The clock said 4:30 a.m. What day is it? I wondered. It's Tuesday, July 17, I think. In an hour the Times story on Price and Omni Arms, and the one about Stoat's death and his link to Price would be on the street. Maybe that will be enough to keep Price occupied for a while.
I lay there in the dark and went over in my mind what Torsky said about danger from other directions. I thought about the IRA. Stoat's dead, I said to himself. Why would the Provos in the IRA care anymore about the man who revealed where their C-4 came from? I'll just have to forget about problems from the IRA and assume they're not a factor. IBIC is a different story. Simon Shilling's not going to be able to refute my evidence because all the evidence is true. He could distance himself from it, maybe. Claim he didn't know. But that won't keep the story from running. He's got to try to get me today. Shilling has no other choice.
The situation with Simon Shilling and IBIC was a lot clearer to me now than it had been the night before. I'm not sorry I gave him time though, I thought. I owe it to his wife and kids. Your Irish sentimental streak is going to get you killed, a voice in my mind said. It doesn't matter, I said to myself. I feel better doing it this way.
Then I thought about Price's friends inside the CIA. They were able to get rid of my protection from Scotland Yard. It's clear they wouldn't mind seeing me dead. If they're worried about my making a connection between Price and the old guard in the CIA, they may force Price to go after me again, or they may do it themselves. If those two CIA guys had been able to pick me up, I'd be in deep trouble right now. I'm sure it was somebody in CIA London Station that got my passport pulled.
I turned on the light. I decided I would rather be a hunter than a sitting duck. I'll call Rita Stern's ex-IBIC Black Network agent and get him to cough up names. Might as well start now. There's nothing like waking someone up before five in the morning if you're looking for candor. I felt bad about calling a man sick with cancer and waking him from what was probably already a bad night's sleep, but there was nothing to be done. I had to get after IBIC before their thugs got after me. I went to my desk and dialed the number. The man answered after three rings.
"This is Jack McGlashan."
"Who is it?"
"McGlashan. I'm the writer who called you the other day. Do you remember?"
"Do you know what time it is?"
"Yes, I'm sorry to call at this hour. I think members of the IBIC Black Network are after me."
"What? Why? What have you done?"
"I wrote a story about IBIC's selling arms to countries on the proscribed list. I told about allegations that IBIC smuggles arms, gold, and drugs. And that IBIC keeps accounts in London for terrorists. I called Simon Shilling, the director of IBIC in London, and told him what the story would say and asked him for comment. He asked for time to refute the charges."
"You are in terrible danger." The man sounded wide awake. "Did you mention my name?"
"I don't know your name," I said. "You're my anonymous source in the IBIC Black Network, and I need your help."
"Yes, of course. I must help you." The man seemed to be talking himself into it.
"Who should I be looking out for? Do you know the Black Network enforcers here in London or the ones in charge? Who would Shilling call upon to silence me? Who would they use?"
"The chief enforcer for IBIC in London is a South African named Otto Smuts. He was an officer in the security police before being dismissed for using excessive force.
"He must be bad if he was too brutal for the South Africans," I said.
"Smuts is vicious."
"Would he do the job himself?" I asked.
"I don't think so, unless there was no way of getting caught. Smuts would plan it."
"Who would carry it out?"
"I have seen two who administer beatings and threats. I never saw them kill anyone, but I have heard stories. They are French gangsters. Algerians. A big mean one name René Concasseur and a little sadistic one name Crottin, Marcel Crottin."
"Those are their real names?"
"The names I knew them by. I do not know if those are their actual names or not. But in my experience, these are the men who were most often the intimidators and extortionists. They may be the executioners also."
"Not the kind of men you'd want to run into in the dark," I said.
"You would not want to meet them in the light either."
"One more question," I said. "Do you know of the meaning of a rose tattoo or the rose as a symbol of a secret organization?"
"The tattoo of a rose? I don't know. Many men in the Black Network have tattoos, some have tattoos over their whole bodies. Men of a certain social class in the West often have tattoos. But a special rose tattoo means nothing to me. As far as the sign of the rose, it is a strong symbol in Islam, particularly as a term for special devotional exercises. My native language is Farsi, Persian, but I know Arabic. In that language, Rose and one who recites have the same root. In Latin letters, the root would be WRD. Ward is rose. Wird means a recitation or drawing to the divine along the path to wisdom. The founder of one such sect was called the Rose of Baghdad."
