Authors: Andrew Kaplan
PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF ANDREW KAPLAN
War of the Raven
“In a word,
â¦ The pace is blistering, the atmosphere menacing and decadent, and author Andrew Kaplan is in marvelously smashing form.” â
“The characters and locales are brilliantly etched â¦ the plot riveting.” â
“A smashing, sexy and unforgettable read.” â
“Pure dynamite â¦ espionage laced with high-voltage Middle East adventure.” â
The Washington Times
“A fast-paced, supercharged debut thriller.” â
“A superb and original blending of Eastern mysticism with the shadowy world of espionage.” âNelson DeMille,
New York Times
-bestselling author of
Word of Honor
“Electrifying â¦ A searing, ultimately satisfying entertainment with energy, passion, and moral resonance.” â
Hour of the Assassins
“An exciting, original suspense novel.” â
Buffalo Evening News
Hour of the Assassins
For Rose, Gilbert, Myron,
Maureen, and Anne
“Now is the hour of the assassins.”
Most of the world thought of Dr. Felix Mendoza as something of a saint. Twice nominated for the Nobel peace prize, he was worshiped as a god by the Chama, Shipibo, and Yagua Indians who came to his jungle hospital. Yet the first time he heard of the Mendoza Institute, Caine somehow knew that he would have to murder the doctor.
Since the time of Hammurabi men have made a distinction between killing and murder. But this distinction has never been clear-cut, for every death is unique. Of course Caine was not the sort of man to be troubled by these speculations. If he had been, perhaps none of what came to be called “that damned Mendoza business” within the CIA, would have ever happened.
“Begin at the beginning,” said the Red Queen to Alice, but where do you draw a line and say, This is where it all started. You could say it began in Austria, where Caine first heard Mendoza's name mentioned and felt that queer inevitability. But you could just as easily begin the story in Laos, where Caine looked down at what was left of the girl's body and decided to quit, or in Virginia where he was trained, or even in Germany before he was born. A million factors make up what we call
, which as much as anything else determines our course. On the plane to Iquitos, Caine himself thought that the Mendoza business really began for him when an old man woke up in the middle of the night, shivering from the violence of a bad dream.
“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
The heart of the porno district in Hollywood is the intersection of Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Painted storefronts on Santa Monica advertise the massage parlors, adult bookstores, and skin flick movies that blanket the district. Along Western the come-on tends to be written in neon, until the parade of sex shops finally begins to give way to the eternal Halloween that is Hollywood Boulevard.
As the taxi turned up Western, Caine glanced past the driver at the brown hills. The letters of the
sign gleamed white as headstones in the late afternoon sun. High above the smog a few pale wisps of cirrus hung over the hills. He turned back to the street, looking for the address. Then he saw the sign, emblazoned across a drab two-story building in a flickering neon script. His eyes, invisible behind the sunglasses, glinted with amusement as he read:
“House of Oral Orgasm.
French Massage from our Luscious Hostesses.
A beautiful black girl, barely out of her teens, stood in the doorway, checking the street action. She wore a blond wig, high-heeled clogs, blue hot pants over red leotards, and a T-shirt that proclaimed: “There is no life east of Sepulveda!”
Hooray for Hollywood, Caine thought, as the cab pulled over to the curb. Out of habit he checked the side-door mirror before he got out of the cab, but he was clean. No reason for him not to be, but still, habits die hard. He remembered how his instructor at Langley used to say, “The day you stop going through the drill, no matter how irrelevant it seems, is the day you can forget about living to collect your pension.”
He paid the driver and waited until the cab left before he walked up to the black girl, who tried to stifle a yawn and smile seductively at him at the same time. She looked at his boyish face, neat sandy hair, and well-tailored gray three-piece suit, and decided that he might be worth a very good tip, especially if he was kinky. She put her hand on his arm and purred, “I'm going to show you a special good time, baby.”
“I'm here to see Mr. Wasserman.”
“Ain't no Mr. Wasserman here, baby”âpouting her mouth. He didn't seem like a customer.
“Then take me to your leader,” he said.
“Anybody who'll talk to those of us living east of Sepulveda,” he grinned. She smiled back nervously. She had the Watts instinct for trouble and he looked like trouble.
“Hey, Freddie baby,” she called over her shoulder. In a moment the doorway was filled by the massive bulk of a huge hairy white man, naked from the waist up, except for a Marine Corps tattoo on his arm and a single gold earring in his left ear, grinning like he ate middle linebackers for breakfast. He must have stood at least six foot six.
“What's the problem?” Freddie said.
“Take it easy, Freddie baby,” Caine said, craning his neck to look up at him. “Tell Mr. Wasserman that Mr. Caine is here for our appointment. Of course, if he isn't here, then I'm going to turn around and walk out. Then Wasserman's your problem, not mine.”
