Read The Watercress File: Being the Further Adventures of That Man from C. A. M. P. Online

Authors: V. J. Banis

Tags: #gay, #camp, #parody, #man from U.N.C.L.E., #humor

The Watercress File: Being the Further Adventures of That Man from C. A. M. P. (8 page)

CHAPTER NINE

Craig listened to Jackie's story with interest. Jackie had omitted the detai
ls of his
“friendship” with Nick, and had gone directly to the business of the upcoming special show. “I think it might be a lead,” he said finally.

Craig shook his head grimly. “More so than you think. It could be merely a coincidence, but there is a benefit show being staged Friday night, for Viet Nam war orphans. I'd forgotten about it until now.”

“Do you think it ties in with the assassination?”

“It very well might. There will be some important people there. As a matter of fact, the guest of honor will be my boss, the head of the C.I.A.”

“Duval himself?” Jackie was astonished.

“He'll be in a special box. If they were planning to assassinate him, they couldn't pick a better opportun
ity.”

“We could warn him right now....” Jackie paused thoughtfully. “But would he believe us? It's a farfetched scheme. And even if he did take our word for it, we'd take a chance on letting the Butterfly agents get away.”

“We're taking a chance either way. If we let them go ahead with their plan, and then fail to stop them when the time comes, we'll both feel pretty rotten.”

“I'm confident we won't fail,” Jackie assured him. “But I'll leave the decision to you. On one hand, you've a chance to score a real coup against Butterfly. On the other, you're gambling with your entire career.”

He knew the answer even before Craig spoke. “Go ahead and take that job with the show. And keep your eyes and ears wide open.”

Jackie was relieved by the decision. He had been eager to get to work on the case. Each difficulty was to him merely another challenge, an obstacle to be surmounted through the use of his wits. Failure was a possibility he never allowed himself to consider.

“How are you at heart-to-heart talks?” Craig asked unexpectedly.

“Best shoulder in the world,” Jackie answered. For the first time he realized that Craig seemed strangely preoccupied.

Craig also seemed embarrassed, as though he was forcing himself to explain. “You know about Mari and me?” he began, noting Jackie's quick nod. “Well, it was just a matter of being horny—at least, that's what I thought at the moment. Now I'm not so sure that I didn't have another motive, which I just wouldn't admit to myself.”

“Such as?”

Craig was becoming increasingly embarrassed. “Well, I've never been around any...you know,
gay
fellows before. And if someone had said to me that someday I'd be curious about...well, how it was to do it with a guy...I'd have laughed at him. Now, all of a sudden, something crazy has happened. Believe me, I never thought I'd actually feel attracted to a fellow, no matter how special he was.”

“And you are?” Jackie was amazed. He had not realized that Craig felt that way about him.

“I'm not sure. I still haven't made up my mind.”

“Well, do me one little old favor,” Jackie said with a pleased grin. “When you decide, just make sure I'm the first to know.”

Craig seemed grateful that Jackie was taking all this in stride, without any I-told-you-so remarks. “I promise,” he said quietly.

Jackie had been instructed to report to a downtown theater for a rehearsal of the show. When he arrived, an acrobatic act was being rehearsed on the stage. Nick saw him and came to greet him, accompanied by an auntie-ish individual who turned out to be Mr. Bigelow.

“Nick tells me your movements are quite phenomenal,” Mr. Bigelow remarked. For the life of him, Jackie couldn't tell whether the man was referring to dancing or sex. Nick was grinning from behind Mr. Bigelow, obviously enjoying Jackie's uncertainty.

“They'll never be as good as Nick's,” Jackie answered finally, pleased to see the grin disappear from Nick's face as Mr. Bigelow gave him a quick frown.

He took his place off stage and waited for his turn on stage to come up. As he waited and watched, he saw Mr. Bigelow and Nick disappear into an office backstage. Glancing about to be certain no one was
watching him, Jackie followed them.

“It's all set,” Mr. Bigelow was saying as Jackie paused outside the door, straining to hear the conversation. “The performers will leave here in the limousine, but Andre will have been replaced by a different driver. That way, we're in the clear. The driver will kidnap them and take them to that empty farmhouse outside the city. In the meantime, the other troupe, in an identical limousine, will take their place at the theater. You know the rest.”

Jackie tensed with excitement. So this was it—the show was to be the opportunity for the assassination, and he now knew how it was going to be arranged. Now, if he could only learn just when during the show, and how....

To his dismay, one of the two had flicked on a radio inside, drowning out the sound of their voices. Jackie remained where he was, straining, but he could near nothing over the jazz music playing. He glanced around again. At the moment, no one was near. He bent and looked through the keyhole.

