Gilby Nash stayed where he was. He had flown enough to know that he would not get to leave the airport any quicker by joining the mad scramble to get off the aircraft. The stewardess had opened the door and the hot, moisture-laden air, heavy with the throat-grabbing smells of rotting vegetation and aviation fuel, was filling the cabin. It was close to midnight yet the temperature outside, Nash knew, would be nudging the ton; with the humidity level as high as it could get without him actually having to swim to the terminal building.
Bahrain, in the height of the summer, was no place to be.
Nash sighed deeply and turned his face to the window. His reflection, bulbous and distorted in the slightly convex perspex, stared malevolently back at him. With a stale feeling of déjà vu he remembered that the last time he had touched down in Bahrain, Roz had been with him. And Paulie! How long ago was that? Only last year? The memories flooded his mind like a sick joke. How the hell could it all have gone so wrong? And so suddenly. Nash grunted. Seven years of marriage down the pan in what had seemed an eye blink. He clamped his jaw shut tightly and forced the memories from his mind. There was no point any more.
He flinched as the mother of the loud-mouthed baby drove a bony knee into the back of his seat as she pushed out into the aisle. He mouthed some choice obscenities and shifted irritably in his seat. He glanced forward and saw that Bill Edwards had joined the crush of bodies shuffling up the aisle to the door. Edwards looked rougher than usual. His chubby features bordered on the pallid. His shock of jet-black hair was a total mess and his Zapata-style moustache stood out in sharp contrast from his face. Nash turned back to the window and used it as a mirror to watch Edwards pass his seat. He noted that, to his credit, Edwards did not look once in his direction.
Nash had telephoned Edwards only hours before the flight. It had been a last-minute decision, and one that Nash, now that the plane had actually landed, doubted the wisdom of.
“‘oo the ’ell is that?” Edwards’ had demanded angrily, apparently scandalized that anyone would have the gall to interrupt his nights’ sleep. His heavy cockney accent made him difficult for Nash to understand at the best of times; filled with sleep and aggravation it had seemed almost a foreign language.
"William? It’s Gil." Nash was not sure why he used Edwards’ full name almost exclusively. Was it some kind of inverse snobbery, aimed at placing distance between them? Maybe. But Nash hoped not. Though Edwards was in no way a close friend, he was a friend. And a damned useful one. Most of Edwards’ friends called him Will. Some called him Handy. Nash did not know the origin of that nickname. And he had never asked.
A pause. "Jees! It’s the middle of the bleedin’ night, Gil! You know I - ’ere,” he changed tack on a new note, “where the ’ell are you? Din' you buzz of abroad or somethin’?"
"I’m on my way now. And you're coming with me. So get yourself out of that scratch, you idle bastard!"
“You heard. You're coming with me. I need some back-up."
Edwards had spluttered: "You’re outa your skull, Gil! I got ‘eavy stuff goin' 'ere! I ain’t gonna - "
“Yes, you are!" Nash had cut in “Because you have a strong desire to earn a quick bucket. Plus expenses.” There it was again. He had used the cockney slang for 1,000 pounds, when Nash actually never normally bothered with it.
It was a fair figure, considering. Nash could easily have offered more but Edwards, perceptive to a fault when it came to money – either despite his relatively lowly background, or because of it - might have read an element of danger-money into anything higher.
The connection was so good that Nash could hear him breathing heavily as he rolled the sum around in his mind. "A thousand quid?"
"Tha’s a lot o’ bread, Gil! What`ve I gotta do fer it?" The suspicion was heavy in his voice.
“Hell, maybe nothing! I just want a back-up. A few days is all."
A longer pause. “What’re you into, Gil? The last time you just wanted back-up I almos’ ended up inside!"
That was unfortunately true. And Nash held Edwards no malice for having reminded him. "This is different, William. You aren’t even involved.”
"I wasn’t involved last time! But it di'n stop the old Bill clobbering me!"
Nash sighed a silent sigh. "D’you want to earn the thousand or don't you? I haven’t got all day!"
"Yeah, but -”
"No buts! Yes or no."
More heavy breathing. Then, "O’course I wanna earn a bleedin’ grand, Gil! But it’d be nice to know that it ain’t gonna be my last"
Nash allowed an edge to creep into his voice. “Look, Bill, I'll only say it once more. This time I don't want you to do anything but watch my arse. The heavy stuff is all mine! So if you don't want to do it, just say!”
“Aw right, Gil,” came Edwards’ resigned voice. “You got me. Gimme the gen.”
Nash had never doubted the outcome. But he was aware that, one day, he would ask too much of Edwards. “Good lad! Get yourself over to Heathrow and go to the Gulf Air counter. There’ll be a ticket waiting there for you."
“You ain’t gonna be there?"
“Yes, I’m going to be there! Shut up and listen! Until I know what the score is, we don't know each other. Got that?”
Edwards grunted, and came back with a thoughtful, “I never did know you, Gil!”
“Yes, very droll. Save the jokes, William. And don’t let me down."
"I never did that neiver. Where are we going?"
“Where the ’ell’s that?"
“The Middle East, you brainless burk! Now remember what I told you. We don’t know each other! And I don’t want you to do anything but keep your eyes open. When you get through the red tape at the other end, go to the telephone booths and sod about for a bit. I’ll have a phone call to make myself. So if there’s anything else to tell you I’ll tell it to you then. Clear?”
"Sort of... What am I keeping my eyes open for?"
“I don’t know yet, do I? Like I said, maybe nothing. But I might have a tail. If I do, I want to know about it. But whatever happens keep yourself to yourself. They think I’ll be working on my own and I don’t want to disillusion them."
“Do you really want to know?"
Edwards had taken a moment to think about that one. "S’pose not.”
“Then don’t ask bloody silly questions!’
It was the oppressive heat pervading the cabin from the open door that finally moved Nash to pull himself to his feet. He retrieved his attaché case from the rack and walked back to the door. The stewardess droned the usual platitudes and smiled sweetly. Nash nodded curtly and stepped out into the night.
It was like stepping into a super-heated steam bath. Nash gritted his teeth and descended the steps to the tarmac. The stupid pilot had parked his 707 at least two hundred yards from the terminal building. In less than half that distance Nash was sweat-sodden from head to foot. Tight-lipped and cursing, he followed the arrows up a flight of steps and into one of the movable passenger tunnels that any reasonable-minded pilot would have parked next to. Inside, the air-conditioning was as much a shock to his system as the heat had been. The sweat turned icy-cold, gumming his clothes to his flesh. Nash walked up the tunnel and into the building proper.
Edwards and his fellow passengers were nowhere to be seen. The tiers of plush seating lining the Arrivals hall were empty and the duty-free shops were closed. At the far end of the hall a lone cleaner was idly counting the bristles on his broom. Nash paused and lit up a cigarette.
“This way, sir!”
Nash turned and saw the stewardess of his flight. She gave him one of her special smiles and motioned for him to follow her. He did so, unashamedly watching her well-rounded buttocks exchange blows under her tight skirt. He was a little unnerved to realize that the sight was having absolutely no effect on his sexual instincts. The only feeling in his body that overrode his concern about the job ahead was one of utter discomfort, and his wish to throw off his clothes had nothing at all to do with the buttocks. It was motivated only by the desire to be free of the clinging wetness. `
The girl indicated the queue at the immigration desk. Nash nodded his thanks and walked over. Edwards was there in the middle of them. He looked relieved that Nash had shown up at last. But Nash ignored him. He tagged on the end of the queue and took out his passport, his eyes now recording the scene around him.
