Some missions just stink right from the get go. This was one of them. Both Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson, two accomplished spies for the U.S. government, knew a bad deal when one was handed to them. They'd just been given a job that rang every cautionary bell they possessed.
Alexander Scott, or Scotty to those he called friend, was looking especially morose. He was slumped over on his bar stool, idly twirling the teabag in his drink, a drink which had not exactly endeared him to the bartender. But then, Scotty was known for sticking tight to his own set of values. He didn't care in the slightest if that sometimes made him a square peg in a round hole. He'd been used to that his whole life.
He flipped a swizzle stick at the man sitting next to him, displaying his usual athletic grace in that simple action. Unfortunately, he was completely ignored, the other man being busy with his own rather more potent drink.
"You know this is a bad deal, right ?" he said, eyeing his partner with outer calm, inner rage.
"I know it, you know it, the man upstairs knows it," replied Kelly Robinson with a face devoid of expression. "Now we just have to find a way to get it done."
The two men sitting quietly at the bar were a study in contrasts. Scotty, a black man with a corner back's physique, was usually the calmer, more controlled of the two. He was more apt to take events in their stride and rather more prone to optimism than his sometimes fatalistic partner. Yet it was obvious, at least to Kelly if no one else, that he was not a happy man at the moment .
Kelly, on the other hand, a white man with a swimmer's body and Hollywood good looks, was usually more apt to fly off the handle. Scotty often acted as the voice of reason, keeping his more emotionally volatile partner well anchored. The balance had made the partnership strong; their tight friendship had cemented it. Today, though, the roles appeared to be reversed as Kelly attempted to ameliorate his partner's rancor.
Scotty waited until the hovering bartender refilled Kelly's drink and moved down to the end of the bar, eyeing Scotty's nearly untouched drink with barely concealed scorn. Scotty was not in the mood this day for that kind of look so his return glare contained none of his usual easy humor. The bartender suddenly realized that maybe this man might be a lot tougher than first supposed. He hurriedly dropped his gaze and resumed re-cleaning the spotless bar. Scotty, slightly disconcerted at his own lapse of control, traded glances with a now amused Kelly. His partner had caught it all, as he usually did.
"Ok, Joe Louis, why so riled? This isn't all that different from so many other short stick jobs that have been dumped on us. It doesn't exactly ring all my chimes either but I'm not starting bar fights over it," drawled Kelly.
"Ah," snorted Scotty, rather shamefacedly, "this whole set-up smells bad. We're talking five saboteurs who are so good, so invisible, that the higher ups have never had any names, any aliases. Nothing! We've seen what they're capable of and it's not pretty. These jokers are utterly ruthless. They play hard and mea . So we're handed one lousy little bit of new information and they expect us to fork these guys up on a platter. An invisible man work-up to go with the invisible men we're chasing. But, hey, that's acceptable. Not great, but acceptable. We've gone with less and given them results. What really sticks in my craw though is this deal with the we-don't-know-you garbage. Where's that coming from and why? We're left dangling in the wind. No way to get any help if we get in trouble, no recourse at all. We're working blind and we're working alone. No support at all. Can't even call on the local law. I'm telling you, it's asking for trouble."
"What, you don't like the Superman cape?" replied Kelly, obliquely trying to renew his partner's humor. "So it's asking for trouble. When has that ever been an issue?"
"You know what I'm saying, man," replied Scotty, impatiently. "I don't mind taking on the tough ones. Well, yeah, I do but we do that all the time. I'm just saying all this stuff about not knowing us if we get in trouble bugs me. I hate it, really hate it."
"Feel better now ?" said Kelly, half smiling at his quietly fuming partner.
"I don't have to like it any better than you do, Duke, but that's the way it is. We'll just have to rely on each other like we always do. Besides, griping about it will only give you ulcers and there is no way I'm explaining that to your mom. Can't go upsetting her now anyway cause I'm counting on a new hand-knit sweater for my birthday. Can't have her worrying over someone with holes in his stomach. It might still those flying fingers. I've already hinted five times that green is my best color, man, and that I'm running out of sweaters. It's true too, mainly cause her sticky-fingered son can't keep his grubby hands off my stuff. You probably have more permanently borrowed clothes, Jack, then anything you've ever bought."
