A Game For Assassins
Dominican Republic – 30th May 1961
The harsh daylight sun was finally receding, giving way to a more comfortable and cooler evening. Despite this, the bugs and gnats from the nearby swamp still swarmed about, hoping to gather in the last vestiges of the day's heat and occasionally picking at the six prone bodies lying in the roadside ditch.
The killers had been in place for the past three hours, waiting, sweating, and ignoring the bugs and the heat. They numbered eight in total; six Dominicans and two Europeans. The Europeans and four of the indigenous team were waiting in the ditch for the target; the remaining two were parked a few hundred meters up the road in cars, acting as spotters. It was also their job to act as ramming vehicles, to trap the forthcoming limousines of ‘El Benefactor’ in the center of the kill zone.
The ‘Catalan’ glanced over at his partner the ‘Georgian’. They were both dressed in civilian clothes, short-sleeved shirts, hard-wearing slacks and work boots. The field radio crackled into life. The two Europeans glanced at each other one more time and their eyes met. They knew this was it. No false alarms, no backing down, no mistakes. The killing would start soon.
“La luz Es brillante, la luz Es brilliante,” the spotter shrieked into the radio. “The Light is Bright.” It was the code for the imminent passing of El Benefactor's motorcade.
The killers had been funded and encouraged by the Americans from the Embassy, and the arrival of these two European specialists had spurred them on from what had once been the kernel of an idea, into something that was about to become very real.
The Agency had quickly tired of El Benefactor's growing unpopularity, and fearing that he would not put up much of a fight to fend off a Communist takeover, they’d decided it would be beneficial to remove him from power. Their opinion was ‘If we can't own him – nobody can’, and it wasn't long before the Agency had called in its most versatile freelance operators – the two Europeans – to plan out and organize the largely untutored and inexperienced freedom fighters into a small but effective assassination team.
Now the code was registering into the group of killers. Men tensed, weapons were checked, safety catches were flicked off, and rifle butts were jammed into shoulder positions. They spotted the dust cloud first, kicked up from the arid country road as the two-car convoy sped along. The intelligence they had received told them that the road, a quiet back route, was the most likely to be taken when El Benefactor visited his favorite mistress in San Cristobel. It was the perfect ambush spot.
The dust cloud grew nearer and the growl of the heavier engines got louder. And then it happened, not hurried or at a frantic pace, but slowly. The mid-speed amble of the two-car motor convoy of gleaming Lincolns'; the roar of the gunned engine in the ambush truck as it gained speed to block the motorcade; the growl of the truck when it turned in a perfectly formed ‘U’ into the center of the road, causing El Benefactor’s vehicles to brake hurriedly. And then the noise of the multiple automatic weapons as they spat out death, which was aimed, very accurately, at the prone motorcade.
For a few brief moments, nothing more, the noise was deafening. The men of the killing team were all keen to get into the fight and put as much ammunition as possible into the President's vehicles. Each wants to be able to tell the tale to his grandchildren. Each one wants to be the man who killed that brute Trujillo.
The first volley was impressive and completely incapacitated the cars. Then, as several of the President's security men struggled to regain the initiative, and even contemplated fighting back, the freedom fighters were on the move, firing, closing down their enemy, changing magazines so that they can continue with the salvo.
Leading from the front was the Catalan’s partner, the stubby, hard-looking Georgian who shouts to them to “Atacar hacia adelente”, before emptying his own weapon into an unfortunate bodyguard who had decided to run. It seems there can be no survivors…or witnesses. Then the noise falters and stops, the smoke starts to dissipate, and the removal of a seemingly unbeatable dictator is almost at an end. It is so quick – and so easy after all.
The Catalan got up from his prone position and motioned for the Georgian to attend to the President's backup vehicle, where the few remaining bodyguards were being unceremoniously dragged from the car and beaten. They wouldn’t last much longer. He sauntered over to the mortally wounded lead vehicle. His face was a mask of sweat and tension, from the serious business of killing. The sides and windows of the car had been shattered by multiple bullet holes and smeared with blood from the interior. Already the smell of death was making its existence known.
“They fought back bravely, commander,” said Rafael, the youngest member of the team. The Catalan nodded and peered inside the vehicle. It was a charnel house. The driver and bodyguard had been pulverized. A series of single shots rang out from nearby.
The Catalan straightened up and looked around to find the Georgian and his team executing the remaining bodyguards. “Where is Trujillo?”
“He ran for the tree line, Ramon shot him in the legs. He’s guarding him and waiting for you.”
“El Benefactor is still alive, though?”
“And for us, no casualties?”
“No senor. They never knew what hit them.”
