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Wild Justice

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Written by Administrator

Posted on 15 April 2011

Wild Justice
by
Wilbur Smith


There were only fifteen joining passengers for the British Airways
flight at Victoria Airport on the island of Malic in the oceanic
republic of the Seychelles.

Two couples formed a tight group as they waited their turn for
departure formalities.  They were all young, all deeply tanned and they
seemed still carefree and relaxed by their holiday in that island
paradise.  However, one of them made her three companions seem
insignificant by the sheer splendour of her physical presence.

She was a tall girl, with long limbs and her head set on a proud,
shapely neck.  Her thick, sun-gilded blonde hair was twisted into a
braid and coiled high on top of her head, and the sun had touched her
with gold and brought out the bloom of youth and health upon her
skin.

As she moved with the undulating grace of one of the big predatory
cats, bare feet thrust into open sandals, so the big pointed breasts
joggled tautly under the thin cotton of her tee-shirt and the tight
round buttocks strained the faded denim of her hacked-off shorts.

Across the front of her tee-shirt was blazoned the legend "I AM A LOVE
NUT" and below it was drawn the suggestive outline of a coco-de-mer.

She smiled brilliantly at the dark-skinned Seychellois immigration
officer as she slid the green United States passport with its golden
eagle across the desk to him, but when she turned to her male companion
she spoke in quick fluent German.  She retrieved her passport and led
the others through into the security area.

Again she smiled at the two members of the Seychelles

Police Force who were in charge of the weapons search, and she swung
the net carry bag off her shoulder.

"You want to check these?"  she asked, and they all laughed.  The bag
contained two huge coco-de-mer; the grotesque fruit, each twice the
size of a human head, were the most popular souvenirs of the Islands.

Each of her three companions carried similar trophies in net bags, and
the police officer ignored such familiar objects and instead ran his
metal detector in a perfunctory manner over the canvas flight bags
which made up the rest of their hand luggage.  It buzzed harshly on one
bag and the boy who carried it shamefacedly produced a small Nikkormat
camera.  More laughter and then the police officer waved the group
through into the final Departure Lounge.

It was already crowded with transit passengers who had boarded at
Mauritius, and beyond the lounge windows the huge Boeing 747 jumbo
squatted on the tarmac, lit harshly by floodlights as the refuelling
tenders fussed about her.

There were no free seats in the lounge and the group of four formed a
standing circle under one of the big revolving punk ah fans, for the
night was close and humid and the mass of humanity in the closed room
sullied the air with tobacco smoke and the smell of hot bodies.

The blonde girl led the gay chatter and sudden bursts of laughter,
standing inches above her two male companions and a full head above the
other girl, so that they were a focus of attention for the hundreds of
other passengers.

Their manner had changed subtly since they entered the lounge; there
was a sense of relief as though a serious obstacle had been negotiated,
and an almost feverish excitement in the timbre of their laughter. They
were never still, shifting restlessly from foot to foot, hands fiddling
with hair or clothing.

Although they were clearly a closed group, quarantined by an almost
conspiratorial air of camaraderie, one of the transit passengers left
his wife sitting and stood up from his seat across the lounge.

"Say, do you speak English?"  he asked, as he approached the group.

He was a heavy man in his middle fifties with a thick thatch of
steel-grey hair, dark horn-rimmed spectacles, and the easy confident
manner of success and wealth.

Reluctantly the group opened for him, and it was the tall blonde girl
who answered, as if by right.

"Sure, I'm American also."

"No kidding?"  The man chuckled.  "Well, what do you know."  And he was
studying her with open admiration.  "I just wanted to know what those
things are."  He pointed to the net bag of nuts that lay at her feet.

"They are coco-de-mer," the blonde answered.

"Oh yeah, I've heard of them."

"They call them "love nuts"," the girl went on, stooping to open the
heavy bag at her feet.  "And you can see why."  She displayed one of
the fruit for him.

The double globes were joined in an exact replica of a pair of human
buttocks.

"Back end."  She smiled, and her teeth were so white they appeared as
translucent as fine bone china.

"Front end."  She turned the nut, and offered for his inspection the
perfect mons vener is complete with a feminine gash and a tuft of
coarse curls, and now it was clear she was flirting and teasing; she
altered her stance, thrusting her hips forward slightly, and the man
glanced down involuntarily at her own plump mons beneath the tight blue
denim, its deep triangle bisected by the fold of material which had
tucked up into the cleft.

He flushed slightly and his lips parted with a small involuntary intake
of breath.

"The male tree has a stamen as thick and as long as your arm."  She
widened her eyes to the size and colour of blue pansies, and across the
lounge the man's wife stood up and came towards them, warned by some
feminine instinct.  She was much younger than her husband and very
heavy and awkward with child.

"The Seychellois will tell you that in the full moon the male pulls up
its roots and walks around to mate with the females---"

"As long and as thick as your arm-" smiled the pretty little
dark-haired girl beside her, " wow!"  She was also teasing now, and
both girls dropped their gaze deliberately down the front of the man's
body.  He squirmed slightly, and the two young men who flanked him
grinned at his discomfort.

His wife reached him and tugged at his arm.  There was a red angry rash
of prickly heat on her throat and little beads of perspiration across
her upper lip, like transparent blisters.

"Harry, I'm not feeling well, "she whined softly.

"I've got to go now," he mumbled with relief, his poise and confidence
shaken, and he took his wife's arm and led her away.

"Did you recognize him?"  asked the dark-haired girl in German, still
smiling, her voice pitched very low.

"Harold McKevitt," the blonde replied softly in the same language.

"Neurosurgeon from Forth Worth.  He read the closing paper to the
convention on Saturday morning."  She explained.  "Big fish very big
fish," and like a cat she ran the pink tip of her tongue across her
lips.

Of the four hundred and one passengers in the final Departure Lounge
that Monday evening three hundred and sixty were surgeons, or their
wives.  The surgeons, including some of the most eminent in the world
of medicine, had come from Europe and England and the United States,
from Japan and South America and Asia, for the convention that had
ended twenty-four hours previously on the island of Mauritius, five
hundred miles to the south of Malic island.  This was one of the first
flights out since then and it had been fully booked ever since the
convention had been convoked.

"British Airways announces the departure of Flight BA 070 for Nairobi
and London; will transit passengers please board now through the main
gate.  "The announcement was in the soft singsong of the Creole accent,
and there was a massed movement towards the exit.

"Victtoria Control this is Speedbird Zero Seven Zero request push back
and start clearance."

"Zero Seven Zero you are cleared to start and taxi to holding point for
runway Zero One."

"Please copy amendment to our flight plan for Nairobi.

Number of Pax aboard should be 401.  We have a full house."

"Roger, Speedbird, your flight plan is amended."  The gigantic aircraft
was still in its nose-high climb configuration and the seat belt and
no-smoking lights burned brightly down the length of the firstclass
cabin.  The blonde girl and her companion sat side by side in the roomy
seats and directly behind the forward bulkhead that partitioned off the
command area and the first-class galley.  The seats that the young
couple occupied had been reserved many months previously.

The blonde nodded to her companion and he leaned forward to screen her
from the passengers across the aisle while she slipped one of the
coco-de-mer from its net bag and held it in her lap.

Through its natural division the nut had been carefully sawn into two
sections to allow removal of the milk and the white flesh, then the two
sections had been glued together again just as neatly.  The joint was
only apparent after close inspection.

The girl inserted a small metal instrument into the joint and twisted
it sharply, and with a soft click the two sections fell apart like an
Easter egg.

In the nests formed by the double husk of the shells, padded with
strips of plastic foam, were two smooth, grey, egg-like objects each
the size of a baseball.

They were grenades of East German manufacture, with the Warsaw Pact
command designation.  The outer layer of each grenade was of armoured
plastic, of the type used in land mines to prevent discovery by
electronic metal detectors.  The yellow stripe around each grenade
indicated that it was not a fragmentation type, but was designed for
high impact concussion.

The blonde girl took a grenade in her left hand, unlatched her lap belt
and slipped quietly from her seat.

The other passengers paid her only passing interest as she ducked
through the curtains into the galley area.  However, the purser and the
two stewardesses, still strapped into their fold-down seats, looked up
sharply as she entered the service area.

I'm sorry, madam, but I must ask you to return to your seat until the
captain extinguishes the seat-belt lights."  The blonde girl held up
her left hand and showed him the shiny grey egg.

This is a special grenade, designed for killing the occupants of a
battle tank," she said quietly.  "It could blow the fuselage of this
aircraft open like a paper bag or kill by concussion any human being
within fifty yards."  She watched their faces, saw the fear bloom like
an evil flower.

"It is fused to explode three seconds after it leaves my hand."

She paused again, and her eyes glittered with excitement and her breath
was quick and shallow.

"You."  she selected the purser, take me to the flight deck; you others
stay where you are.  Do nothing, say nothing."  When she ducked into
the tiny cockpit, hardly large enough to contain the members of the
flight crew and its massed banks of instruments and electronic
equipment, all three men turned to look back at her in mild surprise
and she lifted her hand and showed them what she carried.

They understood instantly.

"I am taking command of this aircraft," she said, and then, to the
flight engineer, "Switch off all communications equipment."  The
engineer glanced quickly at his captain, and when he nodded curtly,
began obediently to shut down his radios the very high frequency sets,
then the high frequency.  the ultra high frequency And the satellite
relay," the girl commanded.  He glanced up at her, surprised by her
knowledge.

"And don't touch the bug."  He blinked at that.  No body, but nobody
outside the company should have known about the special relay which,
when activated by the button beside his right knee, would instantly
alert Heathrow Control to an emergency and allow them to monitor any
conversation on the flight deck.  He lifted his hand away.

"Remove the fuse to the bug circuit."  She indicated the correct box
above his head, and he glanced at the captain again, but her voice
stung like the tail of a scorpion: "Do what I tell you."  Carefully he
removed the fuse and she relaxed slightly.

"Read your departure clearance," she instructed.

"We are cleared to radar departure on track for Nairobi and an
unrestricted climb to cruise altitude of thirty-nine thousand feet."

"When is your next "operations normal" due?"  Operations normal was the
routine report to Nairobi to assure them that the flight was proceeding
as planned.

"In eleven minutes and thirty-five seconds.  "The engineer was a young,
dark-haired, rather handsome man with a deep forehead, pale skin and
the quick, efficient manner instilled by his training.

The girl turned to the captain of the Boeing and their gazes locked as
they measured each other.  The captain's hair was more grey than black
and cropped close to his big rounded skull.  He was bull-necked, and
had the beefy, ruddy face of a farmer or of a butcher but his eyes were
steady and his manner calm and unshakeable.  He was a man to watch, the
girl recognized instantly.

"I want you to believe that I am committed entirely to this operation,"
she said, "and that I would welcome the opportunity to sacrifice my
life to my cause."  Her dark blue eyes held his without fear, and she
read the first growth of respect in him.  That was good,

all part of her careful calculations.

"I believe that," said the Pilot, and nodded once.

"Your duty is to the four hundred and seventeen lives aboard this
aircraft," she went on.  He did not have to reply.

They will be safe, just as long as you follow my commands implicitly.
That I promise you."

"Very well."

"Here is our new destination."  She handed him a small white
typewritten card.  "I want a new course with forecast winds, and a time
of arrival.  Your turn onto the new heading to commence immediately
after your next "operations normal" report in-" She glanced back at the
engineer for the time.

"Nine minutes fifty-eight seconds, "he said promptly.

" and I want your turn to the new heading to be very gentle,

very balanced.  We don't want any of the passengers to spill their
champagne do we?"  In the few minutes that she had been on the flight
deck she had already established a bizarre rapport with the captain; it
was a blend of reluctant respect and overt hostility and of sexual
awareness.  She had dressed deliberately to reveal her body, and in her
excitement her nipples had hardened and darkened, pushing out through
the thin cotton shirt with its suggestive legend, and the musky woman's
smell of her body again intensified by her excitement filled the
confined cockpit.

Nobody spoke again for many minutes, then the flight engineer broke the
silence.

Thirty seconds to "operations normal"."

"All right, switch on the

FIF and make the report."

"Nairobi Approach this is Speedbird Zero

Seven Zero."

"Go ahead Speedbird Zero Seven Zero."

"Operations normal, "said the engineer into his headset.

"Roger, Zero Seven Zero.  Report again in forty minutes."

"Zero

Seven Zero."  The blonde girl sighed with relief.  "All right, shut
down the set."  Then to the captain, "Disengage the flight director and
make the turn to the new heading by hand; let's see how gentle you can
be.".

The turn was a beautiful exhibition of flying, two minutes to make a
change of 76" of heading, the needles of the turn and-balance indicator
never deviating a hair's breadth, and when it was completed,

the girl smiled for the first time.

It was a gorgeous sunny flash of very white teeth.

"Good," she said, smiling directly into the captain's face.

"What is your name?"

"Cyril," he replied after a moment's hesitation.

"You can call me Ingrid,"she invited.

There was no set routine to the days in this new command of Peter
Stride's, except the obligatory .  . lkhour on the range with pistol
and automatic weapons.  No member of Thor Command not even the
technicians were spared daily range practice.

The rest of Peter's day had been filled with unrelenting activity,
beginning with a briefing on the new electronic communications
equipment that had just been installed in qK1, V his command aircraft.
This had taken half the morning, and he had been only just in time to
join his striker force in the main cabin of the Hercules transport for
the day's exercise.

Peter jumped with the first stick of ten men.  They jumped from five
hundred feet, the parachutes seeming to snap open only seconds before
they hit the ground.  How

4 ever, the crosswind had been strong enough to spread them out a
little even from that height.  The first landing had not been tight
enough for Peter.  They had taken two minutes fifty-eight seconds from
jump to penetration of the deserted administration block standing
forlornly in one of the military zones of Salisbury Plain.

"If they had been holding hostages in here, we'd have arrived just in
time to start mopping up the blood," Peter told his men grimly.  "We'll
do it again!

This time they had cut one minute fifty seconds off their time, falling
in a tightly steered pattern about the building beating the time of
Colin Noble's No 2 striker team by ten seconds.

To celebrate Peter had scorned the military transports and they had run
the five miles to the airstrip, each man in full combat kit and
carrying the enormous bundle of his used parachute silk.

The Hercules was waiting to fly them back to base, but it was after
dark before they landed and taxied into Thor Command's security
compound at the end of the main runway.

For Peter the temptation to leave the debriefing to Colin Noble had
been strong indeed.  His driver would have picked up Melissa-Jane at
East Croydon Station and she would already be waiting alone in the new
cottage, only half a mile from the base gates.

He had not seen her for six weeks, not since he had taken command of
Thor, for in all that time he had not allowed himself a single day's
respite.  He felt a tickle of guilt now, that he should be allowing
himself this indulgence, and so he lingered a few minutes after the
briefing to transfer command to Colin Noble.

"Where are you going for the weekend?"Colin demanded.

"She's taking me to a pop concert tomorrow night The Living

Dead, no less, Peter chuckled.  "Seems I haven't lived until I hear
the

Dead."

"Give M.J. my love, and a kiss Colin told him.

Peter placed high value on his new-found privacy.  He had lived most of
his adult life in officers" quarters and messes, constantly surrounded
by other human beings.

However, this command had given him the opportunity to escape.

The cottage was -only four and a half minutes" drive from the compound
but it might have been an island.  It had come furnished and at a
rental that surprised him pleasantly.

Behind a high hedge of dog rose, off a quiet lane, and set in a
sprawling rather unkempt garden, it had become home in a few weeks.  He
had even been able to unpack his books at last.  Books accumulated over
twenty years, and stored against such an opportunity.  It was a comfort
to have them piled around his desk in the small front room or stacked
on the tables beside his bed, even though there had been little
opportunity to read much of them yet.  The new job was a tough one.

Melissa-Jane must have heard the crunch of gravel under the

Rover's tyres, and she would certainly have been waiting for it.  She
came running out of the front door into the driveway, directly into the
beam of the headlights, and Peter had forgotten how lovely she was.  He
felt his heart squeezed.

When he stepped out of the car she launched herself at him and clung
with both arms around his chest.  He held her for a long moment,

neither of them able to speak.  She was so slim and warm, her body
seeming to throb with life and vitality.

At last he lifted her chin and studied her face.  The huge violet eyes
swam with happy tears, and she sniffed loudly.

Already she had that old-fashioned English porcelain beauty; there
would never be the acne and the agony of puberty for Melissa-jane.

Peter kissed her solemnly on the forehead.  "You'll catch your death,
he scolded fondly.

"Oh, Daddy, you are a real fusspot."  She smiled through the tears and
on tip-toe she reached up to kiss him full on the mouth.

They ate lasagne and cas sata at an Italian restaurant in Croydon,

and Melissa-Jane did most of the talking.  Peter watched and
listened,

revelling in her freshness and youth.

It was hard to believe she was not yet fourteen, for physically she was
almost fully developed, the breasts under the white turtle-neck sweater
no longer merely buds; and she conducted herself like a woman ten years
older, only the occasional gleeful giggle betraying her or the lapse as
she used some ghastly piece of Roedean slang, - "grotty"

was one of these.

Back at the cottage she made them Ovaltine and they drank it beside the
fire, planning every minute of the weekend ahead of them and skirting
carefully around the pitfalls, the unwritten taboos of their
relationship which centred mostly on "Mother'.

When it was time for bed she came and sat in his lap and traced the
lines of his face with her fingertip.

"Do you know who you remind me of?"

"Tell me,"he invited.

"Gary Cooper only much younger, of course," she added hurriedly.

"Of course," Peter chuckled.  "But where did you ever hear of Gary

Cooper?  "They had High Noon as the Sunday movie on telly last week."

She kissed him again and her lips tasted of sugar and Ovaltine, and her
hair smelled sweet and clean.

"How old are you, anyway, Daddy?"

"I'm thirty-nine."

"That isn't really so terribly old."  She comforted him uncertainly.

"Sometimes it's as old as the dinosaurs-" and at that moment the
bleeper beside his empty cup began its strident, irritating electronic
tone, and Peter felt the slide of dread in his stomach.

Not now, he thought.  Not on this day when I have been so long without
her.

The bleeper was the.  size of a cigarette pack, the globe of its single
eye glared redly, insistent as the audio-signal.

Reluctantly Peter picked it up and, with his daughter still in his lap,
he switched in the miniature two-way radio and depressed the send
button.

"Thor One,"he said.

The reply was tinny and distorted, the set near the limit of its
range.

"General Stride, Atlas has ordered condition Alpha."  Another false
alarm, Peter thought bitterly.  There had been a dozen Alphas in the
last month, but why on this night.  Alpha was the first stage of alert
with the teams embarked and ready for condition Bravo which was the

GO.

"Inform Atlas we are seven minutes from Bravo."  Four and a half of
those would be needed for him to reach the compound, and suddenly the
decision to rent the cottage was shown up as dangerous
self-indulgence.

In four and a half minutes innocent lives can be lost.

"Darling," he hugged Melissa-Jane swiftly, "I'm sorry."

"That's all right."  She was stiff and resentful.

"There will be another time soon, I promise."

"You always promise," she whispered, but she saw he was no longer
listening.  He dislodged her and stood up, the heavy jawline clenched
and thick dark brows almost meeting above the narrow, straight,
aristocratic nose.

"Lock the door when I'm gone, darling.  I'll send the driver for you if
it's Bravo.  He will drive you back to Cambridge and I will let your
mother know to expect YOU."  He stepped out into the night, still
shrugging into his duffle coat, and she listened to the whirl of the
starter, the rush of tyres over gravel and the dwindling note of the
engine.

The controller in Nairobi tower allowed the British Airways flight from
Seychelles to run fifteen seconds past its reporting time.  Then he
called once, twice and a third time without reply.  He switched
frequencies to the channels reserved for information, approach, tower
and, finally, emergency, on one at least of which 070 should have been
maintaining listening watch.  There was still no reply.

Speedbird 070 was forty-five seconds past "operations normal"

before he removed the yellow slip from his approach rack and placed it
in the emergency "lost contact" slot, and immediately search and rescue
procedures were in force.

Speedbird 070 was two minutes and thirteen seconds past

"operations normal" when the telex pull sheet landed on the British

Airways desk at Heathrow Control, and sixteen seconds later Atlas had
been informed and had placed Thor Command on condition Alpha.

The moon was three days short of full, its upper rim only slightly
indented by the earth's shadow.  However, at this altitude it seemed
almost as big as the sun itself and its golden light was certainly more
beautiful.

In the tropical summer night great silver cloud ranges towered into the
sky, and mushroomed into majestic thunder heads, and the moonlight
dressed them in splendour.

The aircraft fled swiftly between the peaks of cloud, like a monstrous
black bat on back-swept wings, it bored into the west.

Under the port-side wing a sudden dark chasm opened in the clouds like
the mouth of hell itself, and deep in its maw there was the faint
twinkle of far light, like a dying star.

"That will be Madagascar," said the captain, his voice over-loud in the
quiet cockpit.  "We are on track."  And behind his shoulder the girl
stirred and carefully transferred the grenade into her other hand
before she spoke for the first time in half an hour.

"Some of our passengers might still be awake and notice that."  She
glanced at her wristwatch.  "It's time to wake up the others and let
them know the good news."  She turned back to the flight engineer.

"Please switch on all the cabin lights and the seat-belt lights and let
me have the microphone."  Cyril Watkins, the captain, was reminded once
again that this was a carefully planned operation.  The girl was timing
her announcement to the passengers when their resistance would be at
its lowest possible ebb; at two o'clock in the morning.  after having
been awoken from the disturbed rest of intercontinental flight their
immediate reaction was likely to be glum resignation.

"Cabin and seat-belt lights are on," the engineer told her, and handed
her the microphone.

"Good mornin', ladies and gentlemen."  Her voice was warm, clear and
bright.  "I regret having to waken you at such an inconvenient hour.
However, I have a very important announcement to make and I want all of
you to pay the most careful attention."  She paused, and in the
cavernous and crowded cabins there was a general stir and heads began
to lift, hair tousled and eyes unfocused and blinking away the cobwebs
of sleep.  "You will notice that the seat-belt lights are on.  Will you
all check that the persons beside you are fully awake and that their
seat belts are fastened.  Cabin staff please make certain that this is
done."  She paused again;

the belts would inhibit any sudden movement, any spontaneous action at
the first shock.  Ingrid noted the passage of sixty seconds on the
sweep hand of her wristwatch before going on.

"First let me introduce myself.  My name is Ingrid.  I am a senior
officer of the Action Commando for Human Rights,-" Captain Watkins
curled his lip cynically at the pompous self-righteous title, but kept
silent, staring ahead into the starry, moonlit depths of space.  and
this aircraft is under my command.  Under no circumstances whatsoever
will any of you leave your seats without the express permission of one
of my officers.  if this order is disobeyed, it will lead directly to
the destruction of this aircraft and all aboard by high explosive." She
repeated the announcement immediately in fluent German, and then in
less proficient but clearly intelligible French before reverting to

English once again.

"Officers of the Action Commando will wear red shirts for immediate
identification and they will be armed."  As she spoke her three
companions in the front of the first-class cabin were stripping out the
false bottoms from their canvas flight bags.  The space was only two
inches deep by fourteen by eight, but it was sufficient for the
brokendown twelve bore pistols, and ten rounds of buckshot cartridges.
The barrels of the pistols were fourteen inches long, the bores were
Smooth and made of armoured plastic.

This material would not have withstood the passage of a solid bullet
through rifling or any of the newer explosive propellants but it had
been designed for use with the lower velocity and pressures of multiple
shot and cordite.  The breech piece was of plastic as were the double
pistol grips, and these clipped swiftly into position.  The only metal
in the entire weapon was the case-steel firing pin and spring, no
bigger than one of the metal studs in the canvas flight bag, so they
would not have activated the metal detectors of the security check at

Malik airport.  The ten cartridges contained in each bag had plastic
cases and bases; again only the percussion caps were of aluminium
foil,

which would not disturb an electrical field.  The cartridges were
packed in looped cartridge belts which buckled around the waist.

The weapons were short, black and ugly; they required reloading like a
conventional shotgun, the spent shells were not self-ejecting and the
recoil was so vicious that it would break the wrists of the user who
did not bear down heavily on the pistol grips.  However, at ranges up
to thirty feet the destructive power was awesome, at twelve feet it
would disembowel a man and at six feet it would blow his head off
cleanly yet it did not have the penetrating power to hole the pressure
hull of an intercontinental airliner.

It was the perfect weapon for the job in hand, and within a few seconds
three of them had been assembled and loaded and the two men had slipped
on the bright scarlet shirts that identified them over their tee-shirts
and moved to their positions, one in the back of the first-class cabin
and one in the back of the tourist cabin, they stood with their
grotesque weapons ostentatiously displayed.

"MON The slim pretty, dark-haired German girl stayed in her seat a
little longer, working swiftly and neatly as she opened the remaining
coco-de-mer and transferred their contents into two of the netting
bags.  These grenades differed only from the one carried by Ingrid in
that they had double red lines painted around the middle.  This
signified that they were electronically fused.

Now Ingrid's clear young voice resumed over the cabin address system,
and the long rows of passengers all fully awake now sat rigid and
attentive, their faces reflecting an almost uniform expression of shock
and trepidation.

The officer of the action commando who is moving down the cabin at this
time is placing high explosive grenades,-" The dark-haired girl started
down the aisle, and every fifteen rows she opened one of the overhead
lockers and placed a grenade in it, closed the locker and moved on.

The passengers" heads revolved slowly in unison as they watched her
with the fascination of total horror.  "A single one of those grenades
has the explosive power to destroy this aircraft, they were designed to
kill by concussion the crew of a battle tank protected by six inches of
armour.  the officer is placing fourteen of these devices along the
length of this aircraft.  They can be detonated simultaneously by an
electronic transmitter under my control,-" the voice contained a hint
of mischief now, a little undercurrent of laughter, and if that
happened they'd hear the bang at the North Pole!"

The passengers stirred like the leaves of a tree in a vagrant breeze;

somewhere a woman began to weep.  It was a strangled passionless sound
and nobody even looked in her direction.

"But don't worry yourselves.  "That isn't going to happen.

Because everybody is going to do exactly as they are told, and when
it's all over you are going to be proud of your part in this operation.
We are all partners in a noble and glorious mission, we are all
warriors for freedom and for the dignity of man.  Today we take a
mighty step forward into the new world a world purged and cleansed of
injustice and tyranny and dedicated to the welfare of all its
peoples."

The woman was still weeping, and now a child joined her on a higher,

more strident note.

The dark-haired girl returned to her seat and now she retrieved the
camera that had activated the metal detector at Malic airport.  She
slung it around her neck and crouched again to assemble the two
remaining shot pistols; carrying them and the cartridge belts, she
hurried forward to the flight deck where the big blonde kissed her
delightedly and unashamedly on the lips.

"Karen, Liebling, you were wonderful.  "And then she took the camera
from her and slung it around her own neck.

"This-" she explained to the captain " is not what it appears to be. It
is the remote radio detonator for the grenades in the fuselage."  He
nodded without replying, and with obvious relief Ingrid disarmed the
grenade that she had carried for so long by replacing the safety pin.
She handed it to the other girl.

"How much longer to -the coast?"  she asked as she strapped and buckled
the cartridge belt around her waist.

"Thirty-two minutes," said the flight engineer promptly, and

Ingrid opened the breech of the pistol, checked the load and then
snapped it closed again.

"You and Henri can stand down now," she told Karen.

"Try and sleep."  The operation might last many days still, and
exhaustion would be the most dangerous enemy they would have to contend
with.  It was for this reason alone that they had employed such a large
force.  From now on, except in an emergency, two of them would be on
duty and two would be resting.

"You have done a very professional job," said the pilot, Cyril

Watkins," so far."

"Thank you."  Ingrid laughed, and over the back of his seat placed a
comradely hand on his shoulder.  "We have practised very hard for this
day."  Peter Stride dipped his lights three times as he raced down the
long narrow alley that led to the gates of the compound without slowing
the Rover, and the sentry swung the gate open just in time for him to
roar through.

There were no floodlights, no bustling activity just the two aircraft
standing together in the echoing cavern of the hangar.

The Lockheed Hercules seemed to fill the entire building, that had been
built to accommodate the smaller bombers of World War II.  The tall
vertical fin of its epinage reached to within a few feet of the roof
girders.

Beside it the Hawker Siddeley HS 125 executive jet seemed dainty and
ineffectual.  The differing origins of the machines emphasized that
this unit was a co-operative venture between two nations.

This was underscored once more when Colin Noble hurried forward to meet
Peter as he cut the Rover's engine and lights.

"A grand night for it, Peter.  "There was no mistaking the drawl of
mid-Western America, although Colin looked more like a successful
used-car salesman than a colonel in the U.S. Marines.  In the
beginning

Peter had believed that this strict apportioning of material and
manpower on equal national lines might weaken the effectiveness of

Atlas.  He no longer had those doubts.

Colin wore the nondescript blue overalls and cloth cap, both
embroidered with the legend "THOR COMMUNICATIONS" which deliberately
made him look more of a technician than a soldier.

Colin was Peter's second in command.  They had known each other only
the six weeks since Peter had assumed command of Thor but after a short
period of mutual wariness the two men had formed one of those fast
bonds of liking and mutual respect.

Colin was of medium height, but none the less a big man.  First glance
might have given the impression that he was fat, for his body had a
certain toad-like spread to it.

There was no fat upon his frame, however, it was all muscle and bone.
He had boxed heavyweight for Princeton and the marines, and his nose
above the wide laughing mouth had been broken just below the bridge, it
was lumped and twisted slightly.

Colin cultivated the boisterous bluff manner of a career athlete,

but his eyes were the colour of burned toffee and were brightly
intelligent and all-seeing.  He was tough and leery as an old alley
cat.  It was not easy to earn the respect of Peter Stride.  Colin had
done so in under six weeks.

He stood now between the two aircraft, while his men went about their
Alpha preparation with quick understated efficiency.

Both aircraft were painted in commercial airline style, blue and white
and gold, with a stylized portrait of the Thunder God on the tail fin
and the "THOR COMMUNICATIONS" title down the fuselage.  They could land
at any airport in the world without causing undue comment.

"What is the buzz, Colin?"  Peter Stride demanded as he slammed the

Rover's door and hurried to meet the American.  It had taken him some
time and conscious effort to adapt his language and mode of address to
fit in with his new second-in-command.  He had learned very early not
to expect that, merely because he was the youngest major general in
the

British army, Colonel Colin Noble was going to call him "Sir" every
time he spoke.

"Missing aircraft."  It could have been a train, an embassy, even an
ocean liner, Peter realized.  "British Airways.  For Chrissake let's
get out of the cold."  The wind was flapping the legs of Colin's
overalls and tugging at his sleeves.

"Where?"

"Indian Ocean."

"Are we set for Bravo?"  Peter asked as they climbed into his command
plane.

"All set."  The interior of the Hawker had been restyled to make it a
compact headquarters and communications centre.

There was comfortable seating for four officers directly behind the
flight deck.  Then the two electronic engineers and their equipment
occupied a separate rear compartment, beyond which were the small
toilet and galley in the extreme rear.

One of the technicians looked through the communicating door as

Peter stooped into the cabin.  "Good evening, General Stride we have a
direct link with Atlas established."

"Put him on the screen," he ordered as he sank into the padded leather
of his chair behind the small working desk.

There was a single fourteen-inch main television screen in the panel
directly facing Peter, and above it four smaller six-inch screens for
conference communication.  The main screen came alive, and the image of
the big noble leonine head firmed.

"Good afternoon, Peter."  The smile was warm, charismatic,

compelling.

"Good evening, sir."  And Dr.  Kingston Parker tilted his head slightly
to acknowledge the reference to the time difference between

Washington and England.

"Right at this moment we are in the dark completely.  All we have is
that BA 070 with four hundred and one passengers and sixteen crew on a
flight from Malic to Nairobi has not reported for thirty-two
minutes."

Parker was Chairman of the Intelligence Oversight Board, among other
duties, and he reported directly to the President of the United States
in that capacity.  He was the President's personal and trusted
friend.

They had been in the same class at Annapolis, both of them had
graduated in the top twenty but, unlike the President, Parker had gone
directly into government.

Parker was an artist, a talented musician, the author of four scholarly
works of philosophy and politics, and a grand master of chess.  A man
of overwhelming presence, of vast humanity and towering intelligence.
Yet also he was a secret man, avoiding the glaring scrutiny of the
media, hiding his ambitions, if ambitions he had although the
presidency of the United States would not be an impossible dream to
such a man only taking up with rare skill and strength any burden that
was thrust upon him.

Peter Stride had met him personally on half a dozen occasions since
being seconded to Thor.  He had spent a weekend with Parker at his New
York home, and his respect for the man had become boundless.

Peter realized that he was the perfect head for such a complex concept
as Atlas: it needed the philosopher's tempering influence over trained
soldiers, it needed the tact and charisma of the diplomat to deal
directly with the heads of two governments, and it needed that steely
intellect to make the ultimate decision that could involve hundreds of
innocent lives and incur fearsome political consequences.

Now swiftly and incisively he told Peter what little they knew of

Flight 070 and what search and rescue routine was already in force,

before going on, "Without being alarmist, this does seem to be the
perfect target.  The flight carries most of the world's leading
surgeons, and the convention was public knowledge eighteen months
ago.

Doctors have the necessary image to appeal to public sentiment and
their nationalities are nicely mixed American, British, French,

Scandinavian, German, Italian, three of those countries have
notoriously soft records with militant activity.  It's a British
aircraft, and the final destination would probably have been chosen to
further complicate the issue and inhibit any counter-action."  Parker
paused, and a small crease of worry appeared for a moment in the broad
smooth forehead.

"I have put Mercury on condition Alpha as well if this M is a strike
the final destination could just as easily be eastwards of the
aircraft's last reported position."  Atlas's offensive arm comprised
three identical units.

Thor would be used only in Europe or Africa.  Mercury was based on the
American Naval base in Indonesia and covered Asia and Australasia,

while Diana was in Washin ton itself and ready for counteraction in
either of the American continents.

"I have Tanner of Mercury on the other relay now.  I will be back to
you in a few seconds, Peter."

"Very well, sir."  The screen went blank, and in the chair beside him
Colin Noble lit one of his expensive

Dutch cheroots and crossed his ankles on the desk in front of him.

"Seems the great god Thor came down to earth for a little poon tang
When he'd finished pleasuring one of the vestal virgins he thought he'd
let her know the honour she'd been given.  "I'm Thor," he told her.
""Tho she agreed, "but it wath loth of fun."" Peter shook his head
sorrowfully.  "That's funny?"  he asked.

"Helps to while away the time."  Colin glanced at his wristwatch.

"If this is another false alarm, it's going to make it thirteen
straight."  He yawned.  There was nothing to do.

It had all been done before.  Everything was in the ultimate state of
readiness.  In the huge Hercules transport, every item of a
comprehensive arsenal of equipment was ready for instant use.  The
thirty highly trained soldiers were embarked.  The flight crews of both
aircraft were at their stations, the communications technicians had set
up their links with satellites and through them to the available
fligence computers in Washington and London.  It remained only to wait
the greater part of a soldier's life was spent waiting, but

Peter had never become hardened to it.  It helped now to have the
companionship of Colin Noble.

In a life spent in the company of many men it was difficult to form
close relationships.  Here in the smaller closed ranks of Thor in
shared endeavour they had achieved that and become friends, and their
conversation was relaxed and desultory, moving casually from subject to
subject, but without relaxing the undercurrent of alertness that
gripped both men.

At one stage Kingston Parker came on the screen again to tell them that
search and rescue aircraft had found no indications at the last
reported position of 070, and that a photographic run by the "Big
Bird"

reconnaissance satellite had been made over the same area, but that
film would not be ready for appraisal for another fourteen hours.

Speedbird 070 was now one hour six minutes past "operations normal" and
suddenly Peter remembered Melissa-Jane.  He asked communications for a
telephone line and dialled the cottage.  There was no reply, so the
driver would have collected her already.  He hung up and rang Cynthia
in Cambridge.

"Damn it, Peter.  This really is most inconsiderate of you."

Freshly aroused from sleep, her voice was petulant, immediately
awakening only Antipathies.  "Melissa has been looking forward to
this-"

"Yes, I know, and so have U and George and I had arranged-"

George, her new husband, was a Political History don; despite himself

Peter quite liked the man.  He had been very good to Melissa-Jane.

"The exigencies of the service."  Peter cut in lightly and her voice
took on a bitter edge.

"How often I had to listen to that I hoped never to hear it again."
They were on the same futile old treadmill and he had to stop it.

"Look, Cynthia.  Melissa is on her way" In front of him the big
television screen lit and Kingston Parker's eyes were dark with
regret,

as though he mourned for all mankind.

"I have to go," Peter told the woman whom once he had loved, and broke
the connection, leaning forward attentively towards the image on the
screen.

"The South African radar de fences have painted an unidentified target
approaching their airspace," Kingston Parker told him.  "Its speed and
position correspond with those of 070.  They have scrambled a Mirage
flight to intercept but in the meantime I'm assuming that it's a
militant strike and we'll go immediately to condition Bravo, if you
please, Peter."

"We are on our way, sir."  And beside him Colin Noble took his feet off
the desk and thumped them together onto the floor.  The cheroot was
still clamped between his teeth.

The target was live and the pilot of the leading Mirage F. 1

interceptor had his flight computer in "attack" mode and all his
weaponry missiles and cannon were armed.  The computer gave him a time
to intercept of thirty-three seconds, and the target's heading was
constant at 210" magnetic and its ground speed at 483 knots.

Ahead of him the dawn was rising in wildly theatrical display.

Avalanches of silver and pink cloud tumbled down the sky, and the
sun,

still below the horizon, flung long lances of golden light across the
heavens.  The pilot leaned forward against his shoulder straps and
lifted the Polaroid visor of his helmet with one gloved hand, straining
ahead for the first glimpse of the target.

His trained gunfighter's eye picked out the dark speck against the
distracting background of cloud and sunlight and he made an almost
imperceptible movement of the controls to avoid the direct head-on
approach to the target.

The speck swelled in size with disturbing rapidity as they converged at
combined speeds of nearly fifteen hundred miles per hour,

and at the instant he was certain of his identification the leader took
his flight, still in a tight "finger five" , up into a vertical climb
from which they rolled out neatly five thousand feet above the target
and on the same heading, immediately reducing power to conform in speed
to the big aircraft far below.

"Cheetah, this is Diamond leader we are visual, and target is a

Boeing 747 bearing British Airways markings."

"Diamond Leader, this is

Cheetah, conform to target, maintain five thousand feet separation and
avoid any threatening attitudes.  Report again in sixty seconds."

Major-General Peter Stride's executive jet was arrowing southwards and
leaving its enormous protege lumbering ponderously along in its wake.

Every minute increased the distance between the two aircraft, and by
the time they reached their ultimate destination wherever that might be
there would probably be a thousand miles or more separating them.

However, the big Hercules's slow speed became a virtue when the need
arose to take its heavy load of men and equipment into short unsurfaced
strips in unlikely corners of the earth perhaps in the "hot and high"
conditions that a pilot most dreads.

It was the Hawker's job to get Peter Stride to the scene of terrorist
activity as swiftly as possible, and the general's job once there to
stall and procrastinate and bargain until Colin Noble's assault team
caught up with him.

The two men were still in contact, however, and the small central
television screen in front of Peter was permanently lit with a view of
the interior of the Hercules's main hold.  When he lifted his head from
his work, Peter Stride could see a picture of his troops, all in the
casual Thor overalls, lounging or sprawled in abandoned attitudes of
relaxation down the central aisle of the Hercules.  They also were
veterans at the hard game of waiting, while in the foreground Colin

Noble sat at his small work desk, going through the voluminous check
list for "condition Charlie" which was the next state of alert when
terrorist activity was confirmed.

Watching Colin Noble at work, Peter Stride found a moment to ponder
once again the enormous cost of maintaining Atlas, most of it paid by
the United States intelligence budget, and the obstacles and resistance
that had been overcome to launch the project in the first place.  Only
the success of the Israelis at Entebbe and of the Germans at Mogadishu
had made it possible, but there was still violent opposition in both
countries to maintaining a dual national counteraction force.

With a preliminary click and hum the central screen of Peter's
communications console came alive and Dr.  Parker spoke before his
image had properly hardened.

"I'm afraid it's condition Charlie, Peter," he said softly, and

Peter was aware of the rush of his blood through his veins.  It was
natural for a soldier whose entire life had been spent in training for
a special moment in time to welcome the arrival of that moment yet he
found contempt for himself in that emotion; no sane man should
anticipate violence and death, and all the misery and suffering which
attended them.

the South Africans have intercepted and identified 070.  It entered
their airspace forty-five seconds ago."

"Radio contact?"  Peter asked.

"No."  Parker shook his great head.  "It is declining contact, and we
must assume that it is under the control of militants so now I'm going
to be at this desk until this thing is settled."  Kingston Parker never
used the emotive word terrorist" and he did not like to hear it from
his subordinates either.

"Never hate your adversary blindly," he had told Peter once.

"llnderstand his motives, recognize and respect his strengths and you
will be better prepared to meet him."

"What co-operation can we expect?"  Peter asked.

"All African States that we have so far been able to contact have
offered full co-operation, including overflight, landing and refuelling
facilities and the South Africans are being helpful.  I have spoken to
their defence minister and he has offered the fullest possible
co-operation.  They will refuse 070 landing clearance, of course, and

I

anticipate that it will have to go on to one of the black states
farther north, which is probably the militants" intention anyway.  I

think you know my views about South Africa but in this instance I

must say they are being very good."  Parker brought into the television
shot a black briar pipe with a big round bowl, and began to stuff it
with tobacco.

His hands were large, like the rest of his body, but the fingers were
long and sup pleas those of a pianist which of course he was.

And Peter remembered the scented smell of the tobacco he smoked.  Even
though he was a non-smoker, Peter had not found-the odour offensive.

Both men were silent, deep in thought, Parker frowning slightly as he
seemed to concentrate on his pipe.  Then he sighed and looked up
again.

"All right, Peter.  Let's hear what you have."  Peter shuffled through
the notes he had been making.  "I have prepared four tentative
scenarios and our responses to each, sir.  The most important
consideration is whether this is a strike "A Vallemande" or "A

l'italienne'!--" Parker nodded, listening; although this was
well-travelled ground they must go over it again.  A strike in the

Italian fashion was the easier to resolve, a straight demand for
cash.

The German tradition involved release of prisoners, social and
political demands that crossed national boundaries.

They worked on for another hour before they were interrupted again.

"Good God."  It was a measure of Kingston Parker's astonishment that he
used such strong language.  "We have a new development here."  It was
only when 070 joined the eastern airway and began to initiate a
standard approach and let down, without however obtaining air traffic
control clearance, that South African Air force Command suddenly
realized what was about to happen.

Immediately emergency silence was imposed on all the aviation
frequencies while the approaching flight was bombarded by urgent
commands to immediately vacate national airspace.  There was no
response whatsoever, and one hundred and fifty nautical miles out
from

Jan Smuts International Airport the Boeing reduced power and commenced
a sedate descent to enter controlled airspace.

"British Airways 070 this is Jan Smuts Control, you are expressly
refused clearance to join the circuit.  Do you read me, 070?"

"British

Airways 070 this is Air force Command.  You are warned that you are in
violation of national airspace.  You are ordered to climb immediately
to thirty thousand feet and turn on course for Nairobi."  The Boeing
was a hundred nautical miles out and descending through fifteen
thousand feet.

"Diamond Leader, this is Cheetah.  Take the target under command and
enforce departure clearance."

The long sleek aircraft in its mottled green and brown battle
camouflage dropped like a dart, rapidly overhauling the huge
multi-engined giant, diving down just behind the tailplane and then
pulling up steeply in front of the gaily painted red, white and blue
nose.

Skilfully the Mirage pilot stationed his nimble little machine one
hundred feet ahead of the Boeing and rocked his wings in the Follow me"
command.

The Boeing sailed on serenely as though it had not seen or understood.
The Mirage pilot nudged his throttles and the gap between the two
aircraft narrowed down to fifty feet.  Again he rocked his wings and
began a steady rate-one turn onto the northerly heading ordered by
Cheetah.

The Boeing held rock steady on its standard approach towards

Johannesburg, forcing the Mirage leader to abandon his attempts to lead
her away.

He edged back alongside, keeping just above the jet-blast of the

Boeing's port engines until he was level with the cockpit and could
stare across a gap of merely fifty feet.

"Cheetah, this is Diamond One.  I have a good view into target's flight
deck.  There is a fourth person in the cockpit.

It's a woman.  She appears to be armed with a machine pistol."  The
faces of the two pilots were white as bone as they turned to watch the
interceptor.  The woman leaned over the back of the left-hand seat, and
lifted the clumsy black weapon in an ironic salute.  She smiled and
the

Mirage pilot was close enough to se how white her teeth were.

a young woman, blonde hair, the Mirage pilot reported.  "Pretty very
pretty."

"Diamond One, this is Cheetah.

Position for head-on attack."  The Mirage thundered instantly ahead and
climbed away swiftly, the other four aircraft of the flight sweeping in
to resume their tight "finger five" formation as they went out in a
wide turn ahead of the Boeing.

"Cheetah.  We are in position for a head-on attack."

"Diamond

Flight.  Simulate.  Attack in line astern.  Fivesecond intervals.

Minimum separation.  Do not, I say again, do not open fire.  This is a
simulated attack.  I say again, this is a simulated attack."

"Diamond

One understands simulated attack."  And the Mirage F.1 winged over and
dived, its speed rocketing around the mach scale, booming through the
sonic barrier in a fearsomely aggressive display.

Cyril Watkins saw him coming from seven miles ahead.

"Jesus," he shouted.  "This is real," and he lunged forward to take
manual control of the Boeing, to pull her off the automatic approach
that the electronic flight director was performing.

"Hold her steady."  Ingrid raised her voice for the first time.

"Hold it."  She swung the gaping double muzzles of the shot pistol onto
the flight engineer.  "We don't need a navigator now."  The captain
froze, and the Mirage howled down on them, seemed to grow until it
filled the whole view through the windshield ahead.  At the last
possible instant of time the nose lifted slightly and it flashed only
feet overhead, but the supersonic turbulence of its passage struck and
tossed even that huge machine like a piece of thistledown.

"Here comes another, "Cyril Watkins shouted.

"I mean it."  Ingrid pressed the muzzles so fiercely into the back of
the flight engineer's neck that his forehead struck the edge of his
computer console, and there was the quick bright rose of blood on the
pale skin.

The jet blasts struck the Boeing one after the other as the

Mirages attacked.  Ingrid clutched wildly for support with her free
hand, but kept the pistol jammed into the navigator's neck.  "I mean
it," she kept shouting.  "I'll kill him and they could hear the screams
of the passengers even through the bulkhead of the flight deck.

Then the last Mirage was passed and gone and the Boeing's flight
director recovered from the battering of close separation and quickly
realigned the aircraft on the radio navigational beacons of Jan Smuts

Airport.

"They won't buzz us again."  Ingrid stepped back from the flight
engineer, allowing him to lift his head and wipe away the trickle of
blood on the sleeve of his shirt.  "They can't come again.  We are into
controlled airspace."  She pointed ahead.  "Look!"  The Boeing was down
to five thousand feet, but the horizon was obscured by the haze of smog
and summer heat.

To the right rose the smooth silhouette of the Kempton Park Power

Station cooling towers and, closer at hand, the poisonous yellow
tablelands of the mine dumps squatted on the flat and featureless plain
of the African high veld

Around them human habitation was so dense that hundreds of windowpanes
caught the early morning sun and glittered like beacons.

Closer still was the long, straight, blue streak of the main runway of
Jan Smuts Airport.

"Take her straight in on runway 21 ingrid ordered.

"We can't,-"

"Do it," snapped the girl.  "Air traffic control will have cleared the
circuit.  They can't stop us."

"Yes, they can," Cyril

Watkins answered.  "Just take a look at the runway apron."  They were
close enough now to count five fuel tenders, to see the Shell company
insignia on the tanks.

"They are going to block the runway."  With the tankers were five
brilliant red vehicles of the fire service and two big white
ambulances.  They bumped wildly over the grass verge of the runway and
then, one after the other, tenders and fire control vehicles and
ambulances parked at intervals of a few hundred yards down the
white-painted centre line of the runway.

"We can't land," said the captain.

"Take her off automatic and fly her in by hand."  The girl's voice was
different, hard, cruel.

The Boeing was sinking through a thousand feet, lined up for runway 21
and directly ahead the revolving red beacons on top of the fire
vehicles seemed to flash a direct challenge.

"I can't pile into them," Cyril Watkins decided, and there was no
longer hesitation nor doubt in his tone.  "I'm going to overshoot and
get out of here."

"Land on the grass," the girl shrieked.  "There is open grass on the
left of the runway put her down there."  But Cyril

Watkins had leaned forward in his seat and rammed the bank of throttles
forward.  The engines howled and the Boeing surged into a nose-high
climb.

The young flight engineer had swivelled his stool and was staring ahead
through the windscreen.  His whole body was rigid, his expression
intense and the smear of blood across his forehead was in vivid
contrast to the pallor of his skin.

With his right hand he gripped the edge of his desk, and the knuckles
of his fist were white and shiny as eggshell.

Without seeming to move the blonde girl had pinned the wrist of that
rigid right hand, pressing the muzzles of the pistol into it.

There was a crash of sound, so violent in the confines of the cabin
that it seemed to beat in their eardrums.  The weapon kicked up as high
as the girl's golden head and there was the immediate acrid stench of
burned cordite.

The flight engineer stared down incredulously at the desk top.

There was a hole blown through the metal as big as a teacup, and the
edges were jagged with bright bare metal.

The blast of shot had amputated his hand cleanly at the wrist.

The severed member had been thrown forward into the space between the
pilots" seats, with the shattered bone protruding from the mangled
meat.  It twitched like a crushed and maimed insect.

"Land," said the girl.  "Land or the next shot is through his head."

"You bloody monster," shouted Cyril Watkins, staring at the severed
hand.

"Land or you will be responsible for this man's life."  The flight
engineer clutched the stump of his arm against his belly and doubled
over it silently, his face contorted by the shock.

Cyril Watkins tore his stricken gaze from the severed hand and looked
ahead once more.  There was wide open grass between the runway markers
and the narrow taxiway.

The grass had been mown knee-high, and he knew the ground beneath it
would be fairly smooth.

Cyril's hand on the throttle bank pulled back smoothly, almost of its
own volition, the engine thunder died away and the nose dropped
again.

He held his approach aligned with the main runway until he was well in
over the threshold lights.  He did not want to alert the drivers of the
blocking vehicles to his intention while they still had time to counter
it.

"You murderous bitch," he said under his breath.  "You filthy murderous
bitch."  He banked the Boeing steeply, realigned it with the long strip
of open grass and cut the throttles completely, bringing her in
nose-high and just a fraction above the stall, flaring out deliberately
low and banging the Boeing down into the grass for positive touch
down.

The huge machine settled to the rough strip, jolting and lurching
wildly as Cyril Watkins fought the rudders to keep them lined up,

holding his nose wheel off with the control yoke, while his co-pilot
threw all her giant engines into reverse thrust and trod firmly down on
the main landing gear brakes.

The fire engines and fuel tankers flashed past the starboard wing tip.
The startled faces of their crews seemed very close and white then 070
was past, her speed bleeding off sharply so her nose wheel dropped and
she rocked and swayed gradually to a dead stop just short of the brick
building which housed the approach and landing beacons,

and the main radar installations.

It was 7.25 a.m. local time and Speedbird 070 was down.

"Well, they are down," intoned Kingston Parker.

"And you can well understand the extreme efforts that were made to
prevent them.  Their choice of final destination settles one of your
queries, Peter."

" Peter nodded.  "It's got to be political.

I agree, sir."

"And you and I must now face in dreadful reality what we have discussed
only in lofty theory-" Parker held a taper to his pipe and puffed twice
before going on.

Morally justifiable militancy."

"Again we have to differ, sir."

Peter cut in swiftly.  "There is no such thing."

"Is there not?"  Parker asked, shaking his head.  "What of the German
officers killed in the streets of Paris by the French resistance?"

"That was war," Peter exclaimed.

"Perhaps the group that seized 070 believes that they are at war

"With innocent victims?"  Peter shot back.

"The Haganah took innocent victims yet what they were fighting for was
right and just."  As an Englishman, Dr.  Parker you cannot expect me to
condone the murder of British women and children."  Peter had stiffened
in his chair.

"No," Parker agreed.  "So let us not speak of the MauMau in Kenya,

nor of present-day Ireland then but what of the French Revolution or
the spreading of the Catholic faith by the most terrible persecution
and tortures yet devised by man were those not morally justifiable
militancy?"

"I would prefer to call it understandable but reprehensible.  Terrorism
in any form can never be morally justifiable."

Provoked himself, Peter used the word deliberately to provoke and saw
the small lift of Parker's thick bushy eyebrows.

"There is terrorism from above as well as from below."  Parker picked
up the word and used it deliberately.  "If you define terrorism as
extreme physical or physiological coercion used to induce others to
submit to the will of the terrorist there is the legal terror threat of
the gallows, the religious terror threat of hell fire, the paternal
terror threat of the cane are those more morally justifiable than the
aspiration of the weak, the poor, the politically oppressed,

the powerless victims of an unjust society?  Is their scream of protest
to be strangled-" Peter shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  "Protest
outside the law-"

"Laws are made by man, almost always by the rich and the powerful laws
are changed by men, usually only after militant action.  The women's
suffragette movement, the civil rights campaign in this country-"
Parker broke off and chuckled.  "I'm sorry, Peter.

Sometimes I confuse myself.

It's often more difficult to be a liberal than it is to be a tyrant. At
least the tyrant seldom has doubts."  Parker lay back in his chair, a
dismissive gesture.  "I propose to leave you in peace for an hour or
two now.  You will want to develop your plans in line with the new
developments.  But I personally have no doubts now that we are dealing
with politically motivated militants, and not merely a gang of
old-fashioned kidnappers after a fast buck.  Of one or " her thing I am
certain: before we see this one through we will be forced to examine
our own consciences very closely."

%

Make the second right," said Ingrid quietly, and the Boeing swung off
the grass onto the taxiway.  There seemed to be no damage to her
landing gear, but now that she had left her natural element, the
aircraft had lost grace and beauty and became lumbering and ungainly.

The girl had never been on the flight deck of a grounded jumbo before,
and the height was impressive.  It gave her a feeling of detachment, of
being invulnerable.

"Now left again," she instructed, and the Boeing turned away from the
main airport building towards the southern end of the runway.  The
observation deck of the airport's flat roof was already lined with
hundreds of curious spectators, but all activity on the apron was
suspended.  The waiting machines and tenders were deserted, not a
single human figure on the tarmac.

"Park there."  She pointed ahead to an open area four hundred yards
from the nearest building, midway between the terminal and the cluster
of service hangars and the main fuel depot.  "Stop on the
intersection."  Grimly silent, Cyril Watkins did as he was ordered, and
then turned in his seat.

"I must call an ambulance to get him off."  The co-pilot and a
stewardess had the flight engineer stretched out on the galley floor,

just beyond the door to the flight deck.  They were using linen table
napkins to bind up the arm and try and staunch the bleeding.  The
stench of cordite still lingered and mingled with the taint of fresh
blood.

"Nobody leaves this aircraft."  The girl shook her head.

"He knows too much about us already."  My God, woman.  He needs medical
attention."

"There are three hundred doctors aboard-" she pointed out
indifferently.  "The best in the world.  Two of them may come forward
and attend to him."  She perched sideways on the flight engineer's
blood-splattered desk, and thumbed the internal microphone.

Cyril Watkins noticed even in his outrage that it needed only a single
demonstration and Ingrid was able to work the complicated
communications equipment.  She was bright and very well trained.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed at Johannesburg Airport.  We will
be here for a long time perhaps days, even weeks.  All our patience
will be tried, so I must warn you that any disobedience will be most
severely dealt with.

Already one attempt at resistance has been made and in consequence a
member of the crew has been shot and gravely wounded.  He may die of
this wound.  We do not want a repetition of this incident.

However, I must again warn you that my officers and I will not hesitate
to shoot again, or even to detonate the explosives above your heads if
the need arises."  She paused and watched a moment as two selected
doctors came forward and knelt on each side of the flight engineer.  He
was shaking like a fever victim with shock, his white shirt splashed
and daubed with blood.  Her expression showed no remorse, no real
concern, and her voice was calm and light as shement on.

"Two of my officers will now pass down the aisles and they will collect
your passports from you.  Please have these documents ready."

Her eyes flicked sideways, as movement caught her eye.

From beyond the service hangars a line of four armoured cars emerged in
line ahead.  They were the locally manufactured version of the French
Panhard with heavily lugged tall tyres, a raked turret and the
disproportionately long barrels of the cannons trained forward.

The armoured vehicles circled cautiously and parked three hundred
yards

Out, at the four points wing tips, tail and nose around the aircraft,
with the long cannon trained upon her.

The girl watched them disdainfully until one of the doctors pushed
himself in front of her.  He was a short, chubby little man, balding
but brave.

"This man must be taken to a hospital immediately."

"That is out of the question."

"I insist.  His life is in danger."

"All our lives are in danger, doctor."  She paused and let that make
its effect.  "Draw up a list of your requirements.  I will see that you
get them."  They have been down for sixteen hours now and the only
contact has been a request for medical supplies and for a power link-up
to the electrical mains."  Kingston Parker had removed his jacket and
loosened the knot of his tie, but was showing no other ill effects of
his vigil.

Peter Stride nodded at the image on the screen.  "What have your medics
made of the supplies?  "he asked.

"Looks like a gunshot casualty.  Whole blood type AB Positive,

that's rare but one of the crew is cross-matched AB Positive on his
service record.  Ten lit res of plasmalyte B, a blood-giving set and
syringes, morphine and intravenous penicillin, tetanus toxoid all the
equipment needed to treat massive physical trauma."

"And they are on mains power?"  Peter asked.

"Yes, four hundred people would have suffocated by now without the
air-conditioning.  The airport authority has laid a cable and plugged
it into the external socket.  All the aircraft's support system even
the galley heating will be gfully functional."

"So we will be able to throw the switch on them at any time."  Peter
made a note on the pad in front of him.  "But no demands yet?  No
negotiator called for?"

"No,

nothing.  They seem fully aware of the techniques of bargaining in this
type of situation unlike our friends, the host country.  I am afraid we
are having a great deal of trouble with the Wyatt Earp mentality-"

Parker paused.

"I'm sorry, Wyatt Earp was one of our frontier marshals-"

"I saw the movie, and read the book, Peter answered tartly.

"Well, the South Africans are itching to storm the aircraft, and both
our ambassador and yours are hard pressed to restrain them.  They are
all set to kick the doors of the saloon open and rush in with six-guns
blazing.  They must also have seen the movie."  Peter felt the crawl of
horror down his spine.  "That would be a certain disaster," he said
quickly.  "These people are running a tight operation."

"You don't have to convince me," Parker agreed.  "What is your flying
time to Jan

Smuts now?"

"We crossed the Zambesi River seven minutes ago."  Peter glanced
sideways through the perspex bubble window, but the ground was obscured
by haze and cumulus cloud.  "We have another two hours ten minutes to
fly but my support section is three hours forty behind us."

"All right, Peter.  I will get back onto them.  The South African

Government convened a full cabinet meeting, and both our ambassadors
are sitting in as observers and advisers.  I think I am going to be
obliged to tell them about the existence of Atlas."  He paused a
moment.

"Here at last we are seeing Atlas justified, Peter.  A single unit,

cutting across all national considerations, able -to act swiftly and
independently.  I think you should know that I have already obtained
the agreement of the President and of your Prime Minister to
condition

Delta at my discretion."  Condition Delta was the kill decision.

but again I emphasize that I will implement Delta only as a last
possible resort.  I want to hear and consider the demands first, and in
that respect we are open to negotiation fully open-" Parker went on
speaking, and Peter Stride shifted slightly, dropping his chin into the
cup of his hand to hide his irritation.  They were into an area of
dispute now and once again Peter had to voice disagreement.

"Every time you let a militant walk away from a strike you immediately
create the conditions for further strikes, to free the captive."

"I have the clearance for condition Delta," Parker reiterated with a
trace of acid in his tone now, "but I am making it clear that it will
be used only with the greatest discretion.

We are not an assassination unit, General Stride."  Parker nodded to an
assistant off-screen.  "I am going through to the South Africans now to
explain Atlas."  The image receded into darkness.

Peter Stride leapt up abruptly and tried to pace the narrow aisle
between the seats, but there was insufficient headroom for his tall
frame and he flung himself angrily into the seat again.

Kingston Parker stood up from his communications desk in the outer
office of his suite in the west wing of the Pentagon.  The two
communications technicians scurried out of his way and his personal
secretary opened the door to his inner office.

He moved with peculiar grace for such a large man, and there was no
excess weight on his frame, his big heavy bones lean of flesh.  His
clothes were of fine cloth, well cut the best that Fifth Avenue could
offer but they were worn almost to the point of shoddiness, the
button-down collar slightly frayed, the Italian shoes scuffed at the
toes as though material trappings counted not at all with him.

Nevertheless he wore them with a certain unconscious panache, and he
looked ten years younger than his fifty.

only a few silver strands in the thick bushy mane of hair.

The inner office was Spartan in its furnishings, all of it U.S.

Government issue, utilitarian and impersonal, only the books that
filled every shelf and the grand piano were his own.  The piano was a

Bechstein grand and much too large for the room.  Parker ran his right
hand lightly across the keyboard as he passed it but he went on to the
desk.

He dropped into the swivel chair and shuffled through the dozen
intelligence folders on his desk.  Each of them contained the latest
computer print-outs that he had requested.  There were personal
histories, appraisals, and character studies of all the personalities
that had so far become involved in the taking of Speedbird 070.

Both the ambassadors their pink files signified the best security
ratings, and were marked "Heads of Departments only'.  Four other files
in lower echelon green were devoted to the South African

Government personalities with decision-making capabilities in an
emergency.  The thickest file was that of the South African Prime

Minister and once again Parker noted wryly that the man had been
imprisoned by the pro-British government of General Jan Smuts during

World War II as a militant opponent of his country's involvement in
that war.  He wondered just how much sympathy he would have for other
militants now.

There were files for the South African Ministers of Defence and of
justice, and still slimmer green files for the Commissioner of Police
and for the Assistant Commissioner who had been given the
responsibility of handling the emergency.  Of them all only the Prime

Minister emerged as a distinct personality a powerful bulldog figure,

not a man easily influenced or dissuaded, and instinctively Kingston

Parker recognized that ultimate authority rested here.

There was one other pink file at the bottom of the considerable stack,
so well handled that the cardboard cover was splitting at the hinge.
The original print-out in this file had been requisitioned two years
previously, with quarterly up-dates since that time.

"STRIDE PETER CHARLES" it was headed and reclassified "Head of

Atlas only'.

A Kingston Parker could probably have recited its contents by heart but
he untied the ribbons now, and opened it in his lap.

Puffing deliberately at his pipe he began to turn slowly through the
loose pages.

There were the bare bones of the subject's life.  Born 1939, one of
twin war-time babies of a military family, his father killed in action
three years later when the armoured brigade of guards he commanded was
overrun by one of Erwin Rommel's devastating drives across the deserts
of North Africa.  The elder twin brother had inherited the baronetcy
and Peter followed the well-travelled family course, Harrow and
Sandhurst, where he must have disconcerted the family by his academic
brilliance and his reluctance to participate in team sports preferring
the loner activities of golf and tennis and long-distance running.

Kingston Parker pondered that a moment.  They were pointers to the
man's character that had disconcerted him as well.  Parker had the
intellectual's generalized contempt for the military, and he would have
preferred a man who conformed more closely to his ideal of the
brass-headed soldier.

Yet when the young Stride had entered his father's regiment, it seemed
that the exceptional intelligence had been diverted into conventional
channels and the preference for independent thought and action held in
check, if not put aside completely until his regiment was sent to
Cyprus at the height of the unrest in that country.  Within a week of
arrival the young Stride had been seconded, with his commanding
officer's enthusiastic approval, to central army intelligence.  Perhaps
the commanding officer had already become aware of the problems
involved in harbouring a wonder-boy in the tradition-bound portals of
his officers" mess.

For once the military had made a logical, if not an outright brilliant,
choice.  Stride in the sixteen years since then had not made a single
mistake, apart from the marriage which had ended in divorce within two
years.  Had he remained with his regiment that might have affected his
career but since Cyprus Stride's progress had been as unconventional
and meteoric as his brain.

In a dozen different and difficult assignments since then, he had honed
his gifts and developed new talents; rising against the trend of
reduced British expenditure on defence, he had reached staff rank
before thirty years of age.

At NATO Headquarters he had made powerful friends and admirers on both
sides of the Atlantic, and at the end of his three-year term in

Brussels he had been promoted to major-general and been transferred to
head British Intelligence in Ireland, bringing his own particular
dedication and flair to the job.

A great deal of the credit for containing the sweep of Irish terrorism
through Britain was his, and his in-depth study of the urban guerrilla
and the mind of the militant, although classified depart mentally was
probably the definitive work on the subject.

The Atlas concept was first proposed in this study, and so it was that
Stride had been on the short list to head the project.  It seemed
certain the appointment would be made the Americans had been impressed
with his study and his friends from NATO had not forgotten him.  His
appointment was approved in principle.  Then at the last moment there
had developed sudden and intense opposition to the appointment of a
professional soldier to head such a sensitive agency.

The opposition had come from both Whitehall and Washington
simultaneously, and had prevailed.

Kingston Parker knocked out his pipe, and carried the file across the
room and laid it open on the music rack of the piano.  He seated
himself at the keyboard and, still M studying the printout sheets,

began to play.

The stream of music, the lovely ethereal strains of Liszt, did not
interrupt his thoughts but seemed to buoy them brightly upwards.

Parker had not wanted Stride, had considered from the very first that
he was dangerous, sensing in him ambitions and motivations which would
be difficult to control.  Parker would have preferred his own nominees
Tanner, who now commanded the Mercury arm of Atlas, or Colin

Noble and had expected that Stride would have declined a command so far
below his capability.

However, Stride had accepted the lesser appointment and headed

Thor.  Parker suspected that there was unusual motivation in this, and
had made every effort to study the man at first hand.  On five separate
occasions he had ordered Stride to Washington, and focused upon him the
full strength of his charisma and personality.  He had even invited him
to stay with him in his New York home, spending many hours with him in
deep far-ranging discussions from which he had developed a prudent
respect for the man's mind, but had been able to reach no firm
conclusions as to his future in Atlas.

Parker turned a page of the character appraisal.  When he looked for
the weakness in an opponent, Parker had long ago learned to start at
the groin.  With this man there was no evidence of any unnatural sexual
leanings.  Certainly he was not homosexual, if anything too much the
opposite.

There had been at least a dozen significant liaisons with the opposite
sex since his divorce.  However, all of these had been discreet and
dignified.  Although three of the ladies had been married,

none of them were the wives of his subordinates in the armed
services,

nor of brother officers or of men who might be able to adversely affect
his career.

The women he chose all had certain qualities in common they all tended
to be tall, intelligent and successful.  One was a journalist who had
her own syndicated column, another was a former fashion model who now
designed and marketed her clothes through her own prestigious outlets
in London and on the continent.  Then there was an actress who was a
leading female member of the Royal Shakespeare Company Parker skimmed
the list impatiently, for Parker himself had no sympathy nor patience
with a man who succumbed to the dictates of his body.

Parker had trained himself to be totally celibate, channelling all his
sexual energies into pursuits of the mind, while this man Stride,

on the other hand, was not above conducting two or three of his
liaisons concurrently.

Parker moved on to the second area of weakness.  Stride's inheritance
had been decimated by the punitive British death duties yet his private
income even after savage aviation was still a little over twenty
thousand pounds sterling a year, and when this was added to his salary
and privileges as a general officer, it enabled him to live in good
style.  He could even indulge in the mild extravagance of collecting
rare books and, Parker observed acidly, the greater extravagance of
collecting rare ladies.

However, there was no trace of any illicit hoard no Swiss bank
accounts, no deposits of gold bullion, no foreign properties, no shares
in offshore companies held by nominees and Parker had searched
diligently for them, for they would have indicated payments received,

perhaps from foreign governments.  A man like Stride had much to
sell,

at prices he could set himself but it seemed he had not done so.

Stride did not smoke; Parker removed the old black briar from his own
mouth, regarded it affectionately for a moment.  It was his one
indulgence, a harmless one despite what the surgeon-general of the

United States had determined, and he took the stem firmly between his
teeth again.

Stride took alcohol in moderation and was considered knowledgeable on
the subject of wine.  He raced occasion ally, more as a social outing
than as a serious punter, and the odd fifty pounds he could well
afford.  There was no evidence of other gambling.  However, he did not
hunt, nor did he shoot traditional pursuits of the English gentleman.

Perhaps he had moral objections to blood sports, Parker thought,

though it seemed unlikely, for Stride was a superlative marksman with
rifle, shotgun and pistol.  He had represented Britain at the Munich

Olympics as a pistol shot, winning a gold in the fifty metre class, and
he spent at least an hour every day on the range.

Parker turned to the page of the print-out that gave the man's medical
history.  He must be superbly fit as well his body weight at the age of
thirty-nine was one pound less than it had been at twenty-one, and he
still trained like a front-line soldier.  Parker noticed that he had
logged sixteen parachute jumps the previous month.

Since joining Atlas he had no opportunity or time for golf, though when
he was with NATO Stride had played off a handicap of three.

Parker closed the folder and played on softly, but neither the sensual
polished feel of cool ivory beneath his fingertips nor the achingly
lovely lilt of the music could dispel his sense of disquiet.

Exhaustive as the report was, yet it left unanswered questions, like
why Stride had downgraded himself to accept the command of Thor he was
not the kind of man who acted ill-advisedly.  Yet the most haunting
questions that nagged at Parker were just how strong were his qualities
of resilience and independent thought, just how strongly was he driven
by his ambitions and that penetrating intellect and just how great a
threat such a man would present to the evolution of Atlas into its
ultimate role.

"Doctor Parker, sir," his assistant knocked lightly and entered,

"there are new developments."  Parker sighed softly.  "I'm coming," he
said, and let the last sad and beautiful notes fall from his long,

powerful fingers before he stood up.

The Hawker slid almost silently down the sky.  The pilot had closed
down power at five thousand feet and made his final approach without
touching the throttles again.  He was ten knots above the stall as he
passed over the boundary fence and he touched down twenty feet beyond
the chevron markings of the threshold of runway One five, instantly
applying maximum safe braking.  One five was the secondary cross-wind
runway and the Hawker's roll-out was so short that every part of the
approach and landing had been screened by the buildings of the main
airport terminal from where Speedbird 070 stood at the southern
intersection of the main taxiway.

The pilot swung the Hawker through 360" and backtracked sedately up
runway 15, using just enough power to keep her rolling.

"Well done," grunted.  Peter Stride, crouching behind the pilot's seat.
He was almost certain that nobody aboard 070 had remarked their
arrival.

"They've prepared a slot for us, with hook up to the electrical mains
at the north-" Peter broke off as he saw the apron marshal waving them
in with the bats, and beyond him a tight group of four men waiting.
Three of them wore camouflage battle dress and the other the trim blue
uniform, cap and gold insignia of a senior South African police
officer.

The uniformed officer was the first to greet Peter as he came down the
Hawker's fold-out air-stairs.

"Prinsloo."  He shook hands.  "Lieutenant-General."  He ranked

Peter, but it was a police, not a military appointment.  He was a
stocky man, with steel-rimmed spectacles, a little paunchy, and not
less than fifty-five years of age.  He had the rather heavy features,

the fleshiness of jowl and lips, that Peter had noticed so often in

Belgian and Dutch peasants during his NATO tour in the Netherlands.

A

man of the earth, dour and conservative.

"Let me introduce Commandant Boonzaier."  This was a military rank,

equivalent to that of colonel, and he was a younger man, but with the
same thick accent and his features cast in the same mould.  A tall
man,

however, only an inch or so shorter than Peter but both of the South

Africans were suspicious and resentful, and the reason was immediately
apparent.

"I have been instructed to take my orders from you, General," and there
was a subtle shift of position, the two officers ranging themselves
beside Peter, but facing each other, and he was aware instantly that
not all the hostility was directed at him.  There had been friction
between police and military already and the basic value of Atlas was
underlined yet again.

A single clean-cut line of command and of responsibility was absolutely
essential Peter's mind flicked back to the shoot-out at

Larnaca Airport between Egyptian commandos and Cypriot national
guardsmen, from which the hijackers of the grounded jet emerged
unscathed while the airfield was littered with the burning wreckage of
the Egyptian transport aircraft and dozens of dead and dying Cypriots
and Egyptians.

The first principle of terrorist strategy was to strike at the point
where national responsibilities were blurred.  Atlas cut through
that.

"Thank you."  Peter accepted command without flaunting it.  "My backup
team will land in just over three hours" time.  We will, of course, use
force only as a last resort but if it comes to that, I

will use exclusively Atlas personnel in any counter-strike.  I would
like to make that quite clear immediately."  And he saw the line of the
soldier's mouth harden with disappointment.

"My men are the elite "It's a British aircraft, most of the hostages
are British or American nationals it's a political decision,

Colonel.  But I would value your help in other areas."  Peter turned
him aside tactfully.

"Firstly, I want you to suggest a position where I can place my
surveillance equipment and then we will go over the ground together."

Peter had no difficulty selecting his forward observation post.  The
service manager's roomy, sparsely furnished office on the third floor
of the terminal building overlooked the entire service area and the
southern portion of the taxiway where the Boeing stood.

The windows had been left open when the offices were evacuated, so
there was no need to change the external appearance of the room.

The overhang of the observation balcony on the floor above shaded the
interior, and the office was deep enough to ensure that an observer out
there in the bright glare of sunshine would not be able to see into the
room, even with a powerful lens.  The militants would expect
surveillance from the glass control tower high above any deception,

however trivial, was worth while.

The surveillance equipment was lightweight and compact, the television
nm eras were neither of them bigger than a super 8 mm.  home movie
camera and a man could carry in one hand both of the aluminium
extension tripods.

However, the cameras could zoom to 800 mm.  focal length, and then
repeated on the screens of the command console in the cabin of the

Hawker, while the image was simultaneously stored on videotape.

The audio intensifier was more bulky, but no heavier.  It had a
four-foot dish antenna, with the sound collector in the centre.

The telescopic sight could aim the intensifier at a sound source with
the accuracy of a sniper's rifle.  It could focus on the lips of a
human being at eight hundred yards" distance and clearly record normal
conversation at that range, passing sound directly to the command
console and at the same time storing it on the big magnetic tape
spools.

Two of Peter's communications team were posted here, with a plentiful
supply of coffee and doughnuts, and Peter, accompanied by the

South African colonel and his staff, went up in the elevator to the
glass house of the control tower.

from the air traffic control tower there was an unobstructed view
across the airfield and over the apron and service areas around the
terminal.  The observation platform below the tower had been cleared of
all but military personnel.

I have road blocks at all the main entrances to the airfield.

Only passengers with confirmed reservations and current tickets are
being allowed through, and we are using only the northern section of
the terminal for traffic."  Peter nodded and turned to the senior
controller.  "What is the state of your traffic pattern?"

"We have refused clearance to all private flights, incoming and
departing.  All domestic scheduled flights have been re-routed to

Lanseria and Germiston airports, and we are landing and despatching
only international scheduled flights but the backlog has delayed
departures by three hours."

"What separation are you observing from

070?"  Peter asked.

"Fortunately the international departures terminal is the farthest from
the aircraft, and we are not using the taxiways or the apron of the
southern section.  As you see, we have cleared the entire area except
for those three S.A. Airways aircraft which are undergoing overhaul and
servicing, there are no other aircraft within a thousand yards of

07O."

"I may have to freeze all traffic, if-" Peter paused, "or should I say,
when we have an escalation."

"Very well, sir."

"In the meantime, you may continue as you are at present."  Peter
lifted his binoculars and once again very carefully examined the huge
Boeing.

It stood in stately isolation, silent and seemingly abandoned.  The
bright, almost gaudy marking gave her a carnival air.

Red and blue and crisp sparkling white in the brilliant sunlight of the
high veld  She was parked fully broadside to the tower, and all her
hatches and doors were still armed and locked.

Peter traversed slowly along the line of perspex windows down the
length of the fuselage but over each of them the sunshades had been
firmly closed from the interior, turning them into the multiple eyes of
a blinded insect.

Peter lifted his scrutiny slightly onto the windshield and side panels
of the flight deck.  These again had been screened with blankets, hung
over them from inside, completely thwarting any glimpse of the crew or
their captors and certainly preventing a shot into the flight deck,
although the range from the nearest corner of the terminal was not more
than four hundred yards, and with the new laser sights one of Thor's
trained snipers could pick through which eye of the human head he would
put a bullet.

Snaking across the open tarmac of the taxiway was the thin black
electrical cable that connected the aircraft to the mains supply, a
long, vulnerable umbilical cord.  Peter studied it thoughtfully, before
turning his attention to the four Panhard armoured cars.  A little
frown of irritation crossed his forehead.

"Colonel, please recall those vehicles."  He tried not to let the
irritation come through in his tone.  "With the turrets battened down,
your crews will be roasting like Christmas geese

"General, I feel it my duty-" Boonzaier began, and Peter lowered the
glasses and smiled.  It was a charming, friendly grin that took the man
by surprise, after the previous stern set of features and yet the eyes
were devoid of humour, cracking blue and hard in the craggy granite of
the face.

"I want to defuse the atmosphere as much as possible."  The necessity
to explain irked Peter, but he maintained the smile.

"Somebody with four great cannons aimed at him is more likely to make a
bad decision, and pull the trigger himself.  You may keep them in close
support, but get them out of sight into the terminal car park, and let
your men rest."  With little grace the colonel passed the order over
the walkie-talkie on his belt, and as the vehicles started up and
slowly pulled away behind the line of hangars, Peter went on
remorselessly.

"How many men have you got deployed?"  He pointed to the line of
soldiers along the parapet of the observation balcony, and then to the
heads visible as specks between the soaring blue of the African sky and
the silhouette of the service hangars.

"Two hundred and thirty."

"Pull them out," Peter instructed, "and let the occupants of the
aircraft see them go."

"All of them?"

incredulously.

"All of them," Peter agreed, and now the smile was wolfish, "and
quickly, please, colonel."  The man was learning swiftly, and he lifted
the miniaturized walkie-talkie to his mouth again.  There were a few
moments of scurrying and confusion among the troops on the observation
deck below before they could be formed up and marched away in file.

Their steel helmets, like a bobbing line of button mushrooms, and the
muzzles of their slung weapons would show above the parapet, and would
be clearly visible to an observer in the Boeing.

"If you treat these people, these animals-" the colonel's voice was
choked slightly with frustration, if you treat them soft-" Peter knew
exactly what was coming, "and if you keep waving guns in their faces,
you will keep them alert and on their toes, Colonel.  Let them settle
down a little and relax, let them get very confident."  He spoke
without lowering the binoculars.  With a soldier's eye for ground he
was picking the site for his four snipers.  There was little chance
that he would be able to use them they would have to take out every
single one of the enemy at the same instant but a remote chance might
just offer itself, and he decided to place one gun on the service
hangar roof, there was a large ventilator which could be pierced and
would command the port side of the aircraft, two guns to cover the
flight deck from both sides he could use the drainage ditch down the
edge of the main runway to get a man into the small hut that housed the
approach radar and ILS beacons.  The hut was in the enemy's rear.  They
might not expect fire from that quarter.  point by point from his
mental checklist Peter planned his dispositions, scribbling his
decisions into the small leather-covered notebook, poring over the
large-scale map of the airport, converting gradients and angles into
fields of fire, measuring "ground to cover" and "time to target" for an
assault force launched from the nearest vantage points, twisting each
problem and evaluating it, striving for novel solutions to each, trying
to think ahead of an enemy that was still faceless and infinitely
menacing.

It took him an hour of hard work before he was satisfied.

Now he could pass his decisions to Colin Noble on board the incoming
Herc, and within four minutes of the big landing wheels hitting tarmac
his highly trained team with their complex talents and skills would be
in position.

Peter straightened up from the map and tucked the notebook under the
flap of his button-down breast pocket.

Once again he scrutinized every inch of the silent, battened-down
aircraft through his glasses but this time he allowed himself the
luxury of gut emotion.

He felt the anger and the hatred rise from some hidden depth of his
soul and flush his blood and tighten the muscles of his belly and
thighs.

Once again he was confronted by the many-headed monster.  It crouched
out there in ambush, waiting for him as it had so often before.

He remembered suddenly the shards of splintered glass littering the
cobbles of a Belfast street and glittering like diamond chips in the
arc lamps, the smell of explosives and blood thick in the air.

He remembered the body of a young woman lying in the gutted interior of
a fashionable London restaurant.  Her lovely young body stripped by the
blast of all but a flimsy pearl-coloured pair of French lace panties.

He remembered the smell of a family, father, mother and three small
children, burning in the interior of their saloon car, the bodies
blackening and twisting in a slow macabre ballet as the flames scorched
them.  Peter had not been able to eat pork since that day.

He remembered the frightened eyes of a child, through a mask of blood,
a dismembered arm lying beside her, the pale fingers still clutching a
grubby little rag doll.

The images flashed in disjointed sequences across his memory,

feeding his hatred until it pricked and stung behind his eyes and he
had to lower the binoculars and wipe his eyes with the back of his
hand.

It was the same enemy that he had hunted before, but his instincts
warned him that it had grown even stronger and more inhuman since last
he had met and fought it.  He tried to suppress the hatred now, lest it
cloud his judgement, lest it handicap him during the difficult hours
and days that he knew lay ahead but it was too powerful, had been too
long nurtured.

He recognized that hatred was the enemy's vice, that from it sprang
their twisted philosophy and their monstrous actions, and that to
descend to hatred was to descend to their sub-human levels yet still
the hatred persisted.

Peter Stride understood clearly that his hatred was not only for the
ghastly death and mutilation that he had witnessed so often.  More it
was fostered by the threat that he recognized to an entire society and
its civilized rule of law.  If this evil should be allowed to triumph,
then in the future laws would be made by the wild-eyed revolutionary,
with a gun in his fist the world would be run by the destroyers instead
of the builders, and Peter Stride hated that possibility more even than
the violence and the blood, and those he hated as a soldier hates.  For
only a soldier truly knows the horror of war.

His soldier's instinct now was to immediately engage the enemy and
destroy him but the scholar and philosopher in him warned that this was
not the moment, and with an enormous effort of will he held that
fighting man's instinct in check.

Yet still he was deeply aware that it was for this moment, for this
confrontation of the forces of evil, that he had jeopardized his whole
career.

When command of Atlas had been plucked away and a political appointee
named in his place, Peter should have declined the offer of a lesser
position in Atlas.  There were other avenues open to him, but instead
he had elected to stay with the project and he hoped that nobody had
guessed at the resentment he felt.  God knows, Kingston

Parker had no cause for complaint since then.  There was no harder
working officer on Atlas, and his loyalty had been tested more than
once.

Now all that seemed worth while, and the moment for which he had worked
had arrived.  The enemy waited For him out there on the burning tarmac
under an African sun, not on a soft green island in the rain nor in the
grimy streets of a crowded city but still it was the same old enemy,
and Peter knew his time would come.

His communications technicians had Colin Noble on the main screen as
Peter ducked into the Hawker's cabin that was now his command
headquarters, and settled into his padded seat.  On the top right
screen was a panoramic view of the southern terminal area, with the

Boeing squatting like a brooding eagle upon its nest in the centre of
the shot.  On the next screen beside it was a blow-up through the

800 mm.  zoom lens of the Boeing's flight deck.  So crisp was the
detail that Peter could read the maker's name on the tab of the blanket
that screened the windshield.  The third small screen held a full shot
of the interior of the air traffic control tower.  In the foreground
the controllers in shirt sleeves sitting over the radar repeaters, and
beyond them through the floor to ceiling windows still another view of
the Boeing.  All these were being shot through the cameras installed an
hour earlier in the terminal building.  The remaining small screen was
blank, and Colin Noble's homely, humorous face filled the main
screen.

"Now if only it had been the cavalry instead of the U.S. Marines, Peter
said, you'd have been here yesterday-"

"What's your hurry, pal.  Doesn't look like the party has started yet."
Colin grinned at him from the screen and pushed his baseball cap to the
back of his head.

"Damned right," Peter agreed.  "We don't even know who is throwing the
party.  What's your latest estimate on arrival time?"

"We've picked up a good wind one hour twenty-two minutes to fly
now,"Colin told him.

"Right, let's get down to it," Peter said, and he began his briefing,
going carefully over the field notes he had taken.

When he wanted to emphasize a point, Peter called for a change of shot
from his cameramen, and they zoomed in or panned to his instruction,
picking up the radar shed or the service hangar ventilator where Peter
was siting his snipers.

The image was repeated not only on the command console but in the
cavernous body of the approaching Hercules so that the men who would be
called to occupy those positions could study them now and prepare
themselves thoroughly for the moment.  The same images were hurled
across the stratosphere to the circling satellite and from there
bounced down to appear, only slightly distorted, on the screens of

Atlas Command in the west wing of the Pentagon.  Sagging like an old
lion in his armchair, Kingston Parker followed every word of the
briefing, rousing himself only when a long telex message was passed to
him by his assistant, then he nodded a command to have his own
televised image superimposed on Peter's command console.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, Peter, but we've got a useful scrap here.
Assuming that the militant group boarded 070 at Malic, we asked the
Seychelles Police to run a check on all joining passengers.  There were
fifteen of them, ten of whom were Seychelles residents.  A local
merchant and his wife, and eight unaccompanied children between nine
and fourteen years of age.  They are the children of expatriate civil
servants employed on contract by the Seychelles (3overnment, returning
to schools in England for the new term."  Peter felt the weight of
dread bring down upon him like a physical burden.  Children, the young
lives seemed somehow more important, somehow more vulnerable.  But
Parker was reading from the telex flimsy in his left hand, the right
scratching the back of his neck with the stem of his pipe.

"There is one British businessman, Shell Oil Company, and well -known
on the island, and there are four tourists, an American, a

Frenchman and two Germans.  These last four appeared to be travelling
in a group, the immigration and security officers remember them well.

Two women and two men, all young.  Names Sally-Anne Taylor, twenty-five
years, American, Heidi Hottschauser, twenty-four and Gunther Retz,

twenty-five, the two Germans and Henri Larousse, twenty-six, the

Frenchman.  The police have run a back check on the four.  They stayed
two weeks at the Reef Hotel outside Victoria, the women in one double
room and the two men in another.  They spent most of the time swimming
and sunbathing until five days ago when a small ocean-going yacht
called at Victoria.  Thirty-five foot, single-hander around the
world,

skippered by another American.  The four spent time on board her every
day of her stay, and the yacht sailed twenty-faut hours before the
departure of the 07O."

"If the yacht delivered their arms and munitions, then this operation
has been planned for a long time," Peter pondered, land damn well
planned."  Peter felt the tingling flush of his blood again, the form
of the enemy was taking shape now, the outline of the beast becoming
clearer, and always it was uglier and more menacing.

"You have run the names through the computer?"  he asked.

"Nothing," Parker nodded.  "Either there is no intelligence record of
them, or the names and passports are false-" He broke off as there was
sudden activity on the screen that monitored the air traffic control
tower, and another voice boomed out of the secondary speaker;

the volume was set too high, and the technician at the control board
adjusted it swiftly.  It was a female voice, a fresh, clear young voice
speaking English with the lilt and inflexion of the west coast of

America in it.

"Jan Smuts tower, this is the officer commanding the task force of the
Action Commando for Human Rights that has control of Speedbird 070.

Stand by to copy a message."

"Contact!"  Peter breathed.  "Contact at last."  On the small screen
Colin Noble grinned and rolled his cheroot expertly from one side of
his mouth to the other.

"The party has begun," he announced, but there was the razor edge in
his voice not entirely concealed by his jocular tone.

The three-man crew had been moved back from the flight deck, and were
held in the first class seats vacated by the group of four.

Ingrid had made the cockpit of the Boeing her headquarters, and she
worked swiftly through the pile of passports, filling in the name and
nationality of each passenger on the seating plan spread before her.

The door to the galley was open and except for the hum of the
air-conditioning, the huge aircraft was peculiarly silent.

Conversation in the cabins was prohibited, and the aisles were
patrolled by the red-shirted commandos to enforce this edict.

They also ordered the use of the toilets: a passenger must return to
his seat before another was allowed to rise.  The toilet doors had to
remain open during use, so that the commandos could check at a
glance.

Despite the silence, there was a crackling atmosphere of tension down
the full length of the cabin.  Very few of the passengers, mostly the
children, were asleep, but the others sat in rigid rows, their faces
taut and strained watching their captors with a mixture of hatred and
of fear.

Henri, the Frenchman, slipped into the cockpit.

"They are pulling back the armoured cars," he said.  He was slim,

with a very youthful face and dreaming poet's eyes.  He had grown a
drooping blond gunfighter's mustache, but the effect was incongruous.

Ingrid looked up at him.  "You are so nervous," She shook her head. "it
will all be all right."

"I am not nervous," he answered her stiffly.

She chuckled fondly, and reached up to touch his face.

"I did not mean it as an insult."  She pulled his face down and kissed
him, thrusting her tongue deeply into his mouth.

"You have proved your courage often," she murmured.

He dropped his pistol onto the desk with a clatter and reached for her.
The top three buttons of her red cotton shirt were unfastened,

and she let him grope and find her breasts.

They were heavy and pointed and his breathing went ragged as he teased
out her nipples.  They hardened erect like jelly beans but when he
reached down with his free hand for the zipper of her shorts,

she pushed him away roughly.

"Later," she told him brusquely, "when this is over.  Now get back into
the cabin."  And she leaned forward and lifted a corner of the blanket
that screened the side window of the cockpit.  The sunlight was very
bright but her eyes adjusted swiftly and she saw the row of helmeted
heads above the parapet of the observation deck.  So they were pulling
back the troops as well.  It was nearly time to begin talking but she
would let them stew in their own juice just a little longer.

She stood up, buttoned her shirt and adjusted the camera on its strap
around her neck, paused in the galley to rearrange the shiny mass of
golden hair and then walked slowly back down the full length of the
central aisle, pausing to adjust the blanket over a sleeping child,

to listen attentively to the complaints of the pregnant wife of the

Texan neurosurgeon.

