looked at his watch. “I suppose we all have to see the Dean, even though we’re at war.” Then he was struck by a thought, and he fell silent.
“What?” Billie said. “What is it?”
“Maybe there is a way for you and Anthony to stay at Harvard.”
“Let me think.”
Elspeth was nervous, but she told herself that she did not need to be afraid. She had broken the curfew last night, but she had not been caught. She was almost certain this was nothing to do with her and Luke. Anthony and Billie were the ones who were in trouble. Elspeth hardly knew Billie, but she cared for Anthony, and she had a dreadful feeling he was going to be thrown out.
The four of them met outside the Dean’s study. Luke said, “I’ve got a plan,” but before he could explain, the Dean opened the door and summoned them inside. Luke had time only to say, “Leave the talking to me.”
The Dean of Students, Peter Ryder, was a fussy, old-fashioned man in a neat suit of black coat and waistcoat with gray striped pants. His bow tie was a perfect butterfly, his boots gleamed with polish, and his oiled hair looked like black paint on a boiled egg. With him was a gray-haired spinster called Iris Rayford who was responsible for the moral welfare of Radcliffe girls.
They sat in a circle of chairs, as if for a tutorial. The Dean lit a cigarette. “Now, you boys had better tell the truth, like gentlemen,” he said. “What happened in your room last night?”
Anthony ignored Ryder’s question and acted as if he were in charge of the proceedings. “Where’s Jenkins?” he said curtly. “He’s the sneak, isn’t he?”
“No one else has been asked to join us,” the Dean said.
“But a man has a right to be confronted by his accuser.”
“This isn’t a court, Mr. Carroll,” the Dean said testily. “Miss Rayford and I have been asked to establish the facts. Disciplinary proceedings, if such prove necessary, will follow in due course.”
“I’m not sure that’s acceptable,” Anthony said haughtily. “Jenkins should be here.”
Elspeth saw what Anthony was doing. He hoped Jenkins would be scared to repeat his accusation to Anthony’s face. If that happened, the college might have to drop the matter. She did not think it would work, but perhaps it was worth a try.
However, Luke cut the discussion short. “Enough of this,” he said with an impatient gesture. He addressed the Dean. “I brought a woman into the House last night, sir.”
Elspeth gasped. What was he talking about?
The Dean frowned. “My information is that it was Mr. Carroll who invited the woman in.”
“I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed.”
Elspeth burst out, “That’s not true!”
Luke gave her a look that chilled her. “Miss Twomey was in her dorm by midnight, as the dormitory mistress’s overnight book will show.”
Elspeth stared at him. The book would show that, because a girlfriend had forged her signature. She realized she had better shut up before she talked herself into trouble. But what was Luke up to?
Anthony was asking himself the same question. Staring at Luke, mystified, he said, “Luke, I don’t know what you’re doing, but—”
“Let me tell the story,” Luke said. Anthony looked doubtful, and Luke added, “Please.”
The Dean said sarcastically: “Please carry on, Mr. Lucas. I can’t wait.”
“I met the girl at the Dew Drop Inn,” Luke began.
Miss Rayford spoke for the first time. “The Dew Drop Inn?” she said incredulously. “Is that a pun?”
“She’s a waitress there. Her name is Angela Carlotti.”
The Dean plainly did not believe a word. He said, “I was told that the person seen in Cambridge House was Miss Bilhah Josephson here.”
“No, sir,” Luke said in the same tone of immovable certitude. “Miss Josephson is a friend of ours, but she was out of town. She spent last night at the home of a relative in Newport, Rhode Island.”
Miss Rayford spoke to Billie. “Will the relative confirm that?”
Billie shot a bewildered look at Luke, then said, “Yes, Miss Rayford.”
Elspeth stared at Luke. Did he really intend to sacrifice his career to save Anthony? It was crazy! Luke was a loyal friend, but this was taking friendship too far.
Ryder said to Luke: “Can you produce this… waitress?” He pronounced “waitress” with distaste, as if he were saying “prostitute.”
“Yes, sir, I can.”
The Dean was surprised. “Very well.”
Elspeth was astonished. Had Luke bribed a town girl to pretend to be the culprit? If he had, it would never work. Jenkins would swear it was the wrong girl.
Then Luke said, “But I don’t intend to bring her into this.”
“Ah,” said the Dean. “In that case, you make it difficult for me to accept your story.”
Now Elspeth was baffled. Luke had told an implausible tale and had no way to back it up. What was the point?
Luke said, “I don’t think Miss Carlotti’s evidence will be necessary.”
“I beg to differ, Mr. Lucas.”
Then Luke dropped his bombshell. “I’m leaving the college tonight, sir.”
Anthony said, “Luke!”
The Dean said, “It will do you no good to leave before you can be sacked. There will still be an investigation.”
“Our country is at war.”
“I know that, young man.”
“I’m going to join the Army tomorrow morning, sir.”
Elspeth cried, “No!”
For the first time, the Dean did not have an answer. He stared at Luke with his mouth open.
Elspeth realized that Luke had been clever. The college could hardly pursue a disciplinary action against a boy who was risking his life for his country. And if there was no investigation, then Billie was safe.
A mist of grief obscured her vision. Luke had sacrificed everything—to save Billie.
Miss Rayford might still demand testimony from Billie’s cousin, but he would probably lie for her. The key point was that Radcliffe could hardly expect Billie to produce the waitress Angela Carlotti.
But none of that mattered to Elspeth now. All she could think of was that she had lost Luke.
Ryder was muttering about making his report and leaving others to decide. Miss Rayford made a big fuss about writing down the address of Billie’s cousin. But it was all camouflage. They had been outwitted, and they knew it.
At last the students were dismissed.
As soon as the door closed, Billie burst into tears. “Don’t go to war, Luke!” she said.
Anthony said, “You saved my life.” He put his arms around Luke and embraced him. “I’ll never forget this,” Anthony said. “Never.” He detached himself from Luke and took Billie’s hand. “Don’t worry,” he said to her. “Luke’s too smart to get killed.”
Luke turned to Elspeth. When he met her eye he flinched, and she realized that her rage must be plainly visible. But she did not care. She stared at him for a long moment, then she raised her hand and slapped his face, once, very hard. He let out an involuntary gasp of pain and surprise.
“You fucking bastard,” she said.
Then she turned and walked away.
Each Baby Sergeant motor is 4 feet long and 6 inches in diameter, and weighs 59 pounds. Its motor burns for just 6 1/2 seconds.
Luke was looking for a quiet residential street. Washington was totally unfamiliar to him, as if he had never been here before. Driving away from Union Station he had chosen a direction at random and headed west. The road had taken him farther into the center of the city, a place of striking vistas and grandiose government buildings. Perhaps it was beautiful, but he found it intimidating. However, he knew that if he kept going in a straight line, he must eventually come to a place where normal families lived in regular houses.
He crossed a river and found himself in a charming suburb of narrow streets lined with trees. He passed a building with a sign that read Georgetown Mind Hospital, and he guessed the neighbourhood was called Georgetown. He turned into a tree-lined street of modest houses. This was promising. People here would not have full-time household help, so there was a good chance of finding a place empty.
The street turned a corner and immediately dead-ended in a cemetery. Luke parked the stolen Ford facing the way he had come, in case he had to make a fast getaway.
He needed some simple tools, a chisel or screwdriver and a hammer. There was probably a small tool kit in the trunk—but the trunk was locked. He could pick the lock if he could find a piece of wire. Otherwise, he would have to drive to a hardware store and buy or steal what he required.
He reached into the back and picked up the stolen bag. Rummaging through the clothes, he found a folder containing papers. He extracted a paperclip and closed the case.
It took him about thirty seconds to open the trunk. As he had hoped, there were a few tools in a tin box next to the jack. He chose the largest screwdriver. There was no hammer, but there was a heavy adjustable wrench that would serve. He put them in the pocket of his ragged raincoat and slammed the lid of the trunk.
He took the stolen bag from inside the car, closed the door, and walked around the corner. He knew he was conspicuous, a ragged bum walking in a nice neighbourhood with an expensive suitcase. If the local busybody called the cops, and the cops had nothing much to do this morning, he could be in trouble in minutes. On the other hand, if all went well, he might be washed and shaved and dressed like a respectable citizen in half an hour’s time.
He drew level with the first house in the street. He crossed a small front yard and knocked at the door.
Rosemary Sims saw a nice blue-and-white car drive slowly past her house, and she wondered whose it was. The Brownings might have bought a new car, they had plenty of money. Or Mr. Cyrus, who was a bachelor and did not have to stint himself. Otherwise, she reasoned, it must belong to a stranger.
She had good eyesight still, and she could watch most of the street from her comfy chair by the second-floor window, especially in winter when the trees were bare of leaves. So she saw the tall stranger when he came walking around the corner. And “strange” was the word. He wore no hat, his raincoat was torn, and his shoes were tied up with string to stop them from falling apart. Yet he carried a new-looking bag.
He went to Mrs. Britsky’s door and knocked. She was a widow, living alone, but she was no fool—she would make short work of the stranger, Mrs. Sims knew. Sure enough, Mrs. Britsky looked out the window and waved him away with a peremptory gesture.
He went next door and knocked at Mrs. Loew’s. She opened up. She was a tall, black-haired woman, who was too proud, in Mrs. Sims’s opinion. She spoke a few words with the caller, then slammed the door.
He went to the next house, apparently intending to work his way along the street. Young Jeannie Evans came to the door with baby Rita in her arms. She fished in the pocket of her apron and gave him something, probably a few coins. So he was a beggar.
Old Mr. Clark came to the door in his bathrobe and carpet slippers. The stranger got nothing out of him.
The owner of the next house, Mr. Bonetti, was at work, and his wife, Angelina, seven months pregnant, had left five minutes ago, carrying a string bag, obviously heading for the store. The stranger would get no answer there.
By now, Luke had had time to study the doors, which were all the same. They had Yale locks, the kind with a tongue on the door side and a metal socket in the jamb. The lock was operated by a key from outside and by a knob inside.
Each door had a small window of obscure glass at head height. The easiest way in would be to break the glass and reach inside to turn the knob. But a broken window would be visible from the street. So he decided to use the screwdriver.
He glanced up and down the street. He had been unlucky, having to knock on five doors to find an empty house. By now he might have attracted attention, but he could see no one. Anyway, he had no choice. He had to take the risk.
Mrs. Sims turned away from the window and lifted the handset of the phone beside her seat. Slowly and carefully, she dialed the number of the local police station, which she knew by heart.
Luke had to do this fast.
He inserted the screwdriver’s blade between the door and the jamb at the level of the lock. Then he struck the handle of the screwdriver with the heavy end of the adjustable wrench, trying to force the blade into the socket of the lock.
The first blow failed to move the screwdriver, which was jammed up against the steel of the lock. He wiggled the screwdriver, trying to find a way in. He used the hammer again, harder this time. Still the screwdriver would not slip into the socket. He felt perspiration break out on his forehead, despite the cold weather.
He told himself to stay calm. He had done this before. When? He had no idea. It did not matter. The technique worked, he was sure of that.
