Mousa Zerktouni was one of five separate names attached to five separate lives committed to his photographic memory.
The Mousa alias was French-Moroccan. The others were British, French, Saudi, and Indian. He spoke the languages that accompanied each name, each identity. Each had an entirely different life that went along with the name. Families, schools, lovers, career highs, and personal lows. They were all seared into his mind with laser precision, his recall tested regularly by his handlers.
His fingerprints were not his but had belonged to a Chinese cadaver and were surgically grafted into his fingers one by one, allowing him to bypass the biometric systems in various airports without raising any red flags. Likewise, his face had undergone numerous reconstructive surgeries, making it nearly impossible to ascertain what his real age was.
He was deniable, invisible, and if need be expendable.
The dark skinned man was a weapon to be used as it suited his benefactors, despite his realization that ultimately he was tool, if a useful one. He had compromised himself and his soul to the point that it was too late by the time he understood what he had done. Now he had a family as closely monitored as he was, virtually held hostage without their knowledge.
Steering the boat towards the shore, he kept the last vestiges of daylight to his back as he cut the engine and let the waves guide him towards the beach. He’d carefully studied the relevant sea charts and knew precisely where to dump a body overboard where the current would make sure it was swept away for good.
Usually he was used for completely deniable operations. In those cases not only would the assassin remain undiscovered, but the methods used would be likewise undetectable. Most of the time, the fact that a murder had taken place would never be discovered, the death being attributed to a drug overdose or suicide. A few times, a surgically altered doppelganger had been inserted to take the target’s place after his execution.
Other times a message was sent with, say, an icicle dipped in curare and jabbed into one of the target’s kidneys. In still other cases, a target could be eliminated with a portable fibulator the size of a pack of cigarettes that would induce heart attack. A variety of poisons were also made available to him.
Every tool has its use.
Ricin, slipped into the food of a federal investigator. A single shot placed to the back of the head of a political organizer. By his count he averaged five to ten kills a year, only being called in when they wanted the job done right.
As his mind wandered, he began to wonder if they had others like him. Other assassins deployed across the globe, their families with invisible daggers swinging over their throats, just like his own.
It was dark by the time he dropped into the water and dragged the small boat up onto the shore. For this assignment no elaborate measures or exotic weapons would be necessary. From the limited information he had been provided, he could infer that the target was already dead and buried on paper. Now they wanted him physically dead and his body disappeared.
It felt somewhat sloppy to him. Normally he disposed of bodies with industrial grade acid, used for burning through metal at construction sites. In other instances he had to improvise by bribing employees at fish paste plants. He had used a wood chipper in one of his first assignments, an experience he was not keen to repeat any time soon.
There were a number of irregularities with his current mission, but it wasn’t his job to ask why.
Stalking across the beach, he arrived outside the the house and pulled his suppressed .22 caliber pistol from its holster. With the suppressor and the subsonic ammunition, he could effect a nearly silent kill.
His hand froze on the door handle.
Through the screen door he heard voices.
“There were multiple shipments,” a gruff voice said, in response to an unheard question. “Some of them were decoys, like the one in Denmark. Others were funneled eastward.”
“Where?” A younger voice.
“Shanghai and Singapore. I don’t know where the final product was to be assembled.”
“It’s not a product; it’s a weapon, so stop beating around the bush.”
“They know someone is onto them but don’t know who. For now they are writing it off as the cost of doing business, but who knows for how long? I’m sure they are actively looking for you.”
Mousa clenched the latch and eased it open, his target making the decision for him. Any confederates were to be sanitized as well. He found himself in a small kitchen with a half-sized refrigerator and electric stove. A six pack of beer sat sweating on the counter, one bottle missing. The voices continued from somewhere deeper in the house.
“What are the vectors for transmission?”
“I don’t know, I’ve been cut out of the loop, but it could be anything. The water supply is something they’ve looked at in the past.”
The assassin edged around the corner, looking into the living room.
Maurice stood talking, singing like a canary. Sweat rolled down his face in droves as he talked to a man still obscured behind the wall. He was revealing information for the first time that he had tried to convince even himself that he didn’t know. Mousa knew what he had to do. His family had already been inoculated against what was coming, and so his loyalty had been bought and paid for.
Taking careful aim at the target’s head, he sighted in just below the earlobe and stroked the trigger a half dozen times in a blindingly fast succession that he spent hours a day training for. The multiple shots blasted from the small pistol fast enough to appear as a single shot that plowed into the target, toppling him to the floor with a hollow thud.
Before he could shift his weight on the balls of his feet and target the second man, two bullets tore through the drywall above him and shattered the beer bottles sitting on the counter, spraying glass and foam in all directions.
The assassin cursed.
* * *
Frank fired two snap shots from the hip before assuming a two-handed modified weaver grip on his pistol. Dark colored glass spun across the kitchen floor as he moved forward.
