TWENTY-FOUR

WASHINGTON, DC

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9:50 AM

STEPHANIE FINISHED HER BREAKFAST AND SIGNALED THE waiter for the check. She sat in a restaurant near Dupont Circle, not far from her hotel. The entire Magellan Billet had been mobilized and seven of her twelve lawyers were now directly assisting her. The murder of Lee Durant had provided them all with motivation, but there were risks associated with her efforts. Other intelligence agencies would quickly learn what she was doing, which meant Larry Daley would not be far behind. To hell with them. Malone needed her, and she wasn't about to let him down. Again.

She paid the bill and signaled a taxi that, fifteen minutes later, deposited her on 17th Street adjacent to the National Mall. The day was bright and sunny, and the woman she'd called two hours ago occupied a shaded bench not far from the World War II Memorial. She was a leggy blonde, strong-bodied, with, Stephanie knew, a shrewdness that demanded she be handled with caution. Stephanie had known Heather Dixon for nearly a decade. Carrying a married surname from a short-lived relationship, Dixon was an Israeli citizen attached to the Washington mission, part of the Mossad's North American contingent. They'd worked together, and against each other, which was par for the course when it came to the Israelis. Stephanie was hoping today would be a friendly venture.

"Good to see you," she said as she sat.

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Dixon was dressed stylishly, as always, in brown-and-gold glen plaid pants, a white oxford shirt, and a black boucle vest.

"You sounded concerned on the phone."

"I am. I need to know about your government's interest in George Haddad."

The vacuous stare of an intelligence officer faded from Dixon's attractive face. "You've been busy."

"As have your people. Lots of chatter about Haddad the past few days." She was actually at a disadvantage, because Lee Durant had been her contact point with the Israelis, and he hadn't had a chance to report all of what he'd learned.

"What's the American interest?" Dixon asked.

"Five years ago one of my agents almost died because of Haddad."

"And then you hid the Palestinian away. Kept him all to yourself. And didn't bother to tell your ally."

Now they were getting to the meat of the coconut. "And you didn't bother to tell us that you'd tried to blow the man up, along with my agent."

"That, I know nothing about. Way out of the loop. But I do know that Haddad has surfaced, and we want him."

"As do we."

"What's so important on your end?"

She couldn't decide if Dixon was fishing or stalling.

"You tell me, Heather. Why did the Saudis bulldoze entire villages in west Arabia to the ground five years ago? Why is the Mossad focused on Haddad?"

She bored her gaze into her friend.

"Why did he need to die?"

A CALM FATALISM OVERTOOK MALONE. ONE RULE EVERYONE IN the intelligence business respected-Don't screw with the Israelis. Malone had violated that wisdom when he'd allowed Israel to believe Haddad died in the bombed cafe. Now he knew that they knew. Lee Durant had said the Israelis were hyper, but he'd mentioned nothing about Haddad's secrecy being compromised. Otherwise he would never have allowed Pam to come along.

"You really should lock your door," the intruder declared. "All sorts of people could enter."

"You have a name?" Malone asked.

"Call me Adam. She's Eve."

"Interesting labels for an Israeli assassination squad."

"What do you mean?" Pam asked. "Assassination?"

He faced her. "They've come to finish what they started five years ago." He turned toward Haddad, who showed not the slightest hint of fear. "What is it they want kept quiet?"

"The truth," Haddad said.

"I don't know anything about that," Adam said. "I'm not a politico. Just hired help. My orders are to eliminate. You understand that, Malone. You were once in the business."

Yes, he could relate. Pam, though, appeared to be another story.

"All of you are nuts," she said. "You talk about killing like it's just part of the job."

"Actually," Adam said, "it's my only job."

Malone had learned when he'd first started with the Magellan Billet that survival many times hinged on knowing when to hold and when to fold. As he stared at his old friend, a warrior of long standing, he saw that Haddad knew the time had come for him to choose.

"I'm sorry," Malone whispered.

"Me, too, Cotton. But I made my decision when I placed the calls."

Had he heard right? "Calls?"

"One awhile back, the other two recently. To the West Bank."

"That was foolish, George."

"Perhaps. But I knew you'd come."

