128 Kilometers Outside of Tripoli
James Bond had never realized how temperate the climate could be in North Africa. A region he was unfamiliar with, Bond's understanding of it was largely informed by his boyhood classroom studies about Rommel's exploits in the area. Only now did Bond realize that all he could recall from those interminable lectures was that the sand fouled the treads of the German army's Panzer tanks and jammed their Luger pistols—hardly a great mental atlas they had imparted upon him.
But the weather here was—he could think of no better word for it—beautiful. The sun shone warmly from a cloudless, cerulean sky, but was offset by the cool, steady breeze that rolled off the Mediterranean Sea. Bond let his gaze wader to that sea, just beyond the proud, straight columns of the amphitheater, slowly stained brown by millennia of salt air.
"The furthest outpost of the Roman Empire," said the American security officer who sitting to Bond's right. "One of them, anyway."
"Ruins of an empire," Bond mused, staring out at the sea, letting his thoughts churn like surf at the breakwater. "I'd think it'd be rather a sobering sight for an American diplomat. Here, in this part of the world."
"I'm diplomacy's pointy-end," the American replied laconically. "I try to avoid thinking big thoughts about world events and our place in history. I mostly pay attention to the things that'll get my fool-coworkers dead." He threw Bond a sidelong look, the sourness of which Bond could catch even in his peripheral vision. "And sometimes I'm tasked with super-secret assignments to meet surly, enigmatic British operatives in the middle of the only tourist spot in the country."
Bond met his sidelong look with one of his own. "Surly?"
"Or at least bordering on it."
Bond made a noncommittal noise and stared back at the pillars which seemed to part the sea.
"Not that I blame you. Carrying water for this government wouldn't sit well with me either."
"And yet here you are. Embracing your newest ally in the War on Terror."
"Yesterday's enemy and all that. But we had agents on that flight. They were coming home from unaccompanied posts to see their families for Christmas. Two guys. Their pictures are on the wall of our training center. Used to see them every day in basic agent training. That's a hard thing to set aside."
"We've got our own scores to settle with Gaddafi's government." Bond looked over at the American. He was in his mid-thirties, with the open, guileless features of a man who'd been raised in the flat, unremarkable fields of the Midwest. His skin was browned by the North African sun, and his dishwater-blonde hair was cut short, but just slightly longer than military regulation. "But at the end of the day you and I both have our duties to perform."
"Speaking of," he drew out a sand-colored Maxpedition backpack—the kind that was covered with velcro flaps and MOLLE loops that the more bourgeois backpackers and adventurers favored, because either made them seem more like high-speed operators. Or at least someone who had seen some kind of battle. "Came in via diplomatic pouch yesterday."
Bond took the bag and set it between his feet. "What can you tell me about my contacts?"
"You don't want to inspect it?"
"Not here. What about the group?"
The American shifted on the marble bench. "Well, there's not a whole lot. We have what can get from intel services overseas, and what we get from Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya—Musa Kusa's organization. And the stories don't exactly align."
"I gotta tell you? Well, from their offices—their perfectly legit offices—in Amman and Dubai and scattered around Europe, the National Conference for Libyan Opposition is an organization dedicated to unseating Gaddafi's regime and establishing a democratic government in Libya. All very noble. They're a conference, not an army. They oppose, not fight. They've got educated, wealthy expatriates handling their spin."
"And what does Musa Kusa say?" The name stuck on Bond's tongue, like the residue from a dirty ashtray that had rubbed off on a cigarette.
"The government says they're a dangerous terrorist organization dedicated to establishing a fundamentalist Islamic government that will provide safe haven to extremists in Egypt. They blame the group for various assassinations and plots that are usually disrupted before they come to fruition, and details are provided by the poor schmoes that the ESO—the External Security Organization—rounds up and tortures into confessing.
"Gaddafi has been pushing hard for us to provide him with the tools to hunt them down. Listening equipment, cellular receivers, drones—he really thinks drones are cool."
"Any plans on providing him any toys?"
The American barked a short laugh. "Are you kidding? The guy coughed up a couple international fugitives that have been hiding here for twenty years while we embargoed him into poverty. It's not like he went down on Condoleeza Rice or something. We're not that good of friends yet."
Bond mulled this. "And what about your intel services?"
"They got bupkis. We have no intel traction here. CIA, DIA…they can hoover up some SIGINT, but the ESO has us so hemmed in, they can't run any informants. The intel guys here are here for the prestige of opening a post in Libya. They're not bringing home anything that's going to put them on the map."
"And what do you think?" Bond asked.
The American looked over his shoulder—probably an involuntary habit, Bond thought, the man didn't even know he did it. "As with most things, I'm pretty sure the truth lies somewhere in between."
"Gaddafi's a loon. He is insane, and he will not simply relinquish power. Maybe one day he'll hand it off to one of his sons, but that's about the only way he'll ever step away. The Conference isn't stupid—they have to know that. And now, with him setting himself up as an invaluable ally in the War on Terror, they also have to know that any chance of the West forcing a regime change is off the table. As if that term—regime change—wasn't already on its way to scrap heap."
"So, they're angling for a coup."
"I'd say it's certainly one of their plans, yeah."
"But the government's take on their intentions…"
"Crap. I'm not saying there aren't dangerous elements dug into that movement—once you start talking revolution it brings all kinds of crazies and soldiers of fortune into the fold—but the Conference's support has come from the Western-educated professionals who have been in exile for decades. The movement is secular. Ostensibly, anyway."
Bond's lips tightened as he squinted out to the sea, located the horizon line where the lighter blue of the empty sky met the deeper, richer blue of the vast sea and all that it contained. "Thanks," he said.
"That make things simpler or more complicated for you?" the American asked.
Bond stood and scooped up the backpack. "It's always simple."
He gave a polite nod and made his way down the long walkway and out of the amphitheater, leaving the American sitting alone amid the ruins of an empire.
40 hours earlier
"Thoughts, Double-oh Seven?" M asked.
"Seems simple enough," Bond replied, absently flipping through the dossier. M's office was characteristically dim—the better for her to view the various monitors she surrounded herself with. Her desktop computer had three flat-screen monitors alone, and there were two large plasma screens on the walls. Today they were tuned to BBC and CNN respectively. Bond wondered if the discrepancies in the reporting amused or infuriated her. With M, the two reactions lived in a confusingly close proximity.
"Good," M said crisply, in the tone of voice that suggested an irritated school teacher about to assign more maths homework. "Then I trust you'll be on the first flight to Tripoli. After a visit to Q-Branch and the travel bureau, of course."
"Of course." Bond pulled one of the photographs out of the file and held it up. It showed a heavy, squarish face beneath an unruly tangle of dark hair. "I don't look much like him. Are we certain Akaad doesn't know what he looks like."
"Well, if he does, James, he's remarkable indeed. No one in the Western intelligence community has had the slightest clue what Coleman Fitzroyce looks like until now. Maybe a job offer will save you a bullet to the head."
"Somehow I doubt our health plan will sway a terrorist very much." He met M's gaze. "How did we get him?"
"Biometrics hit on him when he tried to board an international flight out of Frankfurt. We'd caught up to him last year when he and his brother were sharing a suite in Monte Carlo. Doubtless they were trying to make another deal for their junk weapons. We missed them by minutes, but our man did have the opportunity to sweep the room."
"And pick up fingerprints," Bond nodded.
"Precisely. Of course the images from the hotel cameras were rubbish—he's too careful for that—but we had what we needed. We fed the print into our systems and waited for him to take an international flight."
"And now he's ours," Bond mused, putting the file down on her desk and leaning back in his office chair. "I suppose the point I can't quite make out is the Libyan angle. How did they find out we had him?"
M inhaled and straightened in her chair. "We don't have him, Double-oh Seven. The Americans do. Or they did. Their FBI picked him up in Germany and began the investigation. We moved in as quickly as possible—claimed the right of first refusal since he's a British subject. But they had already alerted the Libyans to what they found in his computer."
"His communications with Akaad."
"Yes. The Libyans formally requested assistance in the matter of flushing out who is supposed to receive those arms. The Americans didn't have anyone they trusted in the field that they could deploy on short notice. All their operatives are either combing the mountains of Afghanistan or hidden out in the Iraqi Green Zone."
"And we agreed to pick up their slack?" Bond asked incredulously.
"It came from the PM's office. I suspect in return for some quid pro quo from the American President, though I can't imagine what it is."
Suspicion tugged at the edges of Bond's mind. "Who made the request?"
M's gaze was steel. "Musa Kusa. Libya's Foreign Minister."
"And one of the world's foremost facilitators of terrorism and suppression," Bond replied ironically.