He wiggled the screwdriver again. This time, it felt as if a corner of the blade had caught in a notch. He hammered again, as hard as he could. The screwdriver sank in an inch.
He pulled sideways on the handle, levering the tongue of the lock back out of the socket. To his profound relief, the door opened inward.
The damage to the frame was too slight to be seen from the street.
He stepped quickly inside and closed the door behind him.
When Rosemary Sims finished dialing the number, she looked out the window again, but the stranger had vanished.
That was quick.
The police answered. Feeling confused, she hung up the phone without speaking.
Why had he suddenly stopped knocking on doors? Where had he gone? Who was he?
She smiled. She had something to occupy her thoughts all day.
It was the home of a young couple. The place was furnished with a mixture of wedding presents and junk-shop purchases. They had a new couch and a big TV set in the living room, but they were still using orange crates for storage in the kitchen. An unopened letter on the hall radiator was addressed to Mr. G. Bonetti.
There was no evidence of children. Most probably, Mr. and Mrs. Bonetti both had jobs and would be out all day. But he could not count on it.
He went quickly upstairs. There were three bedrooms, only one of which was furnished. He threw the bag on the neatly made bed. Inside it he found a carefully folded blue chalk-stripe suit, a white shirt, and a conservative striped tie. There were dark socks, clean underwear, and a pair of polished black wingtips that looked only about half a size too big.
He stripped off his filthy clothes and kicked them into a corner. It gave him a spooky feeling, to be naked in the home of strangers. He thought of skipping the shower, but he smelled bad, even to himself.
He crossed the tiny landing to the bathroom. It felt great to stand under the hot water and soap himself all over. When he got out, he stood still and listened carefully. The house was silent.
He dried himself with one of Mrs. Bonetti’s pink bath towels—another wedding present, he guessed—and put on undershorts, pants, socks, and shoes from the stolen bag. Being at least half dressed would speed his getaway if something went wrong while he was shaving.
Mr. Bonetti used an electric shaver, but Luke preferred a blade. In the suitcase he found a safety razor and a shaving brush. He lathered his face and shaved quickly.
Mr. Bonetti did not have any cologne, but maybe there was some in the bag. After stinking like a pig all morning, Luke liked the idea of smelling sweet. He found a neat leather toiletries case and unzipped it. There was no cologne inside—but there was a hundred dollars in twenties, neatly folded: emergency money. He pocketed the cash, resolving to pay the man back one day.
After all, the guy was not a collaborator.
And what the heck did that mean?
Another mystery. He put on the shirt, tie, and jacket. They fitted well: he had been careful to choose a victim his own size and build. The clothes were of good quality. The luggage tag gave an address on Central Park South, New York. Luke guessed the owner was a corporate big shot who had come to Washington for a couple of days of meetings.
There was a full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door. He had not looked at his reflection since early this morning, in the men’s room at Union Station, when he had been so shocked to see a filthy hobo staring back at him.
He stepped to the mirror, bracing himself.
He saw a tall, fit-looking man in his middle thirties, with black hair and blue eyes; a normal person, looking harassed. A weary sense of relief swept over him.
Take a guy like that, he thought. What would you say he does for a living?
His hands were soft, and now that they were clean they did not look like those of a manual worker. He had a smooth indoor face, one that had not spent much time out in bad weather. His hair was well cut. The guy in the mirror looked comfortable in the clothes of a corporate executive.
He was not a cop, definitely.
There was no hat or coat in the bag. Luke knew he would be conspicuous without either, on a cold January day. He wondered if he might find them in the house. It was worth taking a few extra seconds to look.
He opened the closet. There was not much inside. Mrs. Bonetti had three dresses. Her husband had a sport coat for weekends and a black suit he probably wore to church. There was no topcoat—Mr. Bonetti must be wearing one, and he could not afford two—but there was a light raincoat. Luke took it off the hanger. It would be better than nothing. He put it on. It was a size small but wearable.
There was no hat in the closet, but there was a tweed cap that Bonetti probably wore with the sport coat on Saturdays. Luke tried it on. It was too small. He would have to buy a hat with some of the money from the toiletries bag. But the cap would serve for an hour or so—–
He heard a noise downstairs. He froze, listening.
A young woman’s voice said, “What happened to my front door?”
Another voice, similar, replied, “Looks like someone tried to break in!”
Luke cursed under his breath. He had stayed too long.
“Jeepers—I think you’re right!”
“Maybe you should call the cops.”
Mrs. Bonetti had not gone to work, after all. Probably she had gone shopping. She had met a friend at the store and invited her home for coffee.
“I don’t know… looks like the thieves didn’t get in.”
“How do you know? Better check if anything’s been stolen.”
Luke realized he had to get out of there fast.
“What’s to steal? The family jewels?”
“What about the TV?”
Luke opened the bedroom window and looked out onto the front yard. There was no convenient tree or drainpipe down which he could climb.
“Nothing’s been moved,” he heard Mrs. Bonetti say. “I don’t believe they got in.”
“What about upstairs?”
Moving silently, Luke crossed the landing to the bathroom. At the back of the house there was nothing but a leg-breaking drop to a paved patio.
“I’m going to look.”
“Aren’t you scared?”
There was a nervous giggle. “Yes. But what else can we do? We’ll look pretty silly if we call the cops and there’s no one here.”
Luke heard footsteps on the stairs. He stood behind the bathroom door.
The footsteps mounted the staircase, crossed the landing, and entered the bedroom. Mrs. Bonetti gave a little scream.
Her friend’s voice said, “Whose bag is that?”
“I’ve never seen it before!”
Luke slipped silently out of the bathroom. He could see the open bedroom door but not the women. He tiptoed down the stairs, grateful for the carpet.
“What kind of burglar brings luggage?”
“I’m calling the cops right now. This is spooky.”
Luke opened the front door and stepped outside.
He smiled. He had done it.
He closed the door quietly and walked quickly away.
Mrs. Sims frowned, mystified. The man leaving the Bonetti house had on Mr. Bonetti’s black raincoat and the gray tweed cap he wore to watch the Redskins, but he was larger than Mr. Bonetti, and the clothes did not quite fit.
She watched him walk down the street and turn the corner. He would have to come back: it was a dead end. A minute later the blue-and-white car she had noticed earlier came around the corner, going too fast. She realized then that the man who had left the house was the beggar she had been watching. He must have broken in and stolen Mr. Bonetti’s clothes!
As the car passed her window, she read the license plate and memorized the number.
The Sergeant motors have undergone 300 static tests, 50 flight tests, and 290 ignition-system firings without a failure.
Anthony sat in the conference room, fuming with impatience and frustration.
Luke was still running around Washington. No one knew what he might be up to. But Anthony was stuck here, listening to a State Department timeserver drone on about the need to combat rebels massing in the mountains of Cuba. Anthony knew all about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. They had fewer than a thousand men under their command. Of course they could be wiped out—but there was no point. If Castro were killed, someone else would take his place.
What Anthony wanted to do was get out on the street and look for Luke.
He and his staff had put in calls to most of the police stations in the District of Columbia. They had asked the precincts to call in details of any incidents involving drunks or bums, any mention of a perpetrator who talked like a college professor, and anything at all out of the ordinary. The cops were happy to cooperate with the CIA: they liked the thought that they might be involved with international espionage.
The State Department man finished his talk, and a round-table discussion began. Anthony knew that the only way to prevent someone like Castro from taking over was for the U.S. to support a moderate reformist government. Fortunately for the communists, there was no danger of that.
The door opened and Pete Maxell slipped in. He gave a nod of apology to the chairman at the head of the table, George Cooperman, then sat next to Anthony and passed him a folder containing a batch of police reports.
There was something unusual at just about every station house. A beautiful woman arrested for picking pockets at the Jefferson Memorial turned out to be a man; some beatniks had tried to open a cage and free an eagle at the zoo; a Wesley Heights man had attempted to suffocate his wife with a pizza with extra cheese; a delivery truck belonging to a religious publisher had shed its load in Petworth, and traffic on Georgia Avenue was being held up by an avalanche of Bibles.
It was possible that Luke had left Washington, but Anthony thought it unlikely. Luke had no money for train or bus fares. He could steal it, of course, but why would he bother? He had nowhere to go. His mother lived in New York and he had a sister in Baltimore, but he did not know that. He had no reason to travel.
While Anthony speed-read the reports, he listened with half an ear to his boss, Carl Hobart, talking about the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Earl Smith, who had worked tirelessly to undermine church leaders and others who wanted to reform Cuba by peaceful means. Anthony sometimes wondered if Smith was in fact a Kremlin agent, but more likely he was just stupid.
One of the police reports caught his eye, and he showed it to Pete. “Is this right?” he whispered incredulously.
Pete nodded. “A bum attacked and beat up a patrolman on A Street and Seventh.”
“A bum beat up a cop?”
“And it’s not far from the neighborhood where we lost Luke.”
“This might be him!” Anthony said excitedly. Carl Hobart, who was speaking, shot him a look of annoyance. Anthony lowered his voice to a whisper again. “But why would he attack a patrolman? Did he steal anything—the cop’s weapon, for example?”
“No, but he beat him up pretty good. The officer was treated in hospital for a broken forefinger on his right hand.”
A tremor ran through Anthony like an electric shock. “That’s him!” he said loudly.
Carl Hobart said, “For Christ’s sake!”
George Cooperman said good-humoredly, “Anthony—either shut the fuck up, or go outside and talk, why don’t you?”
Anthony stood up. “Sorry, George. Back in a flash.” He stepped out of the room, and Pete followed. “That’s him,” Anthony repeated as the door shut. “It was his trademark, in the war. He used to do it to the Gestapo—break their trigger fingers.”
Pete looked puzzled. “How do you know that?”
Anthony realized he had made a blunder. Pete believed that Luke was a diplomat having a nervous breakdown. Anthony had not told Pete that he knew Luke personally. Now he cursed himself for carelessness. “I didn’t tell you everything,” he said, forcing a casual tone. “I worked with him in OSS.”
Pete frowned. “And he became a diplomat after the war.” He gave Anthony a shrewd look. “He’s not just having trouble with his wife, is he.”
“No. I’m pretty sure it’s more serious.”
Pete accepted that. “Sounds like a cold-blooded bastard, to break a guy’s finger, just like that.”
“Cold-blooded?” Anthony had never thought of Luke that way, though he did have a ruthless streak. “I guess he was, when the chips were down.” He had covered up his mistake, he thought with relief. But he still had to find Luke. “What time did this fight occur?”
“Hell. More than four hours ago. He could be anywhere in the city by now.”
“What’ll we do?”
“Send a couple of men down to A Street to show the photo of Luke around, see if you can get any clues where he might have been headed. Talk to the cop too.”
“And if you get anything, don’t hesitate to bust in on this stupid fucking meeting.”
Anthony went back inside. George Cooperman, Anthony’s wartime buddy, was speaking impatiently. “We should send in a bunch of Special Forces tough guys, clean up Castro’s ragtag army in about a day and a half.”
