Windmills of the Gods

Chapter Ten


WHEN Mary tried to telephone Louis Desforges to tell him what she had learned, his line was busy. He was on the phone with Mike Slade. Dr. Desforges's first instinct had been to report the murder attempt except that he could not believe Slade was re sponsible. And so Louis had decided to telephone Slade himself "I have just left your ambassador," Louis Desforges said. "She is going to live."
"Well, that's good news, DOCtor. Why shouldn't she?"
Louis's tone was cautious. "Someone has been poisoning her."
"What are you talking about?" Mike demanded.
"I think perhaps you know what I'm talking about."
"Hold it! Are you saying that you think I'm responsible? You and I had better have a private talk someplace where we can't be overheard. Can you meet me tonight?"
"At what time?" asked Louis.
"I'm tied up until nine o'clock. Why don't you meet me a few minutes after, at Bineasa Forest. I'll meet you at the fountain and explain everything then."
Louis hesitated. "Very well. I will see you there." He hung up and thought, Mike Slade cannot possibly be behind this.
When Mary tried to telephone Louis again, he had left. No one knew where to reach him.
MARY and the children were having dinner at the residence.
"You look a lot better," Beth said. "We were worried."
"I feel fine," Mary assured her. And it was the truth. Thank God for Louis l She could hear Mike Slade. Here's your coffee. I brewed it myself. Slowly killing her. She shuddered.
"Are you cold?" Tim asked.
"No, darling." Mary was thinking, I -must not involve the children in my 'nightmares. Besides, there is only one person who can help me. Stanton Rogers. But what proof do I have? That Mike Slade made coffee for me every morning?
Beth was talking to her. "So can we watch a movie tonight?"
Mary had not planned on running a movie, but she had spent so little time with the children lately that she decided to give them a treat. "Yes."
"Thank you, Madam Ambassador," Tim shouted. "Can we see American Graffiti again?"
American Graffiti. And suddenly Mary knew what proof she might show Stanton Rogers.
At midnight she asked Carmen to call a taxi.
"Don't you want Florian to drive you?" Carmen asked.
"No." This had to be done secretly.
"GooD evening, Madam Ambassador," said the marine guard when Mary emerged from the taxi. "Can I help you?"
"No, thank you. I'm going to my office for a few minutes."
The marine walked her to the entrance and opened the door for her. He watched her walk up the stairs to her office.
Mary turned the lights on and looked at the wall where the red scrawl had been washed away. She walked over to the connecting door that led to Mike Slade's office and entered. The room was in darkness. She turned on the lights.
There were no papers on his desk. The drawers were empty, except for brochures and timetables, innocent things that would be of no use to a snooping cleaning woman. Mary's eyes scrutinized the office. It had to be here somewhere.
She opened the drawers again and started examining their contents slowly and carefully. When she came to a bottom drawer, she felt something hard at the back, behind a mass of papers. She .pulled it out and held it in her hand, staring at it.
It was - a can of red spray paint.
AT A few minutes after nine p.m. Dr. Louis Desforges was waiting in Bineasa Forest, near the fountain. He wondered if he had done the wrong thing by not reporting Mike Slade. No, he thought. First I must hear what he has to say. If I made a false accusation, it would destroy him.
Mike Slade appeared suddenly out of the darkness. "Thanks for coming. We can clear this up very quickly. You said you thought someone was poisoning Mary Ashley."
: ,know it. Someone was feeding her arsenic."
"And you think I'm responsible?"
"You could have put it in her coffee a little bit at a time."
:, Have you reported this to anyone?"
"Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first."
I'm glad you did," Mike said. He took his hand out of his pocket. In it was a -357-caliber Magnum pistol.
Louis stared. "What-what are you doing? Listen to me! You can't-""
Mike Slade pulled the trigger and watched the Frenchman's chest explode into a red cloud.
