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 (14 page)

BOOK: The Assassin
5.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I heard someone climbing the main stair, so I ducked into the first room I could reach. It was a bedroom. Empty. I went to the window and looked out.

“Per, kill the computer,” I whispered into my headset.

“Done,” he said.

I opened the window and leaned out. The night man was at least a hundred feet away looking in a gazebo partially surrounded by evergreens. I didn’t see any dogs.

Now he was getting a cell phone call. It was so quiet out there in the country I could actually hear it ring. He answered it, muttered something and walked quickly away in the direction of the main gate.

When he disappeared around the corner, I dug from my backpack the controller/repeater we used to turn the bugs on and off and to boost their transmissions so that they could be received at a distance of several miles. I turned it on, then tucked it into the ivy vines as far as I could reach to my left. It appeared to be out of sight.

That done, I went out the window onto the sill. I managed to get the window closed behind me, then slowly put my weight on the ivy vines that had been using the wall for a trellis since Napoleon was in diapers.

If you’ve ever tried to pull ivy off a wall, you know how firmly it is attached. On the other hand, if you’ve ever tried to climb a wall covered with it, you know how loosely it is holding on. I got maybe three feet down when I felt the ivy starting to rip loose. I turned, pushed off and dropped the twelve feet or so to the flower bed. The dirt was soft, which was fortunate, yet there was a trimmed rose bush strategically placed that had carnal knowledge of me. Moments like that separate us real men from the wannabes. Blinking back tears, I inspected the tracks I had made in the soft, black, manicured earth, tracks Inspector Clouseau could have found.

There was a fallen limb lying nearby that the gardener hadn’t cleaned up, so I used it as a bunker rake. Did the best I could with it, tossed it aside and took off for the back fence, trying to stay behind evergreens as much as possible.

It wasn’t until I was over the fence that I keyed the mike and told Per Diem to turn on the guards’ computer again.

After I got cleaned up, Band-Aided and presentable, Speedo drove me off to the Paris World Hotel, where the Petrou function was to be held that evening, for my first day on my new job as a waiter.

Getting hired on the banquet service staff had taken some serious finagling, which meant that I had paid the head dog a large bribe. The unemployment rate in France is about 20 percent for young men my age, so I had to give him a really good reason to bypass all the people on the waiting list and hire me immediately even though I didn’t have a French

work permit. I even agreed to provide my own uniform, which meant that a London tailor had to be flown to Paris and work all night. When I spend U.S. taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, I go all out.

Of course, when I got to the hotel, the maftre d’, Henri Stehle, was nervous. I was worried that if I dropped any more cash on him he was going to smell a serious rat, so I told him that I desperately needed to make it in Paris to prove to my parents that I wasn’t the playboy they thought I was. “I’ve had experience in good restaurants”—what kind of experience I didn’t say—“and I can do the job. Just watch me. In a week you’ll think I’m the best employee you have.”

He wasn’t sure. He was a man of medium height, in his middle forties I would guess, who was trim without looking like a gym rat. “That work permit—” he began.

“I’ll have one by next week. I’ve already talked to the authorities.”

Mollified, he had me work with the people setting up for the banquet. It looked as if there were going to be about a hundred people at this feed; Madame Petrou, the banker, was picking up the whole tab. I figured it might be tax-deductible for her, so I wasn’t overwhelmed with envy.

The afternoon passed quickly. I learned how to keep the towel over my left arm, practiced serving the way the other waiters did and managed to fit right in. This wasn’t as easy as it sounded, because most of the staff were older than I and had worked at this hotel for years. In short, they were true professionals. They were also a decent lot and helped me with little tips. It was obvious to them that I was a neophyte, but I was hoping that only the pros would notice. I saw Henri checking me out a time or two, and he seemed less anxious than he was when I arrived earlier. He really didn’t have anything to worry about—any waiter could spill a bowl of soup in someone’s lap, and if it happened, he could soothe ruffled aristocrat feathers and fire the guilty worker swine. He knew that and so did I. Life would go on.

