A circus performer turned superspy is caught up in a Cold War web of conspiracy and death when the body of a murdered CIA agent is discovered in a Hawaiian marine park
By any definition, Ringling Wallenda Grove is an extraordinary man. The son of expatriate Russian former circus owners, he mastered the arts of acrobatics, animal training, and magic at a young age, distinguished himself as an officer in World War II, and went on to amass a fortune of several million dollars before going into semiretirement.
But there is another side to this man that few know about. R. W. Grove is a master spy, having honed his trade as a postwar intelligence agent with the OSS. Now the murder of a Company agent, whose body was found floating among the aquatic animals in Honolulu’s popular Sea Life Park, is pulling Grove back into the game. A deadly international conspiracy is afoot, involving the nation’s most bitter and dangerous enemies, and it centers on a covert CIA operation code-named Zed—an undertaking so secretive that even the president can know nothing about it.
Renowned for his provocative, stunningly realized speculative fiction, Philip Wylie joined the ranks of John le Carré, Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, and other masters of the espionage thriller when he first published The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise. Brimming with action, intrigue, and ingenious twists and turns, the novel brilliantly captures the fears, anxieties, paranoia, and rampant conspiracies that hallmarked the Cold War era.
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About the Author
Wylie was also a commentator on American society. In 1942 he published Generation of Vipers, a bestselling book of essays that attacked the complacencies of the American way of life. His novel The Disappearance presents a dystopia in which men and women vanish from the perception of the opposite sex, allowing Wylie to explore the issues of women’s rights and homosexuality. Wylie recognized early the potentially catastrophic effects of pollution and climate change and wrote both fiction and nonfiction on those topics.
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The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise
By Philip Wylie
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1969 Philip Wylie
All rights reserved.
The night watchman at Sea Life Park pedaled his bike from the Oceanic Institute, which was part of his beat, to the park office area. There he smelled trouble.
He did not identify it as trouble, right away, or even as a smell. He stopped his bike on the road between the park and the institute because he had sensed an alien event, or presence, or sign. So he dismounted and stood motionless in an effort to discern the cause.
He was in his fifties, a huge man, wearing a blue uniform with a .45 on a wide belt. Half Hawaiian and half Chinese, the watchman was Buddha-faced with black hair under his visored cap, eyes near black, and amber skin of remarkable smoothness except where scars were hidden by his clothing, scars that were proud mementos of Italy in World War Two and of Korea or of his later but zealous career as a detective on the Honolulu police force.
People who claim to have premonitions of danger tend to be mystical; however the park watchman felt his inklings, his sudden sensations of unnamable threat should be heeded, not trusted. Most such pricklings came from an unconsciously noted phenomenon that was normal and merely unexpected or disturbing when sensed. But Jerry Gong knew that every such sudden flash, nameless tocsin, could be traced by introspection; and he knew some were danger signs. Sound, scent, movement or a tactile phenomenon—such as the delicate tremble of a floor, showing another presence in a dark room, needed interpretation. You therefore stopped as Jerry had done to reconnoiter your nerves, testing each sense organ in turn while keeping under cover if possible.
He quietly moved out of the gleaming lights in Sea Life Park. Had he seen anything or anybody, glimpsed some odd movement, heard a peculiar sound or faintly sensed a strange odor? He rushed through that checklist-for-survival. A sniff of some sort, he decided.
The delicacy of that effort would have surprised most people, for he did not look sensitive—at six foot three and two hundred thirty pounds, with a face as relaxed and as friendly as it was open, a face he'd disciplined to seem least alert when the utmost vigilance was needed.
His ability to dissemble was among the qualities that explained his many military decorations, his scars and his present occupation. The Honolulu police had turned Jerry out to pasture after a huge ceremony, where a thousand people from all parts of Oahu stood up to cheer.
