“She says he knows all the names, including yours, and he plans to kill all of you.”
I was talking on the encrypted satellite phone to Jake Grafton, who was somewhere in America, I thought; he flitted around like a moth on crack. He was silent after I gave him Marisa’s message. He was silent so long that I thought maybe we had lost the connection. “You still there?” I asked.
“Yeah. Gimme a moment to think.”
Finally I said, “Looks like your crystal ball is giving you good dope.”
“I have to see some people here. I’ll call you tomorrow about noon your time. Okay?” Sure.
I was staying in a cheap hotel on the Left Bank — the bedroom was so small that I had to crawl over the bed to get to the bathroom — and eating in cheap restaurants. The steady decline of the dollar hadn’t been reflected in the per diem rates. If it got much worse, I was going to be living under an overpass and pushing my stuff around in a stolen shopping cart.
Since Per and another guy from the embassy had the night watch on the Petrou chateau if Marisa decided to sally forth — or if someone tried to get in to do the Petrou women — that evening I played tourist, strolling the sidewalks along the Seine and wishing the season were summer. It wasn’t. Still, Paris was full of lovers, bundled up and strolling arm in arm, looking at the lights.
I like Paris. You can have Chicago if you wish; Paris is my kind of town.
An hour before dawn Oleg Tchernychenko awoke and looked out the window into the Scottish night. The wind was rattling the pane, and raindrops were spattering themselves against the window. He dressed quickly and went downstairs to brew a pot of tea.
As the kettle warmed, he wandered through the old house looking at his books. He had thousands, which filled shelves in various rooms from the floor to the ceiling. Books. They were the great discovery when he left Russia fifteen years ago. Books. The Communists didn’t like books, except politically correct tomes by Russian authors, which weren’t, to Tchernychenko’s mind, real books at all. He made this momentous discovery in Great Britain, in the bookshops and libraries that dotted the streets and neighborhoods.
He had been lucky. One of the first books he found was Winston Churchill’s History ofthe English-Speaking Peoples, in four volumes. Inside he found civilization. Churchill told of conquests and kings, religious passions and wars and the differing visions that led the world forward, in fits and starts. Churchill’s six volumes on the Second World War were a revelation; one almost wondered if that were the same war the Communists had talked about all those years.
He read Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, the Brownings, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. And everything else he could get his hands on, from Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard and J. R. R. Tolkien to Tom Clancy, Dan Brown and J. K. Rowling.
Tchernychenko walked along, fingering the books on his shelves. He smiled when he reached the little paperback mysteries by Agatha Christie. He had them all — every one.
When the tea was ready, he poured himself a cup and stood at the kitchen door watching the dawn. The sky began to gray. As the light improved he could see the clouds scudding swiftly over the grass-covered hills, churning endlessly, driven by the wild wind.
He glanced at his watch. On Saturday the limo was coming from London to pick him up, him and his two bodyguards, who were still upstairs in bed. He certainly didn’t need to be in London to work. Still, he had a few hours before he needed to start making telephone calls and taking care of business.
He had leased this house in the Highlands because he loved Scotland— loved the hills and waving grass and rocks and sky, loved the weather in all four seasons. Five miles west was the coast, steep, rocky cliffs hammered since time began by the restless sea, with sheep making a precarious living on the headlands. Here and there were little cottages, hunkered down, a part of the earth. Scotland was wild, visual and sensual; when he was in London or Europe and thought of it, he always smiled, as one does thinking of an old lover fondly remembered.
When he finished his tea, Oleg Tchernychenko donned his rain gear and Wellingtons and prepared for a hike. He paused at the door. Putin was sending fatal messages to people who displeased him— Tchernychenko had few friends in high places in Moscow — and Abu Qasim and his fanatics wanted him dead. When he heard Jake Grafton’s message, he had known the admiral spoke the truth.
He looked again at the cold rain and December wind, blowing in off the Atlantic. It was a bad day for assassins, who were probably home in bed. On the other hand.. He went back to his den and found the double rifle a Scottish neighbor had once used on an expedition to Africa. The rifle was a tangible reminder that in a free society a man could get a wild hair and journey to far corners of the earth to stalk the great beasts, for no reason other than he wanted to go. There was something magical about that — almost mystical. That a man could envision a life different than what he led, and go forth to seek it; say what you will, that is freedom.
