If it had been only opium smuggled across the Turkish border, or even the savage murder of !the girl Mija of the notorious
it would not have involved Axe, America's super-secret intelligence agency.
But the stakes were far higher- nothing less than the total security of nations at the brink of World War III.
It was the climactic assignment for our ranking counter-espionage agent, the man with the frightening miniaturized weapons — Nick Carter, called by his fellow-agents
The Men of the Secret Services of the United States of America
The Man in the Bedroom
Hawk spoke around the dead cigar in his thin lipped mouth. "You've finished your briefing for Mission Pilgrim?"
Nicholas J. Huntington Carter, N3 for AXE, said that he had indeed finished his briefing. He was up to his ears in details about Turkey and the opium poppies grown there. A new crop of the red poppies — the color of blood — was due to start blooming in southwestern Anatolia around May 15th! He, Nick Carter, would be there when the poppies bloomed. This was going to be a hell raid, the way he understood it. With himself, N3, raising the hell! Good. Fine. He was prepared.
But in the meantime: "It's a lovely evening, sir, and I've got a date to drive Janet out to the beach house in Maryland. So if there's nothing else right now..."
Nick's chief regarded him with cold eyes. Nick thought he detected a spark of malicious amusement. Hawk could be a little malicious at times, in a wry fatherly manner. Their relationship was, as a matter of fact, very near to that of father and son.
"But there is more," Hawk said dryly. "Much, much more! I've saved the best for last, son. Or the worst — depending on how you look at it. Janet will have to wait."
Nick sighed, lit another cigarette, and sat back in the rather uncomfortable chair. Hawk's office on Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., did not concern itself much with creature comforts. Nick crossed his long legs and prepared to listen. He had an idea that at long last they were going to get to the heart of the matter.
Hawk reached into a desk drawer. He tossed something to Nick. Nick stared. It was a black nylon mask, full face, with eye holes. Nick crinkled the sleek material in his fingers. "Are we going to hold up a bank, sir?"
"Forget the cracks. Just listen. This is the most important — the
important — part of Mission Pilgrim. When you leave this office you will go to the Mayflower Hotel. Suite 14A. The door will be open. The suite will be dark. You are
to turn on any lights! Understand? No lights!"
Nick nodded. "No lights."
"Right. You will go into the suite and close and lock the door. You will sit down in a chair that will be near the door. You will then put on the mask! The other man will be wearing one, too."
Nick leaned to flick ash from his cigarette. "The other man?"
"Yes." Hawk leaned back and put his feet on the desk. He ran a thin hand through his gray thatch. "There will be a man in the bedroom. The door will be open a crack, just enough so you can hear each other. You will identify yourself to this man as N3! Only as N3 — nothing else. That clear?"
"Okay. The man in the bedroom will tell you what this mission is really all about — the part you weren't briefed on! You are to follow this man's orders absolutely! He does not know who you are — except as N3. And you are not to know who he is! This is most' important. He will be using an electronic device, sort of an artificial larynx, so you can't recognize his voice. Don't try. In this case it's better if you don't know. That's it. Any questions?"
Nick Carter looked at the black mask, fingering it. "It's all quite clear, sir. But one question — isn't all this cloak and dagger just a little
— I mean even for us!"
For a long moment Hawk regarded his Number One boy in silence. "No," he said grimly. "It isn't! Not even for us — not in the circumstances! Now take off. After you've finished and cleared all details you can have a week's leave. Your travel orders have been cut?"
Nick said they had. "I fly to Suez and pick up a tramp steamer.
has the pleasant idea that I might make a good oiler. When I get into Istanbul..."
Hawk raised an interrupting hand. "All right! Take off, son. That man in the bedroom doesn't wait for
Even Nick Carter, vastly experienced in such matters, was impressed as he crossed the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel. He couldn't spot all of them, but he knew they were around. His professional senses warned that the place was under a security watch of the tightest kind!
The thick pile of the corridor whispered beneath Nick's feet as he strode down the long, quiet length to Suite 14 A. The door was unlocked. Nick entered, locked the door, and found the chair. The windows had been heavily draped. Nick took the black mask from his pocket. The only sound was the sibilance of the mask as he slipped it on.
The man in the bedroom must have been waiting for that sound. He said: "N3?"
"I will be as brief as possible," the man in the bedroom said. "You may interrupt if there is anything you don't understand. Otherwise not. You may smoke if you like." The man chuckled. "I am. And I smoke cigars. I'm afraid the maid is going to find quite a mess on the carpet."
Nick Carter, trained to really listen, to catch every detail and nuance, noted the homey touch. The brief concern for a domestic's toil. He filed it away. Don't try to guess, Hawk had instructed!
The man in the bedroom said: "In your briefing you were given the names of four men — a Dr. Joseph Six; Maurice Defarge; Carlos Gonzalez; and Johnny Ruthless. Is that correct?"
Nick said it was.
"Very well." The cigar glowed again. "The last name — Johnny Ruthless — is a pseudonym. What you people call an alias, I believe. We do not know his real name.
The cigar glowed and faded. Nick thought he heard a faint sigh. Then: "You know of SMERSH, of course?"
"The Commie murder organization, sir?"