Nash had taken his first contract seven years ago. That was shortly before he had been unceremoniously drummed out of Special Branch under suspicion of deliberate arson and taking bribes. He had offered no defense to the charges because he had been as guilty as hell. It had been a small job; a mere matter of dropping a lighted match into a waste paper basket in a file room. But that single match had taken a lot of villains off hooks. And these people had been grateful enough not only to come across with hard cash, but also to put the word about that if you wanted something less-than-legal doing, then Nash was the man to consult. So Nash, then a civilian, had prospered.
Then later, inevitably, someone had realized that Nash was also good at blowing things up. This was a skill that he had gained in his army days, a career that had also come to an ignominiously premature end. And it was typical of Nash that he was the first to admit that neither the army nor the police should ever have employed him. Anyone silly enough to do that, he maintained, deserved all they got. Blowing things up for profit came naturally to Nash. And, as long as it did not involve flesh and blood, he was not too fussy what he blew up, or who he blew it up for, or for what reasons. One job in particular stood out in Nash’s mind as the epitome of his talents. Someone - best left unnamed - had desired that a certain dam in Canada be reduced to rubble before it was filled with water. Nash had obliged with as neat a job as even Nash himself could have hoped for. It was so good in fact that to this day no-one is aware that the dam did anything else but collapse as a result of an earth tremor. The problems involved in blowing up buildings, or dams, of any size are complex. A few years ago the job would have required anything up to two dozen smallish, but carefully placed, charges to do the job in one go. Plus fuse enough to link the charges together and even more to reach the detonator. In the legitimate demolition business it was still done in pretty much the same way. But in view of lessons learned on the dam project, and others, Nash had had to streamline the process to suit his own very specialized market. And he had spent a small fortune doing just that. He was now able to detonate anything up to thirty charges, either singly or in any combination, from up to twenty miles from the scene. The electronic gadgetry that made this possible, plus the plastic explosive and a few other oddments, had already been shipped into Bahrain by a different, less official route.
Some ten minutes later Nash walked out of the customs hall and into the main concourse. He paused and lit another cigarette. Edwards, as instructed, had gone to the line of telephones and was flipping through a directory. Nash took his time as he laid his case on a handy ledge and slipped his passport inside. His eyes were not still for an instant. He made a mental note of those people who were on their own and who did not seem to be doing anything in particular, and he stored the information in the back of his mind for future reference. Then he reached into his pocket and took out a single coin. It had been given to him in London by the man he was about to phone.
"Just in case” the man had said, “you don’t have any local money when you get in”
Nash still retained a clear, burnt-in-the-brain picture of the man sitting opposite him in the bar of the Royal Garden Hotel. A well-heeled Arab sucking on a well-heeled cigar. Not at all a picture of the extremist Nash had been expecting after he had received that first phone call setting up the meeting.
"It's the National Assembly building,” the man had said, as he passed over a tourist brochure map of the island. “I’ve marked the position. The Assembly is in recess now. It reconvenes on the sixteenth. Or, rather, it does not reconvene on the sixteenth. Because the National Assembly building will no longer be standing, will it?”
Nash had not asked why a Bahraini would want his own National Assembly building razed to the ground. He normally considered these things none of his business; it being his own rule never to ask questions of his clients. It was one of the reasons why Nash prospered.
"I’m glad you mentioned that,” said Nash,” Because mass-murder is just outside my creed.”
The man had smiled. "Do not concern yourself, mister Nash. We wish for nothing but the destruction of the building. So. . . if you will just tell me your fee?”
Nash had taken his time thinking about that. He had weighed up the pro’s and the con's and had figured the percentages. And he had come up with an answer of five thousand pounds plus expenses.
“Eminently reasonable,” said the man. “In fact, you under-price yourself. Let us say ten thousand pounds sterling, shall we? Plus, of course, whatever expenses you incur. Payable in American dollars . . ."
Here he had taken out a wallet that was thick enough to have choked a donkey and counted out a pile onto the table. “Five thousand now . . . and a further five thousand when the job is completed."
Nash had had a lot of expenses just recently and his coffers badly needed the injection of more capital. So he was too busy wallowing in his good fortune to hear the warning bell that had started to ring deep down in his brain. And it didn’t even register that that was the first time anyone had upped an already adequate fee. The realizations had come later. But by then, of course, it was too late. And Nash was not the sort to go back on a deal once money had changed hands.
The man had been acting out some part, Nash had realized after he had taken time to go over the meeting in his mind. He had laid it on a little too thick. And it was not just that. The man had hinted at his involvement with some political splinter group. But he was just not that type. Nash had dealt with enough extremists in the past to know the difference. Whatever the reason, Nash had realized the need for caution on this one. So he had enlisted the services of Bill Edwards. Just in case.
Nash flipped the coin in the air and caught it neatly. Then he walked over to the phones. He took a booth two phones away from Edwards and dialed the number he had memorized. Edwards, meanwhile, was talking into his phone as if he meant it. He was probably speaking to a dead line. Nash’s phone rang once before it was answered.
"Yusuf Al Aziz,” said a voice briefly.
Nash recognized the voice immediately as belonging to the man he had received the brief from in London. So now he had a name to go with the face.
He replied just as briefly.
“Nash. I’ve just got in.”
There was a short pause. Then the voice came back, hushed and conspiratorial. “Ah, mister Nash. I have been waiting for your call. Everything is alright?"
“Just about. What’s the next move?"
“I have booked you a room in the Gulf Hotel. Take a taxi and go there now. I will call you in the morning."
“Right. Ah, has my equipment arrived?" Nash had shipped it via a name given to him by the man.
“Your consignment has arrived!” The phone went dead.
Nash kept the receiver to his ear for a moment, unaware that the connection had been broken. Then he realized. "And goodbye to you too. . ." he said dryly, as he replaced the receiver on its rest. Edwards was still talking into his phone. Nash took out his pen and tore a corner from a telephone directory, his back shielding the action from anyone who might be looking. He wrote on it the name his man had used. Then, just loud enough for Edwards to hear and with his head still turned to the wall, he hissed, " There’s a name here. Pick it up after I’ve gone. I want you to check it out”.
He saw by Edwards' raised eyebrows that he had been heard. He added, “There’s a Hilton hotel on the Island. Book yourself into it and I’ll contact you.” Then he turned from the phone and walked directly to the door and followed the signs to the taxi rank outside.
The heat closed in around him again. Stifling. He shuddered to think how many degrees the sun would add to the pot. He pointed to the nearest driver and followed him to his car. He climbed in wearily and slammed the door. The driver leant back over the front seat. "Where to?" In the dim light his smile looked painful.
The driver nodded. The smile widened to an evil grin. “Is ’ot, no?"
Nash grunted. Get on with it, for Christ’s sake! Smalltalk was nowhere on his list of priorities. But the man did not take the hint. “Firs’ time in Bahrain?"
Nash clucked his tongue impatiently. “Gulf Hotel!” he repeated firmly.
The man shrugged, pulled a face and turned back to the wheel. He coaxed the ancient Cadillac into life and jerked away. Nash sank back into the upholstery and closed his eyes. He had done all he could do. The rest would have to wait until the morning. His next meeting with Al Aziz might give him a clearer picture of what was really going on. And there was still the possibility, he knew, that he could have been wrong.
