Pulp Fiction | The Stone-Cold Dead in the Market Affair by John Oram

BOOK: Pulp Fiction | The Stone-Cold Dead in the Market Affair by John Oram
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Stone-Cold Dead in the Market Affair
By John Oram

A fortune for world conquest

It began when a man walked into a bar and ordered a beer that he was never to drink—for moments later he saw two other men enter, and he panicked and ran headlong out the door, across the street...and under the wheels of a truck.

When he was hit, hundreds of bank notes flew all over the street, a small fortune in currency. And all of it was counterfeit.

But when U.N.C.L.E. investigated the case they found much more than just counterfeiters at work. Instead, it was a THRUSH plan to destroy the economic and political foundations of Europe—and it look as though it was going to succeed....

Chapter One

Market Street in Newport, Monmouthshire, bears no resemblance to its namesake in San Francisco. It is around three hundred yards long, narrow, shabby, with an atmosphere redolent of gasoline, printer's ink, fish, vegetables and good Welsh beer.

It is bounded on one side by the gray stone outer wall of the old municipal covered market, and on the other by a conglomeration of premises which include a branch of a multiple tailoring firm, the truck bay and editorial entrance of the
South Wales Argus
, wholesale fruit, vegetable and fish merchants, and a store specializing in workmen's clothing.

There are two taverns in the street's three-hundred-yard length. The man in the shabby fawn trenchcoat visited each in turn.

He was a small, slim man about thirty years of age. His face was pasty, with high cheekbones accentuated by the sunken flesh below. His hair was a thick thatch that looked like bleached hay. His curiously pale green eyes, set close to a button nose, held an expression of abject fright.

He went into the cream-painted bar of the Black Swan and bought a glass of beer and a sandwich. The chicken sandwiches at the Black Swan are worth traveling a long way to sample, but the man in the trenchcoat gulped his down as if it were tasteless. His little green eyes roved over the back of the bar, resting briefly on the miner's lamp on the top shelf and the ship's bell over the door in to the landlord's private quarters. Then he drank his beer quickly and left without a word.

He hurried along the street and pushed open the door of the bar of the Cross Keys. Except for a pretty girl sitting alone by the counter, the big room was empty. Again the man's eyes searched the bottle-filled shelves. Perched perkily between two-thirds of Long John whiskey there was a little doll in Welsh national costume. Some of the tension went out of the man's face. He rapped on the counter for service.

The barmaid came from the table area in the back, where a juke box was playing an Andy Williams number. A big, handsome, black-haired woman in a black, close-fitting dress, she could have stepped straight out of a Manet painting. She smiled and said good morning as if she really meant it.

The man said, "A pint of bitter." Then, nodding toward the doll: "You don't get many of those around here, I suppose?"

"No. A friend of the lady who owns the place brought it from Cardiff for a present. Pretty, isn't it?"

"Yes." The man seemed satisfied. He took the beer and went to sit at the far end of the room. He was careful to choose a seat from which he could watch both the door and the big window that looked out on to the street. After a token sip he did not touch the beer on the table in front of him.

The girl at the bar said quietly, "A sociable type."

"You get all kinds," the barmaid said. "I never saw him in here before."

"Oh, well!" She pushed her empty glass across the counter. "Fill it up again."

Mixing the gin and vermouth, the barmaid asked, "You staying long in Newport, love?" Her husky voice with its attractive Welsh lilt contrasted strongly with the girl's clipped London accent.

"A few days, maybe. It depends."

"Just on vacation, like?"

"You could call it that." The girl lifted her glass. "Cheers! You sure you won't have one?"

"No, thank you, love. Too early for me."

The bar door opened and two men walked in. Both were six-footers, dressed in discreet business suits. One wore a navy blue raincoat.

Their effect on the man in the trenchcoat was electrical. He jumped to his feet, overturning the table, and charged between them, his eyes wild and staring.

As the door swung behind him, one of the men asked, astonished, "What the hell was that all about?"

"Must of thought you were coppers," the barmaid said.

There came an agonized screech of brakes from the street outside. Women screamed. There was a confused babel of voices.

"My God! An accident." The barmaid whipped up the counter flap and ran across the room with the girl beside her. The two big men were already on the sidewalk.

A truck loaded with heavy crates was blocking the narrow street. Under its front wheels was all that remained of the man in the shabby trenchcoat. The driver, a gray-faced kid in patched blue overalls, was vomiting uncontrollably against the truck's fender. His partner, dazed but articulate, was protesting: "We 'adn't got no chance. 'E dashed right out of the pub straight under our wheels."

But few of the crowd were listening. They were to busy picking up the hundreds of brand-new currency notes which littered the street.

A boy in a white coat was incredulously counting a handful of fivers. The girl put her hand on his arm. "Where did all the money come from?"

"Gawd knows," he said. "Out of 'is pickets, I suppose. 'E must've been a walking Bank of England. You seen a copper, miss? I got to 'and this over quick or I'll be tempted."

The girl waited until the police, ambulance and tow-truck had arrived. She watched the broken body taken from beneath the wheels and put on a stretcher. Then she made her way up Market Street and across High Street to the General Post Office.

She went into a public telephone booth and dialed a number.

"From Blodwen, Newport, Mon, South Wales," she dictated. "To W., Section I (P)....

Chapter Two

When the telephone bell cut harshly into the Shostakovitch symphony, Illya Kuryakin was less than delighted. He had just showered and shaved after a profitless twelve-hour stake-out of a house in a crummier section of the Bronx, and he had been looking forward to a lazy morning in the small, untidy apartment he called home.

