Authors: Patrick Robinson
Monsieur Hooks was surprised, but mannered. “Oh,” he said. “I was not expecting visitors.
I’m Jacques Hooks.”
General Jobert was the first to his feet. “
” he said, “I’m Michel Jobert, and this is my colleague Gaston Savary. We have come a very long way to see you.”
Monsieur Hooks seemed to freeze. His face was expressionless. “I don’t suppose there would be much point in hiding my true identity from you,” he said. “I’m assuming you are both from some branch of the military, but I should warn you right away, I am retired. I have a wife and family, as you already know. And I have no intention of leaving my little mountain paradise.”
Gaston Savary held out his hand. “Colonel Gamoudi, I’m honored to meet you,” he said. “For what it’s worth, I’m head of the French Secret Service. And General Jobert here is Commander in Chief of the First Marine Parachute Infantry…your old regiment.”
“I’m afraid I knew precisely who General Jobert was the moment I walked in,” said Jacques Gamoudi. “I do stay in touch with a few old friends. And I most certainly would recognize my commanding officer.” He smiled gently, poured himself some coffee, and shook his head. “It’s been a while now,” he said. “But we’re very happy here in the mountains. It’s a good place to bring up a family. Clean, lovely, no crime, friendly people.”
“How about that very large dagger you carry with you?” said Savary, chuckling. “You expecting trouble?”
Gamoudi laughed. “No, but I work in some pretty desolate places with some pretty helpless people. These mountains are just about the last refuge of the Pyrenean brown bear. And he’s big and dangerous. This hunting knife is my last line of defense.”
“I’m not sure even a knife that size would fend off a Pyrenean bear,” said Savary.
“That depends on how well you know how to use it,” replied Gamoudi. “Most of God’s creatures lose heart for a fight with a knife this big rammed into their left eye.”
Savary thus ascertained that the Colonel was right handed. He stared at the heavy forearms, the bull neck, and the wide, swarthy face. He noted the jagged scar below Gamoudi’s right ear, the tight military-cut hair, the straight back of his natural stance, the hard brown eyes. Ex–Foreign Legion, ex–Special Forces, ex-mercenary in North Africa. Parachutist. Combat fighter.
What the hell did I expect him to look like? Yves St. Laurent?
“Before we start to talk,” Gamoudi said, “I should perhaps explain that I am not hiding in any way. But in my line of business one is apt to make a few enemies, and so I changed my name. I thought it wiser not to return to Morocco, since I was in North Africa on behalf of the French Republic for so long. But I always wanted to live in France, and the mountains suit me well. I can make a good living up here, so I changed our name, and we just vanished into the mists. Giselle’s parents live in Pau.”
“Did you meet her during parachute training with the Legion?” asked the General.
“Very perceptive, sir. Matter of fact, yes, I did. I was twenty years old. She was only fifteen. I had to wait for her to grow up.”
“She waited for you,” said the General. “Nine years, according to that photograph.”
“You don’t miss much, sir, I’ll say that.”
“In our business, Jacques, we can’t afford to, eh?”
“You have that right, General.”
Both men smiled, almost shyly, that most fleeting sign of camaraderie among combat soldiers.
“Now perhaps you should explain to me why you have traced me to my mountain lair.”
“I will let Gaston outline for you the background to our visit. It involves a foreign country, and indeed the President of France…”
And for the next ten minutes the Secret Service Chief outlined the interior problems of Saudi Arabia, the prolific spending of the royal family, the monumental cost of that family, the deep unrest within the kingdom, the savage cuts in every family’s income from the oil, the offensive ties to the United States of America, the loss of the true Islamic religion in favor of the ideals of a different, godless world to the West.
Jacques Gamoudi nodded. One of four million Muslims resident in France, he still tried to obey the laws of the Koran, although it was difficult to attend a mosque up there in the mountains. But his parents had been devout in the teachings of the Prophet, and there was no question in the mind of Colonel Gamoudi:
There is only one God. Allah is great.
