Masaki Yoshida leaned on his taxi horn in frustration. He had free-lanced for the CIA for several years. He expected to know only a minimal amount about operations to which he was assigned, but the description he had received from his contact yesterday was the most ill-defined he had seen yet. He was supposed to cruise a several square block area of warehouses near the harbour and keep an eye out for some unspecified form of trouble.
His contact had said nothing about the jam of cars and trucks which crowded the streets and loading docks, making it nearly impossible to move. He had spent five minutes edging the last half block. Earlier he had manoeuvred his cab up onto the sidewalk only to find a truck unloading and blocking his way. It had taken him ten minutes to force a gap in the creeping traffic and return to the street. He sounded the horn again. There could be a riot a block away, and he would not know a dung about it!
Immediately ahead of the erstwhile CIA agent were two cars and then an open bed truck which blocked his view on down the street. As Yoshida leaned out the window in an attempt to see past the truck, the asphalt of the road between the truck's front wheels budded downward slightly and a small hole appeared in the centre of the depression. A hole was pierced in the bottom of the oil pan just as the third piston advanced on its exhaust stroke. Then, as if by the action of a ragged drill, a gash ripped the base of the piston rod where it joined the crank shaft. The rod cracked and the piston flew unimpeded up the cylinder.
Another series of holes appeared in the block, the head, the air filter, and finally in the thin sheet of metal of the hood, all aligned with those in the asphalt and the broken rod. The piston ruptured the engine head atop the cylinder, then punched a second, larger hole in the hood. The piston and fragments of engine arced thirty feet over the road before crashing loudly into the galvanized steel wall of a warehouse. The mortally wounded engine shuddered to a stop with the shrieking sound of twisted, grinding metal. Hot water shot through the upper hole in the block, filling the engine compartment with steam. This in turn billowed out of the seams, the hole ruptured by the piston, and in one dainty vertical stream. Beneath the motor a pea soup green mixture of oil, water, and antifreeze poured out of the hole in the oil pan, collected in the underlying dent in the pavement and then slowly drained down the hole in the middle.
With his head out the window, Yoshida clearly heard the explosion as the piston blew and saw it rifle into the warehouse wall. Forgetting his mission, he rammed the shift into neutral, let out the clutch, and hauled on the parking brake. He ran to the truck and yanked open the driver's door. The man inside sat stupefied, but apparently unhurt. Yoshida stepped up and helped the man out and over to the sidewalk. The truck driver sat on the curb and in a reaction to shock, began to jabber his innocence of any wrongdoing.
Yoshida attempted to calm him and then noticed a stinging in his eyes and burning in his lungs. His first reaction was to glance at the truck. Then he whirled as he heard a shouting tumult behind him. A hundred yards away drivers were pouring out of their cars, and people were running frantically in both directions from a warehouse on the other side of the street. Many held handkerchiefs to their mouths or covered their eyes.
As Yoshida had been helping the driver from the truck, a window had shattered in a skylight of the warehouse. Below, an array of large cylindrical storage vessels held chlorine gas. Almost instantly, twin punctures appeared in the top and bottom of the cylinder directly beneath the skylight.
Jets of bilious yellow-green gas shot towards the ceiling and mushroomed out onto the floor. Within seconds a heavy layer of gas blanketed the warehouse. In a small office at the rear of the warehouse an employee was roused by the sound of cascading glass. He stepped out and was immediately assailed by the billowing fumes. In a panic he charged for the front door, his way blocked save for aisles among the huge containers. He tripped and fell, the Paul of contact with the floor causing him a sharp intake of breath, a poisonous draft. He regained his feet and stumbled to the door, flinging it open and collapsing on the walk outside in a spasm of coughing. The dense gas flowed out the door and seeped around the choking figure.
Down the street, Yoshida could not identify the particular agent that assaulted his eyes and lungs, but he reacted to the shouts of gas'. He joined the fleeing crowd racing among the stalled cars and trucks towards fresh air.
