NEED TO KNOW - A collection of short stories.
Tailing a man, any man, but especially a man who may be sufficiently trained in the techniques of countermeasure is never an easy task. However there are always certain exceptions to the rule & the situation which Bond now found himself was indeed one of those very same exceptions. In following his target onto the morning Zurich bound BEA flight from Heathrow Bond was able to relax safe in the knowledge that once airborne, there would be no prospect of the man giving him the slip. Bond had settled into his seat towards the rear of the aircraft & retrieved his well worn copy of 'The Thirty Nine Steps' from his oxblood Swaine Adeney Brigg Westminster briefcase. From his seat Bond could partially see his target, the big South African, as he struggled to occupy one of the aisle seats some rows in front. Idly Bonds eyes flitted between his book, the man & the rather delicious hostess who was going about her duties along the gangway. D Section had been observing the man for five days but the case was turned over to Bonds department upon receipt of a scrap of information which told that the target was readying himself to leave the country. Bond had picked him up at the Europa terminal & the stalk had begun. The tell tale signs that the man, Van Der Byl, was aware that he may be being followed were as immediate as they were subtle. Bond noticed him linger at the window of the duty free shop, to anyone else it appeared he was just idly passing time but bond knew otherwise because he was employing a trick he himself had used on many occasion. The casual browse was indeed anything but. Van Der Byl was using the glass, or more correctly it's reflection, to watch was happening behind him. He spent several minutes surveying the scene to his rear looking for any anomalies, however small, those little tell tale signs which would alert him to the fact that he was being tailed. Bond was confident that Van Der Byl would have seen him, seen him & regarded him but then dismissed him for he, Bond, was being open in his actions, invisible in plain sight. As far as Van Der Byl or anyone else was concerned Bond was was just an ordinary air traveler, a businessman in a dark blue suit, a raincoat over one arm & a briefcase in the other, off on some routine trip to Switzerland. Despite his nonchalance Bond had taken time to study his quarry though his peripheral vision over a leisurely cigarette. Van Der Byl was tall, taller than Bond & more powerfully built though what was showing through the grey worsted suit told its own story of an athletic physique slowly being overtaken by soft living. Van Der Byls face was square set, almost pug like which spoke of time once spent playing rugby. The scene was set beneath the close cropped blond hair with hard hawkish eyes which were quick & alert & as cold as marble planted deeply into the face. The nose, flattened & twisted, had been broken on more than one occasion. His mouth was a thin slash turned down at the corners into what looked like a permanent scowl. His parchment like skin was browned with time recently spent in the tropics. His hands spade like, the fingers gnarled like weather beaten branches with knuckles worn hard - probably through brawling. Bonds instincts were usually right & on this occasion they told him that here was a truly dangerous man..........
The flight had been delayed so, forty minutes behind schedule, the Viscount whined into land at Zurich. There was rain in the breeze & the leaden sky forecast more as the passengers disembarked & crossed to the terminal building & the brisk formalities of customs & immigration. Bond, Van Der Byl & the rest of the passengers plucked their luggage from the carousel before making their way to the exit. Bond had allowed his bull hide weekend bag to circuit the machine twice before retrieving it, thus purposely allowing Van Der Byl to build up a lead on him. Bond was watching as his quarry strode quickly among the throng of other travellers heading at different speeds towards the main exit. Suddenly & without warning Van Der Byl stopped, turning on his heels by 180 degrees. He placed his suitcase on the floor & absent mindedly frisked his jacket pockets as if looking for some lost document or other. Bond was unfazed as he was half expecting this move & knew exactly what his opponent was doing. Under the pretence of searching for a misplaced passport Van Der Byl was once again seizing the opportunity to check to his rear. Bond knew as those hard eyes flitted left to right that he would be looking for the smallest of signals which would confirm he was being tailed. Hesitation or just the briefest look of being caught out would give the game away so, nonchalantly avoiding eye contact, & knowing that Van Der Byl would remain stationary until he had satisfied himself that he was clear, Bond made his way past the big man & out through the bustle of the terminal into the squall of the autumn noon.