He loaded the rifle — with big, heavy yellow cartridges topped with big, heavy lead slugs — made sure the safety was on and set out with it under his arm. His destination was the low ridge to the north of his house. Last year on its rocky crest he had found a rusted sword. From that vantage point a man could see for miles, if the visibility was good enough. Perhaps in olden days a soldier had waited there, on watch — and perhaps had died there. Personal tragedies are quickly submerged in the river of time, and are irretrievably lost.
As he walked with the rain stinging his cheeks and the rifle heavy under his arm, Oleg Tchernychenko scanned possible hiding places and thought about life and death.
Alexander Surkov, his aide, was dead of polonium poisoning. Grafton thought Surkov had sold out Tchernychenko and Winchester and the others to Abu Qasim. If Surkov did that, he knew he was signing their death warrants. Tchernychenko didn’t believe that Surkov was capable of such an evil.
Thinking about it as he walked along, Tchernychenko was sure he was right. Surkov would never do a thing like that. The Seychelles check … aah, that was a different matter. Alexander Surkov was perfectly capable of working both sides of the road to Moscow if there was money in it for him, and probably he had.
If he did, he had probably crossed Putin or one of his friends, which was a dangerous thing to do.
Oleg Tchernychenko had also crossed Putin, in fact, many times … and Abu Qasim. Putin was inevitable, a thing that was going to happen. Qasim — well, that was a conflict he had sought. He had known Huntington Winchester for years, at least ten. They had done business and developed a mutual respect. He and Winchester had spent long evenings together, several of them here in Scotland. They had become fast friends, and their conversations had covered the gamut of the human experience.
So when Winchester lost his son and asked for help against the religious fanatics, Tchernychenko had readily agreed. It was time to fight those tyrants, too.
Of course, they could strike back. He had always known that.
He was in no hurry to die. Since leaving Russia, Tchernychenko had discovered that life is sweet. He had come to see the grand sweep of life, the human struggle, the changing earth down through the ages. Come to see it and become part of it.
He had had a good life. No thanks to the Communists, the tyrants or the religious fanatics, all of whom sought to impose their vision of life on everyone else.
Oleg Tchernychenko paused, turned his face to the wind and closed his eyes and let the rain pound his face. Well, damn them all.
Sure enough, the next day at noon, Jake Grafton called me. “Go see her again this afternoon,” he said, “and get some more. Then call me. Make her sell you.”
“Why don’t I—“
“Please, Tommy. Just follow orders.”
“It’s really great being on your team, by the way, being one of the guys in the huddle. But if you expect me to catch a ball, you’re going to have to tell me what the play is.”
That was Jake Grafton, Mr. Consensus.
I called Robin Cloyd at Langley to find out what was going on just then at the Petrou chateau. She was supposed to be reading — or at least scanning — the printouts sent over to Grafton’s office by the CIA of the conversations picked up by the bugs I had planted last week. It seemed a lifetime ago.
“So what’s happening today in Marisa’s life?” I asked.
“Let me get my notes,” she said. “How’s the weather there?”
“Clear and chilly.”
“Oh, I wish I were there,” she said warmly. “France sounds so romantic.” I’m sure.
“I’m hoping, on my next vacation—“
“This call is costing the taxpayers serious money,” I pointed out. I was quickly learning that it was necessary to keep her focused.
“Ah, here are my notes. Marisa and Madame Petrou had lunch together a few minutes ago. This morning — morning in France — they visited madame’s attorneys. They were talking about attending a concert tonight.”
“Thanks.” I broke the connection. Speedo Harris was there with me at our vantage point in the inn, so I decided to take him along. He could watch the joint from in front of it.
Twenty minutes later I presented myself at the security shack in front of the main gate and presented my card. I had several in my wallet to choose from, so I selected one that said terry g. shannon, world travel corp. My cell phone number was printed on it. The guard, a portly fellow well past middle age, wearing a holstered pistol, went back inside to call the main house.
A while back I thought about having a card made up, tommy carmellini, spies and lies, for occasions such as this, but knew my many superiors at the agency would frown when they learned of it, as would happen eventually. People pass cards around or discard them in the oddest places.
