"Damn! Damn! Damn!" Niels Sverenssen hammered savagely at the terminal's touchboard, then brought his fist down on heavily on top of the unit as the screen remained dead. He turned away and marched furiously toward the L-shaped central room of the house. "Vickers!" he shouted. "Where are you, for God's sake? I thought those dataphone people were supposed to be here by now."
Vickers, the swarthy, heavily built chief of the domestic staff, appeared from one of the passages. "I only got back ten minutes ago. They said they'd be right over."
"Well, why aren't they?" Sverenssed demanded irritably. "I have calls waiting to be made. The service must be restored at once."
Vickers shrugged. "I already told 'em that. What else was I supposed to do?" The first faint hum of an approaching aircar drifted in from the direction of the window. Vickers listened for a second, then walked over to peer through one of the sliding glass panels that formed part of a wall. "It's a cab," he said over his shoulder. "Coming down over the roof." They heard it land on the other side of the house, in front of the driveway. Shortly afterward, the door chime sounded, followed by the footsteps of one of the maids hurrying across the front hallway. Sverenssen heard a muted exchange of female voices, and moments later the maid ushered in a smiling Lyn Garland. Sverenssen's mouth fell open in a mixture of surprise and dismay.
"Niels!" she exclaimed. "I tried to call you but you seem to be having problems. But I thought you wouldn't mind me showing up anyway. I've been thinking about what you said. You know, you were right. I thought maybe we could patch things up a little." Her hand was resting casually on the top of her shoulder bag as she spoke. Sverenssen was not inside the communications room, which was the one thing Colonel Shearer had insisted on before he could move in. Inside the top of the bag, Lyn's finger found the button on the transmitter and pressed it three times.
"Oh, not now," Sverenssen groaned. "You should know better than to barge in like this. I am an extremely busy man, and I have things to attend to. Anyway, I thought I made myself clear on the not-so-memorable occasion of our last meeting. Good day. Vickers, kindly show Miss Garland back to her cab."
"This way," Vickers said, moving forward and nodding toward where the maid was still hovering.
"Oh, but you did!" Lyn said, looking at Sverenssen and ignoring Vickers. You made it very clear. And I was being so silly, wasn't I, just like you said. But now I've had a chance to think about it, it sounds so-"
"Get her out of here," Sverenssen muttered, turning away. "I don't have time to waste listening to inane prattle today." Vickers gripped Lyn's upper arm and steered her back along the corridor to the front hall, while the maid ran ahead to open the door. The cab was still there. Just as they reached the door, a Southern New England Dataphones repair truck rounded the bend in the driveway and drew up in front of the house, halting so close to the cab that the ladders slung on its side overhung, blocking its ascent path.
The cabbie lowered his window and leaned out to yell. "Hey, asshole! Who taught ya ta drive dat thing? How the hell am I supposed ta get outa here?" Two repairmen had jumped out of the passenger side door of the truck, and another was emerging from the rear. The truck's engine came to life in a series of electric whines, then shuddered and died.
"I've got problems," a voice shouted through the open driver's window of the truck. "The same thing happened just now when we left the office."
"Well do something with the goddam thing, willya? I've got a living ta make."
Vickers had released Lyn's arm and was growling profanities beneath his breath. With what was going on in the driveway, neither he nor the maid noticed her backing away quietly away across the hall.
"Back up, for chrissakes! What's the matter? Don't you know how to reverse a cab?"
"How can I back up? Don't those look like flowers behind me to you? Do you need lenses or sump'n?"
Another technician was coming out of the back of the truck. There were already more of them than would have been sent on a simple domestic repair job, but Vickers and the maid were too preoccupied with the argument to register the fact for a few vital seconds. They also failed to notice the sound of air engines growing steadily louder from beyond the treetops flanking the driveway.
When Lyn appeared in the corner room, Sverenssen was on the far side, peering out and upward as sound deluged the house suddenly. All in the same moment, two Army assault landers dropped into sight from above and came down on the terrace by the pool, with khaki-clad figures already bursting from their doors; explosions and the sounds of shattering glass came from the upper part of the house; and there was a glimpse of Vickers and the maid being bowled over by more figures pouring into the front hall before more concussions followed by clouds of smoke blotted out the view along the corridor.
Lyn snatched the respirator from her bag, clamped it over her face, and snapped the retaining band behind her head just as a barrage of stun grenades and gas bombs crashed in through the ground-floor windows of the house. Detonations and smoke were everywhere, punctuated by shouting, splintering of glass, the thuds of doors being smashed down, and a few scattered shots. One of the domestics appeared in the archway from the main stairs, gesticulating frantically upward and behind him. "They're on the roof! There's soldiers coming in off the roof! They're-" The rest was drowned by more explosions, and he was engulfed by a cloud of smoke and gas erupting behind.
