“Nothing, nothing to get upset about,” Pashkov said soothingly, taking his friend’s arm as they came out of the villa forty miles from Moscow. Pashkov looked like a roly-poly zoo attendant leading a tame bear. “Erase his memory, give him a new name and feed him more patriotism. Very simple.”
Medvedev raised his hand threateningly. “Don’t come howling to me if everybody guesses he is nothing but a robot.”
Pashkov glanced back at the house. Since the publication of Dentist Amigovitch, this house had become known all over the world as Boris Knackenpast’s villa. Now the house was guarded by a company of soldiers to keep visitors out. From an open window Pashkov heard the clicking of a typewriter.
“It’s when they’re not like robots that everybody suspects them,” he said, climbing into his flier. “Petchareff will send you word when to announce his ‘death’.”
“A question, brother.”
“Who smuggled the manuscript out of Russia?”
Pashkov frowned convincingly. “Comrade Petchareff has suspected even me.”
He took off for Moscow, poking his flier up through the clouds and flying close to them, as was his habit. Then he switched on the radio and got Petchareff’s secretary. “Nadezhda?”
“I know what you’re up to, Seven One Three,” Nadezhda Brunhildova said. “Don’t try to fool me, you confidence man. You are coming in?”
“In ten minutes. What have I done now?”
“You were supposed to make funeral arrangements for Knackenpast, so what are you doing in Stockholm?”
“You’re lying and I’ll kill you. Don’t you think I know about Anastina, that she-nurse in the Stockholm National Hospital?”
“Darling, why so cruel? Anastina is one of our contacts. Besides, she’s cross-eyed and buck-toothed.”
“Beast!” She switched him to Petchareff.
“What’s been keeping you, Pashkov?”
“Consoling Medvedev. Am I supposed to be in Stockholm?”
“Never mind, get here at once. What size hospital gown do you wear?”
“Stockholm embassy says you’re in the National Hospital there. In a hospital gown. I got through to Anastina. She says it’s Colonel James again. He looks like you now.”
“I’ll never understand,” said Petchareff, “why all top secret agents have to look like bankers. Anastina says Colonel James was operated on by a Monsieur Fanti. What do you know about him?”
“He’s a theatrical surgeon.”
“You’re not playing one of your jokes, Pashkov?”
“You’d better be in my office in ten minutes. What size hospital gown?”
“Short and fat,” Pashkov said, and switched off.
Most countries wanted to break his neck, and his own Motherland did not always trust him. But he enjoyed his work--enjoyed it as much as his closest professional rival, Colonel James, U.S.A.
Pashkov landed on the roof of Intelligence in the northeast corner of the Kremlin, hitched up his pants and rode down.
In his office, Petchareff removed the cigar from his mouth as Pashkov came in. “Medvedev get my orders?”
“He’s preparing a new super-patriotic writer to replace Boris Knackenpast,” Pashkov reported. “When you give the word, he will call Izvestia and tell them Boris is dead.”
Petchareff glanced at his calendar. “We have two other state funerals this week. You made it plain, I hope, we want no repetition of Knackenpast’s peace nonsense?”
“No more Gandhi or Schweitzer influences. The new literature,” Pashkov promised, raising a chubby finger, “will be a pearl necklace of government slogans.”
Nadezhda buzzed the intercom. “The man from the Bolshoi Theater is here, Comrade.”
“Send him in.”
A small man hurried into the room. He had a narrow face and the mustache of a mouse and a mousy nose, but his eyes were big rabbit eyes. He bowed twice quickly, placed a package on the desk with trembling forepaws and bowed twice again.
Petchareff tore open the package. “You got the real thing? No bad imitation?”
“Exactly, exactly,” the mouse piped. “No difference, Comrade.” He held his paws as in prayer and his pointed mouth quivered.
Petchareff held up the hospital gown. On the back of the gown was printed in indelible ink:
stockholm national hospital
Petchareff tossed the gown to Pashkov. “This is what Colonel James is wearing,” he said, dismissing the mouse, who bowed twice and scurried out.
“Try and split the allies,” Pashkov muttered, reading the legend on the gown.
Petchareff blew cigar smoke in his face. “If Colonel James makes a monkey of you once more, you’re through, Pashkov. You don’t take your job seriously enough. You bungle this and I’ll have you transferred to our Cultural Information Center in Chicago.”
