Windmills of the Gods

Chapter Eleven


There was a tremendous feeling of excitement in the air. Hundreds of curious Remanians had gathered outside the residence, which was ringed with huge spotlights that lit up the sky. The crowd was kept in order by a detachment of American MPs and Remanian police. Plain clothes men mingled with the multitude, looking for anything suspicious. Some of them moved around with trained police dogs that were sniffing for explosives.
The press coverage was enormous. There were photographers and reporters from a dozen countries. They had all been carefully checked and their equipment searched before they were allowed to'enter the residence.
"A cockroach couldn't sneak into this place tonight," the marine officer in-charge of security boasted.
IN THE storage room the marine corporal was getting bored watching the person in army fatigues filling up the balloons. He pulled out a cigarette and started to light it.
Angel yelled, "Put that out!"
The corporal looked up, startled. "What's the problem? You're filling those with helium, aren't you? Helium doesn't burn."
"Put it out! Colonel McKinney said no smoking here."
Grumbling, the corporal put out the cigarette.
Angel watched to make sure there were no sparks left, then turned back to the task of filling each balloon from a different cylinder.
It was true that helium did not burn, but the cylinders were not filled with helium. The first tank was filled with propane, the second tank with white phosphorus, and the third with an oxygen-acetylene mix. Angel had left just enough helium in each tank to make the balloons rise.
Angel was filling the white balloons with propane, the red balloons with oxygen-acetylene, and the blue balloons with white phosphorus. When the balloons were exploded, the white phosphorus would act as an incendiary for the initial gas discharge, drawing in oxygen so that all breath would be sucked out of the body of anyone within fifty yards. The phosphorus would instantly turn to a hot, scaring molten liquid, falling on every person in the room. The thermal effect would destroy the lungs and throat, and the blast would flatten an area of a square block.
It's going to be beautiful, Angel thought.
Angel straightened up and looked at the colorful balloons floating against the ceiling of the storage room. "I am finished."
"Okay." The corporal called four marine guards who were stationed in the ballroom itself.. "Help me get these balloons out there."
One of the guards opened wide the doors to the ballroom, which was already crowded with guests. The room had been decorated with American flags and red, white, and blue streamers. At the far end was a raised'stand for the band.
"It's a lovely room," Angel said, thinking, In one hour it will be filled with burned corpses. "Could I take a picture of it?"
The corporal shrugged. "Why not? Let's go, fellas."
The marines pushed past Angel and started shoving the inflated balloons into the ballroom. "Easy," Angel warned. "Easy."
"Don't worry," a marine called. "We won't break your precious balloons."
Angel stood in the doorway, staring at the riot of colors ascending in a rising rainbow, and smiled. One thousand of the lethal little beauties nestled against the ceiling. Angel took a camera from a pocket and stepped into the ballroom.
"Heyl You're not allowed in here," the corporal said.
"I just want to take a picture to show my daughter."
I'll bet that's some looking daughter, the corporal thought sardonically. "All right. But make it quick."
Angel glanced across the room. Ambassador Mary Ashley was entering with her two children. Angel grinned. Perfect timing.
When the corporal turned his back, Angel quickly set the camera down under a cloth-covered table. The automatic timing device was set for a one-hour delay. Everything was ready.
Five minutes later Angel was outside the residence, strolling down Alexandru Sahia Street.
BEFORE the party began, Mary had taken the children upstairs.
She felt she owed them the truth.
They sat listening, wide-eyed, as Mary explained what had been happening and what might be about to happen.
"You'll be taken out of here, where you'll be safe," she said.
"But what about you?" Beth asked. "Can't you come with us?"
"No, darling. Not if we want to catch this man."
Tim was trying not to cry. "How do you know they'll catch him?" Mary thought about that a moment, and said, "Because Mike Slade said so." Okay, fellas?"
Beth and Tim looked at each other. They were both whitefaced, terrified. Mary's heart went out to them. They're too young to have to go through this, she thought.
Fifteen minutes later Mary, Beth, and Tim entered the ballroom. They walked across the floor, greeting guests, trying to conceal their nervousness. When they reached the other side of the room, Mary turned to the children. "You have to get up very early tomorrow, " she said loudly. "Back to your rooms."
The moment the children left the ballroom, they were escorted to the service entrance by Colonel McKinney. He said to the two armed marines waiting at the door, "Take them to the embassy.
Don't let them out of your sight."
Mike Slade watched them leave, then went to find Mary.
"The children are on their way. I have to do some checking. I'll be back."
Mary tried to stop the pounding of her heart. How was Angel planning to assassinate her? She looked around the festive ballroom, but there was no clue.
"Don't leave me." The words came out before she could stop herself "I want to go with you. I feel safer with you."