Thursday morning Isaacs raced into the office. There was a cable. Something had happened in Nagasaki ! The reports were vague, fragmented. A gas leak. One person dead. He didn't know what he had expected, but not this tantalizing irrelevancy. It was the right time and place: it had to be connected. But what did a gas leak have to do with their strange signal? Was there some puncture, like the Novorossiisk? He stole some moments with Danielson, and they agreed they had to concoct some way to get more information on the specifics. What had leaked? How? He felt a rise of panic. He needed time to think, to assimilate this, to plan, but there was none.
He returned to the mass of data culled from the signal intercepts of the Russian laser and hunter-killer satellites. He was supposed to be thinking like a Russian, anticipating them, but his mind was swimming with thoughts of Nagasaki when Kathleen put through the call from the Director.
It froze him to his chair, an ice storm raging through him.
He had been found out!
They knew everything. QUAKER. Nagasaki. Somehow McMasters had got onto him.
He was to report to the Director's office at nine the following morning. His hand shook as he replaced the phone on the hook.
Isaacs fought to quell the churning in his bowels. He had 'not been so angry and frightened at one time since he'd been hauled before the principal in the third grade. He and a friend had been throwing rocks during recess, in violation of one of the strictest rules. His friend had broken the window, but he had run, leaving Isaacs to be caught with a stone in his hand. This was no schoolyard prank, however: this was the big time. He turned the knob and entered the room.
The Director of Central Intelligence motioned curtly for him -to take a seat across from his desk. Isaacs did so, avoiding the venomous green eyes of McMasters who was already stationed at the opposite corner of the desk.-
'Mr Isaacs,' Drefke began. 'I can't express how shocked I am at the charges that have accumulated against you.' He spread his hand on the folder on his desk. 'A man of your status and record. This is not petty malfeasance. I don't want to overreact, but some of your recent behaviour could be regarded as verging on treason.'
This word brought a wisp of a smile to McMasters's lips.
Drefke opened the file and scanned down it. 'Unauthorized use of restricted computer data. Unauthorized consultation with Jason. Unauthorized access to field agents. Unauthorized use of photoreconnaissance facilities.' He looked hard at Isaacs, then clenched his fist in frustration. He wanted to work with the President on global issues, not to be involved with awkward disciplinary questions. Why had McMasters let these internal affairs get out of hand? What the hell did Isaacs think he was doing?
'Good Lord, man,' he spoke aloud. 'Do you realize that on this basis alone I have virtually no choice but to ask for your resignation? And not just you, but Deputy Director Martinelli and this woman, uh, Danielson? They've conspired with you. Have you any idea of the turmoil in the Agency if I'm forced to let you all go?'
Isaacs started to speak, but his voice caught in his throat. 'What's that?' demanded Drefke.
Isaacs tried again. 'I said you can leave Martinelli and Danielson out of this. I coerced them.'
'You may want to leave them out now, but it's too late,' McMasters's voice was cool and smooth in his victory. Isaacs refused to look at him. 'They allowed themselves to become involved. They must suffer the consequences.'
Damn my eyes, thought Isaacs. Danielson was bad enough: her low status is some protection since I can say I ordered her. But I shouldn't have involved Martinelli. Photos from the U-2's altitude relayed from a special scanner by satellite link showed virtually nothing useful anyway.
Drefke had his hand over his eyes, looking inward to struggle with the enormity of the final issue.
'How could you,' he removed his hand to stare at Isaacs in pain and anger, 'how could you meet with them, the head of the Washington KGB, for chrissake, to reveal the President's tactics in the confrontation over the new laser in Cosmos 2231? What could possibly induce you to sell out? To put the whole future of our control and use of space in jeopardy? And in such an obvious way?'
'Have you been one of them all along?' McMasters asked calmly.
Drefke glared at him and Isaacs exploded. 'No! God— dammit! I'm not one of them! I've sold out nothing! You don't understand!'
'Understand?' asked McMasters quietly. 'We have the interchange with Zamyatin on tape. It's quite damning.'
Tape! So the bastard had me under surveillance, Isaacs thought. He continued to speak to Drefke. 'If you recorded that session in his limousine then you know that whole crazy episode was Zamyatin's idea.'
