Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone ordered dinner served on deck at seven o’clock, then went below, picked out a cabin for Wilcox, and put Brio in the one adjoining his and sharing a bath. His trunk was lying on a single berth in the master’s cabin, next to a double. He put his valise next to it and tested the locks on both, then he stripped naked and got into the bigger berth. He was asleep almost at once.
He awoke and his wristwatch read five-thirty. Brio was asleep next to him. He got softly out of bed, went into the bath, and showered and shaved. Feeling refreshed he went back into his cabin and found Brio stretching and yawning. He tossed his robe aside and got into bed with her. “What you need,” he said, “is some
stimulation to bring you to full consciousness.” He stimulated her, and she came to.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t do that,” she said after they had finished. “That’s why I put myself in your way.”
“You were a welcome impediment,” he replied. “We’ll do it again later, but right now we should dress for dinner.”
“Black tie?” she asked. “A girl needs to know what to wear.”
“I think just casual,” he said. “I don’t know if I have enough strength left to tie a necktie.”
They had cocktails, and the captain came aft to speak to them. “Have you thought about an itinerary?” he asked.
“We’ll want to sail at eight tomorrow morning and travel north, slowly, keeping near the eastern shore,” Stone said. “We’re looking for a friend.” As he spoke, he looked out to see a very large yacht passing them, going south. “What on earth is that?”
Star of Saud
, the sultan’s yacht. She has been in a yard for a refit for several months and must be out for sea trials now.”
“She must be two hundred and fifty feet,” Stone said.
“More like three hundred,” the captain replied.
“I hope we’ll get a better look at her,” Stone said.
“I’ll try and arrange that, if she’s out tomorrow,” the captain replied.
Dinner was served on the fantail, and Stone was once again relieved that it was lamb and humpless.
“I was aboard
before her refit,” Wilcox said. “She was
sumptuous but looking worn. I expect she’ll be like new after her relaunch. The sultan likes his possessions well-kept.”
“We should have chartered her,” Stone said, “since the FBI is paying.”
“The director wouldn’t like explaining that to a congressional committee,” Brio said.
“Did you see a man on the afterdeck, smoking a cigar?” Wilcox asked.
“No,” Stone replied.
“It could have been Zanian,” he said, “though I wouldn’t swear to it. He smokes Cuban cigars.”
“If it were Zanian,” Stone said, “it would be interesting to know how he made it from the sultan’s dungeon to the sultan’s yacht.”
They all laughed.
Stone and Brio gave each other an encore at bedtime, and they slept well again.
Stone was awakened by the starting of engines and hit Brio on the backside to get her started.
By the time breakfast was served on deck they had left the marina and started north, Stone reckoned at about six knots: perfect. When they had finished breakfast, the captain brought binoculars for them. “To look for your friend,” he said. “How is he traveling?”
“We’ve been out of touch,” Stone said, “so I don’t know.” He raised the binoculars and examined the shoreline. They were leaving
Jeddah and there had been nothing ashore to attract Stone’s notice. Now they were passing dozens of dhows, with their sails set for fishing. It was as he had imagined the Nile would have looked in earlier days.
“Lovely,” Wilcox said, “if one is a romantic.”
“One is,” Stone replied.
They used the binoculars while Brio enjoyed the soft breeze over the deck. Shortly before lunchtime, the captain came aft and handed Stone a newspaper. “I’m sorry, I forgot to give you this at breakfast. It’s the
International New York Times
A small note among an array across the bottom of the front page caught Stone’s eye:
There are rumors from Arabia that the sultan of Saud has put down a rebellion in his Sultanate.
Stone showed it to the others.
Wilcox spoke up, “I wouldn’t put too much stock in the rumors,” he said. “The sultan has to do this every few years, some say, just to show he is still in charge.”
Stone wondered if it were true, and if it were, what, if anything, it would mean to their search for Zanian.
He watched the shoreline until dusk, then put away the binoculars.
After lunch the following day, while they were on coffee, a handsome runabout came alongside and offered an envelope, extended on a pole. Stone took it and found his name written in a florid style on the front. He opened it and found an invitation to dinner for the three of them that evening aboard
Star of Saud
, black tie.
Stone looked at the boatman who shouted, “Yes? No?”
Stone nodded. “Yes!” he shouted back.
The man saluted him and drove away. Stone looked around: the big yacht was nowhere in sight.
“What was that about?” Brio asked.
“We’ve been invited to dinner aboard the royal yacht,
Star of Saud
,” Stone said, handing her the envelope.
