The wrong Venus - By Charles Williams Page 0,1

to stand.

He looked around at her. “I beg your pardon?”

Her eyes were still closed, but her lips moved. “You’re ticking.’’

He frowned. “I’m what?”

The lips moved again, the words just faintly audible. “You’re ticking.”

He felt the first intimation of horror. The plane bounced upward, yawed, and plummeted again.

The damned turbulence! And it hadn’t even occurred to him till now. . . . While he was still numb with this first chill of realization, she spoke again from beside his shoulder, the words inaudible to anyone else. “I hope you’re not carrying a bomb?”

Maybe he could convince her she’d only imagined the ticking. “Well, actually, it’s just an old prewar model. They don’t go off half the time.”

He stopped. The lips had begun to curve upward at the corners; the eyes opened, and for the first time he saw into them, saw the laughter, the blazing intelligence, and the devil. She knew damned well what he was carrying.

“They’re self-winding?” she asked.

He nodded dumbly, trying to think of something. He listened, but he still couldn’t hear them. Probably only a few had started now, but her ear was nearer them, or her hearing was better. Of course, it was impossible to hear the ticking of a watch more than a few inches away, especially over the rushing sound of the plane’s ventilating system, but fifty of them ticking together was something else. And when they all started—good God!

“How many?” she whispered.

“Three hundred.”

Then, just as he remembered with horror that a hundred of them were alarms, with either buzzers or chimes, there was a faint musical tinkle from inside his sweater. It repeated itself twice, very slowly, before it ran down.

He shuddered and looked around at the girl. Her hand was up to her mouth, and the eyes were overflowing with silent blue laughter. He wanted to strangle her.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I was just thinking of you going through Customs sounding like the “Bell Song” from Lakmi—”

The plane bounced, lurched from side to side, and swooped again. He closed his eyes and could see the three hundred little rotors swinging, storing energy. Damn the Swiss and their ingenuity.

“—and on a flight from Geneva,” the girl went on in that faint voice full of suppressed mirth. “But I’ll come visit you at Wormwood Scrubs. ... Or I’m sure Pamela will.”

“If I had your sense of humor,” Colby said, “I’d never fly. I’d just hang around airports waiting for somebody to crash.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. We’ll get you through Customs some way.”


“Of course.” She gestured impatiently. “It was just that you sound so funny, ticking away like a big tweed bomb.”

There was another silvery tinkle from inside Colby’s sweater. Ding . . . ding . . . ding . . . ding. . . .

“It must be four p.m. In New Delhi,” she said, mirth bubbling up in the eyes again.

“Look—” Colby snapped.

“Precisely.” The teasing devils disappeared from her eyes, and they narrowed with thought. “That’s the first thing.” She gestured significantly toward the seats in front and back of them.

Colby unsnapped his belt and stood up, pretending to search for something in the overhead rack. He had to grab the edge of the rack to remain upright as the plane dropped away from under him, hit an ascending column of air, and bounced upward again. He looked around.

The two passengers in front of him, obviously businessmen, were discussing something in German. They could probably understand English, but were busy with their own affairs. In the seats directly behind, a woman was being sick into a bag while the young boy beside her read one of the Tintin books, French, or French-Swiss. The boy wouldn’t know English yet, and if the woman did she was too sick to care if they blew up the plane.

Directly across from them, the Sikh was asleep, his beard a cresting hirsute wave poised above his chest.

Nobody was astir in the aisle except the two stewardesses going back and forth with Dramamine or carrying away the paper bags of those who hadn’t taken it soon enough. He sat down, strapped himself in, and turned, his face close to hers. He could feel time rushing by him like the shredded tufts of vapor flung backward past the windows. He had to think of something, and damned fast.

“Even if the turbulence stopped now,” he said, “they won’t run down before we land at London.”

She glanced at her watch. “It’s less than forty minutes. We’ve got to stop them some way.”

“If we had