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After an Italian admiral is assassinated in Rome, CIA agent Jack Dreyfus and his team must track down the terrorist organisation responsible, and reclaim the stolen code for a nuclear submarine. Lumbered with an assignment he can't stand, Special Agent Jack Dreyfus is beginning to resent his employers in the CIA. Farmed out to Europe, locked in a safe-house and forced to survey and record. And all this while taking care of the rookies. However, after intercepting a transmission from the terrorist cell IBORIS, Dreyfus finds himself in a race against time. And stepping up to the big leagues. The International Bureau of Organised Retaliation, Intelligence and Sabotage have a reputation in the civil service for secrecy, so when two assassins meet with Dreyfus to request amnesty in return for intelligence, our man begins to deal way above his pay-grade. The agent must use his new allies to help scour the Mediterranean coast for a nuclear submarine; one at risk of theft after its activation codes were stolen in Rome by the terrorists. Will they be able to make safe the craft and its deadly weapon? Or are IBORIS already one step ahead? There is no-one Jack can trust.

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La Conte Roma

Carla La Rossi, pouting to apply rouge in her reflection, while clutching an infinitesimal black and gold handbag to her breast, passed through the doors of La Conte Roma without a second’s hesitation, as if she were the manager, the head-concierge or even among those on the guest list of Giuseppe Andrea Contini, guffawing and snuffling with his high-society at the very back of the parlour.

A doorman started to look her way, but his unsuspecting eyes met a picture of total arrogance and steadfast resilience. Choosing to forgo a potential storm of rage and defiance at the hands of this particular lady, he carefully pretended he had not seen her and set about checking the log-book for later arrivals, so that he may prepare the waiting staff. It would be a dining experience such that they had not experienced before, as was the case every night.

In the very centre of Rome it was, windows puckered and polished in the day to attract the wealthiest in business, in government and in the military to come enjoy a coffee, aperitif or perhaps a light snack, before the Michelin Star-chefs and their assorted sioux arrived around the back come evening, and the pompous showcase of fancy flourishes and exotic extracts and international ingredients would begin, all in rapturous style. In spite of the fuss in the kitchens, the clang of pans on hobs, and the shrill voice of the general manager, the main lounge was still a rather pleasing and quaint place to sit. It was ideal for personal reflection. Many famous writers, it was said, had visited in their day. Marcel Proust was supposed to have sat there, by one of the windows. He waved a big handkerchief a lot, the older staff would insist.

But the shrouded and insulated surroundings, and no doubt the proximity of popular writers, had attracted a new generation to the society to La Conte Roma. Men and women who the staff would not dare gossip about. Folks like that American businessman Trevor Stanley. Several waiters glanced his way from across the parlour, but did not pass comment. He sat in that American way; slouched, so that his backside slid forwards with his feet protruding from under the table, a tripwire for waiters. And what about the politician from Naples at the table touching the drapes, against the far wall? He sat hunched, deep in conversation on the phone with his secretary (mistress) while his wife tapped her foot impatiently opposite. Both men came in here every day for coffee and sometimes stayed on past the dinner bell, though never ordered food. It was possible that food could be poisoned, whereas anything dropped in coffee or liqueur was far easier to sniff or spot.

To be blunt, they were men with enemies. They were men who played the system so that it would suit them and their associates. They were men who formulated illegal trading patterns and bribed customs officials with crisp notes. They were men who smoked cigars in back-alleys, whilst grovelling cut-purses laid offerings before them as though to their God. They were men who, given the opportunity, would pay the robed men at the Vatican to get them into heaven, if they thought that heaven was a place worth visiting. They were men unhampered by the faintest inkling of conscience for the innocents caught up in the storm of their games. To be blunter still, they were businessmen.

Why Carla La Rossi seemed to fit in with them, the doorman couldn’t quite figure. She looked well-off; her allowance probably arrived with its own security escort, and it did not look as though she had done much in the way of graft to get rich. Therefore, it was most likely that she was one of this new generation of mistresses; the sort who would fearlessly demand a fee from a murderer, who can freeze you with a stare so potent that your coffee will go cold, and will certainly never sit on your knee in that way again if you persist with the touching. Oh, it was whoring, but it was up-cycled for use by high-society, so much so that much of the original charm, if such a word is appropriate, was lost in the transition. Yes, thought the doorman, nodding to the valet as he rolled up for the next guest, that’s what she must be. A gold-digger for all of these lonely men, who pay so well as to put her in diamonds, at least for the next five years.