'The recordings are incomplete for technical reasons,' McMasters purred, 'but there was enough to show your perfidy. You failed to report the contact. There is nothing to suggest you were not a willing accomplice in this conspiracy. We have only your word for that.'
'But you have my word,' Isaacs shot the oath at McMasters, looking directly at him for the first time. McMasters stiffened, but could not summon the strength of mind to voice a contradiction.
Isaacs used the opening.
'Sir,' he addressed Drefke, 'you said yourself the meeting with Zamyatin was an absurd way to sell out. Surely it's obvious that if I were really cooperating with the Soviets, I wouldn't do so in so stupid a fashion?'
Drefke gave a small nod. He didn't understand, but he knew that if a man like Isaacs turned, he would be damned difficult to catch. He certainly would not be hitching rides with the local KGB to exchange tidbits.
Isaacs continued, 'I won't deny that my actions precipitated the meeting, but it was all Zamyatin's idea. He didn't think I could or would respond through official channels. Whether he thought or cared that I would be in hot water if he snatched me off the street, I don't know.
'If you will hear me out, I would like to try to explain. You recognize that my recent behaviour is not only at odds with Agency policy, but also with my own record and methods. We are all involved in some very odd circumstances. These peculiar circumstances have forced me to extreme lengths. I think the peril was confirmed two days ago in Nagasaki , but we still don't understand — that's the major problem.'
'Ah, Nagasaki ,' Drefke leaned back in his chair. 'Perhaps you can tell me what the hell went on there.'
'I can tell you the background. The details are in this memo.'
Isaacs extracted an envelope from his pocket and pushed it across the desk to Drefke.
'Mr McMasters has a previous version of it.'
'Oh? I wasn't informed of that.'
'In my considered opinion,' McMasters said uncomfortably, 'Mr Isaacs has constructed a tissue of fantasy. What little merit there was to the case was not Agency business. I did not and do not believe there was any rationale to violate Agency regulations in the manner summarized there.' He nodded at the file on Drefke's desk.
'I see,' said Drefke. He didn't, but he was beginning to.
'Mr Isaacs, may I ask why you did not proceed according to regulation if you had some concern?'
Isaacs looked him squarely in the eye.
'I was ordered not to.'
'By McMasters here.'
'His request was ill-considered and inappropriate to the function of the Agency,' McMasters said stiffly.
'Mr McMasters is your superior,' Drefke said to Isaacs.
'You not only disobeyed him: you violated a number of Agency regulations to do so.'
McMasters relaxed a little. Precisely so, he thought.
Drefke regarded the two men before him, sensing the tension between them. McMasters ran a tight ship on internal affairs. That freed Drefke to concern himself with the large issues. Isaacs had risen rapidly with an excellent record. Two such men could come to legitimate disagreement on occasion. In this business, McMasters was acting true to form, but Isaacs's behaviour had been bizarre, completely out of character. Was Isaacs's aberrant behaviour to be stopped short and penalized for the greater good of a.smooth-functioning Agency, or did he actually see something that McMasters, the narrow-minded authoritarian, couldn't perceive? If McMasters were right, Isaacs was a damnable nuisance. Isaacs were right?
'You were going to tell me about Nagasaki ,' Drefke said to Isaacs. McMasters shifted uncomfortably.
'This all goes back to the Soviet carrier, the Novorossiisk,' Isaacs said.
'That's right. You know what followed from that. An escalating conflict in space.'
'If you're implying all that has been Agency business, I'm quite aware of the fact, thank you,' said Drefke dryly.
'But you don't know what happened to the Novorossiisk. What started it all.'
'No,' Drefke said slowly. 'But does it matter now?'
'It matters for two reasons. An understanding of the origin of these affairs may help put a cap on them. And what happened to the Novorossiisk may be the greater question.'
'Greater than nuclear or beam warfare in space?' Drefke asked incredulously.
'Ridiculous,' McMasters said, backing him up.