Scotty couldn't help but grin . His partner was just not going to help add fuel to one of Scotty's infrequent showings of temper. The mission stunk and that was all there was to that. They'd just have to make the best of it.
"Get a different neck size then. And I'm not forgetting that silk shirt you had on last week, friend. You know the one. Needed sunglasses just to stay in range of that thing. How about I write and tell my mom how good pink looks on you?"
"You tell her that and she's gonna hear a whole lot about certain people that never ever eat their greens. Not to mention that same someone who has never been seen in the extra special slippers his mom sent him, even on the coldest of nights. I'm guessing they were deep-sixed on day one. You'll be doing a whole lot of fast-talking if I see even a hint of pink, Duke," affirmed Kelly, tossing down the contents of his drink. He walked away from the bar with a backward glance at his reluctantly grinning partner. Everything was ok now. Scotty was back on track.
That was a good thing too. They were going to need all of Scotty's cool calculating mind in top notch working order if they were going to have a hope in hell of landing those names . These guys were more than good. They had stayed invisibly active for way too long, leaving a wide swath of death and destruction. It was time they were stopped.
They had only a small bit of new information to go on but the higher ups were hoping that it would lead somewhere. They'd been given one name, one location. The man who'd gathered that information had paid for it with his life, having no time to tell them any more. No one even knew if the man named was one of their saboteurs, or a tipster, or even if it was a valid lead, but someone must have found it important enough to kill for. And a good man had deemed it worth his life, bleeding out to get it to them. So Scotty and Kelly had to accept the fact that they were going into an unknown situation, facing unknown odds, against a faceless enemy. An enemy who would already be alerted to the fact that someone was trying to track them down. The wonderfulness of it all ! Kelly just hoped Scotty had a plan in mind. He, for one, was tapped out.
"Ok, Fred C, how we gonna do this? We can't just go to Greenville, Ohio and tell `em to come out, come out. What's the plan?" queried Kelly .
"You got me. Maybe we'll just make it up as we go along," said Scotty, loath to give up all his crabbiness just yet.
"Uh, Scotty, not one of your better plans. You're gonna make me do all the thinking, aren't you? Ok, ok," grumbled Kelly, pausing in thought. "We obviously go in separately so we can cover more ground. You can be, what? Let's see, a salesman of some sort would work. That'd give you an excuse to nose around. What would people want to buy in Greenville? Got to be something you can't deliver on right away, something big so you don't have to cart one around. Something everyone would let you in to talk about, too," mused Kelly, mostly to himself. Which was a good thing, Scotty figured, as he'd never been to Greenville and wouldn't have a clue what all they'd crave.
"Tractors!" yelped Kelly. "They got plenty of those there. Yeah, that'd work. We'll scrounge up some pamphlets and stuff. You can wing that, right? I mean, I know there aren't that many occasions for tractors in Philadelphia, but...."
"Alright, already," said Scotty. "I do recognize a tractor when I see one, Farmer Jones. Just don't make me drawl and we'll be ok."
"No way, man, I've heard that drawl before and it needs to be buried in a deep, deep pit. Ok, so that's you figured. Now, me. I guess I could be, uh, how about an out-of-work farmhand? That way we'd both have an excuse to work the outskirts of town. I'm thinking that they'd want some distance from prying neighbors, right? So a farmhouse might be the logical place to set up shop. Yeah, I'll do the genial worker bit. That'll also give me a chance to hang out at the local dives and slop up the gossip along with the beer. Somebody's bound to have tales to tell." Kelly pondered on, staring into his empty glass as he figured out the details.
"Looks like I better go find out something about tractors," Scotty said, humor fully restored. Kelly liked to play at being "the action type, not the brains" but there was nothing at all slow with his mind. And it could be great fun to make him exhibit it on occasion.
"Hey, Kel, how come you know so much about this little town and all it's transportation choices?" teased Scotty.
"I've got some distant relatives living out in that area. They've got a farm a little distance away from Greenville," said Kelly, suddenly rather subdued.
