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Authors: Alistair MacLean

Time of the Assassins

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Alistair Maclean - Time Of The Assassins
by Alastair MacNeill
Forward

ALISTAIR MACLEAN'S TIME OF THE ASSASSINS
Alistair MacLean, who died in 1987, was the best-selling author of thirty books, including world famous novels such as The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Of the story outlines he was commissioned to write by an American film company in 1977, two, Hostage Tower and Air Force One is Down, were, with Alistair MacLean's approval, published as novels written by John Denis. Time of the Assassins is the fourth of the outlines to be published as a novel since Alistair MacLean's death, following the highly successful Death Train, Night Watch and Red Alert.
Alastair MacNeill was born in Scotland in 1960. His family having moved to South Africa when he was six years old, he showed a growing interest in writing, winning several school competitions, and returned to Britain in 1985 to pursue a full-time writing career.

PROLOGUE

On an undisclosed date in September 1979 the Secretary-General of the United Nations chaired an extraordinary meeting attended by forty-six envoys who represented virtually every country in the world. There was only one point on the agenda: the escalating tide of international crime. Criminals and terrorists were able to strike in one country then flee across its borders, secure in the knowledge that pursuit would breach the sovereignty of neighbouring states. Furthermore, drafting extradition warrants (at least for those countries that had them) was both costly and time-consuming and many contained loopholes that lawyers could exploit to secure their clients' release. A solution had to be found.
It was agreed to set up an international strike force to operate under the aegis of the United Nations' Security Council. It would be known as the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization (UN A CO). Its objective was to 'avert, neutralize and/or apprehend individuals or groups engaged in international criminal activities'.. Each envoy then submitted a curriculum vitae of a candidate their Government
considered suitable for the position of UN AGO Director, and the Secretary-General made the final choice.
UN A CO's clandestine existence came into being on 1 March 1980.