Sverenssen had recoiled from the window, and Lyn could see him clawing at his eyes int the middle of the room as he tried to get his bearings. Whatever happened, he couldn't be allowed to get to the communications room now. She began picking her way cautiously around the wall to get between him and the passageway leading to the office wing. He saw the movement through the smoke and came nearer. "You! . . ." His face twisted in fury as he recognized her, looking even more grotesque by the watery streaks cutting through the smoke grime on his face. Lyn backed away but kept moving in the direction of the passageway. Sverenssen's shape came looming through the smoke, straight at her.
Then, barked military commands sounded inside the house, seemingly from the direction of the guest annexe. Sverenssen glanced over his shoulder and hesitated. Shadowy figures were struggling in the corridor outside the kitchen. He changed direction and made a bolt toward the office wing. Lyn scooped up a wicker chair and hurled it across the floor at his legs. Sverenssen went down heavily, striking his head on the wall as he sprawled full-length on the floor.
But through the smoke, Lyn could see he was still moving. She looked around desperately and picked up a large vase from a side table. Swallowing hard and trying to stop her hands from shaking, she moved nearer. Sverenssen was half sitting up, one hand clutching his head, a trickle of blood oozing through his fingers. He braced a foot beneath himself, stretched an arm to the wall, and started to haul himself up. Lyn raised the vase high over him with both hands. . . . But Sverenssen's legs had turned to jelly. He swayed for a second, groaned, and then collapsed back against the baseboard. Lyn was still standing paralyzed in the same position when the first figures wearing respirators and Army combat uniforms, and carrying assault rifles materialized out of the fumes. One of them took the vase lightly from her hands. "We'll take care of him," a gruff voice told her. "Are you okay?" She nodded mutely, while in front of her, two Special Forces troopers lifted Sverenssen to his feet.
"Bloody good show, that," an English voice commented behind her. "You know, if you worked at it, you might make the SAS." She turned and found Hunt looking at her approvingly. Shearer was next to him. Hunt came up beside Lyn, slipping an arm around her waist, and squeezed her reassuringly. She pressed the side of her head against his shoulder and clung tightly while her tension released itself in a spasm of trembling. Talking could wait until later.
Around them, the noise and smoke were subsiding to reveal Sverenssen's staff being brought out to be searched and relieved of their weapons before being herded away to the guest annexe. As the assault troops began removing their respirators, a knot of American and Russian officers came in through the wreckage, accompanied by several men in civilian clothes beneath combat jackets. Sverenssen's eyes bulged disbelievingly as he refocused. "Hi," Norman Pacey said with satisfaction. "Remember us?"
"For you, the war is over," Sobroskin informed Sverenssen. "In fact, everything is over. It's a shame that you did not find Bruno up to your standards. It's quite luxurious compared to where you will be going."
A sergeant crossed the room to report to Shearer. "No casualties, sir. Just cuts and bruises, all on the other side. None of them got away. The house is secured."
Shearer nodded. "Start getting them out right away. Let's get those landers away before they're spotted by surveillance. Where are Verikoff and the CIA people?" Even as he spoke, another group of figures arrived. Sverenssen's head jerked around, and his jaw dropped as he heard the name. Verikoff halted a few feet away, eyeing him defiantly.
"So, it's you . . ." Sverenssen hissed. "Traitor!" He lunged forward, and was promptly doubled over by a rifle butt delivered to the solar plexus. As he sagged, two of the troopers caught him and held him.
"He carries the key to the communications facility on him at all times," Verikoff said. "It should be on a chain around his neck." Shearer ripped open the front of Sverenssen's shirt, found the key, removed it, and passed it to Verikoff.
"You'll pay for these atrocities, Colonel," Svernessen wheezed. "Mark my words. I've ruined bigger men than you."
"Atrocities?" Shearer turned his head quizzically. "Do you know what he's talking about, Sergeant?"
"I've no idea, sir."
"Did you see anything?"
"Didn't see a thing, sir."
"Why is this man holding his stomach?"
"Probably indigestion, sir."
As Sverenssen was hustled away, Shearer turned to Clifford Benson. "I'm pulling my men out right away, apart from ten to guard the house. I guess it's ready for you to take over."
"A fine job, Colonel," Benson acknowledged. He turned to the others. "Well, time's precious. Let's get on with it."
They stood aside then foloowed while Verikoff led the way into the passage and along to the office wing. At the end, they came to a large, solid-looking door. "I am not sure how far JEVEX's visual field extends," he called to them. "It would be best if you all kept well back." They retreated into a huddle with Hunt, Sobroskin, Lyn, Benson, and Pacey together at the front. "I need a minute to compose myself," Verikoff told them. They waited while he brushed some specks of soot from his clothes, smoothed his hair, and wiped his face with a handkerchief. "Do I look as if all is normal?" he asked them.
"Fine," Hunt called back.
Verikoff nodded, turned to face the door, and unlocked it. Then he drew a deep breath, grasped the handle, and pushed the door open. The others caught a glimpse of elaborate control panels and banks of gleaming equipment. Then Verikoff stepped inside.