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
In a few minutes her husband was back. She was still counting.
He watched for a moment. “The man who gave me that,” he said, “thinks money makes the world go around.”
“You didn’t have to take it,” she replied without looking up.
“Yes, I did. He did what he thought was right. Sometimes you have to let people do that.”
Ten minutes later Grafton called Jack Yocke, who was a columnist with the Washington Post. Jake had known him for years. At the start of their acquaintance, Yocke thought he was going to get information from Grafton, but finally gave up on that idea. These days the information only went one way—from him to Grafton.
After they had said their hellos, Grafton got around to the reason he called. “What do you know about Jerry Hay Smith?”
“He’s not with the Post.”
“Won a Pulitzer fifteen years ago.”
“Sixteen,” Grafton said.
“I stand corrected. His column used to be syndicated in eighty-nine newspapers, if my memory serves me correctly. Only fifty-some carry him now.”
“What don’t you know that you want to know?” Yocke said sharply.
“What do you think of his ethics?”
“Well, he has some, I suppose. A few, anyway, that he keeps in a closet somewhere and dusts off occasionally.”
“Has he ever gotten in trouble over stories?”
“Depends on what you mean by trouble. He tries desperately to get stories that other people don’t have—that’s one way you can get ahead in this business. Incidentally, that’s what I try to do. I don’t read his column on a regular basis, so I don’t know what pies he has his fingers in, but yes, he’s had a reputation for years of crossing the line to get a scoop. A couple of times he’s been accused of playing fast and loose with the truth.”
“He had any big stories lately?”
“Not that I can recall. Why do you ask?”
“Just curious. Thanks for your help.”
“By the way, what are you doing for amusement these days?”
“This and that. Why don’t you come over for dinner some evening?”
“Callie will call you when the schedule fits.”
“I’ll bring a date.”
London was enjoying a wet, cold, miserable winter. The English find this sort of thing invigorating, or pretend to, anyway. I reminded myself that the concept of central heating came late to this little isle.
After a flight across the pond, which took all night and left me bleary-eyed and feeling hungover, I went directly to the CIA’s office in Kensington. There I met the two guys Grafton wanted me to work with, Speedo Harris, an MI-6 op, and Nguyen Diem, an FBI special agent.
Harris was clean-cut, modestly athletic and meticulously groomed. He looked like Central Casting’s version of a metrosexual. “Speedo?” I asked.
“School name, you know. It seems to have stuck. Bathing suit incident, of course.”
“I see. I turned to Diem, who was a darn big Vietnamese, almost y size. Goes to show what a high-protein diet will do. As we shook he said, “The Great Carmellini. I’ve heard about you.”
I found myself liking the guy. “Lots of wonderful things, I’ll bet.”
“You got a cute nickname, too?”
“I would have never guessed.”
“Why’d they send you over here for this?” Diem asked.
“I’m tech support. Bugs and such.”
“The Company doesn’t put tech-support guys on ops.”
“Normally, no, but the boss, Admiral Grafton, knows me. I keep his BlackBerry humming.”
“And his cigarettes lit.”
I could see that Diem and I were going to be best buds. “Just keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told. Got it?”
“And you?” I asked Harris. “Ops with the Yanks?”
“Did you bring the file on the Petrou family chateau?”
“As you requested,” Harris replied. Grafton told me to start with Marisa, and since Marisa hung out a lot at the chateau—and since I didn’t have any better ideas—I figured that was the place.
One of the places the news of Alexander Surkov’s spectacular murder came ashore was the Petrou chateau outside of Paris. Isolde Petrou read about the latest developments in Le Monde as she ate her breakfast at her desk in her bedroom after working out in her private gymnasium. Breakfast was unsweetened tea, dry wheat toast and yogurt.
When she was dressed and ready for the office, she found her daughter-in-law, Marisa, reading the newspaper at the desk in her bedroom. She had come in, apparently, while Isolde was in the bathroom.
“The police have found radioactivity in various places from Moscow to London,” Isolde Petrou said. “Do you still think the Russians are innocent?”
