stars, freezing his balls off and listening to his camel fart. Having skirted the two walled towns of Tisnet and Goulemain, he’d reached a desert plateau cradled in the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.

Exhausted, he tied his foul-smelling beast to a handy scrub bush and collapsed on the rocky ground. Below his mountain, he could see the hazy lights and minarets of Marrakech in the near distance and the coast of Morocco in the far. He slept hard, woke up with the sun, and started down.

At eight the previous morning, having given his noxious camel away to the first reasonable facsimile of a decent-looking kid he saw, he’d presented himself and his remaining cash at the reception desk. The dark-eyed beauty behind the computer flashed a winning smile. He’d cleaned up a little first, in the Gents’ off the lobby, washing a couple of continents’ worth of dirt out of his long brown hair. Couldn’t do much about the beard or the clothes, but he’d flirted his way into a room with a big marble bathtub and a balcony overlooking the gardens. A bowl of rose petals by the tub: paradise, just like he said.

He was so close, now, so close and yet so goddamn far.

He heard a noise above him and looked skyward. A jumbo was on final, Air France, bringing in another boatload of tourists for le weekend. Down from Paris to hit ye olde Kasbah. Drop a few thousand Euros at the rug and hookah shops in the Medina. Two hours on the ground and the big Frogliner would load ’em up again and fly away home.

Au re-fuckin’-voir, mes amis. French bastards. When General Moore’s JCS munchkins and the seventh-floor suits at Langley heard Harry’s epic tale of harrowing adventure, they would not effing believe what their erstwhile “allies” were up to now.

Brock had a plane to catch, too, but his was an unscheduled departure at an airport short on amenities. Like runways. And, in order to catch that little crop duster, first he had to get on that train to Casablanca.

Brock International, as he’d dubbed it, lay about thirty-five miles out in the open desert, due north of Casablanca. It was a dried-up oasis called Dasght-al Dar. This garden spot was where an underground spring used to form a wadi, nothing more than a forgotten pinprick on a few old maps; even parched-brain camel-drivers hadn’t bothered to visit the site for a century or more.

At eighteen hundred hours today, just at dusk, a two-seater biplane with no markings would touch down and taxi across the hard sand, stop, and turn.

The pilot would wait exactly ten minutes. If no one instantly recognizable to the pilot ran out of the clump of palms by the oasis in that time, the pilot would take off solo. Harry had one shot. One shot only. Going once.

They had a name for CIA guys like Brock. He was a NOC. That seldom-heard acronym stood for Not on Consular. It meant if you got caught, like he had been five days ago, you were dead and gone. Forgotten. Your name did not appear on any consular lists. In fact, your name did not appear anywhere. If you ever called your actual boss, in his case, Sweet-Talking Charlie Moore, the head of the Joint Chiefs, and said, hey, somebody has a gun stuck in my ear, Charlie would say, “Harry who?” and hang up. A NOC, operating behind enemy lines, was the deepest of the deep, and the deadest of the dead should he or she be captured.

No NOC funerals in Arlington, no-sir-ee bobtail.

Brock had been captured all right, three fucking times. Once in Tianjin on the Gulf of Chihli, that was the second time, trying to get the hell out of the Chinese prison system. He figured he could survive the beatings and other shit maybe one more day, so he’d gone over the wall. They caught him, tried to kill him again, and he escaped again. Made it to the waterfront. An old guy, a longshoreman with a scow, was supposed to ferry him to a French freighter anchored out in the crowded harbor.

The longshoreman geezer turned out to be a PLA, People’s Liberation Army, informant, like every other rat in that godforsaken cesspool port town, and Brock had to kill him, too, just like he’d wasted all the other rodents. He slit the bastard’s throat with his well-honed assault knife and held him under the stinking water until the thirty bloody pieces of silver lining his pockets made him sink out of sight.

Harry then made his way through the heavy fog to the freighter, poling the scow by himself. It was not a skill they taught at Quantico or the Farm, two places where he’d attended classes on his way to becoming a case officer. Put scow-poling in heavy fog in the training manual. Yep. He’d have to drop that one in the seventh-floor suggestion box if he ever made it home.