"You and the children will be the first off this plane I promise you."
When she reached the prone body of the flight engineer, she knelt
beside him.

"How is he?"

"He is sleeping now.  I shot him full of morphine,"

the fat little doctor muttered, not looking at her, so she could not
read the hatred in his expression.  The injured arm was elevated to
control the bleeding, sticking up stiffly in its cocoon of pressure
bandages, oddly foreshortened with the bright ooze of blood through the
dressing.

"You are doing good-" She touched his arm.  "Thank you."  And now he
glanced at her startled, and she smiled such a radiant lovely smile,

that he began to melt.

"Is that your wife?"  Ingrid dropped her voice, so that he alone could
hear and he nodded, glancing at the plump little Jewish woman in the
nearest seat.  "I will see she is amongst the first to leave,"

she murmured, and his gratitude was pathetic.  She stood and went on
down the aircraft.

The red-shirted German stood at the head of the tourist cabin,

beside the curtained entrance to the second galley.

He had the intense drawn face of a religious zealot, dark burning eyes,
long black hair falling almost to his shoulders a white scar twisted
the corner of his upper lip into a perpetual smirk.

"Kurt, everything is all right?"  she asked in German.

"They are complaining of hunger."

"We will feed them in another two hours but not as much as they
expect-" and she ran a contemptuous glance down the cabin.  "Fat," she
said quietly, "big fat bourgeoisie pigs," and she stepped through the
curtains into the galley and looked at him in invitation.  He followed
her immediately, drawing the curtains behind them.

"Where is Karen?"  Ingrid asked, as he unbuckled his belt.

She needed it very badly, the excitement and the blood had inflamed
her.

"She is resting at the back of the cabin."  Ingrid slipped the button
that held the front of her shorts together and drew down the zipper.
"All right Kurt," she whispered huskily, "but quickly, very quickly."
Ingrid sat in the flight engineer's seat; at her shoulder stood the
dark-haired girl.  She wore the cartridge belt across the shoulder of
her bright red shirt, like a bandolier and she carried the big ugly
pistol on her hip.

Ingrid held the microphone to her lips, and combed the fingers of her
other hand through the thick golden tangle of her tresses as she spoke.
One hundred and ninety-eight British subjects.  One hundred and
forty-six American nationals-" She was reading the list of her
captives.  "There are one hundred and twenty-two women on board, and
twenty-six children under the age of sixteen years."  She had been
speaking for nearly five minutes and now she broke off and shifted in
her seat, turning to smile at Karen over her shoulder.  The darkhaired
girl smiled in return and reached across to caress the fine mass of
golden hair with a narrow bony hand, before letting it drop back to her
side.

"We have copied your last transmission."

"Call me Ingrid."  She spoke into the mike with the smile turning into
a wicked grin.  There was a moment's silence as the controller in the
tower recovered from his shock.

"Roger, Ingrid.  Do you have any further messages for us?"

"Affirmative, Tower.  As this is a British aircraft and as three
hundred and forty-four of my passengers are either British or
American,

I want a spokesman, representing the embassies of those countries.  I

want him here in two hours" time to hear my terms for the release of
passengers."

"Stand by, Ingrid.  We will be back to you immediately we have been
able to contact the ambassadors."

"Don't horse around,

Tower."  Ingrid's voice snapped.  "We both know damned well they are
breathing down your neck.

Tell them I want a man here in two hours otherwise I am going to be
forced to put down the first hostage."  Peter Stride was stripped down
to a pair of bathing trunks, and he wore only canvas sneakers on his
feet.

Ingrid had insisted on a face-to-face meeting, and Peter had welcomed
the opportunity to assess at close range.

"We'll be covering you every inch of the way there and back,"

Colin Noble told Peter, fussing over him like a coach over his fighter
before the gong.  "I'm handling the gunners, personally."  The snipers
were armed with specially hand-built .222 magnums with accurized
barrels that threw small light bullets with tremendous velocity and
striking power.  The ammunition was match-grade, each round lovingly
hand finished and polished.  The infra-red telescopic sights were
readily interchangeable with the laser sights, making the weapon deadly
accurate either in daylight or at night.  The bullet had a clean, flat
trajectory up to seven hundred yards.

They were perfectly designed man-killers, precision weapons that
reduced the danger to bystanders or hostages.  The light bullet would
slam a man down with savage force, as though he had been hit by a
charging rhinoceros, but it would break up in his body, and not
over-penetrate to kill beyond the target.

"You're getting into a lather," Peter grunted.  "They want to talk, not
shoot not yet, anyway."

"The female of the species-" Colin warned, that one is real poison."

"More important than the guns are the cameras, and sound equipment."

"I went up there and kicked a few arses.

You'll get pictures that will win you an Oscar my personal guarantee."
Colin checked his wristwatch.  "Time to go.  Don't keep the lady
waiting."  He punched Peter's shoulder lightly.

"Hang loose," he said, and Peter walked out into the sunshine,

lifting both hands above his shoulders, palms open, fingers extended.

The silence was as oppressive as the dry fierce heat, but it was
intentional.  Peter had frozen all air traffic, and had ordered the
shut down of all machinery in the entire terminal area.  He did not
want any interference with his sound equipment.

There was only the sound of his own footfalls, and he stepped out
briskly but still it was the longest walk of his life, and the closer
he got to the aircraft, the higher it towered above him.  He knew that
he had been required to strip almost naked, not only to ensure that he
carried no weapons, but to place him at a disadvantage to make him feel
ill at ease, vulnerable.  It was an old trick the Gestapo always
stripped the victim for an interrogation so he held himself proud and
tall, pleased that his body was so lean and hard and muscled like an
athlete's.  He would have hated to drag a big, pendulous gut and
sagging old-man's tits across those four hundred yards.

He was half-way there when the forward door, just behind the cockpit,
slid back and a group of figures appeared in the square opening.  He
narrowed his eyes: there were two uniformed figures, no three British
Airways uniforms, the two pilots and between them the shorter slimmer
feminine figure of a stewardess.

They stood shoulder to shoulder, but beyond them he could make out
another head, a blonde head but the angle and the light were against
him.

Closer, he saw that the older pilot was on the right,

short-cropped grey curls, ruddy round face that would be Watkins, the
commander.  He was a good man, Peter had studied his service record.

He ignored the co-pilot and stewardess and strained for a glimpse of
the figure beyond them, but it was only when he stopped directly below
the open hatch that she moved to let him get a clear view of her
face.

Peter was startled by the loveliness of that golden head, by the smooth
gloss of young sun polished skin and the thundering innocence of
wide-set, steady, green eyes for a moment he could not believe she was
one of them, then she spoke.

"I am Ingrid," she said.  Some of the most poisonous flowers are the
loveliest, he thought.

"I am the accredited negotiator for the British and American

Governments," he said, and switched his gaze to the beefy red face of

Watkins.  "How many members of your commando are aboard?  "he asked.

"No questions!"  Ingrid snapped fiercely, and Cyril Watkins extended
four fingers of his right hand down his thigh without a change of
expression.

It was vital confirmation of what they already suspected, and

Peter felt a rush of gratitude towards the pilot.

"Before we discuss your terms, Peter said, "and out of common humanity,
I would like to arrange for the wellbeing and comfort of your
hostages."

"They are well cared for."

"Do you need food or drinking water?"  The girl threw back her head and
laughed delightedly.

"So you can dope it with laxative and have us knee-deep in shit?

Stink us out, hey?"  Peter did not pursue it.  The doped trays had
already been prepared by his doctor"

"You have a gunshot casualty on board?"

"There are no wounded aboard," the girl denied flatly, cutting her
laughter short but Watkins made the circular affirmative sign of thumb
and forefinger, effectively contradicting her, and Peter noticed the
spots of dried blood on the sleeves of his white shirt.  "That's
enough," Ingrid warned Peter.  "Ask one more question and we'll break
off-"

"All right," Peter agreed quickly.  "No more questions."

"The objective of this commando is the ultimate downfall of the
brutally fascist, inhuman, neo-imperialistic regime that holds this
land in abject slavery and misery denying the great majority of the
workers and the proletariat their basic rights as human beings."  And
that,

thought Peter bitterly, even though it's couched in the garbled jargon
of the lunatic left, is every bit as bad as it can be.  Around the
world hundreds of millions would have immediate sympathy, making

Peter's task just that little bit more difficult.  The hijackers had
picked a soft target.

The girl was still speaking, with an intense, almost religious fervour,
and as he listened Peter faced the growing certainty that the girl was
a fanatic, treading the thin line which divided sanity from madness.
Her voice became a harsh screech as she mouthed her hatred and
condemnation, and when she had finished he knew that she was capable of
anything no cruelty, no baseness was beyond her.  He knew that she
would not stop even at suicide, the final act of destroying the Boeing,
its passengers and herself he suspected she might even welcome the
opportunity of martyrdom, and he felt the chill of it tickle up along
his spine.

They were silent now, staring at each other, while the hectic flush of
fanaticism receded from the girl's face and she regained her breath,
and Peter waited, controlling his own .  misgivings, waiting for her to
calm herself and Continue.

"Our first demand-" the girl had steadied and was watching Peter
shrewdly now, 4 our first demand is that the statement I have just made
be read on every television network in Britain and the United

States, and also here upon the South African network."  Peter felt his
loathing of that terrible little box rise to the surface of his
emotions.

That mind-bending electronic substitute for thought, that deadly device
for freezing, packaging and distributing opinion.  He hated it,

almost as much as the violence and sensation it purveyed so
effectively.  "It must be read at the next occurrence of 7 p.m. local
time in LOS Angeles, New York, London and Johannesburg-" Prime time, of
course, and the media would gobble it up hungrily, for this was their
meat and their drink the pornographers of violence!

High above him in the open hatch the girl brandished a thick buff
envelope.  "This contains a copy of that statement for transmission it
contains also a list of names.  One hundred and twenty-nine names,

all of them either imprisoned or placed under banning orders by this
monstrous police regime.  The names on this list are the true leaders
of South Africa."  She flung the envelope, and it landed at Peter's
feet.

"Our second demand is that every person on that list be placed aboard
an aircraft provided by the South African Government.  Aboard the same
aircraft there will be one million gold Kruger Rand coins also provided
by the same government.  The aircraft will fly to a country chosen by
the freed political leaders.  The gold will be used by them to
establish a government in exile, until such time as they return to this
country as the true leaders of the people."  Peter stooped and picked
up the envelope.  He was calculating swiftly.  A single Kruger

Rand coin was worth $170 at the very least.  The ransom demand was,

therefore, worth one hundred and seventy million dollars.

There was another calculation.  "One million Krugers will weigh well
over forty -tons," he told the girl.  "How are they going to get all
that on one aircraft?"  The girl faltered.  It was a little comfort to
Peter to realize that they hadn't thought out everything perfectly.

If they made one small mistake, then they were capable of making
others.

"The government will provide sufficient transport for all the gold and
all the prisoners," the girl said sharply.  The hesitation had been
momentary only.

"Is that all?"  Peter asked; the sun was stinging his naked shoulders
and a cold drop of sweat tickled down his flank.

He had never guessed it could be this bad.

"The aircraft will depart before noon tomorrow, or the execution of
hostages will begin then."  Peter felt the crawl of horror.

"Execution."  She was using the jargon of legality, and he realized at
that moment that what she promised she would deliver.

"When those aircraft arrive at the destination chosen by the occupants,
a pre-arranged code will be flashed to us, and all women and children
aboard this aircraft will immediately be released."

"And the men?"  Peter asked.

"On Monday the sixth three days from now, a resolution is to be tabled
before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New

York.  It will call for immediate total mandatory economic sanctions
on

South Africa including withdrawal of all foreign capital, total oil and
trade embargoes, severance of all transport and communications links,
blockade of all ports and air borders by a U.N.

peace-keeping force pending free elections under universal suffrage
supervised by U.N. inspectors-" Peter's mind was racing to keep ahead
of the girl's demands.  He knew of the U.N. motion, of course, it had
been tabled by Sri Lanka and Tanzania.  It would be vetoed in the
Security Council.  That was a certainty but the girl's timing brought
forward new and frightening considerations.  The beast had changed
shape again, and what he had heard sickened him.  It surely could not
be merely coincidence that the resolution was to be tabled within three
days of this strike the implications were too horrible to contemplate.
The connivance, if not the direct involvement, of world leaders and
governments in the strategy of terror.

The girl spoke again deliberately.  "If any member of the Security

Council of the U.N. America, Britain or France uses the veto to block
the resolution of this General Assembly, this aircraft and all aboard
her will be destroyed by high explosive."  Peter had lost the power of
speech.  He stood gaping up at the lovely blonde child, for child she
seemed, so young and fresh.

When he found his voice again, it croaked hoarsely.  "I don't believe
you could have got high explosive aboard this aircraft to carry out
that threat," he challenged her.

The blonde girl said something to somebody who was out of Sight,

and then a few moments later she tossed a dark round object down to

Peter.

"Catch!"  she shouted, and he was surprised by the weight of it in his
hands.  It took only a moment to recognize it.

"Electronically fused!"  The girl laughed.  "And we have so many I

can afford to give you a sample."  The pilot, Cyril Watkins, was trying
to tell him something, touching his own chest but Peter was occupied
with the explosive in his hands.  He knew that a single one of these
would be fully capable of destroying the Boeing and all aboard her.

What was Watkins trying to tell him?  Touching his neck again.

Peter transferred his attention to the girl's neck.  She wore a small
camera slung around her neck.  Something connecting camera and grenade
perhaps?  Is that what the pilot was trying to tell him?

But now the girl was speaking again.  "Take that to your masters,

and let them tremble.  The wrath of the masses is upon them.  The
revolution is here and now," she said, and the door of the hatchway was
swung closed.  He heard the lock fall into place.

Peter turned and began the long walk back, carrying an envelope in one
hand, a grenade in the other, and sick loathing in his guts.

Colin Noble's rugged frame almost filled the hatchway of the

Hawker, and for once his expression was deadly serious, no trace of
laughter in his eyes or at the corners of the wide friendly mouth.

"Doctor Parker is on the screen."  He greeted Peter who was still
buttoning his overalls as he hurried to the command plane.  "We copied
every word, and he was hooked into the system."

"Christ, it's had, Colin," Peter grunted.

"That was the good news," Colin told him.  "When you have finished with
Parker, I've got the bad news for you."

"Thanks, pal."  Peter shouldered his way past him into the cabin, and
dropped into his leather command chair.

On the screen Kingston Parker was hunched over his desk, poring over
the teleprinter sheet on which the entire conversation between

Ingrid and Peter had been recorded, the cold empty pipe gripped between
his teeth, the broad brow creased with the weight of his responsibility
as he studied the demands of the terrorist commando.

The communications director's voice from off-screen alerted

Parker.

"General Stride, sir.  "And Parker looked up at the camera.

"Peter.  This is you and me alone.  I have closed the circuit and we
will restrict to single tape recording.  I want your first reaction,

before we relay to Sir William and Constable-" Sir William Davies was
the British Ambassador and Kelly Constable was the United States

Ambassador to Pretoria.

"I want your first reaction."

"We are in serious trouble, sir,"

Peter said, and the big head nodded.

"What is the militant capability?"

"I am having my explosives team take down the grenade but I have no
doubt that they have the physical capability to destroy 070, and all
aboard.  I reckon they have an overkill potential of at least ten."

"And the psychological capability."

"In my view, she is the child of Bakunin and Jean Paul

Sartre-" Again Parker nodded heavily and Peter went on.

"The anarchist conception that destruction is the only truly creative
act, that violence is man recreating himself.  You know Sartre said
that when the revolutionary kills, a tyrant dies and a free man
emerges."

"Will she go all the way?"  Parker insisted.

"Yes, sir."  Peter answered without hesitation.  "If she is pressed
she'll go all the way you know the reasoning.  If destruction is
beautiful, then self-destruction is immortality.

In my view, she'll go all the way."  Parker sighed and knocked the stem
of his pipe against his big white teeth.

"Yes, it squares with what we have on her."

"You have read her?"

Peter asked eagerly.

"We got a first-class voice print, and the computer cross matched with
her facial structure print."

"Who is she?"  Peter cut in impatiently; he did not have to be told
that the sound intensifier and the zoom video cameras had been feeding
her voice and image into the intelligence computer even as she issued
her demands.

"Her born name is Hilda Becker.  She is a third-generation American of
German extraction.  Her father is a successful dentist widowed in

1959.  The girl is thirty-one years old-" Peter had thought her
younger, that fresh young skin had misled him.  "- I.Q. 138.

University of Columbia 1965-68, Master's degree in Modern Political

History.  Member of SDS that's Students for a Democratic Society-"

"Yes."  Peter was impatient.  "I know."  Activist in Vietnam war
protests.  Worker for the draft evasion pipeline to Canada.  One arrest
for possession of marijuana 1967, not convicted.  Implicated with

Weathermen and one of the leaders of on-campus rioting in the spring of
1968.  Arrested for bombing of Butler University and released.  Left

America in 1970 for further study at Dusseldorf.  Doctorate in

Political Economics 1972.  Known association with Gudrun Ensslin and

Horst Mahler of the Baader-Meinhof.  Went underground in 1976 after
suspicion of implication in the abduction and murder of Heinrich

Kohler, the West German industrialist--2 Her personal history was an
almost classical development of the modern revolutionary, Peter
reflected bitterly, a perfect picture of the beast.  "Believed to have
received advanced training from the PFLP in Syria during 1976 and
1977.

No recorded contact since then.  She is a habitual user of
cannabis-based drugs, reported voracious sexual activity with members
of both sexes-" Parker looked up.  "That's all we have, he said.

"Yes," Peter repeated softly.  "She'll go all the way."

"What is your further assessment?"

"I believe that this is an operation organized at high level possibly
governmental-"

"Substantiate!"  Parker snapped.

"The coordination with UNO.  proposals sponsored by the unaligned
nations points that way."

"All right, go on."

"For the first time we have a highly organized and heavily supported
strike that is not seeking some obscure, partisan object.  We've got
demands here about which a hundred million Americans and fifty million
Englishmen are going to say in unison, "Hell, these aren't
unreasonable.""

"Go on, "said Parker.

"The militants have picked a soft target which is the outcast pariah of
Western civilization.  That U.N. resolution is going to be passed a
hundred to nil, and those millions of Americans and Englishmen are
going to have to ask themselves if they are going to sacrifice the
lives of four hundred of their most prominent citizens to support a
government whose racial policies they abhor."

"Yes?"  Parker was leaning forward to stare into the screen.

"Do you think they'll do a deal?"

"The militants?  They might."  Peter paused a moment and then went on.
"You know my views, sir.  I oppose absolutely dealing with these
people."

"Even in these circumstances?"  Parker demanded.

"Especially now.  My views of the host country's policies are in accord
with yours, Doctor Parker.  This is the test.

No matter how much we personally feel the demands are just, yet we must
oppose to the death the manner in which they are presented.  If these
people win their objects, it is a victory for the gun and we place all
mankind in jeopardy."

"What is your estimate for a successful counter strike

Parker demanded suddenly, and even though he had known the question
must come, still Peter hesitated a long moment.

"Half an hour ago I would have put the odds at ten to one in our favour
that I could pull off condition Delta with only militant casualties."

"And now?"

"Now I know that these are not fuddle-headed fanatics.

They are probably as well trained and equipped as we are, and they have
had years to set this operation up."

"And now?  "Parker insisted.

"We have a four to one in our favour of getting them out with a

Delta strike, with say less than ten casualties."

"What is the next best chance?"

"I would say there is no middle ground.  If we failed, we would be into
a situation with one hundred per cent casualties we would lose the
aircraft and all aboard, including all Thor personnel involved."

"All right then, Peter."  Parker leaned back in his chair,

the gesture of dismissal.  "I am going to speak with the President and
the Prime Minister, they are setting up the link now.  Then I will
brief the ambassadors and be back to you within the hour."  His image
flickered into darkness, and Peter realized that all his hatred was
suppressed.  He felt cold, and functional as the surgeon's blade.

Ready to do the job for which he had trained so assiduously, and yet
able to assess and evaluate the enemy and the odds against success.

He pressed the call button.  Colin had been waiting beyond the
soundproof doors of the command cabin, and he came through
immediately.

"The explosives boys have taken down the grenade.  It's a dandy.

The explosive is the new Soviet Q composition, and the fusing is
factory manufacture.  Professional stuff and it will work.  Oh, baby,

will it ever work.  Peter hardly needed this confirmation, and Colin
went on as he flung himself untidily in the chair opposite Peter.

"We put the list of names and the text of the militant statement on the
teleprinter for Washington,-" He leaned forward and spoke into the
cabin intercom.  "Run that loop without sound first."  Then he told

Peter grimly.  "Here's the bad news I promised."  The loop of video
tape began to run on the central screen.  It had clearly been shot from
the observation post in the office overlooking the service area.

It was a full shot of the Boeing, the background flattened by the
magnification of the lens and swimming and wavering with heat mirage
rising from the tarmac of the main runway beyond the aircraft.

In the foreground were Peter's own naked back and shoulders as he
strode out towards the aircraft.  The lens had again flattened the
action so that Peter appeared to be marking time on the same spot
without advancing at all.

Suddenly the forward hatch of the Boeing changed shape as the door was
slid aside, and the cameraman instantly zoomed in for the closer
shot.

The two pilots and the air hostess in the doorway, the camera checked
for a few frames and then zoomed closer.

The aperture of the lens adjusted swiftly, compensating for the gloom
of the interior, and the shot was close and tight on the blonde girl's
head for a heartbeat, then the head turned slightly and the lovely line
of her lips moved as she spoke it seemed like three words before she
turned back full face to the camera.

"Okay," Colin said.  "Run it again with neutral balance on the sound."
The entire loop reran, the cabin door opened, there were the three
hostages, the fine golden head turned, and then the words "Let's
slide," from Ingrid, but there was background hiss and clutter.

"Let's slide?  "Peter asked.

"Run it again with the bass density filter on the sound, Colin
ordered.

The same images on the screen, the golden head turning on the long
neck.

"It's slide."" Peter could not quite catch it.

"Okay," Colin told the technician.  "Now with full filter and resonance
modulation."  The repetitive images, the girl's head, the full lips
parting, speaking to somebody out of sight in the body of the
aircraft.

Very clearly, unmistakably, she said, "It's Stride."  And Peter felt it
jolt in his belly like a fist.

"She recognized you," said Colin.  "No, hell, she was expecting you!"
The two men stared at each other, Peter's handsome craggy features
heavy with foreboding.  Atlas had one of the highest security
classifications.  Only twenty men outside the close ranks of Atlas
itself were privy to its secrets.  One of those was the President of
the United States another was the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Certainly only four or five men knew who commanded the Thor arm of

Atlas and yet there was no mistaking those words the girl had spoken.

"Run it again," Peter ordered brusquely.

And they waited tensely for those two words, and when they came they
were in the clear tilt of that fresh young voice.

"It's Stride,"said Ingrid, and the screen went blank.

Peter massaged his closed eyelids with thumb and forefinger.  He
realized with mild surprise that he had not slept for nearly
forty-eight hours, but it was not physical weariness that assailed him
now but the suddenly overwhelming knowledge of treason and betrayal and
of undreamed-of evil.

"Somebody has blown Atlas," said Colin softly.  "This is going to be a
living and breathing bastard.  They'll be waiting for us at every turn
of the track."  Peter dropped his hand and opened his eyes.  "I

must speak to Kingston Parker again," he said.  And when Parker's image
reappeared on the main screen he was clearly agitated and angry.

"You have interrupted the President."

"Doctor Parker-" Peter spoke quickly.  Circumstances have altered.  In
my opinion the chances of a successful Delta strike have dropped.  We
have no better than an even chance."

"I see."  Parker checked the anger.  "That's important.  I will inform
the President."  The lavatories were all blocked by this time, the
bowls almost filled, and the stench permeated all the cabins despite
the air-conditioning.

Under the strict rationing of food and water most of the passengers
were suffering from the lethargy of hunger, and the children were
petulant and weepy.

The terrible strain was beginning to show on the hijackers themselves.
They were standing a virtual non-stop watch, four hours of broken rest
followed by four of ceaseless vigil and activity.  The red cotton
shirts were rumpled and sweat-stained at the armpits, the sweat of
nervous and physical strain, eyes bloodshot and tempers uncertain.

just before nightfall, the dark-haired girl, Karen, had lost her temper
with an elderly passenger who had been slow to respond to her command
to return to his seat after using the toilet.  She had worked herself
up into an hysterical shrieking rage, and repeatedly struck the old man
in the face with the short barrel of her shot pistol, laying his cheek
open to the bone.  Only Ingrid had been able to calm her,

leading her away to the curtained tourist galley where she pampered and
hugged her.

"It will be all right, Liebchen."  She stroked her hair.  "Only a
little longer now.  You have been so strong.  In a few more hours we
will all take the pills.  Not long now."  And within minutes Karen had
controlled the violent trembling of her hands, and although she was
pale, she was able to take her position at the rear of the tourist
cabin again.

Only Ingrid's strength seemed without limits.  During the night she
passed slowly down the aisles, pausing to talk quietly with a sleepless
passenger, comforting them with the promise of imminent release.

"Tomorrow morning we will have an answer to our demands, and all the
women and children will be free.  it's going to be all right, you just
wait and see."  A little after midnight the little roly-poly doctor
sought her out in the cockpit.

"The navigator is very ill," he told her.  "Unless we get him to a
hospital immediately we will lose him."  Ingrid went back and knelt
beside the flight engineer.

His skin was dry and burning hot and his breathing rasped and sawed.

"It's renal failure," said the doctor, hovering over them.

"Breakdown of the kidneys from delayed shock.  We cannot treat him
here.  He must be taken to hospital."  Ingrid took the semi-conscious
flight engineer's uninjured hand.  "I'm sorry, but that's
impossible."

She went on holding his hand for another minute.

"Don't you feel anything?"  the doctor demanded of her bitterly.

"I feel pity for, him as I do for all mankind," she answered quietly.
"But he is only one.  Out there are millions."  The towering
flat-topped mountain was lit by floodlights.  It was high holiday
season and the fairest cape in all the world was showing her beauty to
the tens of thousands of tourists and holiday makers.

On the penthouse deck of the tall building, named for a political
mediocrity as are so many buildings and public works in South Africa,

the cabinet and its special advisers had been in session for most of
the night.

At the head of the long table brooded the heavily built figure of the
Prime Minister, bulldog-headed, powerful and unmovable as one of the
granite kopjes of the African veld.

He dominated the large panelled room, although he had hardly spoken,
except to encourage the others with a nod or a few gruff words.

At the far end of the long table sat the two ambassadors, shoulder to
shoulder, to emphasize their solidarity.  At short intervals the
telephones in front of them would ring, and they would listen to the
latest reports from their embassies or instructions from the heads of
their governments.

On the Prime Minister's right hand sat the handsome moustached

Minister of Foreign Affairs, a man with enormous charisma and a
reputation for moderation and common sense but now he was grim and hard
faced.

"Your own governments have both pioneered the policy of
non-negotiation, of total resistance to the demands of terrorists why
now do you insist that we take the soft line?"

"We do not insist, minister, we have merely pointed out the enormous
public interest that this affair is generating in both the United

Kingdom and in my own country."  Kelly Constable was a Slim, handsome
man, intelligent and persuasive, a democratic appointee of the new

American administration.  "It is in your government's interest even
more than ours to see this through to a satisfactory conclusion.  We
merely suggest that some accommodation to the demands might bring that
about."

"The Atlas Commander on the spot has assessed the chances of a
successful counter-strike as low as fifty-fifty.

My government considers that risk unacceptable."  Sir William

Davies was a career diplomat approaching retirement age, a grey, severe
man with gold-rimmed spectacles, his voice high pitched and
querulous.

"My men think we can do better than that ourselves, said the

Minister of Defence, also bespectacled, but he spoke in the thick blunt
accent of the Afrikaaner.

"Atlas is probably the best equipped and most highly trained
anti-terrorist group in the world, Kelly Constable said, and the
Prime

Minister interrupted harshly.

"At this stage, gentlemen, let us confine ourselves to finding a
peaceful solution."."

"I agree, Prime Minister.  "Sir William nodded briskly.

"However, I think I should point out that most of the demands made by
the terrorists are directly in line with the representations made by
the government of the United States-"

"Sir, are you expressing sympathy with these demands?"  the Prime
Minister asked heavily, but without visible emotion.

"I am merely pointing out that the demands will find sympathy in my
country, and that my government will find it easier to exercise its
veto on the extreme motion of the General Assembly on Monday if some
concessions are made in other directions."

"Is that a threat, sir?"  the

Prime Minister asked, a small humourless smile hardly softening the
question.

"No, Prime Minister, it's common sense.  If that U.N.

motion was carried and implemented, it would mean the economic ruin of
this country.  It would be plunged into anarchy and political chaos, a
ripe fruit for luther Soviet encroachment.  My government does not
desire that however, nor does it wish to endanger the lives of four
hundred of its citizens."  Kelly Constable smiled.  "We have to find a
way out of our mutual predicament, I'm afraid."

"My Minister of Defence has suggested a way out."

"Prime Minister, if your military attack the aircraft without the prior
agreement of both the British and American heads of state, then the
veto will be withheld in the Security Council and regretfully we will
allow the majority proposal to prevail."

"Even if the attack is successful?"

"Even if the attack is successful.  We insist that military decisions
are made by Atlas only," Constable told him solemnly; and then, more
cheerfully, "Let us examine the minimum concessions that your
government would be prepared to make.  The longer we can keep open the
lines of communication with the terrorists, the better our chances of a
peaceful solution.  Can we offer to fulfill even one small item on the
list of demands?"  "Ingrid supervised the serving of breakfast
personally.

Each passenger was allowed one slice of bread and one biscuit with a
cup of heavily sweetened coffee.  Hunger had lowered the general
resistance of the passengers, they were apathetic and listless once
they had gobbled their meagre meal.

Ingrid went amongst them again, passing out cigarettes from the
duty-free store.  Talking gently to the children, stopping to
sympathize with a mother smiling and calm.

Already the passengers were calling her "the nice one".

When Ingrid reached the firstclass galley she called her companions to
her one at a time, and they each ate a full breakfast of eggs and
buttered toast and kippers.  She wanted them as strong and alert as the
arduous ordeal would allow.

She could not begin to use the stimulants until midday.

The use of drugs could only be continued for seventy-two hours with the
desired effects.  After that the subject would become unpredictable in
his actions and decisions.  Ratification of the sanctions vote by the
Security Council of the United Nations would take place at noon New
York time on the following Monday that was seven p.m. local time on
Monday night.

Ingrid had to keep all her officers alert and active until then,

she dared not use the stimulants too early and risk physical
disintegration before the decisive hour, and yet she realized that lack
of sleep and tension were corroding even her physical reserves; she was
jumpy and nervous, and when she examined her face in the mirror of the
stinking firstclass toilets, she saw how inflamed her eyes were, and
for the first time noticed the tiny lines of ageing at the corners of
her mouth and eyes.  This angered her unreasonably.  She hated the
thought of growing old, and she could smell her own unwashed body even
in the overpowering stench from the lavatory.

The German, Kurt, was slumped in the pilot's seat, his pistol in his
lap, snoring softly, his red shirt unbuttoned to the waist and his
muscular hairy chest rising and falling with each breath.  He was
unshaven and the lank, black hair fell over his eyes.  She could smell
his sweat, and somehow that excited her, and she studied him
carefully.

There was an air of cruelty and brutality about him, the machismo of
the revolutionary, which always attracted her strongly, had perhaps
been the original reason for her radical leanings so many years ago.

Suddenly she wanted him very badly.

However, when she woke him with a hand down the front of his thin linen
slacks, he was bleary-eyed and foul breathed, not even her skilful
kneading could arouse him, and in a minute she turned away with an
exclamation of disgust.

As a displacement activity, she picked up the microphone, switched on
the loudspeakers of the passenger cabins.  She knew she was acting
irrationally, but she began to speak.

"Now listen to me, everybody, I have something very important to tell
you."  Suddenly she was angry with them.

They were of the class that had devised and instituted the manifestly
unjust and sick society against which she was in total rebellion.  They
were the fat, complacent bourgeoisie.

They were like her father and she hated them as she hated her father.
As she began to speak she realized that they would not even understand
the language she was using, the language of the new political order,
and her anger and frustration against them and their society mounted.
She did not realize she was raving, until suddenly she heard as from
afar the shriek of outrage in her own voice, like the death wail of a
mortally wounded animal and she stopped abruptly.

She felt giddy and light-headed, so she had to clutch at the desk top
for support and her heart banged wildly against her ribs.  She was
panting as though she had run a long way, and it took nearly a full
minute for her to bring herself under control.

When she spoke again, her tone was still ragged and breathless.

"It is now nine o'clock," she said.  "If we do not hear from the tyrant
within three hours I shall be forced to begin executing hostages. Three
hours-" She repeated ominously, only three hours."  Now she prowled the
aircraft like a big cat paces along the bars of its cage as feeding
time approaches.

"Two hours," she told them, and the passengers shrank away from her as
she passed.

"One hour."  There was a bright sadistic splinter of anticipation in
her voice.  "We will choose the first hostages now.

"But you promised," pleaded the fat little doctor as Ingrid pulled his
wife out of her seat and the Frenchman hustled her forward towards the
flight deck.

Ingrid ignored him, and turned to Karen.  "Get children, a boy and a
girl-" she instructed, " oh yes, and the pregnant one.  Let them see
her big belly.  They won't be able to resist that."  Karen herded the
hostages into the forward galley and forced them at pistol point to sit
in a row upon the fold down air-crew seats.

The door to the flight deck was open and Ingrid's voice carried clearly
to the galley, as she explained to the Frenchman Henri,

speaking in English.

"It is of the utmost importance that we do not allow a deadline to pass
without retaliating strongly.  If we miss one deadline, then our
credibility is destroyed.  It will only be necessary once, we must show
the steel at least once.  They must learn that every one of our
deadlines are irrevocable, not negotiable-" The girl began to cry.  She
was thirteen years old, able to understand the danger.  The plump
doctor's wife put her arm around her shoulders and hugged her gently.

"Speedbird 070-'-the radio squawked suddenly, we have a message for
Ingrid."

"Go ahead, Tower, this is Ingrid."  She had jumped up to take the
microphone, pushing the door to the flight deck closed.

"The negotiator for the British and American governments has proposals
for your consideration.  Are you ready to copy?"

"Negative."

Ingrid's voice was flat and emphatic.  "I say again negative.  Tell the
negotiator I will talk only face to face and tell him we are only forty
minutes to the noon deadline.  He had better get out here fast," she
warned.  She hooked the microphone and turned to Henri.

"All right.  We will take the pills now it has truly begun at last." It
was another cloudless day, brilliant sunlight that was flung back in
piercing darts of light from the bare metal parts of the aircraft.  The
heat came up through the soles of his shoes and burned down upon
Peter's bare neck.

The forward hatch opened, as it had before, when Peter Stride was
half-way across the tarmac.

This time there were no hostages on display, the hatchway was a dark
empty square.  Suppressing the urge to hurry, Peter carried himself
with dignity, head up, jaw clenched firmly.

He was yards from the aircraft when the girl stepped into the opening.
She stood with indolent grace, her weight all on one leg, the other
cocked slightly, long, bare, brown legs.  She carried the big shot
pistol on one hip, and the cartridge belt emphasized the narrow
waist.

She watched Peter come on, with a half-smile on her lips.

Suddenly a medallion of light appeared on her chest, a dazzling speck
like a brilliant insect and she glanced down at it contemptuously.

"This is provocation," she called.  Clearly she knew that the bright
speck was the beam thrown by the laser sight of one of the marksmen
covering her from the airport building.

A few ounces more of pressure on the trigger would send a .222

bullet crashing precisely into that spot, tearing her heart and lungs
to bloody shreds.

Peter felt a flare of anger at the sniper who had activated his laser
sight without the order, but his anger was tempered by reluctant
admiration for the girl's courage.  She could sneer at that mark of
certain death upon her breast.

Peter made a cut out sign with his right hand, and almost immediately
the speck of light disappeared as the gunner switched off his laser
sight.

"That's better," the girl said, and she smiled, running her gaze
appraisingly down Peter's body.

"You've a good shape, baby," she said, and Peter's anger flared again
under her scrutiny.

"Nice flat belly-" she said, good legs, and you didn't get those
muscles sitting at a desk and pushing a pen."  She pursed her lips
thoughtfully.  "You know I think you're a cop or a soldier.  That's
what I think, baby.  I think you're a goddamned pig."  Her voice had a
new harsh quality, and the skin seemed drier and drawn older than it
had been before.

He was close enough now to see the peculiar diamantine glitter in her
eyes, and he recognized the tension that seemed to rack her body,

the abrupt restless gestures.  She was onto drugs now.  He was certain
of it.  He was dealing with a political fanatic, with a long history of
violence and death, whose remaining humane traits would be now entirely
suppressed by the high of stimulant drugs.  He knew she was more
dangerous now than a wounded wild animal, a cornered leopard, a
maneating shark with the taste of blood exciting it to the killing
frenzy.

He did not reply, but held her gaze steadily, keeping his hands in
view, coming to a halt below the open hatchway.

He waited quietly for her to begin, and the itch of the drug in her
blood would not allow her to stand still; she fidgeted with the weapon
in her hands, touched the camera still hanging from around her neck.
Cyril Watkins had tried to tell him something about that camera and
suddenly Peter realized what it was.  The trigger for the fuses?  he
pondered, as he waited.  Almost certainly, he decided, that was why it
was with her every moment.  She saw the direction of his eyes, and
dropped her hand guiltily, confirming his conclusion.

"Are the prisoners ready to leave?"  she demanded.  "Is the gold
packed?  Is the statement ready for transmission?"

"The South African

Government has ac cesse to urgent representations by the governments
of

Great Britain and the United States of America."

"Good.  "She nodded.

"As an act of common humanity the South Africans have agreed to release
all the persons on your list of detainees and banned persons-"

"Yes."

"They will be flown to any country of their choice."

"And the gold?"

"The South African Government refuses categorically to finance or to
arm an unconstitutional foreign-based opposition.  They refuse to
provide funds for the persons freed under this agreement."

"The television transmission?"

"The South African Government considers the statement to be untrue in
substance and in fact and to be extremely prejudicial to the
maintenance of law and order in this country.  It refuses to allow
transmission of the statement."

"They have accepted only one of our demands?  " The girl's voice took
on an even more strident tone, and her shoulders jerked in an
uncontrolled spasm.

"The release of political detainees and banned persons is subject to
one further condition-" Peter cut in swiftly.

"And what is that-" The girl demanded, two livid burning spots of
colour had appeared in her cheeks.

"In return for the release of political prisoners, they demand the
release of all hostages, not only the women and children, all persons
aboard the aircraft and they will guarantee safe passage for you and
all members of your party to leave the country with the released
detainees."  The girl flung back her head, the thick golden mane flying
wildly about her head as she screeched with laughter.

The laughter was a wild, almost maniacal sound, and though it went on
and on, there was no echo of mirth in her eyes.

They were fierce as eagles" eyes, as she laughed.  The laughter was cut
off abruptly, and her voice was suddenly flat and level.

"So they think they can make demands, do they?  They think they can
draw the teeth from the U.N. proposals, do they?  They think that
without hostages to account for, the fascist governments of Britain
and

America can again cast their veto with impunity?"  Peter made no
reply.

"Answer me!"  she screamed suddenly.  "They do not believe we are
serious, do they?"

"I am a messenger only," he said.

"You're not," she screamed in accusation.  "You're a trained killer.
You're a pig!"  She lifted the pistol and aimed with both hands at
Peter's face.

"What answer must I take back?"  Peter asked, without in any way
acknowledging the aim of the weapon.

"An answer-" Her voice dropped again to an almost conversational level.
Of course, an answer."  She lowered the pistol and consulted the
stainless steel Japanese watch on her wrist.  "It's three minutes past
noon three minutes past the deadline, and they are entitled to an
answer, of course."  She looked around her with an almost bewildered
expression.  The drug was having side effects, Peter guessed.

Perhaps she had overdosed herself, perhaps whoever had prescribed it
had not taken into account the forty-eight sleepless hours of strain
that preceded its use.

"The answer," he prodded her gently, not wanting to provoke another
outburst.

"Yes.  Wait," she said, and disappeared abruptly into the gloom of the
interior.

Karen was standing over the four hostages on the fold down seats.

She looked around at Ingrid with smouldering dark eyes.  Ingrid nodded
once curtly, and Karen turned back to her prisoners.

"Come," she said softly, "we are going to let you go now."  Almost
gently she lifted the pregnant woman to her feet with a hand on her
shoulder.

Ingrid left her and passed swiftly into the rear cabins.

She nodded again to Kurt, and with a toss of his head he flicked the
lank locks of hair from his eyes and thrust the pistol into his belt.

From the locker above his head he brought down two of the plastic
grenades.  Holding one in each fist he pulled the pins with his teeth
and held the rings hooked over his little fingers.

With his arms spread like a crucifix, he ran lightly down the aisle.

"These grenades are primed.  Nobody must move, nobody must leave their
seats no matter whatever happens.  Stay where you are."  The fourth
hijacker took up the cry from him, holding primed grenades in both
hands above his head.

"Nobody move.  No talking.  Sit still.  Everybody still."  He repeated
in German and in French and his eyes had the same hard, glossy glitter
of the drug high.

Ingrid turned back towards the flight deck.

"Come, sweetheart."  She placed an arm round the girl's shoulder,

shepherding her towards the open hatchway but the child shrank away
from her with dread.

"Don't touch me, "she whispered, and her eyes were huge with terror.
The boy was younger, more trusting.  He took Ingrid's hand readily.

He had thick curly hair, and honey brown eyes as he looked up at her.
"Is my daddy here?"  he asked.

"Yes, darling."  Ingrid squeezed his hand.  "You be a good boy now,

and you'll see your daddy very soon."  She led him to the open
hatchway.

"Stand there," she said.

Peter Stride was uncertain what to expect, as the boy stepped into the
open hatchway high above him.

Then next to him appeared a plump middle-aged woman in an expensive but
rumpled, high-fashion silk dress, probably a Nina Ricci,

Peter decided irrelevantly.  The woman's elaborate lacquered hairstyle
was coming down in wisps around her ears, but she had a kindly humorous
face and she placed a protective arm about the boy-child's shoulders.

The next person was a taller and younger woman, with a pale sensitive
skin; her nostrils and eyelids were inflamed pink from weeping or from
some allergy and there were blotches of angry prickly heat on her
throat and upper arms.

Under the loose cotton maternity dress her huge belly bulged
grotesquely, throwing her off balance; she stood with her thin white
legs knock-kneed awkwardly and blinked in the brilliant sparkling
sunshine, her eyes still attuned to the shaded gloom of the cabin.

The fourth and last person was a young girl, and with a sudden blinding
stab of agony below the ribs Peter thought it was

Melissa-Jane.  It took a dozen racing beats of his heart before he
realized it was not her but she had the same sweet Victorian face, -the
classical English skin of rose petals, the finely bred body of almost
woman wit h delicate breast-buds and long coltish legs below narrow
boyish hips.

There was naked terror in her huge eyes, and almost instantly she
seemed to realize that Peter was her hope of salvation.  The eyes
turned on him pleading, hope starting to awaken.

"Please," she whispered.  "Don't let them hurt us."  So softly that

Peter could hardly catch the words.  "Please, sir.  Please help us."

But Ingrid was there, her voice rising stridently.

"You must believe that what we promise, we mean.  You and your evil
capitalist masters must understand completely that we will not let a
single deadline pass without executions.  We have to prove that for the
revolution we are without mercy.  You must be made to understand that
our demands must be met in full, that they are not negotiable.  We must
demonstrate the price for missing a deadline."  She paused.  "The next
deadline is midnight tonight.  If our demands are not met in full by
then you must know the price you will be made to pay."  She halted
again, and then her voice rose into that hysterical shriek.

"This is the price!"  and she stepped back out of sight.

Helpless with dread, Peter Stride tried to think of some way to prevent
the inevitable.

"Jump!"  he shouted, lifting both hands towards the girl.

"Jump, quickly.  I will catch you!"  But the child hesitated, the drop
was almost thirty feet, and she teetered uncertainly.

Behind her, ten paces back, the dark-haired Karen and the blonde
lion-maned girl stood side by side, and in unison they lifted the
short, big bored pistols, holding them in the low double-handed grip,

positioning themselves at the angle and range which would allow the
mass of soft heavy lead beads with which the cartridges were packed to
spread sufficiently to sweep the backs of the four hostages.

"Jump!"  Peter's voice carried clearly into the cabin, and Ingrid's
mouth convulsed in a nervous rictus, an awful parody of a smile.

"Now!"  she said, and the two women fired together.  The two shots
blended in a thunderous burst of sound, a mind-stopping roar, and blue
powder smoke burst from the gaping muzzles, flying specks of burning
wadding hurled across the cabin, and the impact of lead shot into
living flesh sounded like a handful of watermelon pips thrown against a
wall.

Ingrid fired the second barrel a moment before Karen, so this time the
two shots were distinct stunning blurts of sound, and in the dreadful
silence that followed the two men in the passenger cabins were
screaming wildly.

"Nobody move!  Everybody freeze!"  For Peter Stride those fractional
seconds seemed to last for long hours.  They seemed to play on
endlessly through his brain, like a series of frozen frames in a
grotesque movie.  Image after image seemed separated from the whole, so
that forever afterwards he would be able to recreate each of them
entire and undistorted and to experience again undiluted the paralysing
nausea of those moments.

The pregnant woman took the full blast of one of the first shots.

She burst open like an overripe fruit, her swollen body pulled out of
shape by the passage of shot from spine to navel, and she was flung
forward so she somersaulted out into space.  She hit the tarmac in a
loose tangle of pale thin limbs, and was completely still, no flicker
of life remaining.

The plump woman clung to the boy beside her, and they teetered in the
open doorway around them swirled pale blue wisps of gunsmoke.

Though she kept her balance, the tightly stretched beige silk of her
dress was speckled with dozens of tiny wounds, as though she had been
stabbed repeatedly with a sharpened knitting needle.  The same wounds
were torn through the boy's white school shirt, and little scarlet
flowers bloomed swiftly around each wound, spreading to stain the
cloth.  Neither of them made any sound, and their expressions were
startled and uncomprehending.  The next blasts of sound and shot struck
them solidly, and they seemed boneless and without substance as they
tumbled forward, still locked together.  Their fall seemed to continue
for a very long time, and then they sprawled together over the pregnant
woman's body.

Peter ran forward to catch the girl-child as she fell, and her weight
bore him to his knees on the tarmac.  He came to his feet running,
carrying her like a sleepy baby, one arm under her knees and the other
around her shoulders.  Her lovely head bumped against his shoulder, and
the fine silken hair blew into his face, half blinding him.

"Don't die," he found himself grunting the words in time to his
pounding feet.  "Please don't die."  But he could feel the warm wet
leak of blood down his belly, soaking into his shorts, and dribbling
down the front of his thighs.

At the entrance to the terminal buildings Colin Noble ran out a dozen
paces and tried to take the child from his arms, but Peter resisted him
fiercely.

Peter relinquished the frail, completely relaxed body to the Thor
doctor and he stood by without word or expression of regret as the
doctor worked swiftly over her.

Peter's face was stony and his wide mouth clamped in a hard line when
the doctor looked up at last.

"I'm afraid she's dead, sir."  Peter nodded curtly and turned away.

His heels cracked on the echoing marble of the deserted terminal hall
and Colin Noble fell in silently beside him.  His face was as bleak and
expressionless as Peter's, as they climbed into the cabin of the Hawker
command aircraft.

Sir William, you point at us for holding enemies of the State without
trial."  The Foreign Minister leaned forward to point the accuser's
finger.  "But you British discarded the citizen's right of

Habeas Corpus when you passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and in

Cyprus and Palestine you were holding prisoners without trial long
before that.  Now your block in Ulster is that any better than what we
are forced to do here?"  Sir William, the British Ambassador, gobbled
indignantly, while he collected his thoughts.

Kelly Constable intervened smoothly.  "Gentlemen, we are trying to find
common ground here not areas of dispute.  There are hundreds of lives
at stake-" A telephone shrilled in the air-conditioned hush of the room
and Sir William lifted the receiver to his ear with patent relief, but
as he listened, all blood drained from his face, leaving it a
jaundiced, putty colour.

"I see," he said once, and then, "very well, thank you," and replaced
the receiver.  He looked down the length of the long polished imbuia
wood table to the imposing figure at the end.

"Prime Minister-" his voice quavered a little I regret to inform you
that the terrorists have rejected the compromise proposals offered by
your government, and that ten minutes ago they murdered four hostages.
" There was a gasp of disbelief from the attentive circle of listening
men.

" The hostages were two women and two children a boy and a girl they
were shot in the back and their bodies thrown from the aircraft.  The
terrorists have set a new deadline midnight tonight for the acceptance
of their terms.  Failing which there will be further shootings."  The
silence lasted for almost a minute as head after head turned slowly,
until they were all staring at the big hunched figure at the head of
the table.

"I appeal to you in the name of humanity, sir."  It was Kelly

Constable who broke the silence.  "We must save the women and children
at least.  The world will not allow us to sit by as they are
murdered."

"We will have to attack the aircraft and free the prisoners," said
the

Prime Minister heavily.

But the American Ambassador shook his head.  "My government is adamant,
sir as is that of my British colleague-" he glanced at Sir

William, who nodded support we cannot and will not risk a massacre.

Attack the aircraft and our governments will make no attempt to
moderate the terms of the U.N. proposals, nor will we intervene in
the

Security Council to exercise the veto."

"Yet, if we agree to the demands of these these animals-" the last
words were said fiercely we place our nation in terrible danger."

"Prime Minister, we have only hours to find a solution then the killing
will begin again."

"you yourself have placed the success chances of a Delta strike as low
as even," Kingston Parker pointed out, staring grimly at Peter Stride
out of the little square screen.  "Neither the President nor I find
those odds acceptable."

"Doctor Parker, they are murdering women and children out there on the
tarmac."  Peter tried to keep his tone neutral, his reasoning
balanced.

"Very strong pressure is being brought to bear on the South

African Government to accede to the terms for release of the women and
children."

"That will solve nothing."  Peter could not restrain himself

"It will leave us with exactly the same situation tomorrow night."

"If we can secure the release of the women and children, the number of
lives at risk will be reduced, and in forty hours the situation might
have changed.  we are buying time, Peter, even if we have to pay for it
with a heavy coin."

"And if the South Africans do not agree?  If we come to the midnight
deadline without an agreement with the hijackers, what happens then,
Doctor Parker?"

"This is a difficult thing to say, Peter, but if that happens-" Parker
spread those long graceful hands in a gesture of resignation, we may
lose another four lives, but that is better than precipitating the
massacre of four hundred.  And after that the South Africans will not
be able to hold out.  They will have to agree to free the women and
children at any cost."  Peter could not truly believe what he had
heard.  He knew he was on the very brink of losing his temper
completely, and he had to give himself a few seconds to steady
himself.

He dropped his eyes to his own hands that were interlocked on the desk
top in front of him.  Under the fingernails of his right hand were
black half moons, the dried blood of the child he had carried back from
the aircraft.  Abruptly he unlocked his fingers and thrust both hands
deeply into the pockets of his blue Thor overalls.  He took a long deep
breath, held it a moment, then let it out slowly.

"If that was difficult to say, Doctor Parker console yourself that it
was a bloody sight harder to listen to."

"I understand how you feel, Peter."

"I don't think you do, sir."  Peter shook his head slowly.

"You are a soldier-" and only a soldier knows how to really hate
violence, Peter finished for him.

"Our personal feelings must not be allowed to intrude in this."

Kingston Parker's voice had a sharp edge to it now.

"I must once again forcibly remind you that the decision for condition
Delta has been delegated to me by the President and your

Prime Minister.  No strike will be made without my express orders.  Do
you understand that, General Stride?"

"I understand, Doctor Parker," Peter said flatly.  "And we hope to get
some really good videotapes of the next murders.  I'll let you have
copies for your personal collection."  The other 747 had been grounded
for servicing when the emergency began, and it was parked in the
assembly area only a thousand yards from where Speedbird 070 stood,

but the main service hangars and the corner of the terminal buildings
effectively screened it from any observation by the hijackers.

Although it wore the orange and blue of South African Airways with the
flying Springbok on the tail, it was an almost identical model to its
sister ship.  Even the cabin configurations were very close to the
plans of Speedbird 070, which had been tele printed from British
Airways

Headquarters at Heathrow.  It was a fortunate coincidence, and an
opportunity that Colin Noble had seized immediately.  He had already
run seven mock Deltas on the empty hull.

"All right, you guys, let's try and get our arses out of low gear on
this run.  I want to better fourteen seconds from the "go" to
penetration-" His strike team glanced at one another as they squatted
in a circle on the tarmac, and there were a few theatrical rollings of
eyes.  Colin ignored them.  "Let's go for nine seconds, gang," he said
and stood up.

There were sixteen men in the actual assault group seventeen when

Peter Stride joined them.  The other members of Thor were technical
experts electronics and communications, four marksmen snipers, a
weapons quart erA master, and a bomb disposal and explosives
sergeant,

doctor, cook, three engineering NCOs under a lieutenant, the pilots and
other flight personnel a big team, but every man was indispensable.

The assault group wore single-piece uniforms of close fitting black
nylon, for low night visibility.  They wore their gas masks loosely
around their necks, ready for instant use.

Their boots were black canvas lace-ups, with soft rubber soles for
silence.  Each man wore his specialized weapons and equipment either in
a back pack or on his black webbing belt.  No bulky bulletproof flak
jackets to impede mobility or to snag on obstacles, no hard helmets to
tap against metal and tell tales to a wary adversary.

Nearly all the group were young men, in their early twenties, hand
picked from the U.S. Marine corps or from the British 22.SAS regiment
that Peter Stride had once commanded.  They were superbly fit, and
honed to a razor's edge.

Colin Noble watched them carefully as they assembled silently on the
marks he had chalked on the tarmac, representing the entrances to the
air terminal and the service hangars nearest to 070.  He was searching
for any sign of slackness, any deviation from the almost impossible
standards he had set for Thor.  He could find none.  "All right, ten
seconds to flares," he called.  A Delta strike began with the launching
of phosphorus flares across the nose of the target aircraft.  They
would float down on their tiny parachutes, causing a diversion which
would hopefully bunch the terrorists in the flight deck of the target
aircraft as they tried to figure out the reason for the lights.  The
brilliance of the flares would also sear the retina of the terrorists"
eyes and destroy night vision for many minutes afterwards.

"Flares!"  shouted Colin, and the assault group went into action.

The two "stick" men led them, sprinting out directly under the gigantic
tail of the deserted aircraft.  Each of them carried a gas cylinder
strapped across his shoulder, to which the long stainless steel probes
were attached by flexible armoured couplings these were the "sticks"

that gave them their name.

The leader carried compressed air in the tank upon his back at a
pressure of 250 atmospheres, and on the tip of his twenty-foot probe
was the diamond cutting bit of the air drill  He dropped on one knee
under the belly of the aircraft ten feet behind the landing gear and
reached up to press the point of the air-drill against the exact
spot,

carefully plotted from the manufacturer's drawing, where the pressure
hull was thinnest and where direct access to the passenger cabins lay
just beyond the skin of alloy metal.

The whine of the cutting drill would be covered by the revving of the
jet engines of aircraft parked in the southern terminal.  Three seconds
to pierce the hull, and the second stick" man was ready to insert the
tip of his probe into the drill hole.

"Power A" Colin grunted; at that moment electrical power from the mains
to the aircraft would be cut to kill the air-conditioning.

The second man simulated the act of releasing the gas from the bottle
on his back through the probe and saturating the air in the aircraft's
cabins.  The gas was known simply as FACTOR V. It smelled faintly of
newly dug truffles, and when breathed as a five per cent concentration
in air would partially paralyse a man in under ten seconds, loss of
motor control of the muscles, uncoordinated movement,

slurred speech and distorted vision, were initial symptoms.

Breathed for twenty seconds the symptoms were total paralysis, for
thirty seconds loss of consciousness; breathed for two minutes,

pulmonary failure and death.  The antidote was fresh air or, better
still, pure oxygen, and recovery was rapid with no long-term.

after-effects.

The rest of the assault group had followed the "stick" men and split
into four teams.  They waited poised, squatting under the wings, gas
masks in place, equipment and weapons ready for instant use.

Colin was watching his stopwatch.  He could not chance exposing the
passengers to more than ten seconds of Factor V. There would be elderly
people, infants, asthma sufferers aboard; as the needle reached the
ten-second mark, he snapped.

"Power on."  Air-conditioning would immediately begin washing the gas
out of the cabins again, and now it was "Go!"  Two assault teams poured
up the aluminium.  scaling ladders onto the wing roots, and knocked out
the emergency window panels.  The other two teams went for the main
doors, but they could only simulate the use of slap-hammers to tear
through the metal and reach the locking device on the interior nor
could they detonate the stun grenades.

"Penetration."  The assault leader standing in for Peter Stride on this
exercise signalled entry of the cabins, and Colin clicked his
stopwatch.

"Time?"  asked a quiet voice at his shoulder, and he turned quickly.

So intent on his task, Colin had not heard Peter Stride come up behind
him.

"Eleven seconds, sir."  The courteous form of address was proof of

Colonel Colin Noble's surprise.  "Not bad but sure as hell not good
either.  We'll run it again."

"Rest them" Peter ordered.  "I want to talk it out a bit."  They stood
together at the full windows in the south wall of the air traffic
control tower, and studied the big red,

white and blue aircraft for the hundredth time that day.

The heat of the afternoon had raised thunderheads, great purple and
silver mushroom bursts of cloud that reached to the heavens.

Trailing grey skirts of torrential rain they marched across the
horizon, forming a majestic backdrop that was almost too theatrical to
be real, while the lowering sun found the gaps in the cloud and shot
long groping fingers of golden light through them, heightening the
illusion of theatre.

"Six hours to deadline," Colin Noble grunted, and groped for one of his
scented black cheroots.  "Any news of concessions by the locals?"

"Nothing.  I don't think they will buy it."

"Not until the next batch of executions."  Colin bit the end from the
cheroot and spat it angrily into a corner.  "For two years I break my
balls training for this, and now they tie our hands behind our
backs."

"If they gave you

Delta, when would you make your run?"  Peter asked.

"As soon as it was dark,"Colin answered promptly.

"No.  They are still revved up high on drugs," Peter demurred.

"We should give them time to go over the top, and start downing.  My
guess is they will dope again just before the next deadline.  I would
hit them just before that-" He paused to calculate.  " - I'd hit them
at fifteen minutes before eleven seventy-five minutes before the
deadline."

"If we had Delta,"Colin grunted.

"If we had Delta," Peter agreed, and they were silent for a moment.
"Listen, Colin, this has been wearing me down.  If they know my name,
what else does that gang of freaks know about Thor?  Do they know our
contingency planning for taking an aircraft?"

"God, I hadn't worked it out that far."

"I have been looking for a twist, a change from the model, something
that will give us the jump even if they know what to expect."

"We've taken two years to set it up tightly-" Colin looked dubious.
"There is nothing we can change."

"The flares," said

Peter.  "If we went, we would not signal the Delta with the flares, we
would go in cold!

"The uglies would be scattered all through the cabins, mixed up with
passengers and crew-"

"The red shirt Ingrid was wearing.  My guess is, all four of them will
be uniformed to impress their hostages.  We would hose anything and
everybody in red.  If my guess is wrong, then we would have to do it
Israeli style."  Israeli style was the shouted command to lie down,

and to kill anyone who disobeyed or who made an aggressive move.

"The truly important one is the girl.  The girl with the camera.

Have your boys studied the videotapes of her?"

"They know her face better than they do Fawcett Majors'," Colin
grunted, and then, "the bitch is so goddamned lovely I had to run the
video of the executions three times for them, twice in slow motion, to
wipe out a little of the old chivalry bit."  It is difficult to get a
man to kill a pretty girl,

and a moment of hesitation would be critical with a trained fanatic
like Ingrid.  "I also made them take a look at the little girl before
they put her in a basket and took her down to the morgue.  They're in
the right mood."  Colin shrugged.  "But what the hell, Atlas isn't
going to call Delta.  We're wasting our time."

"Do you want to play make-believe?"  Peter asked, and then without
waiting for an answer,

"Let's make believe we have a Delta approval from Atlas.  I want you to
set up a strike timed to "go" at exactly 10-45 local time tonight.  Do
it as though it was the real thing get it right in every detail."

Colin turned slowly and studied his commander's face, but the eyes were
level and without guile and the strong lines of jaw and mouth were
unwavering.

"Make-believe?"Colin Nobleasked quietly.

"Of course," Peter Stride's tone was curt and impatient, and Colin
shrugged.

"Hell, I only work here," and he turned away.

Peter lifted the binoculars and slowly traversed the length of the big
machine from tail to nose, but there was no sign of life, every port
and window still carefully covered and reluctantly he let his
binoculars sink slightly until he was staring at the pitiful pile of
bodies that still lay on the tarmac below the forward hatch.

Except for the electrical mains hook-up, the delivery of medicines and
the two occasions when Peter himself had made the long trip out there,
nobody else had been allowed to approach the machine.  No refuelling,
no refuse nor sanitary removals, no catering not even the removal of
the corpses of the murdered hostages.  The hijackers had learned the
lesson of previous hijacking attempts when vital information had been
smuggled off the aircraft in refuse and sewerage at Mogadishu, and at
Lad where the storming party had come disguised as caterers.

Peter was still gazing at the bodies, and though he was accustomed to
death in its most obscene forms, these bodies offended him more deeply
than any in his life before.  This was a contemptuous flaunting of all
the deepest rooted taboos of society.  Peter was grimly content now
with the decision of the South African police not to allow any
television teams or press photographers through the main gates of the
airport.

Peter knew that the world media were howling outrage and threats,

protesting in the most extreme terms against the infringement of
their

God-given rights to bring into the homes of all civilized people images
of dreadful death and mutilation, lovingly photographed in gorgeous
colour with meticulous professional attention to all the macabre
details.

Without this enthusiastic chronicling of their deeds,

international terrorism would lose most of its impetus and his job
would be a lot easier.  For sneaking moments he envied the local police
the powers they had to force irresponsibles to act in the best
interests of society, then as he carried the thought a step further, he
came up hard once "again against the question of who was qualified to
make such decisions on behalf of society.  If the police made that
decision and exerted it, was it not just another form of the terrorism
it was seeking to suppress?  "Christ," thought Peter angrily, "I'm
going to drive myself mad."  He stepped up beside the senior air
traffic controller.

"I want to try again," Peter said, and the man handed him the
microphone.

"Speedbird 070 this is the tower.  Ingrid, do you read me?

Come in, Ingrid."  He had tried a dozen times to make contact in the
last few hours, but the hijackers had maintained an ominous silence.

"Ingrid, come in please."  Peter kept trying, and suddenly there was
the clear fresh voice.

"This is Ingrid.  What do you want?"

"Ingrid, we request your clearance to have an ambulance remove the
bodies, Peter asked.

"Negative, Tower.  I say again, negative.  No one is to approach this
aircraft."  There was a pause.  "We will wait until we have a round
dozen bodies for you to remove-" The girl giggled, still on the drug
high, wait until midnight, and we'll make it really worth your
while."

And the radio clicked into silence.

"We are going to give you dinner now," Ingrid shouted cheerfully, and
there was a stir of interest down the length of the cabin.  "And it's
my birthday today.  So you're going to have champagne,

isn't that great!"  But the plump little Jewish doctor rose suddenly to
his feet.  His grey sparse hair stood up in comical wisps, and his face
seemed to have collapsed, like melting wax, ravaged and destroyed by
grief He no longer seemed to be aware of what had been said or what was
happening.  "You had no right to kill her."  His voice sounded like a
very old man.  "She was a good person.  She never hurt anyone " He
looked about him with a confused, unfocused look, and ran the fingers
of one hand through his disordered hair.  "You should not have killed
her, he repeated.

"She was guilty," Ingrid called back at him.  "Nobody is innocent you
are all the cringing tools of international capitalism-" Her face
twisted, in an ugly spasm of hatred.

" You are guilty, all of you, and you deserve to die,-" She stopped
short, controlled herself with an obvious effort of will, and then
smiled again; going forward to the little doctor, she put an arm around
his shoulders.

"Sit down, she said, almost tenderly, "I know just how you feel,

please believe me, I wish there had been another way.  He sank down
slowly, his eyes vacant with sorrow and his fingers plucking numbly at
themselves.

"You just sit there quietly," Ingrid said gently.  "I'm going to bring
you a glass of champagne now."  Prime Minister."  Kelly Constable's
voice was husky with almost two days and nights of unceasing tension,

it's after ten o'clock already.  We must have a decision soon, in less
than two hours-" The Prime Minister lifted one hand to silence the rest
of "Yes, we all know what will happen then."  An airforce jet has
delivered a copy of the videotape from Johannesburg, a thousand miles
away, and the cabinet and the ambassadors had watched the atrocity in
detail, recorded by an 800 men.  lens.  There was not a man at the
table who did not have children of his own.  The toughest right-wingers
amongst them wavered uncertainly, even the puckish little Minister of

Police could not meet the ambassador's eyes as he swept the table with
a compelling gaze.

"And we all know that no compromise is possible, we must meet the
demands in full or not at all."

"Mr.  Ambassador-" the Prime Minister broke the silence at last, " if
we agree to the terms, it will be only as an act of humanity.  We will
be paying a very high price indeed for the lives of your people but if
we agree to that price, can we be absolutely assured of your support
the support of both Britain and the United States in the Security
Council the day after tomorrow at noon?"

"The President of the United States has empowered me to pledge his
support in return for your co-operation," said Kelly Constable.

"Her Britannic Majesty's Government has asked me to assure you of the
same support," intoned Sir William.  "And our governments will make
good the 170 million dollars demanded by the hijackers."

"Still I

cannot make the decision on my own.  It is too onerous for one man,"

the Prime Minister sighed.  "I am going to ask my ministers, the full
cabinet-" he indicated the tense, grim faces around him, to vote.  I am
going to ask you gentlemen to leave us alone now for a few minutes
while we decide."  And the two ambassadors rose together and bowed
slightly to the brooding, troubled figure before leaving the room.

"Where is Colonel Noble?"  Kingston Parker asked.

"He is waiting-" Peter indicated with a jerk of his head the
sound-proof door of the Hawker's command cabin.

"I want him in on this, please," Parker said from the screen, and

Peter pressed the call button.

Colin Noble came in immediately, stooping slightly under the low roof,
a chunky powerful figure with the blue Thor cap pulled low over his
eyes.

"Good evening, sir."  He greeted the image on the screen and squeezed
into the seat beside Peter.

"I'm glad Colonel Noble is here."  Peter's voice was crisp and
businesslike.  "I think he will support my contention that the chances
of a successful Delta counter strike will he greatly enhanced if we can
launch our attack not later than ten minutes before eleven o'clock." He
tugged back the cuff of his sleeve, and glanced at his watch.  "That is
forty minutes from now.  We reckon to catch the militants at the moment
when the drug cycle is at its lowest, before they take more pills and
begin to arouse themselves to meet their deadline.  I believe that if
we strike then, we will have an acceptable risk-"

"Thank you, General

Stride-" Parker interrupted him smoothly, " but I wanted Colonel

Noble present so there could be no misunderstanding of my orders.

Colonel Noble," Parker's eyes shifted slightly as he changed the object
of his attention.  "Commander of Thor has requested an immediate Delta
strike against Speedbird 070.  "I am now, in your presence,
disapproving that request.  Negotiations with the South African
Government are at a critical state, and under no circumstances must
there be either overt or covert hostile moves towards the militants. Do
I make myself entirely clear?"

"Yes, sir.  "Colin Noble's expression was stony.

"General Stride?"

"I understand, sir."

"Very well.  I want you to stand by, please.  I am going to confer with
the ambassadors.  I will re-establish contact as soon as I have further
concrete indications."

The image receded rapidly, and the screen went dark.

Colonel Colin Noble turned slowly and looked at Peter Stride, his
expression changed slightly at what he saw, and quickly he pressed the
censor button on the command console, stopping all recording tapes,

killing the video cameras so there would be no record of his words
now.

"Listen, Peter, you're in line for that NATO command, everybody knows
that.  From there the sky is the limit, pat.

Right up there to the joint chiefs just as far as you want to go Peter
said nothing, but glanced once more at the gold Rolex wristwatch.  It
was seventeen minutes past ten o'clock.

"Think, Peter.  For God's sake, man.  It's taken you twenty
heart-breaking years of hard work to get where you are.

They would never forgive you, buddy.  You'd better believe it.

They'll break you and your career.  Don't do it, Peter.

Don't do it.  You're too good to waste yourself.  just stop and think
for one minute."

"I'm thinking," said Peter quietly.  "I haven't stopped thinking
since-" he checked, always it comes back to this.  If

I let them die then I am as guilty as that woman who pulls the
trigger."

"Peter, you don't have to beat your head in.  The decision is made by
someone else."  it would be easier to believe that, wouldn't it,"

Peter snapped, "but it won't save those people out there."  Colin
leaned across and placed a large hairy paw on Peter's upper arm.  He
squeezed slightly.  "I know, but it eats me to see you have to throw it
all away.  In my book, you're one of the tops, buddy."  It was the
first time he had made any such declaration, and Peter was fleetingly
moved by it.

"You can duck this one, Colin.  It doesn't have to touch you or your
career."

"I never was very hot at ducking."  Colin dropped his hand away.  "I
think I'll go along for the ride,"

"I want you to record a protest, no sense us all getting ourselves
fired," said Peter, as he switched on the recording equipment, both
audio and video; now every word would be recorded.

"Colonel Noble," he said distinctly, "I am about to lead an immediate
Delta assault on Flight 070.  Please make the arrangements."

Colin turned to face the camera.  "General Stride, I must formally
protest at any order to initiate condition Delta without express
approval from Atlas Command."

"Colonel Noble, your protest is noted,"

Peter told the camera gravely, and Colin Noble hit the censor button
once again, cutting tapes and camera.

"Okay, that's enough crap for one day."  He came nimbly to his feet.
"Let's get out there and take the bastards."  Ingrid sat at the flight
engineer's desk, and held the microphone of the on-board loudspeaker
system to her lips.  There was a greyish tone beneath the sun-gilded
skin; she frowned a little at the throbbing pulse of pain behind her
eyes and the hand that held the microphone trembled slightly.  She knew
these were all symptoms of the drug hangover.  She regretted now having
increased the initial dosage beyond that recommended on the typed label
of the tablet phial but she had needed that extra lift to be able to
carry out the first executions.  Now she and her officers were paying
the price, but in another twenty minutes she would be able to issue
another round of tablets.

This time she would stay exactly within the recommended dosage,

and she anticipated the rush of it through her blood, the heightened
vision and energy, the tingling exhilaration of the drug.  She even
anticipated the thought of what lay ahead; to be able to wield absolute
power, the power of death itself, was one of life's most worthwhile
experiences.

Sartre and Bakunin and Most had discovered one of the great truths of
life that the act of destruction, of total destruction, was a
catharsis, a creation, a reawakening of the soul.  She looked
forward,

even through the staleness and ache of the drug let-down, she looked
forward to the next executions.

"My friends-" she spoke into the microphone, we have not heard from the
tyrant.  His lack of concern for your lives is typical of the fascist
imperialist.  He does not concern himself with the safety of the
people, though he sucks and bloats himself on the blood and sweat.
outside the aircraft the night was black and close.

Thunderheads blotted out half the sky, and every few minutes lightning
lit the clouds internally.  Twice since sundown abrupt fierce downpours
of torrential rain had hammered briefly against the Boeing hull, and
now the airport lights glinted on the puddled tarmac.

We have to show the face of unrelenting courage and iron purpose to the
tyrant.  We cannot afford to show even a moment's hesitation.

We must now choose four more hostages.  It will be done with the utmost
impartiality and I want you all to realize that we are now all part of
the revolution together, you can be proud of that-" Lightning exploded
suddenly, much closer, a crackling greenish, iridescent flaming of the
heavens that lit the field in merciless light, and then the flail of
the thunder beat down upon the aircraft.  The girl Karen exclaimed
involuntarily and sprang nervously to her feet and crossed quickly to
stand beside Ingrid.  Her dark eyes were now heavily underscored by the
dark kohl of fatigue and drug withdrawal; she trembled violently, and
Ingrid caressed her absently the way she -might calm a frightened
kitten as she went on speaking into the microphone.

We must all of us learn to welcome death, to welcome the opportunity to
take our place and add our contribution, no matter how humble it might
be, to man's great reawakening."  Lightning burst in fierce splendour
once again, but Ingrid went on talking into the microphone, the
senseless words somehow hypnotic and lulling so that her captives sat
in quietly lethargic rows, not speaking, unmoving,

seeming no longer capable of independent thought.

"I have drawn lots to choose the next martyrs of the revolution.

I will call out the seat numbers and my officers will come to fetch
you.  Please co-operate by moving quickly forward to the first-class
galley."  There was a pause, and then Ingrid's voice again.  "Seat
number 63B.  Please stand up.) The scarred German in the red shirt and
with the lank black hair hanging over his eyes had to force the thin,

middle-aged man to his feet, twisting his wrist up between his shoulder
blades.  The man's white shirt was crumpled and he wore elastic braces
over his shoulders and oldfashioned narrow trousers.

"You can't let them," the man pleaded with his fellow passengers,

as Henri pushed him up the aisle.  "You can't let them kill me,

please."  And they looked down at their laps.

Nobody moved, nobody spoke.

"Seat number 43F."  It was a handsome dark-haired woman in her middle
thirties, and her face seemed to dissolve slowly as she read the number
above her seat, and she covered her mouth with one hand to prevent
herself crying out but from the seat exactly across the aisle from her
a sprightly old gentleman with a magnificent mane of silver-grey hair
rose swiftly to his feet and adjusted his tie.

"Would you care to change seats with me, madam?"  he said softly in a
clipped English accent, and strode down the aisle, on long, thin,

stork-like legs, contemptuously brushing past the blond moustached

Frenchman who came hurrying forward to escort him.  Without a glance to
either side, and with thin shoulders thrown back, he disappeared
through the curtains into the forward galley.

The Boeing had a blind spot that extended back from the side windows of
the flight deck at an angle of 20 to the tail, but the hijackers were
so well equipped and seemed to have considered every eventuality in
such detail that there was no reason to fear that they had worked out
some arrangement to keep the blind spot under surveillance.

Peter and Colin discussed the possibility quietly as they stood in the
angle of the main service hangar, and both of them carefully studied
the soaring shape of the Boeing tailplane and the sagging underbelly of
the fuselage for the glint of a mirror or some other device.  They were
directly behind the aircraft and there was a little over four hundred
yards to cover, half of that through knee-high grass and the rest over
tarmac.

The field was lit only by the blue periphery lights of the taxiway, and
the glow of the airport buildings.

Peter had considered dousing all the airport lights, but discarded the
idea as self-defeating.  It would certainly alert the hijackers,

and would slow the crossing of the assault team.

"I can't see anything," Colin murmured.

"No," agreed Peter and they both handed their night glasses to a
hovering NCO they wouldn't need them again.  The assault team had
stripped all equipment down to absolute essentials.

All that Peter carried was a lightweight eleven-ounce VHF

transceiver for "communicating with his men in the terminal building
and in a quick-release holster on his right hip a Walther PK 38

automatic pistol.

Each member of the assault team carried the weapon of his own choice.
Colin Noble favoured the Browning Hi-power .45 for its massive killing
power and large fourteen-round magazine, while Peter liked the pinpoint
accuracy and light recoil of the 9 men.  parabellum Walther with which
he could be certain of a snap head-shot at fifty metres.

One item was standard equipment for all members of the assault team.
Every one of their weapons was loaded with Super Velex explosive
bullets which trebled the knockdown power at impact, breaking up in the
human body and thereby reducing the risk of over-penetration and with
it the danger to innocents.  Peter never let them forget they would
nearly always be working with terrorist and victim closely involved.

Beside Peter, Colin Noble unclipped the thin gold chain from around his
neck which held the tiny Star of David, twinkling gold on the black
bush of his chest hair.  He slipped the ornament into his pocket and
buttoned down the flap.

"I say, old chap-" Colin Noble gave an atrocious imitation of a

Sandhurst accent shall we toddle along then?"  4 Peter glanced at the
luminous dial of his Rolex.  It was sixteen minutes to eleven
o'clock.

The exact moment at which my career ends, he thought grimly, and raised
his right arm with clenched fist, then pumped it up and down twice, the
old cavalry signal to advance.

Swiftly the two men raced out ahead, absolutely silent on soft rubber
soles, carrying their probes at high port to prevent them clattering
against tarmac or against the metal parts of the aircraft,

dark hunchbacked figures under the burden of the gas cylinders they
carried.

Peter gave them a slow count of five, and while he waited he felt the
adrenalin charge his blood, every nerve and muscle of his body coming
under tension, and he heard his own words to Kingston Parker echo in
his ears like the prophecy of doom.

"There is no middle ground.  The alternative is one hundred per cent
casualties.  We lose the aircraft, the passengers and all the Thor
personnel aboard her."  He thrust the thought aside, and repeated the
signal to advance.  In two neat files, bunched up close and well in
hand,

the assault teams went out, at the run.  Three men carrying each of the
aluminium alloy scaling ladders, four with the sling-bags of stun
grenades, others with the slap hammers to tear out the door locks, and
each with his chosen weapon always a big calibre handgun for Peter

Stride would trust nobody with an automatic weapon in the crowded
interior of a hijacked aircraft, and the minimum requirement for every
member of the assault teams was marksmanship with a pistol that would
enable him to pick a small moving target and hit it repeatedly and
quickly without endangering innocents.

They ran in almost total silence; the loudest sound was Peter's
breathing in his own ears, and he had time now for a moment's regret.

It was a gamble which he could never win, the best that could happen
was the utter ruin of his life's work, but he steeled himself brutally
and thrust aside the thought.  He ran on into the night.

Just ahead of him now, silhouetted by the lights of the terminal
building, the dark figures of the "stick" men were in position under
the bulging silver belly; and lightning flared suddenly, so that the
tall silver thunderheads rippled with intense white fire, and the field
was starkly lit, the double column of black-clad figures standing out
clearly against the paler grass.  If they were observed, it would come
now, and the crash of thunder made Peter's nerves jump, expecting
detonation and flame of a dozen percussion grenades.

Then it was dark again, and the sponginess of wet grass beneath his
feet gave way to flat hard tarmac.  Then suddenly they were under the
Boeing fuselage, like chickens under the protective belly of the hen,
and the two columns split neatly into four separate groups and still in
tight order every man dropped onto his left knee, and at the same
moment, with the precision of repeated rehearsals, every member of the
team lifted his gas mask to cover his nose and mouth.

Peter swept one quick glance back at them, and then depressed the
transmit button on his transceiver.  He would not speak a word from now
until it was over; there was always a remote possibility that the
hijackers were monitoring this frequency.

The click of the button was the signal to the members of his team in
the terminal and almost immediately, there was a rising whistling howl
of jet engines running up.

Even though the aircraft were parked up in the northern international
departures area, they had been turned so the jet exhausts were pointed
at the service area, and there were five intercontinental jet liners
co-operating.  The combined sound output of twenty big jet engines was
deafening even at that range and Peter gave the open hand signal.

The "stick" man was waiting poised, and at the signal he reached up and
placed the drill bit against the belly of the fuselage.  Any sound of
the compressed air spinning the drill was effectively drowned,

and there was only the slight jerk of the long probe as it went through
the pressure hull.

Instantly the second "stick" man placed the tip of his probe into the
tiny hole, and glanced at Peter.  Again the open hand signal, and the
gas was spurting into the hull.  Peter was watching the sweep hand of
his watch.

Two clicks on the transmit button, and the lights behind the row of
shaded portholes blinked out simultaneously as the mains power was cut
and the air-conditioning in the Boeing's cabins with it.

The howl of combined jet engines continued a few seconds longer and
Peter signalled the ladder men forward.

Gently the rubber-padded tops of the ladders were hooked onto the
leading edges of the wings and into the door sills high above them by
black-costumed, grotesquely masked figures working with deceptively
casual speed.

Ten seconds from discharge of the Factor V gas into the hull, and

Peter clicked thrice.  Instantly mains power to the Boeing was resumed
and the lights flicked on.  Now the air-conditioning was running
again,

washing the gas swiftly from the cabins and flight deck.

Peter drew one long, slow deep breath and tapped Colin's shoulder.

They went up the ladders in a concerted silent rush, Peter and Colin
leading the teams to each wing surface.

ten minutes to eleven," said Ingrid to Karen.  She lifted her voice
slightly above the din of jet engines howling somewhere out there in
the night.  Her throat was dry and sore from the drug withdrawal and a
nerve jumped involuntarily in the corner of her eye.

Her headache felt as though a knotted rope was being twisted slowly
tighter around her forehead.  "It looks as though Caliph miscalculated.
The South Africans aren't going to give in.  -" She glanced with a
small anticipatory twist of her lips back through the open door of the
flight deck at the four hostages sitting in a row on the fold-down
seats.  The silver-haired Englishman was smoking a

Virginia cigarette in a long amber and ivory holder, and he returned
her gaze with disdain, so that Ingrid felt a prickle of annoyance and
raised her voice so he could hear her next words.  "It's going to be
necessary to shoot this batch also."

"Caliph has never been wrong before."  Karen shook her head vehemently.
"There is still an hour to deadline-" and at that instant the lights
flickered once and then went out.

With all the portholes shaded the darkness was complete, and the hiss
of the air-conditioning faded into silence before there was a murmur of
surprised comment.

Ingrid groped across the control panel for the switch which transferred
the flight deck onto the power from the aircraft's own batteries, and
as the soft ruddy glow of the panel lights came on her expression was
tense and worried.

"They've switched off the mains," she exclaimed.  "The air-conditioning
this could be Delta."  W "No."  Karen's voice was shrill.  "There are
no flares."

"We could be-" Ingrid started but she could hear the drunken slur in
her own voice.  Her tongue felt too large for her mouth, and Karen's
face started to distort before her eyes, the edges blurring out of
focus.

"Karen-" she said, and now in her nostrils the unmistakable aroma of
truffles and on her tongue the taste of raw mushrooms.

"Christ!"  she screamed wildly and lunged for the manual oxygen
release.  Above each seat the panels dropped open and the emergency
oxygen masks dangled down into the cabins on their corrugated hoses.

"Kurt!  Henry!"  Ingrid shrieked into the cabin intercom.

"Oxygen!  Take oxygen!  It's Delta.  They are going to Delta."  She
grabbed one of the dangling oxygen masks and sucked in deep pumping
breaths, cleansing the numbing paralysing gas from her system.  In the
first-class galley one of the hostages collapsed slowly forward and
tumbled onto the deck, another slumped sideways.

Still breathing oxygen, Ingrid unslung the camera from around her neck,
and Karen watched her with huge terrified dark eyes.  She lifted the
oxygen mask from her face to ask: "You're not going to blow,

Ingrid?"  Ingrid ignored her and used the oxygen in her lungs to shout
into the microphone.

"Kurt!  Henri!  They will come as soon as the mains are switched on
again.  Cover your eyes and ears for the stun grenades and watch the
doors and wing windows."  Ingrid slapped the oxygen mask back over her
mouth and panted wildly.

"Don't blow us up, Ingrid!"  Karen pleaded around her mask.

"Please, if we surrender Caliph will have us free in a month.  We don't
have to die."  At that moment the lights of the cabin came on
brightly,

and there was the hiss of the air-conditioning.  Ingrid took one last
breath of oxygen and ran back into the first-class cabin, jumping over
the unconscious figures of the hostages and of two air hostesses.  She
grabbed another of the dangling oxygen masks above a passenger seat and
looked down the long fuselage.

Kurt and Henri had obeyed her orders.  They were breathing oxygen from
the roof panels.  The German was ready at the port wing panel, and

Henri waited at the rear doorway hatch both of them had the short
big-mouthed shot pistols ready, but their faces were covered with the
yellow oxygen masks, so Ingrid could not see nor judge their
expressions.

Only a small number of the passengers had been quick enough and
sensible enough to grab the dangling oxygen masks and remain conscious
but hundreds of others slumped in their seats or had fallen sideways
into the aisles.

A thicket of dangling, twisting, swinging oxygen hoses filled the cabin
like a forest of ha has obscuring and confusing the scene, and after
the darkness the cabin lights were painfully bright.

Ingrid held the camera in her free hand, for she knew that they must
continue breathing oxygen.  It would take the air-conditioning many
minutes longer to cleanse the air of all trace of Factor V, and she
held a mask over her mouth and waited.

Karen was beside her, with her shot pistol dangling from one hand and
the other pressing a mask to her mouth.

"Go back and cover the front hatch," Ingrid snapped at her.

"There will be-"

"Ingrid, we don't have to die," Karen pleaded, and with a crash the
emergency exit panel over the port wing burst inward,

and at the same instant two small dark objects flew threw the dark
opening into the cabin.

"Stun grenades!"  Ingrid howled.  "Get down!"  Peter Stride was light
and jubilant as an eagle in flight.

His feet and hands hardly seemed to touch the rungs of the ladder,

now in the swift all-engulfing rush of action there were no longer
doubts, no more hesitations he was committed, and it was a tremendous
soaring relief.

He went up over the smooth curved leading edge of the wing with a roll
of his shoulders and hips, and in the same movement was on his feet,
padding silently down the broad glistening metal pathway.  The
raindrops glittered like diamonds under his feet, and a fresh wind
tugged at his hair as he ran.

He reached the main hull, and dropped into position at the side of the
panel, his fingertips finding the razor-tight joint while his
number-two man knelt swiftly opposite him.

The grenade men were ready facing the panel, balanced like acrobats on
the curved slippery upper surface of the great wing.

"Under six seconds."  Peter guessed at the time it had taken them to
reach this stage from the "go.  It was as swift and neat as it had
never been in training, all of them armed by the knowledge of waiting
death and horror.

In unison Peter and his number two hurled their combined strength and
weight onto the releases of the emergency escape hatch, and it flew
inwards readily, for there was no pressurization to resist, and at
exactly the same instant the 7 stun grenades went in cleanly, thrown by
the waiting grenade men, and all four members of Peter's team bowed
like Mohammedans in prayer to Mecca, covering eyes and ears.

Even outside the cabin, and even with ears and eyes covered, the
thunder of the explosions was appalling, seeming to beat in upon the
brain with oppressive physical force, and the glare of burning
phosphorus powder painted an X-ray picture of Peter's own fingers on
the fleshy red of his closed eyelids.  Then the grenade men were
shouting into the interior, "Lie down!  Everybody down!  They would
keep repeating that order Israeli sty leas long as it lasted.

Peter was a hundredth of a second slow, numbed by the blast,

fumbling slightly at the butt of the Walther, thumbing the hammer as it
snapped out of the quick-release holster, and then he went in feet
first through the hatch, like a runner sliding for home base.  He was
still in the air when he saw the girl in the red shirt running forward
brandishing the camera, and screaming something that made no sense,

though his brain registered it even in that unholy moment.

He fired as his feet touched the deck and his first shot hit the girl
in the mouth, punching a dark red hole through the rows of white teeth
and snapping her head back so viciously that he heard the small
delicate bones of her neck crack leas they broke.

Ingrid used both arms to cover eyes and ears, crouching forward into
the appalling blast of sound and light that swept through the crowded
cabins like a hurricane wind, and even when it had passed she was
reeling wildly clutching for support at a seat back, trying to steady
herself and judge the moment when the attackers were into the hull.

Those outside the hull would escape the direct force of the explosives
she was about to detonate; there was a high survival chance for them.
She wanted to judge the moment when the entire assault team penetrated
the hull, she wanted maximum casualties, she wanted to take as many
with her as possible, and she lifted the camera above her head with
both hands.

"Come on!"  she shrieked, but the cabin was thick with swirling clouds
of white acrid smoke, and the dangling hoses twisted and writhed like
the head of the Medusa.  She heard the thunder of a shot pistol and
somebody screamed, voices were chanting, "Lie down" Everybody down"

It was all smoke and sound and confusion, but she watched the dark
opening of the emergency hatchway, waiting for it, finger on the
detonator button of the camera.

A supple black-clad figure in a grotesque mask torpedoed feet first
into the cabin, and at that same instant Karen shrieked beside her.

"No, don't kill us," and snatched the camera from Ingrid's raised
hands, jerking it away by the strap, leaving Ingrid weaponless.  Karen
ran down the aisle through the smoke, still screaming, Don't kill
us!"

holding the camera like a peace offering.  "Caliph said we would not
die."  She ran forward screaming frantically.  "Caliph-" and the
black-clad and masked figure twisted lithely in the air, arching his
back to land feet first in the centre of the aisle; as his feet touched
the deck so the pistol in his right hand jerked up sharply but the shot
seemed muted and un-warlike after the concussion of the stun
grenades.

Karen was running down the aisle towards him, screaming and brandishing
the camera, when the bullet took her in the mouth and wrenched her head
backwards at an impossible angle.  The next two shots blended into a
single blurt of sound, fired so swiftly as to cheat the hearing, and
from such Close range that even the Velex explosive bullets ripped the
back out of Karen's shirt and flooded it with a brighter wetter scarlet
as they erupted from between her shoulder blades.  The camera went
spinning high across the cabin, landing in the lap of an unconscious
passenger slumped in one of the central seats between the aisles.

Ingrid reacted with the instinctive speed of a jungle cat, diving
forward, flat on the carpet aisle below the line Of fire; shrouded by
the sinking white smoke of the grenades she wriggled forward on her
belly to reach the camera.

It was twenty feet to where the camera had landed, but Ingrid moved
with the speed of a serpent; she knew that the smoke was hiding her,
but she knew also that to reach the camera she would have to come to
her feet again and reach across two seats and two unconscious bodies.

Peter landed in balance on the carpeted aisle, and he killed the girl
swiftly, and danced aside, clearing space for his number two to land.

The next man landed lightly in the space Peter had made for him,

and the German in the red shirt jumped out from the angle of the rear
galley and hit him in the small of the back with a full charge of
buckshot.  It almost blew his body into two separate parts, and he
seemed to break in the middle like a folding penknife as he collapsed
against Peter's legs.

Peter whirled at the shot, turning his back on Ingrid as she crawled
forward through the phosphorous smoke.