Nash must have dozed off because the next thing he knew was the taxi pulling into the gates of the hotel. Two gently curving ramps led up to the main entrance between the two wings of the building. The driver braked to a halt. Nash paid him off in dollars and climbed out. The air-conditioning inside the hotel was, if anything, even colder than at the airport and his clothes felt like ice again. He was greeted at the desk cordially enough and, yes, there was a room booked for him. As Nash signed the register he heard the glass doors of the front entrance swing open. He looked casually into the mirror over the receptionist’s shoulder. He tensed. The man who had just walked in was a face from the airport. Nash wasted a minute or so at the desk. The man did not approach the desk. He walked to a rack holding brochures and began to browse through them. This, if Nash was any judge at all, was his nursemaid. Nash did realize, however, that this fact need not necessarily point to anything significant. Many of his clients had him tailed whilst he was wandering freely around their bailiwicks. So Nash shrugged it off for the time being. Besides, he was too tired, and too hot, to make accurate judgments. The tail, if indeed that was what the man was, would have to wait until morning with the rest of it.
Nash was handed his key. He ordered an alarm call for the morning and a vodka for immediate consumption, and went straight to his room. The drink arrived whilst he was in the shower. Ten minutes later Nash was asleep on the bed, the half-full glass still in his hand.
Nash was awake and in the shower when reception rang with his alarm call. He had a continental breakfast sent up which he only picked at. Then he took a spare shirt from his case and got dressed. The phone rang again just before ten o’clock. It was Al Aziz. He said he would meet Nash by the swimming pool in half an hour. Nash poured himself another cup of coffee, lit up a cigarette, opened the French windows and stepped out onto the balcony. That wing of the hotel overlooked a sweeping bay. The water lay there on the flats, not a single ripple disturbing its glassy surface; seemingly too hot to move. It was scalding hot. Though perhaps the air was just a shade less liquid than it had been throughout the night. Close to the shoreline of palm trees several arrowed fish-traps protruded like pins in a cushion. The thick-fronded palms were interspersed by clay-built dwellings that looked deserted and run-down. The skyline over the palms was marred by spindly crane jibs and oil drilling platforms. Out on the bay a few yachts sucked at whatever sea breezes there were. Beyond these, nearer the horizon, another cluster of cranes pointed their jibs at the blue-white sky. From his vantage point Nash could see one end of the swimming pool. But there was not a solitary human being in sight. He felt the sweat creeping under his armpits. He flicked the cigarette butt out over the wall and watched it sink to the ground. He turned and retreated back into the air-conditioned room and slid the door to. It would be a hot meeting.
Al Aziz was there when Nash arrived at the pool side. And Nash was surprised to find him dressed in long white Arab robes and chuiiyah (head piece). He stood up as Nash approached and waved him to a seat under the sunshade.
“I have taken the liberty of ordering cold drinks."
Nash nodded his acknowledgment and sat. He glanced briefly around the pool area and saw that they were not alone. A couple of girls were frolicking about in the water. And there was a man over by the high wire fence that bordered the tennis courts. He felt a rivulet of sweat making its way down his backbone and he shifted uncomfortably.
Al Aziz noted his discomfort. He smiled. “Yes, it is hot. But one gets used to it."
The waiter arrived with the drinks and placed them on the table. Nash wrapped his hands around the cold glass. He said: “I won’t be here long enough to get used to it.”
Al Aziz nodded. "Just so…" There was a crooked smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. And the pause he threw in with it seemed to be significant of something.
As the pause, and the smile, lengthened, Nash felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. The air of sham that surrounded the man was stronger now than it had been in London. Nash was aware of it as a tangible air of pantomime. Something was definitely not as advertised.
He said, “Nothing has changed?”
Al Aziz cocked his head to one side, the smile still stuck to his face. "What could possibly be changed? The National Assembly building is still here. . . and we still wish it to be destroyed. You have already been paid handsomely, with more to come whatever happens here. You are here, and so is your equipment, which, I may add, you made a very professional job of packing.” He shrugged and raised an eyebrow, the smile fading. “What could be changed? “
Nash knew that even if he had not been suspecting when he had arrived he would surely have been suspecting now. Al Aziz undoubtedly had a good command of the English language but he fell woefully short of understanding the English mind. And he certainly did not know Nash’s mind.
Nash shot another glance around the pool area. The waiter was over by the serving hatch chatting up the man behind it. The two girls were still larking about in the pool, but now there was a man sitting on the diving board devouring them with his eyes. There was another girl over by the gate. On the surface a calm enough scene. But Nash, always hyper-sensitive to atmosphere of any kind, could feel the tension in the air. He looked back at Al Aziz. The Arab was looking at him amusedly.
"What’s the matter, mister Nash? Don’t you trust us?"
“I don’t trust my own grandmother. Something's up! What is it?"
Al Aziz seemed to be enjoying himself. The eyes widened theatrically, making the pantomime about as subtle as a poke in the mouth with a concrete post. "I told you,” he said with a remonstrating shake of his head. “Everything is as it was. He raised one shoulder slightly and waggled his head negligently. “A matter of hours will make no difference either way. A job is just a job, yes?”
Nash sat back in the chair. He suddenly had it pegged. But before he could enlarge on his train of thought Al Aziz went on, a deprecating smile on his face; “You surely did not think that we paid you ten thousand pounds just to blow up a few bricks!"
Shit! Nash stiffened. "I told you in London; I don’t go in for mass-murder."
The Arab laughed openly then as he folded his arms calmly, “It hardly makes any difference now, does it? You are here!"
That last bit was obviously meant to explain the whole thing. But to Nash it explained nothing. He shook his head and made to stand up. “Not me, buddy!" he said.
“You are in my territory now, mister Nash! Sit down!" The jokes were over. The Arab’s face had set hard and Nash, despite himself, sat back in the chair.
"Which means,” Al Aziz went on, nodding to himself,” That you are also under my protection. . . or otherwise!"
That needed no explaining. A threat was on the way. Nash was seething inside. He had been conned. And he disliked intensely being conned. Or, more precisely, he disliked the thought that someone considered him connable.
Al Aziz, all business now, went on; "I am not going to mince words with you. I do not have to. We have made very extensive enquiries about you, mister Nash. We know, for example, that your own police would give a great deal to be able to pin something on you. The same applies to a certain agency of Military Intelligence. You are a marked man. Perhaps more of a marked man than you yourself realize. And that makes you a very valuable commodity. . . to many people! So you will carry out your assignment with the minimum of fuss. And you will carry it out exactly to my specification. If you do not. . . well, I am sure that I do not have to be too descriptive on that score.” He looked at his watch. His forehead creased thoughtfully, then he said, " You will find when you return to your room, however, that I have taken out a little. . . accident policy?"
Nash could not think of a single thing to say. He cleared some spittle that had slipped down his tongue to the edge of his throat. His mind was racing. It was painfully obvious that his instincts had been correct from the start. It was just as obvious that the Arab considered himself to be on rock-solid ground. "I can see that you understand what I am saying to you,"Al Aziz went on “Which is good - for both of us." He leant across the table, his whole demeanor changed. “Do not mistake me, mister Nash. We have no wish to do anything that will harm you. Now, or in the future. In fact it will be far better all round if this matter is concluded amicably. Believe me. But there is much more involved here than mere money.” He shrugged. “lf your conscience troubles you, do not think about it. After all, you will be many miles from the Assembly when it happens. Just do your job, then go off and enjoy the rewards. Ten thousand pounds will heal many wounds. And consider this; in case you are worried about our future intentions, we may not be short of money, but even we are not going to throw that amount away. Why would we pay you, then eliminate you? It would be a waste. And we do not waste money, our people would not allow it.”
Nash, over the initial impact now, said nothing. He was still smarting over the apparent ease with which he had been walked into something that was, after all, obvious from the start. So in fact, he realized, he was more annoyed with himself than he was with the Arab.
Al Aziz added, “No, mister Nash. Nothing will happen to you if you do the job you have been paid to do."