ONE

It was dark by the time he reached his destination. He got out of the taxi, paid the driver, then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He had forgotten how humid it could get in Beirut at that time of year. He waited until the taxi had driven off before crossing the road to the Windorah, a small bar run by Dave Jenkins, an Australian who had named it after his birthplace in Queensland. Well, he assumed Jenkins still ran it. He hadn't been back to Beirut in four years. He pushed open the door and went inside. Nothing had changed. The two large propeller fans still rotated slowly above the room, the prostitutes still mingled with the foreign journalists and Jenkins was still behind the counter. Their eyes met.
Jenkins shook his head in disbelief. 'Well, I'll be damned. Mike Graham. What the hell brings you back to Beirut?'
'Business,' Graham answered, his eyes flickering slowly around the room.
'Lookin' for somebody?'
'Yeah.'
'Russell Laidlaw?'
Graham turned back to Jenkins, his eyes narrowed. 'He told you I was coming?'
Jenkins shook his head. 'An educated guess, that's all. He's the only old friend of yours I know who comes in here every night. What time did he say he'd meet you?'
'Eight,' Graham replied, glancing at his watch. It was seven fifty.
'That's when he usually gets here. You want a beer while you wait?'
Although Graham rarely touched alcohol, he could do with a beer in the heat. 'If it's cold.'
'Comin' up,' Jenkins replied then bent down to open one of the fridges under the counter.
A prostitute caught Graham's eye but he shook his head before she could get off her bar stool. She gave him an indifferent look then turned her attention to another potential customer.
'One Budweiser, ice cold,' Jenkins said, placing the bottle and a glass in front of Graham. He held up a hand when Graham reached for his wallet. 'It's on me, Mike.'
'Thanks,' Graham said, forcing a quick smile.
'I was real sorry to hear about what happened to your family, Mike - '
'I'll be over there,' Graham cut in sharply and indicated an empty table in the corner of the room. 'Tell Russell when he gets here.'
'Sure,' Jenkins replied but Graham had already gone. He shrugged then turned his attention to a new customer at the other end of the counter.
Graham crossed to the table and sat down. He was thirty-eight years old with a youthfully handsome face, tousled auburn hair that hung untidily over the
collar of his open-necked white shirt and a sturdy, muscular physique which he kept in shape with a daily five-kilometre run followed by a punishing workout in his own private gymnasium.
He had been with UN AGO for two years and, despite his maverick tendencies, he was widely regarded by his peers as the best field operative in the organization. It hadn't always been that way. He was the first to admit that he had been psychologically screwed-up when he joined them after eleven years with the elite American anti-terrorist squad, Delta - a state of mind that had come about as a result of his last Delta mission. The mission had been to penetrate a terrorist base in Libya and eliminate all personnel, which included Salim Al-Makesh, an advisor to the Black June, a movement founded by Abu Nidal in 1976 in protest at the involvement of Syria in the Lebanese civil war, and Jean-Jacques Bernard, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was about to give the order to advance when news reached him that his wife and five-year-old son had been abducted by three masked men outside their apartment in New York. The men spoke Arabic, v It had been an attempt to force him to withdraw. He refused and although the base was destroyed, Al-Makesh and Bernard managed to escape. The FBI immediately launched a nation-wide hunt for his family but no trace of them was ever found.
A month later Al-Makesh was killed by Israeli commandos at his home in Damascus. Bernard went into hiding and was only heard of again when news reached the Israeli Mossad that he had been assassin-
ated in a car-bomb attack in Beirut. The information had come from a reliable source and they had no reason to doubt it. Graham remained unconvinced. It had been too easy. Then, the previous day, he received a telephone call that vindicated his years of scepticism...
Laidlaw entered the bar, looked around slowly, then crossed to where Graham was sitting. Graham could hardly believe how much Laidlaw had changed since he had last seen him when they were both still with Delta. Laidlaw had always been the unit's fitness fanatic, pushing himself to the limit to keep his lean, muscular body in shape. And he had always been so meticulous about his appearance, almost to the point of vanity. Now he was overweight with a bloated, unshaven face and his unwashed brown hair fell untidily onto his hunched shoulders.
Graham rose to his feet and shook Laidlaw's extended hand. The grip was still firm. He indicated the chair opposite and sat down again.
'I'm just going to get myself a beer. I won't be a moment,' Laidlaw said, indicating the counter behind him.
Graham pushed his untouched bottle across the table. 'Have this one. I don't want it.'
Laidlaw picked up the bottle then pulled out the chair and sat down. 'You're looking well, Mike,' he said at length.
'You're not,' Graham replied bluntly. 'Christ, Russ, what the hell's happened to you?'
Laidlaw poured out his beer then sat back and exhaled deeply. 'It's a long story, Mike. I'll tell you
about it sometime.' He drank a mouthful of beer then placed the glass on the table. 'How was the flight from New York?'
'Fine,' Graham replied brusquely then sat forward, his arms resting on the table. 'Have you found out any more about Bernard?'
Laidlaw shook his head. 'Nothing came of the enquiries I made this morning. I did see him, Mike. He's changed, though. The beard and long hair have gone. I had to take a long, hard look at him before I was sure. But it was him, I'd stake my life on it.'
'I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe you,' Graham replied softly. 'So what's our next move?'
'Barak.'
Graham frowned. 'Nazar Barak?'
Laidlaw nodded. 'He's the best informer Delta's ever had in Beirut. I still see him about. If anyone knows where Bernard is, then it'll be Barak.'
'Why didn't you speak to him this morning?'
Laidlaw drank another mouthful of beer. 'You try pinning him down at such short notice. He'll be at home tonight about nine. I have that from a reliable source.'
'I'm just amazed he's still around. I thought someone would have put a bullet in his back by now.'
'He knows too much. And it's all written down and stored away in some bank vault in the city.'
'You're joking,' Graham muttered.
'That's the story he's put around. I doubt it's true but it's certainly worked. Nobody's called his bluff.'
'Yet,' Graham added.
Laidlaw smiled wryly then drank the remainder of the beer. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth then stood up. 'If we get to the house early we can grab him when he arrives. It's the only way we'll get to talk to him tonight.'
Graham gave Jenkins a wave then followed Laidlaw out into the street.
Barak's house turned out to be a small bungalow in West Beirut, less than a mile away from the Mar Elias Camp. It was in darkness. Laidlaw drove past it and pulled up at the end of the dirt road. He switched off the engine then reached into his pocket for his cigarettes and lit the third one since leaving the Windorah. Graham climbed from the car and instinctively ducked as a mortar exploded in the distance. When he straightened up he saw Laidlaw looking at him across the roof of the car, a faint smile on his lips.