"How do you know all that?"
"I am a Muslim. Using Arabic homonyms from the same root, as symbols one for the other, is part of our tradition. It is a Sufi coded message."
"Could a secret criminal organization called The Rose be an encoded name for a Sufi religious group?" I asked.
"No. The use of corrupt power is the opposite of Sufi belief, which is very pure. But Arabic lends itself to the creation of secret messages. It could be a corruption of the idea of the rose in Islamic tradition, but that would be very cynical. You are thinking of the Black Network of IBIC?"
"Not just that, but there may be a connection," I said.
"I can imagine it. They would do that."
"Thanks for your help. I'm sorry for waking you up so early."
"I don't sleep much these days. I am glad to be of service."
I hung up the phone and leaned back in the desk chair. It was too early to go for a run or to call anyone else. I got up from my chair and went over to the bed to get the printout of Price's secret records where I'd left it when I fell asleep. I took the printout back to the desk and got out an iridescent yellow highlighter marker. Then I began to go over Price's records from the beginning, looking for connections I'd missed earlier. I pored over the records for almost two hours.
I discovered three things. First, the AK-47 rifles Price sent to Libya that IBIC financed came through Turkey. Second, I found another transaction of AK-47s, IBIC-financed, to Pakistan as end-user, but the actual destination was Afghanistan--for the Mujahedin rebels. Russian weapons to kill Russians with. Nice going Price, I thought. The purchaser was the CIA. I already knew that from Torsky.
The third discovery was ambiguous, but it stood out like oil drilling mud. Among all the transactions in Price's secret file of weapons sales was an order for two tons of chemical fertilizer in fifty-five gallon steel drums. From Turkey to Syria. The obvious questions arose in my mind. Why keep it secret if it was really fertilizer? Why not send directly for it without a middle man? What is Price doing selling chemical fertilizer at all? If it was something else, Price was even keeping it a secret from himself in his own private records. Just like the C-4.
The stuff is either for chemical weapons, which is possible, or it’s Semtex-H plastique, I thought. It's SEMTEX, I'll bet. Syria gets plastic explosive for its terrorists so as not to be outdone by Qaddafi. Price gets the SEMTEX from Czechoslovakia by way of Bulgaria and Turkey because he almost got burned on the C-4 deal from the U.S.A. It's the pipeline Teller mentioned. You want it. I can get it. The can-do spirit. Everything is for sale, no matter what.
It was almost seven o'clock. I got up from the desk and put on my running clothes. I stretched and did pushups and situps. Before I went out to run, I put the printout of Price's records and two computer disks, one of Price's stuff and the other my Rolling Stone article, in a nylon belly pack and strapped the pack around my waist. As an afterthought, I reached into the closet and got two five-pound weights I sometimes carried when I ran.
I went outside. A charcoal gray Ford sedan was parked up the street. I saw only one in the car. The man was big and swarthy-looking with no forehead and wavy black hair greased to shine. There was another man in the passenger seat, slumped way down as if he were asleep. I clanked the weights together and started across the street to the car. The passenger side window was rolled down.
"You guys waiting for me?" I shouted.
The driver started the engine and drove off. I caught sight of the license plate and memorized the number. I thought about going back upstairs and calling in the license number immediately but decided it could wait half an hour until I got through running. Why should I let them dictate my life? I said to myself and thought of Angelique who had said the same thing.
I crossed the street and ran down toward the Landing Station. Thad Spratling was sitting on top of the cabin of his narrow boat. I pumped one of the weights high over my head as a greeting and kept running. I crossed the Westway and jogged down the sidewalk to Kensington Gardens. Occasionally, I looked over my shoulder. I didn't see anyone following me. I entered Kensington Gardens at Lancaster Gate. I ran to Round Pond and then east past the Serpentine Gallery and then along Rotten Row, turning at the end of the Serpentine, north to Speakers' Corner. I went out Cumberland Gate near the Marble Arch and headed home along Edgware Road.
