Read The Assassin Online

Authors: Stephen Coonts

Tags: #Qaida (Organization), #Intelligence officers, #Assassination, #Carmellini; Tommy (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Grafton; Jake (Fictitious character), #Suspense, #Espionage, #Thrillers, #Suspense fiction, #Undercover operations, #Spy stories

The Assassin (11 page)

BOOK: The Assassin
9.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Is the president in it?”

“Only by inference. Winchester has kept his mouth shut, which is a minor miracle.”

“I’m not going to ask how you got hold of it.”

“That’s good. You should take care of your blood pressure.”

“You in it?”

“Yep. I can’t decide if he thinks I’m the hero or the villain. Could go either way, I suppose.”

“He know you’re CIA?”

“Yes. I had to tell them.”


“I thought so, too.”

“Sheikh Mahmoud al-Taji, the London cleric—what do you know about him?”

“He’s a terrorist,” Jake Grafton said curtly.

“Are you sure?”

“As sure as you can be about these things. We have two informants in the mosque, and they tell us al-Taji is not only preaching, he is recruiting terrorists, using donations to help fund weapons acquisition and training, and meeting with various like-minded souls to discuss possible terror targets in Britain. Our spies don’t know what targets they’ve picked or how close they are to doing something. They’re not yet in the inner circle.”

“The British know this?”

“We’ve shared everything with them. The crown is prosecuting him because he’s a public nuisance and questions were asked in Parliament, but MI-5 isn’t sharing intelligence with the prosecutors. They couldn’t use any of it at his trial, of course, without betraying our people inside the mosque. They’d be dead within an hour.”

“Why not pull these people out first, then put the sheikh away in a drafty old English prison?”

“I’ve talked to the head of clandestine ops about that, and he’s talked to Bill Wilkins. Ethnic Middle Easterners who speak the language, have the guts and smarts to go undercover and are loyal Americans to the core are hard to find. We hoped these guys would help us catch bigger fish. If we pull them out and then help convict the sheikh, they’re finished as undercover men. Even worse, it will be literally impossible to ever get another man into a London mosque.”

“Okay. What does your friend in London say about the Brits’ dilemma?”

“He says the government doesn’t want any more London subway attacks or anything along those lines. They want the sheikh out of the country or silenced.”

“Silenced how?”

“Not murdered. That would inflame British Muslims. My British friend is sort of hoping, off the record, of course, that the sheikh will have a fatal accident or die a natural-death.”

“A natural death would be best,” Sal Molina said, nodding.

Jake Grafton shrugged.

“Can we help with that?”


Hunt Winchester and Simon Cairnes had lunch with Jake Grafton in the dining room of Winchester’s yacht club in Newport in front of a big picture window. Through the window the diners could see the bay and whitecaps marching in rows under puffy clouds. On the dock below the window, flags snapped in a nice chill breeze. The bay was empty of boats.

When Grafton suggested that they meet in a place where no one knew Winchester, the industrialist made a rude noise. “The yacht club, he said. “I’ll get us a private room. And Simon wants to talk to you. The room contained twenty tables, but Grafton, Winchester and Cairnes were the only diners today.

“I feel like a fool sneaking around some dump bar or coffee shop, hoping no one will recognize me,” Winchester told Jake now after he took an experimental sip of white wine. “As if I were a criminal.” After a moment’s thought he added, quite unnecessarily, “I don’t like that feeling.”

Simon Cairnes shook the admiral’s hand, then seated himself.

Grafton also sipped wine. It was dry and cold. He glanced at the label on the bottle. French wine, of course. He carefully placed the glass on the table and watched the shadow and weak sunlight play upon the waters of the bay. In the yacht basin below the clubhouse—an old mansion with creaky wooden floors—the piers were empty. Off to the left, boats hauled out for the winter sat on blocks.

“There won’t be any other customers,” Winchester told them. “I reserved the whole restaurant.”

“Umm,” Jake Grafton said.

“So tell us, are you getting any useful information from our records?”

“Some,” Grafton said, nodding. “All we get are leads, which must be investigated. Right now we have about seventy-five people devoted to that effort. Our allies also have significant resources checking out the leads we have passed them. Every now and then we learn something we didn’t know.”

“That’s the way life is,” Cairnes muttered.

Winchester wanted more. “Have you or have you not found any of those bastards?”

“We have.”