Henri had me carrying a tray of champagne flutes, full, when the first guests began dribbling into the room where the cocktail party was being held. A string ensemble was playing chamber music in one corner. I offered champagne to everyone; some folks took a glass, some didn’t. I worked the crowd, listening to the French, English and German flowing back and forth over the classical music, and tried to actually understand some of it. That effort, I found, interfered with my champagne duties, so I gave it up and concentrated on not spilling my tray, offering a drink to newcomers, and ensuring drinkers didn’t hold empty glasses very long.

I was hard at it when the Petrous came in. They had already shed their coats at the check rack outside, so I went over and offered champagne. I was hoping Marisa would make eye contact, but it didn’t happen. She was upper crust straight through to the backbone, a blueblood who ignored the help. She took a glass off the tray and never even glanced at my face. She smiled at someone she knew and held out a hand.

I offered Jean a snort of the bubbly, and he took a glass. His mother ignored me completely. I moved along. They wouldn’t have noticed me if I had had two noses.

My plan was quite simple: I wanted Marisa to notice me at some point in the evening, to actually see my face and recognize it as the mug of Tommy Carmellini, CIA officer. Then, when she got home, I was sorta hoping she would talk with her husband and mother-in-law about the fact that the CIA had someone at the party, in a place, of course, that our new microphones could pick up the conversation.

Once they all knew the CIA was interested in them, I thought things might happen. For one thing, Marisa might report that fact to Abu Qasim. Grafton was tired of waiting for something to happen—he expected me to force the issue.

Only Marisa didn’t cooperate. I would have bet my pension that she didn’t notice my face during the cocktail party.

When Henri announced dinner, the entire hundred must have been there. The buzz of loud conversation drowned out the chamber music. As the guests filed in to dinner, I ditched my tray and headed for the kitchen to help serve the first course, which was fish. Five or six of the guys were joking near the serving table in French, talking about the banker who had brought his wife and his mistress. I asked what he looked like, and he was described to me.

Then we were on. Out of the kitchen we marched, one behind the other, with three dishes on our left arms and two on our right.

I concentrated on serving, on doing the job I was supposedly hired to do. Every now and then I sneaked a glance at Marisa at the head table; she was never looking my way.

If she didn’t spot me, I was going to have to think up something that ensured she did. Not that I wanted to do that—I was hoping she wouldn’t think I knew that she had seen me.

When we were on the main course, which was beef, I realized that she might indeed have seen and not recognized me. The thought was a shock to my healthy male ego, yet I had to admit, it made sense. We’ve all run into someone from our past so unexpectedly that the face doesn’t register, right?

On the other hand, we did go to bed together once, and she certainly recognized me when she saw me in Paris for the G-8 conference; she was getting out of a limo and I was the last man alive she expected to see, yet she placed me immediately. Perhaps she had seen and recognized me tonight and didn’t want to let on, so was now studiously ignoring me.

I was cogitating on this when I almost put a carafe of water in a graying matron’s lap.

No doubt I was overthinking this. Truthfully, this whole gig was a half-baked idea. Grafton would have laughed if I had told him what I planned. The fact that Speedo Harris and Per Diem thought this plan was lousy was the real reason I insisted upon it.

After we waiters had served the main course and were again charging the wineglasses, I worked my way toward the main table, which was round, with eight people seated at it. Marisa was listening to some crusty old gentleman on her left regale her with stories he thought were funny. She was smiling when he roared with laughter. I wondered how much champagne he had had. He was sure slurping down the wine.

Beside her Jean Petrou was working on his grub and looking sour. To Jean’s right, Isolde Petrou was engaged in conversation with a lady of the same age, one draped in pearls.

I poured some wine for the woman across the table, then glanced at Marisa. Her face wore a look of shock, even horror! She wasn’t looking at me, though. She was looking past me, toward the door to the kitchen. I glanced back … and saw Henri Stehle standing there, looking this way.

When I turned around, Marisa’s face was back to normal. Then, amazingly, Jean Petrou seemed to pale. If I hadn’t been looking right at him, I wouldn’t have seen it. He turned pale, his eyes unfocused, laid down his fork, seemed to take a deep, deep breath . ..

“Waiter, I’d like some more wine, please,” the man nearest me said.

