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PRAESIDIUM

For The Innocent: Book Four



By

Bret H. Lambert



Copyright © 2019 Bret H Lambert

Distributed by Smashwords

All rights reserved. Except as permitted by U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the author.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, establishments, or organizations, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously to give a sense of authenticity. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover design: Joshua D. Lambert

Proofreading and editing: Peter Illidge

Ebook formatting: ebooklaunch.com



Other Titles

FOR THE INNOCENT

VINDICTA

REGINA MARIS


CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Epilogue


ONE

The man standing on the rampart of the tenth century desert fortress, his praesidium, was of indeterminate age. His black hair, neatly combed back from a high, intelligent forehead, had some distinguished graying at the temples. His complexion was Mediterranean, or perhaps Southern or Southeast European, Western or Central Asian, or perhaps even from certain parts of South Asia or North Africa. No one really knew, and those who did either would not or could not talk. His black eyes were piercing, cold and terrifying. His black eyebrows were thick, but not bushy. He was clean-shaven, with a straight, aquiline nose. When these features were combined with his high forehead it gave his face a certain intelligent characteristic. Deadly intelligence.

He leaned lightly against the polished mahogany walking stick, his long, strong fingers wrapped comfortably around its solid gold handle in the shape of a wolfs’ head. His emotionless black eyes gazed northward across the vast wasteland of the Libyan Desert. It was an early December morning and the air was crisp and cold. He could see his breath as he exhaled. The sky was clear; the indigo of the night sky was gradually lightening to a beautiful, rich azure blue. He ignored the exquisiteness of the early morning as he ignored all things that held little interest for him. When the weather mattered, only then did he pay it any attention. This was not one of those times. On this particular morning, he was waiting for a visitor of sorts.

Low on the distant horizon to the northwest he saw the speck that was his personal AgustaWestland AW109S Grand helicopter. With a crew of two and capable of carrying up to seven passengers, the sand-colored rotorcraft cruised at one hundred and eighty miles per hour across approximately five hundred miles of scorching—or freezing depending on the time of year and time of day—desert. It was crewed by his personal pilot, former Soviet fighter pilot and member of Russia’s Tsitadel (Citadel) organized crime group, Stanislav Besedovsky, and Kōzō Wakō, formerly of the Japanese Red Army, a crack navigator and an expert bomb maker. The sole passenger would be Sabine Archambault, considered to be the most dangerous woman in France. Spirited out of the European nation by members of his Illuminatos Societate Libertas (Enlightened Society for Freedom), she was a shadowy member of the now-defunct Action Directe (Action Direct) revolutionary group.

A slight smile touched his humorless lips as he turned away from the stone parapet and proceeded inside his desert redoubt. He walked down stone steps worn smooth by centuries of use, from centuries ago. The dark, thick stone walls had a textured smoothness from hundreds of years of being rubbed against. Absentmindedly he allowed his left hand to caress the smoothed stonework. He followed the wide corridor with its flagstone floor to a set of huge, iron-bound wooden doors. Effortlessly he pushed them open on their well-oiled hinges and stepped into the fortress’s courtyard. At one end, there was the natural spring around which the fortification had been built one thousand years before. Numerous date palm trees of unknown age grew nearby, providing the inhabitants, and passersby, with a continuous supply of sweet dates.

Alexander Shaitan hated dates.

He quickly crossed the sprawling courtyard and went through another pair of huge, iron-bound doors. The wide gallery in which he found himself had several intricately carved wooden doors on both sides going the length of it. He opened the first door on his left and stepped into the air-conditioned comfort of his spacious and well-appointed study. Antique Persian rugs covered the cold flagstones, and colorful, antediluvian tapestries hung from the thick stone walls. Wooden latticed windows let in the strengthening morning light. He settled himself into his high-back leather chair behind his massive, and ornately carved, teak desk. He sat back, resting his elbows on the arms of the chair, his fingertips steepled before him.

A smaller door to his left opened and a blond giant entered carrying what appeared to be a diminutive silver tray in his massive hands on which was a silver coffee service. At seven feet tall and three hundred fifty pounds, Gustav Kleinemann was a colossus. The towering German placed the service on Shaitan’s desk and the silent man poured up a cup of steaming hot coffee. He handed it over without a word. He stood, noiseless, waiting, watching with small pig-like blue eyes.

Shaitan sipped at the hot liquid, feeling it flow down his throat, warming him as it went. He nodded to the giant. “Excellent as usual, Gustav,” he said approvingly. After another swallow he added, “We will be having a guest soon; ensure that everything is prepared for her.”

Es ist vollbracht, mein Herr,” growled Kleinemann in a deep, raspy voice.

Again, Shaitan nodded. “Very good. Have my . . . daughter . . . join me at her earliest convenience.” He still had trouble accepting the thirty-year-old woman as a part of him.

Kleinemann bowed slightly at the waist. “Jawohl, mein Herr,” he said, and departed from whence he had come.

Shaitan watched the man vanish through the small door, closing it behind him. As he took another long sip from his cup he found himself amused, again, that Kleinemann was ‘little man’ in English. He also pondered the fact that Gustav Kleinemann was a twin, the older twin by two hours. Oskar Kleinemann was the spitting image of his older brother, only an inch shorter. Blond crewcuts and clear blue eyes, they were mountains of solid muscle who came with immense strength. They were former members of the now defunct Bewegung 2. Juni (2 June Movement) and the still active and violent self-described urban guerilla organization Revolutionäre Zellen (Revolutionary Cells). They had proven themselves to him on numerous occasions. He particularly appreciated their skill at killing with their massive bare hands.

The primary door to his study, the same one he had used only minutes before, opened and a beautiful Eurasian woman entered. She was slightly taller than average height, with wavy black hair and large brown eyes. There was innocence in her face with its flawlessly smooth skin and inviting lips. She did not look her age of thirty. Tika Alexanderputri, however, was anything but innocent. She was the only person he knew, or had ever known during his many years in the terror business, who frightened him. Something he carefully concealed from everyone, especially her.

“You summoned me, Father?” she asked in a soft, deceptively sweet voice as she settled into a plush leather armchair near the cold hearth.