The State Department man said nervously, “Could we keep the operation secret?”
“No,” George said. “But we could disguise it as a local conflict, like we did in Iran and Guatemala.”
Carl Hobart butted in. “Pardon me if this is a dumb question, but why is it a secret what we did in Iran and Guatemala?
The State Department man said, “We don’t want to advertise our methods, obviously.”
“Excuse me, but that’s stupid,” Hobart said. “The Russians know it was us. The Iranians and the Guatemalans know it was us. Hell, in Europe the newspapers openly said it was us! No one was fooled except the American people. Now, why do we want to lie to them?”
George answered with mounting irritation. “If it all came out, there would be a Congressional inquiry. Fucking politicians would be asking if we had the right, was it legal, and what about the poor Iranian shit-kicking farmers and spick banana pickers.”
“Maybe those aren’t such bad questions,” Hobart persisted stubbornly. “Did we really do any good in Guatemala? It’s hard to tell the difference between the Armas regime and a bunch of gangsters.”
George lost his temper. “The hell with this!” he shouted. “We are not here to feed starving Iranians and give civil liberties to South American peasants, for Christ’s sake. Our job is to promote American interests—and fuck democracy!”
There was a moment’s pause, then Carl Hobart said, “Thank you, George. I’m glad we got that straightened out.”
Each Sergeant motor has an igniter which consists of two electrical matches, wired in parallel, and a jelly roll of metal oxidant encased in a plastic sheath. The igniters are so sensitive that they have to be disconnected if an electrical storm comes within 12 miles of Cape Canaveral, to avoid accidental firing.
In a Georgetown menswear store, Luke bought a soft gray felt hat and a navy wool topcoat. He wore them out of the store and felt, at last, that he could look the world in the eye.
Now he was ready to attack his problems. First he had to learn something about memory. He wanted to know what caused amnesia, whether there were different kinds, and how long it might last. Most important, he needed information on treatment and cures.
Where did one go for information? A library. How did one find a library? Look at a map. He got a street map of Washington at the newsstand next to the menswear store. Prominently displayed was the Central Public Library, at the intersection of New York and Massachusetts Avenues, back across town. Luke drove there.
It was a grand classical building raised above ground level like a Greek temple. On the pediment above the pillared entrance were carved the words:
Science Poetry History
Luke hesitated at the top of the steps, then remembered that he was now a normal citizen again, and walked in.
The effect of his new appearance was immediately apparent. A gray-haired librarian behind the counter stood up and said, “May I help you, sir?”
Luke was pathetically grateful to be treated so courteously. “I want to look at books on memory,” he said.
“That’ll be the psychology section,” she said. “If you’d like to follow me, I’ll show you where it is.” She led him up a grand staircase to the next floor and pointed to a corner.
Luke looked along the shelf. There were plenty of books on psychoanalysis, child development, and perception, none of which were any use. He picked out a fat tome called The Human Brain and browsed through it, but there was not much about memory, and what there was seemed highly technical. There were some equations, and a certain amount of statistical material, which he found easy enough to understand, but much of the rest assumed a knowledge of human biology he did not have.
His eye was caught by An Introduction to the Psychology of Memory by Bilhah Josephson. That sounded more promising. He pulled it out and found a chapter on disorders of the memory. He read:
The common condition in which the patient “loses his memory” is known as “global amnesia.”
Luke was elated. He was not the only person to whom this had happened.
Such a patient does not know his identity and will not recognize his own parents or children. However, he remembers a great deal else. He may be able to drive a car, speak foreign languages, strip down an engine, and name the Prime Minister of Canada. The condition would be more appropriately called “autobiographical amnesia.”
This was exactly what had happened to him. He could still check whether he was being tailed and start a stolen car without the key.
Dr. Josephson went on to outline her theory that the brain contained several different memory banks, like separate filing cabinets, for different kinds of information.
The autobiographical memory records events we have experienced personally. These are labeled with time and place: we generally know not only what happened, but when and where.
The long-term semantic memory holds general knowledge such as the capital of Romania and how to solve quadratic equations.
The short-term memory is where we keep a phone number for the few seconds in between looking it up in the phone book and dialing it.
She gave examples of patients who had lost one filing cabinet but retained others, as Luke had. He felt profound relief and gratitude to the author of the book, as he realized that what had happened to him was a well-studied psychological phenomenon.
Then he was struck by an inspiration. He was in his thirties, so he must have followed some occupation for a decade. His professional knowledge should still be in his head, lodged in his long-term semantic memory. He ought to be able to use it to figure out what line of work he did. And that would be the beginning of discovering his identity!
Looking up from the book, he tried to think what special knowledge he had. He did not count the skills of a secret agent, for he had already decided, judging by his soft indoor skin, that he was not a cop of any kind. What other special knowledge did he have?
It was maddeningly difficult to tell. Accessing the memory was not like opening the refrigerator, where you could see the contents at a glance. It was more like using a library catalogue—you had to know what you were looking for. He felt frustrated and told himself to be patient and think this through.
If he were a lawyer, would he be able to remember thousands of laws? If a doctor, would he be able to look at someone and say, “She has appendicitis”?
This was not going to work. Thinking back over the last few minutes, the only clue he noticed was that he had easily understood the equations and statistics in The Human Brain, even though he had been puzzled by other aspects of psychology. Maybe he was in a profession that involved numbers: accounting or insurance, perhaps. Or he might be a math teacher.
He found the math section and looked along the shelves. A book called Number Theory caught his attention. He browsed through it for a while. It was clearly presented, but some years out of date.…
Suddenly he looked up. He had discovered something. He understood number theory.
That was a major clue. Most pages of the book in his hand contained more equations than plain text. This was not written for the curious layman. It was an academic work. And he understood it. He had to be some kind of scientist.
With mounting optimism, he located the chemistry shelf and picked out Polymer Engineering. He found it comprehensible, but not easy. Next he moved to physics and tried A Symposium on the Behaviour of Cold and Very Cold Gases. It was fascinating, like reading a good novel.
He was narrowing it down. His job involved math and physics. What branch of physics? Cold gases were interesting, but he did not feel that he knew as much as the author of the book. He scanned the shelves and stopped at geophysics, remembering the newspaper story headlined U.S. Moon stays earthbound. He picked out Principles of Rocket Design.
It was an elementary text, but nevertheless there was an error on the first page he looked at. Reading on, he found two more—–
“Yes!” he said aloud, startling a nearby schoolboy who was studying a biology text. If he could recognize mistakes in a textbook, he had to be an expert. He was a rocket scientist.
He wondered how many rocket scientists there were in the United States. He guessed a few hundred. He hurried to the information desk and spoke to the gray-haired librarian. “Is there any kind of list of scientists?”
“Sure,” she said. “You need the Dictionary of American Scientists, right at the beginning of the science section.”
He found it easily. It was a heavy book, but nevertheless it could not include every single American scientist. It must just be the prominent ones, he thought. Still, it was worth looking at. He sat at a table and went through the index, searching for anyone named Luke. He had to control his impatience and force himself to scan carefully.
He found a biologist called Luke Parfitt, an archaeologist called Lucas Dimittry, and a pharmacologist called Luc Fontainebleu, but no physicist.
Double-checking, he went through geophysicists and astronomers but found no one with any version of Luke as a first name. Of course, he thought despondently, he was not even certain that Luke was his name. It was only what he had been called by Pete. For all he knew, his real name might be Percival.
He felt disappointed, but he was not ready to give up.
He thought of another approach. Somewhere, there were people who knew him. The name Luke might not be his own, but his face was. The Dictionary of American Scientists carried photos of only the most prominent men, such as Dr. Wernher von Braun. But Luke figured he must have friends and colleagues who would recognize him, if only he could find them. And now he knew where to start looking—for some of his acquaintances must be rocket scientists.
Where did one find scientists? At a university.
He looked up Washington in the encyclopedia. The entry included a list of universities in the city. He picked Georgetown University because he had been in Georgetown earlier and knew how to get back there. He looked for the university on his street map and saw that it had a large campus covering at least fifty city blocks. It would probably have a big physics department with dozens of professors. Surely one of them would know him?
Full of hope, he left the library and got back into his car.
The igniters were not originally designed to be fired in a vacuum. For the Jupiter rocket, they have been redesigned so that: (i) The entire motor is sealed in an airtight container; (ii) in case that container should be breached, the igniter itself is also in a sealed container; and (iii) the igniter should fire in a vacuum anyway. This multiple fail-safe is a design principle known as redundancy.
The Cuba meeting took a coffee break, and Anthony ran back to Q Building for an update, praying his team would have come up with something, any clue to Luke’s whereabouts.
Pete met him on the stairs. “Here’s something weird,” he said.
Anthony’s heart jumped with hope. “Give!”
“A report from the police in Georgetown. A housewife comes back from the store to find that her home has been broken into and her shower has been used. The intruder has disappeared, leaving behind a bag and a pile of filthy old clothes.”
Anthony was electrified. “At last—a break!” he said. “Give me the address.”
“You think this is our guy?”
“I’m sure of it! He’s fed up with looking like a bum, so he’s broken into an empty house, showered, shaved, and put on some decent clothes. That’s characteristic, he would hate to be badly dressed.”
Pete looked thoughtful. “You know him pretty well, I guess.”
Anthony realized he had slipped again. “No, I don’t,” he snapped. “I read his file.”
“Sorry,” Pete said. After a moment he went on: “I wonder why he left stuff behind?”
“My guess is, she came home before he was quite finished.”
“What about the Cuba meeting?”
Anthony stopped a passing secretary. “Please call the conference room in P Building and tell Mr. Hobart that I was taken ill with stomach pains and Mr. Maxell had to drive me home.”
“Stomach pains,” she said, deadpan.
“Right,” he said, walking away. Over his shoulder he called, “Unless you can think of something better.”
He left the building with Pete following, and they jumped into his old yellow Cadillac. “This may need delicate handling,” he said to Pete as he headed for Georgetown. “The good news is that Luke has left us some clues. Our problem is that we don’t have a hundred men to chase up leads. So, my plan is to get the Washington Police Department working for us.”
“Good luck,” Pete said skeptically. “What should I do?”
“Be nice to the cops, and leave the talking to me.”
“I believe I can handle that.”
Anthony drove fast and quickly found the address in the police report. It was a small one-family home on a quiet street. A police cruiser was parked outside.
Before going into the house, Anthony studied the opposite side of the street, scrutinizing the houses. After a moment he spotted what he was looking for: a face in an upstairs window, watching him. It was an elderly woman, with white hair. She did not step back from the window when she caught his eye but returned his stare with unabashed curiosity. She was just what he needed, a neighborhood busybody. He smiled and gave her a salute, and she inclined her head in acknowledgment.
He turned away and approached the house that had been broken into. He could see scratches and a little splintering on the doorjamb where the lock had been forced; a neat, professional job with no unnecessary damage, he thought. That fitted Luke.
The door was opened by an attractive young woman who was expecting a baby—pretty soon, he guessed. She took Anthony and Pete into her living room, where two men were sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and smoking. One was a uniformed patrolman. The other, a young man in a cheap sharkskin suit, was probably a detective. In front of them was a splayed-leg coffee table with a red Formica top. An open bag was on the table.
