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Title: Envoy of Doom
Author: Arthur Leo Zagat
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1400911h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Feb 2014
Most recent update: Oct 2015

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Envoy of Doom


Arthur Leo Zagat

Cover Image


First published in Secret Service Operator #5, July 1937

Cover Image

Secret Service Operator #5, July 1937

FORD DUANE, tall and lank and wearily stooped, slowly threaded a shadowy labyrinth of tall bookstacks. Outside, the hush of dusk, gray with quiet melancholy, brooded between the drab facades of the ancient loft buildings that line the Fourth Avenue block so completely given over to the sale of dog-eared, tattered volumes it is known as the Port of Missing Books.

Elsewhere New York was astir with the bustle of home-seeking thousands, was alive with the roar of traffic, the chatter of many voices, the tramp of many footfalls. Here the wide-flung turmoil was muted to a dull, rumbling growl that disturbed not at all the street's dusty drowse.

Here the threat of Death brooded. Within this somnolent shop peril lurked tigress-like; a gray, indomitable shadow waiting for the inevitable instant when momentarily its quarry's guard must relax. It would leap then, a gray flash, and strike steel claws into Ford Duane's flesh, sink tearing fangs into his throat.

Duane came to the pamphlet-hung door of the store, reached a slow hand to the switch that would light the single cluttered display window. The street lamps blinked on, abruptly necklacing the quiet block with high-hung, bright topazes...

A lilting whistle sprayed the hush with the first notes of 'Pennies from Heaven'. Shuffling footfalls were startingly loud, coming along the sidewalk.

Duane's fingers hesitated for an eyeblink of time, then clicked over the switch tumbler. The dingy luminance from his window streamed across the pavement. The bookseller had tensed, almost imperceptibly.

His lids drooped a bit more, as if the better to hide the sudden keen stab of blue eyes beneath them. A shadow blotted the cracked concrete and then the whistler came into the frame of the doorway.

He was a boy, a gamin of the gutters shabbily clothed, his freckles almost hidden by grime, his hatless hair unkempt and startlingly red. Duane knew at once, though he seemed not to see him at all, that the youngster's shoes were broken, that his frayed knickers had been clumsily patched at the knees, and that there was a rather awkwardly wrapped small package in one dirty hand.

The alpaca-smocked shopkeeper relaxed. Nothing to worry about... The boy turned and slouched toward him past a trestled box with the sign YOUR CHOICE—15 2 for 25.

"Dis Duane's bookstore?" he asked. "Yuh Mr. Duane?"

"Yes, son."

"A guy over on Toid Av'noo gimme dis package ter bring yuh." The lad made no move to hand it to Duane. "He said he found it w'ere he woiks in de Brighton cafeteria and yuh must uh lost it dere when yuh came in for a cup uh coffee this afternoon. He said ter say Pat found it and decided he'd better send it."

"Pat? Oh, yes. The bus-boy!" Duane had not left his store that day. He knew no one in the Brighton Cafeteria named Pat. "I'll have to give him a tip next time I see him." But the letters composing that name—P-A-T—had a startling meaning to him. "And here's a quarter for you." As the initials of the title of a book offered for sale, as the first letters of a peddler's cry, in many other forms, they had presaged the delivery of a message to Ford Duane, had each time presaged a bout with danger, with death.

Hitherto it had been the death of others those letters had prefaced. This time it might mean his own.

He fished in his pocket, exchanged a worn silver disk for the string-tied bundle. "T'anks, mister," the youngster grunted, and darted away, his whistle jubilant.

DUANE did not move from the doorway. His veiled look furtively probed the deepening twilight. Across the street, in an unlighted vestibule between two shops differing from his only by the scabrously lettered names on the unwashed glass of their windows, a man dawdled.

Holding the package, Duane went out and straightened the contents of his sidewalk boxes. He was clearly visible in the light from his store, in the illumination of the nearest street lamp. He tore the paper from the bundle, crumpled it and tossed it into the gutter. He shook out the folded fabric about which it had been wrapped.

The thing was a worn and shabby silk scarf of a nondescript gray that exactly matched the drabness of his appearance. Fumbling absent-mindedly, he adjusted a cardboard sign; NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS 10; and wandered slowly back into his store.

