Authors: Louis Trimble
a division of F+W Media, Inc.
Barr crouched down to get out of the sea spray. The rock bulking over his head was wet and slick in the darkness, cold. But it was a measure of protection against the wind and the spray that lashed up from the shallow bay.
He could not see the launch where he had moored it below on the lee side of the jetty, but it was there. It was a hell of a night to pick for a run across to the Irish coast, but he was glad that he didn't have Snyder's job. Bringing down a plane on a strip of nothing in this wind and rain would be no picnic. And going up again with a man who would be willing to sacrifice anythingâincluding his own lifeâto stop being taken where Snyder was to take him, that was no picnic, either.
The thought made Barr draw back his lips in a savage grin. Leon Roget would be better off jumping into the Irish Sea than facing what lay in wait for him at the end of his plane ride with Snyder. Once Snyder had him delivered, he was finished.
Barr was cramped from the tight position. He shifted to relieve his muscles and succeeded only in gouging himself with a sharp projection of rock. He wanted a cigarette, but couldn't risk one.
He cursed to himself softly. He thought of the Chief, warm and snug in Washington, and his cursing became more fluent. The Chief had it easy, sitting around, issuing orders, telling men to go across the Atlantic or the Pacific or to Hell itself.
Barr wondered if the Chief knew about Portia, and that she was the reason he had wangled what was practically a permanent assignment to England. His laying it on thick about liking England, about being at home in it after his years of study here following the war, had probably given the Chief a fat chuckle. There was little about his men that the Chief did not know. Each man had been hand-picked for his work, carefully trained not only in the work itself but in some kind of cover job that gave him a reason for going more or less freely about the world.
There was Snyder, for instance, a man who sold insurance on risks no one else but Lloyds would take; there was Stark, who collected strange plants for universities in the United States; and there was Barr, who collected information on medieval ruins and wrote both popular and learned articles about them.
There were just the three of them in England. Barr knew that considering the budget the government gave the Chief, they were lucky to be three. Barr had, more than once, worked alone. In one sense, neither he nor any of the othersâin England or elsewhereâexisted. The budget on which they operated came from bits and pieces of other allocations; it was never ticketed for its true purpose.
Occasionally Barr had to ask for outside help, as tonight when he needed the launch. There was a place to go for that help, a place a long way across London from the Embassy in Grosvenor Square, a place of strange people and grubby surroundings. He did not go very often, and never as himself. But when he really needed help, it was always one place he could count on.
He shifted his position again, but the rock was still there to gouge him. His hand went under his slicker for a cigarette, and then he heard footsteps.
His eyes were focused up the slope, on the path that the man had to follow if he was coming here. Barr heard the steps hesitate and then start down the natural stairway of the rocky head, down toward where he waited. He countedâten steps, a dozen, twenty. It was appallingly dark. The man should be just above him.
A match flared and went out almost at once. Barr straightened, tense. “You should have held that,” he said in a soft voice. “I could use a smoke.”
The man's voice was muffled, accented. “Where it is drier, perhaps?” He walked past the place where Barr waited.
Barr came out of the cleft in the rock and stood to one side of the path. Roget had his instructions. He walked ahead slowly, feeling his way down the rocky steps to the jetty. They went around a shoulder of rock and there was the sea, turbulent, churning, throwing spray up over the stone jetty and down onto the cabin of the launch.
Roget went aboard and stood aft, facing toward the shore, his back to Barr. Barr said, “Cast off.” Roget did not move except to look around. Barr lifted his voice irritably. “Go forward and remove the ropes so we can get under way.”
Roget did as he was bid, walking awkwardly, a man unaccustomed to a boat. Barr went into the cabin, started the motor and waited for it to warm up. Then he slid to the window and leaned out. “Now.”
The line came aboard quite smoothly. Barr let Roget get back to the cabin aft and then concentrated on easing away from the jetty and out of the cove. The cove was easy, the big launch riding the swells superbly. But once out where the wind could reach them, it took all of Barr's strength and skill to keep from wallowing broadside.
The waves were mountainous, lifting the fifty-foot launch up, up, and then letting it slap down with a jar that threatened to take out the bottom. At the peaks of the waves the screw was clear and the whole hull shuddered and chattered violently. In the troughs the bow seemed to make no headway at all against the seas and the gale. Barr felt as if he were fighting his way over a heaving iron door.
He was running dark. The big wipers occasionally cleared a path across his windscreen, but he could only see a short distance into the blackness. More than one launch made this crossing under cover of darkness and storm carrying contraband of one sort or another. He could never be sure who was on the water with him; he could only hope they would keep their distance.
It was a sixty-mile run and nearly one o'clock when they reached the cove Barr sought. He eased down the throttle, allowing himself a moment to relax. Weariness ran through him, sucking away his strength. He could only sit loosely, waiting for energy to seep back into him.