MARY was in the bubble room telephoning Stanton Bogers office on the secure line. It was six p.m. in Washington and one o'clock in the morning in Bucharest. "This is Ambassador Ashley.
I know that Mr. Rogers is in China with the President, but it's urgent that I speak to him. Is there any way I can reach him there?"
"I'm sorry, Madam Ambassador. His itinerary is very flexible. I have no telephone number for him."
Mary felt her heart plummet. "When will you hear from him?"
"It's difficult to say. They have a very busy schedule. Perhaps someone in the State Department could help you."
"No," Mary said dully. "No one else can help me. Thank you very much."
There she sat, surrounded by the most sophisticated electronic equipment in the world, and none of it was of any use to her.
Mike Slade was trying to murder her. She had to let someone know. But whom could she trust? The only one who knew what Mike Slade was trying to do was Louis Desforges.
Mary tried the number at his residence again, but there still was no answer. She remembered what Stanton Rogers had told her: "If you have any messages that you want to send to me without anyone else reading them, the code at the top of the message is three x's."
Mary hurried back to her office and wrote out an urgent message. She placed three x's at the top, took out the black code book from a locked drawer in her desk, and carefully encoded what she had written. At least if anything happened to her now, Stanton Rogers would know who was responsible.
Mary walked down the corridor to the communications room.
Eddie Maltz, the CIA agent, happened to be behind the cage.
"Good evening, Madam Ambassador. You're working late."
"Yes. There's a message I want sent off right away."
"I'll take care of it personally."
"Thank you." She handed it to him and headed for the door.
When Eddie Maltz finished decoding the message, he read it through twice, frowning. He walked over to the shredder and watched the message turn into confetti.
Then he placed a call to Floyd Baker, the Secretary of State, in Washington. Code name: Thor.
IT TOOK Ley Pastemak two months to follow the circuitous trail that led to Buenos Aires. SIS and half a dozen other security agencies around the world had helped identify Angel as the killer. Mossad had given him the name of Neusa Mufiez, Angel's mistress. They all wanted to eliminate Angel. To Ley Pastemak, Angel had become an obsession. Because of Pastemak's failure, Marin Groza had died, and Pastemak could never forgive himself for that. He could, however, make atonement.
He located the building where Neusa Muez lived and kept watch on it, waiting for Angel to appear. After five days, when there was no sign of him, Pastemak made his move. He waited until the woman left, and after fifteen minutes walked upstairs, picked the lock on her door, and entered the apartment. He searched it swiffly and thoroughly. There were no photographs, memos, or addresses that could lead him to Angel. Pastemak discovered the suits in the closet. He examined the Heffera labels, took one of the jackets off the hanger, and tucked it under his arm. A minute later he was gone.
The following morning Ley Pastemak walked into Heffera's.
His hair was disheveled and his clothes were wrinkled, and he smelled of whiskey.
The manager of the men's shop came up to him and said disapprovingly, "May I help you, senor?"
Ley Pastemak grinned sheepishly. "Yeah," he said. "Tell you the truth, I got in a card game last night. We all got drunk.
Anyway, we ended up in my hotel room. One of the guys-I don't remember his name-left his jacket there." Ley held up the' jacket. "It had your label in it, so I figured you could tell me where to return it to him."
. The manager examined the jacket. "Yes, we tailored this.
Please wait."
A few minutes later the man returned. "The name of the gentleman we made the jacket for is H. R. de Mendoza. He has a suite at the Aurora Hotel, suite four seventeen."
AT FOUR a.m. Ley Pastemak was silently moving down the deserted fourth-floor corridor of the Aurora Hotel. When he reached 417, he looked around to make sure no one was in sight.
He reached down to the lock and inserted a wire. When he heard the door click open, he pulled out a .45-caliber SIG-Sauer pistol with a silencer.
He sensed a draft as the door across the hall opened, and before he could swing around, he felt something hard and cold pressing. against the back of his neck.
"I don't like being followed," Angel said.
Ley Pastemak heard the click of the trigger a second before his brain was torn apart.