In about two minutes the guard moved to the door as the gate opened and waved us on. He kept my card, probably as a souvenir.
Speedo parked the rental car in front of the house and remained behind the wheel as I got out. He picked up a novel and settled in. I glanced back at him as I stood at the door. He was yawning and listlessly turned pages. Being chauffeured around was a new experience for me. I wasn’t sure that I liked it.
Abu Qasim watched Tommy Carmellini through binoculars from his vantage point on the second floor of the chateau across the road from the Petrou mansion. It was fortuitously empty; the owners were spending the winter at their condo in Martinique, as they did every year.
“He’s here,” he said to the man sitting on the couch across the room. That man, who went by the name of Khadr, removed an automatic pistol from his right-hand coat pocket and a silencer from his left. He pushed the silencer onto the barrel and twisted it ninety degrees, locking it in place. He pulled back the slide, checking for the gleam of brass, and ensured the safety was on. Then he stood and reached for his long coat, which lay on a nearby chair.
Qasim also reached for his coat. He already had his gloves on — he had never taken them off — so there were no fingerprints to worry about.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Khadr followed him from the room.
The butler opened the door at my knock and ushered me in. We crossed the giant foyer and tackled the stairs. Marisa was seated at a small round table in a dayroom on the second floor, reading a newspaper and sipping something hot. A television provided background noise, which would make it more difficult for the NSA wizards to wring conversation from the bugs, but not impossible. The old madame wasn’t in sight.
Marisa didn’t get up. She gestured toward a chair across from her. “Is this seating okay?” she asked innocently. “Or should we sit somewhere else for better reception?”
I dropped into the indicated chair. “I relayed your message to Jake Grafton, and he sent me back for more. Do you want to confess to me or wait to tell him in person?”
Before she could answer, the maid came in. She was actually wearing a French maid’s uniform — I kid you not — and carrying a jug of something hot on a tray.
“Chocolat, monsieur?” she asked as she refilled Marisa’s cup. I shook my head. I wouldn’t have swallowed anything in that house for all the money in Switzerland.
When the maid was out of the room, Marisa said, “You and I need to stop needling each other — that is the word for it, isn’t it? Needling?”
“That word fits,” I admitted.
“We need to sign a peace treaty.”
“Smoke the pipe and bury the hatchet, eh?”
“Smoke … ?”
I waved it away and looked her over as I tried to spin the brain up to speed. She had wide cheekbones, deep brown eyes set wide apart and a magnificent mane of dark brown hair brushed over to her left side, exposing her right ear, upon which a small diamond earring could be seen. She wasn’t wearing any rings on her hands. I didn’t know the protocol for widows, but I didn’t recall ever seeing her with rings. She had long, slender fingers and perfectly manicured nails, of course. Whatever Marisa’s problems were, they didn’t include nail-biting.
So what were her problems? Presumably she had inherited enough money to live on. If she didn’t get prosecuted for killing ol’ Jean, life should be looking up. And I seriously doubted that a murder prosecution was in her future, not unless the French fuzz had a digitalis bottle with her fingerprints on it.
I sat there musing about her problems and enjoying the view — she was a beautiful woman — while she sipped chocolate.
Abu Qasim drove down the driveway to the road. A small truck was coming, so he waited until it had passed and the road was empty before he turned north and drove the twenty-five yards to the Petrous’ guard shack. As the car rolled, Khadr removed a ski mask from a coat pocket and pulled it on. It was knitted wool and covered his face, leaving only small openings for his eyes, mouth and nose. Khadr got out of the car as the guard settled his cap upon his head and made ready to leave the warmth of the little building.
As the guard walked out the door he saw Khadr, and began fumbling for the pistol that was in the holster on his belt. Khadr shot him with his silenced pistol. The man’s hat flew off and he collapsed in the doorway.
The assassin pocketed the pistol and dragged the guard’s body back inside the shack. He pushed the button to open the gate and closed the door behind him.
After a glance at Qasim, Khadr walked up the driveway toward the Petrou chateau. Qasim sat in the car, watching. He saw that Khadr was holding the pistol with its long silencer down beside his right leg.