Mike grinned. "Now, that's a switch. Come on."
Mary followed him, staying close behind. The orchestra had begun playing, and people were dancing. Those who were not dancing were helping themselves from the silver trays of champagne being offered, or from the buffet tables.
The room looked spectacular. Mary raised her head, and there were the balloons, a thousand of them-red, white, and bluefloating against the pink ceiling. Her nerves were so taut that she was finding it difficult to breathe. Angel could be watching her .this very minute.
"Do you think Angel is here now?- she asked.
"don't kno*," Mike said. He saw the expression on her face.
Look, if you want to leave-"
"No. I'm the bait. Without me, he won't spring the trap."
He nodded and squeezed her arm. "Rlight."
Colonel McKinney approached. "We've done a thorough search, Mike. We haven't found a thing. I don't like it."
"Plees take another look around." Mike signaled to four armed, marines standing by, and they moved up next to Mary. "Be right back," Mike said.
Mary swallowed nervously. "Please."
Mike and McKinney, accompanied by two guards with sniffer dogs, searched every room in the residence. They found nothing suspicious.
In one of the guest rooms, its door guarded by marines, was Corina Socoli, lying on the bed reading a book. Young and beautiful and talented, the Remanian national treasure. Could she be a plant? Could she be helping Angel?
They returned to the kitchen.
"What about poison?" asked McKinney.
"Not photogenic enough. Angel's going for the big bang."
"Mike, there's no way anyone could get explosives into this place. The place is clean."
"There's one way."
McKinney looked at Mike. "How?"
"I don't know. But Angel knows."
They searched the library and the offices again. Nothing. They passed the storage room, where the corporal was shoving out a few balloons that had been left behind. He watched them float to the ceiling.
"Pretty, huh?" the corporal said.
"Yeah," Mike said. He started to walk on, then stopped. "Corporal, where did these balloons come from?"
"From the U.S. air base in Frankfurt, sir."
Mike indicated the helium cylinders. "And these?"
"Same place. They were escorted to our warehouse per Colonel McKinney's instructions, sir."
Mike said to McKinney, "Let's check upstairs again."
They turned to leave. The corporal said, "Oh, Colonel, the person you sent forgot to leave a time slip. Is that going to be handled by military payroll or civilian?"
Colonel McKinney frowned. "What person?"
"The one you authorized to fill the balloons."
"I never- Who said I authorized it?"
"Eddie Maltz. He said youMcKinney said, "Eddie Maltz?"
Mike turned to the corporal, his voice urgent. "What did this man look like?"
"Oh, it wasn't a man, sir. It was a woman. To tell you the truth, I thought she looked weird. Fat and ugly. She had a funny accent.
She was pockmarked and had kind of a puffy face."
Mike said to McKinney, "That sounds a lot like the description of Neusa Mufiez that Harry lantz gave the Committee."
The revelation hit them both at the same time.
Mike said slowly, "Oh, my Godl Neusa Muez is Angell" He pointed to the cylinders. "She filled the balloons from these?"
"Yes, sir. It was funny. I lit a cigarette, and she screamed at me to put it out. I said. "Helium doesn't burn," and she said-"
Mike looked up. "The baloons! The explosives are in the baloons!" The two men stared at the high ceiling covered with the spectacular red, white, and blue balloons.
"She must be using some kind of a remote-control device to explode them." Mike turned to the corporal. "How long ago did she leave?"
"I guess about an hour ago."
UNDER the table, unseen, the timing device had six minutes left.
Mike was frantically scanning the room. "She could have put the timer anywhere. It could go off any second. We'll never find it."
Mary was approaching. Mike turned to her. "You've got to clear the room. Fast! Make an announcement. It will sound better coming from you. Get everybody outside."
She was looking at him, bewildered. "But why?"
"We found our playmate's toy," Mike said grimly. He pointed.
Those balloons. They're lethal."
Mary was looking up at them, horror on her face. "Can't we take them down?"
Mike snapped, "There are hundreds of them. By the time-"
Mary's throat was so dry she could hardly get the words out.
"Mike . . . I know a way." The two men stared at her. "The Ambassador's Folly. The roof It slides open."
Mike tried to control his excitement. "How does it work?"
:"There's a switch that-"
"No," Mike said. "Nothing electrical. A spark could set them all off. Can it be done manually?"
" Yes. The roof is divided in half There's a crank on each side that-" She was talking to herself The two men were frantically racing upstairs. When they reached the top floor, they found a door opening onto a loft and hurried inside. A wooden ladder led to a catwalk above that was used by workmen when they cleaned the ballroom ceiling. A crank was fastened to the wall.
"There must be another one on the other side," Mike said.
