Chapter 10

The whole story had gradually come out, and now they all knew how much larger the picture was than rescuing one friend. Now it was another mission, with stakes just as high as any other mission.

Jim had pieced together this picture: Years ago, this little Arizona town had been taken over by agents from some enemy country. It was impossible to know which country, at present. They had become moles, saboteurs, assassins. Who knew how many operations they had carried out in the western United States over how many years? Each member of the team could remember several unsolved political cases in Los Angeles alone in the last ten or fifteen years. Now they were after Mosnyevov, the valuable scientist-defector. Two assassins, a young man and a young woman, had been sent out to kill him. The killing might or might not involve gas; if it didn't, there was a secondary target, possibly some kind of sabotage or a bombing at the space conference in Los Angeles starting that very day. Doc Tappert was in charge of the town, but he answered to someone higher up, and it was possible that a signal might come through pausing or stopping the operation altogether. Jan and Marty were to call from the Park Regent Hotel that evening at 5 o'clock precisely and get their orders. Rollin had the code for the orders written out:




Rollin was in charge now. He swiftly gave out the orders and then recapped: "One: We've got to prevent that killing in Los Angeles. Two: We've got to get Jim and ourselves out of here in one piece. Barney, keep everybody out until we're done. Then Willy will go for help."

Barney nodded and went swiftly out.

"Cinnamon, you come with me. And Willy, you stay with Jim."

Willy nodded as well and went to the window. Everything was quiet and still outside, a sultry fall afternoon in Arizona.

Jan unpacked her maid's uniform in the hotel room and put it on. Marty already had his bellhop uniform on and was sitting on one of the beds with his feet up, reading the newspaper. Jan gave the newspaper a look of loathing. The headlines said:



The television was going, too. The traitor, the despicable Pavel Mosnyevov, was speaking at a press conference in his ridiculous accent. "Outer space belongs to all peoples for peaceful exploration," he said, to great applause.

Jan whirled on her partner. "How can you listen to him?"

Marty said laconically, "It doesn't bother me. A target is a target."

That was the one problem with Marty. He was the person she most liked to have for a partner because he was so efficient, quick, and quiet, so dedicated to doing his job right, but he had almost no political conviction. He did his job because it was his job, not because he was devoted heart and soul to the Motherland and her objectives and her glory. If America gave him a job to do, would he do that, too?

Doc Tappert had found himself in an untenable and completely unforeseen situation. One minute he'd been hurrying to help a patient, the next he woke up to find himself neatly and thoroughly gagged and tied to a chair in his own office. How had he gotten here? How had this happened? He could remember nothing. He struggled with the bonds, tried to make a ruckus so Williams or someone would hear, tried to get near his phone or a scalpel or something, but whoever had tied him up was a very effective tier-upper.

Footsteps came hurrying down the stairs, and he tried to cry out around his gag. Into his office came Mr. Hand and the lovely Mrs. Phelps. They should have stopped, stared, rushed to help him, but instead they hardly gave him a glance.

"See if you can find the plaster of Paris," Hand said, and they each began looking through cupboards.

What in the Sam Hill—? He tried to struggle again.

"Here it is," the woman said. There was a clink on the table behind him. The woman came up to him and examined his face, her own clinical, the face of a doctor looking at a wound, not the face of a woman distraught because her husband was dying. She had plastic in her hands; she tore it and laid it over his hair, taped it down with medical tape, and then she began to dab glycerine on his eyebrows.

He wanted to scream at her, What is going on? but he couldn't make a sound. She and the man were working together with ease and almost with no discussion, like professionals.

And then it sank in. They were professionals. Counter-agents? The man upstairs in the bed—was it possible he was actually an agent sent here to find out what was going on? And he'd been outed by Jan's little accident, just as she had been? And his close friend just happened to be another agent, and his wife? Was she even his wife? No, it was all too coincidental. It was ridiculous.

Hand came over to him and put one hand on his chest, used the other to hold a cotton ball under his nose. Doc smelled the familiar, nasty smell of ether and struggled, but it was no use. The man was strong, and so was the ether. The world swirled away around him.

"Cinnamon, take this plastic sheet off the examining table and put it in the sterilizer," Rollin said.

With an eyebrow quirk, she obeyed, folding it up into a square pan and figuring out how to activate the machine. Rollin had spent some time thinking about his lack of latex and thought he had come up with a simple and effective solution. He could only hope it would work. He'd never tried it before.

He began gooping the plaster over Doc's face. He covered the whole face, taking care to keep air holes open. It set up quickly, and he was soon able to remove it with no harm done to Doc's face and examine his mold.

"Perfect. Put the gag back on him."

While she did, he went to the sterilizer and carefully removed the pan with a towel. The plastic had completely melted, and he couldn't help grinning as he poured it into the mold and swirled it around. Who says you can't improvise a face mask at the drop of a hat? he thought jubilantly. When it was set up, he pulled the flexible, seemingly shapeless mask out, took his paints out of the case Cinnamon had brought, and sat down next to Doc to paint all the lines and color of a man's face into it.

Cinnamon looked through Rollin's case until she found a short wig and hair dye and sat down by the sink to turn the dark hair into the yellowed white of the doctor's hair. They had done this so many times there was little need of discussion. Anyone might have thought they'd been an acting team together, rather than Cinnamon being a fashion model whose ease and familiarity with the tools of the impersonator's trade had come through long association with and training by Rollin, the great impersonator.

Marty had everything ready. Jacket, food on a cart, gun tucked underneath it, just in case. It was 5 o'clock.

"The victim had a meal, food for one, went to take a bath, had a terrible accident," he reviewed. "I'll call for the order to activate." He picked up the phone and dialed Doc Tappert's office.