He observed her with a detached expression. She was the result of a torrid affair between him and an Indonesian woman with power and position. It had been three decades earlier, during the time when he was just establishing his place in the underground world of international terrorism. “I asked that you come here, yes,” he said flatly.

She smiled, but it was not a pleasant smile. “Is she here?”

“Soon,” he replied. “Sabine Archambault, I think, will be a very useful addition to my organization.”

“A libertarian communist, useful?” Tika scoffed, her brown eyes flashing.

“Her beliefs are immaterial to me so long as she serves her purpose.”

“Hmph!” she grunted sarcastically. “How did you manage to get her out of France’s maximum-security prison?”

“Where there are people involved, there is always a way,” he said smugly. “Bribery or blackmail, everyone has their price.”

“How very clever of you,” she said dryly.

“Have you been able to learn anything further about Erik Rächer?” Shaitan asked quietly.

She shrugged. “Nothing new,” she replied indifferently. “The latest word is that he is paralyzed from the waist down. But you already know that. He is out of the picture.”

The terrorist shook his head. “Oh, no, he is not. As long as he is alive he is a threat to me. He may not be able to come after me personally any longer, but he can have others do it for him. He has a brain, a clever mind, and he will not quit.”

“And neither will you, Father,” she said dismissively. She looked carefully at him. “Is that why you spirited Archambault out of France? You want to use her to get at Rächer?”

“Why not?”

“Why not, indeed,” Tika murmured quietly.

It was several minutes later when the door to the study opened and a tall, dark and handsome man with chiseled features, and wearing a tan flight suit, ushered in a woman of average height with short, dark hair, hazel eyes, and a pronounced Gallic nose. She brushed past the grinning pilot with an air of superiority and strode purposefully to the teak desk. She placed her feet shoulders’ width apart, thrust out her generous chest, her fists resting on her rather ample hips, and she glared down at the man in the high-back leather chair.

“Who are you?” she demanded in a curiously squeaky voice. “What is the meaning of this . . . this kidnapping?”

The terror leader sat in his chair and looked at the woman over his steepled fingers. For a full minute he said nothing, merely stared with his emotionless, black, piercing eyes. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he finally said in a level voice, barely a cold whisper. “I am Alexander Shaitan.”

The color drained from her face as the fists fell away from her hips. She glanced quickly about the room, her hazel eyes stayed in motion until they came to rest on a black-haired Eurasian woman with a caustic smirk. Seeing that she obviously had no ally there, she returned her eyes to the man with the Mediterranean-like complexion. She licked her dry lips with a small pink tongue and tried to swallow. “I, ah, did not realize,” she murmured apologetically. “Excusez-moi, monsieur.”

Shaitan inclined his head ever so slightly. “C’est compréhensible. Ne pense rien de lui.”

Merci, Monsieur.”

Cukup!” declared Tika in Indonesian from her chair by the hearth. “Enough of these nauseating pleasantries! Tell us why we are here, Father!”

He glanced uninterestingly in the direction of his daughter. “You must learn patience, noni,” he told her in a cold voice. To the Russian at the door he said, “Close the door on your way out, Stanislav!”

Besedovsky clicked his heels together and gave a slight bow at the waist, and then he stepped out of the study, pulling the heavy wooden door shut behind him. The large room with its collections of antiquities became as silent as a tomb. There was no sound from outside the room or within. Two sets of cold eyes rested on the standing figure at the desk. Sabine Archambault felt her knees begin to jellify.

“Sit down before you fall down!” snapped Tika unkindly. “Dungu!”

The French terrorist all but collapsed into the nearest chair in front of the desk. “Oui, monsieur?” she asked him weakly.

“Let me tell you what I want,” he said quietly with a cold, calculating smile.


TWO

The sun was at its zenith in the cloudless sky, beaming down its warmth and light upon the city of Santurtzi in northern Spain on the Bilbao Abra Bay. The snow that had fallen the previous week was all but gone. There remained small, dirty patches in the shadowy alleys where the sun did not reach. And in those shadows there stood two men. One, the taller of the two, wore a long trench coat, and a slouch hat that hid his face from a casual observer. The other wore a similar coat but no hat. Both men had a swarthy complexion, with dark hair and eyes. In this city, even with its large immigrant population, they would stand out. There was something in their behavior, in the way they walked and talked, in the way they interacted with others. They were not unfriendly, but rather indifferent.

Alejandro Salazar had grown up hating the government, local and national. The Basque, like his imprisoned father, was a proud member of the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). Since its founding in 1959, his family had supported a free and separate Basque Country. His adult life had been spent pushing for independence from Spain. Once again, he was going to draw attention to the plight of his people, and once again he was going to make a statement that only a deaf government could hear. Never mind the truce declared by the ETA the previous year. He was going to cause such mayhem, such chaos, that the government would surely have to listen. That is what he had been told by his mysterious benefactor, the man who had materialized from nowhere and generously supported his cause financially. The man with black, piercing eyes, cold and terrifying. Alejandro remembered especially the polished mahogany walking stick with the gold wolf’s head, and the large emerald ring on the right ring finger. There had been a look about the man, a look of deadly intelligence. He was not a man with whom one trifled.

Eduardo Salazar stood beside his older brother. There was moisture on his youthful upper lips, and a nervous flitting of his dark eyes. Constantly he looked over his shoulder into the twilight of the alley. He too wanted an independent Basque Country, but his conviction was not as strong as his brother’s. He fought gallantly against the government’s armed forces, and had proven himself on numerous occasions, but this was different. It was very different and he did not like it. But he idolized his brother and would follow him anywhere, and so he found himself in a darkened alley off the busy Avda Murrieta. He glanced up at his brother, praying that Alejandro would change his mind.

From beneath his coat the elder brother produced a Spanish-made Star Z62 9mm sub-machine gun. Quickly he checked it, but he knew that it was ready for action. He glanced down at his younger brother, quietly ordering him to do the same. Eduardo followed his brother’s example, though his heart was not in it. Alejandro smiled, but there was no warmth, and he curtly nodded his approval. Then he stepped to the edge of the alley and looked out into the light.

