Pulp Fiction | The Hollow Crown Affair by David McDaniel (8 page)

BOOK: Pulp Fiction | The Hollow Crown Affair by David McDaniel
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Patiently they strode on towards Williams Hall, Illya watching their tail uneasily from the corner of his eye. They reached and turned the corner of the building just as half a dozen figures strode down another walk into the New Quad some distance away. Just around the corner Illya stopped and turned. The others paused and looked at him.

"Pardon me, sir," he said with a bit of a smile. "I'd like to watch."

He peeked around the corner, looking between the edges of the bricks. Surrounded by a fence of green-and-gold windbreakers, the man seemed a good deal smaller than he had alone in the middle of the Quad. He was fumbling for his wallet when Baldwin's voice drew Illya back.

"Mr. Kuryakin...would you care to join us? The bogey has been effectively neutralized."

Reluctantly, Illya left the view and followed as Baldwin continued. "A secondary reason for withholding your encounter is the problem of time. I have no reason to be hailed as a witness to a charge of unprovoked assault and battery—computer time is valuable, and we will need more than you might think."

"Frankly, sir, I was concerned for the safety of the campus vigilantes."

"Mr. Kuryakin, if you expect a low-level Thrush assigned to a simple surveillance task to whip out a gun and start shooting people, you must indeed underestimate us. He will have been supplied with a perfectly valid cover. All I ask is that he be detained long enough for us to move unobserved from my office to the computer facility." He shook his head. "The direct approach, young man, is not always the simplest. If you had confronted him, he might have become desperate."

"And besides," said Napoleon, "you'd gone to all the trouble of setting up the second string team for your personal swarm of bodyguards."

Baldwin paused and stared at him for a moment. "Of course. To leave it untested would have been a shame."

Chapter 7: "Good Is Better Than Evil Because It's Nicer."

From his office, Baldwin telephoned to another campus extension where he spoke with a Miss Potter. As he did so, Napoleon took the opportunity to introduce Illya to the cute dark-haired secretary, whose name was Lyn Stier. Without going into their shared history, Napoleon got the idea across that they were actually old friends of Dr. Fraser who hade come up to see him as a surprise. She laughed prettily and said, "I'll bet you know a lot about him."

"Not as much as we'd like," said Illya. "Perhaps we could exchange notes this evening."

"The dance? Why, I'd love to! Dr. Fraser..."

Baldwin turned to her as he hung up the telephone. "Miss Stier, I believe those notes can wait transcription a few more days. You may as well take the rest of the day off."

"Oh, thank you," she said, rising and straightening the piles of pages covered with scrawls and obscure formulae in the distinctive jagged handwriting and green ink. As Baldwin beckoned Waverly over for a muttered moment of conferral, Lyn smiled brightly at Illya. "Why don't you meet me there?" she said.

"Miss Stier," said Baldwin suddenly, "as long as you're leaving, could you give me a lift to the computer facility? My leg has been acting up since that lamentable occurrence in Philadelphia." He picked up a locked attache case and limped toward the door as Lyn got her coat. "Mr. Waverly, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin," he said, "I shall expect to meet you later." He opened the door for Lyn and followed her out.

"He means, gentlemen," said Waverly dryly, "that we are to walk to the computer facility and meet him there." He eased himself into Baldwin's chair as Napoleon and Illya started for the door.

Solo stopped first and tapped his partner as he turned the knob, pointing back at Waverly, who was casually filling his pipe from Baldwin's humidor. Solo looked at him a moment, then glanced at Illya and sank into the seat recently vacated by Lyn. "My dear Watson," he said, "put yourself in Baldwin's place. That bogey won't stay neutralized forever, and he'll probably be sure all four of us went in here. If Baldwin gets out unnoticed and one of us is seen occasionally at the window he'll assume Baldwin is still here and maybe keep watching for hours and hours."

"Especially if we leave the light on," said Waverly through a cloud of poisonous smoke.

"So he'll hide in Lyn's car while she gets him past the stake-out," said Illya. "If he keeps ducking down, won't she begin to wonder?"

Napoleon glanced at Waverly, then back at Illya. "My dear Watson," he repeated, "since his leg is paining him severely, he'll want to stretch it out on the back seat where he can remain out of sight. Right?"

