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The Utopia Affair - McDaniel David

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"Alphabetical or by reference number?"

"Hem! Neither. The system was most efficient for me, but will probably be rather difficult to learn. They are placed in order of priority. This order changes from time to time. I rearrange them almost every time I consult them." He flicked out a red-tabbed folder two inches from the front and opened it. "This man is on bodyguard duty to the Akhoond of Swat during a period of ritual unrest. The unrest has eased slightly in the last two days, so he is shifted"—the knobbly thin fingers dived into a slot a little farther back—"towards the rear."

Solo bent to look. There was a neatly typed reference number on the red tab which indicated Field Operations. It would be slow for a while, but he could have a constantly updated list of reference numbers by name taped over the cabinet, which would be rearranged logically. He made a mental note to that effect.

Miss Williamson, a leggy redhead much younger than one would expect in such a position of responsibility, flickered in and out of the office with dizzying irregularity. She typed the most confidential material, fielded low-priority calls, prepared his outlines, and made tea. She also acted as an extra memory and a mobile pair of hands; in short, a perfect secretary. Good looking, too, Napoleon thought, watching her pass him as though he were invisible, and wondered momentarily at the perquisites of his temporary position.

He was called back to his duties a moment later when a team of agents, a sleek dark-haired girl and a young Englishman, was called in for a quick briefing and a fatherly, cautionary word of encouragement before setting out on an assignment. As the automatic door slid closed behind them, Waverly allowed his face to seam into an expression of concern. "By the way, Mr. Solo— another sensitive problem you will have to keep in mind is the use of female enforcement agents. The Board of Directors has never fully approved our employment of young women in front-line operations, despite the fine account they have given of themselves."

He pushed his chair back from the desk and rose, Napoleon following. "In my personal safe, there is a sealed package containing information concerning our operations which you will need to know only if I am gone for more than three months. You need not concern yourself with it now, nor, hopefully, for quite some time. My personal safe is behind the large picture to the left of the door. It is keyed to my voice-print, and now also to yours. It will not function with more than one person in the room. I shall step outside for a moment while you test it." Waverly moved to the door, pausing short of the opening sensors. "Just say your name. Stand about three feet straight out from the rubber plant and address the middle of the picture. If it doesn't trip directly, try varying your inflection a trifle. It's rather sensitive." The door slid open and closed behind him.

Napoleon thought the picture which filled the wall was rather large to conceal a safe, but stood in the specified position, faced southwest towards the picture, and said clearly, "Napoleon Solo." Nothing happened. He lowered his voice a bit and repeated, "Napoleon Solo." Still nothing. He cleared his throat and said conversationally, "Napoleon Solo." There was a muffled clunk and the side near the door swung back.

He stepped forward and saw the heavy gray door of the safe. And beside it, to his left, a tall rectangle flickered and glowed with cool light. A paneled closet, its floor level with the back of the couch, which could only be an elevator. An emergency exit and entrance, its existence utterly unexpected. Well, Waverly would explain anything that needed explaining. Now, how to close up that picture again?

Settling on a direct course of action, Napoleon swung the picture back by hand, and was rewarded by the sound of a latch dropping solidly into place. A few seconds later the outside door opened and Waverly reentered. A raised hand held Napoleon's questions while he resumed his seat, and then he answered them unspoken.

"The elevator will take you directly to the westbound tunnel of the Fifty-Third Street subway, opening to place you there directly after the passage of a train. A worn pair of coveralls are stowed in the elevator. You turn right as you come into the tunnel and the Third Avenue station is only a block away. No one will notice a solitary figure in coveralls coming out of the tunnel and going into a Men's room to divest himself of the rags that cover his street clothes. This, incidentally, will be my route of departure for Australia tomorrow morning. Communications will be suspended for twenty minutes following my departure and then all channels will receive a videotaped transmission wherein I will explain the situation and name you my temporary replacement. This will give me time to pass Thrush's watchers before they become aware of my absence."

Waverly leaned back in the leather chair. "You may treat the entire office as your own," he said. "You will find a small refrigerator under the sink in the corner, behind the curtain"—he gestured—"and a two-burner hot plate. Miss Williamson—ah––prepares things occasionally."

His hand fell back to the desk and his eye lighted on the solid old humidor. "I will probably be forbidden my pipe there," he said, "and stale smoke is unpleasant. If you run out, order the same mixture from my tobacconists. The blend is written inside the lid. And of course you will use your own pipes."

He stood again. "Thus, having disposed of all my property, I shall let you go now. Tomorrow morning at nine you will be here ready to pick up the reins."

The door slid open as Napoleon stepped out, and Miss Williamson was ready with his hat and coat. She met his eyes directly as he glanced at her, with a look he was unable to read.

At one minute after ten Napoleon stepped back into the office where he had left Waverly ninety seconds before. Now it was empty. He hesitated a moment, then walked directly across the room towards the large leather chair at the desk. He was halfway there when a call signal chimed. He hurried forward and connected. "Solo here."

"All net communications have been cut, sir. Tape ready to roll in eighteen minutes."

"Check. Thank you."

That meant he'd have almost twenty minutes of peace in which to…

The intercom called, and he answered. "Solo here."

"Head of Section Six, sir. Urgent."

"Send him in."

The gray-haired physician hurried in. "While the curtain is still up around us, I would like to make a request," he said as he came to perch on the edge of the desk. "Surely we could spare one field agent, the best one available, to follow Mr. Waverly and act as his bodyguard."

"But Utopia's security system must be adequate."

"Their security is fantastically tight, Mr. Solo, but Waverly is fantastically valuable. It will not be an easy job. The managerial staff of Utopia has refused us permission to send our own man in legally; their policy includes complete separation of the guest from his old environment. Whoever we send will have to remain undercover from the staff as well as from Mr. Waverly."

"We have no competent agents he wouldn't know on sight."

"Then you'll have to assign the most competent and hope he's good enough. I especially don't want Waverly to spot him; he's supposed to keep his mind off business. Besides, he'd be insulted at the idea that he couldn't take care of himself." He smiled wryly.

Napoleon's mind clicked automatically to the most competent agent available, discarded it, retrieved it, weighed four reasons for sending him against three for keeping him, one of which was recognizably selfish, and by the time he had finished drawing a breath he was ready to say, "It'll have to be Illya Kuryakin. As you said, Mr. Waverly would recognize any agent he spotted. Kuryakin is also capable of functioning as a one-man assault force. How soon do you think you can get his cover arranged?"

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