Grant watched the lights of the city approaching with intense relief as the plane began its long approach. No one had given him any real details as to the importance of Dr. Benes-except for the obvious fact that he was a defecting scientist with vital information. He was the most important man in the world, they had said-and then had neglected to explain why.

Don't press, they had told him. Don't throw the grease in the fan by getting tense. But the whole thing is vital, they said. Unbelievably vital.


Take it easy, they had said, but everything depends on it; your country, your world, humanity.

So it was done. He might never have made it if they hadn't been afraid of killing Benes. By the time they got to the point where They realized that killing Benes was the only way they could salvage even a draw, it was too late and he was out.

A bullet crease over the ribs was all Grant had to show for it and a long band-aid took care of that.

He was tired now, however, tired to the bone. Physically tired, of course, but also tired of the whole crazy foolishness. In his college days, ten years before, they had called him Granite Grant and he had tried to live up to that on the football field, like a dumb jerk. One broken arm was the result but at least he was lucky enough to have kept his teeth and nose intact so that he could retain that craggy set of good looks. (His lips twitched into a silent, flicking smile.)

And since then, too, he had discouraged the use of first names. Only the monosyllabic grunt of Grant. Very masculine. Very strong.

Except to heck with it. What was it getting him except weariness and every prospect of a short life. He had just passed thirty now and it was time to retire to his first name.

Charles Grant. Maybe even Charlie Grant. Good Old Charlie Grant!

He winced, but then frowned himself firm again. It had to be. Good Old Charlie. That was it. Good old soft Charlie who likes to sit in an arm-chair and rock. Hi, Charlie, nice day. Hey, there, Charlie, looks like rain.

Get yourself a soft job, good old Charlie, and snooze your way to your pension.

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Grant looked sidewise at Jan Benes. Even he found something familiar about that shock of grizzled hair, the face with its strong, fleshy nose above the untidy, coarse mustache, likewise grizzled. Cartoonists made do with that nose and mustache alone, but there were his eyes, too, nested in fine wrinkles, and there were the horizontal lines that never left his forehead. Benes' clothes were moderately ill-fitting, but they had left hurriedly, without time for the better tailors. The scientist was pushing fifty, Grant knew, but he looked older.

Benes was leaning forward, watching the lights of the approaching city.

Grant said, "Ever been to this part of the country before, professor?"

"I have never been to any part of your country," said Benes, "or was that intended to be a trick question?" There was a faint but definite trace of accent in his speech.

"No. Just making conversation. That's our second largest city up ahead. You can have it, though. I'm from the other end of the country."

"To me it doesn't matter. One end. The other end. As long as I'm here. It will be ..." He didn't finish the sentence but there was a sadness in his eyes.

Breaking away is hard, thought Grant, even when you feel you must. He said, "We'll see to it you have no time to brood, professor. We'll put you to work."

Benes retained his sadness. "I'm sure of that. I expect it. It is the price I pay, no?"

"I'm afraid so. You caused us a certain amount of effort, you know."

Benes put his hand on Grant's sleeve. "You risked your life. I appreciate that. You might have been killed."

"I run the chance of being killed as a matter of routine. Occupational hazard. They pay me for it. Not as well as for playing a guitar, you understand, or for hitting a baseball, but about what they feel my life is worth."

"You can't dismiss it so."

"I've got to. My organization does. When I come back, there will be a shake of hands and an embarrassed `Good work!' -You know, manly reserve and all that. Then it's: `now for the next assignment and we have to deduct for that band-aid you have on your side. Have to watch expenses."'

"Your game of cynicism doesn't fool me, young man."

"It has to fool me, professor, or I would quit." Grant was almost surprised at the sudden bitterness in his voice. "Strap yourself in, professor. This flying junkheap makes rough landings."

The plane touched down smoothly, despite Grant's prediction, and taxied to a stop, turning as it did so.

The Secret Service contingent closed in. Soldiers leaped out of troop-carrying trucks to form a cordon about the plane, leaving a corridor for the motorized stairway steering its way toward the door of the plane.

A convoy of three limousines rolled to near the foot of the stairway.

Owens said, "You're piling on the security, colonel."

"Better too much than too little." His lips moved almost silently in what the astonished Owens recognized to be a quick prayer.

Owens said, "I'm glad he's here."

"Not as glad as I am. Planes have blown up in mid-flight before this, you know."

The door to the plane opened and Grant appeared momentarily at the opening. He looked about, then waved.

Colonel Gonder said, "He seems in one piece anyway. Where's Benes?"

As though in answer to that question, Grant flattened to one side and let Benes squeeze past. Benes stood there smiling for one moment. Carrying one battered suitcase in his hand, he trotted gingerly down the stops. Grant followed. Behind him were the pilot and co-pilot.

Colonel Gonder was at the foot of the stairs. "Professor Benes. Glad to have you here! I'm Gonder; I'll be in charge of your safety from this point. This is William Owens. You know him, I think."

Benes' eyes lit up and his arms went high as he dropped his suitcase. (Colonel Gonder unobtrusively picked it up.) "Owens! Yes, of course. We got drunk one night together. I remember it well. A long, dull, boring session in the afternoon, where all that was interesting was precisely what one could not say, so that despair settled on me like a gray blanket. At supper, Owens and I met. There were five altogether of his colleagues with him, but I don't remember the others very well.