Kurt was desperately trying to pull down the short, thick barrel of the
pistol, for the recoil had thrown it high above his head.  His scarlet
shirt was open to the navel, shiny hard brown muscle and thick whorls
of black body hair, mad glaring eyes through a greasy fringe of black
hair, the scarred lip curled in a fixed snarl.

Peter hit him in the chest, taking no chance, and as he reeled
backwards still fighting to aim the pistol, Peter hit again, in the
head through the temple just in front of the left ear; the eyelids
closed tightly over those wild eyes, his features twisted out of shape
like a rubber mask and he went down face first into the aisle.

"Two."  Peter found that, as always in these desperate moments, he was
functioning very coldly, very efficiently.

His shooting had been as reflexively perfect as if he were walking a
combat shoot with jump-up cardboard targets.

He had even counted his shots, there were four left in the

Walther.

"And two more of them," he thought, but the smoke was still so thick
that his visibility was down to under fifteen feet, and the swirling
forest of dangling oxygen hose still agitated by the grenade blasts cut
down his visibility further.

He jumped over the broken body of his number two, the blood squelching
under his rubber soles, and suddenly the chunky black figure of Colin
Noble loomed across the cabin.

He was in the far aisle, having come in over the starboard wing.

In the writhing smoke he looked like some demon from the pit, hideous
and menacing in his gas mask.  He dropped into the marksman's crouch,

holding the big Browning in a double-handed grip, and the clangour of
the gun beat upon the air like one of the great bronze bells of Notre
Dame.

He was shooting at another scarlet-shirted figure, half seen through
the smoke and the dangling hoses, a man with a round boyish face and
drooping sandy mustache.  The big Velex bullets tore the hijacker to
pieces with the savagery of a predator's claws.  They seemed to pin him
like an insect to the central bulkhead, and they smashed chunks of
living flesh from his chest and splinters of white bone from his
skull.

"Three," thought Peter.  "One left now and I must get the camera."  He
had seen the black camera in the hands of the girl he had killed, had
seen it fall, and he knew how deadly important it was to secure the
detonator before it fell into the hands of the other girl,

the blonde one, the dangerous one.

It had been only four seconds since he had penetrated the hull,

yet it seemed like a dragging eternity.  He could hear the crash of the
slap-hammers tearing out the door locks, both fore and aft.  Within
seconds there would be Thor assault teams pouring into the Boeing
through every opening, and he had not yet located the fourth hijacker,
the truly dangerous one.

"Get down!  Everybody down!"  chanted the grenade men, and Peter spun
lightly, and ran for the flight deck.  He was certain the blonde girl
would be there at the control centre.

Then, in front of him lay the girl he had shot down, the long,

dark hair spread out around her pale, still terrified face.  Her hair
was already sodden with dark blood, and the black gap in her white
teeth made her look like an old woman.  She blocked the aisle with a
tangle of slim boneless limbs.

The forward hatch crashed open as the lock gave way, but there were
still solid curtains of white smoke ahead of him.  Peter gathered
himself to jump over the girl's body, and at that instant the other
girl, the blonde girl, bounded up from the deck, seeming to appear
miraculously from the smoke, like some beautiful but evil apparition.

She dived half across the block of central seating, groping for the
camera, and Peter was slightly off balance, blocking himself in the
turn to bring his gun hand on to her.  He changed hands smoothly, for
he was equally accurate with either, but it cost him the tenth part of
a second, and the girl had the strap of the camera now and was tugging
desperately at it.  The camera seemed to be snagged, and Peter swung on
her, taking the head shot for she was less than ten paces away, and
even in the smoke and confusion he could not miss.

One of the few passengers who had been breathing oxygen from his
hanging mask, and was still conscious, ignored the chanted orders "Get
down!  Stay down!"  and suddenly stumbled to his feet, screaming,
"Don't shoot!  Get me out of here!  Don't shoot!"  in a rising
hysterical scream.

He was directly between Peter and the red-shirted girl, blocking

Peter's field of fire, and Peter wrenched the gun off him at the moment
that he fired.  The bullet slammed into the roof, and the passenger
barged into Peter, still screaming.

"Get me out!  I want to get out!"  Peter tried desperately to clear his
gun hand, for the girl had broken the strap of the camera and was
fumbling with the black box.  The passenger had an arm around Peter's
gun arm, was shaking him wildly, weeping and screaming.

From across the central block of seats, Colin Noble fired once.

He was still in the starboard aisle and the angle was almost
impossible, for he had to shoot nine inches past Peter's shoulder, and
through the forest of dangling hose.

His first shot missed, but it was close enough to flinch the girl's
head violently, the golden hair flickered with the passage of shot, and
she stumbled backwards, groping with clumsy fingers for the
detonator.

Peter chopped the hysterical passenger in the throat with the stiffened
fingers of his right hand and hurled him back into his seat,

trying desperately to line up for a shot at the girl knowing he must
get the brain and still her fingers instantly.

Colin fired his second shot, one hundredth of a second before

Peter, and the big bullet flung the girl aside, jerking her head out of
the track of Peter's shot.

Peter saw the strike of Colin's bullet, it hit her high in the right
shoulder, almost in the oint of the scapula and the humerus,

shattering the bone with such force that her arm was flung upwards in a
parody of a communist salute, twisting unnaturally and whipping above
her head; once again the camera was flung aside and the girl's body was
thrown violently backwards down the aisle as though she had been hit by
a speeding automobile.

Peter picked his shot, waiting for a clean killing hit in the head as
the girl tried to drag herself upright but before he could fire, a mass
of black-costumed figures swarmed out of the smoke, and covered the
girl, pinning her kicking and screaming on the carpet of the aisle.

The Thor team had come in through the forward hatch, just in time to
save her life, and Peter clipped the Walther into his holster and
stooped to pick up the camera gingerly.  Then he pulled off his mask
with his other hand.

"That's it.  That's all of them, he shouted.  "We got them all.

Cease fire.  It's all over."  Then into the microphone of the
transceiver, "Touch down!  Touch down!"  The code for total success.

Three of his men were holding the girl down, and despite the massive
spurting wound in her shoulder, she fought like a leopard in a trap.

"Get the emergency chutes down," Peter ordered, and from each exit the
long plastic slides inflated and drooped to the tarmac already his men
were leading the conscious passengers to the exits and helping them
into the slide.

From the terminal building a dozen ambulances with sirens howling,

gunned out across the tarmac.  The back-up members of Thor were running
out under the glare of floodlights, cheering thinly.  "Touch down!

Touch down!"  Like prehistoric monsters the mechanical stairways
lumbered down from the northern apron, to give access to the body of
the Boeing.

Peter stepped up to the girl, still holding the camera in his hands,
and he stood looking down at her.  The icy coldness of battle still
gripped him, his mind felt needle sharp and his vision clear,

every sense enhanced.

The girl stopped struggling, and looked back at him.  The image of a
trapped leopard was perfect.  Peter had never seen eyes so fierce and
merciless, as she glared at him.  Then she drew her head back like a
cobra about to strike, and spat at him.  White frothy spittle
splattered down the front of Peter's legs.

Colin Noble was beside Peter now, pulling off his gas mask.

"I'm sorry, Peter.  I was going for the heart."

"You'll never hold me," shrieked the girl suddenly.  "I'll be free
before

Thanksgiving!"  And Peter knew she was right.  "The punishment that a
befuddled world society meted out to these people was i usually only a
few months" imprisonment, and that often suspended.  He remembered the
feel of the dying child in his arms,

the warm trickle of her blood running over his belly and legs.

"My people will come for me," the girl spat again, this time into the
face of one of the men who held her down.

"You will never hold me.  My people will force you to free me."

Again she was right, her capture was a direct invitation for further
atrocity, the wheel of vengeance and retribution was set in motion.

For the life of this trapped and vicious predator, hundreds more would
suffer, and dozens more would die.

The reaction was setting in now, the battle rage abating, and

Peter felt the nausea cloying his bowels.  It had been in vain, he
thought; he had thrown away a lifetime's strivings and endeavour to win
only a temporary victory.  He had checked the forces of evil, not
beaten them and they would regroup and attack again, stronger and more
cunning than ever, and this woman would lead them again.

"We are the revolution."  The girl lifted her uninjured arm in the
clenched fist salute.  "We are the power.  Nothing, nobody can stop
us."  When this woman had fired a load of buckshot through the swollen
body of the pregnant woman it had distorted her shape completely.  The
image was recaptured entire and whole in Peter's memory, the way she
had burst open like the pod of a ripe fruit.

The blonde woman shook the clenched fist into Peter's face.

"This is only the beginning the new era has begun."  There was a taunt
and a sneering threat in her voice, uttered in complete confidence and
Peter knew it was not misplaced.  There was a new force unleashed in
the world, something more deadly than he had believed Possible, and
Peter had no illusions as to the role that blind fortune had played in
his small triumph.  He had no illusion either that the beast was more
than barely wounded; next time it would be more powerful, more cunning,
having learned from this inconsequential failure and with the reaction
from battle came a powerful wave of dread and despair that seemed to
overwhelm his soul.  It had all been in vain.

"You can never win," taunted the woman, splattered with her own blood,
but undaunted and unrepentant, seeming to read his very thoughts.

"And we can never lose," she shrieked.

Gentlemen."  The South African Prime Minister spoke with painful
deliberation.  "My cabinet and I are firmly of the opinion that to
accede to the terrorists" demands is to take a seat on the back of the
tiger, from which we will never be able to dismount."  He stopped, hung
his great granite-hewn head for a moment and then looked up at the two
ambassadors.  "However, such is the duty we owe to humanity and the
dignity of human life, and such is the pressure which two great nations
can bring to bear upon one much smaller, that we have decided
unanimously to agree in full to all the conditions necessary for the
release of the women and children, -" A telephone on the table top in
front of the American Ambassador began to shrill irritatingly, and
the

Prime Minister paused, frowned slightly.

"However, we place complete faith in the undertaking given by your
governments-" He stopped again for the telephone insisted.  You had
better answer that, sir!  he told Kelly Constable.

"Excuse me, Prime Minister."  The American lifted the receiver, and as
he listened an expression of utter disbelief slowly changed his
features.  "Hold the line, "he said into the receiver, and then,

covering the mouthpiece with his hand, he looked up.  "Prime Minister
it is a very great pleasure to inform you that three minutes ago the

Thor assault team broke into Flight 070 and killed three of the
terrorists they wounded and captured a fourth terrorist, but there were
no casualties among the passengers.  They got them all out, every last
one of them.  Safe and sound."  The big man at the head of the table
sagged with relief in his seat, and as the storm of jubilation and
self, congratulation broke about him, he started to smile.  It was a
smile that transformed his forbidding features, the smile of an
essentially fatherly and kindly man.  "Thank you, sir," he said, still
smiling.  "Thank you very much."

"You are guilty of blatant dereliction of your duty, General Stride,
"Kingston Parker accused grimly.

"My concern was entirely with the lives of hostages and the force of
moral law."  Peter answered him quietly; it was less than fifteen
minutes since he had penetrated the hull of the Boeing in a blaze of
fire and fury.

His hands were still shaking slightly and the nausea still lay heavily
on his guts.

"You deliberately disobeyed my specific orders."  Parker was an enraged
lion, the mane of thick shot-silver hair seemed to bristle, and he
glowered from the screen; the vast power of his personality seemed to
fill the command cabin of the Hawker.  "I have always had grave
reservations as to your suitability for the high command with which you
have formal been entrusted.  I have already expressed those
reservations in writing to your superiors, and they have been fully
justified."

"I

understand by all this that I have been removed from command of
Thor,"

Peter cut in brusquely, his anger seething to the surface, and Parker
checked slightly.

Peter knew that even Kingston Parker could not immediately fire the
hero of such a successful counter-strike.  It would take time, a matter
of days, perhaps, but Peter's fate was sealed.  There could be no doubt
of that, and Parker went on to confirm this.

"You will continue to exercise command under my direct surveillance.
You will make no decision without referring directly back to me, no
decision whatsoever.  Do you understand that, General

Stride?"  Peter did not bother to reply; he felt a wildly reckless mood
starting to buoy his sagging spirits, a sense of freedom and choice of
action such as he had never known before.

For the first time in his career he had deliberately disobeyed a
superior officer, and luck or not, the outcome had been a brilliant
success.

"Your first duty now will be to withdraw all Thor units, and swiftly
and in as good an order as possible.  The militant you have taken will
be returned to London for questioning and trial-"

"Her crimes were committed here.  She should be tried here for murder

I

have already had demands from the local-"

"Arrangements are being made with the South African authorities."
Parker's anger had not abated but he had it better under control.  "She
will return to Britain aboard your command aircraft, with the Thor
doctor in attendance."  Peter remembered what had happened to the
terrorist Leila Khaled, dragged from the El Al airliner where she was
being held by Israeli security agents.  As a guest of the British
police, she had spent six short days in captivity, and then been
released in a blaze of publicity and glory,

heroine of the communications media, Joan of Arc of terror released to
plan and execute the death and destruction of hundreds more
innocents,

to lead the attack on the foundations of civilization, to shake the
columns that held aloft the rule of law and society.

"I want this woman in London within twenty-four hours.

She is to be strictly guarded at all times against retaliation.

We cannot afford another blood bath like the one you led on 070."

Peter Stride walked very erect, very tall into the echoing,

marble-columned domestic departures hall of the airport, and his men
called to him as he came.

"Well done, sir."

"Great stuff, General."

"Way to go-" AM They were tending the released passengers,
re-assembling their scattered gear, dismantling the security and
communications equipment and packing it away within the hour they would
be ready to pull out but now they left their tasks to crowd about him,
competing to shake his hand.

The passengers realized that this must be the architect of their
salvation and they cheered him as he passed slowly through the hall,

and now he was smiling, acknowledging their pitiful gratitude, stopping
to talk with an old lady, and submitting to her tearful embrace.

"God bless you, my boy.  God bless you."  And her body trembled against
him.  Gently Peter set her aside and went on, and though he smiled it
was with his lips only, for there was steel in his heart.

There were Thor guards on the main administrative offices on the
mezzanine floor armed with submachine guns, but they stood aside for
him and Peter went through.

Colin Noble was still in his black skin-tight assault suit with the big
.45 on his hip, and a cheroot clamped between his teeth.

"Take a look at this lot," he called to Peter.  The desk was covered
with explosives and weapons.  "Most of it's ironcurtain stuff but God
alone knows where they got these."  He indicated the double-barrelled
shot pistols.  "If they had these custom built, it would have cost them
plenty."

"They have got plenty," Peter answered drily.  "The ransom for the OPEC
ministers was one hundred and fifty million dollars, for the Braun
brothers twenty five million, for Baron

Altmann another twenty million that's the defence budget for a nation."
He picked up one of the shot pistols and opened the breech.

It had been unloaded.

"Is this the one she used to gun down the hostages?"  Colin shrugged.
"Probably, it's been fired through both barrels."  Colin was right,
there were black specks of burned powder down the short smooth bores.

Peter loaded it with buckshot cartridges from the pile on the desk, and
walked on down the long office with the covered typewriters on the
deserted desks and the airline travel posters decorating the wall.

Along one wall the three bodies of the hijackers were laid out in a
neat row, each encapsulated in its separate translucent plastic
envelope.

Two Thor men were assembling the contents of their pockets personal
jewellery, meagre personal effects and they were packing them into
labelled plastic bags.

The body of Peter's Number Two was against the far wall, also in his
plastic body-bag, and Peter stooped over him.  Through the plastic he
could make out the features of the dead man's face.  The eyes were wide
and the jaw hung open slackly.  Death is always so undignified,

Peter thought, and straightened up.

Still carrying the shot pistol, Peter went on into the inner office,
and Colin Noble followed him.

They had the girl on another stretcher, a plasma drip suspended above
her, and the Thor doctor and his two orderlies were working over her
quietly, but the young doctor looked up irritably as Peter pushed open
the door, then his expression changed as he recognized Peter.

"General, if we are going to save this arm, I have to get her into
theatre pretty damned quickly.  The joint of the shoulder is
shattered-" The girl rolled the lovely head towards Peter.  The thick
springing golden hair was matted with drying blood, and there was a
smear of it across one cheek.

Now her face was completely drained of all colour, like the head of an
angel carved out of white marble.  The skin had a waxen, almost
translucent, lustre and only the eyes were still fierce, not dulled by
the painkilling drugs that they had injected into her.

I have asked the South Africans for co-operation-" the doctor went on,
they have two top orthopaedic surgeons standing by, and they have
offered a helicopter to fly her into the Central Hospital at
Edenvale."

Already she was being treated, even by Thor, as the major celebrity she
was.  She had taken her first step along the rose-strewn pathway to
glory, and Peter could imagine how the media would extol her beauty
they had gone berserk with extravagant praise for the swarthy
ferrety-eyed Leila Khaled with her fine dark mustache they would go
over the top for this one.

Peter had never known any emotion so powerful as the emotion that
gripped him now.

"Get out," he said to the doctor.

Sir?  "The man looked startled.

"Get out," Peter repeated, "all of you."  And he waited until the
opaque glass door closed behind them, before he spoke to the girl in
conversational tones.

"You have made me abandon my own principles, and descend to your
level."  The girl watched him uncertainly, her eyes flickered to the
shot pistol that Peter held dangling from his right hand.

"You have forced me, a career soldier, to disobey the orders of a
superior officer in the face of the enemy."  He paused.  "I used to be
a proud man, but when I have done what I must do now I will no longer
have much of which to be proud."

"I demand to see the American

Ambassador," said the girl huskily, still watching the pistol.  "I am
an American citizen.  I demand the protection-" Peter interrupted
her,

again speaking quickly.  "This is not revenge.  I am old and wise
enough to know that revenge has the most bitter taste of all human
excesses."

"You cannot do it-" The girl's voice rose, the same strident tones, but
now shriller still with fear.  "They will destroy you."  But

Peter went on as though she had not spoken.  "It is not revenge, he
repeated.  "You, yourself, gave the reason clearly.  If you continue to
exist, they will come to get you back.  As long as you live, others
must die and they will die stripped of all human dignity.  They will
die in terror, the same way you murdered-"

"I am a woman.  I am wounded.  I am a prisoner of war," screamed the
girl, trying to struggle upright.

"Those are the old rules, Peter told her.  "You tore up the book,

and wrote a new one I am playing to your rules now.  I have been
reduced to your level."

"You cannot kill me," the girl's voice range wildly.  "I still have
work-"

"Colin," Peter said quietly, without looking at the man.

"You'd better get out now."  Colin Noble hesitated, his right hand on
the butt of the Browning, and the girl rolled her head towards him
imploringly.

"You can't let him do it."

"Peter, -" Colin said.

"You were right Colin."  Peter spoke quietly.  "That kid did look a lot
like Melissa-Jane."  Colin Noble dropped his hand from the pistol and
turned to the door.  Now the girl was shrieking obscenity and threat,
her voice incoherent with terror and hatred.

Colin closed the door softly and stood with his back to it.  The single
crash of shot was shockingly loud, and the stream of filthy abuse was
cut off abruptly.  The silence was even more appalling than the
harrowing sounds which had preceded it.  Colin did not move.  He waited
four, five seconds before the door clicked open and General

Peter Stride came out into the main office.  He handed the shot pistol
to Colin and one barrel was hot in his hand.

Peter's handsome aristocratic features seemed ravaged, as though by a
long wasting disease.  The face of a man who had leapt into the
abyss.

Peter Stride left the glass door open, and walked away without looking
back.  Despite the terrible expression of despair, he still carried
himself like a soldier and his tread was firm.

Colin Noble did not even look through the open door.

"All right," he called to the doctor.  "She's all yours now."  And he
followed Peter Stride down the broad staircase.

There was a long hard gallop over good going and open pasture to the
crest of the ridge, with only one gate.  Melissa-Jane led on her bay
filly, her Christmas gift from Uncle Steven.  She was in the midst of
the passionate love affair that most pubescent girls have with horses,
and she looked truly good astride the glistening thoroughbred.

The cold struck high colour into her cheeks and the braid of
honey-coloured hair thumped gaily down her back at each stride.  She
had blossomed even in the few weeks since last Peter had seen her and
he realized with some awe and considerable pride that she was fast
becoming a great beauty.

Peter was up on one of Steven's hunters, a big rangy animal with the
strength to carry his weight, but the gelding was slogging hard to hold
the flying pair that danced ahead of him.

At the hedge, Melissa-Jane scorned the gate, gathered the filly with
fine strong hands and took her up and over.

Her little round bottom lifted out of the saddle as she leaned into the
jump, and clods of black earth flew from the filly's hooves.

As soon as she was over she swivelled in the saddle to watch him,

and Peter realized that he was under challenge.

The hedge immediately appeared to be head-high and he noticed for the
first time how the ground fell away at a steep angle beyond.  He had
not ridden for almost two years, and it was the first time he had been
up on this gelding but the horse went for the jump gamely, and they
brushed the top of the hedge, landed awkwardly, stumbled with

Peter up on his neck for an appalling instant of time in which he was
convinced he was to take a toss in front of his daughter's critical
eye; caught his balance, held the gelding's head up and they came away
still together.

"Super-Star!"  Melissa-Jane shouted laughing, and by the time he caught
her she had dismounted under the yew tree at the crest, and was waiting
for him with her breath steaming in the crisp calm air.

"Our land once went right as far as the church-" Peter pointed to the
distant grey needle of stone that pricked the belly of the sky, " and
there almost to the top of the downs."  He turned to point in the
opposite direction.

"Yes."  Melissa-Jane slipped her arm through his as they stood close
together under the yew.  "The family had to sell it when

Grandfather died.  You told me.  And that's right too.  One family
shouldn't own so much."  Peter glanced down at her, startled.  "My
God,

a comrnu rust in the family.  An asp in the bosom."  She squeezed his
arm.  "Don't worry, Daddy darling.  It's Uncle Steven who is the
bloated plutocrat.  You're not a capitalist you aren't even employed
any more-" And the instant she had said it, her laughter collapsed
around her and she looked stricken.  Oh, I didn't mean that.  I truly
didn't."  It was almost a month now since Peter's resignation had been
accepted by the War Office, but the scandal had not yet run out of
steam.

The first heady paeans of praise for the success of Thor's Delta strike
had lasted only a few days.  The glowing editorials, the full front
pages, the lead news item on every television channel, the effusive
messages of congratulations from the leaders of the Western
governments, the impromptu triumph for Peter Stride and his little band
of heroes, had quickly struck an odd note, a sudden souring of the
ecstasies.

The racist Government of South Africa had actually agreed to the
release of political prisoners before the assault, one of the hijackers
had been taken alive, and died of gunshot wounds received in the
terminal buildings.  Then one of the released hostages, a freelance
journalist who had been covering the medical convention in Mauritius
and was returning aboard the hijacked aircraft, published a sensational
eye-witness account of the entire episode, and a dozen other passengers
supported his claims that there had been screams from the fourth
hijacker, screams for mercy, before she was shot to death after her
capture.

A storm of condemnation and vilification from the extreme left of the
British Labour Government had swept through the Westminster parliament,
and had been echoed by the Democrats in the American

Congress.  The very existence of the Thor Command had come under
scrutiny and been condemned in extravagant tenons.  The Communist
parties of France and Italy had marched, and the detonation of an

M-26

hand grenade one of those stolen by the Baader-Meinhof gang from the

American base in Metz amongst the crowd leaving the Parc des Princes
football stadium in Paris had killed one and injured twenty-three.  A

telephone call to the offices of France Soir by a man speaking
accented

French claimed that this fresh atrocity was revenge for the murder of
four hijackers by the Imperialist execution squad.

Pressure for Peter's discharge had come initially from the

Pentagon, and there was very little doubt that Dr.  Kingston Parker was
the accuser, though, as head of Atlas, he was never identified, total
secrecy still surrounding the project.

The media had begun to demand an investigation of all the circumstances
surrounding Thor.  And if it is ascertained that criminal
irregularities did indeed exist in the conduct of the operation, that
the person or persons responsible be brought to trial either by a
military tribunal or the civil courts."  Fortunately the media had not
yet unravelled the full scope of Atlas Command.  Only Thor was under
scrutiny; they did not yet suspect the existence of either Mercury or

Diana.

Within the War Office and the governments of both America and

Britain, there had been much sympathy and support for Peter Stride but
he had made it easier for his friends and for himself by rendering his
resignation.  The resignation had been accepted, but still the left was
clamouring for more.  They wanted blood, Peter Stride's blood Now

Melissa-Jane's huge pansy violet eyes flooded with the tears of
mortification.  "I didn't mean that.  I truly didn't."

"One thing about being out of a job I have more time to be with my
favourite girl."  He smiled down at her, but she would not be
mollified.

"I don't believe the horrible things they are saying.  I know you are a
man of honour, Daddy."

"Thank you."  And he felt the ache of it,

the guilt and the sorrow.  They were silent a little longer, still
standing close together, and Peter spoke first.

"You are going to be a palaeontologist-'he said.

"No.  That was last month.  I've changed my mind.  I'm not interested
in old bones any more.  Now I'm going to be a doctor, a child
specialist."

"That's good."  Peter nodded gravely.  "But let's go back to old bones
for a moment.  The age of the great reptiles.  The dinosaurs why did
they fade into extinction?"

"They could not adapt to a changing environment."  Melissa-jane had the
answer promptly.

Peter murmured," - A concept like honour.  Is it outdated in today's
world, I wonder?"  Then he saw the puzzlement, the hurt in her eyes,
and he knew they had wandered onto dangerous ground.  His daughter had
a burning love for all living things, particularly human beings.
Despite her age, she had a developed political and social conscience,
distinguished by total belief in shining ideals and the essential
beauty and goodness of mankind.  There would be time in the years ahead
for the agony of disillusion.  The term "man or woman of honour" was
Melissa-Jane's ultimate accolade.

No matter that it could be applied to any of her current heroes or
heroines the Prince of Wales, or the singer of popular songs with an
outrageous name that Peter could never remember, to Virginia Wade, the
former Wimbledon champion, or to the Fifth Form science teacher at

Roedean who had aroused Melissa-Jane's interest in medicine, Peter knew
that he should feel proper gratitude for being included in this exalted
company.

"I will try to live up to your opinion of me."  He stooped and kissed
her, surprised at the strength of his love for this child-woman.

"And now it's too cold to stand here any longer, and Pat will never
forgive us if we are late for lunch."  They clattered over the stone
cobbles of the stable yard, riding knee to knee, and before he
dismounted, Peter indulged himself in the pleasure of his favourite
view of the house that had always been home, even though it belonged
now, together with the title, to Steven, the older brother, older by
three hours only, but older none the less.

The house was red brick with a roof that ran at fifty different
unlikely angles.  It missed being hideous by a subtle margin and
achieved a fairytale enchantment.  Peter could never grudge it to

Steven, who loved the sprawling edifice with something close to
passion.

Perhaps the desire to own the house and to restore it to its former
magnificence was the goad which had pricked Steven to the superhuman
effort that a British resident must make against taxation and socialist
restrictions in order to amass anything like a fortune.

Steven had made that effort and now Abbots Yew stood immaculate and
well-beloved in glorious gardens, and Sir Steven kept baronial style.

His affairs were so complicated, spread over so many continents that
even the British taxman must have been daunted.  Peter had once skirted
this subject with his twin brother, and Steven had replied quietly.

"When a law is patently unjust, such as our tax law is, it's the duty
of an honest man to subvert it."  Peter's old-fashioned sense of
rightness had baulked at such logic, but he let it pass.

It was strange that it had worked this way for the two brothers,

for Peter had always been the brilliant one, and the family had always
referred to "Poor Steven'.  Nobody was very surprised when Steven
left

Sandhurst amid dark whispers halfway through his final year but two
years later Steven was already a millionaire while Peter was a lowly
second lieutenant in the British Army.  Peter grinned without rancour
at the memory.  He had always been particularly fond of his elder
brother but at that moment his train of thought was interrupted as his
eye caught the mirror-like finish of the silver limousine parked at the
end of the stable yard.  It was one of those long Mercedes-Benz
favoured by pop stars, Arab oil men, or heads of staTe, The chauffeur
was uniformed in sober navy blue and was busy burnishing the paintwork
to an even higher gloss.  Even Steven did not run to that sort of
transportation, and Peter felt mildly intrigued.  House guests at
Abbots Yew were always interesting.  Steven Stride did not concern
himself with those who did not wield either power, wealth or
extraordinary talent.  Beyond the Mercedes 600 was parked another
smaller model; this one was black and the two men in it had the hard
closed faces that marked them as bodyguards.

Melissa-Jane rolled her eyes at the automobile.  "Another bloated
plutocrat, I expect," she muttered.  It was the currently favoured term
of extreme disapproval, a great advance on "grotty" which had preceded
it, Peter could not help thinking as he helped his daughter unsaddle
and then rub down the horses.  They went up through the rose garden,

arm in arm, and then laughing together into the main drawing-room.

"Peter old boy!"  Steven came to meet him, as tall as his brother,

and once he had been as lean, but good living had thickened his body
while at the same time the strains of being a professional deal maker
had greyed his hair at the temples and laced his mustache with silver
bristles.  His face was not quite a mirror image of Peter's, slightly
more fleshy and florid but the twin resemblance was still strongly
marked, and now his face was alive with pleasure.

"Thought you'd broken your bloody neck, what?"  Steven carefully
cultivated the bluff manner of the country squire to shield his quick
and shrewd intelligence.

Now he turned to Melissa-Jane and hugged her with barely a touch of
incestuous pleasure.  "How did Florence Nightingale go?"

"She's a darling, Uncle Steven.  I will never be able to thank you."

"Peter, I

would like you to meet a very charming lady-" She had been talking to

Patricia Stride, Steven's wife, and now as she turned, the winter
sunshine through the bay windows behind lit her with a soft romantic
aura.

Peter felt as though the earth had tilted under his feet, and a fist
closed around his ribs constricting his breathing and inhibiting the
action of his heart.

He recognized her immediately from the photographs in the official file
during the long-drawn-out kidnapping and subsequent murder of her
husband.  At one stage it had seemed that the kidnappers had crossed
the Channel with their victim, and Thor had gone to condition Alpha for
almost a week.  Peter had studied the photographs that had been
assembled from a dozen sources, but even the glossy coloured portraits
from Vogue and Jours de France had not been able to capture the
magnificence of the woman.

Surprisingly, he saw his own immediate recognition reflected.

There was no change in her expression, but it flared briefly like
dark-green emerald fire in her eyes.  There was no question in Peter's
mind but that she had recognized him, and as he stepped "towards her he
realized she was tall, but the fine proportion of her body had not made
that immediately apparent.  Her skirt was of a fine wool crepe which
moulded the long, stately legs of a dancer.

"Baroness, may I present my brother.  General Stride."

"How do you do General."  Her English was almost perfect, a low husky
voice, the slight accent very attractive, but she pronounced his rank
as three distinct syllables.

"Peter, this is Baroness Altmann."  Her thick glossy black hair was
scraped back severely from the forehead with a perfect arrowhead of
widow's peak at the centre, emphasizing the high Slavic cheekbones and
the unblemished perfection of her skin but her jawline was too square
and strong for beauty, and the mouth had an arrogant determined line to
it.  Magnificent, but not beautiful and Peter found himself violently
attracted.  The breathless wholesale feeling he had not experienced for
twenty years.

She seemed to epitomize everything he admired in a woman.

Her body was in the condition of a trained athlete.

Beneath the oyster silk of her blouse her arms were delicately sculpted
from toned muscle, the waist narrow, the breasts very small and
unfettered, their lovely shape pressing clearly through fine material,
her clean lightly tanned skin glowed with health and careful grooming.
All this contributed to his attraction.

However, the greater part was in Peter's own mind.  He knew she was a
woman of extraordinary strength and achievement, that was pure
aphrodisiac for him, and she exuded also the challenging air of being
un-attainable.  The regal eyes mocked his evident masculinity with the
untouchable aloofness of a queen or a goddess.  She seemed to be
smiling inwardly, a cool patronizing smile at his admiration,

which she realized was no more than her due.

Quickly Peter reviewed what he knew of her.

She had begun her association with the Baron as his private secretary,
and in five years had become indispensable to him.  The

Baron had recognized her ability by rapidly elevating her to the boards
of directors, first of some of the group's lesser subsidiaries, and
finally to that of the central holding company.  When the Baron's
physical strength had begun to decline in his losing battle with an
inexorable cancer, he came to rely more upon her, trust well placed as
it soon turned out.  For she ran the complex empire of heavy industrial
companies, of electronics and armaments corporations, of banking and
shipping and property developments, like the son he never had.  When he
married her he was fifty-eight years of age, almost thirty years her
senior, and she had been a perfect wife as she had been a perfect
business partner.

She had assembled and personally delivered the massive ransom demanded
by his abductors, against the advice of the French police,

going alone and unguarded to a meeting with killers, and when they had
returned the Baron's fearfully mutilated corpse to her,

she had mourned him and buried him and continued to run the empire she
had inherited, with vision and strength so far beyond her years.

She was twenty-nine years old.  No, that had been two years ago,

Peter realized, as he bowed over her hand, not quite touching the
smooth cool fingers with his lips.  She would be thirty-one years old
now.  She wore a single ring on her wedding finger, a solitaire
diamond, not a particularly large diamond, not more than six carats but
of such a perfect whiteness and fire that it seemed to be endowed with
its own life.  It was the choice of a woman of immense wealth and even
greater style.

As Peter straightened, he realized that she was appraising him as
carefully as he was her.  It seemed that he would be unable to conceal
anything from those slanted emerald eyes, but he returned her gaze
steadily, knowing without conceit that he could withstand any such
scrutiny; still intrigued, however, with the certainty that she had
known him.

"Your name has been much in the news recently she said, as if in
explanation.

There were sixteen for lunch, including Steven and Pat's three children
and Melissa-Jane.  It was a happy, relaxed meal, but the

Baroness was seated at a distance that made it impossible for Peter to
speak directly to her, and though he strained to follow her
conversation, her voice was low and addressed mostly to Steven and the
editor of one of the national daily newspapers who flanked her.  Peter
found himself fully occupied in fending off the breathless attention of
the pretty but feather brained blonde on his left.  She was a starlet
who had married well and divorced even better.

She had been handpicked by Pat Stride.  Peter's sister-inlaw was
indefatigable in her efforts to find him a suitable replacement for

Cynthia.  Twelve years of straight failures had not daunted her in the
least.

There was still time for Peter to notice that though the Baroness
sipped once or twice at her wine, the level in the glass never fell,

and she picked only lightly at her plate.

Though Peter watched her covertly, the Baroness never glanced once in
his direction.  It was only as they went through for coffee that she
came directly and unaffectedly to his side.

"Steven tells me there are Roman ruins on the estate, she said.

"I could show them to you.  It is a lovely walk up through the
woods."

"Thank you.  I do have some business to discuss with Steven before
that; shall we meet at three o'clock?"  She had changed into a loose
tweed skirt and jacket that would have looked bulky on a shorter or
plumper woman, and high boots in the same lavender tinted brown.

Under it she wore a cashmere roll-neck jersey, and a scarf of the same
fine wool hung down her back.  A wide-brimmed hat with a bright feather
in the band was pulled down over her eyes.

She walked in silence, hands thrust deeply into the big pockets of her
jacket, making no effort to protect the expensive boots from mud,

thorns or damp bracken.  She moved with a flowing, long-legged grace,

swinging from the hips so that her shoulder and head seemed to float
beside Peter, at a not much lower level than his own.  Had she not been
a world leader in finance and industry, she might have made a great
model, he decided.  She had a talent for making clothes look important
and elegant, while treating them with indifference.

Peter respected her silence, pleased to be able to step out to match
her pace, as they went up through the dark dripping woods that smelt of
leaf mould and cold rain, the oaks bare and moss-pelted,

seeming to beseech a purple grey sky with arthritic limbs held high.

They came out on the higher open ground without having stopped once,
although the path had been steep and the ground soft underfoot.

She was breathing deeply but evenly, and she had coloured just
sufficiently to flatter the high Slavic cheeks.

She must be in peak physical condition, he thought.

"Here they are."  Peter indicated the barely discernible grass-covered
ditch that circled the hilltop.  "They are not very impressive, but I
didn't want to warn you in advance She smiled now.

"I have been here before," she said in that intriguing husky accent.

"Well, we are off to a flying start.  We have both deceived each other
at our first meeting-" Peter chuckled.

"I came all the way from Paris, she explained.  "It was most
inconvenient really the business I had to discuss with Sir Steven could
have been completed by telephone in five minutes.  What I had to
discuss with you could only be done face by face-" She corrected
herself immediately.

"I am sorry, face to face" It was a rare slip.  Steven had been
strangely insistent that Peter spend this particular weekend at
Abbots

Yew, and was certainly party to this encounter.

"I am flattered by the interest of such a beautiful lady-"

Instantly she frowned, and with a gesture of irritation cut short the
compliment as frivolous.

"Very recently you were approached by the Narmco section of

Seddler StLel with an offer to head their Sales Division," she said,

and Peter nodded.  Since his resignation had been accepted by the War

Office, there had been many offers.  "The terms of employment offered
were extraordinarily generous."

"That is true."

"You prefer the cloistered academic life, perhaps?"  she asked, and
though Peter's expression did not change, he was taken off balance.  It
seemed impossible that she could know of the offer of the Chair of
Modern

Military History that he had been offered by a leading American
university, an offer with which he was still toying idly.

"There are some books I want to read and write," Peter said.

"Books.  You have an important collection, and I have read those you
have written.  You are an interesting contradiction, General

Stride.  The man of direct action, and at the same time of deep
political and social thought."

"I confuse myself at times," Peter smiled.  "So what chance do you have
to understand me?"  She did not rise to the smile.  "A great deal of
your writing coincides with my own conviction.  As for your action, if
I had been a man and in your position, I might have acted as you did."
Peter stiffened, resenting any allusion to the taking of Flight 070,
and again she seemed to understand instinctively.

"I refer to your entire career, General.  From Cyprus to

Johannesburg and including Ireland."  And he relaxed slightly.

"Why did you refuse the Narmco offer?  "she asked.

"Because it was presented with the unstated conviction that I

could not refuse.  Because the terms were so generous that they left a
strange unsatisfying odour in my nostrils.

Because I believe that I would have been required to perform duties in
line with the reputation I seem to have acquired since the taking of
Flight 070."

"What reputation is that?"  She leaned slightly towards him, and he
smelled her particular aroma.  The way perfume reacted upon that pet
ally-smooth skin, heated by the exertion of the climb up the hill. She
smelled faintly of crushed lemon blossom and clean healthy mature
woman.

He felt himself physically aroused by it, and had an almost undesirable
impulse to reach out and touch her, to feel the warmth and glossiness
of her skin.

A man who makes accommodations, perhaps, he answered, "What did you
think you might have been asked to do?"  This time he shrugged.

"Perhaps carry bribes to my onetime colleagues in NATO Command, to
induce them to consider favourably the products of Narmco."

"Why would you believe that?"

"I was once a decision making officer in that

Command."  She turned away from him and looked out across the special
greens of an English winter landscape, the orderly fields and
pastures,

the dark wedges and geometrical shapes of the woods and copses.

"Do you know that through Altmann Industries and other companies I

control a majority shareholding in Seddler Steel, and naturally in

Narmco?"

"No," Peter admitted.  "But I cannot say I am surprised."

"Did you know that the offer from Narmco was in reality from me
personally?"

This time he said nothing.

"You are quite right, of course, your contacts with the upper echelon
of NATO and with the British and American high commands would have been
worth every centime of the extravagant salary you were offered.  As for
bribes-" She smiled then suddenly, and it altered her face entirely,
making her seem many years younger, and there was a warmth and a sense
of fun that he would not have suspected, this is a capitalist society,
General.  We prefer to talk about commissions and introducer's fees."
He found himself smiling back at her, not because of what she had said,
but simply because her smile was irresistible.

"However, I give you my solemn word that you would never have been
expected to offer or carry, no, since Lockheed were indiscreet, it has
changed.  Nothing disreputable could ever be traced back to Narmco, and
certainly not to the top men there.  Certainly not to you."

"It's all academic now, , Peter pointed out.  "I've refused the
offer."

"I disagree, General Stride.  The brim of the hat covered her eyes as
she looked down.  "I hope that when you hear what I had hoped to
achieve you may reconsider.  I made the error of trying to keep us at
arms"

length to begin with.

I relied on the generosity of the offer to sway you.  I do not usually
misjudge people so dismally-" and she looked up and smiled again, and
this time reached out and touched his arm.  Her fingers were like her
limbs, long and slim, but they were delicately tapered and the nails
were shaped and lacquered to a glossy fleshy pink.  She left them on
his arm as she went on speaking.

"My husband was an extraordinary man.  A man of vast vision and
strength and compassion.  Because of that they tortured and killed him,
-" her voice had sunk to a hoarse catchy whisper " they killed him in
the most vile manner-" She stopped, but made no attempt to turn her
head away, she was unashamed of the tears that filled both eyes but did
not break over the lower lids.  She did not even blink, and it was

Peter who looked away first.  Only then she moved her hand, slipping it
lightly into the crook of Peter's elbow and coming beside him so her
hip almost touched his.

"It will rain soon," she said, her voice level and controlled.

"We should go down."  And as they started, she went on talking.

"The butchers who did that to Aaron went free, while an impotent
society looked on.  A society which has systematically stripped itself
of defence against the next attack.

America has virtually disbanded its intelligence system, and so
shackled and exposed what is left that it is powerless.

Your own country is concerned only with its particular problems,

as are we in the rest of Europe there is no international approach to a
problem that is international in scope.  Atlas was a fine concept,
limited as it was by the fact that it was a force that could only be
used in retaliation and then only in special circumstances.  However,
if they ever suspect that it exists, the denizens of the left will mass
to tear it down like a hunting pack of hyena."  She squeezed his arm
lightly, and looked sideways at him with a solemn slant of the emerald
eyes.  "Yes,

General, I do know about Atlas but do not ask me how."  Peter said
nothing, and they entered the forest, stepping carefully, for the path
was slick and steep.

"After the death of my husband, I began to think a great deal about how
we could protect the world that we know, while still remaining within
the laws which were first designed to do that.  With

Altmann Industries I had inherited a comprehensive system of
international information gathering; naturally it was attuned almost
entirely to commercial and industrial considerations, -" She went on
talking in that low intense voice that Peter found mesmeric, describing
how she had gradually used her massive fortune and influence to reach
across borders closed to most to gain the overall view of the new world
of violence and intimidation.  " - I was not tied by considerations
such as that of Interpol, forbidden by suicidal laws to involve itself
in any crime that has political motivation.  It was only when I was
able to pass on what I had learned that I found myself coming up
against the same self-destructive state of mind that masquerades as
democracy and individual freedom.  Twice I was able to anticipate a
terrorist strike and to warn the authorities, but intention is not a
crime, I was told, and both the culprits were quietly escorted to the
border and turned free to prepare themselves almost openly for the next
outrage.  The world must wait and cringe for the next stroke,

prohibited from making any pre-emptive strike to prevent it, and when
it comes they are hampered by confused national responsibilities and by
the complicated concept of minimum force " The Baroness broke off. "But
you know all this!  You have written in depth of the same subject."

"It's interesting to hear it repeated."

"I will come soon enough to the interesting part but we are almost back
at the house."

"Come," Peter told her, and led her past the stables to the swimming
pool pavilion.

The surface of the heated pool steamed softly, and lush tropical plants
were in odd contrast to the wintry scene beyond the glass walls.

They sat side by side on a swing seat, close enough to be able to talk
in subdued tones, but the intense mood was broken for the moment.

She took off her hat, scarf and jacket, and tossed them onto the cane
chair opposite, and she sighed as she settled back against the
cushions.

"I understand from Sir Steven that he wants you to go into the bank."
She slanted her eyes at him.  "it must be difficult to be so sought
after."

"I don't think I have Steven's reverence for money."

"It's a readily acquired taste, General Stride, she assured him.  "One
that can become an addiction."  At that moment the children of both

Stride brothers arrived in a storm of shouted repartee and laughter,

which moderated only marginally when they realized that Peter and the

Baroness were in the swing seat.

Steven's youngest son, bulging over the top of his costume with
puppy-fat and with silver braces on his front teeth, rolled his eyes in
their direction and in a stage whisper told Melissa-Jane, Je t'aime, ma
cliMe, swoon!

swoon!"  His accent was frighteningly bad and he received a hissed
rebuke and a shove in the small of the back that hurled him into the
deep end of the pool.

The Baroness smiled.  "Your daughter is very protective-" she turned
slightly to examine Peter's face again or is it merely jealousy?"
Without waiting for an answer she went straight on to ask another
question.  Against the background of shouts and splashes, Peter thought
he had mis-heard.

"What did you say?"  he asked carefully, certain that his expression
had revealed nothing, and she repeated.

"Does the name Caliph mean anything to you?"  He frowned slightly,

pretending to consider, while his memory darted back to the terrible
micro-seconds of mortal combat, of smoke and flame and gunfire and a
dark-haired girl in a scarlet shirt screaming: "Don't kill us!  Caliph
said we would not die.  Caliph-" And his own bullets stopping the rest
of it, smashing into the open mouth.  The word had haunted him since
then, and he had tried a thousand variations, looking for sense and
meaning, considering the possibility that he had mis-heard.  Now he
knew he had not.

"Caliph?"  he asked, not knowing why he was going to deny it,

merely because it seemed vital that he keep something in reserve, that
he were not carried headlong on the torrent of this woman's presence
and personality.  "It's a Mohammedan title I think it literally means
the heir of Mohammed, the successor to the prophet."

"Yes."  She nodded impatiently.  "It's the title of a civil and
religious leader but have you heard it used as a code name?"

"No.  I am sorry, I have not.

What is the significance?"

"I am not sure, even my own sources are obscure and confused."  She
sighed, and they watched Melissa-Jane in silence.  The child had been
waiting for Peter's attention, and when she had it she ran lightly out
along the springboard and launched herself, light as a swallow in
flight, into a clean one-and-a-half somersault, entering the water with
hardly a ripple and surfacing immediately with fine pale hair slick
down across her face, immediately looking again for Peter's approval.

"She's a lovely child," said the Baroness.  "I have no children.

Aaron wanted a son but there was not one."  And there was real sorrow
in the green eyes that she masked quickly.  Across the pool
Melissa-Jane climbed from the pool and quickly draped a towel around
her shoulders, covering her bosom which was now large enough and yet so
novel as to provide her with a constant source of embarrassment and shy
pride.

"Caliph," Peter reminded the Baroness quietly, and she turned back to
him.

"first heard the name two years ago, in circumstances I shall never
forget-" She hesitated.  "May I take it that you are fully aware of the
circumstances surrounding my husband's kidnapping and murder?  I

do not wish to repeat the whole harrowing story unless it is
necessary."

"I know it," Peter assured her.

"You know that I delivered the ransom, personally."

"Yes."

"The rendezvous was a deserted airfield near the East German border.
They were waiting with a light twin-engined aircraft, a Russian-built
reconnaissance machine with its markings sprayed over."  Peter
remembered the meticulous planning and the special equipment used in
the hijacking of 070.  It all tallied.  " There were four men,

masked.  They spoke Russian, or rather two of them spoke Russian.  The
other two never spoke at all.  It was bad Russian-" Peter remembered
now that the Baroness spoke Russian and five other languages.  She had
a Middle European background.

Peter wished he had studied her intelligence file more thoroughly.

Her father has escaped with her from her native Poland when she was a
small child.  "Almost certainly, the aircraft and the Russian were
intended to cover their real identity," she mused.  "I was with them
for some little time.  I had forty-five million Swiss francs to deliver
and even in notes of large denomination it was a bulky and heavy cargo
to load aboard the aircraft.  After the first few minutes, when they
realized that I had no police escort, they relaxed and joked amongst
themselves as they worked at loading the money.  The word "Caliph" was
used in the English version, in a Russian exchange that roughly
translates as "He was right again" and the reply "Caliph is always
right".  Perhaps the use of the English word made me remember it so
clearly-" She stopped again, grief naked and bleak in the green eyes.

"You told the police?"  Peter asked gently, and she shook her head.

"No.  I don't know why not.  They had been so ineffectual up to that
time.  I was very angry and sad and confused.

Perhaps even then I had already decided that I would hunt them myself
and this was all I had."

"That was the only time you heard the name?"  he asked, and she did not
reply immediately.  They watched the children at play and it seemed
fantasy to be discussing the source of evil in such surroundings,
against a background of laughter and innocent high spirits.

When the Baroness answered, she seemed to have changed direction
completely.

"There had been that hiatus in international terrorism.

The Americans seemed to have beaten the hijacking problem with their
Cuban agreement and the rigorous airport searches.  Your own successful
campaign against the Provisional wing of the IRA in this country, the
Entebbe raid and the German action at Mogadishu were all hailed as
breakthrough victories.  Everybody was beginning to congratulate
themselves that it was beaten.  The Arabs were too busy with the war in
the Lebanon and with inter-group rivalries.  It had been a passing
thing."  She shook her head again.  "But terrorism is a growth industry
the risks are less than those of financing a major movie.  There is a
proven sixty-seven per cent chance of success, the capital outlay is
minimal, with outrageous profits in cash and publicity, with instant
results and potential power not even calculable.

Even in the event of total failure, there is still a better than fifty
per cent survival rate for the participants."  She smiled again,

but now there was no joy and no warmth in it.  "Any businessman will
tell you it's better than the commodity markets."

"The only thing against it is that the business is run by amateurs,"
Peter'said, "or by professionals blinded by hatred or crippled by
parochial interests and limited goals."  And now she turned to him,
wriggling around in the canvas swing seat, curling those long legs up
under her in that double-jointed woman's manner, impossible for a
man.

"You are ahead of me, Peter."  She caught herself.  "I am sorry,

but General Stride is too much to say, and I have the feeling I have
known you so long."  The smile now was fleeting but warm.  "My name
is

Magda," she went on simply.

"Will you use it?"

"Thank you, Magda."

"Yes."  She picked up the thread of conversation again.

"The business is in the hands of amateurs but it is too good to stay
that way."

"Enter Caliph," Peter guessed.

"That is the whisper that I have heard; usually there is no name.

Just that there was a meeting in Athens, or Amsterdam or East Berlin
or

Aden only once have I heard the name Caliph again.  But if he exists
already he must be one of the richest men in the world, and soon he
will be the most powerful."

"One man?"  Peter asked.

"I do not know.  Perhaps a group of men perhaps even a government.
Russia, Cuba, an Arab country?  Who knows yet?"

"And the goals?"

"Money, firstly.  Wealth to tackle the political objectives and finally
power, raw power.  "Magda Altmann stopped herself, and made a
self-deprecating gesture.  "This is guesswork again, my own guessing
based only on past performance.

They have the wealth now, provided by OPEC and myself amongst others.
Now he or they have started on the political objectives, a soft target
first.  An African racist minority government unprotected by powerful
allies.  It should have succeeded.  They should have won an entire
nation a mineral-rich nation for the price of a dozen lives.

Even had they failed to gain the main prize, the consolation prize was
forty tons of pure gold.  That's good business, Peter.  It should have
succeeded.  It had succeeded.

The Western nations actually put pressure on the victims, and forced
them to accede to the demands it was a trial run, and it worked
perfectly, except for one man."

"I am afraid," said Peter softly, "as afraid as I have ever been in my
life."

"Yes, I am also,

Peter.  I have been afraid ever since that terrible phone call on the
night they took Aaron, and the more I learn the more afraid I
become."

"What happens next?"

"I do not know but the name he has chosen has the hint of megalomania,
perhaps a man with visions of godlike domination-" She spread her fine
narrow hands and the diamond flashed white fire.  " We cannot hope to
fathom the mind of a man who could embark on such a course.

Probably he believes that what he is doing is for the eventual good of
mankind.  Perhaps he wants to attack the rich by amassing vast wealth,
to destroy the tyrant with universal tyranny, to free mankind by making
it a slave to terror.  Perhaps he seeks to right the wrongs of the
world with evil and injustice."  She touched his arm again, and this
time the strength of those long fingers startled Peter.  "You have to
help me find him, Peter.  I am going to put everything into the hunt,
there will be no reservations, all the wealth and influence that

I control will be at your disposal."

"You choose me because you believe that I murdered a wounded woman
prisoner?"  Peter asked.  "Are those my credentials?"  And she recoiled
from him slightly, and stared at him with the slightly Mongolian slant
of eyes, then her shoulders slumped slightly.

"All right, that is part of it, but only a small part of it.

You know I have read what you have written, you must know that I

have studied you very carefully.  You are the best man available to
me,

and finally you have proved that your involvement is complete.  I know
that you have the strength and skill and ruthlessness to find Caliph
and destroy him before he destroys us and the world we know."  Peter
was looking inwards.  He had believed that the beast had a thousand
heads, and for each that was struck off a thousand more would grow but
now for the first time he imagined the full shape of the beast, it was
still in ambush, not clear yet, but there was only a single head.

Perhaps, after all, it was mortal.

"Will you help me, Peter?"she asked.

"You know I will," he answered quietly.  "I do not have any choice."
She flew in the brilliance of high sunlight reflected from snow fields
of blazing white, jetting through her turns with flowing elegance,
carving each turn with a crisp rush of flying snow, swaying across the
fall line of the mountain in an intricate ballet of interlinked
movement.

She wore a slim-fitting skin suit of pearly grey, trimmed in black at
the shoulders and cuffs, she was shod with gleaming black Heierling
snow birds and her skis were long, narrow, black Rossignol
professionals.

Peter followed her, pressing hard not to lose too much ground, but his
turns were solid Christies without the stylish fallback un weighting of
the jet turn which gave her each time a fractional gain.

The dun he ran like a stag of ten But the mare like a new roused fawn
Kipling might have been describing them, and she was a hundred yards
ahead of him as they entered the forest.

The pathway was barred with the shadows of the pines, and sugary ice
roared under his skis as he pushed the narrow corners dangerously fast.
Always she was farther ahead, flickering like a silver-grey wraith on
those long lean legs, her tight round buttocks balancing the narrow
waist and swinging rhythmically into the turns, marvelous controlled
broadsides where the icy roadway denied purchase, coming out fast and
straight, leaning into the rush of the wind, and her faint sweet
laughter came back to Peter as he chased.

There is an expertise that must be learned in childhood, and he
remembered then that she was Polish, would probably have skied before
she was weaned, and suppressed the flare of resentment he always felt
at being outclassed by another human being, particularly by the woman
who was fast becoming his driving obsession.

He came round another steeply banked turn, with the sheer snow wall
rising fifteen feet on his right hand and on his left the tops of the
nearest pines at his own level, so steep the mountain fell away into
the valley.

The ice warning signs flashed past, and there was a wooden bridge,

its boards waxen, opalescent with greenish ice.  He felt control go as
he hit the polished iron-hard surface.  The bridge crossed a deep
sombre gorge, with a frozen waterfall skewered to the black mountain
rock by its own cruel icicles, like crucifixion nails.

To attempt to edge in, or to stem the thundering rush across the
treacherous going, would have invited disaster, to lean back
defensively would have brought him down instantly and piled him into
the sturdy wooden guide rails.

At the moment he was lined up for the narrow bridge Peter flung himself
forward so that his shins socked into the pads of his boots,

and in a swoop of terror and exhilaration he went through, and found
that he was laughing aloud though his heart leaped against his ribs and
his breathing matched the sound of the wind in his own ears.

She was waiting for him where the path debouched onto the lower slopes.
She had pushed her goggles to the top of her head, and stripped off her
gloves, both sticks planted in the snow beside her.

"You'll never know how much I needed that."  She had flown into

Zurich that morning in her personal Lear jet.

Peter had come in on the Swissair flight from Brussels, and they had
motored up together.  "You know what I wish, Peter?"

"Tell me,"he invited.

"I wish that I could take a whole month, thirty glorious days, to do
what I wish.  To be ordinary, to be like other people and not feel a
moment's guilt."  He had seen her on only three occasions in the six
weeks since their first meeting at Abbots Yew.  Three too brief and,

for Peter, unsatisfying meetings.

Once in his new office suite at the Narmco headquarters in

Brussels, again at La Pierre Brute, her country home outside Paris,

but then there had been twenty other guests for dinner.  The third time
had been in the panelled and tastefully decorated cabin of her Lear jet
on a flight between Brussels and London.

Though they had made little progress as yet in the hunt for

Caliph, Peter was still exploring the avenues that had occurred to him
and had cast a dozen lines, baited and hooked.

During their third meeting Peter had discussed with her the need to
restructure her personal safety arrangements.

He had changed her former bodyguards, replacing them with operatives
from a discreet agency in Switzerland which trained its own ryien.  The
director of the agency was an old and trusted friend.

They had come to this meeting now so that Peter might report back on
his progress to Magda.  But for a few hours the snow had seduced them
both.

"There is still another two hours before the light goes."  Peter
glanced across the valley at the village church.  The gold hands of the
clock showed a little after two o'clock.

"Do you want to run the Rheinhorn?"  She hesitated only a moment.

"The world will keep turning, I'm sure."  Her teeth were very white,
but one of them was slightly crooked, a blemish that was oddly
appealing as she smiled up at him.  "Certainly it will wait two hours."
He had learned that she kept unbelievable hours, begining her day's
work when the rest of the world still slept, and still hard at it when
the offices of Altmann Industries in Boulevard Capucine were
deserted,

except her own office suite on the top floor.  Even during the drive up
from Zurich she had gone through correspondence and dictated quietly to
one of her secretaries.  He knew that at the chalet across the valley
her two secretaries would be waiting already, with a pile of telex
flimsies for her consideration and the line held open for her
replies.

"There are better ways to die than working yourself to death."  He was
suddenly out of patience with her single mindedness and she laughed
easily with high colour in her cheeks and the sparkle of the last run
in the green eyes.

"Yes, you are right, Peter.  I should have you near to keep reminding
me of that.  "That's the first bit of sense I've had from you in six
weeks."  He was referring to her opposition to his plans for her
security.  He had tried to persuade her to change established behaviour
patterns, and though the smile was still on her lips, her eyes were
deadly serious as she studied his face.

"My husband left me a trust-" she seemed suddenly sad beneath the
laughter a duty that I must fulfill.  One day I should like to explain
that to you but now we only have two hours."  It was snowing lightly,

and the sun had disappeared behind the mountains of rock and snow and
cloud as they walked back through the village.  The lights were burning
in the richly laden shop windows and they were part of the gaily clad
stream returning from the slopes, clumping along the frozen sidewalks
in their clumsy ski boots, carrying skis and sticks over one shoulder
and chattering with the lingering thrill of the high pi ste that even
the lowering snow-filled dusk could not suppress.

"It feels good to be free of my wolves for a while."  Magda caught his
arm as her snow birds skidded on dirty ridged ice, and after she had
regained her balance she left her gloved hand there.

Her wolves were the bodyguards that Peter had provided, the silent
vigilant men who followed her either on foot or in a second car.  They
waited outside her offices while she worked, and others guarded the
house while she slept.

That morning, however, she had told Peter, "Today I have as a companion
a gold medal Olympic pistol champion, I don't need my wolves."  Narmco
marketed its own version of the 9-men parabellum pistol.

It was called "Cobra', and after a single morning in the underground
range Peter had taken a liking to the weapon.  It was lighter and
flatter than the Walther he was accustomed to, easier to carry and
conceal, and the single action mechanism saved a flicker of time with
the first shot, for there was no need to cock the action.  He had had
no trouble obtaining a permit to carry one as a trade sample, although
it was necessary to check it before every commercial flight, but it
carried neatly in a quick-release shoulder holster.

He had felt theatrical and melodramatic at first, but with a little
sober thought had convinced himself that to follow on Caliph's tracks
unarmed was shortening the odds against himself.

Now it was becoming habit, and he was barely aware of the comforting
shape and weight in his armpit, until Magda spoke.

"I am close to dying from thirst," she went on, and they racked their
skis and went into the jovial warmth and clouds of steam that billowed
from one of the coffee shops that lined the main street.

They found a seat at a table already crowded with young people,

and they ordered glasses of steaming hot GUhuvin.

Then the four-piece hand thumped out a popular dance tune and their
table companions swarmed onto the tiny dance floor.

Peter raised a challenging eyebrow at her and she asked with amusement,
"Have you ever danced in ski boots?"

"There has to be a first time for everything."  She danced like she did
everything else,

with complete absorption, and her body was strong and hard and slim
against his.

It was completely dark as they climbed the narrow track above the
village and went in through the electronically controlled gate in the
protective wall around the chalet.

It was somehow typical of her that she had avoided the fashionable
resorts, and that externally the chalet seemed not much different from
fifty others that huddled in the edge of the pine forest.  There was
patent relief amongst her entourage at her return, and she seemed
almost defiant at their concern as though she had just proved something
to herself but still she did not change from her sports clothes before
disappearing into the office suite on the first floor with her two male
secretaries.  "I work better with men," she had explained to

Peter once.  As Peter dressed in slacks, blazer and silk roll neck
after a scalding shower, he could still hear the clatter of the telex
machine from the floor below, and it was an hour later when she called
him on the house telephone.

The entire top floor was her private domain and she was standing at the
windows looking out over the snow-fuzzed lights of the valley as he
entered.

She wore green slacks tucked in aprs-ski boots, and a blouse of the
same colour, a perfect match for her eyes.  The moment Peter entered,
she pressed a concealed switch and the curtains slid silently closed,
then she turned to him.

"A drink, Peter?"she asked.

Not if we are going to talk."

"We are going to talk," she said positively, and indicated the soft
squashy leather armchair across from the fireplace.

She had resisted the traditional Swiss cuckoo-clock and knotty pine
decor, and the carpeting was thick Wilton to match the curtains,

the furniture low and comfortable but modern, sporty and good fun, the
very best made to appear natural and unaffected, blending easily with
the modern art on the walls and abstract sculpture in marble and
grained wood.

She smiled suddenly at him.  "I had no idea that I had found myself a
gifted Sales Director for Narmco - I really am impressed with what you
have done in so short a time."

"I had to establish a plausible coven" Peter deprecated the compliment.
"And I used to be a soldier the job interests me."

"You English!"  she told him with mock exasperation.

"Always so modest."  She did not seat herself but moved about the room;
although never at rest, neither did she give the feeling of
restlessness.  "I am informed that there is to be a definite NATO

testing of Kestrel after almost two years of procrastination."

Kestrel was Narmco's medium-range ground-to-ground infantry portable
missile.

"I am further informed that the decision was made to test after you had
met with some of your former colleagues."

"The whole world runs on the old boy system-" Peter chuckled, "you
should know that."

"And you are on old boy terms with the Iranians?"  She cocked her head
at him.

"That was a small stroke of luck.  Five years ago I was on a staff
college course with their new military adviser."

"Luck again."  She smiled.  "Isn't it strange that luck so often
favours those who are clever and dedicated and who move faster than the
pack?"

"I have had less luck in other directions, Peter pointed out, and
immediately there was no trace of laughter left upon her lips nor in
the emerald eyes,

but Peter went on.

"So far I have been unsuccessful with the contact we spoke about on our
last meeting-" They had discussed the possibility of access to the
Atlas computer link, of requisitioning a printout on'Caliph'from the
Central Intelligence bank, if there was one programmed.

"As I explained, there was the one remote possibility of access,

somebody who owed me a favour.  He was of no help.  He believes that if
there is a "Caliph" listing, it's blocked and buzzed."  Which meant
that any unauthorized requisition would sound an alarm in intelligence
control.

"We'd trigger a Delta condition in Atlas if we put in a printout
requisition."

"You did not give him the name?"  Magda asked sharply.

"No.  No names, just a general discussion over dinner at Brooks's but
all the implications were there."

"Do you have any further avenues ?"

"I think so.  One more, but it's a last resort," Peter said.

"Before we come to that, though, perhaps you can tell me if you have
anything further from your sources."

"My sources-" Magda had never made more explicit descriptions, and
Peter had instinctively known not to pry.

There was a certain finality to the way she said it.  "My sources have
been mostly negative.  The seizure of the Netherlands Embassy in

Bonn was unconnected with Caliph.  It was exactly what it purported to
be South Moluccan extremists.  The hijackers of Cathay Airlines and

Transit Airlines were both enthusiastic amateurs, as evidence the
methods and the outcome " She smiled drily and drifted back across the
room to touch the Hundedwasser collage that hung on the side wall,

rearranging the hang of the frame in an essentially feminine gesture.

There is only one recent act that has the style of Caliph."

"Prince

Hassled Abdel Hayek?"  Peter asked, and she turned to face him,

thrusting out one hip with her hand upon it, the nails very red against
the light-green cloth and the marquise cut diamond sparkling.

"What did you make of it?"  she asked.  The Prince had been shot dead,
three bullets of .22 calibre in the back of the head while asleep in
his rooms on the Cambridge campus.  A nineteen-year-old grandson of

King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, not one of the particular favourites of
the king, a bespectacled scholarly youth who seemed content to remain
outside the mainstream of palace power and politics.

There had been no attempt at abduction, no sign of a struggle, no
evidence of robbery the young Prince had no close friends nor apparent
enemies.

"It does not seem to have reason or motive," Peter admitted.

"That's why I thought of Caliph."

"The deviousness of Caliph-" Magda turned away and her haunches rippled
under the elastic of her green slacks.

There was no ruck line of panties, and her buttocks were perfect
spheres, with the shadow of the deep cleft between them showing through
the thin material.  Peter watched her legs as she paced, realizing for
the first time that her feet were long and narrow as her hands, fine
and graceful bones in perfect proportion.

"If I told you that Saudi Arabia last week made clear to the other
members of OPEC that, far from supporting a rise in the price of
crude,

she will press for a five per cent reduction in the world price at the
organization's next meeting-" Peter straightened up in his chair slowly
and Magda went on softly " and that she will be supported by Iran in
her proposal.  If I told you that, what would you think?"

"The King has other, more favoured grandchildren grandsons and sons as
well,

brothers, nephews" Seven hundred of them," Magda agreed, and then went
on musing.  "The Shah of Iran has children that he divorced one wife to
obtain-"

"The Shah paid his hundred-million-dollar ransom promptly to save his
oil minister during the Carlos abduction what would he do for his own
children?"  Peter stood up now, unable to stay still with the itch of
new ideas.

"And the King of Saudi-Arabia is an Arab.  You know how

Mohammedans are about sons and grandsons."  Magda came to stand so
close to him that he could feel the warmth of her flesh through the
narrow space between them, and her perfume subtly underlined the ripe
sweet woman's smell of her body, disturbing him, but strangely
heightening his awareness.  "Perhaps King Khalid has also been reminded
of his own mortality."

"All right."  Peter hunched his shoulders and frowned in concentration.
"What are we suggesting?  That Caliph has struck another easy formula?
Two men who control the economic destiny of the

Western world?  Two men who make decisions at the.  personal level, who
are not answerable to cabinets or causes or governments?"

"Men who are therefore vulnerable to personal terrorism, who have
records of appeasement to terrorist pressure."  Magda paused.  "The old
truths are still good.  "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Both
the Shah and the King will be no strangers to the fear of the
assassin's blade.

They will understand the law of the knife, because they have always
lived by it."

"Hell, you have to admire it."  Peter shook his head.

"There is no need to take and hold hostages.  No need for exposure. You
kill one obscure member of a large royal family, and you promise that
there will be others, each one more important, closer to the head."

"Both families have a high profile.  The Shah loves the bright lights.
He's up at Gstaad right this moment.  It would need only a sniper up in
the treeline to pick one of his children.  His sister Shams is in
Mauritius now.  As for the King's family any time you want to drop into
the Dorchester you'll find one of his sons or grandsons sipping coffee
in the public lounge.  They are soft targets,

and there are plenty of them.  You might even have to kill two
princelings; or three but secretly the world will feel that they had it
coming to them anyway.  There will not be oceans wept for men who have
themselves held the world to ransom."  Peter's frown smoothed away,

and he grinned wryly.  "Not only do you have to admire it you've got to
have a sneaking sympathy for the object.  A dead brake to the crippling
inflation of the world, a slowing of disruptive imbalance in trade."
And Magda's expression was fierce as he had never seen it before. "That
is the trap, Peter.  To see the end only, and to harden yourself to the
means.  That was the trap that Caliph set with the taking of 070.  His
demands coincided with those of the Western powers,

and they placed additional pressure on the victim.  Now, if we are
correct and Caliph is pressuring the oil dictators for a moderation of
their demands, how much more support can he expect from the Western
capitalist powers?"

"You are a capitalist," Peter pointed out.  "If

Caliph succeeds you will be one of the first to benefit."

"I am capitalist, yes.  But before that I am a human being, and a
thinking human being.  Do you really believe that if Caliph succeeds
now that this will be the last we hear of him?"

"Of course not."  Peter spread his hands in resignation.

"Always his demands will be harsher with each success he must become
bolder."

"I think we can have that drink now," Magda said softly, and turned
away from him.  The black onyx top of the coffee table slid aside at
her touch to reveal the array of bottles and glasses beneath.

"Whisky, isn't it?"  she asked, and poured a single malt Glenlivet into
one of the cut glass tumblers.  As she handed it to him their fingers
touched and he was surprised at how cool and dry her skin felt.

She poured half a flute glass of white wine and filled it with

Perrier water.  As she replaced the wine bottle in the ice bucket,

Peter saw the label.  It was Le Montrachet 1969.

Probably the greatest white wine in the world, and Peter had to protest
at the way in which she had desecrated it.

"Alexander Dumas said it should be drunk only on bended knee and with
head reverently bared-"

" He forgot the mineral water," Magda purred with throaty laughter.
"Anyway you can't trust a man who employed other people to write his
books for him."  She lifted the adulterated wine to him.  "Long ago I
decided to live my life on my own terms.  To hell with Messrs Dumas and
Caliph."

"Shall we drink to that?"  Peter asked, and they watched each other
over the rims.  The level of Magda's glass had not lowered and she set
the glass aside,

moving across to adjust the bowl of hothouse tulips in the chunky
free-form crystal bowl.

"If we are right.  If this is Caliph at work then it disturbs the
instinctive picture I had formed of him."  Peter broke the silence.

"How?"  she asked without looking up from the flowers.

"Caliph it's an Arabic name.  He is attacking the leader of the

Arab world."

"The deviousness of Caliph.  Was the name deliberately chosen to
confuse the hunters or perhaps there are other demands apart from the
oil price perhaps pressure is also being put on Khalid for closer
support of the Palestinians, or one of the other extremist

Arab movements.  We do not know what else Caliph wants from Saudi

Arabia."

"But then, the oil price.  It is Western orientated.  Somehow it has
always been accepted that terrorism is a tool of the far left,"

Peter pointed out, shaking his head.  "The hijacking of 070 even the
kidnapping of your husband were both aimed against the capitalist
society."

"He kidnapped Aaron for the money, and killed him to protect his
identity.  The attack on the South African Government, the attack on
the oil cartel, the choice of name, all point to a person with god-like
pretensions."  Magda broke the head off one of the tulips with an
abrupt, angry gesture, and crushed it in her fist.  She let the petals
fall into the deep onyx ashtray.  "I feel so helpless, Peter.

We seem to be going round in futile circles."  She came back to him as
he stood by the curtained windows.  "You said earlier that there was
one sure way to flush out Caliph?"

"Yes," Peter nodded.

"Can you tell me?"

"There was an old trick of the Indian shikari.

When he got tired of following the tiger in thick jungle without a
sight of the beast, he used to stake out a goat and wait for the tiger
to come to it."

"A goat?"

"My Zodiacal sign is Capricorn the goat."

Peter smiled slightly.

"I don't understand."

"If I were to put the word out that I was hunting Caliph, he smiled
again.  "Caliph knows me.  The hijacker spoke my name,

clearly, un mistakenly  She had been warned.  So I believe that Caliph
would take me seriously enough to consider it necessary to come after
me."  He saw the lingering colour drain dramatically from her high
cheeks, and the sudden shadow in the depths of her eyes.

"Peter-"

"That's the only way I'm going to get close to him."

"Peter-" She placed her hand on his forearm, but then she could not go
on.  Instead she stared at him silently and her eyes were green and
dark and unfathomable.  He saw there was a pulse that throbbed softly
in her long graceful neck, just below the ear.  Her lips parted, as
though she were about to speak.  They were delicately sculptured
lips,

and she touched them with the pink tip of her tongue, leaving them
moist and soft and somehow defenceless.  She closed them, without
speaking, but the pressure of her fingers on his arm increased, and the
carriage of her whole body altered.  Her back arched slightly so her
lower body swayed towards him and her chin lifted slightly.

"I have been so lonely," she whispered.  "So lonely, for so very long.
I only realized how lonely today while I was with you."  Peter felt a
choking sensation in his throat, and the prickle of blood behind his
eyes.

"I don't want to be lonely again, ever."  he had let her hair come
down.  It was very thick and long.  It fell in a straight rippling
curtain shot through with glowing lights, to her waist.

She had parted it in the centre; a thin straight line of white scalp
divided the great black wings and they framed her face, making it
appear pale and childlike with eyes too large and vulnerable, and as
she came towards where Peter lay the glossy sheets of hair slid
silently across the brocade of her gown.

The hem of the gown swept the carpet, and her bare toes peeped out from
under it with each step.  Narrow finely boned feet, and the nails were
trimmed and painted with a colourless lacquer.  The sleeves of the gown
were wide as batwings and lined internally with sat in, the collar
buttoned up in a high Chinese style.

Beside the bed she stopped and her courage and poise seemed to desert
her, her shoulders slumped a little and she clasped the long narrow
fingers before her in a defensive gesture.

"Peter, I don't think I am going to be very good at this."  The throaty
whisper was barely audible, and her lips trembled with the strength of
her appeal.  "And I want so badly to be good."  Silently he reached out
one hand towards her, palm upwards.  The bedclothes covered him to the
waist, but his chest and arms were bare, lightly tanned and patterned
with dark wiry body hair.  As he reached for her the muscle bunched and
expanded beneath the skin, and she saw that there was no surplus flesh
on his waist, nor on his shoulders and upper arms.  He looked lean and
hard and tempered, yet leas the lash of a bullwhip, and she did not
respond immediately to the invitation, for his masculinity was
overpowering.

He folded back the thick down-filled duvet between them, and the sheet
was crisp and smoothly ironed in the low rosy light.

"Come,"he ordered gently, but she turned away and with her back to him
she undid the buttons of the embroidered gown, beginning at the throat
and working downwards.

She slipped the gown from her shoulders, and held it for a moment in
the crook of her elbows.  The smooth pale flesh gleamed through the
fall of dark hair, and she seemed to steel herself like a diver bracing
for the plunge into unknown depths.

She let the gown drop with a rustling slide down the full length of her
body, and it lay around her ankles in a shallow puddle of peacock
colours.

She heard him gasp aloud, and she threw the hair back from her
shoulders with a toss of the long, swan-white neck.

The hair hung impenetrably to the small of her back; just above the
deep cleft of her lower body it ended in a clean line and her buttocks
were round and neat and without blemish, but even as he stared the
marble smoothness puckered into a fine rash of gooseflesh as though his
eyes had physically caressed her, and she had responded with an
appealingly natural awareness that proved how her every sense must be
aroused and tingling.  At the knowledge Peter felt his heart
squeezed.

He wanted to rush to her and sweep her into his arms, but instinct
warned him that she must close the last gap herself, and he lay quietly
propped on one elbow, feeling the deep ache of wanting spread through
his entire body.

She stooped to pick up the gown, and for a moment the long legs were at
an awkward coltish angle to each other and the spheres of her buttocks
altered shape.  No longer perfectly symmetrical, but parted slightly,
and in the creamy niche they formed with her thighs there was an
instant's heart-stopping glimpse of a single dense tight curl of hair
and the light from beyond tipped the curl with glowing reddish
highlights, then she had straightened again, once more lithe and
tall,

and she dropped the robe across the low couch and in the same movement
turned back to face Peter.

He gasped again and his sense of continuity began to break up into a
mosaic of distinct, seemingly unconnected images and sensations.

Her breasts were tiny as those of a pubescent child, but the nipples
were startlingly prominent, the colour and texture of ripening young
berries, dark wine-red, already fully erect and hard as pebbles.

The pale plain of her belly, with the deep pit of the navel at its
centre, that ended at last on the plump darkly furred mound pressed
into the deep wedge between her thighs, like a small frightened living
creature crouching from the stoop of the falcon.

The feel of her face pressed to his chest, and the tickle of her quick
breath stirring his body hair, the almost painful grip of slim powerful
arms locked with desperate strength around his waist.

The taste of her mouth as her lips parted slowly, softly, to his and
the uncertain flutter of her tongue becoming bolder, velvety on top and
slick and slippery on the underside.

The sound of her breathing changing to a deep sonorous pulse in his
ears, seeming to keep perfect time with his own.

The smell of her breath, heavy with the aromatic musk of her arousal,
and blending with the orangy fragrance of her perfume and the ripe
woman smell of her body.

And always the feel of her the warmth and the softness, the hardness of
toned muscle and the running ripple of long dark hair about his face
and down his body, the crisp electric rasp of tight, tense curls
parting to unbearable heat and going on for ever to depths that seemed
to reach beyond the frontier of reality and reason.

And then later the stillness of complete peace that reached out from
the centre where she lay against his heart and seemed to spread to the
farthest corners of his soul.

"I knew that I was lonely," she whispered.  "But I did not realize just
how terribly deeply."  And she held him as though she would never
relinquish her grip.

Magda woke him in the cold utter darkness three hours before dawn, and
it was still dark when they left the chalet.  The headlights of the
following Mercedes that carried her wolves swept the interior of their
saloon through each bend in the steep twisting road down from the
mountains.

On take-off from Zurich Magda was in the Lear jet's left-hand seat,
flying as pilot in-command, and she handled the powerful machine with
the sedate lack of ostentation which marks the truly competent
aviator.

Her personal pilot, a grizzled and taciturn Frenchman, who was flying
now as her co-pilot, evidently held her skill in high regard and
watched over her with an almost fatherly pride and approval as she
cleared Zurich controlled airspace and levelled out at cruise altitude
for Paris Orly before she left him to monitor the auto-pilot and came
back to the main cabin.  Though she sat beside Peter in the black
calfskin armchairs, her manner was unchanged from the way it had been
during their last flight together in this machine.  reserved and polite
so that he found it difficult to believe the wonders they had explored
together the previous night.

She worked with the two dark-suited secretaries opposite her, speaking
her fluent rippling French with the same enchanting trace of accent
that marked her English.  In the short time since he had joined Narmco,
Peter had been forced to make a crash revision of his own French.  Now
once again he could manage, if not with eclat, at least with
competence, in technical and financial discussion.  Once or twice Magda
turned to him for comment or opinion, and her gaze was serious and
remote, seeming as impersonal and efficient as an electronic computer
and Peter understood that they were to make no show of their new
relationship before employees.

Immediately she proved him wrong, for her co-pilot called her over the
cabin speaker.

"We will join the Orly circuit in four minutes, Baroness."  And she
turned easily and naturally and kissed Peter's cheek, still speaking
French.

"Pardon me, chill.  I will make the landing.  I need the flying time in
my logbook."  She greased the sleek swift aircraft onto the runway as
though she was spreading butter on hot toast.  The co-pilot had radioed
ahead so that when she parked in the private hangar there were a
uniformed immigration poficier and a douanier already waiting.

As they came aboard, they saluted her respectfully and then barely
glanced at her red diplomatic passport.  They took a little longer with
Peter's blue and gold British passport, and Magda murmured to Peter
with a trace of a smile.

"I must get you a little red book.  It's so much easier."  Then to the
officials.  "It is a cold morning, gentlemen, I hope you will take a
glass."  And her white-jacketed steward was hovering already.  They
left the two Frenchmen removing their kepis and pistol belts, settling
down comfortably in the leather armchairs to make a leisurely selection
of the cigars and cognac that the steward had produced for their
approval.

There were three cars waiting for them, parked in the back of the
hangar with drivers and guards.  Peter's lip curled as he saw the
Maserati.

"I told you not to drive that thing," he said gruffly.  "It's like
having your name in neon lights."  They had argued about this vehicle
while Peter was reorganizing her personal Security, for the Maserati
was an electric silver-grey, one of her favourite colours, a shimmering
dart of metal.  She swayed against him with that husky little chuckle
of hers.

"Oh, that is so very nice to have a man being masterful again.  It
makes me feel like a woman."

"I have other ways of making you feel like that."  know, he agreed,
with a wicked flash of green eyes.

"And I like those even better, but not now please!  What in the world
would my staff think!"  Then seriously, "You take the Maserati, I
ordered it for you, anyway.  Somebody may as well enjoy it.  And please
do not be late this evening.

I have especially made it free for us.  Try and be at La Pierre Benite
by eight o'clock will you please?"  By the time Peter had to slow for
the traffic along the Pont Neuilly entrance to Paris, he had accustomed
himself to the surging power and acceleration of the Maserati, and, as
she had suggested, he was enjoying himself.  Even in the mad Parisian
traffic he used the slick gear box to knife through the merest
suspicion of an opening, hulling out of trouble or overtaking with the
omnipotent sense of power that control of the magnificent machine
bestowed upon its driver.

He knew then why Magda loved it so dearly, and when he parked it at
last in the underground garage on the Champs-Elyses side of Concorde he
grinned at himself in the mirror.

"Bloody cowboy!"  he said, and glanced at his Rolex.  He had an hour
before his first appointment, and as a sudden thought unclipped the
holster of the Cobra and, with the pistol still in it, locked it in the
glove compartment of the Maserati.  He grinned again as he pondered the
in advisability of marching into French Naval Headquarters armed to the
teeth.

The drizzle had cleared, and the chestnut trees in the Elys& gardens
were popping their first green birds as he came out into Concorde.  He
used one of the call boxes in the Concorde Metro station to make a call
to the British Embassy.  He spoke to the Military Attach for two
minutes, and when he hung up, he knew the ball was probably already in
play.  If Caliph had penetrated the Atlas Command eeply enough to know
him personally as the commander of Thor then it would not be too long
before he knew that the former commander had picked up the spoor.  The
Military Attache at the Paris Embassy had other more clandestine duties
than kissing the ladies" hands at diplomatic cocktail parties.

Peter reached the main gates of the Marine Headquarters on the corner
of the rue Royale with a few minutes to spare, but already there was a
secretary waiting for him below the billowing Tricolour.  He smoothed
Peter's way past the sentries, and led him to the armaments committee
room on the third floor overlooking a misty grey view of the Seine and
the gilded arches of the Pont Neuf.  Two of Peter's assistants from
Narmco were there ahead of him with their briefcases Unpacked and the
contents spread upon the polished walnut table.

The French Flag captain had been in Brussels, and on one unforgettable
evening he had conducted Peter on a magic carpet tour of the brothels
of that city.  He greeted him now with cries of Gallic pleasure and
addressed him as Itu" and "tai" which all boded very well for the
meeting ahead.

At noon precisely, the French captain moved that the meeting adjourn
across the street to a private room on the first floor of Maxim's,
blissful in the certainty that Narmco would pick up the tab, if they
were really serious about selling the Kestrel rocket motors to the
French Navy.

It required all Peter's tact not to make it obvious that he was taking
less than his share of the Clos de Vougeot or of the Rmy Martin, and
more than once he found that he had missed part of the discussion which
was being conducted at a steadily increasing volume.  He found that he
was thinking of emerald eyes and small pert bosoms.

From Maxim's back to the Ministry of Marine, and later it required
another major act of diplomacy on Peter's part when the captain
smoothed his mustache and cocked a knowing eye at Peter.  "There is a
charming little club, very close and wonderfully friendly."  By six
o'clock Peter had disentangled himself from the Frenchman's company,
with protestations of friendship and promises to meet again in ten
days" time.  An hour later Peter left his two sales assistants at the
hotel Meurice after a quick but thorough summation of the day's
achievements.

They were, all three, agreed that it was a beginning but a long, long
road lay ahead to the ending.

He walked back along Rivoli; despite the frowsiness of a long day of
endless talk and the necessity for quick thinking in a language which
was still strange on the tongue, despite a slight ache behind the eyes
from the wine and cognac and despite the taste of cigar and cigarette
smoke he had breathed, he was buoyed by a tingling sense of
anticipation, for Magda was waiting, and he stepped out briskly.

As he paused for traffic lights, he caught a glimpse of his own
reflection in a shop window.  He was smiling without realizing it.

While he waited on the ramp of the parking garage for his turn to pay
and enter the traffic stream, with the Maserati engine whispering
impatiently, he glanced in the rear view mirror.  He had acquired the
habit long ago when one of the captured Provo death lists had begun
with his name; since then he had learned to look over his shoulder.

He noticed the Citron two back in the line of vehicles because the
windshield was cracked and there was a scrape which had dented the
mudguard and exposed a bright strip of bare metal.

He noticed the same black Citron still two back as he waited for
pedestrian: lights in the Champs-Elys6es, and when he ducked his head
slightly to try and get a look at the driver, the headlights switched
on as though to frustrate him and at that moment the lights changed and
he had to drive on.

Going around the ttoile, the Citroen had fallen back four places in the
grey drizzling dusk of early autumn, but he spotted it once again when
he was halfway down the Avenue de la Grande Armee, for by now he was
actively searching for it.  This time it changed lanes and slipped off
the main thoroughfare to the left.  It was immediately lost in the maze
of side streets and Peter should have been able to forget it and
concentrate on the pleasure of controlling the Maserati, but there
lingered a sense of foreboding and even after he had shot the
complicated junction of roads that got him onto the periphery route and
eventually out on the road to Versailles and Chartres, he found himself
changing lanes and speed while he scanned the road behind in the
mirror.

Only when he left Versailles and was on the Rambouillet road did he
have a clear view back a mile down the straight avenue of plane trees,
and he was certain there was no other vehicle on the road.  He relaxed
completely and began to prepare himself for the final turn off that
would bring him at last to La Pierre BMite.

The shiny wet black python of road uncoiled ahead of him and then
humped abruptly.  Peter came over the rise at 150 kilometres an hour
and instantly started to dance lightly on brake and clutch, avoiding
the temptation of tramping down hard and losing adhesion on the
slippery uneven tarmac.  Ahead of him there was a gendarme in a shiny
white plastic cape, wet with rain, brandishing a torch with a red lens;
there were reflective warning triangles bright as rubies, a Peugeot in
the ditch beside the road with headlights glaring at the sky, a dark
blue police Kombi van half blocking the road, and in the stage lit by
the Kombi's headlights two bodies were laid out neatly, and all of it
hazed by the soft insistent mantle of falling rain.  - a typical
roadside accident scene.

Peter had the Maserati well in hand, bringing her neatly down through
the gears to a crawl, and as he was lowering the side window, the
electric motor whining softly and the icy gust of night air into the
heated interior, the gendarme gestured with the flashlight for him to
pull over into the narrow gap between hedge and the parked Kombi, and
at that moment the unexpected movement caught Peter's eye.

It was one of the bodies lying in the roadway under the headlights. The
movement was the slight arch of the back that a man makes before rising
from the prone position.

Peter watched him lift his arm, not more than a few inches, but it was
just enough for Peter to realize he had been holding an object
concealed down the outside of his thigh, and even in the rain and the
night Peter's trained eye recognized the perforated air-cooled sleeve
enclosing the short barrel of a fold-down machine pistol.

Instantly his brain was racing so that everything about him seemed to
be taking place in dreamy slow motion.

The Maserati!  he thought.  They're after Magda.

The gendarme was coming round to the driver's side of the Maserati, and
he had his right hand under the white plastic cape, at the level of his
pistol belt.

Peter went flat on the gas pedal, and the Maserati bellowed like a bull
buffalo shot through the heart.  The rear wheels broke from the wet
surface, and with a light touch Peter encouraged the huge silver
machine to swing like a scythe at the gendarme.  It should have cut him
down, but he was too quick.  As he dived for the hedge, Peter saw that
he had brought the pistol out from under his cape but was too busy at
that moment to use it.

The side of the Maserati touched the hedge with a fluttering rustle of
foliage, and Peter lifted his right foot, caught the enraged charge of
the machine and swung her the other way.  The moment she was lined up
he hit the gas again, and the Maserati howled.  This time she burned
blue rubber smoke off her rear wheels.

There was a driver at the wheel of the blue police Kombi, and he tried
to pull across to block the road completely, but he was not fast
enough.

The two vehicles touched, with a crackle and scream of metal that
jarred Peter's teeth, but what concerned him was that the two bodies in
the headlights were no longer flat.

The nearest was on one knee and he was swinging the short stubby
machine pistol it looked like a Stirling or the new Sidewinder, but he
was using the fold-down wire butt, wasting vital fractions of a second
to get the weapon to his shoulder.  He was also blocking the field of
fire of the man who crouched behind him with another machine pistol
pinned to his hip, pointing with index finger and forearm, ready to
trigger with his second finger "That's the way it should be done."
Peter recognized professional skill, and his brain was running so
swiftly that he had time to applaud it.

The Maserati cannoned off the police Kombi, and Peter lifted his right
foot to take traction off the rear wheels, and spun the wheel the hard
lock to the right.  The Maserati swung her tail with a screech of
rubber and went into a left side slide towards the two figures in the
road, and Peter ducked down below the level of the door.  He had
deliberately induced the left-hand slide, so that he had some little
protection from the engine compartment and body work

As he ducked he heard the familiar sound, like a giant ripping
heavyweight canvas, an automatic weapon throwing bullets at a cyclic
rate of almost two thousand rounds a minute, and the bullets tore into
the side of the Maserati, beating in the metal with an ear-numbing
clangor, while glass exploded in upon Peter like the glittering spray
as a storm-driven wave strikes a rock.  Glass chips pelted across his
back, and stung his cheek and the back of his neck.

They sparkled like a diamond tiara in his hair.

Whoever was doing the shooting had certainly emptied the magazine in
those few seconds, and now Peter bobbed up in his seat, slitting his
eyes against the cloud of glass splinters.  He saw a looming nightmare
of dark hedges and spun the wheel back to hold the Maserati.  She
swayed to the limits of her equilibrium and Peter had a glimpse of the
two gunmen in the road rolling frantically into the half filled ditch,
but at that moment his off-rear wheel hit the lip and he was slammed up
short against his safety belt with a force that drove the air from his
lungs, and the Maserati reared like a stallion smelling the mare and
tail-walked, swinging in short vicious surges back and forth across the
road, as he desperately fought for control with gear and brake and
wheel.  He must have spun full circle, Peter realized, for there was a
giddy dazzle of light beams and of running and rolling figures,
everything hazy and indistinct in the rain, then the open road ahead
again, and he sent the car at it with a great howling lunge, at the
same moment glancing up at his mirror.

In the headlights he saw the burned blue clouds of smoke and steam
thrown up by his own tyres, and through it the figure of the second
gunman obscured from the waist by the ditch.  He had the machine pistol
at his waist, and the muzzle flash bloomed about him.

