It was the pounding on the apartment door that awoke Eide Masmoudi. He slept beside Radwan Ali on a foldout couch, while the other two men who shared the apartment shared the only bed in the only bedroom.
Ali was also instantly awake. It was only a few minutes after five in the morning.. still dark outside.
As the pounding sounded through the apartment, Ali leaped from the bed and stepped around the kitchen counter. Masmoudi put on his trousers and shirt, then unlocked the door.
Three men from the mosque burst into the room. One of them was Omar from Libya. When Eide saw him, he knew he and Radwan were in big, big trouble.
The other two, Osama and Fawaz, were older men, trusted confidants of Sheikh al-Taji.
Before anyone could say a word, the bedroom door opened and Eide’s roommates appeared wearing trousers and T-shirts. In the kitchen area, Radwan was pulling on his trousers and shirt.
“Sheikh al-Taji is dead,” Osama roared, his eyes on Eide.
“How.’..?” asked one of the men from the bedroom.
“Poisoned,” Fawaz thundered.
“He died in his sleep. Omar saw this man”—Fawaz’s arm shot out, his finger rigid, inches from Eide’s face—“throw away a bottle when he left the mosque. He fixed dinner. Hours later the sheikh died in bed.”
“What bottle?” Radwan asked.
Omar pulled it from his pocket and displayed it.
“That had eyewash in it,” Radwan said disgustedly. “I saw him use it.”
“Medicine for the eyes,” Radwan said. He lifted his chin and made a pouring motion with his hands.
“It has no label,” Osama objected. The doubt was beginning to creep into his voice.
Eide shrugged. “It came off.”
“I say the bottle held poison,” Omar roared, loud enough to wake the sleepers on the floors above and below.
Eide held out his hand, took the bottle. He unscrewed the cap, sniffed the bottle, then licked the top. Ran his tongue around it. Then he tossed it at Omar. “And if I don’t die, then what?”
“But the bottle is empty,” Omar shouted. His eyes shot an appeal for help to Osama and Fawaz.
“How do you know the sheikh was poisoned?” one of Eide’s roommates asked.
“He was a healthy man. Healthy men don’t die in their sleep.”
“Sometimes they do,” Radwan said conversationally.
“Wash for the eyes…” Osama scrutined Eide’s face, then Radwan’s. “The sheikh is dead. He may have been murdered. If he was…” He faced the roommates. “No one leaves this room. We’ll be back.”
With that Osama pushed his way toward the door. Fawaz followed. Omar was last, still holding the bottle. He didn’t look at Eide or Radwan.
When the door closed, Eide looked around at the other three. “He was a great man, and the infidels feared him. Rightly so. They are right to be suspicious.”
“It is the will of Allah,” one of the roommates said, then headed for the bathroom.
In five minutes everyone was back in bed. That was when Radwan whispered, “If they go to a pharmacy and look at eyewash bottles, they will see none like that one.”
Eide looked at Radwan and Radwan looked at Eide.
“There are no pharmacies open at this hour.”
“The one on Regency Street might be.” “Wait,” Eide whispered.
He let fifteen minutes pass, fifteen slow, agonizing minutes, then they got slowly out of bed, as soundlessly as they could, and put their clothes back on again. Radwan went to the kitchen and took two paring knives from the drawer while Eide looked out the window at the fog that muzzled the streetlights and filled the space between the buildings. One knife Radwan handed to Eide, who put it in his coat pocket. They found their wallets, their cell phones. Carrying their shoes, they tiptoed toward the door, opened it as quietly as possible and went through, then pulled it shut.
They paused on the stairs and put on their shoes, then continued down the three stories to the street.
When they exited the building, they almost knocked Omar down. He was leaning on the stoop railing.
The collision was unexpected, but Omar’s reaction told both men precisely where they stood. Omar had been left to watch them. “Traitors,” he hissed and grabbed for Radwan.
Radwan slashed at Omar’s throat with his knife; blood gushed forth. Omar sank to the bricks of the stoop, holding his throat. He fumbled for his cell phone. Eide had already started to run, but he whirled and came back, grabbed the cell phone from Omar and kicked him in the face. Then he and Radwan ran into the fog.
