Loring walked out the side entrance of the Justice Department and looked for a taxi. It was nearly five thirty, a spring Friday, and the congestion in the Washington streets was awful. Loring stood by the curb and held up his left hand, hoping for the best. He was about to abandon the effort when a cab that had picked up a fare thirty feet down the block stopped in front of him.
“Going east, mister? It’s O.K. This gentleman said he wouldn’t mind.”
Loring was always embarrassed when these incidents occurred. He unconsciously drew back his right forearm, allowing his sleeve to cover as much of his hand as possible—to conceal the thin black chain looped around his wrist, locked to the briefcase handle.
“Thanks, anyway. I’m heading south at the next corner.”
He waited until the taxi reentered the flow of traffic and then resumed his futile signaling.
Usually, under such conditions, his mind was alert, his feelings competitive. He would normally dart his eyes in both directions, ferreting out cabs about to disgorge passengers, watching the corners for those dimly lit roof signs that meant this particular vehicle was for hire if you ran fast enough.
Today, however, Ralph Loring did not feel like running. On this particular Friday, his mind was obsessed with a terrible reality. He had just borne witness to a man’s being sentenced to death. A man he’d never met but knew a great deal about. An unknowing man of thirty-three who lived and worked in a small New England town four hundred miles away and who had no idea of Loring’s existence, much less of the Justice Department’s interest in him.
Loring’s memory kept returning to the large conference room with the huge rectangular table around which sat the men who’d pronounced the sentence.
He had objected strenuously. It was the least he could do for the man he’d never met, the man who was being maneuvered with such precision into such an untenable position.
“May I remind you, Mr. Loring,” said an assistant attorney general who’d once been a judge advocate in the navy, “that in any combat situation basic risks are assumed. A percentage of casualties is anticipated.”
“The circumstances are different. This man isn’t trained. He won’t know who or where the enemy is. How could he? We don’t know ourselves.”
“Just the point.” The speaker then had been another assistant AG, this one a recruit from some corporation law office, fond of committee meetings, and, Loring suspected, incapable of decisions without them. “Our subject is highly mobile. Look at the psychological profile, ‘flawed but mobile in the extreme.’ That’s exactly what it says. He’s a logical choice.”
“ ‘Flawed but mobile’! What in heaven’s name does that mean? May I remind this committee that I’ve worked in the field for fifteen years. Psychological profiles are only screening guidelines, hit-and-miss judgments. I would no more send a man into an infiltration problem without knowing him thoroughly than I would assume the responsibility for NASA mathematics.”
The chairman of the committee, a career professional, had answered Loring.
“I understand your reservations; normally, I’d agree. However, these -aren’t normal conditions. We have barely three weeks. The time factor overrides the usual precautions.”
“It’s the risk we have to assume,” said the former judge advocate pontifically.
“You’re not assuming it,” Loring replied.
“Do you wish to be relieved of the contact?” The chairman made the offer in complete sincerity.
“No, sir. I’ll make it. Reluctantly. I want that on the record.”
“One thing before we adjourn.” The corporation lawyer leaned forward on the table. “And this comes right from the top. We’ve all agreed that our subject is motivated. The profile makes that clear. What must also be made clear is that any assistance given this committee by the subject is given freely and on a voluntary basis. We’re vulnerable here. We cannot, repeat cannot, be responsible. If it’s possible, we’d like the record to indicate that the subject came to us.”
Ralph Loring had turned away from the man in disgust.
If anything, the traffic was heavier now. Loring had about made up his mind to start walking the twenty-odd blocks to his apartment when a white Volvo pulled up in front of him.
“Get in! You look silly with your hand up like that.”
“Oh, it’s you. Thanks very much.” Loring opened the door and slid into the small front seat, holding his briefcase on his lap. There was no need to hide the thin black chain around his wrist. Cran-ston was a field man, too; an overseas route specialist. Cran-ston had done most of the background work on the assignment which was now Loring’s responsibility.
“That was a long meeting. Accomplish anything?”
“The green light.”
“It’s about time.”
“Two assistant AGs and a concerned message from the White House were responsible.”
“Good. Geo division got the latest reports from Force-Mediterranean this morning. It’s a regular mass conversion of source routes. It’s confirmed. The fields in Ankara and Konya in the north, the projects in Sidi Barrani and Rashid, even the Algerian contingents are systematically cutting production. It’s going to make things very difficult.”
“What the hell do you want? I thought the objective was to rip them out. You people are never satisfied.”
“Neither would you be. We can exert controls over routes we know about; what in God’s name do we know about places like . . . Porto Belocruz, Pilcomayo, a half dozen unpronounceable names in Paraguay, Brazil, Guiana? It’s a whole goddamn new ballgame, Ralph.”