On their twice-yearly trips to Paris—one at Christmas with the boys—Jacques always took Giselle to the great Moorish-style Paris Mosque, with its towering minaret, almost one hundred feet high, located directly opposite the Natural History Museum in the
Jardin des Plantes.
This was the home of the Grand Imam, and it was extremely important to Jacques that he attend the mosque whenever he reasonably could.
Years of military service in North Africa had kept his religious upbringing alive, and he understood implicitly what so many millions of Saudi Arabians felt about their ruling family. He could not imagine life without the Koran and its teachings, but he could imagine the desolation any Muslim might feel watching the systematic erosion of religion in the day-to-day life of a country like Saudi Arabia.
“There are many great problems in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “But I am at a loss to understand why they should concern me, and why you have journeyed here to see me.”
“Well, Jacques,” said Savary. “One month ago, the President of France had a private visit from one of the most senior princes of the Saudi royal family. And he has asked us for our help in overthrowing the present regime and returning the Saudis to their pure Bedouin roots. And now General Jobert will explain to you what has happened, and what we intend to do to help them.”
The following ten minutes were, possibly, the most astounding in Colonel Gamoudi’s not uneventful life. He listened wide-eyed to the plan for the Navy to knock out the entire Saudi oil industry, bringing that vast and fabulously wealthy country financially to its knees.
He nodded in general understanding of the plan to hit the air base at King Khalid when the Saudi armed forces’ morale was at its lowest possible ebb. And he indicated his general acceptance of the need to take Riyadh, and for the people to rise up and perhaps storm the palace. All in the moments before the Crown Prince appeared on television to announce he had taken command of the country and that the old King, one of his one hundred-odd uncles, was dead.
He also understood that these two men were here in his home seeking his advice.
But when General Jobert coolly told him that he, Col. Jacques Gamoudi, was the man chosen by the French Army to command the operation in Riyadh, he almost shot hot, scalding coffee straight up his nose.
“YOU WANT ME TO CAPTURE THE CITY OF RIYADH?
You have to be dreaming!”
To tell the truth, stated like that, Gaston Savary thought they might all be dreaming. But General Jobert was dead serious. “You have all of the required qualifications, Jacques. And we believe you will be leading a revolution against which there will be no opposition. We expect the Army will have given up by then…you just need to take the palace.”
“But what about the guards? What about the King’s bodyguards? What about the protectors in the palace?”
“I don’t recall such trifling matters ever having discouraged you before,” said Michel Jobert drolly.
snapped Gamoudi. “About a hundred armed men with AK-47s firing one thousand rounds a minute at you?”
“I was rather thinking we might hire one of those Muslim suicide bombers,” said the General. “Have him flatten the main royal palace without much fuss—same as all those Saudi terrorists on 9/11. No one was firing AK-47s that day.”
“General, am I supposed to be taking this seriously? I mean, who’s going to arm this throng? Who’s going to train them? Get them to move forward as a fighting force? What about supplies? Hardware? Ordnance?”
“I assure you, Jacques, there will be endless supplies, every last request granted. For this operation there will be no expense spared.”
“Well, General, when I read about it in the
, at least I’ll know what’s happening. But I could not possibly partake, not in any way whatsoever. I’m retired now. I don’t have the stomach for it anymore.”
“But you are still a young man, Jacques. What are you, forty-five years old? And by the look of you, very, very fit. Climbing mountains all day, you should be.”
“General, I want to make myself very clear: I cannot, will not, be involved. I have my wife and family to consider. General, I would not undertake this for a million dollars.”
Michel Jobert smiled. But he did not answer for a few moments. Then he did. “How about ten?” he said.
On a day of truly outlandish suggestions, this one beat them all.
“I think you heard me,” said General Jobert. “How about ten million dollars, with a further five million bonus when Prince Nasir assumes the throne of Saudi Arabia?”
Jacques Gamoudi was absolutely stunned. He rose to his feet and walked from one end of the room to the other. He walked back, shaking his head, reflecting on the outrageous proposition. It was outrageous in its assumptions, outrageous in its arrogance, outrageous in its rewards.
