I instinctively held up my hand and shied away as I felt an almost imperceptible tingling in my head. It was a sensation I'd experienced before and hadn't been able to put my finger on. This time I'd been looking for it.

'I assume you can control what you do,' I said. 'I'd appreciate it if you'd respect my privacy.'

The tingling stopped. Tal was still silhouetted against the window, and I couldn't see his face. I wondered what he was thinking.

'How did you manage the fingerprints on the pencil? That was good. It threw me off the track right at the beginning.'

Tal said nothing. He continued to smoke.

'You know that I know.'

' What do you know, Mongo?'

'I know that you're Victor Rafferty. That was the French agent who died in the boathouse. Elliot Thomas was the 'Frenchie'-an American working deep undercover for France.' I pointed to his side. 'You're bleeding, but there aren't any bullet holes in your shirt. You've been favoring that side since yesterday; you ripped open an already existing wound when you tackled Garth. My guess is that Thomas-or whatever his name really was-finally caught up with you. After all, he'd been at it a long time, and he'd really been digging ever since the Nately Museum went up. He knew, just as your ex-wife knew, that Victor Rafferty had designed that building. Somehow, you got on Thomas' list of candidates; when he got around to checking your background, your cover didn't hold.'

Tal remained silent.

'God only knows how Thomas did it,' I continued, 'but he must have gotten the drop on you. Unlucky for him: Thomas didn't make out any better than Lippitt did five years ago. You've been keeping Thomas on ice for the past few days; Rolfe Thaag's been baby-sitting him while you put this plan into operation. You knew what was in my mind, so you had every reason to think I'd buy it. I can't point to any one thing that convinced me; it's the sum of a lot of little things. Considering the fact that you've been winging it for the past few days, you've done damn well. But then, you read minds, don't you?'

'I don't know what you're talking about, Mongo,' Tal said quietly.

'Now you're just playing out the string, hoping I'll back off. I won't. Putting Thomas in that boathouse down there was pretty murderous for Victor Rafferty, but you certainly had cause. He's been trying to kill or capture you for years. That would try my patience too.'

Tal still hadn't moved, and I stayed where I was, firing long-range verbal artillery. I hated to admit it, but I was afraid to go closer. I liked Ronald Tal, but I didn't know this stranger at the other end of the boathouse.

'When did you arrive at these conclusions, Mongo?'

'Don't you know? Why don't you look in my head and find out?' I waited, but Tal said nothing and there was no tingling sensation. 'It suddenly occurred to me on the beach that I was being had. Call it deja vu once removed. Why the hell should Victor Rafferty have come out of that boathouse like it was High Noon? It didn't make sense. Thomas was dazed; the man didn't even know where he was. He was like a man who'd just recovered consciousness-or who'd had a few mental circuits burned out. He died trying to carry out his duty, which was to kill you. That's why he fired up the beach.'

'I understand that you think I'm Victor Rafferty,' Tal said calmly, 'but you're wrong.'

'No, I'm not. 'In the world of diplomacy, information is the most valuable commodity.' Remember when you told me that?'

'I remember. What does it prove?'

'Nothing. I just want you to know that I know the truth. You see, that's precisely what you've been doing all this time: providing Rolfe Thaag with that valuable commodity. All his diplomatic success springs from you.'

'What about the fingerprints on the pencil?'

'All right, that is troublesome. Let's speculate. You had advance warning of who I was and what I wanted when Abu called. You immediately probed my mind when I walked into your office and found out everything there was to know; up to that point, anyway. You started setting me up from that very moment. You put a contingency plan into motion. My guess is that the pencil was Rolfe Thaag's. You'd probably covered the tips of your fingers with cellophane tape. Even dried glue would do the trick. Then you set the pencil down right in front of me; you knew I'd take it, just as I'd taken the protractor from Elliot Thomas' office. You knew I was suspicious of you, and you decided to knock me out of the box right at the beginning.'

I tried to see Tal's face, but he was still framed against the circle of muddy light. He didn't move. 'You have fantastic control over your emotions,' I continued. 'I suppose that's just one more thing you had to learn in order to survive. I'm sure you knew that Richard Patern had used your design for the Nately Museum, but you probably didn't suspect that you were in danger of being discovered until I walked into your office. And you never blinked an eye. But you knew what could happen, and you started keeping a close watch on things. You were too late to save Abu, but you were probably trying to find a way when he was killed.'

Tal dropped his cigarette to the floor and ground it out under his heel. Then he walked forward and stopped in front of me. His face was impassive, but his black eyes shone brightly in the dim light. He was still holding his side, but the bleeding had stopped. 'Rafferty and I don't look anything alike,' he said. 'Wasn't he quite thin? I must be at least thirty pounds heavier, and I don't think you'll find that much fat on me.'

'Anabolic steroids could do that; the drugs, combined with a heavy conditioning program, would build you up. You not only managed to change your physical appearance, you radically altered your whole behavior pattern; you must be some natural actor. Then there would be plastic surgery, hair transplants, and voice training. The works, and all within the space of a year or so. That's cutting it close, but it could be done. It was done. I'm betting you looked different-pretty shaky-when you first showed up at the U.N. That-finally-may have been what tipped Thomas off once he thought about it and started making inquiries. I'm going to do some heavy checking on that myself.'

Tal lighted another cigarette. His face hadn't changed, but his hand shook slightly. He saw that I noticed, quickly ground the cigarette out, and put his hands in his pockets. The masquerade was over, and Ronald Tal-Victor Rafferty knew it. I wondered why I didn't feel better about the whole thing.

'You could stay on top of what was happening simply by being around the right people-like me-at the right time. You were hoping against hope that I and the others would conclude that you had died, but you needed me in order to keep in touch with people you wouldn't ordinarily come into contact with.'

I paused and was once again aware of the tingling in my mind. It was slight, but it was there. Tal's eyes had narrowed.

'You got worried when you found out I wanted to bail out of the case,' I continued. 'You already knew at that time that the Russians had Foster and your ex-wife, and you had to stay plugged into the situation until you could figure out what to do. I was your plug.

'But first you had to change my mind; you had to make me feel better; you had to make me see things the way you wanted me to see them. You eased my guilt with that incredible mind of yours. There's a distinct sensation when you touch someone's mind; I first felt it when we were together in the chapel. Of course, I didn't know what was happening at the time, but then I felt it again in the hospital, and still again at the farmhouse. I went into that chapel ready to slit my wrists, and walked out feeling pretty good.

When I stopped to think about it, I knew it wasn't natural. In fact, it was getting to the point-then and later-where I perked up every time you were around. You juiced up my psyche once too often, and I started to put it together after I heard Lippitt describe what you'd done for him.

'You were the one who saved me at the farmhouse. I knew I heard a door open; it was you. I think I know what you did, but I can't understand how you found out I was there.'

Tal shrugged. 'Let me speculate along your lines. Rafferty was keeping a very close watch on things … and who would be better qualified than a total telepath? He knew about the two British agents on your tail, and he knew the Russians had brought in Kaznakov. He became very much concerned and made it a point to make excuses to see-or at least be physically close to-informed British and Russian officials every day. Of course, there had to be a bit of good fortune involved; he may have talked with an Englishman who was nervous because a check-in call from the two agents he controlled was long overdue. Then, naturally, Rafferty would have

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