Hunt Winchester smiled wanly and settled back in his chair. He removed an envelope from the inside pocket of his sports coat and placed it in front of the admiral. “There’s a hundred thousand in there. For services rendered to date. I know you work for the government and don’t want money, but we want you to have it.”

Grafton picked up the envelope, took the cash out and divided it into two stacks. He put a stack in each of his side pockets. He found a pen in a shirt pocket and wrote on the envelope, Received $100,000 for consulting services. He signed it and put the date under his name, then passed it across to Winchester.

“A signed receipt?”

“You can tear it up if you wish.”

Winchester folded, then pocketed the envelope.

A waiter brought menus. The admiral didn’t pick his up. He sipped wine, idly watched Winchester and Cairnes examine the menu and looked out the window.

When Winchester lowered the menu, he said, “I assume you want to talk about Surkov.”

Grafton nodded.

“I’ve been watching the news,” Winchester continued. “Hell of a note! Tchernychenko knew the guy, trusted him.” Winchester shook his head. “And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would use a radioactive isotope to murder someone.”

“A bullet would have been just as fatal,” Grafton mused. “Arsenic just as deadly. They chose polonium to send a message, Mr. Winchester.”

“To whom ?”

“To you, of course. To you and Tchernychenko and Mr. Cairnes and your other friends.”

Winchester’s eyes widened. He searched Grafton’s face. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Last month two of our men were killed. I told you about them. Ricky Stroud was killed shortly after assassinating Abdul-Zahra Mohammed in North Africa. Nate Allen was tortured and murdered in Rome, shortly after he returned from North Africa. His girlfriend was also tortured and murdered.”

Winchester nodded. Cairnes didn’t turn a hair. He was watching Grafton with narrowed eyes.

“Nate may have talked.” Grafton took a deep breath. “Probably did. Probably told them everything he knew so they would stop torturing his girl and end it sooner. If I had been Nate, I would have talked.”

The admiral finished his wine and poured another glass from the bottle. “Al-Qaeda must know those men were working for me. They’ll be looking for a leak. And if they think of Tchernychenko’s company, they’ll come looking there.”

The waiter entered the room and walked over to the table by the window for their order. Winchester picked up the menu again and stared at it. Cairnes ordered by saying, “My usual.”

“A chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast for me,” Jake Grafton said. “Put some mustard on it.”

“Yes, sir.” The clouds were momentarily gone, and outside the sun drenched everything with a cold, clear light, making the colors extraordinarily vivid.

Winchester finally ordered a salad. “And a double bourbon on the rocks.”

When they were again alone, Winchester asked, “Did Surkov betray us:

Grafton told him about the check from the Seychelles corporation.

“You’ve got your fingers in a lot of pies, don’t you?” Simon Cairnes said, eyeing the admiral askance.

“So if Surkov betrayed us to al-Qaeda, why did they kill him?” Winchester asked.

“To send you a message. Have you received it?”

When Winchester didn’t reply, Jake turned his gaze to Simon Cairnes. “How about you, Mr. Cairnes?”

“I got the message from those Islamic Nazis years ago,” Cairnes said, his face coming alive. “They want everyone on earth who doesn’t worship God as they do dead and in hell. They’re perfectly willing to do the killing. When the slaughter is over, they intend to rule the dungheap. Now that’s the message, by God. The question is, When are the damn fools in Washington going to get it?”

“When the American people get it, and not before,” Grafton replied. “That’s the way things work in a democracy.”

“You’re probably right,” Cairnes said softly, “but still . . .” He paused to gather his thoughts. “When I was a boy, a teenager, I lied my way into the United States Army. Completed training and wound up in a replacement pool in France in January 1945. That spring I was seventeen years of age, just a pimple-faced kid, when I walked into the concentration camp at Dachau. Saw the people starved, saw the ovens, saw the ashes, tried to get food and water down people and had them die in my arms. Our captain had us round up the local German civilians and march them through the camp, made the bastards look.

‘Now the Arabs say the Holocaust didn’t happen. The reason they say that is because they’re fascists, Islamic Nazis, and like the German Nazis, they plan on killing everyone on earth who doesn’t agree with their religious dictates. Do you hear me? They plan on murder on a scale Hitler couldn’t even conceive of.”

“Is that why you agreed to be a member of this group?” Grafton asked as he examined the moisture on the side of his wineglass.