Anthony introduced himself. He showed his identification to the cops. He did not want Mrs. Bonetti—and all her friends and neighbors—to know that the CIA was interested in the case, so he said, “We’re colleagues of these police officers.”
The detective was Lewis Hite. “You know something about this?” he said guardedly.
“I think we may have some information that will help you. But first, I need to know what you’ve got.”
Hite spread his hands in a gesture of bafflement. “We got a bag belongs to a guy named Rowley Anstruther, Jr., from New York. He breaks into Mrs. Bonetti’s house, takes a shower, and goes away, leaving his bag behind. Go figure!”
Anthony studied the case. It was a good-quality tan leather bag, less than half full. He looked through the contents. There were clean shirts and underwear, but no shoes, pants, or jackets.
“Looks like Mr. Anstruther arrived in Washington from New York today,” he said.
Hite nodded, but Mrs. Bonetti said admiringly, “How do you know that?”
Anthony smiled. “Detective Hite will tell you.” He did not want to offend Hite by stealing his limelight.
“The bag contains clean underwear but no laundry,” Hite explained. “The guy hasn’t changed his clothes, so he probably hasn’t yet spent a night away. That means he left home this morning.”
Anthony said, “I believe some old clothes were also left behind.”
The patrolman, whose name was Lonnie, said, “I got ‘em.” He lifted a cardboard box from beside the couch. “Raincoat,” he said, sorting through the contents. “Shirt, pants, shoes.”
Anthony recognized them. They were the rags Luke had been wearing. “I don’t believe Mr. Anstruther came to this house,” Anthony said. “I think the bag was stolen from him this morning, probably at Union Station.” He looked at the patrolman. “Lonnie, would you call the precinct nearest the railroad station and ask if such a theft has been reported? That’s if Mrs. Bonetti will permit us to use the phone.”
“Of course,” she said. “It’s in the hall.”
Anthony added, “The theft report should list the contents of the bag. I believe you’ll find they include a suit and a pair of shoes that are not here now.” They were all staring at him in astonishment. “Please make a careful note of the description of the suit.”
“Okay.” The patrolman went into the hallway.
Anthony felt good. He had managed to take command of the investigation without offending the police. Detective Hite now looked at him as if waiting for instructions. “Mr. Anstruther must be a man of six foot one or two, about one hundred eighty pounds, athletic build,” he said. “Lewis, if you check the size of those shirts, you’ll probably find they’re sixteen neck, thirty-five sleeve.”
“They are—I already checked,” Hite said.
“I should have known you’d be ahead of me.” Anthony flattered him with a wry smile. “We have a picture of the man we believe stole the bag and broke into this house.” Anthony nodded to Pete, who handed Hite a sheaf of photographs. “We don’t have a name for him,” Anthony lied. “He’s six foot one, one hundred eighty pounds, athletic build, and he may pretend to have lost his memory.”
“So what’s the story?” Hite was intrigued. “This guy wanted Anstruther’s clothes, and he came here to change?”
“Something like that.”
Anthony looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you.”
Hite was pleased. “Classified, huh? No problem.”
Lonnie came back. “Dead right about the theft. Union Station, eleven-thirty this morning.”
Anthony nodded. He had impressed the hell out of the two cops. “And the suit?”
“Navy blue, with a chalk stripe.”
He turned to the detective. “So, you can put out a photo and description including the clothes he’s wearing.”
“You think he’s still in town.”
“Yes.” Anthony was not as sure as he pretended, but he could not think of any reason for Luke to leave Washington.
“I presume he’s in a car.”
“Let’s find out.” Anthony turned to Mrs. Bonetti. “What’s the name of the white-haired lady who lives across the street, a couple of doors down?”
“She spends a lot of time looking out her window?”
“We call her Nosy Rosie.”
“Excellent.” He turned to the detective. “Shall we have a word with her?”
They crossed the street and knocked on Mrs. Sims’s door. She opened it instantly—she had been waiting in the hall. “I saw him!” she said immediately. “He went in there looking like a bum, and came out dressed to the nines!”
Anthony made a gesture indicating that Hite should ask the questions. Hite said, “Did he have a car, Mrs. Sims?”
“Yes, a nice little blue-and-white model. I thought it didn’t belong to anyone in this street.” She looked at them slyly. “I know what you’re going to ask me next.”
“Did you happen to notice the license plate?” Hite asked.
“Yes,” she said triumphantly. “I wrote it down.”
The upper stages of the missile are contained in an aluminum tub with a cast magnesium base. The upper-stage tub rests on bearings, allowing it to spin during flight. It will rotate at about 550 revolutions per minute to improve accuracy.
On Thirty-seventh Street at the end of O Street, the iron gates of Georgetown University stood open. Around three sides of a muddy lawn were Gothic buildings of rusticated gray stone, and students and faculty hurried from one building to another in their cold-weather coats. As Luke drove slowly in, he imagined that someone might catch his eye, recognize him, and say, “Hey, Luke! Over here!” And the nightmare would be over.
Many of the professors wore clerical collars, and Luke realized this must be a Catholic university. It also appeared to be all-male.
He wondered whether he was Catholic.
He parked in front of the main entrance, a triple-arched portico marked Healy Hall. Inside he found a reception desk and the first woman he had seen here. She said that the physics department was directly below where he stood, and told him to go outside and turn down a flight of steps that led beneath the portico. He felt he was coming nearer to the heart of the mystery, like a treasure hunter penetrating the chambers in an Egyptian pyramid.
Following her directions, he found a large laboratory with benches down the center and doors on either side that led to smaller offices. At one of the benches, a group of men was working with the components of a microwave spectrograph. They all wore eyeglasses. Judging by their ages, Luke thought they were professors and graduate students. Some of them might easily be people he knew. He approached them with an expectant look.
One of the older men caught his eye, but there was no flash of recognition. “Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” Luke said. “Is there a department of geophysics here?”
“Goodness, no,” he said. “At this university, even physics is considered a minor subject.” The others laughed.
Luke gave them all a chance to look at him, but none seemed to know him. He had chosen badly, he thought despondently; he probably should have gone to George Washington University. “What about astronomy?”
“Why, yes, of course. The heavens, we study. Our observatory is famous.”
His spirits lifted. “Where is it?”
The man pointed to a door at the back of the lab. “Go to the other end of this building and you’ll see it on the far side of the baseball diamond.” He returned his attention to the bench.
Luke followed a long, dark, dirty corridor that ran the length of the building. Seeing a stooped man in professorial tweeds coming the other way, Luke looked him in the eye, a smile ready to break out if the professor recognized him. But a nervous expression came over the man’s face, and he hurried by.
Undaunted, Luke walked on, giving the same look to everyone he passed who might possibly be a scientist, but no one showed any sign of recognition. Leaving the building, he saw tennis courts and a view of the Potomac River, and to the west, across the sports field, a white dome.
He approached it with mounting anticipation. On the flat roof of a small two-storey house was a large revolving observatory, its dome having a sliding roof section. It was an expensive facility that indicated a serious astronomy department. Luke stepped inside the building.
The rooms were arranged around a massive central pillar that supported the enormous weight of the dome. Luke opened a door and saw an empty library. He tried another and found an attractive woman about his own age sitting behind a typewriter. “Good morning,” he said. “Is the professor in?”
“You mean Father Heyden?”
“And you are?”
“Um…” Luke had stupidly not foreseen that he would have to give a name. Now his hesitation caused the secretary to raise her eyebrows mistrustfully. “He won’t know me,” Luke said. “That is… he will know me, I hope, but not by name.”
Her suspicion grew. “Still, you do have a name.”
“Luke. Professor Luke.”
“To which university are you attached, Professor Luke?”
“Um… New York.”
“Any particular one of New York’s many institutions of higher learning?”
Luke’s heart sank. In his enthusiasm he had failed to plan for this encounter, and now he saw that he was making a mess of it. When you’re in a hole, it’s best to stop digging, he thought. He turned off his friendly smile and spoke coldly. “I didn’t come here to be cross-examined,” he said. “Just tell Father Heyden that Professor Luke, the rocketry physicist, has dropped by and would like a word with him, would you?”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” she said firmly.
Luke left the room, slamming the door. He was angry with himself more than with the secretary, who was only protecting her boss from being pestered by an apparent nutcase. He decided to look around, opening doors until either someone recognized him or he was thrown out. He went up the stairs to the second floor. The building seemed to be deserted. He climbed a wooden stair with no handrail and entered the observatory. It, too, was empty. He stood admiring the large revolving telescope with its complex system of cogs and gears, a real masterpiece of engineering, and wondered what the hell he was going to do next.
The secretary came up the stairs. He prepared himself for a row, but instead she spoke sympathetically. “You’re in some kind of trouble, aren’t you,” she said.
Her kindness brought a lump to his throat. “It’s very embarrassing,” he said. “I’ve lost my memory. I know I’m in the rocketry field, and I was hoping to run into someone who might recognize me.”
“There’s nobody here right now,” she said. “Professor Larkley is giving a lecture on rocket fuels at the Smithsonian Institute, as part of International Geophysical Year, and all the faculty is there.”
Luke felt a surge of hope. Instead of one geophysicist he could meet a whole roomful. “Where’s the Smithsonian Institute?”
“It’s downtown, right in the Mall, around Tenth Street.”
He had driven around Washington enough today to know that that was not far away. “What time is the lecture?”
“It started at three.”
Luke checked his watch. It was three-thirty. If he hurried, he could get there by four. “The Smithsonian,” he repeated.
“Actually, it’s in the Aircraft Building, around the back.”
“How many people will be at the lecture, do you know?”
“About a hundred and twenty.”
Surely one of them would know him!
“Thank you!” he said, and he ran down the stairs and out of the building.
Rotating the second-stage tub stabilizes the flight path by averaging the variations between the eleven individual small rocket motors in the cluster.
Billie was furious with Len Ross for trying to ingratiate himself with the people from the Sowerby Foundation. The post of Director of Research ought to go to the best scientist—not the most oleaginous. She was still annoyed that afternoon when the chief executive’s secretary called and asked her to come to his office.
Charles Silverton was an accountant, but he understood the needs of scientists. The hospital was owned by a trust whose twin aims were to understand and alleviate mental illness. He saw his job as making sure that administrative and financial problems did not distract the medical people from their work. Billie liked him.
His office had been the dining room of the original Victorian mansion, and it still had the fireplace and the ceiling mouldings. He waved Billie to a chair and said, “Did you speak to the people from the Sowerby Foundation this morning?”
“Yes. Len was showing them around, and I joined the party. Why?”
He did not answer her question. “Do you think you could have said anything to offend them?”
She frowned, mystified. “I don’t think so. We just talked about the new wing.”
“You know, I really wanted you to get the job of Director of Research.”
She was alarmed. “I don’t like your use of the past tense!”
He went on. “Len Ross is a competent scientist, but you’re exceptional. You’ve achieved more than him and you’re ten years younger.”