THE telephone call had come, and it was time to move. First Angel had some shopping to do. There was a good lingerie shop on Pueyrred6n-expensive, but Neusa deserved the,best. The inside of the shop was cool and quiet.
"I would like to see a negligee, something very frilly," Angel said.
The female clerk staied.
"The best you have."
Fifteen minutes later Angel left the shop and hailed a taxi.
Angel gave the driver an address on Humberto, alighted a block away, and hailed another taxi.
"A d6nde, porfavor?"
There would be a ticket for London waiting there. Tourist.
First class was too conspicuous.
Two hours later Angel watched the city of Buenos Aires disappear beneath the clouds, like some celestial magician's trick, and concentrated on the assignment ahead, thinking about the instructions that had been given. Make sure the children die with her. Their deaths must be spectacular.
Angel smiled and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
THE PAsSpoRT R= "H. R. DE Mendoza." The ticket at London's Heathrow Airport was on TAROM Airlines, to Bucharest.
Angel sent a telegram . from the airport: ARRIVING WEDNESDAY. H. R. DE MENDOZA.
It was addressed to Eddie Maltz.
IN the morning Mary kept trying to phone Louis at home. No answer. She tried the French embassy. They had no idea where he was. "Please have him call me as soon as you hear from him."
She replaced the receiver. There was nothing to do but wait.
A few minutes later Dorothy Stone, her secretary, came into Mary's office. "There's a call for you, but she refuses to give her name.
"I'll take it." Mary picked up the phone. "Hello, this is Ambassador Ashley."
A soft female voice with a Remanian accent said, "This is Corina Socoli." The ballerina's name registered instantly.
"I need your help," the girl said. "I have decided to defect."
I can't handle this today, Mary thought. Not now. She said, "I-I don't know if I can help you." Her mind was racing. She tried to remember what she had been told about defectors: "Many of them are Soviet plants. We don't grant political asylum unless there's a dam good reason."
Corina Socoli was sobbing. "Please. I am not safe staying where I am. You must send someone to get me."
"Where are you?" Mary asked.
There was a pause. Then, "I am at the Roscow Inn, in Moldavia. Will you come for me?"
"I can't," Mary said. "But I'll send someone to get you. Don't call on this phone again. just wait where you are. I-"
The door opened, and Mike Slade walked in. Mary looked up in shock. He was moving toward her.
The voice on the phone was saying, "Hello? Hello?"
"Who are you talking to?" Mike asked.
"To-to Dr. Desforges." She replaced the receiver, terrified.
"He's-he's on his way over to see me." Don't be ridiculous, she told herself. You're in the embassy. He wouldn't dare do anything to you here.
There was a strange look in Mike's eyes. "Are you sure you're well enough to be back at work?"
The nerve. "Yes. I'm fine." She was finding it hard to breathe.
Her intercom phone rang. "If you'll excuse me . . -"Sure." Mike Slade stood there staring at her, then turned and left.
Almost overcome with relief, Mary picked up the telephone.
It was jerry Davis, the public affairs consul. "Madam Ambassador, I'm sorry to disturb you, but I'm afraid I have some terrible news. Dr. Louis Desforges has been murdered."
The room began to swim. "Are you-are you sure?"
"Yes, ma'am. His wallet was found on his body."
Sensory memories flooded through her, and a voice over the telephone was saying, "This is Sheriff Monster. Your husband has been killed in a car accident." And all the old sorrows came rushing back, stabbing at her, tearing her apart.
"How did it happen?" Her voice was strangled.
"He was shot to death."
"Do they-do they know who did it?"
"No, ma'am. The Securitate .4nd the French embassy are investigating."
Mary dropped the receiver, her mind and body numb, and leaned back in her chair, studying the. ceiling. There was a crack in it. I must have that repaired, Mary thought. We mustn't have cracks in our embassy. There's another-crack. Cracks everywhere, and when there is a crack, evil things get in. Edward is dead.