"But Owens and I, we went to a little club afterward, with dancing and jazz, and we drank schnapps, and Owens was very friendly with one of the girls. You remember Jaroslavie, Owens?"

"The fellow who was with you?" ventured Owens.

"Exactly. He loved schnapps with a love that passeth understanding, but he was not allowed to drink. He had to stay sober. Strict orders."

"To watch you?"

Benes signified assent by a single long vertical movement of his head and a sober out-thrusting of his lower lips. "I kept offering him liquor. I said, here, Milan, a dusty throat is bad for a man, and he had to keep refusing, but with his heart in his eyes. It was wicked of me."

Owens smiled and nodded. "But let's get into the limousine and get down to Headquarters. We'll have to show you around, first, and let everyone see you're here. After that, I promise you that you'll sleep for twenty-four hours if you want to before we ask you any questions."

"Sixteen will do. But first," he looked about anxiously. "Where is Grant? Ach, there is Grant."

He pushed toward the young agent. "Grant!" he held out his hand, "Good-bye. Thank you. Thank you very much. I will see you again, not so?"

"Could be," said Grant. "I'm an easy man to see. Just look for the nearest rotten job, and I'll be right there on top of it."

"I'm glad you took this rotten one."

Grant reddened. "This rotten one had an important point to it, professor. Glad to be of help. I mean that."

"I know. Good-bye! Good-bye!" Benes waved, stepped back toward the limousine.

Grant turned to the colonel, "Will I be breaking security if I knock off now, chief?"

"Go ahead . . . And by the way, Grant ..."

"Yes, sir?"

"Good work!"

"The expression, sir, is: `Jolly good show.' I don't answer to anything else." He touched a sardonic forefinger to his temple and walked off.

Exit Grant, he thought; then: Enter Good Old Charlie?

The colonel turned to Owens. "Get in with Benes and talk to him. I'll be in the car ahead. And then when we get to headquarters, I want you to be ready with a firm identification, if you have one; or a firm denial, if you have one. I don't want anything else."

"He remembered that drinking episode," said Owens. "Exactly," said the colonel, discontentedly, "he remembered it a little too quickly and a little too well. Talk to him."

They were all in, and the cavalcade moved off, picking up speed. From a distance, Grant watched, waved blindly at no one in particular, then moved off again.

He had free time coming and he knew exactly how he planned spending it, after one night's sleep. He smiled in cheerful anticipation.

The cavalcade picked its route carefully. The pattern of bustle and calm in the city varied from section to section and from hour to hour, and that which pertained to this section and this hour was known.

The cars rumbled down empty, streets through rundown neighborhoods of darkened warehouses. The motorcycles jounced on before and the colonel in the first limousine tried once again to estimate how the others would react to the successful coup.

Sabotage at headquarters was always a possibility. He couldn't imagine what precautions remained to be taken but it was an axiom in his business that no precautions were ever sufficient.

A light?

For just a moment, it had seemed to him that a light had flashed and dimmed in one of the hulks they were approaching.. His hand flew .to the car telephone to alert the motorcycle escort.

He spoke quickly and fiercely. From behind, a motorcycle raced forward.

Even as it did so, an automobile engine, ahead and to one side, roared into loud life (muffled and nearly drowned by the multiple clatter of the oncoming cavalcade) and the automobile itself came hurtling out of an alley.

Its headlights were off and in the shock of its sudden approach, nothing registered with anyone. No one, afterward, could recall a clear picture of events.

The car-projectile, aimed squarely at the middle limousine containing Benes, met the motorcycle coming forward. In the crash that ensued, the motorcycle was demolished, its rider hurled many feet to one side and left broken and dead. The car-projectile itself was deflected so that it merely struck the rear of the limousine.

There were multiple collisions. The limousine, spinning out of control, smashed into a telephone pole and jolted to a stop. The kamikaze car, also out of control, hit a brick wall and burst into flame.

The colonel's limousine ground to a halt. The motorcycles screeched, veering and turning.

Gonder was out of his limousine, racing for the wrecked car, wrenching at the door.

Owens, shaken, a reddened scrape on one cheekbone said, "What happened?"

"Never mind that. How is Benes?"

"He's hurt."

"Is he alive?"

"Yes. Help me."

Together, they half lifted, half pulled Benes from the car. His eyes were open but glazed, and he made only incoherent little sounds.

"How are you, professor?"

Owens said in a quick, low voice. "His head cracked hard against the door handle. Concussion, probably. But he is Benes. That's certain."

Gonder shouted, "We know that now, you ..." He swallowed the last word with difficulty.

The door to the first limousine was opened. Together they lifted Benes in as a rifle shot cracked from somewhere above. Gonder threw himself into the car on top of Benes.

"Let's get the show out of here," he yelled.

The car and half the motorcycle escort moved on. The remainder stayed behind. Policemen ran for the building from which the rifle shot had sounded. The dying light of the burning kamikaze car cast a hellish glow on the scene.

There was the rustle in the distance of the beginnings of a gathering crowd.

Gonder cradled Benes' head on his lap. The scientist was completely unconscious now, his breathing slow, his pulse feeble.

Gonder stared earnestly at the man who might well be dead before the vehicle came to its final halt and muttered despairingly to himself, "We were almost there! -Almost there!"

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