He was wrong. There were a lot of things that Carla La Rossi was, but the observer had detected none of them. In fact, what he had been taken in by was a well-thought out and cunning disguise.

Carla La Rossi was an operating asset of IBORIS; the International Bureau of Organised Retaliation, Intelligence and Sabotage. By the count of the CIA, the largest organised terrorist cell in the world.

How well she appeared on the outside to fit into the world of La Conte Roma was of little consequence to her. It was like an act she was playing; that she had been playing in Rome now for nearly three months, just so that she would get it right on the day. Today. As she swept beneath the loaded chandelier, the jewels on her spectacular dress glinted, and she knew that she had pulled it off. No-one had spared her a second glance. Or at least, not one that was in any way suspicious.

That didn’t bother her either, the glances from men that made her a subject of envy among the womenfolk, the wives of the big-wigs, and even the escort-girls like her current alter-ego. But she had no opinion of them. They were just people.

Though this cold and apparently lifeless perception of others reflected on her personality, it did give her some pride to learn in the past months that she was possibly the most beautiful woman in Rome. Working for IBORIS, attending seminars on government corruption, weapons training, martial arts and international smuggling... in all of these the question of her appearance had never really been relevant, except perhaps once or twice in the gym. It was based on observations from the Roman men she had been practising with that she had learned of her beauty. As she passed a circular table set for a couple, Carla La Rossi caught herself in an upturned wine-glass.

The full face, with that bright, healthy sheen; healthy in the sense that it was well-looked after, much like, she brooded, the farmer’s livestock. That bushel of hair, tied up in a golden-blonde bubble on top of her head, finished at the root by a small, dark primrose. The elegant dress, cut rather too short for the season, so that occasionally one could see to her knee, but what a fine and well-structured knee it was. But it was in the small features, that was what the men had remarked upon. The blue tint in her eyes. The slenderness of her hands, and the way her tan sat on her skin. The sparkle of her lips in artificial light. All of it had bothered Carla, at the time. When she was finished with the practice men, she had tried to laugh harshly at their foolishness, but found that the sound died in the hollow of her throat; that perfect, sculpted throat. She had ended up examining herself in the mirror, trying to look for what it was the men had remarked upon. After months of this, she still didn’t quite get it. Perhaps it was time she settled down, and maybe took on a cushy desk-job somewhere at headquarters, so that she might look at starting a family. The idea did not exactly take a hold of her heart and squeeze. She liked what she did.

Before the re-schooling as an IBORIS operative, she had been an actress and a dancer. Her parents had sent her to drama-school, though she remembered little of it. Apparently, she had been good. But not quite good enough, it seemed, and now her acting talents were being put to more fruitful and rather more sinister means.

What would her job description be now? The closest term she could come up with for her career, were she allowed to have one, was ‘contract-killer.’ The acting and the dressing-up and pretending to be something else; they were all sideshows to the true objective. Yes, sideshows that she excelled in, as upstairs had made known, but sideshows nonetheless.

She was a killer. She had killed now almost twenty times for IBORIS and its sub-cells, which gave her what was cutely known as ‘veteran-status.’ Many male operatives would have been killed off by now, but Carla La Rossi, with the equipment in her handbag, false charm and the dazzling looks to pass off twenty-three at twenty-nine, had outlived them all. In many ways now, she was the old-fashioned one. The equipment she chose was always familiar, items that she had used before and that had worked. Fancy new weapons, concealed bombs, lasers and other gadgets did not appeal. What if they were to jam, or self-destruct? She couldn’t trust them, like she couldn’t trust people. She could only trust what she knew.

And so here she was, Carla thought, as she continued on her way to the back of the parlour. Three months field training, two pick-pocketing and one escorting older IBORIS agents and unsuspecting men chosen at random. And before that, two weeks orientation and personal planning. Not to mention two more organising fail-safes and backstopping and security. Four months work, non-stop, all came down to this one evening, and the man chortling with his cronies at the back of this phoney restaurant, whom Carla La Rossi approached, her face morphing suddenly, quite unnoticed to the men at the big table, from the ordinary, cold way that it sat into the vibrant, smiling and beautiful face of the escort girl she had created. When asked her name, she would give it as her own. There was no link between it and her organisation, or anyone for that matter.

