Finally the Technician spoke, quietly and calmly. He pulled his black, hooded waterproof garment tight against the torrential rain.
"I hesitate to say it, my brother, but the operation is going smoothly. The trucks loaded with matériel were concealed just as we had arranged and the soldiers encountered no resistance on the short drive along the Avenue Habib Borguiga. Now we have just received the radio signal from the first menthey have reached the presidential palace. The coup detat has begun." As he spoke he consulted his wristwatch.
Abu nodded imperiously. He was a man who expected nothing less than success. A distant series of explosions told Abu and his adviser that the battle was underway. The presidential palace would be seized imminently, and in a matter of hours, the Islamic militants would control Tunis. "Let us not congratulate ourselves prematurely," Abu said in a low, tense voice. The rain was letting up now, and in a moment the storm passed just as suddenly as it had appeared.
Suddenly the silence on the beach was shattered by voices shouting at them in strident, high-pitched Arabic. Dark figures raced across the sand. Abu and the Technician tensed and reached for their weapons, but then saw it was their Hezbollah brethren.
"My God! Mighty Allah, theyre surrounded!"
Four Arab men approached, looking frightened and out of breath. "A zero-one distress signal," panted the one carrying a PRC-117 field radio on his back. "They were able to transmit only that they were surrounded by the security forces at the palace and taken captive. Then the transmission was killed! They say they were set up!"
Abu turned to his adviser in alarm. "How can this be?"
The youngest of the four young men who stood before them said, "The matériel left for the menthe antitank weapons, the ammunition, the C-4all of it was defective! Nothing worked! And the government forces were lying in wait for them! Our men were set up from the beginning!"
Abu looked visibly pained, his customary serenity vanished. He beckoned his number-one adviser. "Ya sahbee, I need your wise counsel."
The technician adjusted his wristwatch as he came close to the master terrorist. Abu put one arm around his advisers shoulders. He spoke in a low, calm voice. "There must be a traitor in our ranks, an infiltrator. Our plans were leaked."
Abu made a subtle, almost undetectable gesture with a finger and thumb. It was a cue, and his followers immediately grabbed the Technician by the arms, legs, and shoulders. The Technician struggled mightily, but he was no match for the trained terrorists who held him. Swiftly, Abus right hand shot out. There was a flash of metal and Abu plunged a serrated, hooked knife into the Technicians abdomen, yanking the blade down and then out to inflict the maximum damage. Abus eyes were blazing. "The traitor is you!" he spat out.
The Technician gasped. The pain was obviously excruciating, but his face remained a stolid mask. "No, Abu!" he protested.
"Pig!" spat Abu, lunging at him again, his serrated knife aimed at the Technicians groin. "No one else knew the timing, the exact plans! No on! And you were the one who certified the matériel. It can be no one else."
Suddenly the beach was flooded with blindingly bright carbon-arc light. Abu turned and realized that they were surrounded and vastly outnumbered by dozens upon dozens of soldiers in khaki uniforms. The Groupement de Commando of the Tunisian Garde Nationale, machine guns pointed, had abruptly appeared from over the horizon; a thundering racket from above announced the arrival of several attack helicopters.
Bursts of automatic gunfire hit Abus men, turning them into jerking marionettes. Their bloodcurdling screams were abruptly silenced, and their bodies toppled to the ground in strange and awkward positions. Another burst of gunfire, and then it stopped. The unexpected silence that followed was eerie. Only the master terrorist and his munitions specialist had not been fired upon.
Copyright Robert Ludlum 2000. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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