“Did we accept?”
“I decided for all of us: yes. I want to get a look at her, up close.”
“Where is she?” Wilcox asked, looking around.
“A location wasn’t specified, but they knew where to find us,” Stone said. “I expect she’ll turn up.”
They were anchored in what passed for a cove, a mere indentation in the shoreline, when
appeared at around five o’clock and with a great clatter of machinery and chain, dropped anchor a hundred yards away. Music—Vivaldi, Stone thought—wafted faintly across the water. The captain lowered the teak boarding steps for later use.
Everyone came on deck, dressed for dinner, at six-thirty, and at just before seven, the runabout they had seen earlier was lowered from an upper deck and motored over to their yacht. The captain of their yacht handed Stone a slip of paper. “This is my cell number. Call me if you need a ride back.” The crew assisted them with boarding the tender, then they motored back to
, which had larger and more accommodating boarding steps.
A white-jacketed crew member met them on the deck and invited them to follow him to the afterdeck for cocktails, and they did so.
A single man sat on the afterdeck, looking out to sea. He rose to greet them. He wore a naval-style dress uniform, or mess kit, trimmed with gold braid. It took Stone a moment to recognize
Colonel Said. Hands were shaken all round, they sat down, and a steward took drink orders.
“Colonel,” Stone said, “I had not expected to see you at sea. Are you taking a vacation?”
“I am no longer a colonel,” Said said. “I had thought you would have heard.”
“Have you fallen out of favor with the sultan?” Wilcox asked.
“The sultan is now a prisoner in his own dungeon,” Said said. “I am commanding general of all of Saud’s armed forces.”
Everyone was stunned into silence for a moment. Finally, Stone managed to speak, “I had not noticed the five-star insignia,” he said. “We saw a mention in the
International New York Times
of rumors that the sultan had put down a rebellion.”
“Hardly,” Said said. “It was a bloodless coup.”
“Well,” Wilcox said, “I suppose congratulations are in order.”
Wilcox raised his glass. “The commanding general,” he said, and they all drank. “In what condition is the sultan?” Wilcox asked.
“The sultan is unhappy.”
“What are your intentions toward him?” Wilcox asked. “I ask these questions in my official capacity.”
“He will receive a trial,” Said said.
“What will be the charges?”
“I have left that in the hands of the judiciary. That is why I am here, to avoid even the appearance of influencing the court.”
“Will the trial be public?”
“That, also, is in the hands of the court.”
“If I may say so, while a public trial would be admirable in the
eyes of the world, it would give the sultan an opportunity to both defend himself and to make accusations. It could be disruptive.”
“The capital and the people are serene, as are the military. We have nothing to fear from the sultan’s words. And while he has many wives and sons, he has never named a successor. His eldest son, an obvious candidate, has declared his personal loyalty to me, and has said that he has no wish to rule.”
“Then,” Stone said, “why are you here?”
“A little vacation, as you said. Others are working to smooth my path back. And after a few days or, perhaps, weeks, I shall return to Saud and take up my new position.”
Wilcox spoke up again, “Have the Saudi Arabians expressed any view on the subject of the coup?”
“Their position is hands-off, and they have been hospitable to me. That said, no one but the king and you three know where I am. The relaunch of the yacht after her refitting came at an opportune moment.”
“She is quite beautiful,” Stone said.
“There is still a little work to be done on her. When everything is in order, I shall see that you all have the first tour.”
“That would be very kind of you,” Stone replied.
There was a brief silence, then Said spoke again, “I expect there is something you might wish to ask me,” he said, with a slightly playful tone.
“May I?” Stone asked.
“Certainly, Mr. Barrington.”
“General, where is Viktor Zanian?”
Said smiled broadly. “By this point, Mr. Zanian is, no doubt, playing chess with the sultan,” he replied.
“And what will be your disposition of him?”
“That remains to be seen.”
Brio reached into her handbag and withdrew an envelope. “Copies of our arrest warrant and application for extradition are enclosed,” she said. “Perhaps they might be of use to you.”
Said accepted them and handed them to an aide. “Perhaps so, at the proper moment.”
Wilcox spoke up, “How will you know when you have reached the ‘proper moment’?”
“Forgive me for sounding venal, but Mr. Zanian has said that he will offer a billion dollars for his release, along with citizenship, a diplomatic passport, and appointment as the sultan’s chief economic adviser.”
“Then,” Stone said, “why hasn’t he come up with the billion dollars?”