The Fruteria Izaskun farmers market on Avda Murrieta was busy on this Saturday; it was the first nice day in weeks. The voices of the hawkers mingled with the speech and laughter of the shoppers. Children played, running freely amongst the stalls, weaving in and out of the throngs of pedestrians. Women, with their hand-woven market baskets, went from favorite vendor to favorite vendor haggling for the best price on the fresh goods. There was a festive feeling in the air, as there was every market day. The scent of a myriad of flowers filled the air as sellers called out to those who passed them by.

It was midday.

It was time.

Alejandro’s smile was cold as he produced two hand grenades, courtesy of his enigmatic patron. He carefully pulled the pins, and then lobbed them into the two most densely populated crowds. There was a delay of several seconds during which he wondered if they were duds, and then came the explosions. The sudden, undulating screams of his victims met his ears. He watched as the terrified masses scrambled in every direction, not knowing from where the attack had originated. It was then that he stepped out of the alley, raised his weapon, and began shooting indiscriminately into the humanity.

Eduardo stood frozen in the shadows of the alley. His face was pale, and he felt queasy. He watched as his brother calmly reloaded to continue the carnage. He wanted to turn and run but found that he was rooted. His brother began walking into the pandemonium, shooting at anything that moved. There were people everywhere on the ground. Some were dead, some were wounded, and some were trying to help. Alejandro shot the helpers. Amongst his screaming, weeping victims he stood, savoring what he had done.

The shooting stopped.

Silence descended on the bloodied Fruteria Izaskun farmers market on Avda Murrieta. Alejandro turned and grinned at his brother. He raised his arms in victory. And then he took a staggered step backward. The grin faded. There was a confused countenance which replaced his triumphant expression. He looked down at his chest and saw a growing red stain on his shirt. He looked to his younger brother and saw the horror on the boyish face. He felt his knees begin to buckle. He dropped to the bloodied avenue in a kneeling position, still not understanding what had just happened.

With a scream of rage Eduardo ran into the Avda Murrieta with gun in hand. He looked desperately around for whoever had murdered his hero. The scream died in his throat as he felt the impact of a single bullet to his chest. He staggered backward under its effect. Through sheer willpower he moved forward to his kneeling brother, and then collapsed beside him.

From a nearby vehicle two men emerged. They wore mottled charcoal grey battle-dress uniforms with no markings. Balaclavas hid their faces. In gloved hands one of the figures carried a Heckler & Koch G3SG/1 battle rifle with a Zeiss telescopic sight. The other carried a silenced 9mm Beretta M-12 sub-machine gun. The two men moved quickly to the brothers and checked their vital signs; both were dead.

“We were too late,” growled one man angrily.

“We tried, Kyle,” said the other in accented English. “Tutto era contro di noi. Everything was against us. At least we got gli assassini.”

Sirens could be heard in the distance

“Let’s get out of here, Pietro,” said the first man, turning in the direction they had come. “Help will be here soon and we can’t be found here.”

The two men were gone as the first police vehicles came upon the carnage.

Pietro Battaglia was a former member of Italy’s 9th Parachute Assault Regiment (similar to Britain’s Special Air Service), with dark hair and eyes, aquiline nose, and olive-toned skin. The bombing of the Stazione Centrale di Bologna August 2, 1980, had killed eighty-five people, including his parents, and left more than two hundred others injured.

Kyle Murphy was a former Drug Enforcement Agency man who had lost his best friend, a fellow former DEA agent, the previous year on a mission to Colombia to kill a drug lord. They had wound up involved with InterOps in rescuing the President of the United States. He had been with the anti-terror group ever since.

Their powder blue 1978 Citroën LNA had seen better days. The paint was faded and chipped, and rust was visible in numerous places on the dented sheet metal. The three-door hatchback was a B-segment mini-car as defined by the European Commission, that is to say that it was larger than the A-segment (subcompact) superminis but smaller than the C-segment (compact) cars. It maneuvered quite well on the narrow streets of Europe’s older towns, and its 652cc Flat-2 engine was sufficient to get it from one place to another in decent time. It was, by no stretch of the imagination, the sporty car one would envision members of International Operations, LLC, to be using during a clandestine mission; certainly not in Hollywood’s version of their missions. It was the kind of car that did not stand out, that did not draw attention. It would get them where they needed to be; the Aeropuerto de Vitoria, to the south, outside the town of Vitorio-Gasteiz in the Basque Country.

The road south was not a busy one that day, and they were able to make good time. They took the AP-68 south from Bilbao, past Laudio, Orozko and Baranbio before exiting southeast on the N-622. Where the N-622 intersected the AP-1 at the cloverleaf they would turn south again onto the N-624, which would take them to the airport. That was their planned route at any rate. There was just one problem with that plan; someone did not want them to reach the airport.

A large black Mercedes Benz sedan with dark tinted windows weaved its way through the light traffic. It was not speeding, per se, but it was going just fast enough to slide by the other vehicles on the road. Gradually it caught up with the somewhat battered Citroën LNA. The driver behind the tinted windows settled in behind the older, smaller car, and inched forward. When he was close enough he gunned the powerful Mercedes engine; his front bumper impacted violently with the French car’s back bumper.

Pietro Battaglia felt the impact of the strike at the same time that the steering wheel escaped his hands. The Citroën LNA skewed into an on-coming lane as the Mercedes roared up from behind and struck it a second time. The Italian, colorfully addressing the other driver in words not meant for mixed company, scrambled to bring his battered little car back under his control and out of the way of on-coming traffic.

In the passenger seat, Kyle Murphy unbuckled his safety belt, took up his Heckler & Koch G3SG/1 battle rifle, and shot out the rear window. The Mercedes’ driver swerved to get out of the way of the gunfire. The former DEA agent, as best he could in the violently moving Citroën, took a bead on the attacking vehicle and began shooting. One by one he carefully sent 7.62mm jacketed bullets into the black Mercedes. He blew out the front passenger window, put a bullet through the driver’s side door, and creased the roof. He was being flung about the cramped interior of the Citroën LNA, but he was patient. When the opportunity presented itself, he put two quickly fired rounds into the front passenger white-wall tire. At the speeds they had increased to, the sudden deflation of the tire caused the steel rim to bite into the asphalt of the road. The front of the Mercedes stopped its forward motion while the rear continued. The Mercedes turned in such a manner that it was blocking two lanes of traffic, and then it began to tumble along the highway.