'I have no proof yet, but I'm sure Nagasaki and the Novorossiisk are closely linked. Nagasaki is another clue to the ultimate problem. The current danger is the unknown. The Soviets feel that, too. They don't know what happened to the Novorossiisk either.'
'Why did Zamyatin pick on you anyway?'
Isaacs paused. This could be crucial, if it weren't already on the tapes.
'I wrote a letter to Academician Korolev,' Isaacs said, 'describing my fears about the Novorossiisk.'
'You what?' Drefke almost shouted.
'Oh, for god's sake,' McMasters blurted simultaneously.
'You've got to see we're on the same side on this one,' Isaacs protested.
'But you can't go discussing Agency affairs with the top brains in the Kremlin!' Drefke said, exasperated.
'According to Mr McMasters, this wasn't an Agency affair,' Isaacs said.
'Well, any security matter then,' Drefke said, but he calmed down, granting Isaacs the point.
'I felt something had to be done,' Isaacs persisted. 'I sent a memo to Korolev similar to the one I gave McMasters, outlining the series of circumstances that led to my concern. Zamyatin saw the letter. I told you they're still worried about the Novorossiisk. That's what we talked about.'
'You talked about the Cosmos 2231 and our nuclear deterrent,' McMasters said meanly.
'Only briefly, and in a completely different context from what you'd like to believe,' Isaacs snapped. He turned to Drefke.
'Korolev has used my letter to argue that we did not initiate the Novorossiisk business. Zamyatin told me that my letter convinced the Soviets to keep a cap on the confrontation over the Cosmos. That's all we said about it. And Zamyatin did most of the talking.'
'So they're worried,' Drefke said.
'Yes, they are.'
'You still haven't told me what exactly happened at Nagasaki.'
'Pat Danielson assembled a variety of data which has shown that some force or influence is moving through the earth in a very regular way. I think that influence damaged the Novorossiisk, sank the USS Stinson which was sent by the Navy to investigate the phenomenon, and did the damage in Nagasaki.'
Drefke started to speak, but Isaacs continued intensely.
'We don't know what's going on: that's what frightens me. That's what has caused me to do all these things you think are so crazy. But this thing is dangerous. It's real. It's predictable. Pat Danielson predicted where and when there would be damage in Nagasaki. She has predicted a similar fate for Dallas in a little over two weeks. This thing, whatever it is, will keep on causing death and destruction until we determine what it is!'
Isaacs leaned back, spent.
Drefke tried to absorb this diatribe. He didn't understand at all. But Isaacs was either sincere and committed, or he was insane. Could his insanity be contagious, caught by the Russians? What the hell was going on? Was this a good man gone around the bend? Or was here an issue of great magnitude on which he could truly serve his President? He would have loved to kick the whole flung to McMasters, but he perceived that, in ways he did not yet fully comprehend, McMasters was part of the problem. Besides, the involvement of the Russians smacked of truly global issues, not simple internal bickering. The only good decision now was no decision.
'Mr Isaacs, I don't understand all that you have been trying to tell me. Not by a long shot. And the fact remains that there is a prima facie case against you for violating Agency regulations as well as good common sense.' He paused and picked up Isaacs's memo.
'But I think perhaps I should read this document of yours before deciding what to do about you and the others.'
The tone of dismissal hung in the air for a long moment until Isaacs and McMasters finally shuffled their chairs and got to their feet. There was an awkward moment at the door as they each tried to ignore the other, which prevented signals as to who should go first. Finally, Isaacs stepped back and gave a brief gesture. McMasters charged through. Isaacs waited until McMasters passed the outer doorway and then slowly closed Drefke's door behind him.
Drefke got up and walked to the window. He looked out for a long time, hands clasped behind his back. Then he took his seat and pulled the typewritten pages from the envelope Isaacs had left him. He began to read.
Robert Isaacs resigned himself to the fact that the situation was out of his hands. Under the terms of his partial suspension awaiting the outcome in Dallas , he could not engage in policy decisions, so for the next two weeks he busied himself with routine things neglected in the recent press of events. To his relief the confrontation with the Russians cooled. The fragile status quo held. On the final weekend before Dallas , he arranged for his daughter Isabel to stay with a friend and convinced Muriel to spend the time with him sailing on the Chesapeake.