“He has constantly expressed a willingness to do so, but complications have arisen.”
“I’m not surprised,” Stone said drily. “What are the complications?”
“The Treasury of the United States has issued a worldwide statement to financial institutions that, should any bank release funds at Mr. Zanian’s request, to any other financial institution, person, or corporation, severe penalties will follow.”
“Bless their little hearts,” Brio muttered.
Said continued, “No financial institution wishes to be on the U.S. Treasury’s . . . What do you call it?”
“Shit list,” Stone replied.
“Ah, yes. Quite. Shit list.”
“Perfectly understandable,” Wilcox said.
“Mr. Zanian has given us to understand that he has at his immediate disposal a million and a quarter dollars in U.S. currency. While nothing like a billion, this is not as you say, food for chickens.”
“Chicken feed,” Stone said, helpfully.
“Actually,” Stone said, “Zanian does not have such a sum at his disposal. I, on the other hand, do.”
“Are you telling me that you are willing to produce such a sum for Zanian?”
“I am telling you that should Viktor Zanian appear before me clean, well-fed, and in shackles, I would be willing to produce such a sum on receipt of an extradition order bearing your signature
and seal. Or you can wait an eon or so for the United States Treasury to rescind its order.”
“Then perhaps we can do business, Mr. Barrington.”
“Perhaps we can, as long as it is understood that the sum in question represents the limit of my participation in such an arrangement.”
“You make yourself very plain, sir.”
“How shall we proceed?”
“I must make a few phone calls in pursuit of our deal, but everything is closed for business at this hour.”
“I shall make these calls tomorrow morning, then be in touch.”
“That is satisfactory. Perhaps at that time you could name a time and place for the delivery of Mr. Zanian’s person.”
“It would have to be at a venue outside the kingdoms of Saud and Saudi Arabia.”
“May I suggest at Cairo International Airport, aboard my airplane?”
“You may, at a date and time to be set later.”
“Not too much later, if you please.”
“Quite. And now, perhaps we should indulge in your quaint Western custom of dinner?”
“As long as it doesn’t involve the participation of a camel,” Stone replied, smiling.
“I shall remark upon that to our chef.” He rose and led them to a beautifully set table.
Two large, thick, and perfectly cooked porterhouse steaks were presented, carved, and served, except that the general was given a rack of lamb. All were given baked potatoes and haricots verts.
“The wines are Syrian,” the general said.
They were deep, dark, and delicious.
Said found it necessary to speak on the telephone a couple of times during dinner, but otherwise, the evening went smoothly, until they were preparing to board the tender for the trip back to their yacht.
“There is one other thing that is important to our transfer of Mr. Zanian,” the general said.
“I’m afraid, General,” Stone said, “that in our previous discussion we set my limits for negotiation, and those I cannot exceed.”
“Please be calm, Mr. Barrington,” the general replied. “This is actually a matter between governments, or rather, between Ambassador Wilcox and me.”
“How may I be of help?” Wilcox asked.
“I wish that the legal department at your embassy will prepare a document for your signature that will remove any possibility of your government taking any steps for the recovery of Mr. Zanian’s Gulfstream jet from the custody of the Sultanate, either in Saud or in any other country of the world, and acknowledging that the aircraft is now the property of the Sultanate.”
“Ah, well,” Wilcox said. “I can foresee two impediments to such an agreement.”
“And what are these ‘impediments’?” Said asked.
“First, any lien on the aircraft held by any financial institution anywhere, to secure, say, a loan, will have to be paid by the Sultanate in advance of the transaction.”
“That is acceptable,” Said said. “What else?”
“The aircraft is owned by Woodchip Corporation now.
Because such a transaction involves the transfer of the aircraft from the ownership of an American corporation to a foreign entity, I am of insufficient rank to sign such a document on behalf of the United States. The signature of our secretary of state will be required. Or, of course, our president.”
“Is it possible for you to obtain one of these signatures quickly?”
“I can but try,” Wilcox said, “but I cannot guarantee the outcome.”
“Then speak to whomever you must and give me an answer tomorrow.”
“Of course,” Wilcox said, and they shook hands. “Until tomorrow.”
The party got into the tender, and it started home.
“He was obviously ready with that request earlier in the evening,” Stone said.
“Yes, but he raised the subject at exactly the right moment,” Wilcox replied.
“And you were ready with exactly the right answer,” Stone said.
“I was, in my youth,” Wilcox said, “an attorney-at-law.”