“Now, you’ll go to Stockholm and switch places with the American colonel and find out what they’re up to. Zubov’s kidnaping team is there already, at Hotel Reisen. Any questions?”
“I thought Zubov was a zoological warfare expert. What is he doing with a kidnaping team?”
“His team is more agile. On your way.”
In the front office, Pashkov stopped to kiss Nadezhda Brunhildova goodby. “I may not return from this dangerous mission. Give me a tender kiss.”
Nadezhda was a big girl with hefty arms, captain of her local broom brigade. “Monster!” She seized him by the collar. “Is Anastina dangerous?”
“Bitter sweetness!” she howled, dropping him. “Go, love. Make me miserable.”
Pashkov spent an hour at Central Intelligence. Nothing unusual going on in Stockholm: an industrial exhibit, the Swedish Academy in session, a sociology seminar on prison reform, a forty-man trade mission from India.
An addendum to the Stockholm file listed two Cuban agents operating from Fralsningsarmen’s Economy Lodgings. They were buying small arms and ammunition. He thought a moment, impressed the Cubans’ address on his memory, and went to his flier.
He did not fly to Hotel Reisen at once. Zubov’s kidnaping team could wait. Coming slowly over Stockholm he spotted the National Hospital and circled.
A line of ambulance fliers was parked on the ground in the ambulance court. On the hospital roof, he noticed, apart from private fliers, stood a flier that resembled his own.
He veered away, detoured around Riddarholmen, and five minutes later landed on the roof of Fralsningsarmen’s Economy Lodgings--the Salvation Army flophouse.
“My Cuban friends,” Pashkov inquired in fluent English at the desk on the top floor. “Are they in?”
The old desk clerk looked like a stork. “Yu, room six fifteen,” he clacked. “Tree floors down. Aer yu Amerikan?”
“Ah so? You sprikker goot Inglish laik me.”
“Very kind of you.”
He rode down three floors, found room 615, and stopped as he heard voices within.
“... dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete. By seven o’clock tonight, okay, Gringo?”
“What do you expect for seven thousand bucks--service? Look, boys, I’m just a honest businessman. I can’t get it for you today. Have a seegar, Pablo.”
“All rightie, your cause is my cause. Maybe I can get it for you tonight. But you’ll have to pay in advance. What do you say, Francisco?”
“I counted the money. It is waiting for you. You deliver, we pay.”
“But how can I trust you? I like you boys, I know you like me, but business is business. I gotta give something to my jobber, don’t I?”
At that moment Pashkov knocked on the door.
From within: “Shh! Alguien llama a la puerta.“
Pashkov knocked again and a scuffle ensued within, the crack of a chair on a skull, the dragging of a beefy body into a closet, and the slam of the closet door.
“Buenas tardes,” Pashkov said through the door. “Asuntos muy importantes.“
The door opened a crack and two dark eyes in a young bearded face peered out. “Eh?”
“Gospodin Pashkov, para servir a usted.“
The door opened enough to admit the roly-poly visitor into the room. The other Cuban, also bearded and wearing a fatigue cap, held a revolver.
“No gun-play, caballeros,” Pashkov went on in Spanish. “We are in the Salvation Army charity house, not in a two-peso thriller. Besides, I deliver before I ask payment.”
“Deliver what, senor?”
“We favor any disturbance close to the United States. May I sit down?”
Between two beds were stacked some dozen crates of explosives. A small table was littered with papers.
Sitting down at the table, Pashkov’s elbow rested on an invoice, and moments later the invoice was tucked in his pocket.
“What kind of ammunition do you need, caballeros?”
The Cubans looked at each other. “Thirty-o-six caliber, two-twenty grain. How much can you deliver?”
“Two thousand rounds.”
“Maybe three thousand. I’ll toss in a box of hand grenades and a can of lysergic acid diethylamide.”
“You have that? You have LSD-25?”
“I have that. When are you leaving Stockholm?”
Again the young beards exchanged looks. “Maybe we stay till tomorrow if you have more business. Three thousand rounds is not much. How much payment, senor?”
“Two thousand kronor,” Pashkov said, taking an envelope on the table and addressing it to Nadezhda Brunhildova, Kremlin, Moscow. No return address.
“Do you trust us to send the money?”
“It is bad for you if I do not trust you,” Pashkov said, smiling up at them.
“You can trust us. We shall send the money. Please take a cigar.”
Pashkov took four Havanas from the box they held out to him, stuck three in his breast pocket, and lit one.