Pat Danielson spent the two week period in an agonized limbo. She, too, went about her duties, but the upcoming event which would profoundly affect her career was never very far from her mind. Some mysterious force would push through the earth six hundred times, she mused, while she chewed her nails, waiting for it to hit Dallas. In a way, she was glad that Drefke had explicitly forbidden both Isaacs and her from going to Dallas , as well as from exercising any other connection to Project QUAKER. She recognized the great likelihood of futility, but knew that if the trip were not proscribed she would have gone to Dallas to try to see something, anything, that would give a clue to the force which would erupt there.
On the final Saturday she dragged her roommate, Janine, on a prolonged shopping trip and then to a movie. Sunday she could not shake the doldrums and spent the day in fretful listlessness. Monday evening she went to bed early, but tossed in a restless, unsatisfying sleep. Something in her kept tune, and she later found herself wide awake, staring at the ceiling. Without looking at the clock she knew that it must be nearly one A.M. An hour earlier in Dallas it was about to happen. She continued to stare in the darkness, straining to project herself into the scene. What would she see? What would it do? She felt completely halted in that prolonged state of painful anticipation, but then the alarm pulled her up from a deep sleep. She prised her eyes open. The world still looked the same.
'You ever been to Dallas before?' Glen Wilson asked his partner in a subdued voice.
The two men walked slowly, purposefully, down the street, eyes catching every facet of the subdued activity.
'Me? Nah,' replied Sam Spongier. 'Unless you count changing planes in the airport. You ever ride those little trolleys ?'
'Um. Yeah, couple of times. Kinda fun at first, no driver and all. Irritating, though, when they stop for no apparent reason.'
They skirted a dishevelled old man, slumped asleep against the wall, legs sprawled onto the sidewalk, brown bag cradled in his lap.
'I was just thinking,' Wilson continued, 'I've seen a few boots and hats, but except for the fact that it's damn awful hot, it's hard to tell where we are. I mean, look at this. Bars, strip joints, porny flicks. The only women you see that aren't hookers are with some guy hustling 'cm off somewhere else. Just a little seedy piece of anywhere, USA.'
'You're right about that,' Spangler agreed. 'They do move a lot of produce through here in the daytime, I guess.' He flicked a rotting cabbage with the side of his shoe. It rolled up against the barred storefront. Behind the bars were partitioned tables waiting the next day's yield.
'You're also right about the heat. Feels like I'm wearing a blanket. Told you we should've gone native, jeans and T-shirts. Would have fit right in and been a damn sight cooler than these suits.'
'Hey, better than that,' Wilson shot him a quick smile, 'I coulda dressed as a wine and sat around taking it easy and you coulda come in drag and walked the streets 'til something happens. You might've made a few bucks.'
Spangler smiled back and swaggered a few steps. They reached a corner and turned to cross the street, waiting for the light. Wilson looked up at the buildings around them. The tallest ones of the main commercial area were a few blocks away. Around them, the buildings ranged from two to ten storeys in height, the upper storeys mostly dark as midnight approached. Once across the street they turned and headed back in the direction from which they had come. Wilson glanced at his watch.
Spangler nodded confirmation. 'Beats the hell out of me how they can know where something is going to happen, and when, to the second, and not know what. Screwy damn assignment.'
They walked on in silence, checking their watches more frequently as the assigned time approached, unconsciously walking more slowly, watching more carefully. Finally they stopped. Wilson noticed the digits on his watch which indicated seconds as they flashed to zero-zero, signalling the onset of the final minute during which the unspecified, but potentially dangerous event should occur. He tried to simultaneously register the numbers on the watch as they swapped places, second by second, and the urban visage around them. Thirty seconds later, he realized he had been holding his breath as he strained for any clue. He stared at the watch and exhaled, more loudly than he had intended.
The sound of his released breath mingled with and covered the onset of a strange whistling roar. The two agents glanced suddenly at one another and then turned to look down the street, trying to fix the location of the noise. It seemed to rise rapidly above the buildings.
