Father Scott Flenn bolted upright as his hand dove underneath the pillow for a pistol that hadn’t been there for years.
Cold sweat trickled down his forehead as the priest peered into the darkness from his four-poster, mahogany bed. Everything was still, other than a breeze from the furnace fanning the tapestry on the wall behind him. Father Flenn could just make out the silhouette of the antique dresser on the other side of the room.
The priest sighed. It was only a dream—the same one he’d had for the past three nights. In it, two men had been dragging him down a long corridor toward a third, a repulsive figure; someone he’d recognized in the dream, but not now that he was awake.
At least tonight he’d been able to make out the face of one of the men pulling him down that corridor. It was a face from the past, from Flenn’s days with the CIA—the face of Zack Matteson!
Father Flenn closed his eyes, trying to shake off the nightmare. He reminded himself that Zack Matteson had always been one of the good guys. Zack, in fact, had once been his best friend. But things change; at last they had for Flenn. The priest told himself that Zack still had a numberof redeemable qualities. After all, Flenn thought…‘One’ is a number.
And Zack Matteson’s one redeemable quality was, and always had been, his unabashed loyalty to the United States of America.
Flenn checked the clock. Five a.m. No use trying to go back to sleep now. He climbed out of bed to make a pot of coffee and get ready for his morning run. Thankfully, it had just been a dream; Flenn hadn’t heard from Zack in nearly two years.
Two very peaceful years.
Damn! The package was nearly empty. The spy was certain he’d had plenty when he left London. What to do now?
Cursing, Zack Matteson stuffed the bag’s contents, a few remaining jellybeans, into his pants pocket as he stepped onto the tarmac at Ankara Esenboga International Airport. A faint scent of Snowdrop and Windflower hung in the late November breeze—a musky smell from flowers long used by assassins for their deadly poison.
His passport read Matthew Stevens, 41, of Detroit, Michigan. In truth, he was six years older than that, but his boyish good looks, and the fact that there wasn’t even a speck of gray in his thick, jet-black hair made Zack look much younger. His trim, muscular build was evident in his blue jeans and tight-fitting tee, but what stood out most were Zack’s ocean-blue eyes, especially today in a crowd of mostly brown-eyed travelers.
The customs agent robotically plodded through all the usual questions, and Zack answered as any travel-weary, automobile company representative would have:
Yes, he was here on business.
Yes, he was meeting someone—Mr. Erdem Firat, from the Askam automobile manufacturing company.
No, this was not his first visit to Turkey.
He’d be staying at the Four Seasons.
Finally, the woman waved him through. Outside, Zack met his contact, Erdem Firat. Erdem really didwork for the Askam manufacturer, a subsidiary of Chrysler, but he’d also been on the payroll for the Central Intelligence Agency for the past 15 years. The man was short, slight, and rather mousy-looking. He wore a simple white button-down and a pair of thread-bare khakis. The ring on his right hand was the only evidence of the prosperity that Zack knew Erdem privately enjoyed. Zack followed Erdem outside to an orange Askam pickup truck—a vehicle that would have stuck out like a sore thumb back home in D.C.; but, here in Ankara, it blended in with other work trucks parked around the airport.
“Mr. Zack, it is very much agreeableness to look upon your face again,” Erdem Firat said as he climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Good to see you, too, Erd,” Zack replied. “I see those English classes are really making a difference.” Erdem either didn’t notice the sarcasm, or didn’t care. He reached under his seat and handed Zack a small paper bag. Inside, Zack found a mobile phone, a pistol, and two magazines of ammunition.
“I was surprised, but delighting, when you telephoned me this morning to arrange to meeting you,” the Turk said. “However, my boss was not so delightful when I called in sickly.” The little man grinned. “Of course, it helps that my boss is also my cousin.”
Zack handed Erdem a $50 bill. “As I recall, this is what usually makes your cousins happy.”
“Yes, indeedly,” agreed Erdem, stuffing the bill into his shirt pocket. “So, what marvelous journey will we be going upon this time?”
“Nothing exciting,” Zack said. “Just take me to the Four Seasons.” Zack looked past the parking lot, toward the city. Not much had changed in the three years since he’d last been here.
“Will you be needling my services later today?”
“Yes,” said Zack, “and maybe the rest of the week as well.”
“Erdem frowned. “My cousin will be very much unhappy to hear this.”
Zack sighed as he reached into his wallet and pulled out three more fifties. Erdem looked at the bills and smiled. “Erd, I’m going to need you to tail someone for me, and I’m going to need you to be discreet.”