Peter heard the first burst hit the Maserati and he could not duck
again, for there was a bend ahead in the rain, coming up at dazzling
speed and he clenched his jaws waiting for it.

The next burst hit the car, like the sound of hail on a tin roof, and
he felt the rude tugging, numbing jerk in his upper body.

"Tagged!"  he realized.  There was no mistaking it, he had been hit
before.  The first time when he led a patrol into an ambush a very long
time ago, and at the same moment he was evaluating the hit calmly
finding he still had use of both hands and all his senses.  Either it
was a ricochet, or the bullet had spent most of its force in
penetrating the rear windshield and seat back.

The Maserati tracked neatly into the bend, and only then he felt the
engine surge and falter.  Almost immediately the sharp stink of
gasoline filled the cab of the Maserati.

"Fuel line," he told himself, and there was the warm, uncomfortable
spread of his own blood down his back and side, and he placed his wound
low in the left shoulder.  If it had penetrated it would be a lung hit,
and he waited for the coppery salt taste of blood in his throat or the
bubbling froth of escaping air in his chest cavity.

The engine beat checked again, surged and checked, as it starved for
fuel.  That first traversing burst of automatic fire must have ripped
through the engine compartment, and Peter thought wryly that in the
movies the Maserati would have immediately erupted in spectacular
pyrotechnics like a miniature Vesuvius though in reality it didn't
happen like that, still gasoline from the severed lead would be
spraying over plugs and points.

One last glance backwards, before the bend hid it and he saw three men
running for the police van three men and the driver, that was lousy
odds.  They would be after him immediately, and the crippled machine
made a final brave leap forward that carried them five hundred yards
more, and then it died.

Ahead of him, at the limits of the headlight beam, Peter saw the white
gates of La Pierre Benite.  They had set the ambush at the point where
they could screen out most extraneous traffic, and gather only the
silver Maserati in their net.

He cast his mind back swiftly, recalling the lie of the land beyond the
main gates of the estate.  He had been here only once before, and it
had been dark then also but he had the soldier's eye for ground, and he
remembered thick forest on both sides of the road, down to a low bridge
over a narrow fast flowing stream with steep banks, a hard left hander
and a climb up to the house.  The house was half a mile beyond the
gates, a long way to go with a body hit and at least four armed men
following, and no guarantee that he would be safe there either.

The Maserati was coasting down the slight incline towards the gates,
slowing as it ran out of momentum, and now there was the hot smell of
oil and burning rubber.  The paintwork of the engine hood began to
blister and disco lour

Peter switched off the ignition to stop the electric pump spraying more
fuel onto the burning engine and he slipped his hand into his jacket.
He found the wound where he had expected it low and left.  It was
beginning to sting and his hand came away sticky and slick with blood.
He wiped it on his thigh.

Behind him was the reflected glow of headlights in the rain, a halo of
light growing stronger.  At any moment they would come through the
bend, and he opened the glove compartment.

The 9 men.  Cobra gave some little comfort as he slipped it from its
holster and thrust it into the front of his belt.

There was no spare magazine and the breech was empty, a safety
consideration which he now regretted, for it left him with only nine
rounds in the magazine one more might make a lot of difference.

Pretty little fingers of bright flame were waving at him from under the
bonnet of the engine compartment, finding the hinge and joint, probing
the ventilation slot on the top surface.  Peter released his seat belt,
held open the door and steered with his other hand for the verge.  Here
the road was banked and dropped away steeply.

He flicked the wheel back the opposite way and let the change of
direction eject him neatly, throwing him clear, while the Maserati
swerved back into the centre of the road and rolled away, slowing
gradually.

He landed as though from a parachute drop, feet and knees together
cushioning the impact and then rolled into it.  Pain flared in his
-shoulder and he felt something tear.

He came up in a crouch and ran doubled over for the edge of the woods,
and the burning auto lit the dark trees with flickering orange light.

The fingers of his left hand felt swollen and numb as he pumped a round
into the chamber of the Cobra, and at that moment the headlights beyond
the bend flared with shocking brilliance and Peter had the illusion of
being caught in front stage centre of the Palladium.  He went down hard
on his belly in the soft rain-sodden earth, but still his wound jarred
and he felt the warm trickle of running blood under his shirt as he
crawled desperately for the tree line.

The police van roared down the stretch of road.  Peter flattened and
pressed his face to the earth, and it smelled of leaf mould and fungus.
The van roared past where he lay.

Three hundred yards down the road the Maserati had coasted to a halt,
two wheels still on the road, the offside wheels over the verge so she
stood at an abandoned angle, burning merrily.

The van pulled up at a respectful distance from it, aware of the danger
of explosion, and a single figure, the gendarme in his plastic cape,
ran forward, took one look into the cab and shouted something.  The
language sounded like French, but the flames were beginning to drum
fiercely and the range too long to hear clearly.

The van locked into a U-turn, bumped over the verge, and then started
back slowly.  The two erstwhile accident victims, still carrying their
machine pistols, running ahead like hounds on leash, one on each side
of the road, heads down as they searched for signs in the soft
shoulders of the road.  The white-caped gendarme rode on the
running-board of the van, calling encouragement to the hunters.

Peter was up again, doubled over, heading for the edge of the forest,
and he ran into the barbed wire fence at full stretch.  It brought him
down heavily.  He felt the slash of steel through the cloth of his
trousers, and as he gathered himself again, he thought bitterly.

One hundred and seventy guineas.  The suit had been tailored in Savile
Row.  He crawled between the strands of armed wire, and there was a
shout behind him.  They had picked up his spoor, and as he dodged
across the last few yards of open ground, another sharper, more
jubilant shout.

They had spotted him in the towering firelight of the blazing Maserati,
and again there was the tearing rip of automatic fire; but it was
extreme range for the short barrel and low velocity ammunition.  Peter
heard passing shot like a whisper of bats" wings in the darkness above
him and then he reached the first trees and ducked behind one of
them.

He found he was breathing deeply, but with a good easy rhythm.  The
wound wasn't handicapping him yet, and he was into the cold reasoning
rage that combat always instilled in him.

The range to the barbed wire fence was fifty metres, he judged, it was
one of his best distances International pistol standard out-of-hand
with a 50-men.  X circle but there were no judges out here and he took
a double-handed grip, and let them run into the fence just as he had
done.

It brought two of them down, and the cries of angry distress were
definitely in French; as they struggled to their feet again they were
precisely back-lit by the flames, and the Cobra had a luminous
foresight.  Peter went for the midsection of one of the machine
gunners.

The 9 men.  had a vicious whip-crack report, and punched into flesh and
bone with 385 foot-pounds of energy.  The strike of the bullet sounded
like a watermelon hit with the full swing of a baseball bat.  It lifted
the man off his feet, and threw him backwards, and Peter swung onto the
next target, but they were pros.  Even though the fire from the edge of
the woods had come as a complete surprise, they reacted instantly, and
disappeared flat against the dark earth.  They gave him no target, and
Peter was too low on ammunition to throw down holding fire.

One of them fired a burst of automatic and it tore bark and wood and
leaves along the edge of the trees.  Peter fired at the muzzle flash
only once as a warning and then ducked away and, keeping his head down
to avoid lucky random fire, sprinted back into the woods.

They would be held up for two or three minutes by the fence and by the
threat of coming under fire again, and Peter wanted to open some ground
between them during that time.

The glow of the burning Maserati kept him well orientated and he moved
quickly towards the river; however, before he had covered two yards he
was starting to shiver uncontrollably.  His two-piece city suit was
soaked by the persistent drizzle and by the shower from each bush he
brushed against.  His shoes were light calf leather with leather soles
and he had stepped in puddles of mud, and the knee-high grass, was
sodden.  The cold struck through his clothing; he could feel his wound
stiffening agonizingly and the first nauseating grip of shock tightened
his belly, but he paused every fifty yards or so and listened for
sounds of pursuit.  Once he heard the sound of a car engine from the
direction of the road, passing traffic probably, and he wondered what
they would make of the abandoned police vehicle and the blazing
Maserati.  Even if it was reported to the real police, it would be all
over before a patrol arrived and Peter discounted the chance of
assistance from that quarter.

He was beginning now to be puzzled by the total lack of any sign of
further pursuit, and he looked for and found a good stance in which to
wait for it.  There was a fallen oak tree and he wriggled in under the
trunk, with a clear avenue of retreat, good cover and a low position
from which any pursuer would be silhouetted against the sky glow of the
burning Maserati.  There were only three pursuers now, and seven
cartridges in the Cobra.  If it were not for the cold and the
demoralizing ache through his upper body, he might have felt more
confident, but the nagging terror of the hunted animal was still on
him.

He waited five minutes, lying completely still, every sense tuned to
its finest, the Cobra held out in extended double grip, ready to roll
left or right and take the shot as it came.  There was no sound but the
drip and plop of the rain-soaked woods.

Another ten minutes passed before it occurred to him suddenly that the
pursuers must now realize that the wrong quarry had sprung their trap.
They were setting for Magda Altmann, and it must be clear to them that
they had a man, and an armed one at that.  He pondered their
reaction.

Almost certainly they would pull out now, or had already done so.

Instead of a lady worth twenty or thirty million dollars in ransom
money, they must realize they had one of her employees, probably an
armed bodyguard, who was driving the Maserati either as a decoy or
merely as delivery driver.

Yes, he decided, they would pull out take their casualty and melt away,
and Peter was sure they would leave no clues to their identity.  He
would have enjoyed the opportunity to question one of them, he thought,
and grimaced at a new lance of pain in the shoulder.

He waited another ten minutes, utterly still and alert, controlling the
spasms of cold and reaction that shook him, then he rose quietly and
moved back towards the river.  The Maserati must have burned out
completely now for the sky was black again and he had to rely on his
own sense of direction to keep orientated.  Even though he knew he was
alone, he paused every fifty yards to listen and look.

He heard the river at last.  It was directly ahead and very close.

He moved a little faster and almost walked off the bank in the dark.
He squatted to rest for a moment, for the shoulder was very painful
now, and the cold was draining his energy.

The prospect of wading the river was particularly uninviting The rain
had fallen without a break for days now, and the water sounded powerful
and swift it would certainly be icy cold, and probably shoulder deep
rather than waist deep.  The bridge must be only a few hundred yards
downstream, and he stood up and moved along the bank.

Cold and pain can sap concentration very swiftly, and Peter had to make
a conscious effort to keep himself alert, and he felt for every
foothold before transferring his weight forward.  He held the Cobra
hanging at full stretch of his right arm, but ready for instant use,
and he blinked his eyes clear of the fine drizzle of rain and the cold
sweat of pain and fear.

Yet it was his sense of smell that alerted him.  The rank smell of
stale Turkish tobacco smoke on a human body, it was a smell that had
always offended him, and now he picked it up instantly, even though it
was just one faint whiff.

Peter froze in mid stride while his brain raced to adjust to the
unexpected.  He had almost convinced himself that he was alone.

Now he remembered the sound of a car engine on the main road, and he
realized that men who had set up such an elaborate decoy the faked
motor accident, the police van and uniform would certainly have taken
the trouble to plot and study the ground between the ambush point and
the victim's intended destination.

They would know better than Peter himself the layout of woods and river
and bridge, and would have realized immediately they had taken their
first casualty that futility of blundering pursuit through the dark. It
was the smart thing to circle back and wait again, and they would
choose the river bank or the bridge itself.

The only thing that troubled Peter was their persistence.

They must know it was not Magda Altmann, and then even in this tense
moment of discovery he remembered the Citroin that had followed him
down the Champs-Elyses nothing was what it appeared to be, and slowly
he completed the step in which he had frozen.

He stood utterly still, poised every muscle and every nerve screwed to
its finest pitch, but the night was black and the rush of the river
covered all sound.  Peter waited.

The other man will always move if you wait long enough, and he waited
with the patience of the stalking leopard, although the cold struck
through to his bones and the rain slid down his cheeks and neck.

The man moved at last.  The squelch of mud and the unmistakeable brush
of undergrowth against cloth, then silence.  He was very close, within
ten feet, but there was no glimmer of light, and Peter shifted his
weight carefully to face the direction of the sound.  The old trick was
to fire one shot at the sound and use the muzzle flash to light the
target for a second shot which followed it in almost the same instant
of time but there were three of them and at ten feet that machine
pistol could cut a man in half.  Peter waited.

Then from upstream there was the sound of a car engine again, still
faint but fast approaching.  Immediately somebody whistled faintly, a
rising double note in the night up towards the bridge, clearly some
prearranged signal.  A car door banged shut, much closer than the sound
of the approaching engine and a starter whirred, another harsher engine
roared into life, headlights flared through the rain, and Peter blinked
as the whole scene ahead of him lit up.

A hundred yards ahead the bridge crossed the stream, the surface of the
water was shiny and black as new-mined coal as it flowed about the
supporting piles.

The blue van had parked on the threshold of the bridge, obviously to
wait for Peter, but now it was pulling out, probably alarmed by -the
approach of the other more powerful engine from the direction of La
Pierre Benite.  The driver was heading back towards the main road, the
phoney gendarme scrambling alongside with his cape flapping as he tried
to scramble through the open offside door and out of the darkness,
close to Peter, a voice cried out with alarm.

"Attender!"  The third man had no desire to be left by his companions,
and he ran forward, abandoning all attempt at concealment.  He had his
back to Peter now, waving the machine pistol frantically, clearly
outlined by the headlights of the van, and the range was under ten
feet.  It was a dead shot, and Peter went for it instinctively and only
at the very instant of trigger pressure that would have sent a 95 gram
bullet between his shoulder blades was Peter able to check himself.

The man's back was turned and the range would make it murder; Peter's
training should have cured him of such nice gentlemanly distinctions.
However, what really held his trigger finger was the need to know.
Peter had to know who these people were and who had sent them, and what
they had been sent to do, who they were after.

Now that the man was being deserted, he had abandoned all stealth and
was running as though he were chasing a bus, and Peter saw the chance
to take him.  Roles had been exchanged completely, and Peter darted
forward, transferring the Cobra to his injured left hand.

He caught the man in four paces, keeping low to avoid his peripheral
vision, and he whipped his good right arm around the throat, going for
the half nelson and the spin that would disorientate the man before he
slammed the barrel of the Cobra against the temple.

The man was quick as a cat, something warned him perhaps the squelch of
Peter's sodden shoes, and he ducked his chin onto his chest rolling his
shoulders and beginning to turn back into the line of Peter's attack.

Peter missed the throat and caught him high, the crook of his elbow
locking about the man's mouth, and the unexpected turn had thrown him
slightly off balance.  If he had had full use of his left arm, he could
still have spun his victim, but in an intuitive flash he realized that
he had lost the advantage, already the man was twisting his head out of
the arm lock bulking his shoulders, and by the feel of him, Peter knew
instantly that he was steel-hard with muscle.

The barrel of the machine pistol was short enough to enable him to
press the muzzle into Peter's body just as soon as he completed his
turn; it would tear Peter to pieces like a chain saw.

Peter changed his grip slightly, no longer opposing the man's turn, but
throwing all his weight and the strength of his right arm into the same
direction; they spun together like a pair of waltzing dancers, but
Peter knew that the moment they broke apart the man would have the
killing advantage again.

The river was his one chance, he realized that instinctively, and
before the advantage passed back from him to his adversary, he hurled
himself backwards, keeping his grip on the man's head.

They went out into black space, falling together in a short
gut-swooping drop with Peter underneath.  If there was rock below the
steep bank of the river, he realized he would be crushed by the other's
weight.

They struck the surface of the fast water, and freezing cold struck
like a club so that Peter almost released the air from his lungs as a
reflex.

The shock of cold water seemed to have stunned the man in his grip
momentarily, and Peter felt the whoosh of air from his lungs as he let
go.  Peter changed his grip, wedging his elbow under the chin, but not
quite able to get at the throat immediately the man began the wild
panic stricken struggles of somebody held under icy water with empty
lungs.

He had lost the machine pistol, for he was tearing at Peter's arms and
face with both hands as the water swirled them both end over end down
towards the bridge.

Peter had to keep him from getting air, and as he held his own precious
single breath, he tried to get on top and stay there.

Fingers hooked at his closed eyes, and then into his mouth as the man
reached back desperately over his own shoulders.  Peter opened his
mouth slightly and the other man thrust his fingers deeply in, trying
to tear at his tongue.

Immediately Peter locked his teeth into the fingers with a force that
made his jaw ache at the hinges, and his mouth filled with the
sickening warm spurt of the other man's blood.

Fighting his own revulsion, he hung on desperately with teeth and arms.
He had lost his own weapon, dropping it into the black flood from
numbed and crippled fingers, and the man was fighting now with the
animal strength of his starved lungs and mutilated fingers; every time
he tried to yank his hand out of Peter's mouth the flesh tore audibly
in Peter's ears and fresh blood made him gag and choke.

They came out on the surface and through streaming eyes Peter had one
glimpse of the bridge looming above him.  The blue van had disappeared,
but Magda Altmann's Mercedes limousine was parked in the centre of the
bridge, and in the wash of its headlights he recognized her two
bodyguards.  They were leaning far out over the guardrail, and Peter
had a moment's dread that one of them might try a shot then they were
flung into the concrete piles of the bridge with such force that they
lost the death lock they had upon each other.

The back eddy beyond the bridge swung them in towards the bank.
Gasping and swallowing with cold and exhaustion and pain, Peter fought
for footing on gravel and rock.  The machine-gunner had found bottom
also and was stumbling desperately towards the bank.  In the headlights
of the limousine Peter saw Magda's two bodyguards racing back across
the bridge to head him off.

Peter realized that he would not be able to catch the man before he
reached the bank.

"Carl!"  he screamed at the bodyguard who was leading.

"Stop him.  Don't let him get away."

The bodyguard vaulted over the guardrail, landing cat like in complete
balance, with the pistol double-handed at the level of his navel.

Below him the machine-gunner dragged himself waist deep towards the
bank.  It was only then that Peter realized what was going to happen.

"No!"  He choked on blood and water.  "Take him alive.

Don't kill him, Carl!"  The bodyguard had not heard, or had not
understood.

The muzzle blast seemed to join him and the wallowing figure in the
river below him, a blood-orange rope of flame and thunderous explosion.
The bullets smacked into the machine-gunner's chest and belly like an
axe man cutting down a tree.

"No!"  Peter yelled helplessly.  "Oh Jesus, no!  No!"  Peter lunged
forward and caught the corpse before it slid below the black water, and
he dragged it by one arm to the bank.  The bodyguards took it from him
and hauled it up, the head lolling like an idiot's, and the blood
diluted to pale pink in the reflected headlights.

Peter made three attempts to climb the bank, each time slithering back
tiredly into the water, then Carl reached down and gripped his wrist.

Peter knelt on the muddy bank, still choking with the water and blood
he had swallowed, and he retched weakly.

"Peter!"  Magda's voice rang with concern, and he looked up and wiped
his mouth on the back of his forearm.  She had slipped out of the back
door of the limousine and was running back along the bridge,
long-legged in black boots and ski-pants, her face dead white with
concern and her eyes frantic with worry.

Peter pushed himself onto his feet and swayed drunkenly.

She reached him and caught him, steadying him as he teetered.

"Peter, Oh God, darling.  What happened-"

"This beauty and some of his friends wanted to take you for a ride and
they got the wrong address."  They stared down at the corpse.  Carl had
used a .357 magnum and the damage was massive.  Magda turned her head
away.

"Nice work," Peter told the bodyguard bitterly.  "He's not going to
answer any questions now, is he?"

"You said to stop him."  Carl growled as he reloaded the pistol.

"I wonder what you would have done if I'd said to really clobber him."
Peter began to turn away with disgust, and pain checked him.  He
gasped.

"You're hurt."  Magda's "concern returned in full strength.

"Take his other arm," she ordered Carl, and they helped him over the
parapet to the limousine.

Peter stripped off the torn and sodden remains of his clothing and
Magda wrapped him in the Angora wool travel rug before examining his
wound under the interior light of the cab.

The bullet hole was a perfect little blue puncture in the smooth skin,
already surrounded by a halo of inflammation, and the bullet was
trapped between his ribs and the sheet of flat, hard trapezium
muscles.

She could see the outline of it quite clearly, the size of a ripe acorn
in his flesh, swollen out angry purple.

"Thank God-" she whispered, and unwound the jean Patou scarf from her
long pale throat.  She bound the wound carefully.  "We'll take you
directly to the hospital at Versailles.  Drive fast, Carl."  She opened
the walnut-fronted cocktail cabinet in the body work beside her and
poured half a tumbler of whisky from the crystal decanter.

It washed the taste of blood from Peter's mouth and then went warmly
all the way down his throat to soothe the cramps of cold and shock in
his belly.

"What made you come?"  he asked, his voice still rough with the fierce
spirit, the timely arrival nagged at his sense of rightness.

"a report a car smash they knew the Maserati, and the inspector rang La
Pierre Benite immediately.  I guessed something bad-" At that moment
they reached the gates at the main road.  The remains of the Maserati
lay smouldering on the side of the road; around it like boy scouts
around a camp fire were half a dozen gendarmes in their white plastic
capes and pillbox kepis.  They seemed uncertain of what they should do
next.

Carl slowed the limousine and Magda spoke tersely through the window to
a sergeant, who treated her with immense respect.  "Oui, madame la
Baronne, d'accord.  Tout d fait vrai-" She dismissed him with a final
nod, and he and his men saluted the departing limousine.

"They will find the body at the bridge-"

"There may be another one on the edge of the forest there-"

"You are very good, aren't you?"  She slanted her eyes at him.

"The really good ones don't get hit," he said, and smiled at her.  The
whisky had taken some of the sting and stiffness out of the wound and
unknotted his guts.  It was good to still be alive, he started to
appreciate that again.

"You were right about the Maserati then they were waiting for it."

"That's why I burned it," he told her, but she did not answer his
smile.

"Oh, Peter.  You'll never know how I felt.  The police told me that the
driver of the Maserati was still in it and had been burned.  I thought
I felt as though part of me had been destroyed.  It was the most
terrifying feeling-" She shivered.  "I nearly did not come, I didn't
want to see it.  I nearly sent my wolves, but then I had to know.  Carl
saw you in the river as we turned onto the bridge.  He said it was you,
I just couldn't believe it-" She stopped herself and shuddered at the
memory.  "Tell me what happened, tell me all of it," she demanded and
poured more whisky into his tumbler.

For some reason that he was not sure of himself, Peter did not mention
the Citroin that had followed him out of Paris.  He told himself that
it could not have been relevant.

It must have been a coincidence, for if the driver of the Citron had
been one of them he would have been able to telephone ahead and warn
the others that Baroness Magda Altmann was not in the Maserati, so that
would have meant that they were not after her but after him, Peter
Stride, and that didn't make sense because he had only set himself up
as bait that very morning, and they would not have had time yet.  He
stopped the giddy carousel of thoughts shock and whisky, he told
himself.  There would be time later to think it all out more carefully.
Now he would simply believe that they were waiting for Magda, and he
had run into their net.  He told it that way, beginning from the moment
that he had seen the police van parked in the road.  Magda listened
with complete attention, the huge eyes clinging to his face, and she
touched him every few moments as if to reassure herself.

When Carl parked under the portico of the emergency entrance of the
hospital, the police had radioed ahead and there were an intern and two
nurses waiting for Peter with a theatre trolley.

Before she opened the door to let them take Peter, Magda leaned to him
and kissed him full on the lips.

"I'm so very glad to have you still," she whispered, and then with her
lips still very close to his ear she went on.  "It was Caliph again,
wasn't it?"  He shrugged slightly, grimaced at the stab of pain, and
answered, "I can't think of anyone else offhand that would do such a
professional job."  Magda walked beside the trolley as far as the
theatre doors, and she was beside his bed in the curtained cubic leas
he struggled up through the deadening, suffocating false death of the
anaesthetic.

The French doctor was with her, and he produced the gruesome
blood-clotted souvenir with a magician's flourish.

"I did not have to cut," he told Peter proudly.  "Probe only."  The
bullet had mushroomed impressively, had certainly lost much of its
velocity in penetrating the body work of the Maserati.  "You are a very
lucky man," the doctor went on.  "You are in fine condition, muscles
like a racehorse that stopped the bullet going deep.  You will be well
again very soon."

"I have promised to look after you, so he is letting you come home
now."  Magda hovered over him also.  "Aren't you, doctor?"  "You will
have one of the world's most beautiful nurses."  The doctor bowed
gallantly towards Magda with a certain wistfulness in his expression.

The doctor was right, the bullet wound gave him less discomfort than
the tears in his thighs from the barbed wire, but Magda Altmann behaved
as though he were suffering from an irreversible and terminal
disease.

When she did have to go up to her office suite in the Boulevard des
Capucines the next day, she telephoned three times for no other reason
than to make sure he was still alive and to ask for his size in shoes
and clothing.  The cavalcade of automobiles carrying her and her
entourage were back at La Pierre Brute while it was still daylight.

"You are keeping civil service hours," he accused when she came
directly to the main guest suite overlooking the terraced lawns and the
artificial lake.

"I knew you were missing me," she explained, and kissed him before
beginning to scold him.  "Roberto tells me you have been wandering
around in the rain.  The doctor said you were to stay in bed.  Tomorrow
I will have to stay here to take care of you myself."  "Is that a
threat?"  he grinned at her.  "For that sort of punishment I would let
Caliph shoot another hole-" Swiftly she laid her fingers on his lips.
"Peter, cuM, don't joke like that."  And the shadow that passed across
her eyes was touched with fear, then immediately she was smiling again.
"Look what I have bought you."  Peter's valise had been in the trunk of
the Maserati, and she had replaced it with one in black crocodile from
Hennes.  To fill it she must have started at the top end of the
Faubourg St.  Honore and worked her way down to the Place Vendeme.

"I had forgotten how much fun it is to buy presents for one who you-"
She did not finish the sentence, but held up a brocade silk
dressing-gown.  " Everybody in St.  Laurent knew what I was thinking
when I chose this."  She had forgotten nothing.  Shaving gear, silk
handkerchiefs and underwear, a blue blazer, slacks and shoes from
Gucci, even cufflinks in plain gold, each set with a small sapphire.

"You have such blue eyes," she explained.  "Now I will go and make
myself respectable for dinner.  I told Roberto we would eat here, for
there are no other guests tonight."  She had changed from the gunmetal
business suit and turban into floating cloud-light layers of gossamer
silk, and her hair was down to her waist, more lustrous than the
cloth.

"I will open the champagne," she said.  "It needs two hands."  He wore
the brocade gown, with his left arm still in a sling, and they stood
and admired each other over the top of the champagne glasses.

"I was right."  She nodded comfortably.  "Blue is your colour.  You
must wear it more often."  And he had to smile at the quaint
compliment, and touched her glass with his.

The crystal pinged musically and they saluted each other before they
drank.  Immediately she set the glass aside, and her expression became
serious.

"I spoke with my friends in the Sorete.  They agree that it was a
kidnap attempt against me, and because I asked it, they will not
trouble you to make a statement until you feel better.  I told them to
send a man tomorrow to speak to you.

There was no sign of the second man you shot at on the edge of the
woods, he must have been able to walk or been carried by his friends."
"And the other man?"  Peter asked.  "The dead one."

"They know him well.

He had a very ugly past.  Algeria with the par as  The mutiny."  She
spread her hands eloquently.  "My friends were very surprised that he
had not killed you when he tried to do so.  I did not say too much
about your own past.  It is better, I think?"

"It's better," Peter agreed.

"When I am with you like this, I forget that you also are a very
dangerous man."  She stopped and examined his face carefully.  "Or is
it part of the reason I find you so-" she searched for the word " so
compelling?  You have such a gentle manner, Peter.  Your voice is so
soft and-" She shrugged.  "But there is something in the way you smile
sometimes, and in certain light your eyes are so blue and hard and
cruel.  Then I remember that you have killed many men.  Do you think
that is what attracts me?"

"I hope it is not."

"Some women are excited by blood and violence the bullfight, the prize
ring, there are always as many women as men at these, and I have
watched their faces.  I have thought about myself, and still I do not
know it all.  I know only that I am attracted by strong men, powerful
men.

Aaron was such a man.  I have not found many others since then."

"Cruelty is not strength," Peter told her.

"No, a truly strong man has that streak of gentleness and compassion.
You are so strong, and yet when you make love to me it is with extreme
gentleness, though I can always feel the strength and cruelty there,
held in hate, like the falcon under the hood."  She moved away across
the room furnished in cream and chocolate and gold, and she tugged the
embroidered bell-pull that dangled from the corruced ceiling with its
hand-painted panels, pastoral scenes of the type that Marie Antoinette
had so admired.  Peter knew that much of the furnishing of La Pierre
Brute had been purchased at the auction sales with which the
revolutionary committee dispersed the accumulated treasures of the
House of Bourbon.  With the other treasures there were flowers,
wherever Magda Altmann went there were flowers.

She came back to him as Roberto, the Italian butler, supervised the
entry of the dinner trolley, and then Roberto filled the wine glasses
himself, handling the bottles with white gloves as though they were
part of the sacrament, and stationed himself ready to serve the meal,
but Magda dismissed him with a curt gesture and he bowed himself out
silently.

There was a presentation-wrapped parcel at Peter's place setting,
tissue paper and an elaborately tied red ribbon.  He looked up at her
inquiringly as she served the soup into fragile Limoges bowls.

"Once I began buying presents, I could not stop myself," she explained.
"Besides, I kept thinking that bullet might have been in my back." Then
she was impatient.  "Are you not going to open it?"  He did so
carefully, and then was silent.

"Africa, it is your speciality, is it not?"  she asked anxiously.
"Nineteenth-century Africa?"  He nodded, and reverently opened the
cover of the volume in its bed of tissue paper.  It was fully bound in
maroon leather, and the state of preservation was quite extraordinary,
only the dedication on the flyleaf in the author's handwriting was
faded yellow.

"Where on earth did you find this?"  he demanded.  "It was at Sotheby's
in 1971.  I bid on it then."  He had dropped out of the bidding at five
thousand pounds.

"You do not have a first edition of Cornwallis Harris?"  she asked
again anxiously, and he shook his head, examining one of the perfectly
preserved colour plates of African big game.

"No, I do not.  But how did you know that?"

"Oh, I know as much about you as you do yourself," she laughed.  "Do
you like it?"

"It is magnificent.  I am speechless."  The gift was too extravagant,
even for someone of her fortune.  It troubled him, and he was reminded
of the comedy situation of the husband who brings home flowers
unexpectedly and is immediately accused by his wife.  "Why do you have
a guilty conscience?"

"Do you truly like it?  I know so little about books."

"It is the one edition I need to complete my major works," he said.
"And it is probably the finest specimen left outside the British
Museum."  "I'm so glad."  She was genuinely relieved.  "I was truly
worried."  And she put down the silver soup ladle and lifted both arms
to welcome his embrace.

During the meal she was gay and talkative, and only when Roberto had
wheeled away the trolley and they settled side by side on the
down-filled couch before the fire did her mood change again.

"Peter, today I have been unable to think of anything but this business
you and me and Caliph.  I have been afraid, and I am still afraid.  I
keep thinking of Aaron, what they did to him and then I think of you
and what nearly happened."  They were silent, staring into the flames
and sipping

"JAVA

coffee from the demi-tosses, then suddenly she had changed direction
again.  He was growing accustomed to these mercurial switches in
thought.

"I have an island not one island, but nine little islands and in the
cintre of them is a lagoon nine kilometres wide.  The water is so clear
you can see the fish fifty feet down.  There is an airstrip on the main
atoll.  just under two hours" flying time to Tahiti.  Nobody would ever
know we were there.  We could swim all day, walk in the sand, make love
under the stars.  You would be king of the islands, and I would be your
queen.  No more Altmann Industries I would find somebody as good or
better than myself to run it.  No more danger.  No more fear.  No more
Caliph no more-" She stopped abruptly, as though she had been about to
commit herself too far, but she went on quickly.

"Let's go there, Peter.  Let's forget all this.  Let's just run away
and be happy together, for ever."

"It's a pretty thought."  He turned to her, feeling deep and genuine
regret.

"It would work for us.  We would make it work."  And he said nothing,
just watching her eyes, until she looked away and sighed.

"No."  She mirrored his regret.  "You are right.  Neither of us could
ever give up living like that.  We have to go on but, Peter, I am so
afraid.  I am afraid of what I know about you and of what I do not
know.  I am afraid of what you do not know about me, and what I never
can tell you but we must go on.  You are right.  We have to find
Caliph, and then destroy him.  But, oh God, I pray we do not destroy
ourselves, what we have found together I pray we will be able to keep
that intact."

"The best way to conjure up emotional disaster is to talk about it."

"All right, let's play riddles instead.  My turn first.  What is the
most miserable experience known to the human female?"

"I

give up."

"Sleeping alone on a winter's night."

"Salvation is at hand, "he promised her.

"But what about your poor shoulder?"

"If we combine our vast talents and wisdom, I am sure we will manage
something."

"I think you are right," she purred and nestled against him like a
sleek and silken cat.  "As always."  There is always a delightfully
decadent feeling about buying underwear for a beautiful woman, and
Peter was amused by the knowing air of the middle-aged sales lady.  She
clearly had her own ideas about the relationship, and slyly produced a
tray filled with filmy lace and iniquitously expensive wisps of silk.

"Yes," Melissa Jane approved rapturously.  "Those are exactly-" She
held one of them to her cheek, and the sales lady preened at her own
foresight.  Peter hated to disillusion her, and he played the role of
sugar-daddy a few moments longer as he glanced up at the mirror behind
her head.

The tail was still there, a nondescript figure in a grey overcoat,
browsing through a display of brassieres across the hall with the avid
interest and knowledgeable air of a closet queen.

"I don't really think your mother will approve, darling," Peter said,
and the sales woman looked startled.

"Oh, please, Daddy.  I will be fourteen next month."  They had had a
tail on him since he had arrived at Heathrow the previous afternoon,
and Peter could not decide who they were.  He began to regret he had
not yet replaced the Cobra he had lost in the river.

"I think we'd better play it safe-" Peter told his daughter, and both
Melissa-Jane and the sales lady looked crestfallen.

"Not bloomers!"  Melissa-Jane wailed.  "Not elastic legs."

"Feb.

4"Compromise," Peter suggested.  "No elastic legs but no lace, not
until you're sixteen.  I think painted fingernails is enough for right
now."

"Daddy, you can be so medieval, honestly!"  He glanced at the mirror
again, and they were changing the guard across the sales hall.  The man
in the shabby grey overcoat and checked woollen scarf drifted away and
disappeared into one of the lifts.  It would take some little time for
Peter to spot his replacement and then he grinned to himself-, no it
would not.  Here he came now.  He wore a tweed sports jacket in a
frantic hounds tooth pattern, above Royal Stewart tartan trews and a
grin like an amiable toad.

"Son of a gun.  This is a surprise."  He came up behind Peter and hit
him an open-handed blow between the shoulder blades that made Peter
wince.  At least he knew who they were at last.

"Colin."  He turned and took the massive paw with its covering of wiry
black hair across the back.  "Yes, it is a surprise.  I've been falling
over your gorillas since yesterday."  oafs" Colin Noble agreed amiably.
"All of them, oafs!"  And turned to seize Melissa-Jane.  "You're
beautiful, he told her and kissed her with more than avuncular
enthusiasm.

"Uncle Colin.  You come straight from heaven."  Melissa Jane broke from
the embrace and displayed the transparent panties.  "What do you think
of these?"

"It's you, honey.  You've just got to have them."  "Tell my father,
won't you?"  Colin looked around the Dorchester suite and grunted.
"This is really living.  You don't get it this good in this man's
army."

"Daddy is truly becoming a bloated plutocrat just like Uncle Steven,
"Melissa-jane agreed.

"I notice that you and Vanessa and the other comrades all wear lace
panties," Peter counter-attacked his daughter.

"That's different."  Melissa-Jane back-tracked swiftly, and hugged the
green Harrod's package defensively.  "You can have a social conscience
without dressing like a peasant, you know."

"Sounds like a good life."  Peter threw his overcoat across the couch
and crossed to the liquor cabinet.  "Bourbon?"

"On the rocks," said Colin.

"Is there a sweet sherry?"  Melissa-Jane asked.

"There is Coke," Peter answered.  "And you can take it through to your
own room, young lady."

"Oh Daddy, I haven't seen Uncle Colin for ages."

"Scat, said Peter, and when she had gone, sweet sherry, forsooth."

"It's a crying bastard when they start growing up and they look like
that."  Colin took the glass from Peter and rattled the ice cubes
together as he lay back in the armchair.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?"

"With pleasure."  Peter took his own glass and stood at the windows,
against the backdrop of bare branches and grey misty skies over Hyde
Park.  "What did you do?"

"Come on, Pete!  Thor they gave me your job, after you walked out."

"Before they fired me."

"After you walked out," Colin repeated firmly.  He took a sip of the
Bourbon and gargled it loudly.  "There are a lot of things we don't
understand "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die."
Shakespeare."  He was still playing the buffoon, but the small eyes
were as honey bright and calculating as those of a brand new teddy bear
on Christmas morning.  Now he waved his glass around the suite.

"This is great.  Really it's great.  You were wasted in Thor everybody
knew that.  You must be pulling down more than all the joint-chiefs put
together now."

"Seven gets you five that you've already seen a Xeroxed copy of my
contract of employment with Narmco."  "Narmco!"  Colin whistled.  "Is
that who you're working for?  No kidding, Pete baby, that's terrific!"
And Peter had to laugh, it was a form of capitulation.

He came across and took the seat opposite Colin.

"Who sent you, Colin?"

"That's a lousy question-"

"That's just an opener."

"Why should somebody have sent me?  Couldn't I just want to chew the
fat with an old buddy?"

"He sent you because he worked it out that I might bust the jaw of
anybody else."

"Sure now and everybody knows we love each other like brothers."

"What's the message, Colin?"  "Congratulations, Peter baby, I am here
to tell you that you have just won yourself a return ticket to the Big
Apple."  He placed one hand across his heart and sang with a
surprisingly mellow baritone.  "New York, New York, it's a won erful
town."  Peter sat staring impassively at Colin, but he was thinking
swiftly.  He knew he had to go.  Somehow he was certain that something
was surfacing through muddied waters, the parts were beginning to click
together.  This was the sort of thing he had hoped for when he put the
word on the wind.

"When?"

"There is an airforce jet at Croydon right now."  "Melissa-Jane?"

"I've got a driver downstairs to take her home."

"She's going to hate you."

"Story of my life," Colin sighed.  "Only the dogs love me."  They
played gin-rummy and drank teeth-blackening airforce coffee, all the
way across the Atlantic.

Colin Noble did most of the talking, around the stub of his cheroot. It
was shop, Thor shop, training and personnel details, small anecdotes
about men and things they both knew well and he made no effort to
question Peter about his job and Narmco, other than to remark that he
would have Peter back in London for the series of Narmco meetings he
had arranged starting on the following Monday.  It was a deliberate and
not very subtle intimation of just how much Atlas knew about Peter and
his new activities.

They landed at Kennedy a little after midnight, and there was an army
driver to take them to a local Howard Johnson for six hours" sleep,
that kind of deep black coma induced by jet-lag.

Peter still felt prickly-eyed and woollen-headed as he watched with a
feeling of disbelief as Colin devoured one of those amazing American
breakfasts of waffles and maple syrup, wieners and bacon and eggs,
sugar cakes and sticky buns, washed down with countless draughts of
fruit juice and coffee.  Then Colin lit his first cheroot and
announced, "Hell, now I know I'm home.  Only now I realize I've been
slowly fading away with malnutrition for two years."  The same army
driver was waiting for them at the front entrance of the motel.  The
Cadillac was an indication of their status in the military hierarchy.
Peter looked out with detachment from the air-conditioned and padded
interior onto the brooding ghettoes of Harlem.  From the elevated
highway along the East River, it reminded Peter of a deserted battle
ground where a few survivors lurked in dark doorways or scuttled along
the littered and pitted sidewalks in the cold misty morning.  Only the
graffiti that adorned the bare brick walls had passion and vitality.

Their drive caught the junction of Fifth and One Hundred and Eleventh
Street, and ran south down the park past the Metropolitan Art Museum in
the thickening rush, hour traffic, then slipped off and into the
cavernous mouth of a parking garage beneath one of the monolithic
structures that seemed to reach to the grey cold heavens.

The garage entrance was posted "Residents Only', but the doorman raised
the electronically controlled grid and waved them through.  Colin led
Peter to the bank of elevators and they rode up with the
stomach-dropping swoop while the lights above the elevator door
recorded their ascent to the very top of the building.

There they stepped out into a reception area protected by ornamental,
but none the less functional screens.

A guard in military police uniform and wearing a sidearm surveyed them
through the grille and checked Colin's Atlas pass against his register
before allowing them through.

The apartment occupied the entire top level of the building, for there
were hanging gardens beyond the sliding glass panels and a view across
the sickening canyons of space to the other tall structures farther
down Island the Pan Am building and the twin towers of the World Trade
Center.

The decor was Oriental, stark interiors in which were displayed works
of art that Peter knew from his previous visit were of incalculable
value antique Japanese brush paintings on silk panels, carvings in jade
and ivory, a display of tiny netsuke and in an atrium through which
they passed was a miniature forest of Bonsai trees in their shallow
ceramic bowls, the frozen contortions of their trunks and branches a
sign of their great age.

Incongruously, the exquisite rooms were filled with the thunder of von
Karajan leading the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra through the glories
of the Eroica.

Beyond the atrium was a plain door of white oak, and Colin Noble
pressed the buzzer beside the lintel and almost immediately the door
slid open.

Colin led into a long carpeted room, the ceiling of which was covered
with acoustic tiles.  The room contained besides the crowded
bookshelves and work table an enormous concert piano, and down the
facing wall an array of hi-fi turntables and loudspeakers that would
have been more in place in a commercial recording studio.

Kingston Parker stood beside the piano, a heroic figure, tall and heavy
in the shoulder, his great shaggy head hanging forward onto his chest,
his eyes closed and an expression of almost religious ecstasy glowing
upon his face.

The music moved his powerful frame the way the storm wind sways a giant
of the forest.  Peter and Colin stopped in the doorway, for it seemed
an intrusion on such a private, such an intimate moment, but it was
only a few seconds before he became aware of them and lifted his head.
He seemed to shake off the spell of the music with the shudder that a
spaniel uses to shake itself free of water when it reaches dry land,
and he lifted the arm of the turntable from the spinning black disc.

The silence seemed to tingle after the great crashing chords of
sound.

"General Stride," Kingston Parker greeted him.  "Or may I still call
you Peter?"

"Mr.  Stride will do very nicely," said Peter, and Parker made an
eloquent little gesture of regret, and without offering to shake hands
indicated the comfortable leather couch across the room.

"At least you came," he said, and as Peter settled into the couch, he
nodded.

"I have always had an insatiable curiosity."

"I was relying on that," Kingston Parker smiled.  "Have you
breakfasted?"

"We've had a snack,"Colin cut in but Peter nodded.

"Coffee then," said Parker, and spoke quietly into the intercom set,
before turning back to them.

"Where to begin?"  Parker combed the thick greying hair back with both
hands, leaving it even more tousled than it had been.

"Begin at the beginning," Peter suggested.  "As the King of Hearts said
to Alice."

"At the beginning-" Parker smiled softly.  All right, at the beginning
I opposed your involvement with Atlas."

"I know."

"I

did not expect that you would accept the Thor command, it was a step
backwards in your career.  You surprised me there, and not for the
first time."  A Chinese manservant in a white jacket with brass buttons
carried in a tray.  They were silent as he offered coffee and cream and
coloured crystal sugar and then, when he had gone, Parker went on.

"At that time, my estimate of you, General Stride, was that although
you had a record of brilliance and solid achievement, you were an
officer of rigidly old-fashioned thought.  The Colonel Blimp mentality
more suited to trench warfare than to the exigencies of war from the
shadows the kind of wars that we are fighting now, and will be forced
to fight in the future."  He shook the great shaggy head and
unconsciously his fingers caressed the smooth cool ivory keyboard, and
he settled down on the stool before the piano.

"You see, General Stride, I saw the role of Atlas to be too limited by
the original terms of reference placed upon it.  I did not believe that
Atlas could do what it was designed for if it was only an arm of
retaliation.  If it had to wait for a hostile act before it could
react, if it had to rely entirely on other organizations with all their
internecine rivalries and bickerings for its vital intelligence.  I
needed officers who were not only brilliant, but who were capable of
unconventional thought and independent action.  I did not believe you
had those qualities, although I studied you very carefully.  I was
unable to take you fully into my confidence."  Parker's slim fingers
evoked a fluent passage from the keyboard as though to punctuate his
words, and for a moment he seemed completely enraptured by his own
music, then he lifted his head again.

"If I had done so, then the conduct of your rescue operation of Flight
070 might have been completely different.  I have been forced radically
to revise my estimate of you, General Stride and it was a difficult
thing to do.  For by demonstrating those qualities which I thought you
lacked, you upset my judgement.  I admit that personal chagrin swayed
my reasoned judgement and by the time I was thinking straight again you
had been provoked into offering your resignation-" "I know that the
resignation was referred to you personally, Doctor Parker and that you
recommended that it be accepted."  Peter's voice was very cold, the
tone clipped with controlled anger and Parker nodded.

"Yes, you are correct.  I endorsed your resignation."

"Then it looks as though we are wasting our time here and now." Peter's
lips were compressed into a thin, unforgiving line, and the skin across
his cheeks and over the finely chiselled flare of his nostrils seemed
tightly drawn and pa leas porcelain.

"Please, General Stride let me explain first."  Parker reached out one
hand to him as though to physically restrain him from rising, and his
expression was earnest, compelling.  Peter sank back into the couch,
his eyes wary and his lips still tight.

"I have to go back a little first, in order to make any sense at all."
Parker stood up from the piano and crossed to

?"

the rack of pipes on the work table between the hi-fi equipment.

He selected one carefully, a meerschaum mellowed to the colour of
precious amber.  He blew through the empty pipe and then tramped back
across the thick carpet to stand in front of Peter.

"Some months before the hijacking of 070 six months to be precise, I
had begun to receive hints that we were entering a new phase in the
application of international terrorism.  Only hints at first, but these
were confirmed and followed by stronger evidence."  Parker was stuffing
the meerschaum from a leather wallet as he spoke, now he zipped this
closed and tossed it onto the piano top.  "What we were looking at was
a consolidation of the forces of violence under some sort of
centralized control we were not sure what form this control was
taking."  He broke off and studied Peter's expression, seemed to
misinterpret it for utter disbelief, for he shook his head.  "Yes, I
know it sounds far-fetched, but I will show you the files.  There was
evidence of meetings between known militant leaders and some other
shadowy figures, perhaps the representatives of an Eastern government.
We were not sure then, nor are we now.  And immediately after this a
complete change in the conduct and apparent motivation of militant
activity.  I do not really have to detail this for you.  Firstly the
systematic accumulation of immense financial reserves by the highly
organized and carefully planned abduction of prominent figures,
starting with the ministers of OPEC, then leading industrialists and
financial figures-" Parker struck a match and puffed on his pipe and
perfumed smoke billowed around his head.

So that it appeared that the motivation had not really changed and was
still entirely self gain or parochial political gain.  Then there was
the taking of 070.  "I had not confided in you before and once you were
on your way to Johannesburg it was too late.  I could do nothing more
than try to control your actions by rather heavy-handed commands.  I
could not explain to you that we suspected that this was the leading
wave of the new militancy, and that we must allow it to reveal as much
as possible.  It was a terrible decision, but I had to gamble a few
human lives for vital information and then you acted as I had believed
you were incapable of acting."  Parker removed his pipe from his mouth
and he smiled; when he smiled you could believe anything he said and
forgive him for it, no matter how outrageous.  "I admit, General
Stride, that my first reaction was frustrated rage.

I wanted your head, and your guts also.  Then suddenly I began using my
own head instead.  You had just proved you were the man I wanted, my
soldier capable of unconventional thought and action.  If you were
discredited and cast adrift, there was just a chance that this new
direction of militancy would recognize the same qualities in you that I
had been forced to recognize.  If I allowed you to ruin your career,
and become an outcast an embittered man, but one with vital skills and
invaluable knowledge, a man who had proved he could be ruthless when it
was necessary-" Parker broke off and made that gesture of appeal.  I am
sorry, General Stride, but I had to recognize the fact that you would
be very attractive to-" he made an impatient gesture I do not have a
name for them, shall we just call them "the enemy".  I had to recognize
the fact that you would be of very great interest to the enemy.  I
endorsed your resignation."  He nodded sombrely.  "Yes, I endorsed your
resignation, and without your own knowledge you became an Atlas agent
at large.  It seemed perfect to me.

You did not have to-act a role you believed it yourself.

You were the outcast, the wronged and discredited man ripe for
subversion."

"I don't believe it," Peter said flatly, and Parker went back to the
work table, selected an envelope from a Japanese ceramic tray and
brought it back to Peter.

It took Peter a few moments to realize that it was a Bank Statement
Credit Suisse in Geneva the account was in his name, and there were a
string of deposits.  No withdrawals MAde or debits.  Each deposit was
for exactly the same amount, the net salary of a major-general in the
British Army.

"You see," Parker smiled "you are still drawing your Atlas salary.  You
are still one of us, Peter.  And all I can say is that I am very sorry
indeed that we had to subject you to the pretence but it seems it was
all worth while."  Peter looked up at him again, not entirely
convinced, but with the hostility less naked in his expression.

"What do You mean by that, Doctor Parker?"

"It seems that you are very much back in play again."

"I am Sales Director for Northern Armaments Company," he said flatly.

"Yes, of course, and Narmco is part of the Altmann Industrial Empire
and Baron Altmann and his lovely wife are, or rather were, an
extraordinarily interesting couple.

For instance, did you know that the Baron was one of the top agents of
Mossad in Europe?"  impossible," Peter shook his head irritably.  "He
was a Roman Catholic.  Israeli intelligence does not make a habit of
recruiting Catholics."

"Yes," Parker agreed.  "His grandfather converted to Catholicism and
changed the name of the family home to La Pierre Brute.  It was a
business decision, that we are certain of, there was not much profit in
being Jewish in nineteenth-century France.  However, the young Altmann
was much influenced by his grandmother and his own mother.  He was a
Zionist from a very early age, and he unswervingly used his enormous
wealth and influence in that cause right up until the time of his
murder.  Yet he did it so cunningly, with such subtlety that very few
people were aware of his connections with uda ism and Zionism.

He never made the mistake of converting back to his ancestral religion,
realizing that he could be more effective as a practising Christian."
Peter was thinking swiftly.  If this was true, then it all had changed
shape again.  It must affect the reasons for the Baron's death and it
would change the role of Magda Altmann in his life.

"The Baroness?"  he asked.  "Was she aware of this?"

"Ah, the Baroness!"  Kingston Parker removed his pipe from between his
teeth, and smiled with reluctant admiration.  "What a remarkable lady.
We are not certain of very much about her except her beauty and her
exceptional talents.  We know she was born in Warsaw.  Her father was a
professor of medicine at the university there, and he escaped to the
West when the Baroness was still a child.  He was killed a few years
later, a traffic accident in Paris.  Hit and run driver, while the
professor was leaving his faculty in the Sorbonne.  A small mystery
still hangs around his death.  The child seems to have drifted from
family to family, friends of her father, distant relatives.  She
already was showing academic leanings, musical talent, at thirteen a
chess player of promise then for a period there is no record of her.
She seems to have disappeared entirely.  The only hint is from one of
her foster mothers, a very old lady now, with a fading memory.  "I
think she went home for a while she told me she was going home.""
Parker spread his hands.  "We do not know what that means.  Home?

Warsaw?  Israel?  Somewhere in the East?"

"You have researched her very carefully," Peter said.  What he had
heard had left him uneasy.

"Of course, we have done so to every contact you have made since
leaving Atlas Command.  We would have been negligent not to do so but
especially we have been interested in the Baroness.  She has been the
most fascinating, you understand that, I am sure."  Peter nodded, and
waited.  He did not want to ask for more.  Somehow it seemed disloyal
to Magda, distrustful and petty but still he waited and Parker went on
quietly.

"Then she was back in Paris.  Nineteen years of age now a highly
competent private secretary, speaking five languages fluently,
beautiful, always dressed in the height of fashion, soon with a string
of wealthy, influential and powerful admirers the last of these was her
employer, Baron Aaron Altmann."  Parker was silent then, waiting for
the question, forcing Peter to come to meet him.

"Is she Mossad also?"

"We do not know.  It is possible but she has covered herself very
carefully.  We are rather hoping you will be able to find that out for
us."

"I see."

"She must have known that her husband was a Zionist.

She must have suspected that it had something to do with his abduction
and murder.  Then there are the missing six years of her life from
thirteen to nineteen, where was she?"

"Is she Jewish?"  Peter asked.  "Was her father Jewish?"

"We believe so, although the professor showed no interest in religion
and did not fill in the question on his employment application to the
Sorbonne.  His daughter showed the same lack of religious commitment we
know only that her marriage to the Baron was a Catholic ceremony
followed by a civil marriage in Rambouillet."

"We have drifted a long way from international terrorism," Peter
pointed out.

"I do not think so."  Kingston Parker shook his big shaggy head.  "The
Baron was a victim of it, and almost as soon as you one of the world's
leading experts on militancy and urban warfare as soon as you are
associated with her there is an assassination attempt, or an abduction
attempt made on the Baroness."  Peter was not at all surprised that
Parker knew of that night on the road to La Pierre Benite it was only a
few days since Peter's arm had been out of the sling.

"Tell me, Peter.  What was your estimate of that affair?  I have seen
an excerpt of the statement that you made to the French police but what
can you add to that?"  Peter had a vivid cameo memory of the Citroen
that had followed him out of Paris, and then almost simultaneously the
tearing sound of automatic fire in the night.

"They were after the Baroness," Peter said firmly.

"And you were driving her car?"

"That's right."

"You were at the place at the time that the Baroness usually passed?"

"Right "Who suggested that?  You?"

"I told her that the car was too conspicuous."  "So you suggested
taking it down to La Pierre enite that night."  "Yes."  Peter lied
without knowing why he did so.

"Did anybody else know that the Baroness would not be driving?"
"Nobody."  Except her bodyguards, the two chauffeurs who had met them
on their return from Switzerland, Peter thought.

"You are certain?"  Parker persisted.

"Yes," Peter snapped.  "Nobody else."  Except Magda, only Magda.  He
pushed the thought aside angrily.

"All right, so we must accept that the Baroness was the target but was
it an assassination or an abduction attempt?

That could be significant.  If it was assassination, it would indicate
that it was the elimination of a rival agent, that the Baroness was
probably also a Mossad agent, recruited by her husband.  On the other
hand, an abduction would suggest that the object was monetary gain.
Which was it, Peter?"

"They had blocked the road-" he said, but not completely he remembered.
"And the police impersonator signalled me to stop-" or at least to slow
down, he thought, slow down sufficiently to make an easy target before
they started shooting " and they did not open fire until I made it
clear that I was not going to stop."  But they had been ready to begin
shooting at the instant Peter made the decision to send the Maserati
through the roadblock.  The intention of the two machine-gunners had
seemed evident.

I would say the object was to seize the Baroness alive."

"All right," Parker nodded.  "We will have to accept that for the time
being."  He glanced at Colin.  "Colonel Noble?

You had a question?"

"Thank you, Doctor.  We haven't heard from Peter in "what terms he was
approached by Narmco or the Baroness.

Who made the first contact?"

"I was approached by a London firm who specializes in A making top
executive placements.  They came directly from the Narmco Board-" And I
turned them down flat, he thought.  It was only later at Abbots Yew'I
see."  Colin frowned with disappointment.  "There was no question of a
meeting with the Baroness?"

"Not at that stage."

"You were offered the sales appointment no mention of any other duties,
security, industrial intelligence "No, not then."  later?"

"Yes.  When I met the Baroness, I realized her personal security
arrangements were inadequate.  I made changes."

"You never discussed her husband's murder?"

"Yes, we did "And?"

"And nothing."  Peter was finding it difficult to improvise answers,
but he used the old rule of telling as much of the truth as possible.

"There was no mention by the Baroness of a hunt for her husband's
murderers?  You were not asked to use your special talents to lead a
vendetta?"  Peter had to make a swift decision.  Parker would know of
his leak to the British military attache in Paris the bait he had so
carefully placed to attract Caliph.  Of course Parker would know: he
was head of Atlas with access to the Central Intelligence computer.
Peter could not afford to deny it.

"Yes, she asked me to relay any information which might point to her
husband's murderers.  I asked G.2 in Paris for any information he might
have.  He couldn't help me."  Parker grunted.  "Yes.  I have a note
that G.2 filed a routine report but I suppose her request was natural
enough."  He wandered back to his work table to glance at a pad on
which was scribbled some sort of personal shorthand.

"We know of eight sexual liaisons that the Baroness formed prior to her
marriage, all with politically powerful or wealthy men.  Six of them
married men-" Peter found himself trembling with anger so intense that
it surprised him.  He hated Parker for talking like this of Magda.

With a huge effort he kept his expression neutral, the hand in his lap
was relaxed and the fingers spread naturally, though he felt a driving
desire to bunch it and drive it into Parker's face.  all these affairs
were conducted with utmost discretion.  Then during her marriage there
is no evidence of any extra-marital activity.

Since the Baron's murder there have been three others, a minister in
the French Government, an American businessman head of the world's
second largest oil company-" He dropped the pad back on the desk and
swung back to face Peter.  "And recently there has been one other."  He
stared at Peter with a bright penetrating gaze.  "The lady certainly
believes in mixing business with pleasure.  All her partners have been
men who are able to deliver very concrete proof of their affections.  I
think this rule probably applies to her latest choice of sexual
partner."  Colin Noble coughed awkwardly, and shifted in his chair, but
Peter did not even glance at him, he went on staring impassively at
Kingston Parker.  He and Magda had made very little secret of their
relationship still it was bitterly distasteful to have to discuss it
with anybody else.

"I think that you are in a position now to gather vital intelligence. I
think that you are very near the centre of this nameless and formless
influence I think that you will be able to make some sort of contact
with the enemy, even if it is only another military brush with them.
The only question is whether or not you find any reason, emotional or
otherwise, that might prevent you fulfilling this duty?"  Kingston
Parker cocked his head on one side, making the statement into a
question.

"I have never let my private life interfere with my duty, Doctor, Peter
said quietly.

"No," Kingston Parker agreed.  "That is true.  And I am sure that now
you know a little more about Baroness Altmann you will appreciate just
how vital is our interest in that lady."

"Yes, I do."  Peter had his anger under control completely.

"You want me to use a privileged relationship to spy on her.

Is that correct?"

"Just as we can be sure she is using the same relationship to her own
ends-" Parker broke off as an odd thought seemed to occur.  "I do hope
I have not been too blunt, Peter.  I haven't destroyed some cherished
illusion."  Now Parker's attitude was dismissive.  The interview was
over.

"At my age, Doctor a man has no more illusions."  Peter rose to his
feet.  "Do I report to you direct?"

"Colonel Noble will make the arrangements for all communications."
Kingston Parker held out his hand.  "I would not have asked this of you
if I had a choice."  Peter did not hesitate, but took the hand.
Parker's hand was cool and dry.  Although he made no show of it, Peter
could sense the physical power in those hard pianist's fingers.

"I understand, sir," said Peter and he thought grimly, and even if that
is also a lie, I'm going to understand pretty damned soon.

Peter made the excuse of tiredness to avoid the gin rummy game, and
pretended to sleep during most of the long trans-Atlantic flight.  With
his eyes closed he tried to marshal his thoughts into some sort of
pattern, but always they seemed to come around full circle and leave
him chasing his tail.  He could not even achieve any about his feelings
and loyalties to Magda Altmann.

cer taint They seemed to keep changing shape every time he examined
them, and he found himself brooding on irrelevancies.

"Sexual liaisons" what a ridiculously stilted expression Parker had
used, and why had it angered Peter so much?

Eight liaisons before marriage, six with married men, two others since
marriage all wealthy or powerful.  He found himself trying to flesh out
these bare statistics, and with a shock of bitter resentment imagined
those faceless, formless figures with the slim smooth body, the tiny,
perfectly shaped breasts, and the long smoky fall of shimmering hair.
He felt somehow betrayed, and immediately scorned himself for this
adolescent reaction.

There were other more dire questions and chances that Kingston Parker
had raised, the Mossad connection, the six missing years in Magda's
life and yet he came back again to what had happened between them.  Was
she capable of such skilful deception, or was it not deception?  Was he
merely suffering from hurt pride now, or somehow unbeknown to him had
she been able to force him into a more vulnerable position?  Had she
succeeded in making him fall in love with her?

How did he feel about her?  At last he had to face that question
directly and try to answer it, but when they landed again he still had
no answer, except that the prospect of seeing her again pleased him
inordinately and the thought that she had deliberately used him to her
own ends and was capable of discarding him as she had done those others
left him with an aching sense of dismay.  He dreaded the answer for
which he had to search, and suddenly he remembered her suggestion of an
island to which they could escape together.  He realized then that she
was a victim of the same dread, and with a clairvoyant shudder he
wondered if they were somehow preordained to destroy each other.

There were three separate messages from her at the Dorchester.  She had
left the Rambouillet number, each time.  He telephoned immediately he
reached the suite.

"Oh, Peter.  I was so worried.  Where were you?"  And it was hard to
believe her concern was faked, and it was even harder to discount the
pleasure when, the following noon, she met him at Charles de Gaulle
Airport herself instead of sending a chauffeur.

"I needed to get out of the office for an hour," she explained, and
then she tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and pressed
herself against him.  "That's a lie, of course.  I came because I
couldn't wait the extra hour to see you."  Then she chuckled huskily.
"I am behaving shamelessly, I can't imagine what you must think of me!"
They were with a party of eight that evening, dinner at Le Doyen and
then the theatre at the Palais de Chaillot.

Peter's French was still not up to Moli&e, so he took his pleasure in
surreptitiously watching Magda, and for a few hours he succeeded in
suppressing all those ugly questions; only on the midnight drive back
to La Pierre Brute did he begin the next move in the complicated
game.

"I couldn't tell you on the telephone-" he said in the intimate
darkness and warmth of her limousine.  "I had an approach from Atlas.
The head of Atlas summoned me to New York.  That's where I was when you
called.  They are also onto Caliph."  She sighed then, and her hand
stole into his.  "I was waiting for you to tell me, Peter," she said
simply, and she sighed again.  "I knew you'd gone to America, and I had
a terrible premonition that you were going to lie to me.  I don't know
what I would have done then."  And Peter felt a lance of conscience
driven up under his ribs, and with it the throb of concern she had
known of his journey to New York, but how?  Then he remembered her
sources'.

"Tell me," she said, and he told her everything, except the nagging
question marks which Kingston Parker had placed after her name.

The missing years, the Mossad connection with the Baron, and those ten
nameless men.

"They don't seem to know that Caliph uses that name," Peter told her.
"But they seem to be pretty certain that you are hunting him, and
you've hired me for that purpose."  They discussed it quietly as the
small cavalcade of cars rushed through the night, and later when she
came to his suite, they went on talking, holding each other as they
whispered in the night, and Peter was surprised that he could act so
naturally, that the doubts seemed to evaporate so easily when he was
with her.

"Kingston Parker still has me as a member of Atlas," Peter explained.
"And I did not deny it, nor protest.  We want to find Caliph, and if I
still have status with Atlas it will be useful, of that I am
certain,"

"I agree.  Atlas can help us especially now that they are also aware
that Caliph exists."  They made love in the dawn, very deeply
satisfying love that left bodies and minds replete, and then keeping
her discretion she slipped away before it was light, but they met again
an hour later for breakfast together -in the Garden Room.

She poured coffee for him, and indicated the small parcel beside his
plate.

"We aren't quite as discreet as we think we are, She chuckled.
"Somebody seems to know where you are spending your evenings."  He
weighed the parcel in his right palm; it was the size of a roll of 35
men.  film, wrapped in brown paper, sealed with red wax.

"Apparently it came special delivery yesterday evening."  She broke one
of the crisp croissants into her plate, and smiled at him with that
special slant of her green eyes.

The address was typed on a stick-on label, and the stamps were British,
franked in south London the previous morning.

Suddenly Peter was assailed with a terrifying sense of foreboding; the
presence of some immense overpowering evil seemed to pervade the gaily
furnished room.

"What is it, Peter?"  Her voice cracked with alarm.

"Nothing,"he said.  "It's nothing."

"You suddenly went deadly pale, Peter.  Are you sure you are all
right?"

"Yes.  I'm all right."  He used his table knife to lift the wax seal
and then unrolled the brown paper.

It was a small screw-topped bottle of clear glass, and the liquid it
contained was clear also.  Some sort of preservative, he realized
immediately, spirits or formaldehyde.

Hanging suspended in the liquid was a soft white object.

"What is it?"Magda asked.

Peter felt cold tentacles of nausea closing around his stomach.

The object turned slowly, floating free in its bottle, and there was a
flash of vivid scarlet.

"Does your mother allow you to wear nail varnish now, Melissa-Jane?" He
heard the question echoed in his memory, and saw his daughter flirt her
hands, and the scarlet flash of her nails.  The same vivid scarlet.

"Oh yes though not to school, of course.  You keep forgetting I'm
almost fourteen, Daddy."  The floating white object was a human finger.
It had been severed at the first joint, and the preservative had
bleached the exposed flesh a sickly white.  The skin had puckered and
wrinkled like that of a drowned man.  Only the painted fingernail was
unaltered, pretty and festively gay.

The nausea caught Peter's throat, choking him and he coughed and
retched drily as he stared at the tiny bottle.

The telephone rang three times before it was answered.

"Cynthia Barrow."  Peter recognized his ex-wife's voice, even though it
was ragged with strain and grief.

"Cynthia, it's Peter."

"Oh, thank God, Peter.  I have been trying to find you for two days."

"What is it?"

"Is Melissa-Jane with you, Peter?"

"No."  He felt as though the earth had lurched under his feet.

"She's gone, Peter.  She's been gone for two nights now.

I'm going out of my mind."

"Have you informed the police?"

"Yes, of course.  "The edge of hysteria was in her voice.

"Stay where you are," Peter said.  "I'm coming to England right now,
but leave any message for me at the Dorchester."  He hung up quickly,
sensing that her grief would overflow at any moment and knowing that he
could not handle it now.

Across the ormolu Louis Quatorze desk Magda was pale, tense, and she
did not have to ask the question, it was in the eyes that seemed too
large for her face.

He did not have to reply to that question.  He nodded once, an abrupt
jerky motion, and then he dialled again and while he waited he could
not take his eyes from the macabre trophy that stood in its bottle in
the centre of the desk.

"Colonel Noble."  Peter snapped into the mouthpiece.

"Tell him it's General Stride and it's urgent."

Colin came on within a minute.  ""They've taken Melissa-Jane."

"Who?  I don't understand."

"The enemy.  They've taken her."

"Jesus God!  Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure.  They sent me her finger in a bottle."  Colin was
silent for a few seconds, and then his voice was subdued.  "That's
sick.  Christ, that's really sick."

"Get onto the police.  Use all your clout.  They must be keeping quiet
on it.  There has been no publicity.

I want to be in on the hunt for these animals.  Get Thor involved, find
out what you can.  I'm on my way now.  I'll let you know what flight I
am on."

"I'll keep a listening watch at this number round the clock, Colin
promised.  "And I'll have a driver meet you."  Colin hesitated. "Peter,
I'm sorry.  You know that."

"Yes.  I know."

"We will all be with you, all the way."  Peter dropped the receiver
onto its arm, and across the desk Magda stood up resolutely.

"I'll come with you to London, she said, and Peter reached out and took
her hand.

"No," he said gently.  "Thank you, but no.  There will be nothing for
you to do."

"Peter, I want to be with you through this terrible thing.

I feel as though it's all my fault."

"That's not true."

"She's such a lovely child."

"You will be more help to me here, said Peter firmly.

"Try through all your sources, any little scrap of information."  "Yes,
very well."  She accepted the decision, without further argument.
"Where can I find you if I have anything?"  He gave her Colin Noble's
private number at Thor, scribbling it on the pad beside the telephone.
"Either there or at the Dorchester," he said.

"At least I will come with you as far as Paris," she said.

Heathrow Airport.  It was on the front page of the Evening Standard and
Peter snatched a copy off the news Stand and read it avidly during the
drive up to London.

The victim was abducted At the front gate of her home in Leaden Street,
Cambridge at eleven o'clock on Thursday.  A neighbour saw her speak to
the occupants of a maroon Triumph saloon car, and then enter the back
door of the vehicle, which drove off immediately.

"I thought there were two people in the car," Mrs.  Shirley Callon, 32,
the neighbour, told our correspondent, and Melissa-Jane did not seem
alarmed.  She appeared to enter the Triumph quite willingly.  I know
that her father, who is a senior officer in the army, often sends
different cars to fetch her or bring her home.  So I thought nothing
about it."  The alarm was not raised for nearly twenty-four hours, as
the missing girl's mother also believed that she might be with her
ex-husband.

Only when she was unable to contact Major -General Stride, the girl's
father, did she inform the police.  The Cambridge police found a maroon
Triumph abandoned in the car park at Cambridge railway station.  The
vehicle had been stolen in London the previous day, and immediately a
nation-wide alert was put in force for the missing girl.

Chief-Inspector-Alan Richards is the police officer in charge of the
investigation and any person who may be able to provide information
should telephone There followed a London number and a detailed
description of Melissa-Jane and the clothes she was wearing at the time
she disappeared.

Peter crumpled the newspaper and dropped it on the front seat.  He sat
staring ahead, cupping his anger to him like a flame, husbanding it
carefully because the heat was infinitely more bearable than the icy
despair which waited to engulf him.

Inspector Alan Richards was a wiry little man, more like a jockey than
a policeman.  He had a prematurely wizened face, and he had combed long
wisps of hair across his balding pate to disguise it.  Yet his eyes
were quick and intelligent, and his manner direct and decisive.

He shook hands when Colin Noble introduced them.  "I must make it very
clear that this is a police matter, General.

However, in these very special circumstances I am prepared to work very
closely with the military."  Swiftly Richards went over the ground he
had already covered.  He had mounted the investigation from the two
offices set aside for him on the third floor of Scotland Yard, with a
view over chimney pots of the spires of Westminster Abbey and the
Houses of Parliament.

Richards had two young policewomen answering the telephone calls coming
in through the number they had advertised in the Press and on
television.  So far they had accepted over four hundred of these.
"They range from long shots to the completely crazy, but we have to
investigate all of them."  For the first time his expression softened.
"It's going to be a long, slow process, General Stride, but we have a
few more leads to follow come through."  The inner office was furnished
in the same nondescript Public Works Department furniture, solid and
characterless but there was a kettle boiling on the gas ring, and
Richards poured the tea as he went on.

"Three of my men are taking the kidnap car to pieces.

We are sure it is the right car.  Your ex-wife has identified a purse
found on the floor of the vehicle.  It is your daughter's.

We have lifted over six hundred fingerprints, and these are now being
processed.  It will take some time until we can isolate each and hope
for an identification of any alien prints.

However, two of these correspond to prints lifted from your daughter's
room Sugar?  Milk?"  Richards brought the cup to Peter as he went on.

The neighbour, Mrs.  Callon, who saw the pick-up, is working on an
identikit portrait of the driver, but she did not get a very good view
of him.  That is a very long shot."  Richards sipped his tea. "However,
we will show the final picture on television and hope for another lead
from it.  I am afraid that in cases like this, this is all we can do.
Wait for a tip, and wait for the contact from the kidnappers.  We do
not expect the contact will be made through your ex wife but of course
we have a tap on her telephone and men watching over her."  Richards
spread his hands.  "That's it, General Stride. Now it's your turn.
What can you tell us?

Why should anybody want to snatch your daughter?"  Peter exchanged a
glance with Colin Noble, and was silent as he collected his thoughts,
but Inspector Richards insisted quietly: "I understand you are not a
very wealthy man, General but your family?  Your brother?"  Peter
dismissed the idea with a shake of his head.  "My brother has children
of his own.  They would be the more logical targets."

"Vengeance?  You were very active against the Provos in Ireland.  You
commanded the recapture of Flight 070."

"It's possible."

"You are no longer connected with the army, I understand."  Peter was
not going to be drawn further in that direction.

"I do not think this type of guesswork will profit us much.

We will know the motive as soon as the kidnappers make their demands
known."

"That is true."  Richards rattled his teacup, a little nervous gesture.
"They could not have sent you her" He broke off as he saw Peter's
expression change.

It is horrible and terribly distressing, but we have to accept the
finger as proof that your daughter is still alive and that the contact,
when it comes, will be made to you.  It was an expression of their
earnest intention, and a threat but-" The telephone on his desk rang
shrilly and Richards snatched it up.

"Richards!"  he snapped, and then listened at length, occasionally
grunting encouragement to the caller.  When he hung up the receiver he
did not speak immediately, but offered Peter a rumpled pack of
cigarettes.  When Peter refused, the policeman lit one himself and his
voice was diffident.

"That was the laboratory.  You know your daughter was a white cell
donor, don't you?"  Peter nodded.  It was part of Melissa-Jane's social
commitment.  If she had not been tactfully dissuaded, she would have
donated her blood and marrow by the bucketful.

"We were able to get a tissue typing from the Cambridge hospital.  The
amputated finger matches your daughter's tissue type.  I'm afraid we
must accept that it is hers I cannot imagine that the kidnappers would
have gone to the lengths of finding a substitute of the same type."
Peter had been secretly cherishing the belief that it was a bluff. That
he had been sent the fingertip from a corpse, from a medical sample,
from the casualty ward of a city hospital and now as that hope died he
was assailed by the cold spirit-sapping waves of despair.  They sat in
silence for fully a minute, and now it was Colin Noble who broke it.

"Inspector, you are aware of the nature of the Thor Command?"  "Yes, of
course.  There was a great deal of publicity at the time of the
Johannesburg hijacking.  It is an anti-terrorist unit."

"We, are probably the most highly trained specialists in I'm sorry,
General.

the world at removing hostages safely from the hands of militants--"

"I understand what you are trying to tell me, Colonel," Richards
murmured drily.  "But let us track down our militants first, and then
any rescue attempts will be entirely under the control of the
Commissioner of Police."  It was after three o'clock in the morning
when Peter Stride checked in with the night receptionist at the
Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane.

"We have been holding your suite since midday, General."

"I'm sorry."  Peter found himself slurring his words, exhaustion and
nervous strain, he realized.  He had only left Police Headquarters when
he could convince himself that everything possible was being done, and
that he could place complete trust in Chief-Inspector Richards and his
team.

He had Richards's solemn undertaking that he would be informed, no
matter at-what time of day or night, as soon as there was any new
development.

Now he signed the register, blinking at the gritty swollen feeling of
his eyelids.

"There are these messages for you, General."

"Thank you again, and goodnight."  In the elevator he glanced at the
mail the clerk had given him.

The first was a telephone slip.

"Baroness Altmann asks you to return her call to either the Paris or
Rambouillet number."  The second was another telephone slip.

"Mrs.  Cynthia Barrow called.  Please call her at Cambridge 699 313."
The third was a sealed envelope, good-quality white paper,
undistinguished by crest or monogram.

His name had been printed in capitals, very regular Win lettering, an
old-fashioned copper-plate script.  No stamp, so it would have been
delivered by hand.

Peter split the flap with his thumb, and withdrew a single sheet of
lined writing paper, again good but undistinguished.

There would be a stack of these sheets in any stationery department
throughout the United Kingdom.

The writing was the same regular, unnatural script, so that Peter
realized that the writer had used a stencil to form each letter, one of
those clear plastic cut-out stencils obtainable from any toy store or
stationery department.  A completely effective method of disguising
handwriting.

A finger you have already, next you will have the hand, then another
hand, then a foot, then another foot and at last the head.

The next package will arrive on April 20th, and there will be another
delivery every seven days.

To prevent this you must deliver a life for a life.  The day Dr.
Kingston Parker dies, your daughter will return to you immediately,
alive and suffering no further harm, Destroy this letter and tell
nnobody, or the head will be delivered immediately.

The letter was signed with the name which had come to loom so largely
in Peter's life:

"CALIPH'

The shock of it seemed to reach to the extremities of his soul.  To see
the name written.  To have complete confirmation of all the evil that
they had suspected, to see the mark of the beast deeply printed and
unmistakable.

The shock was made greater, almost unbearable, by the contents of the
letter.  Peter found that such cruelty, such utter ruthlessness, tested
his credibility to its limits.

The letter was fluttering in his hands, and he realized with a start of
surprise that he was shaking like a man in high fever.  The porter
carrying his black crocodile valise was staring at him curiously, and
it required a huge physical effort to control his hands and fold the
sheet of white paper.

He stood rigidly, as though on the parade ground, until the elevator
door opened and then he marched stiffly down the passage to his suite.
He gave the porter a banknote, without glancing at it, and the moment
the latch clicked closed, he unfolded the sheet again, and standing in
the centre of the living-room floor, scanned the stilted script again,
and then again until the words seemed to melt together and lose
coherence and meaning.

He realized that for the first time in his life he was in complete
panic, that he had lost all resolution and direction.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, counting slowly to one
hundred, emptying his mind completely, and then giving himself the
command: "Think!"  All right, Caliph knew his movements intimately.
Even to when he was expected at the Dorchester.  that?  Cynthia, Colin
Noble, Magda Altmann and the secretary at Rambouillet who had made the
reservation, Colin's secretary at Thor, the Dorchester staff, and
anybody else who had made even an idle study of Peter's movements would
know he always stayed at the Dorchester.  That was a cul-de-sac.

"Think!"  Today was April fourth.  There were sixteen days before
Caliph sent him Melissa-Jane's severed hand.  He felt the panic
mounting again, and he forced it back.

"Think!"  Caliph had been watching him, studying him in detail,
assessing his value.  Peter's value was that he could move unsuspected
in high places.  He could reach the head of Atlas by simply requesting
an audience.  More than that, he could probably get access to any head
of state if he wanted it badly enough.

For the first time in his life Peter felt the need for liquor.

He crossed quickly to the cabinet and fumbled with the key.  A

stranger's face stared at him out of the gilt-framed mirror above it.

The face was pale, haggard, with deep parentheses framing the mouth.

There were plum-coloured bruises of fatigue below the eyes, and the
gaunt, bony jaw was gun-metal blue with a new beard and the sapphire
blue of the eyes had a wild deranged glitter.  He looked away from his
own image.  It only increased his sense of unreality.

He poured half a tumbler of Scotch whisky, and drank half of it
straight off.  He coughed at the sting of the liquor and a drop of it
broke from the corner of his mouth and trickled down his chin.  He
wiped it away with his thumb, and turned back to study the sheet of
white paper again.  It was crumpled already, where he had gripped it
too hard.  He smoothed it carefully.

"Think!"  he told himself.  This was how Caliph worked, then.

Never exposing himself.  Picking his agents with incredible attention
to detail.  Fanatics, like the girl, Ingrid who had led the taking of

Flight 070.  Trained assassins, like the man he had killed in the river
at La Pierre Brute.

Experts in high places, like General Peter Stride.  Studying them,

assessing them and their capabilities, and finally finding their
price.

Peter had never believed the old law that every man had his price.

He had believed himself above that general rule.

Now he knew he was not and the knowledge sickened him.

Caliph had found his price, found it unerringly.  Melissa-Jane.

Suddenly Peter had a vivid memory of his daughter on horseback,

swivelling in the saddle to laugh and call back to him.

"Super-Star!"  And the sound of her laughter on the wind.

Peter shivered, and without realizing it he crumpled the sheet of paper
to a ball in his fist.

Ahead of him he saw the road that he was destined to follow.  With a
new flash of insight, he realized that he had already taken his first
steps along the road.  He had done so when he had put the gun to Ingrid
in the terminal.  of Johannesburg Airport, when he had made himself
judge and executioner.

Caliph had been responsible for that first step on the road to
corruption, and now it was Caliph who was driving him farther along
it.

With a sudden prophetic glimpse ahead, Peter knew it would not end with
the life of Kingston Parker.  Once he was committed to Caliph, it would
be for ever or until one of them, Peter Stride, or Caliph, was
completely destroyed.

Peter drank the rest of the whisky in the tumbler.

Yes, Melissa-Jane was his price.  Caliph had made the correct bid.

Nothing else would have driven him to it.

Peter picked the booklet of matches off the liquor cabinet and like a
sleepwalker moved through to the bathroom.  He twisted the sheet of
paper into a taper and lit the end of it, holding it over the toilet
bowl.  He held it until the flame scorched his fingers painfully, then
dropped it into the bowl and flushed the ash away.

He went back into the lounge, and refilled the glass with whisky.

He picked the comfortable armchair below the window and sank into it.

Only then did he realize how very weary he was.  The nerves in his
thighs quivered and twitched uncontrollably.

He thought about Kingston Parker.  A man like that had an incalculable
amount to offer mankind.  It will have to look like an assassination
attempt aimed at me, Peter thought.  One that finds the wrong victim.

"A bomb," Peter thought.  He hated the bomb.  Somehow it seemed to be
the symbol of the senseless violence which he hated.  He had seen it
used in Ireland and in London town, and he hated it.  The undirected
destruction, mindless, merciless.

"It will have to be a bomb," he decided, and with surprise he found
that his hatred had found a new target.  Again for the first time ever,
he hated himself for what he was going to do.

Caliph had won.  He knew that against an adversary of that calibre
there was no chance they would find where Melissa-Jane was hidden.

Caliph had won, and Peter Stride sat the rest of the night planning an
act which he had dedicated his life, until then, to prevent.

cannot understand why we haven't had the demand A contact yet."

Inspector Richards ran his hand distractedly across his pate,

disturbing the feathery wisps that covered it and leaving them standing
out at a startled angle.

"It's five days now.  Still no demands."

"They know where to contact Peter," Colin Noble agreed.

"The interview he gave covered that."  Peter Stride had appeared on

BBC TV to broadcast an appeal to the kidnappers not to maim his
daughter further, and to the general public to offer any information
that might lead to her rescue.

On the same programme they had displayed the police identikit portrait
of the driver of the maroon Triumph prepared by the one witness.

The response had been overwhelming, jamming the switchboard at

Inspector Richards's special headquarters, and a mixed bag had fallen
into the net.

A fourteen-year-old runaway had the police barge into the

Bournemouth apartment where she was in bed with her thirty-two-year-old
lover.  She was returned weeping bitterly to the bosom of her family,

and had again disappeared within twenty-four hours.

In North Scotland the police sadly bungled a raid on a remote cottage
hired by a man with the same lank dark hair and gunfighter's mustache
as the identikit portrait.  He turned out to be a cottage-industry
manufacturer of LSD tablets, and he and his four assistants, one of
them a young girl who vaguely fitted the description of Melissa-Jane in
that she was female and blonde, had scattered across the Highlands
before being overtaken and borne to earth by sweating pounding members
of the Scottish Constabulary.

Peter Stride was furious.  "If it had been Melissa-Jane, they would
have had fifteen minutes in which to put her down-" He raged at

Richards.  "You've got to let Thor go in to the next raid."  Through
the

Thor communications net he spoke directly to Kingston Parker on the
video screens.

We'll put all our influence into it," Parker agreed, and then with deep
compassion in his eyes, "Peter, I'm living every minute of this with
you.  I cannot escape the knowledge that I have placed you into this
terrible situation.  I did not expect the attack would come through
your daughter.  I think you know that you can call on me for any
support you need."

"Thank you, sir," said Peter and for a moment felt his resolve weaken.
In ten days he would have to execute this man.  He steeled himself by
thinking of a puckered dead white finger floating in its tiny bottle.

Kingston Parker's influence worked immediately.  Six hours later the
order came down from Downing Street via the Commissioner of Police,

that the next raid on a suspect hideout would be conducted by Thor

Command.

The Royal Air Force placed two helicopters at Thor's disposal for the
duration of the operation, and Thor's assault unit went into intensive
training for penetration and removal under urban conditions.

Peter trained with them, he and Colin swiftly re-establishing the old
rapport of concerted action.

When they were not practising and refining the exit and assembly from
the hovering helicopters, Peter spent much of his time in the enclosed
pistol range, trying to drown his awareness in the crash of gunfire,
but the days passed swiftly in a series of false alarms and misleading
clues.

Each night when Peter examined his face in the mirror above the liquor
cabinet, it was more haggard, the blue eyes muddied by fatigue and
terrible gut eroding terror of what the next day might bring forth.

There were six days left when Peter left the hotel room before
breakfast, caught the tube at Green Park and left it again at
Finsbury

Park.  In a garden supplies shop near the station he purchased a
twenty-pound plastic bag of ammonium nitrate garden fertilizer.  He
carried it back to the Dorchester in a locked Samsonite suitcase and
stored it in the closet behind his hanging trenchcoat.

That night, when he spoke to Magda Altmann, she pleaded once again to
be allowed to come to London.

"Peter I know I can be of help to you.  Even if it's just to stand
beside you and hold your hand."

"No.  We've been over that."  He could hear the brutal tone in his own
voice, but could not control it.  He knew that he was getting very
close to the edge.  "Have you heard anything?"

"I'm sorry, Peter.  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  My sources are doing
all that is possible."  Peter bought the dieseline from a pump at the
Lex Garage in Brewer Street.  He took five lit res in a plastic
screw-topped container that had contained a household detergent.  The
pump attendant was a pimply teenager in dirty overalls.  He was
completely uninterested in the transaction.

In his bathroom Peter worked on the dieseline and the nitrate from the
garden shop.  He produced twenty-one pounds of savagely
weight-efficient high explosive that was, none the less, docile until
activated by a blasting cap such as he had devised with a flashlight
bulb.

It would completely devastate the entire suite, utterly destroying
everybody and everything in it.  However, the damage should be confined
to those three rooms.

It would be a simple matter to lure Kingston Parker to the suite under
the pretence of having urgent information about Caliph to deliver,
information so critical that it could only be delivered in person and
in private.

That night the face in the mirror above the liquor cabinet was that of
a man suffering from a devouring terminal disease, and the whisky
bottle was empty.  Peter broke the seal on a fresh bottle; it would
make it easier to sleep, he told himself.

The wind came off the Irish Sea like the blade of a harvester's scythe,
and the low lead-coloured cloud fled up the slopes of the

Wicklow hills ahead of it.

There were weak patches in the cloud layer through which a cold and
sickly sun beamed swiftly across the green forested slopes.  As it
passed so the rain followed icy grey rain slanting in on the wind.

A man came up the deserted street of the village.  The tourists had not
yet begun the annual invasion, but the "Bed and Breakfast"

signs were already out to welcome them on the fronts of the cottages.

The man passed the pub, in its coat of shocking salmon pink paint and
lifted his head to read the billboard above the empty car park.

"Black is Beautiful drink Guinness" it proclaimed, and the man did not
smile but lowered his head and trudged on over the bridge that divided
the village in two.

On the stone balustrades of the bridge a midnight artist had used an
aerosol paint can to spray political slogans in day-glo colours.

"BRITS OUT" on the left-hand balustrade and "STOP BLaCK TORTURE"

on the other.  This time the man grimaced sourly.

Below him the steely grey water boiled about the stone piers before
hissing down towards the sea.

The man wore a cyclist's plastic cape and a narrow brimmed tweed cap
pulled down over his eyes.  The wind dashed at him, flogging the skirts
of the cape against his Wellington boots.

He seemed to cringe to the wind, hunching down against its cold fury,
as he trudged on past the few buildings of the village.  The

Street was deserted, though the man knew that he was being watched from
curtained windows.

This village on the lower slopes of the Wicklow hills, a mere thirty
miles from Dublin, would not have been his choice.  Here isolation
worked against them, making them conspicuous.  He would have preferred
the anonymity of the city.  However, his preferences had never been
asked for.

This was only the third time he had left the house since they had
arrived.  Each time it had been for some emergency something that a
little more forethought might provision have prevented, which should
have been included when the old house was stocked for their stay.  That
came from having to rely on a drinking man, but here again he had not
been consulted.

He was discontented and in a truculent, smouldering mood.  it had
rained most of the time, and the oil-fired central heating was not
working, the only heating was the smoking peat fires in the small
fireplaces in each of the two big rooms they were using.  The high
ceilings and sparse furnishings had made the rooms more difficult to
warm and he had been cold ever since they had arrived.  They were using
only the two rooms, and had left the rest of the house locked and
shuttered.  It was a gloomy building, with the smell of damp pervading
it.  He had only the company of a whining alcoholic, day after cold
rainy day.  The man was ripe and over-ripe for trouble, for any
diversion to break the grinding monotony but now he was reduced to
errand boy and house servant, roles for which he was unsuited by
temperament and training, and he scowled darkly as he trudged over the
bridge towards the village store, with its row of petrol pumps standing
before it like sentries.

The storekeeper saw him coming, and called through into the back of the
shop.

"It's himself from down at the Old Manse."  His wife came through,

wiping her hands on her apron, a short plump woman with bright eyes and
ready tongue.

"City people have no more sense than they need, out in this weather."

"Sure and it's not baked beans nor Jameson whiskey he's afteTbuying."
Speculation about the new occupant of the Old Manse had swiftly become
one of the village's main diversions, with regular bulletins broadcast
by the girl on the local telephone exchange two overseas telephone
calls, by the postman no mail deliveries, by the dustman the disposals
into the dustbins were made up mainly of empty

Heinz baked beans cans and Jameson whiskey bottles.

"I still think he's from the trouble up north," said the shopkeeper's
wife.  "He's got the look and the sound of an Ulster man."

"Hush, woman."  Her husband cautioned her.  "You'll bring bad luck upon
us.  Get yourself back into the kitchen now."  The man came in out of
the rain and swept the tweed cap off his head, beating the water from
it against the jamb of the door.  He had black straight hair, cut into
a ragged fringe above the dark Irish visage and fierce eyes, like those
of a falcon when first the leather hood is slipped.

"The top of the morning to you, Mr.  Barry," the shopkeeper greeted him
heartily.  "Like as not it will stop raining, before it clears."

The man they knew as Barry grunted, and as he slipped the waterproof
cape from his shoulders, swept the cluttered interior of the little
general dealer's store with a quick, all, embracing glance.

He wore a rough tweed jacket over a cable-stitched jersey and brown
corduroys tucked into the top of the Wellington boots.

"You finished writing on your book, have you?"  Barry had told the
milkman that he was writing a book about Ireland.

