Antigua, Caribbean – September 1965
The diver had spent the past week swimming along the same stretch of the Antiguan coastline. It was a beautiful stretch; clear waters, perfect vacation brochure beaches, quiet atmosphere. It was the perfect place to relax and maybe even to retire to. One day…
And why not? he was older now, with the free time and resources to be able to do that. Maybe he would retire here completely, leave the USA behind once and for all. Maybe write a novel here? Be like that Fleming guy and write spy stories. Well, they did say write what you know about. Didn’t they?
Richard Higgins had once been one of the CIA’s shining stars – in fact, he had risen to the lofty heights of Assistant to the Deputy Director of Operations. He had been a Cold Warrior of the old school. A spy’s spy.
Until the fall….
To him, the fall was born out of duty and the desire to do the right thing. Some people, he was sure, viewed it as an act of revenge. And while many may have secretly sympathised with him, as professionals, they would cast a disapproving eye.
Richard Higgins lifted his body out of the warm water and looked around at the coastline. There was nothing for miles, only tranquillity and peace. The only other ‘neighbour’ was a small sailing boat, bobbing about, anchored a mile away in the distance. It was seemingly empty.
Should he go for another swim? Perhaps a bit further this time, maybe out towards the edge of the reef. Why not? Swimming was part of his daily exercise regime while he vacationed here. He jumped in the water again, feeling it swirl around his body and began to swim away from the shore with powerful strokes.
The ‘fall’ had been forced upon him. The illegal operation that he had been a part of had come unstuck, the sources blown and the operation had come to the attention of the CIA. Higgins was left between a rock and a hard place.
He had been called in and grilled by the interrogators from the Agency’s Office of Security. He had held out as long as he could but it was a wasted effort. They already knew everything, anyway. It was a cluster-fuck.
Then, while sitting in his interrogation room, at the ‘Farm’, the CIA’s secure compound in Virginia, the door had opened and in had walked his erstwhile boss, the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, Roy Webster. Webster was the second in command of the entire Agency, answering only to the Director of Central Intelligence himself.
He had hated Webster on sight.
Higgins had been given a choice. Tell us what you know and we let you retire gracefully and with full pension. Fuck us about and you’ll spend the rest of your life in the Penitentiary.
So of course he did as he was told. Really, he had no choice. His accomplices were dead and the illegal operation was blown sky-high. Better to retire with a few dollars to spend and try to rebuild his life post-Agency than to fight for a losing cause. He signed the usual confidentiality agreement stating that if he ever spoke out and embarrassed the CIA or the American government, he would be buried in the deepest and darkest hole they could find.
So his life over the past four months had consisted of long walks, vacations and very little else. But he was okay, he could adapt… eventually.
He had made it out to the farthest part from the beach; any further and he would be hitting the open ocean. For a man in his sixties, Higgins was wise enough to know his physical limitations and he decided to turn back, satisfied that for today, at least, his physical exercise was complete. Besides, it was nearly lunchtime and all this exercise had made him ravenous.
It was when he was halfway back that he suddenly felt a huge tug on his leg, causing him to be pulled beneath the waves. His first thought was shark attack! But even in the shock of the moment, his mind was aware enough to know that there was no pain in his leg from a shark bite, no blood, nothing. It was as if he had been grabbed by a giant octopus.
The shock of suddenly being pulled beneath the waves by this strong force made him gasp involuntarily and, as a consequence, he pulled a large amount of water into his lungs. He started to panic, his arms flailing, and his legs desperately trying to kick out as he was sucked down into the depths.
But he couldn’t kick out. Whatever it was that had him was incredibly strong and was pulling him further and further down. He looked around, letting his eyes acclimatise to being underwater, trying to see what kind of beast was determined to drag him down to a watery grave. He blinked and saw, not a monster of the ocean, but a human form wearing goggles, breathing apparatus and flippers.
The eyes behind the mask were invisible and the panicked reflection of Richard Higgins was the only thing that shone in them. The frogman was huge, strong, and powerful. He took a hold further up Higgins’s legs, so that he had both of them wrapped up in one strong arm, restricting the panicking man’s attempts to swim back to the surface.
