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Authors: Mukul Deva

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BOOK: Weapon of Vengeance
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Yusuf's move broke the frozen tableau; people scattered frantically, racing to get out of the line of fire.

BORN TO KILL
stood, still as a statue, with his rifle pointed at Bilal, a confused expression frozen on his face. Like the others, even he was shocked.

Ean Gellner, the recruit, looked as though he was about to burst into tears.

Life paused, breathless.

“What the hell have you done?” a soldier on
BORN TO KILL
's right yelled, dismay plastered on his face.

“What could I do? Didn't you see he was rushing me?” There was a sick smile on his face.

At that moment Yusuf, kneeling beside his dying brother, looked up. He saw
BORN TO KILL
's smile. He did not see the fear that went with it. To him it looked as though the murderous bastard were smirking. An animal-like howl of rage burst out. Yusuf leaped up and ran toward
BORN TO KILL
, needing to wipe that ghastly smile off his face. From the rear of the car, Rehana saw Yusuf lunge forward. She screamed, a long futile scream; Yusuf had already broken past the line.

BORN TO KILL
saw him. His finger was still on the trigger. The finger tightened as his mind emitted a silent scream of alarm. In an instant, almost half the thirty-five-round magazine had emptied itself.

Two of the bullets slammed into Yusuf's right shoulder, spinning him around and dropping him. One of the other bullets shattered the windscreen of their car and found his mother's jaw. It bored into Salima's face, replacing the already quivering, bloodstained lips with a red, gaping hole. Three bullets found two more victims in the fleeing crowd. The others slammed harmlessly in the cars and the milling dust.

“There was so much blood … all around me.… I can feel it … even now.…” Remembering those moments, Rehana shuddered. Her fingers were making an involuntary rubbing motion, as though trying to wipe the blood clean. “No outsider can ever understand why our youngsters are so ready to seek martyrdom. Ruby, they don't understand that we have no choice. We either die in a blaze of glory or slowly … inch by inch … one day at a time … but we die … and continue to die…” Her voice trailed away. “And still nothing changes.” Rehana's cheeks were wet with tears, her voice barely audible. “Nothing changes … nothing … Ruby,
we
have to make it change.… We
have
to do something.…”

*   *   *

Harsh popping sounds shattered Ruby's bloody march down memory lane. Her head hit the window with a crack, jolting her awake. The heavy tires of the Nissan van ground over loose gravel. Pebbles flew out with sharp, flat reports as the driver brought the vehicle to a halt. Except for puffs of dust swirling around, everything was still and silent.

Ruby looked around befuddled, her mind still trapped in her mother's violent memories. It took a moment for the red and yellow signboard across the building to register.

DIYA DAHARA RESTAURANT.

Its paint had seen better days.

“You must try the food here.” The driver had twisted to face them. “This place is famous.”

“Why don't you help us with the menu?” Mark took the reluctant Sri Lankan by his arm and led him to a table below a fan.

“And tell them to go easy on the spices,” Ruby added.

He was plainly uncomfortable, but he ordered a copious meal.

The service was efficient, but not surprising, since there were just a handful of customers. They had just cooled off with a chilled glass of King Coconut when the waiter carted in an array of steaming dishes.

“You have ordered food for the whole restaurant?” Ruby smiled as dish after dish arrived, soon covering the entire table.

“I did not want you to go hungry.” The driver smiled, hungrily eyeing the food; making it clear that he certainly wouldn't. For him, this had to be a great luxury.

The aroma of yellow rice flavored with spices wafted out as the white-liveried waiter removed the lid from the first platter. Next he displayed fried chicken, crab curry in coconut gravy, deviled cuttlefish, white cashew curry, and coconut sambol. Their driver must have briefed the waiter to go easy on the spices, since Ruby was able to relish every dish, without breaking into hiccups. The wattalappan dessert she thought was to die for.

Mark, though he cast several covetous glances at the bottles of Three Coins beer chilling in the cooler near the cash counter, made no move to order one. He knew Ruby seriously enforced the no-drinking-on-the job rule.

