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It was barely eight o’clock in the morning when the telephone call came in from Algiers, but Carstairs was already at his desk high up in the CIA building in Langley, Virginia. With his left hand he switched on a tape recorder, with his right he buzzed for his assistant while he listened with narrowed eyes. At one point he interrupted, saying, “Mind repeating that?” and scribbled several words on paper. When Bishop hurried into the office the call had just been completed.
“Sorry,” Bishop said breathlessly, “I was in the men’s room, sir. I’ve missed something?”
“You have every right to be in the men’s room,” Carstairs told him reproachfully, “but you’ve missed an important call from Algiers. We may—just may, Bishop—have the first whisper of a breakthrough on the Aristotle case.
“Good God,” said Bishop, staring at him incredulously. “After all these months?”
“It’s possible. Remember that fabric shop that Davis’ department placed under surveillance in Algiers? The stolen bank-note job,” he added helpfully. “Bennet photographed some messages that were left out on a desk overnight and he decided, bless him, that one of them would interest us very much. Bright lad, Bennet. The cables and memos were in French and Arabic and he’s only just finished translating them.” Carstairs reached over and turned on the tape recorder. “Here we are,” he said, and accelerating and then slowing the machine, he signaled to Bishop to take the words down in shorthand.
They both listened carefully as Bennet’s clipped voice told them, “The original message, translated from the French, reads as follows: CONFIRM ORDER SEVENTY YARDS BLACK ARISTOTLE SILKS TO ZAMBIA THREE BOLTS COTTON DUE KAFUE PARK TWO BOLTS CHUNGA MUSLIN TEN YARDS FIVE-DAY SAFARI DESIGN CHINTZ DELIVERABLE JUNE NINE REPEAT CONFIRM RE-CONFIRM. CHABO.”
“Right,” said Bishop, puzzled. “Any more?”
“Yes, if you’ve got that down.” Carstairs pressed the button and the voice resumed … “and when the clutter words have been extracted from the fabric order, using their usual decoding technique, the message becomes: CONFIRM ARISTOTLE TO ZAMBIA DUE KAFUE PARK CHUNGA FIVE-DAY SAFARI ON JUNE NINE REPEAT CONFIRM RE-CONFIRM. CHABO.”
“Beautiful,” said Bishop with feeling.
“I rather like it myself,” said Carstairs. “Very promising indeed.”
“Aristotle,” Bishop mused, and shook his head. “I’d really begun to believe the man invisible, you know. All these assassinations and no one’s ever noticed him in the crowd or come up with a description. How does he do it? It took us four months just to learn he has a code name and he’s still a faceless, nameless Mr. X.”
“He may have the reputation of being invisible,” said Carstairs, “but damn it he’s not supernatural.” He pulled an atlas and a pile of maps from his desk drawer and began sorting through them. “Eventually somebody’s had to refer to him through channels accessible to us, and it’s possible that finally, at long last—” He pushed aside the atlas and began on the maps. “Here we are,” he said abruptly. “Take a look at this. Central Africa in detail.”
The two men bent over the map of Zambia and Carstairs pointed. “There’s Kafue National Park, twenty-two thousand five hundred square kilometers in size, six hundred varieties of game. Note the names of the safari camps.”
Bishop read aloud, “Ngomo, Moshi, Kafwala and Chunga.” He glanced at Bennet’s message and nodded. “Due Kafue Park Chunga … Chunga camp, that would mean. I must say it’s a rare day when something falls this neatly into our laps.”
“It hasn’t yet,” Carstairs reminded him, “but it’s certainly an exhilarating possibility.” He leaned back in his chair, his face thoughtful. “We do know a few things about our mysterious Aristotle. We know first of all that he’s a mercenary, up for hire to whoever bids the highest price … Look at his record: Malaga was a Liberal in Costa Rican politics, and Messague in France was a Communist. There was that British chap—Hastings, wasn’t it?—who was making some headway in Ireland on negotiations when he was assassinated, and the colonel in Peru whose politics were strictly middle-of-the-road, and then of course there was Pete.” His fact tightened. “Our agents may be fair game these days, but no man deserves to be shot as he walks out of church with a bride on his arm.”
“No, sir,” said Bishop. “However, there’s just one point—”
“Something bothering you?”
Bishop was frowning. “Very much so, now that I’ve caught my breath. What I mean is, a safari? An assassin going on safari?”
“We also know,” continued Carstairs, appearing to ignore this, “that Aristotle is intelligent, he has a strong instinct for survival, and he’s a complete loner or someone would have talked long ago. Tell me, Bishop,” he said, leaning forward and pointing a pencil at him, “if you were Aristotle, how would you negotiate your assignments? How would you make contact with your next employer?”
