Hessnie Mazou knew his death was imminent; it could be no other way. From the moment Fiona called he knew his time on the planet was reduced to only a few days: a week at most. Now, after his visit to the airport and her hotel it could be no more than an hour or so, but it had been worth it just to see his baby one more time. It had been worth it for just one more look at that face, those hands, the eyes: for just one more look at her mother’s emerald eyes it had been worth it. He could leave this life now in the peace that he had done his job, seen it through. One final act and he would be on his way.
Until then he could reminisce, reflect a while … Meira was a listener: a keen student and loving daughter for sure, but above all else she was an ardent listener and her mental filing system was a thing of great beauty. She could recall information almost as fast as she could assess the need. Ears pinned back – she used to push her hair back from her ears when she wanted to concentrate – she would fix him with her green stare and soak up every word as he lovingly dropped his pearls into her growing pool of knowledge.
He had equipped her as best he could with a thorough understanding of the early Arab and Greek worlds; he taught her about the use of mirrors to harness the Sun’s energy and some rudimentary solar technologies, and seen her into the western education system in Australia. The rest had come from her mother.
In time she would forgive him for leaving; when she knew so much more she would understand. For now though she had to remain angry. He would go to his death without her love; there was no other way.
There was no other way but … he changed tack. It had taken them far longer to find him than he had first thought. Nine years on the run from some of the sharpest bounty hunters in the world was pretty good for an old Arab. It was certainly long enough for Fiona to complete the first part of her work. Yes, yes his work was done. It was done and he could relax. He could relax but if there was a chance … if there was a chance it he could meet her, speak to her … one more time before he went … just to see her smile again. Just to see that little face he used to watch as she slept in the peace and security of infancy … That would be nice.
Nigel Harper never could come to terms with the lack of intellectual control found in many senior officers of North American companies. Utexco representative Darrel McCorkindale spent as much time berating the Arab states for harbouring terrorists groups as he did trying to align his ancestors with those of Lord Harper. Had the man thought it all through he might decide not to claim his English heritage too loudly as the British were responsible for much of the current crisis by virtue of their creating the somewhat arbitrary Arab states in the first place.
“I don’t understand you guys,” Darrel was whining again. “If they step out of line, cut them off from the market. Better still, cut them off from the refineries. There ain’t nothing simpler.”
Basic reptilian response, Lord Harper noted, but tempered his remarks to, “The great advantage, Darrel, of possessing a big stick, is lost if ever you take course to use it. Our friends in Peru know full well the powers available to us, in fact, in a sense, it is the reason they are flexing their muscles at this time.” Why, he wondered, did he need to explain this. “Allow them their few moments of autonomy. It is the smallest kindness, and it produces the most wonderful results.” Around the table heads nodded in ascent; Darrel shook his in disbelief.
After the meeting of the board of the Federation of Fossil Fuels and Suppliers – a non-executive, advisory board – there was another, smaller, more effective meeting in a quiet room at White’s, where people of influence could meet without drawing attention. Lord Harper was in the chair. In attendance were Sir Malcolm Freeman, senior civil servant in The Ministry of Power; Martin Gibbs, personal private secretary to the Prime Minister, George Pembroke-Jones, energy consultant to British Petroleum and The Central Electricity Generating Board, and Commander John Conway. “It would appear that there has been some movement on the sunshine front,” Nigel immediately had their attention. “Could be significant. You should all be informed. John . . ,” he invited John Conway to continue.
“Best sources indicate great interest in Absalom McMahon, currently Hessnie Mazou, who has been maintaining a low profile in and around Cairo for more than nine years. We thought he was off the active list, and have really only been checking on his whereabouts periodically. It seems his daughter has arrived, and is keeping company with an Italian engineer with no history of field activities.” The commander paused for comments.
“Great interest …?” Martin Gibbs asked.
“Local chap caught in her room, possibly an attempted burglary … anyhow shouldn’t have aroused much interest, but it brought some heavyweights out of the woodwork.”
“Do we know the burglar?” Gibbs again.
“Lightweight detective agency. Local businesses and government use them sometimes.”
“And in this case?” Gibbs pressed him.
“Can’t be sure, but it brought Colonel Zadok out into the daylight, and the dear old Ministry of the Interior.”
“A display of nerves, do you think Commander?” Suggested Lord Harper.
“Not my bag sir, as you know. I’m merely the messenger in this case, but Cairo is on the alert, and we, as ever, are watching them watching.”