Louis is dead. I can't go through this pain again. Who would want to kill Louis?
The answer immediately followed the question. Mike Slade.
Louis had discovered that Slade was feeding Mary arsenic. Slade probably thought that with Louis dead, no one could prove anything against him. A sudden realization filled her with a new terror. Who are you talking to? But Mike must have known that Desforges was dead.
Mary stayed in her office all morning, planning her next move.
I'm not going to let Mike Slade drive me away, she decided. I'm not going to let him kill me. I have to stop him. She was filled with a rage such as she had never known before. She was going to protect herself and her children. And she was going to destroy Mike Slade.
"Madam Ambassador..." Dorothy Stone was holding an envelope out to her. "The guard at the gate asked me to give you this."
The envelope was marked "Personal. For the amba , ssador's eyes only." Mary tore it open. The note was written in a neat copperplate handwriting. It read:
Dear Madam Ambassador:
Enjoy your last day on earth.
Another one of Mike's scare tactics, Mary thought. It won't work. I'll keep well away from him.
COLONEL MCKinney was studying the note. He looked up at Mary. "You were scheduled to appear this afternoon at the ground breaking for the new library addition. I'll cancel it and-"
"Madam Ambassador, it's too dangerous for you to-"
"I'll be safe." She knew where the danger lay, and she had a plan. "Please tell Mike Slade that I wish to see him right away."
"You wanted to talk to me?" Mike Slade's tone was casual.
"I received a call from someone who wants to defect."
"Who is it?"
She had no intention of telling him. He would betray the girl.
"That's not important. I want you to bring this, person in."
Mike frowned. "This could lead to a lot of-"
Mary cut him short. "I want you to go to the ]Roscow Inn at Moldavia and pick her up."
He started to argue, until he saw the expression on her face. "If that's what you want, I'll send-"
"No." Mary's voice was steel. "I want you to go. I'm sending two men with you." With Gunny and another marine along, Mike would not be able to play any tricks. She had told Gunny not to let Mike Slade out of his sight.
Mike was studying Mary, puzzled. "I have a heavy schedule," he began.
"I want you to leave immediately. Gunny is waiting for you in your office. You're to bring the defector back here to me."
Mike nodded slowly. "All right."
Mary watched him go, with a feeling of relief so intense that she felt giddy. With Mike Slade out of the way, she would be safe.
THE ground-breaking ceremony for the new American library addition was scheduled to be held at four o'clock at Alexandru Sahia Square, in a vacant lot next to the main library building. By three p.m. a large crowd had already gathered. Captain Aurel Istrase, head of the Securitate, had been told of the death threat and had ordered all automobiles removed from the square, so that there was no danger of a car bomb. In addition, police had been stationed around the entire area and a sharpshooter was on the roof of the library. At a few minutes before four, bomb experts swept the area and found no explosives; everything was in readiness for Mar)ls arrival.
As Mary walked from her limousine toward the lot where the ceremony was to take place, two armed -members of the Securitate walked in front of her and two behind her, shielding her with their bodies.
The onlookers applauded as she stepped into the small circle that had been cleared for her. The crowd was a mixture of Romamans, Americans, and attaches from other embassies in Bucharest. As Mary looked at the people she thought, I should never have come here. I'm terrified.
Colonel McKinney was saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present the ambassador from the United States of America."' The crowd applauded.
Mary took a deep breath and began. "Thank you.
She had been so caught up in the maelstrom of events of the past week that she had not prepared a speech, but some deep wellspring within her gave her the words. She found herself saying, "What we are doing here today may seem a small thing, but it is important, because it is one more bridge between our country and all the countries of Eastern Europe. The new buildding we are dedicating here today will be filled with information about the United States of America......
Colonel McKinney and his men were moving through the crowd. The note had said "Enjoy your last day on earth." When did the killer's day end? Six p.m.? Nine? Midnight?