“The car rental people won’t be happy,” said Murphy as he put away his battle rifle.

Che è semplicemente troppo male,” responded Battaglia as he turned onto the road that led to the airport parking lot. “Too bad, eh?”

Waiting to fly them out of Spain was the InterOps Gulfstream II, modified with tip-tanks to extend its range, code-named: Angelus. Painted in a special iridescent paint, it shimmered in changing colors as it flew, giving it an ethereal presence as it crossed the sky. It was an older aircraft that was exceptionally well-maintained by its crew of two: Carissa Jayne Beaufort (née Faulkner), La Comtesse De Isigney, and former Royal Air Force fighter pilot Geoffrey Ayredale.

• • •

It was early morning and the warming air created a light fog on the side of the mountain. A raindrop rolled to the edge of the leaf, hung there for the longest time, and then dropped. It silently impacted the edge of the canvas brim of the bush hat. It hung low on the brim, dangling in front of the pair of dark eyes that peered over the top of the Dragunov sniper rifle.

The man settled the butt of the rifle firmly into his shoulder. He closed one eye and peered through the PSO-1 optical sight at his target. Lying beside the former Soviet Spetsnaz with a powerful ranging scope in his hands was Stefan Petrov’s spotter, J.D. Philiby. Both men were focused entirely on their objective: Angelika Williams.

J.D. Philiby was a twenty-nine-year-old African American, a former Army Special Forces Sergeant First Class. He had been involved in the rescue of the President of the United States from the drug lord’s mountain compound in Colombia the previous year. He had lost a number of his team members, and seen the losses suffered by the InterOps team. When given the opportunity, he had bid the Army farewell and gone to fight global terrorism.

Stefan Petrov was a thirty-one-year-old sniper, a former member of Russian Special Forces (Spetsnaz GRU). He had lost his family on Korean Air Flight 858; the plane that North Korean agents bombed on November 29, 1987, over the Indian Ocean. He had also lost many good friends during the Soviet Union’s ten-year involvement into Afghanistan. He had been literally recruited off Afghan soil by Erik Rächer after sniping a cruel Afghan butcher.

Having fled the United States for blowing up a day care facility for the elderly in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois, Angelika Williams found refuge with a Peruvian group of predominantly disgruntled young men who called themselves El Ejército del Pueblo, The People’s Army. They were, for the most part, a Marxist/Maoist group, although they rarely declared their allegiance to any particular philosophy or theology. They did, however, enjoy the financial support from the Illuminatos Societate Libertas, which kept them in food and weapons, and which directed them who to target, when and where; the group did very little thinking for itself. The weapons were used to carry out their fabricated war on the unarmed innocents. This was just fine with Williams; all she wanted to do was kill people and the more helpless the better as far as she was concerned.

She had emerged from a hut in the mountain encampment buttoning her rather filthy shirt and tucking it into equally filthy trousers. From a pocket, she produced a slightly crumpled packet of rolling papers and a worn leather pouch of locally grown tobacco. With nicotine-stained fingers she rolled a cigarette and placed it between thin, cruel lips. She brought a box of matches from another pocket and lit the bent cigarette. She inhaled deeply the unfiltered smoke, and then allowed it to escape through her flaring nostrils. She ran a large hand through her mass of unwashed kinky black curls, scratching at her scalp. Her brown eyes were hard and forbidding. The men knew better than to approach her, several had learned that the hard way, but as the only female amongst the two-dozen terror militia she got what she wanted when she wanted.

From beside the door to her hut, which consisted of a tattered canvas flap, she picked up her Avtomat Kalashnikova Modenizirovanniy (Kalashnikov modernized automatic rifle, better known as the AKM) and shouldered it. Puffing contentedly on her cigarette, she sauntered through the encampment to where the latrine ditch had been dug. She leaned against a tree as a few men finished doing what nature called them to do. When they had gone, she flicked the smoldering cigarette into the ditch, set her rifle against the tree, and dropped her trousers.

Petrov nestled his right cheek into the stock of his Dragunov and took careful aim. His spotter spoke to him in steady, hushed tones. He began to squeeze the trigger ever so slowly. The crosshairs of his scope barely moved from the center of his target’s chest. He held his breath and continued to squeeze the trigger. When the rifle finally did fire it almost startled him. The 7.62mm bullet crossed the eight-hundred-yard distance in less time than it took to draw a breath.

It was doubtful that Angelika Williams ever heard the shot, or, for that matter, really felt the impact of the bullet. She was dead in that instant, her body tossed into the latrine ditch with the rest of the filth.

The encampment instantly exploded with activity. Men just waking grabbed their rifles in one hand and their trousers in the other. There was chaos as orders were shouted by some and counter-orders were shouted by others. Men scampered back and forth across the side of the mountain, some shooting blindly.

“Nice shot,” said Philiby admiringly as he gathered up their gear.

Nichego ne bylo,” replied Petrov modestly, slipping his rifle into its waterproof case. “It was nothing.”

They made their way down to a clearing where their modified Kawasaki KLR-650 motorcycles were concealed. They attached their gear, started up the four-stroke enduro motorcycles, and started down the side of the mountain. They took their time as they knew they had eight more hours before the scheduled rendezvous with the Shadow.

• • •

Grimsby Neteaze Alberic Twyverton, affectionately known as Gnat to his fellow anti-terrorists, ran a manicured hand along his clean-shaven squared jaw as he watched the gang of thugs move toward him. A rugged-looking fellow with a disarming smile and an infectious laugh, Twyverton was a former member of the Royal Navy Special Boat Service. There were four of them, all thoroughly unpleasant looking, and all armed with equally unpleasant looking heavy-bladed knives. A long sigh escaped him; perhaps using the dark East London alley at night as a shortcut was a mistake.

“I say, chaps,” he said in his distinctly British upper-class lilt, “we really needn’t do this.”