He understood why they had suddenly wanted to cut off any sounds from inside. They had finished with the other business, and were now busy with a different kind of business, one that was attached to the lower part of Nick's husky torso.

The handsome Greek's trousers had been pushed down about his ankles, leaving him naked from waist to feet. His hair-shaded legs were spread wide apart, his hands on his thrust-forward hips. And Mr. Bigelow was hungrily kissing the awesome sight that intruded in front of him.

Jackie tingled with excitement as he saw the scene. Part of the excitement came from the memory of Nick's body, and the wish that he could be in Bigelow's place; but there was more than that. As Bigelow's head pulled back, away from Nick's abdomen, Nick's flesh was exposed in full glory. Thanks to their positions, Jackie had not really gotten a look the other time, although he had certainly wanted to. Now, however, even at this distance he could easily make out the mark on it, the tattoo.

It was unmistakably the Butterfly design. He had assumed Nick was only a hustler, a current trick of Bigelow's. Now he realized that Nick was a member of Butterfly, and high up in the hierarchy. The tattoo was worn only by those in the upper echelons.

There was a sound nearby, and Jackie sprang to his feet. Someone had come off the stage, and Jackie moved away from the office before he could be noticed. He wasn't going to learn any more just now. But at least he knew enough to begin making a few plans of his own.

* * * *

“Do you think it will work?” Craig remained unconvinced, although the others were in enthusiastic accord.

“I don't see why it shouldn't,” Aunt Lily said bluntly. “It sounds foolproof to me.”

“Well, not exactly foolproof.” Jackie was quick to ward off any arguments. “But if everyone does his part properly, we should make it work. Now, let's go over it once again.”

Everyone became quite serious, listening silently and attentively as Jackie explained the scheme for the fourth time.

“They're planning on kidnapping the real troupe,” he said. “Of course, I'll be along with them. My job will be to get rid of their driver, and deliver the original performers to the theater instead of the substitute troupe.”

He paused to look around and assure himself that each of them was with him so far. “All right. Now, in the meantime, Craig will be with his boss—that's our insurance policy, just in case everything else fails.”

“I'd still rather be doing something more active,” Craig protested.

“And we could use you. But we need you where you'll be. We have to know that, no matter what else happens, you won't fail in protecting your boss.”

Craig grunted. “I guess you're right,” he admitted grudgingly.

“That means,” Jackie went on, “that we have to get rid of the other troupe they've prepared, the phony performers. Aunt Nasturtia, that's where you and Mari come in. You must understand, it's dangerous. You are to do nothing directly. All we want is for you to delay them. Get lost, or whatever is necessary, to allow me to get the others there first. If the other performers are already on stage when they arrive, there won't be much they can do. And anyway, by that time I'll be there waiting for them.”

“And we'll be there too,” Aunt Lily said proudly.

“That's right. You, Honey, and Gladiola will be at the theater, as reserve troops. If there's any delay in my arrival, Honey, you'll have to save the day by going on stage and pretending to be the opening act of the show.”

“Don't worry,” Honey assured him. “They'll think they're listening to Von Clabborn.”

It was, Jackie decided, a simple enough plot. The only likelihood of failure was in Aunt Nasturtia's hands. And he had an idea for minimizing that.

He had already learned that the phony troupe would be leaving from Bigelow's office, and he had seen the Cadillac limousine that he suspected would be used to deliver them to the theater. It was not difficult to find an identical limousine, and with a little work, it was converted into a fine booby trap.

“Now,” he said, showing the results to Aunt Nasturtia. “If anything goes wrong—if there's any trouble from the people you're driving—you have only to press this switch, and the rear of the car will immediately be filled with knockout gas. It's harmless, but it will put them to sleep in seconds.”

“What if they jump out of the car?”

“Impossible. This second switch electrically locks all the doors. They can't get out until you let them out from the front. And the window between the driver's compartment and the rear is bulletproof. Just be certain that it's up at all times.”

“Now let me see,” Aunt Nasturtia said, mentally reviewing all that she had been told. “How am I going to get them in the car?”

“That's Mari's part,” Jackie explained again. “They're expecting a limousine to pull up at the rear door for them. But when the right one arrives, Mari will approach the driver and persuade him to take her to the other side of the parking lot. As soon as they pull away, you're to pull up to the door and honk the horn for the performers. If anyone asks about your impatience, you'll show them your watch, which will be ten minutes fast, and explain that they're late.”

“Then all I do is drive around?” Nasturtia said.

“Until eight forty-five. By that time, I should be there. But you'll hear the signal. They're broadcasting the entire show, and the opening act, by luck, is a pianist. He'll play the ‘Bolero.' When you hear that, you'll know it's safe to bring them to the theater.”

