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Death had never particularly interested Bob Ferguson as a subject of study. It was a fact in and of itself, without nuance. His religious instruction—Ferguson had gone to parochial schools and a Catholic college—taught him to view death as a necessary passage, but the nuns, brothers, and priests who had instructed him tended to focus on either side of the gateway, rather than death itself.
As a CIA officer assigned to the Agency's covert Special Demands team, Ferguson had had a great deal of experience with death; he had often been its agent and provocateur. Still, his relationship was purely professional; he remained neither intrigued nor moved by any aspect of the subject itself. The end of life was simply the end of life. The manner of its coming rarely interested him.
Ferguson's nonplussed expression as the video played on the small screen at the end of the study bothered his host, CIA Director Thomas Parnelles. Unlike Ferguson, Parnelles contemplated death a great deal. It bothered him, especially in its most brutal forms, and particularly when it involved someone he knew. The fact that the death on the screen involved both was particularly upsetting; it had happened to a man who worked for him, and required justice, if not vengeance.
Parnelles had known Ferguson for a very long time—since Ferguson was born, in fact. He had been Ferguson's father's closest friend, and on more than one occasion served in loco parentis when Ferguson Sr. was out of the country. Parnelles assumed because of these things not only that he knew the young man well, but that Ferguson shared his feelings on any matter worthy of having one. So the half smile on Ferguson's face, the completely unmoved expression that was characteristic of the young man, annoyed Parnelles greatly. He finally reached over and clicked the laptop key to end the video just as it focused on the dead man's battered skull.
Unsure why the video had stopped, Ferguson took a sip of bourbon from the tumbler Parnelles had given him earlier. The liquor burned pleasantly at his throat as it went down.
"Technical problems, General?" Ferguson asked.
"There's not much more," said Parnelles. He flipped off the laptop, momentarily shrouding the study in darkness. When he turned on the light, Ferguson had the exact same expression on his face. "Are you feeling all right, Bobby?"
"North Korea was difficult, I know."
"Change of pace." Ferguson tilted the glass. The bourbon was Johnny Drum Private Stock, a well-aged small-batch whiskey more distinctive than such standards as Maker's Mark or Jim Beam. That was one thing about Parnelles—he did not have standard anything.
"Ordinarily, I would tell you to sit down for a while, and take some time off," said Parnelles. "More than the few days you've had. But this is a priority. This is important."
"Not a problem."
"After this, maybe you should take two or three months off. Lay on the beach."
"I'll just get bored." Ferguson leaned forward, stretching his back and neck. "So Michael Dalton was killed in Puys, France, two years ago. Then what happens?"
"Then we spend two years trying to figure out who did it." Parnelles took his own drink from the edge of his desk and walked over to the chair near Ferguson. He told himself he was seeing the younger man's professional distance, nothing more. "We found this video from the bank's surveillance camera. We re-created Dalton's movements. We checked everyone who had stayed in the hotels nearby for up to two weeks before."
"Why was he there?"
"No, really, he was taking a vacation," said Parnelles. "This is an out-of-the-way town on the Channel. He liked France, and he'd just spent a year in Asia. So it was different."
"What did the French say about the murder?"
Parnelles settled down in his seat and took a sip of his drink—Scotch—before answering.
"The local police, of course, were incompetent. They believed it was a terrorist attack."
"Just because a car blew up?"
"I really don't know why you're being sarcastic, Robert. You're not taking this seriously."
Ferguson took another sip of the bourbon. Generally Parnelles wasn't quite this worked up. In fact, Ferguson couldn't remember the last time Parnelles had briefed him personally on a mission—let alone asked him up to Maine to do so.
"Yes, it did look as if it were the work of terrorists," admitted Parnelles. "But why terrorists would blow up a car at that place and time—of course the police had no answers. A small village on the French coast? Terrorists would never operate there. Clearly, Dalton was the target. We went to the ministry, of course, but they got it into their heads that we were lying."
"That Michael was working, instead of being on vacation."
"You're being very contrary tonight, Robert. I just told you he wasn't."
Bad publicity about the CIA's secret rendition program had caused a great deal of friction in Europe just prior to Dalton's death. The French believed that the Agency was withholding information about what Dalton had been working on—they thought it involved something in France—and in Parnelles's view had been less than cooperative out of spite.
Ferguson—who admittedly had never cared much for anything French, let alone their spies—knew that the French security service seldom displayed anything approaching alacrity, even when pursuing their own priorities. But he let that observation pass.
"If Dalton was targeted, then something must have happened in Asia," Ferguson told Parnelles. "What was it?"
"Unimportant, Bob. The point is, what I'm getting to—we know who killed him. He was a contract killer known as T Rex."
"Like the dinosaur."
"Exactly. He kills everything in his wake. He's extreme. T Rex."
Actually the name had been used in a text message intercepted by the National Security Agency just before another assassination, this one of a wealthy businessman visiting Lisbon. Ferguson had already seen the information in the text brief of his mission. There had been other "jobs" as well: T Rex had been implicated in the murder of a Thai government minister and a suspected fund-raiser for Hezbollah, to name just two. Parnelles ran down the list of known and suspected victims, impressive in both length and variety.
Tired of sitting, Ferguson began bouncing his right leg up and down. His foot was just touching the fringe of a hand-woven wool rug Parnelles had retrieved from Iran toward the end of the shah's reign—bad days, Parnelles had said once. It was all he said, ever, on the subject to Ferguson.
"You seem distracted, Bobby." Parnelles glanced at Ferg's foot, tapping on the carpet.
"Foot fell asleep." Ferguson bounded up from the chair. "Can't sit too long."
He did a little jig in front of the chair. "So what's the real story, General? Who is T Rex?"
"We don't know."
"The Israelis hired him, and we can't figure it out?"
"The Israelis didn't hire him," said Parnelles. "Hezbollah has a lot of enemies. Including Hezbollah itself."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Figure out who he is. Apprehend him. Bring him here for trial."
"That's what Slott told me this afternoon." Ferguson glanced at his watch. "Yesterday afternoon."
He got up from the chair and walked around the study. It was as familiar to him as his own condo—more so. He'd played hide-and-seek here as a kid.
Taking T Rex in Italy was sensitive. The Agency was still smarting over a well-publicized trial of several of its members, fortunately in absentia, for the rendition of a suspected terrorist a few years before. The Italian court had found that the man was not a terrorist and had been kidnapped by the CIA, albeit with help from the Italian secret services. The political situation argued for the use of the elite First Team—officially, the Office of Special Demands—a small group of highly trained operatives headed by Ferguson and occasionally assisted by a Special Forces army group.
But the job might have been done by other CIA agents, including a special paramilitary team trained in renditions.
"So when I bring back T Rex," said Ferguson, "what happens? You put him on trial?"
"If a situation develops where he can't be brought to trial," he said, picking his words very carefully, "that would be something we could all live with."
Copyright © 2008 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice. All rights reserved.