"Really? Hey, alright, I never knew that. Maybe we'll get a chance to stop and visit once this is all over," said Scotty, happy to hear that Kelly actually had some living relatives. His partner had never been overly talkative about his childhood but Scotty had slowly gathered that he was pretty much alone now. It was nice to hear that he still had someone. Family was important to Scotty.
"Yeah, maybe, if we have time," said Kelly, whose surface good humor had vanished. "They're real distant, man. Haven't seen `em since I was little. Probably couldn't even find their place and they wouldn't remember me anyway. Maybe some other time. Uh, why don't you get some of that tractor stuff gathered up and I'll hunt up some farm duds. Meet you back here in, what, a couple of hours? " questioned Kelly, abruptly changing the subject.
"Make it this afternoon round about three," said Scotty, giving his partner a quizzical glance. Seemed like he'd struck a nerve somehow, all unknowingly. Well, he knew when to drop a subject. He had his own fair share of sore spots and his partner was just as good at leaving those hurting points alone. If Kelly ever wanted to talk he'd be there to listen.
So it was that next morning saw the advent of Alexander Scott, tractor salesman, into the sleepy little town of Greenville. A tractor salesman can't come in looking too citified. Clients are often small farmers with a distrust of city ways and city clothes. Therefore, his attire was casual, with white jeans and white jacket over a neat shirt. He carried a typical salesman's briefcase though and made sure it was stuffed chock-a-block full of tractor brochures liberated from a company bearing a world-wide reputation. Hopefully, his technique would be just good enough to pass inspection without being so good that he actually sold one of the darned things.
Scotty had opted to come in one day ahead of Kelly. Normally, they would leave quite a bit more time in between so as not to have anyone make connections. But they were facing a very tight deadline with this one. Rumor was that something very big was in the offing for the saboteurs. It was as nebulous as most of the information concerning this group, but it was there. All they knew was that whatever it was, it would be happening soon. So they had to work fast. Just one more thing that gnawed at Scotty's gut. Speed led to mistakes and mistakes could get you killed.
No way around it though. Scotty made his presence felt in the town of Greenville, walking the streets, helloing those that seemed the least bit friendly and gradually learning the lay of the land. He found the local grange hall , a hub of activity belying it's small size. This charming little building held great interest for him because he knew it could be his introduction to many of the local farmers. He quickly ingratiated himself with the people he found there, using his natural charm and quick wit to finagle his way into the center of activities.
Scotty began working his tractor spiel with great gusto, subtly asking names and finding out helpful tidbits of information about the local populace. He had one name to go on, Richard Leighton, but he didn't want to blunder in with direct questions. That would be a sure way to raise suspicions and get the locals to clam up on him.
So Scotty proceeded, cheerfully pushing his wares while inserting himself into the gossip of the town. As the day went on, he found himself being directed from one farm locale to another, peddling his brochures while carefully eyeing each new place. He was primarily looking for signs of heavy-duty communication wires or other subtle hints that would indicate activity beyond the norm.
There was no acknowledgement between the two next day when Kelly showed up in blue jeans and slouching attitude. They ignored each other as Kelly began chatting up farmhands and casual workers, making his own rounds of farmhouses. By unspoken mutual agreement both men began to develop the nightly habit of taking their supper at a local tavern, one that was habitually too loud, but filled with chatting locals. Those same people were a little leery of new folk yet these two struck an independent common chord right away. They were soon accorded a distant friendliness as they sat at their separate tables. And the two absorbed the conversations flowing all around them even as they were absorbed themselves into the life of the town.
It was productive and it was fast. Scotty was the first to find Richard Leighton. He owned a farmhouse 4.5 miles out of town and he fit the mold. Talk was that he always seemed to be in funds even though his crops never were the very best nor as well tended as they should be. He'd been living there for some years now but didn't bother much with making friends, except for the rather casual acquaintance he'd struck up with four other so-so farmers. Nobody Scotty talked to seemed to be over-impressed with this group. They weren't bad farmers really, but neither were they good. All seemed to have the same kind of personality too. They didn't socialize with the rest of the town and were often away from their crops, doing rather vague business deals. There was idle speculation about them here and there but that's all it was. No one had ever seen any of them do anything overtly criminal or even suspicious. They just didn't quite fit.