"Don't bother lecturing me about the man's past," M snapped. "I've already had two conference calls in which various members of the Home Office have decided to have a stroll down memory lane, and quite frankly the history lessons are becoming tedious."
"Lockerbie, Yvonne Fletcher…"
"Amongst other tragedies of the past thirty years, yes. But the fact of the matter is, our government has chosen to normalize relations with Gaddafi's regime, and this operation is an olive branch."
"The enemy of our enemy."
"Yes. Regardless of our feelings of this particular bedfellow, Double-oh Seven, we will get into bed with him. We are not policemen. We are tools of Her Majesty's government and that government has decided that reengagement with this particular enemy is worth overlooking the death of a London police officer. Amongst various other crimes." M slowly melted back into her chair. She'd overplayed her hand, Bond knew. Showed him that she was no more comfortable with the assignment as he was, and now she was daring him to press the matter. He decided to evade this particular trap.
"I'm still not clear on how the pieces fit. The Americans picked up Fitzroyce. What did he tell us about Akaad?"
"He didn't. When we seized Fitzroyce's computer we found a number of communications with an IP address of Libya. We ascertained it was Akaad. Jordanian internal security confirmed that they believe he passed over into Libya from Iraq sometime in the past six months. The Americans gave the Libyans that information—probably in the hopes that the ESO would simply make the problem go away."
"Why the hesitation? The External Security Organization could simply flush him out and leave him in the desert with a bullet in his head."
M swiveled her chair slightly—another tell. She wasn't as confident of this part, Band guessed. "They say they can't. They say that locating him in all of Tripoli is too daunting a task, and if they utilize regular police they run this risk of scaring him off. Sending him scuttling back over the border to Sudan or Niger or wherever he has a safe house."
"I suppose it's a valid concern. And anyway, better to send in a decoy to make contact with whomever Akaad is working with. More reliable than torturing the information out of Akaad. Provided, they could even bring him in alive."
"That's what I thought."
"Unusually circumspect for a dictatorship."
"I thought that too," M replied dryly, and Bond knew they were on the same page. "Fitzroyce's meeting with Akaad is in forty-eight hours, Bond. Best move quickly. Q-Branch is waiting."
Bab Africa Hotel
The Corinthia Bab Africa, or CBA as it was sometimes called, exploded from a verdant expanse of high ground, and consisted of two curved alabaster towers which opened into one another like a set of parenthesis an author had set aside to be populated later. The main tower—twice the size of its partner, looked out one side over Al Kurnish highway into the endless blue of the Mediterranean, and the cubist stone maze of Tripoli's Old City on the other. Its location, Bond mused, could either be read as a hopeful symbol of the future of Tripoli's fortunes in a new era of engagement with West, or a 30-story declaration of Gaddafi's shift in priorities, depending upon the cynicism of the viewer.
The entrance was flanked by lean, pleasant-faced young men in elegant uniforms who smiled and offered greetings alongside Libyan police officers who wore neutral expressions and incongruous black-and-purple battle dress uniforms. Bond wondered what possible environment they could be designed for. A discotheque? A thirteen year-old boy's bedroom? The bottom of a well?
The bellhops hustled to run all the guests' luggage through an X-ray machine, while guiding the guests themselves through a walk-through metal detector. Bond handed his bags over easily. The X-ray would see precisely what Q-Branch wanted it to.
"It's a smart fabric, Double-Oh Seven," Q-explained while running his spidery fingers over the glittery, black liner within his overnight bag. "Now, listen here: lead and other x-ray-reflecting materials may not let them see what's inside, but it also makes it bloody apparent that they can't see inside. Might as well just carry a diplomatic crate. No, this material reflects back precisely what we program into it. " Q then launched into a borderline-obsessive level of detail about how the material worked. Bond grunted and nodded with feigned interest while he mentally calculated if he'd have enough of a travel window to spend a weekend in Paris.
"So, the x-ray machine receives the signal we program. This way we don't simply hide a gun, we camouflage it." Q beamed, and Bond thought it might be the happiest he'd seen the man in years.
In the end, Bond had tucked the gun in his waistband and walked through the metal detector. It rang off—as it did with every guest—but the bellhops simply smiled and waved him into the hotel. European guests don't get a pat-down at a five-star hotel in a country desperate to rebuild its economy, Bond knew.
The suite they led Bond to was a long, curving room, appointed in a continental style that was almost aggressively unremarkable. Bond guessed the room's details would vanish from his memory the moment he closed his eyes. It didn't matter. Three floors of the small tower were taken up by the nascent American Embassy while a proper building was under construction. He didn't doubt that all of the rooms were bugged by the ESO, but based upon MI6's assessment of Libya's technical capabilities, cameras were highly unlikely.
Bond undressed and took a long shower to revitalize himself. Then he dressed in a pair of casual khakis and a baggy, short-sleeved shirt. All of the clothes he packed were of the sort to establish him as a high-end tourist and adventurer. The kind of man who pored over travel books to find the places off the beaten trail, and then bought the appropriate clothes from an expensive chain store. Aside from making him look like any one of an endless number of bored European tourists, they were practical enough for his work. The shirt easily covered his small-of-the-back holster and the Walther P99 within it.
The Service had finally put its hobnailed foot down regarding Bond's preferred pistol, the Walther PPK. Until recently, Bond had managed to allay the concerns about the gun's relatively-weak round and overall outmoded design by qualifying on whatever static and ballistic courses of fire they set up for him. Finally, though, even prowess alone wasn't enough.
"It's bloody outdated Double-Oh Seven," Q had griped. "We are on war footing now, and it doesn't do for you to be carrying a pistol that no army has used or would use since World War Two." Q had tried to push upon Bond the 9mm Glock ("The Americans swear by them"), but Bond had found the grip uncomfortable, and the trigger stiff. Instead he had opted for the P99. It's grip melted into his hand, and unlike the Glock it's trigger-pull emulated the double-action/single-action mechanism of the PPK. It only took three magazines fired through the gun before Bond could master the courses of fire.
"That's the one," he told Q.
Now, he rechecked the gun. A full 15-shot load of Hydra-Shok jacketed hollow-point rounds were loaded in the magazine, with a top-off in the chamber. He had two spare magazines, and a box of 50 additional rounds, though he knew if he had to resort to reloading his magazines the operation was far beyond salvation.
Bond had been equipped with two phones, one of which was actually an ultrasonic white-noise emitter that would deafen any listening devices. Bond left it off, since he wasn't in the habit of blurting out damaging secrets to an empty room, and he didn't want to run down the battery. The other was a standard-issue smartphone, loaded with applications—some of which had been specially designed by the younger, more elastic-minded staff in Q-Branch. Bond opened the one he'd been briefed on—Aardvark, the mop-haired young programmer had called it. He tooled with it a bit to familiarize himself, then, satisfied he knew how to use it properly, he left it running and pocketed the phone.
Fitting his shirt over the gun, jostling the phone into a more comfortable position in his pocket, Bond looked out at the old city—a jumble of children's toy blocks, poured out of its bag. The sun was setting, pouring shadows into its gaps and alleys, transforming it from a teeming neighborhood into something far more sinister. When the dark came, Bond knew that countless cheap, fluorescent lights, haphazardly wired to the power grid, would light up, and the old city would be rendered in only two shades—blinding white, and deepest black. It was then, Bond knew, that the old city would be the most dangerous.
Bond adjusted the holster and left.
Bond was only one of a few customers at the small tea shop who opted for an outdoor table. The rest were older men, all of whom were holding forth on topics of great importance. They barely gave him a second glance, and Bond leafed disinterestedly through his newspaper. Beyond the ancient, fortified walls, weathered and ground smooth, he could hear the hum of the congealing traffic. Like most second- and third-world cities, Tripoli's infrastructure had not caught up with commerce and roads designed for horses were frequently choked by cars.
He heard the approach, but didn't put down his paper—that would signal his move. Instead, he shifted slightly and slid his hand back to the holster. The table wasn't largest enough to hide a play for the gun, so he'd have to move quickly if he heard an alteration in the man's gait—faster meant he was rushing in with a knife; slower meant he was drawing a gun and trying to maintain distance. Either way, Bond would throw the table up and fall to the ground, drawing out and firing. Depending upon the skills of his potential assailant he guessed he'd have a 70 percent chance of emerging alive if the attacker came with a knife, 30 percent with a gun. He didn't give himself better odds.
The man slowed only when he reached the table—too close for a professional to take a shot. "May I join you?" a surprisingly mellifluous British accent asked. Bond looked up. The man was tall and lean—likely from eating only when he could as he ran from one burned safe house to another.
