Nick of Time

Copyright © 2005 by Theodore A. Bell

All rights reserved.

For Page Lee Hufty


Many people helped make this book possible, and I am happy to acknowledge their contributions. I will never forget how lucky I was to get a start, and for that I have to thank Emily Bestler. She went a considerable distance out on a very green limb and dropped a great big ladder. Also, my thanks to Judith Curr and Louise Burke, who have always been so supportive and helpful. Also at Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy and Jack Romanos—thank you.

A note of thanks to English teachers everywhere. You bear a far larger burden now than you endured with my generation and I appreciate your dedication and fervent belief in words and stories. We are all lost without you.

A few folks helped on this book in particular. My friend Stefan Halper, former White House and State Department official, and now senior fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge. His wise counsel and deep understanding of the challenges presented by China in this century were invaluable. M. Boicos, many thanks for helping me retrace Napoleon’s footsteps in Paris and at Malmaison. Chief of Police Mike Reiter and the Palm Beach Marine Unit were very helpful in matters of harbor security. My good friend and agent, Peter Lampack, contributed, as always, enormously to this manuscript.

To my wife, Page Lee Hufty, who has been steadfast and unwavering in her love and support of me and this book, I express my deepest gratitude.

“It doesn’t matter if it is a black cat or a white cat. If it can catch mice, it’s a good cat.”


“From our view, the dominance of the West since the Renaissance was a five-hundred-year mistake that will soon be corrected.”





HARRY BROCK SPENT HIS LAST HOUR OF FREEDOM IN PARADISE, sipping orange-scented tea in the loamy shade of a grove of date palms. He was reclining against the base of a palm on a tufted cushion of grass, soaking his sore feet in a sunken pool of cool water. White and yellow petals floated on the surface. Moroccans were great believers in flower petals.

They scattered them everywhere, especially in fountains and in the various hidden pools that dotted the property. The pretty maids even sprinkled them on the pillows of his bed whenever he left his room to go down to the bar, or go for a walk in the hotel gardens like he was doing now.

After a hard sleep, he’d awoken that morning to the sound of distant motorcycles cranking up somewhere beyond the orange groves. Vroom-vroom. At least, that’s what it sounded like when the muezzins began calling the faithful to prayer. He could hear wailing from atop slender minarets. Needles, pointing at the sky, and white domes were visible beyond the walls of his current residence.

He’d cracked one eye at the clock. He’d been sleeping for sixteen straight hours. It took a moment to remember that he was still alive and recall exactly where he was; to realize that he was conscious again.

It was a pretty ritzy place, his current residence, way too expensive for his current pay grade, but, hey, if he got out of this joint alive, he was going to put in for it anyway. Beluga for breakfast? Why not? Kir royales and mimosas? Hell, he was entitled after what he’d been through.

By God, was he ever entitled.

Brock had donned the fluffy white robe and gone straight down to the pool, swum fifty laps, then strolled among citrus groves heavy with fruit. He was careful to keep within the high ochre-colored walls of the hotel, La Mamounia. And he tried not to look over his shoulder every five seconds, though reflexive behavior was pretty standard in his line of work.

Harry Brock was a spy. And, not to be overly dramatic about it, but he was marked for death. Big time. Nothing new and exciting about that, he imagined, not around here. Spies went for a dime a dozen in this neck of the woods. Hell, maybe even cheaper.

The 1920s-era Art Deco hotel, smack dab in the heart of beautiful downtown Marrakech, was, itself, no stranger to spycraft or wartime military secrets. The lavish brochure up in his room proudly proclaimed the fact that Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt held secret meetings here during World War II. You could just picture the two of them, huddled in a corner, speaking in hushed tones, working on a pitcher of ice-cold martinis at l’Orangerie bar. Beat the hell out of Washington or London in December.

The hotel’s bar must have been spy heaven in those days. Yeah, back in those good old Bogart days when everything was still black and white. When the fundamental things still applied. And a kiss was just a kiss.

There was nothing remotely heavenly about the fix Harry Brock was in. Right about now, Harry was up to his ass in secrets. Hell, he had more secrets than ten men could safely handle. He needed to un-burden himself in a hurry. The guy he now worked for in Washington, guy name of General Charlie Moore, no doubt thought Harry was dead. He needed face time with Moore, fast, before someone really did take him out. Harry was sitting on something very big and it wasn’t his butt. He had learned that America’s old pals, the European Axis of Weasels, had themselves a new silent partner.

Namely, China. And to stop Harry from delivering this juicy tidbit to his superiors, the boys in Beijing were pulling out all the stops. Find Harry; silence Harry, before he blows his little whistle.

Harry found the simple fact that he was still breathing to be mind-blowing. He was living proof that human beings were much harder to kill than people gave them credit for. Maybe he wasn’t long on brains, but old Harry knew how to deal, hold, and fold. Yeah, Harry Brock, creeping up on forty, could still take a licking and keep on ticking. So far, anyway.

There was a train leaving Marrakech station for Casablanca in two hours. Somehow, if his luck held and nobody killed him, he’d be on that train. His normally puppy-dog-brown eyes were red, filigreed with strain radiating out from the irises. Harry was beat to shit, literally and figuratively speaking, and he couldn’t find a thing that didn’t hurt like hell right now except his little friend, Mr. Johnson.

To complete his laundry list of physical complaints, he had such a cocktail of drugs pumping through his system, he was humming like a goddamn high-tension line. Some kind of meth they’d injected him with, a mix of truth serum and speed, and he couldn’t get it out of his system.

Time to hit the pool.

Brock had spent the preceding few nights in far humbler circumstances. He had lain on bare ground under the

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