Erdem pretended to look hurt. “Mr. Zack, am I not always discreet?”
“Yeah, right,” Zack chuckled. “What about last time? You never told me that woman had a husband!”“I was very discreet, Mr. Zack. It was you who was, how do you say it… undiscreetish.”
“Indiscreet,” corrected Zack, rubbing his chin. “As I recall, he wasn’t a very happy husband, either.”
“Nor would I have been! She was a beautifullish woman, no?” said the Turk. “I trust you got away with all your parts?”
Zack tucked the pistol in his waistband. “Parts? Yes. Clothes, no.”
Erdem shook his head. “She was lucky to be Turk. The Saudis would have stoned her to death—or worse.” Zack wondered what could possibly be worse.
Erdem turned down a single-lane road full of early morning foot traffic, swerving to avoid a boy carrying two chickens in cages stacked one atop the other. “So, who am I to be discreetable with this week?” Erdem asked.
Zack fished in his backpack for a photograph. He handed the image over to Erdem, who studied it for a moment.
“This man looks like me, no?” Erdem said with a grin.
“Don’t kid yourself, Erd. You’re not that handsome.”
Erdem had to admit the man in the photo was striking. Stocky build, dark hair, olive skin, high cheekbones and brown eyes.
“He is Turk?”
“A Guatemalan, actually. At least his parents were.” Zack fished in his pocket for a jellybean. “He was born in America. Name’s Daniel Romero. He’s staying at the Four Seasons, which is why I’m going there.” Zack had texted someone he knew at MI-6 from the plane. The British agent texted him back in minutes: Romero had used his own name to book a suite at the Four Seasons. Using the plane’s wi-fi, Zack had called and made a reservation.
Erdem rounded a corner way too fast, just missing an old man on a bicycle. “Anything else I need to be knowing, Mr. Zack?”
Zack thought for a moment. Was there anything else he needed to tell Erdem? Probably not.It wasn’t that Zack didn’t trust the man. Erdem wasn’t one to work both sides of the fence; but, Zack was here solely on a hunch, and it would be best to keep that hunch to himself for the time being. Zack smiled as he remembered how his former partner, Scott Flenn, used to scold him: “Hunches are for horseraces,” Flenn would always say. “Stick to the facts!” Flenn had been the logical one back then. Zack usually just followed his gut. Maybe that’s what had made their partnership work so well. Zack fished in his pocket for another jellybean and wondered what Flenn would have said about this little adventure.
Three days ago, Zack had happened to catch sight of Daniel Romero in London. Nothing extraordinary about a billionaire traveling abroad, except that this particular billionaire was traveling alone. Zack thought it odd that the heir to the largest telecommunications company in Central America was in London by himself: no wife or girlfriend, no bodyguard… no one. He’d thought it even odder that Romero was having tea with the man Zack had been assigned to keep an eye on—Carmel Fahook, a known intermediary for Iranian interests.
Zack had followed Romero to Heathrow this morning, where the tycoon had booked a flight to Turkey. Zack had made a snap decision to buy a ticket and follow. There’d been no time to clear it with anyone, but then, there really wasn’t anyone to notify. Zack was what the CIA called a “cowboy,” an agent who worked alone, always looking for the next big rodeo. It had been that way for years now, ever since Scott Flenn, his longtime partner, had left the agency. There had been something unique about the way the two of them had gotten along back then. Zack had never been able to replicate that sort of relationship with anyone else. It took the CIA some time before accepting the fact that Zack did better on his own. Since Zack’s hunches paid off more often than not, his superiors were usually willing to give him a long leash.
Luckily, there had been no problems getting through Turkish customs; no one had asked why he had no luggage. All he’d had time to do before the flight was to grab his backpack from the car he’d left parked at Heathrow. If he ended up staying in Turkey longer than a day or two, he’d have someone to pick up his things in London. For now, he’d simply purchase whatever he needed––starting with a fresh bag of jellybeans.
Erdem pulled up at the hotel. Zack climbed out of the car, surveyed his surroundings, then leaned back inside. “Stick around, Erd, I may need you later.” As Zack walked inside, he glanced around the spacious lobby. There was no sign of Romero, so he made his way over to the bar where he ordered a double bourbon, neat. He fiddled with a video game on his personal phone—not the disposable one Erdem had given him. He was beginning to have second thoughts, wondering whether he’d made the right decision to follow Romero all the way to Turkey. Once again, he had acted on impulse, something Flenn used to berate him about back in the day. Flenn would probably have called his trip to Turkey nothing more than a wild goose chase!he thought as he switched off the game and checked his phone for return flights to London.