"By all means," Bond responded neutrally.
"It's a lovely evening here in Tripoli, don't you think?" Akaad was weather beaten, and wore the stressors of his life on his face. Lined and ceased from harsh climates, deserts and mountains. He was going bald, and his rapidly dwindling hairline was cut to the scalp and frosted with white, as was a two-day stubble. His eyes, though, were bright and burning and questioning, and Bond felt the man dismantling him to a molecular level.
"Do you know who is buried there?" Akaad asked, gesturing to wall.
"Beneath the parking lot?" Bond continued the recognition code.
"Americans. Sailors from the frigate Intrepid who died using it as a fire ship against the Barbary pirates."
"Yes," Akaad replied. "Along with the ship. They detonated it rather than let themselves be taken prisoner. Americans have been coming here to die for their country's interests since before they were a nation. One would think they would learn."
"Insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."
"So, here we have proof that Americans are mad."
"So it would seem." Bond laid down the newspaper and met the man's gaze.
"I'm not what you expected?" Akaad asked, his eyes glittering with amusement.
"I don't find it particularly useful to speculate about my clients," Bond said dismissively, playing the aloof, wholly-pragmatic businessman.
"But you were not expecting Jihadi John, weren't you? You thought I was, perhaps, Yemeni or a Saudi of some means that had decided to join the global jihad now that the odds are better."
Bond gave a laconic shrug. "It didn't have to be jihad. That merchandise could be used for any number of things. Overthrowing a government, destabilizing a regime…In the end it really doesn't matter as long as the order is reasonable and bill is settled."
"Capitalism in its purest form," Akaad nodded. "That's why I like to do business with you."
"And here I thought it was my competitive rates. I mean, compared to all the other places you can purchase actual Eastern European AK-47s and not the cheap Chinese models."
"It is a narrow world, the one you operate in, that is true," Akaad nodded, "but still, you are not the first merchant of death my comrades would have me deal with." He leaned in, whispering, "I think they would prefer it if we left your headless body beside a road so deep in the desert your bones would be bleached white and home to scorpions before anyone found you."
Bond shrugged. "And yet here we are."
Akaad shook a finger at him quickly, "You are capitalist, but you pretend to be nothing else. You seek a profit and are unconcerned with the consequences. You are not a hypocrite. You do not pretend that what you do is furthering some great and noble cause. You don't try and convince the world that the violence you sell is a great and noble struggle against oppression. You are honest. And an honest man can be trusted. At least as far as we two are going."
"I suppose I'm flattered."
"I don't think so, but it doesn't matter. We can do business, and that is all that matters here."
"Well, I can agree with you about that. And what do you propose we do now?"
Akkad shrugged. "You are in a hurry?"
Bond scowled. "I have seventy million dollars' worth of small arms and ammunition sitting in a less secure location than I would like, but they are sitting there because I agreed to an expedited delivery for the generous sum you agreed to pay. In short, I'd like to complete our transaction, before current events make it impossible."
"Fair enough. Let's have dinner. Business always mixes best with food. The sun is setting, and it will dark soon. It's a good time for it."
The hair on the back of Bond's neck prickled alert. "I'm not hungry," he said gruffly. The situation needed management and quickly.
Akaad looked over his shoulder toward the square. Three figures backlit by the setting sun—barely more than silhouettes now—slowly made their way toward their table.
"I'm afraid I must insist."
They hadn't frisked him, which told Bond that they weren't going to kill him. Not immediately, anyway. Instead he was loaded into a relatively-new Toyota land cruiser and seated between two stony-faced Middle Eastern men. They were Akaad's men, Bond knew, but they weren't as physically-imposing, and their expressionless faces were almost instantly forgettable. That made Bond nervous. A career built upon immediately sizing up other people as potential threats had taught Bond that big men—the bruisers, the masses of flesh and muscle—were seldom as formidable as they seemed. They relied upon brute strength, and so they would use brute strength to the exception of anything else. They were predictable. The men on either side of him had the same lean, rangy frames as Akaad, and had no doubt accompanied him through countless training camps and war zones. Their eyes lacked his quick intelligence, but Bond knew that they masked an ocean of experience managing and directing violence. They likely knew a dozen ways to come at him, and he wouldn't know what they intended until the attack began.
The girl in the front passenger seat, however, was something jarringly different.
"This is Samiyah," Akaad had said perfunctorily before starting the car, and the girl had barely nodded at him, but Bond could make out a strong profile against a mane of hair as glossy black as an oil slick. She didn't speak along the drive, and didn't acknowledge Bond's presence. Instead, Akaad was the only one who spoke.
"I'm sorry we couldn't continue our conversation in the square, Mr. Fitzroyce, but we cannot stay in these locations too long. Particularly during the daylight. Gaddafi has his eyes and ears everywhere, and they are not always so easy to detect."
"I imagine the ESO has this city sewn up tightly."
"Oh yes, and not only the ones you'd expect."
"ESO operatives are easy to spot—madmen and torturers always are. No, it's the common people. The otherwise-good and decent Libyan men and women. The doctors and tailors and carpenters. They've known nothing but terror their whole lives, and in their calculation, it's better to pass along a little information about people they don't know and hopefully curry some favor. Then perhaps the next time they need to round up some citizens to make an example, they and their loved ones will be spared."
"Yes, one of the many ways a repressive regime perverts the social order. Good people, in terror for their lives, will ally with the evil because they are powerless to protect themselves from it. And in doing so, they perpetuate it. The devil himself couldn't create a more insidious system."
"You don't have to sell me on your plans, Akaad. You said it yourself: I'm a businessman."
"I am just giving you a small glimpse of Libya, Mr. Fitzroyce. The real Libya. The one the guidebooks and press don't mention."
Bond made a noncommittal noise. He didn't think Akaad needed much encouragement to talk. Outside, the low, Mediterranean-style buildings of the city glided past the windows beyond his minders' heads. The sun was low now, and traffic was breaking up some. Soon, they left the lights of the city and its cars behind and there was only the violet-sheen of the Mediterranean Sea.
Akaad pulled off at a darkened beach, the land cruiser's wheels grinding against the sand. "We're here," he said lightly, like a father on a family trip to the petting zoo or some such. They piled out, with the minders hanging back far enough to let Bond get in front of them.
The beach was active. A dozen or so long, wooden fishing boats teetered in the sand, washed in fluorescent lights, and fishermen haggled with locals. A few hundred meters to the east were two cinderblock canteens where he could see people settling to for an evening's dining on the day's catch. Bond decided to worry about something other than being shot and dumped in the sea at this moment. There was plenty more to be concerned with.
"Come," Akaad said, clapping Bond's shoulders collegially. "Choose your cut. The fish are excellent. Benefits of being strangled by an international embargo—the industry here has not yet polluted the seas off the coast."
Bond followed him to a long fishing boat, bathed in fluorescent light, where Akaad helped him order a thick tuna steak the approximate size of a hubcap. Akaad gave instructions in Arabic and then led Bond to the nearest canteen while the rest of the group browsed the selection.
"They'll deliver it to the cooks, who'll grill it to your liking. In the meantime we can have our discussion about the delivery?"
"Is that wise in such a public place?" Bond asked, his stomach growing light from suspicion once again.
"This is one of the safest places we can talk. The people who come here are the wealthy people—the croissants, as the rest of the country likes to call them. The ESO can't move about undetected here. They don't blend well. These are also people who are left mostly alone. Gaddafi needs them to be successful to maintain the illusion of a functional society. Trust me, my friend."
Bond wondered when they had become friends.
The canteen was a long, unremarkable building built with cinderblocks and lumber with screened-in windows, and cheap party tables covered with plastic tablecloths. Akaad selected a table in the far corner of the canteen and settled in across the table from Bond. "It won't be long. These men know not to overcook the fish. The same can't be said for the fancy restaurants at your hotel."
"Then I seem to be in good hands," Bond said neutrally, mentally gaming out how he would draw the P99 from this position if necessary.
"We haven't survived this long without knowing the terrain. Knowing it better than our enemies," Akaad said with just a bit too much smugness, which he compounded by adopting a casual pose with his legs crossed, like a comfortably tenured professor settling in to a debate over the merits of Shakespeare's comedies over his tragedies.
"But they're not really your enemies, are they?" Bond said neutrally. "You're not a part of this war. You're not even Libyan. You grew up in Jordan, then moved to London to attend University, which is where you developed an affinity for global Jihad." Bond smirked slightly, "Yes, Mr. Akaad, I did know what to expect when I met you."
