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Authors: Andrew Kaplan

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BOOK: Hour of the Assassins
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Listening to the story, Caine was reminded of something Yoshua had said the night they hit Abu Daud in Paris. That was back in the days when he was only a year out of training. Before Laos and Nam. Before it all fell apart. He was one of the Company's bright young men in those days. Then, it all went down the tubes in Asia and he spent a year shuffling paper in Langley, while heads rolled after the Chile fiasco and he knew he had to get out. Remembering that night in Paris was like eavesdropping on another era. He remembered that they were drinking in some nameless café off the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Yoshua, who was only a courier with the Mossad and had never done any wet work before, had pronounced in a drunken, maudlin tone:

“Which of us is not a Nazi in the end?”

“But you're a Jew,” Caine had replied.

“Do you think that makes us any better? Listen, I come from a country where maybe a quarter of the population came from the camps. So I know. A few, a very few of the survivors were purified by their suffering and became true saints. But most of them are bastards. Do you understand? To survive they became just like the Nazis. Worse. They care for nothing.”

So in a curious way, the fact that Wasserman was a tough son of a bitch made the whole thing believable.

“What happened three months ago?” Caine asked seriously. The job was starting to become real for him.

“I went to my doctor. I have an inoperable cancer of the lymph nodes.” Wasserman nodded and smiled ironically. “You see, Caine, I have barely ten months left to live.”

CHAPTER 2

The seagull hovered a few feet above the waves, his gray wings outstretched, unmoving. He seemed caught for eternity in the pool of light cast by the floodlights mounted on the restaurant's outside deck. Beyond the light there was only the immense blackness of the Pacific Ocean at night. With a quick movement the gull folded his wings and plummeted into a rising swell. Almost immediately he began to fly back up into the light, a slender silvery fish wiggling in his beak. Suddenly three loudly squawking gulls erupted out of the darkness and attacked the first gull, attempting to steal the fish. The first gull managed to swallow almost half the fish before the rest was stolen by one of the others. The gulls wheeled and shrieked and then they were gone. The floodlights lit only the incoming surf that shook the pilings on which the restaurant stood.

The Moonglow was one of those glass and wood restaurants, liberally sprinkled with hanging ferns and authentic-looking papier-mâché beams, that dot the California coast. On either side of the restaurant stretched a line of expensive beach houses that sold for upwards of $300,000 to buyers who wanted to live like beachcombers. A small group of rubberneckers stood on the restaurant's outside deck, sipping margaritas and congratulating each other on the view.

Roused by a change in the girl's tone of voice, Caine turned back to her, once more conscious of the undertone of conversation at the other tables. It seemed to him that he was looking at her from far away, as if through the wrong end of a telescope. Not that she was hard to look at. Her long blond hair was beautifully set off by her deep California tan, which made a striking contrast against her white T-shirt. She was braless and he could see her nipples clearly outlined against a fabric that bore the motto
FOXY LADY.
She had the healthy, scrubbed appearance of a surf bunny, the kind of long-legged blonde that they seemed to turn out on an assembly line down in Orange County. But it was her eyes that continually surprised him. They were incredibly blue, as blue as the Mediterranean, as blue as a turbulent Van Gogh sky. Of course, Caine had seen more of her than that. He had seen her star in Wasserman's hard-core epic just before Freddie had taken him into Wasserman's office. C.J. smiled and repeated her question.

“How do you like Malibu?”

At the next table an attractive Beverly Hills woman wearing French jeans and dripping Gucci accessories wondered aloud about whether she should get a Jag or a Mercedes this year, raising her voice in case there was anyone in the restaurant who hadn't heard her.

“I like it fine,” he said.

“The steaks are good here, aren't they,” she said, dipping the meat into the teriyaki sauce.

“Terrific,” he replied, chewing on his feedlot-raised beef, thinking it was pumped full of so many female hormones that it was no wonder America was turning into an androgynous culture.