Freddie's smile disappeared. For a second it seemed to Caine that there was a flicker of fear in the giant's eyes, but then he dismissed the thought as too improbable. As he walked inside, Freddie mumbled something about waiting and quickly stepped behind a red curtain. Caine could feel the girl's eyes watching him intently as he looked around. The walls of the tiny reception room were covered with portraits of nude young girls in erotic poses. As he absentmindedly studied the photos, the girl relaxed enough to sit down and light a cigarette. After all he was just a man, like all the rest.
It doesn't make sense, Caine thought. None of it made any sense, that was why he had come. Not so much to find out why Wasserman wanted to see him, but how Wasserman had known that he existed. He remembered his surprise when the desk clerk at the Beverly Wilshire handed him the envelope as he was checking in. The envelope contained the three-word message: “Call me, Wasserman” and a phone number. It bothered him because he hadn't been back to L.A. in years and he had just landed at LAX that morning. He had made the call out of curiosity and because the whole thing was beginning to smell like Company business. That, and the fact that the message had been scrawled across the face of Benjamin Franklin on a hundred-dollar bill.
He heard the sound of heavy moaning from behind the red curtain. He pulled it aside and found himself in a tiny movie theater. On the screen a heavily-muscled black man was having sex with two women, a pretty blonde and a Chinese girl. For a terrible moment the Chinese girl reminded Caine of Lim, but he immediately quashed the memory. He turned at the sound of someone coming through the curtain. It was Freddie baby. He motioned for Caine to follow him through a side-door to a small well-lit corridor that ended at a solid steel door. Taped to the door was a small hand-lettered cardboard sign that read:
TRANSAMERICA NEWS, INC.
A closed-circuit television camera, mounted above the door, followed Caine's movements as he bent to read the sign. Freddie folded his arms and leered at Caine while they posed for the camera.
“Did you enjoy the movie?” he asked.
“I think I liked the book better,” he replied.
Freddie's eyes narrowed and Caine wondered if he hadn't put his foot in it. Just then the steel door noiselessly slid open. Freddie motioned Caine inside and took up his post beside the door.
Stepping through the doorway into Wasserman's office was like stepping through the looking glass. “Curiouser and curiouser,” he thought, as the door closed silently behind him. The office was sumptuously furnished in authentic Chippendale. The delicacy and good taste of the furnishings seemed totally at odds with the setting and the large, beefy man behind the desk. Wasserman had a jowly red face, topped by a shock of white hair that contrasted nicely with the tan color of his velour leisure suit. He looked like one of those wealthy middle-aged men that beautiful young girls latch onto at the Candy Store in Beverly Hills, convinced they've just caught the brass ring.
Not that his appearance meant anything. Appearances could be fatally misleading, Caine thought. Like Smiley Gallagher, a short, pudgy man who looked like a cross between a nearsighted accountant and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Smiley had always seemed completely out of place in Nam, but in fact he was a pathological killer who had run the wet work in the Phoenix operation. He used to brag that he could get any prisoner, no matter how dedicated, to sell out his own mother inside of fifteen minutes.
Wasserman smiled and gestured for Caine to sit down. As he sat, Caine looked around the room wonderingly. The place was a museum. Against one wall stood a large armoire containing jade cat figurines that, he guessed, came from the Han period. The figurines were incongruously mixed with a dozen pre-Columbian
. Each of the
was a pottery vessel shaped like a feline and they all wore the strange Cheshire cat smile characteristic of the pre-Inca Andean cultures. The only modern note in the room was a Texas Instruments 700 computer terminal in a far corner, next to a separate telephone. Caine surmised that Wasserman used it to hook into a timesharing service. If true, it meant that Wasserman's files were on disks on a local time-sharing service's computer. Only someone who knew which service he used, and Wasserman's user identification, password, and the data-set names could ever have access to those files.
Next to the terminal was a bank of four closed-circuit television screens. One of the screens showed a view of the street outside the front door. The next screen showed Freddie standing just beyond the steel door. The third screen was blank, while the last screen showed a nude girl slowly caressing a customer. Anyone with such an elaborate security system has got to have more than a couple of hookers to hide, Caine decided.
However the most interesting thing in the room was a bright painting hung on the wall opposite the armoire. Incredibly, there was no mistaking the warm yellows and greens of the field, the three slender trees, and the distant figure of the woman shading herself with an umbrella. He squinted at the signature in the lower right corner: “Claude Monet, 1887.”
“You were wondering if it is genuine,” Wasserman said, in a low, faintly German accent. “The first thing people usually ask is if it's real and then they wonder how much it cost. Am I right, Mr. Caine?” Wasserman smiled benignly, his round face radiating good humor.
“Actually, I was wondering how you ever got it from the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.”
Wasserman nodded approvingly.
“That's quite a story. But I see that Harris was right about you.”
“Did Harris set this up?” Caine asked. Bob Harris was an all-American boy in a Cardin suit who acted as the CIA liaison to various syndicate and union leaders. So that was how Wasserman had known how to find him, he thought. Just before he had left the Company, Harris had come over to say good-bye. He had been surprised at the time, because he and Harris weren't exactly close.