A shadow may have crossed Akaad's face, but if it did, it was fleeting, and Bond couldn't be certain of it. Akaad unfolded a bit, sat straight and leaned forward, direct, but it felt like performance. Akaad hadn't been rattled.
"I understand what you expect from me, Mr. Fitzroyce. And I do not blame you. You have been indoctrinated by corrupt Western secularism. More so, I should think, than most."
"You have grown up in a cocoon of wealth, and that has insulated you even more than Western dogma already does. I imagine it's much to blame for your own mercenary tendencies."
"I'm not really one for self-examination."
Akaad was about to reply when the rest of the party returned. They sidled in and filled the chairs by the table. Samiyah, Bond noted, took up a protected position between Akaad and one of the guards.
"Did you get your steaks?" Akaad asked them—in English, Bond noted.
"We did," Samiyah said neutrally.
"What did Tamir and Abdul get? Let me guess…Tamir got tuna, like Mr. Bond," Akaad nodded at the man next to Bond. "And Abdul got the shark."
"I believe Abdul got some kind of sea monster," Samiyah said with the barest of humor. She turned and translated to Addul who smiled and answered They bantered a bit. It looked easy and comfortable, but Bond suspected it was too involved to be completely natural. She was building her own cocoon, he thought. Keeping him out, but also Akaad, he realized.
He also realized she was even more beautiful from the front. Her body was fit, but womanly, with generous curves—well-rounded breasts, and prominent hips that defied the predominant body type championed by the media which seemed to demand grown women have the bodies of teenage boys. Her hair poured down her left shoulder in an onyx cascade.
Her features were also more prominent under the unforgiving fluorescent lights. Sharp features. A long face, aquiline nose, strong jaw. Her eyes were arresting. Middle Eastern women had the most beautiful of dark eyes, Bond mused. Bottomless and mysterious. There were oceans of secrets there, buried emotions and desires. They could seduce someone with the barest glance, the quickest flash.
"Mr. Fitzroyce and I were just discussing my commitment to regime change here," Akaad said conversationally.
"I don't see that Mr. Fitzroyce has any right to question you or anything we're doing here," Samiyah said disdainfully. She skewered him with a gaze. "You can just complete our transaction and be on your way. Please."
Bond held up his hands in a gesture of retreat, backing away from the conversation.
"I don't mind the opportunity to enlighten an infidel like Mr Fitzroyce," Akaad said with a wink in Bond's direction. "I suspect he knows only what he reads in The Guardian, or—Allah help us—the Daily Mail.
"You see, Mr. Fitzroyce, our struggle here is the same as it is all over the globe. Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, here…the council estates in London, the rural slums of France, it's all the same struggle. Islam is under assault by the secular West and the madmen it allies itself with. We fight with guns in some places, and with faith in others. Now, I am not a imam, so I go where I am most useful."
"And toppling Gaddafi is what you're good at?"
"We don't want a civil war," Samiyah said suddenly, forcefully. "But power will never be transferred peacefully unless it's to one of his equally brutal sons. Things will be worse."
Akaad leaned forward, "A small strike. A sustained movement, armed and trained, can seize control quickly, before the military can be deployed. One that happens, they will not fire on the citizenry. The ESO might command them to, but the officers won't comply. Once they see which way events are trending, they will let things play out."
"You're certain of that?" Bond asked skeptically.
"Of course," Akaad said. "Military men are nothing if not pragmatic. A functional government means they can rely on steady paychecks. A civil war means the infrastructure collapses."
"Well, I'm pleased to be a part of your master plan."
"I doubt that," Samiyah snapped, running Bond through with a flash of her eyes. "But it doesn't matter what you think of us or of Libya. We need your merchandise. We have your payment. So let's make the arrangements and carry this off before Gaddafi has us all hanging from the street lamps."
Akaad looked apologetic. "Samiyah is all business. It's a character flaw I've tried to help her overcome." He smiled at her, but Samiyah just did a slow burn. Bond began to wonder if he had to worry about her killing him and Akaad out of sheer annoyance and attitude.
"Besides," Akaad continued," Gaddafi won't hang us from the street lamps. He'll have a far more violent and degrading death waiting for us."
"Then I'll make this fast," Bond said. "They'll come in late tomorrow night. Quay number eight. Emerald Oceans. She's a mid-size freighter owned by Tam-o'-Shanter Shipping Company out of Ireland, but she's sailing under a Venezuelan flag."
"The company is largely a shell for a number of other activities, but it does make it easy to process the shipping of the merchandise. The communist-nation's flag makes it easier to come into port here without raising suspicions. Once docked, it will unload into the vehicles you supply."
Akaad digested this and seemed, for the most part, satisfied. "And customs? Taxes? Shipping tariffs? I assume you'll take care of that?"
"It was a part of the arrangement, wasn't it?" Bond replied, half-assurance, half-challenge. MI6's filed on Fitzroyce's operation had been dense with minutiae on how he ran his business and what accounted for its exceptional longevity in the face of overwhelming international law enforcement efforts. Bond had memorized every detail on the flight to Tripoli. "My people are set to be on duty when the ship comes in. I'll confirm tomorrow evening, but given the ship's speed and course, PNR time will be early—perhaps as early as nine PM."
Akaad nodded. Samiyah asked, "What's PNR time?" Her façade of bravado and disdain slipping away to expose genuine confusion.
"Point of No Return," Bond answered. "It's the latest that I'll be able to wave the ship off to divert to a safe harbor if anything has gone wrong."
"If one of Mr. Fitzroyce's bribed officials comes down with a cold at the last minute, for example."
"It's also the point after which I'm guaranteed payment—either in full, or the 60% unreceived merchandise fee."
"What?" Samiyah sat upright as if she'd burned her tongue on her dinner. "If we don't receive—"
"Samiyah…" Akaad placed a hand on her forearm.
She took a breath, leaned in and hissed across the table. "If we don't receive the merchandise, we pay nothing. We pay nothing!"
"That's not how it works," Bond replied evenly, but coldly. "Your merchandise is paid for out of my funds. Delivery was set according to your specifications, and you chose Tripoli. Not Morocco, where we could have come in quietly. Not Benghazi, where there are fewer people to bribe and control—"
"We can't risk overland shipment," Akaad said. "Not across the border, and not with the risk of the military intercepting a shipment. There are only so many highways to use and the military patrols them all looking for bribes. Bringing them in to Tripoli limits our exposure."
"Understandable," Bond said. "But it brings with it complications. Complications—" he stared Samiyah down—"which require a security deposit. Do you understand?"
"It's all perfectly reasonable, Mr. Fitzroyce," Akaad assured him. "Your reputation for reliable delivery precedes you. When should our drivers be there?"
Bond ignored the second flash of Samiyah's eyes, and continued. "I'll contact you with a precise time. Have them staged and standing by no later than midnight. Once the ship has cleared customs, I'll give the signal that it's safe to send them in. It's a fine needle to thread: we don't want them standing by where an errant police officer and ESO agent might recognize a driver or a vehicle, but we don't want the merchandise sitting on the dock too long either. We don't know how much night we'll have to cover us while we load those trucks, and we don't want to be doing in daylight."
"Agreed. We have some options for staging areas, but I will reconnoiter them one final time tomorrow."
"I'll transfer the funds as soon as they are on the trucks."
"On the docks," Bond corrected him. "The trucks are your problem."
"Fine. On the docks, then."
"Once I confirm the funds have been wired, I'm gone. You won't see me again, and you shouldn't contact me for at least six months. That helps prevent intelligence services from establishing a communications footprint. If you require more merchandise, we'll arrange something through a cut-out."
"I don't know if it's wise, but it is effective."
Akaad shrugged, "If one if effective, one does not need to be wise." He paused and sipped his beer.
"How do we assess the quality of merchandise?" Samiyah asked crisply.
"You can make random checks at the port."
"We won't be able to inspect them thoroughly," Samiyah answered warily. "We won't be able to break them down and inspect them component by component."
"Well, you won't be able to do that anyway," Bond said. "Not until you get to a private training camp somewhere."
"By which time you'll have our money."
Bond scowled at her like she was an impetuous teenager. "If I deliver substandard merchandise, I risk two things. One: my reputation. This is a business where you like repeat customers, so you don't have to create new security contingents every time you make a sale. And number two: my life. This isn't a business where you want your customers to be dissatisfied."
For the first time Samiyah smiled—albeit coldly. "But Coleman Fitzroyce is a ghost."
"I'm here now, aren't I? I'm only a ghost to security and intelligence services, and that's because they have a limited range of action and a limited reach. Plenty of people have seen my face and plenty of people know my name. If they're not all still alive to give up information about, that's more to do with their chosen pursuits than anything else. I suspect Mr. Akaad—should he be so inclined—would be able to track me down and put a bullet in my head with a minimum amount of effort." Bond met Akaad's gaze. It was amused, but not friendly. "If he should be so inclined."
