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 (7 page)

BOOK: The Assassin
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“Allah akbar” his listeners muttered. Yes, indeed, God is great!

The Assassin
CHAPTER FOUR

January

Her name was Kerry Pocock, she was as English as tea and toast, she had a gorgeous head of long, curly, dark brown hair, a good figure and a smile to die for, and she was an MI-5—British counterintelligence— op. Oh, yes, she was married to a guy who ran a pub and had two kids. She hadn’t shown me their photos yet, for which I was grateful. Tonight she was wearing a lovely dress and a simple necklace of real pearls.

We were sitting in a really nice restaurant in Mayfair, the hip and trendy section of London. The place had white tablecloths, real silverware, bustling uniformed waiters and soft light. Since we were in the British Isles, I ordered a single-malt Scotch whiskey. She ordered a bottle of French wine.

“A whole bottle?”

“You can help me with it, if you like.”

The waiter presented us with menus in bound leather, and we opened them. I heard her sharp intake of breath—she had seen the prices. I scrutinized them. They looked in line, I thought, for a high-toned beanery in New York or Washington, if the prices had been in dollars. They weren’t. They were in pounds, so if you doubled the numbers you got roughly the price in U.S. dollars, which is the currency Uncle Sugar pays my salary with.

My name is Tommy Carmellini—I think I introduced myself before—and I work for the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, or, as it’s referred to in some profane quarters, Christians In Action. Not that we are all Christians, because we aren’t, nor is there a lot of action. Most of what we do involves ruining perfectly good paper with ink squiggles and symbols. Entire forests have their existence violently terminated so we can have paper to ruin. But on this wet, chilly winter’s night I wasn’t destroying paper; I was out on old London town with a beautiful woman.

“Bit expensive cutting a dash in here,” she remarked, not looking up from the menu.

“Good thing this dinner is being paid for by loyal American taxpayers,” I muttered.

“Those colonials have their uses.”

Kerry was pondering her dinner choices when the man we were here to observe, one Alexander Surkov, a Russian expatriate, came in with two other men. They sat at a table near the window, Surkov with his back to me, which was fine. He didn’t know me, had never actually seen me, and I didn’t want him getting a good gander at my face since I was going to be following him for some weeks. I didn’t want to make eye contact, so I, too, concentrated upon the menu.

“What’s good?” I asked Kerry.

“When I got this assignment yesterday,” she said, “my officemates said the beef is excellent. All these French dishes… one never knows what one is getting. I’m a toad-in-the-hole or fish-and-chips girl myself.”

Yesterday after I learned that Surkov had made this reservation, I asked MI-5 if they had a female staffer who might like an expense-account meal in a good cause. The ladies of the CIA London office somewhere near my age all pleaded prior commitments or jealous spouses. Kerry was my volunteer.

Mayfair was the heart and soul of the Russian community in the U.K. Here the refugees could spend money like drunken sailors, soak up vodka, talk Russian as loudly as they wished and hang out with other people just like them, all the while pining for the good old days when Mother Russia was a worker’s paradise and they were in the driver’s seat.

Surkov had been a KGB man, then, when Communism imploded and the bureaucrats reshuffled, a foreign intelligence service officer. Six years ago he left the agency and got into the private security business in Moscow, which meant he guarded old Communists who were emerging from the closet as new capitalists by buying up government assets on the cheap and selling them dearly, getting filthy rich in the process, then, a couple of years ago, he decamped from Russia and moved his wife and daughter to London, where he set up a consulting business, supposedly helping Western companies that wanted to do business in Russia learn what permits they needed, who to talk to, who to bribe, which taxes to pay and which to ignore, that kind of thing. These days he was Oleg Tchernychenko’s right-hand man.

Grafton had me keeping an eye on Alexander Surkov. “I want to know where he goes and who he talks to,” the admiral had said. “We’re monitoring his cell phone and telephone calls, so don’t worry about that. Your job is to keep track of him.”

“This guy is Tchernychenko’s chief lieutenant,” I said. “Don’t you trust ol’ Oleg?”

Grafton merely smiled.

So here I was, eating high on the hog with a beautiful woman across the table, pretending I was spending the money I had just made selling a truckload of AK-47s to some Pakistani businessmen who needed them for hunting in the Hindu Kush. It was nice work.