As a temporizer until he could sort his mind out Nash said: "l was paid to demolish a building. Not exterminate a horde of politicians! Things like that do cost a lot of money. A damn sight more than ten grand! That is if you can find someone mug enough to do it for you. Don’t answer that! So you’re going to have to think again. I’l1 blow your building. But I’ll do it when it’s empty, just the way it was laid out in London!”
Al Aziz’s mouth contorted evilly. "You miss my point, mister Nash. You do not have the choice! Except perhaps the choice to have your throat slit where you sit! You have already looked about you. Do so again."
Nash looked. But the scene was the same. And none of the people were paying the two men the slightest attention.
Al Aziz did some one-sided introductions. “The man on the diving board is Ahmed Bahadurrian. He is a highly trained guerrilla fighter. What he does not know about killing is not worth mentioning. And he hates Englishmen! No, he more than hates them. He loathes them with a passion that I myself could never hope to achieve.”
"Always assuming that you wanted to," Nash put in.
Al Aziz regarded Nash evenly, but he ignored the comment. Then he went on: "That is Ghengis. . ." He nodded over at the man by the wire. "We call him Ghengis for obvious reasons. He is an expert knife fighter. And he can throw accurately, lethally, to a distance of thirty yards. I've never known him to miss. And under his shirt he carries two guns. Both silenced.” A slight shrug. “He likes to visit the cinema frequently." As if on some silent cue both men looked over at the table and flexed themselves threateningly before carrying on with what they were doing. Nash was impressed, but he tried not to let it show. “It does not end there, mister Nash. Not by a long way. There are others. But it is better that you do not recognize them. You will be watched every second. And my orders are that they kill you if you do anything at all that they do not understand. One hint of treachery and you are a dead man!”
Treachery! That was rich, thought Nash. What the hell could he do against those walking arsenals? Hell, he didn’t even have a gun. It was with the equipment. Then, suddenly, as these thoughts flashed across his mind, he realized that Al Aziz had overplayed his hand. It was just a feeling at first. But it was not long clicking into place. The mere fact that the Arab had warned him against treachery - whatever he had meant by that - pointed to such a thing being possible. And this whole thing, this parading of the troops, let go a hint that perhaps Al Aziz was not on such solid ground after all. It was menacing enough on the surface, of course. But deep down there was. . . something. Nash knew that he would have to buy time to think it out. Because he was absolutely sure of one thing; whatever it took he was not going to be blowing up any National Assembly buildings full of people! But it was essential that he figure out which way the land was lying and exactly how much was stacked up against him.
Al Aziz broke into his thoughts. “I am now going to introduce you to Aisha. And I do this only because I know you would spot her before very long. She is going to be one of your, ah, shadows, whilst you are in my care. You see, mister Nash, I am going to give you a little time to reflect upon your situation. And I am confident that you will see the light very soon.”
He waved at the girl at the gate. Nash sat up. Now he was really impressed. It seemed that everyone in the immediate neighborhood, and possibly beyond, was Al Aziz-fodder.
The girl, perhaps in her late twenties, had a tan guaranteed to turn any globe-trotting airline stewardess green with envy. Her jet-black hair was short and well cut. A loose muslin top only accentuated a figure that, at any other time and in any other place, would have set Nash’s lips a-quiver. Even then, despite the strength-sapping heat, he felt the blood pump that much faster through his system. She had that look of adolescent experience that most married men would have left home for. Nash, because it seemed the thing to do, stood up as she approached.
“That will not impress her!” said Al Aziz, his tone loaded with sarcasm.
And he was right. The girl looked at Nash as if he had just crawled out from under a stone. She hissed something to Al Aziz and he laughed. “Sit down, mister Nash. She is not educated in the ways of the so-called English gentry. She says that you look ridiculous!"
Nash sat. He felt a little stupid.
Al Aziz said: “She will remain close to you at all times. But be warned! She is not what she seems. At a word from me she would slit your throat and drink the blood! She may do it anyway! So be very careful what you do and how you do it. Because even if you had prior warning of her intentions you would be helpless to stop her. She, like all my people, is trained to the very peak of perfection, and almost totally devoid of anything you might call humanity.”
"Jesus!" breathed Nash softly, “What have you got here? A private bloody army?"
The amusement cleared itself from the Arab’s face. “I strongly advise you not to think about it. The less you know, the better it will be for you."
Seen from the defeatist’s angle, this would have seemed to be good advice. But it was not at all what Nash had in mind. The show of strength, he had decided, was childish. And he found himself only more determined to wipe the smile from the Arab’s face and rub his nose in it. There remained, however, the question of how he could accomplish that and keep his windpipe intact at the same time.
Then the girl was saying something else to Al Aziz. He translated. "Aisha has asked me to tell you that the last Englishman she had the pleasure of coming into close contact with is still alive, but minus his. . . how shall I put it? His private parts?"
Nash looked into the girl’s eyes. She had a nice smile. If that kind of thing turned you on. She puckered her lips and blew Nash an affectionate kiss.
Nash swallowed hard.
Al Aziz waved her back to the gate. He said: "Think very hard about all that has been said here this morning. And remember that you have nowhere to go. Even if you should manage to slip away you cannot leave the island. You may take my word on that! There are other warnings I could give you, but you will figure them out all by yourself when you return to your room; that is if you are in any way the man of perception I think you are.” He nodded, satisfied, and rose to his feet. “I will call you again in an hour or so. In the meantime I would get in out of the sun if I were you. Too much of it can be very harmful to one’s health!”
He turned on his heel and strode away. The man at the wire eased himself from it and shuffled after him. He did not even look in Nash’s direction as he passed the table. Al Aziz paused at the edge of the pool and exchanged a few words with the two frolicking girls. They smiled coyly at him and looked pleased; then, bragging almost, Al Aziz shot Nash one more glance before walking across the grass to the gate. Both men followed him out.
Nash allowed a lungful of air to escape, his mouth tight. The whole thing had a dreamlike quality about it now. He lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip. A bead of sweat dropped from the tip of his nose into the liquid. Only then did he realize how hot it really was. He was saturated with sweat.
Mad dogs and Englishmen. . .
He rose to his feet. His trousers stuck to his backside. He eased the cloth from his flesh and walked to the gate. He ignored the girl. She followed him into the hotel, up the first flight of stairs and into the lift. Almost at the door of his room she spoke." Meestair. . ." That was either the Arab version of " mister " or a request to be walked on. It turned out that it could have meant both. She spoke in her own language then, bolstering it up with a mime that could only have meant that she was going to wait behind the fire escape door which was directly opposite his room. Nash considered asking her in, but had to admit to himself that the old Nash charm would have been wasted on that one. Besides, he had to think.
He nodded, opened his door and stepped inside.
He did not see the crate until he had closed the door behind him. In fact he was so preoccupied that he almost fell over it. He knew immediately·that it was his crate because he had put it together himself. He stood and looked dumbly at it for a few moments. What the hell? He opened the bathroom door. Empty. So was the balcony. There was just him and the crate. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at it some more. Realization came slowly. But it came. He shook his head wryly.
Bloody clever! A master-stroke, in fact. Al Aziz now had him tied hand and foot. The crate was at least as heavy as two men. Nash had seen to that himself by adding ballast to make the weight equal to the " MACHINERY " he had written all over it. There was no way he could lift it alone. He could not even take it apart without hefty tools. He had planned that too. In fact he could not loose a single plank of it.
