The cab jolted to a sudden stop at the entrance to Rue Maloush. The driver turned his shaved head toward me and blinked his bloodshot eyes. He'd been smoking too much
"Bad street," he growled sullenly. "I don't go in. You want to go in, you walk."
I grinned. Even hardened Arab residents of Tangier avoided the Rue Maloush, a narrow, twisting, badly lit and worse smelling alley in the middle of the medina, Tangier's version of a casbah. But I'd seen worse. And I had business there. I paid the driver, threw him a five-
"You American? You want to have good time?"
The kids popped out of nowhere and followed me as I walked. They were no more than eight or nine years old, dressed in filthy, ragged
"What you like? You like boys? Girls? Two girls at same time? You like to see show? Girl and donkey? You like very young boy. What you like?"
"What I like," I said firmly, "is to be left alone. Now beat it."
"Carter," I said tersely. "Nick Carter. I'm expected."
The panel slid back instantly, there was a clicking of locks, and the door opened. I walked into a large, low-ceilinged room which at first seemed to be even darker than the street. The acrid smell of burning hashish hit my nostrils. The harsh, wailing sounds of Arab music ripped into my ears. Spread around the sides of the room, seated cross-legged on rugs or leaning back on cushions, were several dozen shadowy figures. Some were sipping mint tea, others were smoking hashish from water pipes. Their attention was riveted to the center of the room, and I could see why. On the dance floor in the center, lit by dim purple floodlights, a girl was dancing. She was dressed only in a skimpy bra, translucent harem pants, and a veil. Her body was lush, full breasts and sleek thighs. Her movements were slow, silky, and erotic. She gave off an odor of pure sex.
"You will be seated, Monsieur?" the man with the mustache asked. His voice was still expressionless, and his eyes didn't seem to move when he talked. I pulled my eyes away from the girl — with reluctance — and pointed to a spot against the wall, facing the door. Standard Operating Procedure.
"There," I said. "And bring me some mint tea. Boiling."
He faded into the semi-darkness. I sat down on a cushion against the wall, waited for my eyes to completely adjust to the dark, and gave the place a close inspection. I decided that the man I was supposed to meet hadn't chosen badly. The room was dark enough, and the music loud enough, to give us privacy. If I knew this man as well as I thought I did, we'd need it. And we also might need one of the several exits I had spotted immediately. I knew there were others, and I could even make an educated guess as to where. No Tangier club lasts long without a few discreet exits, in case of a visit by police or even less desirable callers.
As for the entertainment — well, I had no complaints on that score, either. I leaned back against the rough clay wall and watched the girl. Her hair was jet black and reached to her waist. Slowly, slowly, she swayed in the murky light, to the insistent, gut-thumping of the oud. Her head fell back, then forward, as if she had no control over what her body wanted, needed, to do. The jet-black hair brushed against one breast, then the other. It covered, then uncovered, the muscles of her belly, glistening damply with sweat. It danced along her ripe thighs, like the hands of a man slowly caressing her into erotic fever. Her arms raised, pushing forward the magnificent breasts, as if she were offering them, offering them to the entire room of men.
"Nick. Nick Carter."
I glanced up. At first I didn't recognize the dark-skinned,
"I've got only one question," I said, keeping my voice low. "Who's your tailor? Tell me so I can avoid him."
Another flicker of a smile crossed the tense face.
"Always the wisecrack,
It was true. It had been quite a while. In fact, I hadn't seen Remy since David Hawk, my boss and operations chief of AXE, had assigned me to help the Deuxieme Bureau prevent the assassination of President De Gaulle. I hadn't done badly on that one, if I do say so myself. Two potential assassins had been disposed of, President De Gaulle had died naturally and peacefully in his own bed a few years later, and Remy and I had parted with mutual respect.
"How else can I keep myself amused, Remy?" I said, pulling out my cigarettes and offering him one.
The strong jaw tightened grimly.
He took a cigarette, glanced at its gold tip before putting it into his mouth, and shook his head slightly.
"Still the custom-made monogrammed cigarettes, I see. Your only real indulgence."
I lit his cigarette, then my own, flicking a glance at the dancer as I did so.
"Oh, I run across a few others. Strictly in the line of duty, of course. But you didn't send that Urgent Top-Priority call through Hawk — and, I might add, interrupt a pleasant little vacation — to talk about my cigarettes,
The Frenchman nodded.
"I regret that the occasion of our meeting is not more pleasant, but…"
The waiter arrived with two steaming glasses of mint tea, and Remy pulled the hood of his
"All right, Remy," I said. "Let's have it."
Remy took a puff on his cigarette.
"As you see," he began slowly, "I have dyed my skin and am wearing Moroccan clothes. This is not the foolish masquerade it might appear. Even in this place, which I believe to be safe, our enemies may be around us. And we do not know, we are not sure, who they are. That is the most frightening aspect of this situation. We do not know who they are and we do not know their motives. We can only guess."
He paused. I pulled a silver flask from my jacket and discreetly poured stiff belts of 151-proof Barbados rum into both our glasses. Moslems don't drink — or aren't supposed to — and I wasn't thinking of converting to the faith. Remy nodded gratefully, took a gulp of his tea, then continued.
"I will come directly to the point," he said. "Someone has disappeared. Someone of vital interest to the security of not only France, but of all Europe, Britain, and the United States. In short, someone of interest to the western world."
"A scientist." It was a statement, not a question. The unexpected disappearance of one scientist caused more panic than the defection of a dozen bureaucrats, no matter what the country.
"Have you ever heard of Fernand Duroche?"
I took a thoughtful puff on my cigarette and did a mental run-through of the AXE bio-files on French scientific leaders. Fifteen feet away, the dancer was doing her best to distract me. The music was steadily increasing in tempo. I could feel the oud in my belly. The girl was quivering, her belly muscles contracting in rhythm to the music, her thighs pulsing.
"Dr. Fernand Duroche, Ph.D. Legion d'Honneur. Born in Alsace, 1914. Graduated first in class, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, 1934. Research in underwater propulsion devices for the French Navy until the German invasion. Fought with Free French under De Gaulle through the liberation. Postwar work: Major achievements in the field of computerization for nuclear submarine development in the French Navy. Since 1969, Director of RENARD, topsecret French Navy project. Codenamed Dr. Death during war for lethal expertise with explosives. Name still used as joke in ...