CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
King David Hotel
At dawn, as the sun, blood-orange red, glinted on the crescent high above the golden Dome, Guy waited. His instructions were vague, as he found all dealings with Kline. Then an Israeli soldier arrived in a desert camouflaged Humvee four-wheel drive. They drove east out of Jerusalem towards the old sea city of Ashquelon. Soon the townships became abandoned rubble houses. Then the ochre desert scrubland swallowed them like a sea, the ribbon of tarmac snaking between tufted dunes as the sun rose higher.
The soldier was silent and Guy asked no questions. He would know all soon enough. He sat for an hour watching the sand flow passed his window. At a fold in the dunes his driver took to the scrub and the Humvee dropped a gear to wallow across it. Hidden in a Wadi were a series of desert Portakabins. Air conditioners were clamped to each roof, fans spinning under the fierce sun. The Humvee halted, his driver pointing to a door. In the cabin were two figures in Israeli Army olive. They sat at a console overlooked by two flat screens. The man looked up and smiled a greeting.
“Mr Royce, just in time. Please take a seat. We take off in three minutes.”
Guy studied the layout, trying to figure an answer to the question.
He said. “Take off? Where?”
“You’ll see. You’re here as an observer. Observe.” He laughed and turned to his companion. “I’m ready, Ruth.”
The insignia on the woman’s uniform had been removed and Guy knew she was Specialist Operations. Whippet thin, she sat impassive, her fingers poised above her keyboard. She spoke Hebrew into the mike attached to her headset, then nodded to her companion. Israeli Air Force Captain Moshe Mofaz’s right hand pulled back on the small joystick on his console, his left trimmed the throttle control and, thirty miles away, the aircraft he commanded lifted smoothly from a makeshift desert runway, cut out of the scrubland by Shin Bet Special Forces.
The RQ-1 Predator banked and turned to starboard, its eighty-horse-power rear engine rattling like a chain saw. The white drone plane’s single propeller strained to gain height in the cloudless air. Beside him in the camouflaged Portakabin, code-named Sheva´s Eye, Senior Airman Ruth Patish called the monitor screen before them.
“Ninety knots, five thousand feet, temperatures green, gear up.”
Guy watched the monitor as he pulled out of the banked turn, levelling the twenty-seven-foot robot plane at 6,000 feet.
Captain Mofaz said, “Christ, it’s hot in here. How far to the border?”
She consulted her chart of way stations. “We leave Israeli airspace in five, cross Ziqim on this heading and enter Gaza airspace in seventeen minutes.”
Mofaz grunted, staring at the image on his monitor. “Throttling back to seventy knots. You’d think they’d know we’re here by now, dumb mothers. Here comes the border.”
The last row of ramshackle fishermen’s huts that marked the edge of the Gaza Strip passed across the video screen. Guy could see clearly through the holes of their corrugated iron roofing. A huddle of Palestinian children, cross-legged, played a game on the dirt floor. The thirty-degree viewpoint of the camera, hung on gimbals under the drone’s nose, put him by proxy in the pilot’s seat. Every precise input of throttle and joystick was transmitted through a radio link from their Portakabin on the outskirts of Ashquelon City. They travelled via an Intelsat 602 communications satellite and downloaded to the drone.
“I hate this insect. I need some air under my butt. I came off active service to do this?” Mofaz grimaced, loosening his tie a fraction in the hot cockpit mock-up. “The damn air-con’s packed up again. We’re roasting in here.”
Ruth Patish never took her eyes from the two monitors. She said. “You didn’t come off active service by choice. You were assigned here by Shin Bet. When your tour of duty ends you’ll get a nice, plum job in F Sixteens or something. Don’t gripe. We Imagers are here for life, buddy.”
At 6,000 feet the drone’s cameras scanned the red dust road to Beit Hanoun. A flock of seagulls, heading for the Mediterranean, passed like a snow-white cloud at a thousand feet, seeking a fishing boat to raid.