After they had covered several blocks, they slowed to a walk and Eide used his cell phone to call Jake Grafton. While he was on the phone, out of the corner of his eye he saw movement. Fawaz and Osama came walking out of the fog toward them down a side street. Oh, bad break! Eide and Radwan sprinted for their lives.
The cell phone vibrating in my pocket woke me. I had been sleeping in the chair. Marisa was asleep on the couch, where I had placed her sometime during the night. I had covered her with my coat.
“Tommy,” Jake Grafton said when I answered, “Tom and Jerry need your help.” Since this was an unsecure line, Grafton was using code names. Tom was Eide Masmoudi and Jerry was Radwan Ali.
As he talked, I went to the window and looked out. The stoop light was glowing into thick fog. I looked at my watch; dawn was still an hour or so away.
After he hung up, I went over to the couch. Marisa’s eyes were open and she was looking at me. I bent down and whispered, so we wouldn’t wake Isolde in the bedroom.
“I have to go out. Going to take the limo and leave you two here. Don’t make any telephone calls, don’t go out, don’t answer the door. I’ll be back in a few hours, I hope.”
I put on my coat and covered her with hers. Her eyes stayed on me.
Her little Walther was a lump in the left pocket of my coat. I took it out, checked the safety and handed it to her. “Just in case,” I said.
She put the pistol in the pocket of her coat, then pulled the coat up around her chin. Those big brown eyes stared at me.
“He will try to kill you,” she whispered. “Or he will send a professional killer named Khadr. He has used him before. Khadr was probably the one who killed the people yesterday at our chateau, I think.”
I bent over and kissed her on the lips, then left. Made sure the door latched behind me.
If she poisons me one of these days, I am going to regret that kiss right up until the lights go out. Still, it tasted mighty good.
The holy warriors were right behind Eide and Radwan. They couldn’t see them, but they could hear their running feet whenever they paused for a few seconds, and they could hear them shouting at each other, checking alleys and side streets.
Radwan was breathing hard — and running slower. Eide’s years of recreational jogging had left him in much better shape.
“I can’t go much farther,” Radwan huffed at one point.
“Run or die,” Eide shot back.
They kept running.
The issue was decided at a major street. They darted across … and a speeding car loomed out of the fog. The driver slammed on his brakes and lay on his horn. Eide managed to avoid it, but the fender smacked Radwan’s left leg a horrible thump and spun him to the pavement. As the car screeched to a halt, Eide checked his friend, grabbed his arm, tried to pull him up.
Now Eide saw. His left leg was broken. The thigh bone was snapped and the leg bent at a horrible angle.
“You can t carry me,’ Radwan said between clenched teeth. “Allah is with me. Save yourself.”
Eide grabbed Radwan and pulled him toward the car. Radwan wrapped his arms around Eide’s arm and pulled himself upright by sheer strength of will. Eide reached for the passenger door handle, which was locked, immobile.
“Hospital! Open the door,” he thundered at the driver, who was staring at him with a gaping mouth. He must have seemed a terrible apparition, a brown man sweating profusely, every muscle in his face and neck taut, trying to get into the car.
The driver floored the accelerator. Radwan lost his grip on Eide and fell to the street with a groan as the car roared away into the fog.
“Leave me,” Radwan implored. “Save yourself.”
Eide looked around desperately. He heard the running feet again. There was just no way. “We’ll meet again in Paradise,” he said.
“Go.” Radwan pushed at him.
Eide turned and ran.
Outside the cottage I paused by the car to listen and look. The air was chilly, at least twenty degrees colder than it had been yesterday evening when we arrived, so the fog was almost a solid. Dark, of course, in that hour before first light, and quiet. Every now and then I caught the distant low rumble of a jet running high, but nothing else.
I tried to remember what day this was, and decided it was Sunday.
The only light in that dark soup was the little glow of the light above the front door.
Was there anyone out here in this stuff?
I closed my eyes and concentrated on what I could hear.
I opened the car door and got in, started the engine and fed gas.
Sunday morning, and the roads were nearly empty, which was fortunate, since I drove way too fast for the conditions. I parked at a subway station on the outskirts of London and took the next train in. I kept looking at my watch. Six thirty a.m. in St. James’ Park, the third bench in from the southwest corner, Grafton had said.
Should I be precisely on time, or early? I thought early, if I could make it, and as I trotted toward the entrance to the park, I thought I would get there with maybe ten minutes to spare.