Scotty figured that these five men meshed perfectly with the image he was building of the saboteurs. They were too smart to raise too many suspicions but lazy with their cover stories. They relied too much on their invisibility, their normalcy , and they were getting just a little sloppy. It wasn't a whole lot to go on but it was a start.
Kelly had struck gold. He'd drifted from one farm to the next, asking for work but then displaying little aptitude for heavy labor. His services were usually dispensed with quickly, and he'd be free to move on. Until he hit the Leighton place, that is. Here, his efforts intensified just enough to keep him on. Things didn't look right here and that made him want to stay.
Luckily, the Leighton farmhouse appeared to be suffering a dearth of manpower. There was one lackadaisical foreman who really didn't seem to care if jobs were done or not. He'd hired Kelly for some minor day labor but seemed to do his best supervising with his cap over his eyes and a bottle of beer near to hand. Kelly was thus given quite a few good opportunities to scan the farmhouse and adjacent buildings. What he saw made him decide to go for a night meet with his partner.
That evening a very drunk Kelly stumbled heavily into the booth containing his partner. Words were exchanged and a little shoving match ensued. The two were quickly separated, Scotty now holding a small note clutched in his right hand. Which was why, late that night, he was waiting along a quiet stretch of the river, jacket pulled up tight against the cold night air. Not a sound could be heard except the lulling noise of crickets combined with rippling water. The spot was isolated and dark, with only the moon offering a slight hint of light. Scotty was very happy to see his errant partner suddenly appear by his side.
"Hey there, Hoby , couldn't you tear yourself away from the scintillating conversation? I was particularly interested myself in that ongoing debate about the merits of mechanical milkers versus old-fashioned hand work. Could hardly tear myself away," he said, perhaps just a tad sarcastically. It really was a cold night.
"If you think that was a good one, you should have hung around some more," said Kelly. "We were just getting into an intense discussion of the qualities of chicken manure as fertilizer. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about chickens and all their by-products. Give me an hour or two sometime and I'll let you in on all the details. All of them. Every last one."
"Nice to see you widening the horizons of your knowledge, Kel. Didn't I tell you this was going to be a fun and profitable assignment? Not only do you get to learn fascinating new things but you get to perfect your looped to the gills act. That was some drunk bit you pulled off in there. You even had me half buying it. What'd you do, use half a bottle of the hard stuff as after shave? You still reek of it!" Scotty said, crinkling up his nose in disgust and shoving his partner further away.
"What acting,? You try ditching drinks while you're sitting practically eyeball to eyeball with half the farmhands in the county. I'm in solid, Jack, cause I know my cows and I can spout better chicken, umm, fertilizer stories than you could shake a stick at," slurred Kelly slightly. "It's all in knowing how to exaggerate properly. They wouldn't let me go to my booth and I was having the devil of a time spilling drinks. I think that bartender figured I was one clumsy dude. He finally started giving me this great big mug. The clown on the next stool didn't help either. Kept buying. Some of it had to go in me, man," Kelly said rather carefully.
"I'll put you up for bravery above and beyond, Duke, once we get out of here. Now, did you have any reason to ask me out in the cold or do you just like seeing my goose bumps come out to play? I'd like to go back inside sometime before the next ice age resumes," said Scotty.
"Yeah," said Kelly, abruptly back to being all business. Scotty figured his partner had actually done rather well with dumping those drinks. "I've managed to get day labor on Leighton 's farm. I think he may be one of the guys we're looking for. The farm isn't being worked much at all. It looks good from the road but there's no substance to it once you get in. Either the owner is one lousy farmer or he just doesn't care much about what's coming out of the ground. And his foreman hardly knows a plow from a butter churn. Big lazy guy who puts on a show of having the day workers do something but doesn't really seem to care at all if the work is productive or not. And the place is just too darn quiet for a farm. No, I think we may have hit pay dirt with this guy."