He switched off the heat under the coffee percolator, muted the volume of the record player and picked up the receiver. "Kuryakin."

The girl at the other end of the wire said brightly, "Good morning. I hope I didn't disturb anything."

"Only my dreams. In another ten minutes I would have been in bed."

"Too bad," she sympathized. "No beddy-byes for you, I'm afraid. The big white chief is waiting."

"That man!" he said bitterly. "He knows I've been up all night."

"So sue him," she advised. "In ten minutes, okay?"

"I'll be there."

He replaced the receiver, set the coffeepot boiling again, and began to dress.

Exactly ten minutes later he paid off his cab in front of Del Floria's tailoring shop in the middle of a brownstone block near the United Nations headquarters. He ran down the three steps into the shop, took off his jacket and handed it to the little gray-haired Italian. He said, "The usual."

Del nodded and pushed the button by the side of his pressing machine. Illya walked into the third "try-on" cubicle at the back of the shop, drew the curtain and turned a clothes-hook on the rear wall. The wall swung away silently and he walked through to the admissions desk.

The girl at the desk had watched his entry on her closed-circuit TV screen and was ready with the white badge which would admit him to the third floor — the domain of U.N.C.L.E.'s Policy and Operations Department. She pinned the badge to his lapel almost caressingly. The sober-faced little Russian had that effect on most women.

Illya stepped into the elevator and rode up to the third floor. He went to the armory, drew his favorite P38 automatic pistol, checked the mechanism and tucked it into the shoulder holster under his left arm. Then he walked along the corridor to Mr. Alexander Waverly's private office.

There were two men in the room. Mr. Waverly, the lean, dry chief of Section 1 (Policy and Operations), was standing by the big window which looked out on the East River and the United Nations building. Napoleon Solo, chief enforcement agent for U.N.C.L.E., sat at the huge O-shaped table which dominated the room. Before him were stacked neat piles of currency — kroner, Reichmarks, dollars and pounds.

Illya said, "Good morning. Going into Wall Street?"

Mr. Waverly turned. "Ah! Mr. Kuryakin. Thank you for coming so promptly. You will be flying to Britain in an hour. So sit down, please, and read these."

Illya took the three sheets and scanned them, lingering over the third.

"Blodwen appears to have a sense of humor," he said.

"I am glad you think so," Mr. Waverly said coldly.

"'Brown bird singing,'" Illya read aloud. "That's obviously our old friend Thrush. But 'bumper bundle mintwise'?"

Mr. Waverly gestured toward the stacks of notes on the O-shaped table. "Those are specimens. What do you make of them?"

Illya picked up a five-hundred-kroner note, an American ten-dollar bill and an English five-pound note. He took them across to the window and examined them carefully. "They look all right to me," he said at last.

"You would be prepared to spend them?"

His eyes lit up hopefully. "Can I?"

"If you did, you would inevitable end in jail," Mr. Waverly said. "They are all forgeries."

"But they're perfect!"

"Almost perfect," Napoleon Solo corrected. "In every case the paper is slightly wrong. Take the Bank of England notes: they look right and they feel right — but the metal thread running through the paper is fractionally too thick. There's a similar infinitesimal flaw in all the others. But the printing is fantastically good. The forgers have either got access to the original plates — which on the face of it is impossible — or else they've succeeded in making exact copies."

"That's been done before," Illya said. "Some kind of photographic process."

Mr. Waverly shook his head. "No. With a photographic reproduction, the same number appears on every note. On those, you will observe, the numbers are random."

"Then how is it done?"

"That," said Mr. Waverly, "is what you are flying to Britain to find out. We know neither how nor where the notes are made. But we must find the answer quickly. You are intelligent enough to realize the disaster which would follow if Thrush were allowed to flood the world's markets with these almost undetectable forgeries. There would be financial panic. The economy of every country would collapse like the proverbial house of cards."

Illya nodded. "I see that. But what's the background? Blodwen's 'street fatality' doesn't tell me much."

Mr. Waverly sat down at the table, took a brier pipe from the pocket of his shabby tweed jacket and began to turn it between his hands. He said, "I can give you only the facts as Blodwen has reported them. An unidentified man arrives in the important Welsh seaport of Newport, Monmouthshire, and visits two inns in Market Street. For all we know, he may already have visited other establishments in the town. He is obviously a stranger to the district. He speaks with an uneducated English accent, nothing like the local intonation, and he has to find a Welsh doll to know that he has come to the right place."

"Couldn't he have been told the name of the inn?" Solo objected. "Wouldn't that be above the door?"

"It was painted along the entire length of the front wall above the window," Mr. Waverly said. "That might argue, of course, that our man was illiterate."

"Or the doll could have been a signal?"

"No. We checked that. The doll had stood on the shelf for many months. But let me continue---

"The man orders a pint of bitter, which he does not drink. He sits at a table, plainly waiting for someone. Two men come through the door. Our man panics. He dashes out into the street, straight under the wheels of a truck. Immediately, bank notes worth a small fortune are scattered all over the road. When his body is taken to the morgue, more bundles of notes are found stitched inside his trenchcoat and suit linings. As nearly as we can estimate he was carrying on his person assorted forged currency to the face value of one hundred thousand dollars."

BOOK: Pulp Fiction | The Stone-Cold Dead in the Market Affair by John Oram
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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