Nigel Harper stepped in. “Important thing is to keep the lid on, don’t you agree gentlemen? Can’t have Mr. Mazou muddying the waters at this stage.” There was no objection. “So that is your brief commander,” he continued. “Keep the lid firmly in place. We don’t want to lose anyone.”
Thor was mildly disappointed at his assignment to quietly dispose of Hessnie Mazou. Killing a middle-aged man long turned to fat and devoid of any combat training seemed a poor assignment for an operative of his stature. It could easily have been done by any of the hundreds of basic course graduates that passed through the training camps in Pakistan, Oman, Iraq and Turkey. The fact that the Commander assigned this mundane chore to him he was interpreted as an insult. He had been in the system for seven years, graduating top, or close second in his class in every course and in record breaking time – or shared record breaking time. Much to his annoyance he frequently had to share first place honours with Amone: a woman. Although she could be nowhere near as good as him she sometimes passed a course ahead of him, but only by minutes, and only by the luck. She was as fast as him, he would admit, and she could shoot as well as him at targets, and was as good an observer and commander as him, but she would never be as strong as him. He had the strength that comes with a 100 kilo, two metre body and a man’s brain. She was only one point eight seven metres, maybe less than 70 kilos, and a woman. He would always have the edge over a woman.
If she ever learned of this assignment she would laugh in his face, ridicule him as a novice no better than the ignorant tribesmen they push through the courses for all the rabble groups gathering in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. He had to admit that the Bush administration was extremely good for business: good for its own business, and good for all the military peripherals all over the world. Good Old Republicans; they know how to keep the money rolling in.
He was watching his quarry’s house from the small hotel near the end of the street where there had been no activity for twenty-four hours. That was enough recognisance for such a soft target. He would do it late this evening, after nine, when the street would be quiet enough for him to just walk up to the door and ring the bell: So simple. He would ring the bell, push open the door, walk in, and kill him with his bare hands just to stay sharp. No weapons to be traced, no car, no taxi, no records at the hotel, nothing. Just push his way in and slowly squeeze the little man’s life away. It would be a pleasure. He rarely allowed himself simple pleasures, but as it was such a simple task, such a boring, mundane, even insulting, assignment, he would treat himself.
“No, no. I cannot let you go alone Meira. It is crazy. You do not even know who this man is.” Luca was pacing the room, back and fore from veranda to door, his arms had perhaps been still for only a second or two since she’d told him. “This is Cairo. Things happen in Cairo. This is not Brisbane or Napoli. This is a dangerous place.”
“Hold on a minute, Luca. You think that I don’t know that. I’m not stupid.”
“You are stupid.” He was impatient now, his voice meaner than he intended, but her behaviour was unacceptable. “A man calls you up, and you go rushing to meet him.”
“It’s not just any man, it’s my father.” She was regretting telling him about the phone call, and how she was in search of her father, but she was excited. She had not expected him to call. In fact that was the last thing she expected as she picked up the phone. His voice was a surprise, but instantly recognisable. It knocked her back so hard she could not organize her thoughts, leave alone speak. In an instant it was all over; there was his voice giving her instructions to his house. He was back as if he had never gone: as if the years of anger never were; the tears were never cried; the violent churning of her inside had never been. It was all a dream.
She could not have kept all that to herself but Luca was treating her like an idiot. A guy she had spent one night with! One good root for Chrissake … well maybe two of three … but not a passport into her life. Where does he come off with this big papa stuff? Perhaps he was right, perhaps she was stupid: stupid for thinking she could have that bit of fun with no strings; stupid for choosing the wrong person.
“How do you know it’s your father?” He stopped pacing, sat tentatively on a dressing chair.
“Now who’s stupid? It’s him. You think I don’t know my father’s voice?” She stood, looked down on Luca now easing himself back from the front of the chair as if apologising. She softened her voice but the iron remained. “Luca, it is my father,” she was not going to argue, not now, not ever, with anyone about her father. Luca relaxed, sensing her determination. He finally retreated with a nod.
She smiled, then pressed on with her small advantage, “You are right though,” she offered. “This is not Australia. I’d feel better if you’d be willing to help me, come with me to the house. You could wait in the taxi, keep a lookout.”
“A lookout?” His turn to smile, perhaps to sneer, “And for what, am I looking?”
“I’ve no idea, but it’d feel better if you were there.”