Another, greater number had cheered for a different reason. They were the criminals in the state of Hawaii. Jerry's compulsory retirement had been meant as an act of mercy: a man of his age should not risk more beatings, stabs and bullet holes; so the governor of Hawaii and both senators had attended the parting ceremony. Jerry had tried his best to act pleased but within a month his enforced leisure palled. Restless, cross, prone to argument, given to heavy drinking—and that, for the first time—Jerry changed from celebrity to scourge. His wife, Puuani, his four sons and four daughters, along with at least a hundred relatives, tried everything. "Everything" didn't work. Not being a detective, or a soldier of his special breed, or even a man with a job, made Jerry a skid row candidate.
Then he heard Sea Life Park was looking for a night watchman. Its office safe had been the target of three burglaries, all failures, even though the third gang (after grabbing and tying up the night man then on duty) had hauled the safe out of the park grounds and down the highway. Then they'd pitched it over a cliff where, to their humiliation, it lay, dented and gouged but not open or openable, at least by them.
After that, "Tack" Abbott, who, with his wife, "was" the park, the institute, the Makai Range and so forth, decided he needed a different breed of watchman. Tack mentioned the requirements to Mrs. Abbott, who wrote the ad. Jerry saw it as he sat on the beach near his home in Waimanalo with a fishing rod, trying angrily to discover the joys of doing nothing. The conditions stipulated were those one might find in a paratrooper who was also a guerrilla fighter, an Indian scout and a space age Sherlock Holmes. Mrs. Abbott's copy plainly showed her vexation at inept night watchmen.
Jerry responded. Roy Hedges, boss of the park's front office, received the application and called the Honolulu police chief to ask if it would be wise to hire Jerry Gong. Chief Hosea Ikkyo knew Jerry's record as a soldier and a detective; he also knew the HQ gossip about Jerry's decline.
"For Lord's sake," he half yelled and half laughed, "get him! There's only one Jeremiah Akaka Gong. I fought like hell to keep him. But people thought he'd had a bellyful of being hurt. He didn't. You'll save the man's life with that job—unless he loses it on duty. How are things?"
"Good," Roy replied, by which he meant marvelous and referred to gate receipts.
So it was Jeremiah Akaka Gong who stopped his bike, slid himself and it into a shadow and set his sense perceptors to work as if they were antennae. What had he smelled that was alien?
Not smoke, the first item to be checked; not people, sweat-stealthy people; not a car or its exhaust, moving in the vast grounds with no lights. And not something even more probable, such as a fish out of water, becoming spoiled. He had smelled something sweet, like a flower. Then he had it.
A flower. Ylang-ylang.
So far as he could recall he'd never seen an ylang-ylang tree in Hawaii. Probably there were some. But missionaries had given a bad name to that particular tropical tree and its yellow, iris-like blooms. They'd outlawed it, Jerry guessed, while they had the power, simply because ylang-ylang flowers, night-blooming and exotically scented, were worn in the hair of certain ladies in Southeast Asia as a sign of their profession, that oldest one.
Jerry now recalled more: ylang-ylang blossoms smell only at night and live just one night, perhaps. He wasn't sure. But, if so, it meant someone had brought that blossom, or several, into the park after closing time: 5 P.M., in January, on a Wednesday.
Yet no one could be in the park legally, now. The cleaning people had left at twelve. The last scientist at work in the institute had gone right after. Every scrap of trash and even every cigarette butt left by the past day's thousands had been gathered, put in containers and carted away. It was possible that an ylang-ylang blossom had been overlooked and so showed its ability to perfume cubic acres of air. But the rarity of the scent made him decide to seek its source—in the park.
Jerry was about to mount his bike when he heard a well-known vehicle coming from Waimanalo; Mr. Grove's machine—a custom-built motorcycle that was unlike any other. With that, Jerry biked slowly down the road toward the highway ... the Kalanianaole, called "Kalan" by almost everybody except tourists, who never could pronounce the royal name or even remember it.