"I see no reason to discuss retribution for a failure that has not yet happened. And likely will not. I think, Samiyah, you will find a relationship with Mr. Fitzroyce more rewarding than you realize."
For the first time that evening, Samiyah's gaze lost all traces of its hostility and doubt. She wasn't warm precisely, but also intrigued. By what, Bond couldn't fathom, the answer to that lost in the bottomlessness of her dark eyes.
"We shall see," she said, guarded, but not unfriendly.
Bond held her in his own clear, blue gaze. "I do hope so."
A moment later their fish arrived and they ate and talked of other things.
Bab Africa Hotel
Bond sat at the small hotel room desk, errantly skimming the data on his cel phones, highlighting text, cutting and pasting, and sending the results through his encrypted e-mail system back to M. Modern electronics had made sending messages throughout intelligence services at once much easier and much more difficult. The Libyan intelligence services might not be able to intercept signal data, but the Russians, Chinese, Israelis certainly could and it was only prudent to assume they were sampling what he sent. The layers of encryption would mask the IP address and both sender and recipient data. It also created a diversionary overlay of text that seemed fairly innocuous—Bond believed this week's cover was a dentist from Leeds grudgingly responding to e-mails from the office while he vacationed in North Africa. Who created these covers—these snatches of stories and lives—was totally unknown and unknowable.
The rest of dinner had passed in relative silence as they dug into their massive portions. Bond had been inclined to compliment Akaad on his choice of restaurant, but in the sparse conversation that followed he had discerned that Samiyah had been the one to choose this place. In the stretches of conversation in Arabic exchanged between she, Akaad, and Abdul and Tamir, Bond had picked up on a distinct wistfulness in her demeanor. The restaurant, he thought, might be her small window into the Libya she wanted to bring forth. Not the gaudy nightclubs and bars that loomed in a Westernized future, and not the broken dictatorship, existing as an island to the world, but something simpler and more honest than that. Maybe she could make it happen, but Bond didn't really care.
The larger concern was Akaad. Bond hadn't gotten a read on the man—or to be more accurate, he'd gotten a clear one. Bond didn't trust it for a minute. The gentleman mercenary routine seemed too polished, too practiced. It was possible that Akaad had cultivated the persona for occasions just like this—the infrequent times when he had to interact with the Western world. It put people at ease and maybe that reputation had a long enough tail that ended with a drone passing over him and launching missiles at someone else. Still, Bond couldn't shake the feeling he was being played, and if that was the case all there was to do was wait and strike first.
A knock at the door jolted Bond as sharply as if it had been an unexpected physical blow. It was too late at night for turndown service.
"Who is it?" he barked, drawing his P99.
"Mister Fitzroyce, it's Samiyah. Please open the door. It's urgent."
Bond inhaled through his nose, fighting the adrenaline rush. "Just a moment." He holstered the gun and hid it beneath his shirt, then he deactivated the cel phones and made sure they were locked. He put the Q-issued smart phone in the desk's lap drawer and kept the sound-baffler on the desktop.
"Hurry, please!" The voice was tremulous, without a trace of acerbic disdain that had seemed to be her default mode at dinner. Bond peered through the peephole, saw the walleyed view of her. He couldn't see the periphery, but if they rushed him, he could step back and make his stand as they came through the bottleneck of the doorway.
He took a breath, palmed the grip of the P99, and opened the door. Samiyah rushed in with such force that Bond nearly drew on her, but before his fingers could even curl on the grip, she had kicked the door shut behind her.
"No one knows I'm here," she said breathlessly. I know of a way in through the loading docks. They installed cameras there, but they don't work. They've never worked. They're for show like the metal detectors."
Bond took his hand off the P99 and straightened the tail of his shirt. He took her forearms gently.
"It's all right. Can I get you something," he nodded at the minibar.
"No…No, I'm fine. I'm just…can I sit down?"
Bond gestured to the love seat in the corner, and Samiyah shakily sat. She seemed smaller than she had at dinner, even though she must be taller. She'd traded her trainers for a pair of Italian boots, and her field jacket for a smart, leather coat, which, when she slid out of it with the grace of an otter evading a trap, covered a red, silk blouse that managed to be demure, yet inviting.
"So, to what do I owe this visit? Welcome, though it may be."
Samiyah inhaled deeply and ran a hand through her thick hair, just barely managing to expose a tan ear and a jade-blue earring. "It's Akaad. Look, I'm sorry for coming to see you like this, but I need your help."
"Here, I thought you only needed my merchandise."
Samiyah's face colored, "I need that, too. Of course I need that, but…"
Bond sat at the desk and slowly eased into a comfortable position leaning against the back of the chair. "But?"
She stared hard at the floor, then slowly raised her gaze to meet him, and Bond saw genuine fear in her eyes. She could be performing, he knew, but his instincts rejected that possibility with the violence of a machine gun ejecting a malfunctioning bullet. She had been too nakedly hostile at their first meeting. Too unguarded with her contempt only to play a role so drastically different just a few hours later.
"I need protection from Akaad."
Bond shrugged, "Go to the police. He's a terrorist. The American government will give you a reward."
Samiyah's jaw clenched, and she looked around the room quickly as if hoping for some kind of an exit that would deliver her from whatever anxiety tormented her.
All right," Bond said. "Explain it to me. Akaad is my contact here. I was led to believe he was the middleman between your organization and my weapons. Now…what? You think he's trying to kill you?"
She nodded, her gaze direct and certain. "That's what I think?"
"I'm afraid I'm still not following you. You were the one who brought him in."
"We needed someone who could connect us to arms suppliers. Equipment. Training. All the things we need to become a legitimate fighting force. But I made a mistake. He's taking more control than we ever imagined. He's isolating cells, giving orders…"
"And your people accept this?"
"They're scared," she explained. "They're terrified of him. One of our people stood up to him about an ambush on a couple ESO agents Akaad wanted to carry out. Akaad shot him in the head and dumped his body on a trash pile." She breathed heavily now. "In front of some of the others. He made them witness it. He made an example of him."
"So he's taking control?"
She nodded. "I think so. I think he wants to sow full-scale chaos, so he can bring in as many foreign fighters as possible. Make this place a refuge for terrorists from Afghanistan and Iraq."
"Why would he do that?" Bond asked, because even though he could see the picture perfectly, Coleman Fitzroyce might not necessarily be a big-picture sort of person.
"He could launch strikes from here against Egypt. Destabilize the government, the way the Taliban in Afghanistan does to Pakistan. That would be the true blow against the West: collapse the largest stable government in the region. And he is using us to do it."
"So, you want me to kill him?"
Samiyah ran her fingers through her hair again, and leaned in slightly, arching her back just enough to allow the thrust of her breasts to show past the coat. "Yes, but more than that, I want to maintain our business relationship. I want the shipment to come in as normal. And I want to continue our business until we have achieved our objectives."
Bond blinked, pretending to be overwhelmed by the turn of events. "It's a dangerous game. Akaad was the one who made the initial contact. He was the one transferring the funds—"
"It's our money, I can transfer the funds. I have access to the accounts."
"Not the point. I deal in the shadows with paranoid, violent people. I don't advertise, and no one sues if a deal goes badly. In short, killing a client would be a very bad business decision."
"I understand that. We'll say he was killed by police or security forces. No one will suspect your involvement. Especially if we receive the weapons. What would be the motive?"
Bond looked thoughtful again. "You've given this some thought."
Now Samiyah held his graze brazenly, the dark eyes both imploring and promising. "I've been waiting for you," she said quietly, shrugging out of her coat, making a show it so that her breasts strained against the silk of the blouse.
"Really?" Bond let his gaze slide down her body, gently challenging her. "I didn't get that impression earlier."
"I wanted him to believe I didn't trust you. That I loathed you. I needed him to believe I would never be in the same room with you."
She raised an eyebrow, "Thank you. It helps that I parrot his rhetoric sometimes. The materialistic, decadent West. The people who believe nothing. Who have no sense of propriety or decency." She slid from the love seat, silently unfolding and covered the distance between them like a looming storm. She placed her hands on his shoulders, drawing herself into him, her hair framing the intense oval of her face.
"I know what you think of me," she said. 'What you think of us. Middle Eastern women. Hijabs, burkas, arranged weddings to our cousins."
"You don't fit that image,"
"I spent half my life in Europe," she whispered. "I drive cars. I walk alone outdoors. I wear Victoria's Secret lingerie…" She let the word drift into space between them while her tongue grazed her teeth. "I let men into my bed."