Then he noticed something else; his case had been moved from where he had left it. He opened it up. It had been gone through. The crate was, for Al Aziz, insurance of the best kind. A word in the right direction and Nash knew that he would find himself rotting in the nearest dungeon along with the rest of the political prisoners. And there were sure to be plenty of them. And what could he throw up by way of a defense? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! It would be Nash's word against that of a local. And an influential local at that. For who else but a man of some influence could have had the crate delivered in the first place?
Nash grunted. The story would be the same if he pre-empted matters by going to the law himself. But there were some hopes of that! There was probably nowhere in the world that Nash could go to the law and expect to be believed or aided. So that left Nash completely alone with nothing but his wits. There was always Bill Edwards, of course. But how to use him to the best advantage?
Nash sighed, stood up and stripped off his sopping clothes.
Dully, and certainly with no noticeable emotion, he took a longing look at the crate before stepping into the shower.
There, separated from his grasp by an inch of wood, was his gun.
Nash did not feel a great deal better for the shower. He wrapped a towel around his waist and lay on the bed. He lay there for half an hour conjuring up and discarding different schemes. Then, his mind still busy, he realized that the phone was ringing. He lifted the receiver. " Nash "
“I expected no other." There was no mistaking AI Aziz’s mocking tones. "You have your consign ment, then?"
"I do. I take it you know what you are doing?"
"You may rest assured on that score, mister Nash. Have you given any thought to my proposition?"
"lt didn’t take too long . .
"And your answer?"
Since he had not thought of any other way of doing it he decided, on the spot, to play along and see if the Arab wore it. "I don't have a lot of choice, do I?"
"You have none! So? . .
"So I'm in. . . What the hell else?"
"Good, good.” Al Aziz sounded genuinely pleased. "Now I suggest that you get together with our mister Khan and discuss the viability of the project. How would it be if we all met in my office at ten o’clock tonight? Would that suit you?"
Nash was a little fazed. He had not expected his story to be swallowed at all. He said: "Ah. . . Sure. Fine."
"Excellent. Then I will expect you. Would you now ask Aisha to come to the phone? You will find her…”
Nash cut in, still puzzled. "l know where she is. I’ll get her."
He put the receiver on the bed and went to the door. Since he was only wearing the towel, he had to wait a few moments for the corridor to clear. Then he crossed to the fire escape door. But the girl was already opening it and Nash had his hand outstretched to grab the handle when she stepped out. The fingers of his outstretched hand collided with her thigh. Nash whipped his hand back as if he had been bitten by a snake. The girl looked at his hand then up to his eyes. Her expression told him that a disaster had only narrowly been avoided. He made a feeble attempt at a smile and signed to her that she was wanted on the phone. She stepped past him as if he was a cowpat in a field.
She kept her eyes on Nash the whole time she was talking to Al Aziz. Nash felt naked. But her eyes were totally devoid of any expression. She was just looking.
At last she handed the phone back to him and left the room. The door slammed behind her and Nash breathed an involuntary sigh of relief.
"Mister Nash ?"
"Since you have decided to be sensible I am taking Aisha from you. There has to be a certain amount of trust between us from now on… “
I’ll bet! thought Nash.
“…however, she will be close by if you need anything. I have told her to wait outside the hotel. And do not concern yourself about your goods. They will remain secure. Aisha will come for you just before ten this evening and bring you to the office. Is there anything you require in the meantime?”
That was one hell of a switch! An hour before it had been a different kettle of kippers altogether. But Nash was taking nothing at its face value anymore. He said that there was nothing he needed. Al Aziz even said goodbye this time. When he had hung up Nash sat back on the bed. Of course there was no question that he was going to be left to his own devices. Not even for an instant. The girl’s duties would be passed over to someone else. And that person would be neither of the two goons at the pool. It could be the man who had picked him up at the airport. He would have to see. He was sure that Al Aziz was just testing the apparent change of heart. Nevertheless it was a helpful development.
Armed with his own conclusions he could now indulge in a spot of testing himself. Edwards would have to start earning his keep.
There was a gap in the Arab’s defenses, Nash was sure, and Edwards could start to prise it open. But Nash needed that gun. It was galling that it was so close but so far away!
He rose up and tried to prise up a plank of the crate. But it was hopeless without tools. And Al Aziz, having had his things gone through, would know this too. But that was far from the end of the story as far as Nash was concerned. He needed a bloody big screwdriver and he would damn well get one! Nash considered ringing the hotel engineer and asking him to send one up. But he dismissed that as being a stupid move. Who could tell how many of the hotel staff Al Aziz had in his pocket, no matter how far-fetched that seemed. It was just not worth the risk. And he knew that if he was going to gain an edge he would have to be the only person to know it. So he would just have to go out and find something.
He got dressed.
He even found himself beginning to enjoy the game. Just so long as he could stay on top. . .
The reception hall bustled with activity.
Nash paused at the lift doors and lit a cigarette, then he walked to the main glass doors and looked out. Half a dozen taxis were drawn up outside the gate but there was no sign of the girl. He turned casually and stood for several moments surveying the crowd. There had to be a tail, and he had to find it before he could make his move. Many of the people were Arabs in their robes. None of these was paying Nash any attention. Others looked as if they had just come off oil rigs. And there was an American in a ten-gallon stetson making feeble attempts to chat up a bevy of wifely-looking women at a group of easy chairs. Aircrew were thick on the ground. Seeing nothing to attract his attention, Nash was about to move off when he saw his man from the airport. He was sitting in a chair over by the news-stand and he looked away quickly as Nash glanced over. He had clearly been studying Nash. And now he made an elaborate pretence of studying his fingernails. Nash pondered the point for a moment. It was possible that Al Aziz would put more than one man on him.
Possible, but not probable.
It was also, if true, hard luck. One tail was losable. Losing two, in a strange place, would be nigh on impossible.
So it was a possibility that would have to be chanced. To make sure that he was not barking up the wrong tree entirely Nash went to the bar, found a table and ordered a drink. Four minutes later his man ambled in and took a table on the far side of the room.
Nash had his next move already worked out. It was going to be the old lift-trick. Ancient, but effective if done subtly. But Nash knew that he could not push it. It was of paramount importance that it really looked like an accident. From his table Nash could see the reception desk. He waited until the crush of people there had thinned, then he paid for his drink and sauntered out as if he had all the time in the world. Out of the corner of his eye he was watching the lift indicator lights. They were not quite right yet. He went to the desk and asked the receptionist about meal times; that being the first thing to come to mind. The man obliged with a litany that was long enough for Nash, studying the mirror over the man’s left shoulder, to see his friend appear at the bar door, catch a glimpse of Nash at the desk, then duck back in the bar. Nash smiled to himself. Al Aziz may employ men trained "to the peak of perfection" in guerrilla warfare, but they sure as hell knew little about the art of shadowing.
A few seconds later the lifts were just about right. Nash nodded to the receptionist - he hadn't heard a word he’d said -and turned for the lifts. One of them was still up at the top floor whilst the second was about to arrive at the ground floor.
Nash stopped mid-stride, slapped his forehead as if he had forgotten something, then turned back to the desk. Sure enough the man, already halfway out the bar doors, pulled himself up and stepped back in yet again. Nash spun around and stepped up to the lift. The doors were just sliding open. He leant inside and pressed the button for the top floor then stepped out. He was backing out of the swing doors leading to the basement as the lift doors closed. The man in the bar had seen none of the business. He would, Nash was sure, come out of the bar in time to see the lights indicating that the lift was going up. And since the second lift was still up there somewhere he would have to use the stairs to get after his quarry.
Confusion all round!