He started across the narrow catwalk, pushing his way through the sea of deadly balloons, struggling to keep his balance, trying not to look down at the mob of people far below. A current of air pushed a mass of balloons against him, and he slipped. One foot went off the catwalk. He began to fall. He grabbed the boards as he fell, hanging on. Slowly he managed to pull himself up. He was soaked in perspiration. He inched his way along the rest of the walk. Fastened to the wall was the crank.
"I'm ready," Mike called to the colonel, who was hidden from sight by the balloons. "Careful. No sudden moves."
Mike began turning the crank very slowly.
Under the table, the timer was down to two minutes.
Mixe could hear the other crank being turned. Slowly, very Slowly, the roof started to slide open. A few balloons drifted into the night air, and as the roof opened farther, more balloons began to escape. Hundreds of them poured through the opening, dancing into the star-filled night, drawing oohs and aahs from the unsuspecting guests below and the people out in the street.
Under the table, there were forty-five seconds remaining on the remote-control timer. A cluster of balloons caught on the edge of the ceiling, just out of Mike's reach. He leaned forward, trying to free them. They swayed just beyond his fingertips. Carefully he moved out on the catwalk, with nothing to hold on to, and strained to push the balloons free. Now! Mike stood there watching the last of the balloons -escape. They soared higher and higher, painting the velvet night with their vivid colors, and suddenly the -sky exploded.
There Was a tremendous roar, and the tongues of red and white flames shot high into the air. It was a Fourth of July celebration such as hoid never been seen before. Below, everyone applauded.
Mike watched, drained, too tired to move. It was over.
The roundup was timed to take place simultaneously, in farflung corners of the world.
Floyd Baker, the Secretary of State, was with his mistress when the door burst open. Four men came into the room. "FBI, Mr. Secretary. You're under arrest."
"You must be mad. What's the charge?"
"Treason, Thor."
General Oliver Brooks, Odin, was having breakfitst at his club when two FBI agents walked up to his table and arrested him.
In London, Sir Alex Hyde-White, K.B.E., M.P., one of the senior heads of the British Secret Intelligence, Service, code nwne Freyr, was being toasted at a parliamentary dinner when the club steward approached him. "Excuse me, Sir Alex. There are some gentlemen outside who would like a word with you... ."
In Paris, in the Chambre des D,6putds de la Rdpublique Frangaise, a deputy, Balder, was called off the floor.
In the parliament building in New Delhi, the speaker of the' Lok Sabha, Vishnu, was taken to jail.
In Rome, a deputy of the Camera dei Deputati, Tyr, was in a Turkish bath when he was arrested.
The sweep went on. In Mexico and Albania and Japan, high officials were arrested. A member of the Bundestag in West Germany, a deputy in the Nationalrat in Austria, the vice-chairman of the Presidium of the Soviet Union. The arrests included the president of a large shipping company and a powerful union leader, a telesion evangelist and the head of an oil cartel.
Eddie Maltz was shot while trying to escape.
Pete Connors committed suicide while FBI agents were breaking down the door to his office.
MARY Ashley and Mike Slade were in the bubble room receiving telephone reports from around the world. Mike replaced the receiver and turned to Mary. "They've got most of them. Except for the Controller and Neusa Mufiez-Angel."
"No one knew that Angel was a woman?" Mary marveled.
"No. She had all of us fooled. Lantz described her to the Patriots for Freedom Committee as a fat, ugly moron.
"What about the Controller?" Mary asked.
"No one ever saw him. He gave orders by telephone. He was a brilliant organizer. The Committee was broken up into small cells so that one group never knew what the other was doing."
ANGEL was like an enraged animal. The contract had gone wrong somehow, but she had been prepared to make up for it.
She had called the private number in Washington and, using her dull, listless voice, had said, "Angel say to tell you no't to worry. There was some mistake, but he weel take care of it, mester. They will all die nex' time, and-"
"There won't be a next time!" the voice had exploded. "Angel bungled it. He's worse than an amateur."
"Angel tol' me-"
"I don't give a damn what he told you. He's finished. He won't get a cent. just tell that incompetent to keep away. I'll find someone else who knows how to do the job." And he had slammed the phone down.
The gringo dog. No one had ever treated Angel like that and lived. The man was going to pay. Oh, how he would pay!
THE private phone in the bubble room rang. Mary picked it up.
It was Stanton Rogers. "Mary! You're safe! Thank God it's over.
Tell me what happened."
"It was Angel. She tried to blow up the residence and-"
"You mean he."
"No. Angel is a woman. Her name is Neusa Muez."
There was a long, stunned silence. "Neusa Muez? That fat, ugly moron was Angel?"