Although he had temporarily lost visual contact with his target, Bond was not unduly worried. There was only one way out of the terminal building & he still had that covered, besides which he knew from his briefing that Van Der Byl had made arrangements to hire a car & would now be making his way to the rental desk to complete the usual formalities before taking charge of it. This brief slack water period, the time between Van Der Byl completing the paperwork & being given the keys, suited Bond. He Knew where his prey was but had a small window of time to attend to his own tasks. The Putty coloured Volkswagen Fastback was parked exactly where Bond expected it to be, on the front row of the car park, opposite the terminal, left there by a representative of Station CH. Going to the offside rear wheel Bond felt up behind the arch for the small square magnet which he knew to be there. He found the magnet easily & pulled the key from its grip. Opening the drivers door, Bond placed his overcoat & luggage on the rear seat before climbing behind the wheel. He pushed the key into the ignition & turned it until the dashboard warning lights appeared, Bond was looking for just one thing & noted with satisfaction that the fuel gauge needle climbed slowly up to just below the 'full' mark. He removed the key & used it to open the glove box. The matt black hard plastic box was about the same size as a transistor radio yet quite heavy. With one eye on the terminal, Bond took it & examined it briefly before flicking the rocker switch on its side. The device sprang to life with a high pitched electronic bleep before settling into a steady drone. This told Bond two things, that both the tracker & the small locator bug which had been fitted into the lining of Van Der Byls suitcase back at Heathrow during the 'delay' were working & that Van Der Byl - or more correctly his luggage - was within 400 yards. On the face side of the tracker were a series of green LEDs, placed so as to form eight compass points, this crude direction finding capability gave Bond a rough approximation as to the direction of the bug in relation to his own position. He knew that, although the system had a theoretical maximum range of three miles, this figure was wholly dependent upon terrain & other conditions, the bug wouldn't function at all in a tunnel or underground car park & within a built up area its performance would be drastically diminished to perhaps 100 yards or even less. Given the topography of his current location he could expect the three mile maximum range to be reduced by half, meaning that while he could remain unseen by Van Der Byl, he couldn't afford to become complacent. The battery life of the bug itself was another potential issue, it would last approximately eighteen hours, hopefully long enough for him to complete his mission, however he had no back up in place should that time frame expire & would be reduced to old fashioned visual tailing & the possibility that Van Der Byl may spot him. Putting the ignition key back into place, Bond reached into the passenger foot well, his hand groping blindly into the inner recesses behind the dashboard. His fingers found then wrapped around the package, pulling it from its hiding place & depositing it into his lap. It's weight told its own story as Bond unwrapped the mutton cloth parcel. The .38 Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight revolver seemed to Bonds experienced eye to be a virgin example, He examined it briefly after he opened the chamber &, opening the box of cartridges which he had retrieved from their hiding place in the underside innards of the drivers seat, Bond carefully loaded the weapon before sliding it into his waistband.
From his position Bond had a commanding view across the whole of the front of the terminal to the row of rental vehicles which were parked some fifty yards away to his half right & almost at the corner of the building. By the time Van Der Byl appeared the wind had stiffened, sliding off the surrounding mountain tops with a suitably withering bite, the sky was now a solid slab of dark grey & the rain falling from it was as heavy as it was persistent. The big South African hunched his shoulders against the weather &, head down, strode quickly toward to row of hire cars. This was Bonds cue to start the engine & he let it idle on quarter choke as he watched Van Der Byl deposit his case into the boot of a black Mercedes 250s. Through the sweep of windscreen wipers Bond looked on as the Mercedes was smartly reversed from its resting place to join the throng of slow moving traffic making its collective exit from the precincts of the airport. Bond hesitated & allowed more traffic to pass then eased the nose of the fastback out of the parking bay & into a loose pursuit. The tracker was still emitting its solid slab of noise above the thud of the flat four engine & the green LED pointers were cutting between straight ahead & half left. Though Bond could now not see the Mercedes the little black box was working well & was indicating that the target was moving away south westerly. Soon, as Bond was negotiating the last of the airport road, the noise it was making turned from a continuous tone to a fast bleep which told Bond that Van Der Byl was building up a lead on him, causing Bond to plant his foot hard on the accelerator.
