David McDaniel

The Final Affair

Man from U.N.C.L.E #24

Dedicated to Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton – for a hell of a good idea.

And to Terry Carr, without whom, etc.

The author wishes to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose co- operation this series could never have been written, and to extend special thanks to agents Andante Nemo (Section 2, Number 11) and Vaughn Carazini (Section 2, Number 2) for permission to adapt from their personal files. For further information on the operations of the United Network Command, do not contact Ace Books, Inc.

Write instead to: U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle HQ, Section Seven

Box 353

Malibu, California – 90265

Darkness, and silence. The clammy smell of cold concrete.

After some indefinite time, the scrape of metal on stone and a glow of light faintly filling the arch of a yawning doorway from a descending ramp which curved upward out of sight. The dazzling spot of a hand-torch appeared in the opening, followed by two black-clad men, moving cautiously, each with a heavy satchel swinging by his side. They entered the large room, ceiling and end walls lost in darkness, and paused, sweeping the spot of light across a dark green wall. One stuck a sheet of paper into the light, and a finger underscored a dimension line of the blueprint; the spot scanned leftward close to the floor, focusing on a covered heavy-duty electrical socket. Both men nodded. One set down his satchel -and walked forward into the illuminated area, drawing a small tape measure from his pocket.

Three full arm-spreads he measured along the base of the wall, then four feet straight up. A stethoscope unfolded from another pocket – he fitted the tips in his ears and set the cup against the wall at this point, then thumped the cement lightly with his fist in several places, shifted the cup three inches and tried it again.

Finally, with a felt marker, he marked the last spot he'd tested and stepped back, eying it speculatively. Meanwhile his partner set the torch on a folding tripod, adjusted its aim slightly, picked up both satchels and came forward into the light. He set both bags down close to the wall, opened one, and brought out a small electric drill.

When the man with the stethoscope stepped back and nodded, the other reached back into his bag. He pumped a small lever on a high-energy short-life battery, releasing the activating chemicals within; he checked the cable that led to the drill; after a few seconds he tested the trigger. The motor began to respond sluggishly, then revved up to a high, muffled whine. He stood, and pressed the drill to the wall at the base of the inked mark. With a brief flurry of paint, white concrete dust began to sift down.

As he began work, his partner unpacked the other satchel. In a series of numbered plastic boxes components nestled in cotton, dark plastic modules with gleaming contacts and locking dovetails grooved into matching sides.

He sat down cross-legged, unfolded a sheet of paper, and began to assemble them. The drill took about two minutes to sink six inches into the wall; the steady drone shot up in pitch as the bit punched through. Smoothly the tool was withdrawn and moved to attack another spot a foot up and to the left. In fifteen minutes six half-inch holes had been lanced around a circle above the mark, and a seventh in the center. He leaned away from the wall and flexed his shoulders with a sigh and the motor whined down to silence. During this time, the other man had assembled and brought to life an irregular block about ten by twelve by fifteen inches, with tiny neon pips which glowed briefly as his fingers moved over its surface, checking the intricate circuitry one last time and activating certain control mechanisms.

After the last hole had been sunk, he dug into the bag which held the power supply and brought out two small electric saws. He took the warm drill from the stretched arm of his partner, disconnected its cable and stowed it away. He drew a second cable from the bag and connected both to the saws. Then he picked up one and inserted its long heavy blade into the bottom hole. The motor vibrated to life and white dust spurted out as he started a cut diagonally up towards the next hole.

His partner breathed deeply and rubbed his right shoulder, flexed his neck, cracked his knuckles, and picked up the other saw. Within a minute there was room for him to start at the base of the slot already cut and begin working in the other direction. The quiet stammer of the first motor faltered slightly and recovered as the second started, and white dust fountained down on both sides of the circle.

In five minutes there remained only a six-inch gap uncut at the top, and both stopped. One got out a long thin rod and thrust it through the center hole, then twisted the end until it locked, spidery legs unseen clamped against the pieces of wall from inside. He gripped the rod as the other sawed through the last support.

As the mass of concrete broke loose, he pulled, jerking it out two inches as it dropped half an inch, then working it farther out. His partner put down his saw and helped him pull it the rest of the way out, catching it as it came free and between them lowering it to the floor.

Between outer and inner walls a heavy structural brace fitted, its top level with the bottom of the hole they had cut. Some jelly from a finger-burst pod was smeared along the upper surface of the short metal beam, and the quiescent block of dark plastic was lifted into place on it, neatly centered and settled. Then the final button was touched and a small square of wire grid extended towards them on the end of a slender rod.

Leaving it dangling, they turned to other work.

Into an inflated tub they poured a gallon of murky liquid from a plastic jug. Then, attacking the slab of concrete with short heavy bars, they broke it into fist-sized pieces and tossed them into the tub. There the chunks softened, mushed, and were beaten into a dark grey pulp by the umbrella-like ribs of the device that, had pulled the slab from the wall.

While it cured, the men took pressurized tanks from the bottom of the other satchel and sprayed from them a heavy white foam which billowed into the space between the walls, hardening in seconds to surround the electronic block and its supporting member. As it bulged slightly out the opening they packed it back with their hands, leaving the stiff lumpy white surface about six inches inset from the surrounding wall. Simultaneously they worked the protruding rod slightly to assure it free play through the solidified insulating foam and positioned the small square of wire roughly even with the outer wall surface.

Then they slipped on plastic gloves and began to knead the grey mass in their inflated tub. The malleable, still-warm cement was picked up in double handfuls and slapped into the cavity, packed carefully from the bottom up.

In minutes the indentation was filled, flush at the edges and very faintly concave at the center where a barely perceptible inch-and-a-half square was barely visible. The heavy cracking bars doubled as squeegees to plane the face of the fresh cement as smooth as that surrounding. The color where they worked was a close match around the perimeter; slightly darker, but lightening perceptibly as they left it to finish drying and continued their task.

They disconnected the saws and brought out a small vacuum cleaner with a bag attached. Then while one folded the deflated plastic tub around a congealing lump of extra cement and stowed it, the other picked up all the loose dust which had settled to the floor. He was not quite through when the hum of the powerful little fan wavered slightly and began to fall in pitch; before it died a minute later he managed to pick up all but a few stray grains. These he crushed underfoot and scattered.

He stowed the vacuum while his partner brought out two tall cans with spray nozzles. Starting at the center

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