Mary felt a sudden chill. "That's right, Stan," she said slowly.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Mary?"
"No. I'm on my way to see the children. I'll talk to you later."
She replaced the receiver and sat dazed.
Mike looked at her. "What's the matter?"
She turned to him. "You said that Harry Lantz told only some Committee members what Neusa Mufiez looked like."
Mary said, "Stanton Rogers just described her."
WHEN Angel's plane landed at Dulles Airport, she went to a telephone booth and dialed the Controller's private number.
The familiar voice said, "Stanton Rogers."
Two days later Mike, Colonel McKinney, and Mary were seated in the embassy conference room. An electronics expert had just finished debugging it.
"It all fits now," Mike said. "The Controller had to be Stanton Rogers, but none of us could see it."
"But why would he want to kill me?" Mary asked. "In the beginning he was against my being appointed ambassador. He told me so himself."
Mike explained. "He hadn't completely formulated his plan then. But once he realized what you and the children symbolized, he fought for you to get the nomination. That's what threw us off the track. He was behind you all the way, seeing to it that you got a buildup in the press."
Mary shuddered. "Why did he get involved with-"
"He never forgave Paul Ellison for being President. He felt cheated. He started out as a liberal, and he married a right-wing reactionary. My guess is that his wife turned him around."
"Have they found him yet?"
"No. He's disappeared. But he can't hide for very long."
Stamton Rogers' head was found in a Washington, D.C., garbage dump two days later. His eyes had been torn out.
PAUL Ellison was calling from the White House. "I'm refusing to accept your resignation, Mary. I know how 'much you've been through, but I'm asking you to remain at your post in Remania."
I know how much you've been through. Did anyone have any idea? She had been so unbelievably naive. She was going to show the world how wonderful Americans really were. And all the time she had been a cat's-paw. She and her children had been placed in mortal danger. She thought of Edward and how he had been murdered, and of Louis and his lies and his death. She thought of the destruction Angel had sown all over the world.
I'm not the same person I was when I came here, Mary thought.
I've grown up the hard way, but I've grown up. I've managed to accomplish something here. I got Hannah Murphy out of prison, and I made our grain deal. I saved the' life of Ionescu's son, and I rescued some Jews.
"Hello. Are you there?" the President asked.
"Yes, sir." She looked over at Mike Slade, who was slouched back in his chair studying her.
"You've done a truly remarkable job," the President said.
"You're the person we need over there. You'll be doing our country a great service."
The President was waiting for an answer. Mary was weighing her decision. Finally she said, "Mr. President, if I did agree to stay, I would insist that.our country give sanctuary to Corina Socoli."
"I'm sorry, Mary. I've already explained why we can't do that.
It would offend lonescu and-"
"He'll get over it. I know lonescu, Mr. President. He's using her as a bargaining chip."
There was a long silence. "How would you get her out?"
"An army cargo plane is due to arrive in the morning. I'll send her out in that."
There was a pause. "I'll square it with State. If that's all-"
Mary looked over at Mike Slade again. "There's one thing more. I want Mike Slade to stay here with me. I need him. We make a good team."
Mike was watching her, a private smile on his lips.
"I'm afraid that's impossible," the President said firmly. "I need Slade back here. He already has another assignment."
Mary sat there holding the phone, saying nothing.
The President went on. "We'll send you someone else. Anyone you want. Mary? Hello? What is this-some kind of blackmaill?"
Mary sat silently waiting.
Finally the President said grudgingly. "Well, I suppose if you really need him, we might spare him for a little while."
Mary felt her heart lighten. "Thank you, Mr. President. I'll be happy to stay on as ambassador."
The President had a final parting shot. "You're one ace of a negotiator, Madun Ambassador. I have some interesting plans in mind for you when you're finished there. Good luck! And stay out of trouble." The line went dead.
Mary replaced the receiver and looked at Mike. "You're going to be staying here. He told me to stay out of trouble."
Mike Slade grinned. "He has a nice sense of humor." He rose and moved toward her. "Do you remember the day I met you and called you a perfect ten?"
How well she remembered. "Yes."
"I was wrong. Now you're a perfect ten."
She felt a warm glow. "Oh, mike. . .
"Since I'm staying on,. Madam Ambassador, we'd better talk about the problem we're having with the Remanian commerce minister." He looked into her eyes and said softly, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
Alice Springs, Australia.
The chairwoman was ad ' dressing the Committee. "We have suffered a setback, but because of the lessons we have learned, our organization will become even stronger. Now it is time to take a vote. Aphrodite?"
,: Athene?"
Considering the horrible death of our former Controller, shouldn't we wait until-"
"Yes or no, please."
" The motion is carried. Please observe the usual precautions, ladies."