But he found the right boat at least, without the Chinaman’s navigational help. He held on to the anchor rode, kicked the scow away, and did a hand-over-hand up a slimy ratline. It was two in the morning. He knew by that time the captain, a rummy from Marseilles named Laurent with whom he had a passing acquaintance, would be passed out dead drunk in his bunk. Brock hauled himself over the rail and dropped silently onto the deck at the stern. He made his way un-challenged to the bridge deck and slipped into the Frenchman’s darkened cabin. Laurent had covered the single porthole with his blanket, probably hoping to sleep it off in the morning.

Sorry, mon ami. Je m’fucking ’scuse, pal.

It was pitch black in there.

It stank to high heaven, too. But Brock didn’t differentiate the bad smells in the captain’s boudoir, which was his first mistake. No, he simply dumped a half-full pitcher of water from the nightstand in Laurent’s face and simultaneously put the point of his blade up under his stubbly chin. The man positively reeked of fish and sweat and gin and needed a bath anyway.

“Who got to you?” Brock asked the captain, one hand clamped down on his shoulder, the other twisting the blade tip in the soft folds of grey skin hanging loosely around his grimy neck. “You gave me up, you sonafabitch! Why? Tell me!”

“Piss off, mate! I’m already dead,” Laurent hissed through clenched yellowed teeth.

“Correct,” Brock said, and made all of the captain’s well-founded assumptions come true. He had barely finished wiping the blood off his blade and sticking it in its nylon ankle holster when he realized just how badly he’d just this minute fucked up.

“Mr. Brock?” a voice said in the darkness, and Brock figured it might be over for him, too. Game, set, and match. The head. He hadn’t checked the goddamn toilet. The door to the fricking head had been closed. It was open now. He could see a lighter shade of grey in there, and the guy standing by the toilet. Christ. Two guys.

Harry instinctively turned sideways to present a smaller target. He had his small Browning Buck Mark already out. His handgun skills were modest, but, luckily, the Browning shot a whole lot better than he did. He raised his arm to fire. He got one round off in the general direction of the silhouetted guy’s mouth when the flat of a hand came down on his wrist and broke it. Shit. The gun clattered to the steel deck and whoever had hit him danced back into his corner. He still had his knife, of course, but he’d stowed it inconveniently in his ankle holster.

“Pick the gun up, Mr. Brock, and put the barrel in your mouth. Then put your hands above your head.”

Gun in his mouth? These guys were endlessly inventive.

“If I put my gun in my mouth, I’ll use it.” He would, too, put his brains on the bulkhead. Had no intention of going back to the “Potsticker,” the guy who liked to duck Harry’s head in a pot of boiling water, or worse. He always carried an “L” pill on him, a Lethal for little emergencies just like this one, but he hated to swallow the damn thing until he saw exactly how this was all going to turn out.

“Let me get a look at you, Trigon.”

Trigon was his cryptonym in all the agency dossiers. Everybody in the agency had three names: the one on their birth certificates, the one on their files, and a dumb codename like Trigon. Damn. He’d been in China for six months, two of which he’d spent in prison. He was finally on his way out. And he’d been stupid enough to think he was clean. And trust a Frenchman.

Will we never learn?

He heard the soft click of a switch and an overhead light came on. Buzzing fluorescent. There were two of them in the cabin with him. A tall, elegant Chinese gentleman in a neatly pressed white mandarin jacket was seated in the hard wooden desk chair. His long khaki legs were encased in old-fashioned leather boots laced up to his knees, polished to a mirrorlike finish.

He was tall for a Chinese, something over six feet. His hair was dead straight and blue-black. A thick comma of it lay on his forehead, the skin of which was the familiar shade of flat light yellow. His eyes, a shade of pewter grey, were hooded and thickly lashed. A northern type, Brock thought. Tibetan, perhaps, or Manchurian. He’d seen this face somewhere. Yeah. He’d seen the guy’s picture in a dossier at Langley. Hell, the guy was practically famous in certain international terrorist circles.

Say hello to General Moon. A charter member, at least as far as Harry was concerned, of the World Hall of Fame of Flaming Ass-holes.

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