The roar diminished, to be replaced by a hoarse cry. In the-middle of the next block a man emerged onto the sidewalk and stood there, his frantic screams tearing the night.
A hole appeared in the concrete foundation of the basement of the Poodle Lounge. Twin punctures followed in the keg of beer immediately above it. As the pressurized brew began to spurt a frothy spout, another hole was ripped in the floor of the bar. Chaos ensued there as the quiet atmosphere was split by the sound of smashing glass shelves and bottles, as if someone had suddenly taken an axe to the racks behind the bar. As the bartender spun to stare in disbelief, a new hole had already been drilled in the ceiling above his head.
Upstairs at Crazy Lil's they played out the quiet midweek evening. The smoky room was dominated by a small oblong stage surrounded by seats for patrons. At the four corners of the stage were pillars which supported a canopy with mirrored undersurface and ruffled trim, the whole thing a grotesque parody of an old four-poster bed. Along one wall a screen was mounted for entr'acte movies. Opposite were a pair of coin-operated pool tables. At one of these, a tough— looking pair played eightball, studiously ignoring the woman working on the stage.
The audience was sparse. Three young cowboy-types in boots, jeans, and carefully sculpted straw hats. One of these boasted an unlawful eagle feather, the emblem of little britches rodeo days, not long past. A few bored salesmen sat each by himself, their common predicament being insufficient grounds to bring them together. The only spirit came from two stray out-of-town convention goers. One of these had just crooked a finger and gestured with a dollar bill. The dancer had interrupted her gyrations to pause in front of him, pelvis outthrust, as he worked the bill under the strap of her g-string. That position was one of precarious balance and left her unprepared for what happened next.
She felt as if the floor were suddenly thrust up under her, as with the rapid rise of an elevator. She fell backward heavily on to the stage. As she tipped, a large ragged gash was torn along the length of one of the four canopy posts. The post snapped and splintered. Deprived of symmetrical support, the mirrored canopy sagged and then twisted as the remaining three posts tilted in unison.
The dancer stared upward in numb shock and saw her image grow. With a burst of panic she realized the canopy was collapsing upon her. She flung her arms over her face and shrieked. The men seated along the perimeter recoiled frantically as chairs and bodies went sprawling. The young cowboy with the eagle feather made an aborted move towards the woman, but he was too far away. The canopy crashed down putting an abrupt end to her screams.
The bouncer-cashier-projectionist, who had been sitting on a stool by the entrance attempting to read a paperback western in the dim light, dropped the book when the first post splintered and stood as if paralysed, watching the collapse of the canopy. In the stillness which followed, he took a few tentative steps towards the stage. All he could see of the dancer was one leg. A shard of mirror the size and shape of a pizza slice was embedded in her thigh, its shiny surface obliterated by a pulsing gout of arterial blood. The man paled, raced for the door and clattered down the stairs towards the street shouting hysterically.
Across the alley and down the block rose one of the taller buildings in the neighbourhood. It was vacant save for a ianitorial staff scattered over several floors. As the patrons of Crazy Lil's joined the hysterical employee on the adjacent street, a small tunnel was punctured in the rear corner of the-building where the left side and rear walls joined. This tunnel proceeded rapidly but methodically down through the wall passing with equal ease through concrete and reinforcing bars.
A minute or so passed uneventfully, then fractures began to radiate from the tunnel into the surrounding concrete.
The building settled slightly, amplifying the unequal distribution of stress along the wound and increasing the rate of fracturing.
Inside, in a corner of the building, a weary man guided a buffing machine slowly back and forth. He stopped suddenly as he felt, a shift in the floor. The unguided buffing machine dug more heavily on one side and skittered away from him. He grabbed for it and quickly shut it off. He stood, listened and felt through his feet the barely perceptible vibrations of rupturing concrete.
He shuffled out of the office into the hallway. He stopped and felt with his feet again and sensed nothing.
A young man working with a mop on the floor at the far end of the corridor looked up.
'C'mon down here. There's sumpin' funny goin' on.'