After we ordered—Kerry ordered for both of us—I set forth for the men’s room, the “loo” as it was known in these parts. I photographed both of Surkov’s tablemates with the Dick Tracy camera hidden in my watch as I went to and from. I had never seen either of them before. They were speaking Russian as I passed their table.

In the men’s room I hid a small microphone and recorder that would store every sound made in there for the next four hours. I put it on top of the paper towel dispenser in plain sight, held in place by brackets that contained magnets.

As I sat back down at our table I got a shock. I recognized the woman standing with the maftre d’ and a man at the door, waiting to be seated. In her late twenties, with high cheekbones and eyes set far apart, she carried herself erect, her back absolutely straight, and wore her long, dark brown hair brushed over to one side, exposing her right ear, from which hung a large diamond earring.

Marisa Petrou!

She nodded toward the window, and the maftre d’ led the way. She paused for a moment to speak with Surkov, who introduced her and her escort to the other two men. Then, with nods and smiles, they continued to the empty table where the maftre d’ was waiting, holding a chair. She sat with her back to me.

Well, her mom-in-law knew Oleg, and so it figured that she might know Oleg’s segundo.

“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said,” my lady friend said, with a tiny hint of mind-your-manners.

“Sorry.”

So what was Marisa Petrou doing here? In London? Here at this restaurant tonight? And who was the man? Her husband? She and he had separated, last I heard.

Unlike some people, I am a big believer in coincidence; random chance rules our lives. Meeting a certain person, a car wreck, being squashed by a falling piano—all those things happen by chance, and they change lives. On the other hand, since I am not a bigot, I will admit that cause and effect is also fairly important in human affairs.

Marisa Petrou was the daughter—maybe—of Abu Qasim, the most wanted terrorist alive. Grafton and I ran into her in Paris when Abu and his pals were trying to assassinate the G-8 heads of government in the Palace of Versailles. She and I had met the previous June, in Washington, when she picked me up at a party. That was no coincidence, either—I was trying to get picked up.

The problem was that Jake Grafton never tells me a thing more than he has to. He’d been after Qasim on and off since Paris, and madly plotting since Winchester and his friends joined the war, but would he tell me how things stood? Nope. Go here, go there, do this, do that, use your best judgment. Aye aye, sir. Fair winds and following seas, anchors aweigh, and so on.

I scrutinized the other diners, trying not to obviously stare—I should have done that sooner—looking for anyone I might recognize. One man, on the opposite side of the room, near Marisa, was being accosted by his fellow diners, smiling and shaking hands.

“Who’s that?” I asked Kerry, nodding discreetly in his direction.

“Telly star. Very funny.”

“Oh.”

Kerry was rattling on about American politics and I was trying to pay attention while nursing a second Scotch when two waiters delivered our dinner with a flourish. Marisa and her man engaged in quiet conversation, no smiles or laughter, and Alexander Surkov and his friends had a serious discussion. The telly actor was polishing off drinks and having a jolly good time with his companions.

I looked at my plate. Three little piles of something. Thank heavens there wasn’t much of it.

I toyed with the idea of stepping outside and calling Grafton on my cell phone to deliver the happy news about Marisa, then decided to wait. God only knew who might overhear my side of the conversation.

“So, Mr. Smooth, are you married or divorced or shacked up?”

She had one eyebrow raised. Fortunately I was taking her home to her husband in about an hour. “Dear Mrs. Pocock, my deepest apologies. If I seem preoccupied tonight, it’s because I am. I’m thinking of my three little waifs at home with their mother, desperately awaiting my return. I humbly beg your pardon, gracious lady.”

“You are the biggest American bullshitter I’ve had the misfortune to meet, Carmellini. The things I do for a free restaurant meal!”

“My sincere condolences.”

“How’s your dinner?”

“What is this yellow gooey stuff?”

“I’m not really sure.”

“Now that we have become better acquainted, I can diagnose your problem, dear Kerry. You’re a bum magnet.”

She smiled at me. “I love you, too,” she said and poured herself another glass of wine.

The dinner proceeded without incident. Surkov and friends were served, no one else approached their table, and they didn’t go to the men’s until they had finished eating, when they went one at a time. Kerry and I lingered over coffee and dessert and, since Surkov and friends were still in earnest conversation, ordered an after-dinner cognac. She still had about a quarter of a bottle of wine left, but with my fellow taxpayers footing the bill, I wasn’t counting pennies.