On the far side of the square a car suddenly raced past the police barrier and screamed to a stop. at the curb. As a startled policeman moved toward it the driver jumped out and began running away. As he ran, he pulled a device from his pocket and pressed it. The car exploded, sending out a shower of metal into the er.owd. None of it reached the center,"where Mary was standing, but the spectators began to panic, trying to get away. The sharpshooter on the roof raised his rifle and put a bullet through the fleeing man's heart before he could escape.
It took the Remanian police an hour to clear the crowd away and remove the body. The fire department had put out the flames of the burning car'. Mary was driven back to the embassy, shaken.
"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to go to the residence and rest?" Colonel McKinney asked her. "You've just been through a horrifying experience."
"No," Mary said stubbornly. "The embassy." That was the only place where she could safely talk to Stanton Rogers. I must talk to him soon, she thought, or I'll go to pieces.
The strain of everything that was happening to her was becoming unbearable. She had made sure that Mike Slade was safely. out of the way, yet an attempt had still been made on her life. So he was not working alone.
AT six o'clock Mike Slade walked into Mary's office. He was furious. "I put Corina Socoli in a room upstairs", he said curtly.
"Nice shot, not to tell me who I was picking up. You've made a big mistake. We have to return her. She's a national treasure. The Romanian government would never allow her out of the country." Colonel McKinney hurried into the office. He stopped short as he saw Mike. "We have an identification on the dead man. He's Angel, all right. His real name is H. R. de Mendoza."
Mike was staring at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Didn't the ambassador tell you? She received a death warning from Angel. He tried to assassinate her at the ground-breaking ceremony this afternoon. One of Istrase's men got him."
Mike stood there, his eyes fixed on Mary. "Where's the body?" he asked McKinney.
"In the morgue at police headquarters."
THE body was lying on a stone slab. He had been an ordinarylooking man, of medium height, with a small, thin nose that went with his tight mouth, very small feet, and thinning hair. His belongings were piled on a table.
Mike examined the jacket label. It was from a shop in Buenos Aires. The leather shoes also had an Argentinean label. Mike turned to the sergeant. "What do you have on him?"
"He flew in from London on TAROM Airlines two days ago, checked into the Intercontinental under the name of de Mendoza.
His passport shows his home address as Buenos Aires. It is forged. He does not look like an international killer, does he?"
"No," Mike agreed. "He doesn't."
Two dozen blocks away Angel was walking past the residence.
The photographs that had been sent were excellent, but Angel believed in personally checking out every detail.
,Angel grinned at the thought of the harade in the town square.
It had been child's play to hire a junkie for the price of a nose-ful of cocaine. It threw everyone off guard. Let them sweat. But the big event is yet to come, Angel thought. For five million dollars I will give them a show they will never forget. What do the television networks call them? Spectaculars. They will get a spectacular in living color.
There will be a Fourth of July celebration at the residence , the voice had said. "There will be balloons, a marine band, entertainers." Angel smiled and thought, A five-million-dollar spectacular.
STANroN Rogers was on the line from Washington. Mary grabbed the private phone in the bubble room as if it were a lifeline.
"Mary, I can't understand a word you're saying. Slow down."
"I'm sorry, Stan. Didn't you get my cable?"
"No. I've just returned. There was no cable from you. What's wrong?"
Mary fought to control her hysteria, thinking, Where should I begin? She took a deep breath, and said, "Mike Slade is trying to murder me."
There was a shocked silence. "Mary, you can't believe-"
"It's true. I know it is. I met a doctor from the French embassyLouis Desforges. I became ill, and he found out I was being poisoned with arsenic. Mike was doing it."
Rogers' voice was sharp. "What makes you think that?"
"Louis-Dr. Desforges-figured it out. Mike Slade made coffee for me every morning, with arsenic in it. I have proof that he got hold of the arsenic. Last night Louis was murdered, and this afternoon someone working with Slade tried to assassinate me."
This time the silence was even longer.