“Bring in the SA specialists. CIA’s crawling with them.”
“No way. We’re not even allowed to ask for maps.”
“That’s espionage. We stay clean. We’re strictly according to Interpol-Hoyle; no funny business. I thought you knew that.”
“I do,” replied Loring wearily. “It’s still asinine.”
“You worry about New England, USA. We’ll handle the pampas, or whatever they are—it is.”
“New England, USA, is a goddamn microcosm. That’s what’s frightening. What happened to all those poetic descriptions of rustic fences and Yankee spirit and ivied brick walls?”
“New poetry. Get with it.”
“Your sympathy is overwhelming. Thanks.”
“You sound discouraged.”
“There isn’t enough time. . . .”
“There never is.” Cran-ston steered the small car into a faster lane only to find it bottlenecked at Nebraska and Eighteenth. With a sigh, he shoved the gearshift into neutral and shrugged his shoulders. He looked at Loring, who was staring blankly at the windshield. “At least you got the green light. That’s something.”
“Sure. With the wrong personnel.”
“Oh . . . I see. Is that him?” Cran-ston gestured his head toward Loring’s briefcase.
“That’s him. From the day he was born.”
“What’s his name?”
“Matlock. James B. Matlock II. The B is for Barbour, very old family—two very old families. James Matlock, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. A leading authority in the field of social and political influences on Elizabethan literature. How about that?”
“Jesus! Are those his qualifications? Where does he start asking questions? At faculty teas for retired professors?”
“No. That part of it’s all right; he’s young enough. His qualifications are included in what Security calls ‘flawed but mobile in the extreme.’ Isn’t that a lovely phrase?”
“Inspiring. What does it mean?”
“It’s supposed to describe a man who isn’t very nice. Probably because of a loused-up army record, or a divorce—I’m sure it’s the army thing—but in spite of that insurmountable handicap, is very well liked.”
“I like him already.”
“That’s my problem. I do, too.”
The two men fell into silence. It was clear that Cran-ston had been in the field long enough to realize when a fellow professional had to think by himself. Reach certain conclusions—or rationalizations—by himself. Most of the time, it was easy.
Ralph Loring thought about the man whose life was detailed so completely in his briefcase, culled from a score of data-bank sources. James Barbour Matlock was the name, but the person behind the name refused to come into focus. And that bothered Loring; Matlock’s life had been shaped by disturbing, even violent, inconsistencies.
He was the surviving son of two elderly, immensely wealthy parents who lived in handsome retirement in Scarsdale, New York. His education had been properly Eastern Establishment: Andover and Amherst, with the proper expectations of a Manhattan-based profession—banking, brokerage, advertising. There was nothing in his precollege or undergraduate rec-ord to indicate a deviation from this pattern. Indeed, marriage to a socially prominent girl from Greenwich seemed to confirm it.
And then things happened to James Barbour Matlock, and Loring wished he understood. First came the army.
It was the early sixties, and by the simple expedient of agreeing to a six-month extension of service, Matlock could have sat comfortably behind a desk as a supply officer somewhere—most likely, with his family’s connections, in Washington or New York. Instead, his service file read like a hoodlum’s: a series of infractions and insubordinations that guaranteed him the least desirable of assignments—Vietnam and its escalating hostilities. While in the Mekong Delta, his military behavior also guaranteed him two summary courts-martial.
Yet there appeared to be no ideological motivation behind his actions, merely poor, if any, adjustment.
His return to civilian life was marked by continuing difficulties, first with his parents and then with his wife. Inexplicably, James Barbour Matlock, whose academic record had been gentlemanly but hardly superior, took a small apartment in Morningside Heights and attended Columbia University’s graduate school.
The wife lasted three and a half months, opting for a quiet divorce and a rapid exit from Matlock’s life.
The following several years were monotonous intelligence material. Matlock, the incorrigible, was in the process of becoming Matlock, the scholar. He worked around the calendar, receiving his master’s degree in fourteen months, his doctorate two years later. There was a reconciliation of sorts with his parents, and a position with the English department at Carlyle University in Connecticut. Since then Matlock had published a number of books and articles and acquired an enviable reputation in the academic community. He was obviously popular—“mobile in the extreme” (silly goddamn expression); he was moderately well off and apparently possessed none of the antagonistic traits he’d displayed during the hostile years. Of course, there was damn little reason for him to be discontented, thought Loring. James Barbour Matlock II had his life nicely routined; he was covered on all flanks, thank you, including a girl. He was currently, with discretion, involved with a graduate student named Patricia Ballantyne. They kept separate residences, but according to the data, were lovers. As near as could be determined, however, there was no marriage in sight. The girl was completing her doctoral studies in archeology, and a dozen foundation grants awaited her. Grants that led to distant lands and unfamiliar facts. Patricia Ballantyne was not for marriage; not according to the data banks.
