21

Andreas Wolff lived in a top-floor apartment in an elegant eighteenth-century building which overlooked the Hermann Gmeiner park in the Freyung district of Vienna.

‘From my work table,’ he told Mike Graham, ‘I can look into the park and see the children playing in the Wendy houses and gambolling around the nice green open spaces over there. Gmeiner worked most of his life in the service of orphans, you know. He was quite a guy.’

Mike’s initial impression was that Wolff himself was a pretty extraordinary person. He was a robustly middle-aged man who exuded compact, restless energy. He had wiry grey-black hair above a wide, furrowed brow; when he spoke his eyes moved incessantly behind the lenses of his glasses, and when he described something his long-fingered hands made shapes in the air. He insisted Mike call him by his first name, and showed no surprise when Mike explained he was an undercover agent attached to the United Nations. ‘I already have two murderous-looking police marksmen in residence, so a murderous secret agent will fit the setting very well.’

From that point on, it had been difficult to get Wolff to address the matter of his security. After a conducted tour of the sprawling apartment he insisted Mike try out one of his prototype computer games. After that he decided it was time for coffee. They took their cups to the spacious sitting room where the police bodyguard sat in easy chairs, looking uncomfortable as they pretended to read newspapers with their machine pistols on the floor at their feet. At Mike’s request they had been told he was an American computer engineer engaged on collaborative work with Andreas Wolff. When he arrived they had inspected his ID which backed the impersonation.

‘Life is so damned short,’ Wolff said now. His words were clipped and meticulously delivered. He stood by a tall window, watching the traffic down on the B?rseplatz. ‘I could use three lifetimes, no problem, just turning my games from wild ideas into software. And in between I could maybe use up another couple of seventy-five-year spans to deal with the serious stuff.’

‘ICON,’ Mike said.

Wolff made a sour mouth. ‘I sometimes wish I’d never gone near the thing. You can’t imagine how those security codes disrupt my sleep.’

‘I’d assume they command a lot of brain space.’

‘They sprawl. And apart from that, they constitute a severe discipline. One I did not seek. I am tied to it now of course, and in many ways I find it fulfilling. The new protocols are moving towards a kind of digital perfection. I can sense it. I can even visualize the completed project before I have written the finalizing code.’

‘You’re saying the protocols aren’t finished? I thought they were at the testing stage.’

‘They are being tested, that is true,’ Wolff said, ‘but the test stage is a period with a lot of ruthless chopping. More code has to be written, and that has to be seamlessly incorporated into the body of software which has just undergone merciless surgery.’ Wolff jerked his arms upwards, slopping coffee on the back of his hand. ‘I take some measure of Frohsinn from the effort — glee, you understand?’

‘From facing the challenge?’

‘Quite so. It is good to take on such substantial difficulties, such threats to the symmetry of my reasoning processes. And it is a deep pleasure to overcome them, to win. But I feel it is endless work. As one challenge is cancelled another springs up.’ Wolff turned from the window and grinned at Mike, showing large even teeth. ‘Worst of all are the occasions, late at night, when I realize how much of my precious time is being eroded.’

Mike looked at his watch.

‘And your precious time, too,’ Wolff said, ‘is being eaten away. I’m sorry, I respond to visitors the way children do. With a kind of excitement that travels in all directions. Come, let’s sit down and we can discuss your business. I assure you again, the sharpshooters don’t have a word of English.’ As they sat at a table by the window Wolff added, ‘Their German isn’t much good, either.’

Mike explained his masters’ anxiety that Wolff’s security might not be good enough. ‘The possible threat to your life has gotten more serious, too.’

‘You mean it’s not just the possibility of criminals eliminating me, to make sure they have the time to break open ICON once and for all?’

‘Well, no.’

‘I must say I find that threat a trifle hard to take seriously. It’s the kind of thing criminals might talk about doing, but going to the trouble of doing it means stepping beyond whatever safety they’ve created for themselves. I think perhaps the criminals are not so organized and not so well informed that they would consider killing me a worthwhile risk.’

‘I’m not so sure.’

‘Listen, Mr Graham, I have fathered a few rumours about a computer genius who is even now overtaking me in the field of computer data security. A lot of people already believe that no matter what happens to me, the future of ICON is going to be in very safe hands.’

‘There will be plenty of people who won’t believe a word of it,’ Mike said. ‘They’re the ones who take the trouble to dig down to the truth, which means they’re also likely to take the trouble to blow your head off.’

Wolff shrugged. He was obviously not convinced.

‘Anyway,’ Mike said, ‘the new threat is something different.’ He took out a sheet of paper and unfolded it. ‘You’ll see your own name on that list. Do you know any of the other men?’

Wolff took the list and frowned at it. ‘Him,’ he said, jabbing the paper with a long finger. ‘Rudolf Altenberg. I don’t know any of the others.’

‘How do you know Altenberg?’

‘Against my better judgement, and under pressure from my ex-wife who is a friend of Altenberg’s wife, I devised a computer system for him and I personally installed it in his home. A very sophisticated system, I might say. It’s better than anything I’ve got myself.’

‘Have you mingled socially with Altenberg?’

‘Now why do you ask that?’

‘To be blunt, the men on that list are Nazis.’

‘Except for me.’

‘Well…’

‘I’m not surprised Altenberg’s a Nazi. He’s a very unpleasant man with terrible taste in books and music. So why do you suppose I am on that list?’

‘Somebody thinks you’re a Nazi, I guess.’

‘And why is there a list at all?’

‘It’s a hit-list. Two people on it are already dead.’

‘That is gloomy news, Mr Graham.’ Wolff looked towards the window. ‘Somebody could really be after me, then.’