When Stanton Rogers spoke again, his tone was urgent. "What I'm going to ask you is very important, Mary. Think carefally.
Could it have been anyone besides Mike Slade?"
"No. He's been trying to get me out from the beginning."
"All right," Rogers said crisply. "I'll inform the President.
We'll handle Slade. I'll also arrange extra protection for you."
"Stan, Sunday night I'm giving a Fourth of July party at the residence. Do you think I should cancel it?"
There was a thoughtful silence. "As a matter of fact, the party might be a good idea. Keep a lot of people around you. Mary, I don't want to frighten you any more than you already are, but I would suggest that you not let the children out of your sight. Not for a minute. Slade might try to get at you. through them."
She felt a shudder go through her. "Why is Slade doing this?"
"I wish I knew. It makes no sense. But I'm going to find out. In the meantime, keep as far away from him as you possibly can."
When Mary hung up, it was as though an enormous burden had been lifted from her shoulders.
EDDiE Maltz answered on the first ring. The conversation lasted for ten minutes.
"I'll make sure everything is there," Eddie promised.
Angel hung up.
Eddie Maltz thought, I wonder what Angel needs all that stuff for. He looked at his watch. Forty-eight hours to go.
THE moment Stanton Rogers finished talking to Mary, he placed an emergency call to Colonel McKinney. "I want you to pick up Mike Slade," he said. "Hold him in close custody until you hear from me."
"Mike Slade?" asked the colonel incredulously.
"I want him held and isolated. He's probably armed and dangerous. Don't let him talk to anyone. Call me back at the White House as soon as you have him."
"Yes, sir."
Two hours later Stanton Rogers' phone rang. He snatched up the receiver.
"It's Colonel.McKinney, Mr. Rogers."
"Do you have Slade?"
"No, sir. There's a problem. Mike Slade has disappeared."
Sofia, Bulgaria. Saturday, July 3- In a small, nondescript building, a group of Eastern Committee members was meeting. Seated around the table were powerful representatives from Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Pakistan, India, and Malaysia.
The chairman was speaking. "We welcome our brothers and sisters on the Eastern Committee who have joined us today. I am happy to tell you that we have excellent news from the Western Committee. The final phase of our plan is about to be successfully concluded. It will happen tomorrow night at the American ambassador's residence in Bucharest. Arrangements have been made for international press and television coverage."
Code name Kali spoke. "The American ambassador and her two children-" "Will be assassinated, along with a hundred or so other Americans. We are all aware of the grave risks and the holocaust that may follow. It is time to put the motion to a vote." He started at the far end of the table. "Brahma?"
When everyone had voted, the chairman declared, "It is unanimous. We owe a particular vote of thanks to the person who has helped so much to bring this about." He turned to the American.
"My pleasure," Mike Slade said.
THE decorations for the Fourth of July party were flown into Bucharest late Saturday afternoon and trucked directly to a United States government warehouse. The cargo consisted of a thousand red, white, and blue balloons packed in flat.boxes, three steel cylinders of helium to blow up the balloons, two hundred and fifty rolls of streamers, party favors, noisemakers, a dozen banners, and six dozen miniature American flags. The cargo.was unloaded in the warehouse at eight p.m. Two hours later a jeep arrived with three oxygen cylinders stamped with U.S. Army markings. The driver placed them inside.
At one a.m., when the warehouse was deserted, Angel appeared. The warehouse door had been left unlocked. Angel went inside, examined the cylinders carefully, and went to work. The first task was to empty the three helium tanks until each was only one-third full. After that, the rest was simple.
AT six o'clock on the evening Of July 4 a U.S. Army truck pulled up to the service entrance of the residence and was stopped. The guard said, "What have you got in there?"
"Goodies for the party tonight."
"Let's take a look." The guard inspected the inside of the truck.
"What's in the boxes?"
"Some helium and balloons and flags and stuff."
"Open them."
