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The Vampire Affair - McDaniel David

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The Vampire Affair
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Два лучших агента Наполеон Соло и Илья Курякин из организации UNCLE (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) сражаются с возмутителями спокойствия, в роли которых выступают сотрудники организации THRUSH (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity).

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The Vampire Affair

By David McDaniel

The body had been drained of blood....

In a remote area of the Transylvanian Alps, an U.N.C.L.E. agent had been killed in mysterious circumstances. The man's footprints in the snow led up to the base of the tree where he had been killed, but there were no pursuing tracks, no clues at all as to what doom had overtaken him.

There were only the two small holes in the neck, and a complete absence of blood.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin didn't believe in vampires—but as they investigated their fellow-agent's death they were forced again and again to wonder if perhaps the old terrors of the region had more reality than the world would like to think....

THE VAMPIRE AFFAIR

It had begun to snow. The bare black branches of the trees clutched at the lowering white sky with bony fingers, and the dark earth was flecked with bright patches like a leprous mold. The sparsely scattered pines spread impenetrable shadows in the dimness, and the wind whispered rumors of ancient and instinctive fear among their hissing needles. The rustling of air seemed to be the distant voices of spirits of the darkness, filling the forest silences with an undercurrent of unease. Nothing moved in the cold stillness except the textured white blanket above and the softly falling flakes.

Then a sound began, very faintly. It was a quick soft thudding of feet on dirt, like the beating of an overstrained heart. There was a slight irregularity to its rhythm, and an occasional cracking of a twig. As it grew, a figure appeared between the trees—a figure running, stumbling as though exhausted, and finally stopping, slumping against a pine trunk.

As the footsteps ceased, wheezing gasps sounded loud as he fought to draw air into his straining lungs. His coat was open despite the cold, and his tie was loose. Sweat poured down his face and ran down his neck, where the large vein pulsed violently from his exertion. His chest ached, and his legs were stiff and numb.

He couldn't remember how long he had been running. But he knew he wouldn't be running much longer. The weakness of total fatigue was spreading through his system like a slow poison, and his muscles were beginning to stiffen up as he stopped in the cold trying to regain his breath. The icy night air burned in his dry throat.

He managed to hold his breath for a few seconds, and listened hard. There was only silence, except for the pounding of his heart. Then he heard it. Gusts of wind began to whip the trees, and a rustling sounded behind him as of a large body forcing its way through the brush. There were other noises coming towards him—not fast, but never stopping.

He pushed the pine tree away, and balanced himself on his feet. He had to run—to keep running. His mind refused to think of what would happen if he stopped, or fell, or slowed, and was caught.

Something was after him in the darkness—more than one thing. He didn't know what they were. His mind supplied formless horrors with fangs and claws, and his body fled through the darkness from them.

Now he could hear them, closer behind them. The wind was whipping around him now—a strange directionless wind that caught up the snow and dried pine needles and whirled them about him, clutched at him and tugged at his clothes. And over the wind he could hear soft running footsteps keeping pace with his own, and animal pantings behind him and to the sides.

The wind grew, and the trees around him writhed with it. On he ran, leaden legs sinking into the soft earth of the forest floor, chest bursting for air. He knew they were close behind him now, and the flesh of his back tensed and crawled, expecting the impact of the deadly pursuers and the tearing pain of razor teeth.

He had thought he had escaped them once. He had stopped to rest against a pine tree, for a blessed moment of release from the endless flight, and a few seconds to catch his breath, but then they had been after him again. Were they playing him? Were they going to run him until he collapsed and begged for death, or until he could see the lights of the village and sanctuary? Would they harry him until he was almost on the steps of the church and then strike him down on the brink of safety?

If only he could save a wisp of strength, an atom of energy, held out for a final spurt that could put him beyond their reach—then there might be a chance. He could never give up hope; if he did, he might just as well lie down in the dirt and die now.

But there were a few shots left in his gun, and unless his hunters were creatures of the supernatural he could at least die fighting.

Still he fled, his feet landing hard now, every step jarring his whole frame. His arms flapped limply as he ran, and his steps were wider spaced as he staggered slightly. Trees appeared in his path as looming black shadows, and he swerved to avoid them. Would he ever see the lights of the village? He could have been running in a circle, for all he knew—there was neither moon nor stars in the sky, only the low scudding white snow clouds and that ghostly wind.

Then another tree sprang from the darkness at him, and his foot caught a root as he tried to turn. The forest spun around him, and the dirt smacked the side of his head. He tried to rise, but pain shot through his leg. Something wrong with his ankle—a break or a sprain, it didn't matter which now. He wasn't going to run any farther tonight.

He raised himself on his elbows and managed to drag his body to the base of the tree that had cost him his flight. He twisted around to a sitting position with his back to the trunk, and worked his pistol out. Seven shots left. Six for them, and one

Then he heard them. A snuffling sound in the darkness. The tree was large—they would have to come at him from the front. He braced the gun across his good knee and waited.

Section I: "What Have We To Do With Walking Corpses?"

Chapter 1: "Two Small Puncture Marks Where?"

Chapter 2: "What Does 'Vlkoslak' Mean?"

Chapter 3: "The Natives Believe Many Strange Things."

Chapter 4: "Well, It Looked Like A Huge Bat..." Section II: "Werewolves Can't Climb Trees."

Chapter 5: "Good Lord, Illya—What Was That?"

Chapter 6: "My Pets Seem To Be Restive Tonight."

Chapter 7: "Oh-oh, Here Comes Zoltan."

Chapter 8: "Begone, You Fiend Of Satan!" Section III: "Into The Darkness Where The Undead Wait."

Chapter 9: "The Only Way Out Is Through."

Chapter 10: "The Coffin Is Empty."

Chapter 11: "There Must Be A Logical, Rational Explanation."

Chapter 12: "You're Looking Inscrutable Again." Section IV: "The Vampire Has Been Dead Many Times...."

Chapter 13: "I Smell A Rat—A Rat With Feathers."

Chapter 14: "Only When I Am In Costume."

Chapter 15: "My Sense Of Humor Will Be The Death Of Me Yet."

Chapter 16: "He's Lying, Of Course."

Section I: "What Have We To Do With Walking Corpses?"

Chapter 1: "Two Small Puncture Marks Where?"

Routine communications enter the New York headquarters of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement by teletype—and an amazing range of material is classified as "routine." Reports on the movements of suspicious individuals; queries for financial data on certain little-publicized companies; announcements of changes in personnel by recruitment, disconnection, retirement, or death; detailed descriptions of objects whose owners consider their very existence a well-kept secret; and complete, objective data on vast numbers of crimes ranging from loitering to attempted genocide. And it is a sad comment on the world of today that the most common crime so reported is murder.

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