“Well, I still don’t trust it. Six knots of wind is a major deal for this bird. There’s no sensation of roll, no turbulence or sink rate. I still check left when I bank. I end up looking at the clock on the wall. You don’t fly it, it’s like a computer game.”
He flicked on the autopilot, mopping at his face with a handkerchief. Senior Airman Patish looked across.
“Microsoft games don’t carry real Hellfire missiles, Captain. Here’s the border, let’s hope we slip in quietly. No nasty shocks.”
“Hell, what do you care? This baby is braver than both of us.”
On the screen the drone’s eye picked out the jagged outline of an arid, dun-coloured range of hills directly ahead and its autopilot compensated, lifting the drone to 15,000 feet in a steep climb no human passenger could withstand. Mofaz studied the monitor.
“Jesus, who’d want to live there? It’s impossible terrain.”
Airman Patish fiddled with the dual TVs. “The Dogit settlement is over this range. We’re going down the other side of the peak.”
She called the numbers as the drone sank into a flat valley. As it descended, Mofaz sat bolt upright. “There it is. Dogit’s right there. Where’s the car?”
Ruth Patish spoke Hebrew again into her mike, listening for a reply. She said. “It’s on the road, coming in south. Coordinates thirty-one degrees twenty-six minutes north. Thirty-four twenty-two east.”
Her fingers settled on the keyboard. The Predator banked, following its preset course, heading south.
“We’re spot on, Captain. You worried having no air protection?”
Mofaz grunted. “Waddya expect? This is now Palestinian airspace.”
The drone banked once more, cutting across the scrubland. She said, “there! There it is.”
He flipped off the autopilot, banking the drone in a long sweep, dissecting the road. The weapons system locked onto a silver Mercedes throwing up red dust, speeding towards the abandoned Dogit Jewish Settlement.
Ruth Patish manipulated the TV cameras, scanning the car. The enlarged number plate was now visible. She focused the 955mm zoom lens, bringing it tightly into view, filling the monitor.
“That’s him driving, Captain. He’s looking out the window. See his face?” She held the image perfectly still.
Guy jolted to attention. He knew the face much too well to be wrong. It was the man he last saw in his dealing room in the apartment overlooking Regent’s Park. The man who ordered the death of Nikki Montague and the attempt on Henri Fox’s life. The man who’s hatred and greed combined to threaten even the Queen and Prime Minister of Great Britain. Now here he was, on a dirt road in the desert. Ibrahim Tolman was driving the Mercedes. Guy knew then what would follow and thought of Marcus Barclay’s smarmy smile. But he felt no pity for this man.
Pilot and aircrew waited. Ruth Patish muttered. “There’s a half-second satellite delay between here and the node.”
The navigator’s screen overlaid with a running text message in red typescript.
PREDATOR SIX ZERO. IMAGE TWO NINER. PROSECUTE WITH UTMOST PREJUDICE. JOINT INTELLIGENCE COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM NODE. TEL AVIV.
Captain Mofaz brought the drone around on a new heading. Ruth Patish entered the command co-ordinates. When ‘Lock’ appeared, she pressed the red release button. The Predator’s video screen filled with white smoke, quickly cleared by the air stream. A Hellfire missile streaked away from the craft’s underbelly pylon. A snake of rocket exhaust followed the missile as it homed in on the speeding Mercedes. The images on the split-screen exploded simultaneously in a white-out as the tank buster missile vaporised Ibrahim Tolman in the twisted wreck of his car.
Ruth said quietly. “That’s a hit.”
Mofaz replied. “Confirmed.”
He let out a deep breath, then stood and lifted his uniform jacket from the back of his seat, throwing it across a shoulder.
“Well, Mr Royce. Your government’s just spent three million dollars. I wonder what’s for breakfast in the Mess tent. Shall we join the others?”
Guy knew he should ring the Commissioner. What he did was punch in Henri Fox’s telephone number..
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