"Glad you did, "cause I didn't."

Haddad's gaze tightened. "You taught me a great deal. I recall every lesson, and up until a few days ago I adhered to them strictly. Even those about safeguarding what really matters." The voice had grown dull and toneless.

"You should have called me first."

Haddad shook his head. "I owe this to the Guardian I shot. My debt repaid."

"What a contradiction," Adam said. "A Palestinian with honor."

"And an Israeli who murders," Haddad said. "But we are what we are."

Malone's mind was clicking off possibilities. He had to do something, but Haddad seemed to sense his plotting. "You've done all you can. For now, at least." Haddad motioned. "Look after her."

"Cotton, you can't just let them kill him," Pam whispered, desperation in her voice.

"But he can," Haddad said, a touch of bitterness in his tone. Then the Palestinian glared at Adam. "Might I say a final prayer?"

Adam gestured with the gun. "Who am I to deny such a reasonable request."

Haddad stepped toward one of the wall chests and reached for a drawer. "I have a cushion in here that I kneel upon. May I?"

Adam shrugged.

Haddad slowly opened the drawer and used both hands to withdraw a crimson pillow. The old man then approached one of the windows and Malone watched as the pillow dropped to the floor.

A gun came into view.

Firmly grasped in Haddad's right hand.

STEPHANIE WAITED FOR AN ANSWER TO HER QUESTION.

"Haddad is a threat to the security of Israel," Dixon said. "He was five years ago, and he remains one today."

"Care to explain?"

"Why aren't you asking your own people this?"

She'd hoped to avoid this line of questioning but decided to be honest. "There's a division."

"And where are you among that division?"

"I have a former agent who's in trouble. I intend to help him."

"Cotton Malone. We know. But Malone knew what he was getting into when he hid Haddad."

"His son didn't."

Dixon shrugged. "Several of my friends have died from terrorists."

"A bit sanctimonious, aren't you?"

"I don't think so. The Palestinians leave us little choice in how to deal with them."

"They're doing nothing different from what the Jews did in 1948." She couldn't resist.

Dixon smirked. "If I'd known we were going to have this argument again, I wouldn't have come."

Stephanie knew Dixon didn't want to hear about the terrorism of the late 1940s, which was far more Jewish than Arab in origin. But she wasn't going to cut her friend any slack. "We can talk about the King David Hotel again if you want."

The Jerusalem locale had served as British military and criminal investigative headquarters. After a local Jewish Agency was raided and sensitive documents removed to the hotel, militants retaliated with a bomb in July 1946. Ninety-one dead, forty-five injured, fifteen of the dead were Jews.

"The British were warned," Dixon said. "Not our fault they chose to ignore it."

"What does it matter if they were called?" she said. "It was an act of terrorism-Jew against Brit-a way to press your agenda. The Jews wanted the British and Arabs out of Palestine and they used whatever tactic worked. Just as Palestinians have tried for decades."

Dixon shook her head. "I'm sick of hearing that crap. The nakba is a joke. Arabs fled Palestine in the 1940s on their own because they were scared to death. The rich ones panicked; the rest left after Arab leaders asked them to. They all honestly believed we'd be crushed in a few weeks. The ones who left went only a few miles into neighboring Arab states. And nobody, including you, ever talks about all the Jews who were forced from those same Arab states." Dixon shrugged. "It's like, So what? Who cares about them? But the poor pitiful Arabs. What a tragedy."

"Take a man's land and he'll fight you forever."

"We didn't take anything. We bought the land, and most of it was uncultivated swamp and scrub nobody wanted. And by the way, eighty percent of those Arabs who left were peasants, nomads, or Bedouins. The landowners, the ones who raised so much hell, lived in Beirut, Cairo, and London."

Stephanie had heard that before. "The Israeli party line never changes."

"All the Arabs had to do," Dixon said, "was accept the 1947 UN resolution that called for two states, one Arab, the other Jewish, and everybody would have won. But no. Absolutely not. No compromise. Repatriation was always and still is a condition prerequisite to any discussion, and that's not going to happen. Israel is a reality that will not disappear. It's sickening how everybody feels for the Arabs. They live in camps as refugees because the Arab leadership likes that. If they didn't, they'd do something about it. Instead they use the camps, and the designated living zones, as a way to embarrass the world for what it did in 1948. Yet nobody, including America, ever chastises them."