Marisa and her man finished their dinner and left. She gave me no hint that she saw me—not that she would recognize me instantly, but she might. If she glanced my way I didn’t see her do it.

When Surkov and company departed, I went to the men’s, retrieved my recorder, then came back and settled up.

I drove Kerry home and said good-bye in the car.

“What, no kiss on the doorstep?”

“The neighbors might talk. Say hello to your husband for me.”

“Trot on home to your three little waifs.” She opened the door and climbed out. With the door open, she paused and said in a high-pitched, old-woman’s voice, “See you tomorrow, dearie.” She slammed the door and headed for her stoop.

“Right,” I said. I waited until she was inside her row house, then put the car in motion.

As I drove I called Jake Grafton on my cell phone. This was a hazardous undertaking—driving on the wrong side of the road and talking on a cell phone took every brain cell I have. I told him about the evening, and about Marisa.

“She see you?” he asked conversationally.

“Don’t think so.”

“We’ll listen to the recorder tomorrow. See you at the office.”

He didn’t seem surprised that I had run across Marisa. Did he expect me to see her there?

I went home to my flat, which I shared with a guy from Detroit who worked for General Motors, and crashed.

The next morning I was up bright and early at nine o’clock. My roommate was long gone, off to do some capitalism. After I drank my two cups of real American coffee—I had brought the Mr. Coffee with me from the States—I dined on toast and jam and got dressed. Read the morning paper, checked the e-mails on my computer, then went to the garage for my car, an agency sedan, small. Actually, very small. When in Rome … After wending my perilous way through London’s narrow streets I parked at a public garage and took a subway downtown.

At eleven I was strolling by Harrod’s department store in the beating heart of London, watching pedestrians and generally hanging out. I went inside one of the shops across the street that sold high-end ladies’ wear and did some shopping near the front window, where I was behind a display and could watch the street. Sure enough, right on the dot I saw an elderly British woman in a nice dress get out of a taxi, cross the sidewalk and go inside.

As I was sorting through dresses and checking pedestrians on the street, the clerk came over and asked if she could help. I was tempted to ask her if she had anything in my size, but didn’t. “My wife is a four,” I said, “and we’ve been invited to a party.”

Ten minutes later, without making a purchase, I was back out on the sidewalk. I strolled to the corner and waited.

Seventeen minutes after she entered the store, the elderly lady emerged carrying a shopping bag over one arm. She turned my way and headed for the subway. I waited until she passed, then strolled that way myself.

There were only two other passengers on the platform, both schoolgirls wearing short skirts, long cotton stockings and jackets and carrying backpacks. Both were smoking. Ditching school, I suspected.

When the train pulled in, they tossed their butts and climbed aboard. So did the old lady. Apparently undecided, I loitered until the last moment, as the door was starting to close, then stepped aboard. The train was about half full.

People got on and off at every stop. I recognized none of them. Four stops from Harrod’s, the girls left the train. The old lady and I got off at the next stop. She disappeared in the direction of the parking garage.

I waited at the entrance to the subway, watching the crowd.

Finally I set off for the parking garage.

The old lady was sitting in my car with her bag on the floor between her feet. Kerry Pocock had the wig off, revealing that mane of curly brown hair.

“You look lovely this morning,” I said after I was behind the wheel and buckled in.

“You are so sweet,” she said in her old lady voice. Then she dropped it and said normally, “Here it is.” She handed me a plastic film container. “He hid it in the chicken.” As I pocketed the container, she said, “The bird looks good—better than that last one he gave me. It must have been an old rooster.”

“Young roosters are the best,” I remarked. She snorted.

I took her home, so she could get out of her makeup and go to work. Our agent was a guy named Eide Masmoudi, an American Muslim who was worshipping at the biggest mosque in London, one run by a controversial cleric named Sheikh Mahmoud al-Taji. When he wasn’t hanging out down at the mosque, Eide worked as a clerk in Harrod’s food section. The store employed over a dozen English Muslims, some of whom were members of his mosque, so Eide had to be careful. Kerry was his courier. Jake Grafton was personally running him, and I was the help that made sure she wasn’t followed. If someone started to check on her, Eide and his pal Radwan Ali, another American Muslim, were under suspicion and would have to be jerked out of the mosque PDQ.

BOOK: The Assassin
2.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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