Reaching down, he pried the thermos from its clip under the seat and removed the cap and cork. The hot steam of mixed coffee and rum rose to his nostrils. Eagerly he tipped the bottle to his lips. After four deep swallows, he replaced the cork and cap and returned the bottle to its clip.
The rain had stopped and overhead the moon was breaking through the heavy scudding clouds. He glanced toward the cabin. The door was shut between the wheel house and the cabin. He flipped the intercom switch.
“We're coming in,” he said. “Get ready to tie up.”
There was no answer. Barr repeated himself and waited. Then, frowning, he lashed the wheel and went aft. As soon as he opened the door, the stench of Roget's illness struck him. The man sat on a bench, his head hanging, still retching.
Barr said roughly, “Get forward if you have to crawlâfast.”
He returned to the wheel, checked the drift of the launch, and then got out the thermos jug again. He could hear Roget moving slowly toward him, his breathing hoarse and ragged. Barr held out the cap of the thermos and poured it half full.
“Drink some of this.”
“Drink it, damn you, or I'll run it down your throat.” He paused. “Or maybe you'd rather I turned around and went back?”
“No.” Roget took the cup. Barr kept his face turned away, not wanting the faint light of the binnacle to touch him. He had seen Roget twice briefly, but that did not necessarily mean that Roget had ever seen himâbut he could not take the chance now.
Roget drank. “More?” Barr asked.
Barr said, “Go forward and get ready to tie up when we reach the pier.”
He could see Roget after he got on deck making his way hesitantly forward to the bow. Barr maneuvered the launch toward the tiny pier that jutted into the water from the sandy beach. There was enough moonlight now so that he did not need his spotlight, but even so, he adjusted it and kept one hand near the switch. Roget tied up and then jumped clumsily ashore.
Barr cut the motor and dropped his hand to the switch of the spotlight. It blared out a white cone, mercilessly pinning Roget. Barr turned off the light, swearing.
He didn't know what had made him suspect back there, but he had. And now there was the sickening knowledge that the man out there was not Roget.
Barr had seen the pouchy face, so unlike Roget's, and he had seen the gun in the man's hand. And he understood Roget's intentâto send someone across to Ireland, someone who would kill Barr once that crossing was made.
A poor refugee, Barr guessed. Someone Roget could make use of because he would have a damning dossier on the man. Someone willing to do anything to get out of England and, ultimately, to the west, Latin America or the United States.
But the man was a fool, Barr decided. He thought,
That's Roget's mistake.
Because the man had let Barr see his gun.
The man outside called, “Come out.”
Barr glanced at the sky, waiting. When the moon went behind another cloud, he left the launch and stepped to the end of the pier. He was no more than twenty feet from the man and he held his right arm carefully at his side, the spanner against his leg.
He said, “Where is Roget?”
The man said, “You will walk with your hands extended, please.”
Barr started forward, leaving his arms at his sides. “There's no point in shooting me now,” he said conversationally. “If you show up alone, Snyder won't let you on the plane.”
The gun that had been steadying on him shifted slightly away. “Thank you for the information. I did not realize this.”
The moon came out again and now Barr could see the man clearly. He was about Roget's size, average, slender, but there the resemblance ended. Roget was handsome in a smooth, pallid fashion, whereas this man had puffy features and chopped-up skin with bits of scar tissue thickening his nose and cheekbones.
“How did you expect to get away?” Barr demanded. “Don't you think the Irish police patrol this area?”
“You will go ahead of me, please.”
Barr would have used the spanner as he passed had not the man stepped back with almost occult timing. He went on, crossing the sandy strip of beach and starting up a steep pathway. He could hear the man coming behind him, breathing hard and taking care not to get too close.
Barr reached the top of the pathway and stood motionless, staring over the small stretch of flat turf. Snyder should have been there with the plane. There was nothing, only the flat grass under the occasional moon, and in the distance the outline of trees.
Barr glanced back. The man's head and torso were visible as he struggled up the pathway. Once he stopped and smothered a cough. Barr thought,
Refugee camp. Consumption.
The scars on his face looked like those that came from innumerable beatings. The way he held one arm hinted at further brutality.
Barr said, “Watch this last part. It's slippery.”
“You will continue, please.” The words came out haltingly, painfully. The man had little breath left.
Barr said, “Sure,” and threw the spanner and dropped to the ground as the man's head came level with the top of the plateau.
He felt almost insulted at having been given such a mean antagonist. The gun went off with the soft spatting sound of a silenced weapon, but already the man was falling and the bullet came nowhere near Barr. Barr rose and followed him back down the path as he tumbled, cursing in a tongue Barr did not immediately recognize. At the bottom Barr stopped and looked down at the dark heap the man made.
The gun lay on the sand and Barr picked it up and dropped it into his pocket. He bent over carefully, looking for some trick, but there was none. The man was unconscious and bleeding from a cut on the forehead. Getting water from a bucket on the launch, Barr dumped it over the scarred face, stepped back and waited.