Fifteen minutes later the truck was passed through. Inside the compound a marine corporal and two marine guards unloaded the equipment and carried it into a storage room off the ballroom.
As they began to unpack, Eddie Maltz walked in, accompanied by a stranger wearing army fatigues.
One guard said, "Who's going to blow up all these balloons?"
"Don't worry," Eddie Maltz said. "This is the age of technology." He nodded toward the stranger. "Here's the one that's in charge of the balloons. Colonel McKinney's orders."
The other guard grinned at the stranger."'Better you than me."
The two guards finished unpacking and left.
"You have an hour," Eddie Maltz told the stranger. "Better get to work." Maltz nodded to the corporal and walked out.
The corporal walked over to one of the cylinders. "What's in these babies?"
"Helium," the stranger said curtly.
As the corporal stood watching, the stranger picked up a balloon, put the neck to the nozzle of a cylinder for an instant, and, as the balloon filled, tied off the neck. The balloon floated to the ceiling. The whole operation took no more than a second.
"Hey, that's great." The corporal smiled.
IN HER Office at the embassy Mary Ashley was finishing UP some action cables. She desperately wished the party could have been called off There were going to be more than two hundred guests. She hoped Mike Slade was caught before the party began.
Tim and Beth were under constant supervision at the residence. How could Mike bear to harm them? He's not sane, she thought.
Mary rose to put some papers into the shredder, and froze.
Mike Slade was walking into her office through the connecting door. She opened her mouth to scream.
She was terrified. He could kill her before she could call for help, and he could escape the same way he had come in.
"Colonel McKinney's men are looking for you. You -can kill me," Mary said defiantly, "but you'll never escape."
Angel's the one who's trying to kill you," Mike said.
"You're a liar. Angel is dead. I saw him shot."
"Angel is a professional from Argentina. The last thing he would do is walk around with Argentine labels in his clothes. The slob the police killed was an amateur who was set up."
"I don't believe a word you're saying," Mary said. "You killed Dr. Desforges. You tried to poison me. Do you deny that?"
Mike studied her for a long moment. "No. I don't deny it, but you'd better hear the story from a friend of mine." He turned toward the door to his office. "Come in, Bill."
Colonel McKinney walked into the room. "I think it's time we all had a chat, Madam Ambassador. . .
IN the residence storage room the stranger in army fatigues was filling the balloons under the watchful eye of the corporal.
Boy, that's one ugly customer, the corporal thought. Whewl The corporal could not understand why the white balloons were being filled from one cylinder, the red balloons from a second cylinder, and the blue ones from a third. Why not use each cylinder until it's empty? he wondered. He was tempted to ask, but he did not want to start a conversation. Not with this one.
"LET's start at the beginning," Colonel McKinney said. "On Inauguration Day when the President announced that he wanted to open relations with every iron curtain country, he exploded a bombshell. There's a faction in our government that's convinced that if we get too involved with the Eastern bloc, the Communists will destroy us. On the other side of the iron curtain there are Communists who believe that our President's plan is a trick-a Trojan horse to bring our capitalist spies into their countries. A group of powerful men on both sides had formed a supersecret alliance, called Patriots for Freedom. They decided the only way to destroy the President's plan was to let him start it, and then to sabotage it in such a dramatic way that it would never be tried again. That's where you came into the picture."
"But why me? Why was I chosen?"
"Because the packaging was important," Mike said. "You were exactly the image they needed-Mrs. America, with two squeakyclean kids. They were determined to have you. When your husband got in the wa . way, they murdered him and made it look like an accident so you wouldn't have any suspicions and refuse the post."
Mary could not speak. The horror of what Mike was saying was too appalling.
"Their next step was your buildup. They used their press connections around the world and saw to it that you became everyone's darling-the beautiful lady who was going to lead the world down the road to peace."
"And-and now?"
Mike's voice gentled. "Their plan is to assassinate you and the children as shockingly as possible-to sicken the world so much that it would put an end to any further ideas of ddtente."