The most amazing aspect of the meal was the bill. Ruby couldn't believe it was just a tad more than what they would have paid for a sandwich back home.

“So why are we here again?” Mark asked when the driver went off to tend to the vehicle. “I thought you said this assignment was in India.”

“It is, but we first need to meet a man and pick up some equipment.”

“Well, okay.”

“We also need to recon our extraction route. In case we need to leave India by less … umm … conventional means.”

Mark nodded, satisfied. That he understood. Physical recon of an escape route was smart. He liked that Ruby was thinking through to the end. Her recent, long silences had made him uneasy.

“Tell me about the team I asked you to put together, Mark.… Who are the three guys you picked?”

“Solid, reliable hitters … just like you wanted. Experienced blokes who don't ask too many questions. They take orders and have no qualms in executing them.”

“Perfect.”

“Yeah. Not the fancy, brainy, officer types.” He could never resist a dig at authority.

Ruby laughed. “Any of them have criminal records?”

“Nope.”

“Perfect. Can't have any flags coming up when they cross borders.”

“Don't worry about it.” He waved airily, but Ruby could tell something was bothering him. Mark brought it up before she could ask. “Say, boss, any chance that they may not be coming back at all?”

Ruby shrugged. “Depends on them … how things pan out … and how they handle them.”

“Fair enough.” He cleared his throat. “I see what you mean.” Another pause. “Well, the first two are a couple of Aussies, Gary Boucher and Shaun Ontong currently operating in South Africa, and the third, Rafael Gerber, is from Germany. All three are clean and perfect for the job.”

“Did they have any questions?”

“Not the Aussies, but the German did … he is a bit anal. Wanted to know who he'd be working with, so I had to give him a brief about the Aussies. He was happy when he learned they're operating in Africa. He's been there several years and thinks it's the best training ground.”

“Nothing about me, I hope?”

“Not a peep about you.” Mark smiled reassuringly. “In any case, his primary concern had been only one.”

“Which is?”

“Wie was das Geld ist?”
(What is the money like?)


Das Geld ist gut
,” Ruby replied firmly. Knowing what she had told Mark to offer them, she knew the money was more than good.

“Yeah.” Mark grinned. “That's exacty what I told him. Half payable on reaching Delhi and the rest when the job's done. He had no further questions.”

“Hmmm …
hoert sich gut an.
” (That sounds good.) They both laughed. “Did you set up the communication protocol with them?”

“I did. They are packed and ready. One text message and they'll move to Delhi.”

“Perfect.”

Twenty minutes later, they were off again. The A9 highway seemed to be getting even worse. As did the condition of the buildings and houses they passed.

*   *   *

Ravinder and Mohite had finished hammering out the details of the security arrangements for the peace summit and shot it off to Thakur when Gyan, Ravinder's office runner, entered.

He'd been with Ravinder for several years. Though less than brilliant, Gyan was rock-solid and totally devoted to Ravinder. The bond between them had grown ever since Ravinder, learning about Gyan's cancer-stricken seven-year-old son, had ensured that Gyan was always posted where the best possible medical facilities were available and had ensured that Gyan received aid from police welfare funds to care for his son.

“There is a visitor for you, sir.” Gyan's gentle tone was a nice contrast to his massive size. A moment later a tall, well-built man with close-cropped blond hair and bright, blue gray eyes walked in.

“Mr. Gill?” Dressed in a smart gray business suit, he appeared slightly ill at ease. “I am Chance … Chance Spillman. I'm with the agency.” His British accent made it abundantly clear which agency.

“Ah! Mr. Spillman.” Stepping forward, Ravinder extended his hand. “The minister told us to expect you. How are you?”

“Very well, thank you, sir. It is a pleasure to meet you.” After withdrawing a letter, Chance held it out. “Our director asked me to convey his regards.”

Ravinder took the letter. “And how is my friend Edward?”

“He is well, sir.” Chance understood that Ravinder was referring to Sir Edward Kingsley, Director of MI6.

“Did he mention that we had been at college together in London?”