The Catalan made his way over to the tree line and there, with the little freedom fighter guarding him, lay the man who had held a small nation in his vice-like grip for more than thirty years. Blood was oozing from his legs, which lay at an unnatural angle, his suit covered in mud and dust, but the face… the face still held contempt and arrogance. But not for much longer, thought the Catalan.
“El Presidente. Do you know who I am?”
The rotund, white-haired man glared back. “You are a pig of a 'freedom fighter' and mother-fucker who sucks on the cocks of traitors!”
The Catalan smiled and shook his head. “No senor, I am not from your pretty island. I am from far from here… but I have a message, a message from the Norte Americanos.” The shock on Trujillo's face was clear, thinks the Catalan. He has been outwitted by the Americans.
“Your time here is over,” murmured the Catalan, and in one fluid movement he drew a large caliber revolver, a Smith & Wesson, and fired a single shot through the eye of the dictator. An old man dead in a ditch. “Ramon, you and the boys take the body away and hide it. And here…” he handed over the revolver to the only other witness to the execution. “If anybody asks, you shot Trujillo. Okay?
Ramon took the pistol and stared down at it, feeling its weight and the grease running across his fingers. It was a good weapon. “Si senor. We can hide the body at one of the safe-houses until it is time to display it to the world.”
The Catalan nodded in approval. “Good, then organize yourselves and go! Get out of here as quickly as you can.”
“What about you Commander, you and La Bala?”
La Bala was the nickname the boys had given to the Georgian. It was a term of affection. La Bala, ‘the bullet’, because the small Georgian did indeed resemble a bullet. Small, stubby, hard, balding…
“We will be leaving by a separate route. You will not see either of us again, our job here is over. Go well.”
The Catalan and the Georgian would have to move fast. They had a separate vehicle parked several minutes away along an arterial route, which would take them to the safe-house they had been using for the past few weeks. A clean up and fresh change of clothes would be in order, before they offered an after-action report to their in-country CIA case officer, Tanner, at a meeting in the bar of the Hotel Rafael in Cijaud Trujillo.
By the time the news of ‘El Benefactor's’ disappearance had started to filter through, the men would be on a fast seaplane to Miami and their CIA contact would be reporting back to Langley that Agents QJ/WIN and WI/ROGUE, the Catalan and the Georgian respectively, had completed the terms of their current assignment and were on their way stateside for a final debrief by the Chief of the Executive Action department.
* * *
Beirut, Lebanon– August 1962
The small, stocky man stood on the corner of the busy thoroughfare. He checked his wristwatch nonchalantly. Supposedly for the time, in reality to see if he was being observed. He gave a quick glance either way to his periphery. Nothing.
He wore a lightweight, cream colored suit that he'd had made on a whistle-stop visit to Hong Kong years ago, and a pale blue, open necked shirt. The Middle Eastern sun had filtered through his cropped, white blond hair leaving his scalp burned. He wore a pair of dark wraparound sunglasses to reduce the glare. He was early-thirties, trim, in shape, and alert. His cryptonym was ‘Gorilla’. It was a name which fitted him like a glove, not because of his size or bulk, but because of his rolling gait when he walked, the furrowed glower behind the sunglasses, and the hint of a hirsute nature peeking out from beneath his well-tailored suit.
He was on the move again, pushing his way through the pedestrian walkways, past the crowded restaurants and coffee bars. Exotic looking women with liquid hips were shopping in the designer stores, businessmen were conducting meetings over a plate of meze, and friends were chatting over cups of Cafe Blanc, the herbal tea made from hot water, orange blossom and honey. It was easy to see, thought Gorilla, why Beirut was described as the Paris of the Orient.
He moved at a steady pace along Hamra Street, being careful not to catch anyone's eyes directly, or bump into the mass of bodies packed onto the pavements. If he had ‘bumped’ anyone it would have been greeted with a respectful “Pardon en moi.” Today, he was using French as it fitted in better with his cover and would disguise his identity for later.
It was then that he saw his ‘Squire’. A fat man with a standard moustache and swarthy complexion, he was sitting in an old Buick. His cover was that of a Servee driver, the name for the local taxi service. Both the car and the driver had definitely seen better days. A Squire was a local, low-level intelligence asset who provided equipment or services to visiting field agents. Forged documents, money, safe-houses, weapons and transport all fell within a Squire's remit, and very much like their counterparts from the Middle Ages, they were expected to be on call at short notice.
A quick glance, then Gorilla strode across and smoothly entered the rear passenger side of the vehicle. If he thought that it was hot out on the street, it was nothing compared to the stifling mugginess that he faced inside the car. On its plus side, the vehicle had limited visibility, partly due to the dust-laden windows that had never been cleaned, thus allowing the meeting inside the vehicle to be as discreet as it was ever going to be.