Eide Masmoudi found the bench in St. James’ Park that he had told Grafton about and stood in the fog trying to catch his breath. He checked his watch. A few more minutes. The big American would be on time — of that Eide was sure. Tommy Carmellini. Eide had seen him on several occasions but had never spoken to him. Jake Grafton trusted him, and that was enough.
He threw himself on the bench and stared about him into the fog. After a few seconds he found that he couldn’t sit.
He stood, shifted from one leg to another, walked around a little, listened and peered into the opaque gloom that swirled about him. He held his cell phone in his hands, just in case.
The sheikh was dead, he told himself. That was something positive. The sheikh and the others were so happy last night. They killed somebody.. with a car bomb, probably. Like children, they were delighted by explosions, which fascinated them: The split second of extreme violence appealed to their imaginations and their souls. He didn’t get much of what they said, just a few whispers, then they would laugh.
He didn’t know who they killed. Not that it mattered to them. They killed someone, some infidel, and they really didn’t care who. Just murdering someone made them feel good, empowered, important. They were like dogs, pissing on the pillars of a great civilization that they neither understood nor felt a part of.
He thought about Radwan. If only the driver hadn’t panicked!
Inshallah. It would be as Allah willed it.
Eide took a deep breath and exhaled. He forced himself to think about his mother. She was in Paradise with her husband, that he knew, and he silently thanked Allah for that.
He heard someone coming.
By some quirk he could hear soft footsteps approaching. On the sidewalk … from the direction of the corner gate. Grafton’s man would come from there, probably.
He turned to face that way. A figure solidified out of the fog, a man wearing a business suit. Out for a stroll this morning, carrying an umbrella in his left hand, wearing a soft hat…
“Good morning,” he said in perfect English as he walked the last few feet toward Eide, who was still standing in front of the bench.
“Hello,” Eide said, visibly relaxing.
Now the man’s right hand swept up. He had a pistol in it. Eide saw the pistol with its fat silencer too late to react.
Eide forced his eyes from the black hole in the front of the silencer to the man’s face, which was partially hidden under the hat brim. It was a hard face, he could see that.
The man was going to kill him — he knew it and accepted it.
“I would pray,” he said.
“If you wish.”
He looked about, wondering in which direction Mecca lay. It didn’t matter, he realized. He went to his knees, bent his head to the sidewalk and began to pray.
The bullet caught him in the back of the head. His body toppled. The man took a step closer and shot him again in the head. Then he picked up the spent brass cartridges and pocketed them.
Another man loomed out of the fog, but he approached the bench from behind. He, too, had a pistol in his hand.
“Quickly,” the first man said. “Sit him on the bench and give me his cell phone.”
They pocketed their guns and lifted Eide onto the bench. With the cell phones in hand, the first man led the second into the fog behind the bench. He stopped and checked the telephone numbers Masmoudi hadxalled last.
“He called Jake Grafton,” Abu Qasim said. “So someone will be coming to meet him here, and soon.”
“Should we kill him, too?” Khadr asked.
Abu Qasim pocketed the telephone as he considered. “No, I think not. I want you to stay here. Move forward just enough so that you can see the bench and anyone who arrives, and if he examines the body of the traitor, shoot him. Make sure you get at least one bullet in him. Then flee.”
“He will probably be armed,” Khadr pointed out. In his entire career he had never been in a gunfight, and Tommy Carmellini was the only man who ever managed to fire a shot at him. He did not relish the prospect of giving Carmellini another chance.
“Perhaps,” Qasim acknowledged.
Khadr said no more. Had anyone but Abu Qasim told him to do this, he would have refused.
With his umbrella firmly in hand, Abu Qasim walked away into the fog.
The morning looked like wet concrete when I came out of the subway station, although the sky was trying to get lighter in the east. The fog swirled like smoke when disturbed. Not many people out and about yet — not any sane ones, anyhow. The moisture felt cold against my cheeks and forehead, almost like a wet cloth. Damp and cold and clammy.
I felt my phone vibrating.
“Yeah,” I said when I got the button punched and the thing against my ear.
“They aren’t answering their cell phones,” Grafton said. “They may have turned them off so they won’t attract attention.”