“Why don’t you level with me,” I said to Marisa, “and tell me what’s on your mind?” Of course she wouldn’t tell me the truth, but I was curious about what the story would be. Grafton obviously was, too, and he was even more of a cynic than I was. Maybe because he was older. Wiser. Meaner. More twisted.
“Who plans to kill whom?” I prompted.
She scrutinized my dishonest phiz, undoubtedly trying to figure out what I knew. The answer, of course, was very little, but I didn’t want her to know that.
“From your lips to Grafton’s ears, through me,” I said and tried to look trustworthy.
“Admiral Grafton understands the message,” she said finally.
I raised my hands and shoulders, then lowered them. “He sent me with instructions to get the complete story from you. He doesn’t tell me what he knows and doesn’t know. I simply do as I’m told.” I see.
“Then we’re getting somewhere. Who is the killer?”
She said nothing. Merely stared at me. Okay.
“So who is Abu going to kill?”
“Jake Grafton and the others.”
“More progress. Who are the others?”
“You don’t know or you are trying to find out if I know.”
“Read it any way you like. Gimme names.”
“My mother-in-law, Oleg Tchernychenko, Jerry Hay Smith, Huntington Winchester, Rolf Gnadinger, and Simon Cairnes.”
“Why these people?”
“They are funding Grafton’s war on al-Qaeda.” I took a deep breath and exhaled. So she knew all about the intrepid little band of heroes who were financing a private war on terror. Even worse, according to her, Abu Qasim knew.
“So you aren’t as ignorant as you wish me to think. Qasim had him killed.”
“And Alexander Surkov?”
“The Russians, I imagine.”
“But you don’t know?”
“Your husband?” Qasim.
“How do you know?”
“He might have poisoned Jean by mistake, while he was trying to poison Isolde, or intentionally because he was afraid we would learn that Jean betrayed Isolde and the others to Qasim and demand that Jean tell the authorities. I just don’t know.”
“But you didn’t see Qasim poison the food?”
“I have a suggestion. Why don’t you just tell me what Abu Qasim told you and the part you are supposed to play in his drama?”
She sprang from the chair and reached for her purse. I was ready to break her neck if she pulled out that Walther, but she extracted a pack of cigarettes and a pack of matches. Her hands shook as she tried to get a cigarette lit. It took two matches to get the thing ignited. Being a gentleman and all, perhaps I should have lit it for her, but I merely sat and watched.
Was she selling out her father?
Or was she doing precisely what Abu Qasim had told her to do, which was tell this tale to Grafton, via Carmellini?
I had been hanging around Grafton too long — I was even beginning to think like him.
If she was merely obeying orders, what did Qasim expect Grafton to do with the information? What was it Qasim wanted Grafton to do?
The problem, I decided, was that I didn’t know which side Marisa was really on.
Of course, maybe she didn’t know, either.
Khadr walked up behind the car sitting outside the Petrou mansion and raised the pistol as he came alongside. The window was up. He fired through it, hitting the driver in the head. The driver slumped forward onto the steering wheel.
Khadr walked on, up the walk, up the steps, across the stoop, and rang the doorbell. He waited.
If Marisa was acting, I thought she should have been on Broadway. She sat on the edge of her chair, her feet under her, and sucked on her weed. Inhaled deeply and blew smoke all over. She repeatedly pushed her bangs back out of her face, over and over, unconsciously.
“Will he try to kill Isolde?” I asked gently.
“I don’t know.”
She eyed me. “I don’t know.” She looked down and sucked some more on her cigarette. After a moment she said, “If they knew I was talking to you and Grafton, they would.”
“You don’t think he’s working alone, do you?”
“I guess not.”
When the door opened, Khadr shot the butler once, right in the face. He stepped into the foyer. The maid was there, carrying a tray with a silver pot. She started to scream. Khadr shot her, too. The first bullet hit her in the body and she fell, dropping the tray. Dark liquid splattered all over the floor.
Khadr walked into the room and shot the maid in the head as she lay on the floor. Then he turned and walked out of the chateau.
Down the steps, past the car with the dead driver, and down the winding driveway to where Abu Qasim was waiting.
Marisa finished her cigarette in silence, stubbed it out and took a deep breath. She looked calmer, more herself.