‘It wouldn’t be wise to doubt it. Tell me, why would anybody get the impression you’re a Nazi?’

‘Because of my association with Altenberg?’

‘Maybe.’

‘I would assume so,’ Wolff said. ‘We attended social gatherings together. He insisted on a couple of visits to functions, he wanted to introduce me to people he said were now beneficiaries of the computer system I had designed for him. He was really just showing me off, of course, because I’m rather famous. Tiresome, very tiresome.’

Mike wasn’t sure if he detected evasiveness. Wolff seemed to want to dismiss the topic and move on.

‘You can’t think of any other reason why somebody might think you’re a Nazi?’

Wolff’s eyes hardened. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Just try to accept that.’ He looked away.

‘I think we should tighten your security, anyway,’ Mike said.

‘I don’t agree.’

‘It can’t hurt.’

‘What I have is adequate. I am hampered enough, I don’t want any more restraints.’

‘These guys are not adequate. They would be halfway out of their chairs and reaching for their guns at the point when a competent assassin would blow them away.’

‘Is that the threat I face? A trained killer?’

‘It seems so. We have a description and we’re trying to track him down, but until we do, you definitely need to be shielded better than you are. I know it means offending the local flatfoot tribe, but we can’t take feelings into account.’

Wolff stood and walked to the window again. ‘Come and look,’ he said, pointing. ‘That building over there, on the far side of the park, is the stock exchange. A busy place, every room occupied by clerks and other functionaries. A sniper operating over there is outside the bounds of likelihood. And that is the only building which looks directly towards this one.’

‘Even so — ’

‘Downstairs, as you know, is a team of very fastidious security people who have emergency switches that can barricade stairways and disable elevators. Nobody who is even faintly suspicious is going to get up here, and security always check with me first, even when it’s my old mother who calls.’

‘I got past them with a phoney ID,’ Mike said.

‘But first they showed me your face on the security monitor, didn’t they?’

‘And you thought I looked honest, and you let me come up. I could have been an assassin.’

‘I let you come up because I know perfectly well who you are.’

Mike blinked at him. ‘What — because I made an appointment?’

‘No.’ Wolff smiled. ‘Use your imagination. If you were a layman, as I am, with occasional access to classified UN files, as I have, wouldn’t you take a look now and again?’

‘Oh.’

‘So,’ Wolff continued, ‘in the extremely unlikely event of somebody making it to my apartment door, I think there’s just enough vigour in those two to make holes in him, should such a thing become necessary.’

Mike thought it over. Finally he nodded. ‘I’ll pass on what you say. In the meantime, be careful. Don’t go out alone. If you plan to move around let us know, we’ll get you a shadow. Two shadows if we think you need them.’

Mike turned from the window. One of the marksmen was staring at him. It was the same look, he thought — half curious, half absent — that cows gave passers-by.

‘Remember what I told you, Andreas. Don’t rely on your troops. Stay alert.’

* * *

An hour after sunrise, two men in a black Ford pickup were parked 180 metres from the service yard of the Comfort Inn in Dallas. They were a fat man called Chuck and a thinner, younger one called Billy. Both were employees of Don Chadwick. For this surveillance job they had been equipped with high magnification monoculars, through which they watched a borrowed station wagon with false plates parked near the service elevator of the hotel.

‘Here we go,’ Chuck murmured.

They watched as Philpott got out of the elevator, opened the station wagon tailgate and stepped back into the elevator. He bent over and hoisted one end of a rolled carpet and began dragging it towards the vehicle.

‘Lord save us,’ Billy said. ‘No real puzzle about what he’s totin’ there.’

The carpet was obviously heavy and unwieldy. They could see sweat shine on Philpott’s face. He dragged the roll between his arms until the midpoint touched the edge of the tailgate, then he let go. The carpet dropped with a bump that Chuck and Billy could hear. Philpott bent again, picked the other end of the carpet up off the ground, readied himself behind it with spread feet, and pushed. The roll slid into the station wagon. Philpott folded it over, shut the tailgate and got in behind the steering wheel.

‘Just leave a good space behind him,’ Chuck said as Billy started the engine. ‘There won’t be too much traffic on the road this time of day.’

Philpott drove out on to West Kingsley and turned right, travelling south. At the first major dip in the road he looked in the rearview mirror and saw the black Ford pickup hanging back, a couple of hundred metres behind. As he took the turning for Trinity River and the Greenbelt Park, the mobile telephone in his pocket beeped twice. He took it out, thumbed the green button and put the phone to his ear.

‘Is it all right to speak?’ a voice said. It was C.W. Whitlock.

‘How are you doing that?’ Philpott demanded.

‘Sorry?’

‘You’re dead and rolled up in a carpet in the back of this vehicle I’m driving.’

‘You’re on your way, then?’

‘Bowling along, some distance ahead of a not-so-subtle tail.’

‘I wanted to be sure things were going as expected.’

‘As hoped, not as expected. I’m too steeped in wariness ever to expect much. Is anything happening there that I should know about?’

‘There’s a message from Sabrina.’

‘Any developments?’

‘Nothing yet. She’s in Berlin. Observation convinces her that Erika Stramm goes nowhere without her bear-like escort.’

‘Keep me posted on her chosen line of action. I trust her judgement.’

‘Very well.’

‘I’ll turn the phone off in another hour or so. If you’ve anything urgent to communicate after that, it’ll have to wait. Oh, and by the way, Chadwick paid cash. We now have a fat anonymous donation for whatever charity comes out of the hat.’

‘Well done,’ Whitlock said.

‘I’ll be in touch as soon as matters here are concluded.’

‘Right. And if I could just ask…’

‘Yes?’

‘When you dispose of the remains, be gentle with me.’

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