“That’s one possibility,” I agreed as I strode through the wrought-iron gate that marked this entrance to the park.
“Be careful, Tommy,” he said, and the line went dead.
I put the phone back in my shirt pocket and put my right hand into my coat pocket, where I had the Springfield stowed. It felt solid, reassuring, as I walked along in that dark gray, wet, gauzy world.
I found the first bench beside the sidewalk easily enough. Eide and Radwan were supposed to be on the third one. Needless to say, I didn’t know how far that was from where I stood. Ten yards, fifty, a hundred?
I stood by the bench, near a light pole, listening to the silence. There was a background of muffled traffic noises, the occasional rumble of a subway train that went under the street I had just left… and … a plane, somewhere high and far away.
Now I heard steps. A man. Hard leather heels, walking purposefully, striding along the sidewalk.
Even as I turned in his direction he appeared out of the gloom, a man in an overcoat wearing a soft brimmed hat and carrying an umbrella. He nodded at me and strode on. I listened to his steps fading.
I walked the way he had come, looking for the second bench. It was perhaps twenty yards past the first one. I got my first glimpse of the darker shape of it from about fifteen feet away. The light on the pole above it was lit, illuminating the fog for a few feet around.
Never in my life had I seen fog that thick. It seemed to be getting thicker as the dawn progressed, if that was possible.
I walked on.
Barking. Actually it was yapping, just ahead. A little dog, yapping at something. And a woman’s voice, scolding the dog.
Now I saw them, coming toward me. She was tugging the dog along on its leash. It didn’t want to come. It was looking behind her, still yapping, worried about something. “Now, Winston,” she said.
She saw me and flashed a grin.
I gave the dog room. Getting dog-bit sets a bad precedent for the week.
The third bench began to take shape as I approached. A man was sitting on it.
Two more steps and I could see him fairly well. His head was down, with his chin on his chest. He was totally relaxed, as if he were asleep.
Another step closer. It was Eide Masmoudi. He didn’t stir as I approached.
“Hey,” I said.
He didn’t move.
I froze. Ran my eyes around. Listened.
So where was Radwan?
Another two steps… I could see Eide better. His eyes were open.
I stepped off the pavement, walked up behind him. That’s when I saw the two red spots behind Eide’s right ear, about two inches apart. Two small-caliber bullets in the brain.
Tom — Eide Masmoudi — was extremely dead.
As I stood there trying to process what I was seeing, I felt a cool breeze on my cheek. The wind was picking up. There was more light — the sun was above the horizon and illuminating this mess.
Eide hadn’t been shot sitting here. Someone had arranged his body on this bench. That struck me as unusual. Most killers, I thought, did their thing and got the hell out of Dodge.
This killer had lingered. He had taken the time to arrange the body so at first glance Eide appeared to be sleeping. Why?
The cool wind on my cheek was clearing the fog. Visibility was rapidly improving. I could see trees, stark black things without leaves, and rocks … bushes, and the second bench. Empty.
The killer didn’t want anyone calling the bobbies immediately because he was still here! That realization hit me like a hammer, and I ducked down behind the bench.
As I did so I heard a pffft of something passing by my head. I knew what that was, by God — a subsonic bullet.
I jerked the pistol from my pocket and ran toward two big rocks that I could see twenty feet behind the bench. Dove through the air and landed behind them as something spanged the rock and went zinging away.
I tried to glue myself to the back of the biggest boulder.
So the killer was still here and he wanted big dumb me. Lovely. Just fucking lovely!
I had no idea where he was. I found out real quick, though. The next shot came from ahead of me — I saw the muzzle flash, just a small wink — and the bullet hit me in the left shoulder. A stab of pain went through me.
I crawled around the rock as fast as I could go. At least two more shots whacked into the rock, maybe three, before I managed to get the stone between me and the shooter.
I worked my left arm and hand. Nothing broken, but my shirt was getting cold and wet from blood and the wound stung like hell.
I figured he was using a small-caliber auto pistol with a big silencer, the same weapon he had used on Eide. Without sights, the weapon would be impossible to shoot accurately at any distance. He had managed to do a number on me with it, though.
I still had my Springfield in my right hand, and it had sights. And a three-inch barrel. Perfect for shooting someone ten feet away, but not quite what the doctor ordered for a Sunday morning shoot-out in the park.