As I approached my house, I could see that a lot had happened in my brief absence. There were reporters outside my place again and a police car was parked in front of the house. Thad Spratling came up to me before I crossed the street.
"Morning, Thad. What's the hubbub?"
Thad Spratling ran his hand across his permanent white stubble and handlebar mustache. "I hope you don't mind, Jack. I called the police. There was a pair of nasty-looking characters watching your place. They took off when you came out, but they came back. One of 'em went into your house. The police are inside. I hope you don't mind."
"No, I don't mind. You did right. Were they the ones in the gray Ford?"
"Yeah, that was them."
"Thanks for looking out for me. I owe you a beer. In fact, I owe you several."
"Think nothing of it. Who are they, do you know?"
"Did you read the Times this morning?"
"No. Not enough pictures."
"Read the tabloids. They'll have it by tomorrow or Thursday. It has to do with illegal arms sales."
"Those trogs trying to keep you from saying it?"
"That's it. If they can kill me or intimidate me, maybe the story will go away."
"Keep at it, boy," Thad said. "Give 'em bloody hell."
"That's the idea. I'll try. See you later, Thad."
The reporters crossed the street in a swarm, firing questions at me and snapping pictures.
"Did you kill Stoat?"
"Who is Price really working for?"
"Did Omni Arms know Price sold plastique to the IRA?"
"Is it true the Provos have a contract out to kill you?"
"No. I don't know. Call the Times. Get away from me." I pushed my way through the crowd and eventually crossed to the other side of the street. I got to the door of my house, shoved the door closed, and locked it. This is a real drag, I thought.
Mrs. Gardiner emerged from her flat. "I was watching through the window. Those men are vultures," she said. "Are you all right?"
"I saw your picture in the paper. You're a celebrity."
"I wish they'd leave. It's a feeding frenzy. In two days, no one will remember a thing about it."
"Are you in danger?" Mrs. Gardiner asked.
"No. I'll be fine. I don't want to cause you any trouble."
"I saw a stranger come into the house. I heard him go upstairs."
"Tell the police what he looked like," I said. "If any other strangers show up, call Scotland Yard. Don't confront them, okay?" She agreed. "I'm sorry about all this. I'd better go upstairs and talk to the police."
When I got to my flat, the door was wide open. The place was a wreck. Again. Police officers were getting fingerprints and examining the debris. My computer was on the floor smashed. The monitor screen had been kicked in, leaving a hole like a giant eyesocket.
Lieutenant Entwhistle was in charge.
"Causing more trouble, aren't you, Yank?" he said.
"This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't let the CIA bully you into pulling your escort."
"The CIA said they would take care of it."
"Yeah? They just about kidnapped me themselves. Who's running this country anyway?"
"Your impertinence is undiminished I see," Entwhistle said. "Who did this?"
"My guess is a couple of IBIC goons."
I described them and gave the license number of their car, along with make and model.
"The way things have been going, it could have been Price's men from Omni Arms, the CIA, or even the Provos of the IRA. I'm a popular guy," I said.
"Your story on Stoat's death and Omni Arms' connection to the Harrods bombing are in the Times today," Entwhistle said. "It was good work. We should have been on top of it ourselves."
"I guess I should be gracious and not say I told you so. Thanks for the compliment. Did you call Austin?"
"No. Should I?" Entwhistle said.
"I think Special Branch will want to know about my flat being trashed again."
I explained about the IBIC connection to Omni Arms and IBIC accounts in London belonging to Arab terrorists.
"I'll call him now." Entwhistle went to the phone. It was dead. The line had been ripped out. "I'll call from the car," he said holding up the severed cord.
I surveyed the apartment. "You don't know a good maid service do you?"
"Aren't you a little tired of being behind the curve on all this stuff, Entwhistle? Maybe you ought to get on top of things."
"What would you suggest?"
"Price and Omni Arms have some dangerous boys working for them. Check it out. Get together with Austin. Look over the records from Omni Arms. I'd give you a copy now, but as you can see, my computer is down. I'm going to the Times office, I can make a copy. You could do me a favor and keep these clowns away from me. And sometime today Simon Shilling, the director of IBIC's London branch, will probably try to see me. I think it will be a setup. Unless you want to roll my body into the morgue with Stoat, you might want to cover me. Also, I need to see Stoat's body. Where is it?"