“You come again, senor. We make much business.”
“Why not? Help retire Latin-American dictators to Siberia. More gold in Siberia than in Las Vegas.”
“Hyi, hyi, that is funny. You come again.”
On his way up to the roof, Pashkov studied the invoice he had lifted. It was from a manufacturer of sporting arms to Francisco Jesus Maria Gonzales, Salvation Army Economy Lodgings. He tucked the invoice into his inner pocket with a satisfied grunt, climbed into his flier and hopped over to Hotel Reisen, where Zubov’s kidnaping team was waiting for him.
Comrade Zubov, the kidnaping expert, was pacing the roof of Hotel Reisen. As Pashkov eased down in his flier, Zubov’s big front tooth flashed with delight. Pashkov felt like tossing him a bone.
“Everything in order, Gospodin Pashkov. Constant vigilance maintained at hospital by my two assistants. With your pardon, Comrade Petchareff urges all haste. Colonel James is due to leave the hospital tomorrow.”
“Comrade Petchareff always urges haste. What else?”
Zubov’s big tooth settled respectfully over his lower lip. His small eyes were so closely set that he looked cockeyed when he focused them on his superior.
“With your pardon, I shall conduct you to our suite. Plans for kidnaping of Colonel James all ready.”
“Here’s a cigar for you.”
“Gratefully accepted. Reduced unavoidable fatalities to six.” Zubov counted on his long hard fingers. “Two watchmen, three nurses, one doctor.”
In the hotel corridor, Zubov looked before and after, his eyes crossed suspiciously, and peered around corners. They got to their suite without incident, and Pashkov gave him another cigar.
“Gratefully accepted. Here is a map of hospital and grounds. Here is a map of twenty-third floor. Here is a map of Colonel James’ room. Here is hospital routine between midnight and dawn. With your pardon--”
Pashkov picked up the phone, dialed the Soviet embassy, and got the chargé d’affaires. “How is your underdeveloped countries fund?” he asked.
“Always depleted, always replenished.”
“I don’t want any Russian brands.”
“Nothing but foreign,” the chargé buzzed. “We got almost everything now through an American surplus outlet in Hamburg. Nationals get caught with American goods, Americans get blamed. Wonderful confusion. What do you need?”
“Thirty-o-six two-twenty, three thousand--if you have it.”
“Most popular. What else?”
“Only confiscated German potatoes. Will that do?”
“Fine. And a small can of sentimental caviar.”
“It’s all right. It will fall to local authorities by tomorrow.”
Pashkov put down the receiver. Give the Cubans enough to expect more--make sure they stay in town.
Zubov was cross-checking his kidnaping plans. He said, “With your pardon, do we take Colonel James alive or dead-or-alive?”
Zubov pulled a long face. “Dead-or-alive would be easier, Gospodin Pashkov. Fast, clean job.”
Pashkov squinted at Zubov’s crossed eyes. “Have you had your eyes examined lately?”
“No need,” Zubov assured him with a smile. “I see more than most people.”
Pashkov held up his remaining cigar. “How many cigars in my hand?”
At that moment the door opened and Zubov’s kidnaping team lumbered in. They were a couple of big apes dressed in blue canvas shoes, red trousers, yellow jackets, white silk scarves, sport caps and sun glasses.
“What are you doing here?” cried Zubov. “Why aren’t you observing the hospital?”
“Dhh, you said to report ... um ... if something happened,” the first ape said in a thick voice.
“Victim’s room lights out,” the ape said.
“My assistants,” Zubov introduced them to Pashkov. “Line up, line up, lads. With your pardon, they are good lads. This is Petya, and this is Kolya. No, this is Kolya and this one is Petya.”
“Not exactly. Same genetic experiment. Good lads. Stand straight, Petya. Don’t curl your feet like that, Kolya, I’ve told you before. Why didn’t you shave your hands today?”
Kolya looked guiltily at his hands.
“They’ve made progress,” Zubov assured Pashkov, pulling a small whip from his hip pocket. “Straight, lads, straight,” he flicked the whip. “We have company.”
“Are their costumes your own idea?”
“With your pardon, for purposes of concealment. What are your orders?”
Pashkov told them to pick up the boxes of ammunition at the embassy and deliver them to the Cubans, and then to commandeer a private automobile.
“We have autos at the embassy pool,” Zubov suggested.
“I want a vehicle off the street. Then report back here with your lads.”
Petya gave Kolya a box on the ear.