At least I knew where he was. Or where he fired from. No doubt he was moving.
I got my feet under me and went running out to my right, away from the rock toward a set of trees that would allow me to work back to his shooting position.
I felt something tug at my coat as I ran.
Got a glimpse of him just before I got to the trees, so I snapped off an unaimed shot just to keep him honest — and to alert any police who might be strolling though the park on Sunday morning.
The fog was lifting, but there was still some, so the report didn’t sound all that loud. Sort of a loud pop.
I didn’t stop behind the trees, but tried to keep them between him and me as I closed on him.
I had the pistol in both hands now, and I wanted to shoot. Caught a flash of him running the other way — he wasn’t waiting for the cops— so I cut loose. Fired three times.
After the last shot I didn’t see him, so I ran in that direction. If he was lying on the ground waiting, he was going to get a free shot at me, but unless he drilled me between the eyes, I was going to kill him with this 9 mm.
He wasn’t on the ground as I came thundering up. I looked all over, the pistol ready in my hands as if I were Jack Bauer, but he had disappeared. Made a tactical retreat, I suspected, running like a rabbit. But which way?
Not a soul did I see, any way I looked. What I saw was short dead grass and naked black trees and stick bushes and some rocks and paved paths — sidewalks — in every direction. Here and there a bench for better days. The sun was a faint ball in a skuzzy gray sky, hanging in the trees. Visibility up to maybe a half mile, a chill wind taking the sweat right off my brow … and my shoulder hurt like hell. I guess I relaxed a little.
So the punch in the chest when the bullet hit almost took me off my feet.
There was a ditch maybe seventy or eighty feet ahead, and the shooter was in it. I got a glimpse of a head sticking up, and maybe a smidgen of the pistol. Then another round sailed by my cheek and I realized that I was going to have to find cover or die.
Scared the hell outta that guy, so I did.
I ran toward the nearest tree and got behind it. Damn thing was pretty skinny, but it seemed to cover the essentials.
A bullet had thumped me in the chest, so I wondered how badly I was hit. I reached inside my coat, found the sore place.. and my cell phone. I pulled it from my shirt pocket. It was ruined. A bullet had smacked it and was stuck in the thing, with just the base sticking out. Looked like maybe.22 caliber. I dropped the phone back in my pocket. Checked the sore place with my fingers, didn’t feel blood.
I inched one eye around the tree and looked for my would-be killer. Didn’t see him. I scanned the grass where the ditch should be. He had gone in one direction or the other, but I didn’t know which.
He was certainly a ballsy bastard — I’ll give him that. He was whanging away with a silenced.22, trying to wound me just enough that he could safely approach and deliver the coup de grace, as he did to Eide Masmoudi.
I wondered if the guy was Abu Qasim. Or that killer Marisa had warned me about, Khadr.
So what did he expect me to do? Stay hidden and call the police? I would if I had a phone; he didn’t know he put it out of action, though.
I didn’t figure he would stay around long. I looked right and left, waited for him to come out of the ditch or creek, whatever it was.
Just when I was ready to give up and charge his last position, I saw a dark shape run up the bank to my left, maybe a hundred yards away, onto a paved sidewalk. He galloped off into the trees.
I was tempted to go after him but didn’t. All he had to do was duck behind a tree and wait for me to get within range.
I put my pistol in my pocket and headed back for the bench where Eide had started his eternal sleep. My shoulder hurt with every step, and my chest ached.
When I got there a female police officer was checking the corpse, ensuring he was dead. The radio in her hand was squawking continuously, a stream of unintelligible noise. An older man with a big dog straining on a leash was watching her.
When the bobby glanced at me I said, “The guy who did it to this guy is gone. How about calling an ambulance for me?”
“What’s wrong with you?” she said sharply, frowning at my criminal mug.
“He got one in me. It’s bleeding and hurts like hell. And have your dispatcher call MI-5.”
The dog barked at me. Barked and snarled and barked some more. Lunged forward on his leash.
The cop was on her radio, so I asked the guy who was holding the hound back, “Did you see anything?”
“I arrived just a moment ago. Out for a stroll to exercise old Jack.”
“Then get the fuck outta here,” I said nastily.
A wounded look crossed his face, but he left, dragging the dog.