“There is no such thing as an innocent Russian,” Marisa shot back, “but the Russians didn’t kill Surkov. You know it and I know it.”
Isolde stood before the mirror as she donned her earrings. “He must have known everything—the names of the seven, the amounts we are contributing, the source of our intelligence, who Grafton’s soldiers are__everything. He knew even more than you know.”
Marisa folded the paper and placed it squarely on the desk. She looked at her mother-in-law’s image in the mirror and said, “You are in danger of your life. You all are. If he got to Surkov, he knows, and if he knows, you and your friends are in mortal danger.”
“How did he find out?”
Marisa drew a deep breath. “I will not insult your intelligence. You are in an illegal, criminal conspiracy to make war on al-Qaeda. Your own government would prosecute you if they knew. While the conspiracy may be small, the number of people necessary to carry your war to the enemy grows with every passing day. But I’m telling you nothing new—you know all this.”
Isolde Petrou turned to face her daughter-in-law. “So who betrayed us?”
“We’ll probably never know.”
Isolde seated herself beside Marisa and searched her face. Marisa met her gaze. From this distance she could see the hairline scars under Marisa’s makeup that the plastic surgeon had been unable to eradicate. “Why did you marry Jean?”
Marisa grimaced. “He was the only man who asked.”
“You could have done much better.”
Marisa said nothing to that. After all, Jean was Isolde’s son. He was what he was and words wouldn’t change it. “What should we do?”
“You and the other six? Or you and me?”
“All of us.”
“Kill him before he kills you.” When Isolde left the room, Marisa sat thinking about the dinner at which Surkov was poisoned. It was Jean who suggested they go to dinner that evening at that restaurant in Mayfair. When she saw Surkov, whom she wasn’t supposed to know, she started to walk right by his table. It was Jean who recognized him, who stopped and chatted briefly with the three men as she stood there smiling and nodding, trying to pretend they all were strangers.
What was on that table? She racked her brain, trying to remember, we had stood there looking at the faces and … Had the drinks been served? Certainly there were glasses of water in front of everyone. An appetizer?
Could Jean have dusted polonium on Surkov’s water glass or cocktail?
If he did, why would he do it?
Even as she asked herself the question, she realized that she knew the answer. What if her husband, Jean, not Surkov, betrayed the members of the Winchester conspiracy to Abu Qasim? He knew his mother was involved. Qasim knew about Jean, of course. Perhaps they had a way of contacting each other.
She and Jean both knew Surkov, had met him before on one or two occasions. Was it she or Jean who said, “Oh, there’s Surkov”? Perhaps she had. She tried to remember exactly what was said when they paused at Surkov’s table to chat. Had the two men made eye contact, or did they avoid it?
If Jean did it, where did he get the polonium?
From Abu Qasim, of course!
If he did it, which seemed unlikely. Yet even if he didn’t poison Surkov’s water, why did he suggest that particular restaurant for dinner?
The whole thing had Abu Qasim’s fingerprints all over it.
Very neat, you must admit.
She hadn’t an iota of proof. Yet.
Her husband was in Paris this morning at the ministry, so she went to his bedroom. The maids were finished. She locked the door and began searching.
After we got to France, my colleagues and I set up surveillance of the Petrou chateau and quickly learned the routine.
The chateau sat on about eight fenced acres of rolling countryside, twenty-two miles from the Louvre, and had at least twenty-eight rooms, not counting the dungeon, or basement, as the case might have been.
In residence were old Madame Petrou, the banking executive, young M. Petrou, the statesman, and young Madame Petrou, the lovely, loyal Marisa.
Twelve people worked there more or less full-time—twelve, in this day and age!—so the place was never empty. There were maids, a cook, a gardener, two security guys who carried guns, two chauffeurs and at least two people that we couldn’t classify. One of them might have been a personal secretary, who handled bills and telephone calls and such, and the other might have been the wine cellar guy. We couldn’t decide. From time to time tradesmen came in vans and cars. One of them, we concluded, was a hard-body female personal trainer who routinely wore skin-tight spandex. To summarize, there were people in the main house day and night, every day, and someone was always awake.