"As you said. He's in the morgue."
"You got any pictures?"
"I'm sure they took pictures. It's standard procedure."
"I'd like copies."
"That can be done. Do you have any more revelations I should know about?"
"None. Unless you'd like to know about the Turkish Mafia."
"Are they operating in Britain?"
"No. Except for Price. He's got a close connection to them. Tell Austin. And tell him I'd like a confirmation that Pan Am 103 was blown up with C-4. For the Times. I'm getting out of here as soon as I salvage a toothbrush and some clothes. This mess is more than I can deal with."
"Where can I reach you?"
"The Times. Oh, I forgot. Talk to my landlady Mrs. Gardiner and Thad Spratling. He owns a narrowboat across the way. They both saw the guys who did this."
"Do you know what they were looking for?"
"It's the IBIC stuff I told you about. It'll be in the Times tomorrow." I leaned into the closet and then went to the bureau for clothes. I went into the bathroom for a shower.
The police were finished when I came out. When I went downstairs to the front door, the reporters were still there, but two plainclothes detectives were also on the steps. They escorted me to a police car. The computer printout of Price's records was under my arm and two computer disks were in my pocket. The man from Scotland Yard drove me to the Times and followed me into the building. Gordon Bennett was waiting for me.
"What's up?" I said.
"Simon Shilling called, asking for you."
"Yeah? His goons trashed my apartment."
"They were his men?"
"I think so. Scotland Yard is checking."
"It's been busy here. Our lawyers have been conferring with Harold. Omni Arms plans to sue."
"You have your evidence."
"Harold has it. Sam Cody is holding a news conference as we speak. Omni Arms is denying everything. Cody is very convincing."
"Yeah? Why is he so convincing?"
"He has that true-blue American-patriot piety that I find so annoying. The worst of it is that he's absolutely sincere."
"It's because he's convinced he's right. Price is his boy, and his boys don't sell arms to terrorists. They're the good guys. I understand because I'm like that myself," I said.
"Are you going to call IBIC? Shilling left a telephone number for you."
"Yeah, I'll call him. I'll need a phone and a tape recorder."
"You'll find a phone and recorder with a fresh tape at that desk." Gordon Bennett pointed.
I went over, checked the recorder, and attached the mike to the phone receiver. I made the call. The secretary put me through.
"Is this Simon Shilling?"
"Ah, McGlashan. I'm glad you called. I've got information for you that will straighten this whole thing out."
"Sure. Your boys made a mess of my flat this morning. They didn't find anything. Bad move. I'll send you the bill."
"IBIC had nothing to do with it, I assure you. I read the Times this morning. You seem to have garnered quite a few enemies. Perhaps they broke into your flat. IBIC is an international bank. We don't have people who resort to such tactics."
"Cut the crap, Shilling. I know all about the IBIC Black Network, so you might as well try your nonsense on someone else."
Simon Shilling barely missed a beat. "Truly, I don't know who could have done this. I have been sincerely trying to gather evidence to prove to you that IBIC is not engaged in illegal arms sales or any other forms of official misconduct. If you won't consider my position, I suppose there's nothing I can do."
Prudence and Reason, I thought."What are you proposing?"
"I propose a meeting. You can look at our records and talk to my managers. I can show you an audit of our books. It will take several hours, but disproving such charges with facts takes time. I believe you are a responsible man. Give us the benefit of your objectivity. A bank exists on trust. If you publish that article about IBIC, the effect will be devastating."
"All right. What do you want."
"The bank owns a place in Tunbridge Wells. It offers a degree of privacy. We could meet there, and you could spend the afternoon looking at our records and talking to our people."
"That's too far. Not a chance. If you want to meet, I'll come to your bank."
"That could be awkward."
"I won't wear a sign."
"How do I get there?"
"I'll send a car around to the Times for you."
"How does eleven sound? I'll arrange for lunch to be brought in."
"I'll be outside the Times building at eleven."
"I'll see you then."
I hung up the phone. I'm setting myself up for sure, I thought. All he needs to say is that I never met the car and never got to IBIC. Shilling would be right about the last part. I would never get to IBIC. I might get to see Gravesend if the tide carried my body out to sea. I knew he had to work fast.