“The Foundation is backing Len for the job?”
He hesitated, looking awkward. “I’m afraid they’re insisting on it, as a condition of their grant.”
“The hell they are!” Billie was stunned.
“Do you know anyone connected with the Foundation?”
“Yes. One of my oldest friends is a trustee. His name is Anthony Carroll, he’s godfather to my son.”
“Why is he on the board? What does he do for a living?”
“He works for the State Department, but his mother is very wealthy, and he’s involved with several charities.”
“Does he have a grudge against you?”
For a moment, Billie slipped back in time. She had been angry with Anthony, after the catastrophe that led to Luke’s leaving Harvard, and they never dated again. But she forgave him because of how he behaved toward Elspeth. Elspeth had gone into a decline, letting her academic work slide, and was in danger of failing to graduate. She walked around in a daze, a pale ghost with long red hair, getting thinner and missing classes. It was Anthony who rescued her. They became close, though the relationship was a friendship rather than a romance. They studied together, and she caught up enough to pass. Anthony won back Billie’s respect, and they had been friends ever since.
Now she told Charles, “I got kind of mad at him, back in nineteen forty-one, but we made it up long ago.”
“Maybe someone on the board admires Len’s work.”
Billie considered. “Len’s approach is different from mine. He’s a Freudian, he looks for psychoanalytical explanations. If a patient suddenly loses the ability to read, he assumes they have some unconscious fear of literature that is being suppressed. I would always look for damage to the brain as the likeliest cause.”
“So there might be a keen Freudian on the board who is against you.”
“I guess.” Billie sighed. “Can they do this? It seems so unfair.”
“It’s certainly unusual,” Charles said. “Foundations normally make a point of not interfering with decisions requiring professional expertise. But there’s no law against it.”
“Well, I’m not going to take this lying down. What reason did they give?”
“I got an informal call from the chairman. He told me the board feels Len is better qualified.”
Billie shook her head. “There has to be another explanation.”
“Why don’t you ask your friend?”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she said.
A stroboscope was used to determine exactly where weights should be placed so that the spinning tub would be perfectly balanced—otherwise the inner cage would vibrate within the outer frame, causing the whole assembly to disintegrate.
Luke had looked at his street map of Washington before leaving the Georgetown University campus. The Institute was in a park called the Mall. He checked his watch as he drove along K Street. He would be at the Smithsonian in about ten minutes. Assuming it took him another five to find the lecture theater, he should arrive as the talk was ending. Then he would find out who he was.
It was almost eleven hours since he had awakened to this horror. Yet, because he could remember nothing from before five o’clock this morning, it seemed to have been going on all his life.
He turned right on Ninth Street, heading south toward the Mall with high hopes. A few moments later, he heard a police siren blip once, and his heart skipped a beat.
He looked in his rearview mirror. A police cruiser was on his tail, lights flashing. There were two cops in the front seat. One pointed toward the right-hand curb and mouthed, “Pull over.”
Luke was devastated. He had almost made it.
Could it be that he had committed some minor traffic violation, and they wanted to ticket him? Even if that were all, they would still ask for his driver’s license, and he had no kind of identification. Anyway, this was not about a minor traffic violation. He was driving a stolen car. He had calculated that the theft would go unreported until the owner got back from Philadelphia later tonight, but something had gone wrong. They intended to arrest him.
But they would have to catch him first.
He clicked into escape mode. Ahead of him on the one-way street was a long truck. Without further thought, he stomped on the gas pedal and pulled around the truck.
The cops switched on their siren and followed.
Luke pulled in front of the truck, going fast. Acting on instinct now, he yanked the parking brake and spun the wheel hard to the right.
The Ford went into a long skid, turning as it did so. The truck swerved left to avoid it, forcing the patrol car all the way over to the left side of the street.
Luke shifted into neutral to prevent the car from stalling. It came to rest facing the wrong way. He put it into drive again and stepped on the gas, heading against the traffic on the one-way street.
Cars veered wildly left and right to avoid a head-on collision. Luke swung right to miss a city bus, then clipped a station wagon, but plowed on amid a chorus of indignant horns. An old prewar Lincoln swung onto the sidewalk and hit a lamp post. A motorcyclist lost control and fell off his machine. Luke hoped he was not badly hurt.
He made it to the next crossing and swung right onto a broad avenue. He raced two blocks, running red lights, then looked in his mirror. There was no sign of the police car.
He turned again, heading south now. He was lost, but he knew the Mall was to his south. Now that the patrol car was out of sight, he would have been safer to drive normally. However, it was four o’clock, and he was farther away from the Smithsonian than he had been five minutes ago. If he was late, the audience would have gone. He stepped on the gas.
The southbound street he was on dead-ended, and he was forced to turn right. He tried to watch for street names as he sped along, swerving around slower vehicles. He was on D Street. After a minute he came to Seventh and turned south.
His luck changed. All the lights were green. He hit seventy crossing Constitution Avenue, and he was in the park.
Across the lawn to his right, he saw a big dark red building like a castle in a fairy tale. It was exactly where the map said the museum would be. He stopped the car and checked his watch. It was five past four. The audience would be leaving. He cursed and jumped out.
He ran across the grass. The secretary had told him the lecture was in the Aircraft Building around the back. Was this the front or the back? It looked like the front. To the side of the building was a path through a little garden. He followed it and came out on a wide two-way avenue. Still running, he found an elaborate iron gateway leading to the back entrance of the museum. To his right, beside a lawn, was what looked like an old aircraft hangar. He went inside.
He looked around. All kinds of aircraft were suspended from the ceiling: old biplanes, a wartime jet, and even the sphere of a hot-air balloon. At floor level were glass cases of aircraft insignia, flight clothing, aerial cameras, and photographs. Luke spoke to a uniformed guard. “I’m here for the lecture on rocket fuels.”
“You’re too late,” the man said, looking at his watch. “It’s ten past four, the lecture’s over.”
“Where was it held? I might still catch the speaker.”
“I think he’s gone.”
Luke stared hard at him and spoke slowly. “Just answer the fucking question. Where?”
The man looked scared. “Far end of the hall,” he said hastily.
Luke hurried the length of the building. At the end, a lecture theater had been improvised, with a lectern, blackboard, and rows of chairs. Most of the audience had left, and attendants were already stacking the metal seats at the side of the room. But a small knot of eight or nine men remained in a corner, deep in discussion, surrounding a white-haired man who might have been the lecturer.
Luke’s spirits fell. A few minutes ago, more than a hundred scientists in his field had been here. Now there was just a handful, and it was quite possible that none of them knew him.
The white-haired man glanced up at him, then looked back at the others. It was impossible to know whether he had recognized Luke or not. He was speaking and carried on without a pause. “Nitromethane is almost impossible to handle. You can’t ignore safety factors.”
“You can build safety into your procedures, if the fuel is good enough,” said a young man in a tweed suit.
The argument was a familiar one to Luke. A bewildering variety of rocket fuels had been tested, many of them more powerful than the standard combination of alcohol and liquid oxygen, but they all had drawbacks.
A man with a southern accent said, “What about unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine? I hear they’re testing that at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.”
Luke suddenly said, “It works, but it’s deadly poison.”
They all turned to him. The white-haired man frowned, looking slightly annoyed, resenting the interruption from a stranger.
Then the young man in the tweed suit looked shocked and said, “My God, what are you doing in Washington, Luke?”
Luke felt so happy he could have wept.
A tape programmer in the tub varies the speed of rotation of the upper stages between 450 rpm and 750 rpm, to avoid resonance vibrations that could cause the missile to break up in space.
Luke found he could not speak. The emotion of relief was so strong it seemed to constrict his throat. All day he had forced himself to be calm and rational, but now he was close to breaking down.
The other scientists resumed their conversation, oblivious to his distress, except for the young man in the tweed suit, who looked concerned and said, “Hey, are you okay?”
Luke nodded. After a moment, he managed to say, “Could we talk?”
“Sure, sure. There’s a little office behind the Wright Brothers display. Professor Larkley used it earlier.” They headed for a door to one side. “I organized this lecture, by the way.” He led Luke into a small, Spartan room with a couple of chairs, a desk, and a phone. They sat down. “What’s going on?” said the man.
“I’ve lost my memory.”
“Autobiographical amnesia. I still remember my science—that’s how I found my way to you guys—but I don’t know anything about myself.”
Looking shocked, the young man said, “Do you know who I am?”
Luke shook his head. “Heck, I’m not even sure of my own name.”
“Whew.” The man looked bewildered. “I never came across anything like this in real life.”
“I need you to tell me what you know about me.”
“I guess you do. Uh… where shall I start?”
“You called me Luke.”
“Everyone calls you Luke. You’re Dr. Claude Lucas, but I guess you never liked ‘Claude.’ I’m Will McDermot.”
Luke closed his eyes, overwhelmed by relief and gratitude. He knew his name. “Thank you, Will.”
“I don’t know anything about your family. I’ve only met you a couple of times, at scientific conferences.”
“Do you know where I live?”
“Huntsville, Alabama, I guess. You work for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. They’re based at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. You’re a civilian, though, not an Army officer. Your boss is Wernher von Braun.”
“I can’t tell you how good it is to know this stuff!”
“I was surprised to see you because your team is about to launch a rocket that will put an American satellite in space for the first time. They’re all down in Cape Canaveral, and word is it could be tonight.”
“I read about it in the paper this morning—my God, did I work on that rocket?”
“Yeah. The Explorer. It’s the most important launch in the history of the American space program—especially since the success of the Russian Sputnik and the failure of the Navy’s Vanguard.”
Luke was exhilarated. Only hours ago he had imagined himself a drunken bum. Now it turned out he was a scientist at the peak of his career. “But I ought to be there for the launch!”
“Exactly… so do you have any idea why you’re not?”
Luke shook his head. “I woke up this morning in the men’s room at Union Station. No idea how I got there.”
Will gave a man-to-man grin. “Sounds like you went to a great party last night!”
“Let me ask you seriously—is that the kind of thing I do? Get so drunk I pass out?”
“I don’t know you well enough to answer that.” Will frowned. “I’d be surprised, though. You know us scientists. Our idea of a party is to sit around drinking coffee and talking about our work.”
That sounded right to Luke. Getting drunk just doesn’t seem interesting enough. But he had no other explanation of how he had gotten into this scrape. Who was Pete? Why had people been following him? And who were the two men searching for him at Union Station?
He thought of talking to Will about all that and decided it sounded too strange. Will might begin to think he was nuts. Instead he said, “I’m going to call Cape Canaveral.”
“Great idea.” Will picked up the phone on the desk and dialed zero. “Will McDermot here. Can I make a long-distance call on this phone? Thank you.” He handed the phone to Luke.
Luke got the number from information and dialed. “This is Dr. Lucas.” He felt inordinately pleased to be able to give his name: he would not have thought it could be so satisfying. “I’d like to speak to someone on the Explorer launch team.”
“They’re in hangars D and R,” said the male operator. “Please hold the line.”
A moment later a voice said: “Army security, Colonel Hide speaking.”