Mary sat there in stunned silence.
"That states it bluntly but accurately," Colonel McKinney said quietly. "Mike is with the CIA. After your husband and Marin Groza were murdered, Mike started to get on the trail of Patriots for Freedom. They thought he was on their Ode and invited him to join.
"we talked the idea over with President Ellison, and he gave his approval. The President has been kept abreast of every development. His overriding concern has been that you and the children be protected, but he dared not discuss what he knew with you or anyone else, because Ned Tillingest, head of the CIA, had warned him that there were high-level leaks."
Mary's head was spinning. She said to Mike, "But you tried to kill me."
He sighed. "Lady, I've been trying to save your life. You haven't made it easy. I tried every way I knew how to get you to take the kids and go home, where you'd be safe."
"But you poisoned me."
"Not fatally. I wanted to get you just sick enough so that you'd have to leave Remania. Our doctors were waiting for 'you in Frankfurt. I couldn't tell you the truth, because it would have blown the whole operation. Even now, we don't know who put the organization together. He never attends meetings. He's known only as the Controller."
"And Louis?"
"The doctor was one of them. He was Angel's backup. He was an explosives expert. A phony kidnapping was set up, and you were rescued by Mr. Charm." Mike saw the expression on Mary Is face. "You were lonely and vulnerable, and they worked on that.
You weren't the first one to fall for the good doctor."
Something bothered Mary. "But Mike, why did you kill Louis?"
"I had no choice. The whole point of their plan was to murder you,and the children as publicly and spectacularly as possible.
Louis knew I was a member of the Committee. Poisoning wasn't the way you were supposed to die. When he figured out that I was poisoning you, he became suspicious of me. I had to kill him before he exposed me to the Committee."
Mary sat there listening as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. The man she had distrusted had poisoned her to keep her alive, and the man she thought she loved had saved her for a more dramatic death. She and her children had been used. I was the Judas goat, Mary thought. All the warmth that everyone showed me was phony. The only one who was real was Stanton Rogers.
Or was he? "Stanton," Mary began. "Is he-"
"He's been protective of you all the way," Colonel McKinney assured her. "When he thought Mike was the one trying to kill you, he ordered me to arrest him."
Mary looked at Mike. He had been sent here to protect her, and all the time she had looked on him as the enemy. Her thoughts were in a turmoil. "Then Louis never did have a wife or children?"
Mary remembered something. "But I asked Eddie Maltz to check, and he told me that Louis was married and had two daughters."
Mike and Colonel McKinney exchanged a look.
"He'll be taken care of," McKinney said. "I sent him to Frankfurt. I'll have him picked up."
"Who is Angel?" Mary asked.
Mike answered, "He's an assassin from South America. He's probably the best in the world. The Committee agreed to pay him five million dollars to kill you."
Mary listened to the words in disbelief.
Mike went on. "We know he's in Bucharest, but we don't have a single description of Angel. He uses a dozen different passports.
No one has ever talked directly to him. They deal through his mistress, Neusa Mufiez. The various groups in the Committee are so compartmentalized that I haven't been able to learn what Angel's plan is."
"What's to stop him from killing me?"
"Us," said Colonel McKinney. "With the help of the Remanian government we've taken extraordinary precautions for the party.
We've covered every possible contingency."
"What happens now?" Mary asked.
Mike said carefully, "That's up to you. Angel was ordered to carry out the contract at your party tonight. We're sure we can catch him, but if you and the children aren't at the party . .
"You're asking me to set myself up as a target?"
Colonel McKinney said, "You don't have to agree."
I could end this now, Mary said to herself. I could go back to Kansas with the children and leave this nightmare behind. Angel would forget about me. She looked up at Mike and Bill McKinney and said, "I won't expose my children to danger."
McKinney said, "I can arrange for Beth and Tim to be spirited out of the residence and taken here under escort."
Mary looked at Mike for a long time. Finally she spoke. "How does a Judas goat dress?"