THE MOBY DICK AFFAIR
by ROBERT HART DAVIS
In the sea… in the clouds… cunningly and well had THRUSH spawned their seeds of evil, as Napoleon and Illya combed panic-stricken London to find the key to the most satanic murder device ever to menace U.N.C.L.E.—a man-made tidal wave which could drown the world.
"—AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK"
THE ONLY color in all of the threatening gray world came spurting orange from the power pods on each wing of the jet sea plane. And the mood of Napoleon Solo exactly suited the somberness in which they were flying, at what seemed an irritatingly slow pace for so important a mission.
Solo's index and middle finger, right hand, smarted suddenly. The cigarette he'd been smoking had nearly burned down to the filter. Startled, he dropped it, shooting to his feet from the jump seat behind the co-pilot's in the cockpit.
The smoldering butt rolled for ward toward the instruments. Their pilot, Masters, a sallow Scot, spotted the little rolling cylinder.
"Put that thing out, for the Lord's sweet sake," he said. "Kuryakin? Someone!"
Solo rubbed his hand on the right leg of his flight suit. Seated just ahead of him in the co-pilot's chair, Illya Kuryakin slid his left boot over and used the ridged soles to extinguish the last wisp of smoke. Solo sucked his index finger.
"I know U.N.C.L.E.'s pilot squadron has high health standards," Illya said. "But don't you think you're carrying it a bit far, Masters?"
Masters swiped at his drooping mustache, muttered, "Extreme fire hazard. Special fuels and all."
"Oh," Illya said. "That explains it." His glance back over his shoulder at Napoleon Solo implied that it did not explain it.
Precisely the opposite.
Solo was angry with himself for allowing the minor burn to divert his attention, even momentarily, from the circular frosted display glass on the futuristic-looking for ward wall of the cockpit. Though it was noon by the clock, they were flying through cloud. They had been since leaving the Shetland Islands behind, some twenty minutes ago. The cockpit was gloomy. Concentric yellow circles glowed on the display glass. Solo bent between the men in the twin front seats, alarmed.
He pointed. "Masters, I thought you were locked on. We've lost the blip."
Masters grunted, threw a couple of selector knobs.
"Gone, all right."
"Masters," Illya said, "don't be so casual. We must catch that THRUSH helicopter. It's imperative that we forestall Dr. Shelley's capture by the enemy."
Solo winced. "Always understating it. Shelley has already been captured. Kidnapped is the right term. Due, you'll recall, to the delay we encountered trying to get through London traffic, once the informant confessed."
"Thirty seconds," Illya said softly. "It can encompass a lifetime."
Solo said, "Listen, Masters, what do we do? We've lost them."
Masters snuffled. "Doing the best I can. Frankly, you chaps from Operations and Enforcement always expect miracles. We were lucky we had this craft available at London at all. We were lucky that the THRUSH helicopter which carried off this Shelley fellow apparently was only a transfer vehicle, otherwise we'd never even have caught the signal from British Air Defense that enabled us to pick them up."
"I wouldn't say we were expecting miracles, Masters." Solo felt testy. "I'd say we were expecting that a THRUSH jet helicopter could be caught by an U.N.C.L.E. jet seaplane which, unless I'm mistaken, is theoretically faster."
Ahead, past the windshield, tattery gray clouds whipped at them. The cockpit smelled of metal and fuel. The stink of tension rose in Solo's nostrils. Suddenly through the scud coming at them with ex press-train speed, a ragged swatch of dull gray-blue appeared. Solo craned forward. The power pods whistled and the seaplane burst from the low-hanging clouds.
Below them rolled the cold metallic, waters of the North Sea, uniformly stretching to the horizons except at one point ahead and slightly to port. There, the outcrops of several small rocky islands pushed up through whitecaps. Over this cluster of islands a black dot hung and then slowly lowered.
Solo clapped Masters on the shoulder: "There they are. Landing. They must be expecting a pickup."
The U.N.C.L.E. agent was suddenly aware of Masters' response to the gloved slap of enthusiasm. Inside his flying suit, Masters had gone stiff.
His head jerked around sharply. Before he turned back forward to the controls, Solo saw sickly yellow reflections from the display glass shining in the man's watering eyes.
Solo decided that Masters disliked him. Unusual. Strictly the exception for an organization with the high morale U.N.C.L.E. enjoyed.
Or was he overreacting? Solo wondered about it as the seaplane closed the distance to the rocky island. The stakes were extremely high—
They stood to make a double bag if they succeeded on this mission. One half of the catch was essential. That was the recovery of Dr. Artemus Shelley, the oceanographer who headed by U.N.C.L.E.'s special undersea warfare research station near Golder's Green.
The other half of the catch could be a bonus—Newsom Naglesmith. It was an unlikely enough name for a crack professional murderer. Naglesmith was a European sub-sector chief for THRUSH, with a long record of kills and assorted mayhem.
Word of a plot to kidnap Dr. Artemus Shelley had reached Solo and Illya in Edinburgh, where they were just winding up an affair which had found THRUSH packaging toxic chemicals at a small multivitamin tablet factory. The vitamins were to be shipped to the post exchanges of key military bases maintained by several important nations.
The two agents had jetted back to London, conversing briefly with Mr. Waverly while airborne. Then at London HO they had spent twenty naggingly slow minutes with the washed-up Wagnerian soprano who had been Newsom Naglesmith's latest light of love.
Several months ago, it seemed, Naglesmith had grown a whit careless while drinking vintage champagne. He'd babbled to her of the impending plot to ferret Dr. Shelley away.
A lover's quarrel just yesterday had resulted in the poor soprano being bounced out of Naglesmith's life forever. Tipsy with gin, the lady had reeled into a police station, incoherently wailing about the plot, and about dear Newsom being wrought up because of his impending "situation," as he referred to acts of violence on behalf of THRUSH.
Naglesmith's name was relayed to C.I.D., thence to U.N.C.L.E. While the lady was still under sedative, resident agents plied her with other effective but basically harmless drugs, thereby draining her psyche of a few concrete details about the planned Shelley kidnap.
Deduction from the details: Naglesmith was wrought up because the time for an important "situation" had arrived, and it stood a good chance of being the Dr. Shelley lift. Solo and Illya were signaled on an emergency call and got into the London traffic jam after leaving HO.
They arrived at the laboratory just in time to see the THRUSH transfer copter winging away. With the aid of the British Air Force, they'd picked up the trail at sea an hour later, Masters their pilot.
Illya Kuryakin was thumbing through his little book. Solo's nerves were stretched to the limit. They were closing on the rocky islands, each outcrop of stone assuming definition in the sea. Masters had both flight gloves on the control levers. Abruptly Solo reached past him.
"What the devil are you doing, Solo?"
Flick, flick, Solo twisted red levers.