“This is Dr. Lucas—”
“Luke! At last! Where the hell are you?”
“I’m in Washington.”
“Well, what the bejesus are you doing? We’ve been going crazy! We got Army Security looking for you, the FBI, even the CIA!”
That explained the two agents searching in Union Station, Luke thought. “Listen, a strange thing has happened. I lost my memory. I’ve been wandering around town trying to figure out who I am. Finally I found some physicists who know me.”
“But that’s extraordinary. How did it happen, for Christ’s sake?”
“I was hoping you could tell me that, Colonel.”
“You always call me Bill.”
“Okay, well, I’ll tell you what I know. Monday morning you took off, saying you had to go to Washington. You flew from Patrick.”
“Patrick Air Force Base, near Cape Canaveral. Marigold made the reservations—”
“Your secretary in Huntsville. She also booked your usual suite at the Carlton Hotel in Washington.”
There was a note of envy in the colonel’s voice, and Luke wondered briefly about that “usual suite,” but he had more important questions. “Did I tell anyone the purpose of the trip?”
“Marigold made an appointment for you to see General Sherwood at the Pentagon at ten A.M. yesterday—but you didn’t keep the appointment.”
“Did I give a reason for wanting to see the general?”
“What’s his area of responsibility?”
“Army security—but he’s also a friend of your family’s, so the meeting could have been about anything.”
It must have been something highly important, Luke reflected, to take him away from Cape Canaveral just before his rocket was to take off. “Is the launch going ahead tonight?”
“No, we’ve got weather problems. It’s been postponed until tomorrow at ten-thirty P.M.”
Luke wondered what the hell he had been doing. “Do I have friends here in Washington?”
“Sure. One of them’s been calling me every hour. Bern Rothsten.” Hide read out a phone number.
Luke scribbled it on a scratch pad. “I’ll call him right away.”
“First you should talk to your wife.”
Luke froze. His breath was taken away. Wife, he thought. I have a wife. He wondered what she was like.
“You still there?” Hide said.
Luke started to breathe again. “Uh, Bill…”
“What’s her name?”
“Elspeth,” he said. “Your wife’s name is Elspeth. I’ll transfer you to her phone. Hold the line.”
Luke had a nervous sensation in his stomach. This was dumb, he thought. She was his wife.
“Elspeth speaking. Luke, is that you?”
She had a warm, low voice, with precise diction and no particular accent. He imagined a tall, confident woman. He said, “Yes, this is Luke. I’ve lost my memory.”
“I’ve been so worried. Are you okay?”
He felt pathetically grateful for someone who cared how he was. “I guess I am now,” he said.
“What on earth happened?”
“I really don’t know. I woke up this morning in the men’s room at Union Station, and I spent the day trying to find out who I am.”
“Everyone’s been looking for you. Where are you now?”
“At the Smithsonian, in the Aircraft Building.”
“Is someone taking care of you?”
Luke smiled at Will McDermot. “A fellow scientist has been helping me. And I have a number for Bern Rothsten. But I really don’t need taking care of. I’m fine, I just lost my memory.”
Will McDermot stood up, looking embarrassed, and whispered, “I’m going to give you some privacy. I’ll wait outside.”
Luke nodded gratefully.
Elspeth was saying, “So you don’t remember why you took off for Washington in such a hurry.”
“No. Obviously I didn’t tell you.”
“You said it was better for me not to know. But I was frantic. I called an old friend of ours in Washington, Anthony Carroll. He’s in the CIA.”
“Did he do anything?”
“He called you at the Carlton on Monday night, and you arranged to meet him for breakfast early on Tuesday morning—but you didn’t show up. He’s been looking for you all day. I’m going to call him now and tell him everything’s all right.”
“Obviously something happened to me between Monday evening and Tuesday morning.”
“You ought to see a doctor, get yourself checked out.”
“I feel fine. But there’s a lot I want to know. Do we have children?”
Luke felt a sadness that seemed familiar, like the dull ache of an old injury.
Elspeth went on, “We’ve been trying for a baby ever since we got married, which is four years ago, but we haven’t succeeded.”
“Are my parents alive?”
“Your mom is. She lives in New York. Your pa died five years ago.”
Luke felt a sudden wave of grief that seemed to come from nowhere. He had lost his memories of his father and would never see him again. It seemed unbearably sad.
Elspeth went on. “You have two brothers and a sister, all younger. Your baby sister, Emily, is your favorite, she’s ten years younger than you, she lives in Baltimore.”
“Do you have phone numbers for them?”
“Of course. Hold on while I look them up.”
“I’d like to talk to them, I don’t know why.” He heard a muffled sob at the other end of the line. “Are you crying?”
Elspeth sniffed. “I’m okay.” He imagined her taking a handkerchief out of her handbag. “Suddenly I felt so sorry for you,” she said tearfully. “It must have been awful.”
“There were some bad moments.”
“Let me give you those numbers.” She read them out.
“Are we rich?” he said when he had written down the phone numbers.
“Your father was a very successful banker. He left you a lot of money. Why?”
“Bill Hide told me I’m staying in my ‘usual suite’ at the Carlton.”
“Before the war, your pa was an advisor to the Roosevelt administration, and he liked to take his family with him when he went to Washington. You always had a corner suite at the Carlton. I guess you’re keeping up the tradition.”
“So you and I don’t live on what the Army pays me.”
“I could go on asking you questions all day. But what I really want is to find out how this happened to me. Would you fly up here tonight?”
There was a moment of silence. “My God, why?”
“To figure out this mystery with me. I could use some help—and companionship.”
“You should forget about it and come down here.”
That was unthinkable. “I can’t forget about this. I have to know what it’s all about. It’s too strange to ignore.”
“Luke, I can’t leave Cape Canaveral now. We’re about to launch the first American satellite, for heaven’s sake! I can’t let the team down at a moment like this.”
“I guess not.” He understood, but all the same he was hurt by her refusal. “Who’s Bern Rothsten?”
“He was at Harvard with you and Anthony Carroll. He’s a writer now.”
“Apparently he’s been trying to reach me. Maybe he knows what this is all about.”
“Call me later, won’t you? I’ll be at the Starlite Motel tonight.”
“Take care of yourself, Luke, please,” she said earnestly.
“I will, I promise.” He hung up.
He sat in silence for a moment. He felt emotionally drained. Part of him wanted to go to his hotel and lie down. But he was too curious. He picked up the phone again and called the number Bern Rothsten had left. “This is Luke Lucas,” he said when the phone was answered.
Bern had a gravelly voice and the trace of a New York accent. “Luke, thank God! What the hell happened to you?”
“Everybody says that. The answer is that I don’t really know anything except that I’ve lost my memory.”
“You lost your memory?”
“Oh, shit. Do you know how this happened to you?”
“No. I was hoping you might have a clue.”
“Why have you been trying to reach me?”
“I was worried. You called me on Monday. You said you were on your way here, you wanted to see me, and you would call me from the Carlton. But you never did.”
“Something happened to me on Monday night.”
“Yeah. Listen, there’s someone you have to call. Dr. Billie Josephson is a world expert on memory.”
The name rang a bell. “I think I came across her book in the library.”
“She’s also my ex-wife, and an old friend of yours.” Bern gave Luke the number.
“I’m going to call her right away. Bern.…”
“I lose my memory, and it turns out that an old friend of mine is a world expert on memory. Isn’t that a hell of a coincidence?”
“Ain’t it just?” said Bern.
The final stage, containing the satellite, is 80 inches long and only 6 inches across, and weighs just over 30 pounds. It is shaped like a stovepipe.
Billie had scheduled an hour-long interview with a patient, a football player who had been “dinged”—concussed in a collision with an opponent. He was an interesting subject, because he could remember everything up to one hour before the game, and nothing after that until the moment when he found himself standing on the sideline with his back to the play, wondering how he got there.
She was distracted during the interview, thinking about the Sowerby Foundation and Anthony Carroll. By the time she got through with the football player and called Anthony, she was feeling frustrated and impatient. She was lucky and reached him at his office on the first try. “Anthony,” she said abruptly, “what the hell is going on?”
“A lot,” he replied. “Egypt and Syria have agreed to merge, skirts are getting shorter, and Roy Campanella broke his neck in a car wreck and may never catch for the Dodgers again.”
She controlled the impulse to yell at him. “I was passed over for the post of Director of Research here at the hospital,” she said with forced calm. “Len Ross got the job. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
“I don’t understand it. I thought I might lose to a highly qualified outsider—Sol Weinberg, from Princeton, or someone of that order. But everyone knows I’m better than Len.”
“Anthony, come on! You know it yourself. Hell, you encouraged me in this line of research, years ago, at the end of the war, when we—”
“Okay, okay, I remember,” he interrupted. “That stuff is still classified, you know.”
She did not believe that things they did in the war could still be important secrets. But it did not matter. “So why didn’t I get the job?”
“I’m supposed to know?”
This was humiliating, she felt, but her need to understand overrode her embarrassment. “The Foundation is insisting on Len.”
“I guess they have the right.”
“Anthony, talk to me!”
“You’re part of the Foundation. It’s very unusual for a trust to interfere in this kind of decision. They normally leave it to the experts. You must know why they took this exceptional step.”
“Well, I don’t. And my guess is the step has not yet been taken. There certainly hasn’t been a meeting about it—I’d know about that.”
“Charles was very definite.”
“I don’t doubt it’s true, unfortunately for you. But it’s not the kind of thing that would be decided openly. More likely, the Director and one or two board members had a chat over a drink at the Cosmos Club. One of them has called Charles and given him the word. He can’t afford to upset them, so he’s gone along. That’s how these things work. I’m just surprised Charles was so candid with you.”
“He was shocked, I think. He can’t understand why they would do such a thing. I thought you might know.”
“It’s probably something dumb. Is Ross a family man?”
“Married with four children.”
“The Director doesn’t really approve of women earning high salaries when there are men trying to support a family.”
“For Christ’s sake! I have a child and an elderly mother to take care of!”
“I didn’t say it was logical. Listen, Billie, I have to go. I’m sorry. I’ll call you later.”
“Okay,” she said.
When she had hung up, she stared at the phone, trying to sort out her feelings. The conversation rang false to her, and she asked herself why. It was perfectly plausible that Anthony might not know about machinations among the other board members of the Foundation. So why did she disbelieve him? Thinking back, she realized he had been evasive—which was not like him. In the end, he had told her what little he knew, but reluctantly. It all added up to a very clear impression.
Anthony was lying.
The fourth-stage rocket is made of lightweight titanium instead of stainless steel. The weight saving permits the missile to carry a crucial extra 2 pounds of scientific equipment.
When Anthony hung up the phone, it rang again immediately. He picked it up and heard Elspeth, sounding spooked. “For God’s sake, I’ve been on hold for a quarter of an hour!”
“I was talking to Billie, she—”
“Never mind. I just spoke with Luke.”
“Jesus, how come?”
“Shut up and listen! He was at the Smithsonian, in the Aircraft Building, with a bunch of physicists.”