“Afraid, are you?” growled a large man who was moving off to Twyverton’s left.

“Oh, good gad, no!” the Englishman laughed lightly. “Not at all. It’s just that, well, you see, I just wouldn’t want to hurt any of you. Quite unnecessary and all that.”

“It’s you what’s going to get hurt!” snapped another man with a stubbled face and broken nose. “You and your posh getup!”

“Oh, I rather think not,” disagreed Twyverton agreeably.

“I rather think so!” laughed the first thug coarsely. “We wants what’s in your fancy pockets!”

“Ah!” said Twyverton. “As much as I would like to comply with your wishes, I am afraid that I must respectfully decline. Terribly sorry about that, chaps.”

“Then you’re going to die!” snarled a third man with a nasty scar on his face.

“Oh, I’m afraid I can’t allow that, either,” said Twyverton with a shake of his head. “You see, I promised my sister that I’d pop in for a visit whilst in town. You understand that I simply can’t disappoint her. It just isn’t cricket, what?”

“Are you for real?” laughed the fourth man; he was missing several front teeth.

“You chaps come much closer and you’ll see just how real I am,” Twyverton warned pleasantly as he produced, and pulled on, a pair of grey hard-knuckle tactical gloves. “Now, run along like good chaps, eh?”

The first thug, the man off to Twyverton’s left, hefted the knife he held, jabbing threateningly at the dapper Englishman. The man with the broken nose lunged, and then pulled back. They were having great fun at their victim’s expense. The man with the scar moved to his left, and then to his right, thinking he was confusing their intended prey. The fourth man with his missing teeth merely grinned menacingly; his idea of intimidation. Twyverton stood with his back to a dingy wall, his knees flexed, and his arms hanging relaxed. What was not obvious to the thugs was the tightly coiled spring beneath the façade.

As the thugs rushed in unison the spring suddenly uncoiled.

A roundhouse kick sent the hard leather heel of Twyverton’s boot through the left temple of the first ruffian, felling him instantly, lifeless. Before the others realized what had just happened, the InterOps combatant put his right fist through the throat of Scarface; death was virtually immediate. Taking advantage of his momentum, Twyverton grabbed the knife hand of Broken Nose and pulled him forward, off balance, and with a twist of the wrist the knife was reversed and buried to the hilt in the surprised man’s chest. No Teeth hesitated in his attack, for within a matter of seconds an unarmed dandy had defeated his three companions. He dropped his knife and stumbled backward. The two men faced one another.

“I, ah,” stammered the man in a high-pitched, panicked voice. “It weren’t my idea! I tried to talk them out of it!”

“Rubbish,” said Twyverton in a friendly tone as he approached. “You lot thought I was an easy mark, a fop, eh? Well, a man’s clothes can be deceptive, what?”

“What are you going to do?” squealed No Teeth, his back against the opposite grimy alley wall.

“Terribly sorry, old man, but I can’t very well leave witnesses, now can I?” was the stony reply. “You know how it is, messy and all that.”

“I won’t talk!” squawked No Teeth, his eyes wide with terror.

“And I appreciate that, really, I do,” smiled Twyverton.

No Teeth suddenly pulled a small automatic pistol from under his tattered coat. An evil grin spread across his face. “Prepare to meet your Maker, you bloody toff!”

“Now, you see,” sighed Twyverton with a slow shake of his head, “here in Merry Old England only the bad guys have guns. Perhaps the Yanks have the right idea with allowing law-abiding citizens the right to keep and bear arms; self-defense, and all that, what?”

“Ha! Too bloody bad for you we’re not in bloody America, eh, toff?” laughed No Teeth.

The speed of Twyverton’s hand would have shocked No Teeth had he realized what had happened. Twyverton gripped the man’s gun hand and, in one fluid motion, put it to the man’s right temple as the trigger was squeezed. The shot was sharp and death was instantaneous. The man collapsed in a heap, his weapon still in his hand.

Twyverton removed his bloodied gloves, which he turned inside-out, and returned them to the coat pocket from where they had come. He used his handkerchief to wipe blood spatter from his face. Glancing about at the four dead men, he sighed and shook his head, and then continued his journey through the alley. He would catch a taxi to take him to his parent’s home in Shepherd’s Bush in West London. He did not want to be late for his visit with his little sister.

• • •

He would have seen his breath had he been looking for it; it was a cold night. His quiet blue eyes were focused on a spot beyond, however. At six-foot-four Tomar Erbilî was taller than the average Iraqi Kurd, and with years of fierce conflict under his belt he was also much more dangerous than the average Iraqi Kurd. At the moment, he was in Syria seated on a rocky outcrop, his Heckler & Koch G3SG/1 cradled in his arms, watching the distant headlights of a lone vehicle winding its way across the Syrian Desert. Its passengers, members of Islamic Jihad, were on their way to Damascus for a meeting between the Hezbollah leadership and the financiers with Illuminatos Societate Libertas.

The battered Toyota Land Cruiser was moving at a good clip along the roughly graded road. The passengers were securely strapped in to minimize the amount of tossing about they would endure before reaching the paved highway. Behind the wheel, Mustafa bin-Mahdi, terrorist extraodinaire in his own mind, cursed everything, much to the amusement of his five fellow travelers. The agal meant to hold his worn black-and-white keffiyeh in place on his head had come lose, again, which only served to further infuriate him. His companions could use their free hands to keep theirs in place, but bin-Mahdi was out of luck. Thoroughly enraged, he plucked the cotton head covering from it problematic perch and threw it onto the seat beside him.

Mustafa bin-Mahdi had been one of the masterminds behind the November 25, 1987, attack which had left six Israeli soldiers dead and seven others wounded; one of those dead soldiers had been Dalia Baumgardt’s twin brother, David. He had also been instrumental in the planning and plotting of the 6 July suicide attack on the Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem bus 405. Sixteen civilians had died and twenty-seven had suffered non-fatal injuries. Abed al-Hadi Ghaneim, who had perpetrated the suicide attack, had failed to die in the process.