The Squire remained stock still, and he continued to stare out of the window at the passers-by. Hamra Street was busy at this time of the day, and it made it harder to spot local surveillance teams, so he spoke out of the corner of his mouth and flicked an occasional glance in his rear view mirror.
“Sallam Allaikum,” said the driver.
“Allaikum Sallam,” replied Gorilla. With the formalities complete, they settled down to business.
“You know where you are going?”
Gorilla nodded. He'd read the reports and knew the route from studying a local map.
The target had a small office located in a quiet corner of Rue Jeanne D'Arc and Gorilla had telephoned that very morning to arrange a ‘business meeting’ with the target, using the ruse that he was a French investor looking to hire the target's services through his Import/Export business. Gorilla had hinted that he had an illegal cargo to move and hoped that he had pricked both the target's curiosity and greed. At least this way, the target would be alone and exactly where Gorilla wanted him.
“Under my seat. It's the best I could do at short notice, but I think it will suffice.”
Gorilla reached under the driver's seat and withdrew a small satchel. Inside, covered by a square of muslin, lay his work tool for the day – a Beretta M1951, complete with a bulbous noise suppressor. Old but reliable – not his preferred weapon – but given the limited resources available, it was certainly acceptable.
He quickly tested the spring in the magazine, checked the action of the weapon, attached the sound suppressor, smacked home the magazine and let the slide roll forward. A quick chamber check, to ensure the bullet was seated properly and then he flicked the safety on.
His only other piece of equipment was a bouquet of carnations. To the casual observer, he would look like a man on the way to meet his lover or mistress, but the bouquet would hide the silenced Beretta in a sleeve nestling against the flowers. Gorilla concealed the weapon inside the bouquet and cradled it in the crook of his left arm.
The target was a Lebanese-born contract agent by the name of Abu Qassam, who had been playing both ends against the middle in French North Africa, operating for the British but betraying their operations to the FLN, the French National Liberation army.
Things had come to a head when it was discovered that he had personally taken part in the torture and murder of a key British intelligence asset in the region. Realizing that he’d gone the length of the rope, he’d fled to his native Beirut where, mistakenly, he had assumed he could hide and would, years later, be safe.
The British could forgive him his betrayal, to a degree. But the murder of one of their own – never! They had set about planning retribution. A tracking team was assembled; favors were called in throughout the intelligence community, sources were cajoled and leaned upon…until they had his new name. Then they had an address. Then they had a time and date. And it was at that point that the small man in the lightweight summer suit, Gorilla, was summoned.
His unit's expertise was dealing with enemy agents, traitors, extremists – and this was his fledgling operation for them. A ‘hit’ they said, a quick in, quick out. Do this right and there'll be a step up the ladder, maybe even permanent secondment. In truth, Gorilla knew very little about the background of the case, the bare minimum, and to be frank – that was way too much anyway. For this kind of operation, the only information he required was a time, a location, and a description; anything more was showing off on behalf of the case officer running the show, in his opinion. His only priority was to get the job done and get out with a clean pair of heels.
“I will wait here,” said the Squire. “I can give you at most five minutes, after that you will be on your own.”
Gorilla nodded. “Five minutes is more than enough time; I'm not planning on having a chat with him. Keep the engine running.”
A quick scan of movement on the street and he exited the car, nonchalantly clutching his lethal gift.
He had killed men before during his time in the military, some in situations not dissimilar to this one, but never in such a coldly targeted, ruthless way. He knew he was more than capable of the task the colonel had given him; why else would he have been chosen? Gorilla had a special collection of skills that made him useful for jobs like this. He knew it, the colonel knew it and the hierarchy at Broadway knew it.
He glided along the street, scanning from behind the dark glasses for people taking an interest in him, but again nothing. He moved like a spectre. That was one of Gorilla's talents, the almost intuitive skill to become unnoticeable. One of his instructors had once commented you could lose him in a crowd of two people.
Moving into an empty side street, he saw the target location up ahead: a small doorway with a brass plaque outside stamped with ‘Import/Export’, accessed by a twelve step flight of stairs. He climbed the darkened hallway, counting the steps slowly in his head as he moved forward. He settled the carnations more comfortably in his right hand and walked up the last few steps to the heavy wooden door with a glass viewing window that was the office of Al Saud Import/Export Company. He turned the handle of the door with his left hand, entered and closed the door gently behind him.
He instantly assessed the layout of the room and its contents – the shadows of the curtained room, the ornate cabinets and pictures adorning the wall, the languid figure reclining back in an office chair behind the desk. The man was smoking French Gauloises and a small glass of Arak lay half empty before him on the desk. No other people present. Good.
The assessment took a fraction of a second.