“I’m on my way.” Anthony dropped the phone and ran out the door. Pete saw him and ran after him. They went down to the parking lot and jumped into Anthony’s car.
The fact that Luke had spoken with Elspeth dismayed Anthony. It suggested that everything was coming unglued. But maybe if he got to Luke before anyone else, he could hold things together. It took them four minutes to drive to Independence Avenue and Tenth Street. They left the car outside the back entrance to the museum and ran into the old hangar that was the Aircraft Building.
There was a payphone near the entrance, but no sign of Luke.
“Split up,” Anthony said. “I’ll go right, you go left.” He walked through the exhibits, scrutinizing the faces of the men as they gazed into the glass cases and stared up at the aircraft suspended from the ceiling. At the far end of the building he met up with Pete, who made an empty-hands gesture.
There were some restrooms and offices to one side. Pete checked the men’s room and Anthony looked in the offices. Luke must have called from one of these phones, but he was not here now.
Pete came out of the men’s room and said, “Nothing.”
Anthony said, “This is a catastrophe.”
Pete frowned. “Is it?” he said. “A catastrophe? Is this guy more important than you’ve told me?”
“Yes,” Anthony said. “He could be the most dangerous man in America.”
Against the end wall, Anthony saw stacked chairs and a movable lectern. A young man in a tweed suit was talking to two men in overalls. Anthony recalled that Elspeth had said Luke was with a bunch of physicists. Maybe he could still pick up the trail.
He approached the man in the tweed suit and said, “Excuse me, was there a meeting of some kind here?”
“Sure, Professor Larkley gave a lecture on rocket fuels,” the young man said. “I’m Will McDermot, I organized it as part of International Geophysical Year.”
“Was Dr. Claude Lucas here?”
“Yes. Are you a friend of his?”
“Did you know he’s lost his memory?”
“He didn’t even know his own name, until I told him.”
Anthony suppressed a curse. He had been afraid of this from the moment Elspeth said she had spoken to Luke. He knew who he was.
“I need to locate Dr. Lucas urgently,” Anthony said.
“What a shame, you just missed him.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“No. I tried to encourage him to see a doctor, get himself checked out, but he said he was fine. I thought he seemed very shocked—”
“Yes, thank you, I appreciate your help.” Anthony turned and walked quickly away. He was furious.
Outside on Independence Avenue he saw a police cruiser. Two cops were checking out a car parked on the other side of the road. Anthony went closer and saw that the car was a blue-and-white Ford Fiesta. “Look at that,” he said to Pete. He checked the license plate. It was the car Nosy Rosie had seen from her Georgetown window.
He showed the patrolmen his CIA identification. “Did you just spot this car illegally parked?” he said.
The older of the two men replied. “No, we saw a man driving it on Ninth Street,” he said. “But he got away from us.”
“You let him escape?” Anthony said incredulously.
“He turned around and headed right into the traffic!” the younger cop said. “Hell of a driver, whoever he is.”
“Few minutes later, we see the car parked here, but he’s gone.”
Anthony wanted to knock their wooden heads together. Instead, he said, “This fugitive may have stolen another car in this neighborhood and made his getaway.” He took a business card out of his billfold. “If you get a report of a car stolen nearby, would you please call me at this number?”
The old cop read the card and said, “I’ll make sure to do that, Mr. Carroll.”
Anthony and Pete returned to the yellow Cadillac and drove away.
Pete said, “What do you think he’ll do now?”
“I don’t know. He might go right to the airport and get a plane to Florida; he could go to the Pentagon; he may go to his hotel. Hell, he could take it into his head to go visit his mother in New York. We may have to spread ourselves kind of thin.” He was silent, thinking, while he parked and they entered Q Building. Reaching his office, he said, “I want two men at the airport, two at Union Station, two at the bus station. I want two men in the office calling all known members of Luke’s family, friends, and acquaintances, to ask if they’re expecting to see him or if they’ve heard from him. I want you to go with two men to the Carlton Hotel. Take a room, then stake out the lobby. I’ll join you there later.”
Pete went out and Anthony shut the door.
For the first time today, Anthony was scared. Now that Luke knew his identity, there was no telling what else he might find out. This project should have been Anthony’s greatest triumph, but it was turning into a foul-up that might end his career.
It might end his life.
If he could find Luke, he could still patch things up. But he would have to take drastic measures. It would no longer be enough simply to put Luke under surveillance. He had to solve the problem once and for all.
With a heavy heart, he went to the photograph of President Eisenhower that hung on the wall. He pulled on one side of the frame, and the picture swung out on hinges to reveal a safe. He dialed the combination, opened the door, and took out his gun.
It was a Walther P38 automatic. This was the handgun used by the German Army in the Second World War. Anthony had been issued with it before he went to North Africa. He also had a silencer that had been specially designed by OSS to fit the gun.
The first time he had killed a man, it had been with this gun.
Albin Moulier was a traitor who had betrayed members of the French Resistance to the police. He deserved to die—the five men in the cell were agreed on that. They drew lots, standing in a derelict stable miles from anywhere, late at night, a single lamp throwing dancing shadows on the rough stone walls. Anthony might have been excused, as the only foreigner, but that way he would have lost respect, so he insisted on taking his chances with the rest. And he drew the short straw.
Albin was tied to the rusty wheel of a broken plow, not even blindfolded, listening to the discussion and watching the drawing of lots. He soiled himself when they pronounced the death sentence, and screamed when he saw Anthony take out the Walther. The screaming helped: it made Anthony want to kill him quickly, just to stop the noise. He shot Albin at close range, between the eyes, one bullet. Afterwards, the others told him he did it well, without hesitation or regrets, like a man.
He still saw Albin in his dreams.
He took the silencer from the safe, fitted it over the barrel of the pistol, and screwed it tight. He put on his topcoat. It was a long camel-hair winter coat, single-breasted, with deep inside pockets. He placed the gun, handle down, in the right-hand pocket, with the silencer sticking up. Leaving the coat unbuttoned, he reached in with his left hand, pulled the gun out by the silencer, and transferred it to his right hand. Then he moved the thumb safety lever on the left of the slide up to the fire position. The whole process took about a second. The silencer made the weapon cumbersome. It would be easier to carry the two parts separately. However, he might not have time to fit the silencer before shooting. This way was better.
He buttoned his coat and went out.
The satellite is bullet-shaped, rather than spherical. In theory, a sphere should be more stable, but in practice, the satellite must have protruding antennae for radio communication, and the antennae spoil the round shape.
Luke took a taxicab to the Georgetown Mind Hospital and gave his name at the reception desk, saying he had an appointment with Dr. Josephson.
She had been charming on the phone: concerned about him, pleased to hear his voice, intrigued to know that he had lost his memory, eager to see him as soon as she could. She spoke with a southern accent and sounded as if laughter was forever bubbling up at the back of her throat.
Now she came running down the stairs, a short woman in a white lab coat, with big brown eyes and a flushed expression of excitement. Luke could not help smiling at the sight of her.
“It’s so great to see you!” she said, and she threw her arms around him in a hug.
He felt an impulse to respond to her exuberance and squeeze her tightly. Afraid that he might do something to cause offense, he froze, his hands in the air like the victim of a holdup.
She laughed at him. “You don’t remember what I’m like,” she said. “Relax, I’m almost harmless.”
He let his arms fall around her shoulders. Her small body was soft and round under the lab coat.
“Come on, I’ll show you my office.” She led him up the stairs.
As they crossed a broad corridor, a white-haired woman in a bathrobe said: “Doctor! I like your boyfriend!”
Billie grinned and said, “You can have him next, Marlene.”
Billie had a small room with a plain desk and a steel file cabinet, but she had made it pretty with flowers and a splashy abstract painting in bright colors. She gave Luke coffee and opened a package of cookies, then asked him about his amnesia.
She made notes as he answered her questions. Luke had had no food for twelve hours, and he ate all the cookies. She smiled and said, “Want some more? There’s another pack.” He shook his head.
“Well, I have a pretty clear picture,” she said eventually. “You have global amnesia, but otherwise you seem mentally healthy. I can’t assess your physical state, because I’m not that kind of doctor, and it’s my duty to advise you to have a physical as soon as you can.” She smiled. “But you look all right, just shook.”
“Is there a cure for this type of amnesia?”
“No, there’s not. The process is generally irreversible.”
That was a blow. Luke had hoped everything might come back to him in a flash. “Christ,” he muttered.
“Don’t be downhearted,” Billie said kindly. “Sufferers have all their faculties and are able to relearn what has been forgotten, so they can usually pick up the threads of their lives and live normally. You’re going to be fine.”
Even while he was hearing horrible news, he found himself watching her with fascination, concentrating his attention first on her eyes, which seemed to glow with sympathy, then her expressive mouth, then the way the light from the desk lamp fell on her dark curls. He wanted her to carry on talking forever. He said, “What might have caused the amnesia?”
“Brain damage is the first possibility to consider. However, there’s no sign of injury, and you told me you don’t have a headache.”
“That’s right. So what else?”
“There are several alternatives,” she explained patiently. “It can be brought on by prolonged stress, a sudden shock, or drugs. It’s also a side effect of some treatments for schizophrenia involving a combination of electric shock and drugs.”
“Any way to tell which affected me?”
“Not conclusively. You had a hangover this morning, you said. If that wasn’t booze, it might be the aftereffects of a drug. But you’re not going to get a final answer by talking to doctors. You need to find out what happened to you between Monday night and this morning.”
“Well, at least I know what I’m looking for,” he said. “Shock, drugs, or schizophrenia treatment.”
“You’re not schizophrenic,” she said. “You have a real good hold on reality. What’s your next step?”
Luke stood up. He was reluctant to leave the company of this bewitching woman, but she had told him all she could. “I’m going to see Bern Rothsten. I think he may have some ideas.”
“Got a car?”
“I asked the taxi to wait.”
“I’ll see you out.”
As they walked down the stairs, Billie took his arm affectionately.
Luke said, “How long have you been divorced from Bern?”
“Five years. Long enough to become friends again.”
“This is a strange question, but I have to ask it. Did you and I ever date?”
“Oh, boy,” said Billie. “Did we ever.”
On the day Italy surrendered, Billie bumped into Luke in the lobby of Q Building.
At first she did not know him. She saw a thin man, apparently about thirty, in a suit that was too big, and her eyes passed over him without recognition. Then he spoke. “Billie? Don’t you remember me?”
She knew the voice, of course, and it made her heart beat faster. But when she looked again at the emaciated man from whom the words issued, she gave a small scream of horror. His head looked like a skull. His once-glossy black hair was dull. His shirt collar was too large, and his jacket looked as if it were draped over a wire hanger. His eyes were the eyes of an old man. “Luke!” she said. “You look terrible!”
“Gee, thanks,” he said, with a tired smile.
“I’m sorry,” she said hastily.
“Don’t worry. I’ve lost some weight, I know. There’s not a lot of food where I’ve been.”
She wanted to hug him, but she held back, not sure he would like it.
He said, “What are you doing here?”
She took a deep breath. “A training course—maps, radio, firearms, unarmed combat.”
He grinned. “You’re not dressed for jujitsu.”