Mr. Grove was a friend of Jerry, of the Abbotts and everybody else. A retired gentleman with a house on the seashore about a mile from the park, he was popular because, if people could invent an ideal or favorite uncle, it would be Mr. Grove. One of Mr. Grove's pastimes—he said he had insomnia—was to come to the park at night and wander among the vast ponds and exhibition tanks to admire their denizens. Occasionally, too, the Abbotts brought visitors at night; and sometimes other executives and scientists did so, or returned late to check their work.
After ten in the evening when Jerry went on duty, one had either to be escorted by someone known to Jerry or provided with proper credentials. Photographers had occasionally spent hours taking shots of the aquatic marvels in the park—after dark for science or for magazines. But few loners cared to wander about enjoying things. Mr. Grove was one, however, and the most constant.
His smooth-running, quiet motorcycle turned in at a one-car-wide curve—the only entry not cut off by heavy chains. It purred up to the parking row beside the high wire fence and the motor died as the watchman coasted into view.
Grove nodded. "Nice night, Jerry."
For a time they joined in a ritual act.
They listened to the sea as it came ashore beyond the Kalan Highway, broke softly and ran among the black lava rocks, kissing all in turn. They swung in the opposite direction to look at the steep slant of talus behind the park, a great, frozen avalanche of rock and a cliff towering to a crenelated summit, holed through in places and ornamented with senseless sculpture. That skyline was silhouetted by the lights beyond, the effulgence of Honolulu, Waikiki, Hawaii Kai, Kahalo and other suburbs. They drank in the gothic heights and their eyes lifted to the sky above, where the trade winds shunted clouds across stars to hide and disclose them at random: Cassiopeia gone and back; Orion cut and emergent; the Pleiades now sharp and soon shawled—a coming-going of the rigid-spark array men called the visible universe but few take time to watch and still fewer can put names to.
Next, they turned half around to note a pair of beacons above Makapuu Point which seemed to hang in the sky since the mass beneath was blacked out by the park lights: two sky-hung lanterns in effect, signs of a radar station there; and they noted the lighthouse, far below, keeping its rhythm like a drugged metronome. After that they gazed seaward again as if to check the abiding presence of pale and looming Rabbit Island, a near-mile offshore, and Black Rock, a smaller isle. With that they had completed a rite Grove had followed from his first nocturnal visit.
"Beautiful," he said softly.
"It is. Hawaiians, and even half Hawaiians," Jerry mused, "never lose their awareness of the beauty their Polynesian ancestors found in these islands and understood. Others, some of you haoles, have the same perception, or part of it, anyhow, but not many white people."
"Absolutely. Pacific, like the sea." Jerry said it, knew it was a little overdone, knew why—and wondered if Mr. Grove had noticed.
He had. He smiled with his wide and smile-designed mouth. "So? What's wrong ?"
Jerry laughed and explained his theory about subconscious observations. "So, what's wrong is only a smell," he concluded. "I'm a nut to even notice these things. But it's a flower I don't recall seeing around here. Common in Bangkok; one called ylang-ylang."
Afterward, Jerry thought Mr. Grove did something. Perhaps he flinched a millimeter or changed his eye shape. Or, maybe, he altered his breathing for one inhalation. But that memory came later and possibly was a projection. All he was sure of was that Mr. Grove nodded, kept the smile and said, "There must be trees on Oahu."
"No doubt." Jerry paused a second as if some business was unfinished. He thought of none. "Going to the Reef Tank?"
"Yep. Guess so. See you later. When you eat, mebbe."
The watchman agreed and unlocked the big gate in the park fence. Mr. Grove walked through. Jerry followed, relocked and rode on—past the five-eighth scale model of the sailing ship Essex in Whaler's Cove, past live whales in that huge salt pond and porpoises that made both splashy and squeaky efforts to get his attention. He pedaled from there toward the Hawaiian Reef building and saw Mr. Grove dimly as that pleasant gentleman entered the bottom ramp. He smiled to think Mr. Grove was considered a little odd simply because he lived alone in a house he had rebuilt, had a great deal of money, kept his own hours and preferred the company of ordinary folks, especially kids, to the society rich men usually chose.