The weather was worsening as Bond set the Fastback on the main Zurich to Lucerne highway. The wind was galloping in straight from the snow laden peaks with more voracity then ever but just then a break in the clouds briefly bathed the area in sunshine, giving Bond a tantalising glimpse of his surroundings. It was a majestic scene indeed & one he was pleased to see. To his left was lake Zurich, broad & long & ice grey, white horses abounding across its surface, dancing in time to the gusting winds with the backdrop of mountains forming a distant fringe of greys & white against the angry sky. To his right farming country, verdant & speckled at intervals with quaint chalets & pocket handkerchief sized fields rising as far as it was possible to sustain any semblance of agriculture before the landscape gave itself over to the snow line & more mountains. Occasionally by the roadside & from behind roughly hewn wooden fences, cattle looked dolefully on at the passing traffic, the clanking of their bells lost beneath the roar of internal combustion engines. Soon, too soon, as the road swung away from the lake & set its course though the hilly, boulder strewn upper pastures, the forces of nature which had given now took away, the rain descended once more, this time harder, glancing against the Fastback at forty five degrees & causing the curtain to fall on the scenery for the last time.
Bond guessed he was about half a mile behind Van Der Byl, the steady monotone bleep of the tracker served to relax him enough to allow him to concentrate on the drive. Headlights on, windscreen wipers at maximum speed, the conditions were such that it would have been foolhardy to travel much beyond 45MPH, the rain, the wind & the sharply meandering nature of the road were conspiring to catch out the unwary or unskilled. With some ebb & flow of the trackers voice, Bond stayed behind the target vehicle for the next hour.
The road signs which signalled the approach to Lucerne prompted Bond to close the gap. He knew that once in the city, the tracker would struggle to remain fixed on the bug & he didn't want to waste time & effort searching as a result. Soon & for the first time since leaving the airport Bond saw the Mercedes. He eased off the accelerator & settled into position about two hundred yards behind. There were several vehicles twixt his & the target car, giving Van Der Byl slender chance of being alerted to the fact that he was being shadowed.
Lucerne was as Bond expected it to be, Typically Swiss, it could have been constructed for the sole purpose of appearing on picture postcards. It was an orderly collection of moccha coloured, vaguely Bavarian styled buildings of varying age & architectural flamboyance embedded solidly on part of the banks of the great lake which shares its name & overlooked on all sides by the towering mountains which formed an impressive 360 degree panorama.There seemed something organic about the place, as if it had simply risen from the earth, perhaps it was the rustic nature of the architecture but the illusion was assisted in no small measure by the abundance of trees & green spaces to be found along most of its thoroughfares. Bond followed the Mercedes by sight carefully towards the centre of the city where the streets were particularly narrow & enclosed on both sides by tall yet old & ornate buildings, most of which appeared to Bond to date back beyond the 17th century. the Mercedes stopped outside a small restaurant on one of the cobbled roads leading in towards the Muhlenplatz. Bond drove past & slotted the Fastback into the first available parking space as Van Der Byl alighted & stepped inside the building. Bond watched him through the wing mirror before stepping out of the car himself. Fortunately the rain had abated &, after placing his luggage in the boot, Bond slipped into his overcoat, crossed the road & walked smartly to another small eatery almost opposite where Van Der Byl now sat. He was occupying a window seat with a good view of the street & its comings & goings. Bond was confident that the South African would have seen him as he navigated the crowds of locals & obvious tourists on the opposite pavement but, by virtue of his simple disguise - the raincoat - he was equally confident that Van Der Byl would not have made the link between the man here & the one at the airport. The restaurant was clean yet low brow, with tired decor which matched the menu. The place was quiet, allowing Bond to choose his own table, although he sat well away from the window he had placed himself where he could still see out & across the way well enough to have the door of Van Der Byls building covered. Draping his overcoat across a neighbouring chair, Bond picked up the menu. Presently he was approached by an efficient looking waiter clad in a freshly starched uniform & bright red apron. "Are You ready to order sir?" He said in German, pencil & pad at the ready "Yes, thank you." Replied Bond. The dishes on offer were little more than peasant fare yet Bond was grateful at prospect of being able to eat. "I think I'll have the soup followed by the Veal schnitzel with rosti & a double Kirsch." Bond looked at his watch "Could I have the telephone please?" "Certainly sir." Nodded the waiter before retiring. Bond was conscious of the fact that he had not made contact with the Swiss station. They would be expecting him to make a report & in turn would pass on that same report back to London. As it stood, Bond was last heard of back at Heathrow so there would be plenty of ears anxious for news of his whereabouts & progress - or lack thereof.