I rose from my chair. “I’ll go call Grafton, see what he says.”
“Au revoir” she said automatically.
“I’ll be right back.”
She looked up at me, pinned me with those dark brown eyes and said, “Every time I see you it’s as if I’m seeing a ghost. They want to kill you so badly … you’re a dead man walking, Tommy Carmellini. So au revoir, in case we never meet again.”
I walked the hallways to the main staircase and started down. About halfway down I saw the butler, who was sprawled near the front door. The door was wide open.
I stopped — frozen — looking and listening. The Springfield seemed to find my hand automatically. I looked down and left… and saw the maid, lying on the floor with her legs akimbo. Spilled chocolate all over the floor, a lake of it. The platter had broken. Why hadn’t I heard it break?
I guess my brain locked up about then. In my mind’s eye I could see Speedo behind the wheel of our rental car, parked outside. Speedo Harris, MI-6. Good God!
My legs carried me the rest of the way down the staircase, across the foyer and out the door without any thought on my part. The rental car was parked out there on the brick pavement. I could see Speedo’s head slumped over the wheel.
No one else in sight. No cars, no people, no dogs, no airplanes going over, only a deathly silence.
I walked around the front of the sedan to the driver’s door. The window was up… and had a hole in it. The steering wheel was holding Speedo up. His eyes were open, staring at nothing.
Amazing the things you think about at a moment like that. I stared at Speedo’s head and saw the entry hole for the bullet that killed him. Just a little spot of red, right above his left ear. His paperback novel was on his lap.
Well, at least Marisa didn’t kill him; she had been with me ever since the butler showed me to the upstairs sitting room.
But somebody shot him, sure as hell. Hanging around with Carmellini was the equivalent of a death sentence. Jake Grafton oughta be locked up for sending me to guard anyone.
I felt a yell coming on. If the shooter was upstairs doing Isolde and Marisa …
I charged for the porch, took the steps three at a time. I was yelling then — I couldn’t help myself. Howling. I jerked the damn door open and ran inside, ready to shoot the first person I saw.
I saw no one alive. The butler and maid were lying just as I had first seen them.
I charged for the stairs and went up three at a time, still yelling. Raced along the hallway and jerked open the sitting room door. There sat Marisa, staring at me as if I had lost my mind. Maybe I had.
“Where’s Isolde?” I roared. I was waving the pistol around, looking to make sure she was the only one in the room.
She didn’t come fast enough to suit me. I grabbed her arm and threw her toward the door.
“Quick, goddamnit!” I was trying to speak normally, but it wasn’t working. The words came out as a shout. “Someone shot the guy I came with and the butler and maid. He may be in the house. Where is she?”
Marisa gathered herself and ran. I followed, twd doors down, through a hallway that led to a corner room suite. The old woman was sitting there at her desk working on something.
I looked around the room, in the bath, in the closet. God, I was so ready to shoot somebody. I don’t recall ever being so frustrated or keyed up.
“Get your passports and your purses and any medication you have to have. Quickly, now. We’re leaving.”
“Where—?” Marisa asked.
“London. A safe house. That’s the only place I know that killers can’t get to you.”
Marisa said something in French to the old lady, and by gum, she jumped up and ran into the bathroom. In thirty seconds she had her purse and her passport from the desk and was ready to go. I wondered if her late husband knew what a jewel she was.
It took about the same amount of time to collect Marisa’s stuff, and then I was leading them down the stairs.
When we saw the butler and maid sprawled out, Isolde stopped dead. She began spewing French at Marisa. She bent down, gently touched the butler’s white hair.
I thought this wasn’t the time and place for long good-byes, and reached for her. Marisa put a hand on my arm.
Isolde Petrou got down on her knees beside the butler and seized his hand. Tears were running down her cheeks and she was biting her lip. “No, no, no,” she muttered. After a moment she hoisted herself up and went over to the maid, who was lying on her back with her eyes open, staring at infinity. Isolde got down on her knees again, closed her eyes, touched her cheek, said her name, said good-bye.
Marisa reached for the older woman’s arm, helped her to her feet, nodded at me. Together, they followed me.