"Essentially, Mr. Solo," said Waverly. "Besides, we could do nothing at the computer facility until the data is ready to feed. Mr. Kuryakin, why don't you show yourself briefly at the window and see if anyone is watching?"

* * *

Miss Potter had brown hair and wore a light yellow suit over a neat plain blouse. As she worked over coding sheets with Baldwin, Napoleon observed that the top button was open. The first set of data had already been run when they arrived, unfollowed; the stake-out had studied them intently as they passed him with the width of the street separating them, and had chosen to remain where he thought his duty lay.

Napoleon spent his time chatting with Miss Potter, whose name was also Lin but spelled with an
. She said Dr. Fraser claimed to prefer it that way: "He doesn't have to worry about addressing me or his secretary by the wrong name, but anything he writes down will be sure to go where he wants it to." She smiled charmingly. "You'd almost think he'd planned it this way."

Solo shrugged. "I wouldn't put it past him."

"Neither would I," said Lin, as a chime sounded. "Oops, there's the second Games Theory program coming off now." She got to her feet and hurried to study the printout.

"Games Theory?" said Napoleon, coming up behind her to look over her shoulder.

"Uh-huh. The math department uses it sometimes, but Dr. Fraser is the only person from the chemistry department to utilize this particular capability. He says it has to do with studies of random interactions of molecules...You needn't mention this to him, but I'm afraid he's doing something else."

Napoleon swallowed. "What could he be doing?"

Lin lowered her voice as the machine-gun clatter stopped and the paper shot up to clear the tear-bar. "Several of the faculty have gotten involved in a complex kind of war game called Super-Diplomacy. I wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Fraser were playing in one, with the computer as his general staff."

"There is a large element of truth in what you say." Illya's soft Russian accents spoke from behind them as Miss Potter tore the wide sheet of paper from the machine. "What's the latest news from the front?"

"I'm afraid you'll have to ask Dr. Fraser. The coding language is one I'm not familiar with. I can pick out bits and pieces, but the overall direction is just a little beyond me. All I do is help him set it up."

Baldwin and Waverly entered together and joined the others at the large worktable. Baldwin studied the cryptic typed lines and made a few notes, while Napoleon looked over his shoulder and wondered about something.

"Ah, Dr. Fraser...it certainly is a lucky coincidence that your tapes happened to be in a format this machine could handle."

Baldwin smiled deep in his beard. "Yes. Isn't it."

"What language is it, anyway?" asked Illya idly.

"THROTL," said Baldwin succinctly. "THRush Operational Translating Language. It is distantly derived from Cobol, Fortran, Loglan and Berneckytran, among others, adapted for versatility. I regret I cannot share a direct translation of this sheet with you, but much of the material here is classified and I hope to return to my proper position shortly. Give me an hour alone with it and I will have our next move planned out."

Lin glanced at Napoleon significantly.

* * *

The dance had already begun when Illya poked Napoleon and pointed. Across the gymnasium, on one of a row of folding chairs, sat Irene Baldwin in a perfectly proper and fetching outfit. "She's here to tell Ward something," said the Russian. "And there are entirely too many secrets being kept around here these days. Let's see if we can intercept anything of general interest."

Solo nodded. Chandra and Lyn had drifted off together for a few minutes, and Alexander Waverly had drifted into contemplative silence. Lin Potter had bounced by with a short young man with tangled blond hair and black framed glasses, waved to them and called them to join, but Chandra had something important to tell Lyn and begged their patience for just five more minutes.

They had left Napoleon and Illya standing at the edge of the dance floor, hands clasped behind them, rocking forward occasionally, and conversing in tones just audible above the energetic but uninspired combo. Now they had stopped rocking, and were watching, with the utmost unconcern, the quietly smiling and nearly anonymous woman across the hall.

Finally Illya spoke. "Napoleon," he said, "I think I'll go and ask her for a dance."

Napoleon said nothing for a minute. "Sounds like a good idea," he said at last. "See what you can find out."

The next number was slower with a more definite rhythm, and Illya materialized beside Irene's chair, clicked his heels slightly and offered her his hand. Her eyes were warm as she accepted it and rose, and they turned out onto the floor.

Illya opened the conversation. "I must thank you for the bouquet," he said. "Chandra told us you were on our side."