The Wicklow hills were a stronghold of the literary profession,

there were a dozen prominent or eccentric writers living within twenty
miles, taking advantage of Ireland's tax concessions to writers and
artists.

"Not yet," Barry grunted, and went across to the shelves nearest the
till.  He made a selection of half a dozen items and laid them on the
worn counter top.

"When it's good and wrote I'm going to ask the library to keep a copy
for me," the shopkeeper promised, as though that was exactly what a
writer would want to hear, and began to ring up the purchases on his
register.

Barry's upper lip was still unnaturally smoother and paler than the
rest of his face.  He had shaved away the dark droopy mustache the day
before arriving in the village, and at the same time had cut the fringe
of his hair that hung almost to his eyes.

The shopkeeper picked up one of the purchases and looked inquiringly at
Barry, but when the dark Irish face remained impassive and he
volunteered no explanation, the shopkeeper dropped his eyes
self-consciously and rang up the package with the other purchases and
dropped it into a paper carrier.

"That will be three pounds twenty pence," he said, and closed the cash
drawer with a clang, waiting while Barry stung the cape over his
shoulders and adjusted the tweed cap.

"God be with you then, Mr.  Barry."  There was no reply and the
shopkeeper watched him set off back across the bridge before he called
his wife again.

"He's a surly one, all right, he is."

"He's got him a girlfriend down there."  The shopkeeper was bursting
with the importance of his discovery.  "He's up to a nice little bit of
hanky-panky."

"How do you know that?"

"He was after buying women's things you know."  He hooded a knowing
eye.

"No, I don't know, "his wife insisted.

"For the curse you know.  Women's things," and his wife glowed with the
news, and began to untie her apron.

"You're sure now?  "she demanded.

"Would I ever be lying to you?"

"I think I'll go across to Mollie for a cup pa tea," said his wife
eagerly; the news would make her the woman of the hour throughout the
village.

The man they knew as Barry trudged into the narrow, high-walled lane
that led up to the Old Manse.  It was only the heavy boots and
voluminous cape that gave him a clumsy gait, for he was a lithe, lean
man in prime physical condition, and under the brim of his cap the eyes
were never still, hunter's eyes probing and darting from side to
side.

The wall was twelve feet high, the stonework blotched with silver-grey
lichen, and although it was cracked and sagging at places,

yet it was still substantial and afforded complete privacy and security
to the property beyond.

At the end of the lane there was a pair of rotten and warping double
doors, but the lock was a bright new brass Yale and the cracks in the
wood and the gaping seams had been covered with fresh white strips of
pine so that it was impossible to see into the interior of the
garage.

Barry unlocked the brass Yale lock and slipped through, pulling the
latch closed behind him.

There was a dark blue Austin saloon car parked facing the doors for
immediate departure.  It had been stolen in Ulster two weeks before, re
sprayed and fitted with a roof rack to alter its appearance,

and with new licence plates.

The engine had been tuned and checked and Barry had paid nearly twice
its market value.

Now he slipped behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. The
engine fired and caught immediately.  He grunted with satisfaction;
seconds could mean the difference between success and failure, and in
his life failure and death were synonymous.  He listened to the engine
beat for half a minute, checking the oil pressure and fuel gauges
before switching off the engine again and going out through the rear
door of the garage into the overgrown kitchen yard.

The old house had the sad unloved air of approaching dereliction.

The fruit trees in the tiny orchard were sick with fungus diseases and
surrounded by weed banks.

The thatch roof was rotten-green with moss, and the windows were
blindman's eyes, unseeing and uncaring.

Barry let himself in through the kitchen door and dropped his cape and
cap on the scullery floor and set the carrier on the draining board of
the sink.  Then he reached into the cutlery drawer and brought out a
pistol.  It was a British officer's service pistol, had in fact been
taken during a raid on a British Army arsenal in Ulster three years
previously.

Barry checked the handgun with the expertise of a long.

familiarity and then thrust it into his belt.  He had felt naked and
vulnerable for the short time that he was without the weapon but he had
reluctantly decided not to risk carrying it in the village.

Now he tapped water into the kettle, and at the sound a voice called
through from the dim interior.

"Is that you?"

"None other," Barry answered drily, and the other man came through and
stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

He was a thin, stooped man in his fifties with the swollen inflamed
face of the very heavy drinker.

"Did you get it?"  His voice was husky and rough with whiskey, and he
had a seedy run-down air, a day's stubble of grey hairs that grew at
angles on the blotchy skin.

Barry indicated the package on the sink.

"It's all there, doctor."

"Don't call me that, I'm not a doctor any more," the man snapped
irritably.

"Oh, but you are a damned fine one.  Ask the girls who dropped their
bundles-"

"Leave me alone, damn you."  Yes, he had been a damn fine doctor.  Long
ago, before the whiskey, now however it was the abortions and the
gunshot wounds of fugitives, and jobs like this one.

He did not like to think about this one.  He crossed to the sink and
sorted through the packages.

"I asked you for adhesive tape, "he said.

"They had none.  I brought the bandage."

"I cannot-" the man began, but Barry whirled on him savagely, his face
darkening with angry blood.

"I've had a gutsful of your whining.  You should have brought what you
needed, not sent me to get it for you."

"I did not expect the wound-"

"You didn't expect anything but another dram of Jamesons, man.

There is no adhesive tape.  Now get on with it and tie the bitch's hand
up with the bandage."  The older man backed away swiftly, picked up the
packages and shuffled through into the other room.

Barry made the tea and poured it into the thick china mug, spooned in
four spoons of sugar and stirred noisily, staring out of the smeared
panes.  It was raining again.  He thought that the rain and the waiting
would drive him mad.

The doctor came back into the kitchen, carrying a bundle of linen
soiled with blood and the yellow ooze of sepsis.

"She is sick he said.  "She needs drugs, antibiotics.  The finger-"

"Forget it, "said Barry.

From the other room there was a long-drawn-out whimper, followed by the
incoherent gabble of a young girl deep in the delirium induced by fever
and hypnotic drugs.

"If she is not taken to proper care, I won't be responsible."

"You'll be responsible," Barry told him heavily.  "I'll see to that."

The doctor dropped the bundle of linen into the sink and let the water
run over it.

"Can I have a drink now?"  he asked.

Barry made a sadistic display of consulting his watch.

"No.  Not yet, "he decided.

The doctor poured soap flakes into the sink.

"I don't think I can do the hand," he whispered, shaking his head.

"The finger was bad enough but I can't do the hand."

"You'll do the hand" said Barry.  "Do you hear me, you whiskey-guzzling
old wreck?

You'll do the hand, and anything else I tell you to do."  Sir Steven

Stride offered a reward of fifty thousand pounds to anyone giving
information that led to the recovery of his niece, and the offer was
widely reported on television and in the press with reprints of the
identikit portrait.  It led to a revival of the flagging public
interest in the case.

Inspector Richards had been able to reduce his telephone answering
staff to one the last few days, but with the renewed spate of informers
and speculators, he had to ask for the other policewoman to return to
the third floor, and he had two sergeants processing the material that
flowed in.

"I feel like Littlewoods," he growled to Peter.  "Everybody taking a
ticket on the pools, or getting his three-pence worth of advertising."
He picked up another message slip.

"Here is another claim for responsibility the Democratic

People's Party for the Liberation of Hong Kong Have we ever heard of
them before?"

"No, sir."  The senior sergeant looked up from his lists.

"But that makes one hundred and forty-eight confessions or claims for
responsibility so far."

"And "Enry the Eighth was on again half an hour ago."  One of the girls
at the switchboard turned and smiled around her mouthpiece.  "Hasn't
missed a day."

"Enry the Eighth was a sixty-eight-year-old pensioner who lived in a
council estate in South

London.  His hobby was confessing to the latest spectacular crime from
rape to bank robbery, and he had called regularly every morning.

"Come and get me," he challenged each time.  "But I warn you I

won't come peaceful like.  -" When the local constable had made a
courtesy call, while on his regular beat, "Enry the Eighth had his
suitcase packed and ready to go.  His disappointment was heart-rending
when the bobby tactfully explained that they weren't going to arrest
him, but when the bobby assured him that they would be keeping him
under close surveillance as the Commissioner considered him a very
dangerous man,

he brightened up considerably and offered the constable a cup of tea.

"The trouble is we dare not dismiss any of it, even the real loonies,
it all has to be checked out," Richards sighed, and motioned

Peter to go through to the inner office.

"Still nothing?"  Richards asked.  It was an unnecessary question.

They had a tap on his telephone, at the hotel and at Thor
Headquarters,

to record any contact from the kidnappers.

"No, nothing," Peter lied, but the lie had become easy now just as he
had learned to accept whatever else was necessary for

Melissa-Jane's release.

"I don't like it, General.  I really don't like the fact that there has
been no attempt to contact you.  I don't want to be despondent, but
every day of silence makes it look more like an act of vengeance, "
Richards broke off and covered his embarrassment by lighting a
cigarette.  "Yesterday the Deputy-Commissioner telephoned me.  He
wanted my opinion as to how much longer I thought it necessary to
maintain this special unit."

"What did you tell him?"  Peter asked.

"I told him that if we did not have some firm evidence within ten days,
at least some sort of demand from the kidnappers then I would have to
believe that your daughter was no longer alive."

"I see."  Peter felt a fatalistic calm.  He knew.  He was the only one
who knew.  There were four days to Caliph's deadline, he had worked out
his timetable.

Tomorrow morning he would request his urgent meeting with Kingston

Parker.  He expected it would take less than twelve hours to arrange
it, he would make it too attractive for Parker to refuse.

Parker would have to come, but against the remote possibility that he
did not, Peter had left himself three clear days before the deadline in
which to put into action his alternative plan.  This would mean going
to Kingston Parker.

The first plan was the better, the more certain but if it failed, Peter
would accept any risk.

Now he realized that he had been standing in the centre of

Richards's office, staring vacantly at the wall above the little
inspector's head.  He started as he realized that Richards was staring
at him with a mingling of pity and concern.

"I am sorry, General.  I understand how you feel but I cannot keep this
unit functioning indefinitely.  We just do not have enough people-"

"I understand."  Peter nodded jerkily, and wiped his face with an open
hand.  It was a weary, defeated gesture.

"General, I think you should see your doctor.  I really do."

Richards's voice was surprisingly gentle.

"That won't be necessary I'm just a little tired."

"A man can take just so much."

"I think that's what these bastards are relying on," Peter agreed. "But
I'll be all right."  From the next door office there was the almost
constant tinkle of telephone bells, and the murmur of female voices as
the two policewomen answered the incoming stream of calls. It had
become a steady background effect, so that when the call for which they
had prayed and pleaded and waited finally came, neither of the two men
was aware of it, and there was no excitement on the switchboard.  in
front of The two girls sat side by side on swivel stools the temporary
switchboard.  The blonde girl was in her middle twenties, she was
pretty and pert, with big round breasts buttoned primly under her blue
uniform jacket.  The blonde hair was twisted into a bun at the back of
her neck to free her ears, but the headset made her appear older and
businesslike.

The bell pinged and a panel lit in front of her; she plugged in the
switch and spoke into the headset, "Good morning.  This is the

Police Special Information Unit-" She had a pleasant middle-class
accent, but was unable to keep the trace of boredom out of it.  She had
been on this job for twelve days now.  There was the warning tone of a
public telephone and then the click of small change fed into the
slot.

"Can you hear me?"  The accent was foreign.

"Yes, sir."

"Listen carefully.  Gilly O'Shaughnessy has hen" No,

it was an imitation, the foreign accept slipped a little with the
pronunciation of the name.

"Gilly O'Shaughnessy,"the police girl repeated.

"That's right.  He's holding her at Laragh."

"Spell that, please."

Again the accent slipped as the man spelled the name.

"And where is that, sir?"

"County Wicklow, Ireland."

"Thank you,

sir.  What is your name, please?"  There was the clack of a broken
connection and the hum of the dialling tone.  The girl shrugged, and
scribbled the message on the pad before her, glancing at her wristwatch
simultaneously.

"Seven minutes to tea time," she said.  "Roll on death, battle with the
angels."  She tore the sheet off the pad and passed it over her
shoulder to the burly, curly-headed sergeant who sat behind her.

"I'll buy you a sticky bun, "he promised.

"I'm on a diet, "she sighed.

"That's daft, you look a treat-" The sergeant broke off.

Gil ly O'Shaughnessy.  Why do I know that name?"  The older sergeant
looked up sharply.

"Gilly O'Shaughnessy?"  he demanded.  "Let me see that."  And he
snatched the sheet, scanning it swiftly, his lips moving as he read the
message.  Then he looked up again.

"You know the name because you've seen it on the wanted posters,

and heard it on the telly.  Gilly O'Shaughnessy, strew the man, he's
the one who bombed the Red Lion at Leicester, and shot the Chief
Constable in Belfast."  The curly-headed policeman whistled softly.
"This looks like a hot one.  A real hot one-" But his colleague was
already barging into the inner office without the formality of
knocking.

Richards had the connection to the Dublin police within seven
minutes.

"Impress upon them that there must be no attempt-" Peter fretted,

while they waited, and Richards cut him short.

"All right, General.  Leave this to me.  I understand what has to be
done--2 At that moment the Dublin connection was made, and Richards was
transferred quickly to a Deputy, Commissioner.  He spoke quietly and
earnestly for nearly ten minutes before he replaced the receiver.

"They will use the local constabulary, not to waste time in sending a
man down from Dublin.  I have their promise that no approach will be
made if a suspect is located."  Peter nodded his thanks.

"Laragh," he said.  "I have never heard of it.  It cannot have a
population of more than a few hundred."

"I've sent for a map," Richards told him, and when it came they studied
it together.

"It's on the slopes of the Wicklow hills ten miles from the coast-" And
that was about all there was to learn from the large-scale map.

"We'll just have to wait for the Dublin police to call back-"

"No," Peter shook his head.  "I want you to call them again, and ask
them to contact the surveyor-general.  He must have trig maps of the
village, aerial photographs, street layouts.  Ask them to get them down
with a driver to Enniskerry Airfield-"

"Should we do that now?  What if this turns out to be another false
alarm."

"We'll have wasted a gallon of petrol and the driver's time-" Peter was
no longer able to sit still, he jumped out of the chair and began to
pace restlessly about the office; it was too small for him suddenly, he
felt as though he were on the point of suffocation.  "I don't think it
is, however.  I

have the smell of it.  The smell of the beast."

Richards looked startled and Peter deprecated the exaggerated phrase
with a dismissive gesture.  "A manner of speech" he explained,

and then stopped as a thought struck him.  "The helicopters will have
to refuel, they haven't got the range to make it in one hop, and they
are so bloody slow!"  He paused and reached a decision, then leaned
across Richards's desk to pick up the telephone and dialled Colin

Noble's private number at Thor.

"(2bun."  He spoke curtly with the tension that gripped him like a
mailed fist.  "We've just had a contact.  It's still unconfirmed, but
it looks the best yet."

"Where?"  Colin broke in eagerly.

"Ireland."

"That's to hell and gone."

"Right, what's the flight time for the whirlybirds to reach
Enniskerry?"

"Stand by."  Peter heard him talking to somebody else probably one of
the RAF.  pilots.  He came back within the minute.

"They will have to refuel en route--2 eyes?"  Peter demanded
impatiently "Four and a half hours,"Colin told him.

"It's twenty past ten now almost three o'clock before they reach

Enniskerry.  With this weather it will be dark before five."  Peter
thought furiously; if they sent the Thor team all the way to Ireland on
a false trail and while they were there the correct contact was made in
Scotland, or Holland, or'It's got the smell.  It's got to be right,"

he told himself, and took a deep breath.  He could not order Colin

Noble to go to Bravo.  Peter was no longer commander of Thor.

"Colin," he said.  "I think this is it.  I have the deep-down gut feel
for it.  Will you trust me and go to Bravo now?  If we wait even
another half hour we'll not get Melissa-Jane out before nightfall if
she is there."

its There was a long silence, broken only by Colin Noble's light quick
breath.

"Hell, it can only cost me my job," he said easily at last.

okay, Pete baby, it's Bravo, we'll be airborne in five minutes.

We'll pick you up from the helipad in fifteen minutes; be ready."  The
cloud was breaking up, but the wind was still bitter and spiteful, and
up on the exposed helipad it cut cruelly through Peter's trench coat,

blazer and roll-neck jersey.  They looked out across the churned
surface of the River Thames, eyes watering in the wind, for the first
glimpse of the helicopters.

"what if we have a confirmation before you reach Enniskerry?"

"You can reach us on the RAF.  frequencies, through Biggin Hill," Peter
told him.

"I hope I don't have bad news for you."  Richards was holding his
bowler hat in place with one hand, the skirts of his jacket slapping
around his skinny rump and his face blotchy with the cold.

The two ungainly craft came clattering in, low over the rooftops,

hanging on the whirling silver coins of their rotors.

At a hundred feet Peter could plainly recognize the broad shape of

Colin Noble in the open doorway of the fuselage, just forward of the
brilliant RAF.  rounders, and the down draught of the rotors boiled the
air about them.  "Good hunting."  Richards raised his voice to a shout.
"I wish I

was coming with you."  Peter ran forward lightly, and jumped before the
helicopter gear touched the concrete pad.  Colin caught him by the
upper arm and helped to swing him aboard without removing the cheroot
from his wide mouth.

"Welcome aboard, buddy.  Now let's get this circus on the road.  "And
he hitched the big .45 pistol on his hip.

"She's not eating."  The doctor came through from the inner room and
scraped the plate into the rubbish bin below the sink.  "I'm worried
about her.  Very worried."  Gilly O'Shaughnessy grunted but did not
look up from his own plate.  He broke a crust off the slice of bread
and very carefully wiped up the last of the tomato ketchup.  He popped
the bread into his mouth and followed it with a gulp of steaming tea,
and while he chewed it all together, he leaned back on the kitchen
chair and watched the other man.

The doctor was on the verge of cracking up.  He would probably not last
out the week before his nerve went completely; Gilly O'Shaughnessy had
seen better men go to pieces under less strain.

He realized then that his own nerves were wearing away.

It was more than just the rain and the waiting that was working on him.
He had been the fox for all of his life, and he had developed the
instincts of the hunted animal.  He could sense danger, the presence of
the pursuers, even when there was no real evidence.  It made him
restless to stay longer in one place than was necessary, especially
when he was on a job.  He had been here twelve days, and it was far too
long.  The more he thought about it the more uneasy he became.  Why had
they insisted he bring the brat to this isolated, and therefore
conspicuous, little dead-end?  There was only one road in and out of
the village, a single avenue of escape.  Why had they insisted that he
sit and wait it out in this one place?  He would have liked to keep
moving.  If he had had the running of it, he would have bought a
second-hand caravan, and kept rolling from one park to another his
attention wandered for a few moments as he thought how he would have
done it if he had been given the planning of it.

He lit a cigarette and gazed out of the rain-blurred window panes,

hardly aware of the muttered complaints and misgivings of his
companion.  What they should have done was crop the brat's fingers and
bottle all of them to send to her father at intervals, and then they
should have held a pillow over her face and buried her in the vegetable
garden or weighted her and dumped her out beyond the hundred fathom
line of the Irish Sea that way they would not have had to bother with a
doctor, and the nursing Everything else had been done with professional
skill, starting with the contact they had made with him in the favela
of Rio de Janeiro, where he was hiding out in a sleazy one-room shack
with the half-caste Indian woman, and down to his last fifty quid.

That had given him a real start, he thought he had covered his tracks
completely, but they had him made.

They had the passport and travel papers in the name of Barry, and they
did not look like forgeries.  They were good papers, he was sure of it,
and he knew a lot about papers.

Everything else had been as well planned, and swiftly delivered.

The money a thousand pounds in Rio, another five thousand the day after
they grabbed the brat, and he was confident that the final ten would be
there as it was promised.  It was better than an English gaol,

the "Silver City" as the Brits called their concentration camp at the

Maze.  That was what Caliph had promised, if he didn't take the job.

Caliph, now that was a daft name, Gilly O'Shaughnessy decided for the
fiftieth time as he dropped the stub of his cigarette into the dregs of
his teacup and it was extinguished with a sharp hiss.  A real daft
name, but somehow it had the ability to put a chill on the blood,

and he shivered not only from the cold.

He stood up and crossed to the kitchen window.  It had all been done
with such speed and purpose and planning everything so clearly thought
out, that when there was a lapse it was more troubling.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy had the feeling that Caliph did nothing without
good reason then why had they been ordered to back themselves into this
dangerously exposed bottleneck, without the security of multiple escape
routes, and to sit here and wait?

He picked up the cyclist cape and tweed cap.  "Where are you going?"
the doctor demanded anxiously.  "I'm going to take a shufti,"Gilly
O'Shaughnessy grunted as he pulled the cap down over his eyes.

"You're always prowling around," the doctor protested.

"You make me nervous."  The dark Irishman pulled the pistol from under
his jacket and checked the load before thrusting it back into his
belt.

"You just go on playing nursemaid," he said brusquely.  "And leave the
man's work to me."  The small black Austin crawled slowly up the
village street, and the rain hammered on the cab and bonnet in tiny
white explosions that blurred the outline, giving the machine a softly
focused appearance, and the streaming windscreen effectively hid the
occupants.

It was only when the Austin parked directly in front of Laragh's only
grocery store and both front doors opened that the curiosity of
watchers from behind the curtained windows all down the street was
satisfied.

The two members of the Irish constabulary wore the service blue winter
uniform with darker epaulettes.  The soft rain speckled the patent
leather peaks of their caps as they hurried into the shoP.

"Good morning, Maeve, me old love," the sergeant greeted the plump
red-faced lady behind the counter.

"Owen O'Neill, I do declare-" She chuckled as she recognized the
sergeant there had been a time, thirty years before, when the two of
them had given the priest some fine pickings at the confessional.  "And
what brings you all the way up from the big city?"  That was a generous
description of the quaint seaside resort town of Wicklow, fifteen miles
down the road.

"The sight of your blooming smile-2 They chatted like old friends for
ten minutes, and her husband came through from the little storeroom
when he heard the rattle of teacups.

"So what is new in Laragh, then?"  the sergeant asked at last.

"Any new faces in the village?"

"No, all the same faces.  Nothing changes in Laragh, bless the Lord for
that."  The shopkeeper wagged his head.  "No, indeed only new face is
the one down at the Old Manse, he and his lady friend-" he winked
knowingly but seeing as how he's a stranger, we aren't after counting
him."  The sergeant ponderously delved for his notebook, opened it and
extracted a photograph from it;

it was the usual side view and full face of police records.  He held
the name covered with his thumb as he showed it to them.

"No."  The woman shook her head positively.  "Himself down at the manse
is ten years older than that, and he does not have a mustache."

"This was taken ten years ago," said the sergeant.

"Oh, well, why didn't you say so."  She nodded.  "Then that's him.

That's Mr.  Barry for certain sure."

"The Old Manse, you say."  The sergeant seemed to inflate visibly with
importance, as he put the photograph back into his notebook.  "I'm
going to have to use your telephone now, dear."

"Where will you be after telephoning?"  The shopkeeper asked
suspiciously.

"Dublin," the sergeant told him.  "It's police business."

"I'll have to charge you for the call," the shopkeeper warned him
quickly.

"There," said the wife as they watched the sergeant making his request
to the girl on the village switchboard.  "I told you he had the look of
trouble, didn't I?  The first time I laid eyes on him I knew he was
from up in the North, and carrying trouble like the black angel."

Gilly O'Shaughnessy kept close in under the stone wall, keeping out of
the slanting rain and out of the line of sight of a casual watcher on
the slope beyond the river.  He moved carefully and quietly as a tomcat
on his midnight business, stopping to examine the earth below the
weakened or tumbled places in the wall where a man could have come
over, studying the wet drooping weeds for the brush marks where a man
might have passed.

At the farthest corner of the garden, he stepped up onto the leaning
main stem of an apple tree to see over the wall, wedging himself
against the lichen-encrusted stone, so that the silhouette of his head
did not show above the wall.

He waited and watched for twenty minutes, with the absolute animal
patience of the predator, then he jumped down and went on around the
perimeter of the wall, never for a moment relaxing his vigilance,

seemingly oblivious to the discomfort of the cold and the insistent
rain.

There was nothing, not the least sign of danger, no reason for the
nagging disquiet but still it was there.  He reached another vantage
point, the iron gate that led into the narrow walled alley, and he
leaned against the stone jamb, cupping his hands to protect match and
cigarette from the wind, and then shifting slightly so he could see
through the crack between wall and gate and cover the walled lane, and
the road beyond as far as the bridge.

Once again he assumed the patient watching role, closing his mind
against the physical discomfort and letting his eyes and his brain work
at their full capacity.

Not for the first time he pondered the unusual system of signals and
exchanges of material that Caliph had insisted upon.

The payments had been made by bearer deposit certificates, in

Swiss francs, sent through the post to his Rio address and then to his
collection address in London.

He had made one delivery to Caliph, the bottle and its contents and two
telephone calls.  The delivery had been made within two hours of
grabbing the girl, while she was still under the effects of the initial
shot of the drug.  The doctor Dr.  Jameson, as Gilly

O'Shaughnessy liked to think of him had done the job in the back of the
second car.  It had been waiting in the car park at Cambridge railway
station, a little green Ford delivery van with a completely enclosed
rear compartment.  They had moved the girl from the maroon

Triumph to the Ford in the covering dusk of the autumn evening, and
they had parked again in the lot of a roadside cafe on the A10 while
Dr.

Jameson did the job.

All the instruments had been ready for him in the van, but he had
botched it badly, his hands shaking with nerves and the need for
liquor.  The brat had bled copiously, and now the hand was
infected.Gilly O'Shaughnessy felt his irritation rising sharply when he
thought of the doctor.  Everything he touched seemed to turn to
disaster.

He had delivered the bottle to a pick-up car that had been exactly
where he was told it would be, and it had dipped its headlights in the
prearranged signal.  Gilly had hardly stopped, but merely drawn up
alongside and handed the bottle across, then driven straight into the

West, and caught "4

the early morning ferry long before any general alarm was out for the
girl.

Then there were the telephone calls.  They worried Gilly

O'Shaughnessy as much as anything else in this whole bloody business.

He had made the first call immediately they reached Laragh.  It was an
international call, and he had to say one sentence: "We arrived
safely."  And then hang up.  A week later a call to the same number,
and again only one sentence: "We are enjoying ourselves."  And then
immediately break the connection.

Gilly remembered how each time the girl on the local exchange had
called him back to ask if the contact had been satisfactory and each
time she had sounded puzzled and intrigued.

It was not the way Caliph had worked up until then, it was leaving a
trail for the hunters to follow and he would have protested if there
had been somebody to protest to, but there was only the international
telephone number, no other way of contacting Caliph.  He decided as he
stood by the gate that he would not make the next telephone call to
that number which was due in four days" time.

Then he remembered that was the day the hand was due and he would
probably receive his orders for delivery of the hand when he made the
call but he didn't like it.  Not even for the money and suddenly his
mind went back to an incident long ago.

They had wanted to pass false information to the English, details of an
intended operation which would in fact take place at a different place
and a different time.

They had fed the detailed but duff information to a young unreliable
Provo, one who they knew would not hold out under interrogation, and
they had put him in a safe house in the Shankhill

Road and that was where the English took him.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy felt a little electric prickle run down his spine
like ghost-fire, and that feeling had never let him down before never.
He looked at his cheap Japanese wristwatch; it was almost four o'clock,
and evening was lowering on the hills of grey and cold green.

When he looked up again, there was movement on the road.

From the top of the hill a vehicle was following the curve of the road,
down towards the bridge.  It was a small black saloon car, and it went
out of sight behind the hedge.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy watched for it to reappear without particular
interest, still worrying about those two telephone calls.  Trying to
find the need for them, why Caliph should want to take that chance.

The small black car turned onto the bridge, and came directly down
towards the Manse, but the light was wrong and Gilly could make out
only the shape of two heads beyond the rhythmically flogging windscreen
wipers.

The car began to slow up, coming down almost to walking speed, and

Gilly straightened up instinctively, suddenly completely alert as he
peered through the slit.

There was the pale blur of faces turned towards him, and the car slowed
almost to a halt.  The nearest side window was lowered slowly and for
the first time he could see clearly into the interior.  He saw the peak
of the uniform cap, and the silver flash of a cap badge above the
straining white face.  The ghost-fire flared up Gilly

O'Shaughnessy's spine and he felt his breath suddenly scalding his
throat.

The small black car disappeared beyond the corner of the stone wall,
and he heard it accelerate away swiftly.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy whirled with the cape ballooning around him and he
ran back to the house.  He felt very cold and sure and calm now that
the moment of action had come.

The kitchen was empty and he crossed it in half a dozen strides,

and threw open the door to the second room.

The doctor was working over the bed and he looked up angrily.

"I've told you to knock."  They had argued this out before.  The doctor
still retained some bizarre vestige of professional ethics in his
treatment of his patient.  He might surgically mutilate the child for
the money he so desperately needed, but he had protested fiercely when
Gilly O'Shaughnessy had lingered at the doorway to ogle the maturing
body whenever the doctor stripped it for cleansing, treatment or for
the performance of its natural functions.

The dark Irishman had halfheartedly attempted to force him to back
down, but when he had encountered surprisingly courageous opposition he
had abandoned his voyeuristic pleasures and had returned to the inner
room only when called to assist.

Now the child lay face down on the soiled sheets.  Her blonde hair was
matted and snarled into greasy tresses; the doctor's attempts at
cleanliness were as bumbling and gin ineffectual as his surgery.

The infection and the use of drugs had wasted the flesh off the tender
young body, each knuckle of her spine stood out clearly and her naked
buttocks seemed pathetically vulnerable, shrunken and pale.

Now the doctor pulled the grubby sheet up to her shoulders, and turned
to stand protectively over her.  It was an absurd gesture, when you
looked at the untidy, stained dressing that bound up her left hand and
Gilly O'Shaughnessy snarled at him fiercely.

"We are getting out."

"You can't move her now, protested the doctor.  "She's really sick."

"Suit yourself," Gilly agreed grimly.

"Then we'll leave her."  He reached under the dripping cape, and
brought out the pistol.  He thumbed back the hammer and stepped up to
the bed.

The doctor grabbed at his arm, but Gilly pushed him away easily,

sending him reeling back against the wall.

"You are right, she'll be a nuisance," he said, and placed the muzzle
of the pistol against the base of the child's skull.

"No," shrieked the doctor.  "No, don't do that.  We'll take her."

"We are leaving as soon as it's dark."  Gilly stepped back and uncocked
the pistol.  "Be ready by then, "he warned.

The two helicopters flew almost side by side, with the number two only
slightly behind and higher than the leader; below them the Irish

Sea was a sheet of beaten lead flecked with feathers of white water.

They had refuelled at Caemarvon and had made good time since leaving
the Welsh coast, for the wind drove them on, but still the night was
overtaking them and Peter Stride fretted, glancing at his wristwatch
every few seconds.

It was only ninety miles of open water to cross, but to Peter it seemed
like the entire Atlantic.  Colin slumped beside him on the bench that
ran the length of the hold, with the cold stump of a cheroot in the
corner of his mouth in deference to the "No smoking" light that burned
on the bulkhead behind the flight deck.  The rest of the Thor team had
adopted their usual attitudes of complete relaxation, some of them
sprawled on the deck using their equipment as pillows, the others
stretched out full length on the benches.

Peter Stride was the only one tensed up, as though his blood fizzed
with nervous energy.  He stood up once again to peer through the
perspex window, checking the amount of daylight and trying to judge the
height and position of the sun through the thick cloud cover.

"Take it easy, Colin counselled him as he dropped back into his seat.
"You will give yourself an ulcer."

"Colin, we've got to decide.

What are our priorities on this strike?"  He had to shout above the
racket of wind and motor.

"There are no priorities.  We have only one object to get

Melissa-Jane out, and out safety."

"We aren't going to try for prisoners to interrogates"

"Peter baby, we are going to hit anything and everything that moves in
the target area, and we are going to hit them hard."  Peter nodded with
satisfaction.  "They will only be goons anyway, you can be certain that
their paymaster will not let them connect to him but what about
Kingston Parker, he would want prisoners?"

"Kingston Parker?"  Colin removed the stub of cheroot from his mouth.
"Never heard of him around here it's Uncle Colin makes the decisions."
And he grinned at Peter, that friendly lopsided grin,

and at that moment the flight engineer crossed the cabin and yelled
at

Colin.

"Irish coast ahead we'll be landing at Enniskerry in seven minutes,
sir."  The traffic control at Enniskerry had been apprised of the
emergency.  They stacked the other traffic in holding pattern above
circuit altitude and cleared the two RAF.  helicopters for immediate
landing.

They came clattering out of the low grey cloud and rain, and settled on
the hangar apron.  Immediately a police car with headlights burning in
the gloom, sped out from between the hangars and parked beside the
leading machine.  Before the rotors had stopped turning, two members of
the Irish Constabulary and a representative of the surveyor general's
office were scrambling up into the camouflaged fuselage.

"Stride."  Peter introduced himself quickly.  He was dressed now in

Thor assault gear, the one piece fitted black suit and soft boots, the
pistol on its webbing belt strapped down to his right thigh.

"General, we've had a confirmation," the police inspector Aware told
him while they were still shaking hands.  "Local people have identified
O'Shaughnessy from a police photograph.

He is staying in the area all right."

"Have they found where?"

Peter demanded.

"They have, sir.  It's an old rambling building on the edge of the
village-" He motioned the bespectacled surveyor to come forward with
the file he was clutching to his chest.

There was no chart table in the stripped-out hull of the helicopter,
and they spread the survey map and photographs on the deck.

Colin Noble ordered across the team from the second helicopter,

and twenty men crowded into a huddle about the maps.  "There, that's
the building."  The surveyor placed a circle on the map with a blue
pencil.

"Right," grunted Colin.  "We've got good fixes we pick up either the
river or the road and follow it to the bridge and the church.  The
target is between them."

"Haven't we got a blow-up of the building, a plan of the interior?" one
of the Thor team asked.

"Sorry, there wasn't time to do a proper search," the surveyor
apologized.

"The local police reported again a few minutes ago, and we got a relay
on the radio.  They say the house is enclosed by a high stone wall and
that there are no signs of activity."

"They haven't been near it?"  Peter demanded.  "They were strictly
ordered not to approach the suspects."

"They drove past once on the public road.  "The inspector looked
slightly abashed.  "They wanted to make certain that-"

"If it's

O'Shaughnessy, he needs only one sniff and he'll be gone " Peter's
expression was stony, but his eyes sparkled blue with anger.  " Why
can't these people do what they are told?"  He turned quickly to the
helicopter pilot in his yellow life jacket and helmet with its built-in
microphone and earphones.

"Can you get us in?"  The pilot did not answer immediately but glanced
up at the nearest window; a fresh gout of rain splashed against the
pane.

"It will be dark in ten minutes, or even earlier, and the ceiling is
down to the deck now, we only got down here using the airport VOR.

beacons- He looked dubious.

" There is nobody aboard who will recognize the target, hell I

don't know I could get you in at first light tomorrow."

"It has to be tonight, now.  Right now."

"If you could get the local police to mark the target-" the pilot
suggested, with torches or a flare."

"There is no chance of that we have to go in cold, and the longer we
sit here talking the less our chances.  Will you give it your best
shot?"

Peter was almost pleading, the go decision is one that cannot be forced
on a pilot, even air traffic control cannot force a pilot-in command to
operate beyond his personal judgement.

"We will have to try and keep ground contact all the way; it's classic
conditions for trouble, rising terrain and deteriorating weather-"

"Try it."  Peter said, please  The pilot hesitated five seconds
longer.

"Let's go!"  he said abruptly, and there was a concerted rush for the
hatchway as the second Thor team made for the other machine, and the
police and surveyor made certain they were not included on the
passenger list.

Turbulence slogged the helicopter like the punches of a heavyweight
prize fighter, and she dipped and staggered to them with a nauseatingly
giddy action.

The ground flickered past under them, very close, and yet darkly
insubstantial in the wild night.  The headlights of a solitary vehicle
on a lonely country road, the cluttered lights of a village, each a
distinct yellow rectangle they were so close, these were the only
landmarks with any meaning the rest was dark patches of woods, the
threads of hedges and stone walls drawn lightly across sombre fields,
and every few minutes even that was gone as a fresh squall of grey
clouds and rain washed away all vision, and the pilot concentrated all
his attention on the dull glow of the flight instruments arranged in
their distinctive T layout in front of him.

Each time they emerged from cloud, the light seemed to have diminished
and the dark menace of earth loomed more threateningly as they were
forced lower and lower to keep contact.

Peter was squeezed into the jump seat of the helicopter's flight deck,
between the two pilots, and Colin crowded in behind him, all of them
peering ahead, all silent and tense as the ungainly machines lumbered
low and heavy over the earth, groping for the shoreline.

They hit the coast, the ghostly white line of surf flared with
phosphorescence only fifty feet below them, and the pilot swung them to
run south with it and seconds later another brighter field of lights
appeared below them.

"Wicklow," said the pilot, and his co-pilot called the new heading; now
they had made a fix they could head for Laragh directly.

They swung onto the new heading, following the road inland.

"Four minutes to -target," the co-pilot shouted at Peter, stabbing
ahead with his finger, and Peter did not try to answer in the clatter
and roar of the rotors, but he reached down and checked the Walther in
its quick-release holster; it came out cleanly in his fist.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy threw his few personal possessions into the blue
canvas airways grip, a change of underclothing and his shaving gear.
Then he pulled the iron bedstead away from the wall, ripped back the
skirting board and cleared out the hiding-place he had made there by
removing a single brick.

There were the new papers and passports.  Caliph had even provided
papers for the brat Helen Barry his daughter.  Caliph had thought of
everything.  With the papers was six hundred pounds sterling in
travellers" cheques, and a package of spare ammunition for the
pistol.

He thrust these into the pocket of his jacket, and took one last look
around the bare bleak room.  He knew that he had left nothing to lead
the hunters, because he never carried anything that could be used to
identify him.  Yet he was obsessed by the need to destroy all sign of
his passing.  He had long ago ceased to think of himself by the name
of

Gilly O'Shaughnessy.  He had no name, and only one purpose that purpose
was destruction.

The magnificent passion to reduce all life to decay and
mortification.

He could recite by heart most of Bakunin's The Revolutionary

Catechism, especially the definition of the true revolutionary: The
lost man, who has no belongings, no outside interest, no personal ties
of any sort not even a name.

Possessed of but one thought, interest and passion the revolution.  A
man who has broken with society, broken with its laws and conventions.
He must despise the opinions of others, and be prepared for death and
torture at any time.  Hard towards himself, The

MUSt.  be hard to others, and in his heart there must be no place for
love, friendship, gratitude or even honour.

As he stood now in the empty room, he saw himself in a rare moment of
revelation, as the man he had set out to become the true revolutionary,
and his head turned for a moment to indulge in the vanity of regarding
his own image in the mirror screwed to the peeling wallpaper above the
iron bedstead.

It was the dark cold face of the lost man, and he felt proud to belong
to that elite class, the cutting edge of the sword, that was what he
was.

He picked up the canvas grip, and strode through into the kitchen.

"Are you ready?  "he called.

"Help me."  He dropped the grip and stepped to the window.  The last of
the light was fading swiftly, glowing pink and mother of-pearl within
the drooping, pregnant belly of the sky.  It seemed so close he could
reach out and touch it.  Already the trees of the unkempt orchard were
melding into the darkness as the night encroached.

"I cannot carry her on my own," the doctor whined, and he swung away
from the window.  It was time to go again.

In his life there was always the moving onwards, and always the hunters
baying hard upon his scent.  It was time to run again, run like the
fox.

He went through into the second room.  The doctor had the child wrapped
in a grey woollen blanket, and he had tried to lift her from the bed,
but had failed.  She was sprawled awkwardly, half onto the floor.

"Help me," repeated the doctor.

"Get out of the way."  Gilly O'Shaughnessy pushed him roughly aside,
and stooped over the girl.  For a second their faces were within inches
of each other.

Her eyes were opened, half conscious, although the pupils were widely
dilated by the drug.  The lids were pink rimmed and there were little
butter-yellow lumps of mucus in the corners.  Her lips were dried to
white scales, and cracked through to the raw flesh at three places.

"Please tell my daddy," she whispered.  "Please tell him I'm here." His
nostrils flared at the sick sour smell of her body, but he picked her
up easily with an arm under her knees and the other under her
shoulders, and carried her out across the kitchen, kicking open the
door so the lock burst and it slammed back against its hinges.

Quickly he carried her across the yard to the garage, with the doctor
staggering along after them carrying a carton of medical supplies and
equipment against his chest, cursing miserably at the cold, and sliding
and slipping in the treacherous footing.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy waited while the doctor opened the rear door of the
car, and then he bundled her in so roughly that the child cried out
weakly.  He ignored her and went to the double garage doors and dragged
them open.  It was so dark now that he could not see as far as the
bridge.

"Where are we going?  "bleated the doctor.

"I haven't decided yet," Gilly told him brusquely.  "There is a safe
house up North, or we might go back across the sea to England-" He
thought of the caravan again, that was a good one, But why are we
leaving now, so suddenly?"  He did not bother to reply but left the
garage and ran back into the kitchen.  Always he was obsessed by the
need to cover his tracks, to leave no sign for the hunters.

Though he had brought little with him, and was taking that now,

yet he knew the old house contained signs, even if it was only his
fingerprints.  There was also the single remaining appetite for
destruction to assuage.

He ripped the wooden doors off the kitchen cupboards and smashed them
to splinters under his heel, piled them in the centre of the wood
floor.  He crumpled the newspapers piled on the table and added them to
the pile, threw the table and chairs upon it.

He lit a match and held it to the crumpled newsprint.  It flared
readily, and he straightened and opened the windows and doors.  The
flames fed on the cold fresh air and climbed greedily, catching on the
splintered doors.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy picked up the canvas grip and stepped out into the
night, crouching to the wind and the rain but halfway to the garage he
straightened again abruptly and paused to listen.

There was a sound on the wind, from the direction of the coast.

It might have been the engine note of a heavy truck coming up the
hills, but there was a peculiar thin whistling sound mingled with the
engine beat, and the volume of sound escalated too sharply to be that
of a lumbering truck.  It was coming on too swiftly, the sound seemed
to fill the air, to emanate from the very clouds themselves.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy stood with his face lifted to the fine silver
drizzle, searching the belly of the clouds, until a throbbing regular
glow began to beat like a pulse in the sky, and it was a moment until
he recognized it as the beacon light of a low-flying aircraft, and at
the same moment he knew that the shrill whistle was the whirling of
rotors bringing the hunters.

He cried aloud in the certainty of betrayal and onrushing death.

"Why?  God, why?"  He called to the god he had so long ago denied, and
he began to run.

It's no good."  The pilot twisted his neck to shout at Peter without
taking his eyes from the flight instruments which kept the great
ungainly machine level and on course.  They had lost contact with the
other machine.

"We are socked in, blind."  The cloud frothed over the canopy like
boiling milk over the lip of the pot.  "I'm going to have to climb
out,

and head back for Enniskerry before we run into my number two."  The
risk of collision with the other helicopter was now real and
imminent.

The beacon light throbbed above them, reflected off the impenetrable
press of soft cloud but the other pilot would not see it until too
late.

"Hold on.  Just another minute," Peter shouted back at him, his
expression tortured in the glow of the instrument panel.  The entire
operation was disintegrating about him, would soon end in tragedy or in
fiasco, but he must go on.

"It's no good-" the pilot began, and then shouted with fright and
hurled the helicopter over onto its side, at the same instant altering
pitch and altitude so the machine shuddered and lurched as though she
had run into a solid obstruction, and then bounded upwards, gaining a
hundred feet in a swoop.

The spire of a church had leapt at them out of the cloud, like a
predator from ambush, and now it flickered by only feet from where they
crouched in the flight deck, but it had disappeared again instantly as
they roared past.

"The church!"  Peter yelled.  "That's it!  Turn back."  The pilot
checked the machine, hovering blindly in the chaos of rain and cloud
churned to a fury by the down draught of their own rotor.

"I can't see a damned thing, "shouted the pilot.

"We've got one hundred and seventy feet on the radio altimeter,"

his co-pilot called; that was actual height from the ground and still
they could see nothing below them.

"Get us down.  For God's sake, get us down," Peter pleaded.

"I can't take the chance.  We don't have any idea of what is under us."
The pilot's face was sickly orange in the instrument glow, his eyes the
dark pits of a skull.  "I'm climbing out and heading back-"

Peter reached down and the butt of the Walther jumped into his hand,

like a living thing.  He realized coldly that he was capable of killing
the pilot, to force the co-pilot to land but at the moment there was a
hole in the cloud, just enough to make out the dark loom of the earth
below them.

"Visual," Peter shouted.  "We've visual, get us down!"  And the
helicopter sank swiftly, breaking out suddenly into the clear.

"The river."  Peter saw the glint of water.  "And the bridge-"

"There's the churchyard-" Colin roared eagerly, and that's the
target."

The thatched roof was a black oblong, and light spilled from the
windows of one side of the building, so they could see the high
enclosing wall.  The pilot spun the helicopter on its axis like a
compass needle, and dived towards the building.

Colin Noble scrambled down into the cabin, shouting to his team.

"Delta!  We are going to Delta-" And the flight engineer slid the hatch
cover open.  Immediately a fine swirling mist filled the cabin as the
down-draught of the rotors churned the rain filled air.

The Thor team were on their feet, forming up on each side of the open
hatch, while Colin towered over the flight engineer as he took lead
position "point" as he always called it.

The dark earth rushed up to meet them, and Colin spat out the cheroot
stub and braced himself in the doorway.

"Hit anything that moves," he yelled.  "But for Chrissake watch out for
the kid.  Let's go, gang.  Let's go!"  Peter was jammed into the jump
seat by the swooping drop of the machine, unable to follow,

wasting precious seconds but he had a clear view ahead through the
canopy.

The light in the windows of the building wavered unnaturally, and

Peter realized that it was burning.  Those were flames, and his concern
was heightened by the knowledge, but he did not have a chance to ponder
this new development.  In the shadows of the walled yard he saw
movement, just the dark blur of it in the glow of the flames, and what
was left of the daylight but it was the shape of a man, running,

crouched low, disappearing almost immediately into one of the
outbuildings that flanked the narrow stone walled lane.

Peter dragged himself out of the seat against the G force,

scrambling awkwardly down into the cabin as the helicopter dropped the
last few feet, and then hung, swaying slightly, suspended ten feet
above the open yard at the rear of the house and black-clad figures
spilled out of her, dropping lightly onto their feet and racing forward
as they touched ground, seeming to disappear again miraculously through
the doors and windows of the building.  Even in the grinding tension of
the moment Peter felt the flare of pride in the way it was done,

instant and seemingly effortless penetration, the lead man using the
sandbags to break in glass and wooden shutters and the man behind him
going in with a clean controlled dive.

Peter was the last man left aboard, and something made him check in the
open hatchway before jumping.  Perhaps it was that glimpse of movement
outside the main building that he had been given; he looked back that
way, and suddenly lights leapt in solid white lances down the walled
lane the headlights of a motor vehicle, and at the same moment the
vehicle launched itself from the dark derelict outbuilding and rocketed
away down the lane.

Peter teetered in the open hatch, for he had been in the very act of
jumping, but he caught his balance now, grabbing wildly at the nylon
line above the door.  The vehicle slowed for the turn into the main
road at the bridge and Peter caught the flight engineer and shook his
shoulder violently, pointing after the escaping vehicle.  His lips were
inches from the man's face.

"Don't let it get away!"  he screamed, and the flight engineer was
quick and alert; he spoke urgently into his microphone, directly to the
pilot in the flight deck above them, and obediently the helicopter
swung around and the beat of the engines changed as the rotors altered
pitch and roared in forward thrust the machine lunged forward,

skimming the garage roof by mere feet and then hammered out into the
night in pursuit of the dwindling glow of headlights.

Peter had to hang out of the hatchway to see ahead, and the wind
clamoured around his head and tore at his body, but they were swiftly
overhauling the vehicle as it raced down the twisting narrow road
towards the coast.

It was two hundred yards ahead, and the dark tree tops seemed to rush
by at the same level as the hatch in which Peter stood.  A hundred
yards ahead now, the headlights blazing through the drivel of rain,

etching fleeting cameos of hedges and starkly lit stone walls from the
night.

They were close enough now for Peter to make out that it was a smallish
vehicle with an estate car body, not quite large enough to be -a
station wagon the driver was throwing it through the curves and twists
of the road with reckless skill, but the helicopter crept up behind
him.

"Tell him to switch off the beacon light."  Peter swung inboard to
shout in the flight engineer's ear.  He did not want to warn the driver
that he was being followed, but as the engineer lifted the microphone
to his mouth the headlights snapped -out into darkness.  The driver had
become aware, and after the brilliance of the headlights the night
seemed totally dark, and the car disappeared into it.

Peter felt the helicopter lurch, as the pilot was taken by surprise,
and his own dismay was a lance.

We have lost them, he thought, and he knew that it was suicide to fly
on in darkness only a few feet above the treetops, but the pilot of the
helicopter steadied the craft and then suddenly the earth below them
was lit by a blaze of stark white light that startled Peter until he
realized that the pilot had switched on his landing lights.  There were
two of them, one on each side of the fuselage; they were aimed down and
slightly forward.

The escaping car was caught fairly in their brilliance.

The helicopter dropped lower, edging in between the telegraph poles and
trees that lined the narrow road.

Now Peter could see that the car was a dark blue Austin, with a
carrying rack bolted to the long roof.  It was that carrying rack which
decided him.  Without it no human being could have hoped for purchase
on the smooth rounded roof of the lurching, swaying car.

the doctor in the back seat of the Austin had been the one who spotted
the helicopter.  The engine noise and the drumming of the wind had
covered the whistling whine of the rotors, and Gilly O'Shaughnessy had
chuckled with grim triumph and self-congratulation.

He had deliberately waited for the helicopter to discharge its load of
fighting men before he had switched on his headlights and roared out of
the garage into the lane.

He knew it would be many minutes before the assault team realized that
the burning house was empty and that it would take as long again to
regroup and board the helicopter to continue the hunt and by that time
he would be clear; there was a safe house in Dublin or there had been,
four year previously.  Perhaps it was blown now; in that case he would
have to get rid of the brat and Dr.  Jameson, a bullet each in the back
of the head, and drive the Austin into the Irish Sea.

The wild exhilaration of danger and death was upon him again, the
waiting was over at last and he was living again the way he had chosen
the fox running ahead of the hounds, he was alive again, with his right
foot thrust flat to the floor boards and the Austin rocketing through
the night.

The girl was screaming weakly from the back seat, in pain and panic;
the doctor was trying to quieten her, and Gilly laughed aloud.

The tyres screeched wildly as he skidded out in the turn, brushing the
hedge with the side before he was through.

"They are following," screamed the doctor, as he straightened the car
into the next stretch, then Gilly glanced back over his shoulder.

He could see nothing through the rear windows.

"What?"

"The helicopter-" Gilly lowered his window and, driving with one hand,
thrust his head out.  The flashing aircraft beacon was close behind and
above, and he ducked back in and looked ahead to make sure that the
road ran straight, then he switched off the headlights.

In total darkness he did not diminish speed, and now when he laughed it
was a wild and reckless sound.

"You're mad , the doctor shrieked.  "You'll kill us all!"

"Right you are, doctor!"  But his night vision was clearing and he
caught the

Austin before she wandered into the stone wall on the left-hand side,

and at the same moment he jerked the pistol from under his cape and
laid it on the seat beside him.

"There is not going to be, -" he began and then broke off as the
blinding light burst over them.  The helicopter had switched on its
landing lights the road ahead was brightly lit, and he skidded into the
next turn with rubber squealing.

"Stop!"  the doctor pleaded, trying to hold the semiconscious child
from being hurled about in the swaying cab.

"Let's give up now, before they kill us."

"They've got no fighting men on board," Gilly yelled back at him.
"There's nothing they can do."

"Give up," the doctor whined.  "Let's get out of this alive."  And

Gilly O'Shaughnessy threw back his head and roared with laughter.

"I'm keeping three bullets, doctor, one for each of us-"

"They're right on top of us."  Gilly snatched up the pistol and once
again thrust his head and right shoulder out, twisting to look
upwards.

The eye-searing lights beamed down upon him, very close above.  It was
all he could see and he fired at them, the crash of the shots lost in
the clattering whistling roar of the rotors and the tearing rush of the
wind.

oised in the hatchway, Peter counted the bright orange spurts of
gunfire.  There were five of them, but there was no sound of passing
shot, no thump of the strike.

"Get lower!"  he shouted at the engineer, reinforcing the order with
urgent hand signals, and obediently the big machine sank down upon the
racing Austin.

Peter gathered himself, judging his moment carefully, and when it came
he launched himself clear of the hatchway, and his guts seemed to cram
into his throat as he dropped.

He dropped with all four limbs spread and braced to land together,

but for a moment he thought he had misjudged it and would fall behind
the Austin, into the metal led roadway, to be crushed and shredded by
the forward impetus of the low-flying helicopter.

Then the Austin swerved and checked slightly and Peter crashed into its
roof with stunning force; he felt the metal buckle and sag under him,
and then he was rolling and slipping sideways.  His whole left side was
numbed by the force of impact, and he clutched wildly with his right
hand, his fingernails tearing at the paintwork, but still he slid
towards the edge, his legs kicking wildly in dark rushing space.

At the last instant before he was hurled into the roadway, his clawed
fingers hooked in the framework of the roof rack, and he hung bat-like
from his one arm.  It had taken only a small part of a second,

and immediately the driver of the Austin realized that there was a man
on the roof.  He slewed the little car from one side of the road to the
other, short wrenching turns that brought her over on two outside
wheels before slamming back and twisting the other way.

"The tyres squealed harsh protest, and Peter was flung brutally back
and forth, the muscle and tendons of his right arm popping and creaking
with the strain of holding on but feeling was flooding swiftly back
into his numbed left side.

He had to move quickly, he could not survive another of those wrenching
swerves, and he gathered himself, judged the Austin's momentum, and
used it to roll and grab with his free hand; at the same moment the
toes of his soft boots found purchase on one of the struts of the roof
carrier, and he pressed himself belly down, clinging with both arms and
legs to the wildly swinging machine.

The Austin checked and steadied as a steep turn appeared ahead in the
arc lights of the helicopter which still hung over them.  The driver
shot the car into the corner, and ahead of them was a long extended
drop as the road twisted down the-hills towards the coast.

Peter half lifted himself and was about to slide forward when the metal
six inches in front of his nose exploded outwards, leaving a neatly
punched hole through the roof, and tiny fragments of flying metal stung
his cheek; at the same moment the concussion of the pistol shot beat in
upon his eardrums.  The driver of the Austin was firing blindly up
through the coach work and he had misjudged Peter's position above him
by inches.  Peter threw himself desperately to one side, for an instant
almost losing his grip on the struts of the carrier and another pistol
bullet clanged out through the metal roof, that one would have taken
him through the belly, and Peter had a fleeting image of the kind of
wound that it would have inflicted, the bullet would have been
mushroomed and deformed by the roof and would have broken up inside his
body.

Desperately Peter threw himself back the opposite way, trying to
outguess the gunman below him, and once again the crash of the shot and
the metal roof erupted in a little jagged pockmark, flecking the
paintwork away so the rim of the bullet hole shone like polished silver
shilling.  Again it would have hit him, if he had not moved.

Peter rolled again, tensing his belly muscles in the anticipation of
the tearing, paralysing impact, expecting the gun shot which did not
come.  Only then he remembered the wasted pistol fire the driver had
thrown up at the hovering helicopter.  He had emptied his pistol and as
the realization dawned on Peter there was another completely compelling
sound, very faint in the drumming rush of the wind and the engine roar
but unmistakable.  It was the sound of a young girl screaming and it
galvanized Peter as nothing else, even the threat of death, could have
done.

He came up on toes and fingers, like a cat, and he went forward and to
the right, until he was directly above the driver's seat.

The girl screamed again, and he recognized Melissa-Jane's voice.

There was no question of it, and he slipped the Walther from its
quick-release holster and cocked the hammer with the same movement, one
glance ahead and they were rushing down on another turn in the narrow
road.  The driver would be using both hands to control the swaying and
bucking little machine.

"Now!"  he told himself, and dropped forward, so that he was peering
backwards and upside-down through the windScreen directly into the
driver's pale face and at a distance of only eighteen inches.

In the thousandth part of a second Peter recognized the dark,

wolfish features and the cold, merciless eyes of the killer.  He had
hunted this man for many years and studied his photograph endlessly
when the hunting of the Provo terrorists had been his life's work.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy was driving with both hands, the pistol still
gripped in one of them and the chamber open for reloading.  He snarled
at Peter like an animal through the bars of its cage, and Peter fired
with the muzzle of the Walther touching the glass of the windscreen.

The glass starred into a glittering sheet, white and opaque, and then
it collapsed inwards with the force of the wind, filling the interior
of the Austin with flying diamond chips of sparkling glass.

Gilly O'Shaughnessy had thrown up both hands to his face, but bright
blood burst from between them, spattering his chest and soaking swiftly
into the lank black hair.

Still hanging upside down across the Austin's cab, Peter thrust the
Walther in "through the shattered windscreen until it almost touched
the man's body and he fired twice more into his chest, where the
explosive Velex bullets would break up against bone, and would not over
penetrate to harm anybody else in the interior.  Melissa-Jane's screams
still rang clearly in his ears, as he killed Gilly

O'Shaughnessy.  He did it as coldly as a veterinary surgeon would put
down a rabid dog, and with as little pleasure, and the bullets
punched

Gilly O'Shaughnessy back on the bucket seat, head lolling from side to
side, and Peter expected the howl of the engine to cut out now as the
dead man's foot slipped from the accelerator.

It did not happen.  There was no change in the engine beat, the body
had slid forward and jammed, the knee under the dashboard bearing down
fully on the pedal, and the little car flew down the slope of the hill,
the stone walls on each side blurring past as though down a tunnel in
the depths of the earth.

Peter wriggled forward and thrust both arms through the shattered
windscreen and caught the untended wheel as it began to spin
aimlessly.

He checked the Austin and swung her back into the road but she had been
driven to her limits, rocking and swaying crazily before she righted
herself and flew down the hill.

It was almost impossible to judge the control needed to keep her on the
road.

Peter was hanging head down, gripping only with knees and toes,

and he had to manipulate the wheel from this inverted position with his
upper arms sawing across the teeth of jagged glass still remaining in
the frame of the windscreen.

The wind whipped and clawed him, and Gilly O'Shaughnessy's body flopped
forward bonelessly onto the wheel, jamming it at a critical moment, so
that while Peter used one hand to shove him backwards, the side of the
Austin touched the stone wall with a screech of rending metal and a
shower of orange sparks.  Peter wrenched her back into the road, and
she began a series of uncontrolled broadsides, swinging wildly from
side to side, touching the wall with another jarring shock,

then swinging back sideways to bounce over the verge, then back
again.

She was going over, Peter knew it, and he would be crushed under the
metal roof and smeared along the abrasive surface of the macadam road.
He should jump now, and take his chances but grimly he stayed with the
crazed machine, for Melissa-Jane was in her and he could not leave.

She survived one more skid, and ahead Peter had the glimpse of a barred
wooden gate in the wall.  Deliberately he turned the front wheels into
the direction of the next skid, no longer trying to counteract it, but
aggravating it IL

steering directly for the gate, and the Austin smashed into it.

A wooden beam cartwheeled over Peter's head, and a scalding cloud of
steam from the shattered radiator stung his face and hands, and then
the Austin was into the open field, bouncing and thudding over the
rocks that studded it, the drag of soft muddy earth slowing her, and
the steep slope of the hillside against her within fifty feet the front
end dropped heavily into a drainage ditch, and the little car shuddered
to a halt, canted at an abandoned angle.

Peter slipped over the side and landed on his feet.  He jerked open the
rear door and a man half fell from the cab.

He dropped onto his knees in the mud, blubbering incoherently and Peter
drove his right knee into his face.  Bone and cartilage crunched
sharply and there was the crackle of breaking teeth.

His voice was cut off abruptly and, as he dropped, Peter chopped him
with the stiffened blade of his right hand, a controlled blow judged
finely to immobilize but not to kill, and before the unconscious body
dropped, Peter had gone in over it, He lifted his daughter out of the

Austin, and the frail wasted body felt unsubstantial in his arms, and
the heat of fever and infection burned against his chest.

He was possessed by an almost uncontrollable desire to crush her body
to him with all the strength of his arms, but instead he carried her as
though she was made of some precious and fragile substance,

stepping carefully over the uneven rocky surface of the field to where
the helicopter was settling cumbersomely out of the darkness.

The Thor doctor was still aboard her; he jumped clear before the
helicopter touched and ran towards Peter in the brilliant glare of the
landing lights.

Peter found he was crooning so.  "It's all right now, darling.

It's all over now.  It's all finished, my baby I'm here, little one

Then Peter made another discovery.  It was not sweat running down his
cheeks and dripping from his chin, and he wondered unashamedly when
last it was he had wept.

He could not remember, and it did not seem important, not now, not with
his daughter in his arms.

Synthia came down to London, and Peter relived some of those horrors
from their marriage.

"Everybody around yOU always has to SUffer, Peter.

Now it's Melissa-Jane's turn."  He could not avoid her, nor her
martyred expression, for she was always at Melissa-Jane's bedside.

While he bore her recriminations and barbed accusations, he wondered
that she had ever been gay and young and attractive.  She was two years
younger than he was but she already had the shapeless body and greying
mind that made her seem twenty years older.

Melissa-Jane responded almost miraculously to the antibiotics, and
although she was still weak and skinny and pale, the doctor discharged
her on the third day, and Peter and Cynthia had their final degrading
haggling and bargaining session which Melissa-Jane settled for them.

mummy, I'm still so afraid.  Can't I go with Daddy just for a few
days?"  Finally Cynthia agreed with sighs and pained airs that left
them both feeling a little guilty.  On the drive down to Abbots Yew,

where Steven had invited them for as long as was necessary for

Melissa-Jane's convalescence, she sat very quietly beside Peter, her
left hand still in the sling and the finger wearing a small neat white
turban.  She spoke only after they had passed the Heathrow turn off on
the M4.

"All the time I knew you were going to come.  I can't remember much
else.  It was always dark and giddy making things kept changing.

I'd look at a face and it would fade away, and then we'd be somewhere
else-"

"It was the drug they were giving you," Peter explained.

"Yes, I know that.  I remember the prick of the needle-"

Reflexively she rubbed her upper arm, and shivered briefly.

"But even with the drug I always knew you were going to come.  I
remember lying in the darkness listening for your voice.  -" There was
the temptation to try to pretend it had never happened, and
Melissa-Jane had not spoken about it until now but

Peter knew she must be allowed to talk it out.

"Would you like to tell me about it?"  he invited gently, knowing that
it was essential to the healing process.  He listened quietly as she
spilled out drug-haunted memories, disjointed scraps of conversation
and impressions.  The terror was back in her voice when she spoke of
the dark one.

"He looked at me sometimes.  I remember him looking at me-" And

Peter remembered the cold killer's eyes.

"He is dead now, darling."

"Yes, I know.  They told me."  She was silent for a moment, and then
went on.  "He was so different from the one with grey hair.  I liked
him, the old one.  His name was Doctor

Jameson."

"How did you know that?"  Peter asked.

"That's what the dark one called him."  She smiled.

"Doctor Jameson, I remember he always smelled like cough mixture and I
liked him-" The one who had done the amputation, and would have taken
her hand as well, Peter thought grimly.

"I never saw the other one.  I knew he was there, but I never saw
him."

"The other one?"  Peter turned to her sharply.  "Which other one,

darling?"

"There was another one and even the dark one was afraid of him.  I knew
that, they were all afraid of him."

"You never saw him?"

"No, but they were always talking about him, and arguing about what he
would do--"

"Do you remember his name?"  Peter asked, and Melissa-Jane frowned in
concentration.

"Did he have a name?"  Peter prompted.

"Usually they just talked about him, but, yes, I remember now.

The dark one called him "Casper"."

"Casper?"

"No, not that, not Casper.

Oh, I can't remember."  Her voice had risen, a shrill note in terror
that ripped at Peter's nerves.

"Don't worry about it."  He tried to soothe her, but she shook her head
with frustration.

"Not Casper, a name like that.  I knew he was the one who really wanted
to hurt me they were just doing what he told them.  He was the one I
was truly afraid of."  Her voice ended with a sob, and she was sitting
bolt upright in the seat.

"It's over now, darling."  Peter swung into the verge of the road and
braked to a halt.  He reached for her but she was rigid in his arms and
at his touch she began to shake uncontrollably.  Peter's alarm flared,
and he held her to his chest.

"Caliph!"  she whispered.  "That's his name.  Caliph."  And she relaxed
against him softly, and sighed.  The shaking stopped slowly.

Peter went on holding her, trying to control the terrible consuming
waves of anger that engulfed him, and it was some little time before he
realized suddenly that Melissa-Jane had fallen asleep.

It was as though uttering the name had been a catharsis for her terror,
and now she was ready to begin the healing inside.

Peter laid her gently back in the seat and covered her with the angora
rug before he drove on, but every few seconds he glanced across to make
sure she was at peace.

Twice Peter called Magda Altmann from Abbots Yew, both times to her
private number, but she was unobtainable and there was no message for
him.

That was five days he had not been able to reach her, not since the
Delta Strike which had freed Melissa-jane.  She seemed to have
disappeared completely, and Peter pondered the implications during the
quiet days when he was almost always alone with his daughter.

Then Dr.  Kingston Parker arrived at Abbots Yew, and Sir Steven

Stride was delighted to have as his guest such a distinguished
statesman.

Kingston Parker's giant personality seemed to fill the beautiful old
home.  When he put himself out, his graciousness was irresistible.
Steven was delighted with him, particularly when he discovered that
despite Parker's image as a liberal and his well-known concern with
human rights, he was also a champion of the capitalist system, and
determined that his country should take more seriously its
responsibilities as leader of the Western world.  They both deplored
the loss of the BI bomber and the delaying of the neutron bomb
programme, and the restructuring of America's intelligence agencies.

They spent much of the first afternoon in Steven's redwood-panelled
study exploring each other's views, and came out of it fast friends.

When they emerged, Parker completed his conquest of the Stride
household by showing he shared with Patricia Stride a scholarly
knowledge and love of antique porcelain.

His concern and warmth for Melissa-Jane and his relief at her safety
were too spontaneous not to be entirely genuine.

His conquest of that young lady's affections was complete when he went
down with her to the stables to meet Florence Nightingale and prove
that he was also a fair judge of horseflesh.

"He's a lovely man.  I think he is truly an honourable man,"

Melissa-Jane told Peter, when he went up to her bedroom to bid her
goodnight "And he's so kind and funny-" Then, lest there be any
question of disloyalty, "But you are still my most favourite man in all
the world."  Her cure and convalescence seemed almost complete, and
as

Peter went down to rejoin the company he marvelled again at the
resilience of young flesh and young minds.

As usual at Abbots Yew there was glittering and stimulating company at
dinner, with Kingston Parker at its centre, but afterwards he and Peter
exchanged a single glance down the length of Pat Stride's silver- and
candle decorated table and they left them to the port and cognac and
cigars and slipped out unobtrusively into the walled rose garden.

While they paced side by side on the crunching gravel pathway,

Kingston Parker stoked his meerschaum and then began to talk quietly.

Once his bodyguard coughed in the shadows where he waited just out of
range of their subdued voices, but that was the only intrusion and the
spring night was still and balmy.  Their conversation seemed utterly
incongruous in these surroundings, talk of death and violence, the use
and abuse of power, and the manipulations of vast fortunes by a single
mysterious figure.

"It's been five days since I arrived in England-" Kingston Parker
shrugged.  "One does not rush through the echoing passages of

Whitehall.  There was much to discuss-" Peter knew that he had met with
the Prime Minister on two separate occasions " and it wasn't just

Atlas business, I'm afraid-" Parker was one of the President's
confidants.  They would have taken full advantage of his visit to
exchange views with the British Government.  "However, we did discuss

Atlas in depth and detail.  You know very well that Atlas has opponents
and critics on both sides of the Atlantic.  They tried very hard to
squash it, and when they could not they saw to it that its power and
duties were severely curtailed-" Parker paused and his pipe gurgled.

He flicked out the juices from the mouthpiece onto the gravel path.

"The opponents of Atlas are all highly intelligent concerned and
informed men.  Their motives and their reasoning in opposing Atlas are
laudable.  I find myself a little in sympathy despite myself.  If you
create a strike force such as Atlas, where enormous powers are placed
in the hands of a single man or a small elite leadership, you could
very well be creating a Frankenstein a monster more frightening than
you are setting out to destroy."

"That depends on the man who controls it, Dr.  Parker.  I believe that
they have the right man."

"Thank you, Peter."  Parker turned his big shaggy head and smiled.
"Won't you please call me Kingston."  Peter nodded agreement, while
Parker went on.  "Atlas has had some spectacular successes at
Johannesburg and now in Ireland but that makes it more danger--us.
There will be a readier acceptance of the whole concept by the public;
if Atlas asks for wider powers, it is more likely they would be
granted.  And, believe me, if it is to do the job it needs wider
powers, Peter.  I find myself torn down the centre-"

"And yet,"

Peter pointed out, "we cannot take on the most dangerous animal in the
world, man the killer, we cannot do it without arming ourselves in
every possible way."  Kingston Parker sighed.  "And if Atlas achieves
those powers, who can say when they will be abused, when will the rule
of force supersede the rule of law?"

"The rules have changed.  The rule of law is so often powerless in the
face -of those who have no respect for the law."

"There is another aspect, Peter.  One that I have thought about half my
life.  What about the rule of unjust law?  The laws of oppression and
greed.  A law that enslaves or deprives a man because of the colour of
his face or the god he worships?  If a duly constituted parliament
makes racial laws or if the General Assembly of the United

Nations declares that Zionism is a form of Imperialism and must be
outlawed.  What if a handful of men gain control of the world's
resources and legally manipulate them in a manner dictated by personal
greed to the detriment of all mankind, such as the Committee of the

OPEC, the Shah and the King of Saudi Arabia-" Kingston Parker made a
helpless gesture, spreading those long sensitive fingers.  "Must we
respect those laws?  The rule of law, even unjust law, is it
sacrosanct?"

"Balance," said Peter.  "There has to be a balance between law and
force."

"Yes, but what is the balance, Peter?"  He abruptly closed his hands
into fists.  "I have asked for greater powers for

Atlas, wider scope for its use, and I think these will be granted.

When they are, we will have need of good men, Peter."  Kingston Parker
reached out and took Peter's shoulder in a surprisingly powerful
grip.

"Just men, who can recognize when the rule of law has either failed or
is unjust, and who have the courage and the vision to act to restore
the balance that you spoke of a moment ago."  His hand was still on

Peter's shoulder and he left it there.

It was a natural gesture, without affectation.

"I believe you are one of those men."  He let the hand drop, and his
manner changed.  "Tomorrow I have arranged that we meet with

Colonel Noble.  He has been busy breaking down and examining the
entire

Irish operation, and I hope he will have come up with something for us
to get our teeth into.  Then there is much else to discuss.  Two
o'clock at Thor Command, will it suit you, Peter?"

"Of course."

"Now let's go in and join the company."

"Wait."  Peter stopped him.  "I have something I must tell, Kingston.
It's been tearing at my guts, and after you you have heard it you may
alter your opinion of me my suitability for my role at Atlas."

"Yes?"  Parker turned back and waited quietly.

"You know that the people who kidnapped my daughter made no demands for
her return, made no attempt to contact me or the police to
negotiate."

"Yes," Parker answered.  "Of course.  It was one of the puzzling things
about the whole business."

"It was untrue.  There was a contact and a demand."

"I don't understand."  Parker frowned and thrust his face closer to
Peter's, as though trying to study his expression in the poor light
from the windows.

"The kidnappers contacted me.  A letter which I destroyed-"

"Why?"

Parker shot at him.

"Wait.  I'll explain," Peter replied.  "There was a single condition
for my daughter's release, and a deadline of two weeks.  If I

did not meet the condition by that time, they would have sent me parts
of my daughter's body her hands, her feet, and finally her head."

"Diabolical," Parker whispered.  "Inhuman.  What was the condition?"

"A

life for a life," said Peter.  "I was to kill you in exchange for

Melissa-Jane."  Parker started, throwing back his head with shock.

"They wanted me?"  Peter did not reply, and they stood staring at each
other, until Parker raised his hand and combed at his hair, a
distracted gesture.

"That changes it all.  I will have to think it out carefully but it
makes a whole new scenario."  He shook his head.

They were going for the head of Atlas.  Why?  Because I was the
champion of Atlas, and they opposed its formation?  No!  That's not it.
There seems only one logical explanation.  I told you last time I

saw you that I suspected the existence of a central figure the
puppetmaster who was taking control of all known militant organizations
and welding them into a single cohesive and formidable entity.

Well, Peter, I have been hunting this figure.  I have learned much to
confirm my suspicions since last we met.  I believe this person, or
assembly of persons, does in fact exist part of the new powers I have
asked for Atlas were to be used to hunt and destroy this organization
before it does grave damage before it succeeds in so terrifying the
nations of the world that it becomes itself a world power.-" Parker
stopped as though to gather his thoughts, and then went on in quiet,

more measured tones.  "I think now that this is absolute proof that it
does exist, and that it is aware of my suspicions and intentions to
destroy it.  When I set you up as Atlas agent at large, I believed you
would make contact with the enemy but, God knows, I did not expect it
to come like this."  He paused again, considering it.  "Incredible!"he
marvelled.

"The one person whom I would never have suspected, you Peter.  You
could have reached me at any time, one of the few people who could.

And the leverage!  Your daughter the protracted mutilations I may have
just misjudged the cunning and ruthlessness of the enemy."

"Have you ever heard the name Caliph?"  Peter asked.

"Where did you hear that?"  Parker demanded harshly.

"The demand letter was signed Caliph, and Melissa-Jane heard her
captors discussing it."

"Caliph."  Parker nodded.  "Yes, I have heard the name, Peter.  Since I
last spoke to you.  I have heard the name.

Indeed I have."  He was silent again, sucking distractedly on his pipe,
then he looked up.  "I will tell you how and when tomorrow when we meet
at Thor, but now you have given me much to keep me awake tonight."  He
took Peter's arm and led him back towards the house.

Warm yellow light and laughter spilled out from the downstairs windows,
welcoming and gay, but both of them were withdrawn and silent as they
trudged up the smoothly raked path.

At the garden door Kingston Parker paused, holding Peter back from
entering.

"Peter, would you have done it?"  he asked gruffly.

Peter answered him levelly without attempting to avoid his eyes.

"Yes, Kingston, I would have done it."

"How?"

"Explosives."

"Better than poison," Parker grunted.  "Not as good as a gun."  And
then angrily, "We have to stop him, Peter.  It is a duty that
supersedes every other consideration."

"What I have just told you does not alter our relationship?"  Peter
asked.  "The fact that I would have been your assassin does not change
it?"

"Strangely enough, it merely confirms what I have come to believe of
you, Peter.  You are a man with the hard ruthless streak we need, if we
are to survive."  He smiled bleakly.  "I might wake up sweating in the
night but it doesn't alter what we have to do.  Colin Noble with his
cheroot, and opposite him Kingston Parker with the amber meerschaum,
seemed to be in competition as to who could soonest render the air in
the room incapable of supporting human life.  It was already thick and
blue, and the temporary headquarters of Thor Command lacked
air-conditioning, but within minutes Peter had become so immersed in
what he was hearing that the discomfort was forgotten.

Colin Noble was going over the details of the Irish operation, and all
that had been gleaned from it.

"The house, the Old Manse, was burned to the ground, of course.

The Irish constabulary had twenty men sifting through the ashes-" He
spread his hands.  "A big nix.

Nothing at all."

"Next the contents of the Austin and its provenance how do you like
that word, Peter baby?  Provenance, that's a classy word."  Parker
smiled indulgently.  "Please go on, Colin."

"The Austin was stolen in Dublin, and refitted with the roof carrier.
It contained nothing, no papers, nothing in the glove compartment or
boot, it had been stripped and cleaned out by an expert-"

"The men," Parker prompted him.

ly of Gerald es, sir.  The men.  The dead one first.  Name known as
"Gilly", born Belfast 1946-" O'Shaughnessy, also As he spoke Colin
picked up the file that lay on the table in front of him.  It was five
inches thick.  " Do we want to read all of it?  It's a hell of a story.
The guy had a track record-" "Only as far as it concerns

Atlas," Parker told him.

There is no evidence as to when or how he became involved with this
business-" Colin sketched the facts swiftly and succinctly.  " So we
end with the contents of his pockets.  Six hundred pounds sterling,
thirty-eight rounds of .38 ammunition, and papers in the name of Edward
and Helen Barry forged, but beautifully forged."  Colin closed the file
with a slap.  "Nothing,"he repeated.  "Nothing we can use.  Now the
other man.  Morrison Claude Bertram Morrison celebrated abortionist and
dedicated alcoholic.

Struck off the medical rolls in 1969-" Again he recounted the sordid
history swiftly and accurately.  " His price for the digital surgery
was three thousand pounds half in advance.  Hell, that's cheaper than
the Blue Cross."  Colin grinned but his eyes were black and bright with
anger.  "I am pleased to report that he can expect a sentence of
approximately fifteen years.  They are going to throw the book at him.
There is only one item of any possible interest which he could give us.
Gilly O'Shaughnessy was the leader from whom he took his orders,
O'Shaughnessy in turn took his orders from somebody called-" He paused
dramatically.

"Yes, that's right.  The name we have all heard before.

Caliph."  just one point here," Kingston Parker interrupted.

"Caliph likes to use his name.  He signs it on his correspondence.

Even his lowliest thugs are given the name to use.  Why?"

"I think I

can answer that."  Peter stirred and raised his head.  "He wants us to
know that he exists.  We must have a focal point for our fear and
hatred.  When he was merely a nameless, faceless entity he was not
nearly as menacing as he is now."

"I think you are right."  Parker nodded his head gravely.

"By using the name he is building up a store of credibility which he
will draw upon later.  In future when Caliph says he will kill or
mutilate we know he is in deadly earnest, there .  will be no
compromise.  He will do exactly as he promises.  The man, or men, are
clever psychologists."

"There is just one aspect of the Irish operation we have not yet
considered," Peter broke in, frowning with concentration.  "That is who
was it that tipped us off, and what was the reason for that telephone
call?"  They were all silent, until Parker turned to Colin.

"What do you think of that one?"

"I have discussed it with the police, of course.  It was one of the
first things that puzzled us.

The police believe that Gilly O'Shaughnessy picked his hideout in

Ireland because he was familiar with the terrain, and had friends
there.  It was his old stamping ground when he was with the Provos.

He could move and disappear, get things fixed."  Colin paused and saw
the sceptical expression on Peter's face.

"Well, look at it this way, Peter baby.  He had a woman negotiate the
lease on the Old Manse Kate Barry, she called herself and signed it on
the lease so that was one ally.  There must have been others,

because he was able to buy a stolen and reworked automobile he would
have had difficulty doing that in Edinburgh or London without the word
getting about."  Peter nodded reluctantly.  "All right, having the
Irish connection helped him, Ad But there was the other side of the
coin.  O'Shaughnessy had enemies, even in the Provos.  He was a
ruthless bastard with a bloody record.  We can only believe that one of
those enemies saw the chance to make a score the one who sold him the
stolen auto, perhaps.  We have had the recording of the tip-off call
examined by language experts and had a run against the voice prints on
the computer.  Nothing definite.  The voice was disguised, probably
through a handkerchief and nose plugs, but the general feeling is that
it was an Irishman who made the call.  The boffins from the telephone
department were able to test the loading of the line and guess it was a
call from a foreign country very likely Ireland, although they cannot
be certain of that."  Peter

Stride raised one eyebrow slightly, and Colin chuckled weakly and waved
the cheroot at him in a wide gesture of invitation.

"Okay.  That's my best shot," he said.  "Let's hear you do better.

If you don't like my theories, you must have one of your own."

"You are asking me to believe it was all a coincidence; that
O'Shaughnessy just happened to run into an old enemy who just happened
to tip us off twenty-four hours before the deadline for Melissa-Jane's
hand to be amputated.  Then it just so happened that we reached Laragh
at exactly the same moment as O'Shaughnessy was pulling out and making
a run for it.  Is that what you want me to believe?"

"Something like that,"Colin admitted.

"Sorry, Colin.  I just don't like coincidence."

"Shoot!"  Colin invited.  "Let's hear how it really happened."

"I don't know," Peter grinned phicatingly.  "It is just that I have
this feeling that Caliph doesn't deal in coincidence either.  I have
this other feeling that somehow Gilly O'Shaughnessy had the death mark
on his forehead from the beginning.  I have this feeling it was all
part of the plan."

"it must be great fun to have these feelings."  Colin was prickling a
little.

"But they sure as hell aren't much help to me.) "Take it easy."  Peter
held up one hand in surrender.  "Let's accept tentatively that it
happened your way, then-"

"But?"Colin asked.

"No buts not until we get some more hard evidence-"

"Okay,

buster."  There was no smile on Colin's face now, the wide mouth
clamped in a grim line.  "You want hard evidence, try this one for
size-"

"Hold it, Colin," Parker shot in quickly, authoritatively.

"Wait for a moment before we come to that."  And Colin Noble deflated
with a visible effort, the cords in his throat smoothing out and the
line of mouth relaxed into the old familiar grin as he deferred to
Kingston Parker.

"Let's backtrack here a moment," Parker suggested.  "Peter came up with
the name Caliph.  In the meantime we had picked up the same name but
from an entirely different source.  I promised Peter I would tell him
about our source because I think it gives us a new insight into this
entire business."  He paused and tinkered with his pipe, using one of
those small tools with folding blades and hooks and spikes with which
pipe smokers arm themselves.  He scraped the bowl and knocked a nub of
half-burned tobacco into the ashtray, before peering into the pipe-the
way a rifleman checks the bore of his weapon.  Peter realized that
Parker used his pipe as a prop for his performances, the way a magician
distracts his audience with flourishes and mumbo jumbo  He was not a
man to underestimate, Peter thought again for the hundredth time.

Kingston Parker looked up at him and smiled, a conspiratorial smile as
if to acknowledge that Peter had seen through his little act.

"Our news of Caliph comes from an unlikely direction or rather,

considering the name, a more likely direction.

East.  Riyadh to be precise.  Capital city of Saudi Arabia, seat of
King Khalid's oil empire.  Our battered and beleaguered Central

Intelligence Agency has received an appeal from the King following the
murder of one of his grandsons.  You recall the case, I'm sure---2

Peter had a strange feeling of deji-vu as he, listened to Kingston

Parker confirming exactly the circumstances that he and Magda Altmann
had discussed and postulated together, was it only three weeks
before?

You see the King and his family are in a very vulnerable position
really.  Did you know that there are at least seven hundred Saudi
princes who are multimillionaires, and who are close to the King's
affections and power structure?  It would be impossible to guard that
many potential victims adequately.  It's really damned good thinking
you don't have to seize a hostage with all the attendant risks.  There
is virtually an unlimited supply of them walking around, ripe for
plucking, and an inexhaustible supply of assassins to be either
pressured or paid to do the job, just as long as you have the
information and leverage, or just enough money.  Caliph seems to have
all that."

"What demand has been made upon Khalid?"Peter asked.

"We know for certain that he has received a demand, and that he has
appealed to the CIA for assistance to protect and guard his family.

The demand came from an agency or person calling himself Caliph.  We do
not know what the demand is but it may be significant that Khalid and
the Shah of Persia have both agreed that they will not support a crude
oil price increase at the next pricing session of OPEC, but on the
contrary they will push for a five per cent decrease in the price of
crude."

"Caliph's thinking has paid off again," Peter murmured.

"It looks like it, doesn't it."  Parker nodded, and then chuckled
bitterly.  "And once again you get the feeling, as with his demands to
the South African Government, that his final objective is desirable
even if the way he goes about procuring it is slightly
unconventional,

to say the least."

"To say the very least," Peter agreed quietly,

remembering the feel of Melissa-Jane's fever-racked body against his
chest.

"So there is no doubt now that what we feared, is fact.

Caliph exists-" said Parker.

"Not only exists, but flourishes," Peter agreed.

"Alive and well with a nice house in the suburbs."  Colin lit the stub
of his cheroot before going on.  "Hell!  He succeeded at

Johannesburg.  He is succeeding at Riyadh where does he go from there
why not the Federation of Employers in West Germany?  The Trade Union
leaders in Great Britain?  Any group powerful enough to affect the fate
of nations, and small enough to be terrorized as individuals."

"It's a way to sway and direct the destiny of the entire world you just
cannot guard all the world's decision makers from personal attack,

Peter agreed.  "And it's no argument to point out that because his
first two targets have been South Africa and the oil monopoly, then the
long term results will be to the benefit of mankind.  His ultimate
target will almost certainly be the democratic process itself.

I don't think there can be any doubt that Caliph sees himself as a god.
He sees himself as the paternal tyrant.  His aim is to cure the ills of
the world by radical surgery, and to maintain its health by
unrestrained force and fear."  Peter could remain seated no longer.  He
pushed back his chair and crossed to the windows, standing there in the
soldier's stance, balanced on the balls of his feet with both hands
clasped lightl behind his back.  There was an uninspiring view of the
high barbed-wire fence, part of the airfield and the corrugated sheet
wall of the nearest hangar.

A Thor sentry paced before the gates with a white MP.

helmet on his head and side arm strapped to his waist.  Peter watched
him without really seeing him, and behind him the two men at the table
exchanged a significant glance.

Colin Nobleasked a silent question and Parker answered with a curt nod
of affirmative.

"All right, Peter," Colin said.  "A little while back you asked for
hard facts.  I promised to give you a few."  Peter turned back from the
window and waited.

"Item One.  During the time that Gilly O'Shaughnessy held

Melissa-Jane in Laragh, two telephone calls were made from the Old

Manse.  They were both international calls.

They both went through the local telephone exchange.  The first call
was made at seven p.m. local time on the first of this month.

That would have been the first day that they could have reached the
hideout.  We have to guess it was an "All Well" report to the top
management.  The second call was exactly seven days later again at
seven o'clock local time precisely.  To the same number.  We have to
guess that it was another report, "All is still well".  Both calls were
less than one minute in duration.  Just time enough to pass a
prearranged code message-" Colin broke off and looked again at
Kingston

Parker.

"Go on," Parker instructed.

"The calls were to a French number.  Rambouillet 47-87-47."  Peter felt
it hit him in the stomach, a physical blow, and he flinched his head,
for a moment closing both his eyes tightly.  He had called that number
so often, the numerals were graven on his memory.

"No."  He shook his head, and opened his eyes.  "I'm not going to
believe it."

"It's true, Peter," Parker said gently.

Peter walked back to his seat.  His legs felt rubbery and shaky under
him.  He sat down heavily.

The room was completely silent.  Neither of the other two looked
directly at Peter Stride.

Kingston Parker made a gesture to Colin and obediently he slid the red
box file, tied with red tapes, across the cheap vinyl topped table.

Parker untied the tapes and opened the file.  He shuffled the papers,
scanning them swiftly.  Clearly he was adept at speed reading and was
able to assimilate each typed double spaced page at a glance but now he
was merely waiting for Peter to recover from the shock.  He knew the
contents of the red file almost by heart.

Peter Stride slumped in the steel-framed chair with its uncushioned
wooden seat, staring sightlessly at the bulletin board on the opposite
wall on which were posted the Thor rosters.

He found it hard to ride the waves of dismay that flooded over him.  He
felt chilled and numbed, the depth of this betrayal devastated him, and
when he closed his eyes again he had a vivid image of the slim, tender
body with the childlike breasts peeping through a silken curtain of
dark hair.

He straightened in his seat, and Kingston Parker recognized the moment
and looked up at him, half closing the file and turning it towards
him.

The cover bore the highest security gradings available to Atlas

Command and below them was typed:

ALT MANN MAG DA IRENE.  Born KUTCHINSKY

Peter realized that he had never known her second name was Irene.

Magda Irene.  Hell, they were really ugly names made special only by
the woman who bore them.

Parker turned the file back to himself and began to speak quietly.

"When last you and I met, I told you of the special interest we had in
this lady.  That interest has continued, unabated, since then,

or rather it has gathered strength with every fresh item of information
that has come to us."  He opened the file again and glanced at it as if
to refresh his memory.  "Colin has been very successful in enlisting
the full co-operation of the intelligence agencies of both our
countries, who in turn have been able to secure that of the French and
believe it or not the Russians.  Between the four countries we have
been able to at last piece together the woman's history-" He broke
off.

"Remarkable woman," and shook his head in admiration.  "Quite
incredible really.

I can understand how she is able to weave spells around any man she
chooses.  I can understand, Peter, your evident distress.  I am going
to be utterly blunt now we have no time nor space in which to manoeuvre
tactfully around your personal feelings.  We know that she has taken
you as a lover.  You notice that I phrase that carefully.

Baroness Altmann takes lovers, not the other way around.  She takes
lovers deliberately -and with careful forethought.  I have no doubt
that once she has made the decision, she accomplishes the rest of it
with superb finesse."  Peter remembered her coming to him and the exact
words she had used.  "I am not very good at this, Peter, and I want so
badly to be good for you."  The words had been chosen with the finesse
that Kingston Parker had just spoken of.  They were exactly timed to
make herself irresistible to Peter and afterwards she had given the
gentle lie to them with the skill and devilish cunning of her hands and
mouth and body.

"You see, Peter.  She had special and expert training in all the arts
of love.  There are probably few women in the Western world who know as
much about reading a man, and then pleasing him.  What she knows she
did not learn in Paris or London or New York-" Kingston Parker paused
and frowned at Peter.  "This is all theory and hearsay, Peter.

You are in a better position to say just how much of it is false?"

The ultimate skill in pleasing a man is to fuel his own belief in
himself, Peter thought, as he returned Parker's inquiring gaze with
expressionless eyes.  He remembered how with Magda Altmann he had felt
like a giant, capable of anything.  She had made him feel like that
with a word, a smile, a gift, a touch that was the ultimate skill.

He did not answer Parker's question.  "Go on please, Kingston," he
invited.  Externally, he had himself completely under control now.  His
right hand lay on the table top, with the fingers half open, relaxed.

