It was a few minutes before noon when Sexton Blake closed the file of press cuttings and lit another cigarette.
Leaning back behind his desk he drew the smoke deep down into his lungs and considered what he'd read.
The news reports on Maliba's recent history were far from helpful. Drawn from sources all over the English-speaking world, they were either confusing or downright contradictory.
Amongst all the terms of abuse in the English language, thought Blake, none had been more over-worked in the last ten years than the words: Fascist and Communist. They were more than terms of abuse -- they were war-cries.
According to left-wing papers the government of Doctor Nonales was a bastion of fascism while the rebels were merely staunch democrats. According to right-wing papers Nonales was a benevolent paternalist while the rebels were rabid Reds.
The truth probably lay somewhere between the two -- in which case the affair was a purely domestic one did not warrant interference by outsiders.
On the other hand, if the claims of Doctor Nonales and Sir Gordon Sellingham were true -- if the rebels were really being backed by Communist infiltrators -- then interference was not only justified but necessary. And this was an issue on which Blake didn't take chances.
He had to be certain. He needed to know the truth. And there was only one man who could tell him what he wanted to know.
Blake rose from his chair, picked up his hat and coat and went out into the outer office.
Paula Dane and Marion Lang looked up with curiousity.
"I'm going out," Blake said simply. "Expect me when you see me."
Paula Dane nodded but did not say anything. Blake's words were a formula she knew from experience -- they meant he was going to see a man whose name was better left unspoken.
A man who was wizened and old and infinitely wise; a man who ostensibly headed a small Export/Import firm in Belgrave Square -- but whose imports and exports were of a highly specialised kind.
A man whose real title was known to very few -- DIRECTOR OF THE INTER-SERVICE CO-ORDINATION OF STRATEGIC INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY.
His power and knowledge made him a man to be reckoned with. And his name was Eustace Craille.
* * *
Blake found Craille reading a copy of Pravda. The old man sat behind his desk in front of a map of the world, his attention rivetted on the column he was reading by the light of a powerful desk lamp.
One hand rested on the desk, gripping a stubby cigarette holder from which a thin, pencil-line of aromatic smoke climbed steadily towards a ceiling obscured by fug.
It was a frequent habit of Craille's to keep his curtains drawn. It was good for security. But it was also bad for health, and the smoke of the old man's Egyptian cigarettes produced a spasm of coughing from Blake as he was shown in by a full-lipped, softly contoured brunette who spoke with a husky voice:
"Mr. Blake, sir."
Surprisingly, the girl was the same one the detective had seen on his last visit.
"Are you forming an attachment, or getting in a rut?" Blake inquired as the girl disappeared with a rustle of her bright skirt and the door closed behind her. It was rare for Craille to keep any of his beautiful women for very long.
"She's due to go at the end of the week," the old man rasped in his dry voice. A gleam crept into his hooded, hawk-like eyes. "Still trying to guess where I get 'em from?"
Blake smiled. "I know you don't get them from a secretarial agency," he said dryly. "What puzzles me is what the neighbours think."
"They think exactly what I want them to think," said Craille. "The price I pay for security is the loss of my respectiblity. The locals think I'm a white-slaver. It's a nuisance, but it helps explain the secrecy."
Craille threw the copy of Pravda into his huge waste-paper basket and said, "All right -- what's the problem?"
"I've just had a visit from Sir Gordon Sellingham, the millionaire..."
"Does he want you to go to Maliba and find his son?"
Blake paused in surprise. "Yes, how did you know?"
"Have you accepted the job?" Craille ignored the detective's question.
"Not yet. I want to know more about the political situation. It seems young Sellingham has got himself mixed up in it."
Craille nodded. "I know. What do you want from me?"
"I want to know what the political set-up is all about. The newspapers all seem to be in the dark. There's no real information; no hard facts."
Craille nodded. There was a frown on his brittle-skinned face. "I've been thinking of sending someone over there to look into it..." He rotated the cigarette holder between skeletal fingers and drew a lungful of the harsh, perfumed smoke.
"If you took Sellingham's job it would give you a good cover to nose around," he added thoughtfully. "Do you want to go?"
"I'm interested in three things," said Blake. "Sellingham's assignment, providing it's in everyone's interest; an academic mystery surrounding yesterday's murder of a man in a bathysphere; and this so called revolution which is brewing up."