The Gucci lady raised her voice again. It seemed that the quality of merchandise at Bullock's Westwood was deteriorating. Caine looked at C.J. and shook his head.

“Does everybody out here talk like that?”

“Like what?” she asked.

“Like they've all seen too much television,” he replied. But then, everything that had happened to him since he arrived in L.A. seemed unreal. You have to remember that you're in Hollywood, the land of bumper-to-bumper freeways and plastic palm trees, he reminded himself.

After leaving Washington for good months ago, he had gone to New York to deposit a few things in the safety deposit box and to check out a line on a civilian job. The New York personnel manager referred him to their Los Angeles office and he had taken the red-eye flight to L.A., arriving just that morning. He had come to Los Angeles to start again, in a sunny world where everything is new and everyone is more interested in telling you their lies than in listening to your own. Instead he had received Wasserman's message and wound up spending the day rummaging in the past. But the job was real enough. It bothered him. Perhaps because Wasserman had too many reasons, had thought it out too well. Something smelled wrong, but it was just beyond him, the way you recognize the scent of a perfume you've smelled before, but can't quite remember which of the women in your past used to wear it.

Wasserman had laid it out for him during the drive down to the beach. Wasserman drove a new beige Mercedes 450 SE, with enough dials on the dashboard to do everything but cook your breakfast, taking the curves along Sunset Boulevard in a nervous, jerky manner. They drove down the Strip and past the manicured estates of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air.

“I assume you'll want to put the money into a Swiss account,” Wasserman remarked, adjusting his sunglasses. Caine automatically checked the mirrors, wondering why he still felt the need, but there was only the normal afternoon traffic behind them.

“You're also assuming I'll take the job,” Caine replied.

“Oh, yes,” Wasserman smiled. “You'll think about the money and you'll take the job.”

“You know, you've been doing an awful lot of talking about money, but I haven't seen much besides talk, so far.”

Wasserman reached into his jacket pocket, barely missing sideswiping a VW convertible as he did so. Two blond boys in the convertible, their surfboards sticking up in the air, gave Caine the finger as they swerved to avoid the Mercedes. Caine smiled broadly and nodded his head yes. Wasserman missed the entire episode and handed Caine a bulky envelope, addressed in an old-fashioned handwriting to a certain Thos. Jessom, Esq., care of the Bombay Auxiliary Bible Society, the Esplanade, Bombay. Caine counted fifty $500 bills inside the envelope.

“This is nowhere near the kind of money you've been talking about,” Caine said.

“There's a lot more money there than you, or any customs agent in the world, will ever see. Look again,” Wasserman said.

Caine reexamined the envelope, but there was nothing else in it but the money. He was about to hand it back to Wasserman and tell him that he was getting tired of his games, but something about the address bothered him. Why a Bible society in India and no return address? He looked at the stamp to see where it came from and then he saw it. He knew then that Wasserman was deadly serious. All at once he knew that he was holding the one chance everyone dreams about and that Wasserman was right, that he was going to do it. He was going to kill Mengele because one day in 1847, a missionary on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean had sent a letter to the secretary of a Bombay Bible Society, thanking him for sending copies of the scriptures to help the mission. What made the letter so valuable were the two one-penny stamps issued by the post office at Port Louis, each bearing the profile of the young Queen Victoria.

“How many of them are there in the world?” Caine asked.

“There are fourteen known, but these two are the best. I purchased them at a New York auction in 1968 for three hundred eighty thousand dollars. They're worth well over half a million today,” Wasserman replied.

They drove down the last curves of Pacific Palisades and Wasserman turned north, heading up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. Caine glanced out at the ocean and then at the stamps again, knowing that he was going to take the job. This was what he'd been waiting for, without even knowing that he was waiting for it. It wasn't just the money, or the excitement. It wasn't because Mengele deserved to die. It was because Wasserman had been right about him. He was the Afghan hound, the hunter. That was who he was.

“I work alone,” he said.

“Harris told me,” Wasserman replied. He turned into the driveway of a large glass-and-redwood beach house and shut off the engine.