“I don't believe he did, sir.” Chance smiled—it was an easy, pleasant smile. “Not that I meet him very often.” Another easy grin. “I am still at the lower end of the food chain.”

Ravinder felt himself warming toward the man. “Right.” Ravinder laughed. Then turning to Mohite, who had a frown plastered on his face. “This is DGP Govind Mohite, my deputy.” The two men shook hands warily. The vibes between them were not good. Hostility emanated from Mohite. Ravinder moved to smooth things out. “When did you get in, Mr. Spillman?”

“Just this morning, sir.” Then he added. “Chance is good enough for me.”

“Chance it is.” Ravinder acknowledged. “An unusual name if you don't mind my saying so.”

“Well, that was my dad for you.” Chance smiled. From the way his eyes flicked away, upward and to the right, Ravinder could tell that his mind had skipped into the past. “He always believed that everything that happened was purely a matter of chance … just that.” Pause. “I like it.”

“The thought or the name?”

“Both.” Chance smiled back.

“It is unique.” Ravinder decided that it was not polite to leave it there and added. “It is very nice too.”

Chance's grin broadened.

A longer pause ensued. Ravinder continued before it became awkward. “I want you to know, Chance, that we really appreciate your government sending you down to help us.”

Chance picked up the cue and responded. “I would like to assure you that I will do my best to make things work in whichever way you want them to. We understand this is your turf and—”

“I am glad you understand that, Mr. Spillman.” Mohite made no effort to keep his tone polite. “India has been fighting terrorism for over thirty years, and we don't need anyone to tell us how to do things around here.”

Ravinder groaned inwardly, but the damage was done.

Luckily, at that moment there was another knock and Gyan entered. He had an attractive, fair, auburn-haired Caucasian woman in tow, medium height, in her late twenties or early thirties, with curves in all the right places. Like Chance, she too was dressed in a gray business suit. Despite her physical attributes and chiseled facial features, everything about her screamed secret agent; only the earpiece and dark glasses were missing. Her nasal twang defined her nationality.

“I am Special Agent Jennifer Poetzcsh.” She shook hands with the three men, a strong handshake, the kind women adopt when working in a male-dominant field.

Ravinder noticed the appraising look that she gave Chance. When they shook, her gaze lingered on his wedding finger, noting the absence of a ring. It was obvious she found him attractive. Chance also seemed taken by her. Then she too presented her CIA credentials to Ravinder.

With pleasantries behind them, Ravinder got busy. “As you both know, we have just starting preparing for this summit, so may I suggest you two spend a couple of days getting a feel for Delhi while we complete the arrangements.”

“Very well, sir.” Chance nodded. “If there is anything we can do in the interim, please call us.”

“But of course, Chance, thank you.” Ravinder was beginning to like the professionalism of the young MI6 man. “Where are you two staying?”

Both named different hotels.

“Then may I suggest that both of you shift to the Ashoka, since that is the venue for the summit and you can get familiar with it. Govind will put in a word with the hotel. They will give you rooms on the seventh floor, where we all will be staying.” He noted their quizzical expressions and added. “We are sealing off the top two floors for the summit, the seventh for security and admin and the eighth for the delegates. You two will have adjacent rooms on the seventh floor.”

“Excellent, sir. I will shift tomorrow.”

“Me too.” Jennifer nodded. She shot another glance at Chance, clearly pleased to be staying closer to him.

“Lastly, may I also request you to contact your agencies and get us whatever intelligence they have … anything that may affect the summit would be much appreciated.”

“Well,” Jennifer chipped in, “we do have indications that a terror strike on Delhi may well be under way, but still no way of knowing if the target is the Commonwealth Games or the peace summit.”

Everyone absorbed that.

“Anything specific?” Ravinder asked when he realized she was not going to continue. “What is the source?”

“It's classified,” Jennifer countered, displaying none of the subtlety he thought Americans were famous for. “Just that we have electronic intelligence to believe that mercenaries, probably from England, appear to have been hired by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. I'll let you know as soon as we have anything more.”

BOOK: Weapon of Vengeance
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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