It was, then, a simple enough plot—assuming, of course, that everything went as planned.

CHAPTER TEN

As the time of the special benefit show drew nearer, Jackie grew uneasy. Was he only being silly, or was his intuition right in warning him of problems? Whichever it
was, however, he kept such thoughts to himself, maintaining a show of cheerful confidence so far as the others were concerned, Craig particularly.

Craig remained unhappy over the fact that he would not be in the action at all, but he accepted Jackie's judgment on the matter. It was essential to have the added insurance—they could not afford to fail in protecting Duval.

Time came at last for Jackie to depart for the practice theater, where the car would pick up the performers and allegedly deliver them to the plush Herald theater, where the show was taking place. Jackie went over the plans with the others one last time. Gladiola, Honey, and Lily were to go directly to the Herald theater, and be prepared to do whatever might prove necessary to assist the others. Craig, of course, would be meeting his superior, and would accompany him. And Mari and Aunt Nasturtia were to follow Jackie to the practice theater, where they would arrange their kidnapping feat.

At last, convinced that he had done all he could do, Jackie packed a bag with the costume he would wear and departed in a cab for Bigelow's theater.

The other performers were already there, busily dressing or making-up. It had been planned that the performers would ready themselves here, prior to being driven to the special show. Jackie joined the various male entertainers in the dressing room and quickly changed into the tights and jersey that would be his costume for the evening.

“I don't think I've ever seen you perform before,” one of the entertainers addressed him as Jackie applied his make-up. “Have you worked in this area much?”

“Not at all,” Jackie answered truthfully, careful not to make a statement that would trip him up. “I've been working on the West Coast, and just came into town recently.”

“Well, good luck,” the man said. He was, Jackie knew from rehearsals, a singer, and something of a loner. He seemed, from time to time, to be cruising, but it was hard to say for certain. At another time, Jackie would probably have made it a point to determine whether he was or not. At the present, however, he had other things on his mind.

He would like to have known just where the other performers were, the ones who would be substituted for this group. He knew they were somewhere in the same theater, for the plans called for them to be picked up from Bigelow's office. But he did not dare risk looking around for them. He could only hope, as the time came for departure, that everything would go as planned.

The limousine arrived for him and his fellow performers right on schedule. There were only seven of them—the pianist, a vocal group, and an acrobatic troupe, plus himself. Jackie's plans to thwart this kidnapping depended upon his being able to get to the driver. As they climbed into the limousine, Jackie boldly climbed into the front with the chauffeur.

“Sorry, you'll have to sit in the back,” the driver told him in a surly voice.

Jackie giggled and flipped a wrist. “Don't be such a goose. It's hot, and it's too crowded back there for all of us. Besides, I won't grope you, if that's what you're afraid of.” Without waiting for the driver to have a change of heart, he slammed the door and settled back in the seat.

His bluff worked. The driver seemed unhappy over the situation, but he chose not to argue it further. Jackie remained in the front as the car moved away from the theater.

They weren't attempting to be subtle. The car was moving in the exact opposite direction from the one it should have been taking. From the corner of his eye, Jackie could see some of the others exchanging glances. The glass had been closed between the front and rear compartments, and when the pianist knocked on the glass, the driver ignored the summons altogether.

“Aren't we going the wrong way?” Jackie asked innocently. He wanted to play it dumb until it was safe to take over control of the car. In his pocket, however, his fingers curled around the handle of a jeweled derringer, the gun he always carried when he was working on a case. It was a single shot affair, and not good for anything beyond a short distance.

It was all that he usually needed, however, and safer for his purposes than the more lethal weapons available. For one thing, he had no special license to kill; his training, in fact, had carefully prepared him to avoid killing except as a necessity, in self-defense.

They turned unexpectedly and sharply into a darkened alley. Another quick turn, while the passengers in the rear sat forward in alarm, and they were in a dark and deserted parking area behind some warehouses. Jackie had not counted on this, but as he saw the moving van that pulled into the lot from another alley, he realized that they were about to be transferred to the other vehicle. He had planned on their being kept in this car, but he could see now that, from their kidnapers' standpoint, a moving van would be safer.

The limousine had stopped. Jackie's hand tightened on the derringer as the chauffeur pulled a gun, an ominous-looking Luger.

“Everybody out,” he said, waving the gun menacingly. “And into the van.”

Genuinely frightened, the others obeyed, scrambling out of the limousine. Jackie got out on his own side, waiting for a chance. The driver circled the car, motioning them toward the van. Jackie saw the beady eyes look aside, checking for witnesses. It was his chance. He dropped behind a fender, and fired. His aim was perfect. The chauffeur yelped and dropped the gun as the bullet tore through his hand. With lightning speed, Jackie was in front of him, and had the Luger.