"Right now, Heather, I'm only interested in Cotton Malone's son and George Haddad."

"So is the White House. Our people were told you were interfering in the Haddad matter. Larry Daley says you're a pain in the ass."

"He should know."

"Tel Aviv doesn't want any interference."

Stephanie suddenly regretted her decision to meet with Dixon. But she still needed to ask, "What's so important? Tell me, and I might stay out of it."

Dixon chuckled. "That's a good one. Does anybody ever actually fall for it?"

"I thought it might work here." She'd hoped their friendship meant something. "With us."

Dixon glanced around at the concrete walkways. People strolled the mall, enjoying the day. "This one's serious, Stephanie."

"How bad?"

Dixon's hand slipped around her back and reappeared with a gun.

"This serious."

TWENTY-FIVE

LONDON

MALONE SAW THE GUN IN HADDAD'S HAND AND KNEW THAT his friend had decided this was to be his last stand. No more hiding. Time to face his demons.

Haddad fired first, the bullet thudding into Eve's chest and propelling the younger woman off her feet, a wound gushing blood.

Adam fired and Haddad cried out in agony as the bullet pierced his shirt and blew out his spine, dotting the wall and maps behind him in crimson smears.

Haddad's legs buckled, his mouth gaped open, but not a sound escaped as the old man collapsed to the floor.

Pam screamed, a piercing falsetto.

The air seemed to have escaped from the room. Malone felt himself at the mercy of a bitter heart.

He faced Adam, who lowered his weapon.

"I came to kill him, that's all," Adam said, the geniality in his voice faded. "My government has no trouble with you, Malone, though you did deceive us. But that was your job. So we'll let it slide."

"So kind of you."

"I'm not a murderer, just an assassin."

"What about her?" he asked, pointing at Eve's body.

"Nothing I can do. Just like there's nothing you can do for him. There's a price to be paid for mistakes."

Malone said nothing, though he was half mad with terror and anguish. Surely the shots had been heard and the police called.

The Israeli turned and disappeared.

Footsteps receded down the stairway.

Pam seemed frozen in place, staring in disbelief at Haddad's corpse, the old man's mouth still open in a final protest. They exchanged glances but no words. He could almost understand the Israeli's thinking. He was indeed a paid assassin, employed by a sovereign state, empowered to kill. But the son of a bitch was still a murderer.

George Haddad was dead.

And there was a price to be paid for that, too.

Dark thoughts held him in their thrall. He bent down and retrieved Haddad's gun, then stood and turned for the door.

"Stay here," he told Pam.

"What are you going to do?"

"Kill the son of a bitch."

STEPHANIE WAS MORE PUZZLED THAN FRIGHTENED AT THE sight of a gun. "Apparently, Heather, the rules have changed. I thought we were allies."

"That's the funny thing about U.S.-Israeli relations. Sometimes it's hard to tell which side we're actually on."

"And you apparently feel a certain freedom since the White House called."

"Always nice when the Americans are in conflict."

"Larry Daley wants Haddad for himself. You realize that, don't you? This is a diversion to occupy your time while our agents find him."

"Good luck. Only we and Malone know where."

Stephanie didn't like the sound of that. This needed to end. Since she'd first sat down, the fingers of her right hand had rested on her leg, the tips atop the radio controller nestled inside her loose-fitting slacks. "That depends on whether or not U.S. intelligence has a source within your organization."

"This operation is being held fairly close, so I doubt there'll be any leaks. Besides, Haddad is most likely dead by now. Our agents were sent hours ago."

Stephanie's left hand motioned to the gun while her right stayed steady on her leg. "What's the point of this show?"

"Unfortunately, you've become a problem to your government."

"Gee, I thought my resignation would be enough."

"Not any longer. I believe you were warned to stay out of this, yet you've mobilized the entire Billet. Contrary, of course, to what you were told."

"Larry Daley doesn't give me orders."

"But his boss does."

