I awoke, groggy, to find myself on my back, spread-eagle, with my ankles and wrists bound to a freezing table. I was in some sort of cavernous hall. Machinery clattered, computers hummed. Above me on a catwalk, jumpsuited workers spun dials and pulled levers.

I shook the cobwebs from my mind and remembered where I was: Coldfinger’s lair.

Just then, a fat man — his pallor pale, his lips an almost cyanic blue — approached.

“This is ice, Mr. Kelly,” Coldfinger said, stroking the gelid slab to which I was pinioned. “All my life I’ve been in love with it, its color, its smoothness. I will do whatever I can to possess it. You stand in my way, Mr. Kelly.”

Coldfinger motioned to a lab-coated minion. There was a click, and then a tightly focused beam of blue light started moving up the table between my legs.

Freezing rain coats a crape myrtle and everything else in Frederick, Md. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

“That is an industrial freeze gun, Mr. Kelly,” Coldfinger said. “It can instantly cool anything it touches to minus 340 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, flesh turns solid then shatters like a dropped light bulb. You have interfered with my plans for the last time. Good day, Mr. Kelly.”

Coldfinger turned on his heels and walked away. I felt an uncomfortable chill as the freeze gun drew nearer. Beads of sweat broke out on my brow.

“Do you expect me to talk?” I blurted.

“No, Mr. Kelly, I expect you to die.”

How had I gotten myself into such a fix? A few days earlier, I had been following up a lead about the horrible weather we’ve been having lately. For reasons far too complicated to explain now, I wound up locked in the basement of Coldfinger’s mountaintop aerie. After cold-cocking my guard, I crept through the ductwork until I found myself overlooking the ultimate man cave. From behind a ventilator grate I was able to eavesdrop on Coldfinger and his criminal associates.

“Whadja bring us here for, Coldfinger?” said one.

“I shall explain,” Coldfinger said to the assembled mobsters. “Gentlemen, you see here a map of the eastern half of the United States.”

He pushed a button, and one wall lit up with a familiar outline.

“These are the normal winter weather patterns: temperature, precipitation, jet stream.”

More lights were illuminated.

“And here is this winter.”

A wave of blue swept across the map.

“My weather-altering technology has plunged much of the country into a deep freeze. But not an unending deep freeze. I relax the polar conditions just long enough to give people hope: a few days of 40 degrees, then back to the teens; a little bit of rain, then a foot of snow. Giving a person hope, then taking it away, crushes the spirit more completely than if he never had hope in the first place.

“And while previously people might have escaped the cold by going to Georgia or South Carolina, this year I have sent ice storms to those climes as well.”

“That’s great, Coldfinger, but how’s it make us money?” said a rat-faced man.

“For this simple reason,” Coldfinger said. He depressed a switch and a billiard table unhinged in the center, revealing a bas-relief map of the Caribbean. “I now own 90 percent of the vacation property in Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago. Now, gentlemen, please make yourselves comfortable for a three-hour presentation on time-share opportunities.”

Just then I felt a tug on my pant leg. “John, what are you doing here?” said a sultry voice.

It was Wintry Minx, a Coldfinger hireling, as hot as he was cold. We fell upon each other hungrily.

Unfortunately, Wintry Minx was frigid. We left the house and walked in embarrassed silence to my Aston Martin DB5. Sleet and freezing rain had encased the entire vehicle in a carapace of ice. What a car: The Aston had a machine gun and an ejection seat, but it didn’t have a lousy ice scraper.

As Wintry and I sat in the car waiting for the defroster to warm up, we were swarmed by henchmen. The last thing I remembered was a painful right hook from Snowjob, Coldfinger’s hulking, Eskimo stooge.

And now here I was, on my back with a deadly cold front moving toward my warm front.

To be continued...

Shaken, not stirred

If you enjoyed “Coldfinger,” be sure to check out other thrillers in our 007° series, including: “Thundersnow,” “You Only Live Ice,” “Dr. No, the Kids Don’t Have School Tomorrow, Either,” “On WMATA’s Canceled Metrobus Service,” “FrozenEye,” “Quantum of Ice Melt” and “Snow Days Are Forever.” Available wherever fine fiction is sold.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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