Her hands left his shoulders and began unbuttoning her blouse. "And I invite myself into theirs."
Bond placed his hands on her hips.
"I'm not afraid of taking what I want. I'm not afraid of my own pleasure. Or anyone else's."
"But you came back." The blouse slid away like pretense, and she straightened up again, breasts thrusting again, showing off the silk bra, as shiny black as her hair.
"The women here deserve to be as free as they want to be. As free as I am."
Bond stood, pulled her into him, kissed her deeply. Her tongue explored his. Her arms encircled his neck, her fingers teasing his short hair. When their mouth parted, Bond whispered, "And how free is that, precisely?"
She took a step back, undid her jeans, and slid them down her round hips to bunch around the top of her expensive boots. "You can tell me."
They spent the next several hours exploring that freedom, and if they didn't quite test the limits of it, Samiyah did certainly frolic within them. Bond discovered that she was a practiced lover, and well-acquainted with the nuances and intricacies of her body and pleasure. She shared that knowledge—knowledge gleaned with others or by her own touch— with generosity and urgency. Bond met her desire, and was rewarded by her own ministrations, which were, on the whole, more than competent. Samiyah knew how to use her body to best effect on a man.
They lay entangled in the hotel bed's heavy comforter, wrapped in each other's limbs as the heat of their bodies slowly dissipated, and the fever broke.
"How will you do it?" she asked, breaking a considerable stretch of silence.
"Quickly," Bond replied.
"I mean where? When? At the docks?"
"No. There will be too many people there. Customs officials, dock workers…We'll have to do it when we regroup."
"But he wasn't supposed to meet you again. You disappear from our lives after the dock."
"Well, then that part is up to you. You'll need to contact me somehow. Send me GPS coordinates when he's not looking. You can pretend you're photographing the weapons for verification purposes or something."
"We'll be doing it at a warehouse outside of the city. It'll be far."
"I'll stay close by the general area." Bond was mentally working through how to play this. The pieces were falling into place, but there weren't enough of them yet to formulate a plan. He decided to move things along a bit. "I need to make a call," he said, getting up.
"I hope you're not asking me to step out of the room," Samiyah said as she rolled onto her stomach, and propped her head up on her hands so that a curlicue of dark hair obscured her right eye, "Not like this."
"That would certainly eliminate the need to tip the bellhops tomorrow, but I think I'll just go in the bathroom."
"How chivalrous," Samiyah laughed, rolling onto her back, so that Bond could see her nude body one last time. When he emerged from the bathroom several minutes later, she had hurriedly pulled on her jeans and bra and was leveling his P99 at his chest with one trembling hand. Her eyes blazed like black suns.
"Bastard!" she spat. "He told me, but I thought it was a lie. Just another one of his games. And then I found this!" she tilted the gun sideways. "Who else but a foreign assassin would be able to carry a weapon into Libya with impunity?"
"Well," Bond said. "Now we're getting someplace. Coleman Fitzroyce is sitting in a cell somewhere being bled dry for information by the CIA. My name is Bond, James Bond. And you are right: I am a foreign assassin. I was sent here by London to expose Akaad and your group for Gaddafi's government."
"Fine. He was right, then. Akaad." The guy shook slightly in her hand, but it was from fury and not weakness. "Go back in the bathroom and get in the tub."
"The gunshot will be louder in there. Closer to the common wall."
"Shut up! Just go!"
"So, Akaad sent you—I figured that part—but the offer to kill him…was that genuine?"
"Shut up!" Her teeth ground, the gun wavered in her grip. "I told you what told do, now do it!"
"Stop it!" Bond snapped. "You're being played and you're too angry and stupid to realize it! Drop the gun before you fire it off accidentally and have the Libyan security forces up here."
Samiyah's face twisted into an expression of pure rage and hatred and, for a single, harrowing moment Bond thought that she might have passed the point of reason and the whole mission would be collapsed by a single woman's fury.
"He sent me," she managed—barely—to hiss. "Sent me to kill you. To use my body to distract you and make it easier. Make you weaker. He told me—so convincing, such a close ally Akaad is—to do this with you first. Like I was his whore to send out to her debasement."
"Well, that's hardly how I would characterize what we just did," Bond muttered.
"So you see why I wanted you to kill him. He wanted you dead, because he didn't want us to have a pipeline of arms. He needs us weak and dependent on him so he can import his fanatics. I need him removed. I meant what I said to you before we…what I said before. But it turns out he was right. Gaddafi is using a foreign spy to kill us."
"Of course he's right," Bond said matter-of-factly. "He arranged it all. Well, Musa Kusa made the arrangements, certainly. Whether Gaddafi is in a right enough mind to have conceived of the plan is anyone's guess."
Now the anger broke as confusion seeped into her eyes and lips. "He…that doesn't make sense."
Bond let his irritation into his voice, "Tell me, what precisely did you think was going to happen after you killed me?"
"I'd leave the way I came…"
"Did you think you'd get away with it?"
"Even if that's true—and I doubt it is—you know that this hotel hosts the Embassy of the United States, don't you? And it didn't occur to you that this room is filled with microphones?"
Now confusion was replaced by stark fear. "No…no, our information…"
"Look at the phone on that table."
"Don't try to move!"
"Look at it!" She glanced over at the desk. "See the display? That a jamming device. It's activated by the presence of eavesdropping devices. We foreign spies seldom go anyplace without them."
Finally, the gun dropped. "He was…he would let them find me."
Bond stepped over to her and gently took the gun from her hands, placed it on the desk. "You were close. Very close."
They sat on the edge of the bed as she began to shudder.
"Akaad wasn't just setting you up, he was setting up your whole network."
"No…he's trying to…"
"You've been compromised," Bond cut her off. "But that's not Gaddafi's problem. His problem is how to eliminate your network without alienating his new allies: America and England."
"Gaddafi doesn't have a problem dealing with traitors," she whispered.
"But you haven't done anything. You're not terrorists. You haven't killed anyone yet. And you're supported by Libyan expatriates in exile throughout Europe. If he simply crushed you he'd face a diplomatic nightmare and the risk of the sanctions being re-introduced. So he had to connect you to radical Islamic terrorists. He did that by planting Akaad in your organization. Now he had you buying guns with a known terrorist. Then you come here, murder me, and the ESO has it on tape. It's airtight. He could hunt down every last one of you without the slightest political worry."
She shaking now, her whole body racked. "No…but how…"
"You've been infiltrated. Who put you in touch with Akaad?"
"Several of…several people had heard that he could…provide logistical…" she gasped with sudden realization. "Tamir?"
"And Abdul. His minders." Bond held up the other phone. "This has been downloading all the information from their phones and cross-referencing it. They've been texting with numbers MI6 knows to be attached to ESO agents."
"But…but they've been with us more than a year. Almost eighteen months. They know everything. Everything!"
Bond nodded. "You need to run. As far as you can. Regime change may come, but not from you. Not now."
She nodded frantically. "Yes. But Akaad. He's in too deep. He'll know. And Abdul and Tamir. They have the names of…everyone. Their families."
"You'll need time. We can arrange that."
She stared at him, and for the first time Bond realized that blood had gone out of her face. She was ashen, "How?"
"We're going to kill Akaad."
Port of Tripoli
Warehouse and storage section
An hour later
The gates were open when they arrived at the docks, but there was no one manning them. Bond knew form his research that while the Tripoli Port Authority kept the entrance off of Al-Shat Road well-guarded, the various docks, quays, and warehouses were not. There should have been a token night watchman at the gate to Warehouse 20, but Bond suspected he'd been paid off. Or else, he'd taken a bullet in his brain.
"He won't come," Samiyah said from the passenger's seat. She had been silent for the duration of drive through Tripoli's nighttime streets, the walls of the old city scrubbed with orange light from the street lamps. She had said very little after her frantic call to Akaad in which she had simply exclaimed that "something went wrong!" and that Bond want to meet at the commercial warehouse at the port.
"He doesn't have a choice," Bond replied, as the car rolled slowly along a hardball path to the front of the warehouse. "He made his play. It didn't work. Now he has to try and salvage the scenario."
"He's not stupid. He'll suspect a trap."
"Yes," Bond said simply. "But that's often how it is. We play our parts. Until the time comes to stop."
There were two Land Rovers parked in a chevron formation in front of the gaping maw of the warehouse. Bond felt his adrenaline spike, the hair on his arms and the back of his neck stand up. A single sodium light shone furiously from above the entrance to the warehouse, slashing a cone of sallow, yellowish light out of the darkness. Figures got out of the cars.
"I told you," Bond said.