Jerry also thought, cycling onto the gift shop and restaurant level, his friend should get himself a pretty wahine for company because the housekeeper Mr. Grove employed, though recommended by Mrs. Abbott, wasn't that sort of companion. The Hawaiian half of Jerry was a little miffed at that; the Chinese half, sad. Grove's Genevra Oopani was not a nubile lass, however serene, lovely and intelligent. A huge woman as old as Jerry but not one for any man's love, since Prince Kuakuaki had died, long ago. So loving a man should be loved very much and in every Polynesian way, Jerry believed.
Meantime, Mr. Grove had come into the vast, circular building and started up the spiral ramp which ran inside the walls and was lined on the opposite side with glass windows, top to bottom—a gigantic aquarium some seventy-five feet across and several fathoms deep. Into it, every hour, flowed three hundred thousand gallons of clean, unfiltered Pacific water, an incessant river engineered to flow with so little disturbance that the great submarine wonderland was not blurred or distorted. That technical feat permitted Sea Life Park to display myriad forms of life not to be seen in other man-made ocean exhibits; live corals grew there, for example.
All other oceanic displays were limited, since they could not supply unfiltered sea water to such inhabitants. Fishes, sea turtles, sharks, rays and sundry sea-beings could be shown anywhere. Corals, however, along with many associated forms—painted fans, rainbow sponges and their gaudy or grotesque relatives—require a tidal river to bring the microscopic food such mandatory filtration removes, elsewhere. Thus the park's Hawaiian Reef edifice was unique; like nature's coral ranges, it supported a multitude of fixed feeders besides those that pass by. Had a chunk of the gaudiest, most populous, living reef been taken up by a titanic cooky cutter and set ashore unchanged, the effect would have been similar.
The huge, round walls of the building and its conical roof dimmed the glass-walled interior even in daytime. The result was that a person going up or down the sloped ramp that encircled the aquatic habitat had the experience of a scuba diver though without risk of getting wet, not to mention drowning or shark bite, though sharks might eye him through the succession of windows, at a distance of an inch or two. Countless park visitors returned over and over to follow that dramatic incline; and numberless scientific observations were made there, since it offered opportunities difficult or even impossible to find in the sea itself.
Mr. Grove reveled in the slow trip, up or down, day or night. To him, the show in its day and night variations, with constant subvariations at either time, was like a masterpiece of art, but with a difference. This was a work in which perpetually shifting forms and hues were never twice the same. His fascination with the park centered here and his frequent night visits—Jerry knew he also came by day—were understandable. Many more such nocturnal seekers of the spell were gratified when the park was open on certain evenings in the summer.
Now, however, Mr. Grove did not follow his regular procedure, his hour-consuming pilgrimage on the ramp, taking one window at a time and each for a lengthy look. As he entered he noticed a new occupant: a foreign one. He stared up, whispered, "Gosh!" and then swiftly made sure Jerry had proceeded on his beat—which would have included cycling over the walkway to this place, if Mr. Grove hadn't been there. When he found that Jerry had moved beyond the park, this rather ordinary-sized man with the rather commonplace appearance ran quietly up the ramp, glancing only for a second into passing windows until the intruder came into full view on the surface. It was a man, a dead one.
Ylang-ylang, he mused; strange that Jerry had noticed. But Jerry noticed a lot; maybe too much, he thought.
Grove's excitement was intense but, like the watchman, he reacted to stress with its opposite look, one of near boredom, the empty face of a professional.
Standing, staring, he remembered snatches of a conversation from long ago: "... Life Park ... early January ... no, a year from next ... be an ylang-ylang lei ... more when the time arrives...."
From that had come an interpretation by Mr. Grove that led to his move to the windward side of Oahu, in Hawaii, and the purchase and reconstruction of his house on the beach near Waimanalo. After that, he'd spent an unrewarded year. His long vigil, though not yet quite abandoned, had begun to seem futile. The critical date had gone by without incident. He was relieved he'd hung on.
Excerpted from The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise by Philip Wylie. Copyright © 1969 Philip Wylie. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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