Set back from the entrance, but still exposed to the view of the lounger, there was a flat-top desk. Duane switched on a goose-necked lamp so that its light fell brightly on the desk's cluttered surface, negligently tossed down the scarf. As if by accident the silk band spread itself as it fell, so that it lay smoothly over a pile of dog-eared catalogues, under the lamp.

Ford Duane let himself down into a creaking swivel chair before the desk, picked up a book that had been lying face down and open, among the chaos of dusty papers. He took a spectacle case from the pocket of his smock, adjusted them to his eyes and settled back to read.

If the lounger across the street had been able to peer through Duane's glasses, he would not have seen the page of the volume the bookseller was apparently perusing, but the hem of the scarf he seemed to have forgotten—startlingly magnified. He would have seen the stitches binding the silken hem stand out like heavy twine against he gray background, and he would have seen that those stitches were by no means of the same length.

There were long stitches and short ones, four close rows of them, and there did not seem to be any pattern to them, nor any reason for the variation save that the hem had been sewn by hand rather than machine. But Ford Duane read them as dots and dashes forming letters in the Continental Morse code; forming words...

"Warehouse rear of three six three Ave E investigate and spot leaders but take no action."

The glint of excitement in Duane's hidden orbs died away as he read the three last words of that message. He would chafe, he knew, at the leash they place upon him. But he was a soldier, and he must obey orders.

He was a uniformed soldier in the invisible army that unceasingly, unendingly fights a hidden war against hidden enemies. Victory means for the men—and the women—of that army no medals, no plaudits, no parades before a grateful, cheering nation. Defeat means for them—death. A lonely death at the hands of their country's furtive enemies, and an anonymous grave.

They are the great gray army of peace. Unnamed, unhonored, they battle eternally against a host of silent, grey invaders who gnaw constantly at the foundations of our commonwealth, preparing in time of peace for the war their masters hope sometime to force upon us, when we have been weakened enough.

Duane's head nodded over his book, as though it had sent him to sleep. The man in the vestibule across the street strolled away. After awhile Ford Duane roused himself to take in the sidewalk boxes; to lock his door, and turn out the light in the window.

He wandered back to the rear of the store, where a half-open curtain marked off but did not conceal the narrow alcove that a rumpled camp cot and a two-burner gas plate atop an upended box marked as his living quarters. He turned on a light there, made his frugal meal, ate it. Then he rose, pulled the curtain together.

Behind the cot there was a frosted window. If anyone were watching that window, he would have seen Duane's shadow move back and forth, undressing. He would have seen the silhouetted form of the bookseller lie down on the cot at last, a book propped up on his chest. He would have waited long, and after awhile gotten tired of waiting, to see that shadow move again.

A flitting smile relieved the gravity of Ford Duane's countenance as he glanced up from the floor at the dummy he had arranged on the camp cot. He crawled along the floor till he had reached a certain spot to one side of the cubicle. He pressed on a certain board, on another.

There was the rasp of wood on wood. There was, quite suddenly, a square black hole in the floor. The swift slither of a lithe body, the rasp of wood on wood once more, and the hole was gone. There was no form any longer in the back room of Ford Duane's Secondhand Bookshop, except the unmoving, dummy figure on the bed.

IN a dark, waterfront alley that should be deserted at night, a tall, lank shadow moved briefly. It merged with the impenetrable black along the wooden wall of a one-story shack that leaned wearily against the high dark loom of a warehouse whose few windows were sightless eyes in its streaked brick facade.

Sounds came into that alley. The swish of roiled river water close by. The chug, chug of some motorboat prowling the darkness, and the far-off, melancholy hoot of some ferryboat nearing its wharf.

Nearer, within the alley itself there was another sound.

Dull, wall-muffled, it was a rhythmic thud, thud, thud. It was a single repeated sound like the pound of a huge machine and yet it was somehow too widely dispersed to be made by a single object. It seemed to come from behind the full width of the warehouse wall. It was now louder, now almost inaudible, as though that which caused it approached the brick cliff, receded from it, approached it again.

There was somehow something ominous about that sound.

The rotted roof boards of the wooden lean-to creaked whisperingly. The shadow that had been in the alley drifted across it. A chink of light showed in the warehouse wall.

The rhythmic sound cut short. The shadow crouched against the rust-frayed iron shutter through which filtered that yellow light-thread. It was man-form, but it had no face.