“And here she is!” was the cry Giuseppe Andrea Contini gave as the escort girl joined them at the table, his Italian thick and fast from intoxication. He motioned for her immediately, as Carla had been told he would, and she placed herself non-obtrusively, but oh so noticeably on his lap, drawing groans from the men at other tables in La Conte Roma with seemingly less-satisfactory girls on their knees.

It had been as easy as that. Carla sat, smiling radiantly at all the men around the table, as the hubbub resumed seamlessly, and she tried to look innocent while all the time listening intently to the conversation for anything important. Any additional information she could obtain was worth money to her, if it was significant. But all the while, she was coiling herself like a spring on the inside for the moment, and a moment was all she needed, when the man’s guard was down and she could reach into his pocket without anyone noticing.

The item that she and her employers wished to procure from Signor Contini was a flash-drive for a computer, on which the specs of two nuclear submarines moored somewhere in the Mediterranean was contained, as well as other details that had not been disclosed. These were irrelevant. In fact, it was best that she did not know what was on the drive at all, so that she had genuine deniability should she be interrogated some time later. There would be no tie to IBORIS.

Her job was to collect and deliver the drive. She was also to slip Signor Contini a little something of IBORIS invention, but that wasn’t even worth thinking about. She had been doing that since the age of eighteen.

It would give her no qualms to kill Admiral Commander Giuseppe Andrea Contini, as for all his medals and service to the nation he and she both hailed from, he was corrupt and he was old and he wore his reputation like a biochemist’s suit; to protect himself from any ruin. IBORIS and their client felt it was time Contini ‘moved on,’ and let the balance of power shift around a little in Italian high society. Or whatever. It was another fact that did not need to concern Carla.

The men around her were to be the only problem. They were all military men; generals, majors, a few more admirals and the like. All of them, Carla had been told, would be watching Contini, not out of awe or respect, but out of jealousy. They wanted everything that he had. The medals, his reputation and his life. This was common knowledge. If something was to be slipped to Contini during the meal, it could be safely assumed by the public and police that one of the men at the table would have either organised it or done it himself. Whichever scenario would cause suitable mayhem for any IBORIS plan to slip under the proverbial radar here in Italy.

But the fact was, they would still be watching. And watching people were dangerous. As it turned out though, Carla found that they were all drunk, or well on the way there. That would certainly give her an edge. One reached over and made to touch Carla’s leg, and Contini slapped the hand away, retorting in slurred Italian. She did not flinch, and kept smiling.

It took an hour, but it went off without a hitch. As waiters came to clear away starters and soup, the crush of bodies quickly heated the air at the table, and many of the men started to sweat, including Contini, who, Carla noticed through her permanent smile, removed his jacket. It was exactly what she wanted. A moment later, he tapped her shoulder and muttered. She nodded and stood, stepping back to let the Admiral stand and go for a cigarette with one or two others. The jacket he left, on the back of the chair, the pocket Carla knew contained her prize in full view. She fancied she could even see the lump the metal made against the fabric.

But she didn’t take it. Not because she couldn’t, but because she knew a better opportunity was forthcoming. Two of the generals who remained at the table began to pick up the conversation and she joined in when asked to, animatedly. Soon, Admiral Contini returned, smelling of tobacco and eau de toilette. He grinned toothily to his companions before turning to Carla, who smiled back.

That was when the fish course arrived, headlined by a huge platter of langoustines, prawns, clams, mussels and oysters placed in the middle of the table. The amassed seafood drew all eyes, including Contini’s, as he was in the act of sitting while Carla pulled his chair for him. She found herself for the first time unobserved and sneaked a hand into the jacket, feeling for the metal of the flash drive among the flakes of tobacco, handkerchiefs and miscellaneous wrappings. The cold sensation she still remembered nights after, of the cigarette-lighter-sized object against her fingers, and then between her breasts, as the eyes of the military men grew accustomed to the seafood and attention turned back to her and, rather unnervingly, her breasts.