Tomar Erbilî removed the covers from either end of the Zeiss 1.5-6x variable power telescopic night scope attached to his sniper rifle. With his elbows resting on his knees, he brought the rifle up and settled the stock into his shoulder. He rested his right cheek against the cold stock and peered into the lens of the scope. He made fine adjustments as he waited for the vehicle to get within his five-hundred-and-fifty-yard range. He had carefully preselected the spot where he would make the first shot. His breathing was steady, regular; he was the epitome of the calm, calculating assassin. From his perspective, however, he saw himself as a vermin exterminator.

The Land Cruiser slowed as it came to a sharp turn in the road.

The peshmerga fighter, who had chosen his killing field judiciously, had already begun the squeeze on the modified trigger.

At that appointed place and time the 7.62mm bullet entered the open drivers’ side window and passed through bin-Mahdi’s skull.

It took several seconds before his colleagues realized what had happened; about the time it took the sound of the shot, reverberating off the rock walls, to reach their ears. The terrorist seated beside the corpse grabbed at the free-spinning steering wheel with one hand while wiping blood and brains off the side of his face with the other hand. The others scrambled to bring their own weapons into play; the problem was that there was no obvious target. The Toyota rolled to a stop in the middle of the road and the five men began to scramble out.

Erbilî shifted his aim ever so slightly as the first man came out the rear driver’s side door, and squeezed the trigger. Through the sight he saw the man crumple to the cold desert floor. He shifted his aim again and put a bullet into the forehead of the man who had been in the middle of the back-bench seat. The other three men clambered out of the passengers’ side of the 4x4 vehicle. Undeterred, Erbilî began to pick them off one by one as they fled for non-existent cover. It was all over in less than one minute. Six Islamic Jihad terrorists lay dead in the desert.

He stood up and silently replaced the caps on the scope. He gathered up the six spent shell casings to reload later, and then he went to where his modified Kawasaki KLR 650 waited. Within minutes he was gone from the area without anyone knowing he was ever there. He headed east in the direction of Iraq, towards home to visit with family before his next vermin extermination mission.

• • •

Burak Ibragimov scratched at the black beard that covered the lower half of his face. The Iraqi had learned, rather quickly, to enjoy his work with Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence Service, the dreaded Mukhabarat. He was slightly less than average height, five feet six inches, and of slightly more than average weight. He had an elongated and somewhat stout torso, with long arms that swayed back and forth as he walked on short bowed legs. His feet turned in, which made the fact that he was bow-legged even more pronounced. He had a round head and a round face. His nose was somewhat flat, with large flared nostrils, and under which was a meticulously groomed pencil-thin mustache. His close-set beady eyes were as black as night. His black hair was not only thinning, but receding; a characteristic he addressed by combing his hair forward. All were traits inherited from his Turkmen father’s side of the family. Burak Ibragimov was known within the Intelligence Service as Director Ali Hassan al-Majid’s ‘man among the Kurds’ in Kirkûk. He was also known, behind his back by friends and foes alike, as Alrrajul Alqurad, the Monkey Man.

He walked with his distinct swagger on his bowed legs, his long arms swinging back and forth. He wore a belt and holster on his hip, and in the holster was a Soviet-made Tokarev TT-33, complete with the Tulsky Oruzheyny Zavods (Tula Arms Plant) CCCP printing around the star on the plastic grips. It had been a gift from the Great Leader himself. He walked down the corridor to his office, a small third-floor room on the inside of the five-story building. It had no windows and tended to be warm and stuffy, making it uncomfortable for any ‘visitors’ he might have. He closed the door behind him and dropped himself into the worn chair with its torn vinyl seat. He brought forth a sealed envelope from his left breast pocket. It had been delivered to his front door by a messenger, a street urchin. Inside there was a piece of paper which was folded over several times. He opened it and spread it out flat on the stained and scarred veneer of his battered wooden desk.

On the paper was one name; it was a name he knew: Tomar Erbilî. At one time, he and Erbilî had been close friends. They had grown up together. And then he, being a loyal Iraqi, had joined Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence Service when war broke out with Iran. Erbilî, who was a Kurd, became a peshmerga fighter against the Iraqi government. Ibragimov had been well aware of the chemical attack on Halabja on March 16, 1988, which had resulted in the deaths of Erbilî’s father’s side of the family. Earlier in the year his former childhood friend had found him and had almost killed him, and then had disappeared. Reading the typed transcript, he now knew where Erbilî had disappeared to. Tomar Erbilî was now a member of International Operations, LLC. There were instructions for him to arrest Erbilî and deliver the man alive to a representative of the Illuminatos Societate Libertas.

Burak Ibragimov pondered this revelation. Erbilî was a threat to him. He was a threat that required eliminating. The Illuminatos Societate Libertas would do that for him when they were done with him. The Iraqi rolled his head on his neck to relieve some of the tension. The questions were: where to find him and how to capture him? A plan began to form in the dark recesses of his mind; Erbilî had a younger sister in Kirkûk: Hana. He thought about this for several minutes. He had always liked Hana in their childhood, and had often fantasized of one day marrying her. Of course, that was before he had joined the Intelligence Service and had become an important man. Still, Hana as a wife . . .

He lifted the telephone receiver from his cradle and spoke quickly into it. As he replaced the receiver he smiled to himself, and then sat back in his chair. Since Burak will not go to Tomar, Tomar must come to Burak, he misquoted in thought with a widening smile.

Several minutes later there came a sharp knock at his door. A young woman in a neatly pressed Army uniform entered his diminutive office. She placed a cup of sweet tea on his battered desk. He scribbled out an order on a notepad with his letterhead, folded it once, and handed it to her. No words passed between them. She gave him a curt nod, and then left him. With the door shut behind her, she allowed herself a very visible shudder of disgust. She unfolded the note and glanced at it, deciphering his horrendous handwriting. A delicate eyebrow went up, and then she folded the note and went off down the corridor to deliver it to its rightful recipient. Afterwards she would have to make a telephone call.