I was frozen, unable to answer.

Jean Petrou grabbed at his throat, as if he were having trouble breathing. Marisa stared at him—

I set the wine bottle down and rushed around the table. I got to Marisa first, grabbed her wrist. She looked me straight in the eyes. Her face was a study in confusion.

“Don’t eat another bite,” I said. “He may have been poisoned.”

Now she recognized me. I saw it in her eyes. Beside her, her husband was getting into the dry heaves.

“Make an announcement,” I ordered. “No one here should eat another morsel. Stand up and say it.”

I released her wrist and bent down to check on her husband. He was pasty. I grabbed his wrist; his heart was going a million miles an hour. I jerked his hands from his throat, then rammed two fingers into his mouth as deep as they would go. He vomited on the table. Then I lifted him from the chair and laid him out on the floor as Marisa stood and made a loud, clear statement about possible poison in the food. Pandemonium broke loose. If Jean Petrou just had severe indigestion, I was going to be in big trouble.

A man rushed over, pushing me aside. “I’m a doctor,” he said in French.

I stood and looked toward the kitchen door. Henri Stehle was still standing there, looking our way. He made eye contact with me, then turned and disappeared into the kitchen.

The diners were all talking at once, jumping up, trying to leave. The whole crowd had panicked.

I heard the doctor say, almost to himself, “He’s been poisoned, all right.” Then I was gone, elbowing and shoving and pushing my way toward the kitchen.

The Assassin

I charged through the crowd to the door of the kitchen and slammed it open, knocking three people out of the way. There was a crowd there, one that had heard the hubbub from the dining room and had come to the window in the kitchen door to see what was going on.

I scanned the faces. “Where’s Henri?” I roared in English, then had to do it again in French.

Two of them pointed toward the door to the stairway that led down to the employees’ dressing room and entrance to the hotel. World Hotels Inc. didn’t want the help mingling with the paying guests.

Down the stairs I went as fast as I could go. I certainly didn’t know if it was Henri Stehle that Marisa looked at with loathing, but if he didn’t know her from Eve, he wouldn’t have rabbited for the underbrush when we locked eyes.

He wasn’t in the male employees’ dressing room. There was a man there dressing for the desk, so I asked, “Henri?”

He shook his head no.

I slammed into the women’s. Two startled females. One sucked in a chestful of air and screamed. It was a nice effort, a real ear-splitter. I asked the other, “Henri?”

She shook her head, so I split. There were two offices on the hallway. I tried the door of the first, which was the employment office. Locked.

I made a fist and punched out the glass, then opened the door and looked around the space. No people.

The second office, payroll, I think, was also locked. If Henri wasn’t in there, he was quickly getting away. I ran down the hallway and out the door to the street.

He was running, maybe a hundred feet away, really booking it. Obviously he hadn’t planned on a fast getaway.

I sprinted after him.

Now, I wasn’t stupid enough to think, just because Abu Qasim’s natural daughter made a face at this guy, that he had poisoned her husband. Oh, no! For all I knew, this guy was a Mossad agent, and the daughter of the worst al-Qaeda scumbag west of Baghdad recognized his nasty, infidel face.

There were a few people on the street, light traffic, and the people turned to stare at Stehle, then me, pounding along.

Honestly, when I saw ol’ Jean Petrou going down, I thought that his lovely wife had probably poisoned him. After all, she was going to be a seriously rich widow if they buried Jean in a few days, and they were recently separated because they didn’t like living together. She might be able to work up a tear for Jean’s funeral; then again, maybe not.

These thoughts went through my empty head as I thundered down the street after the fleeing Henri Stehle. No doubt he was cussing me as an ungrateful wretch—and he’d be right.

I was gaining on him. I’m no sprinter, but I have long legs and I work out, and I was closing on the guy.

Behind me I heard the shrill tweet of a police whistle. Stehle didn’t stop, so I didn’t.

I wondered if he was armed. I wasn’t, and I’m not bulletproof.

I had closed the distance to maybe twenty-five feet when he went around a corner. I took it wide, just in case he wanted to stop and take a wild punch as I came pounding along.

BOOK: The Assassin
5.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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