“Now then,” he said, brandishing the weapon. “What about your friends in the van—are they armed?”

“They aren't,” a voice said behind him. “But I am.”

Jackie felt a threatening poke at his spine. He didn't have to ask—he knew the feel of a gun in his back. Cursing himself silently, he dropped the Luger to the ground.

“That's better,” the singer said. “Now, you'll kindly join the others at the moving van.”

“You won't get away with this,” Jackie told him as he walked obediently toward the moving van.

“We'll see,” the other said. “I'm just glad we decided to include me in the group, just in case. Nick had a hunch someone might have gotten wise.”

“Is Nick the boss?” Jackie asked, his mind working rapidly as usual. Eventually he would make an escape, and he might as well collect all the information possible.

“Right you are,” his companion answered. They had reached the van. The others, frightened and bewildered by the fast exchange of advantages, were already huddled inside. Jackie was prodded with the gun, and he climbed reluctantly inside. There was no opportunity to try for the gun. No sooner was he inside the van, than the door was slammed quickly shut and bolted noisily in place. He shoved against it at once, but it was sealed tightly. Like it or not, they were prisoners inside the truck.

* * * *

Aunt Nasturtia pulled the car into the darkened edge of the parking lot, switching off the engine quickly. The big Cadillac was quite a change from the older model car which they had at the house, and which she was accustomed to driving. Still, things were going smoothly.

“You're on,” she said to Mari, beside her in the front seat.

Mari checked herself in her compact mirror, gave the bodice of her dress a final downward tug, and opened the car door. “Here's hoping he likes blondes,” she said. With a grin and a wave, she was gone.

Jackie had coached her carefully about how she was to play the scene. The driver of the other limousine must think she was from the theater, so that he would be less suspicious. For that, she had to get inside the theater, and emerge from there.

She found the side door that Jackie had described, and as he had assured her, it was unlocked. She slipped inside and moved lightly down the hall, following his directions. A turn, then another, and she was approaching the rear door, the one at which she should find the waiting limousine.

It was there, just as planned. She groaned inwardly as she saw the driver—one of those shifty, greasy types that she didn't really go for. Oh well, she thought philosophically, with his pants down that wouldn't matter—anyway, she was being patriotic. That was the one thing she liked about this kind of work. You got to carry on a lot, and no one could say you were being immoral—it was your duty, after all.

She approached the open window on the driver's side of the car. He looked up and leered as she approached, swinging her wide hips seductively. Her breasts bounced and jiggled freely within the loose confines of the dress.

“Got a match?” she asked, leaning against the side of the car. Her breasts swayed in the window opening, practically grazing his nose. His eyes were as wide as saucers.

“Sure,” he managed to sputter, gulping loudly. She half expected him to lean out and bite one of the nipples just to see if they were real.

“Lonesome?” she asked when he had lit the cigarette for her with trembling hands.

“I'm waiting for some people,” he said in a voice that told her he wasn't going to put up much resistance. With that face, she thought to herself, he probably didn't get too many propositions.

“Doesn't look like they're here yet. As long as you're just killing time, wouldn't you rather kill it together?”

He was having a real battle with himself, she could see that. His thighs were yelling for him to take her up on the offer; his fear of whoever he worked for was telling him to stay where he was.

“Look,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes. “We could pull just over there.” She pointed to the other end of the dark parking lot, opposite the place where Nasturtia was parked. “We can see your friends when they come out, all right?”

“All right,” he finally agreed, his head bobbing. Mari came around the car and slid inside, moving all the way across the seat to press against him. He was scarcely able to start up the car and pull into the parking lot.

When they were parked, Mari saw to it that he was turned away from the theater's exit. She didn't want him to see what was going on there. That meant, of course, keeping him occupied. She kissed him hotly, rubbing her big breasts against his chest. One shaking hand slipped nervously under her skirt. She pushed her legs apart boldly, inviting him to explore, and dropped her own hand to his legs.

What she found was a pleasant surprise—this wasn't going to be such a disappointing bit after all. She was only sorry she didn't have a sack to put over his head, in which case it could be a really glorious occasion. As it was, however, she was busy watching the back window. She saw Aunt Nasturtia pull up to the door, and a few minutes later the phony performers had trouped out of the theater and were in the car. Mari smiled with relief as she saw Aunt Nasturtia drive away with her guests.

Work was over, now she could concentrate on playing. Her companion had been trying hard to get her arranged on the seat. She helped him accomplish the feat now, closing her eyes. He wasn't much to look at, but he was wonderful to feel—and she was feeling plenty.

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