“I’m an old man, Grafton. Lived a long time and seen a lot of things.

There’s not much the government or the courts or anybody else can do to me now that is going to cause me much grief. Lawyers can keep me out of jail—I can hire an army of them. I’ve made a huge shit-pot full of money, more money than I ever dreamed of, because I read the newspapers and talked to people and I could see how the future was going to go. I invested in the trends that I saw. I’ve been terrifically right a lot more times than I’ve been wrong, and I’ve made more money than a hundred men could spend in their lifetimes. For the last ten years I’ve been chairman of a bank—but you know all that.

Now let me predict the future. The civilized world is headed for a major war with fundamental Islam. Our enemies think America and its European allies are weak, ineffectual, no match for committed holy warriors ready to fight God’s battles and die doing it. So they are going to push and murder and chip away at the West until the only thing it can do is fight or die. And it will fight—you and I know that, even if the fundamentalists don’t. We’ll fight and we’ll win, of course, yet a great many people will die. Organized religion as we know it will be one of the casualties, which will be a tragedy. A great many enormous crimes have been committed in the name of God, yet in the main, through the centuries religion has been a civilizing influence, a force for good in countless lives.”

Cairnes tapped his glass on the table. “If we can prevent that war from happening, Mr. Grafton, we can save this world that you and I have lived our lives in. We can save Christianity and Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam and all the rest. We can save this civilization based on religious principles. That, I think, is a goal worthy of all that we are, all that we have, all that we can do during our lifetimes.”

“And you, Mr. Winchester?” Grafton said. “I know about your son. Is revenge the goad that drives you?”

Winchester looked belligerent. “I want some of it, yes. But I agree with Simon—these bastards have got to be fought, and the longer we wait to fight, the worse it is going to be. Everything we do—“

Cairnes butted right in. “Hunt is a fallen-away Catholic. He doesnt give a damn about religion. They can put all the Bibles and hymnals and theology books in one big pile and burn them for all he cares.”

“You know that isn’t true, Simon,” Winchester protested heatedly. “Just because I don’t go to church anymore doesn’t mean that I am ready to dump on anyone else’s religious beliefs.”

The waiter entered the room with the lunches on a tray. After they all were served and the waiter had left, Cairnes looked at Grafton and rumbled, “Maybe you’d better tell us the real reason that you’re in this.”

“In my spare time I work for the government, as you know. That is a job I also know how to do.”

“Your bosses, they know about us?” Cairnes gestured vaguely at Winchester and himself.

“That’s really none of your business.”

“Maybe you’re with the CIA and maybe you’re not.”

“Think what you like.”

Cairnes stared at him from under shaggy brows. “I think you tell a lot of lies.”

“If I ever tell a lie, Mr. Cairnes, you’ll never catch me at it,” Grafton shot back.

“He came highly recommended,” Winchester said. “That’s good enough for me.”

“I’ll find out,” Cairnes vowed. “Before I’m through I’ll know more about you than your mother did.”

Jake Grafton got busy on his sandwich. When he finished, he told them he needed some money transferred and the names of two more data-miners he wanted them to hire.

That evening, when he got home to his flat in Rosslyn, Jake Grafton gave the cash he had received from Huntington Winchester to his wife. Tomorrow,” he said, “I want you to go to Navy Relief and give them this money as a donation. Every dollar. Get a signed receipt and don’t lose it.”

Callie Grafton looked at the stacks of bills, which were held together with rubber bands. “Selling drugs these days, are you?”

“It’s worse than that,” he said heavily. “This is the worse mess I’ve ever been in.”

“I doubt that.”

Jake Grafton made a noise, then started to say something. He changed his mind, went to the window and looked out. The lights of Washington were beginning to come on. Finally he wandered off toward the den.

“Jack Yocke returned your call,” she said loudly. “He’s in his office this evening.”

Callie began counting the hundred-dollar bills on the kitchen table. She had married her husband after the Vietnam War, when he was a Navy lieutenant flying A-6 Intruders. Since then she had watched him shoulder increasing responsibilities, and she had occasionally been a part of them. She trusted his judgment implicitly, and yet… all this money? What was he into this time? She was curious, but she would never ask. Jake would tell her what he could, when he could. Through the years she had learned to live with that. People come as packages, and she was wise enough to know that in Jake Grafton she had gotten a good, solid man.

BOOK: The Assassin
9.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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