We went out through the kitchen toward the garage, taking our time, looking for anyone at all. Didn’t see hide nor hair of the cook or gardener or wine cellar dude. I wondered if they were all asleep … with bullets in their heads. No time to look — they were alive and well or they weren’t. I was going to keep these two women alive or die trying.
I put Marisa in the front seat of the Mercedes limo and Madame Petrou in back, then hunted through the chauffeur’s quarters over the garage for the keys. It was like an anxiety dream. Lurking around somewhere, maybe, was an assassin, and I couldn’t find the damned keys. I kept expecting to wake up any second in a cold sweat.
Just when I was ready to admit defeat, I found the keys hanging on a nail at the head of the stairs. Don’t know how I missed them coming in.
I shot down the stairs, punched the garage door opener and stood to one side, watching, as it rose at its usual pace. It made a noise going up. Needed oil.
No one in sight. I dove into the car, backed out smartly and got going down the drive. The gate was open. I slowed and looked into the guard shack.
I intended to drive on by, then thought better of it. Slammed on the brakes, jammed the transmission into park and turned it off. Took the keys with me, just in case. I didn’t trust Marisa far enough to throw her. The last thing I wanted to see was her and Isolde disappearing down the road while I stood there surrounded by corpses, looking stupid.
One glance into the guard shack was enough. The day man was facedown on the floor.
I got back into the car, jammed the keys into the ignition and lit that thing up. As we roared away, I got out my cell phone and pushed the 1 button. In about a minute I had Robin Cloyd. “Tell Grafton that someone killed Speedo — a bullet in the brain — and at least three of the Petrou household staff. I have both the Petrou women in their limo, and we’re heading to London.”
“I have been listening to the audio from the bugs.”
“Call the police. Maybe they’ll get lucky.”
“I’ve already talked to the admiral.”
“Where is he, anyway?”
“Here.” That would be Washington.
“Put him on.”
“He’ll call you in a few minutes.”
The connection went dead.
Marisa was watching the road and checking the rearview mirror on her side of the car. She had her purse in her lap, and the top was open. I grabbed it and glanced inside. Sure enough, she had that Walther in there. I took it out and put it in my pocket, then dropped the purse in her lap.
“I didn’t kill anyone,” she said.
“Maybe not in the last fifteen minutes, I’ll grant you that. And I certainly don’t want you shooting me.”
“I am not going to shoot you, Tommy.”
I adjusted the rearview mirror in the middle of the windshield to keep an eye on madame in the back. Maybe she poisoned her son and maybe she didn’t. She was biting her lip, looking out the windows … Once, when I glanced in the mirror, I caught her wiping her eyes.
“Honestly, I’ll feel better having the gun in my pocket,” I told Marisa.
“If you don’t slow down, we’re going to be killed in a car wreck.”
Those big Mercedes Benzes sure can roll. I let off on the gas and took a deep breath and tried to get my thoughts in order.
Poor Speedo. He was a dweeb, but still… to die like that.
I wondered if he even saw it coming.
Jake Grafton took the call from Robin Cloyd at Sal Molina’s desk in his tiny White House office. On the other side of the desk was CIA director William S. Wilkins, and he was in a sour mood. He knew far more than he had before about Huntington Winchester and his friends, and the president’s aide’s personal direction of this operation.
As the admiral listened to Cloyd’s summary of events at the Petrou chateau on the other side of the Atlantic, Wilkins snarled, “You’re a fool, Molina. I don’t give a pinch of rat shit what commitment the president made to Huntington Winchester. Involving the agency in a harebrained scheme like this — one that is bound to blow up in your faces — strikes me as a classic case of rotten judgment.”
Molina looked unperturbed. “In the president’s judgment — and mine — the possible rewards justified the risks. Yes, the risks are substantial, but we are going to have to take risks if we expect to have any chance at getting the terrorist masterminds.”
William Wilkins shook his bald head. “I’m not a fool and I’m not an optimist. I have spent thirty years assessing risks in covert operations, and believe me, this one meets none of the criteria for approval.”
He was wasting air, and he knew it. During the last twenty years the agency had lost the trust of many of the politicians in Washington. It had missed the impending collapse of Communism in the late eighties and early nineties, assured the establishment that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and been overly optimistic about the prospects for some kind of political settlement between the three major groups in Iraq after Saddam was removed, to name only three of its blown calls.