The old man led the younger one into the office and stood him in the corner. They stared at one another as each felt the minute vibrations emanating from the weakened corner. Suddenly, a portion of the rear wall sagged a quarter of an inch. A jagged crack raced from the corner of the room to the windowsill. The window glass shattered; some pieces fell inward; others made the longer plunge to the alley below.
'Hey! This mother's comin' apart!'
He raced for the door. The old man followed him in a lumbering jog.
'Harold, you're faster than I am. You get upstairs and warn the folks there. I'll head down.'
Harold spun to a stop and stared hard at the old man. After a long moment he nodded and pushed through the exit door into the stairway and headed up three steps at a time. The old man followed him and two-stepped downward.
A block away. Glen Wilson and Sam Spangle? had joined the crowd which stood a discreet distance from the man who had run, shouting into the street. Now the man was pacing nervously about, mumbling incoherently. Patrons of the strip joint babbled to one another or to passers-by about what had happened. People from the Poodle Lounge below anxiously explained their disruption to whoever would listen. Wilson tried to absorb these several conversations at once. As they had crossed the street, he had heard the returning echo of the whistling roar which had preceded the commotion. The sound had vanished in an ill-determined direction, but he also listened for some repercussion.
Finally, he heard the muted crashes as large chunks of masonry began to break away from the other building, crashing into the alley. He grabbed his partner's arm and led him off down the street in the general direction of the sound.
As they reached the nearest intersection, they heard from around the corner the terrifying roar as the rear quarter of the building gave way. Portions of the rear and side walls peeled away to expose, the multilayered innards of the building as if it were a large misshapen doll house.
The two agents froze at the corner until the noise died away and then walked to the alley and peered down it towards the ruined building. Even in the dim light they could see the huge pile of rubble reaching above the second floor, torn chunks of concrete interspersed with crushed office furniture. Soon they were joined by others from the crowd in front of the strip joint.
The agents edged out of the crowd. Wilson began to start back towards the bar, but Spangler gestured in the opposite direction, and they continued on around the block.
They passed in front of the damaged building. The only sign of disturbance from this aspect was the group of a dozen or so janitorial workers who huddled nervously in the street, some talking loudly, many standing silent, a few still conspicuously clutching their brooms and mops.
The agents continued on around the block. Back on the first street they returned to their car. A squad car was parked in front of the strip joint entrance. From a distance, the wail of approaching sirens could be heard. The crowd had grown. They got in the car. Wilson put the key in the ignition, but paused before he turned it. He looked at his partner.
'What in god's name do you suppose that was?'
Spangler was slumped down in his seat, staring straight ahead.
'Beats the living hell out of me. Never seen anything like
'This ought to get headquarters lathered up. I have a feeling the boss was hoping nothing would happen, but now they're going to want some physical evidence. From that collapsed building for sure, probably in that bar, too. I hope the locals don't go mucking around and-mess something up. No sense talking to the beat cop over there, but it's not our business to go higher up. I hate to play dumb bunny, but I guess we need to call home-for orders.'
'I need something,' Spangler growled. 'Jesus!'
Wilson cranked the key and headed for the motel room they had rented out towards the airport.
Four days later, on a waning Friday afternoon, Vincent Martinelli hosted Isaacs for a celebratory drink. He put the bottle on the little bar built in behind his desk then swivelled in his chair and hoisted his double scotch and soda.
The turning point in Nagasaki flashed in Isaacs's mind.
'Kampai,' he said, returning the salute.
'Well, son-of-a-bitch, Bob,' Martinelli said. 'Maybe old man Drefke's not a complete knucklehead after all. For a while there I thought I was going to have to look for a new career, Kelly Girl or some such dung.'
Isaacs grinned. 'I'll tell you it was a relief to me when he agreed to read my memo. Up to that point he could easily have just said screw it and tossed the lot of us out.'
'Seriously,' Martinelli said, 'I appreciate everything you did to save my butt.'
'For god's sake, Vince, I got you into it.'
'I'm a big boy, I knew what I was doing. I appreciate you going to bat for me.'