"Gordon, where's IBIC located?"
Gordon Bennett described where it was.
"That's the same building Omni Arms is in," I said.
"They have the ground floor and two floors above," Gordon said.
"I never noticed when I was there. You focus on one thing and miss all the rest."
"So, what does he want?"
"I'm supposed to get a ride from someone from IBIC at eleven. I better make some calls."
I dialed Scotland Yard and explained the situation to Entwhistle. I asked for men to be stationed at IBIC's offices. Then I called Torsky.
"I need your help," I said.
"Simon Shilling wants me to meet with him at IBIC."
"Are you going?"
"Its been nice knowing you."
"Yeah. It might be a one-way trip. That's why I'm calling. I've asked for cover from Scotland Yard at IBIC. I don't know if they'll come through or not."
"So what are you asking?"
"You want to back me up?"
"What's my interest?"
"How about Arab terrorist accounts in IBIC, and the financing of weapons to Arab states hostile to Israel."
"If something goes wrong, and I have to file a report, that would do. If anybody dies, though, it's got to seem as if I was never there. Otherwise, I'm persona non grata in Britain."
"Maybe you ought to stay out of this," I said.
"No. I think I'll just follow you and see if you get your tail in a sling again."
"Thanks. I probably will. Simon Shilling is sending a car over to pick me up at eleven."
"I'll cover you. You won't see me, but I'll be in the Jaguar."
"Thanks. I have one more request."
"Don't push it too far."
"Did you find anything out about the rose tattoo.?"
"I was wondering if the CIA has pictures on file of what was left of Fick's body."
"They might. You want to see the tattoo?"
"Yeah. Do you think you could get the pictures from the CIA?"
"You don't want much do you? What do I offer in exchange?"
"If you contact the right source in the CIA, you could offer a copy of Price's records."
"That might work to my advantage."
"Have you made a printout from the disk I gave?"
"I'm looking at it now. Price has been a busy boy. But it's the C-4 disguised as oil drilling mud back in 1980 that will sink him," Torsky said.
"That reminds me. I found what I think is Semtex-H disguised as fifty-five gallon drums of chemical fertilizer. Check your printout for 1985."
"I'll do that," Torsky said.
"Thanks for backing me up with IBIC."
Torsky hung up. I dialed Austin and found out Entwhistle had already talked to him about the two hoods from IBIC. I hung up and got ready for my trip to IBIC or wherever they would take me.
Gordon Bennett came over to his desk. "What's up."
"Here's the tape of my call to Shilling. You may want to get it transcribed. An IBIC driver is picking me up at eleven. Is the story on IBIC ready to run tomorrow?"
"Whenever you give the word."
"I should know by this afternoon." I fiddled with the computer disks of Price's records and my long magazine essay. "Keep these for me, will you? And the printout too. If anything happens to me, maybe you could send the story on this disk to the editor of Rolling Stone. I'll come back in or call later on. If I end up dead, consider it permission to print."
"Good luck, Jack."
"Thanks, Gordon. I think I'm covered."
I went outside to wait for my ride. I didn't have to wait long. At 10:59 a car drove up to the door. It was a big blue Mercedes with only a driver. I was glad to see it wasn't the dark gray Ford with the two hitmen in it.
"Are you Mr. McGlashan?" the driver said politely.
"I'm here to drive you to the IBIC offices, sir."
I got in the back and the Mercedes drove toward IBIC. Then the driver made a quick turn south and sped across Blackfriar's Bridge into Southwark.
"Where are we going?" I shouted.
"There's been a change of plans, sir. No need to worry."
I reached forward and locked the driver's throat with my forearm. "Let me out. Now."
I squeezed the man's throat. The car swerved back and forth.
"You will release your grip," the man said with difficulty. "I'm holding a capsule of nerve gas. If I release it, you will die. I have already taken the antidote."
I let go of the man's neck.
"So why don't you kill me now?"
"You’d make a terrible mess dying. It would ruin the upholstery."