'You get used to it,' Laidlaw said, closing the door behind him.
'I don't know how you can live here,' Graham said then winced as another explosion rocked the night.
'It's become a part of me. I could never leave. You only see the negative side of Beirut on the news back home. There's a lot more to it than that...' Laidlaw trailed off when a car suddenly came into view at the other end of the dimly lit street.
Graham looked towards Laidlaw for confirmation that it was Barak. Laidlaw shielded his eyes against the glare of the headlights, trying to distinguish the make and colour of the car. A green Peugeot. He nodded then dropped his cigarette and ground it underfoot.
Barak parked in front of the house and climbed out of the car, locking the door behind him. He was a short, fat man in his early fifties with greasy black hair and thick pebble glasses. The passenger door opened and an ageing prostitute got out.
'Having a party, Barak?'
Barak swung round then let out a deep sigh when Laidlaw emerged from the shadows of an oak tree on the other side of the road. 'You startled me, Mr Laidlaw,' he said breathlessly in English and clamped his hand over his heart as if to emphasize the point. 'What are you doing here?'
'We need to talk.'
'We can talk tomorrow,' Barak replied then glanced lasciviously at the prostitute. 'I am busy tonight.'
'You were busy tonight,' Laidlaw corrected him. 'Get rid of her.'
A look of concern crossed Barak's face. 'I have already paid her for tonight.'
'You'll be reimbursed.'
The prostitute, who didn't speak English, demanded to know what was happening.
Barak managed to pacify her then turned back to Laidlaw. 'She will need money for a taxi back to the city.'
'Then give it to her,' Laidlaw said.
'Me?' Barak replied in horror. 'Why should I pay her?'
'I've told you, you'll be reimbursed,' Laidlaw snapped angrily. 'Now pay her and get her out of here.'
Barak pulled a roll of banknotes from his jacket
pocket, reluctantly peeled off a couple and handed them to the prostitute. She snatched them from him, cursed angrily at them both, then strode off in search of a taxi.
Laidlaw waited until the prostitute was out of sight then nodded to Graham who had been standing by the tree. Barak's eyes widened in amazement as Graham approached them. He looked at Laidlaw, searching for an answer. Laidlaw said nothing.
'Still as tight as ever, Barak,' Graham said, indicating the notes in Barak's hand.
Barak instinctively stuffed them back into his pocket then rubbed his hands together nervously. 'What are you doing back in Beirut, Mr Graham?'
'Let's go inside,' Graham said, gesturing towards the house.
Barak led them up a narrow concrete path to the unpainted door and opened it. He beckoned them inside and immediately closed the door behind him. He showed them into the lounge and drew the threadbare curtains before switching on the light. The room was unpainted and the only furniture consisted of a lime green sofa, two wooden chairs and a three-legged coffee table which was propped up against the wall to prevent it from toppling over.
'This is very irregular,' Barak said at length. 'I never do business at my house. You know that, Mr Laidlaw. Why did you come here? If anyone saw you - '
'Nobody saw us,' Graham snapped.
Barak's eyes shifted from Laidlaw to Graham. 'Why are you here?'
'Bernard.'
Barak scratched his stubbled chin then sat on the edge of the sofa. 'Jean-Jacques Bernard?'
'Yeah.'
'But he is dead. He died - '
'I saw him outside the American University Hospital yesterday morning,' Laidlaw cut in quickly. 'He's changed his appearance but it was Bernard.'
'You must have been mistaken,' Barak replied, shaking his head. 'Bernard is dead.'
'If Russell says he saw Bernard yesterday then that's good enough for me,' Graham said sharply.
Barak removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily. 'I knew Bernard well. Do you not think I would know if he was still alive, especially if he was living here in Beirut?'
'I didn't say he was living here,' Laidlaw replied. 'He could be here on business. But it was Bernard.'
Graham took an envelope from his pocket and tossed it onto the sofa. 'There's five-thousand dollars there, in cash. Find Bernard and I'll double it.'
Barak opened the envelope and fanned the banknotes with his finger. He looked across at Graham. 'Why do you want Bernard so badly?'
'That doesn't concern you. Find him and you'll get the rest of the money.'
'Where are you staying?' Barak asked Graham.
'You call me if you find out anything,' Laidlaw said. 'Any time, day or night.'
Barak nodded then pushed the envelope into his pocket. 'I still say you are wasting your time. Bernard is dead.'
'For his sake, I hope you're right,' Graham said
softly then followed Laidlaw down the hallway and out into the night.
Barak waited until Laidlaw and Graham had driven off then got into his own car and drove straight to a white, Spanish-styled mansion on the outskirts of the city, overlooking the sea. He drew up in front of a pair of wrought-iron gates where he was immediately challenged by a bearded man wearing jeans and a faded black T-shirt. A kalashnikov AK-47 was slung over his shoulder.
'I must see Mr Devereux right away,' Barak announced through the open driver's window.
The guard eyed him contemptuously. 'Is Mr Devereux expecting you?'
'No, but it's urgent.'
The guard glanced in the direction of the house. 'Mr Devereux gave specific instructions not to be disturbed.'
Tell him it's Barak - '
'I know who you are,' the guard said with obvious disdain. 'Come back in the morning. Maybe then Mr Devereux will see you.'
'I must see him now!' Barak retorted.
The guard unslung the kalashnikov. 'I told you, Mr Devereux isn't to be disturbed tonight.'
Barak glared at the guard. 'Mr Devereux's life is in danger. If anything happens to him then I'll see to it that you're held personally responsible.'
The guard wavered. 'What danger?'
Til tell that to Mr Devereux, when I get to see him.'
The guard turned away from the car and spoke
softly into a two-way radio. A minute later the gates were activated from somewhere inside the grounds.
The guard peered through the window at Barak. 'Follow the road to the courtyard. Someone will be waiting there to meet you.'
Barak put the Peugeot into gear and drove the hundred yards to the courtyard. He pulled up in front of the stone steps and got out of the car. Another guard frisked him expertly then led him up the steps into the house. Barak looked around the spacious hallway in awe. The three-tier Czech-oslovakian crystal chandelier was the only reminder of its once resplendent grandeur. He could imagine that the walls had once been lined with an array of expensive paintings or tapestries and the wooden floorboards covered with elegant, sculpted carpeting.
'The house once belonged to a Turkish prince when the Lebanon was still a part of the Ottoman Empire,' a man said, tying the belt of his white dressing-gown as he descended the stairs. He was a tall, handsome man in his late thirties with short black hair, which was already beginning to grey at the temples, and a neatly trimmed black moustache. A faint scar ran the length of his left cheek. He reached the foot of the stairs and looked around him slowly. 'Some would call it beautiful,' he said, still speaking Arabic. 'All I see is decadence.'

BOOK: Time of the Assassins
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