Billie still loved to dress stylishly, despite the war. Today she was wearing a pale yellow suit with a short bolero jacket and a daring knee-length skirt, and a big hat like an upside-down dinner plate. She could not afford to buy the latest fashions on her Army wages, of course: she had made this outfit herself, using a borrowed sewing machine. Her father had taught all his children to sew. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said with a smile, beginning to get over her shock. “Where have you been?”
“Do you have a minute to talk?”
“Of course.” She was supposed to be at a cryptography class, but to heck with that.
“Let’s go outside.”
It was a warm September afternoon. Luke took off his suit coat and slung it over his shoulder as they walked alongside the Reflecting Pool. “How come you’re in OSS?”
“Anthony Carroll fixed it,” she said. The Office of Strategic Service was considered a glamorous assignment, and jobs here were much coveted. “Anthony used family influence to get here. He’s Bill Donovan’s personal assistant now.” General “Wild Bill” Donovan was head of OSS. “I’d been driving a general around Washington for a year, so I was real pleased to get posted here. Anthony’s used his position to bring in all his old friends from Harvard. Elspeth is in London, Peg is in Cairo, and I gather you and Bern have been behind enemy lines somewhere.”
“France,” Luke said.
“What was that like?”
He lit a cigarette. It was a new habit—he had not smoked at Harvard—but now he drew smoke into his lungs as if it were the breath of life. “The first man I killed was a Frenchman,” he said abruptly.
It was painfully obvious that he needed to talk about it. “Tell me what happened,” she said.
“He was a cop, a gendarme. Claude, same name as me. Not really a bad guy—anti-Semitic, but no more so than the average Frenchman, or a lot of Americans for that matter. He blundered into a farmhouse where my group was meeting. There was no doubt what we were doing—we had maps on the table and rifles stacked in the corner, and Bern was showing the Frenchies how to wire a time bomb.” Luke gave an odd kind of laugh, with no humor in it. “Damn fool tried to arrest us all. Not that it made any difference. He had to be killed whatever he did.”
“What did you do?” Billie whispered.
“Took him outside and shot him in the back of the head.”
“Oh, my God.”
“He didn’t die right away. It took about a minute.”
She took his hand and squeezed it. He held on, and they walked around the long, narrow pool hand in hand. He told her another story, about a woman Resistance fighter who had been captured and tortured, and Billie cried, tears streaming down her face in the September sunshine. The afternoon cooled, and still the grim details spilled out of him: cars blown up, German officers assassinated, Resistance comrades killed in shootouts, and Jewish families led away to unknown destinations holding the hands of their trusting children.
They had been walking for two hours when he stumbled, and she caught him and prevented his falling. “Jesus Christ, I’m so tired,” he said. “I’ve been sleeping badly.”
She hailed a taxi and took him to his hotel.
He was staying at the Carlton. The Army did not generally run to such luxury, but she recalled that his family was wealthy. He had a corner suite. There was a grand piano in the living room and—something she had never seen before—a telephone extension in the bathroom.
She called room service and ordered chicken soup and scrambled eggs, hot rolls and a pint of cold milk. He sat on the couch and began to tell another story, a funny one, about sabotaging a factory that made saucepans for the German Army. “I ran into this big metalworking shop, and there were about fifty enormous, musclebound women, stoking the furnace and hammering the moulds. I yelled: ‘Clear the building! We’re going to blow it up!’ But the women laughed at me! They wouldn’t leave, they all carried on working. They didn’t believe me.” Before he could finish the story, the food came.
Billie signed the check, tipped the waiter, and put the plates on the dining table. When she turned around, he was asleep.
She woke him just long enough to get him into the bedroom and on to the bed. “Don’t leave,” he mumbled, then his eyes closed again.
She took off his boots and gently loosened his tie. A mild breeze was blowing in through the open window: he did not need blankets.
She sat on the edge of the bed watching him for a while, remembering that long drive from Cambridge to Newport almost two years ago. She stroked his cheek with the outside edge of her little finger, the way she had that night. He did not stir.
She took off her hat and her shoes, thought for a moment, and slipped off her jacket and skirt. Then, in her underwear and stockings, she lay down on the bed. She got her arms around his bony shoulders, put his head on her bosom, and held him. “Everything’s all right now,” she said. “You just sleep as long as you want. When you wake up, I’ll still be here.”
Night fell. The temperature dropped. She closed the window and pulled a sheet around them. Soon after midnight, with her arms wrapped around his warm body, she fell asleep.
At dawn, when he had been asleep for twelve hours, he got up suddenly and went to the bathroom. He returned a couple of minutes later and got back into bed. He had taken off his suit and shirt, and wore only his underwear. He put his arms around her and hugged her. “Something I forgot to tell you, something very important,” he said.
“In France, I thought about you all the time. Every day.”
“Did you?” she whispered. “Did you really?”
He did not answer. He had gone back to sleep.
She lay in his embrace, thinking about him in France, risking his life and remembering her; and she was so happy she felt her heart would burst.
At eight o’clock in the morning, she went into the living room of the suite, phoned Q Building, and said she was sick. It was the first day she had taken off for illness in more than a year in the military. She had a bath and washed her hair, then got dressed. She ordered coffee and cornflakes from room service. The waiter called her Mrs. Lucas. She was glad it was not a waitress, for a woman would have noticed that she wore no wedding ring.
She thought the smell of coffee might wake Luke, but it did not. She read the Washington Post from cover to cover, even the sports pages. She was writing a letter to her mother in Dallas, on hotel stationery, when he came stumbling out of the bedroom in his underwear, his dark hair mussed, his jaw blue with stubble. She smiled at him, happy that he was awake.
He looked confused. “How long did I sleep?”
She checked her wristwatch. It was almost noon. “About eighteen hours.” She could not tell what he was thinking. Was he pleased to see her? Embarrassed? Was he wishing she would go away?
“God,” he said. “I haven’t slept like that for a year.” He rubbed his eyes. “Have you been here all the time? You look as fresh as a daisy.”
“I took a little nap.”
“You stayed all night?”
“You asked me to.”
He frowned. “I seem to remember.…” He shook his head. “Boy, I had some dreams.” He went to the phone. “Room service? Let me have a T-bone steak, rare, with three eggs, sunnyside. Plus orange juice, toast, and coffee.”
Billie frowned. She had never spent the night with a man, so she did not know what to expect in the morning, but this disappointed her. It was so unromantic that she felt almost insulted. She was reminded of her brothers waking up—they, too, emerged stubbly, grouchy, and ravenous. But, she recalled, they generally improved when they had eaten.
“Hold on,” he said into the phone. He looked at Billie. “Would you like something?”
“Yeah, some iced tea.”
He repeated her order and hung up.
He sat beside her on the couch. “I talked a lot yesterday.”
“That’s the truth.”
“About five hours straight.”
“Don’t be sorry. Whatever you do, please don’t be sorry.” Tears came to her eyes. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”
He took her hands. “I’m so glad we met again.”
Her heart jumped. “Me too.” This was more like what she had hoped for.
“I’d like to kiss you, but I’ve been in the same clothes for twenty-four hours.”
She felt a sudden sensation inside, like a spring breaking, and she was conscious of wetness. She was shocked at herself: it had never happened this fast before.
But she held back. She had not decided where she wanted this to go. She had had all night to make a decision, but she had not even thought about it. Now she was afraid that once she touched him she would lose control. And then what?
The war had brought about a new moral laxity in Washington, but she was not part of it. She clasped her hands in her lap and said, “I sure don’t aim to kiss you until you’re dressed.”
He gave her a skeptical look. “Are you afraid of compromising yourself?”
She winced at the irony in his voice. “Just what does that mean?”
He shrugged. “We spent the night together.”
She felt hurt and indignant. “I stayed here because you begged me too!” she protested.
“All right, don’t get mad.”
But her desire for him had turned, in a flash, to equally powerful anger. “You were falling down with exhaustion, and I put you to bed,” she said wrathfully. “Then you asked me not to leave you, so I stayed.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Then don’t talk as if I’ve acted like a… whore!”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“It sure is! You implied I’ve already compromised myself so much that anything else I might do makes no difference.”
He gave a big sigh. “Well, I didn’t intend to imply that. Jesus, you’re making a hell of a fuss about a casual remark.”
“Too darn casual.” The trouble was, she had compromised herself.
There was a knock at the door.
They looked at one another. Luke said, “Room service, I guess.”
She did not want a waiter to see her with an undressed man. “Get in the bedroom.”
“First, give me your ring.”
He looked at his left hand. He wore a gold signet ring on the little finger. “Why?”
“So the waiter will think I’m married.”
“But I never take it off.”
That angered her even more. “Get out of sight,” she hissed.
He went into the bedroom. Billie opened the suite door and a waitress brought in the room service cart. “There you go, Miss,” she said.
Billie flushed. There was an insult in that “Miss.” She signed the check but did not tip. “There you go,” she said, and turned her back.
The waitress left. Billie heard the shower running. She felt exhausted. She had spent hours in the grip of a profound romantic passion, then in a few minutes it had turned sour. Luke was normally so gracious, yet he had metamorphosized into a bear. How could such things happen?
Whatever the reason, he had made her feel cheap. In a minute or two, he would come out of the bathroom, ready to sit down and have breakfast with her as if they were a married couple. But they were not, and she was feeling more and more uncomfortable.
Well, she thought, if I don’t like it, why am I still here? It was a good question.
She put on her hat. It was better to get out with what dignity she had left.
She thought about writing him a note. The sound of the shower stopped. He was about to reappear, smelling of soap, wearing a dressing gown, his hair wet and his feet bare, looking good enough to eat. There was no time for a note.
She left the suite, closing the door quietly behind her.
She saw him almost every day for the next four weeks.
At first he was in Q Building for daily debriefing sessions. He would seek her out at lunchtime, and they would eat together in the cafeteria or take sandwiches to the park. His manner reverted to his characteristic relaxed courtesy, making her feel respected and cared for. The sting of his behavior in the Carlton eased. Maybe, she thought, he, too, had never spent the night with a lover and, like her, he was not sure of the etiquette. He had treated her casually, as he might treat his sister—and perhaps his sister was the only girl who had ever seen him in his underwear.
At the end of the week he asked her for a date, and they saw the movie of Jane Eyre on Saturday night. On Sunday, they went canoeing on the Potomac. There was a spirit of recklessness in the Washington air. The city was full of young men on their way to the front or back home on leave, men for whom violent death was an everyday event. They wanted to gamble, drink, dance, and make love because they might never have another chance. The bars were jammed, and a single girl never needed to spend an evening alone. The Allies were winning the war, but the bubble of exuberance was burst daily by news of relatives, neighbors, and college friends killed and wounded on the front line.
Luke put on a little weight and started to sleep better. The haunted look went from his eyes. He bought some clothes that fitted him, short-sleeved shirts and white pants and a navy flannel suit that he wore for their evening dates. A little of his boyishness came back.
They talked endlessly. She explained how the study of human psychology would eventually eliminate mental illness, and he told her how men could fly to the moon. They