"Yes. Well, the four men I have just named are a sort of private SMERSH. A kind of Murder, Inc., for the largest dope syndicate in the world. They're very high in the syndicate, but they are not top people. They handle the killing, when killing is necessary. We don't know if they do the actual killing themselves. They have many ways and they are most efficient. So far we haven't been able to touch them. Neither have the Turkish police, though our people and the Turks work closely together..."
"May I ask a question, sir? Just to clear up a point?"
Nick found the mask adhering to his lips. He pulled it away so he could speak clearly. "These four men, sir — are they all in Turkey now? At the moment? Do they operate from permanent bases in Turkey?"
"Three of them do. Dr. Six, Defarge, and Gonzalez. The one called Johnny Ruthless did, but he has dropped out of sight in recent weeks. He may be dead." Nick heard the faint chuckle again. The cigar bloomed red in the murk. "We can hope," said the man. "Any more questions?"
"No, sir. Not just now."
"Fine. I have a rather pressing appointment. As I say — neither our men nor the Turkish police have been able to get anything on these people. It's a damnable situation — because they've killed four of our men in the past six months!"
The voice in the bedroom hardened. "Four good men! All of them U.S. Narcotic agents working with the Turkish police. You will get all the details on
of course, when you arrive in Turkey."
Finally: "To make you understand this, N3, I've got to get away from the immediate point for a moment. Try to bear with me. But there is more to this than just fighting the dope racket. What I'm going to ask you to do on this mission reflects a basic change in the policy of the American government! We are now going to fight fire with fire! Our enemies — and you know who they are — play rough! No holds barred. So do we, from now on. And dope is, and has been, and will be, used by our enemies as a weapon!
"We're out to destroy that weapon, N3, by striking at the source of supply! This mission is just the first — a trial balloon, you might say. Do you begin to understand?"
Nick said he did.
"About the Turkish police," said the man in the bedroom. "You will have to be very careful there. They are well disposed toward us, but their organization is a little primitive by our standards. And
do not have a dope problem. On the other hand they
share a mutual enemy with us — an enemy who is quite literally looking down their throat! But in the end you'll have to do it yourself!"
Nick took the liberty. "Do exactly what, sir?"
"Ah, yes. You're wondering why I don't get to the nub of things. But I will — I will. Those four men we were discussing — we want them out of the way! If we can do that we hope to throw the syndicate into chaos. The big shots may even panic and try to take over security and so betray themselves. We can hope so. But our real purpose in Mission Pilgrim is to serve notice that things have changed — that the gloves are off."
Nick watched as the cigar was crushed out on the expensive Mayflower carpet. The man in there didn't bother with ashtrays.
"Before I finish, N3, T must tell you that you are not bound to accept this assignment. You have been put forward as the best man for the job — I was told that you are the best in the world at your work! That is a high compliment for any man in any line of work!"
"I doubt that I will ever receive such
even from posterity. But to get back — your references are impeccable! From a very high source."
Nick grinned in the dark. He knew the source.
"I'll take on the job, sir," Nick said softly. "Just tell me what it is."
"Very well. I want you to go to Turkev. N3, and find those four men. Dr. Joseph Six; Maurice Defarge; Carlos Gonzalez; and the one who calls himself Johnny Ruthless. You will have all the resources of this country behind you, as well as those of your own service. And only three people in the world will know your real purpose, your real orders! Yourself, your chief — and me!"
The pause this time was long. Finally the man in the bedroom said, "We all have to do things we detest. When you find those men, N3, show them no mercy. Kill them!"Chapter 2
Not All Goodbyes Are Sad
Janet Leeds had been insatiable all week. Even Nick's desire and ability had begun to flag. He seemed not able to give her enough — even when it was over for the time being she clung to him like a delectable soft fleshed leech, crying and sobbing and begging him to begin again.
Nick knew the why of all this. They both knew. Nick was going to leave her!
It was the end of the first week in May. It had been a sparkling champagne week; the weather had been perfect, the surf marvelous. Sun, sand, and crisp air had turned Nick's magnificent body to a high pitch of readiness. He doubled his daily stint of yoga — doing this and a little target practice with Wilhelmina, the 9mm Luger — while Janet went shopping in the village twenty miles away. Nick did not really need the target practice, but it took his mind off what was coming. The goodbye scene with Janet!
He had played these scenes many times in the past. Nick had an advantage, of course, because his own heart was never involved. His heart, to paraphrase the song, belonged to AXE!
The sun was a flaming red ball sinking into piney woods as Nick came out of the beach house to wait for Janet. She had taken the beach wagon into the village to get steaks for their last dinner.
Nick glanced in either direction along the smooth curving beach, saw no sign of the returning beach wagon and ran out to plunge into the low quartering surf. At the moment he was as superbly content and at home as a seal. Of the task upcoming he did not think at all — he had four men to kill, yes, but that was in the future.
He was wearing only the special jock in which there was a place for Hugo, the meanest little stiletto in the world. Pierre, the gas pellet, and Wilhelmina the Luger were in a concealed compartment in Nick's new car.
Nick went out half a mile with his tireless crawl, then floated on his back and gazed at the serene twilight sky. This was beautiful country, he thought. Perfect for lovers. Not a neighbor for miles. Janet and he had been bathing nude all week, with no interruption.