Nash found the maintenance workshop without difficulty. It was empty. Two minutes later, the necessary tools tucked up under his shirt, Nash was in the lift going up to his floor. He estimated that his man would still be somewhere above him chasing lifts. In any event he made it back to his room without catching another glimpse of his tail. Nash went directly to the radio and turned it on. Then he returned to the door and pressed one ear against it, planting a fingertip in the other ear to deaden the sound of the radio. Less than a minute later he heard soft footsteps approach down the corridor and pause outside the door. Nash stepped back and coughed, just to let the man know that he was in the room. Then he listened at the door again. He heard the fire-escape door opposite creak open, then close. Nash nodded, satisfied, then moved to the crate.
It took a while but he finally managed to get a board loose without damaging it. It was essential that the crate looked un-tampered with. He felt around inside until he found the mutton-cloth package containing his gun, ammunition and silencer. Then he replaced the board and screwed it down. He loaded the gun and looked around for a place to hide the rest of the ammunition and the silencer. He finally settled for a ledge under the overhang of the balcony. With the gun snugged under his belt in the small of his back he felt fully dressed for the first time since he had arrived on the island. Now he had teeth of his own.
He lit a cigarette and sat on the bed. The smoke tasted sweet. Then his stomach rumbled and he realized that he was hungry. So, since all, or most, was now well with his world, he decided to eat.
He switched off the radio and walked to the door whistling, unconsciously resolving the tune that had been playing. He locked the door behind him and looked over at the fire-escape door. He smiled. He stepped over and knocked lightly. There was a scuffle of feet from behind it. Nash knocked again, then opened it. The man was walking down the steps. He looked up as Nash poked his head out.
"I’m going down to lunch now,” said Nash matter-of-factly.
The man, a Lebanese by the look of his features, looked nonplussed.
Nash nodded cordially to him then stepped back into the corridor, allowing the door to swing shut. He walked up the corridor, still whistling.
Nash took his time over the food. He was as good as certain now that he only had the one tail. And he was even more certain that he had Al Aziz pegged right. There was a chink in his armor. All Nash had to do was find it. Nash’s mind wandered of its own accord back to his conversation with Al Aziz. And the more he thought about it the murkier the whole deal became.
Al Aziz did not have the last word. This was beyond dispute. There was someone above him making the decisions. But who? The choice of target would indicate Israeli involvement. But that thought was ludicrous. An Arab working hand-in-glove with an Israeli? Never happen! Nash then thought back to how Al Aziz had described the deal to him back in London. The implication had been that he was part of a group attempting some kind of a coup. But somehow this did not seem likely now. Another thought sprang to mind. Why the National Assembly building? The Assembly was not government. It was not, in truth, anything vaguely like government. The members of the Assembly were little more than village headmen elected by the villages to mull over policies that the government proper put together. Surely a better target would have been the policy-makers themselves!
After a while Nash found himself getting bogged down in the many possibilities. He looked around the room. His shadow had come in the restaurant and was sitting a few tables away with his nose buried in a paperback. Nash would have sworn that the man was actually reading it!
Nash grunted. His action on the stairs had obviously cleared the air. He looked out the window. He had taken a sip of his coffee and was idly watching some brave people splashing about in the pool when it dawned on him like a clap of thunder.
Of course it was not the Israelis.
And no-one was attempting an overthrow of the government either.
In fact no one was doing anything against the government. It was the government! Al Aziz was the government!
How else could he risk parading a small; army of armed goons?
Nash felt the blood pump through his veins as he put it together.
Why Nash for the job?
Simple! He was ex-military and ex-Special Branch. That, coupled with the fact that he was now a man whom the British certainly would not miss, made him a natural. He was being set up! The mechanics of it came more easily. He would be allowed to place his charges in the building. And then, probably when he was about to press the button, he would be descended upon! Of course!
Of bloody course!
The government had no time for the Assembly, anyway! It was a thorn in their side. And it was probably looking for some reason to close it down. Nash could not see how, but there must be some tie-up between the West being blamed for the attempted destruction of the Assembly and its closure. But this did not seem quite right. Hell! Then he had it. What if Nash was going to be allowed to blow the place? This would be even better for the government. No more Assembly at a single stroke! And, with Nash caught red-handed, ex-this and ex-that, the West would be held responsible. They might deny it - they would deny it - but who the hell would believe them?
Nash swallowed hard. He looked over at his shadow. He was still engrossed in his book, but somehow he seemed to have grown several inches.
Nash lit yet another cigarette and pulled hard at it. His hands were trembling slightly. All of a sudden he realized that he needed a damn sight more than a hand gun. And even the presence of Edwards, out there somewhere sleuthing, was not a lot more to fall back on. He needed an army of his own. But all he had was a crate full of explosives . . .
That was it, of course.
Each with its own electronic detonator. He could wreak havoc with them. And they, along with the complex box of tricks that controlled them, were now readily to hand. All he had to do was chuck them around. Nash dived into the problem with renewed strength. And he came, slowly, to the conclusion that he could hold the entire island to ransom if only he would be allowed time to do the job.
That was the rub!
He was not going to be allowed time, or the freedom. Oh, he could lose the tail again. No problem. But it needed a lot more than that. He needed freedom to move about. Freedom to choose his targets for the maximum effect and bargaining power.
So it would have to be Edwards!
If Nash could get half a dozen charges to him it would be a start. Nash forced himself to calm down. He would need a clear head for this. He had to pick up as many charges as he could safely carry, get a car, lose his tail - making it look like an accident - then find Bill Edwards. All in that order. Then he had to get back into circulation again and act as if nothing had happened.
Okay. First things first.
Nash flagged down a passing waiter and signed the bill. Then, ignoring his tail, he took a lift up to his floor. As soon as he was in his room he took the tools from where he had hidden them under the balcony and removed the plank from the crate. Each separately wrapped charge consisted of two half-pound sticks utilizing a single detonator, plus the make-and-break switch with its electronic activator. Nash was dismayed to find that, no matter how he placed them around his body, the most he could manage was three. So three would have to do to begin with. He replaced the plank and the tools then checked himself in the full-length mirror. If he stooped a bit as he walked he could just about get away with it.
He left his room and took the lift down to the ground floor. At the reception desk he asked about hiring a car. He was not being furtive about it; he didn’t see the need. The receptionist, an Indian who spoke perfect English, looked at his watch.
"Everything is closed, sir" he said, smiling apologetically. "l do not think you will be able to get anything until after three-thirty."
Nash cursed silently. "The hotel doesn’t rent cars?"
The man shook his head. "Sorry, sir. We use the local garages. And as I say they will not reopen until three-thirty. I will arrange one for you then if you wish."
Nash repeated the curse out loud. That was no good. A couple of hours could mean all the difference. It was all down to money, then. He had some six hundred Bahraini dinars on him which, at the current rate of exchange, was over seven hundred pounds sterling. "Ah. . . You don’t have a car yourself, I suppose ?"
The man nodded hesitantly. " Well, yes, sir. I do. But it’s not insured for that. And I…”
Nash withdrew the wad of money purposefully and peeled off a few notes. “I haven’t got very long,” he said, splaying the notes in his fingers. "This should cover the insurance. Your car will be safe with me, and I’ll have it back to you in a couple of hours.”
The man was wilting visibly. And why not? Nash had over sixty pounds in his hand. He added another note. The man flashed a glance around the reception hall and another at a door leading from behind the desk. Nash knew that he had the man’s attention. For good measure he added yet another note, crushed them all in a loose ball and reached over the desk, his hand inverted. The man glanced around him again before holding out his hand. Nash dropped the money into his palm and the hand was whipped back behind the desk as if the notes were on fire.
"Where is it ?" asked Nash.