She quickly realized that if she was now a target, Brent Green might be, too. Killing the attorney general, though, posed more logistical problems than her own death would entail. The White House had apparently concluded that corpses never appeared on the Sunday-morning news shows. Her fingers prepared to depress the panic button. "You here to do Daley's dirty work?"

"Let's just say that our interests are similar. Besides, we like it when the White House owes us."

"Plan to shoot me here?"

"No need. I have some associates willing to do it."

"Your people?"

She shook her head. "Amazingly, Stephanie, you've managed to do what politicians have tried to do for centuries. Get Jews and Arabs to cooperate. The Saudis are working with us on this one. We apparently have a common goal, so all differences have been put aside." Dixon shrugged. "Just this once."

"And that also eliminates the problem of Israel killing an American."

Dixon scrunched her face in mock contemplation. "See the benefits? We find the problem, they eliminate it. Everybody wins."

"Except me."

"You know the rules. Your friend today can be your enemy tomorrow, and vice versa. Israel has few friends in this world, but threats come from all over. We do what we have to."

Stephanie had first faced a gun while searching with Malone for the Knights Templar. She'd witnessed death there, too. Thank goodness she'd thought ahead. "Do what you have to."

Her right index finger activated the signal that would alert her agents, less than a minute away, to come.

All she had to do was stall.

Heather Dixon's eyes suddenly rolled skyward, then closed as her head pitched forward and her body went limp.

The gun thudded to the grass.

Stephanie caught Dixon as she slumped toward her. Then she saw it. A feathered dart protruding from Dixon's neck. She'd seen one before.

Calmly, she turned.

Standing a few feet behind the bench was a woman. Tall, skin the color of a muddy stream, long dark hair. She wore an expensive cashmere jacket atop hip-slung jeans, the tight-fitting ensemble highlighting a lean, shapely form. She held a magnum air pistol in her left hand.

"Appreciate the assist," Stephanie said, trying to mask her surprise.

"That's what I came for."

And Cassiopeia Vitt smiled.

MALONE BOUNDED DOWN THE STAIRS TOWARD THE GROUND floor. Adam would not be easy to kill. Pros never were.

He kept descending two steps at a time and checked the gun's magazine. Seven shots remained. He told himself to be careful. Surely the Israeli would know he'd come after him. Actually, he'd invited the challenge since, before leaving, Adam had not confiscated Haddad's weapon. Pros never left that kind of opportunity. And the line about professional courtesy made no sense. Assassins could not care less about protocol. They were the janitors of the intelligence business. Sent in solely to clean up the mess. Witnesses were part of that mess. So why not clean up everything? Maybe Adam wanted a confrontation? Killing an American agent, retired or otherwise, came with consequences. But if the agent attacked first-that was another matter.

He flushed confusion from his mind as he found the ground floor. His index finger nestled against the trigger, and he readied himself for a fight.

More familiar feelings returned. Ones that, as he'd come to learn a few months ago, were simply part of his psyche. In France he'd actually made peace with those demons when he realized that he was a player and always would be, regardless of retirement. Yesterday at Kronborg Slot, Pam had chided him that he'd needed the rush-that she and Gary had never been enough. He'd resented the insult because it wasn't true. He didn't need the rush, but he certainly could handle it.

He stepped into October sunlight, which seemed strong after the building's gloom, and calmly descended the front stoop. Adam was fifty feet away, walking on the sidewalk.

Malone followed.

Parked cars lined both sides of the narrow street. From busy avenues at either end of the block came the steady roar of traffic. A few people meandered along the opposite sidewalk.

Talking would be a waste of time.

So he raised his weapon.

But Adam spun.

Malone dove to the pavement.

A bullet whizzed by, pinging off one of the cars. He rolled and clicked off a shot in Adam's direction. The Israeli had wisely abandoned the sidewalk, now using the parked cars as cover.

Malone rolled into the street, between two cars.

He balanced on his knees and peered through the windshield, searching for his target. Adam was holed up ten vehicles ahead. Pedestrians on the far sidewalk scattered.

Then he heard a moan.

He turned and saw Pam lying on the stairs leading into George Haddad's building.

Her left arm a mass of blood.

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