Dedicated to all victims of terrorism

Chapter 1

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2001, 23:16 HRS.

The submarine had broken surface ten minutes earlier, and its deck was still slippery beneath my feet. Dull red flashlight glow glistened on the black steel a few yards ahead of me as five of the boat’s crew feverishly prepared the Zodiac inflatable. As soon as they’d finished, it would be carrying me and my two team members across five miles of Mediterranean and onto the North African coast.

One of the crew broke away and said something to Lotfi, who’d been standing next to me by the hatch. I didn’t understand that much Arabic, but Lotfi translated. “They are finished, Nick — we are ready to float off.”

The three of us moved forward, swapped places with the submariners, and stepped over the sides of the Zodiac onto the antislip decking. Lotfi was steering and took position to the right of the Yamaha 75 outboard. We bunched up near him, on each side of the engine. We wore black ski hats and gloves, and a “dry bag”—a Gore-Tex suit — over our clothes with elastic wrists and neck to protect us from the cold water. Our gear had been stowed in large zip-lock waterproof bags and lashed to the deck along with the fuel bladders.

I looked behind me. The crew had already disappeared and the hatch was closed. We’d been warned by the captain that he wasn’t going to hang around, not when we were inside the territorial waters of one of the most ruthless regimes on earth. And he was willing to take even fewer risks on the pickup, especially if things had gone to rat shit while we were ashore. No way did he want the Algerians capturing his boat and crew. The Egyptian navy couldn’t afford to lose so much as a rowboat from their desperately dilapidated fleet, and he didn’t want his crew to lose their eyes or balls, or any of the other pieces the Algerians liked to remove from people who had pissed them off.

“Brace for float-off.” Lotfi had done this before.

I could already feel the submarine moving beneath us. We were soon surrounded by bubbles as it blew its tanks. Lotfi slotted the Yamaha into place and fired it up to get us under way. But the sea was heaving tonight with a big swell, and no sooner had our hull made contact with the water than a wave lifted the bow and exposed it to the wind. The Zodiac started to rear up. The two of us threw our weight forward and the bow slapped down again, but with such momentum that I lost my balance and fell onto my ass on the side of the boat, which bounced me backward. Before I knew what was happening, I’d been thrown over the side.

The only part of me uncovered was my face, but the cold took my breath away as I downed a good throatful of salt water. This might be the Mediterranean, but it felt like the North Atlantic.

As I came to the surface and bobbed in the swell, I discovered that my dry bag had a leak in the neck seal. Seawater seeped into my cheap sweatshirt and cotton pants.

“You okay, Nick?” The shout came from Lotfi.

“Couldn’t be better,” I grunted, breathing hard as the other two hauled me back aboard. “Got a leak in the bag.”

There was a mumble of Arabic between the two of them, and an adolescent snigger or two. Fair: I would have found it funny too.

I shivered as I wrung out my hat and gloves, but even wet wool keeps its heat-retaining qualities and I knew I was going to need all the help I could get on this part of the trip.

Lotfi fought to keep the boat upright as his pal and I leaned on the front — or bow, as Lotfi was constantly reminding me — to keep it down. He finally got the craft under control and we were soon plowing through the crests, my eyes stinging as the salt spray hit my face with the force of gravel. As waves lifted us and the outboard screamed in protest as the propeller left the water, I could see lights on the coast and could just make out the glow of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. But we were steering clear of its busy port, where the Spanish ferries to’d and fro’d; we were heading about ten miles east, to make landfall at a point between the city and a place called Cap Ferrat. One look at the map during the briefing in Alexandria had made it clear the French had left their mark here big-time. The coastline was peppered with Cap this, Plage that, Port the other.

Cap Ferrat itself was easy to recognize. Its lighthouse flashed every few seconds in the darkness to the left of the glow from Oran. We were heading for a small spit of land that housed some of the intermittent clusters of light we were starting to make out quite well now as we got closer to the coastline.

As the bow crashed through the water I moved to the rear of the boat to minimize the effects of the spray and wind, pissed off that I was wet and cold before I’d even started this job. Lotfi was on the other side of the outboard. I looked across as he checked his GPS (Global Positioning System) and adjusted the throttle to keep us on the right bearing.

The brine burned my eyes, but this was a whole lot better than the sub we’d just left. It had been built in the 1960s and the air conditioning was fading. After being cooped up in diesel fumes for three days, waiting for the right moment to make this hit, I’d been gagging to be out in the fresh air, even air this fresh. I comforted myself with the thought that the next time I inhaled diesel I’d be chugging along ninety yards below the Mediterranean, back to Alexandria, drinking steaming cups of sweet black tea and celebrating the end of my very last job.

The lights got closer and the coastline took on a bit more shape. Lotfi didn’t need the GPS anymore and it went into the rubber bow bag. We were maybe four hundred yards offshore and I could start to make out the target area. The higher, rocky ground was flooded with light, and in the blackness below it, I could just about make out the cliff, and the beach Lotfi had assured us was good enough to land on.

We moved forward more slowly now, the engine just ticking over to keep the noise down. When we were about a hundred yards from the beach, Lotfi cut the fuel and tilted the outboard until it locked horizontal once more. The boat lost momentum and began to wallow in the swell. He’d already started to connect one of the full fuel bladders in preparation for our exfiltration. We couldn’t afford to fiddle around if the shit hit the fan and we had to make a run for it.

His teeth flashed white as he gave us a huge grin. “Now we paddle.”

It was obvious from the way they constantly ragged on each other that Lotfi and the one whose name I still couldn’t pronounce — Hubba-Hubba, something like that — had worked together before.

Hubba-Hubba was still at the bow and dug his wooden paddle into the swell. We closed in on the beach. The sky was perfectly clear and star-filled, and suddenly there wasn’t a breath of wind. All I could hear was the gentle slap of the paddles pushing through the water, joined now and then by the scrape of boots on the wooden flooring as one or other of us shifted position. At least the paddling had gotten me warm.

Lotfi never stopped checking ahead, to make sure we were going to hit the beach exactly where he wanted, and the Arabic for “right” I did know: “Il al yameen, yameen.”

The two of them were Egyptian, and that was about as much as I wanted to know — not that it had turned out that way. Like me, they were deniable operators; in fact, everyone and everything about this job was deniable. If we were compromised, the U.S. would deny the Egyptians were false-flagging this job for them, and I guessed that was just the price Egypt had to pay for being the second biggest recipient of U.S. aid apart from Israel, to the tune of about two billion dollars a year. There’s no such thing as a free falafel.

Egypt, in its turn, would deny these two, and as for me, the Egyptians probably didn’t even know I was there. I didn’t care; I had no cover documents, so if I was captured I was going to get screwed regardless. The only bits of paper I’d been issued were four thousand U.S. dollar bills, in tens and fifties, with which to try to buy my way out of the country if I got into shit, and keep if they weren’t needed. It was much better than working for the Brits.

We kept paddling toward the clusters of light. The wetness down my back and under my arms was now warm, but still uncomfortable. I looked up at the other two and we nodded mutual encouragement. They were both good guys and both had the same haircut — shiny, jet-black buzz cuts with a left-hand parting — and very neat mustaches. I was hoping they were winners who just looked like losers. No one would give them a second look in the street. They were both in their mid-thirties, not tall, not small, both clear-skinned and married, with enough kids

Вы читаете Liberation Day
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату