AnnotationEdward S. Aarons
Most blondes are dangerous — but Stella Marni was murder on heels...
Locked inside that beautiful head was the key Sam Durell had to find — the identity of the leader who trafficked in souls between New York and Budapest.
Hungarian refugees were vanishing like smoke — and turning up dead behind the Iron Curtain. The C.I.A. assigned Sam Durell to stop Stand Stella Marni was his only clue.
She was one of the most desirable women Durell had ever seen. She had the kind of cool, unearthly beauty a man would lie, betray, kill for-and follow to the brink of hell.
A nation had entrusted Durell with its secrets. He carried a gun to defend them, but against a woman like Stella Marni there was no weapon to keep a man safe...
Assignment — Stella Marni
Durell was waiting with Art Greenwald in an inconspicuous car outside the Federal Courthouse in Foley Square when the girl came out. It was raining, a grim November day in New York. Traffic hissed on the asphalt and pedestrians hurried along under umbrellas and raincoats. It was after four o'clock, and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearing was over for the day.
There were lights inside the wide building doorway, and for a moment the girl hesitated, her tall figure limned against the glow behind her. She wore a dark green raincoat and a beret of green suede with some kind of metal insigne pinned to it. Durell could see her clearly from the car where he waited. She carried herself well, with an air of pride and defiance. A news photographer came out of the building and talked to her and gestured with his camera, and the girl shook her head and said something to him and he made an argumentative gesture with the Graflex.
"That her?" Durell asked.
"Yes," Greenwald said. "Stella Marni."
"Can't say I blame your brother a bit"
"He's gone haywire over her, Sam."
"Knowing she's an unfriendly witness?"
"Politics never meant anything to Frank. All he can think about is that Stella." Art's voice was bitter. "Just look at her. The bitch. Not a worry in the world. Her father gone, Frank missing, and she sits in there in front of Senator Hubert and says yes, she wants to go back to Budapest, back to the old country. Frank doesn't care. He'd go with her."
"Is that what he says?"
Art shook his head in a small negation. "I don't know what Frank says. My only brother. If I can get my hands on him, I'll slap some sense into his stupid head."
"We'll find him," Durell said.
"Yeah. Dead in a ditch."
The girl came down the courthouse steps. Durell liked the way she walked. She didn't seem to mind the rain. She had long legs and a high waist and nice articulation; fine ankles, a proud lovely face, long blonde hair that glistened with the rain where it curled from under her suede beret. She cut across the wide street as if she were walking directly toward them. Durell lit a cigarette. Art Greenwald picked up a newspaper in his lap and bent his head as if absorbed in reading it.
She paid no attention to them, although she walked directly in front of the car and skirted the fender when she stepped to the sidewalk. She passed three feet from Durell, behind the wheel. His first estimate of her went glimmering. She was more than just attractive. She was one of the most beautiful women Durell had ever seen. She had large green eyes as cold as a frozen mountain lake, a mouth a little wide, with a generous lower lip that could have been soft and passionate except for the tightness at the corners of her mouth and the defiant tilt of her chin.
"Cold," Durell murmured.
"You can't get near her, Sam."
"Your pleasure. I told Frank. I said he was in love with a damned marble statue. He laughed at me. Said I didn't know Stella Marni.
Stella. That babe never gave anything away. She never belonged to any man."
"All right, take it easy. Art."
"I just get so sick and mad, Sam. With worry over Frank. Where is he?"
"We'll find him," Durell said again.
"McFee will cut some throats if you interfere. This one is sewed up by the FBI. They work with the Senate Internal Security people. You know how they are. They'll scream bloody murder that we're infringing on their sacred territory. They'll scream to the Pentagon and the White House and State. All those yells will funnel down to K Section and Dickinson McFee. The little general will give it to you in the neck."
"It's my neck," Durell said. "A pleasure."
The girl was beyond them, at the corner, where she had paused to look for a cab. As usual on a rainy day in New York, those that were in sight were all occupied. A cold wind blew misted rain down the street, flapping the skirts of the girl's green raincoat. Her legs were very good. As he watched, Durell saw a heavy-set man in a trench coat hurry up to the girl and take her arm and talk rapidly to her on the street corner. The girl turned a cold, devastating profile toward him, said something briefly, and shrugged off the man's importuning hand.
"Who is that?" Art asked.
"Dmitri Zobolev. A junior member of the Soviet UN staff."
"I told you she was mixed up with them."
Durell said, "If so, she isn't very happy about it"
The girl had turned away from the squat man and walked out of sight around the corner, still apparently in search of a cab. Zobolev looked after her with grim annoyance, took a step as if to give chase, then shrugged thick shoulders and went down into the subway entrance nearby.
A car slid by, tires hissing richly on asphalt. Durell glimpsed the man who drove as the car turned the corner after the girl. Pale hair, narrow face, hard mouth, small and careful eyes under a dark hat.
"Regular parade," he murmured. "We're supercargo, this trip."
"Something?" Art asked.
"Do you know Harry Blossom, FBI? Supersleuth. The man with the bloodhound nose. My old grandpa Jonathan could have used him down in the bayous, hunting coon," Durell said.
"You crazy Cajun. This is serious."
"All right, then, Art, go join the parade. Keep your eye on Marni. I'll meet you at the hotel for dinner. Good hunting."