Within the warehouse, partitions had been ripped out, making one huge room. The glare of two five-hundred watt lamps hung from the high ceiling filled the enormous chamber. Beneath them a long double-line of men in vivid green shirts stood stiffly, heels together, stomachs in, chests out.

The lines were ruler straight, as was the serried hedge of sticks, like unpainted canes without ferrules or handles, slanted across the men's shoulders. Each individual had a white arm-band just above the bend of his elbow, and each arm band was marked in black with the insignia of a certain world-power whose leader only the day before had orated fulsomely concerning the friendship between his country and America.

A hulking, square-shouldered, square-featured man faced the motionless ranks. His hair was a white, stiff pompadour bristling the flat top of his skull. His eyes were small, piglike, below a beetling, corrugated brow. His shirt was also green, but the arm-band on its sleeve was black, the insignia white.

Black Band's square jaw was thrust out. His gross lips barked a command.

Two rows of left legs slanted up and out, stiff-kneed, jerked down. Right legs came up in perfect unison, jerked down. Two lines of manikins moved forward—thud, thud,—one, two, one, two—thud, thud, thud, thud.

The lines thudded across the bare, splintered floor as if long, rigid rods ran through the men's waists, their heels. They weren't men. They were machines. They were one machine, everything human blasted out of them.

Thud, thud. Thud, thud. Black Band snapped an order. The company front broke into fours, was a column of fours—thud, thud, thud, thud—right-angled along a corner, angled again, formed twos. Black Band drove them, wove intricate patterns of them all over the expanse of gray, clean-swept wood—thud, thud, thud, thud. The legs flashed up and down again, pistonlike up and down. The bodies moved like cogs on a conveyor belt, like a machine. The heels hammered on the floor, pounded on the wood, hammered out hate; hammered out war; shaped death; forged destruction. Thud, thud. One, two. One, two. Thud, thud, thud...

Black Band barked, and the lines were immobile once more, frozen. Black Band wheeled sharply, clicked heels together, was a ramrod stiff, rigid statue. His right arm angled to his forehead, its fingers stiffly horizontal.

Narrow, ladderlike stairs pitched sharply down from a square opening in the ceiling. A short slender man stood halfway down the stairs; round thick lenses making owl-like his sharp, rapacious features. His pinch-nostrilled nose was a hooked beak. The tiny black dab of a mustache under it only accentuated the sexless cruelty of his colorless lips.

The newcomer went up again through the ceiling. Black Band wheeled, barked. The lines broke. The machines were men again; shabby except for the green shirts from whose sleeves they tore the arm bands as they poured across the loft toward where clothing was piled in a long heap against the wall. Black Band strode to the stairs, climbed out of sight.

The men were overcoated, hatted, and they looked like two-score young men who had been attending a meeting of some social club that now was breaking up. They seemed in no hurry to leave, but the group steadily dwindled.

IN the alley there was the sound of a cautiously opened door, the sound of cautious feet slinking toward the river. After a space during which one might count ten the same sounds once more disturbed the murky silence.

When the great loft had been thus entirely drained of its occupants, the lights blinked out. The room was absolutely dark, absolutely lifeless.

Just over the threshold of hearing, metal clicked against metal. Rusted hinges rasped briefly. There was a whisper of movement in the blackness. A stair tread creaked, as though the warehouse's old timbers were settling a bit.

There was no longer any shadow on the lean-to roof.

On the floor above that where a secret company had drilled, the darkness was just as intense, but here there was a low murmur of voices from somewhere far back, and a sense that the space was filled to its ceiling by huge black hulks.

Jute-covered bales were piled there, through whose burlap a probing hand might manage to feel round hard objects; the size of coconuts and as round.

They were not coconuts. They were too regularly corrugated for that, and the chill of metal penetrated through the jute. They were bombs in those mounded bales, thousands of hand grenades that needed only the release of a tiny lever to blast all about them into fragments. Beyond them were high stacks of flat cases, just the length of rifles, and beyond those, other, stubbier cases that might quite possibly contain ammunition for those rifles.

At the rear of this storage room with its curious contents, a small space was partitioned off by a solid board wall that reached to the ceiling. Within the windowless chamber thus formed was a table on which a large and detailed map of the United States was outspread, a map studded by pins with varicolored heads, by tiny, multihued flags.