"Damn!" Bond jumped to his feet &, grabbing his overcoat, made for the door, leaving the waiter dumbfounded hovering over the table & clutching the telephone. Unexpectedly Van Der Byl had walked out of the restaurant & was making for his car. Bond hesitated in the doorway to allow the Mercedes to move off before sprinting out across the road & through the throng of passersby to his own vehicle, glancing into the restaurant window as he passed he saw an untouched beer at Van Der Byls table. Bond fumbled for the key as he struck back out onto the road to the drivers door. Just then, as he was in the process of climbing aboard, the Mercedes drove slowly past from behind. In that instant Van Der Byls eyes met Bonds & in both men knew what the other was thinking. Bond had fallen neatly into the trap which the South African had set for him. Van Der Byl had entered the restaurant, seating himself with an encompassing view of the street & watched. Perhaps not sure at that stage that he was being followed, he decided to play safe & make sure once & for all, forcing the hand of anyone tailing him. While Bond thought he was driving away, Van Der Byl had simply motored around the block, effectively doubling back on himself to come up behind any would be pursuer. He had comprehensively wrong footed Bond, of that there was no doubt. Van Der Byl had now confirmed he was being followed, he had identified by who & even the car they were driving. The Mercedes exited the scene, turning sharply right again with a brief squeal of tyres. Bond was still cursing himself as he started the engine & rammed the gear lever into first. He knew that the South African would now attempt to lose him, perhaps ditching the car in the process, he may even run for the border. Whatever Van Der Byls plan B he would now not be meeting his contact, the unknown man who Bond had been sent to identify &, if necessary, kill. He, Bond, was now out on a limb. He had failed to make contact with his Station in Bern & now had little prospect of being able to. Van Der Byl would not allow him any opportunity to make up for his mistake, that was clear, & he would now be attempting to place as much distance between himself & Bond as possible so as to shake him off for good. The only thing riding in Bonds favour was the tracker device which he had grabbed from the glove box & cast on top of the dashboard. The traffic was heavy & slow through the narrow arteries of the city & Bond had no time to waste being caught up in it. Knowing that Van Der Byl would be equally entangled Bond looked to the tracker to return to him some semblance of advantage. It was bleeping steadily, the pointers showing him that the Mercedes appeared to be cutting away into the suburbs. Taking a chance, Bond turned off the indicated direction of the Mercedes & headed for what he hoped may be quieter back streets. However, just as in the centre, the back streets of Lucerne were equally old & narrow & compressed into into the same small blocks of tall buildings which conspired to create a canyon effect. The streets were never designed for the volume of traffic which they now had to cope with, causing Bond to find himself stuck behind slow moving cars without an option to overtake. Sounding his horn in an attempt to get the offending vehicles to allow him through proved fruitless. Worryingly the tracker soon began to struggle, it's internal ariel fighting to acquire the bugs signal though the mass of buildings. The signal began to drop to little more than an intermittent blip, still though from the scraps of information it was receiving Bond could tell approximately which direction he needed to be heading in order to keep pace. He turned left then right then left through the side streets in a meandering northwesterly direction, working the gears & accelerator hard whenever he saw an opportunity to gather speed, going hard for breaks in the traffic, throwing the Fastback into each corner with an enthusiasm born of near desperation & running a couple of red lights in the process. Soon the signal had spluttered to nothing leaving Bond to blindly drive in the general direction of its last indication in the forlorn hope of reacquiring it somewhere further on. Seeing a chance to break from the tangle of little streets Bond pulled the Fastback out onto a main road & drove westwards towards the city limits. He was cruising slowly, so slowly in fact that he was holding