"I told you that even as a child she showed special talents.  In
languages, mathematics her father was an amateur mathematician of some
importance chess and other games of skill.  She attracted attention.
Especially she attracted attention because her father was a member of
the Communist Party-" Parker broke off as Peter lifted his head in
sharp inquiry.  i - I'm sorry, Peter.  We did not know that when last
we met.  We have learned it since from the French, they have access to
the party records in Paris it seems, and it was confirmed by the
Russians themselves.

Apparently the child used to accompany her father to meetings of the
Party, and soon showed a precocious political awareness and
understanding.  Her father's friends were mostly party members, and
after his death there still remains a mystery around his death.

Neither the French nor the Russians are forthcoming on the subject.
Anyway, after his death, Magda Kutchinsky was cared for by these
friends.  It seemed she was passed on from family to family" Kingston

Parker slid a postcard-sized photograph from a marbline envelope and
passed it across the table to Peter, from this period."  It showed a
rather skinny girl in short skirts and dark stockings, wearing the
yoked collar and straw bonnet of the French schoolgirl.  Her hair was
in two short braids, tied with ribbons, and she-held a small fluffy
white dog in her arms.  The background was a Parisian summer park
scene, with a group of men playing boule and chestnut trees in full
leaf.

The child's face was delicately featured with huge beautiful eyes,

somehow wise and compassionate beyond her age, and yet still imbued
with the fresh innocence of childhood.

"You can see she already had all the markings of spectacular beauty."
Kingston Parker grunted, and reached across to take back the
photograph.  For a moment Peter's fingers tightened instinctively; he
would have like to have kept it, but he relaxed and let it go.  Parker
glanced at it again and then slipped it back into the envelope.

"Yes.  She attracted much interest, and very soon an uncle from the old
country wrote to her.  There were photographs of her father and the
mother she had never known, anecdotes of her infancy and her father's
youth.  The child was enchanted.  She had never known she had an
uncle.

Her father had never spoken of his relatives, but now at last the
little orphan found she had family.  It took only a few more letters,

exchanges of delight and affection, and then it was all arranged.  The
uncle came to fetch her in person and Magda Kutchinsky went back to

Poland."  Parker spread his hands.  "It was easy as that."

"The missing years," Peter said, and his Voice SOLinded strange in his
own ears.  He cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably under
Parker's piercing but understanding gaze.

"No longer missing, Peter.  We have been fed a little glimmering of
what happened during those years and we have been able to fill in the
rest of it from what we knew already."

"The Russians?"  Peter asked,

and when Parker nodded, Peter went on with a bitter tang to his
voice.

"They seem to be very forthcoming, don't they?  I have never heard of
them passing information at least not valuable information so
readily."

"They have their reasons in this case," Parker demurred.

"Very good reasons as it turns out but one will come to those in due
course."  "Very well."  The child returned with her uncle to Poland,

Warsaw.

And there was an extravagant family reunion.  We are not certain if
this was her real family, or whether the child was provided with a
foster family for the occasion.  In any event, the uncle soon announced
that if Magda would submit to examination there was an excellent chance
that she would be provided with a scholarship to one of the elite
colleges of the USSR.  We can imagine that she passed her examination
with great distinction and her new masters must have congratulated
themselves on their discovery.

"The college is on the shores of the Black Sea near Odessa.  It does
not have a name, nor an old school tie.  The students are very
specially selected, the screening is rigorous and only the brightest
and most talented are enrolled.  They are soon taught that they are an
elite group, and are streamed in the special direction that their
various talents dictate.  In Magda's case it was languages and
politics, finance and mathematics.  She excelled and at the age of
seventeen graduated to a higher, more specialized branch of the Odessa
college.  There she was trained in special memory techniques, the
already bright mind was honed down to a razor edge.  I understand that
one of the less difficult exercises was to be given access to a list of
a hundred diverse items for sixty seconds.  The list had to be repeated
from memory, in the correct order, twenty-four hours later."  Parker
shook his head again, expressing his admiration.

"At the same time she was also trained to fit naturally into
upper-class international Western society.  Dress, food, drink,

cosmetics, manners, popular music and literature, cinema theatre,

democratic politics, business procedures, the operation of stocks and
commodities markets, the more mundane secretarial skills, modern
dancing, the art of lovemaking and pleasuring men that and much else,

all of it taught by experts flying, skiing, weapons, the rudiments of
electronics and mechanical engineering and every other skill that a
top-class agent might have to call upon.

"She was the star of her course and emerged from it much as the woman
you know.  Poised, skilled, beautiful, motivated and deadly.

"At the age of nineteen she knew more, was capable of more, than most
other human beings, male or female, twice her age.  The perfect agent,
except for a small flaw in her make-up that only showed up later.  She
was too intelligent and too personally ambitious."  Kingston

Parker smiled for the first time in twenty minutes.  Which of course is
a pseudonym for greed.  Her masters did not recognize it in her, and
perhaps at that age it was only latent greed.  She had not yet been
fully exposed to the attractions of wealth nor of unlimited power."

Kingston Parker broke off, leaned across the table towards Peter.  then
seemed to cLinge direction then, smiling an inward knowledgeable
stude,

as though pondering a hidden truth.

"Greed for wealth alone belongs essentially to the lower levels of
human intelligence.  It is only the developed and advanced mind that
can truly appreciate the need for power-" He saw the protest in Peter's
expression.  No, no, I don't mean merely the power to control one's own
limited environment, merely the power of life and death over a few
thousand lives not that, but true power.  Power to change the destiny
of nations, power such as Caesar or Napoleon wielded, such as the

President of the United States wields that is the ultimate greed,

Peter.  A magnificent and noble greed."  He was silent a moment, as
though glimpsing some vision of splendour.  Then he went on: "

digress.  Forgive me," and turned to Colin Noble.  "Do we have some
coffee, Colin?  I think we could all do with a cup now.  Colin went to
the machine that blooped and gurgled and winked its red eye in the
corner, and while he filled the cups, the charged atmosphere in the
room eased a little, and Peter tried to arrange his thoughts in some
logical sequence.  He looked for the flaws and weak places in the story
but could find none instead he remembered only the feel of her mouth,
the touch of her hands on his body.  Oh God, it was a stab of physical
pain, a deep ache in the chest and groin, as he remembered how she had
coursed him like a running stag, driving and goading him on to
unvisited depths of his being.  Could such skills be taught, he
wondered, and if so, by whom?  He had a horrifying thought of a special
room set on the heights above the Black Sea, with that slim, vulnerable
tender body practising its skills, learning love as though it were
cookery or small arms practice and then he shut his mind firmly against
it, and Kingston Parker was speaking again, balancing his coffee cup
primly with his pinky finger raised, like an old maid at a tea party.

"So she arrived back in Paris and it fell at her feet.  It was a
triumphant progress."  Kingston Parker prodded in the file with his
free hand, spilling out photographs of Magda Magda dancing in the
ballroom of the Elysee Palace, Magda leaving a Rolls-Royce limousine
outside

Maxim's in the rue Royale, Magda skiing, riding, beautiful, smiling,

poised and always there were men.  Rich, well-fed, sleek men.

(I told you once there were eight sexual liaisons."  Kingston

Parker used that irritating expression again.  "We have had reason to
revise that figure.  The French take a very close interest in that sort
of thing, they have added to the list."  He flicked over the
photographs.  "Pierre Hammond, Deputy Minister of Defence-" And
another.  "Mark Vincent, head of mission at the American Consulate-"

"Yes," Peter cut in short, but still there was a sickly fascination in
seeing the faces of these men.  He had imagined them accurately, he
realized, without particular relish.

"Her masters were delighted as you can imagine.  With a male agent it
is sometimes necessary to wait a decade or more for results while he
moles his way into the system.

With a young and beautiful woman she has her greatest value when those
assets are freshest.  Magda Kutchinsky gave them magnificent value.  We
do not know the exact extent of her contributions our

Russian friends have not bared everything to us, I'm afraid, but I

estimate that it was about this time they began to realize her true
potential.  She had the magical touch, but her beauty and youth could
not last for even" Kingston Parker made a deprecating gesture with the
slim pianist's hands.  "We do not know if Aaron Altmann was a
deliberate choice by her masters.  But it seems likely.  Think of it
one of the richest and most powerful men in Western Europe, one who
controlled most of the steel and heavy engineering producers, the
single biggest armaments complex, electronics all associated and
sensitive secondary industries.  He was a widower, childless, so
under

French law his wife could inherit his entire estate.

He was known to be fighting a slowly losing battle with cancer, so his
life term was limited and he was also a Zionist and one of the most
trusted and influential members of Mossad.  It was beautiful.

Truly beautiful" said Kingston Parker.  "Imagine being able to
undermine a man of that stature, perhaps being able to double him!

Though that seemed an extravagant dream not even the most beautiful
siren of history could expect to turn a man like Aaron Altmann.  He is
a separate study on his own, another incredible human being with the
strength and courage of a lion until the cancer wore him out.  Again

I digress, forgive me.  Somebody, either the Director of the NKVD in

Moscow, or Magda Kutchinsky's control at the Russian Embassy in
Paris,

who was, incidentally, the Chief NKVD Commissar for Western Europe,

such was her value, or Magda Kutchinsky herself, picked Aaron
Altmann.

Within two years she was indispensable to him.  She was cunning enough
not to use her sexual talents upon him immediately.

Altmann could have any woman who took his fancy, and he usually did.
His sexual appetites were legendary, and they probably were the cause
of his remaining childless.  A youthful indiscretion resulted in a
venereal disease with complications.  It was later completely cured,

but the damage was irreversible, he never produced an heir."  He was a
man who would have toyed with her and cast her aside as soon as he
tired of her, if she had been callow enough to make herself immediately
available to him.

First, she won his respect and admiration.  Perhaps she was the first
woman he had ever met whose brain and strength and determination
matched his own Kingston Parker selected another photograph and passed
it across the table.  Fascinated, Peter stared at the black and white
image of a heavily built man with a bull neck, and a solid thrusting
jaw.  Like so many men of vast sexual appetite, he was bald except for
a Friar Tuck frill around the cannon ball dome of his skull.  But there
were humorous lines chiselled about his mouth, and his eyes, though
fierce, looked as though they too could readily crinkle with laughter
lines.  Portrait of Power, Peter thought.

"When at last she gave him access to her body, it must have been like
some great electrical storm."  Kingston Parker seemed to be
deliberately dwelling on her past love affairs, and Peter would have
protested had not the information he was receiving been so vital.

"This man and woman must have been able to match each other once
again.

Two very superior persons, two in a hundred million probably it is
interesting to speculate what might have happened if they had been able
to produce a child."  Kingston Parker chuckled.  "It would probably
have been a mongolian idiot life is like that."  Peter moved
irritably,

hating this turn in the conversation, and Parker went -on smoothly.

"So they married, and NKVD had a mole in the centre of Western
industry.  Narmco, Altmann's armaments complex, was manufacturing top
secret American, British and French missile hardware for NATO.  The
new

Baroness was on the Board, was in fact Deputy Chairman of Narmco.  We
can be sure that armaments blueprints were passed, not by the sheet but
by the truckload.  Every night, the leaders and decision-makers of
the

Western world sat at the new Baroness's board and swilled her
champagne.  Every conversation, every nuance and indiscretion was
recorded by that specially trained memory, and slowly, inevitably,
the

Baron's strength was whittled away.  He began to rely more and more
upon her.  We do not know exactly when she began to assist him with
his

Mossad activities but when it happened the Russians had succeeded in
their design.  In effect they had succeeded in turning Baron Aaron

Altmann, they had his right hand and his heart for by this time the
dying Baron was completely besotted by the enchantress.

They could expect to inherit the greater part of Western European heavy
industry.  It was all very easy until the latent defect in the

Baroness's character began to SUrface.

We can only imagine the alarm of her Russian imislers when they
detected the first signs that the Baroness was working for herself
alone.  She was brighter by far than any of the men who had up until
that time controlled her, and she had been given a taste of real
power.

The taste seemed very much to her liking.  We can only imagine the
gargantuan battle of wills between the puppet masters and the beautiful
puppet that had suddenly developed a mind and ambitions of her very own
quite simply her ambition now was to be the most wealthy and powerful
woman since Catherine of Russia, and the makings were almost within her
pretty hands except-" Kingston Parker stopped; like a born storyteller,
he knew instinctively how to build up the tension in his audience.

He rattled his coffee cup.

"This talking is thirsty business."  Colin and Peter had to rouse
themselves with a physical effort.  They had been mesmerized by the
story and the personality of the storyteller.  When Parker had his cup
refilled, he sipped at it, then went on speaking.

"There was one last lever her Russian masters had over her.  They
threatened to expose her.  It was quite a neat stroke, really.  A man
like Aaron Altmann would have acted like an enraged bull if he had
known how he had been deceived.  His reaction was predictable.  He
would have divorced Magda immediately.  Divorce is difficult in France
but not for a man like the Baron.  Without his protection Magda was
nothing, less than nothing, for her value to the Russians would have
come to an end.  Without the Altmann Empire her dreams of power would
disappear like a puff of smoke.  It was a good try it would have worked
against an ordinary person, but of course they were not dealing with an
ordinary person-" Parker paused again; it was clear he was as wrapped
up by the story as they were, and he was drawing out the pleasure of
the telling of it.

"I have been doing a lot of talking," he smiled at Peter.

"I'm going to let you have a chance now, Peter.  You know her a little,
you have learned a lot more about her in the last hour.  Can you guess
what she did?"  Peter began to shake his head and then it crashed in
upon him with sickening force, and he stared at Parker, the pupils of
his eyes dilating with the strength of his revulsion.

"I think you have guessed."  Parker nodded.  "Yes, we can imagine that
by this stage she was becoming a little impatient herself The

Baron was taking a rather long time to die."

"Christ, it's horrible."

Peter grunted, as though in pain.

" From one point of view, I agree."  Parker nodded.  "But if you look
at it like a chess player, and remember she is a player of Grand

Master standard, it was a brilliant stroke.

She arranged that the Baron be kidnapped.  There are witnesses to the
fact that she insisted on the Baron accompanying her that day.  He was
feeling very bad, and he did not want to go sailing, but she insisted
that the sun and fresh air would be good for him.  He never took his
bodyguard when he went sailing.  There were just the two of them.  A
very fast cruiser was waiting offshore-" He spread his hands.

"You know the details?"

"No," Peter denied it.

"The cruiser rammed the yacht.  Picked the Baron out of the water,

but left the Baroness.  An hour later there was a radio message to the
coast guard they went out and found her still clinging to the
wreckage.

The kidnappers were very concerned that she survived."

"They may have wanted a loving wife to bargain with," Peter suggested
swiftly.

"That is possible, of course, and she certainly played the role of the
bereaved wife to perfection.  When the ransom demand came it was she
who forced the Board of Altmann Industries to ante up the twenty-five
million dollars.  She personally took the cash to the rendezvous
alone."  Parker paused significantly.

"She didn't need the money."

"Oh, but she did," Parker contradicted.  "The Baron was not in his
dotage, you know, His hands were still very firmly on the reins and the
purse strings.  Magda had as much as any ordinary wife could wish for,
furs, jewellery, servants,

clothes, cars, boats pocket money, around two hundred thousand dollars
a year, paid to her as a salary from Altmann Industries.  Any ordinary
wife would have been well content but she was not an ordinary wife.  We
must believe she had already planned how to carry forward her dreams of
unlimited power and it needed money, not thousands but millions.
Twenty-five million would be a reasonable stopgap, until she could get
her pretty little fingers on the big apple.  She drove with the cash,
in thousand-Swiss-franc bills, I understand; she drove alone to some
abandoned airfield and had a plane come pick it up and fly it out to
Switzerland.  Damned neat."

"But-" Peter searched for some means of denial.  But the Baron was
mutilated.  She couldn't-"

"Death is death, mutilation may have served some obscure purpose.  God
knows,

we're dealing with an Eastern mind, devious, sanguinary perhaps the
mutilation was merely to make any suspicion of the wife completely
farfetched just as you immediately used it to protect her."  He was
right, of course.  The mind that could plain and execute the rest of
such a heinous scheme would not baulk at the smaller niceties of
execution.  He had no more protest to make.

"So let us review what she had achieved by this stage.

She was rid of the Baron, and the restrictions he placed upon her.

An example of these restrictions, for we will find it significant
later: she was very strongly in favour of Narmco banning the sale of
all weapons and armaments to the South African Government.  The
Baron,

ever the businessman, looked upon that country as a lucrative market.

There was also the South African sympathy for Zionism.  He overruled
her, and Narrnco continued to supply aircraft, missiles and light
armaments to that country right up until the official UN resolution to
enforce a total arms embargo, with France ratifying it.  Remember the

Baroness's anti south African attitude.  We come to it again later.

"She was rid of the Baron.  She was rid of her Russian control,

well able to maintain a small army to protect herself.  Even her
former

Russian masters would hesitate to take revenge on her.  She was a

French Grande Dame now.

She had gained significant working capital twenty-five million for
which she was not accountable to another living human being.  She had
gained an invincible power base at Altmann Industries.  Although she
was still under certain checks and safeguards-from the Board of

Directors, yet she had access to all its information-gathering
services, to its vast resources.  As the head of such a colossus she
had the respect of and sympathy of the French Government, and as a
fringe benefit limited but significant access to their intelligence
systems.  Then there was the Mossad connection: was she not the heir
to

Aaron Altmann's position-" Peter suddenly remembered Magda speaking (if
her sources" and never identifying them.  Was she really able to use
the French and Israeli intelligence as her own private agencies?  It
seemed impossible.  But he was learning swiftly that when dealing
with

Magda Altmann, anything was A possible as Kingston Parker had pointed
out, she was not an ordinary person but Parker was speaking again.

"There was a period then of consolidation, a time when she gathered up
the reins that Aaron had dropped.  There were changes amongst the top
management throughout Altmann Industries as she replaced those who
might oppose her with her own minions.  A time of planning and
organizing, and then the first attempt to govern and prescribe the
destiny of nations.  She chose the nation which most offended her
personal view of the new world she was going to build.  We will never
know what made her choose the name of Caliph-"

"You have to be wrong."  Peter squeezed his eyelids closed with thumb
and forefinger.

"You just don't know her."

"I don't think anybody knows her, Peter,"

Kingston Parker murmured, and fiddled with his pipe.  "I'm sorry, we
are going pretty fast here.  Do you want to back up and ask any
questions?"

"No, it's all right."  Peter opened his eyes again.  "Go on,

will you, Kingston?"

"One of the most important lessons that Baroness

Altmann had learned was the ease with which force and violence can be
used, and their tremendous effect and profitability.  Bearing this
lesson in mind, the Baroness chose her first act as the new ruler of
mankind, and the choice was dictated by her early political
convictions, those convictions formed at her father's knee and at the

Communist Party meetings that she had attended as a precocious child
in

Paris.  There is a further suggestion that the choice was reinforced by
the Altmann banking corporation's interests in South African gold
sales, for by this time the Baroness had tempered her socialist and
communist leanings with a good healthy dollop of capitalistic
self-interest.  We can only guess, but if the scheme to bring out forty
tons of gold and a black-based government-in-exile had succeeded,

it would not have taken very long for Caliph to gain control of both
government and gold-" Parker shrugged].  We just cannot say how
ambitious, even grandiose, those plans were.  But we can say that

Caliph, or the Baroness, recruited her team for the execution of the
plan with the skill she brought to anything she handled."  He broke
Off,

and smiled.

"I think all three of us remember the taking of Flight 070 vividly
enough not to have to go once more over the details.

Let me just remind you that it would have succeeded, in fact it had
actually succeeded, when Peter here made his unscheduled move that
brought it all down.  But it succeeded.  That was the important thing.
Caliph could afford to congratulate herself.  Her information was
impeccable.

She had chosen the right people for the job.  She even knew the name of
the officer who would command the antiterrorist force which would be
sent to intervene, and her psychology had been excellent.  The
execution of the four hostages had so shocked and numbed the opposition
that they were powerless -the cup had been dashed from her lips by one
man alone.  Inevitably her interest in that man was aroused.  Possibly
with feminine intuition she was able to recognize in him the qualities
which could be turned to her own purpose.  She had that indomitable
streak in her make-up that is able to recognize even in the dust of
disaster that material for future victory-" Parker shifted his bulk,

and made a small deprecatory gesture.  " - I hope this will not seem
immodest if I bring myself into the story at this stage.  I had been
given the hint that something like Caliph existed.  In fact this may
not have been her first act after the killing of Aaron Altmann.  Two
other successful kidnappings have her style one of them the OPEC

ministers in Vienna but we cannot be sure.  I had been warned and I

was waiting for Caliph to surface.  Dearly I would have loved a chance
to interrogate one of the hijackers-"

"They would have had nothing to tell you," Peter objected brusquely.
"They were merely pawns, like the doctor we captured in Ireland."
Parker sighed.  "Perhaps you are right, Peter.

But at the time I believed that our only lead to Caliph had been
severed.  Later when the thing had been done and I had recovered from
the shock of it, it suddenly occurred to me that the lead was still
there stronger than ever.  You were that lead, Peter.  That was why I

recommended that your resignation be accepted.  If you had not
resigned, I would have forced you out anyway, but you played along
superbly by resigning-" He smiled again.  I have never thanked you for
that."

"Don't mention it," said Peter grimly.  "I like to be of service."

"And you were.  Almost immediately you were on the loose, the

Baroness began making her approach.  First she collected every known
fact about you.  Somehow she even got a computer run on you.  That's a
fact.  An unauthorized run was made on the Central Intelligence
computer four days after your resignation.  She must have liked what
she got, for there was the Narmco offer through conventional channels.
Your refusal must have truly excited her interest, for she used her
connections to have herself invited down to Sir Steven's country
house."  Parker chuckled.  "My poor Peter, you found yourself without
warning in the clutches of one of history's most accomplished
enchantresses.  I know enough about the lady to guess that her approach
to you was very carefully calculated from the complete information that
she had on you.  She knew exactly what type of woman attracted you.
Fortunately, she fitted the general physical description-"

"What is that?"  Peter demanded.  He was unaware that he had a specific
type of physical preference.

"Tall, slim and brunette," Parker told him promptly.

"Think about it," he invited.  "All your women have been that."  He was
right, of course, Peter realized.  Hell, even at thirty-nine years of
age it was still possible to learn something about yourself.

"You're a cold-blooded bastard, Kingston.  Did anybody ever tell you
that?"

"Frequently."  Kingston smiled.  "But it's not true, and compared to
Baroness Altmann I am Father Christmas."  And he became serious again.
"She wanted to find out what we at Atlas know about her activities. She
knew by this stage that we had our suspicions, and through you she had
an inside ear.  Of course, your value would deteriorate swiftly the
longer you were out of Thor but you could still be useful in a dozen
other ways.  As a bonus you could be expected to do a good job at
Narmco.  All her expectations were fulfilled, and exceeded.  You even
thwarted an assassination attempt on her life-" Peter lifted an eyebrow
in inquiry.

On the road to Rambouillet that night.  Here we are only guessing,

but it's a pretty well-informed guess.  The Russians had by this time
despaired of returning her to the fold.  They had also suspicions as to
her role as Caliph.  They decided on a radical cure for their one-time
star agent.  They either financed and organized the assassination
attempt themselves, or they tipped off Mossad that she had murdered

Aaron Altmann.  I would be inclined to believe that they hired the
killers themselves because the Mossad usually do their own dirty work.
Anyway, with NKVD or Mossad as paymasters, an ambush was set up on the
Rambouillet road and you drove into it.  I know you don't like
coincidence, Peter, but I believe it was merely coincidence that you
were driving the Baroness's Maserati that night."

"All right," Peter murmured.  "If I swallow the rest of the hog, that
little crumb goes down easily enough."

"That attempt severely alarmed the Baroness.  She was not certain who
had been the author.  I think she believed it was

Atlas Command, or at the very least that we had something to do with
it.  Almost immediately after that you were able to confirm our
interest in her, and our knowledge that Caliph existed.  I invited you
to America, Colin brought you to meet me, and when you returned you
either told her about it, or in some way confirmed her suspicions of

Atlas Command and Kingston Parker.  I am guessing again but how close
am I, Peter?  Be honest."  Peter stared at him, trying to keep his face
expressionless while his mind raced.  That was exactly how it had
happened.

"We were all hunting Caliph.  You saw no disloyalty in discussing it
with her."  Parker prompted him gently, and Peter nodded once curtly.

"You believed that we had common goals," Parker went on with deep
understanding and compassion.  "You thought we were all hunting
Caliph.

That is right."

"She knew I had been to America to see you before I

told her.  I don't know how but she knew," Peter said stiffly.  He felt
like a traitor.

"understand" Parker said simply.  He reached across the table and once
again placed his hand on Peter's shoulder.

He squeezed it while he looked into Peter's eyes, a gesture of
affirmation and trust.  Then he laid both hands on top of the table.

"She knew who was the hunter then, and she knew enough about me to know
I was dangerous.  You were probably the only man in the world who could
reach me and do the job but you had to be motivated.  She picked the
one and only lever that would move you.  She picked it unerringly just
as she had done everything else.  It would have worked in one stroke
she would have gotten rid of the hunter, and she would have acquired a
top-class assassin.

When you had done the job, you would have belonged to Caliph for all
time.  She would have used you to kill again and again, and each time
you killed you would be more deeply enmeshed in her net.  You really
were a very valuable prize, Peter.  Valuable enough for her to find it
worthwhile to use her sexual wiles upon you."  He saw the lumps of
clenched muscle at the corner of Peter's jaw, and the fire in his
eyes.

"You are also a very attractive man, and who knows but she felt the
need to combine business and pleasure?  She is a lady with strongly
developed sexual appetites."  Peter felt a violent urge to punch him in
the face.  He needed some outlet for his rage.  He felt belittled,

soiled and used.

"She was clever enough to realize that the sex was not enough of a hold
to force you to commit murder.  So she took your daughter, and
immediately had her mutilated just as at Johannesburg she had executed
hostages without hesitation.  The world must learn to fear Caliph."

There was no smile on Parker's face now.

"I truly believe that if you had not been able to deliver my head by
the deadline, she Would not have hesitated to carry on to the next
mutilation, and the one after that."  Again Peter was assailed by a
wave of nausea as he remembered that shrivelled white lump of flesh
with the scarlet fingernail floating horribly in its tiny bottle.

"We were saved from that by the most incredible piece of luck.

The Provo informer," said Parker.  "And again the understandable
eagerness of the Russians to co-operate with us.  It is a wonderful
opportunity for them to hand us their problem.  They have let us have
an almost full account of the lady and her history."

"But what are we going to do about it?"  Colin Nobleasked.  "Our hands
are tied.  Do we just have to wait for the next atrocity do we have to
hope we will get another lucky break when Caliph kills the next Arab
prince, or machine-guns the Shah's sister?"

"That will happen unless they push through the OPEC decision," Parker
predicted levelly.  "The lady has converted very easily to the
capitalist system now that she owns half of Europe's industry.  A
reduction in the Oil price would benefit her probably more than any
other individual on earth and at the same time it will also benefit the
great bulk of humanity.  How nicely that squares all her political and
personal interests."

"But if she gets away with it-" Colin insisted, what will be her next
act of God?"

"Nobody can predict that," Parker murmered, and they both turned their
heads to look at Peter Stride.

He seemed to have aged twenty years.  The lines at the corners of his
mouth were cut in deeply like the erosion of weathered granite.

Only his eyes were blue and alive and fierce as those of a bird of
prey.

"I want you to believe what I am going to say now, Peter.

I have not told you all this to put pressure on you, Parker assured him
quietly.  "I have told you only what I believe is necessary for you to
know to protect yourself if you should elect to return to the lion's
den.  I am not ordering you to do so.  The risks involved cannot be
overestimated.  With a lesser man I would term it suicidal.

However, now that you are forewarned, I believe you are the one man who
could take Caliph on her own ground.  Please do not misunderstand what
I mean by that.  I am not for a moment suggesting assassination.

In fact I expressly forbid you to even think in that direction.  I

would not allow it, and if you acted independently, I would do my
utmost to see that you were brought to justice.  No, all I ask is that
you keep close to Caliph and try to outguess her.  Try to expose her so
we can lawfully act to take her out of action.  I want you to put out
of your mind the emotional issues those hostages at Johannesburg,

your own daughter try to forget them, Peter.  Remember we are neither
judge nor executioner-" Parker went on speaking quietly and
insistently, and Peter watched his lips with narrowed eyes, hardly
listening to the words, trying to think clearly and see his course
ahead but his thoughts were a children's carousel, going around and
around with fuss and fury but returning with every revolution to the
one central conclusion.

There was only one way to stop Caliph.  The thought of attempting to
bring someone like Baroness Magda Altmann to justice in a French court
was laughable.  Peter tried to force himself to believe that vengeance
had no part in his decisions, but he had lived too long with himself to
be able to pull off such a deceit.  Yes, vengeance was part of it and
he trembled with the rage of remembrance, but it was not all of it.  He
had executed the German girl Ingrid, and Gilly

O'Shaughnessy and had not regretted the decision to do so.  If it was
necessary for them to die then surely Caliph deserved to die a thousand
times more.

And there is only one person who can do it, he realized.

Her voice was quick and light and warm, with just that fascinating
trace of accent; he remembered it so well, but had forgotten the effect
it could have upon him.  His heart pounded as though he had run a long
way.

"Oh, Peter.  It's so good to hear your voice.  I have been so worried.
Did you get my cable?"

"No, which cable?"

"When I heard that you had freed Melissa-Jane.  I sent you a cable from
Rome."

"I didn't get it but it doesn't matter."

"I sent it to you via Narmco in

Brussels."

"It's probably waiting for me there.  I haven't been in touch."

"How is she, Peter?"

"She is fine now-" He found it strangely difficult to use her name, or
any form of endearment.  He hoped that the strain would not sound in
his voice.  "But we went through a hell of a time."

"I know.  I understand.  I felt so helpless.  I tried so hard, that's
why I was out of contact, Peter but day after day there was no news."

"It's all over now," Peter said gruffly.

don't think SO" she said swiftly.  "Where are you calling from?"

"London."

"When will you come back?"

"I telephoned Brussels an hour ago.  Narmco wants me back urgently.  I
am taking a flight this afternoon."

"Peter, I have to see you.  I've been too long without you but, (Mon
Dieu, I have to be in Vienna tonight.  Wait, let me see,

if I sent the Lear to fetch you now we could meet, even for an hour.

You could take the late flight from Orly to Brussels and I could go on
to Vienna with the Lear please, Peter.  I missed you so.  We could have
an hour together."  the sub managers -of the airport met Peter as he
disembarked from the Lear and led him to one of the VIP lounges above
the main concourse.

Magda Altmann came swiftly to meet him as he stepped into the lounge
and he had forgotten how her presence could fill a room with light.

She wore a tailored jacket over a matching skirt, severe gun-metal grey
and tremendously effective.  She moved like a dancer on long graceful
legs which seemed to articulate from the narrow waist and

Peter felt awkward and heavy footed for the awareness that he was in
the presence of evil sat heavily upon him, weighting him down.

"Oh, Peter.  What have they done to you?"  she asked with quick concern
flaring in those huge compassionate eyes.

She reached up to touch his cheek.

The strain and horror of the last days had drawn him out to the edge of
physical endurance.  His skin had a greyish, sickly tone against which
the dark new beard darkening his jaws contrasted strongly.  There were
more fine silver threads at his temples, gull's wings against the
thicker darker waves of his hair, and his eyes were haunted.  They had
sunk deeply into their sockets.

"Oh, darling, darling," she whispered, low enough so that the others in
the room could not hear her, and she reached up with her mouth for
his.

Peter had carefully schooled himself for this meeting.  He knew how
important it was that he should not in any way betray the knowledge he
had.  Magda must never guess that he had found her out.  That would be
deadly dangerous.  He must act completely naturally.  It was absolutely
vital, but there was just that instant's remembrance of his daughter's
pale wasted fever-racked features, and then he stooped and took Magda's
mouth.

He forced his mouth to soften, as hers was soft and warm and moist,
tasting of ripe woman and crushed petals.  He made his body welcoming
as hers was melting and trusting against his and he thought he had
succeeded completely until she broke from his embrace and leaned back,
keeping those slim strong hips still pressed against his.  She studied
his face again, a swift probing, questioning gaze, and he saw it change
deep in her eyes.  The flame going out of them leaving only a cold
merciless green light, like the beautiful spark in the depths of a
great emerald.

She had seen something; no there had been nothing to see.  She had
sensed something in him, the new Awareness.

Of course, she would have been searching for it.  She needed only the
barest confirmation the quirk of expression on his mouth, the new
wariness in his eyes, the slight stiffness and reserve in his body all
of which he thought he had been able to control perfectly.

"Oh, I am glad you are wearing blue now."  She touched the lapel of his
casual cashmere jacket.  "It does suit you so well, my dear."  He had
ordered the jacket with her in mind, that was true but now there was
something brittle in her manner.

It was as though she had withdrawn her true self, bringing down an
invisible barrier between them.

"Come."  She turned away, leading him to the deep leather couch below
the picture windows.  Some airport official had been able to find
flowers, yellow tulips, the first blooms of spring, and there was a bar
and coffee machine.

She sat beside him on the couch, but not touching him, and with a nod
dismissed her secretary.  He moved across the room to join the two
bodyguards, her grey wolves, and the three of them remained out of
earshot, murmuring quietly amongst themselves.

"Tell me, please, Peter."  She was still watching him, but the cold
green light in her eyes had been extinguished she was friendly and
concerned, listening with complete attention as he went step by step
over every detail of Melissa-Jane's kidnapping.

It was an old rule of his to tell the complete truth when it would
serve and it served now, for Magda would know every detail.  He told
her of Caliph's demand for Kingston Parker's life, and his own
response.

"I would have done it," he told her frankly, and she hugged her own
arms and shuddered once briefly.

"God, such evil can corrupt even the strongest and the best-" and now
there was understanding softening her lips.

Peter went on to tell her of the lucky tip-off and the recovery of

Melissa-Jane.  He went into details of the manner in which she had been
abused, of her terror and the psychological damage she had suffered and
he watched Magda's eyes carefully.  He saw something there,

emphasized by the tiny frown that framed them.  He knew that he could
not expect feelings of guilt.  Caliph would be far beyond such mundane
emotion but there was something there, not just stagey compassion.

"I had to stay with her.  I think she needed those few days with me, he
explained.

"Yes.  I am glad you did that, Peter."  She nodded, and glanced at her
wristwatch.  "Oh, we have so little time left," she lamented.

"Let's have a glass of champagne.  We have a little to celebrate.  At
least Melissa-Jane is alive, and she is young and resilient enough to
recover completely."  Peter eased the cork and when it popped he poured
creaming pate yellow Dam Perignon into the flutes, and smiled at her
over the glass as they saluted each other.

"It's so good to see you, Peter."  She was truly a superb actress;

she said it with such innocent spontaneity that he felt a surge of
admiration for her despite himself.  He crushed it down and thought
that he could kill her now and here.

He did not really need a weapon.  He could use his hands if he had to,
but the Cobra parabellum was in the soft chamois leather holster under
his left armpit.  He could kill her, and the two bodyguards across the
room would gun him down instantly.  He might take one of them, but the
other one would get him.  They were top men.  He had picked them
himself.  They would get him.

"I'm sorry we will not be together for very long," he countered,

still smiling at her.

"Oh, cheri.  I know, so am I."  She touched his forearm, the first
touch since the greeting embrace.  "I wish it were different.  There
are so many things that we have to do, you and I, and we must forgive
each other for them."  Perhaps the words were meant to have a special
significance; there was a momentary flash of the warm green fire in her
eyes, and something else perhaps a deep and unfathomable regret.

Then she sipped the wine, and lowered the long curled lashes across her
eyes, shielding them from his scrutiny.

"I hope we will never have anything terrible to forgive.  For the first
time he faced the act of killing her.  Before it had been something
clinical and academic, and he had avoided considering the deed itself.
But now he imagined the impact of an explosive Velex bullet into that
smooth sweet flesh.  His guts lurched, and for the first time he
doubted if he were capable of it.

"Oh, Peter, I hope so.  More than anything in life, I hope that."

She lifted her lashes for a moment, and her eyes seemed to cling to his
for an instant, pleading for something forgiveness, perhaps.  If he did
not use the gun, then how would he do it, he wondered.  Could he stand
the feeling of cartilage and bone snapping and crackling under his
fingers, could he hold the blade of knife into her flat hard belly and
feel her fight it like a marlin fights the gleaming curved hook of the
gaff?

The telephone on the bar buzzed, and the secretary picked it up on the
second ring.  He murmured into it.

"Oui, oui.  D'accord."  And hung up.  "Madam Baronne, the aircraft is
refuelled and ready to depart."

"We will leave immediately, she told him, and then to Peter, "I am
sorry."

"When will I see you?"  he asked.

She shrugged, and a little shadow passed over her eyes.

"It is difficult.  I am not sure I will telephone you.  But now

I must go Peter.  Adieu, my darling."  When she had gone, Peter stood
at the windows overlooking the airfield.  It was a glorious spring
afternoon, the early marguerites were blooming wild along the grassy
verges of the main runways, like scattered gold sovereigns, and a flock
of black birds hopped amongst them, probing and picking for insects,

completely undisturbed by the jet shriek of a departing Swissair
flight.

Peter ran his mind swiftly over the meeting.  Carefully identifying and
isolating the exact moment when she had changed.  When she had ceased
to be Magda Altmann and become Caliph.

There was no doubt left now.  Had there ever been, he wondered, or had
it merely been his wish to find doubt?

Now he must harden himself to the act.  It would be difficult,

much more difficult than he had believed possible.

Not once had they been alone, he realized then always the two grey
wolves had hovered around them.  It was just another sign of her new
wariness.  He wondered if they would ever be alone together again now
that she was alerted.

Then abruptly he realized that she had not said "Au revoir, my darling"
but instead she had said "Adieu, MY darling'.

Was there a warning in that?  A subtle hint of death for if Caliph
suspected him, he knew what her immediate reaction must be.  Was she
threatening, or had she merely discarded him, as Kingston Parker had
warned that she would?

He could not understand the desolate feeling that swamped him at the
thought that he might never see her again except through the
gunsight.

He stood staring out of the window, wondering how his career and his
life had begun to disintegrate about him since first he had heard the
name Caliph.

A polite voice at his shoulder startled him and he turned to the
airport sub-manager.  "They are calling the KLM flight to Brussels now,
General Stride."  Peter roused himself with a sigh and picked up his
overcoat and the crocodile skin Hermes briefcase that had been a gift
from the woman he must kill.

here was such a volume of correspondence and urgent business piling the
long desk in his new office that Peter had an excuse to put aside the
planning of the preemptive strike against Caliph.

To his mild surprise he found himself enjoying the jostle and haggle,
the driving pace and the challenge of the market place.  He enjoyd
pitting wits and judgement against other sharp and pointed minds, he
enjoyed the human interaction and for the first time understood the
fascination which this type of life had exerted over his brother
Steven.

"Three days after arriving back at his desk, the Iranian Air Force made
their first order of the Narmco Kestrel missiles.  One hundred and
twenty units, over a hundred and fifty million dollars" worth.  It was
a good feeling, and could grow stronger, could finally become
addictive, he realized.

He had always looked upon money as rather a nuisance, those degrading
and boring sessions with bank managers and clerks of the income tax
department, but now he realized that this was a different kind of
money.  He had glimpsed the world in which

Caliph existed, and realized how once a human being became accustomed
to manipulating this kind of money, then dreams of godlike power became
believable, capable of being transmuted into reality.

He could understand, but could never forgive, and so at last,

seven days after his return to Brussels, he forced himself to face up
to what he must do.

Magda Altmann had withdrawn.  She had made no further contact since
that brief and unsatisfactory hour at Orly Airport.

He must go to her, he realized.  He had lost his special inside
position which would have made the task easier.

He could still get close enough to kill her, of that he was certain.
just as he had the opportunity to do so at Orly.

However, if he did it that way it would be suicidal.  If he survived
the swift retribution of her guards, there would be the slower but
inexorable processes of the law.  He knew without bothering to consider
it too deeply that he would be unable to use the defence of the Caliph
story.  No court would believe it.  It would sound like the rantings of
a maniac without the support of Atlas or the Intelligence systems of
America and Britain.  That support would not be forthcoming of that he
was certain, If he killed Caliph they would be delighted, but they
would let him go to the guillotine without raising a voice in his
defence.  He could imagine the moral indignation of the civilized world
if they believed that an unorthodox organization such as Atlas was
employing assassins to murder the prominent citizens of a foreign and
friendly nation.

No.  He was on his own, completely.  Parker had made that quite clear.
And Peter realized that he did not want to die.  He was not prepared to
sacrifice his life to stop Caliph not unless there was no other way.
There had to be another way, of course.

As he planned it he thought of the victim only as Caliph never as Magda
Altmann.  That way he was able to bring a cold detachment to the
problem.  The where, the when, and the how of it.

He had complicated the task by replanning her personal security,

and his major concern when he did so had been to make her movements as
unpredictable as possible.  Her social calendar was as closely guarded
as a secret of state, there were never any -forward press reports of
attendance at public or state events.

If she were invited to dine at the tlysee Palace, the fact was reported
the day after, not the day before but there were some annual events
that she would never miss.

Together they had discussed these weaknesses in her personal
security.

"Oh, Peter you cannot make a convict of me."  She had laughed in
protest when he mentioned them.  "I have so few real pleasures you
would not take them from me, would you?"  The first seasonal showing
of

Yves St.  Laurent's collections, that she would never miss or the

Grande Semaine of the spring racing season which culminates with the
running of the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp.  This year she had
high hopes of victory with her lovely and courageous bay mare, Ice

Leopard.  She would be there.  It was absolutely certain.

Peter began to draw up the list of possible killing grounds, and then
crossed off all but the most likely.  The estate at La Pierre Benite,
for instance.  It had the advantage of being familiar ground for Peter.
With a soldier's eye he had noticed fields of fire across the wide
terraced lawns that dropped down to the lake; there were stances for a
sniper in the forests along the far edge of the lake, and in the little
wooded knoll to the north of the house which commanded the yard and
stables.  However, the estate was well guarded and even there the
victim's movements were unpredictable.

It would be possible to lie in ambush for the week when she was in

Rome or New York.  Then again the escape route was highly risky,

through a sparsely populated area with only two access roads both
easily blocked by swift police action.

No, La Pierre Benite was crossed from the list.

In the end Peter was left with the two venues that had first sprung to
mind the members' enclosure at Longchamp or Yves St.

Laurent's premises, at 46 Avenue Victor Hugo.

Both had the advantages of being public and crowded, circumstances
favouring pickpockets and assassins, Peter thought wryly.  Both had
multiple escape routes, and crowds into which the fugitive could
blend.

There were good stances for a sniper in the grandstands and buildings
overlooking the members" enclosure and the saddling paddock at

Longchamp or in the multi-storied buildings opposite No 46 in Avenue

Victor Hugo.

It would probably be necessary to rent an office suite in one of the
buildings with the attendant risks, even if he used a false name,

which put the probability slightly in favour of the racecourse.

However, Peter delayed the final decision until he had a chance to
inspect each site critically.

There was one last advantage in doing it this way.  It would be a
stand-off kill.  He would be spared the harrowing moments of a kill at
close range, with handgun or knife or garrotte.

There would be the detached view of Caliph through the lens of a
telescopic sight.  The flattened perspectives and the altered colour
balances always made for a feeling of unreality.  The intervening
distance obviated the need for confrontation.  He would never have to
watch the green light go out in those magnificent eyes, nor hear the
last exhalation of breath through the soft and perfectly sculptured
lips that had given him so much joy quickly he thrust those thoughts
aside.  They weakened his resolve, even though the rage and the lust
for vengeance had not abated.

If he could get one of the Thor .222 sniper rifles it would be the
perfect tool for this task.  With the extra long, accurized barrels
designed for use with match grade ammunition and the new laser
sights,

the weapon could throw a three-inch group at seven hundred yards.

The sniper had only to depress the button on the top of the stock with
the forefinger of his left hand.  This activated the laser and the beam
swept precisely down the projected flight of the bullet.  It would show
as a bright white coin the size of a silver dime.  The sniper looked
for the spot of light through the telescopic lens of the sight,

and the moment it was exactly on the target he pressed the trigger.

Even an unskilled marksman could hardly miss with this sight, in

Peter's hands it would be infallible and Colin Noble would give him
one.  Not only would Colin give him one, hell, he would probably have
it delivered with the compliments of the American Marine Corps by the
senior military attache of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Yet Peter found himself drawing out the moment of action, going over
his plans so often and with such a critical eye that he knew he was
procrastinating.

The sixteenth day after his return to Brussels was a Friday.

Peter spent the morning on the NATO range north of the city at a
demonstration of the new electronic shield that Narmco had developed to
foil the radar guidance on short-range anti-tank missiles.  Then he
helicoptered back with the three Iranian officers who had attended the
demonstration and they lunched at tpaule de Mouton, a magnificent and
leisurely meal.  Peter still felt guilty spending three hours at the
lunch table, so he worked until eight o'clock that evening, on the
missile contracts.

It was long after dark when he left through the rear entrance,

taking all his usual precautions against the chance that Caliph had an
assassin waiting for him in the dark streets.  He never left at the
same time nor followed the same route, and this evening he bought the
evening papers from a Marchand du tab ac in the Grand' Place and
stopped to read them at one of the outdoor cafes overlooking the
square.

He began with the English papers, and the headlines filled the page
from one side to the other; black and bold, they declared:

DROP IN PRICE OF CRUDE OIL

Peter sipped the whisky thoughtfully as he read the article through,
turning to Page Six for the continuation.

Then he crumpled the newsprint in his lap, and stared at the passing
jostle of spring tourists and early evening revellers.

Caliph had achieved her first international triumph.

From now on there would be no bounds to her ruthless rampage of power
and violence.

Peter knew he could delay no longer.  He made the go decision then, and
it was irrevocable.  He would arrange to visit London on

Monday morning, there was excuse enough for that.  He would ask Colin
to meet him at the airport, and it would be necessary to tell him of
his plan.  He knew he could expect full support.  Then he could move on
to Paris for the final reconnaissance and choice of killing ground.

There was still two weeks until the showing of the spring collections
two weeks to plan it so carefully that there would be no chance of
failure.

He felt suddenly exhausted, as though the effort of decision had
required the last of his reserves.  So exhausted that the short walk
back to the hotel seemed daunting.  He ordered another whisky and drank
it slowly before he could make the effort.

Narmco maintained two permanent suites at the Hilton for their senior
executives and other important visitors.

Peter had not yet made the effort of finding private accommodation in
the city, and he was living out of the smaller of the two suites.

It was merely a place to wash and sleep and leave his clothes, for he
could not shake off the feeling of impermanence, of swiftly changing
circumstances by which he found himself surrounded.

My books are in storage again, he thought with a little chill of
loneliness.  His collection of rare and beautiful books had been in
storage-for the greater part of his life, as he roamed wherever his
duty took him, living out of barracks and hotel rooms.  His books were
his only possessions, and as he thought about them now he was filled
with an unaccustomed longing to have a base, a place that was his Own
and immediately he thrust it aside, smiling cynically at himself as he
strode through the streets of another foreign city, alone again.

It must be old age catching up with me, he decided.

There had never been time for loneliness before but now, but now?
Unaccountably he remembered Magda Altmann coming into his arms and
saying quietly: "Oh, Peter, I have been alone for so long."  The memory
stopped him dead, and he stood in the light of one of the street lamps,
a tall figure in a belted trench coat with a gaunt and haunted face.

A blonde girl with lewdly painted lips sauntered towards him down the
sidewalk, pausing to murmur a proposition, and it brought Peter back to
the present.

"Merd" He shook his head in curt refusal and walked on.

As he passed the bookstall in the lobby of the Hilton, a rack of
magazines caught his attention and he stopped at the shelf of women's
magazines.  There would be announcements of the Paris haute couture
showings soon, and he thumbed the pages of Vogue looking for mention
of

Yves St.  Laurent's show instead he was shocked by the image of a
woman's face that leapt out of the page at him.

The elegant cheekbone structure framing the huge slanted Slavic eyes.
The shimmering fall of dark hair, the feline grace of movement frozen
by the camera flash.

In the photograph she was in a group of four people.  The other woman
was the estranged wife of a pop singer, the sulky expression,

slightly skew eyes and bee-stung lips a landmark on the Parisian social
scene.  Her partner was a freckled, boyish-faced American actor in a
laid-back velvet suit with gold chains around his throat, more famous
for his sexual exploits than his film roles.  They were not the type of
persons with whom Magda Altmann habitually associated, but the man
beside her, on whose arm she leaned lightly, was much more her style.

He was fortyish, dark and handsome in a fleshy heavily built way, with
dense wavy hair, and he exuded the special aura of power and
confimobile manufacturing complex.

dence that befitted the head of the biggest German auto The caption
below the photograph had them attending the opening of an exclusive new
Parisian discotheque again this was not Magda Altmann's habitual
territory, but she was smiling brilliantly at the tall handsome German,
so obviously enjoying herself that Peter felt a stinging shaft of
emotion thrust-up under his ribs.

Hatred or jealousy he was not certain and he slapped the magazine
closed and returned it to its rack.

In the impersonal antiseptically furnished suite he stripped and
showered, and then standing naked in the small lounge of the suite he
poured himself a whisky.  It was his third that evening.

Since the kidnapping he had been drinking more than ever before in his
life, he realized.  It could exert an insidious hold when a man was
lonely and in grave doubt.  He would have to begin watching it.  He
took a sip of the smoky amber liquid and turned to look at himself in
the mirror across the room.

Since he had been back in Brussels, he had worked out each day in the
gymnasium at the NATO officers" club where he still had membership,

and his body was lean and hard with a belly like -a greyhound's only
the face was ravaged by strain and worry and, it seemed, by some deep
unutterable regret.

He turned back towards the bedroom of the suite, and the telephone
rang.

"Stride," he said into the mouthpiece, standing still naked with the
glass in his right hand.

"Please hold on, General Stride.  We have an international call for
you."  The delay seemed interminable with heavy buzzing and clicking on
the line, and the distant voices of other operators speaking bad

French or even worse English.

Then suddenly her voice, but faint and so far away that "Peter,

are you there?"  it sounded like a whisper in a vast and empty hall.

"Magda?"  He felt the shock of it, and his voice echoed back at him
from the receiver; there was the click before she spoke again, that
switch of carrier wave that told him they were on a radio telephone
link.

"I have to see you, Peter.  I cannot go on like this.  Will you come to
me, please, Peter?"

"Where are you?"

"Les Neuf Poissons."  Her voice was so faint, so distorted, that he
asked her to repeat it.

"Les Neuf Poissons The Nine Fishes," she repeated.

"Will you come, Peter?"

"Are you crying?"  he demanded, and the silence echoed and clicked and
hummed so he thought they had lost contact, and he felt a flare of
alarm so his voice was harsh as he asked again.  "Are you crying?"

"Yes."  It was only a breath, he might have imagined it.

"Why?"

"Because I am sad and frightened, Peter.  Because I am alone, Peter.
Will you come, please will you come?"

"Yes," he said.

"How do I get there?"

"Ring Gaston at La Pierre Benite.  He will arrange it.  But come
quickly, Peter.  As quickly as you can."

"Yes.

As soon as I can but where is it?"  He waited for her reply, but now
the distances of the ether echoed with the sound of utter finality.

"Magda?  Magda?"  He found himself shouting desperately, but the
silence taunted him and reluctantly he pressed a finger down on the
cradle of the telephone.

"Les Neuf Poissons," he repeated softly, and lifted the finger.

"Operator," he said, "please get me a call to France Rambouillet

47-87-47."  And while he waited he was thinking swiftly.

This was what he had been subconsciously waiting for, he realized.

There was a feeling of inevitability to it, the wheel could only turn
it could not roll sideways.  This was what had to happen.

Caliph had no alternative.  This was the summons to 3.38 execution.  He
was only surprised that it had not come sooner.  He would see why
Caliph would have avoided the attempt in the cities of

Europe or England.  One such attempt well planned and executed with
great force had failed that night on the road to Rambouillet.  It would
have been a warning to Caliph not to underestimate the victim's ability
to retaliate for the rest, the problems would have been almost the same
as those that Peter had faced when planning the strike against

Caliph herself.

The when and the where and the how and Caliph had the edge here.

She could summon him to the selected place but how incredibly skilfully
it had been done.  As he waited for the call to Rambouillet,

Peter marvelled at the woman afresh.  There seemed no bottom to her
well of talent and accomplishments despite himself, knowing full well
that he was listening to a carefully rehearsed act, despite the fact
that he knew her to be a ruthless and merciless killer, yet his heart
had twisted at the tones of despair in her voice, the muffled weeping
perfectly done, so he had only just been able to identify it.

"This is the residence-of Baroness Altmann."

"Gaston?"

"Speaking,

sir."

"General Stride."

"Good evening, General.  I was expecting your call.  I spoke to the
Baroness earlier.  She asked me to arrange your passage to Les Neuf
Poissons.  I have done so."

"Where is it, Gaston?"

"Les Neuf Poissons it's the Baroness's holiday island in the Iles sous
le Vent it is necessary to take the UTA flight to Papeete-Faaa on
Tahiti where the Baroness's pilot will meet you.  It's another hundred
miles to Les Neuf Poissons and unfortunately the airstrip is too short
to accommodate the Lear jet one has to use a smaller aircraft."

"When did the Baroness go to Les Neuf Poissons?"

"She left seven days ago, General, "Gaston answered, and immediately
went on in the smooth, efficient secretarial voice to give Peter the
details of the UTA flight.  " The ticket will be held at the UTA
check-in counter for you, General, and I have reserved a nonsmoking
seat at the window."

"You think of everything.  Thank you, Gaston."  Peter replaced the
receiver, and found that his earlier exhaustion had left him he felt
vital and charged with new energy.  The elation of a trained soldier
facing the prospect of violent action, he wondered, or was it merely
the prospect of an end to the indecision and the fear of unknown
things?  Soon, for good or for evil, it would be settled and he
welcomed that.

He went through into the bathroom and pitched the whisky that remained
in his glass into the hand basing

The UTA DC 10 made its final approach to Tahiti from the east,

slanting down the sky with the jagged peaks of Moorea under the port
wing.  Peter remembered the spectacularly riven mountains of Tahiti's
tiny satellite island as the backdrop of the musical movie South

Pacific that had been filmed on location here.  The volcanic rock was
black and un weathered so that its crests were as sharp as sharks"

fangs.

They arrowed down across the narrow channel between the two islands,
and the runway seemed to reach out an arm into the sea to welcome the
big silver machine.

The air was heavy and warm and redolent with the perfume of frangipani
blossoms, and there were luscious brown girls swinging and swaying
gracefully in a dance of welcome.  The islands reached out with almost
overpowering sweetness and friendliness but as Peter picked his single
light bag out of the hold luggage and started for the exit doors,
something unusual happened.  One of the Polynesian customs officers at
the gate exchanged a quick word with his companion and then politely
stepped into Peter's path.

"Good afternoon, the smile was big and friendly, but it did not stretch
as far as the eyes.  "Would you be kind enough to step this way."  The
two customs men escorted Peter into the tiny screened office.

"Please open your bags, sir."  Swiftly but thoroughly they went through
his valise and crocodile-skin briefcase; one of them even used a
measuring stick to check both cases for a hidden compartment.

"I must congratulate you on your efficiency," said Peter, smiling also,
but his voice tight and low.

"A random check, sir."  The senior officer answered his smile.

"You were just unlucky to be the ten thousandth visitor.  Now, sir, I

hope you won't object to a body search?"

"A body search?"  Peter snapped, and would have protested further, but
instead he shrugged and raised both arms.  "Go ahead."  He could
imagine that Magda Altmann was as much the Grande Dame here as she was
in mother France.  She owned the entire island group and it would need
only a nod to have an incoming visitor thoroughly searched for weapons
of any sort.

He could imagine also that Caliph would be very concerned that the
intended victim should be suitably prepared for execution, lest he
should inadvertently become the executioner.

The one customs Officer checked his arms and flanks from armpit to
waist, while the other knelt behind him and checked inside the outside
of his legs from crotch to ankle.

Peter had left the Cobra in the safe deposit box in the Hilton in

Brussels.  He had anticipated something like this, it was the way

Caliph would work.

"Satisfied?"  he asked.

"Thank you for your co-operation, sir.  Have a lovely stay on our
island."  Magda's personal pilot was waiting for Peter in the main
concourse, and hurried forward to shake his hand.

"I was worried that you were not on the flight."

"A small delay in customs," Peter explained.

"We should leave immediately, if we are to avoid a night landing on Les
Neuf Poissons the strip is a little difficult."  Magda's Gates

Lear was parked on the hardstand near the service area, and beside it
the Norman Britten Tri Islander looked small and ungainly, a stork-like
ugly aircraft capable of the most amazing performance in short take-off
and landing situations.

The body of the machine was already loaded with crates and cantons of
supplies, everything from toilet rolls to Veuve Cliquot champagne,

all tied down under a wide meshed nylon net.

Peter took the right-hand seat, and the pilot started up and cleired
with control, then to Peter: "One hour's flying.  We will just make
it."  The setting sun was behind them as they came in from the west and
Les Neuf Poissons lay like a precious necklace of emeralds upon the
blue velvet cushion of the ocean.

There were nine islands in the characteristic circular pattern of
volcanic formation, and they enclosed a lagoon of water so limpid that
every whorl and twist of the coral outcrops showed through as clearly
as if they were in air.

"The islands had a Polynesian name when the Baron purchased them back
in 1945," the pilot explained in the clearly articulated rather
pedantic French of the Midi.  "They were given by one of the old kings
as a gift to a missionary he favoured and the Baron purchased them from
his widow.

The Baron could not pronounce the Polynesian name so he changed it-"
The pilot chuckled.  " The Baron was a man who faced the world on his
own terms."  Seven of the islands were merely strips of sand and
fringes of palms, but the two to the east were larger with hills of
volcanic basalt glittering like the skin of a great reptile in the rays
of the lowering sun.

As they turned onto their downwind leg, Peter had a view through the
window at his elbow of a central building with its roof of palm thatch
elegantly curved like the prow of a ship in the tradition of the
islands, and around it half-hidden in luscious green gardens were other
smaller bungalows.  Then they were over the lagoon and there were a
clutter of small vessels around the long jetty which reached out into
the protected waters Hobie-cats with bare masts, a big powered schooner
which was probably used to ship the heavy stores such as dieseline down
from Papeete, power boats for skiing and diving and fishing.  One of
them was out in the middle of the lagoon, tearing a snowy ostrich
feather of wake from the surface as it ran at speed; a tiny figure
towed on skis behind it lifted an arm and waved a greeting.

Peter thought it might be her, but at that moment the Tri-Islander
banked steeply onto its base leg and he was left with only a view of
cumulus cloud bloodied by the setting sun.

The runway was short and narrow, hacked from the palm plantation on the
strip of level land between beach and hills.  It was surfaced with
crushed coral.  They made their final approach over a tall palisade of
palm trees.  Peter saw that the pilot had not exaggerated by calling it
a little difficult.  There was a spiteful crosswind rolling in and
breaking over the hills and it rocked the Tri-Islander's wings
sickeningly.  The pilot crabbed her in, heading half into the wind, and
as he skimmed in over the palm tops, closed the throttles,

kicked her straight with the rudders, lowered a wing into the wind to
hold her from drifting and dropped her neatly fifty feet over the
threshold, perfectly aligned with the short runway so she kissed and
sat down solidly; instantly the pilot whipped the wheel to full lock
into the crosswind to prevent a ground loop and brought her up short.

Tarfait!"  Peter grunted with involuntary admiration, and the man
looked slightly startled as though the feat deserved no special
mention.  Baroness Altmann employed only the very best.

There was an electric golf cart driven by a young Polynesian girl
waiting at the end of the strip amongst the palm trees.  She wore only
a pa reo wrapped around her body below the armpits, a single length of
crimson and gold patterned cloth that fell to mid thigh.  Her feet were
bare, but around her pretty head she wore a crown of fresh flowers the
ma eva of the islands.

She drove the golf cart at a furious pace along narrow winding tracks
through the gardens that were a rare collection of exotic plants,
skilfully laid out, so that there was an exquisite Surprise around each
turn of the path.

His bungalow was above the beach with white sand below the verandah and
the ocean stretching to the horizon, secluded as though it were the
only building on the island.  4; Like a child the island girl took his
hand, a gesture of perfect innocence, and led him through the bungalow,
showing him the controls for the air-conditioning, lighting and the
video screen,

explaining it all in lisping French patois, and giggling at his
expression of pleasure.

There was a fully stocked bar and kitchenette, the small library
contained all the current best-sellers, and the newspapers and
magazines were only a few days old.  The offerings on the video screen
included half a dozen recent successful features and Oscar winners.

"Hell, Robinson Crusoe should have landed here," Peter chuckled,

and the girl giggled and wriggled like a friendly little puppy in
sympathy.

She came to fetch him again two hours later, after he had showered and
shaved and rested and changed into a light cotton tropical suit with
open shirt and sandals.

Again she held his hand and Peter sensed that if a man had taken the
gesture as licence the girl would have been hurt and confused.  By the
hand she led him along a path that was demarcated by cunningly
concealed glow lights, and the night was filled with the murmur of the
ocean and the gentle rustle and clatter of palm fronds moving in the
wind.

Then they came to the long ship-roofed building he had seen from the
air.  There was soft music and laughter, but when he stepped into the
light the laughter stopped and half a dozen figures turned to him
expectantly.

Peter was not sure what he had expected, but it was not this gay,

social gathering, tanned men and women in expensive and elegant casual
wear, holding tall frosted glasses filled with ice and fruit.

"Peter!"  Magda Altmann broke from the group, and came to him with that
gliding hip-swinging walk.

She wore a soft, shimmering, wheaten-gold dress, held high at the
throat with a thin gold chain, but completely nude across the shoulders
and down her back to within an inch of the cleft of her buttocks.  It
was breathtaking for her body was smooth as a rose petal and tanned to
the colour of new honey.  The dark hair was twisted into a rope as
thick as her wrist and piled up onto the top of her head, and she had
touched her eyes with shadows so they were slanting and green and
mysterious.

"Peter," she repeated, and kissed him lightly upon the lips, a brush
like a moth's wing, and her perfume touched him as softly, the
fragrance of Quadrille flowering with the warmth and magic of her
body.

He felt his senses tilt.  With all he knew of her, yet he was still not
hardened to her physical presence.

She was cool and groomed and poised as she had ever been, there was no
trace at all of the confusion and fearsome loneliness that he had heard
in those muffled choked-down sobs from halfway across the world not
until she stepped back to tilt her head on one side,

surveying him swiftly, smiling lightly.

"Oh, cheri, you are looking so much better.  I was so worried about you
when last I saw you."  Only then he thought he was able to detect the
shadows deep in her eyes, and the tightness at the corners of her
mouth.

"And you are more beautiful than I remembered."  It was true, so he
could say it without reserve, and she laughed, a single soft purr of
pleasure.

"You never said that before," she reminded him, but still her manner
was brittle.  Her show of affection and friendliness might have
convinced him at another time, but not now.  "And I am grateful."  Now
she took his arm, her fingers in the crook of his elbow, and she led
him to the waiting group of guests as though she did not trust herself
to be alone with him another moment lest she reveal some forbidden part
of herself.

There were three men and their wives: an American Democrat senator of
considerable political influence, a man with a magnificent head of
silver hair, eyes like dead oysters, and a beautiful wife at least
thirty years his junior who looked at Peter the way a lion looks at a
gazelle and held his hand seconds longer than was necessary.

There was an Australian, heavy in the shoulder and big in the gut.

His skin was tanned leathery and his eyes were framed in a network of
wrinkles.  They seemed to be staring through dust and sun glare at
distant horizons.  He owned a quarter of the world's known uranium
reserves, and cattle stations whose area was twice the size of the

British Isles.

His wife was as tanned and her handshake was as firm as his.

The third man was a Spaniard whose family name was synonymous with
sherry, an urbane and courtly Don, but with that fierce Moorish rake to
his thin features.  Peter had read somewhere that the sherry and cognac
ageing in this man's cellars was valued at over five hundred million
dollars, and that formed only a small part of his family's
investments,

His wife was a darkly brooding Spanish beauty with an extraordinary
streak of chalk white through the peak of her otherwise black hair.

As soon as the group had assimilated Peter, the talk turned back easily
to the day's sport.  The Australian had boated a huge black marlin that
morning, a fish over one thousand pounds in weight and fifteen feet
from the point of its bill to the tip of its deep sickle tail, and the
company was elated.

Peter took little part in the conversation, but watched Magda

Altmann covertly.  Yet she was fully aware of his scrutiny; he could
see it in the way she held her hand, and the tension in her whole long
slim body, but she laughed easily with the others and glanced at Peter
only once or twice, each time with a smile, but the shadows were in the
green depths of her eyes.

Finally she clapped her hands.  "Come, everybody, we are going to open
the feast."  She linked arms with the senator and the Australian and
led them down onto the beach.

Peter was left to cope with the senator's wife, and pushed her bosom
against his upper arm and ran her tongue lightly over her lips as she
clung to him.

Two of the Polynesian servants were waiting beside a long mound of
white beach sand, and at Magda's signal they attacked it with
shovels,

swiftly exposing a thick layer of seaweed and banana leaves from which
poured columns of thick and fragrant steam.  Below that was a rack of
banyan wood and palm fronds which suspended the feast over another
layer of seaweed and live coals.

There were exclamations of delight as the aroma of chicken and fish and
pork mingled with those of breadfruit and plantains and spices.

"Ah, a success," Magda declared gaily.  "If any air is allowed to enter
the bake we lose it all.  It burns, poof!  And we are left with only
charcoal."  While they feasted and drank the talk and laughter became
louder and less restrained, but Peter made the single drink last the
evening and waited quietly not joining the conversation and ignoring
the blandishments of the senator's wife.

He was waiting for some indication of when and from what direction it
would come.  Not here, he knew, not in this company.  When it came it
would be swift and efficient as everything else that Caliph did.

And suddenly he wondered at his own conceit, that had allowed him to
walk, entirely unarmed and unsupported, into the arena selected and
prepared by his enemy.  He knew his best defence was to strike first,

perhaps this very night if the opportunity offered.  The sooner the
safer, he realized, and Magda smiled at him across the table set under
the palm trees and laden with enough food to feed fifty.  When he
smiled back at her, she beckoned with a slight inclination of her
head,

and then while the men argued and bantered loudly, she murmured an
apology to the women and slipped unobtrusively into the shadows.

Peter gave her a count of fifty before he followed her.

She was waiting along the beach.  He saw the flash of her bare smooth
back in the moonlight and he went forward to where she stood staring
out across the wind-ruffled waters of the lagoon

He came up behind her, and she did not turn her head but her voice was
a whisper.

"I am so glad you came, Peter."

"I am so glad you asked me to."  He touched the back of her neck, just
behind her ear.

The ear had an almost elfin point to it that he had not noticed before
and the un swept hair at her nape was silken under his fingertips.  He
could just locate the axis, that delicate bone at the base of the skull
which the hangman aims to crush with the drop.  He could do it with the
pressure of thumb and it would be as quick as the knot.

am so sorry about the others," she said.  "But I am getting rid of them
with almost indecent haste, I'm afraid."  She reached up over her
shoulder and took his hand from her neck, and he did not resist.

Gently she spread the hand, and then pressed the open palm to her
cheek.  "They will leave early tomorrow.  Pierre is flying them back
to

Papeete, and then we will have Les Neuf Poissons to ourselves just you
and I-" And then that husky little chuckle."  And thirty-odd servants."
He could understand exactly why it would be that way.

The only witnesses would be the faithful retainers of the Grande

Dame of the islands.

"Now we MUSt.  go back.  Unfortunately my guests are very important,

and I cannot ignore them longer but tomorrow will come.  Too slowly for
me, Peter but it will come."  She turned in the circle of his arms and
kissed him with a sudden startling ferocity, so his lips were crushed
against his teeth, and then she broke from him and whispered close to
his ear.

"Whatever way it goes, Peter, we have had something of value, you and
I. Perhaps the most precious thing I have had in my life.  They can
never take that away from me."  And then she was out of his arms with
that uncanny speed and grace of movement and gliding back along the
path towards the lights.  He followed her slowly, confused and
uncertain as to what she had meant by those last words, concluding
finally that the purpose had been exactly that to confuse and unbalance
him, and at that moment he sensed rather than heard movement behind
him, and instantly whirled and ducked.

The man was ten paces behind him, had come like a leopard,

silently from the cover of a fall of lianas and flowering creepers
beside the path; only some Minimal instinct had warned Peter and his
body flowed into the fighting stance, balanced, strung like a nocked
arrow, at once ready both to attack and meet attack.

"Good evening, General Stride."  Peter only just managed to arrest
himself, and he straightened slowly but with each hand still extended
stiffly at his side like the blade of a meat cleaver, and as lethal.

"Carl!  he said.  So the grey wolves had been close, within feet of
them, guarding their mistress even in that intimate moment.

"I hope I did not alarm you," said the bodyguard and though

Peter could not see the man's expression, there was a faint mockery in
his voice, If there was confirmation needed, complete and final, this
was it.  Only Caliph would have need of a guard on a romantic
assignment.  Peter knew then beyond any doubt that either he or Magda

Altmann would be dead by sunset the following evening.

before going into the bungalow he made a stealthy -prowling circuit of
the bushes and shrubs that surrounded it.  He found nothing suspicious
but in the interior the bed had been prepared and his shaving gear
cleaned and neatly rearranged.  His soiled clothing had been taken for
cleaning and the other clothing had been pressed and rearranged more
neatly than his own unpacking.  He could not therefore be certain that
his other possessions had not been searched, but it was safe to presume
they had.

Caliph would not neglect such an elementary precaution.  " The locks on
doors and windows were inadequate, had probably not been used in years,
for there had been no serpents in this paradise, not until recently. So
he placed chairs and other obstacles in such a way that an intruder
should stumble over them in the dark, and then he rumpled the bed and
arranged the pillows to look like a sleeping figure, but took a single
blanket to the long couch in the private lounge.  He did not really
expect an attempt before the other guests left the island,

but if it came he would confuse Caliph's scenario as much as
possible.

He slept fitfully, jerking awake when a falling palm frond rattled
across the roof, or the moon threw picture shadows on the wall across
the room.  just before dawn he fell into a deeper sleep and his dreams
were distorted and nonsensical, only the sharp clear image of

Melissa-Jane's terror-stricken face and her silent screams of horror
remained with him when he woke.  The memory roused in him the cold lust
for vengeance which had abated a little in the weeks since her rescue
and he felt reaffirmed, possessed of a steely purpose once more,

determined to resist the softening, fatal allure of Caliph.

He rose in the slippery pearl light of not yet dawn, and went down to
the beach.  He swam out a mile beyond the reef, and had a long pull
back against a rogue current, but he came ashore feeling good and hard
and alert as he had not been in weeks.

All right, he thought grimly.  Let it come.  I'm as ready as I'll ever
be.

There was a farewell breakfast for the departing guests, on the sugary
sands of the beach that had been swept smooth by the night tide pink
Laurent Perrier champagne and hothouse strawberries flown in from
Auckland, New Zealand.

Magda Altmann wore brief green pants that showed off her long shapely
legs to perfection, and a matching "boob tube" across her small neat
breasts but her belly and shoulders and back were bare.  It was the
body of a finely trained athlete, but drawn by a great artist.

She seemed unnaturally elated to Peter, her gaiety was slightly forced
and the low purring laughter just a little too ready and with a
saw-edge to it.  It was almost as though she had made some hard
decision, and was steeling herself to carry it through.  Peter thought
of them as true opponents who had trained carefully for the coming
configuration like prize fighters at the weigh-in.

After the breakfast they rode up in a cavalcade of electric carts to
the airfield.  The senator, revved-up with pink champagne and sweating
lightly in the rising heat, gave Magda an over-affectionate farewell,
but she skilfully avoided his hands and shunted him expertly into the
Tri Islander after the other passengers.

Pierre, Magda's pilot, stood on the brakes at the end of the runway
while he ran all three engines up to full power.

Then he let her go, and the moment she had speed he rotated her into a
nose-high obstacle-clearance attitude.

The Ungainly machine itimped into the sky and went over the palms at
the end of the short strip with five hundred feet to spare and

Magda turned to Peter ecstatically.

"I hardly slept last night, "she admitted, as she kissed him.

"Neither did I," Peter told her and then he added silently" for the
same reasons, I'm sure."

"I've planned a special day for us,"

she went on.  "And I don't want to waste another minute of it."  The
head boatman had Magda's big forty-five-foot Chriscraft Fisherman
singled up at the end of the jetty.  It was a beautiful boat, with long
low attacking lines that made it seem to be flying even when on its
mooring lines, and loving care had very obviously been lavished upon
it.  The paintwork was unmarked and the stainless steel fittings were
polished to a mirror finish.  The boatman beamed happily when Magda
commended him with a smile and a word.

"Tanks are full, Baronne.  The scuba bottles are charged and the light
rods are rigged.  The water-skis are in the main racks, and the chef
came down himself to check the icebox."  However, his wide white smile
faded when he learned that Magda was taking the boat out alone.

"Don't you trust me?  "she laughed.

"Oh, of course, Baronne-" But he could not hide his chagrin at having
to give over his charge even to such a distinguished captain.

He handled the lines himself, casting her off, and calling anxious
last-minute advice to Magda as the gap between jetty and vessel
opened.

"Ne t'kquiet pas!"  she laughed at him, but he made a dejected figure
standing on the end of the jetty as Magda slowly opened up both diesels
and the Chris-craft came up on the plane and seemed almost to break
free of the surface.

Her wake was scored deep and clean and straight through the gin-clear
water of the lagoon, a tribute to the design of her hull, and then it
curved out gracefully behind them as Magda made the turn between the
channel markers and lined her up for the passage through the reef, and
out into the open Pacific.

"Where are we going?"

"There is an old Japanese aircraft carrier lying in a hundred feet of
water beyond the reef.  Yankee aircraft sank her back in "forty-four It
is a beautiful site for scuba diving.  We will go there first-" How?
Peter wondered.  Perhaps one of the scuba bottles had been partially
filled with carbon monoxide gas.  It was simply done, with a hose from
the exhaust of the diesel generator:

simply pass the exhaust gases through a charcoal filter to remove the
taste and smell of unconsumed hydra carbons and the remaining carbon
monoxide gas would be undetectable.  Fill the bottle to 30 atmospheres
of pressure then top it up with clean air to its operating pressure
of

I 10 atmospheres.  It would be swift, but not too swift to alarm the
victim, a gentle long sleep.  When the victim lost his mouthpiece, the
bottles would purge themselves of any trace of the gas.  That would be
a good way to do it.

"After that we can go ashore on The des Oiseaux.  Since Aaron stopped
the islanders stealing the eggs to eat, we've got one of the biggest
nesting colonies of terns and noddies and frigate birds in the

Southern Pacific-" Perhaps a spear gun  That would be direct and
effective.

At short range, say two feet, even below the surface, the spear arrow
would go right through a human torso in between the shoulder blades and
out through the breast bone.

And afterwards we can water-ski-" With an unsuspecting skier in the
water, awaiting the pick-up, what could be more effective than opening
up both those tremendously powerful diesels to the gates and running
the victim down?  If the hull did not crush him, the twin screws
turning at 500 revolutions per minute would cut him up as neatly as a
loaf of pre-sliced bread.

Peter found himself intrigued with the guessing-game.

He found himself regretting the fact that he would never know what she
intended, and he looked back from where they stood side by side on the
tall flying bridge of the Chriscraft.  The main island was lowering
itself into the water already they were out of sight of anybody who did
not have a pair of powerful binoculars.

Beside him Magda pulled the retaining ribbon out of her hair, and shook
loose a black rippling banner that streamed in the wind behind her.

"Let's do this for ever," she shouted above the wind and the boom of
the engines.

"Sold to the lady with the sexy backside," Peter shouted back, and he
had to remind himself that she was one of the most carefully trained
killers he would ever meet.  He must not allow himself to be lulled by
the laughter and the beauty and he must not allow her to make the first
stroke, His chances of surviving that were remote.

He glanced back again at the land.  Any minute now, he thought,

and moved as though to glance over the side, getting slightly into her
rear, but still in the periphery of her vision; she shifted slightly
towards him still smiling.

"At this state of the tide there are always amberjack in the channel. I
promised the chef I would bring him a couple of them kicking fresh, she
explained.  "Won't you go down and get two of the light rods ready,
cheri?  The feather lures are in the forward starboard seat locker."

"Okay,"he nodded.

"I'll throttle back to trolling speed when I make the turn into the
channel put the lines in then."

OK."

" And then on an impulse.  "But kiss me first."  She held up her face
to him, and he wondered why he had said that.  It was not to take
farewell of her.  He was sure of that.  It was to lull her just that
fraction, and yet as their lips met he felt the deep ache of regret
that he had controlled for so long and as her mouth spread slowly and
moistly open under his,

he felt as though his heart might break then.  For a moment he felt
that he might die himself before he could do it; dark waves of despair
poured over him.

He slid his hand over her shoulder to the nape of her neck and her body
flattened against his; he caressed her lightly, feeling for the place,
and then settling thumb and forefinger a second, another second passed,
and then she pulled him back softly.

"Hey, now!"  she whispered huskily.  "You stop that before I pile up on
the reef."  He had not been able to do it with his bare hands.  He just
could not do it like that but he had to do it quickly, very quickly.
Every minute delayed now led him deeper and deeper into deadly
danger.

"Go!"  she ordered, and struck him a playful blow on the chest.

"We've got time for that later all the time in the world.  Let's savour
it, every moment of it."  He had not been able to do it, and he turned
away.  It was only as he went down the steel ladder into the cockpit of
the Chris-craft that it suddenly occurred to him that during the
lingering seconds of that kiss the fingers of her right hand had cupped
lovingly under his chin.  She could have crushed his larynx,

paralysing him with a thumb driven up into the soft vulnerable arch of
his throat at the first offensive pressure of his thumb and
forefinger.

As his feet hit the deck of the cockpit another thought came to him.
Her other hand had lain against his body, stroking him softly under the
ribs.  That hand could have struck upwards and inwards to tear through
his diaphragm his instincts must have warned him.  She had been poised
for the stroke, more so than he was; she had been inside the circle of
his arms, inside his de fences waiting for him and he shivered briefly
in the hot morning sun at the realization of how close he had been to
death.

The realization turned instantly to something else, that slid down his
spine cold as water down a melting icicle.  It was fear, not the
crippling fear of the craven, but fear that edged him and hirdened him.
Next time he would not hesitate he could not hesitate.

He was instinctively carrying out her instructions as his mind raced to
catch up with the problem.  He lifted the lid of the seat locker.  In
the custom-fitted interior were arranged trays of fishing gear, swivels
of brass and stainless steel in fifty different sizes;

sinkers shaped for every type of water and bottom; lures of plastic and
feathers, of enamel and bright metal; hooks for gigantic bill fish or
for fry and in a separate compartment in the side tray a bait knife.

The knife was a fifty-dollar Ninja with a lexan composition handle,
cheque red and moulded for grip.  The blade was seven inches of hollow
ground steel, three inches broad at the hilt and tapering to a stiletto
point.  It was a brutal weapon, you could probably chop through an oak
log with it, as the makers advertised.  Certainly it would enter human
flesh and go through bone as though it were Cheddar cheese.

It balanced beautifully in Peter's fist as he made one testing slash
and return cut with it.  The blade hissed in the air, and when he
tested the edge too hurriedly it stung like a razor and left a thin
line of bright blood across the ball of his thumb.

He kicked off his canvas sneakers, so the rubber soles did not squeak
on the deck.  He was dressed now in only a thin cotton singlet and
boxer type swimming trunks, stripped down for action.

He went up the first three rungs of the ladder on bare silent feet, and
lifted his eyes above the level of the flying bridge.

Magda Altmann stood at the controls of the Chris-craft, conning the big
vessel into the mouth of the channel, staring ahead in complete
concentration.

Her hair still flew in the wind, snaking and tangling into thick
shimmering tresses.  Her naked back was turned to him, the deeply
defined depression running down her spine and the crest of smooth hard
muscle rising on each side of it.

One leg of her pants had tucked up slightly exposing a half-moon of
round white buttock, and her legs were long and sup pleas a dancer's as
she balanced on the balls of her narrow feet, raising herself to see
ahead over the bows.

Peter had been gone from the bridge for less than ten seconds, and she
was completely unaware, completely unsuspecting.

Peter did not make the same mistake again; he went up the ladder in a
single swift bound, and the bellow of the diesels covered any sound he
might have made.

With the knife you never take the chance of the point turning against
bone, if you have a choice of target.

Peter picked the small of the back, at the level of the kidneys where
there was no bone to protect the body cavity.

It is essential to put the blade in with all possible power; this
decreases the chance of bone-deflection and it peaks the paralysing
effect of impact-shock.

Peter put the full weight of his rush behind the thrust.

The paralysis is total if the blade is twisted a half-turn at the same
instant that the blade socks in hilt-deep.

The muscles in Peter's right forearm were bunched in anticipation of
the moment in which he would twist the blade viciously in her flesh,

quadrupling the size and the trauma of the wound.

The polished stainless steel fascia of the Chris-craft's control panel
reflected a distorted image, like those funny mirrors of the
fairground.  Only at the moment that Peter had committed himself
completely, at the moment when he had thrown all his weight into the
killing stroke, did he realize with a sickening flash that she was
watching him in the polished steel control panel; she had been watching
him from the moment he reappeared at the head of the ladder.

The curved Surface of the steel distorted] her face, so that it
appeared to consist only of two enormous eyes; it distracted him in
that thousandth part of a second before the point of the blade entered
flesh.  He did not see her move.

Blinding, numbing agony shot down his right flank and arm, from a point
in the hollow where his collar bone joined the upper arm, while at the
same instant something hit him on the inside of his forearm just below
the elbow.

The knife stroke was flung outwards, passing an inch from her hip,

and the point of the blade crashed into the control panel in front of
her, scaring the metal with a deep bright scratch, but Peter's numbed
fingers could not keep hold on the hilt.  The weapon spun from his
grip, ringing like a crystal wine glass as it struck the steel handrail
and rebounded over the side of the bridge into the cockpit behind
him.

He realized that she had struck backwards at him, not turning to face
him but using only the reflection in the control panel to judge her
blow with precision into the pressure point of his shoulder.

Now pain had crippled him and the natural reaction was to clutch at the
source of it.  Instead with some reflexive instinct of survival he
flung up his left hand to protect the side of his neck and the next
blow, also thrown backwards, felt as though it had come from a
full-blooded swing of a baseball bat.  He hardly saw it, it came so
fast and hard there was just the flicker of movement across his
vision,

like the blur of a hummingbird's wing, and then the appalling force of
it crushing into the muscle of his forearm.

Had it taken him in the neck where it was aimed, it would have killed
him instantly; instead it paralysed his other arm, and she was turning
into him now effortlessly matching his bull strength with a combination
of speed and control.

He knew he must try and keep her close, smother her with his weight and
size and strength and he hooked at her with the clawed crippled fingers
of his knife hand; they caught for a moment and then she jerked free.
He had ripped away the flimsy strip of elasticized cloth that covered
her breasts, and she spun lightly under and out of the sweep of his
other arm as he.  tried desperately to club her down with his
forearm.

He saw that her face was bone-white with the adrenalin overdose
coursing through her blood.  Her lips were drawn back into a fixed
snarl of concentration and fury and her teeth seemed as sharp as those
of a female leopard in a trap.

It was like fighting a leopard; she attacked him with an unrelenting
savagery and total lack of fear, no longer human, dedicated only to his
total destruction.

The long hair swirled about him, at one moment flicking like a whiplash
into his eyes to blind and unbalance him, and she weaved and dodged and
struck like a mongoose at the cobra, every movement flowing into the
next, her taunting red-tipped breasts dancing and jerking with each
blow she hurled at him.

With a jar of disbelief, Peter realized that she was beating him down.
So far he had managed barely to survive each blow that he caught on arm
and shoulder; each time her bare feet crashed into his thigh or lower
belly, each time her knees drove for his groin and jarred against the
bone of his pelvis, he felt a little more of his strength dissipate,
felt his reactions becoming more rubbery, just that instant slower.  He
had countered her attack with luck and instinct, but any instant she
must land solidly and drop him, for she was never still,

cutting him with hands and feet, keeping him off balance and he had not
hurt her yet, had not touched her with any of his counter-strokes.

Still there was no feeling in his hands and fingers.  He needed
respite, he needed a weapon, and he thought desperately of the knife
that had fallen into the cockpit behind him.

He gave ground to her next attack, and the bridge rail caught him in
the small of the back; at the same moment another of her strokes aimed
at the soft of his throat deflected off his arm and crunched into his
nose.  Instantly his eyes flooded with tears, and he felt the warm salt
flood of blood over his upper lip and down the back of his throat; he
doubled over swiftly, then in the same movement he threw himself
backwards, like a diver making a one-and-ahalf from the three-metre
board.  The rail behind him helped his turn in the air, and he had
judged it finely.  He landed like a cat on both feet on the deck of the
cockpit ten feet below the bridge, flexing at the knees to absorb the
shock, and flicking the tears from his eyes, wringing his arms to
return blood and feeling.

As he spun into a crouch he saw the knife.  It had slid down the
cockpit into the stern scuppers.  He went for it.

The dive had taken her by surprise, just as she was poised for the
final killing stroke to the back of his exposed neck, but she swirled
to the head of the ladder and gathered herself while below her Peter
launched himself across the cockpit for the big ugly Ninja knife.

She went for him feet first, dropping from ten feet, and the bare soles
of her feet hit him together, the impetus of her falling body enhanced
by the stabbing kick that she released at the moment that she hit
him.

She caught him high in the back, hurling him forward so that the top of
his head cracked into the bulkhead and darkness rustled through his
head.  He felt his senses going, and it required all of his resolve to
roll over and pull his knees swiftly to his chest, to guard himself
against the next killing stroke.  He caught it on his shins, and once
again launched himself after the knife.  His fingers felt swollen and
clumsy on the rough cheque red surface of the hilt, and at the moment
they touched he unwound his doubled-up body like a steel coil spring,

lashing out with both feet together.

It was a blind stroke, delivered in complete desperation.

It was the first solid blow he had landed; it caught her at the moment
when she had already launched herself into her next onslaught;

both his feet slammed into her belly just below the ribs, and had the
flesh there been soft or yielding it would have ended it; but she was
just able to absorb the force of it with flat hard muscle though it
hurled her backwards across the cockpit with the breath hissing from
her lungs and the long slim body doubling over in an agonized
convulsion.

Peter realized that this was the only chance that he had had, and the
only one he would ever have yet his body was racked with such pain that
he could hardly drag himself up onto his elbow, and his vision swam and
blurred with tears and blood and sweat.

He did not know how he had managed it, some supreme exertion of will,
but he was on his feet with the knife in his hand, instinctively
extending the blade down the back of his right thigh to keep it
protected until the moment it had to be used, crouching as he went
in,

left arm raised as a shield and knowing that now he had to end it
swiftly, he could not go on longer.  "this was his last effort.

Then she had a weapon also.  Moving so swiftly that it had happened
before she was halfway across the cockpit, she had knocked the
retaining clip off the boat hook that stood in the rack beside the
cabin entrance.

It was eight feet of heavy varnished ash, with an ornate but vicious
brass head, and she cut at him with a low swinging warning blow to hold
him off while she forced air back into her empty lungs.

She was recovering swiftly, much more swiftly than Peter himself

He could see the cold killing light rekindle in her eyes.  He knew he
could not go on much longer, he must risk it all in one last total
effort.

He threw the knife, aiming at her head.  The Ninja, not designed as a
throwing weapon, rolled out of line of flight, hilt foremost but still
it forced her to lift the staff of the boat hook and deflect it.

It was the distraction he had wanted.

Peter used the momentum of his throw to go in under the swinging staff,
and he hit her with his shoulder while her arms were raised.

Both of them reeled backwards into the cabin bulkhead, and

Peter groped desperately for a grip.  He found it in the thick lustrous
tresses of her hair, and he wove his fingers into it.

She fought like a dying animal with strength and fury and courage that
he could never have believed possible, but now at last he could pit his
superior weight and strength directly against hers.

He smothered her against his chest, trapping one arm between their
bodies, while he was able to pull her head backwards at an impossible
angle, exposing the long smooth curve of her throat.

And then he scissored his thighs across her, so that those lethal feet
and legs were unable to reach him, and they crashed over onto the
deck.

She managed with an incredible effort to swing her weight so that she
landed on top of him, her breasts sliding against his chest,

lubricated by sweat and blood that dribbled down from his nose, but

Peter heaved all his remaining strength into his shoulders and rolled
back on top of her.

They were locked breast to chest and groin to groin in some bizarre
parody of the act of love, only the stock of the boat hook between
them.

Peter twisted down hard on the rope of hair in his left hand,

pinning her head to the deck so that her eyes were only six inches from
his and blood from his nose and mouth dripped onto her upturned face.

Neither of them had spoken a word, the only sound the hiss and suck of
laboured breathing, the explosive grunt of a blow delivered or the
involuntary gasp of pain as it landed.

They glared into each other's eyes, and at that moment neither of them
was a human being, they were two animals fighting to the death,

and Peter shifted quickly so the stock of the boat hook fell across her
unprotected throat.  She had not been ready for that and she ducked her
chin too late.

Peter knew he could not dare to release his grip on her hair, nor the
arm around her body, nor the scissors that enfolded her legs.  He
-could feel the steely tension of her whole body, that required all his
own strength to hold.  If he relaxed his grip in the slightest, she
would twist away, and he would not have the strength to go on after
that.

With the elbow of the hand that held her hair, he began to bear down on
the ash staff of the boat hook, slowly crushing down into her throat.

She knew it was over then, but still she fought on.  As she weakened
Peter was able to transfer more and more of his weight onto the stock
of the boat hook.  Slowly blood suffused her face, turning it dark
mottled plum, her lips quivered with each painful rasping breath and a
little frothy saliva broke from the corners of her mouth and ran back
down her cheek.

Watching her die was the most horrible thing Peter had ever had to do.
He shifted cautiously, going for the few extra ounces of weight which
would force the heavy wooden Stock down that last eighth of an inch and
crush in her throat, and she recognized the moment in her eyes.

She spoke for the first time.  It was a croak slurred through swollen
and gaping lips.