“Boys, boys!” Zubov cracked the whip. “Out you go. A job for Gospodin Pashkov, lads. They don’t get enough exercise,” he grinned, backing out after them. “With your pardon, I’ll thrash them later.”
And they were gone. Pashkov turned to the hospital maps and studied them before taking a nap.
Shortly before dawn, Zubov’s team returned, their mission accomplished.
“With your pardon, an excellent Mercedes,” Zubov reported.
Pashkov had changed into the hospital gown with the Coca-Cola legend on the back. He glanced at his watch. It was four o’clock in the morning.
He tossed his bundle of clothing to the first ape. “Take my flier back to Moscow, Kolya lad. Give my clothes to Nadezhda Brunhildova, and tell Comrade Petchareff to expect Colonel James today.”
Clutching the bundle, Kolya stuck his tongue out at Petya and bounded out of the room. They waited at the window until they saw Kolya take off in Pashkov’s flier. Then they made their way down the service stairs to the alley, Pashkov dressed only in the hospital gown; got into the stolen Mercedes and drove to the National Hospital, all three leaning forward.
In the ambulance court, Zubov and Petya moved quickly to a Red Cross flier. Pashkov dropped the invoice he had lifted from the Cubans on the front seat of the stolen car, and followed.
A watchman emerged from his hut, looked idly up at the rising ambulance, and shuffled back to his morning coffee.
As Petya brought the flier to a hovering stop against Colonel James’ window, Pashkov bounced into the room; Zubov drew his gun and jumped in after.
Colonel James awoke, turned on the night lamp, and sat up in the bed, his eyes blinking.
Pashkov stood looking at Colonel James. The resemblance between them was remarkable. Zubov’s eyes were crossed with astonishment.
“My dear Gospodin Pashkov!” Colonel James greeted him in Russian, yawning. “How kind of you to visit me. Do sit down.” Not only was his Russian good; his voice was a good imitation of Pashkov’s voice.
“You’re not really sick?” Pashkov asked, sitting down on the bed.
“Not physically. But imagine my psychological condition. When I look in the mirror--” The colonel shuddered.
“I hope your sacrifice won’t be permanent?” Pashkov said.
“That would be too much. How is my Russian? The truth, now.”
“Excellent. Put up your gun, Zubov. Colonel James and I don’t get to talk very often.”
“And a pity we don’t. Good manners accomplish more than an opera full of cloaks and daggers. Cigarette?”
“Gratefully accepted,” Zubov said, slipping his gun into its holster with a flourish.
“Your treatment is over, then?” Pashkov asked. “You are ready for your assignment?”
“And that is?”
“Delicate, very delicate. I must report to the Palace this morning.”
“Shall I kidnap him now?” Zubov interrupted, puffing conceitedly on his cigarette.
“Mind your language, Zubov. May I ask, Colonel--do you want me to think I am falling into a trap?”
“No, no, my friend. I am only doing my best not to show my surprise at seeing you again.” The colonel got out of bed and sat down on Pashkov’s other side.
“Zubov will make your trip to Moscow comfortable. All right, Zubov.”
Zubov focused his crossed eyes on Pashkov.
“Take him straight to Petchareff,” Colonel James said to Zubov. “I’ll report as soon as I know what these Swedes are up to.”
Zubov seized Pashkov by the scruff of the neck and dragged him towards the window.
“Hold your claws, Zubov lad,” Pashkov said. “You have got the wrong man, can’t you see? That is Colonel James.”
“Use your eyes, blockhead. I am Pashkov.”
Zubov did use his eyes. He looked from one to the other, and back. The more he focused, the more his eyes crossed. “Eh?”
Colonel James sat calmly on the bed. He said, “Carry him out.”
Zubov lifted Pashkov off the floor, crashed with his weight against the wall, but held on, grinned and staggered with Pashkov in his arms to the window.
“You miserable idiot,” Pashkov shouted. “You’ll get a rest cure for this!”
Zubov dropped him, pulled his gun and backed off into a corner. “How can I tell you two apart just by looking!” he cried hysterically. “I’m not a learned man.”
“One small but decisive proof,” Pashkov said, unbuttoning his hospital gown. “I have a mole.”
Zubov yanked the colonel up by an arm. “Send me to rest cures, will you?”
Colonel James sighed. “I guess we have to keep up appearances,” he muttered, and climbed out the window into the hovering ambulance. Zubov leaped in after, and they were off.