When a shoulder and half of a face appeared from behind the wall, he changed direction in mid stride, strafing towards the wall as several bullets coughed from the gun in the assassin’s hand. The ex-soldier returned fire a second time, the blasts rendering him temporarily deaf, his shots reducing the door frame to splinters. Preparing to fire through the wall again, now knowing the shooter’s position, he heard the killer’s footsteps bounding back through the kitchen over the ringing in his inner ear.
Spinning on his left foot, he faced the second entrance to the kitchen as the door was flung open. The assassin rushed forward, eyes wide with surprise at being confronted face to face. Frank squeezed the trigger, his shot grazing the side of the assassin’s head and taking off most of his left ear.
Recoiling in pain, his attacker darted to the side, firing just a moment too late as the American mercenary took hold of his wrist in a vise-like grip. Frank fought to bring the Glock 19 back into the fight as assassin reached for his wrist as well, wrenching Frank’s gun hand away from him.
As the two jostled back and forth for control, the silenced .22 caliber pistol spat bullets that whizzed through the air with each trigger pull, punching holes in walls and demolishing a television set. Only a quick shift at the hips saved Frank as the assassin attempted to knee him in the groin in a bid to gain the upper hand. With the last shot expended, the assassin’s pistol went dry.
Releasing his wrist, Frank struck his attacker with an open palm to the face before pushing him into the wall, sheet rock caving in under their weight.
Dropping the .22 to the ground, the assassin launched his own attack, a chop of his hand hitting him that instantly numbed Frank’s hand, causing him to lose control of his own firearm. The Glock went skidding across the floor.
The dark skinned man pivoted and dived for the pistol.
Bringing a knee above his waistline, Frank stomped down on the assassin’s hand just as his fingers wrapped around the pistol’s grip. Screaming with new pain, the killer flung himself back around, blood leaking from what was left of his ear; he slammed down in a hammering motion at his leg.
Frank yelped as the blade sliced a deep line through his calf muscle.
Trying to get back to his feet, Frank ignored the pain and delivered a second kick to the assassin’s face before bending over and dropping his heel down hard on his knife hand. Bones cracked as he came down, placing his knee on his attacker’s neck.
The assassin thrashed under Frank’s weight as he gripped the Glock and shoved the muzzle under the would-be killer’s chin.
In that last moment, he was unable to determine if he saw resentment or relief in those dark eyes.
The 9mm round blasted through the assassin’s skull, splattering the wooden floor with bone fragments and brain matter before his head dropped to the ground like a paperweight.
* * *
A friend had once called the city-state, Disneyland with the death penalty. Adam shuddered to think what would happen if he was charged for espionage in a country that put such a premium on law and order.
Singapore was a Southeast Asian enclave of mixed ethnic groups, complicated investment schemes, and cutting edge technology. Stretching out on a narrow peninsula, Singapore acted as a choke point from the Indian Ocean into the Pacific, connected by the Malacca straits. High tech mercantilism existed comfortably alongside low tech piracy.
Billed as a luxurious tourist attraction at the southernmost tip of the Asian continent, Sentosa Island endeavored to attract wealthy expatriates with low tax rates, bank privacy laws, and modern conveniences. Taking the cable car in earlier in the day, Adam noticed that the fauna of the island may have been beautiful, but he couldn’t ignore the black water washing up on the artificial beaches or the oil refineries on the nearby mainland.
Waiting for nightfall, he pitched a small rock, sending it arcing through the darkness where it bounced end over end into the landscaping in front of the target building.
The wireless data harvester, or slurper as it was called in the technical surveillance field, rolled close enough to the entrance of Information Technologies LLC that it would be able to pick up data as soon as employees began coming to work in the morning. The artificial rock was packed with expensive electronics that were capable of sucking data right out of the air, especially with people now so dependent on wireless networks.
The Colombian in Guinea Bissau had led him to a Turk in Ankara, who had in turn led him to an incarcerated Russian in Thailand. He got deeper and deeper, finally coming full circle, back to the Global Systems subsidiary in Singapore. Pooling information with Frank and Deckard, they realized that there were still a lot of blank spaces in their intelligence map regarding the enemy’s order of battle, but the emerging picture chilled them to their core.
The slurper was disguised as a rock by coating the device with a plastic resin and airbrushing it a suitable grayish brown color. The battery would keep it operating for nearly a week while it harvested information from wireless routers, cellular phones, and any other devices that came within range. Addresses, telephone numbers, passwords and more would be sent to a repeater installed down the street before being bounced via satellite to one of Adam’s encrypted email accounts.
They knew that several former CIA psychologists operated out of the Singapore office. Now it was just a question of discovering what they were doing there.
Opening his netbook, Adam connected to his own wireless network, quickly establishing contact with the repeater now synched up with the slurper lying next to the building. The screen already displayed some data, most of it, of course, useless.
Sighing, Adam began walking towards a cafe he had spotted earlier.
He had work to do.