But what of Matlock? wondered Ralph Loring. What did the facts tell him? How could they possibly justify the choice?
They didn’t. They couldn’t. Only a trained professional could carry out the demands of the current situation. The problems were far too complex, too filled with traps for an amateur.
The terrible irony was that if this Matlock made errors, fell into traps, he might accomplish far more far quicker than any professional.
And lose his life doing so.
“What makes you all think he’ll accept?” Cran-ston was nearing Loring’s apartment and his curiosity was piqued.
“What? I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“What’s the motive for the subject’s acceptance? Why would he agree?”
“A younger brother. Ten years younger, as a matter of fact. The parents are quite old. Very rich, very detached. This Matlock holds himself responsible.”
“The brother. He killed himself three years ago with an overdose of heroin.”
Ralph Loring drove his rented car slowly down the wide, tree-lined street past the large old houses set back beyond manicured lawns. Some were fraternity houses, but there were far fewer than had existed a decade ago. The social exclusivity of the fifties and early sixties was being replaced. A few of the huge structures had other identifications now. The House, Aquarius (naturally), Afro-Commons, Warwick, Lumumba Hall.
Connecticut’s Carlyle University was one of those medium-sized “prestige” campuses that dot the New England landscape. An administration, under the guidance of its brilliant president, Dr. Adrian Sealfont, was restructuring the college, trying to bring it into the second half of the twentieth century. There were inevitable protests, proliferation of beards, and African studies balanced against the quiet wealth, club blazers, and alumni-sponsored regattas. Hard rock and faculty tea dances were groping for ways to coexist.
Loring reflected, as he looked at the peaceful campus in the bright spring sunlight, that it seemed inconceivable that such a community harbored any real problems.
Certainly not the problem that had brought him there.
Yet it did.
Carlyle was a time bomb which, when detonated, would claim extraordinary victims in its fallout. That it would explode, Loring knew, was inevitable. What happened before then was unpredictable. It was up to him to engineer the best possible probabilities. The key was James Barbour Matlock, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Loring drove past the attractive two-story faculty residence that held four apartments, each with a separate entrance. It was considered one of the better faculty houses and was usually occupied by bright young families before they’d reached the tenure necessary for outlying homes of their own. Matlock’s quarters were on the first floor, west section.
Loring drove around the block and parked diagonally across the street from Matlock’s door. He couldn’t stay long; he kept turning in the seat, scanning the cars and Sunday morning pedestrians, satisfied that he himself wasn’t being observed. That was vital. On Sunday, according to Matlock’s surveillance file, the young professor usually read the papers till around noon and then drove to the north end of Carlyle where Patricia Ballantyne lived in one of the efficiency apartments reserved for graduate students. That is, he drove over if she hadn’t spent the night with him. Then the two generally went out into the country for lunch and returned to Matlock’s apartment or went south into Hartford or New Haven. There were variations, of course. Often the Ballantyne girl and Matlock took weekends together, registering as man and wife. Not this weekend, however. Surveillance had confirmed that.
Loring looked at his watch. It was twelve forty, but Matlock was still in his apartment. Time was running short. In a few minutes, Loring was expected to be at Crescent Street. 217 Crescent. It was where he would make cover-contact for his second vehicle transfer.
He knew it wasn’t necessary for him to physically watch Matlock. After all, he’d read the file thoroughly, looked at scores of photographs, and even talked briefly with Dr. Sealfont, Carlyle’s president. Nevertheless, each agent had his own working methods, and his included watching subjects for a period of hours before making contact. Several colleagues at Justice claimed it gave him a sense of power. Loring knew only that it gave him a sense of confidence.
Matlock’s front door opened and a tall man walked out into the sunlight. He was dressed in khaki trousers, loafers, and a tan turtleneck sweater. Loring saw that he was modestly good looking with sharp features and fairly long blond hair. He checked the lock on his door, put on a pair of sunglasses, and walked around the sidewalk to what Loring presumed was a small parking area. Several minutes later, James Matlock drove out of the driveway in a Triumph sportscar.
The government man reflected that his subject seemed to have the best of a pleasant life. Sufficient income, no responsibilities, work he enjoyed, even a convenient relationship with an attractive girl.
Loring wondered if it would all be the same for James Barbour Matlock three weeks from then. For Matlock’s world was about to be plunged into an abyss.