the traffic behind him. Speed wasn't the objective now, he was attempting to give the tracker the opportunity to lock back onto the bugs transmission from its position which Bond estimated to be still somewhere over to his half left. Bond was willing the little black box to speak but, agonisingly, it remained silent. He knew that while ever he stayed within the built up area the tracker was little more than useless in terms of range. Now to second guess Van Der Byl. Where would he be heading? The trackers last report indicated that he was driving somewhere this way however since then he could have struck out towards any point of the compass, even turning round & heading back towards the airport. Bond slammed the steering wheel with the flat of his hand & cursed violently in the knowledge that he had lost him. He decided to continue on this road to the outer limits of the city just in case Van Der Byl had or was about to leave Lucerne this way. If so the tracker may just pick him up across a radius of perhaps half a mile, Bond acknowledged that his chances were slim but nevertheless he determined to try. After he had exhausted that possibility he would turn around & return to the built up area to comb the city in the vain hope that Van Der Byl had gone to ground there.
Suddenly The tracker squealed loudly in its now familiar monotone & the entire array of LEDs lit up as one in a single flash before a single line pointed dead ahead. There! In front of him, about fifty yards away crossing the junction from left to right Bond saw the Mercedes. Gunning the engine Bond took the corner hard & swung in behind the target car. all pretence of guile should have been gone at this point, under most circumstances it would have been of little consequence if Van Der Byl spotted him yet Bond was determined to wrest some form of victory, however small that victory may be, from the ashes of the past fifteen minutes. More by luck than judgement Bond found himself behind several vehicles which were serving to mask his presence from the South African. Making best use of this cover Bond managed to stay concealed until they hit the city limits. Falling back steadily as the traffic tailed away & suburb gave itself over to countryside Bond finally allowed the Mercedes to disappear from view once again. It soon became obvious that Van Der Byl was travelling south along the banks of the lake. Passing the signpost a moment or two behind Bond noted that this highway would take them all the way to Italy. The rain was sweeping in again, cutting visibility to a matter of only a couple of hundred yards. Bond was staring hard through the windscreen into the deepening gloom as the wipers fought a losing battle to maintain his forward vision. He glanced down at the speedometer, it was hovering around the 100kph mark - too fast for the road conditions - yet still he seemed not to be gaining on his quarry. Mission thoroughly compromised, Bond decided that he would have to stop Van Der Byl & somehow take him into custody so he could be interrogated, subconsciously he felt at the pistol in his waistband. Soon the tracker began to indicate to Bond that he was closing on the Mercedes. He realised that the vehicle must have stopped, so lights off he brought the Fastback to a slow halt at the roadside before he happened upon it. Bond guessed what Van Der Byl was up to & pondered briefly on his next course of action. He could sweep in here & take the South African by surprise, at gunpoint he could require him to surrender & hope that he wouldn't want to make a fight of it. How to get him back to Station HQ in Bern? The boot of the Volkswagen was unusual as it was in the front of the vehicle & Bond reckoned it large enough to accommodate the big man. Locking him inside, Bond could then telephone for help. However Bonds next thought threw a spanner into the works. At that very same moment the tracker began to indicate movement. Bond realised his window of opportunity had closed. That was it, he would go with his second thought. Bond released the handbrake & set off in a slither of wet shingle. A couple of hundred Yards further on Bond noticed the telephone box at the roadside. Van Der Byl had indeed contacted someone. Had he scrubbed the operation & the meeting as Bond had first guessed or was he planning to go ahead in the belief that he had given his shadow the slip?...................................
TO BE CONTINUED