"I'll tell you what I know fromm H.M.G.," Craille decided. "The man running this revolution -- the rebel leader, Callas -- is no communist. He's to overthrow the present government for one good reason and one alone: it needs overthrowing. On the other hand there's mo shortage of communists in that part of the world, and some of them have already jumped on Callas's bandwagon."
"Communist agents?" demanded Blake.
"No," Craille shook his head . "Not yet. But what we've been reliably informed by a country with which Great Britain enjoys a treaty relationship, that communist agents are in the area. When they'll show their hand is anyone's guess, but--"
"What's your guess?" Blake wanted to know.
Craille looked bleak. "Soon. The government of Doctor Nonales is going to be toppled, and everyone knows it. The day can't be far off and when it comes it will be the signal for the communists to move in -- or try to. So far the only thing preventing them is Nonales himself. Nonales has a powerful secret police force."
Craille lit a fresh cigarette from the butt of his old one. "I don't care what becomes of Nonales," he said drily. "And I don't care if Callas takes over. But I do care what the communists will try to do -- and I also care about a little piece of paper which is in Nonale's hands..."
Craille nodded. "A list compiled by his secret police. A list of communist agents in the Caribbean. Before Nonales is brought low I want a copy of that list. It musn't be lost when the government falls -- because the next government that takes over will need it. And so will I."
"You'd like me to get it?"
"No less. Would you accept the assignment?"
"Blake make his customary pause for last minute thoughts, but he hardly needed to think about it. "I accept the assignment."
"Good!" Craille pulled open a drawer. "I want you to take a good look at this." He produced a cardboard file and opened it in front of Blake on the desk. "This man is one of the biggest Soviet fish we've come across for a long time, and he's known to be somewhere in the Caribbean. He's the only big operator the Russians have got there, outside Cuba, and he may be the man at the centre of things."
Blake opened the file at its front page and studied a photograph of a man whose face reminded him of an eagle.
It was a broad and solid face, topped by thinning hair. What gave it the eagle quality was a hooked, beak-like nose and a pair of strangely compelling eyes. The eyes were hypnotic and malevolently calm.
Underneath the photograph it said:
Real name believed to be Borodin. see pp 12-31 of File "B" and for espionage, see pp 43-65.
ORG.: Reportedly formerly employed by both GOSUDARSTVENNOYE POLITICHESKOYE UPRAVLENIYE - (G.P.U., State Political Department); and : -- MINISTERSTVO GOSUDARSTVENNOI BEZOPASNOSTI -- (M.G.B., Soviet Ministry of State Security).
SPECIAL OBSERVATIONS: This man is not only a very important Master Spy in the Soviet Network : His abnormal degree of personal power and the freedom of action which the Soviet authorities have constantly allowed him, indicate that he is one of their most trusted employees. He is believed to hold a very high rank in the Party hierachy. (Compare photograph above with man in group shot, p. 43, taken at time of 40th Party Conference in Moscow).
There followed a detailed physical and psychological description of the man which Blake memorised as he read it; then an analysis of Kraski's special skills.
The remaining seventy pages were a case history. As Blake skimmed through them he whistled softly.
"An impressive record, isn't it? Craille demanded in his cracked voice. "And we've reason to believe the Soviets are grooming him for bigger and better things!"
"How d'you know he's in the Caribbean?" Blake asked.
"The last report we had was from an agent in Brazil. Kraski was seen there several times and the last news we had of him he was using the cover of a marine engineer, making enquiries about jobs; it seemed he was trying to work his passage to Jamaica under the name of Harben."
"Harben?" Blake echoed.
"Harben," repeated Craille, "Jules Harben."
* * *
"If Jakob Kraski turns up in Maliba," said Craille grimly. "I want him dealt with. Dealt with--" he rasped "--by any means!"
"And if he doesn't?"
"If he doesn't, then your job is purely Intelligence. I want you to get me a complete run-down on communist infiltration, using Sellingham's assignment as your cover -- and then, using any mean's you like, I want that list of Soviet agents!"
Craille paused. "I don't know whether you'll succeed in all three items, but if you succeed in only one, the trip will be worthwhile. The usual conditions apply to your assignment. Bring back the goods and the Western World will have cause to be grateful to you."
Blake smiled. "What happens if I don't come back?"
"The Western World will give you a decent orbituary."