"We're dead the moment we get out of the car," Samiyah breathed.
"No. He needs to know what happened. He needs to manage this." Bond glanced at her. She sat very still in her seat, shoulders hunched, arms pulled in and tucked between her legs as if she was trying to collapse into herself and form something smaller and denser and less vulnerable than what she was.
"Are you ready for this?" he asked her quietly.
"Is there any other way?"
"No good ones."
She opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to work up some moisture, but when she replied her voice was hoarse as ever. "Then I suppose it's time I did something dangerous for my beliefs." She faced him, her eyes filling with some of the fire they'd held before—not as much, not against the fear—but some. "Promise me you'll get them out. If I can't. Promise you'll protect them."
"If we do this right, it doesn't matter if you survive or not," Bond said coldly.
Samiyah inhaled deeply. "Then I'll try not to screw it up." She burst out of the car, with Bond close behind.
"That's close enough!" Akaad called out. They were perhaps ten meters away, slowly taking a flanking formation behind the Land Cruisers. They were older models, with smaller engine blocks than late-model versions, but they still provided a disconcerting degree of cover to Abdul and Tamir. Bond reassessed and recalculated the plan.
"I'm unarmed," Bond said, holding up his hands. "We need to talk."
"So talk," Akaad snarled.
"Not with you and your men in a shooting position."
"We're simply being cautious," Akaad said reasonably. "We weren't supposed to meet tonight." He gestured to the other two and they all came around the front of the Land Rovers—Tamir and Abdul passing between them before taking up positions near the front wheels, and Akaad coming around the back end of the vehicle to Bond's left and taking up position near the rear tire. All three were were armed. Bond heard Samiyah inhale a short gasp when she saw their weapons. Abdul carried an old folding-stock AK-47 with scratches and scuffs in the finish Bond could see from here—an old weapon, hard-used and reliable. Tamir carried an equally-battered Skorpion machine pistol with its stock folded making it, essentially, a spray-and-pray weapon.
"So what is so urgent?" Akaad asked impatiently. He was the best equipped, wearing body armor and holding a new-looking AKMSU carbine in a professional low-ready stance. The AKMSU was a compact version of the seemingly-immortal AK-47—shorter, more compact, better for close-quarters battle. They were rare outside the former Soviet bloc countries. Bond wondered how he had gotten one.
"I appreciate the girl," Bond said levelly. "But the deal was already closed."
"It is dangerous to be out like this," Akaad warned. "We don't have time to talk of silly little girls and their adolescent crushes."
"The shipment is coming in early. You need to get your people staged and ready. We have perhaps forty-five minutes. I have perhaps forty-five minutes to make sure the right people are in the Customs office and set up to stevedore, so we don't have hundreds of rifles sitting on the dock."
Akaad shifted the gun ever so slightly, "Twenty-four hours early? That sounds a bit improbable."
"They took a different route. They were supposed to head into deeper waters to avoid pirates, but there was US Navy destroyer in the area chasing the pirates off and they were able to follow the coast. Look, we don't have time for this. We need—"
Samiyah shot Abdul three times.
Bond drew out as quickly as he ever had. He'd swapped the small-of-the-back holster to a hip holster he'd covered with his windbreaker. It saved him perhaps two seconds, and he drew the P99 and fired a single shot into Akaad's chest, heard the low ping as the shot hit the metal plate in his vest, but he'd already pivoted to target Tamir. The Skorpion came up, coughed a short, wild burst as the man tried to fire it one-handed. Bond snapped off rounds, the P99's trigger reset now improbably short, and put four hollow-point bullets into Tamir's torso in under two seconds.
Samiyah fired two more shots. Bond brought the P99 around again just in time to see Akaad retreat into the darkness of the warehouse. He placed his front sight on the crumpled forms of Abdul and Tamir, but they didn't move.
"Go!" Bond commanded hoarsely, But Samiyah remained frozen in place, the Walther PPK thrust out in a professional two-handed grip. He decocked the P99, and let it hang by his side, while he gingerly placed his left hand over the PPK, making sure his index finger was between the hammer and the firing pin.
"Samiyah, you've got to go," Bond urged. She blinked several timed rapidly as if her brain was still processing what happened.
"Beautifully, but you need to leave. I have to find Akaad." He took the PPK from her hands. "They need to find this," he said holding it up.
She nodded several times. Took a step back toward the Land Rover. "James," she called out. "Tonight…It wasn't all a lie."
Bond said nothing, just turned toward the warehouse. By the time he made his entry he could hear the tires crunch as she drove away.
Bab Africa Hotel
An hour earlier
"Do you know how to use it?" Bond asked.
"I think it is simple. Point and pull the trigger."
Bond took the PPK from her and turned it over in his hands. "That's the safety. Keep it off."
"Isn't that dangerous?"
"The first time you pull the trigger it will be hard to pull. The gun won't go off accidentally."
The Service had officially retired Bond's Walther PPK, but he had never gotten around to turning it in. His e-mail box was filled with increasingly indignant e-mails from Q demanding the return of Her Majesty's property—as if the Queen Mum herself had need of her small pistol and was making frantic calls to Q-Branch on a daily basis demanding its return.
While the P99 had come by diplomatic pouch, the PPK had been stuffed into Q's magic stealth-fiber lining in his suitcase, where (Q-Branch would be delighted to know) it had eluded security checks on three continents.
"What else do I need to know?"
Bond showed her how to hold it in a professional two-handed thumbs-forward grip. "The sights are hard to see, so you'll have to concentrate. We can't guarantee that we'll be close enough for point-shooting."
Samiyah closed one eye and sighted down the gun.
"The first time you pull the trigger it will be a long pull. Your shot will probably go low if you've never practiced. The following times you pull the trigger, it'll be short, quick. If you concentrate on the sights and pull the trigger gently you'll be more accurate."
"How many shots do I have?"
"There are eight in the gun."
Samiyah brought the gun down and let her arms rest.
"They'll suspect. It's too obvious."
"They'll suspect me. They know who I am. You, on the other hand…they won't pay as much attention to you."
"But when I fire…"
"They'll be taken by surprise."
Samiyah aimed the gun again. "Only a second."
"That's all we need."
The first burst of fire raked a plywood storage crate inches above Bond's head, and showered him with splinters as he threw himself to the hard cement and rolled violently away from the crate. Akaad wasn't patient, and blithely gave away his advantage by firing a poorly-aimed burst from his position atop a rough ziggurat of packing containers. The muzzle-flash from the ignition of 7.62x39mm cartridges acted like a mini-strobe light.
Bond aimed at up at Akaad's intermittent visage, maybe seven meters above him, and fired a controlled-pair of shots. His own muzzle-flash illuminated Akaad's frantic retreat. Bond scrambled to a crouch, and followed the base of the ziggurat to its corner. Taking a step back, so he could keep his gun at high-ready, Bond pivoted his body out beyond the cover of the corner and looked over the glowing Trijicon sights of the P99 at a dim warren of crates stacked haphazardly. The workers had quit for the day before stacking them into any semblance of order—one still dangled from a portable crane—creating a cubist honeycomb of hiding spots.
Bloody hell, he thought, then noticed a dark smudge on the side of the crate. Blood. Akaad had come down this side and bolted for the cover of the honeycombs, Bond thought. He wondered if it was his shot that injured him or Samiyah's. Probably hers, Bond reflected. The PPK's relatively light 7.65mm round wouldn't have penetrated either the kevlar of his vest or the steel plate it concealed. Maybe she'd clipped him in the arm. Maybe his aim was affected.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Bond could see the warren of boxes more pronouncedly. There was a small gap between sheet-metal shipping containers about 15 meters from his position. Bond took a deep breath and sprinted into the darkness.
The warehouse lit up with lightning and rang thunder. A vicious sleet-storm of splinters and shrapnel pelted him as metal and wood containers vaporized under Akaad's raking fire. Bond gritted his teeth past the sting and leapt into the gap. Bullets passed over him, buzzing like hornets.
He hit the cement hard, lost his wind and gasped. The firing stopped for a blissful moment, and Bond scrabbled into something close to a decent firing position. He almost had it when the shooting started again.
The containers around him hummed and reverberated like gongs as Akaad's bullets tore into them. Bond flattened against the shrapnel and noise, tried to get a fix on Akaad, but the muzzle flash was muted.
Silence. Darkness. Bond reloaded.
Another burst tore through the metal around Bond. Now he heard the angry hornets again, and clouds of concrete dust rose from tiny explosions in the floor just feet from his head. Akaad's muzzle-flash was muted again, but this time Bond understood why. It was funneled down a gap between boxes, only a few inches wide. A perfect firing position. Akaad could fire with near impunity. The flash lit up the sides of the boxes and the bottom of the suspended crate.