“That means alone,” Caine repeated. “Mengele has stayed alive all these years, so he must have friends. I'll need deep cover for when his friends come looking.” He didn't mention the real cover he had in mind once the job was over, since it was the most important secret in his life. He had a safety-deposit box in a New York bank that contained a completely untraceable set of forged documents, as well as a few other interesting items that he retained from his Company days.

“How will I know what progress you're making?” Wasserman asked.

“I'll telex you every third or fourth day, more often when there's something to report. It'll be in standard commercial code.”

“Suppose I have to get hold of you?”

“Don't call me, I'll call you,” Caine said, trying out a casting director's tone of voice.

“How much in advance?” Wasserman asked, relaxing enough to lean back and light a cigar. This was the kind of negotiation he understood.

“I assume the twenty-five thousand dollars is for expenses,” Caine said. Wasserman nodded affirmatively.

“Half up front. I take one stamp to Switzerland, you keep the other till the job's done.”

“That's a lot of money, Caine.”

“You're Jewish. You tell me what Mengele's death is worth.”

“If I give you the stamp, how can I be sure you won't just disappear?” Wasserman asked.

“Common sense,” Caine replied. “If you can afford this much for a single hit, you can afford to send troops after me. I intend to enjoy this money and I can't do that if I'm going to have to sleep with one eye open for the rest of my life.”

“I'm glad we understand each other, Caine. If you try to cheat me, the second stamp buys your death.”

“Suppose I can't locate him within the time limit.”

“That's your problem,” Wasserman snapped. “If you haven't completed the assignment within six months from today, you return the stamp or its equivalent in cash to me, or else every agent and thug in the world will be after your head.”

“Fair enough.” Caine nodded. “There's just one thing.”

“What's that?”

“Suppose I waste him. How can I prove to you that he's dead and collect the other stamp?”

“I've thought that out too,” Wasserman said. “When you've gone over the dossier I've compiled, you'll see that Mengele's fingerprints are on file with Interpol, and there's a copy of the prints in the dossier.”

So …

“So, when you come to collect,” Wasserman replied intently, “bring me his thumb.”

He felt C.J.'s fingertips caressing his hand, sending little shivers up his palm. When he looked at her, she pouted slightly and said, “Karl told me to be nice to you. Don't you find me attractive?”

“Do you do everything Karl says?”

“We have an arrangement,” she said, as the waiter came over and freshened their coffee.

“What arrangement?”

“We're not going together or anything like that.” She smiled. “I'm a kind of social secretary
cum
mistress. I entertain for him, look pretty so he can show me off, kind of take care of things at the house.”

“The work seems to agree with you.”

“I do all right,” she said pensively. “When this society talks about independence for women, what they really mean is you can be a glorified flunky, like a secretary or a waitress. Either that, or the corporate rat race. If I have to be a whore, at least let me be an honest and successful whore. Karl and I understand each other. He knows that I'm into making as much money as I can and that I'm my own woman. It's strictly a business relationship.”

Relationship
, that's our great twentieth-century word, he thought, with a vague sense of loss.

The waiter came over and asked if they wanted anything else. As Caine shook his head no, he looked at C.J.'s striking young beauty and wondered if the Wassermans of the world were right, if everything is for sale after all.

“How did you meet Wasserman?” Caine asked.

“When I came to work for him. I answered this ad in the paper for actresses. He had me fill out this form and it asked if I wanted a balling or non-balling role, so I put down non-balling”—smiling at her remembered innocence.

“Karl asked me, ‘Why not?' and I told him that I didn't think I could get into it. Then I went back to this little closet of an apartment that I had in Hollywood and I thought about it.”

“What made you change your mind?” Caine asked.

“Well, I thought it wasn't anything I hadn't done. I figured that it might be a way into movies and the worst it could be was a new experience. Besides, after I split from my old man, I was ready to try anything.”

BOOK: Hour of the Assassins
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