“How would I—” Bishop was silent, considering this. “Russian teahouse?” he said at last, flippantly. “Turkish bath? A funicular railway in the Swiss Alps? I see your point, sir. Tricky. Very, very tricky, and probably a hell of a lot more dangerous for him than actually shooting down politicians.”
“Exactly. It’s this touch that encourages me very much. Damned clever idea, choosing a safari, it’s perfect for a rendezvous. He’d have the chance to look over his potential employer before identifying himself, and then it gives them both plenty of leisure to haggle over terms and price. He’d be far removed from cities, with access to a wide area in case negotiations blow up, and what better protective cover than a small group moving through remote bush country? The man definitely has a flair for the artistic.”
“You sound as if you’re painting a portrait.”
“One has to,” Carstairs pointed out, “and then crawl inside it and puzzle out what he’ll do next, and at that stage you’ve pretty well got your man, Bishop.”
“Do we share this with Interpol?”
Carstairs shook his head. “No, definitely not. We first insert one of our own people into that safari. If we can pin down this man, find out what he looks like, identify him, learn where he comes from—”
“Not catch him?” said Bishop, startled.
Carstairs looked amused. “My dear Bishop, would you have us ask the Republic of Zambia to arrest everyone on next Monday’s safari? And on what charge? Uh-uh. This calls for the purest kind of old-fashioned intelligence-gathering, and don’t underestimate it.”
“I never have, sir,” Bishop said meekly.
“In fact, if you consider the world’s population at this given moment,” pointed out Carstairs, “you can understand how it narrows the field if Aristotle turns up at Kafue Park next Monday and we capture photographs of everyone on the safari. Instead of looking for a needle in a haystack, we’ll have pictures of perhaps a dozen people to sort through, identify, trace and verify. Exposure does wonders for invisible men,” he added dryly, “and Interpol can take it from there. What’s the date today?”
Carstairs nodded. “We’ve got to move fast, then. We’ve barely time to find the right agent and get him over there. Set up the computer, Bishop, will you? We’ll run through the possibilities.”
“It’ll only take a minute, sir.” Bishop walked over to the closet where the machine they referred to as the Monster was housed. He punched MASTER LIST, fiddled with knobs, fed it classifications like Africa, Zambia and Tourist and called to his superior. “Here you are, sir. Beginning with A, right down to Z.”
“Always reminds me of a damn slot machine,” growled Carstairs, gazing up at the screen with its myriads of blinking lights, and then he said, “John Sebastian Farrell! What the hell’s he doing on this list when he hasn’t worked for us in three years?”
Bishop, who had a memory to equal any computer, said, “Hmmm … Well, I could hazard a guess, sir. In that letter of resignation he sent us three years ago from South America—scrawled, if I remember correctly, on a torn sheet of wrapping paper—he said he was off to Africa to reclaim his soul or some such thing, and we could send any sums owed him to Farrell, care of Barclay’s Bank, Lusaka, Zambia.”
Carstairs frowned. “Something about cleaner air and a cleaner life, wasn’t it? That still doesn’t explain what he’s doing on the computer list.”
“A mistake, I think.” Bishop left the computer, went to the phone, dialed a number and rattled questions into it. When he hung up he looked pleased. “Called Bookkeeping, sir. They tell me they’ve been regularly mailing Farrell’s pension checks to Zambia for three years, and apparently that’s what the computer picked up. They’re terribly sorry and his name is being removed at once.”
“He’s still there? Those checks are being cashed?”
“That’s what they tell me.”
“Farrell,” said Carstairs musingly, and returned to his desk and sat down. “Damn it, Bishop,” he said, scowling, “I’ve known Farrell since OSS days, he worked for this department for fifteen years, yet why is it I can no longer think of Farrell without thinking of Emily Pollifax?”
Bishop laughed. “That was her first assignment, wasn’t it? After she’d turned up in Mason’s office to naïvely apply for work as a spy? And you’d been looking for a cozy grandmotherly type for your courier job and you took her on, and when all hell broke loose you thought—”
“I know what I thought,” Carstairs said, cutting him off, and suddenly grinned. “Do you remember, Bishop? When it was all over they sat right here in this office. Farrell was in bandages, looking like death itself, and Mrs. Pollifax was in that damn Albanian goatherder’s outfit … they’d just been pulled out of the Adriatic and I’d given her up for dead, I’d given them both up for dead—and she sat here pulling rabbits out of a hat—”
“Out of her petticoats, wasn’t it?” said Bishop, smiling.
“—and it turned out that a complete amateur had duped all the professionals.” He stopped smiling and said abruptly, “Mrs. Pollifax, of course.”