By Anne Kimbell
They say spring is the best time of
the year in Paris to recruit a spy. The girls on the
Champs Elysee have taken off their heavy winter coats
and are in their budding phase. It's a good time to
dangle a dangerous job in front of a reluctant
recruit. The sap is rising.
Sam smiled ruefully, and rubbed his
cheek, rough with a stubble of beard after another
long day in the Defense Attaché's office at the
American Embassy. No time to shave before he met his
contact. Though "contact" was not exactly
the right word for Rick. It might have been in Prague
ten years ago. But now Sam was playing a long shot...
and he knew it.
He looked down at the card in his
hand. It was on heavy card stock, and slightly larger
than usual. Trust Rick to get things right. From his
perfectly cut tweed jacket, to his own special brand
of aftershave to his cool good looks and athletic
charm. He looked and behaved so correctly that no one
ever found out exactly what it was he did. Sam was
counting on the fact that the charm still worked, and
that his operative's instincts were still intact
after ten lazy years selling chemicals to private
The bistro at the corner of Rue de
la Verite was almost deserted at this hour of the
afternoon, except for an old man sipping his Pernod
and watching the parade of spring dresses outside the
window through watery eyes. Sam lowered his girth
into a seat in a darkened corner, depriving himself
of a view of the girls, and focusing his highly
developed talent of persuasion on the job at hand.
He had found a hook to catch Rick
but he had to use it quickly. The assignment was too
delicate and too dangerous to send an amateur. Yet,
when Rick had left the service ten years ago, he had
made it clear that he didn't want to play anymore.
More than that, he had insulted enough of the top
brass to make sure that no one would ask him again.
He was a black sheep, a cast out and just right for
Sam leaned back, ordered a glass of
the Pernod and waited. Patience had always been one
of his virtues. Now that he was ready for retirement,
he could feel it ebbing. Rick had to take this
assignment. There was no one else immediately
available and too much was at risk to wait.
Rick Harrison walked
briskly along the tree shaded Boulevard Monmartre. His eyes
narrowed against the dying sunlight of a spring
afternoon. He cursed himself silently for agreeing to
meet Sam Shepherd. It was a stupid thing to do, and
Rick prided himself on never making stupid moves. In
fact, he rarely made any moves these days that
weren't calculated to increase either his net worth,
or his ability to do just exactly what he pleased for
the rest of his life.
Sam had come swimming
out of his past, surfacing almost as if from a dream,
with a simple request to meet him for a drink in a
spot they had frequented another lifetime ago.
Knowing Sam, there must be an ulterior motive, and
unless the answer was spelled in megabucks, Rick just
He slowed his pace as
he reached the corner of Rue de la Verite. An old
habit of self preservation made him check the people
near the entrance; a mother with her two small
children out for an afternoon stroll; a young couple
arm in arm; and a teenager trying to light a
cigarette. Rick smiled bitterly. These days it could
easily be the teenager. He watched the boy for a
minute, as he hunched his shoulders under his thin
blue sweater and slouched around the corner.
Rick hesitated for a
moment, then entered the bar and ordered a vin
ordinare from the bored bartender. He caught his
first glimpse of Sam out of the corner of his eye,
portlier than he remembered, but still with the look
of an aging cherub that fooled many people into not
taking him seriously. A decided plus for someone in
the intelligence community.
They glanced at each
other, like two fighters squaring off for a rematch
after ten years. Then Rick picked up his glass, and
walked to the shadowy corner table where Sam sat and
waited, wearing a puckish grin. To Rick's acute
discomfort, Sam stood up and embraced him like a long
"It's been a long
time", Sam said. "Have you missed all the
Rick looked around
warily. He had always been a little afraid of Sam's
jovial glee, and his being involved in clandestine
work for the intelligence community. And he suspected
that more than one job had short circuited because of
Sam's delight in letting people know what position he
occupied at the embassy. But he was also quick to do
a favor for a friend. And after all these years, Rick
needed a favor, an added reason for agreeing to this
After a few minutes of
polite banter in French, just enough to give the
impression of two old friends meeting for a petit
verre before going home to their wives and families,
Rick dropped his voice and spoke quietly in English.
"So what's the
deal Sam? You didn't invite me here just to see the
color of my eyes again."
wryly." I hear you sell agricultural chemicals
now for one of the big pharmaceutical companies, and
that your territory is North Africa, the Magreb. That
could be of interest to us."