A great slate slab was bracketed to the room's rear wall, its surface gleaming with copper bus-bars, with bright switches, with the white-faced dials of gauges. Black wires coiled from the slab to another, smaller table whose surface was entirely covered by the orderly tangle of a radio telephone receiver and transmitter.

A wizened, pasty-faced little man crouched over this table, perched tensely at the very edge of a chair, the round black disks of ear-phones clamped to his head. There were chairs near the larger table, but the three men clustered around it were on their feet, and they were bent over the map for all the world like the General Staff of an army in the midst of a long battle, planning the next day's strategy.

"Reports from the West Coast," Owl-Eyes said, "are very satisfactory." His voice was sexless as his mouth. "Friday the longshoremen will again go on strike. The seamen will join them."

"That will go well enough now without more help from us." Black Band spoke with thick-tongued, guttural satisfaction. "They are stubborn, those brutes who load and unload the vessels and those who handle them, and the ship-owners are just as stubborn. There will be trouble. This time, with the arms and bombs with which the strikers have been supplied from a mysterious source about which they have not asked many questions, that trouble will not be over till America no longer has a merchant fleet on the Pacific."

"In the coal mines," Owl-Eyes' white, slim hand gestured across the map's east central portion, "they have been sitting down for a week, but the governors of Pennsylvania and West Virginia have almost brought the union and the owners together."

"Tonight that is true," Black Band agreed, "but here," his spatulate thumb pressed down a pin in Pennsylvania's Carbon County, "at dawn tomorrow, a company guard will be shot at from the entrance of mine. He will not be injured, because he is one of ours, but he will fire back, and before what that commences is ended the flame of riot will be a conflagration and there will be no hope of peace between miners and operators."

"We have enough trained men on both sides to make certain of that," Owl Eyes explained.

Both men, their perfect English only slightly marred by a vaguely foreign intonation, were quite evidently speaking for the benefit of the third.

HE was shorter than either, and so grossly obese that his torso was a flabby sphere. His hair was thin on his glistening scalp and the great billows of fat that formed his cheeks and his grotesquely narrow neck swamped his queerly tiny features, so that only his shrewd little eyes seemed alive. His columnar arms ended in hands that were crudely shaped blobs the color of dough which a child's grimy fingers have kneaded, an unhealthly hue that was repeated in his expressionless countenance.

He nodded, this Third Man, but made no other acknowledgment of what had been said to him.

"In the oil fields," Owl-Eyes began again, "it is as yet quiet. But Carlit has made plans for them."

"There they have not been easy to fool," Black Band took up the gambit just passed to him. "There are too few unreasoning laborers, too many skilled and intelligent workers, for the American agitators or our own emissaries to stir them up. In Texas, in California, I have started infiltrating my Green Shirts among them, have been establishing caches of rifles and machine-guns. They are yet too few, but in a month..."

"A month!" The Third Man's tones were soft and without inflection. "That is not soon enough by thirty days." They came from a wee rose-bud mouth so small as to be almost infantile, and issuing out of that tremendous bulk there was something—dreadful—about them.

"You two, Carlit, Horon, are too slow, entirely too slow, in your preparations. That is why I was sent here, that is why I hastened to this place as soon as I landed.

"We have drained ourselves dry, have poured gold into our sea fleets and our fleets of the air; into shells, and munitions, and gas. Today we are ready to strike, and you, you who for two years have had time to enfeeble this land, to stir up class against class, brother against brother, to prepare for our onslaught so that when we do strike there shall be no doubt of our quick and complete victory—you prate to me of months.


"Those oil fields must be aflame three days from now. The railroads must be wrecked, the mines destroyed. Three days from now your Green Shirts must be on the move, for three days from now our airplane carriers will be within two hours' flight of the Eastern Seaboard, those of our allies as near the Western, and our leader will give the signal for hostilities to begin."

"But that is impossible," Owl-Eyes, Horon, jerked out. "We cannot be ready."

"The last contingents of Green Shirts are not sufficiently trained," Carlit groaned. "You have seen those I myself have drilled..."

"I have seen them," the Third Man responded, in that soft, terrible voice of his. "They are better trained than our soldiers. You will send them at once to that Texas of which you speak. You will give orders at once for the Green Shirts in the other centers across the continent of which you have told me to be on the move to their posts. You will have your transportation units begin at once the distribution of the munitions from your caches, like this one outside."

"At once..."

"And you will inform everyone that the signal for them to go into action will be the appearance over them of the black-winged planes of our land. Three days from now America must be in flames."

