Assassin  (Alexander Hawke #2)

by Ted Bell

Also by Ted Bell


Nick of Time

Copyright © 2004 by Theodore A. Bell

He is my father.

He was my first hero.


I would like to offer my thanks to several people who have given so generously of their time and talents in support of this book. First, at Atria, the talented Paolo Pepe and Sarah Branham, of the unflagging cheer and patience. I thank my dear friend Wiley Reynolds for his meticulously informed observations on all things aeronautical. Captain George C. Fogwell, who circles the globe in the big 777s for Delta Airlines, and who read me loud and clear all the way across the Pacific. Mary Anne Page for her keen eye and perfect pitch. And the Hon. Robert Lloyd George for valiantly striving to keep my Anglo-American sensitivities somewhat attuned.

Also at Atria, my deepest thanks to Judith Curr, and at Pocket, Louise Burke. And, of course, to my editor, Emily Bestler, for her unstinting aid and comfort, sage advice, and encouragement. I couldn’t ask for more.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my agent of many years, Peter Lampack. He is astute, a friend, and a gentleman.

Lastly, but most especially, I wish to thank my wife, Page Lee Hufty. Her contributions to this work are too numerous to mention; but this book is immeasurably better because of her timely flashes of creative inspiration.

Cry “Havoc!”…and let slip the dogs of war.




THE LATE AFTERNOON SUN SLANTED THROUGH THE TALL windows opening onto the Grand Canal. There were silken peacocks in the velvet draperies and they stirred in the salty Adriatic breeze. These warm evening zephyrs sent sunstruck motes of dust swirling indolently upward toward the vaulted and gilded ceiling.

Naked, lying atop the brocade coverlet of the grand canopied bed, the Honorable Simon Clarkson Stanfield rolled over and impatiently stubbed out his cigarette in the heavy crystal ashtray beside his bed. He lifted his keen grey eyes to the windows and gazed intently at the scene beyond them. The timeless and ceaseless navigation of Venetians had never lost its fascination for him.

At this moment, however, the vaporetti, water taxis, and produce-laden gondolas plying their way past the Gritti Palace were not the focus of his attention. Nor were the fairy-tale Byzantine and Baroque palazzi lining the opposite side of the canal, shimmering in the waning golden light. His attention was directed toward a sleek mahogany motorboat that was just now working its way through the traffic. The beautiful Riva seemed to be heading for the Gritti’s floating dock.


He swung his long legs over the side of the bed and stood, sucking in the beginnings of an unfortunate gut reflected from far too many angles in the mirrored panels between each of the windows. He’d recently turned fifty, but he worked hard at staying in shape. Too much good wine and pasta, he thought patting his belly. How the hell did these local Romeos stay so thin? He was sliding across the polished parquet floors in his leather slippers, headed for the large open balcony when the telephone jangled.


“Signore, prego,” the concierge said, “you asked to be called, subito, the moment la Signorina arrived from the aeroporto. The Marco Polo taxi is coming. Almost to the dock now.”

“Grazie mille, Luciano,” Stanfield said. “Si, I can see her. Send her up, per favore.”

“Va bene, Signore Stanfield.”

Luciano Pirandello, the Gritti’s ancient majordomo, was an old and trusted friend, long accustomed to the American’s habits and eccentricities. Signore never used the hotel’s entrance, for instance. He always came and went through the kitchen, and he always took the service elevator to the same second floor suite. He took most of his meals in his rooms and, save a few late night forays to that American mecca known as Harry’s Bar, that’s where he stayed.

Now that he was such a well-known personage in Italy, il Signore’s visits to Venice had become shorter and less frequent. But Luciano’s palm had been graced by even more generous contributions. After all, the great man’s privacy and discretion had to be ensured. Not to mention many visiting “friends” who had, over the years, included a great number of the world’s most beautiful women, some of them royalty, some of them film stars, many of them inconveniently married to other men.

Shouldering into a long robe of navy silk, Stanfield moved out under the awning of the balcony to watch Francesca disembark. Luciano stood in his starched white jacket at the end of the dock, bowing and scraping, extending his hand to la Signorina as she managed to step deftly ashore without incident despite the choppy water and the bobbing Riva. Sprezzatura, Francesca called it. The art of making the difficult look easy. She always behaved as if she were being watched, and of course she always was.

Not only Stanfield watched from the shadows of his balcony, but also everyone sipping aperitifs or aqua minerale and munching antipasti on the Gritti’s floating terrace stared at the famous face and figure of the extravagantly beautiful blonde film star in the yellow linen suit.

Luciano, smiling, offered to take her single bag, a large fire-enginered Hermes pouch that hung from her shoulder by a strap, but she refused, pushing his hand away abruptly and snapping at him. Odd, Stanfield thought. He’d never seen Francesca snap at anyone, especially Luciano, the soul of beneficent charm. Foul humor? She was six hours late. Hell, six hours of sitting on your backside at Rome Fiumicino Airport would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood.

Stanfield watched the top of Francesca’s blond head disappear beneath his balcony balustrade and took a deep breath, inhaling both the scent of damp marble within the room and the smell of springtime marsh that came in off the canal. Soon, his room would be filled with the scent of Chanel Number 19. He had known she would not dare look up and catch his eye and he had not been disappointed. He smiled. He was still smiling, thinking of Francesca’s backside, when there came a soft knocking at the heavy wooden door.

“Caro,” she said as he pulled it open to admit her. “I’m so sorry, darling. Scusa?”

Stanfield’s reply was to gather her up into his arms, inhale her, and waltz her across the floor. There was a champagne bucket full of mostly melted ice, two upside down glasses, and a half-empty bottle of Pol Roger Winston Churchill standing by the window. Putting her down, he plucked a single flute from the bucket and handed it to her, then filled the glass with the foaming amber liquid.

She downed it in one draught and held the glass out for more.

“Thirsty, darling?” Stanfield asked, refilling her glass and pouring one for himself.

“It was, what do you call it, a fucking nightmare.”

“Si, un fottuto disastro,” Stanfield said with a smile. “All part of the glamour of the tryst, the illicit liaison, my

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