"You in the
market for fertilizer?" Rick responded,
narrowing his eyes and lighting a cigarette.
"No, but some
friends of mine in Tunisia could use a little help. A
week or so of your time, collect some information,
perhaps a document or two, and leave somewhat richer
for your trouble."
Rick leaned back in
the booth, and for the first time he almost smiled.
me a week in Tunis, all expenses paid. What if the
PLO, or one of the right wing Muslim organizations
hear about this?"
Sam stopped smiling.
"They won't hear about it, if you're careful.
And if you're smart, you can be in and out before
anyone knows you're there. You can even sell a few
chemicals, or fertilizer, or whatever you're selling,
on the side."
"Any reason that
you can think of that I should do this for you?"
"Don't do it for
me, or for your country, or for money, do it for
" Merde, Sam.
That man died and went to hell a long time ago. But
thanks for the vote of confidence in a middle aged
"Rick, a middle
aged chemical salesman is just what we need in
Tunisia right now, with some very special Eastern
European scientists meeting in Tunis, for what we
know not for sure, but we need to know, because these
same chemicals innocently used for fertilizer can be
used for more lethal purposes, and the scientists
involved in this meeting in Tunisia are not
Rick finished his wine
with a grimace of distaste, rose to his feet and
extended his hand.
"Sam, no more of
those games for me, so count me out on this
one". Sam clasped the extended hand, while
holding out a white card, embossed with the seal of
the United States of America, with the other.
"Call me if you
change your mind. And best regards to Melanie and to
Rick took the card. It
was hard to keep his hand from shaking. The bastard
knew, and that was why he had tracked him down, and
invited him here in the first place. He knew that
Robbie had disappeared somewhere between Morocco and
Tunisia. And he was offering his help. But as
always...it was conditional. Remembering Melanie's
voice on the phone this morning, he was tempted. But
not enough to let Sam know that he had won...not
right away anyhow. Let him sweat it out for a day or
so. "I'll call you", he said, dropping a
hundred franc note on the table. "The drinks are
Rick caught a cab and
went directly back to his hotel in a discrete
neighborhood, within walking distance of the Champs
Elysee. His phone was ringing as he entered the room.
The antique sound of Paris telephones annoyed him. In
fact, almost everything annoyed him since Melanie's
call this morning. Why had she let the kid go off on
his own this summer? Seventeen was no age to go
tramping around Africa, and the Magreb in
particularly, with a bunch of kids, whose only
experience of life came from a high priced prep
school. Algeria and Libya certainly wouldn't be safe,
even though Morocco and Tunisia might be.
He picked up the phone
on its final ring, just in time to hear the operator
telling his ex-wife that he wasn't there. He had a
moment's instinct to skip the whole mess. Melanie had
raised Robbie with her father's money, and her
father's help. After all, Robbie's grandfather was
Duke Weston, New York's super industrialist, and had
business interests all over the world, including
North Africa. Let them get him out of trouble.
Despite himself, her
voice on the other end of the line sounded good.
Perhaps it was just his male satisfaction in having
her ask him for help. Besides, she was paying for the
call, and being emotional on the long distance
telephone had always been one of her strong points.
Particularly when she needed something. But this time
the tears sounded real.
Rick loosened his tie
and sat gingerly on the usual fragile, small, pink,
satin chair, while he listened. Their son Robbie had
disappeared in Tunis two weeks ago, saying he was
going to visit some friends in Sidi Bou Said. There
had been no trace of him since, no ransom note and
the Embassy had been unable to help. Could Rick
please go and make some inquiries through his friends
in government in Tunisia?
"I just know that
he's in some kind of terrible trouble. It's our fault
for not staying together, and raising him in a
family". On this familiar guilt ridden note,
Rick quickly made his excuses and hung up the phone.
Melanie was going to get her way again. He was going
Harrison, The Third, woke from a drugged sleep to
find himself in an unfamiliar room, lit only by a
window high up in the wall, covered with an intricate
iron grill work. His head ached, and he had trouble
focusing his eyes. He seemed to be wearing some kind
of long, dirty dress and his feet were bare. He
struggled to get up, only to find that one ankle was
tied to the bed. A voice shouted at him harshly, in
Arabic, and, when he continued to struggle to free
himself, he heard a noise and everything went black.
His captor smiled,
showing only three teeth, and then as the call to
prayers began, silently prostrated himself toward
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