The Affair of the Gentle Saboteur
By Brandon Keith
1. The Quarry
ON THIS HOT, bright, sunny Thursday in July, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin waited impatiently in the cool dimness of the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria. Their object of immediate attention was one Albert Stanley.
Stanley had been spotted early Tuesday morning. McNabb, an experienced old-timer, one of UNCLE's field men on permanent assignment at Kennedy Airport, had recognized him at customs where Stanley had not been detained long. An ordinary passenger on an ordinary flight from England, his passport was in order and he had carried no baggage except a slender attache case filled with proper commercial papers. He was a respectable salesman from a sedate London firm, International Plastics, Limited. Of course, McNabb had known better, and so he had tailed Stanley to New York and the Waldorf. There Stanley had confirmed his reservation and had been escorted upstairs by a bellboy. Then McNabb had called Alexander Waverly at UNCLE headquarters.
"Oh, my," the Old Man said after McNabb, tersely, had made his report.
"What are the orders, Chief?"
"Stay with him. Don't lose him for a moment."
"I don't intend to. What else?"
"Nothing else. You're going to have a backup team, a lot of company, quite shortly. You just stay with him."
"Thank you, sir."
Waverly hung up and punched a button of the intercom.
"I want Solo and Kuryakin. Right away!"
As they came into the office, Solo lightly nudged Illya. For once the Old Man was showing excitement. He was lighting his pipe, but the fingers holding the match were trembling, however slightly. The Old Man puffed, blew vigorously on the match, and dropped it into an ashtray. He smoked, squinting through the smoke.
"Gentlemen, have either one of you ever heard of Albert Stanley?"
Illya said, "No."
"You, Mr. Solo?"
"You're young men. Thank heaven for McNabb."
"Pardon?" Solo said.
"That he's an old man," Waverly said.
"I don't quite understand," said Solo.
"The young have their usefulness, but so do the old, Mr. Solo. McNabb's been with the organization for thirty years. In his youth, like you and Mr. Kuryakin, he traveled and worked in far places, and saw much and learned much. Now McNabb's through with romantic derring-do. Now he's merely a pair of eyes for us at Kennedy International, but those wise old eyes are capable of seeing more than your wise young eyes, if you understand me. They saw and recognized, as an instance—Albert Stanley."
"But who...?" Illya began.
Waverly touched a button on his board.
At once, from a ceiling loudspeaker, a metallic voice replied, "Photo Room."
"This is she, Mr. Waverly."
"Ah. Good. I should like you to set up a photo, please. Just one, the latest. We have a rather recent one and a fairly good one at that. Slide projector, color, full screen. Albert Stanley, THRUSH, British Sector. Immediately, Miss Winslow."
"Immediately, Mr. Waverly."
"Thank you." He tapped the disconnect ton, sighed, and stood up. "Gentlemen, if
They followed their chief through steel-walled corridors and many doors to the Photo Room.
"Ready, Miss Winslow?" Waverly said.
"All in order. Won't you sit down, please?"
The room was like a miniature motion picture theater, the projection room up a stairway in the rear. There were eight rows of seats in the long narrow room, and up front, instead of a screen, there was a smooth white wall. They sat in the last row, Waverly between them.
"All right, Miss Winslow," he called.
She climbed the stairs in the rear. There was a click and the room went dark. There was another click and the slide projector produced a brilliant, life-size portrait that filled the smooth white wall. Solo sat forward.
The setting appeared to be a garden. In the foreground, left, was a marble fountain bordered by many-colored flowers. Off to the right was a high, green, leafy hedge. In front of the hedge stood a small, slender, expressionless man. It was hard to describe him. He had brownish hair, brownish eyes, a brownish face, wore brownish clothes. There was not a single distinguishing feature. Nothing stood out. He was a small, slender, brownish, expressionless man.
"Nondescript," Waverly said. "A part of his art. He blends with the background; he melts into crowds. Observe him carefully, gentlemen. A most dangerous man. Albert Stanley."
"Who is Albert Stanley?" Illya asked.
"A saboteur of infinite finesse. The best that THRUSH has ever produced. What baffles me is, what the devil is he doing here?"
"Why not here?" Solo said.
The Old Man's pipe was dead. He lit it. His fingers were no longer trembling. "To the best of my knowledge, Stanley has never been in the United States and now, certainly at this time in history, he doesn't belong. There are so many sensitive areas throughout the world where THRUSH can use his special services—Vietnam, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Bolivia, even the Middle East, or Germany. Sensitive areas, hot spots—where his kind of damage can have volatile effect. What the devil is he doing here?"
"I take it that it's going to be our job to find out."
"You take it correctly, Mr. Solo. But you'll tread carefully, you and Mr. Kuryakin. The man's a consummate artist, a highly valued gem in the British Sector of THRUSH, a top-echelon man who never makes a move without a top-echelon plan of counteroffensive even in retreat. You may use as many men as you wish and whatever equipment you wish. But you must not touch him unless you get him red-handed, or else we'll have all of international authority down on our heads. And there's time for a full briefing; I want to give you all the warnings on the man. There's time. He's only just arrived, and McNabb's tight on him. And make full use of McNabb. He's a wise old bird."
"Do you know this Stanley?" Illya asked. "I mean, personally?"
"Only personally—as opposed to business." The Old Man chuckled. "Met him three times in the past ten years but, as it were, socially. Once in Belgrade, once in Tokyo, once in Vienna. He knew who I was just as I knew who he was, and we displayed to one another—how shall I put it?—a grudging admiration. All right now, gentlemen, let's do our briefing." He turned and called, "Thank you, Miss Winslow. Let's please have the lights back on."
And so Albert Stanley, a quiet, mild-mannered, if somewhat eccentric guest at the Waldorf-Astoria, had become the quarry.
Solo, on arriving at the Waldorf early on Tuesday, had taken the manager of the hotel into his confidence. From the manager he had learned that Stanley had an excellent and expensive suite on the ninth floor. The suite had been reserved for Stanley on Monday by a tall, dark man, on a monthly rental basis, payment in advance. The man had brought two heavy-looking suitcases into the suite, returning the key to the desk for Stanley. The tall, dark man had not been seen again.
On Solo's urging, the manager had removed the guests from the suite adjacent to Stanley's on the pretext that there had developed an unexpected need for repairs. McNabb and another agent had been installed in that suite. McNabb had wanted to pierce tiny holes through the walls in order to utilize the viewscope, but Solo, under instruction, had disallowed it.