"But," Carlit gasped, "our communications system has not yet been perfected. Once our forces begin moving, there will be no way to recall them. If the Leader should change his mind, should decide to delay..."

THE Third Man shot one grim look at Carlit, silencing the protest. Then he spoke slowly.

"The Leader cannot change his mind. He dares not delay. The women of our land are awake at last, the mothers.

"They point to their starving babies, their famished children and cry out against the Leader. 'We cannot feed them with gunpowder,' they cry. 'We cannot clothe them with the gray steel of your battleships. The coal they need to warm them is in the bunkers of your fleets, you grease the motors of your airships with the butter for the lack of which they die. We want no World-Empire, no conquests. We want milk for our babies. We want bread for them. We shall have them, if to gain them we must rend you limb from limb.'

"Their ultimatum lies on the Leader's desk. A week from now the mothers will be on the march, mothers enraged and battling for their children."

"A week!"

"Do you think any army in the world can stop a host of maddened mothers? Do you think anything can stop them if the Leader cannot say to them, a week from now; 'Here. Here are the wheat fields of America, the riches of the New World for your babies, and for their babies. You have starved that never again shall our people starve.'"

The others stared, silent.

"No? I thought not. Give the signal! You there at the wireless! Send the signal out!"

The pasty-faced man turned his head and looked questioningly at Carlit. Owl-Eyes nodded. The radio man's finger touched a switch and vacuum bulbs glowed into sudden light on the table. The finger moved again, reaching for the telegraph key that would send out a signal for America's destruction, a signal that could not be recalled...

The radio man slithered down in his chair, thudded from it to the floor. A fine, pungent mist followed him down, a mist that had jetted in that final instant across the room.

"Hold it!" husked from the partition door, flung open now. "Just as you are. Move a muscle and I let you have it!"

The shadow that had prowled the lean-to roof was poised, black, ominous, in the doorway. The blackness was that of an ebon-hued cloak enveloping a tensely vibrant form. A black felt hat was pulled low over a countenance faceless because it was completely hidden behind a stygian mask through which only eye-glint showed. One black-gloved hand was visible, menacing Carlit and Horon and the Third Man with the curiously thick-barrelled pistol from which the spray had jetted that had paralysed the radio operator.

The fingers that grasped the butt of that odd weapon were black. That which was curled about the pistols trigger was red, the red of spurting, arterial blood!

"Red Finger!" the Third Man gasped, staggering back a pace as if stunned by the sight of that scarlet digit, then freezing at a menacing dart of the thick-mouthed gun. "Red Finger!"

"Red Finger it is," the shadow's ghastly voice agreed. "The one man in America your schemers could not fool. Red Finger, here to greet the new ambassador from...."

"The second reason for my being sent here," the Third Man interrupted. "The Leader has empowered me to offer the headship of his American Secret Service when we shall have conquered the United States, at a million dollars a year."

A short mocking laugh came from beneath the black mask.

Mask, robe, that scarlet trigger finger, were the badge of America's greatest counter-spy. Known only as Red Finger, he was execrated in half the chancelleries of the world. It might have been the blood of his country's enemies with which was dyed the digit that gave him his name, so many of them had died because of him.

"Your leader will never conquer the United...."

A noose, flicking out of the darkness behind him, closed on Red Finger's throat and choked the sentence off. Another went lower, pinioning his arms, in the same brief instant a hand, darting past his elbow, slashed his gas gun from his hand. He was caught at last! Red Finger was fairly caught at last!

THE Third Man laughed, his great belly shaking jelly-like. "The one American we did not fool," he spluttered. "The great Red Finger."

The other two moved forward.

The counter-spy made no attempt at a fruitless struggle. He stood erect, seeming somehow supremely unconquered though the tight lariat cut into his arms, though he must be half-strangled by the noose on his throat.

"It was too easy," the Third Man chuckled. "When I stepped back at your so melodramatic entrance I stepped into the invisible beam of a photo-ray apparatus that alarmed the watchers at the door below. You did not think we conferred here blissfully without protection of any sort, did you?"

"No," Red Finger managed to push through his clamped larynx. "No."

There was no longer any humor in the Third Man's high voice, none in his face. "And so the career of Red Finger is over. My mission is indeed a success."