The car turned left and then left again into a blind alley between two warehouses. I saw the gray Ford parked in front of us. I opened the door and tried to run, but the two thugs came up behind the Mercedes with guns drawn. The two did not speak but ushered me with their guns to the back of the gray Ford. The smaller one opened the trunk of the car and the bigger one shoved me into the confined space and shut the lid. I heard the Mercedes back up and then a loud crash, followed by gunfire. In a minute the trunk lid opened. It was Torsky.
"The cavalry arrives just in time," I said, feeling weak in the knees as I climbed out of the trunk.
"No cavalry. Just me," Torsky said.
"The Lone Ranger then." I looked at the bodies lying by the car in the alley, then back at the Mercedes, which had plowed into Torsky's Jaguar.
"Let me check on the driver," Torsky said.
We walked back down the alley to the Mercedes and looked in the window. The man was slumped forward, and there was a terrible stench.
"I think he's dead," I said.
"Let me check."
"Wait." I grabbed Torsky's arm. "Don't open the door. He said he had a vial of nerve gas. It must have broken when the cars collided. He said he already took an antidote. I think they lied to him. It didn't work. I don't think you want to breathe the stuff he was breathing."
Torsky and I walked back to the bodies and went through their pockets. No I.D. on either one. I pushed up the sleeves on the little one.
"You looking for a rose tattoo?" Torsky asked.
"Yeah. But he doesn't have one. Let me check the big guy."
I unbuttoned the cuff of the man's shirt and pushed the sleeves of the Jacket and shirt above the brawny dark forearm.
"There it is," I said. "It's just like the one Stoat had, only the petals are darker, maybe because of the pigment of the skin. The same five-petalled rose. Too bad we can't check the driver of the Mercedes."
"Let Scotland Yard do it. We've got to get out of here."
"You think the Jag will run?"
"Get in, and we'll see."
The front end was bashed in, but the car started and ran. Torsky backed up and drove away. In a few minutes we pulled into a private service garage and called a cab.
"The embassy will have a fit when they get the bill for repairs," Torsky said. "It's our garage, and I think they pad the estimates."
"I'll pay for it," I said.
"Don't worry about it," Torsky muttered. "I hope nobody else tries to kill you. Bailing you out could get expensive."
"Yeah, I know."
We waited in the garage for the taxi.
"So what are you going to do now?" Torsky asked.
"Publish the IBIC story in the Times," I said. "Then wait for the fallout. There should be indictments on Price and Shilling here in England. Maybe they'll go after Price in the States. I want to try to find out about the rose. Here I've been trying to fit things together, and all of a sudden everything fits together. Maybe too much. It's beginning to look like a vast conspiracy."
"There are a lot of connections," Torsky agreed. "I'll see what I can find out about the rose tattoo from our people who work the ratline in Eastern Europe. I'll nose around and see if the high-tech guys in the CIA want to trade Price's records for pictures of Fick's tattoo, if they have any. It's not a very good trade, but they might as well have Price's records anyway. Maybe they'll sanction him themselves."
"You mean kill him?" I asked.
The taxi arrived, and we got in.
"Where to?" Torsky asked.
"The Times," I said.
We didn't talk in the cab. When we arrived at the Times, I said, "Thanks for helping me out again."
"Yeah. Stay out of trouble for a while," Torsky said and the cab drove away.
I went up to the Times newsroom. Gordon Bennett was there.
"Run the story, Gordon."
"What did Simon Shilling say?"
"I never got to see him."
"Two of his goons stuffed me in the trunk of a car, but somebody showed up and killed them."
"Who was it?"
"I don't know. Scotland Yard was supposed to be watching. Special Branch was notified. Maybe it was an SIS man. I didn't see who it was. By the time I got out of the trunk, it was all over. The man was gone, and three men were dead."
"Three? I thought you said there were only two."
"The third was the driver who picked me up in front of your building. He's dead too."
"Isn't it? I'll write it up after I talk to Scotland Yard. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Don't you want to sit down and recover for a while?"
"No. I think if I did that I'd probably fall apart. Hold space for the story about what I just told you in case I can make a connection to the IBIC Black Network."
"Thanks." I caught a cab to Scotland Yard and went into Entwhistle's office. His partner was there but left when I came in.
"Did you find out anything about those two men in the gray Ford who were watching my place and destroyed my flat?" I asked.
"They're dead," Entwhistle said. "And a third one too."