Art Greenwald got out of the car quickly for all of his short, muscular bulk. He was the electronics expert for K Section of the CIA, and there was nothing much he couldn't do with bugs and tapped wires. He was a youthful, dark-haired man with thick brows, a worried mouth, and a friendly normally humorous face. His eyes were grateful to Durell when he glanced back and flipped a hand in a parting gesture.
"Art?" Durrell called.
Greenwald turned back.
"The keys to Stella's apartment. Got 'em?"
"Oh, sure. I lifted them from Frank's dresser and made a couple extra. Here."
"I'll see what I can see. But there won't be much there if Blossom has had first crack at her boudoir."
"Thanks, Sam. Anything you can do..."
"Go on. She'll have her cab in a minute."* * *
Twenty minutes later Durell stood with his feet slightly apart in the middle of Stella Marni's living room. The apartment was in a convened brownstone in the East Seventies, a quiet, sedate building where the rents ran at least three hundred a month. He wondered where Stella Marni, a refugee without passport or papers, got the money.
There had been no difficulty making his entry. He knew he had been watched by the man lounging in the doorway of another brownstone diagonally across the street, but he was not troubled by this. He pinched his nose and exhaled softly and stood where he was, soaking in the feel of the place.
Durell was a tall man in his early thirties, with black hair and dark blue eyes that turned to coal when he was angry. He was angry now. He resented Art's being worried by this, and he resented Stella Marni for biting the hand that fed her. It was none of his business, really, except that he owed Art Greenwald more than he could ever repay, and it didn't matter if State went into a flap and the Pentagon's eagles shrieked and the Attorney General's office muttered about infringement on constitutional areas of operation. Art wanted help, and Durell was here to give it to him.
Durell looked dangerous. When he moved, it was with superbly refined muscular control, without wasted effort, lightly, like a jungle animal. Training and natural aptitudes and conditioned reflexes had made him what he was. He was a hunter by instinct and for pleasure. He was subchief of K Section of the CIA, based in an anonymous building simply labeled No. 20 Annapolis Street in Washington's suburbs. He had a gambler's face, lean and impassive, and a gambler's hands, quick and sure and strong. His Cajun heritage had given him a quick temper, which he had learned to control, since a spy who reacts emotionally rather than rationally is soon a dead spy and of no use to anyone. He had been in the old OSS and later with G2 in the Pentagon, and now he was with the CIA. He could conceive of no other way of life for himself.
Standing motionless, his head forward a little, he absorbed the sights and sounds and smells of Stella Marni's living room. Delicate French perfume, gray modern furniture against neutral walls, an Amy Bessar abstract in cool blues and greens over the couch, muted simple lamps. Rain tapped against the casement windows overlooking the quiet crosstown street It was growing dark outside. The apartment consisted of this living room, an octagonal central foyer off the self-service elevator that faced a tiny kitchen, and a large bedroom in the rear with a vast mirror between two tall windows, looking down upon a small garden court in the back of the building. When Durell moved, he caught the glimmer of his tall reflection in the high bedroom mirror, all the way at the opposite end of the apartment.
He switched on one of the lamps.
Cloisonné ash trays were clean and sparkling, a bowl of yellow chrysanthemums rested on a hi-fi recording cabinet He opened shutter doors to a dressing closet, put his hands lightly on the rack of trim autumn dresses, looked at the expensive Fifth Avenue labels. Quite an investment in clothes. A dark red leather shoulder-strap handbag hung inside the shutter door. He took it down and carefully spread out the feminine accouterments on a polished table, and put them all back. He began to feel the girl's presence in these rooms. She was fanatically meticulous and clean. Almost sterile. Her perfume was delicate. A tall, cold-eyed girl, perhaps too ambitious. An intelligent, cultured girl, here as a foreigner from behind the Iron Curtain via Havana, appealing originally for political asylum, and economically successful while her cause was pending before the immigration authorities. She did modeling, Art Greenwald said.
Durell moved through the kitchen, touching this and that, looking here and there. The kitchen was used, not merely decorative. There were racks of herbs and spices that indicated a gourmet's taste and the ability to cook what she liked to eat. Copper skillets and saucepans shone in the dusky room.
The telephone rang in the foyer, a softly muted sound.
He let it ring, his eyes annoyed.
He had never met Stella Marni, never seen her before this afternoon at Foley Square. He wondered what made her tick.
The telephone rang again, and then stopped.
He went into the bedroom. None of your business, he thought again. If Stella Marni wanted to be repatriated to Hungary, why try to stop her? Durell knew all about the "come home" campaign being waged by the governments behind the Iron Curtain. It was moderately successful, a propaganda victory being exploited all over the world. Some aspects of some of the cases, however, were troubling State and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. There had been the forced departure of those Russian merchant seamen, for instance. And ugly rumors of coercion, blackmail, bribery, threats. Yet Stella Marni had stood up coldly before the subcommittee today and told them she preferred the old country to living in New York, that she was disillusioned and homesick. The
would make propaganda capital out of her every word.
Still none of your business, Durell thought. Except that Art Greenwald had a brother named Frank, and Frank was in love with Stella and had gone haywire and Art had asked Durell, as a personal favor, to come up to New York to do what he could. And Deirdre had asked him, too.