"Shall I let him have it now, Your Excellency?" The gruff question came from behind Red Finger. "I have a knife. I can slit him here, under the left shoulder, and he won't bleed at all."

The Third Man's wee mouth twitched. "No," he said softly. "Not just yet. First he shall watch us send the signal that means his country's end. Carlit. You can manipulate that wireless, can you not?"

"Yes, your Excellency," Black Band responded.

"Then go ahead."

Black Band turned, thumped stiff-legged toward the instrument...

"Wait!" Red Finger snapped. "Don't touch that key if you do not wish to die!"

Lashed and helpless as he was, something in the way he said that carried utter conviction. Momentarily at least. Carlit hesitated, half-turned...

The Third Man peered at the counterspy intently.

"I've got one of your Mills bombs in my other hand," Red Finger continued, "under this cloak. The pin is out and the lever is held down only by my thumb. If you move another inch I'll let go—and the explosion will set off all the bales of them on this floor."

"You lie," Carlit growled.

"Move and see... You in back of me, I feel your knife against my back. Sink it, if you dare. A dead thumb will not hold the grenade lever down."

What little color there had been was drained from Owl Eyes' face. "You will be the first to die. There are thousands of bombs out there, they'll go off..."

"None of us will have to be buried," Red Finger agreed. "But that signal of yours will not be sent.

"No." His faceless head moved to the Third Man. "I did not imagine that your conference was unguarded. It was too easy for me to approach and eavesdrop on it, so I took my precautions. The game's up, Your Excellency, and you know it."

The Third Man blinked.

"What is it you wish me to do?"

Red Finger spoke briskly.

"You have a choice. Order your man Carlit to send a message I shall dictate, give me your parole of honor that Carlit and Horon will go back across the sea on the first available steamer, and remain there, and I will permit you to go to Washington and take up your duties as ambassador. Refuse, and I lift my thumb from the lever."

The fat-thickened lids slitted, so that the tiny eyes beneath them almost vanished. There was a moment of brittle silence, while the fate of two nations hung in the balance of one man's decision. Then:

"What is the message you wish sent?" the Third Man sighed. "It will be sent exactly as you wish." There was something magnificent in the way he accepted defeat.

Red Finger shrugged. "I shall be sure of that. I can read the code—in any language. Ready Mr. Carlit?"

Black Band nodded, his face purple with a rage that did not permit speech, his hand on the instrument's key.

"Here is the message. 'To all Green Shirt units wherever located. Our plans have been countermanded by the Leader.'" The whistling signal was clearly audible from the ear-phones that had been jerked from the operator's head as he fell. "'All previous orders are cancelled. Destroy all munitions caches. Destroy all weapons in your possession. Disband all units. By authority of the Leader's personal ambassador.'"

It was finished. The Third Man spread his gross arms wide, in a gesture almost pathetic. "What now, Red Finger?"

"Now," the shadow answered, "you will order these ropes removed from me and we shall go down, single file, out of this place, Horon carrying the radio man. Then I shall bid you goodbye."

The Third Man nodded slowly, gestured to Carlo and Horon, and led the way from the room.

Five figures slithered out of a riverfront alley's mouth, paused in the center of the wide cobbled street that was now deserted, though in a few hours it would resound with the roar of traffic.

"Where's Red Finger?" Horon inquired. "Where's...." His voice was drowned by a thunderous explosion, by a red flame spurting high into the heavens....

"I don't know where Red Finger went," the Third Man husked, "but there went the end of a dream of empire."

A WEEK after the events related herewith, Ford Duane stood in the door-way of his second-hand bookshop on Fourth Avenue. It was a glorious morning and even in that dusty thoroughfare the sun was a white glory.

Duane held a newspaper in his hands.

The headlines across its outspread page read:


Down near the middle of the sheet, just below the fold, a much smaller headline announced that a certain incoming ambassador to Washington, having presented his credentials, in a special interview had predicted a lessening of war tension.

And at the bottom of the page, a brief cabled dispatch from that envoy's country described the "return from maneuvers" of the dictator's armed aerial forces and the dispersal of their pilots and observers to civilian life....

A brief smile flicked across the gaunt bookseller's weary face and faded. He turned, and moved slowly to his desk.

A grey silk scarf was arranged in a swirl beneath the goose-neck lamp. On the scarf there rested a corrugated metal ball the size of a coconut, a tiny lever wired down to its surface.


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