This was a highly unlikely situation. Plans normally functioned out of the station, as the slang had it, in the embassy. He never just, er, showed up like this, in some private house miles from the embassy, unless something really interesting was about to happen.
"Sir, do you know my assistant, Walter Short?"
Walter bowed nervously; he could not have known himself who this fellow was, but as a quick study had intuited from pal and supervisor's gravity that he was important.
"Hello, sir, I -- "
"Yes, yes, Short. China, no? Some military stuff, advising Chiang. Is that right?"
"Yes, sir, I -- "
"Well, Roger, and, uh, Short, sit down, we must have a chat."
And so they sat.
"How are your parents, Roger? Is your father still prospering?"
"Sir, Dad's fine. The heart attack slowed him down, but Mom says he's back at work now. Nothing can stop that man."
"Yes, I know. I crewed with him at Harvard. But I was never an athlete like him. I wonder if he remembers me. He was a fine athlete."
"Yes, sir. Dad was. He still has a three handicap."
"That's remarkable. Now, anyway, Roger, I am here -- "
"Roger, should I take notes?" whispered Walter.
"No, no, we don't want any of this on paper," said Plans.
"Yes, sir, I -- "
"That's all right. Now, Roger, I just looked through your OSS record. Very impressive. Then there's your medal citation. Silver Star. Very impressive. You were part of a team that hunted down a German sniper in Switzerland. You killed him. I like the finality in that. No ambiguity to it at all. You blew the bastard out of his boots, you recovered some advanced technology that was very helpful. Short, did you realize you were working for a genuine war hero?"
"I knew -- "
"So, Roger, you were, in a sense, a manhunter."
Roger swallowed, ever so gently. It was all true, but just barely. He'd been a child. An officer named Leets did all the work. At the end, when they killed the German, Roger was aware that most of his burst of .45s had missed. He had just hosed the tommy gun away, running through thirty rounds in three seconds, the only bullets he fired in the entire Second World War.
"I suppose," said Roger.
"Good. A taste for it? Like it dark and dangerous? Like the guns, the excitement? Like the thrill of the hunt, the satisfaction of the kill? That's what we're looking for."
"It was necessary," was all Roger could think to say.
"Like to run another operation like that, Roger?"
Well...here it was. Roger knew that if he said no, it would be a dark mark against him. Plans didn't come this far, enter through the back door, and fly home tourist class to hear a rejection. But if Roger said yes, well, that had its problems too: one didn't want to get caught up in something sticky and illegal that couldn't be controlled. He smiled, and said, "Of course I -- "
"Oh, I don't want you doing anything violent. We are not gangsters, after all. We plan, we make sure things happen, we liaise, we coordinate, we administer. But you know how to put something like this together? You've done it. Part of it, of course, would be finding a man to do the actual work. Someone from outside our organization, but someone who could be trusted. Someone reliable. We both know there are elements in Cuba who would do such a thing for money or self-interest or a dozen other motives. But they are not reliable and we don't want anything coming back to haunt us, do we? That's why I rely on your discretion. You could find a man, no? You could supervise the operation. You could make it happen?"
"Good show! I knew you'd say that. Short, you aboard? You can play this sort of game under Roger's supervision, can't you? You won't let us down?"
Copyright © 2003 by Stephan Hunter. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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