"They warned me."  He thought he had mis-heard her, and he checked the
final thrust downwards which would pinch out the last spark of life. "I
couldn't believe it."  The faintest whisper, only just intelligible.
"Not you."  Then the last resistance went out of her, her body relaxed,
the complete acceptance of death at last.  The fierce green light went
out in her eyes, replaced at the very end with a sadness so heavy that
it seemed to acknowledge the ultimate betrayal of all goodness and
trust.

Peter could not force himself to make the final thrust downwards that
would end it.  He rolled off her and flung the heavy wooden stock
across the cockpit.  It crashed into the bulkhead and he sobbed as he
crawled painfully across the deck, turning his back to her
completely,

knowing that she was still alive and therefore still as dangerous as
she had ever been yet no longer caring.  He had gone as far as he could
go.  It didn't matter any more if she killed him; something in him even
welcomed the prospect of release.

He reached the rail and tried to drag himself onto his feet,

expecting at any moment the killing blow into the nape of his neck as
she attacked him again.

It did not come, and he managed to get onto his knees, but his whole
body was trembling violently so that his teeth chattered in his jaws
and every strained and bnlised tendon and muscle screamed for surcease.
Let her kill me, he thought, it doesn't matter.  Nothing matters now.

Half supporting himself on the rail, he turned slowly and his vision
swam and flickered with patches of darkness and little shooting stars
of crimson and white flame.  Through the swirl of senses at the end of
their usefulness, he saw that she was kneeling in the centre of the
cockpit, facing him.

Her naked torso was splattered and smeared with his blood and the
smooth tanned skin oiled with slippery sweat of near death.  Her face
was still and swollen and inflamed, wreathed in a great tangle of
matted and disordered hair.

There was a flaming livid weal across her throat where the stock had
crushed her, and as she fought for breath her small pert breasts lifted
and dropped to the painful pumping of her chest.

They stared at each other, far beyond speech, driven to the very
frontiers of their existence.

She shook her head, as though trying desperately to deny the horror of
it all, and at last she tried to speak; no sound came and she licked
her lips and lifted one slim hand to her throat as though to ease the
pain of it.

She tried again, and this time she managed one word.

"Why?"  He could not reply for fully half a minute, his own throat
seemed to have closed, grown together like an old wound.

He knew that he had failed in his duty and yet he could not yet hate
himself for it.  He formed the words in his own mind, as though he were
trying to speak a foreign language, and when he spoke his voice was a
stranger's broken and coarsened by the knowledge of failure.

"I couldn't do it," he said.

She shook her head again, and tried to frame the next question.

But she could not articulate it, only one word came out, the same word
again.

"Why ?"  And he had no answer for her.

She stared at him, then slowly her eyes filled with tears; they ran
down her cheeks and hung from her chin like early morning dew on the
leaf of the vine.

Slowly she pitched forward onto the deck, and for many seconds he did
not have the strength to go to her, and then he lurched across the deck
and dropped to his knees beside her; he lifted her upper body in his
arms suddenly terrified that he had succeeded after all, that she was
dead.

His relief soared above the pain of his battered body as he felt her
breathing still sawing through her damaged throat, and as her head
rolled against his shoulder he realized that fat oily tears still
welled out from between her closed eyelids.

He began to rock her like a child in his arms, a completely useless
gesture, and only then did her words begin to make any sense to him.

"They warned me, "she had whispered.

"I couldn't believe it," she had said.

"Not you."  He knew then that had she not spoken he would have gone
through with it.  He would have killed her and weighted her body and
dropped it beyond the 1,000-fathom line but the words, although they
did not yet make sense, had reached deep into some recess of his
mind.

She stiffed against his chest.  She said something, it sounded like his
name.  It roused him to reality.  The big Chris-craft was still roaring
blindly through the channels and reefs of the outer passage.

He laid her back gently on the deck, and scrambled up the ladder to the
flying bridge.  The whole of that horrific conflict had taken less than
a minute, from his knife-stroke to her collapse under him.

The steering of the Chris-craft was locked into the automatic pilot and
the vessel had run straight out through the channel into the open sea.
It reinforced his knowledge that she had been ready for his attack. She
had been acting that total concentration in steering the vessel, luring
him into the attack while the Chris-craft was on automatic pilot and
she was ready to throw that backward blow at him.

It did not make sense, not yet.  All that he knew was that he had made
some terrible miscalculation.  He threw out the switch of the automatic
steering, and shut down both throttles to the idle position before
disengaging the main drive.  The diesels bur bled softly, and she
rounded up gently into the wind and wallowed beam-on to the short steep
blue seas of the open ocean.

Peter took one glance back over the stern.  The islands were just a low
dark smudge on the horizon, and then he was stumbling back to the
ladder.

Magda had dragged herself into a half sit ting: position, but she
recoiled swiftly as he came to her an this time he saw fear pass like
cloud shadow across her eyes.

"It's all right," he told her, his own voice still ragged.  Her fear
offended him deeply.  He did not want her ever to be afraid of him
again.

He took her up in his arms, and her body was stiff with uncertainty,
like that of a cat picked up against its will, but too sick to
resist.

"It's all right," he repeated awkwardly, and carried her down into the
saloon of the Chris-craft.  His own body felt battered as though his
very bones were bruised and cracked, but he handled her so tenderly
that slowly the resistance went out of her and she melted against
him.

He lowered her onto the leather padded bench, but when he tried to
straighten up she slid one arm around his neck and restrained him,

clinging to him.

"I left the knife there," she whispered huskily.  "It was a test."

"Let me get the medicine chest.  "He tried to pull away.

"No."  She shook her head and winced at the pain in her throat.

Don't go away, Peter.  Stay with me.  I am so afraid.

I was going to kill you if you took the knife.  I nearly did.

Oh, Peter, what is happening to us, are we both going mad?"  She held
him desperately and he sank to his knees on the deck and bowed over
her.

"Yes," he answered her, holding her to his chest.  "Yes, we must be
going mad.  I don't understand myself or any of it any more."

"Why did you have to take the knife, Peter?  Please you must tell me.
Don't lie, tell me the truth, I have to know why."

"Because of Melissa-Jane because of what you had done to her."  He felt
her jerk in his arms as though he had struck her again.  She tried to
speak but now her voice was only a croak of despair, and Peter went on
to explain it to her.

"When I discovered that you were Caliph, I had to kill you."  She
seemed to be gathering herself for some major effort, but then when she
spoke it was still in that scratchy broken whisper.  "Why did you stop
yourself, Peter?"

"Because-" He knew the reason then.  Because I

suddenly I knew that I loved you.  Nothing else counted."  She gasped
and was silent again for nearly a minute.

"Do you still think that I am Caliph?"she asked at last.

"I don't know.  I don't know anything any more except that I

love you.  That's all that matters."

"What happened to us, Peter?"  She lamented softly.  "Oh God, what has
happened to us?"

"Are you Caliph,

Magda?"

"But Peter, you tried to kill me.  That was the test with the knife.
You are Caliph."  On Magda's direction Peter took the

Chris craft in through a narrow passage in the coral reef that
surrounded The des Oiseaux, while the seabirds wheeled about them in a
raucous cloud, filling the air with their wingbeats.

He anchored in five fathoms in the protected lee, and then called the
main island on the VHF radio, speaking to the head boatman.

"The Baronne has decided to sleep on board overnight," he explained.
"Don't worry about us."  When he went down to the saloon again Magda
had recovered sufficiently to be sitting up.  She had pulled on one of
the terry to welling track suits from the clothes locker, and she had
wound a clean towel around her throat to protect it and to hide the
fierce fresh bruise that was already staining her skin like the
squeezed juice of an overripe plum.

Peter found the medicine box in a locker above the toilet bowl of the
heads, and she protested when he brought two Temprapain capsules for
the pain, and four tablets of Brufin for the swelling and bruising of
her throat and body.

"Take them," he commanded and held the glass while she did so.

Then he carefully unwrapped the towel from her throat and lightly
rubbed a creamy salve into the bruise with his fingertips.

"That feels better already," she whispered, but now she had lost her
voice almost entirely.

"Let's have a look at your stomach."  He pushed her down gently on her
back on the long padded bench and unzipped the top of the to welling
suit to the waist.  The bruise where he had kicked her had spread from
just below her small pale breasts to the tiny sculpted navel in the
flat hard plane of her belly; again he massaged the soothing cream into
her skin and she sighed and murmured with the comfort of it.

When he finished she was able to hobble, still painfully doubled over,
to the heads.  She locked herself in for fifteen minutes while

Peter tended his own injuries, and when she emerged again she had
bathed her face and combed out her hair.

He poured two crystal old-fashioned glasses half full of Jack

Daniel's Bourbon and he handed one to her as she sank onto the padded
bench beside him.  "Drink it.  For your throat," he ordered, and she
drank and gasped at the sting of the liquor and set the glass aside.

"And you, Peter?"  she husked with sudden concern.  "Are you all
right?"  Just one thing," he said.  "I'd hate you to get really mad at
me."  Then he smiled, and she started to chuckle but choked on the pain
and ended up clinging to him.

"When can we talk?"  he asked her gently.  "We have to talk this
out."

"Yes, I know, but not yet, Peter.  Just hold me for a while."  And he
was surprised at the comfort that it afforded him.

The warm woman shape pressed to him seemed to ease the pain of body and
of mind, and he stroked her hair as she nuzzled softly against his
throat.

"You said you loved me, "she murmured at last, making it a question.
Seeking reassurance, as lovers always must.

"Yes.  I love you.  I think I knew it all along, but when I

learned that you were Caliph, I had to bury it deep.  It was only there
at the end I had to admit to myself."

""I'm glad," she said simply.

"Because you see I love you also.  I thought I would never be able to
love.  I had despaired of it, Peter.  Until you.  And then they told me
you would kill me.  That you were Caliph.  I thought then I would die
having found you and then lost you.  It was too cruel, Peter.  I had to
give you the chance to prove it wasn't true!"

"Don't talk," he commanded.  "Just lie there and listen.

There is nothing wrong with my voice, so I will tell it first.

The way it was with me, and how I knew you were Caliph."  And he told
it to her, holding her to him and speaking softly, steadily.  The only
other sounds in the cabin were the slap of the wavelets against the
hull and the subdued hum of the air-conditioning unit.

"You know everything up to the day Melissa-Jane was taken, all of it. I
told you all of it, without reservation and without lying, not once-"
He started, and then he went on to tell her in detail of the hunt for
Melissa-Jane.

I think something must have snapped in my mind during those days.

I was ready to believe anything, to try anything to get her back.  I

would wake up in the night and go to the toilet and vomit with the
thought of her hand in a glass jar."  He told her how he had planned to
kill Kingston Parker to meet Caliph's demands, exactly how he intended
doing it, the detailed how and where, and she shuddered against him.

"The power to corrupt even the best," she whispered.

"Don't talk-" he admonished her, and went on to tell her of the tip-off
that had led them at last to the Old Manse in Laragh.

"When I saw my daughter like that, I lost what little was left of my
reason.  When I held her and felt the fever and heard her scream with
lingering terror, I would have killed-" He broke off and they were
silent until she protested with a small gasp and he realized that his
hand had closed on her upper arm and his fingers were biting into her
flesh with the force of his memories.

"I'm sorry."  He relaxed his grip, and lifted the hand to tuch her
cheek.  "Then they told me about you."  to "Who?"  she whispered "The

Atlas Command."

"Parker?"

"Yes, and Colin Noble."

"What did they tell you?"

"They told me how your father brought you to Paris when you were a
child.  They told me that even then you were bright and pretty and
special-" He began to recite it for her.  " When your father was
killed-" and she moved restlessly against his chest as he said it you
went to live with foster parents, all of them members of the party, and
in the end you were so special that they sent somebody to take you back
to Poland.  Somebody who posed as your uncle-"

"I believed he was-" She nodded.  For ten years I believed it.  He used
to write to me-" She stopped herself with an effort, was silent a
moment and then, "he was all I ever had after Papa."

"You were selected to go to Odessa," Peter went on, and felt her go
very still in his arms, so he repeated it with the harshness
unconcealed in his tone, to the special school in

Odessa."

"You know about Odessa?"  she whispered.  "Or you think you know but
nobody who has never been there could ever really know."

"I know they taught you to-" He paused, imagining again a beautiful
young girl in a special room overlooking the Black Sea, learning to use
her body to trap and beguile a man, any man.  They taught you many
things."

He could not make the accusation.

"Yes,"she murmured.  "Many, many things."

"Like how to kill a man with your hands."

"I think that subconsciously I could not bring myself to kill you,
Peter.  God knows you should not have survived.  I loved you, even
though I hated you for betraying me, I could not really do it-" She
sighed again, a broken gusty sound.

And when I thought that you were going to kill me it was almost a
relief.  I was ready to accept that, against living on without the love
that I thought I had found."

"You talk too much."  He stopped her.

"You'll damage your throat further."  He touched her lips with his
fingers, to silence her, and then went on.  "And at Odessa you became
one of the chosen, one of the elite."

"It was like entering the church,

a beautiful mystic thing-" she whispered.  "I cannot explain it.  I

would have done everything or anything for the State, for what I knew
was right for "Mother Russia"."

"All of this is true?"  He marvelled that she made no effort to deny
it.

"All of it," she nodded painfully.  "I will never lie to you

Peter.  I swear it."

"Then they sent you back to France to Paris?"  he asked, and she
nodded.

"You did your job, even better than they had expected you to do it. You
were the best, the very best.  No man could resist you."  She did not
answer, but she did not lower her eyes from his.  It was not a defiance
but merely a total acceptance of what he was saying.

"There were men.  Rich and powerful men-" His voice was bitter now.  He
could not help himself.  "Many, many men.  Nobody knows how many, and
from each of them you gathered harvest."

"Poor Peter," she whispered.  "Have you tortured yourself with that?"

"It helped me to hate you, "he said simply.

"Yes, I understand that.  There is nothing that I can give you for your
comfort except this.  I never loved a man until I met you."  She was
keeping her word.  There were no more lies nor deceptions now.  He was
certain of it.

"Then they decided that you could be used to take over control of

Aaron Altmann and his Empire-"

"No," she whispered, shaking her head.

"I decided on Aaron.  He had been the only one man who I had not been
able to-" Her voice pinched out and she took a sip of the bourbon and
let it trickle slowly down her throat before she went on.  "He
fascinated me.  I had never met a man like that before.  So strong,

such raw power."

"All right," Peter agreed.  "You might even have grown tired of the
other role by then-"

"It's hard work being a courtesan--2

She smiled for the first time since he had begun speaking, but it was a
sad self mocking smile.  "You went about it exactly the right way.
First you made yourself indispensable to him.  Already he was a sick
man, beginning to need a crutch, somebody he could trust entirely.

You gave him that-" She said nothing, but memories passed across her
eyes, changing the green shadows like sunlight through a deep still
pool.

And when he trusted you there was nothing you could not supply to your
masters.  Your value had increased a hundredfold."  He went on talking
quietly while outside the day died in a fury of crimsons and royal
purples, slowly altering the light in the cabin and dimming it down so
that her face was all that existed in the soft gloom.  A pale intense
expression, listening quietly to the accusations, to the recitation of
betrayals and deceits.  Only occasionally she made a little gesture Of
denial, a shake of her head or the pressure of fingers on his arms.
Sometimes she closed her eyes briefly as though she could not accept
some particularly cruel memory, and once or twice an exclamation was
wrung from her in that strained and tortured whisper.

"Oh God, Peter!  It's true!"  He told her how she had gradually
developed the taste for the power she was able to wield as Aaron

Altmann's wife, and how that flourished as Aaron's strength declined.

How she at last even opposed the Baron on some issues.

"Like that of supplying arms to the South African Government,"

Peter said, and she nodded and made one of her rare comments.

"Yes.  We argued.  That was one of the few times we argued."  And she
smiled softly, as though at a private memory that she could not share
even with him.

He told her how the taste of power and the trappings of power gradually
eroded her commitment to her earlier political ideals, how her masters
slowly realized they were losing their hold over her and of the
pressures they attempted to apply to force her back into the fold.

"But you were too powerful now to respond to the usual pressures.

You had even succeeded in penetrating Aaron's Mossad connections,

and had that protection."

"This is incredible!"  she whispered.  "It's so close, so very close
that it is the truth."  He waited for her to elaborate, but instead she
motioned him to continue.

"When they threatened to expose you to the Baron as a communist agent,
you had no choice but to get rid of him and you did it in such a way
that you not only got rid of the threat to your existence but you also
achieved control of Altmann Industries, and to put the cherry on the
top of the pie you got yourself twenty-five million in operating
capital.

You arranged the abduction and killing of Aaron Altmann, you paid
yourself the twenty-five million and personally supervised its
transfer, probably to a numbered account in Switzerland-"

"Oh God,

Peter!"  she whispered, and in the dark of the cabin her eyes were
fathomless and huge as the empty cavities of a skull.

"Is it true?"  Peter asked for confirmation for the first time.

"It's too horrible.  Go on please."

"It worked so well that it opened up a new world of possibilities for
you.  just about this time you truly became Caliph.  The taking of
Flight 070 was possibly not the first stroke after the kidnapping of
Aaron Altmann there may have been others.  Vienna and the OPEC
ministers, the Red Brigade activities in Rome but 070 was the first
time you used the name Caliph.  It worked, except for the dereliction
of duty by a subordinate officer."

He indicated himself.  "That was all that stopped it and that was how

I attracted your attention originally."  Now it was almost totally dark
in the cabin and Magda W

reached across and switched on the reading light beside them,

adjusting the rheostat down to a soft golden glow.  In its light she
studied his face seriously as he went on.

By this time you were aware through your special sources, probably the
Mossad connection and almost certainly through the French SID, that
somebody was onto Caliph.  That somebody turned out to be Kingston

Parker and his Atlas organization, and I was the ideal person to
firstly confirm that Parker was the hunter and secondly, to assassinate
him.  I had the special training and talents for the job, I

could get close to him without arousing his suspicions, and I needed
only to be sufficiently motivated-"

"No," she whispered, unable to take her eyes from his face.

"It holds together," he said.  "All of it."  And she had no reply.

"When I received Melissa-Jane's finger, I was ready for anything--"

"I think I am going to be sick."

"I'm sorry."  He gave her the glass and she drank the shot of dark
liquor it contained,

gagging a little on it.  Then she sat for a few moments with her eyes
closed and her hand on her bruised throat.

"All right?  "he asked at last.

"Yes.  All right now.  Go on."

"It worked perfectly except for the tip-off to the hideout in Ireland.
But nobody could have foreseen that, not even Caliph."

"But there was no proof!"  she protested.  "It was all conjecture.  No
proof that I was Caliph."

"There was," he told her quietly.  "O'Shaughnessy, the head of the gang
that kidnapped

Melissa-Jane, made two telephone calls.  They were traced to

Rambouillet 47-87-47."  She stared at him wordlessly.

"He was reporting to his master to Caliph, you see."  And he waited for
her reply.  There was none, so after a minute of silence he went on to
tell her the arrangements he had made for her execution the sites he
had chosen at Longchamp race course and in the Avenue

Victor Hugo, and she shuddered as though she had felt the brush of the
black angels" wings across her skin.

"I would have been there," she admitted.  "You chose the two best
sites.  Yves has arranged a private showing for me on the sixth of next
month.  I would have gone to it."  Then you saved me the trouble.  You
invited me here.

I knew that it was an invitation to die, that you knew I had become
aware, that I had learned you were Caliph.  I saw it in your eyes
during that meeting at Orly Airport, I saw it proven by the way you
were suddenly avoiding me, the way you were giving me no opportunity to
do the job I had to do."

"Go on."

"You had me searched when I landed at Tahiti-Faaa."  She nodded.

"You had the grey wolves search my room again last night, and you set
it up for today.  I knew I had to strike first, and I did."

"Yes"

she murmured.  "You did."  And rubbed her throat again.

He went to recharge the glasses from the concealed liquor cabinet
behind the bulkhead, and came back to sit beside her.

She shifted slightly, moving inside the circle of his arm, and he held
her in silence.  The telling of it had exhausted him, and his body
ached relentlessly, but he was glad it was said, somehow it was like
lancing a malignant abscess the release of poisons was a relief, and
now the healing process could begin.

He could feel his own exhaustion echoed in the slim body that drooped
against him, but he sensed that hers was deeper, she had taken too much
already and when he lifted her in his arms again she made no protest,
and he carried her like a sleeping child through to the master cabin
and laid her on the bunk.

He found pillows and a blanket in the locker below.  He slid into the
bunk with her, under the single blanket, and she fitted neatly into the
curve of his body, pressing gently against him, her back against his
chest, her hard round buttocks against the front of his thighs, and her
head pillowed into the crook of his arm, while with his other arm he
cuddled her close and his hand naturally cupped one of her breasts.

They fell asleep like that, pressing closely, and when he rolled over
she moved without waking, reversing their positions, moulding herself
to his back and pressing her face into the nape of his neck, clasping
him with one arm and with a leg thrown over his lower body as though to
enfold him completely.

Once he woke and she was gone, and the strength of his alarm surprised
him, a hundred new doubts and fears assailed him from the darkness,
then he heard the liquid puff in the bowl of the heads and he relaxed.
When she returned to the bunk, she had stripped off the terry to
welling track suit and her naked body felt somehow very vulnerable and
precious in his arms.

They woke together with sunlight pouring into the cabin through one
porthole like stage lighting.

"My God it must be noon."  She sat up, and tossed back the long mane of
dark hair over her tanned bare shoulders but when Peter tried to rise,
he froze and groaned aloud.

"Qu'a tu, cheri?"

"I must have got caught in a concrete mixer," he moaned.

His bruises had stiffened during the night, torn muscle and strained
sinews protested his slightest movement.

"There is only one cure for both of us," she told him.  "It's in three
parts."  And she helped him off the bunk as though he was an old man.
He exaggerated the extent of his injuries a little to make her chuckle.
The chuckle was a little hoarse, but her voice was stronger and clearer
and she favoured her own bruises only a little as she led him up onto
the deck.

Her powers of recuperation were those of a young and superbly fit
thoroughbred animal.

They swam from the diving platform over the Chriscraft's stern.

"It's working," Peter admitted as the support of warm saltwater soothed
his battered body.  They swam side by side, both naked, slowly at first
and then faster, changing the sedate breast-stroke for a hard overarm
crawl, back as far as the reef, treading water there and gasping at the
exertion.

"Better?"  she panted with her hair floating around her like the
tendrils of some beautiful water plant.

"Much better."

"Race you back."  They reached the Chris-craft together and clambered
up into the cockpit, cascading water and laughing and panting, but when
he reached for her, she allowed only a fleeting caress before pulling
away.

"First Phase Two of the cure."  She worked in the galley with only a
floral apron around her waist which covered the dark bruises of her
belly.

"I never thought an apron could be provocative before."

"You are supposed to be doing the coffee," she admonished him and gave
him a lewd little bump and grind with her bare backside.

Her omelettes were thick and golden and fluffy, and they ate them in
the early sunlight on the upper deck.  The trade wind was sheep-dogging
a flock of fluffy silver cloud across the heavens, and in the gaps the
sky was a peculiar brilliant blue.

They ate with huge appetites, for the bright new morning seemed to have
changed the mood of doom that had overpowered them the previous night.
Neither of them wanted to break this mood, and they chattered
inconsequential nonsense, and exclaimed at the beauty of the day and
threw bread crusts to the seagulls, like two children on a picnic.

At last she came to sit in his lap, and made a show of taking his
pulse.

"The patient is much improved, "she announced; "is now probably strong
enough for Phase Three of the cure."

"Which is?"he asked.

"Peter cheri, even if you are English, you are not that dense.  "And
she wriggled her bottom in his lap.

They made love in the warm sunlight, on one of the foam mattresses,
with the trade wind teasing their bodies like unseen fingers.

It began in banter and with low gurgles of laughter, little gasps of
rediscovery, and murmurs of welcome and encouragement then suddenly it
changed, it became charged with almost unbearable intensity, a storm of
emotion that sought to sweep all the ugliness and doubt.  They were
caught up in the raging torrent that carried them helplessly beyond
mere physical response into an unknown dimension from which there
seemed no way back, a total affirmation of their bodies and their minds
that made all else seem inconsequential.

"love you," she cried at the very end, as though to deny all else that
she had been forced to do.  "I have loved only you."  It was a cry torn
from the very depths of her soul.

It took a long time for them to return from the far place to which they
had been driven, to become two separate people again, but when they did
somehow they both sensed that they would never again be completely
separated; there had been a deeper more significant union than just
that of their two bodies, and the knowledge sobered them and yet, at
the same time, gave them both new strength and a deep IN

elation that neither had to voice it was there, and they both simply
knew it.

They slid the big inflatable Avon dinghy over the stern, and went
ashore, pulling the rubber craft above the high-water level and mooring
it to one of the slanting palm holes.

Then they wandered inland, picking their way hand in hand between the
seabird nests that had been crudely scraped in the earth.  Half a dozen
different species of birds were breeding together in one sprawling
colony that covered most of the twenty-acre island.  Their eggs varied
from as big as that of a goose's, to others the size of a pullet's and
speckled and spotted in lovely free-form designs.

The chicks were either grotesquely ugly with bare parboiled bodies or
were cute as Walt Disney animations.  The entire island was pervaded by
an endless susurration of thousands of wings and the uproar of
squawking, screeching, feuding and mating birds.

Magda knew the zoological names of each species, its range and its
habits, and its chances of survival or extinction in the changing
ecosystems of the oceans.

Peter listened to her tolerantly, sensing that behind this chatter and
studied gaiety she was steeling herself to answer the accusations that
he had levelled at her.

At the far end of the island was a single massive takamaka tree,

with dense green foliage spreading widely over the fluffy white sand.

By now the sun was fiercely bright and the heat and humidity smothered
them like a woollen blanket dipped in hot water.

They sought the shade of the takamaka gratefully, and sat close
together on the sand staring out across the unruffled waters of the
lagoon to the silhouette of the main island, five miles away.  At this
range and angle there was no sign of the buildings nor of the jetty,

and Peter had an illusion of the primeval paradise with the two of them
the first man and woman on a fresh and innocent earth.

Magda's next words dispelled that illusion entirely.

"Who ordered you to kill me, Peter?  How was the command given?  I

must know that before I tell you about myself."

"Nobody,"he answered.

"Nobody?  There was no message like the one you received ordering you
to kill Parker?"

"No."

"Parker himself or Colin Noble?  They did not order you to do it or
suggest it?"

"Parker expressly ordered me not to do it.  You were not to be touched
until you could be taken in jeopardy."

"It was your own decision?"  she insisted.

"It was my duty."

"To avenge your daughter?"  He hesitated, would have qualified it, then
nodded with total self-honesty.  "Yes, that was the most part of it,
Melissa-Jane, but I saw it also as my duty to destroy anything evil
enough to envisage the taking of 070, the abduction of Aaron Altmann
and the mutilation of my daughter."

"Caliph knows about us.  Understands us better than we understand
ourselves.  I

am not a coward, Peter, but now I am truly afraid."

"Fear is the tool of his trade," Peter agreed, and she moved slightly,
inviting physical contact.  He placed one arm about her bare brown
shoulders and she leaned lightly against him.

"All that you told me last night was the truth, only the inferences and
conclusions were false.  Papa's death, the lonely years with strangers
as foster-parents of that period my clearest memories are of lying
awake at night and trying to muffle the sound of my weeping with a
false blanket.  The return to Poland, yes, that was right, and the
Odessa school all of that.  I will tell you about

Odessa one day, if you truly want to hear it ?"

"I don't think I do,

he said.

"Perhaps you are wise; do you want to hear about the return to

Paris?"

"Only what is necessary."

"All right, Peter.  There were men.

That was what I had been selected and trained for.  Yes, there were
men-" She broke Off, and reached up to take his face between her
hands,

turning it so she could look into his eyes.  "Does that make a
difference between us, Peter?"

"I love you, "he replied firmly.

She stared into his eyes for a long time looking for evidence of
deceit, and then when she found none, "Yes.  It is so.  You really mean
that."  She sighed with relief and laid her head against his
shoulder,

speaking quietly with just that intriguing touch of accent and the
occasional unusual turn of phrase.

"I did not like the men, either, Peter.  I think that was why I

chose Aaron Altmann.  One man, yes I could still respect myself-" She
shrugged lightly.  "I chose Aaron, and Moscow agreed.  It was, as you
said, delicate work.  First I had to win his respect.  He had never
respected a woman before.  I proved to him I was as good as any man, at
any task he wished to set me.  After I had his respect, all else
followed-" She paused and chuckled softly.  Life plays naughty
tricks.

I found firstly that I liked him, then I grew to respect him also.  He
was a great ugly bull of a man, but the power ... A huge raw power,

like some cosmic force, became the centre of my existence."  She lifted
her head to touch Peter's cheek with her lips in reassurance.  "No.

Peter, I never came to love him.  I never loved before you.  But I

stood in vast awe of him, like a member of a primitive tribe worships
the lightning and the thunder.  It was like that.  He dominated my
existence more than a father, more than a teacher, as much as a god but
less, very much less than a lover.  He was crude and strong.  He did
not make love, he could only rut and tup like the bull he was."  She
broke off and looked seriously at him.  "Do you understand that,
Peter?

Perhaps I explained it badly?"  No," he assured her.  "You explained it
very well."

"Physically he did not move me, his smell and the hairiness.  He had
hair on his shoulders and like a pelt down his back.

His belly was bulging and hard as iron-" She shivered briefly.  " But I
had been trained to be able to ignore that.  To switch off something in
the front of my brain.

Yet in all other ways he fascinated me.  He goaded me to think
forbidden thoughts, to open vaults of my mind that my training had
securely locked.  All right, he taught me about power and its
trappings.  You accused me of that, Peter, and I admit it.  The flavour
of power and money was to my taste.  I like it.  I like it very much
indeed.  Aaron introduced me to that.  He showed me how to appreciate
fine and beautiful things, for he was only physically a bull and he had
a wonderful appreciation of the refinements of life he made me come
completely alive.  Then he laughed at me.  God, I can still hear the
bellow of his laughter, and see that great hairy belly shaking with
it."  She paused to remember it, almost reverently, and then she
chuckled her own husky little laugh.

"My fine little communist lady,"" he mocked me.  "Yes, Peter, it was I
who was deceived, he had known from the beginning who I was.  He also
knew about the school at Odessa.  He had accepted me as a challenge,
certainly he loved me or his version of love, but he took me knowingly
and corrupted my pure ideological convictions.  Only then did I learn
that all the information which I had been able to pass to

Moscow had been carefully screened by Aaron.

He doubled me, as I had been sent to double him.  He was Mossad,

but of course you know that.  He was a Zionist, you know that also.

And he made me realize that I was a Jewess, and what it meant to be
that.  He showed me every fatal flaw in the doctrine of Universal

Communism, he convinced me of democracy and the Western Capitalist
system and then he recruited me to Mossad-" She stopped again, and
shook her head vehemently.

To believe that I could have wished to destroy such a one.  That I

could have ordered his abduction and mutilation Towards the end, when
he was getting weak, when the pain was very bad, that was the closest

I

ever came to loving him, the way a mother loves a child.  He became
pathetically dependent upon me; he used to say the only thing that
could lull the pain was my touch.  I used to sit for hours rubbing that
hairy belly feeling that awful thing growing bigger inside him each
day, like a cauliflower or a grotesque foetus.  He would not let them
cut it.  He hated them, "butchers" he called them.  "Butchers with
their knives and rubber tubes "" She broke off and Peter realized that
her eyes were filled with tears.  He hugged her a little more firmly
and waited for her to recover.

"It must have been about this time that Caliph made contact with

Aaron.  Thinking back I can remember the time when he became suddenly
terribly agitated.  It made little sense to me then, but he held long
diatribes about right-wing tyranny being indistinguishable from tyranny
of the left.  He never mentioned the name Caliph, I do not think Caliph
had yet used that name and I do believe that Aaron would eventually
have told me of the contact if he had lived.  It was -the way e was,

even with in detail, me, he could be as wary and subtle as he could be
overpowering.  He would have told me of Caliph but Caliph saw to it
that he did not."  She pulled away from Peter's arms so she could again
see his face.

"You must understand, cheri, that much of this I have learned only
recently in the last few weeks.  Much of it I can only piece together
like a jig puzzle pardon, a jig-saw puzzle."  She corrected herself
swiftly.  "But this is what must have happened.  Caliph contacted Aaron
with a proposition.

It was a very simple proposition.  He was invited to become a partner
of Caliph.  Aaron was to make a substantial financial contribution to
Caliph's war-chest, and to place his privileged knowledge and lines of
influence at Caliph's disposal.  In return he would have a hand in
engineering Caliph's brave new world.  It was a miscalculation On
Caliph's part, perhaps the only mistake he has made up to now.  He had
misjudged Aaron Altmann.  Aaron turned him down flat but much more
dangerously Caliph had made the mistake of revealing his identity to
Aaron.  I expect that he had to do that in an effort to convince Aaron.
You see, Aaron was not a man who would indulge in a game of code names
and hidden identities.  That much Caliph had divined correctly.  So he
had to confront Aaron face to face, and when he discovered that Aaron
would not join in a campaign of murder and extortion no matter how
laudable the ultimate ends Caliph had no choice.  He took Aaron, killed
him after torturing him hideously for information that could have been
useful, mainly information about his

UM I Mossad connection I imagine.  Then he persuaded me to pay the
ransom.  He won two major tricks with a single card.

He silenced Aaron, and he gained the twenty-five million for his
war-chest."

"How did you learn this?  If only you had explained to me before "
Peter heard the bitterness in his own voice.

"I did not know it when we first met, please believe me.  I

will tell you how I learned it, but please be patient with me.  Let me
tell it as it happened."

"I am sorry, "he said simply.

"The first time I heard the name "Caliph" was the day I delivered the
ransom.  I told you about that, didn't I?"

"Yes."

"So we come now to your part.  I heard of you for the first time with
the Johannesburg me hunt down Caliph.  I found out about you, Peter.  I
was even able to have a computer printout on you-" She paused, and
there was that mischievous flash in her eye again.  "- I will admit to
being very impressed with the formidable list of your ladies."  Peter
held up both hands in a gesture of surrender.

"Never again," he pleaded.  "Not another word agreed?"

"Agreed."

She laughed, and then, "I'm hungry, and my throat is sore again with
all this talking."  They crossed the island again, with their bare feet
baking on the sun-heated sand, and went back on board the Chris,
craft.

The chef had stocked the refrigerator with a cornucopia of food,

and Peter opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne.

"You've got expensive tastes," he observed.  "I don't know if I

can afford to keep you on my salary."

"I'm sure we could arrange a raise from your boss," she assured him
with the twinkle in her eyes.

In tacit agreement they did not mention Caliph again until they had
eaten.

There is one other thing you must understand, Peter.

I am of Mossad, but I do not control them.  They control me.  It was
the same with Aaron.  Both of us were and are very valuable agents,

possibly amongst the most valuable of all their networks, but I do not
make decisions, nor am I able to have access to all their secrets.

"Mossad's single-minded goal is the safety and security of the state of
Israel.  It has no other reason for existence.  I was certain that
Aaron had made a full report to Mossad of Caliph's identity,

that-he had detailed the proposition that Caliph had proposed and I

suspect that Mossad had ordered Aaron to co-operate with Caliph-"

"Why?"  Peter demanded sharply.

"I do not know for certain but I can think of two reasons.

Caliph must have been such a powerful and influential man that his
support would have been valuable.

Then again I suspect that Caliph had pro-Israeli leanings, or professed
to have those leanings.  Mossad finds allies where it can,

and does not question their morals.  I think they ordered Aaron to
co-operate with Caliph but-"

"But?"  Peter prompted her.

"But you do not order a man like Aaron to go against his deepest
convictions, and under that forbidding exterior Aaron Altmann was a man
of great humanity.  I think that the reason for his agitation was the
conflict of duty and belief that he was forced to endure.  His instinct
warned him to destroy Caliph, and his duty-" She shrugged, and picked
up her fluted champagne glass, twisting it between those long slim
fingers and studying the pinpricks of bubbles as they rose slowly
through the pale golden wine.  When she spoke again she had changed
direction disconcertingly.

"A thousand times I had tried to discover what was so different between
you and me than with the other men I have known.  Why none of them
could move me and yet with you it was almost instantaneous--"

She looked up at him again as though she was still seeking the
reason.

Of course, I knew so much about you.  You had the qualities I admire in
another human being, so I was disposed favourably but there are other
qualities you cannot detail on a computer printout nor capture in a
photograph.  There was something about you that made me " She made a
helpless gesture as she searched for the word.  You made me tingle."

"That's a good word, Peter smiled.

"And I had never tingled before.  So I had to be very sure.

It was a new experience to want a man merely because he is gentle and
strong and-" she chuckled, " just plain sexy.

You are sexy, you know that, Peter, but also you are something else-"
She broke off.  "No, I am not going to flatter you any more.  I

do not want you to get swollen ankles-" mixing the French idiom
quaintly with the English, and this time not correcting herself.  She
went straight on.  "Caliph must have realized that I had recruited a
dangerous ally.  He made the attempt to kill you that night on the

Rambouillet road-"

"They were after you," Peter cut in.

"Who, Peter?  Who was after me?"

"The Russians by that time they knew you were a double agent."

"Yes, they knew-" She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes.  "I had
thought about it, of course, and there had been two previous attempts
on me, but I do not think the attempt on the Rambouillet road was
Russian."

"All right, Caliph then, but after you not me," Peter suggested.

"Perhaps, but again I do not think so.  My instinct tells me they had
the right target.  They were after you."

"I would have to agree,"

Peter said.  "I think I was followed when I left Paris that evening-"

and he told her about the Citroin.  I think they knew that I was alone
in the Maserati."

"Then we accept it was Caliph,"she stated flatly.

or Mossad, Peter murmured, and her eyes slowly widened, turning a
darker thoughtful green as Peter went on.

"What if Mossad did not want an Atlas man getting close to their star
agent, they didn't want you to have an ally in your hunt for

Caliph?  What if they just didn't want me cluttering up the carefully
rehearsed scenario?"

"Peter, it's very deep water-" and there are packs of sharks."

"Let's leave that night on the Rambouillet road for the moment," she
suggested.  "It merely complicates the story I am trying to tell
you."

"All right," Peter agreed.  "We can come back to it, if we have to."

"The next significant move was the abduction of

Melissa-Jane," she said, and Peter's expression changed, becoming flat
and stony.

"The choice of the victim was genius-inspired," she said.

"But it required no special knowledge of you or your domestic
arrangements.  There was no secret that you had an only child, and it
needed but a casual appraisal of your character to understand how
powerful a lever she could be

"Magda dipped the tip of her finger into the champagne and then sucked
it thoughtfully, pursing her lips and frowning slightly.

"You must understand that by this time I had faced the fact that I

was in love with you.  The gift was supposed to affirm that-" She
flushed slightly under her honey tan, and it was appealing and
child-like.  He had never seen her blush before and it twisted
something in his chest.

"The book," he remembered.  "The Cornwallis Harris first edition."

"My first love gift ever.  I bought it when I finally admitted it to
myself but I was determined that I would not admit it to you.  I am
old-fashioned enough to believe the man must speak first."

"I did."

"God, I'll never forget it," she said fervently, and they both thought
of the savage confrontation the previous day which had ended
incongruously in a declaration of love.

"I try to be unconventional," he said, and she shook her head
smiling.

"You succeed, mon amour, oh how you succeed."  Then she sobered again.
"I was in love with you.  Your distress was mine.  The child was a
lovely girl, she had captivated me when we met and on top of all that I
felt deadly responsible for her plight.  I had inveigled you into
joining my hunt for Caliph, and because of that you had lost your
daughter."  He bowed his head slightly, remembering how he had believed
that she had engineered it.  She recognized the gesture.

"Yes, Peter.  For me it was the cruel lest stroke.  That you should
believe it of me.  There was nothing that I would not have done to give
her back to you and yet there seemed nothing that I could do.

My contacts with French intelligence had nothing for me.  They had no
inkling of how or where the child was being held and my control at

Mossad was unaccountably evasive.  Somehow I had the feeling that

Mossad had the key to the kidnapping.  If they were not directly
involved they knew more than anybody else.  I have already explained
that I believed Aaron had given them the identity of Caliph.  If that
was so, then they must know something that could have helped you to
recover your child but from Paris I was powerless to gather that
information.

I had to go in person to Israel and confront my control there.  It was
the one chance that I could get them to cooperate.  They might believe
my value as an agent was worth enough to give me a lead to

Melissa-Jane-"

"You threatened Mossad with resignation?"  Peter asked wonderingly.
"You would have done that for me?"

"Oh, Peter, don't you understand?  I loved you and I had never been in
love before.  I

would have done anything for you."

"You make me feel humble, he said.

She did not reply, but let the statement stand as though she were
savouring it, then she sighed contentedly and went on.  "I left
everything in Paris.  I have an established routine for disappearing
when it is necessary.  Pierre took me to Rome in the Lear; from there

I

telephoned you but I could not tell you what I was going to do.  Then

I

switched identity and took a commercial flight to Tel Aviv.  My task
in

Israel was difficult, much more difficult than I had bargained for.  It
was five days before my control would see me.  He is an old friend.

No!  perhaps not a friend, but we have known each other a long time.

He is the deputy director of Mossad.  That is how highly they value my
services, to give me such an important controller, but still it took
five days before he would see me, and he was cold.

There was no help they could give me, he said.  They knew nothing." She
chuckled.  "You have never seen me when I want something really badly,
Peter.  Ha!  What a battle.

There is much I knew that would embarrass Mossad with her powerful
allies of the West with France and Great Britain and the U.S.A. - I

threatened to hold a Press conference in New York.  He became less
cold, he told me that the security of the State took precedence over
all personal feelings, and I said something very rude about the
security of the State, and reminded him of some outstanding business
which I would happily leave outstanding.  He became warmer but all this
was taking time, days, many days, too many days.  I was going crazy.  I
remembered how they had found Aaron's body, and I could not sleep at
night for worrying about that lovely child.  And you, oh

Peter, you will never know how I prayed to a god that I was not too
sure of.  You will never know how I wanted to be with you to comfort
you.  I wanted so desperately just to hear your voice but I could not
break my cover from Tel Aviv.

I could not even telephone you, nor send you a letter She broke off.  I
hoped you would not believe bad things of me.  You would not believe
that I did not care.  That I was not prepared to help you.  I

could only hope that I would be able to bring you some information of
value to prove it was not true but I never dreamed that one day you
would believe that it was I who had taken your daughter and tortured
her."

"I'm sorry, "he said quietly.

"No, do not say you are sorry.  We were both Caliph's playthings.

There is no blame on you."  She laid her hand upon his arm and smiled
at him.  "It was not you alone who believed bad things.  For at last I
had prevailed on my Mossad control to give me some little scraps of
information.

At first he denied completely that they had ever heard of

Caliph, but I risked lying to him.  I told him that Aaron had told me
he had reported the Caliph contact.  He gave ground.  Yes, he
admitted.

They knew of Caliph, but they did not know who he was.  I hammered
on,

demanding to see my controller each day, driving him as mad as I was
until he threatened to have me deported even.  But each time we met I

wheedled and bullied a little more from him.

"At last he admitted, "All right, we know Caliph but he is very
dangerous, very powerful and he will become more powerful God willing,
he will become one of the most powerful men in the world, and he is a
friend of Israel.  Or rather we believe he is a friend of

Israel."

"I bullied some more and he told me, "We have put an agent close to
Caliph, very close to him, and we cannot jeopardize this agent.  He is
a valuable agent, very valuable but very vulnerable to Caliph.  We
cannot take the chance that Caliph could trace information back to
him.

We have to protect our man.  "Now I threatened, and he told me the
agent's code name to protect both of us should we ever have to make
contact.  The code-name is "CACTUS FLOWER"."

"That was all?"  Peter asked, with evident disappointment.

"No, my control gave me another name.  As a sop and as a warning.  The
name they gave me was so close to Caliph as to be virtually the same.
Again he warned me that he was giving me the name for my own
protection."

"What was it?"  Peter demanded eagerly.

"Your name," she said softly.  "Stride."  Peter made an irritable
gesture of dismissal.  "My name is nonsensical.  Why would I kidnap and
mutilate my own daughter and Cactus Flower.  He might as well have
said, "Kentucky Fried Chicken"."

"Now it's my turn to say I'm sorry."

Peter caught himself, realizing suddenly that he had been too quick to
dismiss these scraps of information.  He stood up and paced the deck of
the Chris-craft with choppy, agitated steps, frowning heavily.
"Cactus

Flower," he repeated.  "Have you ever heard it before?"

"No," she shook her head.

"Since then?"

"No,"again.

He searched his memory, trying for a sympathetic echo.

There was none.

"All right."  He accepted that as having no immediate If value.

"We'll just remember it for now.  Let's come to my name Peter Stride.

What did you make of that?"

"It didn't mean anything then, except as a shock.

Strangely enough I did not immediately think of you, but I thought of
confusion between the kidnapper and the Victim's dna."  Stride?"  he
asked. "Peter Stride?  I don't understand."

"No, well Melissa-Jane is a Stride also."

"Yes, of course.  They didn't give you the name

Peter Stride then?"

"No.  Just Stride."

"I see."  Peter stopped in mid-pace as an idea struck him and stared
out thoughtfully to where the ocean met a blue horizon.

"But they gave me your full name later," she interrupted his
thoughts.

"When?"

"After we received the news that Melissa-Jane had been rescued.  Of
course, I wanted to return to Paris immediately to be with you.  I was
able to get onto a flight from Ben, Gurion Airport six hours after we
heard the news.  My heart was singing, Peter.

Melissa-Jane was safe, and I was in love.

I was going to be with you very soon.  At the airport, while I was
going through the security check before departure, the policewoman took
me aside to the security office.  My control was waiting for me there.
He had rushed out from Tel Aviv to catch me before I left for home, and
he was very worried.  They had just received an urgent message from
Cactus Flower.  General Peter Stride was now definitely

Caliph -motivated, and would assassinate me at the first opportunity,

he told me.  And I laughed at him but he was deadly serious.  "My dear
Baroness, Cactus Flower is a firstclass man.  You must take this
warning seriously," he kept repeating."  Magda shrugged.  "I still did
not believe it, Peter.  It was impossible.  I loved you, and I knew you
loved me although perhaps you had not yet realized that yourself.  It
was crazy.

But on the aircraft I had time to think.  My control at Mossad has
never been wrong before.  Can you imagine my dilemma now how dearly I

wanted to be with you, and yet I was now terrified not that you would
kill me.  That did not seem important but that you would truly turn out
to be Caliph.  That was what really frightened me.  You see, I had
never loved a man before.  I don't think I could have stood it."  She
was quiet for a while, remembering the pain and confusion, and then she
shook her head so that the thick fall of dark shimmering hair rustled
around her shoulders.

"Once I reached Paris, my first concern was to learn that you and

Melissa-Jane were safe at Abbots Yew, and then I could begin to try and
find out how much substance there was in Cactus Flower's warning but
until I could count on how safe it was I could not take the chance of
being alone with you.  Every time you attempted to contact me, I had to
deny you, and it felt as though some little part of me was dying."  She
reached across and took his hand now, opened the fingers and bowed her
head to kiss the palm and then held it to her cheek as she went on.

"A hundred times I convinced myself that it could not be true, and

I was on the point of going to you.  Oh, Peter finally I could take it
no longer.  I decided to meet you at Orly that day and find out one way
or the other, end the terrible uncertainty, I had the grey wolves with
me, a" you remember, and they had been warned to expect trouble I

didn't tell them to watch you," she explained quickly, as if You were
part of Caliph, you see, and it would have been the wise thing to do.

I admit that I thought of it, Peter.  Have you killed, before you could
kill V: me but it was only a thought and it did not go farther than
that.  Instead I went on with the business of living, work has always
been an opiate for me.  If I work hard enough I can forget anything but
this time it didn't turn out that way.  I've said it before, but it
explains so much that I will say it again.  I had never been in love
before, Peter, and I could not turn it off.  It tormented me, and I

cherished doubts about Cactus Flower's warning and what I had seen so
clearly in the lounge at Orly Airport.  It couldn't be, it just
couldn't be true I loved you and you loved me, and you just couldn't be
plotting to kill me.  I almost convinced myself of that."  She laughed
curtly, but it had no humour in the sound, only the bitterness of
disillusion.

"I came out here-" she made a gesture that embraced sea and sky and
islands to be away from the temptation of going to you.  A

sanctuary where I could recover from my wounds and begin to get over
you.  But it didn't work, Peter.

It was worse here.  I had more time to think, to torture myself with
wild speculation and grotesque theories.  There was only one way.

Finally I recognized that.  I would bring trying to dispel any memory
of disloyalty, "but if you had tried to get at me they would have "She
broke off, and let his hand fall away from her cheek.  "The moment you
walked into the private lounge at Orly, I saw it was true.  I could
sense it, there was an aura of death around you.  It was the most
frightening and devastating moment of my life, you looked like a
different man not the Peter Stride I knew your whole face seemed to be
altered and restructured by hatred and anger.  I kissed you goodbye,

because I knew we could never meet again."  Remembering it her face
darkened with sadness, as though a cloud shadow had passed over them.

"I even thought that I had to protect myself by" She gagged the
words.

you out here and give you the chance to kill me."  She laughed again,
and now there was the old husky warmth in it.  "It was the most crazy
thing I have ever done in my life but thank God, I did it."

"We went right to the very brink," Peter agreed.

"Peter, why didn't you ask me outright if I was Caliph?"  she wanted to
know.

"The same reason you didn't ask me outright if I was plotting to kill
you."

" she agreed.  "We were just caught up in the web that

Caliph had spun for us.  I have only one more question, Peter cheri.

If I was Caliph, do you truly believe that I would have been so stupid
as to give my telephone number at Rambouillet to the man who
kidnapped

Melissa-Jane, and instruct him to ring me for a friendly chat whenever
he felt like it?"  Peter looked startled, "I thought-" he began, then
stopped.  No, I didn't think.  I wasn't thinking clearly at all.  Of
course, you wouldn't have done that and yet, even the cleverest
criminals make the most elementary mistakes."

"Not those who have been trained at the Odessa school," she reminded
him, and seemed immediately to regret the words, for she went on
quickly.  "So there is my side of the story, Peter.  I may have left
something out if you can think of anything, then ask me, darling, and
I'll try to fill in any missing pieces."  And so they started once
again at the very beginning, and went over the ground minutely,
searching for anything they might have overlooked at the first telling
of it, this time exhaustively re-examining each fact from every angle,
both of them applying their trained minds to the full without being
able to come up with more than they already had.

"One thing we must never let out of sight for a moment is the quality
of the opposition."  Peter summed it up as the sun began lowering
itself towards the western horizon, its majestic progress flanked by
cohorts of cumulonimbus cloud rising into towering anvil heads over the
scattered islands, like silent nuclear explosions.

"There are layers upon layers, reasons behind reasons, the kidnapping
of Melissa-Jane was not merely to force me to assassinate

Kingston Parker, but you as well the proverbial two birds with a third
bird to follow.  If I had succeeded I would have been hooked into

Caliph for ever."

"Where do you and I go from here, Peter?"  she asked,

tacitly transferring ultimate decision-making to him.

"How about home, right now," he suggested.  "Unless you fancy another
night out here."  Peter found that his possessions had been discreetly
moved from the guest bungalow to the owner's significant private
quarters on the north tip of the island.

His toilet articles had been laid out in the mirrored master bathroom,
which flanked that of the mistress.  His clothing, all freshly cleaned
and pressed, was in the master's dressing-room where there was one
hundred and fifty-five feet of louvred hanging space Peter paced it out
and calculated it would take three hundred suits of clothing.

There were specially designed swinging shelves for another three
hundred shirts and racks for a hundred pairs of shoes although all were
empty.

His light cotton suit looked as lonely as a single camel in the midst
of the Sahara desert.  His shoes had been burnished to a gloss that
even his batman had never been able to achieve.  Despite himself he
searched the dressing-room swiftly for the signs of previous occupancy
and was ridiculously relieved to find none.

"I could learn to rough it like this," he told his reflection in the
mirror as he combed the damp, darkly curling locks off his forehead.

The sitting-room off the suite was on three levels, and had been
decorated with cane furniture and luxuriant tropical plants growing in
ancient Greek wine amphoras or in rookeries that were incorporated into
the flowing design of the room.  The creepers and huge glossy leaves of
the plants toned in artistically with jungle-patterned curtaining and
the dense growth of exotic plants beyond the tall picture windows yet
the room was cool and inviting, although the sound of air-conditioning
was covered by the twinkle of a waterfall down the cunningly contrived
rock face that comprised one curved wall of the room.  Tropical fish
floated gracefully in the clear pools into which the waterfall
spilled,

and the perfume of growing flowers pervaded the room, and their blooms
glowed in the subdued lighting.

One of the little golden Polynesian girls brought a tray of four tall
frosted glasses for Peter to choose from.  They were all filled with
fruit and he could smell the sweet warm odour of rum mingled with the
fruit.  He guessed they would be almost lethal and asked for a whisky,
then relented with the girl's eyes flooded with disappointment.

"I make them myself," she wailed.

"In that case "He sipped while she waited anxiously.

Tarfait!"  He exclaimed, and she giggled with gratification, and went
off wriggling her bottom under the brief pa reo like a happy puppy.

Magda came then in a chiffon dress so gossamer-light that it floated
about her like a fine green sea mist, through which her limbs gleamed
as the light caught them.

He felt the catch in his breathing as she came towards him, and he
wondered if he would ever accustom himself to the impact of her
beauty.

She took the glass from his hand and tasted it.

"Good," she said, and handed it back.  But when the girl brought the
tray she refused with a smile.

They moved about the room, Magda on his arm as she pointed out the
rarer plants and fishes.

"I built this wing after Aaron's death," she told him, and he realized
that she wanted him to know that it contained no memories of another
man.  It amused him that she should find that important and then he
remembered his own furtive search of the dressing-room for signs of a
lover before him, and the amusement turned inward.

One wall of the private dining-room was a single sheet of armoured
glass, beyond which the living jewels of coral fish drifted in
subtly-lit sea caverns and the fronds of magnificent sea plants waved
in gentle unseen currents.

Magda ordered the seating changed so they could be side by side in the
low lovers" seat facing the aquarium.

do not like you to be far away any more," she explained, and she picked
special tit bits from the serving dishes for his plate.

"This is a speciality of Les Neuf Poissons.  You will eat it nowhere
else in the world."  She selected small deep-sea crustaceans from a
steaming creole sauce of spices and coconut cream and at the end of the
meal she peeled chilled grapes from Australia with those delicate
fingers, using the long shell-pink nails with the precision of a
skilled surgeon to remove the pips and then placing them between his
lips with thumb and forefinger.

"You spoil me,"he smiled.

"I never had a doll when I was a little girl," she explained,

smiling.

A circular stone staircase led to the beach fifty feet below the
dining-room and they left their shoes on the bottom step and walked
bare-footed on the smooth, damp sand, compacted as hard as cement by
the receding tide.  The moon was a few days past full, and its
reflection drew a pathway of yellow light to the horizon.

"Caliph must be made to believe that he has succeeded," Peter said
abruptly, and she shivered against him.

:"I wish we could forget Caliph for one night."  We cannot afford to
forget him for a moment."

"No, you are right.  How do we make him believe that?"

"You have to die, He felt her stiffen.  or at least appear to do so.
It has to look as though I

killed you."

"Tell me, "she invited quietly.

"You told me that you have special arrangements for when you want to
disappear."

"Yes, I do."

"How would you disappear from here if you had to do so?"  She thought
for only a moment.  "Pierre would fly me to

Bora-Bora.  I have friends there.  Good friends.  I would take the
island airline to Tahiti-Faaa on another passport and then a scheduled
airline in the same name to California or New Zealand."

"You have other papers?"  he demanded.

"yes, of course."  She sounded so surprised by the question, that he
expected her to ask."  doesn't everybody?"

"Fine, he said.  "And we'll arrange a suspicious accident here.  A
scuba diving accident,

shark attack in deep water, no corpse.."

"What is the point of all this, Peter?"

"If you are dead Caliph is not going to make another attempt to have
you killed.  "GoodV she agreed.

"So you stay officially dead until we flush Caliph out," Peter told
her, and it sounded like an order but she did not demur as he went on.
"And if I carry out Caliph's evident wishes by killing you, it's going
to make me a very valuable asset  I will have proved myself, and so he
will cherish me.

It will give me another chance to get close to him.  At least it will
give me a chance to check out a few wild hunches."

"Don't let's make my death too convincing, my love.  I am a great
favourite of the police on Tahiti," she murmured.

"I'd hate to have you end up under the guillotine at Tuarruru."

Peter woke before her and raised himself on one elbow over her to study
her face, delighting to find new planes and angles to her high broad
cheekbones, gloating in the velvety texture of her skin, so fine that
the pores were indefinable from farther than a few inches.  Then he
transferred his attention to the curve of her eyelashes that
interlocked into a thick dark palisade seeming to seal her eyelids
perpetually in sleep yet they sprang open suddenly, the huge black
pools of her pupils shrinking rapidly as she focused, and for the first
time he realized that the irises were not pure green but were flecked
and shot through with gold and violet.

The surprise of finding him over her changed slowly to pleasure,

and she stretched her arms out over her head and arched her back, the
way a lazy panther does when it rouses itself.  The satin sheet slid
down to her waist and she prolonged the stretch a little longer than
was necessary, a deliberate display of her body.

"Every other morning of my life that I woke without you there was
wasted," she murmured huskily, and raised her arms still at full
stretch to him, folding them gracefully around his neck, still holding
her back arched so that the prominent dark-red nipples brushed lightly
against the crisp dark mat of curls that covered his own chest.

"Let's pretend this will last for ever," she whispered, with her lips
an inch from his, and her breath was rich as an overblown rose,

heavy with the smell of vital woman and rising passion; then her lips
spread softly, warmly against his and she sucked his tongue deeply into
her mouth, with a low moan of wanting and the hard slim body began to
work against his, the hands breaking from his neck and hunting down his
spine, long curved nails pricking and goading him just short of pain.

His own arousal was so swift and so brutally hard that she moaned
again, and the tension went out of her body, it seemed to soften and
spread like a wax figure held too close to the flame, her eyelids
trembling closed and her thighs falling apart.

"So strong-" she whispered, deep in her throat and he reared up over
her, feeling supreme, invincible.

"Peter, Peter," she cried.  "Oh yes like that.  Please like that."

Both of them striving triumphantly for the moment of glory when each
was able to lose self and become for a fleeting instant part of the
godhead.

Long afterwards they lay side by side in the enormous bed, both of them
stretched out flat upon their backs, not touching except for the
fingers of one hand intertwined as their bodies had been.

"I will go away-" she whispered, but not now.  Not yet."  He did not
reply, the effort was beyond him, and her own voice was languorous with
a surfeit of pleasure.

"I will make a bargain with you.  Give me three days more.  Only three
days, to be happy like this.  For me it is the first time.  I

have never known this before, and it may be the last time-" He tried to
rouse himself to deny it, but she squeezed his fingers for silence and
went on.

" It may be the last," she repeated.  "And I want to have it all. Three
days, in which we do not mention Caliph, in which we do not think of
the blood and striving and suffering out there.  If you give me that I
will do everything that you want me to do.  Is it a bargain,

Peter?  Tell me we can have that."

"Yes.  We can have that."

"Then tell me you love me again, I do not think I can hear you say it
too often."

because I have to, He said it often during those magic days, and she
had spoken the truth, each time he told her she accepted with as much
joy as the last time, and always each seemed to be within touching
distance of the other.

Even when tearing side by side across the warm.  flat waters of the
lagoon, leaning back with straight arms on the tow lines, skis hissing
angrily and carving fiercely sparkling wings of water from the surface
as they wove back and forth in a pas de deux across the streaming,
creaming water, laughing together in the wind and the engine roar of
the Chris-craft, Hapiti the Polynesian boatman on the flying bridge
looking back with a great white grin of sympathy for their joy.

Finning gently through mysterious blue and dappled depths, the only
sound the wheezing suck and blow of their scuba valves and the soft
clicking and the eternal echoing susurration that is the pulse beat of
the ocean, holding hands as they sank down to the long abandoned hull
of the Japanese aircraft carrier, now overgrown with a waving forest of
sea growth and populated by a teeming fascinating multitude of
beautiful and bizarre creatures.

Flying silently down the sheer steel cliff of the canted flight deck,
which seemed to reach down into the very oceanic depths, so that there
was the eerie fear of suddenly being deprived of support and falling
down to where the surface light blued out in nothingness.

Pausing to peer through their glass face-plates into the still gaping
wounds rent into the steel by aerial bombs and high explosive,

and then entering through those cruel caverns cautiously as children
into a haunted house and emerging victoriously with carrier nets of
trophies, coins and cutlery, brass and porcelain.

Strolling on the secluded beaches of the outer islands, still hand in
hand, naked in the sunlight.

Fishing the seething tide-race through the main channel at full spring
tide, and shouting with excitement as the golden amberjack came boiling
up in the wake, bellies flashing like mirrors, to hit the dancing
feather lures, and send the Penn reels screeching a wild protest, and
the fibreglass rods nodding and kicking.

Out in the humbling silences of the unrestricted ocean, when even the
smudge of the islands disappeared beyond the wave crests for minutes at
a time, with only the creak and whisper of the rigging, the trembling
pregnancy of the main sail, and the rust leas the twin hulls of the big
Hobie cat knifed the tops off the swells.

Strolling the long curving beaches in the moonlight, searching for the
heavenly bodies that so seldom show through the turbid skies of

Europe Orion the hunter and the Seven Sisters exclaiming at the
stranger constellations of this hemisphere governed by the great fixed
cross in the southern heavens.

Each day beginning and ending in the special wonder and mystery of the
circular bed, in loving that welded their bodies and their souls
together each time more securely.

Then on the fourth day day Peter woke to find her gone, and for a
moment experienced an appalling sensation of total loss.

When she came back to him he did not recognize her for a breath of
time.

Then he realized that she had cut away the long dark tresses of her
hair, cropped it down short so that it curled close against her skull,
like the petals of a dark flower.  It had the effect of making her seem
even taller.  Her neck like the stem of the flower,

longer, and the curve of the throat accentuated so that it became
delicate and swan-like.

She saw his expression, and explained in a matter-of-fact tone.

"I thought some change was necessary, if I am to leave under a new
identity.  It will grow again, if you want it that way."  She seemed to
have changed completely herself, the languid amorous mood given way to
the brisk business-like efficiency of before.  While they ate a last
breakfast of sweet yellow papaya and the juice of freshly squeezed
limes she explained her intentions, as she went swiftly through the
buff envelope that her secretary had silently laid beside her plate.

There was a red Israeli diplomatic passport in the envelope.

"I will be using the name Ruth Levy-" and she picked up the thick
booklet of airline tickets, and I have decided to go back to
Jerusalem.

I have a house there.  It's not in my name, and I do not think anybody
else outside of Mossad is aware of it.  It will be an ideal base, close
to my control at Mossad.  I will try to give you what support I can,

try to get further information to assist you in the hunt-" She passed
him a typed sheet of notepaper.

That is a telephone number at Mossad where you can get a message to me.
Use the name Ruth Levy."  He memorized the number while she went on
talking, and then shredded the sheet of paper.

"I have modified the arrangements for my departure," she told him.

"We will take the Chris-craft across to Bora-Bora.

It's only a hundred miles.  I will radio ahead.  My friends will meet
me off the beach after dark."  They crept in through a narrow passage
in the coral with all the lights on the Chris-craft doused,

Magda's boatman using only what was left of the waning moon and his own
intimate knowledge of the islands to take her in.

"I wanted Hapiti to see me go ashore alive, "she whispered quietly,

leaning against Peter's chest to draw comfort from their last minutes
together.  "I did not exaggerate the danger you might be in if the
local people thought what we want Caliph to think.  Hapiti will keep
his mouth shut-" she assured him and will back up your story of a shark
attack, unless you order him to tell the truth."

"You think of everything."

"I have only just found you, monsieur she chuckled.  "I

do not want to lose you yet.  I have even decided to speak a word to
the Chief of Police on Tahiti, when I pass through.

He is an old friend.  When you get back to Les Neuf Poissons, have my
secretary radio Tahiti-" She went on quietly, covering every detail of
her arrangements, and he could find no emissions.  She was interrupted
by a soft hail from out of the darkness and Hapiti throttled the
diesels back to idle.  They drifted down closer to the loom of the
island.  A canoe bumped against the side, and Magda turned quickly in
his arms, reaching up for his mouth with hers.

"Please be careful, Peter," was all that she said, and then she broke
away and stepped down into the canoe as Hapiti handed down her single
valise.  The canoe pushed away immediately, and was lost in the dark.
There was nothing to wave at, and Peter liked it better that way, but
still he stared back over the stern into the night as the

Chris-craft groped blindly for the channel again.

There was a hollow feeling under his ribs, as though part of himself
was missing; he tried to fill it with a memory of Magda that had amused
him because it epitomized for him her quick and pragmatic mind.

When the news of your death hits the market, the bottom is going to
drop out of Altmann stock."  He had realized this halfway through their
final discussion that morning.  "I hadn't thought of that."  He was
troubled by the complication.

"I had," she smiled serenely.  "I estimate it will lose a hundred
francs a share within the first week after the news breaks."

"Doesn't that worry you?"

"Not really."  She gave that sudden wicked grin.  "I

telexed a buying order to Zurich this morning.  I expect to show a
profit of not less than a hundred million francs when the stock bounces
back."  Again the mischievous flash of green eyes "I do have to be
recompensed for all this inconvenience, tu the senses pas?"  And
although he still smiled at the memory, the hollow place remained there
inside him.

ierre flew the Tahitian police out to Les Neod Poissons in the

Tri-Islander, and there followed two days of questions and
statements.

Nearly every member of the community wished to make a statement to the
police, there had seldom been such entertainment and excitement
available on the islands.

Nearly all of the statements were glowing eulogies to To Baronne"

delivered to the accompaniment of lamentation and weeping.  Only Hapiti
had first-hand information and he made the most of this position of
importance, embroidering and gilding the tale.  He was even able to
give a positive identification of the shark as a "Dead White' The

English name startled Peter until he remembered that the movie Jaws was
in the island's cassette video library and was undoubtedly the source
of the big boatman's inspiration.

Hapiti went on to describe its fangs as long and sharp as cane knives,
and to give a gruesome imitation of the sound they made as they closed
on "La Baronne" Peter would willingly have gagged him to prevent those
flights of imagination, which were not supported by

Peter's own statement, but the police sergeant was greatly impressed
and encouraged Hapiti to further acts of creation with cries of
astonishment.

On the last evening there was a funeral feast on the beach for

Magda.  It was a moving ritual, and Peter found himself curiously
affected when the women of the island, swaying and wailing at the
water's edge, cast wreaths of frangipani blooms onto the tide to be
carried out beyond the reef.

Peter flew back to Tahiti-Faaa with the police the following morning,
and they stayed with him, flanking him discreetly, on the drive to the
headquarters of gendarmerie in the town.  However, his interview with
the Chief of Police was brief and courteous clearly

Magda had been there before him and if there was no actual exchange of
winks and nudges, the commissioner's handshake of farewell was firm and
friendly.

"Any friend of La Baronne is a friend here."  And he used the present
tense, then sent Peter back to the airport in an official car.

The UTA flight landed in California through that sulphurous
eye-stinging layer of yellow air trapped between sea and mountains.

Peter did not leave the airport, but after he had shaved and changed
his shirt in the men's room he found a copy of the Wail Street Journal
in the first-class Pa nAm Clipper lounge.  It was dated the previous
day, and the report of Magda Altmann's death was on Page Three.  It was
a full column, and Peter was surprised by the depth of the Altmann

Industries involvement in the American financial scene.  The complex
of.  holdings was listed, followed by a resume of Baron Aaron Altmann's
career and that of his widow.  The cause of death as given by the

Tahitian police was "Shark Attack" while scuba diving in the company of
a friend General Peter Stride Peter was grimly satisfied that his name
was mentioned.  Caliph would read it, wherever he was, and draw the
appropriate conclusion.  Peter could expect something to happen now; he
was not quite sure what, but he knew that he was being drawn closer to
the centre like a fragment of iron to the magnet.

He managed to sleep for an hour, in one of the big armchairs,

before the hostess roused him for the Pan-Am Polar flight to London's

Heathrow.

He called Pat Stride, his sister-in-law, from Heathrow Airport.

She was unaffectedly delighted to hear his voice.

Steven is in Spain, but I am expecting him home tomorrow before lunch,
that is if his meetings go the way he wants them.  They want to build a
thirty-six hole golf course at San Istaban-" Steven's companies owned a
complex of tourist hotels on the Spanish coast " and Steven had to go
through the motions with the Spanish authorities.  But, why don't you
come down to Abbots Yew tonight?  Alex and Priscilla are here, and
there will be an amusing house party for the weekend-" He could hear
the sudden calculating tone in Pat's voice as she began instinctively
to run through the shortlist of potential mates for

Peter.

After he had accepted and hung up, he dialled the Cambridge number and
was relieved that Cynthia's husband, George Barrow, answered.

Give me a Bolshevik intellectual over a neurotic ex-wife any day,

he thought as he greeted Melissa-Jane's stepfather warmly.  Cynthia was
at a meeting of the Faculty Wives Association, and Melissa-Jane was
auditioning for a part in i a production of Gilbert and Sullivan by the
local drama society.

"How is she?"  Peter wanted to know.

"I think she is well over it now, Peter.  The hand is completely
healed.  She seems to have settled down.-They spoke for a few minutes
more, then ran out of conversation.

The two women were all they had in common.

"Give Melissa-Jane my very best love," Peter told him, and picked up a
copy of The Financial Times from a news, stand on his way to the

Avis desk.  He hired a compact and while waiting for it to be delivered
he searched swiftly through the newspaper for mention of Magda
Altmann.

It was on an inside page, clearly a followup article to a previous
report of her death.  There had been a severe reaction on the London
and European stock exchanges the hundred4raric drop in Altmann stock
that Magda had anticipated had already been exceeded on the Bourse and
again there was a brief mention of his own name in a repetition of the
circumstances of her death.  He was satisfied with the publicity,

and with Magda's judgement in buying back her own stock.  Indeed it all
seemed to be going a little too smoothly.  He became aware of the
fateful prickle of apprehension down his spine, his own personal
barometer of impending danger.

As always Abbots Yew was like coming home, and Pat met him on the
gravel of the front drive, kissed him with sisterly affection and
linked her arm through his to lead him into the gracious old house.

"Steven will be delighted," she promised him.  "I expect he will
telephone this evening.  He always does when he is away."  There was a
buff cable envelope propped on the bedside table of the guest room
overlooking the stables that was always reserved for Peter.  The
message originated at BenGurion Airport, Tel Aviv, and was a single
word the code he had arranged with Magda to let him know that she
arrived safely and without complication.  The message gave him a sharp
pang of wanting, and he lay in a deep hot bath and thought about her,

remembering small details of conversation and shared experience that
suddenly were of inflated value.

While he towelled himself he regarded his image in the steamed mirror
with a critical eye.  He was lean and hard and burned dark as a desert
Arab by the Pacific sun.  He watched the play of muscle under the
tanned skin as he moved, and he knew that he was as fit and as mentally
prepared for action as he had ever been, glad that Magda was safely
beyond the reach of Caliph's talons so that he could concentrate all
his energies on what his instincts told him must be the final stage of
the hunt.

He went through to his bedroom with the towel around his waist and
stretched out on the bed to wait for the cocktail hour in Pat Stride's
rigidly run household.

He wondered what made him so certain that this was the lead which would
carry him to Caliph, it seemed so slim a chance and yet the certainty
was like a steel thread, and the steel was in his heart.

That made him pause.  Once again he went carefully over the changes
which had taken place within him since his first exposure to

Caliph's malignant influence; the fatal miasma of corruption that
seemed to spread around Caliph like the poisonous mists from some evil
swamp seemed to have engulfed Peter entirely.

He thought again of his execution of the blonde girl at

Johannesburg what seemed like a thousand years before, but with mild
surprise realized was months not years ago.

He thought of how he had been prepared to kill both Kingston

Parker and Magda Altmann and realized that contact with violence was
brutalizing, capable of eroding the principles and convictions which he
had believed inviolate after almost forty years of having lived with
them.

If this was so, then after Caliph if he succeeded in destroying him
what was there after Caliph?  Would he ever be the same man again?  Had
he advanced too far beyond the frontiers of social behaviour and
conscience?

Would he ever go back?  he wondered.  Then he thought about Magda

Altmann and realized she was his hope for the future, after Caliph
there would be Magda.

These doubts were weakening, he told himself.  There must be no
distractions now, for once again he was in the arena with the
adversary.  No distraction, no doubts only total concentration on the
conflict ahead.

He stood up from the bed and began to dress.

Steven was delighted to have Peter at Abbots Yew again, as Pat had
predicted.

He also was tanned from the short stay in Spain, but he had again put
on weight, only a few pounds, but it would soon be a serious problem,
good food and drink were two of the occupational hazards of success:
the most evident but not the most dangerous temptations that face a man
who has money enough to buy whatever idly engages his fancy.

Peter watched him covertly during the lunch, studying the handsome head
which was so very much like his own, the same broad brow and straight
aristocratic nose, and yet was so different in small but significant
details, and it was not only Steven's thick dark mustache.

All right, it's easy to be wise afterwards, Peter told himself, as he
watched his twin brother.  Seeing again the little marks, which only
now seemed to have meaning.  The narrower set of eyes, slightly too
close together, so that even when he laughed that deep bluff guffaw of
his they seemed still to retain a cold cruel light, the mouth that even
in laughter was still too hard, too determined, the mouth of a man who
would brook no check to his ambitions, no thwarting of his desires.  Or
am I imagining it now?  Peter wondered.  It was so easy to see what you
looked for expectantly.

The conversation at lunch dwelt almost exclusively on the prospects for
the flat-racing season which had opened at Doncaster the previous
weekend, and Peter joined it knowledgeably; but as he chatted he was
casting back along the years, to the incidents that might have troubled
him more if he had not immediately submerged them under an instinctive
and unquestioning loyalty to his twin brother.

There was Sandhurst when Steven had been sent down, and Peter had known
unquestioningly that it was unjust.

No Stride was capable of what Steven had been accused of, and he had
not even had to discuss it with his brother.  He had affirmed his
loyalty with a handshake and a few embarrassed muttered words.

"Thank you, Peter.  I'll never forget that," Steven had told him
fervently, meeting Peter's gaze with steady clear eye.

Since then Steven's rise had been meteoric through the post-war years
in which it seemed almost impossible for even the most able man to
amass a great fortune, a man had to have special talents and take
terrible risks to achieve what Steven had.

Now sitting at his brother's board, eating roast saddle of lamb and the
first crisp white asparagus shoots of the season flown in from the
Continent, Peter was at last covering forbidden ground, examining
loyalties which until then had been unquestioned.  Yet they were straws
scattered by the winds of time, possibly without significance.  Peter
transferred his thoughts to the present.

"Stride," Magda's control at Mossad in Tel-Aviv had said.

Just the two names: "Cactus Flower" and "Stride."  That was fact and
not conjecture.

Down the length of the luncheon table Sir Steven Stride caught his
brother's eye.

"Wine with you, my dear fellow."  Steven lifted the glass of claret in
the old salute.

"Enchanted, I'm sure."  Peter gave the correct reply, a little ritual
between them, a hangover from Sandhurst days, and Peter was surprised
at the depth of his regret.  Perhaps Caliph has not yet succeeded in
corrupting me entirely, Peter thought, as he drank the toast.

After lunch there was another of their brotherly rituals.

Steven signalled it with a jerk of the head and Peter nodded agreement.
Peter's old army duffle coat was in the cupboard below the back
staircase with his Wellingtons, and he and Steven changed into rough
clothing sitting side by side on the monk's bench in the rear entrance
hall as they had so often before.

Then Steven went through into the gunroom, took down a Purdey

Royal shotgun from the rack, and thrust a handful of cartridges in his
coat pocket.

"Damned vixen has a litter of cubs somewhere in the bottoms,

playing merry hell with the pheasant chicks--" he explained as Peter
asked a silent question.  "It goes against the grain a bit to shoot a
fox but I must put a stop to her haven't had a chance at her yet-" and
he led the way out towards the stream.

It was almost a formal beating of the bounds, the leisurely circuit of
the estate boundaries that the two brothers always made on

Peter's first day at Abbots Yew, another old comfortable tradition
which allowed them time to have each other's news and reaffirm the bond
between them They sauntered along the riverbank, side by side, moving
into single file with Steven leading when the path narrowed and turned
away from the stream and went up through the woods.

Steven was elated by the success of his visit to Spain, and he boasted
of his achievements in obtaining another parcel of prime seaftont
property on which to build the new golf course and to extend the hotel
by another five hundred rooms.

"Now's the time to buy.  Mark my words, Peter we are on the verge of
another explosion."

"The cut-back in oil price is going to help, "I'd expect, Peter
agreed.

"That's not the half of it, old boy."  Steven turned to glance back
over his shoulder and he winked knowingly at Peter.  "You can expect
another five per cent cut in six months, take my word on it.  The Arabs
and the Shah have come to their senses."  Steven went on swiftly,

picking out those types of industry which would benefit most
dramatically from the reduction in crude prices, then selecting the
leading companies in those sectors.  If you have a few pounds lying
idle, that's where to put it."  Steven's whole personality seemed to
change when he spoke like this of power and great wealth.  Then he came
out from behind the fao de of the English country squire which he was
usually at such pains to cultivate; the glitter in his eyes was now
undisguised and his bushy mustache bristled like the whiskers of some
big dangerous predator.

He was still talking quickly and persuasively as they left the woods
and began to cross the open fields towards the ruins of the Roman camp
on the crest of the low hills.

These people have still to be told what to do, you know.  Those damned
shop stewards up in Westminster may have thrown the Empire away,

but we still have our responsibilities."  Steven changed the Purdey
shotgun from one arm to the other, carrying it in the crook of the arm,
the gun broken open and the shining brass caps of the cartridges
showing in the breeches.  Government only by those fit to govern."
Steven enlarged on that for a few minutes.

Then suddenly Steven fell silent, almost as though he had suddenly
decided that he had spoken too much, even to somebody as trusted as his
own younger twin.  Peter was silent also, trudging up the curve of the
hill with his boots squelching in the soft damp earth.  There was
something completely unreal about the moment, walking over well
remembered ground in the beautiful mellow sunlight of an

English spring afternoon with a man he had known from the day of his
birth and yet perhaps had never known at all.

It was not the first time he had heard Steven talk like this, and yet
perhaps it was the first time he had ever listened.  He shivered and
Steven glanced at him.

"Cold?"  A "Goose walked over my grave," Peter explained, and

Steven nodded as they clambered up the shallow earth bank that marked
the perimeter of the Roman camp.

They stood on the lip under the branches of a lovely copper beech,

resplendent in its new spring growth of russet.

Steven was breathing hard from the pull up the hill, that extra weight
was already beginning to tell.  There was a spot of high unhealthy
colour in each cheek, and little blisters of sweat speckled his chin.

He closed the breech of the shotgun with a metallic clash, and leaned
the weapon against the trunk of the copper beech as he struggled to
regain his breath.

Peter moved across casually and propped his shoulder against the copper
beech, but his thumbs were hooked into the lapels of the duffle coat,
not thrust into pockets, and he was still in balance, weight slightly
forward on the balls of his feet.  Although he seemed to be entirely
relaxed and at rest he was in fact coiled like a spring,

poised on the brink of violent action and the shotgun was within easy
reach of his right hand.

He had seen that Steven had loaded with number four shot.  At ten paces
it would disembowel a man.  The safety catch on the top of the pistol
grip of the butt engaged automatically when the breech was opened and
closed again, but the right thumb would instinctively slip the catch
forward as the hand closed on the grip.

Steven took a silver cigarette case from the side pocket of his coat
and tapped down a cigarette on the lid.

"Damned shame about Magda Altmann," he said gruffly, not meeting

Peter's eyes.

"Yes, Peter agreed softly.

"Glad they handled it in a civilized fashion.  Could have made it
awkward for you, you know."

"I suppose they could have," Peter agreed.

"What about your job at Narmco?"

"I don't know yet.  I will not know until I get back to Brussels."

"Well, my offer still stands, old boy.  I could do with a bit of help.
I really could.  Somebody I could trust.  You'd be doing me a
favour."

"Damned decent of you, Steven."

"No, really, I mean it."  Steven lit the cigarette with a gold Dunhill
lighter and inhaled with evident pleasure, and after a moment Peter
asked him: "I hope you were not in a heavy position in Altmann stock.

I see it has taken an awful tumble."  It's strange that," Steven shook
his head.  "Pulled out of Altmann's a few weeks ago, actually.  Needed
the money for San Istaban."

"Lucky," Peter murmured, or much more than luck.  He wondered why
Steven admitted the share transaction so readily.  Of course" he
realized, "it would have been very substantial and therefore easily
traced."  He studied his brother now, staring at him with a slight
scowl of concentration.  Was it possible?  he asked himself.

Could Steven really have masterminded something so complex, where
ideology and self-interest and delusions of omnipotence seemed so
inextricably snarled and entwined.

"What is it, old boy?"  Steven asked, frowning slightly in sympathy.

"I was just thinking that the whole concept and execution has been
incredible, Steven.  I would never have suspected you were capable of
it."

"I'm sorry, Peter.  I don't understand.  What are you talking about?"

"Caliph," Peter said softly.

It was there!  Peter saw it instantly.  The instant of utter stillness,
like a startled jungle animal but the flinch of the eyes,

followed immediately by the effort of control.

The expression of Steven's face had not altered, the little frown of
polite inquiry held perfectly, then turning slowly, deeper into
puzzlement.

"I'm afraid you just lost me there, old chap."  It was superbly done.
Despite himself Peter was impressed.  There were depths to his brother
which he had never suspected but that was his own omission.

No matter which way you looked at it, it took an extraordinary ability
to achieve what Steven had achieved in less than twenty years, against
the most appalling odds.  No matter how he had done it, it was the
working of a particular type of genius.

He was capable of running Caliph, Peter accepted the fact at last and
immediately had a focal point for the corroding hatred he had carried
within him for so long.

"Your only mistake so far, Steven, was to let Aaron Altmann know your
name," Peter went on quietly.  "I suspect you did not then know that he
was a Mossad agent, and that your name would go straight onto the
Israeli intelligence computer.  Nobody, nothing, can ever wipe it from
the memory rolls, Steven.  You are known."  Steven's eyes flickered
down to the shotgun; it was instinctive, uncontrollable, the final
confirmation if Peter needed one.

"No, Steven.  That's not for you."  Peter shook his head.

"That's my work.  You're fat and out of condition, and you have never
had the training.  You must stick to hiring others to do the actual
killing.  You wouldn't even get a hand on it."  Steven's eyes darted
back to his brother's face.  Still the expression of his face had not
altered.

"I think you've gone out of your head, old boy."  Peter ignored it.

"You of all people should know that I am capable of killing anybody.

You have conditioned me to that."

"We are getting into an awful tangle now," Steven protested.  "What on
earth should you want to kill anybody for?"

"Steven, you are insulting both of us.  I know.  There is no point in
going on with the act.  We have to work out between us what we are
going to do about it."  He had phrased it carefully, offering the
chance of compromise.  He saw the waver of doubt in Steven's eyes, the
slight twist of his mouth, as he struggled to reach a decision.

But please do not underestimate the danger you are in, Steven."  As he
spoke Peter produced an old worn pair of dark leather gloves from his
pocket and began to pull them on.  There was something infinitely
menacing in that simple act, and again Steven's eyes were drawn
irresistibly.

"Why are you doing that?"  For the first time Steven's voice croaked
slightly.

"I haven't yet touched the gun," Peter explained reasonably.  "It has
only your prints upon it."

"Christ, you'd never get away with it,

Peter."

"Why, Steven?  It is always dangerous to carry a loaded shotgun over
muddy and uneven ground."

"You couldn't do it, not in cold blood.  "The edge of terror was in
Steven's voice.

"Why not?  You had no such qualms with Prince Hassled Abdel

Hayek."

"I am your brother he was only a bloody wag--2 Steven choked it off,
staring now at Peter with stricken eyes, the expression of his face
beginning at last to crack and crumb leas he realized that he had made
the fateful admission.

Peter reached for the shotgun without taking his eyes from his
brother's.

"Wait!"  Steven cried.  "Wait, Peter!"

"For what?"

"You've got to let me explain."

"All right, go ahead."

"You can't just say go ahead,

like that.  It's so complicated."

"All right, Steven.  Let's start at the beginning with Flight 070. Tell
me why?"

"We had to do it,

Peter.  Don't you see?  There is over four billions of British
investment in that country, another three billions of American money.

It's the major world producer of gold and uranium, chrome and a dozen
other strategic minerals.  My God, Peter.  Those ham-handed oafs in
control now are on a suicide course.  We had to take it away from
them,

and put in a controllable government.  If we don't do that the Reds
will have it all within ten years probably much less."

"You had an alternative government chosen?"

"Of course," Steven told him urgently,

persuasively, watching the shotgun that Peter still held low across his
hips.  "It was planned in every detail.  It took two years."

"All right."  Peter nodded.  "Tell me about the murder of Prince
Hassled."

"It wasn't murder, for God's sake, man, it was absolutely essential.

It was a matter of survival.  They were destroying Western civilization
with their childlike irresponsibility.

Drunk with power, they were no longer amenable to reason, like spoiled
children in a sweet shop we had to put a stop to it, or face a
breakdown of the capitalist system.  They have probably done
irreparable damage to the prestige of the dollar, they have taken
sterling hostage and hold it in daily jeopardy with the threat of
withdrawing those astronomic balances from London.  We had to bring
them to their senses, and look how small a price.  We can reduce the
price of crude oil gradually to its 1970 level.  We can restore sanity
to the currencies of the Western world and secure real growth and
prosperity for hundreds of millions of peoples all at the cost of a
single life."

"And anyway, he was only a bloody wag.  Wasn't he?"

Peter agreed reasonably.

"Look here, Peter.  I said that but I didn't mean it.  You are being
unreasonable."

"I will try not to be," Peter assured him mildly.

"Tell me where it goes from here.  Who do you bring under control next
the British Trade Union movement, perhaps?"  And Steven stared at him
wordlessly for a moment.

"Damn it, Peter.  That was a hell of a guess.  But could you imagine if
we had a five-year wage freeze, and no industrial action during that
time.  It's them or us, Peter.

We could get back to being one of the major industrial powers of the
Western world.  Great Britain!  We could be that again."

"You are very convincing, Steven," Peter acknowledged.

"There are only a few details that worry me a little."

"What are they, Peter?"

"Why was it necessary to arrange the murder of Kingston

Parker and Magda Altmann-" Steven stared at him, his jaw unhinging
slightly and the hard line of his mouth going slack with
astonishment.

"No," he shook his head.  "That's not so."  and why was it necessary to
kill Baron Altmann, and torture him to death?"

"That was not my doing all right, it was done.  And I knew it was done
but I had nothing to do with it, Peter.

Not the murder at least.  Oh God, all right I knew it had to be done,
but-His voice tailed off, and he stared helplessly at Peter.

"From the beginning again, Steven.  Let's hear it all-" Peter spoke
almost gently.

"I cannot, Peter.  You don't understand what might happen, what will
happen if I tell you-" Peter slid the safety catch off the Purdey
shotgun.  The click of the mechanism was unnaturally loud in the
silence, and Steven Stride started and stepped back a pace, blinking at
his brother, fastening all his attention on Peter's eyes.

"God,"he whispered.  "You would do it too."

"Tell me about Aaron

Altmann."

"Can I have another cigarette?"  Peter nodded and Steven lit it with
hands that trembled very slightly.

"You have to understand how it worked, before I can explain."

"Tell me how it worked," Peter invited.

"I was recruited-"

"Steven, don't lie to me you are Caliph."

"No, God, no, Peter.  You have it all wrong," Steven cried.  "It's a
chain.  I am only a link in Caliph's chain.  I am not Caliph."

"You are a part of Caliph, then?"

"Only a link in the chain," Steven repeated vehemently.

"Tell me, Peter invited with a small movement of the shotgun barrel
that drew Steven's eyes immediately.

"There is a man I have known a long time.  We have worked together
before.  A man with greater wealth and influence than I have.  It was
not an immediate thing.  It grew out of many discussions and
conversations over a long time, years, in which we both voiced our
concern with the way that power had shifted to blocks of persons unfit
to wield it-"

"All right," Peter nodded grimly.  "I understand your political and
ideological sentiments.  Leave them out of the account."

"Very well," Steven agreed.  Well, finally this man asked me if I would
be prepared to join an association of Western world political and
industrial leaders dedicated to restoring power to the hands of those
fitted by training and upbringing to govern."

"Who was this man?"

"Peter, I cannot tell you."

"You have no choice," Peter told him, and there was a long moment as
they locked eyes and wills; then Steven sighed in capitulation.

"It was-" The name was that of a mining magnate who controlled most of
the free world supply of nuclear fuel and gold and precious stones.

"So he is the one who would have been in control of the new South

African government with which you intended replacing the present regime
in that country, if the taking of 070 had succeeded?"  Peter
demanded,

and Steven nodded wordlessly.

"All right," Peter nodded.  "Go on."

"He had been recruited as I

was," Steven explained.  "But I was never to know by whom.  In my
turn

I was to recruit another desirable member but I would be the only one
who knew who that was.  It was how the security of the chain was to be
maintained.  Each link would know only the one above and below him, the
man who had recruited him and the one who he recruited in his turn-"

"Caliph?"  Peter demanded.  "What about Caliph?"

"Nobody knows who he is."

"Yet he must know who you are."

"Yes, of course."

"Then there must be some way for you to get a message to Caliph," Peter
insisted.  "For instance, when you recruit a new member, you must be
able to pass on the information?

When he wants something from you, he must be able to contact you."

"Yes."

"How?"

"Christ, Peter.  It's more than my life is worth."

"We'll come back to it," said Peter impatiently.  "Go on, tell me about
Aaron

Altmann."

"That was a disaster.  I chose Aaron as the man I would recruit.  He
seemed exactly the kind of man we needed.  I had known him for years. I
knew he could be very tough when it was necessary.  So I

approached him.  He seemed very eager at first, leading me on.  Getting
me to explain the way Caliph would work.  I was delighted to have
recruited such an important man.  He intimated that he would contribute
twenty-five million dollars to the funds of the association, so I

passed a message to Caliph.  I told him that I had almost succeeded in
recruiting Baron Altmann-" Steven stopped nervously, and dropped the
stub of his cigarette onto the damp turf, grinding it out under his
heel.