• • •

Dalia Baumgardt, formerly of Israel’s Mossad and now InterOps’ intelligence officer, scanned the teletype message with quick, dark eyes. She pursed her lips in thought as she turned away from the instrument and departed the state of the art communications center. She followed the flagstone corridor of Momanzia’s centuries-old fortress to a newly-added terrace that overlooked the harbor and the city of Port Eugene. This was where the InterOps leader sat in a wheelchair. Without a word, she handed him the teletype.

Erik Rächer was now clean shaven. Gone was the trimmed silvery beard, and gone was his wavy hair. His silver hair was cut shorter, in what his chucklesome barber called ‘a big boy haircut’, short but not too short. His ice-blue eyes, however, were unchanged and could still bore through someone with fierce energy. “What’s this?” he snapped.

“Just a little something from the French National Police,” replied the five-foot-tall woman. Being the shortest member of the InterOps combat team did not hinder her interaction with the other members, or its leader. “It would seem that Sabine Archambault was spirited out of their maximum-security prison within the last few days.”

“Who?” he growled.

“Sabine Archambault; she was a member of the now defunct Action Directe,” explained Dalia. “They committed several assassinations in France between 1979 and 1987. They played a part with Germany’s Red Army Faction in the bomb attack at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt back in 1985. Anyway, she was a major player and planner, and carried out a number of the attacks herself.”

“And now they’ve lost her!” he said caustically, tossing the printout at her.

She deftly snatched it from the air. “You’re not listening, Erik,” she said flatly. “She’s a terrorist, and she was plucked out of their maximum-security prison.”

“Well, we certainly didn’t do it!”

“Oh, stop being such an ass!” responded Dalia with a snap to her voice. “They suspect Shaitan’s Illuminatos Societate Libertas of springing her.”

Rächer looked up at the short woman. The Enlightened Society for Freedom, Shaitan’s renamed terror organization. He cleared his throat before saying, “I apologize for my behavior, Dalia.”

“Just don’t let it happen again,” was the crisp reply.

He gave her a small, lop-sided smile. “I’ll try to be good.” He reached out for the teletype. “Why do they suspect Shaitan?”

“The message doesn’t say,” she admitted, “but I expect it’s because of who and what she is.”

He read over the message. “Well, that was one of the terror outfits he funded. What do they want us to do about it?”

“Specifically, nothing. But any assistance we can render . . .”

He nodded. “Of course.” He looked past her at two dark-haired young women and a red-haired young man who were approaching. He sighed. “Well, there goes my doctor-ordered rest and recuperation.”

Dalia turned her head. The shorter of the two women, though not by much, was his soon-to-be twenty-year-old daughter, Siân, and the other was his recently-turned twenty-one-year-old ward, Echo Papadakis. After the death of her father, Erik had taken her into the family; the two women were virtually inseparable. The young man was an Irishman from Galway, a former Royal Air Force medical technician, and, up until a few months ago, an orderly on a cruise ship that had been hijacked with Siân and Echo aboard as passengers. Aengus Fogarty was twenty-three and completely smitten with the headstrong Greek beauty.

Dalia turned back to face Rächer. “Enjoy,” the twenty-nine-year-old Israeli said with a smile, and went back in doors.

Rächer watched the trio approach. “How was the trip from the States?” he asked as his daughter bent over to kiss his cheek.

“I love Singazia Airways!” declared Siân rapturously, referring to the dedicated Singapore-Momanzia airline. The resiliently ancient DC3 was the only regular (meaning bi-weekly) air service between Singapore and Momanzia. She was an avid fan of antiquated aircraft and a recently licensed pilot in her own right. “And you’ve shaved! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without your beard, Dad. Very nice!”

“Something different,” he muttered. “Hello, Echo. Aengus. How are you two getting on?”

“Make her say ‘yes’!” he declared in his brogue.

Rächer blinked once, slowly. His eyebrows arched. “Excuse me? Did I miss something?”

Echo laughed and kissed his other cheek. “He keeps asking me to marry him. Of course, I say ‘no’. I ask him how will he support me, and all he can do is stammer about love providing all that we will need. I ask you!”

“But, Echo, my love, my sweet, my angel . . .”

“She has a point,” Rächer injected.

“I’ll find work!” declared Fogarty. “I’ll do dishes! I’ll muck out stables! I’ll . . .”

“You could work for me,” suggested Rächer in a quiet voice.

A hush fell over the foursome. The Irishman looked at the man in the wheelchair for a moment, and then at Echo. “In what capacity?” he asked cautiously.

“Well, not doing dishes or mucking out stalls,” was the light-hearted answer. “You handled yourself well on the RMS Regina Maris,” continued Rächer on a more serious note, “and we can always use a good medic on the team.”

Fogarty stood there for a long minute. His blue-grey eyes settled on his beloved’s face. He searched for an answer in her eyes but she gave up nothing. She merely watched him. “Does it pay well?” he finally asked.

Rächer smiled and gave a short laugh. “Well, you won’t get rich, but you’ll do all right.”

“Very good, sir. I’d be proud to join the cause.”

Ανόητος!” declared the young Greek, her eyes flashing angrily. She turned on her heel and strode away.

Fogarty looked after her, stunned. “What did I do? What did she say?” he asked anxiously.

“Well, for starters, she called you a fool,” Siân explained, a small smile touching her lips.

“But why? Isn’t that what she wanted? For me to join InterOps so I could support her?” His face was the color of his hair; his sideburns seemed to have faded into the hue.

“Maybe,” said Siân softly, “she’s afraid of losing you like she lost her father.”

Fogarty stared at the young woman. The fog seemed to lift. “Mo Dhia!” he murmured. “What have I done?”

Rächer cleared his throat. “My suggestion would be to go talk to her. Communicate, for therein lies the key to any successful relationship, and all that. She may not be keen on it now, but she may come around in time.” He paused. “Or you can look for something a little more sedate, a little safer. Something like doing dishes or mucking out stalls.”

“I’ll talk to her,” he said, and hurried after his love.

Siân looked down at her father. “She really does love him,” she said.

“So I gathered.”

“And he’s absolutely head-over-heels about her.”

“I thought I saw something there.”

She hesitated for a long moment, and then asked, “How are you doing, Dad?”

He turned his eyes away from her face and toward the expanse of the Indian Ocean. “I’ll live, I’m told.” He was quiet for a moment. “Better half a man than no man at all,” he whispered.

