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The Hollow Crown Affair - McDaniel David

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The Hollow Crown Affair
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The Hollow Crown Affair - McDaniel David
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The Hollow Crown Affair

By David McDaniel

DECEASED—LINE OF DUTY

UNCLE's dossier on Joseph King said their former Lab Chief had been killed during a field test of his new Particle Accelerator Rifle, a very deadly new weapon that backfired on him. There was no doubt about his death or the circumstances.

But could he somehow have escaped from the explosion and defected to THRUSH, taking the secrets of that weapon with him? Could he now be fighting treacherously for a position of power in THRUSH, using the P.A.R. against his rivals?

The head of THRUSH's San Francisco satrap claimed that was true, and he had voluntarily walked into UNCLE Headquarters to ask for help against King. Obviously UNCLE had to act—but Napoleon and Illya knew they would be facing sudden death from all sides.

"For within the hollow crown

That rounds the mortal temples of a king

Keeps Death his court..."

Richard II, Act III Scene II 160-162

Del Floria looked up from his presser as the bell above his shop door tinkled and stared at the gentleman who entered. From the crown of his black homburg to the ferrule of his silver-topped cane stood six feet of aristocratic hauteur, piercing eyes above a well-kept beard, with an erect, almost military stance marred by the awkward angle of one leg.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Floria," said the total stranger. His voice was somewhat harsh, but carefully trained. He stumped clumsily down the four steps into the shop and crossed directly to the second fitting booth. At the curtain he paused and turned. "Well, push your lever, my good man! I wish to see Alexander Waverly."

Del stared at him. "I beg your pardon?" he said doubtfully. "If you're looking for the apartment house, that's a couple doors east at 320. Nobody named Waverly here."

"Don't be impertinent. Time is too short for me to go through that nonsense at the Masque Club. Where's your television camera?"

Del stammered as the man glanced around the wall molding and faced a barely-visible lens. "There was no opportunity for me to make an appointment, Waverly. If you are to take action at all, you must begin at once."

He took two quick steps towards Del and his can licked out to tap the steam lever twice. Then he turned back and through the curtain, twisted the coathook and stepped into the fluorescent blue light and steel walls of Inner Reception Station Three, just as a concealed speaker said, "Welcome to New York, Mr. Baldwin. Please wait where you are and I shall be down directly."

"Thank you, Mr. Waverly," said Ward Baldwin, and removed his hat.

In forty-five seconds the inner door slid open and Napoleon Solo entered as the sturdy form of Alexander Waverly emerged from an elevator just down the hall. Solo held the door open as his chief followed him in.

"My apologies for the lack of hospitality," Waverly said. "Unexpected visitors here are inevitably objects of suspicion."

"I quite understand. But my visit is not entirely social. If we could talk privately for fifteen minutes..."

"Miss Williamson," Waverly said to the concealed microphone, "set the conference back to three o'clock and prepare Room Twelve. Mr. Solo, stand by my office and handle operations; I'll signal if I want you."

A security badge was clipped to Baldwin's pocket, and as he prepared to follow Waverly, the UNCLE chief addressed him again. "I'm sorry, but under the circumstances I must ask that you surrender your stick."

Baldwin seemed momentarily to consider objecting, but didn't. "Handle it carefully," he said as he extended it to Napoleon. "It's quite valuable and would be difficult to replace." Then he followed Waverly through the inner door, hitching his left leg along painfully with what seemed to Solo like a little more effort than it should have required.

"Baldwin?" said the receptionist as the steel panel hissed closed. "Ward Baldwin? Isn't he something big in..."

"Thrush," said Solo. "Yes. He's the San Francisco satrap."

"I wonder what the Old Man knows that makes him willing to be locked in a room with him. And what would bring him in here in the first place, alone and unarmed?"

"Mr. Waverly knows Baldwin," said Solo. "Saved his life a number of years ago. And whatever he's doing here, I'll lay five to two it'll mean trouble for somebody."

"Us?"

"Mmmmm.... Maybe not, the way he walked in so abruptly. Maybe," said Napoleon in an instant of unwitting prophecy, "for Thrush." He started for the door himself, then paused. "At least we can hope."

* * *

The second fluorescent tube to the right of the door was flickering, almost imperceptibly, once every ten seconds. Alexander Waverly observed this from the corner of his eye and knew that the half-hidden cameras were live and the videotape was rolling. He faced Ward Baldwin across a comfortably low table and steepled his fingers.

Without preamble, Baldwin began. "Do you recall the name of one Joseph King?"

Waverly nodded. "Deceased about three years ago. A great loss to our research staff."

"Your loss was our gain. King was developing a new concept in small arms—his knowledge was supposed to have perished with him in a thorough and messy manner in January of 1965 when a test misfired. King, in fact staged the accident himself and brought his genius to Thrush."

Against his will, Waverly's eyebrows crept towards his hairline and his forehead corrugated. He didn't voice a comment, but waited for Baldwin to continue.

"He has done well, and is already one of the highest-rated members of the Hierarchy. We make it a point to reward talent quickly and adequately. He is an able young man, and has attracted attention in the upper-most levels. I presume you would like to see him apprehended?"

Waverly's eyebrows descended to half-mast. "You hardly would have undergone the rigors of a trip across the country to sell out one man, even a turncoat. Obviously King has become a threat to you. Competition?"

"More than competition. Two months ago a member of the Council died of pneumonia following a heart transplant, and his seat is to be filled by vote of the survivors. By seniority, I expect to be chosen. But this upstart King is leading a vocal splinter group of terrifying young men who want him in that seat, and it seems I have been chosen as their primary target for vilification, libel, blackmail and assassination. I would prefer not to go deeply into the events which preceded my recent reluctant decision to close my home, disperse my household, and go to ground."

"I see. And what do you intend to do?"

"He has disrupted my existence, Waverly. I intend to disrupt his. I expect to win, for I am a good deal more resourceful than he."

"Calling us down on him comes under the heading of fighting dirty. Why should we spend our efforts helping you in your intraparochial feud?"

"You would have no reason at all to help me," Baldwin said blandly, "and I would hardly ask it of you. But among the slanders that have been spread about me is one to the effect that I have defected to the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, and I believe the term 'fink' may even have been used."

"My sympathy," Waverly said dryly.

"I was observed to enter your building ten minutes ago. Do you not think this may cause a few emotionally unstable individuals to leap to unwarranted conclusions?"

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