'Well, I shouldn't have got you involved. I'm relieved we got out okay.' They both stared into their drinks, a little embarrassed by this open exchange of gratitude.
Then Martinelli strove to recapture the spirit of celebration. 'So how is friend McMasters taking all this?' he inquired in a jovial tone.
'Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.'
They both chuckled.
'It really backfired on him,' Isaacs mused. 'Not only did he not get me booted, but now Drefke's made the whole investigation top priority and put me in charge. That's really going to hurt him.'
' I don't suppose it's too much to hope that a little lustre's gone off his star?'
'My reading is that Drefke still appreciates his ability to run internal affairs, but he sees him in a different light now. McMasters had some rationale to argue Project QUAKER wasn't agency business, but his forbidding me to work on it and then having me shadowed don't look too hot in hindsight.'
'Ah, another toast then. To the future Deputy Director of Intelligence.' Martinelli raised his glass to Isaacs.
'C'mon, Vince,' Isaacs protested.
'You know it's true.'
Isaacs was pleased, but embarrassed again. He recognized the timetable for his promotion had probably accelerated.
'So what's happening in Dallas ?' Martinelli inquired.
Isaacs laughed, glad to change the subject.
'You wouldn't believe the confusion out there. Your basic case of conflicting authorities. The city cops are all over the place. The governor, and more importantly, his chief financial backers, are all from Dallas. They feel personally attacked, so the governor's got a squad of investigators from the state intelligence bureau on the spot. That's already enough to piss off the locals and make for a general madhouse because nobody in those outfits has any idea what it is they're supposed to be investigating. Then we get into the act and that really stirs up the pot.
'I wanted to send in a few of my people on the quiet, but by the time Drefke made his decision to go ahead the place was swarming with the Texas troops. Drefke decided we had to follow the letter of the charter: no internal investigations.
'So we contacted the FBI and they sent a team of investigators. We told them what sort of information we want, but not why. We're sitting on that till we better understand what's going on. One of the things this accomplishes is to get the local FBI special agent riled up, first because he's got these out-of-towners descending on him, and worse because he knows they're working for us, not even for the FBI.'
Isaacs chuckled again.
'To complete the confusion, the local cops and the state police have been ordered to cover up the FBI involvement and to absolutely avoid any hint leaking out that the Agency is interested. I doubt that will be totally hushed up, but it's got them in a pickle.'
'Wow, real circus then,' Martinelli laughed. 'I've got to sympathize with the local cops. If I've got the picture right, they've got the formal public responsibility for the investigation, but can only go through the motions while the spooks crawl in and out of the woodwork.'
'That's about it,' Isaacs said. 'Actually, we need to help them develop some cover story. They really are in a bind.'
'So are you learning anything in the midst of all this chaos?'
'A bit. We sent a team to check the site in Nagasaki. We had less trouble with the Japanese government than we've had with Texans.' Isaacs shook his head in amusement.
'The physical evidence is very similar in the two cases. I put that in my preliminary report. That's what convinced Drefke to let us all off with that bit of wrist-slapping today and give me the green light.'
'No thanks. I've got to get home. This whole dung has been tough on Muriel. I promised her a nice quiet dinner out.'
'Fair enough.' Martinelli grinned, but then a serious look settled over his eyes. 'I read that copy you sent me earlier this week of your original memo outlining this mess. Frankly, I lost some sleep over it. Can you explain to me what the hell's really happening?'
Isaacs shook his head wearily. 'I'm relieved we're off the hook and the investigation can go ahead full throttle, but the truth is I'm scared. I don't know what we're up against. There's something damned serious going on.'
'So what's the next step?'
'We've got to get better heads than mine working on the clues. Pat Danielson and I had a brief consultation with Jason back in our underground days, three weeks ago. We're headed back there on Monday. I'm not sure anything will come of it, but we have some fresh evidence from Nagasaki and Dallas , and I can't think what else to do.'
'Well, good luck. Have a quiet weekend, will you? And my love to Muriel.'
Isaacs drained his glass and headed home.