The agency’s record of penetrating terrorist organizations and combating them effectively was even worse. This was the unspoken fact that hung in the air now, although neither Wilkins nor Molina was willing to voice it, and was undoubtedly one of the factors in the president’s decision to provide support to Winchester’s quixotic quest. Knowing the political forces at work merely deepened Wilkins’ gloom. Amateurs mucking about, getting killed or scared and squealing to the press, weren’t going to get it done. Other than filling some coffins with their own corpses, their main accomplishment would be triggering another congressional investigation, destroying the president politically and throwing even more mud on the agency.
As he sat watching Grafton on the phone, avoiding Molina’s calm scrutiny, William Wilkins contemplated retirement. The hell of it was, it was his agency, and, by God, his country, too.
“I’ll call him in a few minutes,” Grafton said and hung up the telephone. He glanced from face to face, then told them of the events in the chateau and of Carmellini’s departure with both women.
“What is your recommendation?” Molina asked calmly. The man would wear that expression when they lashed him to a post in front of a firing squad, William Wilkins thought savagely, and wished that day would really come.
Grafton deferred to his superior. Wilkins was having none of it. He held out his hand to Grafton and opened it. “The floor is yours,” he said through clenched teeth.
“I think we need to inform the French government of what just transpired,” Jake Grafton said, “and get those two women out of the country. My recommendation would be to bring them to the States, collect the other members of Winchester’s group and put them in a location where we can trap whoever will come after them.”
“How do you know anyone will come after them?”
“Marisa Petrou told Carmellini that Abu Qasim plans to kill them all.” Grafton didn’t mention that Marisa had said that he, the admiral, was also on Qasim’s list.
“He’s doing a fine job, so far,” Wilkins said acidly.
“Not a safe house?” Molina asked.
“We want Qasim to find them. I was thinking the Winchester estate, in Connecticut. We’ll use some security, not too much. Qasim must see this as an opportunity, not a trap.”
“Has the thought occurred to you, Grafton,” Wilkins said, “that you may be doing precisely what Qasim wants you to do?”
“Yes, sir. I think it very probable that he wants us to gather all these people in one place so he can kill them in a spectacular manner.”
That comment caused Sal Molina to lose control of his face for a moment. He found himself staring at Jake Grafton.
“And you’re going to do it?” Wilkins growled.
“To kill a tiger, you need a goat.”
“What if this Marisa Petrou is a double agent?”
“If she tells Qasim where she is, that might be a plus,” Grafton said.
“The eternal optimist,” Wilkins said acidly. Sarcasm was a poor weapon, he knew, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Did she or did she not kill her husband?” Molina asked.
“She might have.”
“She might have killed Zetsche, or helped.”
Grafton nodded in acknowledgment.
“She might be an assassin,” Sal Molina said, eyeing Grafton carefully.
The admiral nodded again.
“So how are you going to keep Winchester and his pals alive if she is? All she has to do is poison the soup.”
“Carmellini and I will be inside with them. We’ll keep an eye on her.”
William Wilkins snorted.
“Your comments, Mr. Director,” Sal Molina said politely.
“I wish you people hadn’t told me about this,” the CIA director said. “I would rather have just read about it some morning in the Washington Post as I drank my coffee. I would have had my heart attack there on the spot and quietly died.”
Then he rose from his chair and walked out of the room.
The silence that followed was broken when Jake Grafton said, “He’s right, you know.”
“I do know,” Sal Molina said forcefully. His icy composure cracked again; his face fell, and he reached up and rubbed his forehead. “If this blows up, as William so eloquently predicted, I’ll resign and take full responsibility.”
“I just want to do my time in a country-club prison,” Jake Grafton said with feeling, “with the stock fraud artists, Ponzi schemers and inside traders. Those drug dudes are bad company, so I’m told.”
“What about Tchernychenko?”
“He refused to take serious precautions. He has two competent bodyguards, he said, and he promised to call Gnadinger, pass on a warning.”
Molina said a cuss word.
“We’d better get cracking,” Grafton said, “before Abu Qasim kills them all.”