The Moroccan-born Colonel had been around in his time. But never had he heard anything to match this. He spoke slowly. “You want me, General, somehow to smuggle myself into Saudi Arabia, then into Riyadh, then find myself a headquarters, and start recruiting people to join a popular revolution. And when I have enough, to attack the royal palaces?”
“Try not to be absurd, Colonel. You will be flown into Saudi Arabia by private jet from the French Air Force. You will be chauffeur-driven to a small palace on the outskirts of Riyadh. And there you will meet the Saudi military commanders loyal to the Crown Prince, and there you will meet the terrorist commanders who mostly have ties to al-Qaeda. And there you will be briefed as to the size of your force and its assets.
“From then on, you will decide what you require. Transport. Armored vehicles. Maybe some artillery, which is currently being stored in the desert. Helicopters. Maybe tanks. Everything is available. But you will mastermind the entire operation. Communications and, above all, the attack on the King’s palace. Anything you ask will be provided.”
“And for all this I am to be paid ten million dollars, and five more when Prince Nasir takes over. And what then? Do I stay on in Riyadh?”
“No. You leave, probably within a few days. A French Air Force jet will be waiting to fly you directly home to Pau-Pyrenees Airport.”
“And who’s supposed to wipe out the King and his immediate family and advisers?”
“I think that is an honor we would leave to you. Because that way there will be no mistakes,” said Savary. “Your reputation precedes you.”
Jacques Gamoudi poured himself another cup of coffee. “How long would I be in Riyadh?”
“Several months. You would be attended at all times by personal bodyguards, with a staff of perhaps six former Saudi Army officers, handpicked men who know the country and love it, but are tired of the King and his entourage.
“You would move around locally with a driver, in a Saudi government car. There’s dozens of them in Riyadh. Yours would be provided by the Crown Prince. For longer journeys you would be provided with a helicopter and a pilot. Royal Saudi Air Force, courtesy of Prince Nasir. You would get to know him well.”
“And if I continue to refuse?”
“You won’t, Colonel. This is your country sounding the bugle for battle. And you will, as you always have, answer that call.”
“But there must be others? Younger officers. Men who have just as good qualifications.”
“We have chosen you, Jacques. And we have informed two people only of our choice. The President of the French Republic, and the Foreign Minister of France.”
“Oh, nothing serious,” said Colonel Gamoudi. “It’s nice to keep things on a low level, eh?”
“And the money?” asked the General.
“Well, of course, that’s enough to tempt any man. I think of all I could do for my family. It would be beyond my dreams to be that rich. But why dollars, why not euros?”
“You mentioned dollars first, Jacques. You said
not for a million dollars
—and I stayed in that currency because ultimately you would be paid in dollars, by the Saudis, through us, for the good of France.”
“Do I still have a choice? What if I do refuse?”
“I think that would be spectacularly unwise,” said the General.
“You are the man we have selected. This is the biggest operation for France since World War Two. It means more to us than any action by a French government since we joined the European Union. It will seal our prosperity for a hundred years.”
“Yes, I suppose it would.” And again Colonel Gamoudi seemed overwhelmed by it all. He stood up and paced the room again, eventually turning around and asking, “But why me?”
“Because you are an experienced combat fighter. You understand command, and you understand a sudden and ruthless assault on an objective. You know how to deploy troops. You understand the critical path of any attack, you know what cannot be left undone. More importantly, you are an expert with high explosives.
“Even more importantly, you are a Muslim, and you are expert at working with Muslims, at home in their environment. With the massive military and financial backup of the French Republic and Saudi Arabia, there is an excellent probability that our mission will be accomplished.”
Jacques Gamoudi stood still. And then he said, “How and when will I be paid?”
Gaston Savary took over. “You will receive five million dollars upon your verbal agreement to undertake the task. This will be wired into an account that will be opened in your name at the Bank of Boston at one-zero-four, Avenue des Champs Elysées. It will be an account controlled solely by you. Once the money is paid, no one can touch it save for you and your wife, unless you so specify. There will be irrevocable documents to that effect.”