'There was a shout from the car driver.'

'What was the shout?'

' The word 'Colt'.'


' The shout was the one word. Please, Mr Erlich, be so kind as to excuse me. The one word shouted was 'Colt'. Only 'Colt'.'

He was Colin Olivier Louis Tuck.

Tomorrow would be his 26th birthday, but there would be no cards and no presents.

He sat and stared out over the skyline of the city in the chill of the evening. The first thing he had done when he had come into the apartment had been to turn off the heating system, and then he had opened the window in his bedroom and the window in the sparsely furnished living room. He hated to be boxed up.

What had gone wrong he did not know. He had been met by the Defence Ministry people, who had taken him directly from the aircraft steps, but no one had said a word on the way into the city. There had been no pumped handshakes, no kissed cheeks, no back slapping, so something was wrong. And there was a man at the door, standing as if on guard. A man in a two-piece suit, and a thin cotton shirt and his tie knotted at the second button of the shirt. There was little light in the room but he wore wrap-around dark glasses. Colt had his back to his watcher, but could hear him shiver in the draught. They would say whatever it was they had to say in their own time. There was no hurrying them, that's what he had learned since he had been in Baghdad.

He ran his fingers hard through the cropped growth of his fair, light golden hair. He closed his eyes. He'd wake when they came.

His day had started at 4.30 with the bleeping of his wrist-watch alarm. No breakfast, because he never took breakfast. No coffee.

No food, nothing to drink. He had dressed. He had stripped the weapon, rebuilt it, satisfied himself, and then unloaded and reloaded the magazine. He always checked the mechanism before firing because the Ruger/MAC Mark 1 was now vintage and occasionally liable to jam. At 5.30 he had left his room in the west quarter of Athens, in the student sector. The car had been waiting for him.

As he lolled in his chair, not asleep but relaxed, he could remember that he had felt no tension, less excitement, as he had thrown his bag into the back seat of the car, climbed into the front carrying the Ruger with the integral silencer in a large plastic shopping bag. The driver was good, no sweat. The driver was from the Colonel's staff, and he had travelled ahead a full month before so that he knew the city, the back-doubles they might need and the side streets. Colt had known the driver for eleven months, and he knew he was good because the Colonel had told him how the driver had once handled an ambush.

Colt had been taken to the hotel where the target was staying.. . He had seen the target leave the hotel… It was his decision as to when he should take out the target. As the target had come out of the hotel, his hand had stiffened on the grip of the Ruger in the plastic bag and he had eased his weight towards the passenger door. But the taxi rank outside the hotel had been full and idle and the target had been straight into a vehicle. They had followed, and he had let his feelings rip when the driver had lost the taxi at a traffic light. The driver had stayed calm and quartered the streets until the taxi was picked up again two full minutes later. The driver would have known it was his first time, didn't take offence at the yelling. The taxi had stopped eventually at a crossroads in a suburb, and the target had paid it off and walked straight to a man who waited on the pavement. The target and the man had walked away up a tree-lined road. It was as good a place as any. No cars parked in the road, no pedestrians.

The road was two hundred yards long and empty… It was as good a place as he could hope to find. He could remember the car pulling onto the verge 20 yards behind the target. He could rememeber calling out, because he wanted to separate the target from the man who masked him. He could remember the suppressed clattering noise of the firing on semi-automatic. The second man had lunged across the target, he could remember that, and he could remember that he had kept squeezing the trigger. He would have shot the second man anyway. It was too good a place to miss out on. But it would have been tidier if he could have separated them. It was just bad luck for the second man that it had been a good place. They had fallen, both of them, he could picture it exactly in his mind, and he could remember Kairallah, calling to him to get back to the car. There wasn't a great deal else to remember because it had all been pretty damn straightforward. Running for the car, the car going steadily, not too fast to the airport, and out onto the flight to Ankara. And even less to remember of the delay at Ankara before the connection to Baghdad. Actually, he had done well…

The thoughts, memories, lulled him. He had made his choice.

For the time being it was a one-bedroomed apartment on the sixth floor of the Haifa Street Housing Project. It was an open window looking out onto the wind-rippled waters of the Tigris and across to the A1 Jumhuriyah and A1 Ahrar bridges and over to the tower blocks of the foreign-money hotels. It was his bed, and he would lie on it.

He heard the scrape of the guard's feet as the man scrabbled to get to the door.

He heard the rap at the apartment's outer door. He pushed himself to his feet. He stood with his back to the open window.

The Colonel was a thick-set man. He smelled of lotion, from Paris. He was not tall, but there was nothing flabby about the weight of his body. He wore a plain olive-drab uniform, only the insignia of his rank on his shoulders, no medal ribbons. His calf-length paratrooper boots were not shined, they were streaked with the grey dust of the street.

He liked the Colonel. The Colonel, his patron, his friend, in his mind was without bullshit, but tonight there was no warmth, no smile even.

'Were you seen?'

'Seen? What do you mean, seen''

'Were there any eyewitnesses to the shooting?''

' No. '

' Is there any possibility you could be identified?'

'Nobody saw me.'

'Think hard. Could anybody have seen you to associate you with the car even?'

' The road was empty.'

' You were seen by nobody?'

'Only by the target, and whoever was with him… '


'They're both dead.'

' Do you know who it was who was with the target?'

'I did not ask his name before I shot him, no.'

He stood very still. He knew that the target was a writer, an exile. He had been told what the writer wrote about the regime and the Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. He had been told also, in whispered confidence, that two attempts against the target had failed. He was the Colonel's card…

Below him he could hear the passing wail of sirens, a familiar sound after dark had fallen over the city. The squads from the Department of Public Security always did their work at night, taking into custody those they claimed were a threat to the regime.

And the sirens escorted their prisoners from the Department to the Abu Ghraib gaol, and those who had not survived interrogation from the Abu Ghraib gaol to the Medical City Mortuary on the other side of the Al Sarafiyah Bridge.

' Y o u shot an American, Colt…'

'I killed the target.'

'A C.I.A. American…'

The boy laughed out loud. He laughed in the face of the Colonel, and at the watcher standing against the door.

' So what,..?' he said.

'He was an intelligence officer.'

'It was a good street, got me? It was great. It was dead, there was no one No nannies, maids, deliveries, really good. The target, he was already fidgety, I couldn't follow him all day, not a target who was that sharp. The

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