"Yeah, me too," said Scotty. "I'm hearing pretty much the same kind of thing from the farmers. Him and four others. Haven't managed to get those names yet but I'm working on it. Think we've got `em."
Scotty kept glancing around in the dim light as he spoke. Something just didn't feel right about this meet, yet there wasn't a soul to be seen. Nonetheless, Scotty was restless.
"Let's keep this short and sweet. I want us out of here quick," he said, eyeing his surroundings once again.
"Something got you spooked?" queried Kelly, also surveying the surroundings, though with a somewhat more bleary eye.
"Nah, it's nothing," said Scotty, shrugging off the itch between his shoulder blades . " How you want to run this ? You in there tight or do you need me to push tractors some more ?"
"No, I'm good. There's a whole bunch of little piddling jobs that need doing there. The supervisor, Tompkins, is usually so busy finding new ways to slough off that it should be pretty easy for me to duck him and get in the house. Haven't seen any sign of Leighton yet. Some farmer. He's never around. But maybe that's all for the better. If he's off somewhere with the other four, I might be able to get a good long look inside."
"Don't know, Kel, it all just seems too easy. I'm getting a bad feeling here. Maybe you should wait until tomorrow night. We'll meet up somewhere and go in together."
"And maybe have Leighton come back by then? Blow our chances of getting a long look just cause you have a feeling? Come on, Scotty, don't turn bad on me now. I've been a big boy for a long time. I think I can handle one little recon all by myself. Next thing you know, you'll pull a Russ Conway on me and tell me to be careful," moaned Kelly, giving his partner one of his patented goofy grins.
"Alright, alright," snorted Scotty, "go for it. If you get killed though, I'm telling you right now, I'm gonna tell them to put I- told- you- so in two inch lettering on your tombstone."
"You do that and I'll haunt you for all the rest of your days, man," laughed Kelly. "Listen, I got to go. I'm supposed to be carousing the night away. Got my image to live up to. It's hard work but I'll persevere."
" Uh huh. You keep your guard up, Errol. And meet me at the barn dance tomorrow night so that I know I don't have to start digging your plot."
"Russ Conway, I swear, Russ Conway," grumbled Kelly, shaking his head in mock sorrow. He slapped a hand down on Scotty's back in passing, then ambled away, muttering about mother hens and other undecipherable words .
Scotty paused for a minute or two, giving his partner time to leave the area. A half smile lined his face as he too finally wandered off. Shortly thereafter a small flicker of light limned a deep shadow standing still and quiet under a nearby tree. Someone was lighting a cigarette.
The next morning saw Kelly carefully entering the Leighton farmhouse. If he felt any ill effects from his night on the town as a good old boy, it didn't show this morning. He entered the farmhouse with his usual cat-like athleticism, his tall lean body pausing frequently to check out his surroundings. The day was hot and still and the old farmhouse retained the heat all too well. Kelly could feel the sweat running off him as he quietly entered the main door. So much for the cool, calm effect.
Kelly quickly checked stacks of paper on the desk and counter-tops in the kitchen, then cautiously went from room to room, irritated to find no visible indication of what he was looking for. The paperwork was all routine for a working farm. There was no indication of any effort to keep anything private. No locks, no closed doors. The quietness was almost spooky and now it was Kelly who was experiencing a gut reaction. There should have been more. Everything was too pat, too right. Things were so clean, they squeaked. That rang some big bells for him.
The other thing was that he appeared to be the only person, other than the supervisor, to be on the farm this morning. Tompkins was asleep in a mound of hay in the barn. Otherwise, he had the place to himself. Farms weren't like that at all, Kelly mused, remembering long ago summer days where bustling activity and hard work was the norm. No, things didn't
track. This place and these people had to be involved, no matter how clean they looked.
Kelly paced back outside, wishing his clever partner was at his side. He had to be missing something. These guys had been at this for some time and they'd stayed well hidden until now. They would have had a lot of time to cover their tracks. Nothing would be obvious or out in the open. He was stupid for thinking it would be. Mentally berating himself, Kelly stared in frustration at the house. Kelly didn't know if the saboteurs knew that the man they'd killed had got a name and place out. They had to be aware that it was at least a possibility, though, so they would have been sure to stash any possible incriminating evidence in a well hidden location. But, where?
