House of Spies Page 2

A few of the old hands questioned whether it was wise for Gabriel to load up the executive suite with so many loyalists and relics from his glorious past. For the most part, however, they kept their concerns to themselves. No director general—other than Shamron, of course—had ever assumed control of the Office with more experience or goodwill. Gabriel had been playing the game longer than anyone in the business, and along the way he had collected an extraordinary array of friends and accomplices. The British prime minister owed his career to him; the pope, his life. Even so, he was not the sort of fellow to shamelessly collect on an old debt. The truly powerful man, said Shamron, never had to ask for a favor.

But he had enemies, too. Enemies who had destroyed his first wife and who had tried to destroy his second as well. Enemies in Moscow and Tehran who viewed him as the only thing standing in the way of their ambitions. For now, they had been dealt with, but doubtless they would be back. So, too, would the man with whom he had last done battle. Indeed, it was this man who occupied the top spot on the new director general’s to-do list. The Office computers had assigned him a randomly generated code name. But behind the cipher-protected doors of King Saul Boulevard, Gabriel and the new leaders of the Office referred to him by the grandiose nom de guerre he had given himself. Saladin . . . They spoke of him with respect and even a trace of foreboding. He was coming for them. It was only a matter of time.

There was a photograph making the rounds of like-minded intelligence services. It had been snapped by an asset of the CIA in the Paraguayan town of Ciudad del Este, which was located in the notorious Tri-Border Area, or Triple Frontier, of South America. It showed a man, large, solidly built, Arab in appearance, drinking coffee at an outdoor café, accompanied by a certain Lebanese trader suspected of having ties to the global jihadist movement. The camera angle was such that it rendered facial-recognition software ineffective. But Gabriel, who was blessed with one of the finest pairs of eyes in the trade, was confident the man was Saladin. He had seen Saladin in person, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., two days before the worst terrorist attack on the American homeland since 9/11. Gabriel knew how Saladin looked, how he smelled, how the air reacted when he entered or left a room. And he knew how Saladin walked. Like his namesake, he moved with a pronounced limp, the result of a shrapnel wound that had been crudely tended to in a house of many rooms and courts near Mosul in northern Iraq. The limp was now his calling card. A man’s physical appearance could be changed in many ways. Hair could be cut or dyed, a face could be altered with plastic surgery. But a limp like Saladin’s was forever.

How he managed to escape from America was a matter of intense debate, and all subsequent efforts to locate him had failed. Reports had him variously in Asunción, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. There was even a rumor he’d found sanctuary in Bariloche, the Argentine ski resort so beloved by fugitive Nazi war criminals. Gabriel dismissed the idea out of hand. Still, he was willing to entertain the notion that Saladin was hiding somewhere in plain sight. Wherever he was, he was planning his next move. Of that, Gabriel was certain.

The recent attack on Washington, with its ruined buildings and monuments and catastrophic death toll, had established Saladin as the new face of Islamic terror. But what would be his encore? The American president, in one of his final interviews before leaving office, declared that Saladin was incapable of another large-scale operation, that the U.S. military response had left his once-formidable network in tatters. Saladin had responded by ordering a suicide bomber to detonate himself outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Small beer, countered the White House. Limited casualties, no Americans among the dead. The desperate act of a man on his way out.

Perhaps, but there were other attacks as well. Saladin had struck Turkey virtually at will—weddings, buses, public squares, Istanbul’s busy airport—and his adherents in Western Europe, those who spoke his name with something like religious fervor, had carried out a series of lone-wolf attacks that had left a trail of death across France, Belgium, and Germany. But something big was coming, something coordinated, a terror spectacular to rival the calamity he had inflicted on Washington.

But where? Another attack on America seemed unlikely. Surely, said the experts, lightning would not strike the same place twice. In the end, the city Saladin chose for his curtain call came as a surprise to no one, especially those who battled terrorists for a living. Despite his penchant for secrecy, Saladin loved the stage. And where better to find a stage than the West End of London.


St. James’s, London

Perhaps it was true, thought Julian Isherwood as he watched torrents of windblown rain tumbling from a black sky. Perhaps the planet was broken after all. A hurricane in London, and in the middle of February at that. Tall and somewhat precarious in comportment, Isherwood was not naturally built for such conditions. At present, he was sheltering in the doorway of Wilton’s Restaurant in Jermyn Street, a spot he knew well. He pushed up the sleeve of his mackintosh and frowned at his wristwatch. The time was 7:40; he was running late. He searched the street for a taxi. There was not one in sight.

From the bar at Wilton’s there came a trickle of halfhearted laughter, followed by the booming baritone voice of none other than tubby Oliver Dimbleby. Wilton’s was now the primary watering hole for a small band of Old Master art dealers who plied their trade in the narrow streets of St. James’s. Green’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Duke Street had once been their favorite haunt, but Green’s had been forced to close its doors owing to a dispute with the company that managed the Queen’s immense portfolio of London real estate. It was symptomatic of the changes that had swept through the neighborhood and the London art world as a whole. Old Masters were deeply out of fashion. The collectors of today, the instant global billionaires who made their fortunes with social media and iPhone apps, were only interested in Modern works. Even the Impressionists were becoming passé. Isherwood had sold just two paintings since the New Year. Both were middle-market works, school of so-and-so, manner of such-and-such. Oliver Dimbleby hadn’t sold anything in six months. Neither had Roddy Hutchinson, who was widely regarded as the most unscrupulous dealer in all of London. But each evening they huddled at the bar of Wilton’s and assured themselves that soon the storm would pass. Julian Isherwood feared otherwise, never more so than at that moment.

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