"I know. They stuffed me in the trunk of their car. The third one was driving the Mercedes. He was supposed to take me to a meeting with Simon Shilling at IBIC. I thought maybe your boys had a shootout with them."
"No. My men were waiting at IBIC for you. Who killed your abductors?"
"I don't know. I was in the trunk of the car."
"Then how did you get out?"
"The trunk wasn't locked. I sprung the latch."
"Pardon me for being skeptical," Entwhistle said.
"I didn't kill them," I said. "Who are they?"
"The fingerprints say they're French hoodlums employed by a freight forwarding company in London that has connections to IBIC and Omni Arms."
"Great. I mean that's useful information. What about the driver of the blue Mercedes?"
"His name is William Black. He worked for IBIC as Simon Shilling's personal driver. He died of some kind of nerve gas poisoning."
I whistled softly and rolled my eyes.
Entwhistle continued, "The car belongs to IBIC. It's used for IBIC executives, especially by Shilling himself."
"Shilling is in deep trouble, I'd say."
"We're preparing a warrant for his arrest."
"What's the charge?" I asked.
"I need a statement from you, and then we'll decide. It will probably be kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder. I assume they were going to kill you."
"That's what I assumed too," I said. "What about the names of the French hoods. Were they real?"
"No. Those names were false."
"I thought so. Who were they?"
"René Moulin and Marcel Romain. They're gangsters from Marseilles. Algerians—Frenchmen; sons of colonialists who repatriated after the French gave up Algeria. Where did you get your information?"
"From a confidential source inside IBIC's Black Network."
"Don't pull that confidentiality business on me."
"What I told you is all I know and all my source knows," I said. "I can't help you with anything else, except to tell you what the Times story on IBIC will have in it." I summed up the story.
"Now I need to ask a favor," I said.
"What is it?"
"I want to see the morgue photographs of Stoat's body."
"I need a picture of the rose tattoo on his right arm. And when you get pictures of Concasseur or Moulin, whoever, I need a picture of his tattoo."
"I noticed that one of them has a rose tattoo. What does it mean?" Entwhistle asked.
"I don't know. You tell me."
"I haven't a clue. I'll call down and get those pictures, so we can look at them."
In a few minutes, a secretary brought in the morgue photos. There was no picture that showed Stoat's right forearm. There was no picture of a rose tattoo.
"Let's go down and look at the body," Entwhistle said.
We went down to the morgue and opened the drawer with Stoat's name on it. The skin of his right forearm had been removed to a depth of about a quarter inch, three inches wide, from wrist to elbow.
"That's very strange," Entwhistle said.
I felt a chill run up my spine.
"I don't like it," I said, involuntarily twitching.
"What do you suppose it means?"
"It means someone who doesn't want evidence of the rose tattoo has access to your morgue. Let's have a look at the other bodies."
We went to the last three occupied drawers and opened the one marked "Concasseur/Moulin." Entwhistle and I stared at the right forearm of the corpse.
"I don't believe this." Entwhistle examined the arm. The skin on the back of the right forearm was gone, exposing the pinkish-gray muscle.
I said nothing, but my mind sparked like a frayed wire.
We examined the corpse in the drawer marked "Crottin/Romain." The body was intact. No tattoo, as I had seen earlier. We looked at the body of William Black. No tattoo. No mutilation.
Entwhistle checked with the medical examiner. I followed along. The examiner was a cheerful man in a white coat.
"Was there a tattoo on Stoat's body when it arrived?"
"Why, yes. There was. It's in my report."
"Well, there's no tattoo now. Was there a picture taken that would show it?"
"Yes. I took one."
"It wasn't with the photos you sent upstairs."
"That's odd. I don't remember seeing one either."
"Did the large man Concasseur/Moulin have a tattoo?"
"No. But the skin of the right forearm was missing. It's in my report," the examiner said.
"It looked to me like a ritual mutilation."
Entwhistle sighed. "I'll have to initiate an internal investigation of this. It seems our security procedures are lacking. Someone removed tattoos from two bodies in our charge." He turned to me. "Don't make one of your impertinent comments."
"My thoughts are pertinent, and I'm keeping them to myself."
