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Brian Freemantle

Deaken’s War

Prologue

Home leave had been the reward for the original concept and then for all the training and preparation, but he had been away so long that they were practically strangers and it had not been the success they hoped. She had wondered if he would mention it, to bring it out into the open, but he had not. She stood just inside the bedroom door, watching him pack, and wished she could feel greater regret at their parting. He was a good man and she wanted to love him. But his ambition frightened her: it seemed to consume him.

“How long will it take?” she asked-a recurring question.

“I’ve allowed for two months,” he said. “But it could be much shorter: maybe just weeks. It depends on their reaction being what I predict.”

“I hope it’s short,” she said.

“Frightened?”

“Of course,” she said. “Shouldn’t I be?”

“This could establish me completely… mean a lot to us.”

“It is going to mean a lot to us,” she said heavily. He hadn’t always been a callous man.

“Sergei’s place at the academy will be automatic,” he said, anxious to stress the advantages.

“He is clever enough to have got in anyway,” she said.

He looked around the small apartment. “And it’ll be nice to get somewhere bigger.”

She came farther into the room, wondering how long it would take her to get to know him again, when he was back permanently. All his documentation was on the bed beside his suitcase. She picked up the South African passport, smiling at the stiff official picture. “Rupert Underberg,” she said. “That’s a good name.”

“He’s got a boy, just like us,” he said. “Two years younger.”

She frowned, imagining something she didn’t know. “You’ve met him?”

He shook his head. “Just borrowed his identity for the last year.”

They walked to the door together.

1

The crammer’s school for the very rich was off the Basel to Zurich road, sufficiently close to Zurich for the lake to be visible from its expansive verandahs and stepped walkways. Here, after the struggle of prep schools, privileged children of ambitious parents were force-fed to make university entrance, just as, to the north at Strasbourg, geese had corn thrust down their throats to make pate de foie gras. The product of Strasbourg was frequently on the dining-room menu at the Ecole Gagner. Its students were frequently on the acceptance lists of Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard and the Sorbonne: only by sustaining maximum results could it remain the best and charge maximum fees.

The main building had been created in the seventeenth century in the style of a walled, turreted castle with crenellated battlements by a Frenchman who had pretensions to a military life without the stamina to make it possible. The high walls and the single drawbridged entrance to the dormitory area remained, giving the Ecole Gagner added attraction. They meant it was secure. Even so, bodyguards were an accepted feature in the school precincts. Six were assigned to a Kuwaiti prince. The son of a rancher who owned ten square miles in Paraguay had three. So, too, did Tewfik Azziz.

The regimentation at the Ecole Gagner would have pleased its military-minded architect. Everything had its order, from mealtimes to recreation to examination times. And vacation times. The longest holiday was in the summer, always starting on the Wednesday of the second week in June and not ending until the last Thursday in August: the principal considered the extended relaxation necessary after the workload imposed through winter and spring.

Most boarding schools have a travel officer. Reflecting the importance of its pupils, the Ecole Gagner had a department, staffed by four. Here, as with everything else, the precision was absolute, timetables agreed and adjusted weeks in advance to fit parents’ requirements, and usually the convenience of private aircraft. Azziz’s departure was scheduled for noon. His father had brought the Scheherazade into harbour at Monte Carlo and the Alouette helicopter, which had its own pad and hangar at the stem, could make the journey to Zurich and back to the yacht in under four hours, with the inconvenience of road travel only necessary from the school to the airport. The school’s closeness to the tight-packed foothills prevented its having a landing pad of its own.

Azziz’s car left the school grounds at eleven. All three bodyguards were with him. The American, Williams, who had been a Green Beret officer and then a contract employee for two years with the CIA, rode in the back alongside the boy. One Bedouin drove, the other sat beside him in the front; from their clothes and demeanour it was difficult to tell that they were Arabs, or had, ten years earlier, been desert tribesmen.

Obediently the driver kept to the speed limit crossing the ancient bridge, only accelerating slightly along the winding driveway through the outer grounds beyond; to the left were the playing fields, skating rink and covered swimming pool. The gateman was waiting at the boundary wall. He looked in, smiled and then operated the electrically controlled outer protections.

The car turned right, onto the main road, almost immediately picking up the river Limmat; from the hills it was possible to see the lake into which it fed.

“Looking forward to the vacation?” asked Williams. With the boy safely aboard the yacht, he would have two clear months to himself. His sister was expecting him in Houston by the end of the week.

“Very much,” said Azziz. He hadn’t found it easy, achieving the examination grades. But he had managed. He knew his father would be pleased. It was important always to please his father.

“When do you sit for Cambridge?” asked the American.

“Immediately I return. They think I’ll get in without any difficulty.” The boy knew that the assessment had already been sent, along with his end-of-term report, to his father. It was going to be a pleasant holiday.

The road began to fall away for the final descent into Zurich; from the elevation it was possible to distinguish the newness of the Bahnhofstrasse set against the tangled parts of the old quarter. The driver was familiar with the route and turned away towards the airport, missing the congestion of the town. Azziz detected the black spot of a helicopter and wondered if it were his; it was too far away to see the markings.

“We’re in good time,” said Williams, as the car turned onto the slip road to the airport. He wasn’t a good flyer and put a travel pill surreptitiously into his mouth. He hoped Azziz hadn’t noticed.

There was a separate car park for the private section, away from the main airport complex. When the car halted all three men turned instinctively towards Azziz. This was a mistake. So, too, was leaving the doors unlocked. All four opened simultaneously, the ambush perfectly coordinated.

“Move and he’s dead,” said a voice.

The. 375 Magnum was against the front of Azziz’s head, so all three men could see it; fired from that close, it would have decapitated him. The three remained motionless. It took only moments to disarm them. Williams had a Colt automatic in a shoulder holster and a short-barrelled Smith and Wesson against his leg in an ankle strap. The Arabs each had a Smith and Wesson, both long-barrelled.

“Take me too,” said Williams. His head was tilted awkwardly because a pistol was hard beneath his left ear.

“Don’t be stupid,” said the man who had first spoken. He was short and slightly built, olive-skinned and crinklehaired.

One of the Bedouin said “Pig” in Arabic. In the same language the spokesman said, “Tell his father that; tell his father we’re the worst pigs he can imagine.” He came back to Williams. “You listening?”

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