Now she needed to be quick. Contini hadn’t been entrusted with such a delicate object because he was a fool. Her exit would have to be clean-cut and unobstructed. The men at the table may not want her to leave for lots of different reasons, but Contini could smell a rat if she ran for the door now. So she remained on the man’s lap, tried his fish for him, dropping the fork on the plate with uncharacteristic clumsiness, that brought hoots of derision from several of the men, who were going to pay for it dearly when the powder she had just slipped into the fish sauce took effect. She then waited while the men finished their food; Contini mopping up the sauce on his plate with a piece of bread until it was spotless. Soon the conversation resumed again, and now Carla sensed her way out, as the subject turned to her. She was asked her name, and gave it.

“And what are your plans for the rest of the evening?” one general asked, dabbing his chin.

“I fear I have another escort for the night. A man at the Romany House; Signor Giovanni Di Leone.” Carla had chosen the name carefully, from a list she had been given of names that she could mention for approval. Contini sat back, slightly.

“Ah, belle,” he sighed, “A man after my own heart, Di Leone. I vow to give him my wholehearted support in his campaign for political dominion.” The words were exaggerated by the wine in Contini’s gut, “And furthermore, I vow to do everything to keep him there too. Much better Signor Di Leone than have some of these liberal so-and-so’s dirtying the waters. He is a fine man, a strong man.” Contini paused, and turned to Carla on his knee, “You must not keep Signor Di Leone waiting, my dear. When must you greet him at the Romany?”

Carla glanced briefly at the clock on the far wall and sighed back, “Oh, in half an hour or so. I didn’t want to say, because you gentlemen seemed to be enjoying yourselves so. It is possible for me to postpone…”

Contini clucked his tongue, wagging a finger, “No, no, no, my dear, I cannot allow that. You must not make him wait, I say. Goodness knows Signor Di Leone needs fine young women such as yourself as a front for his campaign. No, you must go to him, my dear. Your agency shall receive payment.”

Then he did it. The Admiral reached casually into his jacket pocket, scrabbling with his fingers, before they touched metal and he sighed and stood. Carla had tactfully already moved and she allowed him and several others to kiss her hand and thank her, before she made her way off between the tables, feeling their eyes on her back.

Inside, she praised her own ingenuity. She almost hadn’t done it. But at the last, it had occurred to her to drop her metal lipstick tube into the man’s pocket. It had been a similar size and feel to the flash drive, and had served her far better than the red stains on her lips. A parting gift that would doubtless be found later, when they searched for the missing flash-drive. The doorman nodded, somewhat disapprovingly, before he opened the door to let her leave.

Carla La Rossi had to smile as she made off in the direction of the Casa del Romany. In a few minutes, all those envious men would be looking guiltily at each other as Admiral Commander Contini croaked and fell in his plate. Perhaps some might remember the quick exit of the escort girl; maybe even someone sitting at another table, but they would never find her. Her agency was an IBORIS cover, and could not be traced. When the Italian police realised what was missing from his pocket, they might know it to have been her doing, but what could they do about it? She did not exist. It was the same comfortable feeling that she felt after every successful mission, when anything that could go wrong was made right.

As she walked, she became aware of a man, who was dressed so unusually in a hooded top and jeans that anyone else would have avoided him like the plague. But she had guessed who he was. It was the way he set himself and walked with a certain poise that told him apart as a man who would otherwise wear a suit, over casual, common clothes.

She crossed the road in plain view and ducked into an alley covered overhead by balconies. The grey stones were littered with wrappings and tissues and the remnants of fruit, even here in the older, plusher section of Rome, away from the tourists. Without hesitating, she ploughed through, heels clicking in the clean spaces between banana skins and apple cores. A moment later, the man in the hood followed, also keeping his feet clear of the muck, even though he wore cheap Admiral trainers. In the shadowy bosom of the darkness, the contact was made.

“I have a gun.”

“I see. Do you need some ammunition for that?” The man spoke in English, the universal language of IBORIS wherever it was appropriate. The words he spoke were, to the very resonance, what Carla had been taught at the start of the month. Even so, she had known the man from the clothes, which she had been forewarned about, and also from that familiar gait. She nodded, curtly. The man looked behind him, and then down the alley behind Carla, before lowering his hood. Only then did she see how he was smiling at her.