"What happened then?"  Peter demanded.

"Caliph responded immediately.  I was ordered to break off all contact
with Aaron Altmann at once.  I realized I must have chosen a
potentially dangerous person.  You tell me now he was Mossad.  I did
not know that but Caliph must have known it.  I did as I was told and
dropped Aaron like a hot chestnut and four days later he was abducted.
I had nothing to do with it, Peter.  I swear to you.  I

liked the man immensely.  I admired him-"

"Yet he was abducted and horribly tortured.  You must have known that
Caliph had done it, and that you were responsible?"

"Yes."  Steven said the word flatly, without evasion.  Peter felt a
small stir of admiration for that.

"They tortured him to find out if he had passed the information you had
given him about Caliph to Mossad," Peter insisted.

"Yes I expect so.  I do not know."

"If the picture I have of

Aaron Altmann was correct they received no information from him."

"No.

He was like that.  They must have lost patience with him in the end to
do what they did to him.  It was my first moment of disillusionment
with Caliph," Steven muttered sombrely.

They were both silent now, until Peter burst out angrily.

"My God, Steven, can't you see what a disgusting business you are mixed
up in?  "And Steven was mute.  "Couldn't you see it?"  Peter insisted,
the anger raw in his voice.  "Couldn't you realize it from the
beginning?"

"Not at the beginning."  Steven shook his head miserably.

"It seemed a brilliant solution for all the diseases of the

Western world and then once I began it was like being on board a
speeding express train.  It was just impossible to get off again."

"All right.  So then you tried to have me assassinated on the
Rambouillet road?"

"Good God, no."  Steven was truly appalled.  "You're my brother,

good God-"

"Caliph did it to stop me getting close to Aaron's widow who was out to
avenge him."

"I didn't know a thing about it, I swear to you.  If Caliph did it, he
knew better than to let me in on it."  Steven was pleading now.  "You
must believe that."  Peter felt a softening of his resolve, but forced
back the knowledge that this man was his brother, someone who had been
very dear over a lifetime.

"What was your next operation for Caliph then?"  He asked without
allowing the softness to reach his voice.

"There wasn't-"

"Damn you, Steven, don't lie to me."  Peter's voice cracked like a
whiplash.  "You knew about Prince Hassled Abdel HayeV

"All right.  I arranged that.  Caliph told me what to do and I did
it."

"Then you kidnapped Melissa-Jane and had her mutilated-"

"Oh God!  No!"

Steven's voice was a sob.

To force me to assassinate Kingston Parker-"

"No, Peter.  No!"

"And then to kill Magda Altmann-"

"Peter, I swear to you.  Not

Melissa-Jane.  I love her like one of my own daughters.  You must know
that.  I had no idea it was Caliph."  Steven was pleading wildly now.

You have to believe me.  I would never have allowed that to happen.
That is too horrible."  Peter watched him with a steely merciless glint
of blue in his eyes, cold and cutting as the edge of the executioner's
blade.

"I will do anything to prove to you I had nothing to do with

Melissa-Jane.  Anything you say, Peter.  I'll take any chance to prove
it to you.  I swear it to you."  Steven Stride's dismay and sincerity
were beyond question.  His face was drained of all colour and his lips
were marble white and trembling with the strength of his denial.

Peter handed the shotgun to his brother without a word.

Startled, Steven held it for a moment at arm's length.

"You are in bad trouble, Steven," Peter said quietly.  He knew that
from now on he needed Steven's unreserved and whole-hearted commitment.
He could not be forced to do what he must do at the point of a
shotgun.

Steven recognized the gesture, and slowly lowered the gun.  With his
thumb he pushed across the breech-locking mechanism, and the weapon
hinged open.  He pulled the cartridges from the double eyes of the
breeches and dropped them into the pocket of his shooting jacket.

"Let's get down to the house, Steven said, his voice still unsteady
with the trauma of the last minutes.  "I need a stiff whisky-"

"There was a log fire burning in the deep walk-in fireplace of Steven's
study.  The portals were magnificently carved altar surrounds from a
sixteenth century German church, salvaged from the ruins of World War

II

Allied bombing and purchased by Steven from a Spanish dealer, after
-having been smuggled out through Switzerland.

Opposite the fireplace, bow windows with leaded panes and ancient wavy
glass looked out over the rose garden.

The other two walls housed Steven's collection of rare books, each
boxed in its individual leather-bound container and lettered in gold
leaf.  The shelves reached from floor to the high moulded ceiling.  It
was a passion that the brothers shared.

Steven stood now in the fireplace with his back to the flames, one hand
clasped in the small of his back, hoisting up the skirts of his tweed
jacket to warm his backside.  In the other hand he held a deep crystal
tumbler, still half filled with whisky, hardly diluted by the soda he
had dashed into it from the syphon.

Steven still looked shaken and pale, and every few minutes he shivered
uncontrollably, although the room was oppressively heated by the
blazing fire and all the windows were closed tightly.

Peter sprawled in the brocade-upholstered Louis Quatorze chair across
the room, his legs thrust out straight and crossed at the ankles, hands
thrust deeply into his pockets, and his chin lowered on his chest in
deep thought.

"How much was your contribution to Caliph's war chest?"  Peter asked
abruptly.

"I was not in the same class as Aaron Altmann," Steven answered
quietly.  "I pledged five millions in sterling over five years."

"So we must imagine a network extending across all international
boundaries.

Powerful men in every country, each contributing enormous sums of money
and almost unlimited information and influence-" Steven nodded and took
another swallow of his dark, toned whisky.

There is no reason to believe that it was only one man in each country.
There may be a dozen in England, another dozen in Western

Germany, fifty in the United States-"

"It's possible," Steven agreed.

"So that Caliph could very easily have arranged the kidnapping of

Melissa-Jane through another of his chain in this country."

"You must believe I had nothing to do with it, Peter."  Peter dismissed
this new protestation impatiently, and went on thinking out aloud.

"It is still possible that Caliph is a committee of the founder members
not one man at all."

"I don't think so--" Steven hesitated.

I had a very strong impression that it all was one man.  I do not think
a committee would be capable of such swift and determined action."  He
shook his head, trying to cast his mind back for the exact words which
had formed his impressions.  You must remember that I have only
discussed Caliph with one other person, the man who recruited me.

However, you can be certain that we discussed it in depth and over an
extended period.  I was not about to put out five million on something
that didn't satisfy me entirely.  No, it was one man who would make the
decision for all of us but the decisions would be in the interest of
all."

"Yet there was no guarantee that any individual member of the chain
would be informed of every decision?"

"No.  Of course not.  That would have been madness.

Security was the key to success."

"You could trust somebody you had never met, whose identity was hidden
from you you could trust him with vast sums of money, and the destiny
of the world as we know it?"

Steven hesitated again as if seeking the right words.

"Caliph has an aura that seems to envelop all of us.  The man who
recruited me-" Steven seemed reluctant to repeat the name again, proof
to Peter of the influence that Caliph exerted is a man whose
judgement

I respect tremendously.  He was convinced, and this helped to convince
me."

"What do you think now?"  Peter asked abruptly.  "Are you still
convinced?"  Steven drained the whisky glass, and then smoothed his
mustache with a little nervous gesture.

"Come on, Steven," Peter encouraged him.

"I still think Caliph had the right idea " he said reluctantly.

The rules have changed, Peter.  We were fighting for survival of the
world as we know it.  We were merely playing to the new morality-" He
crossed to the silver tray on the corner of his desk and refilled the
whisky glass.

Up to now we have had one hand tied behind our backs, while the

Reds and the extreme left and the members of the Third World have had
both hands to fight with and a dagger in each one.  All Caliph did was
to take off our shackles."

"What has made you change your mind then?"

Peter asked.

"I'm not sure that I have changed my mind."  Steven turned back to face
him.  "I still think it was the right idea-"

"But?"  Peter insisted.

Steven shrugged.  "The murder of Aaron Altmann, the mutilation of

Melissa-Jane-" He hesitated.  Other acts of which I suspect Caliph was
the originator.  They were not for the common good.  They were merely
to protect Caliph's personal safety, or to satisfy what I am beginning
to believe is vaunted and unbridled lust for power."  Steven shook his
head again.  "I believed Caliph to be noble and dedicated but there is
no nobility in some of the things he has done.

He has acted like a common criminal.  He has acted for personal
advantage and glorification.  I believe in the concept of Caliph but I
know now we have chosen the wrong man.  He has been corrupted by the
power that we placed in to his hands."  Peter listened to him
carefully, his head cocked to one side, his blue eyes clear and quietly
searching.

"All right, Steven.  So we discover that Caliph is not a deity but a
man with a man's petty greed and self-interest."

"Yes, I suppose

I do."  Steven's handsome florid face was heavy with regret.  "Caliph
is not what I believed he might be "Do you accept now that he is evil
truly evil?"

"Yes, I accept that.  "Then, fiercely, "But God, how I wish

Caliph had been what I believed he was at the beginning."  Peter could
understand that and he nodded.

"It was what this crazy world of ours needed-" Steven went on bitterly.
We need somebody, a strong man to tell us what to do.  I

thought it was Caliph.  I wanted it so badly to be him."

"So now, do you accept that Caliph was not that man?"

"Yes," said Steven simply.

"But if there was a man like that I would follow him again,

unquestioningly."

"You said you would do anything to prove to me that you had nothing to
do with Melissa-Jane will you help me to destroy

Caliph?"

"Yes."  Steven did not hesitate.

"There will be great personal risk," Peter pointed out, and now

Steven met his eyes steadily.

"I know that.  I know Caliph better than you."  Peter found that his
affection for his brother was now reinforced with admiration.

Steven lacked very few of the manly virtues, he thought.  He had
strength and courage and brains, perhaps his major vice was that he had
too much of each.

"What do you want me to do, Peter?"

"I want you to arrange a meeting with Caliph face to face."

"Impossible."  Steven dismissed it immediately.

"You said that you had means of getting a message to him?"

"Yes,

but Caliph would never agree to a meeting."

"Steven, what is the single the only weakness that Caliph has shown so
far?"

"He has shown no weakness."

"Yes, he has," Peter denied.

"What is it?"

"He is obsessed with protecting his personal identity and safety,"
Peter pointed out.  "As soon as that is threatened, he immediately
reverts to abduction and torture and murder."

"That isn't a weakness-" Steven pointed out.  "It's a strength."

"If you can get a message to him that his identity is in jeopardy. That
somebody, an enemy, has penetrated his security screen and has managed
to get close to him," Peter suggested, and Steven considered it long
and carefully.

"He would react very strongly," Steven agreed.  "But it would not take
him very long to find out that I was lying.

That would immediately discredit me, and as you said earlier I

would be at grave risk for no good reason."

"It isn't a lie," Peter told him grimly.  "There is a Mossad agent
close to Caliph.  Very close to him."

"How do you know that?"  Steven asked sharply.

"I cannot tell you," Peter said.  "But the information is iron-clad.  I
even know the agent's code-name.  I give you my word that the
information is genuine."

"In that case-" Steven thought it out again Caliph would probably
already be suspicious and would be prepared to accept my warning.
However, all he would do would be to ask me to give him the name pass
it to him along his usual communications channel.  That would be it."

"You would refuse to pass the information except face to face.  You
will protest that the information is much too sensitive.  You would
protest that your personal safety was at stake.  What would be his
reaction?"

"I would expect him to put pressure on me to divulge the name.  If you
resisted?"

"I suppose he would have to agree to a meeting.  As you have pointed
out, it is his major obsession.  But, if he met me face to face, his
identity would be revealed anyway."

"Think, Steven.  You know how his mind works."  It took a few seconds,
then Steven's expression changed, consternation twisting his lips as
though he was in pain.

"Good God of course.  If I forced him to a face-to-face meeting,

I would be highly unlikely to survive it."

"Exactly," Peter nodded.

"If we baited it with something absolutely irresistible, Caliph would
have to agree to meet you but he would make arrangements to have you
silenced immediately, before you had a chance to pass on his identity
to anyone else."

"Hell, Peter, this is creepy.  As you told me earlier today, I am fat
and out of condition.  I wouldn't be much of a match against Caliph."

"Caliph would take that into consideration when deciding whether to
meet you or not," Peter agreed.

"It sounds like suicide," Steven persisted.

"You just signed on to be tough," Peter reminded him.

"Tough is one thing, stupid is another."

"You would be in no danger until you delivered the message.  Caliph
would not dare dispose of you until you delivered your message," Peter
pointed out.  "And I

give you my word that I will never call on you to go to an assignation
with Caliph."

"I can't ask for more than that, I suppose."  Steven threw up his
hands.  "When do you want me to contact him?"

"How do you do it the contact?"

"Advert in the Personal column," Steven told him, and

Peter grinned with reluctant admiration.  Neat, efficient and entirely
untraceable.

"Do it as soon as you can," Peter instructed.

"Monday morning, "Steven nodded, and went on studying his brother with
a peculiarly intent expression.

"What is it, Steven?"

"I was just thinking.  If only Caliph had been somebody like you,
Peter."

"huh?"  For the first time Peter was truly startled.

"The warrior king utterly ruthless in the pursuit of the vision of
justice and rightness and duty."

"I am not like that."  Peter denied it.

"Yes, you are," Steven said positively.  "You are the type of man that
I hoped Caliph might be.  The type of man we needed."  Peter had to
presume that Caliph was watching him.

After his murder of Baroness Altmann, Caliph's interest would be
intense.  Peter had to act predictably.

He caught the early Monday flight back to Brussels, and before midday
was at his desk in Narmco headquarters.

Here also he was the centre of much interest and power play

Altmann Industries had lost its chief executive and there were strong
undercurrents and court intrigues already 4 afoot.  Despite a number of
subtle approaches Peter stayed aloof from the struggle.

On Tuesday evening Peter picked up the newspaper from the news-stand in
the Hilton lobby.  Steven's contact request was in the small-ads
section.

children of Israel asked counsel of the Lord, saying, shall I go up
again to battle?  judges.  20:23.

The quotation that Caliph had chosen seemed to epitomize his view of
himself.  He saw himself as godlike, set high above his fellow men.

Steven had explained to Peter that Caliph took up to forty-eight hours
to answer.

Steven would wait each day after the appearance of the personal
announcement at his desk in his office suite in Leadenhall Street, from
noon until twenty minutes past the hour.  He would have no visitors nor
appointments for that time,

and he would make certain that his direct unlisted telephone line was
un-engaged to receive the incoming contact.

There was no contact that Wednesday, but Steven had not expected one.
On the Thursday Steven paced restlessly up and down the antique silk
Kirman carpet as he waited for the call.  He was already wearing the
jacket of his suit, and his bowler and rolled umbrella were on the
corner of the ornate French ormolu desk that squatted like some benign
monster beneath the windows which looked across the street at Lloyds

Exchange.

Steven Stride was afraid.  He acknowledged the fact with direct
self-honesty.  Intrigue was part of his existence, had been for nearly
all of his life but always the game had been played to certain rules.

He knew he was entering a new jungle, a savage wilderness where those
few rules ceased entirely to exist.  He was going in over his head;

Peter had pointed out to him that this was not his way, and he knew

Peter was right.  Peter was right, and Steven was afraid as he had
never been in his life.  Yet he knew that he was going ahead with it.

He had heard that it was the mark of true courage to be able to meet
and acknowledge fear, and yet control it sufficiently to be able to go
ahead and do what duty dictated must be done.

He did not feel like a brave man.

The telephone rang once, too loud, too shrill and every nerve in his
body jumped taut and he found himself frozen, paralysed with fear in
the centre of the beautiful and precious carpet.

The telephone rang again, the insistent double note sounded in his ears
like the peal of doom, and he felt his bowels filled with the hot oily
slime of fear, hardly to be contained.

The telephone rang the third time, and with an enormous effort he
forced himself to make the three paces to his desk.

He lifted the telephone receiver, and heard the sharp chimes of the
interference from the public telephone system.

Stride: he said.  His voice was strained, high and almost shrill,

and he heard the drop of the coin.

The voice terrified him.  It was an electronic drone, inhuman,

without gender, without the timbre of living emotion, without neither
high nor low notes.

"Aldgate and Leadenhall Street,"said the voice.

Steven repeated the rendezvous and immediately the connection was
broken.

Steven dropped the receiver onto its cradle and snatched up his bowler
and umbrella as he hurried to the door.

His secretary looked up at him and smiled expectantly.

She was a handsome grey-haired woman who had been with Steven ten
years.

"Sir?"  She still called him that.

I'm popping out for half an hour, May," Steven told her.

"Look after the shop, there is a dear."  And he stepped into his
private elevator and rode down swiftly to the underground garage where
his Rolls was kept, together with the private vehicles of his senior
executives.

In the elevator mirror he checked the exact angle of his bowler, a
slightly raffish tilt over the right eye, and rearranged the bloom of
the crimson carnation in the buttonhole of the dark blue Savile Row
suit with its faint and elegant chalk stripe.  It was important that he
looked and acted entirely naturally during the next few minutes.

His staff would remark on any departure from the normal.

In the garage he did not approach the dark-maroon Rolls-Royce which
glowed in the subdued lighting like some precious gem.  Instead he went
towards the wicket gate in the steel roll-up garage door, and the
doorman in his little glassed cubicle beside the door looked up from
his football pools coupons, recognized the master and leaped to his
feet.

"Afternoon, guy."  Good day, Harold.  I won't be taking the car.

just stepping out for a few minutes."  He stepped over the threshold of
the gate, into the street and turned left, down towards the junction
of

Leadenhall Street and Aldgate.  He walked fast, without seeming to
hurry.  Caliph spaced his intervals very tight, to make it difficult
for the subject to pass a message to a surveillance unit.  Steven knew
he had only minutes to get from his office to the call box on the
corner.  Caliph seemed to know exactly how long it would take him.

The telephone in the red-framed and glass call box started to ring when
he was still twenty paces away.  Steven ran the distance.

"Stride," he said, his voice slightly puffed with exertion, and
immediately the coin dropped and the same electronic droning voice gave
him the next contact point.  It was the public call box at the High

Street entrance to Aid ate tube station.  Steven confirmed and the
voice troubled him deeply, it sounded like that of a robot from some
science fiction movie.  It would not have been so bad if he had felt
human contact.

The two receiving stations, neither of which was predictable, and the
distances between them, had been carefully calculated to make it only
just possible to reach them in time, to make it impossible for the call
to be traced while the line was still open.  Caliph or his agent was
clearly moving from one call box to the next in another part of the
city.  Tracing them even a minute after he had left would be of no
possible use in trying to establish identity.

The voice distorter that Caliph was using was a simple device no bigger
than a small pocket calculator.  Peter had told Steven that it could be
purchased from a number of firms specializing in electronic
surveillance, security and counter-measure equipment.  It cost less
than fifty dollars, and so altered the human voice phasing out all
sound outside the middle range that even the most sophisticated
recording device would not be able to lift a useable voice.

print to compare with a computer bank memory.  It would not even be
able to determine whether the speaker was a man, a woman or a child.

Steven had an unusually clear path to the station, and found himself
waiting outside the call box in the crowded entrance to the station
while a young man in paint-speckled overalls, with long greasy blond
hair, finished his conversation.  Caliph's system allowed for prior use
of the chosen public telephone, and as soon as the scruffy youth
finished his leisurely chat, Steven pushed into the booth and made a
show of consulting the directory.

The phone rang, and even though he was expecting it, Steven jumped with
shock.  He was perspiring now, with the walk and the tension, and his
voice was ragged as he snatched the receiver.

"Stride," he gulped.

The coin dropped and Caliph's impersonal tones chilled him again.

"Yesr :1 have a message."  Yes?"

"There is danger for Caliph."

"Yesr "A government intelligence agency has put an agent close to
him,

close enough to be extremely dangerous."

"Say the source of your information."

"My brother.  General Peter Stride."  Peter had instructed him to tell
the truth, as much as was possible.

"Say the government agency involved."

"Negative.  The information is too sensitive.  I must have assurance
that Caliph receives it personally."

"Say the name or position of the enemy agent."

"Negative.

For the same reasons."  Steven glanced at his gold Cartier tank watch
with its black alligator strap.  They had been speaking for fifteen
seconds he knew the contact would not last longer than thirty seconds.
Caliph would not risk exposure beyond that time.  He did not wait for
the next question or instruction.

"I will pass the information only to Caliph, and I must be certain it
is him, not one of his agents.  I request a personal meeting."

"That is not possible, "droned the inhuman voice.

"Then Caliph will be in great personal danger."  Steven found courage
to say it.

"I repeat, say the name and position of enemy agent."  Twenty-five
seconds had passed.

"I say again, negative.  You must arrange a face-to-face meeting for
transfer of this information."  A single droplet of sweat broke from
the hairline of Steven's temple and ran down his cheek.  He felt as
though he were suffocating in the claustrophobic little telephone
box.

"You will be contacted," droned the voice and the line clicked dead.

Steven took the white silk handkerchief from his top pocket and dabbed
at his face.  Then he carefully rearranged the scrap of silk in his
pocket, not folded into neat spikes but with a deliberately casual
drape.

He squared his shoulders, lifted his chin and left the booth.  Now for
the first time he felt like a brave man.  It was a feeling he relished,
and he stepped out boldly swinging the rolled umbrella with a small
flourish at each pace.

Peter had been within call of the telephone all that week, during the
hours of involvement with the series of Narmco projects which he had
put in train before his departure for Tahiti, and which all seemed to
be maturing simultaneously.  There were meetings that began in the
morning and lasted until after dark, there were two separate day
journeys, one to Oslo and another to Frankfurt, catching the early
businessman's plane and back in the Narmco office before evening.

Always he was within reach of a telephone and Steven Stride knew the
number; even when he was in the NATO Officers Club gymnasium,

sharpening his body to peak physical condition, or practising until
after midnight in the underground pistol range until the 9-mm.  Cobra
was an extension of his hands either hand, left or right, equally
capable of grouping the X circle at fifty metres, from any position,
standing,

kneeling or prone, always he was within reach of the telephone.

Peter felt like a prize fighter in training camp, concentrating all his
attention on the preparations for the confrontation he knew lay
ahead.

At last the weekend loomed, with the prospect of being boring and
frustrating.  He refused invitations to visit the country home of one
of his Narmco colleagues, another to fly down to Paris for the Saturday
racing and he stayed alone in the Hilton suite, waiting for the call
from Steven.

On Sunday morning he had all the papers sent up to his room,

English and American and French German which he could read better than
he spoke, and even the Dutch and Italian papers which he could stumble
through haltingly, missing every third word or so.

He went through them carefully, trying to find a hint of Caliph's
activity.  New abductions, hijackings or other acts which might give
him a lead to some new Caliph-dominated pressures.

Italy was in a political uproar.  The confusion so great that he could
only guess at how much of it was from the left and how much from the
right.  There had been an assassination in Naples of five known members
of the Terrorist Red Brigade, all five taken out neatly with a single
grenade.

The grenade type had been determined as standard NATO issue, and the
execution had been in the kitchen of a Red Brigade safe apartment in a
slum area of the city.  The police had no leads.  It sounded like

Caliph.  There was no reason to believe that his "chain" did not
include prominent Italian businessmen.  A millionaire Italian living in
his own country had to be the earth's most endangered species after the
blue whale, Peter thought wryly, and they might have called on Caliph
to go on the offensive.

Peter finished the continental papers, and turned with relief to the
English and American.  It was a little before Sunday noon, and he
wondered how he could live out the desolate hours until Monday
morning.

He was certain that there would be no reply to Steven's request for a
meeting before then.

He started on the English-language newspapers, spinning them out to
cover the blank time ahead.

The British Leyland Motor Company strike was in its fifteenth week with
no prospect of settlement.  Now there was a case for Caliph,

Peter smiled wryly, remembering his discussion with Steven.  Knock a
few heads together for their own good.

There was only one other item of interest in his morning's reading.

The President of the United States had appointed a special negotiator
in another attempt to find a solution to the Israeli occupation of the
disputed territories in the Middle East.  The man he had chosen was
Dr.

Kingston Parker, who was described as a personal friend of the

President and one of the senior members of his inner circle of
advisors, a man well thought of by all parties in the dispute, and an
ideal choice for the difficult job.  Again Peter found himself in
agreement.  Kingston Parker's energies and resources seemed
bottomless.

Peter dropped the last paper and found himself facing a void of boredom
that would extend through until the following day.  There were three
books he should read beside his bed, and the Hermes crocodile case was
half-filled with Narmco material, yet he knew that he would not be able
to concentrate not with the prospect of the confrontation with ("Caliph
overshadowing all else.

He went through into the mirrored bathroom of the suite, and found the
package that he had purchased the previous day in the cosmetic section
of Galeries Anspach, one of the city's largest departmental stores.

The wig was of good-quality human hair, not the obviously shiny nylon
substitute.  It was in his own natural colour, but much longer than
Peter wore his hair.  He arranged it carefully along his own hairline,
and then set to work with a pair of scissors, trimming and tidying it.
When he had it as close to his liking as possible, he began to tint the
temples with "Italian Boy" hair silvering.

It took him most of the afternoon, for he was in no hurry, and he was
critical of his own work.  Every few minutes he consulted the snapshot
which Melissa-Jane had taken with her new Polaroid camera,

Peter's Christmas t present to her, at Abbots Yew on New Year's Day.

It was a good likeness of both the Stride brothers, Peter and Steven,

standing full face and smiling indulgently at Melissa-Jane's command to
do so.

It highlighted the resemblances of the two brothers, and also pointed
out their physical differences.  The natural hair colouring was
identical but Steven's was fashionably longer, curling on his collar at
the back, and appreciably greyer at the temples and streaked at the
front.

Steven's face was heavier, with the first trace of jowls, and his
colour was higher, perhaps the first ruddy warnings of heart
malfunction or merely the banner of good living in his cheeks.  Yet
with the wig on his head, Peter's own face seemed much fuller.

Next Peter shaped the mustache, trimming it down into the infantry
officer model that Steven favoured.  There had been a good selection of
artificial moustaches to choose from in the cosmetic section, amongst a
display of artificial eyelashes and eyebrows, but none had been exactly
right.

Peter had to work on it carefully with the scissors, and then tint it
with a little silver.

When he fastened it in place with the special adhesive gum, the result
was quite startling.  The mustache filled out his face even further,
and of course the eyes of the twins were almost exactly the same shape
and colour.  Their noses were both straight and bony.

Peter's mouth was a little more generous, and did not have the same
hard relentless line of lip but the mustache concealed much of that.

Peter stood back and examined himself in the full-length mirror.

He and Steven were within a quarter of an inch in height, they had the
same breadth of shoulder.  Steven was heavier in the gut, and his neck
was thickening, giving him a thrusting bull-like set to his head and
shoulders.  Peter altered his stance slightly.  It worked.  He doubted
that anybody who did not know both of them intimately would be able to
detect the substitution.  There was no reason to believe that Caliph or
any of his closest lieutenants would have seen either Steven or Peter
in the flesh.

He spent an hour practising Steven's gait, watching himself in the
mirror, trying to capture the buoyant cockiness of Steven's
movements,

searching for little personal mannerisms, the way Steven stood with
both hands clasped under the skirts of his jacket; the way he brushed
his mustache with one finger, from the parting under his nose left and
right.

Clothing was not a- serious problem.  Both brothers had used the same
tailor since Sandhurst days, and Steven's dress habits were invariable
and inviolable.  Peter's knew exactly what he would wear in any given
situation.

Peter stripped off wig and mustache and repacked them carefully in
their Galeries Anspach plastic packets, then buttoned them into one of
the interior divisions of the Hermes case.

Next he removed the Cobra parabellum from another division.  It was
still in the chamois leather holster, and he bounced the familiar
weight of the weapon in the palm of his hand.  Reluctantly he decided
he could not take it with him.  The meeting would almost certainly be
in England, The contact that Steven had had on Thursday had clearly
originated in London.  He had to believe the next contact would be in
that same city.  He could not take the chance of walking through

British customs with a deadly weapon on his person.  If he was
stopped,

there would be publicity.

It would instantly alert Caliph.  He would be able to get another
weapon from Thor Command once he was in England.  Colin Noble would
supply him, just as soon as Peter explained the need, he was certain of
that.

Peter went down and checked the Cobra pistol into the safe deposit box
of the hotel reception office, and returned to his room to face the
wearying and indefinite wait.  It was one of a soldier's duties to
which he had never entirely accustomed himself he always hated the
waiting.

However, he settled down to read Robert Asprey's War in the

Shadows, that definitive tome on the history and practice of guerrilla
warfare down the ages.  He managed to lose himself sufficiently to be
mildly surprised when he glanced at his watch and saw it was after
eight o'clock.  He ordered an omelette to be sent up by room service,

and ten seconds after he replaced the receiver, the telephone rang.

He thought it might be a query from the kitchen about his dinner
order.

"Yes, what is it?"  he demanded irritably.

"Peter?"

"Steven?"

"He has agreed to a meeting."  Peter felt his heart lunge wildly.

"When?  Where?"

"I don't know.  I have to fly to Orly tomorrow.

There will be instructions for me at the airport."  Caliph covering and
backtracking.  Peter should have expected it.  Desperately he cast his
mind back to the layout of Orly Airport.  He had to find a private
place to meet Steven and make the change-over.  He discarded swiftly
the idea of meeting in one of the lounges or washrooms.  That left one
other location.

"What time will you be there?"  Peter demanded.

"Cooks have got me onto the early flight.  I'll be there at eleven
fifteen."

"I'll be there before you" Peter told him.  He knew the

Sabena timetable by heart and all senior Narmcc, executives had
special

VIP cards which assured a seat on any flight.

"I wil I book a room at the Air Hotel on the fourth floor of Orly

South terminal in your name," he told Steven now.

"I'll wait in the lobby.  Go directly to the reception desk and ask for
your key.  I will check behind you to make certain you are not
followed.  Do not acknowledge me in any way.

Have you got that, Steven?"

"Yes."

"Until tomorrow, then."  Peter broke the connection, and went through
into the bathroom.  He studied his.  own face in the mirror.

"Well, that takes care of getting a weapon from Thor."  Caliph had not
set the meeting in England.  It was clear now that Paris was only a
staging point, and that in his usual careful fashion Caliph would move
the subject on from there perhaps through one or more staging points,

to the final rendezvous.

The subject would go in unarmed, and unsupported and Peter was certain
that afterwards Caliph would take his usual pains to ensure that the
subject would be unable to carry back a report of the meeting.

I am drawing two cards inside for a straight flush, and Caliph is the
dealer from a pack that he has had plenty of time to prepare, Peter
thought coldly, but at least the waiting was over.  He began to pack
his toilet articles into the waterproof Gucci bag.

Sir Steven Stride marched into the lobby of Orly South Air Hotel at
five minutes past noon, and Peter smiled to himself in
self-congratulation.  Steven was wearing a blue double-breasted
blazer,

white shirt and cricket-club tie, above grey woollen slacks and black

English handmade shoes none of your fancy Italian footwear for

Steven.

It was Steven's standard informal dress, and Peter had only been wrong
about the tie he had guessed that it would be an I Zingari pattern.
Peter himself wore a doublebreaster and grey slacks under his trench
coat and his shoes were black Barkers.

Steven's eyes flickered around the lobby, passing over Peter sitting in
a far corner with a copy of Le Monde, then Steven moved authoritively
to the reception desk.

"My name is Stride, do you have a reservation for me?"  Steven spoke
slowly, in rich plummy tones, for very few of these damned people spoke
English.  The clerk checked swiftly, nodded, murmured a welcome and
gave Steven the form and the key.

"Four One Six."  Steven checked the number loudly enough for Peter to
hear.  Peter had been watching the entrance carefully; fortunately
there had been very few guests entering the lobby during the few
minutes since Steven's arrival, and none of those could possibly have
been Caliph surveillance.  Of course, if this was a staging point, as

Peter was certain it was, then Caliph would have no reason to put
surveillance on Steven not until he got much closer to the ultimate
destination.

Steven moved to the elevator with a porter carrying his single small
valise, and Peter drifted across and joined the small cluster of guests
waiting at the elevators.

He rode up shoulder to shoulder with Steven in the crowded elevator,
neither of them acknowledging the other's existence, and when

Steven and the porter left at the fourth stage Peter rode on up three
floors, walked the length of the corridor and back, then took the
descending elevator to Steven's floor.

Steven had left the door to 416 off the catch, and' Peter pushed it
open and slipped in without knocking.

"My dear boy."  Steven was in his shirt sleeves.  He had switched on
the television, but now he turned down the sound volume and hurried to
greet him with both affection and vast relief.

"No problems?"  Peter asked.

"Like clockwork," Steven told him.  "Would you like a drink?  I

got a bottle in the duty-free."  While he hunted for glasses in the
bathroom, Peter checked the room swiftly.  A view down towards the
square functional buildings of the market that had replaced the
picturesque Les Halles in central Paris, matching curtains and covers
on the twin beds, television and radio sets, between the beds, modern
soulless furniture it was a room, that was the most and the least that
could be said for it.

Steven carried in the glasses and handed one to Peter.

"Cheers!"  Peter tasted his whisky.  It was too strong and the

Parisian tap water tasted of chlorine.  He put it aside.

"How is Caliph going to get instructions to you?"

"Got them already."  Steven went to his blazer, hanging over the back
of the chair, and found a long white envelope in the inside pocket.  -
"This was left at the Air France Information Desk."  Peter took the
envelope and as he split the flap he sank onto one of the armchairs.
There were three items in the envelope.

A first-class Air France airline ticket, a voucher for a
chauffeur-driven limousine and a hotel reservation voucher.

The air ticket could have been purchased for cash at any Air

France outlet or agency, the limousine and hotel bookings could have
been made equally anonymously.

There was no possibility of a trace back from any of these documents.

Peter opened the Air France ticket and read the destination.

Something began to crawl against his skin, like the loathsome touch of
body vermin.  He closed the ticket and checked the two vouchers; now
the sick feeling of betrayal and evil spread through his entire body,

numbing his fingertips and coating the back of his tongue with a bitter
metallic taste like copper salts.

The air ticket was for this evening's flight from Orly to

Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, the hired-car voucher was good for a
single journey from there to Jerusalem, the hotel voucher was for a
room in the King David Hotel in that ancient and holy city.

"What is it, Peter?"

"Nothing," said Peter, only then aware that the sickness must have
shown on his face.  "Jerusalem," he went on.

"Caliph wants you in Jerusalem."  There was one person in Jerusalem at
that moment.

Somebody who had been in his thoughts almost unceasingly since last he
had embraced her in the darkness of Bora-Bora Island so very long
ago.

Caliph was in Jerusalem, and Magda Altmann was in Jerusalem and the
sickness was heavy in the pit of his stomach.

The deviousness of Caliph.

No, he told himself firmly.  I have travelled that road already.

It cannot be Magda.

The genius of Caliph, evil and effortless.

It is possible.  He had to admit it then.  With Caliph, anything is
possible.  Every time Caliph shook the dice box the numbers changed,

different numbers, making different totals but always completely
plausible, always completely believable.

It was one of the basic proven theorems of his trade that a man,

any man, was blinded and deafened and rendered senseless by love.

Peter was in love, and he knew it.

All right.  So now I have to try and free my mind and think it all over
again, as though I were not besotted.

"Peter, are you all right?"  Steven demanded again, now with real
concern.  It was impossible to think with Steven hovering over him.  He
would have to put it aside.

"I am going to Jerusalem in your place," Peter said.

"Come again, old boy?"  We are changing places you and U "You won't get
away with it."  Steven shook his head decidedly.  "Caliph will take you
on the full toss."  Peter picked up his Hermes case and went through
into the bathroom.  He worked quickly with the wig and artificial
mustache and then called.

"Steven, come here."  They stood side by side and stared at themselves
in the mirror.

"Good God!"  Steven grunted.  Peter altered his stance slightly,

conforming more closely to his brother.

"That's incredible.  Never knew you were such a good-looking brighter,"
Steven chuckled, and wagged his head wonderingly.  Peter imitated the
gesture perfectly.

"Damn it, Peter."  The chuckle dried on Steven's lips.

"That's enough.  You're giving me the creeps."  Peter pulled the wig
off his head.  "It will work."

"Yes," Steven conceded.  "It will work but how the hell did you know I
would be wearing a blazer and greys?"

"Trick of the trade, Peter told him.  "Don't worry about it.

Let's go through the paperwork now."  In the bedroom they laid out
their personal documents in two piles, and went swiftly through them.

The passport photographs would pass readily enough.

"You have to shave your soup-strainer," Peter told him, and Steven
stroked his mustache with one finger, left and right lingeringly,

regretfully.

"Is that absolutely necessary?  Id feel like I was walking around in
public with no trousers on."  Peter took the slim gold ball-point from
his inside pocket and a sheaf of hotel stationery from the drawer.

He studied Steven's signature in the passport for a minute, and then
dashed it off on the top sheet.

"No."  He shook his head, and tried again.  It was like Steven's walk,
cocky and confident, the "T" was crossed with a flourishing sword
stroke of the pen.

In sixty seconds he had it perfected.

"With that wig on your head you could walk into my bank any day and
sign for the whole damned bundle," Steven muttered uneasily.  "Then go
home and climb into bed with Pat."

"Now, there is an idea."  Peter looked thoughtful.

"Don't joke about it," Steven pleaded.

"Who's joking?"  Peter went through the credit cards, club membership
cards, driver's licence and all the other clutter of civilized
existence.

Steven's mastery of his brother's signature was not nearly as
effective, but after twenty minutes" practice was just adequate for
hotel registration purposes.

"Here is the address of a hotel on the left bank.  Magnificent
restaurant, and the management are very understanding if you should
want to invite a young lady up to your room for a drink."

"Perish the thought."  Steven looked smug at the prospect.

"It should only be for a few days, Steven.  Just keep very low.

Pay cash for everything.  Keep clear of the George V or the Meurice,
Le

Doyen and Maxim's all the places where they know you."  They went
carefully over the last details of the exchange of identity, while

Steven shaved off the mustache and anointed the bare patch tenderly
with Eau de Sauvage.

"You'd better move now," Peter told him at last.  "Wear this--" It was
Peters buff trenchcoat that would cover his blazer.  And let's change
ties."  Steven was ready, and he stood rather awkwardly by the door, in
the tightly fitting trenchcoat.

"Steven, can I ask you a question?"  Peter did not know why he had to
know now, it had been buried so deeply for so long and yet at this
moment it was deadly important to know.

"Of course, old boy."  Steven seemed to welcome the postponement of the
moment of parting.

"Sandhurst."  Peter tried to keep the embarrassment out of his voice.
"I never asked you before but you didn't do it, did you,

Steven?"  Steven met his eyes calmly, steadily.  "No, Peter.  I did not
do it.  My word on it."  Peter took his brother's proffered right hand
and squeezed it hard.  It was ridiculous to feel so relieved.

"I'm glad, Steven."

"Take care of yourself, old boy."

"I will,"

Peter nodded.  "But if anything happens," Peter" hesitated, "
Melissa-Jane--2

"Don't worry.  I'll take care of it."  Why do Englishmen have such
difficulty talking to each other, Peter wondered, let alone
communicating affection and gratitude?

"Well, I'll be getting along then," said Steven.

"Take a guard on your middle stump, and don't be caught in the slips,"
Peter cautioned him with the old inanity.

"Count on it," said Steven, and went out into the passage, closing the
door behind him firmly, leaving his brother to think about

Jerusalem.

the name had changed from Lad to BenGurion otherwise the

Arrivals Hall was as Peter remembered it.  One of the few airports on
the globe which has sufficient luggage trolleys, so that the passengers
do not have to fight for possession.

In the Arrivals Hall there was a young Israeli driver with the name:

Sir Steven Stride printed in white chalk on a schoolboy's black
slate.

The driver wore a navy-blue cap with a black patent leather peak.

It was his only item of uniform, otherwise he was dressed in sandals
and a white cotton shirt.  His English had the usual strong American
turn to it, and his attitude was casual and friendly he might be
driving the limousine today, but tomorrow he could be at the controls
of a Centurion tank, and he was as good a man as his passenger any
day.

"Shalom, Shalom," he greeted Peter.  "Is that all your luggage?"

"Yes."  TeseMer.  Let's go."  He did not offer to push Peter's
trolley,

but chatted amicably as he led him out to the limousine.

It was a stretched-out 240 D Mercedes Benz almost brand new,

lovingly polished but somebody had painted a pair of squinting eyes on
each side of the chrome three pointed star on the boot of the
vehicle.

They had hardly pulled out through the airport gates when one of the
characteristic aromas of Israel filled the cab of the Mercedes the
smell of orange blossom from the citrus orchards that lined each side
of the road.

For some reason the smell made Peter feel uneasy, a sensation of having
missed something, of having neglected some vital aspect.  He tried to
think it all out again, from the beginning, but the driver kept up a
running commentary as they pulled up the new double highway,

over the hills through the pine forests towards Jerusalem, and the
voice distracted him.

Peter wished he had kept the list that he had drawn up in the hotel
room at Orly instead of destroying it.  He tried to reconstruct it in
his mind.

There were a dozen items on the plus side.  The third was: Magda told
me about Cactus Flower.  Would she have done so if she was Caliph?

And then directly opposite, in the'minus'column: If Magda is

Caliph, then "Cactus Flower" does not exist.

It was an invention for some undisclosed reason.

This was the item that pricked him like a burr in a woollen sock.

He kept coming back to it; there was a link missing from the logic of
it and he tried to tease it loose.  It was there just below the surface
of his mind, and he knew instinctively that if he missed it the
consequences would be dire.

The driver kept chatting, turning to glance back at him every few
minutes with a cheerful demand for recognition.

"That's right, isn't it?"  Peter grunted.  The man was irritating him
the missing item was there, just beginning to surface.  He could see
the shape of it.  Why had the smell of orange blossom worried him?

The smell of flowers?  Cactus flower?  There was something there,

something missing from the list.

If Magda is not Caliph then- Was that it?  He was not certain.  " Will
that be all right, then?"  The driver was insisting again.

"I'm sorry what was that?"

"I said, I had to drop a parcel off at my mother-in-law," the driver
explained again.  "It's from my wife."

"Can't you do that on your way back?"

"I'm not going back tonight-" The driver grinned winningly over his
shoulder.

right on our way.  It won't take five minutes.  I promised my wife

I'd get it to her mother today."

"Oh, very well then," Peter snapped.

There was something about the man he did not like, and he had lost
track of the item that had been worrying him.

He felt as though he was in a chess game with a vastly superior
opponent, and he had overlooked a castle on an open file, or a knight
in a position to fork simultaneous check on his king and queen.

"We turn off here," the driver explained, and swung off into a section
of new apartment blocks, all of them built of the custard-yellow
Jerusalem stone, row upon row Of them, Israel's desperate attempt to
house its new citizens.  At this time of evening the streets were
deserted, as families gathered for the evening meal.

The driver jinked through the maze of identical-seeming streets with
garrulous confidence and then braked and parked in front of one of the
square, boxlike, yellow buildings.

"Two minutes," he promised, and jumped out of the Mercedes,

scampered around to the rear and opened the boot.  There was a
scratching sound, a small bump and then the lid of the boot slammed and
the driver came back into Peter's line of vision carrying a brown paper
parcel.

He grinned at Peter, with the ridiculous cap pushed onto the back of
his head, mouthed another assurance through the closed window: "Two
minutes " and went into the main door of the apartment.

Peter hoped he might be longer.  The silence was precious.  He closed
his eyes, and concentrated.

If Magda is not Caliph then then- There was the ticking sound of the
engine cooling, or was it the dashboard clock?  Peter thrust the sound
to the back of his mind.

then then Cactus Flower exists.  Yes, that was it!

My mother-in-law lives Cactus Flower exists, and if he exists he is
close enough to

Caliph to know of Sir Steven Stride's threat to expose him.  Peter sat
upright, rigid in his seat.  He had believed.  that Steven Stride would
be perfectly safe until after the meeting with Caliph.  "That was the
terrible mistake.  Cactus Flower must stop Steven Stride reaching
Caliph!  Yes, of course.  Christ, how had he not seen it before. Cactus
Flower was

Mossad, and Peter was sitting in a street of Jerusalem Mossad's front
yard dressed as Steven Stride.

Christ!  He felt the certainty of mortal danger.  Cactus Flower
probably made the arrangements himself.  If Magda Altmann is not

Caliph, then I am walking right into Cactus Flower's sucker punch I The
-racking damned clock kept ticking, a sound as nerve as a leaky
faucet.

I am in Cactus Flower's city in Cactus Flower's limo The ticking.

Oh God!  It was not coming from the dashboard.  Peter turned his
head.

It was coming from behind him; from the boot.  the driver had opened
and in which he had moved something.  Something that was now ticking
away quietly.

Peter wrenched the door handle and hit the door with his shoulder,

instinctively grabbing the Hermes case with his other hand.

They would have stripped out the metal partition between the boot and
the back seat to allow the blast to cut through.  There was probably
only the leather upholstery between him and whatever was ticking.  That
was why he had heard it so clearly.

Time seemed to have slowed, so he was free to think it out as the
seconds dropped as lingeringly as spilled honey.

Infernal machine, he thought.  Why that ridiculously nineteenth-century
term should occur to him now, he could not guess, a relic from the
childhood days when he read Boy's Own

Paper, perhaps.

He was out of the Mercedes now, almost losing his balance as his feet
hit the unsurfaced and broken sidewalk.

It is probably plastic explosive with a clockwork timer on the
detonator, he thought, as he started to run.  What delay would they
use?  Thirty seconds?  No, the driver had to get well away.  He had
said two minutes, said it twice The thoughts raced through his mind,

but his legs seemed to be shackled, dragging against an enormous
weight.  Like trying to run waist deep in the sucking surf of a sandy
beach.

It will be two minutes, and he has been gone that long.  Ten paces
ahead of him there was a low wall that had been built as a flower box
around the apartment block.  It was knee high, a double brick wall with
the cavity filled with dry yellow earth and precariously sustaining the
life of a few wizened oleander bushes.

Peter dived head first over the wall, breaking his fall with shoulder
and forearm, and rolling back hard under the protection of the low
wall.

Above his head were the large windows of the ground floor apartments.
Lying on his side, peering up at them, Peter saw the reflection of the
parked Mercedes as though in a mirror.

He covered his ears with the palms of both hands.  The Mercedes was
only fifty feet away.  He watched it in the glass, his body braced,

his mouth wide open to absorb blast shock in his sinuses.

The Mercedes erupted.  It seemed to open quite sedately, like one of
those time-elapse movies of a rose blooming.

The shining metal spread and distorted like grotesque black petals, and
bright white flame shot through it that was all Peter saw, for the row
of apartment windows disappeared, blown away in a million glittering
shards by the blast wave, leaving the windows gaping like the toothless
mouths of old decrepit men, and at the same moment the blast smashed
into Peter.

Even though it was muted by the thick wall of the flower box, it
crushed him, seemed to drive in his ribs, and the air whooshed from his
lungs.  The fearsome din of the explosion clamoured in his head,

filling his skull with little bright chips of rainbow light.

He thought he must have lost consciousness for a moment, then there was
the patter of falling debris raining down around him and something
struck him a painful blow in the small of his back.  It spurred him.

He dragged himself to his feet, struggling to refill his empty lungs.
He knew he had to get away before the security forces arrived,

or he could expect intensive interrogation which would certainly
disclose the fact that he was not Sir Steven.

He started to run.  The street was still deserted, although he could
hear the beginning of the uproar which must follow.  The cries of
anguish and of fear.

He reached the corner and stopped running.  He walked quickly to the
next alley behind an apartment block.  There were no street lights and
he paused in the shadows.  By now a dozen figures shouting questions
and conjecture were hurrying towards the smoke and dust of the
explosion.

Peter recovered his breath and dusted down his blazer and slacks,

waiting until the confusion and shouting were at their peak.  Then he
walked quietly away.

On the main road he joined a short queue at the bus stop.  The bus
dropped him off in the Jaffa Road.

He found a cafe opposite the bus stop and went through into the men's
room.  He was unmarked, but pale and strained; his hands still shook
from the shock of the blast as he combed his hair.

He went back into the cafe, found a corner seat and ordered falafel and
pitta bread with coffee.

He sat there for half an hour, considering his next move, If Magda

Altmann is not Caliph- he repeated the conundrum which he had solved
just in time to save his life.

Magda Altmann is not Caliph!  He knew it then with utter certainty.
Cactus Flower had tried to stop Sir Steven Stride reaching

Caliph with his denunciation.  Therefore Magda had told him the
truth.

His relief flooded his body with a great warm glow and his first
instinct was to telephone her at the Mossad number she had given him.

Then he saw the danger.  Cactus Flower was Mossad.  He dared not go
near her not yet.

What must he do then?  And he knew the answer without having to search
for it.  He must do what he had come to do.  He must find

Caliph, and the only fragile thread he had to follow was the trail
that

Caliph had laid for him.

He left the cafe and found a taxi at the rank on the corner, "David
Hotel, "Peter said, and sank back in the seat.

At least I know the danger of Cactus Flower now, he thought grimly.  I
won't walk into the next one blind.

Peter took one glance around the room that had been reserved for him.
It was in the back of the hotel and across the road the tall bell tower
of the YMCA.

made a fine stance from which a sniper could command the two windows.

"I ordered a suite," Peter snapped at the reception clerk who had led
him up.

"I'm sorry, Sir Steven."  The man was immediately flustered.

"There must have been a mistake."  Another glance around the room and

Peter had noted half a dozen sites at which Cactus Flower might have
laid another explosive charge to back up the one that had failed in the
back of the Mercedes.  He would prefer to spend a night in a pit full
of cobras rather than accept the quarters that Cactus Flower had
prepared for him.

Peter stepped back into the passage and fixed the clerk with his most
imperious gaze.  The man scampered and returned within five minutes
looking mightily relieved.

"We have one of our best suites for you."  Number 122 commanded a
magnificent view across the valley to the Jaffa Gate in the wall of
the

Old City, and in the centre of this vista towered the Church of the

Last Supper.

The gardens of the hotel were lush with lawns and tall graceful palms,
children shrieked gleefully around the swimming pool while a cool light
breeze broke the heat.

The suite abutted onto the long open terrace, and the moment he was
alone, Peter lowered the heavy roller shutters across the terrace door.
Cactus Flower could too easily send a man in that way.  Then

Peter stepped out onto the private balcony.

On the tall stone battlements of the French Consulate adjoining the
gardens they were lowering the Tricolour against the flaming backdrop
of the sunset.  Peter watched it for a moment then concentrated again
on the security of the suite.

There was possible access from the room next door, an easy step across
from window to balcony.  Peter hesitated then decided to leave the
balcony unshuttered.  He could not bring himself to accept the
claustrophobic effect of a completely shuttered room.

Instead he drew the curtains and ordered a large whisky and soda from
room service.  He needed it.  It had been a long hard day.

Then he stripped off tie and shirt, wig and mustache and washed away
some of the tensions.  He was to welling himself when there was a tap
on the door.

"Damned quick service," he muttered, and clapped the wig on his head
and stepped into the lounge, just as a key rattled in the lock and the
door swung open.  Peter lifted the towel and pretended to be still
drying his face to cover the lack of mustache on his lip.

"Come in," he gruffed through the towel, and then froze in the doorway,
and a vice seemed to close around his heart and restrict his
breathing.

She wore a man's open-neck shirt, with patch pockets on the breasts,
and khaki combat breeches hugged her narrow hips.  The long legs were
thrust into soft-soled canvas boots.  Yet she carried herself with the
same unforced chic as if she had been dressed in the height of

Parisian fashion.

"Sir Steven."  She closed the door swiftly behind her, and Peter saw
her palm the slim metal pick with which she had turned the lock.

"I'm Magda Altmann, we have met before.

I have come to warn you that you are in very grave danger."  The
abundant short curls formed a dark halo around her head, and her eyes
were huge and green with concern.

"You must immediately leave this country.  I have my private executive
jet aircraft at an airfield near here-" Peter lowered the towel enough
to allow himself to speak.

"Why are you telling me this?"  he interrupted her brusquely.  "And why
should I believe you?"  He saw the quick roses of anger bloom in her
cheeks.

"You are dabbling in things you do not understand."

"Why should you want to warn me?"  Peter insisted.

"Because-" she hesitated and then went on sharply, because you are

Peter Stride's brother.  For that reason and no other I would not want
you killed."  Peter tossed the towel back into the bathroom and with
the same movement pulled off the wig and dropped it onto the chair
beside him.

"Peter!"  Astonishment riveted her and she stared at him, the colour
that anger had painted in her cheeks fled and her eyes turned a deep
luminous green.  He had forgotten once again how beautiful she was.

"Well, don't just stand there," he said, and she ran to him on those
long, graceful legs and flung her arms around his neck.

They strained together silently, neither of them found words necessary
for many minutes.  Then she broke away.

"Peter, darling I cannot stay long.  I took a terrible chance coming
here at all.  They are watching the hotel and the girls on the
switchboard are Mossad.  That is why I could not telephone-"

"Tell me everything you can," he ordered.

"All right, but hold me, Cheri.  I do not wish to waste a minute of
this little time we have together."  She hid in the bathroom when the
waiter brought the whisky, then joined Peter on the couch.

"Cactus Flower reported to control that Steven had requested a meeting
with Caliph, and that he intended to denounce him.  That was all I knew
until yesterday but I could build on that.  First of all I

was amazed that Steven was the subject of the first Cactus Flower
report and not you, Peter-" She caressed the smooth hard brown muscle
of his chest as she spoke.."  It had never occured to me, even when we
discussed the fact that the report mentioned no Christian name."

"It didn't occur to me either, not until I'd already left Les Neuf

Poissons."

"Then, of course, I guessed that you had taxed Steven with it, and told
him the source of your information.  It would have been a crazy thing
to do not your usual style, at all.  But I thought that being your
brother-" She trailed off.

"That is exactly what I did-" Peter, we could still talk if we were on
the bed," she murmured.  "I have been without you for so long."

Her bare skin felt like hot satin, and they lay entwined with the hard
smooth plain of her belly pressed to his.  Her mouth was against his
ear.

Steven's request for a meeting went directly to Caliph through a
channel other than Cactus Flower.  He had no chance to head it off-"

"Who is Cactus Flower, have you found that out?"

"No."  She shook her head.  "I still do not know."  And she raked her
long fingernails lightly down across his belly.

"If you do that I cannot think clearly," he protested.

"I am sorry."  She brought her hand up to his cheek.

"Anyway, Caliph instructed Cactus Flower to arrange the meeting with
Steven.  I did not know what arrangements were being made until

I saw Sir Steven's name on the immigration lists this evening.  I was
not particularly looking for his name, but as soon as I saw it I

guessed what was happening.  I guessed that Cactus Flower had enticed
him here to make his interception easier.  It took me three hours to
find where Sir Steven would be staying."  They were both silent now,
and she lowered her face and pressed it into the soft of his neck,
sighing with happiness.

oh God, Peter.  How I missed you."

"Listen, my darling.  You must tell me everything else you have." Peter
lifted her chin tenderly so he could see her face and her eyes came
back into focus.

"Did you know that there was to be an assassination attempt on

Steven?"

"No but it was the logical step for Mossad to protect Cactus

Flower."

"What else?"

"Nothing."  You don't know if actual arrangements have been made for a
meeting between Caliph and Steven?"  if "No, I

don't know, "she admitted.

"You still have no indication at all of Caliph's identity?"

"No,

none at all."  They were silent again, but now she propped herself on
one elbow and watched his face as he spoke.

Cactus Flower would have to make the arrangements for the" meeting as
Caliph instructed.  He would not be able to take the chance of faking
it not with Caliph."  Magda nodded in silent agreement.

"Therefore we have to believe that at this moment Caliph is close,

very close."

"Yes.  "She nodded again, but reluctantly.

"That means that I have to go on impersonating Steven."

"Peter,

no.  They will kill you."

"They have already tried-" Peter told her grimly, and quietly outlined
the destruction of the Mercedes.  She touched the bruise in the small
of his back where he had been struck by flying debris from the
explosion.

"They won't let you get close to Caliph."

"They may have no choice," Peter told her.  "Caliph is so concerned for
his own safety he is going to insist on the meeting."

"They will try and kill you again, "she implored him.

"Perhaps, but I'm betting the meeting with Caliph is arranged to take
place very soon.  They won't have much opportunity to set up another
elaborate trap like the Mercedes, and I'll be expecting it I've got to
go ahead with it, Magda."

"Oh, Peter-" But he touched her lips, silencing the protest, and he was
thinking aloud again.

"Let's suppose Mossad knew that I was not Steven Stride, that my real
purpose was not to denounce Cactus Flower?

What difference would that make to the thinking at Mossad?"  She
considered that.  "I'm not certain."

"If they knew it was Peter Stride impersonating Steven Stride he
insisted, "would that make them curious enough to let the meeting go
ahead?"

"Peter, are you suggesting

I turn in a report to my control at Mossad ?"

"Would you do that?"

"Sweet merciful God," she whispered.  "I

could be signing your death warrant, Peter my darling."  or you could
be saving my life."

"I don't know."  She sat up erect in the bed and ran the fingers of
both hands through the short dark curls, the lamplight glowed on her
skin with a pale, smooth opalescence and the small fine breasts changed
shape as she moved her arms.  "Oh, Peter, I don't know."

"It could be our only chance to ever get close to Caliph," he insisted,
and the lovely face was naked with indecision.

"Caliph believes I have killed you, he believes that I have transmitted
a warning to him through my brother.  He will have his guard as low as
ever it will be.  We will never have a chance again like this "I am so
afraid for you, Peter.  I am so afraid for myself without you-" She did
not finish it, but pulled up her long naked legs and hugged her knees
to her breasts.  It was a defensive foetal position.

"Will you do it?"  he asked gently.

"You want me to tell my control your real identity, to tell him that I
believe your real purpose is not to denounce Cactus Flower but some
other unknown-"

"That is right."  She turned her head and looked at him.

"I will do it in exchange for your promise," she decided.

"What is that?"

"If I judge from my control at Mossad that you are still in danger, and
that they still intend intercepting you before you reach Caliph then I
want your promise that you will abandon the attempt.  That you will
immediately go to where the Lear is waiting and that you will allow
Pierre to fly you out of here to a safe place."

"You will be honest with me?"  he asked.  "You will judge Mossad's
reaction fairly and even if there is a half-decent chance of me
reaching Caliph you will allow me to take that chance?"  She nodded,
but he went on grimly, making certain of it.

"Swear it to me!"

"I would not try to prevent you just as long as there is a chance of
success."

"Swear it to me, Magda."

"On my love for you, I swear it," she said quietly, and he relaxed
slightly.

"And I in turn swear to you that if there is no chance of meeting

Caliph I will leave on the Lear."  She turned against his chest,

wrapping both her arms around his neck.

"Make love to me, Peter.  Now!  Quickly!  I have to have that at
least."  As she dressed she went over the arrangements for
communicating.

"I cannot come through the switchboard here I explained why,"

she told him as she laced the canvas boots.

"You must stay here, in this room where I can reach you.  If there is
danger I will send someone to you.  It will be somebody I trust.  He
will say simply.  "Magda sent me," and you must go with him.  He will
take you to Pierre and the Lear jet."  She stood up and belted the
khaki breeches around her narrow waist, crossing to the mirror to comb
out the dark damp tangle of her curls.

"If you hear nothing from me it will mean that I judge there is still a
chance of reaching Caliph-" Then she paused and her expression altered.
"Are you armed, Peter?"  She was watching him in the mirror as she
worked with her hair.  He shook his head.

"I could get a weapon to you a knife, a pistol, And again he shook his
head.  "They will search me before I am allowed near Caliph.

If they find a weapon-" He did not have to finish it.

"You are right, "she agreed.

She turned back to him from the mirror, buttoning the shirt over the
nipples of her breasts, which were still swollen and dark rosy red from
their loving.

"it will all happen very quickly now, Peter.  One way or the other it
will be over by tomorrow night.  I have a feeling here " She touched
herself between the small breasts that pushed out the cotton of her
shirt.  "Now kiss me.  I have stayed too long already for the safety of
both of us."  Peter slept very little after Magda left him, even though
he was very tired.  A dozen times he started awake during the night
with every nerve strung tightly, rigid and sweating in his bed.

He was up before first light, and ordered one of those strange

Israeli breakfasts of salads and hard-boiled eggs with pale green
centres to be sent up to his room.

Then he settled down once more to wait.

He waited the morning out, and when there had been no message from

Magda by noon, the certainty increased that Mossad had decided not to
prevent the meeting with Caliph.  If there had been any doubt in

Magda's mind she would have sent for him.  He had a light lunch sent up
to the room.

The flat bright glare of noon gradually mellowed into warm
butter-yellow, the shadows crept out timidly from the foot of the palm
trees in the garden as the sun wheeled across a sky of clear high
aching blue, and still Peter waited.

When there was an hour left of daylight, the telephone rang again.

It startled him, but he reached for it quickly.

"Good evening, Sir Steven.  Your driver is here to fetch you,"

said the girl at the reception desk.

"Thank you.  Please tell him I will be down directly," said Peter.

He was fully dressed, had been ready all that day to move immediately.
He needed only to place the -crocodile skin case in the cupboard and
lock it, then he left the room and strode down the corridor to the
elevators.

He had no way of knowing if he was going to meet Caliph, or if he was
about to be spirited out of Israel in Magda's Lear jet.

"Your limousine is waiting outside," the pretty girl at the desk told
him.  "Have a nice evening."

"I hope so," Peter agreed.  "Thank you."  The car was a small Japanese
compact, and the driver was a woman,

plump and grey-haired with a friendly, ugly face like Golda Meir, Peter
thought.

He let himself into the back seat, and waited expectantly for the
message, "Magda sent me."  Instead, the woman bade him "Shalom
Shalom"

politely, started the engine, switched on the headlights and drove
serenely out of the hotel grounds.

They swept sedately around the outer walls of the old city in the
gathering dusk, and dropped down in the valley of Kidron.  Glancing
back Peter saw the elegant new buildings of the Jewish quarter rising
above the tops of the walls.

When last he had been in Jerusalem that area had been a deserted ruin,
deliberately devastated by the Arabs.

The resurrection of that holy quarter of Judaism seemed to epitomize
the spirit of these extraordinary people, Peter thought.

It was a good conversational opening, and he remarked on the new
development to his driver.

She replied in Hebrew, clearly denying the ability to speak

English.  Peter tried her in French with the same result.

The lady has been ordered to keep her mouth tight shut, he decided.

The night came down upon them as they skirted the lower slopes of the
Mount of Olives, and left the last straggling buildings of the Arab
settlements.  The lady driver settled down to a comfortable speed, and
the road was almost deserted.  It dropped gently down through a dark
shallow valley, with the crests of a desolate desert landscape humped
up on each side of the wide metal led road.

0 The sky was empty of cloud or haze, and the stars were brighter white
and clearer, as the last of the day faded from the western sky behind
them.

The road had been well sign-posted, ever since they had left the city.
Their direction was eastward towards the Jordan, the Dead Sea and
Jericho and twenty-five minutes after leaving the King David,

Peter glimpsed in the headlights the signpost on the right-hand side of
the road, declaring in English, Arabic and Hebrew that they were now
descending below sea level into the valley of the Dead Sea.

Once again Peter attempted to engage the driver in conversation,

but her reply was monosyllabic.  Anyway, Peter decided, there was
nothing she would be able to tell him.  The car was from a hire
company.  There was a plastic nameplate fastened onto the dashboard
giving the company's name, address and hire rates.  All she would know
was their final destination and he would know that soon enough
himself.

Peter made no further attempt to speak to her, but remained completely
alert; without detectable movement he performed the prejurnp
paratrooper exercises, pitting muscle against muscle so that his body
would not stiffen with long inactivity but would be tuned to explode
from stillness into instant violent action.

Ahead of them the warning signals of the crossroads caught the
headlights, and the driver slowed and signalled the left turn.  As the
headlights caught the signpost, Peter saw that they had taken the

Jericho road, turning away from the Dead Sea, and heading up the valley
of the Jordan towards Galilee in the north.

Now the bull's horns of the new moon rose slowly over the harsh
mountain peaks across the valley, and gave enough light to pick out
small features in the dry blasted desert around them.

Again the driver slowed, this time for the town of Jericho itself,

the oldest site of human communal habitation on this earth for six
thousand years men had lived here and their wastes had raised a
mountainous hill hundreds of feet above the desert floor.

Archaeologists had already excavated the collapsed walls that Joshua
had brought crashing down with a blast of his ram's horns.

"A hell of a trick."  Peter grinned in the darkness.  "Better than the
nuke bomb."  Just before they reached the hill, the driver swung off
the main road.  She took the narrow secondary road between the
clustered buildings souvenir stalls, Arab cafes, antique dealers and
slowed for the twisting uneven surface.

They ground up onto higher dry hills in low gear, and at the crest the
driver turned again onto a dirt track.  Now fine talcum dust filled the
interior and Peter sneezed once at the tickle of it.

Half a mile along the track a notice board stood on trestle legs,

blocking the right of way.

"Military Zone," it proclaimed.  "No access beyond this point."  A The
driver had to pull out onto the rocky verge to avoid the notice, and
there were no sentries to enforce the printed order.

Quite suddenly Peter became aware of the great black cliff face that
rose sheer into the starry night ahead of them blotting out half the
sky.

Something stirred in Peter's memory the high cliffs above

Jericho, looking out across the valley of the Dead Sea; of course, he
remembered then this was the scene of the temptation of Christ.  How
did Matthew record it?  Peter cast for the exact quotation: Again, the
devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him
all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.  Had Caliph
deliberately chosen this place for its mystical association, was it all
part of the quasi-religious image that Caliph had of himself?

He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands
they shall bear thee up.  Did Caliph truly see himself as the heir to
ultimate power over all the kingdoms of the world that power that the
ancient chroniclers had referred to as "The Sixth Order of Angels'?

Peter felt his spirits quail in the face of such monumental madness,
such immense and menacing vision, compared to which he felt
insignificant and ineffectual.  Fear fell over him like a gladiator's
net, enmeshing his resolve, weakening him.  He struggled with it
silently, fighting himself clear of its mesh before it could render him
helpless in Caliph's all embracing power.

The driver stopped abruptly, turned in the seat and switched on the cab
light.  She studied him for a moment.

Was there a touch of pity in her old and ugly face, Peter wondered?

"Here,"she said gently.

Peter drew his wallet from the inner pocket of his blazer.

"No, hesh(-)okherhead.  "No you owe nothing."

"Toda raba."  Peter thanked her in his fragmentary Hebrew, and opened
the side door.

The desert air was still and cold, and there was the sagey smell of the
low thorny scrub.

"Shalom," said the woman through the open window; then she swung the
vehicle in a tight turn.  The headlights swept the grove of date palms
ahead of them, and then turned back towards the open desert.

Slowly the small car pitched and wove along the track in the direction
from which they had come.

Peter turned his back on it, allowing his eyes to become accustomed to
the muted light of the yellow homed moon and the whiter light of the
fat desert stars.

After a few minutes he picked his way carefully into the palm grove.
There was the smell of smoke from a dung fire, and the fine blue mist
of smoke hung amongst the trees.

Somewhere in the grove he heard a goat bleat plaintively, and then the
high thin wail of a child there must be a Bedouin encampment in the
oasis.  He moved towards it, and came abruptly into an opening
surrounded by the palms.  The earth had been churned by the hooves of
many beasts, and Peter stumbled slightly in the loose footing and then
caught his balance.

In the centre of the opening was the stone parapet which guarded a deep
fresh-water well.  There was a primitive windlass set above the parapet
and another dark object which Peter could not immediately identify,
dark and shapeless, crouching upon the parapet.

He went towards it cautiously, and felt his heart tumble within him as
it moved.

It was a human figure, in some long voluminous robe that swept the
sandy earth, so that it seemed to float towards him in the gloom.

The figure stopped five paces from him, and he saw that the head was
covered by a monk's cowl of the same dark woollen cloth, so that the
face was in a forbidding black hole beneath the cowl.

"Who are you?"  Peter demanded, and his voice rasped in his own ears.
The monk did not reply, but shook one hand free of the wide sleeve and
beckoned to him to follow, then turned and glided away into the palm
grove.

Peter went after him, and within a hundred yards was stepping out hard
to keep the monk in sight.  His light city shoes were not made for this
heavy going, loose sand with scattered outcrops of shattered rock.

They left the palm grove and directly ahead of them, less than a
quarter of a mile away, the cliff fell from the sky like a vast cascade
of black stone.

The monk led him along a rough but well-used footpath, and though

Peter tried to narrow the distance between them, he found that he would
have to break into a trot to do so for although the monk appeared to be
a broad and heavy man beneath the billowing robe, yet he moved lithely
and lightly.

They reached the cliff, and the path zigzagged up it, at such a
gradient that they had to lean forward into it.  The surface was loose
with shale and dry earth becoming progressively steeper.  Then
underfoot the path was paved, the worn steps of solid rock.

On one hand the drop away into the valley was deeper always and the
sheer cliff on the other seemed to lean out as though to press him over
the edge.

Always the monk was ahead of him, tireless and quick, his feet silent
on the worn steps, and there was no sound of labouring breath.

Peter realized that a man of that stamina and bulk must be immensely
powerful.  He did not move as you might expect a man of God and prayer
to move.  There was the awareness and balance of a fighting man about
him, the unconscious pride and force of the warrior.  With Caliph
nothing was ever as it seemed, he thought.

The higher they climbed, so the moonlit panorama below them became more
magnificent, a soaring vista of desert and mountain with the great
shield of the Dead Sea a brilliant beaten silver beneath the stars.
All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, Peter thought.

They had not paused to rest once on the climb.  How high was it,

Peter wondered a thousand feet, fifteen hundred perhaps?  His own
breathing was deep and steady, he was not yet fully extended and the
light sweat that de wed his forehead cooled in the night air.

Something nudged his memory, and he sniffed at the faintly perfumed
aroma on the air.  It was not steady, but he had caught it faintly once
or twice during the climb.

Peter was plagued by the non-smoker's acute sense of smell;

perfumes and odours always had special significance for him and this
smell was important, but he could not quite place it now.  It nagged at
him, but then it was lost in a host of other more powerful odours the
smell of human beings in community.

The smell of cooking smoke, of food and the underlying sickly taint of
rotting garbage and primitive sewage disposal.

Somewhere long ago he had seen photographs of the ancient monastery
built into the top of these spectacular Cliffs, the caves and
subterranean chambers honeycombed the crest of the rock face, and walls
of hewn rock had been built above them by men dead these thousand
years.

Yet the memory of that faint perfumed aroma lingered with Peter,

as they climbed the last hundred feet of that terrifying drop and came
out suddenly against the stone tower and thick fortification, into
which was set a heavy timber door twelve feet high and studded.  with
iron bolts.

At their approach the door swung open.  There was a narrow stone
passageway ahead of them lit by a single storm lantern in a niche at
the corner of the passageway.

As Peter stepped through the gate, two other figures closed on each
side of him out of the darkness and he moved instinctively to defend
himself, but checked the movement and stood quiescent with his hand
half raised as they searched him with painstaking expertise for a
weapon.

Both these men were dressed in single-piece combat suits, and they wore
canvas paratrooper boots.  Their heads were covered by coarse woollen
scarves wound over mouth and nose so only their eyes showed.

Each of them carried the ubiquitous Uzi sub-machine guns, loaded and
cocked and slung on shoulder straps.

At last they stood back satisfied, and the monk led Peter on through a
maze of narrow passages.  Somewhere there was the sound of monks at
their devotions, the harsh chanting of the Greek Orthodox service.  The
sound of it, and the smoky cedar wood aroma of burning incense, became
stronger, until the monk led Peter into a cavernous,

dimly lit church nave hewn from the living rock of the cliff.

In the gloom the old Greek monks sat like long embalmed mummies in
their tall dark wooden pews.  Their time-worn faces masked by the great
black bushes of their beards.  Only their eyes glittered, alive as the
jewels and precious metals that gilded the ancient religious icons on
the stone walls.

The reek of incense was overpowering, and the hoarse chant of the
office missed not a single beat as Peter and the robed monk passed
swiftly amongst them.

In the impenetrable shadows at the rear of the church, the monk seemed
abruptly to disappear, but when Peter reached the spot he discovered
that one of the carved pews had been swung aside to reveal a dark
secret opening in the rock.

Peter went into it cautiously.  It was totally dark but his feet found
shallow stone steps, and he climbed a twisting stairway through the
rock counting the steps to five hundred, each step approximately six
inches high.

Abruptly he stepped out into the cool desert night again.

He was in a paved open courtyard, with the brilliant panoply of the
stars overhead, the cliff rising straight ahead and a low stone parapet
protecting the sheer drop into the valley behind him.

Peter realized that this must be one of the remotest and most easily
defensible rendezvous that Caliph could have chosen and there were more
guards here.

Again they came forward, two of them, and searched him once again even
more thoroughly than at the monastery gate.

While they worked Peter looked around him swiftly.  The level courtyard
was perched like an eagle's eyrie on the brink of the precipice, the
parapet wall was five feet high.

Across the courtyard were the oblong entrances to caves carved into the
cliff face.  They would probably be the retreats of the monks seeking
solitude.

There were other men in the courtyard, wearing the same uniform with
heads hidden by the Arab shawl headgear.  Two of them were setting out
flashlight beacons in the shape of a pyramid.

Peter realized they were beacons for an aircraft.  Not an aircraft.  A
helicopter was the only vehicle which would be able to get into this
precarious perch on the side of the precipice.

All right then, the beacons would serve to direct a helicopter down
into the level paved courtyard.

One of the armed guards ended his body search by checking the buckle of
Peter's belt, tugging it experimentally to make certain it was not the
handle of a concealed blade.

He stood back and motioned Peter forward.  Across the courtyard the big
monk waited patiently at the entrance to one of the stone cells that
opened onto the Courtyard.

Peter stooped through the low entrance.  The cell was dimly lit by a
stinking kerosene lamp set in a stone niche above the narrow cot.

There was a crude wooden table against one wall, a plain crucifix above
it and no other ornamentation.

Hewn from the rock wall was a ledge which acted as a shelf for a dozen
heavy battered leather-bound books and a few basic eating utensils.  It
was also a primitive seat.

The monk motioned him towards it, but himself remained standing by the
entrance to the cell with his hands thrust into the wide sleeves of his
cassock, his face turned away and still masked completely by the deep
hood.

There was utter silence from the courtyard beyond the doorway, but it
was an electric waiting silence.

Suddenly Peter was aware of the perfumed aroma again, here in the crude
stone cell, and then with a small tingling shock he recognized it.  The
smell came from the monk.

He knew instantly who the big man in the monk's cowl was, and the
knowledge confused him utterly, for long stricken moments.

Then like the click of a well-oiled lock slipping home it all came
together.  He knew oh God he knew at last.

The aroma he had recognized was the faint trace of the perfumed smoke
of expensive Dutch cheroots, and he stared fixedly at the big hooded
monk.

Now there was a sound on the air, a faint flutter like moth's wings
against the glass of the lantern, and the monk cocked his head
slightly, listening intently.

Peter was balancing distances and times and odds in his head.

The monk, the five armed men in the courtyard, the approaching
helicopter The monk was the most dangerous factor.  Now that Peter knew
who he was, he knew also that he was one of the most highly trained
fighting men against whom he could ever match himself.

The five men in the yard Peter blinked with sudden realization.  They
would not be there any longer.  It was as simp leas that.  Caliph would
never allow himself to be seen by any but his most trusted lieutenants,
and by those about to die.  The monk would have sent them away.  They
would be waiting close by, but it would take them time to get back into
action.

There were only the monk and Caliph.  For he knew that the dinning of
rotor and engine was bringing Caliph in to the rendezvous.  The
helicopter sounded as though it were already directly overhead.  The
monk's attention was on it.

Peter could see how he held his head under the cowl, he was off-guard
for the first time.

Peter heard the sound of the spinning rotors change as the pilot
altered pitch for the vertical descent into the tiny courtyard.  The
cell was lit through the doorway by the reflection of the helicopter's
landing lights beating down into the courtyard with a relentless white
glare.

Dust began to swirl from the down-draught of the rotors, it smoked in
pale wisps into the cell and the monk moved.

He stepped to the doorway, the empty dark hole in the cowl which was
his face turned briefly away from Peter as he glanced out through the
entrance of the cell.

It was the moment for which Peter had waited, his whole body was
charged, like the S in an adder's neck before it strikes.  At the
instant that the monk turned his head away, Peter launched himself
across the cell.

He had ten feet to go, and the thunder of the helicopter's engines
covered all sound yet still some instinct of the fighting man warned
the huge monk, and he spun into the arc of Peter's attack.  The head
under the cowl dropped defensively, so that Peter had to change his
stroke.  He could no longer go for the kill at the neck, and he chose
the right shoulder for a crippling blow.  His hand was stiff as a
headman's blade and it slogged into the monk's shoulder between the
neck and the humerus joint of the upper arm.

Peter heard the collar bone break with a sharp brittle crack, high
above even the roar of the helicopter's engines.

With his left hand Peter caught the monk's crippled arm at the elbow
and yanked it up savagely, driving the one edge of shattered bone
against the other so it grated harshly, twisting it so the bone shards
were razor cutting edges in their own living flesh and the monk
screamed, doubling from the waist to try and relieve the intolerable
agony in his shoulder.

Shock had paralysed him, the big powerful body went slack in

Peter's grasp.

Peter used all his weight and the impetus of his rush to drive the
monk's head into the doorjamb of the cell; skull met stone with a solid
clunk and the big man dropped facedown to the paved floor.

Peter rolled him swiftly and pulled up the skirts of the cassock.

Under it the man wore paratrooper boots and the blue full-length
overalls of Thor Command.  On his webbing belt was the blue steel and
polished walnut butt of the Browning Hi-power .45 pistol in its
quick-release holster.

Peter sprang it from its steel retaining clamp and cocked the pistol
with a sweep of the left hand.  It would be loaded with Velex
explosives.

The woollen folds of the cowl had fallen back from Colin Noble's head,
the wide generous mouth now hanging open slackly, the burned-toffee
eyes glazed with concussion, the big crooked prize-fighter's nose all
the well-remembered features, once so dearly cherished in
comradeship.

Blood was streaming from Colin's thick curling hairline, running down
his forehead and under his ear but he was still conscious.

Peter put the muzzle of the Browning against the bridge of his nose.
The Velex bullet would cut the top off his skull.

Peter had lost his wig in those desperate seconds, and he saw
recognition spark in Colin's stunned eyes.

"Peter!  No!"  croaked Colin desperately.

I'm Cactus Flower!"  The shock of it hit Peter solidly, and he released
the pressure on the Browning's trigger.  It held him for only a moment
and then he turned and ducked through the low doorway leaving Colin
sprawling on the stone floor of the cell."  The helicopter had settled
into the courtyard.  It was a five-seater Bell jet Ranger, painted in
the blue and gold colours of Thor Command and on its side was the

Thor emblem and the words:

THOR COMMUNICATIONS

There was a pilot still at the controls, and one other man who had
already left the cabin of the machine and was coming towards the
entrance of the cell.

Even though he was doubled over to avoid the swirling rotor blades,
there was no mistaking the tall powerful frame.

The high wind of the rotors tumbled the thick greying leonine curls
about the noble head, and the landing lights lit him starkly like the
central character in some Shakespearian tragedy - a towering presence
that transcended his mere physical stature.

Kingston Parker straightened as he came out from under the swinging
rotor, and for an earth-stopping instant of time he stared at

Peter across the stone-paved courtyard.  Without the wig he
recognized

Peter instantly.

Kingston Parker stood for that instant like an old lion brought to
bay.

"Caliph!"  Peter called harshly, and the last doubt was gone as

Kingston Parker whirled, incredibly swiftly for such a big man.  He had
almost reached the cabin door of the Jet Ranger before Peter had the

Browning up.

The first shot hit Parker in the back, and flung him Now forward
through the open door, but the gun had thrown high and right.  It was
not a killing shot, Peter knew it, and now the helicopter was rising
swiftly, turning on its own axis, rising out over the edge of the
precipice.

Peter ran twenty feet and jumped to the parapet of the hewn stone wall.
The jet Ranger soared above him, its belly white and bloated like that
of a man-eating shark, the landing lights blazing down, half dazzling
Peter.  It swung out over the edge of the cliff.

Peter took the Browning double-handed, shooting directly Upwards,

judging the exact position of the fuel tank in the rear of the
fuselage, where it joined the long stalk like tail and he pumped the
big heavy explosive shells out of the gun, the recoil pounding down his
outflung arms and jolting into his shoulders.

He saw the Velex bullets biting into the thin metal skin of the
underbelly, the tiny wink of each bullet as it burst, but still the
machine reared away above him and he had been counting his shots.

The Browning was almost empty.

Seven, eight then suddenly the sky above him filled with flame,

and the great whooshing concussion of air jarred the stone under his
feet.

The jet Ranger turned over on her back, a bright bouquet of flame,

the engine howling its death cry, and it toppled beyond the edge of the
precipice and plunged, burning savagely, into the dark void below
where

Peter stood.

Peter began to turn back towards the courtyard, and he saw the armed
men pouring in through the stone gateway.

They were Thor men, picked fighting men, men he had trained himself.
There was one bullet left in the Browning.

He knew he was not going to make it but he made a try for the entrance
to the stairway, his only escape route.

He ran along the top of the stone wall like a tightrope artist,

and he snapped the single remaining bullet at the running men to
distract them.

The crackle of passing shot dinned in his head, and he flinched and
missed his footing.  He began to fall, twisting sideways away from the
edge of the precipice but then the bullets thumped into his flesh.

He heard the bullets going into his body with the rubbery socking sound
of a heavyweight boxer hitting the heavy punch bag, and then he was
flung out over the wall into the bottomless night.

He expected to fall for ever, a thousand feet to the desert floor
below, where already the helicopter was shooting a hundred-foot
fountain of fire into the air to mark Caliph's funeral pyre.

There was a narrow ledge ten feet below the parapet where a thorny
wreath of desert scrub had found a precarious hold.  Peter fell into
it, and the curved thorns hooked into his clothing and into his
flesh.

He hung there over the drop, and his senses began to fade.

His last clear memory was Colin Noble's bull bellow of command to the
five Thor guards.

"Cease fire!  Don't shoot again!"  And then the darkness filled

Peter's head.

In the darkness there were lucid moments, each disconnected from the
other by eternities of pain and confused nightmare distortions of the
mind.

He remembered being lifted up through the hatchway of an aircraft,

lying in one of the light body-fitting Thor stretchers, strapped to it
tightly, helpless as a newborn infant.

There was the memory of the inside cabin of Magda Altmann's Lear jet.
He recognized the hand-painted decoration of the curved cabin roof.
There were plasma bottles suspended above him; the whole blood was the
beautiful ruby colour of fine claret in a crystal glass, and when he
rolled his eyes downwards he saw the tubes connected to the thick
bright needles driven into his arms but he was terribly tired,

an utter weariness that seemed to have bruised and crushed his soul and
he closed his eyes.

When he opened his eyes again, there was the roof of a long brightly
lit corridor passing swiftly in front of his eyes.

The feeling Of motion, and the scratchy squeak of the wheels of a
theatre trolley.

Quiet voices were speaking in French, and the bottle of beautiful
bright blood was held above him by long slim hands that he knew so
well.

He rolled his head slightly and he saw Magda's beloved face swimming on
the periphery of his vision.

"I love you," he said, but there was no sound and he realized that his
lips had not moved.  He could no longer support the weariness and he
let his eyelids droop closed.

"How bad is it?"  he heard Magda's voice speaking in that beautiful
rippling French, and a man replied.

"One bullet is lying very close to the heart we must remove it
immediately."  Then the prick of something into his flesh searching for
the vein, and the sudden musty taste of Pentothal on his tongue,

followed by the abrupt singing plunge back into the darkness.

He came back very slowly out of the darkness, conscious first of the
bandages that swathed his chest and restricted his breathing.

The next thing he was aware of was Magda Altmann, and how beautiful she
was.  It seemed that she must have been there all along while he was in
the darkness.  He watched the joy bloom in her face as she saw that he
was conscious.

"Thank you," she whispered.  "Thank you for coming back to me, my
darling."  Then there was the room at La Pierre Benite, with its high
gilded ceilings and the view through the tall sash windows across the
terraced lawns down to the lake.  The trees along the edge of the water
were in full leaf, and the very air seemed charged with spring and the
promise of new life.  Magda had filled the room with banks of
flowers,

and she was with him during most of each day.

"what happened when you walked back into the boardroom at Altmann

Industries?"  was one of the first questions he asked her.

"Consternation, cheri."  She chuckled, that husky little laugh of hers.
"They had already divided the spoils."  The visitor came when

Peter had been at La Pierre benite for eight days, and was able to sit
in one of the brocaded chairs by the window.

Magda was standing beside Peter's chair, ready to protect him from
over-exertion physically or emotionally.

Colin Noble came into the room like a sheepish St.  Bernard dog.

His right arm was strapped and carried in a sling across his chest.  He
touched it with his good hand.

"If I'd known it was you and not Sir Steven I'd never have turned my
back on you," he told Peter, and grinned placatingly.

Peter had stiffened, his face had transformed into a white rigid mask.
Magda laid her hand upon his shoulder.

"Gently, Peter,"she whispered.

"Tell me one thing Peter hissed.  "Did you arrange the kidnapping of
Melissa-Jane?"  Colin shook his head.  "My word on it.

Parker used one of his other agents.  I did not know it was going to
happen."  Peter stared at him, hard and unforgiving.

"Only after we had recovered Melissa-Jane, only then I knew that

Caliph had planned it.  If I had known I would never have let it
happen.  Caliph must have known that.

That is why he did not make me do it."  Colin was speaking quickly,

urgently.

"What was Parker's object?"  Peter's voice was still a vicious hiss.

"He had three separate objects.  Firstly, to convince you that he was
not Caliph.  that's why his first order was to have you kill Parker
himself.  Of course, you never would have got near him.  Then you were
allowed to recover your daughter.  It was Caliph himself who gave us

O'Shaughnessy's name and where to find him.  Then you were turned
onto

Magda Altmann-" Colin glanced at her apologetically.  "Once you had
killed her, you would have been bound to Caliph by guilt."

"When did you learn this?"  Peter demanded.

"The day after we found Melissa-Jane.  By then there was nothing I

could do that would not expose me as Cactus Flower all I could do was
to pass a warning to Magda A through Mossad."

"It's true, Peter," said

Magda quietly.

Slowly the rigidity went out of Peter's shoulders.

"When did Caliph recruit you as his Chief Lieutenantr he asked,

his voice also had altered, softened.

"As soon as I took over Thor Command from you, He was never certain of
you, Peter, that was why he opposed your appointment to head of Thor
and why he jumped at the first chance to have you fired.

That was why he tried to have you killed on the Rambouillet road.  Only
after the attempt failed did he realize your potential value to him."

"Are the other Atlas unit commanders Caliph's lieutenants Tanner at

Mercury Command, Peterson at Diana?"

"All three of us.  Yes!"  Colin nodded, and there was a long silence.

"What else do you want to know, Peter?"  Colin asked softly.  "Are
there any other questions?"

"Not now."  Peter shook his head wearily.

"There will be many others later."  Colin looked up at Magda Altmann
inquiringly.  "Is he strong enough yet?"  he asked.  "Can I tell him
the rest of it?"  She hesitated a moment.  "Yes," she decided.  "Tell
him now."

"Atlas was to be the secret da get in the sleeve of Western
civilization a civilization which had emasculated itself and abased
itself before its enemies.  For once we would be able to meet naked
violence and piracy with raw force.

Atlas is a chain of powerful men of many nations banded together,

and Caliph was to be its executive chief.  Atlas is the only agency
which transcends all national boundaries, and has as its object the
survival of Western society as we know it.  Atlas still exists, its
structure is complete only Caliph is dead.  He died in a most
unfortunate air accident over the or dan valley but Atlas still exists.
It has to go on, once that part which Caliph has perverted is rooted
out.

It is our hope for the future in a world gone mad."  Peter had never
heard him speak so articulately, so persuasively.

"You know, of course, Peter, that you were the original choice to
command Atlas.  However, the wrong man superseded you although nobody
could know he was the wrong man at that time.  Kingston Parker seemed
to have all the qualities needed for the task but there were hidden
defects which only became apparent much later."  Colin began
enumerating them, holding up the fingers of his uninjured arm.

"Firstly, he lacked physical courage.  He became obsessed with his own
physical safety grossly abusing his powers to protect himself.

"Secondly, he was a man of unsuspected and overbearing ambition,

with an ungoverned lust for raw power.  Atlas swiftly became the
vehicle to carry him to glory.  His first goal was the Presidency of
the United States.  He was using Atlas to destroy his political
opponents.  Had he succeeded in achieving the presidency, no man can
tell what his next goal would have been."  Colin dropped his hand and
balled it into a fist.

"The decision to allow you to reach the rendezvous with Kingston

Parker on the cliffs above Jericho was made by more than one man in
more than one country."  Colin grinned again, boyishly, disarmingly.

"I did not even know it was you.  I believed it was Steven Stride,

right up until the moment I turned my back on you!"

"Tell him," said

Magda quietly, "Get it over with, Colin.

He is still very weak."

"Yes," Colin agreed.  "I'll do it now.

Yesterday at noon, your appointment to succeed Doctor Kingston Parker
as head of Atlas Command was secretly confirmed."  For Peter it was as
though a door had at last opened, a door so long closed and locked, but
through it now he could see his destiny stretching out ahead Of him;

clearly he could see it for the first time.

"You are the man best suited by nature and by training to fill the void
which Kingston Parker has left."  Even through the weakness of his
abused body, Peter could feel a deep well of strength and determination
within himself which he had never before suspected.  It was as though
it had been reserved expressly for this time, for this task.

"Will you accept the command of Atlas?"  Colin asked.

"What answer must I take back with me?"  Magda's long fingers tightened
on his shoulder, and they waited while he made his decision.

It came almost immediately.  There was no alternative open to him,

Peter knew that it was his destiny.

"Yes, , he said clearly.  "Tell them I accept the responsibility."

It was a solemn moment, nobody smiled nor spoke for long seconds, and
then: "Caliph is dead," Magda whispered.  "Long live Caliph."  Peter

Stride raised his head to look at her, but his voice when he replied
was so cold that it seemed to frost upon his lips.

"Never," he said, "call me that again, ever."  Magda made a small
gesture of acquiescence, of total accord, then she stooped to kiss him
on the mouth.

Wilbur Smith - Standalone Novels

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