The man looked down at the notes which he held tight to his side, then he pushed them into a pocket. He was a little breathless as he said: "It’s a green Datsun, sir…” He took a ring of keys from his jacket pocket and handed them over. "It’s parked at the side of the hotel, sir. Down by the tennis courts. The number is in Arabic but you can’t miss it. The back seat is covered with green fur."
Nash nodded. "Thanks. What time do you go off duty?"
"Four o’clock, sir. But that’s all right. If you don’t get back by then just leave the keys with whoever is on duty. Say they are for Jonathan. It will be all right."
Nash turned. His tail was over by the news-stand. He had seen the transaction. He had a flabbergasted look on his face. Nash walked over. "I’m going for a drive,” he said as he passed. " See you later. . ."
The heat outside hit him like a sledgehammer. He walked down the ramp to ground level. The car was where Jonathan had said it would be. The door handle was so hot that Nash had to use his sleeve to open it. The air trapped inside the car was a good twenty degrees hotter than the ambient temperature. Nash slid in behind the wheel. He took the charges from under his jacket and placed them under the seat. By the time he had the engine running the sweat was coursing freely down his body. He opened all the windows, turned the car around and drove out through the gates. As he passed the main drive he saw that another car was pulling down the ramp. He assumed that that would be his tail.
He drove slowly. It was easy. Almost too easy.
Nash eventually found his way into town. Then, only because the one-way system dictated the odds, he found himself on the newly constructed Corniche that skirted the north of the island. Nash knew from his study of the map that the National Assembly building lay adjacent to it, opposite the customs wharf. So here, on a plate, was the ideal reason for his trip. He would drive past the building as if he was giving it the once-over. Then, when he had established this reason in the mind of his tail, he would lose him and get to Edwards. He could be back at the hotel in less than an hour with the perfect alibi.
The building, he saw as he drew close to it, was set back off the road and enclosed behind fairly high stone walls, so that he had to lean over the passenger seat to get a good look at it. If that didn’t convey the message to the man following him, nothing would. He slowed the car down almost to a walking pace and studied the building intently, like some demented tourist. But he could not have been less interested. He was totally concerned now with the road ahead. There was a set of traffic lights about a hundred yards up the road. Nash tried to time his approach so that he hit them as they turned red. He failed in this by a few seconds and, as he drove down the intersecting road, he saw the following car turn the corner no more than fifty yards behind him. It needed one more try. He followed his nose through the bazaar area and got back onto the Corniche. In the process he placed a couple of cars between him and the tail. And he was a lot more careful about the timing as he passed the Assembly building for the second time. And this time he hardly had to try. He hit the lights perfectly and saw them jump from amber to red as he went through. He never saw the following car again.
The deed was done.
Nash finally ran Edwards to earth in the bar of the Hilton Hotel. He relieved him of the beer he had in his hand and polished it off in a single swallow. Then he led him outside. The heat crushed in on them.
"It’s bloody ’ot out ’ere!" Edwards protested, as Nash led him by the arm to where he had parked the car.
Nash opened the passenger door. “It’s hot everywhere the way things are panning out. Get in!"
There were only three things in Edwards’ life that he held strong feelings about: money, pain and inconvenience. In that order. But he had never quite come to grips with the fact that those three things always came hand in hand. "Why? Wha’s ’appened?"
Nash reached under the seat and withdrew the charges. "I’ll tell you later. Cop hold of these."
Edwards took them out of pure reaction. Then he saw what they were, grimaced, and thrust them back at Nash as if they were alive. "You keep ’em! l ’ate gelly. Tha's your line”
“It’s yours now, if you want to stay alive. Those charges could be your only guarantee of a safe passage out of here!"
Nash spent the next five minutes bringing Edwards up to date on the situation in general and his own conclusions in particular. At the end of that time Edwards was shaking his head, his jaw set firm. "This ain’t my scene, Gil. An’ you know it! I ain’t gonna get mixed up in no gover’ment deal. An’ I on’y came out ’ere to cover your rear, remember? The ’eavy stuff is your business. You said so yerself…I already done more than I ’ad to! "
"Things change," said Nash blandly. He knew that he was going to have to alter the truth somewhat to ensure Edwards’ continued presence on the island, though he could not fault him for his accurate assessment of the situation. "It would be nice to be able to tell you that you could get a plane out of here. But you can’t! I think I got away without being seen. But I can’t be sure. They may be watching us at this very minute!"
"Uh?” Edwards glanced quickly around them and pressed himself back harder into his seat. "Whacha mean?"
"Just that," shrugged Nash. “It’s possible. But it’s a chance we’ve got to take. Because neither of us could get out now if we tried. They’ll be watching the airport like hawks!”
Nash was well aware that up to a certain point Edwards could be trusted implicitly. He also knew that beyond that point he could not be trusted at all. And that point was looming closer all the time.
" ell!" Edwards spat. "You done it on me, din’ you?"
"We do have a problem, admitted Nash. "But it's nothing that can’t be got over with some careful handling. You’ve got my word on that. We’ve just got to look snappy about it. These charges will clinch it."
There was a short, stagnant silence.
Then Edwards groaned. "Oh, bleedin’ Martha! Then, positively, he said: " You do re’lise that this is wirf more than five ’undred quid !"
"I do," said Nash, having been expecting nothing else. “So how does a further two hundred strike you?"
Nash reached into his pocket and took out his wad. He counted some notes into Edwards’ sweating palm. "That’s four hundred Dinars funny-money. About five-fifty pounds. Will that keep you going for a bit?"
Edwards fingered the notes. Then he grunted and stuffed them into a pocket. "For now.”
“Right," said Nash, handing back the charges. “First, what have you got for me?"
Edwards looked sulkily at Nash for a moment. Then, with a shake of his head, he put the charges gently on his lap and took a slip of paper from his pocket. Before he read from it he said, "You were tailed from the airport, y'know. Foreign geezer.”
"I know. What did you get on Al Aziz ?"
Edwards raised his eyebrows and sighed. Then he read what he had written : " “Yusuf Al Aziz…Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly…”
"Well, I’m damned! “ injected Nash incredulously. Then it dawned on him that this piece of news, odd though it at first seemed, had a fifty-fifty chance of meaning nothing or everything; only time would tell. He waved Edwards to continue.
Edwards nodded. "Ta…”He scanned the paper and found his place. " . . . Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly . . . Part time job, so I gavver. ’E’s got a business ’ere. Big one. The Awal Import-Export Company. Equal partner wiv a bloke called Abdulla Al Khan - ’owever the ’ell you say it- I got the address if you wan' it . .
"Later. Go on."
"'Ome address; 40 Sheikh Abdulla Gardens, Jufair. No family. The partner is married. Got two boys. They lives in Manama. Couldn’t get that address, though. The business is legit, as far as I could tell. An’ they’re bofe big-wigs on the island. An’ . . . that’s it."
Nash was amazed at the detail of Edwards' report. "Where the hell did you get all that? "
Edwards folded the paper neatly and handed it over to Nash. " Easy…I asks one of the waiters in the 'otel. They all moonlight a bit, an' ’e knew the guy ’oo done sunnink for that Khan bod. I got it all from 'im. On’y fing is, Khan ’as moved and ’e di’n know where ’e’s moved to.”
Nash nodded thoughtfully. "Nice one, William. I'm proud of you. Now you ’re going to do even better. Take a look at those charges…Closer, twit! On the bottom. A number. See it ?" Edwards upended one of the charges very gently. " Yeah . . .wot about it?"
"What number’s that one?"
" Right…Get this written down . .
He waited while Edwards took out the note pad and attached pen that he always carried around with him. "You’re going to put that charge - number-four - in the airport somewhere. Do it tonight when the place is almost empty. Buy some tape - I didn’t bring any with me - and stick it to the bottom of a table or something. But for Christ’s sake make it good tape! I don’t want it coming unstuck.”