Bond raised the P99 and emptied his magazine, fought the bucking gun, and was rewarded by the howl of high-tension cables snapping. The crate fell to one side, hanging lopsided now and twisting as the contents shifted with gravity. The cheap lock gave way first, and the hinges were no match for the weight of the contents, and the side of the crate tore loose beneath the weight of the accumulated cargo. Bond heard a scream amid the clatter of detritus hitting the ground.
He reloaded, released the slide, but kept the gun in single-action mode. Propping himself up, he steeled himself, then bolted out of his chewed-up warren to the edge of the mass of crates Akaad had chosen as his firing position. He pulled small torch out of his pocket with his left hand and peered around the corner, gave a quick flash with the red light.
Akaad was splayed beneath a chunk of crate, pinned by auto parts, fancy tires, rims, spoilers. He was twisted unnaturally, and his hands clawed uselessly at the concrete. The light found the AKMSU about a foot from his left hand. Bond lunged, kicked it into darkness.
"You should have looked up," Bond said breathlessly. Adrenaline had blasted his system, and now his nerves were jangling like an electrical current had run through him.
Akaad hacked, twisted his torso feebly until he could face Bond. "Piker mistake."
"Please…make it fast. The pain is…"
"It was a good try," Bond said conversationally. "A good plan. Your mistake was sending the girl. She wanted me to kill you."
Akaad took a rattling breath. "A risk…but I thought her loyalty to her movement would…when she discovered who you really were."
"You should have just let the guns come in. It wouldn't have been as sensational a case, but Gaddafi would have had exactly what he wanted."
"Arrogant girl. Acted like any other Western whore. So I treated her like a whore. And it's known that British agent Double-Oh Seven enjoys fornication."
"True," Bond conceded. "But there's something else rather well-known about me." He holstered the P99 and pulled the PPK out of his jacket pocket. "This is a rather outdated weapon, but it's served me well over the years. The service just forced me to replace it, but I imagine most intelligence services still associate it with me."
"I'm dying, Bond. Why are you telling me this?"
"You may be dying, but I suspect you'll survive long enough for the ESO to find you. And they'll find this. It put a hole in you. It killed Abdul. Musa Kusa wanted me to flush out a radical terrorist cell. He will have proof that I did. Right down to the radical terrorist."
"We…we had an agreement, he and I," Akaad whispered, panicked.
"I suspect you'll find it null and void. And no one will ever your side of it. Except maybe whomever shares the pit he puts you in."
"They'll find the other bullets. The other gun."
"They won't care. Their operation collapsed. They'll need to cover it up, and they're not going to let a few nine millimeter bullets that could have come from anywhere, been fired by anyone, imperil Libya's new dawn of wealth and prosperity." Bond locked the slide back and dropped the PPK. "We're done here." He turned and limped toward the exit.
Akaad called after him weakly, "Bond! You have to get me out! Make them turn me over to the English! Bond, you know you want what I know."
Bond stopped and turned. "I don't care what you know. I did the job."
Akaad's men had left the keys in the Land Rovers, which made things easier. He sped through the near-empty city streets back to the Corinthia Bab Africa where he handed the Maxpedition bag containing the P99 off to the US Embassy duty officer and picked up the airline tickets they held for him.
The men closed in on him from opposite side of the lobby when he crossed it from the elevator and was walking toward the exit. The lobby was nearly empty so they were easy to spot, but if the ESO was here, then the guards out front and the police with their garish BDUs and AK-47s would be taking orders from them, and had Bond effectively hemmed in.
"Come with us. Come, please." The one to his left muttered in badly-accented English. The one on his right placed his hand on Bond's bicep, and Bond had to tamp down the urge to ram the heel of his hand into the bridge of the guy's nose. Instead, he let them lead him out of the hotel and into a slightly-shabby Mercedes sedan.
They tried to sandwich him between them in the back seats, but his frame was too wide for that, and they ended up crushed up against their respective doors. As intimidation tactics went, this one was a notable failure.
They drove quite a distance, but covered ground quickly, leaving the city center behind and making their way out to the concentric rings of suburbs where the wealthy businessmen and government officials lived in walled estates with plenty of scrubland between them. The house they finally arrived at was on a compound so vast, it might have been a feudal manor. The sedan bumped and crunched along for a good five minutes after passing through the high, steel security gate and wove between small cinderblock shacks—servants quarters, fire pits, smoke houses—until they reached the massive Roman-styled mansion, lit by outdoor floodlights in imperfect arcs, so that the play of light and shadow made it seem like an ocean liner emerging from a bank of black fog.
It was three stories, with a looming entryway that Bond was led through by his silent guides. In the center of the foyer was a marble table atop which sat a stuffed adolescent lion cub, elaborately posed so that it seemed poised on the verge of either lunging or reluctantly retreating, glass eyes flashing, teeth bared. Bond supposed it was left to visitors to decide for themselves what the lion would do at the sight of them.
They led him past the lion to a large study, decorated, as the rooms of powerful always are, with various and sundry talismans of the self. Photos with world leaders, awards, plaques, medals, ornaments. This room was unique because of the mounted beasts. A baboon snarled from the corner. A young zebra looked pensively from a spot behind the great desk. A hyena howled balefully and silently from behind the door.
It wasn't enough that he was important, Bond thought. Musa Kusa also needed it understood that he was ruthless, and he communicated that in the classic manner. More effective if he'd just mount a chunk of Pan AM 103 on his wall, Bond thought caustically.
"You have been busy," Musa Kusa said, refusing to rise from his desk. He looked fit and healthy in a well-fitted suit, and his considerable mane of white hair was coiffed and manicured a face, elegantly lined as if he had diplomatic immunity from aging as well as helping terrorists bomb airliners and sanctioning the killing of a policewoman.
"I was sent to do a job," Bond said blandly.
"And so you have. Akaad is in custody. He will tell us about the rest of them, and then we will find them."
"Yes, well good luck with that."
Musa Kusa leaned forward over his desk, a death's head looming out of hell itself. "And be assured we will find them."
"That's your problem. I gave you what you wanted."
"And you think that that you have done something clever? What's happened today is of no importance. We have what we need secure this country. Whatever else you think you did, it is just a lie you tell yourself."
"Like the lie you tell yourself about this country's stability?" Bond asked innocently. "Reengaging with the West and NATO kept this country from choking to death on the sanctions, but you had to know—Gaddafi probably didn't, but you did—you had to know that it was the beginning of the end. Capitalism is not kind to dictatorships."
The old man's eyes blazed, but he maintained the composure of granite. "You only live because I allow it," he whispered.
Bond leaned forward. "And when this regime falls-two years, ten-when it finally happens, and you run so fast that you have to leave all these precious baubles behind, and you look for refuge in Switzerland or Hong Kong or Paris…on that day, Mister Foreign Minister, you will live only if I allow it."
He leaned back in his chair in a comfortable position. "I travel in a specialized circle, but be assured we have people everywhere. And you will have no protection."
Musa Kusa was trembling now, shuddering with rage. "You think you can threaten me? In my own home?"
Bond remained unfazed. He slowly stood and straightened his jacket. "We are both killers. But unlike you, sir, I am the one that pulls the trigger. Think about that when you begin the roundups." He turned and walked away.
"You can send the car 'round now. I have a flight to catch."
20 hours later
M said nothing as she reviewed the report, so Bond broke the silence instead. "Didn't exactly go as planned," he said.
M got the last page, lifted it (as if she didn't know there wasn't more), then put the manila file down on her desk blotter. "Well, it looks to me as if we've given Gaddafi's government precisely what they wanted."
"We may have started a purge," Bond said reproachfully.
"Maybe, but it might interest you to know that our Customs Department has been monitoring a rather unusual spike in departures through Libya's ports-of-call." Her voice gave nothing away. "Almost like they were fleeing something."
Bond allowed the slightest smile to tug the corner of his mouth. "Imagine that."
"Well, the report is acceptable. Submit it through the usual classified channels, then put in for your expenses and return the equipment. Tomorrow there will be a briefing on the situation in Tangiers. I'll need you there."
"Yes, Ma'am." He stood, turned to leave, then paused. "Did you send me there to derail Musa Kusa's plan?"
"No," M answered, meeting Bond's gaze. "But I knew you were you."
Bond left her office, listening to the heavy, sound-baffling doors close behind him. Night had fallen, and MI6 was awash in sterile, fluorescent light. As bond walked the empty corridors to his office, he pondered Samiyah and her movement. He wondered if she would survive. He wondered if he would ever see her again.