Kelly gazed idly up at the farmhouse as he quietly ruminated, his eyes only partially focused on the edifice before him . Suddenly though, his gaze sharpened . Something was wrong. The outside lines of the house were cockeyed. They didn't reflect the inside. He looked again. There was something out of sync.
Kelly surged back into the house, his brown eyes searching, searching. Yes, there! The alignment with the outside was all wrong . There should be at least six feet more in length and width along that kitchen alcove wall. Instead, there was what appeared to be a very awkwardly designed, jutting protuberance that did nothing for the contours of the room. The placement didn't add up. Kelly ran his long sensitive fingers all over the wall, feeling for minute imperfections. There had to be something there.
And there was. Just as he was beginning to feel frustration well up, Kelly was rewarded by the slight feeling of a join. A very well disguised joi . Now to find the opening mechanism . Kelly groaned audibly. This was a Scotty kind of thing. Kelly was just not into secret passages. Scotty probably would have had the thing opened by now, whereas he was still struggling with it.
That's when the pattern on the brick wall hit him. Some of the bricks showed slight variations in color from the majority, as if they hadn't been there for as long, perhaps. It was so slight that Kelly wasn't even sure he was truly seeing it but he had nothing else to go on anyway. So, he started prodding the odd ones, looking for something to give or open up or do anything other than just sit there.They would have tried to hide the opening mechanism by replacing more than one brick, Kelly surmised. He just had to hit them all. So Kelly continued until all of a sudden he got his reward. One of the last bricks left gave out an audible click when pushed, opening a small doorway in the wall.
Kelly glanced around once more before entering. Scotty was right. This all seemed too easy. He didn't have a good feeling about it. They couldn't stay this lucky. It just wasn't normal. He'd take a quick look, then get out.
The open door revealed nothing more than a deep, dark stairwell. Kelly clicked on a small penlight which he'd prudently brought along. No need to ask for discovery by advertising his presence. He quickly descended, moving confidently down into the stygian darkness, only the small flicker of his penlight illuminating the way. His descent finally ended at a large cavern, deep underground. The walls appeared to be heavily reinforced and there were indications of a well built circulation system. Of course, he'd have to leave that system off to avoid raising suspicions. Kelly meant to leave no indications that he'd ever been there. The heat and humidity inside the room was not a nice thing. Any easing of that condition would be a dead give-away.
Perhaps the room was originally built as a very self-contained storm cellar but now it was obvious that it's function had been drastically altered. Kelly wandered, shining his penlight on cases of high explosives and other obvious indicators of destruction. His light rested briefly on the furthest wall in the room, spotlighting four rusty but still very sturdy looking manacles, chains firmly imbedded in the wall. He snorted to himself while hiding a shudder. He'd thought that old absurdity long out of date here in the U.S. of A. Obviously, these guys disagreed.
There were indications that the manacles had seen use, with dark brown stains revealing themselves on the walls behind. Kelly was shaken by the sight and instantly slipped into his emotionless face, slamming up walls right and left in his mind. He had known torture first-hand and knew all too well the horribly debilitating fear it could engender . He'd fought those particular demons to a stand still once before. He wasn't about to call them forth again by thinking about the person who had left those stains. Better to stay firmly entrenched in professional mode until he was back with Scotty.
Things were stacked somewhat haphazardly, as if the saboteurs had been in a rush to ditch all the incriminating evidence. There was heavy duty communication gear, maps, layouts of certain highly popular U.S. attractions, and lots of detailed plans. Best yet, there was the bingo pile. Names. Five of them. He'd got `em!
Five corresponding code names to match and their safe house locations, with their designations also encoded. Kelly flipped through this pile. All kinds of goodies revealed themselves to him but the top list was the one that was going to close this case. He stuffed it in his pocket, carefully replacing everything else as it was. All he had to do now was to round up Scotty and they could clear out fast. With the information he had, the higher ups could mop up. Checking once more to make sure everything looked undisturbed, he turned to go.
And that's when the lights came on.