Edwards was silent for a moment. Then, pleadingly, he said: "I don' know the f1rs’ bloody thing about gelly, Gil! ’Ow can I - ?"
Nash cut in. “You don’t have to know anything about it! I just want you to stick it to the bottom of a table. That isn’t too ruddy difficult, is it?"
Edwards was about to renew his protest when another thought struck him. His face clouded. “’Ere. . . you ain’t gonna bloody blow up the airport, are ya?" His face was aghast. "Tha’s murder! You – “
"No, I’m not going to blow up the airport, for Pete’s sake! What do you take me for? It’s there for two reasons. Firstly - if it’s there - I’ll be more convincing when I tell them about it. And secondly…” Nash thought fast. "…it will be a useful diversion. Just in case."
" But tha’s still…”
"I’ll only use it when the place is empty! Now shut up and let me talk!"
Actually Nash knew that if and when his suspicions proved correct, he would have no compunction about using any of the charges he was giving Edwards, if it meant the difference between life and death. " That’s number four. Write it down. It’s important so's I know which one is where. The next one…what’s the number ?"
Edwards looked, hesitantly. "Seven . .
“Right. That one’s for His Nibs.”
“The ruler. He’s got a Guest Palace at a place called Hamla. Hire a car for the duration…that’ll come under the heading of expenses. I’ll clear it with you later.”
Edwards was looking at him in open-mouthed amazement. He gave a near-hysterical chuckle. “You ’re flamin’ barmy! I’m not bleedin’ ’Oudini! ’Ow am I goin' to get in?”
Nash, with difficulty, held his impatience in check. “Not inside the actual building, for God’s sake! In the grounds somewhere. Up a tree, maybe. Anywhere it won’t be found. If the crunch comes I’ll let that one go first, just to show that I mean business . . . Get it?"
Edwards looked dubious.
Nash clucked his tongue. “Look, Bill. Do you want out of this or don’t you? Because this is the only way!"
Edwards waggled his head. "O’course; but…”
“Okay. Now just do what I tell you and we should be half-way there."
Edwards nodded glumly. He said: " If I ’ad known wot dis was all about I wouldn’t be ’ere…an’ you wouldn’t eiver, if you was big enough to admit it."
Again Nash could not fault Edwards on his reasoning. But the time was long passed for I-told-you-so. He looked at his watch. He had been out of sight for pushing fifty minutes. He knew that he could not stretch it much further. His tail would already be going spare.
"The last charge…what’s the number?"
Edwards let go another sigh. Then he looked at the base of the charge. " Eight…. an' the bloody last, I ’ope!"
"It is. And this is one I hope to God I won’t have to let go. Find out where the island Parliament hangs out and put it there. Use your loaf on this one. It’s almost the trump card."
Edwards nodded. Then he looked hard at Nash. "This is the las' time I work for you, Gil. l swear it! You got dangerous to be around jus’ lately!”
Nash nodded. " Sure, Bill. Sure. Now you got all that? Numbers and all ?"
Edwards glanced down at the pad. "Course I got it! I ain’t fick!"
"I know you’re not, Bill. You’re a bloody good chap. Now here’s what you do when you’ve polished that little lot off.”
"There’s more? . .
"Not much. I don’t know how free I'll be to move around after this, so I’ll want you close to my hotel. You know it?"
"Course . . ."
"Right. There’s a twenty-four hour coffee shop there. Get yourself to it and stay there. Don’t move for anything. I’ll contact you. Phone down, or something. Got a gun?"
"Don’ be bloody silly! ’Ow was I gonna get an iron past them x-ray things?"
Nash shrugged. "It was only a vain hope.”
Edwards grunted. “Uh…I wouldn’ use one on this caper if I ’ad one! I seen what c’n ’appen to bods what point guns at gover’ments in this part of the world.”
Nash smiled. Uneducated though Edwards was, he was not basically stupid. And the reminder of this led Nash to think of another precaution that he might as well take. "While you’re here you can give me your passport."
There was an indignant silence before Edwards said: " Wha’fore?"
“I want it."
“Yehbut, wha’fore ?"
Nash sighed. “Because I don't want you to louse things up by trying to leave the island if things get sticky. That’s why!"
Edwards straightened his backbone. "I don't need that, Gil! I tol’ you I was stayin’! I ain’t never given you cause not to…"
"I know that, Bill," cut in Nash placatingly. “But this one is different. There’s more at stake. Give!”
"Like ’ell I will!"
"Pass it over before I clobber you! I mean it, Bill! If you want to get out in one piece you’ll do it my way or you don’t get out!”
The invisible swords crossed and the air between them crackled with a charge of high-voltage electricity.
Nash hurried on: “It’s for your own good, Bill. And mine…”
Edwards' attitude went through several quick changes. Then, slowly, he relaxed. He dipped his hand into his inside pocket, slid out his passport and handed it over, his eyes burning daggers at Nash. Nash put it into his own pocket. Edwards was now there for the duration whatever happened.
"Good lad. You’ll feel differently about it later."
Edwards sat there, his face like thunder, a muscle twitching in his cheek. Nash waited for the change he knew would come. Whatever Edwards was or was not, he certainly didn't know how to keep up a sulk for very long. At length Nash took out his packet of cigarettes. He shook one out, gave it a few more seconds, then offered it over to Edwards. Edwards shot him a glance, hesitated, then reached out and took the cigarette. Nash lit him up then lit one for himself. Then, sure enough, the mask of anger dropped from Edwards’ face as he pulled a mouthful of smoke down into his lungs.
"Gilby-bleedin’-Nash," he said " One o' these days you’re goin’ to cop your lot . .
Nash smiled. "And I think a lot of you too, William."
Then Edwards frowned and shot another glance at the scene around the car. "’ere,” he said. " Wot if these bods ’ave already wised up to the fac' that you’re onto ’em? You said that they could be watchin' us now. Wot if they’re back at the ’otel waiting wiv the bleedin’ infantry?"
This thought had entered Nash’s mind almost as Edwards voiced it. He checked his watch again. It was an hour now since he had lost his tail. So he was not as confident as he sounded as he said, " That was only a possibility. If they’ve wised up - as you so neatly put it - they wouldn’t be letting us sit here. They’d be descending like tons of masonry!”
Edwards’ frown deepened. "Okay…but you don’ know fer sure that it’s gover’ment. You on’y fink so. They could be jus’ wot they said they are. You could be goin’ off ’alf cocked an' worryin’ fer nuffin.”
"Wishful thinking, William. In any case it never hurts to cater for the worst. But I'd better get back into circulation now. Are you clear on everything?"
"Serious, Bill. For Christ’s sake!"
Edwards nodded and looked down at the pad. "Four goes in the airport. Seven goes in the palace place somewhere. Eight goes somewhere in the ’ouses of bleedin’ Parli’ment, an' I got to use me loaf. Then I comes to your ’otel an' sit in the Coffee Shop until you get to me. . .That clear enough ?"
"Perfect, William. Now buzz off.”
Nash watched as Edwards picked his way through the parked cars and disappeared into the Hilton. Then he sat for a minute, thinking. His mind was going over the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, Edwards had guessed right and that Al Aziz would be waiting back at the hotel with his armed monkeys. It would only take the merest suspicion on his part that Nash was on to him and he must close the operation down there and then. If things were the way they seemed he would be a fool not to. Then Nash turned the key and brought the engine to life. He would just have to keep his wits about him. Besides, he reasoned as he pulled away, there was usually no better defense than attack.