Who would pay Cain for assassinating Kalig?'

'We asked ourselves that over and over again,' said Manning. 'The only possible answer came from a source who claimed to know, but there was no way to verify it. He said Cain did it to prove it could be done. By him. Oil sheikhs travel with the tightest security in the world.'

"There are several dozen other incidents," added Knowlton. 'Probables that fall into the same pattern where highly protected figures were killed and sources came forward to implicate Cain."

'I see.' The congressman picked up the summary page for Zurich. 'But from what I gather you don't know who he is."

'No two descriptions have been alike,' interjected Abbott. 'Cain's apparently a virtuoso at disguise.'

'Yet people have seen him, talked to him. Your sources, the informants, this man in Zurich; none of them may come out in the open to testify, but surely you've interrogated them. You've got to have come up with a composite, with something:

'We've come up with a great deal,' replied Abbott, 'but a consistent description isn't part of it. For openers, Cain never lets himself be seen in daylight. He holds meetings at night, in dark rooms or alleyways. If he's ever met more than one person at a time - as Cain - we don't know about it. We've been told he never stands, he's always seated - in a dimly lit restaurant, or a corner chair, or parked car. Sometimes he wears heavy glasses, sometimes none at all; at one rendezvous he may have dark hair, at another white or red or covered by a hat.'

'Language?'

'We're closer here,' said the C.I.A. director, anxious to put the Company's research on the table. 'Fluent English and French, and several Oriental dialects.'

'Dialects? What Dialects? Doesn't a language come first?'

'Of course. It's root-Vietnamese.'

'Viet? Walters leaned forward 'Why do I get the idea that I'm coming to something you'd rather not tell me?'

'Because you're probably quite astute at cross-examination, sir.' Abbott struck a match and lit his pipe.

'Passably alert," agreed the congressman. 'Now what is it?'

'Cain,' said Gillette, his eyes briefly, oddly, on David Abbott. 'We know where he came from.'

'Where?'

'Out of South-east Asia,' answered Manning, as if sustaining the pain of a knife wound. 'As far as we can gather, he mastered the fringe dialects so as to be understood in the hill country along the Cambodian and Laos border routes, as well as in rural North Vietnam. We accept the data; it fits.'

'With what?'

'Operation Medusa." The colonel reached for a large, thick manilla envelope on his left. He opened it and removed a single folder from among several inside; he placed it in front of him. 'That's the Cain file," he said, nodding at the open envelope. This is the Medusa material, the aspects of it that might in any way be relevant to Cain.'

The Tennessean leaned back in his chair, the trace of a sardonic smile creasing his lips. 'You know, gentlemen, you slay me with your pithy titles. Incidentally, that's a beauty it's very sinister, very ominous. I think you fellows take a course in this kind of thing. Go on, Colonel. What's this Medusa?'

Manning glanced briefly at David Abbott, then spoke. 'It was a clandestine outgrowth of the search-and-destroy concept, designed to function behind enemy lines during the Vietnam war. In the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, units of American, French, British, Australian and native volunteers were formed into teams to operate in territories occupied by the North Vietnamese. Their priorities were the disruption of enemy communications and supply lines, the pinpointing of prison camps and, not the least, the assassination of village leaders known to be co-operating with the Communists, as well as the enemy commanders whenever possible.'

'It was a war-within-a-war,' broke in Knowlton. 'Unfortunately, racial appearances and languages made participation infinitely more dangerous than, say, the German and Dutch undergrounds, or the French Resistance in World War Two. Therefore, occidental recruitment was not always as selective as it might have been.'

There were dozens of these teams,' continued the colonel, 'the personnel ranging from old line Navy chiefs who knew the coastlines to French plantation owners whose only hope for reparations lay in an American victory. There were British and Australian drifters who'd lived in Indochina for years, as well as highly motivated American army and civilian intelligence career officers. Also, inevitably, there was a sizeable faction of hard-core criminals. In the main, smugglers - men who dealt in running guns, narcotics, gold and diamonds throughout the entire South China Sea area. They were walking encyclopaedias when it came to night landings and jungle routes. Many we employed were runaways or fugitives from the States, a number well-educated, all resourceful. We needed their expertise.'

'That's quite a cross-section of volunteers,' interrupted the congressman. 'Old line Navy and Army; British and Australian drifters, French colonials, and platoons of thieves. How the hell did you get them to work together?"

To each according to his greeds,' said Gillette.

'Promises,' amplified the colonel. 'Guarantees of rank, promotions, pardons, outright bonuses of cash, and in a number of cases opportunities to steal funds ... from the operation itself. You see, they all had to be a little crazy; we understood that. We trained them secretly, using codes, methods of transport, entrapment and killing - even weapons Command Saigon knew nothing about As Peter mentioned, the risks were incredible, capture resulting in torture and execution; the price was high and they paid it. Most people would have called them a collection of paranoics, but they were geniuses where disruption and assassination were concerned. Especially assassination.'

'What was the price?'

'Operation Medusa sustained over ninety per cent casualties. But there's a catch - among those who didn't come back were a number who never meant to.'

'From that faction of thieves and fugitives?'

'Yes. Some stole considerable amounts of money from Medusa. We think Cain is one of those men.'

'Why?'

'His modus operand!. He's used codes, traps, methods of killing and transport that were developed and specialized in the Medusa training.'

'Then for Christ's sake,' broke in Walters, 'you've got a direct line to his identity. I don't care where they're buried and I'm damn sure you don't want them made public - but I assume records were kept'

They were, and we've extracted them all from the clandestine archives, inclusive of this material here.' The officer tapped the file in front of him. 'We've studied everything, put rosters under microscopes, fed facts into computers - everything we could think of. We're no further along than when we began.'

That's incredible,' said the congressman. 'Or incredibly incompetent.'

'Not really,' protested Manning. 'Look at the man; look at what we've had to work with. After the war, Cain made his reputation throughout most of East Asia, from as far north as

Tokyo down through the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, with side trips to Hong- Kong, Cambodia, Laos and Calcutta. About two and a half years ago reports began filtering in to our Asian stations and embassies. There was an assassin for hire; his name was Cain. Highly professional, ruthless. These reports started growing with alarming frequency. It seemed that with every killing of note, Cain was involved. Sources would phone embassies in the middle of the night, or stop attaches in the streets, always with the same information. It was Cain, Cain was the one. A murder in Tokyo; a car blown up in Hong Kong; a narcotics caravan ambushed in the Triangle; a banker shot in Calcutta; an ambassador assassinated in Moulmein, a Russian technician or an American businessman killed in the streets of Shanghai itself. Cain was everywhere, his name whispered by dozens of trusted informants in every vital intelligence sector. Yet no one - not one single person in the entire east Pacific area - would come forward to give us an identification. Where were we to begin?'

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