"Chandra oversimplifies, I'm afraid. I just didn't want Ward to let things get worse. When the situation deteriorates, change it. As for the bouquet, I carried it with me when I went down to the City." She laughed lightly. "Ward always said you wouldn't recognize a clue if it was handed to you on a tray—I'm really pleased to find he was wrong."

Before Illya could think of an answer, she changed the subject and was asking him if he had seen any of Burlington since he'd been here.

"No—we came straight here from the airport."

"What a pity. If you have time, you should ask Ward to give you his ten-cent tour of the city."

"I remember how your fifty-cent tour of San Francisco ended."

"With poor Mr. Horne riding the California Street cable. Yes, that was an enjoyable evening. But I won't be able to come with you this time—Ward and I have agreed not to know each other at all while conditions are so unstable; I should actually be in hiding at the moment."

"Why did you come to the dance, then?"

She sighed. "Sentimental weakness, I suppose. And I did want to see Ward, if only from a distance. Chandra told me how well he looked at Convocation."

"I don't suppose you know what we can expect, where King is, or anything like that."

She shook her head. "Oh no. I just stay close enough that I can come help Ward if he needs me."

The music stopped and they joined the patter of applause as the floor cleared and the tempo changed. Irene stepped back hesitantly. "I probably shouldn't have been seen with you, Mr. Kuryakin. Thank you." And she was gone.

Chandra had kept Lyn occupied just long enough. The two girls emerged from an anonymous doorway seconds after Illya rejoined Napoleon and Waverly. Lyn fastened herself to Illya and drew him back to the dance floor as the combo performed a vicious
molto accellerando
. Chandra sat next to Napoleon, who greeted her with a look of curiosity. "I don't suppose you're acquainted with Lyn."

"Only a nodding acquaintance—she's Ward's secretary. Where is Ward, anyway?"

"Still working over his computer outputs. But he called for his electric cart so he should be here shortly."

"Oh, look!" said Chandra suddenly. "There's Irene!"

Napoleon nodded. "Illya took a turn around the floor with her while you were out. She told him she'd just as soon not be noticed at all."

"I think you can understand her reasoning," said Baldwin softly behind them. "Her life as well as mine may be in danger. Waverly, I have prepared a set of notes which you will want to study. I need badly to sit down—if you will pardon me..."

He eased himself into a chair and straightened his leg. Chandra greeted him brightly, then seized Solo's arm. "Napoleon, let's dance."

As they stepped onto the floor, Chandra said, "Ward wants to talk to Mr. Waverly, and he really has walked quite enough for the day."

Napoleon started to object, but she said, "Oh, come on. If Mr. Waverly wants you to know something, he'll tell you. And remember what I told you about relaxing and enjoying yourself."

* * *

Sometime later there was an intermission. Under cover of the general clamor, Waverly told his two agents, "I shall fly back to New York tomorrow morning. There are a number of suggestions based on these results which warrant application at once. I would like the two of you to remain here." His gaze shifted. "You are extremely valuable to us, Dr. Fraser, and we would hate to have anything happen to you."

"So would I," said Lyn sincerely. "I think he's just fine."

Illya was paying only partial attention to the conversation. He was keeping at least one eye on Irene Baldwin most of the time, waiting for her to make some attempt to communicate with her husband. If they could get some idea of what the limping devil had in mind...

But Irene sat peacefully on the other side of the dance floor and never even made an attempt to catch Ward's eye. She watched the students milling about the floor and fiddled with her fan, opening and closing it, fluttering it up and down, occasionally touching her cheek or her lips with it, passing it idly from hand to hand.

From time to time Illya recognized one or two letters of the International Semaphore Code, but they seemed random and disconnected, and he berated himself mentally for seeing meaning where there was none.

Then the band struck up another number and both couples took to the floor. Baldwin and Waverly looked after them for some time before the Thrush said, over the racket, "My leg seems to be cooperating again, but the noise here is really more than I prefer to endure." Leaning heavily on his stick, he levered himself erect. "I shan't expect to see you for some time, but you might give additional thought to the other matter we were discussing. Tell Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin my residence at the Bomb Shop is quite adequately protected, but too small to accommodate anyone else. They had best stay at their hotel. I can call them if anything comes up." He bowed, turned, and stumped off to his electric cart.

BOOK: Pulp Fiction | The Hollow Crown Affair by David McDaniel
6.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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