Twenty-eight kilometers southeast of Marrakech, the walled home was identified by neither name nor number. A line of stunted palms cast sharp shadows on stucco walls bleached in the September afternoon sunlight. A satellite dish and a soldier in olive green pacing outside hinted the occupant was someone of importance. The soldier had a cigarette in his mouth and held his Kalashnikov rifle in the crook of his arm. When a vehicle approached, he glanced toward it and took a last, long draw on the cigarette before stubbing it out underfoot. A white Peugeot stopped outside the wrought-iron gate. A long trail of dust hung over the route it had followed. The driver, his blond hair cropped short and his lightweight suit barely creased, got out. Standing erect with shoulders back, he studied his surroundings for several seconds. The soldier, still slouching, stared but made no attempt to challenge him.
“At ease.” The visitor barked the command in the crisp Sandhurst vowels of an English officer. When the soldier did not blink, the Englishman shook his head and smiled, but with no sign of humor in his steel-blue eyes. The gate creaked open to his touch. The cooler air in the shaded courtyard was scented by ripening citrus and late-fruiting fig. A brick pathway led to an arched doorway, bordered on either side by a vibrant, purple display of bougainvillea. Before the Englishman’s hand could touch the brass bell push, a robed Arab emerged and bowed in welcome. “Abd Al-Nadin?” the Englishman asked. “I sent a message.” In response, the Arab nodded silently and ushered him through the doorway into an atrium. With a final bow, he withdrew, slamming the door shut. Inside, the Englishman faced two men in tight-fitting, black trainer suits. They stood a few feet apart on the blue marble floor, as motionless as two ebony statues, waiting for him to approach. Light came from an opening high in the roof. Water tinkled into a shallow, mosaic-lined pool from a fluted alabaster fountain that glistened like a sculpture of clouded ice. Before he had time to appreciate the aesthetics, a fi st landed in his stomach, doubling him over. A heavy hand from behind pushed him onto his knees and flattened him face down on the ground. One man held his neck in a choking grip, while the other unlaced his shoes and pulled off his jacket and suit pants. They explored his flesh with rough hands, ran an electronic wand over his body, and checked each item of clothing. Their work finished, they walked away. Hearing new footsteps, the Englishman, who had made no attempt to resist, rolled over and looked up. The man standing over him wore an Arab headdress but was light-skinned with a gaunt, lined face. He wore a brown robe beneath a grey cotton jacket and lace-up shoes with no socks.
“Good afternoon, Captain,” the man said. “I apologize for the greeting. Please don’t take it amiss. We surprise our visitors to avoid surprises for ourselves.” He sat down in a U-shaped chair of carved wood, gesturing to the one beside it. “No!” he said when his guest reached for his jacket and trousers. “You pick them up when you leave. You must need information very badly.” “Not at all, colonel. I came to give some, and there’s not much time.” “Why come here?” He studied his guest. “You have many easier ways.” “Some options are closed. I’m no longer with the regiment. And it’s better for you. If anyone tracks me, my contact will have been with Abd Al-Nadin alone.” “I understand.” The host smiled, sharing a private joke. The two were among the few who knew the truth. “You’ve come from Saudi? You have useful information for us?” “I’m tracking a woman you’ve wanted for a long time.” When he gave the name, his host raised an eyebrow, his first sign of interest. “It’s not relevant now,” he said. “She’s retired. I can’t pay you.” “But you want her. She may be on her way to Boston, and you have agents there.” “She’ll never get into the US.” “She has new papers.” The Englishman gestured to his jacket on the floor. Removing a sealed white envelope from a pocket in the jacket, his host studied the contents and shrugged. “Interesting, but, as I said, she has nothing useful now.” “You won’t want her to live free. Once her identity is discovered, it will be no surprise that she died trying to commit an atrocity.” “It is difficult to arrange one death alone.” “We don’t want too many. Just the person she’s meeting perhaps, if she gets to Boston.” The host smiled. “I understand. Somebody knows too much? You want us to do the messy work. Surely you know that’s something we never do?” “Except through a surrogate.” “If you ever hint at our connection you’ll be killed.” “Of course.” “Don’t forget to pick your suit up before you leave.”
The Englishman dressed in silence and walked out without looking back. He showed no emotion, but before he got into the Peugeot he brushed off his jacket with more vigor than was necessary.