“Charming,” he remarked, which made Carla blush slightly, despite herself, “So how did we do tonight, Miss La Rossi?”

The man was in charge of her operation. He was privy to sensitive information from the very top of IBORIS, and would take charge of missions and assets in their entirety. Another way upstairs separated themselves from that pesky liability. This was all part of the code of conduct, part of the contract she and the man had signed with the organisation in their teens. The man was black, and his name was Daniel Faye. Or so he claimed.

“No problems,” Carla replied. Faye was handsome, though she did not like the way he looked at her. Where business was concerned, she found him too casual, too cavalier in his choice of words. Nonetheless, she knew him to be someone who got results, with more experience than her in the intelligence field, and he had not been responsible for any screw-ups in the past that she was aware of. That said, you could never tell when someone was going to start screwing up.

Faye mulled this over, his hands in the pockets of the hooded top. Were anyone to see them, they would assume she was buying drugs, which was less criminal than what they were really discussing.

“And the Red Admiral…?” They were not allowed to use his name.


“Very good. Yes, very good indeed. Well, thank you very much, Miss La Rossi. As you know, payment will be wired to your account in 24 hours, after we have confirmed his departure. Have you anything for me?”

“Yes.” Carla, remembering where she had hidden the drive, hesitated slightly, then shook herself, drew out the metal object and handed it over. Faye smiled and shook his head.

“If I were to say, ‘it’s still warm,’ would you hit me?”

“That would depend on the way you said it.”

“I suppose it would.” Faye examined the drive for a moment, before producing a small plastic sachet, into which he placed it. He then pressed on the air-tight seal to close the bag, and slid it into his pocket.

“Excellent. As before, money wired to your account, 24 hours, yadda-yadda. You fancy grabbing a drink?” Faye indicated this with a wave of his hand.

“I thought you’d never ask.” The words, again, were wooden. They didn’t mean anything. It was simply a code that allowed them to disappear in one another’s company. Soon, the two IBORIS agents emerged from the other end of the alleyway. Faye looked around again, but the street was deserted. In the distance, it was possible to hear the sirens of an ambulance, unmistakable in the night. Ignoring it, they made off towards their Rome safehouse, although Faye did mutter: “Bad girl.”

She wondered where they had found this man; her contact. It was thought that Faye had been involved heavily in the unrest in Angola and previously in other parts of Africa, but he was no older than she was. It seemed he was a gatherer and a gossip; the jobs once reserved for women, in their Stone Age caves and in Victorian English fishmongers. But there was nothing innocent about the information Faye ‘gathered’ for IBORIS and, more often than not, it led to someone being killed. How much killing Faye himself actually did was a mystery to Carla, but she did know him to be an expert in several martial arts. Indeed, he had taught Carla two of them personally. What was certain was that he was more than capable of getting himself out of a tight spot. Otherwise, there was no way that he would still be in the business.

The Rome safehouse was a small building past the Casa del Romany, where the charm of Rome gave way to the sand-coloured stone of the walled city; a different country in its own right. More than once had secret operatives infiltrated the wall to hide from Italian authorities, while essentially still in their own country. It was important to be near a clear escape route from Italy, even if the Swiss Guard did post a watch on the high Vatican walls.

A small flight of steps led up to the blue doors of the building. Faye went first, while Carla lingered on the pavement. He was admitted, and Carla followed suit. At the door, a small flap opened, and a little, elderly face peered out.

“I have a gun.”

“I see. Do you need some ammunition for that?”

“Enter. Relinquish all weapons and identification at the stairwell.” The door opened a small amount and Carla was able to squeeze in. However, she didn’t get a chance to approach the stairs, as a man was already waiting for her. The landing was only partly lit, and most of his face was in shadow. But Carla didn’t need to see him to know who he was. The familiar clothes; that grey dinner jacket, with the faded lapels, the plain white T-shirt and dark suit trousers. She didn’t know his name, but he called himself The Escapist. It was assumed that he was English, but he could have come from anywhere.

“Miss La Rossi, it's nice to see you're looking well. Leave your bag here with Luca. Mr Faye has gone on ahead; we’ll be joining him shortly. But it looks like we might have another job for you.”

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