“Oh, Dad!” she declared, reaching for him.

He brushed her hand away, not unkindly. “I’m sorry,” he said, and took her hand. “I’ll be all right, Siân. I’m on the mend.” He looked up at her tear-streaked face. “I may never walk again, but I’ve still got two strong arms to hug my little girl.”

A little laugh escaped her as she wiped away her tears. “I’m hardly a little girl, Dad!”

“You will always be my little girl.”

She fell into his arms and wept openly as his own tears found their release.


THREE

“There lies a mountain range deep in the Libyan Desert,” lectured Dalia Baumgardt to her audience in the mission briefing room, “where Egypt, Libya and Sudan meet. It is known as Jebel Uweinat. For those of you who may not be aware, the Libyan Desert forms the northern and eastern part of the expansive Sahara Desert. This mountain range was discovered by an Oxford-educated Egyptian explorer by the name of Ahmed Hassanein Bey during his 1923 expedition in southeastern Libya.” She raised a well-loved first edition book entitled The Lost Oases for all in the room to see. “This is his book of that expedition. At that time, it was a region fiercely defended by a rather puritanical tribe known as the Senussi.” She paused in her presentation to look at her small audience. They were attentive, as she knew they would be, and so she continued. “So,” she continued, “the highest point is on top of a plateau known as the Italia plateau, on which there are two cairns, erected in the 1930s, but they have no bearing in this briefing. Now then, the western part of this massif consists of intrusive granite which is arranged in the shape of a ring. That ring is approximately twenty-five kilometers in diameter, or about fifteen-and-a-half miles; no small thing that. Overlooking that ring of intrusive granite is what we believe is Alexander Shaitan’s current lair.” Again, she paused to let that last bit of news sink in.

“Around the tenth century a Muslim caliph, Muhammad Ibrahim Abdul-Ahad, had a fortress built to guard a trade route that went through the area at the time. That fortress has been continuously occupied, to one degree or another, the entire time. My sources tell me that Shaitan has taken up residence there since we destroyed his sanctuaries on Ranzia and in Colombia. The problem right now is that he is in and out of there quite frequently so pinning him down is a challenge. That having been said let me tell you what we know about the fortress. It was built using the native felsic intrusive igneous rock. The walls are high, thick, and strong, and even after one thousand years it’s an impressive structure. As I have mentioned, it has been in uninterrupted use, one way or another, the entire time. There is a natural spring within the walls, and cultivated grounds, both of which sustain inhabitants and travelers.”

“Can it be got to?” asked Kyle Murphy from within his plush leather recliner.

“Ah!” said Dalia with a knowing smile. “That is the key question, is it not? ‘Can it be got to?’ The short answer is: yes . . . and no. By that I mean that anything can be ‘got to’, but the other side of that is, at what cost?” She watched their faces; all eyes were on her. “This fortress has never been taken throughout its history. When the trade route shifted, its usefulness as a strategic presence became invalid, at which time it was converted to strictly civilian use. There are families within those walls whose ancestry goes back to its beginning. But I digress,” she added with an apologetic smile. “Yes, we can get to it, and we may even be able to get in it, but it will not be an easy thing.”

“So, a frontal assault is out of the question,” understood J.D. Philiby as he considered her lecture.

“Not recommended, no,” agreed Dalia.

Con il paracadute?” asked Pietro Battaglia, sitting a little straighter in his recliner.

“What is that?” queried Aengus Fogarty nervously, fearing the answer.

“Parachute,” Stefan Petrov said with a grin.

A Dhia! To fall out of a perfectly good airplane with only a piece of cloth on your back?” the Irishman whispered as the color drained from his face.

“Good times!” whooped Murphy, a boyish grin on his animated face.

“You lot are daft!” sighed Fogarty with a shake of his head.

“You can relax, Aengus,” said Rächer from his wheelchair. “This kind of operation calls for a small team. Gnat is still in London, and Tomar is on his way to Iraq, so that leaves Kyle, J.D., Pietro, and Stefan.” He pivoted his chair to see the faces of the men. “We’ll have to get you in through the back way. We’ll have to surreptitiously fly you in by way of the Sudan-Egypt border, and then a low altitude jump with static line under cover of darkness. It’ll be risky, no doubt, but overland would take too long and be considerably more dangerous.”

“When do we go?” inquired a deep voice from the back of the mission room. Jerome Daniels was the pilot of the Shadow, the mottled grey Boeing YC-14 that had been modified into a lethal gunship, becoming the only AC-14 in existence. The fiftyish-year-old six-foot-tall African American was a retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander. He had lost a younger brother in the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 23, 1983. “The Shadow is ready to go now, if you want.”

“My sources believe that he is at the fortress now,” Dalia answered. “I am awaiting verification. You could be on your way within the next twenty-four hours.”

Alberto Gigiliano, the forty-something Italian co-pilot, raised his hand. His wife and son had been among the thirteen killed and seventy-five wounded on December 27, 1985, at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport, victims of the Abu Nidal Organization. “We stay in the area, or no?”

“No,” said Rächer. “We don’t know how long this operation will take so you’ll have to set down and wait for their call.”

“Where?” asked the navigator, Richard Silby, as he gently stroked his ‘David Niven’ mustache. His parents had been among the twenty-nine victims of a December 17, 1973, attack at Rome airport. They had been bound for Tehran by way of Beirut on a long-planned holiday. He had been nine years old at the time, and staying with his maternal grandparents. “I mean, do you have a place already picked out, or do you want me to do that?”

“Dakhla Airport is near the city of Mut, in southern Egypt, and only an hour or so air time from Jebel Uweinat,” Rächer told the Canadian. “I’ll get a call into Vanessa Warren in Washington and see if she can clear the way with the Egyptian President for you to land there to refuel and await the mission team’s call.”

“It’s nice having the Vice President of the United States as a personal friend,” quipped Murphy.

“Not to mention the POTUS,” added Philiby with a grin.

“So, with that in mind,” Rächer continued, giving the two men a brief frown, “I suggest you guys get your gear together, and then get what rest you can.”


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