We walked back upstairs to Entwhistle's office. I sat down in a chair as Entwhistle paced around the small room.
"You won't write about this."
"What would I say? It's the kind of stuff the tabloids print. 'Tattoos of Secret Society Removed from Corpses in Satanic Ritual.'"
"Don't be funny."
"What do you make of it then?"
"I don't make anything of it. My mind dwells on facts. I don't go in much for intuition and fantasy. Right now I'm concerned about a breach in Scotland Yard security. If you'll excuse me, I've got to request an emergency meeting."
I didn't budge. "You don't wonder why two corpses were mutilated to get rid of innocuous tattoos?"
"To me, that's a peripheral issue. I have three new dead bodies because of you. I should charge you with murder," Entwhistle said.
"That's absurd. I told you what might happen beforehand. And I told you all I know about their deaths."
"You're protecting someone. Your whole story stinks of rotten fish."
"Suit yourself." I got up to leave.
"Wait a minute. You've got to make a statement."
Entwhistle called in a man who took me to an interrogation room with a tape recorder. A woman came in to take notes. I was there for almost an hour. When they finally let me go, I went back to the Times. I was dead tired, mentally and physically. I should get something to eat, my mind told me. But I wasn't hungry. In fact, I was nauseated by everything that had happened. I trudged up the stairs to the Times newsroom. Gordon Bennett was still there.
"My God. You look a wreck."
"I'm pretty well spent. Do you have any coffee?"
"I'll make some." Gordon left the newsroom.
I sat down at a desk and tried to write the story of my encounter with the thugs from IBIC, but I couldn't think straight. Too many images intruded on my mind. Gordon came back after about ten minutes with two cups of coffee. He handed me a cup and sat down at a chair next to the desk.
"What's wrong?" Gordon asked.
"I'm just overloaded," I said.
"I can't seem to write the story."
"Let me get a tape recorder, and I'll talk you through it. I'll write it up and give you the byline."
"It doesn't matter. You take credit."
"No. I'm on salary. You should get paid for it."
We sat there for an hour. Gordon paused the tape once and refilled our mugs. I described the events of the day from my first sighting of the IBIC watchers to their temporary resting place on stainless steel trays in the morgue at Scotland Yard. Finally, I explained the business with the tattoos. Gordon Bennett turned off the tape recorder.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"It's bizarre. Is it some kind of cult?"
"God only knows. This whole thing started about a year ago when an old friend of mine called from Rome to tell me about Qaddafi's terrorist training camp in around 1980, teaching terrorists to make bombs with American C-4. He said all these terrorists had been using the stuff to kill people in Europe and the Middle East for the past ten years. We were in the Special Forces together. A bunch of ex-Special Forces men were at the camp in the Libyan desert. He wanted me to know. Maybe he already knew he was going to die. He told me he was working for the CIA. I wrote a story, and he got killed. I think it was my fault. They knew he told me. The CIA identified what was left of his dismembered body from the rose tattoo on his forearm."
I leaned back in my chair. Then I reached for my coffee cup and drained it. "So I looked into it, and I found all these connections I've been writing about. The CIA, Price, Stoat, the IRA, the Turkish Mafia, the KGB, IBIC."
"Where does the KGB fit in?" Gordon asked.
"It turns out they were there too, at Qaddafi's terrorist training camp. Ex-Green Beanies, American C-4 plastique, and the KGB."
"It makes you wonder."
"Too many connections. Way too many. I'm paranoid as it is. I don't need to find a huge conspiracy. In all, three dead men marked by rose tattoos. And then to find that Stoat and this French hitman had rose tattoos that someone mutilated their bodies to remove. I don't know. My mind is fried."
"You should go home and get some sleep."
"Yeah. I'll do that eventually. My place is destroyed. I'm not really in a hurry to go back to the mess. Why don't you go write the story? I'll find a place to lie down for a while. You can show me the story when you're done. I wonder how Simon Shilling's doing right now?"
Gordon looked startled. "I forgot to tell you. He called for you again. It was about three o'clock this afternoon. I wonder what he wanted."
"Who knows? Whatever it was, I'm sure it was reasonable and prudent."
Gordon found me a couch. I never saw the story about my abduction by IBIC Black Network agents before it went to press because I slept through the night.