There were kennels for the dogs, a stable for a couple of riding horses, a garage for the cars, quarters above the garage for one of the chauffeurs and a couple of outbuildings for general storage.
There was even an old cemetery on the grounds, where presumably family members who didn’t want to lie with the common herd in a public burying ground could spend eternity among kin. Or maybe they buried the help there when they keeled over on the job. One or the other.
“It’s like a private hotel,” Per Diem remarked on our third day of observation from the top floor of a nearby country inn. We had large binoculars mounted on tripods that we used to look at the main gate and at the chateau, which was about a half mile away. In the summer this view would be obscured by leaves, but this being winter, we could see fairly well. We also took walks along the perimeter fence, rode along it at odd times in a couple of cars we were using, and studied satellite and aerial photography, which the CIA office in London had provided.
The real key, however, to keeping track of the goings-on at the chateau was a radio-controlled drone that a team of U.S. Air Force re-con specialists kept airborne over the grounds during daylight hours. It flew at about one thousand feet above the grounds, was essentially silent and broadcast a continuous video feed, which we monitored in the comfort of our digs at the inn. When the winter winds were steady off the Atlantic, the drone flew into the breeze and seemed to hover over the estate. We could even switch back and forth between ambient-light video and an infrared presentation.
Each morning Madame Petrou, the old madame, left in a chauffeured limo, off to the banks to lash the executives and make more money. About the same time son Jean left in a little gray two-seat Mercedes, a much newer version than the one I drove back in the USA. Around eleven or so, Marisa departed in a cream-colored sedan of some type, Italian, I think. Marisa returned first, the old madame came rolling in about three, the hard-bodied trainer showed around four and left at five thirty, and Jean came home about six. They held to that schedule for the first three days, anyway.
“Knowing how the upper crust lives is broadening,” Speedo observed. “I can feel my horizons expanding.”
“Comes the revolution,” I told them, “I’m going to get me a place like that. Maybe even that one.”
We amused ourselves by trying to estimate what Isolde paid every month to keep the place afloat. If Marie Antoinette only knew!
I was going to have to go in there and bug the joint, so I was trying to figure out how to minimize the risk of being caught and get the bugs into locations where we might actually hear something useful. We didn’t have a blueprint of the interior, with the bedrooms and offices— if there were offices—marked, so I was going to have to sniff around some when I got in, which meant I needed some time in the place.
A call from Jake Grafton set the date. “The Petrou family bank is hosting a dinner this coming Thursday for the officers of all the Petrou banking enterprises.” He told me the name of the hotel where the dinner would be held. “There will be a cocktail party prior to that,” Grafton said. “According to our sources, all three of the Petrous will be there.”
“Someone’s been pumping the secretaries.”
“I think so.”
“How come I don’t get jobs like that?”
“I’m getting some pressure on this, so we need to make something happen.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but I had a fair idea. “Okay,” I said slowly.
“You got the hardware you need?”
“Yes, sir. We helped ourselves from the attic in Kensington.”
“Keep me advised, Tommy,” Jake Grafton said.
There I was, yessiring Grafton like I was a boot seaman. There is something about the guy that causes that reaction in me. I fight it, but every now and then I can’t help myself.
After I hung up I spent a tough five minutes sharpening a wit, then issued orders to my two troops. They were unhappy, of course, but it has been my experience that my many bosses don’t lose sleep worrying about the state of my morale, so I didn’t worry about theirs. If they got too blue, they could write a letter home to Mom.
Marisa Petrou was across the street from the ministry when her husband, Jean, came out of the building a little after twelve with several colleagues, on their way to lunch. On Monday and Tuesday he had lunched with colleagues at a nearby cafe, which was apparently their usual haunt. To prevent him from recognizing her in the event he should glance her way, she was wearing a wig, a scarf, dark glasses and a long coat she had purchased Monday morning.
Wednesday, however, he came out alone and turned right on the sidewalk instead of left, toward the cafe. She followed along at a discreet distance, just keeping him in sight.