The only thing that Higgins could do now was to flail his arms to try to give himself some power. But his strength was ebbing, he was worn out, the last trickles of adrenaline had left his system and his body’s oxygen reserves were almost zero.
The frogman, aware of Higgins’s situation, jerked on his body once more and began to pull him down towards the ocean floor. Once they had reached the bottom, and with Higgins exhausted, the huge frogman clamped one powerful hand around Higgins’s throat and pushed him down on his back, onto the ocean floor.
Higgins tried to gather up a last ounce of strength to fight back, but he knew it was useless. The frogman’s hand was holding him in place, choking him, knowing that it would be mere seconds before death would come for his victim.
The frogman continued to press down, putting his full weight onto the man’s body. Higgins bucked and kicked a few more times, then, as his body went limp, the frogman began to relax the pressure. He knew that as soon as he released his grip on the dead man’s throat, the body would start to rise to the surface. The frogman estimated that the dead man would be found washed up on the beach further down the coast at the next turning of the tide.
And then it was done. The frogman let go and simply swam away in a different direction, leaving the drowned corpse to its own devices.
Almost a mile away, the frogman climbed out of the water and into his little rowing boat that he had anchored up the coast. He stood to his full height of just over six foot five and stripped off his diving gear, wetsuit and goggles. Then he dried himself off and put on shorts, deck shoes, short-sleeved shirt and sunglasses. He had transformed himself into just another vacationer.
His task, as requested by the CIA, was complete. It was the easiest million dollars that he had earned in a long time. He had been given the contract and had almost smiled at how easy it would be. No need for weapons, ammunition or any of the other tools of covert assassination. No, not this time. All that was needed was timing and pure brute strength. And he had that in spades.
His other great skill was that he was able to make organised murder look like either an accident or natural causes. In this case, the body of the dead man would be found and it would be assumed that he had simply swum out too far and drowned, or had a heart attack.
He cared not.
But what he did care about was who he had killed today.
The Agency had informed him that his target was a low-level agent who had blown an operation in Europe and needed to be removed. The name had been Phillip John, an American black market dealer in Berlin. But the moment that he had seen the photograph of his target, he knew instantly who the man really was. He knew because it was his job to know and that was why he was the best in the business.
The target had been the Assistant to the DDO, Richard Higgins. The CIA had ordered the murder of one of its own senior officers. Now, that was a useful piece of intelligence that he had acquired… very useful indeed. Who knew, maybe one day he would be able to use that snippet of information for his own gain.
But for now, he would store it in his vast memory, along with all the other useable intelligence that he had of the assassinations, espionage and general skulduggery that he had performed for the great and the good of the secret intelligence war.
Palais de la Méditerranée Casino, Nice – March 1973
The casino at 3 a.m. was a subdued bustle of activity, tension and devil-may-care opportunity for the rich and powerful of Nice. It was half empty, the frivolous players having long ago retired to their hotels, suites and villas and only the most steadfast gamblers still remained.
It was a world that Jack ‘Gorilla’ Grant had skirted around the edges of many times in his life, but had never belonged to and probably never would. In truth, he had no desire to, either. To him, being here dressed in dinner jacket and black tie in the early hours of the morning was just a job, nothing more. It was certainly not a place he would want to frequent by choice. In many ways, he regarded himself as something of an inverted snob.
And what a job it was! He sipped at his glass of heavily watered down Black Label and turned his attention to the centre roulette table, one of six ornate tables that made up the main room. There was the usual assortment of old gamblers and losers, once-rich aristocrats now hoping to reclaim their former fortunes by luck and chance. But it was the man at the head of the centre table that drew the eye.
He was of Hungarian descent, corpulent and middle-aged. His tie had been loosened and, even at this distance, it was obvious that he was sweating beneath the fine cut of his expensive suit. And while his face smiled openly, his eyes had the dead look of a midnight torturer.
Scattered about at various points in the vicinity were the Hungarian’s bodyguard team. They did nothing to blend in and, in Gorilla’s not so humble opinion, a blind man could have spotted them a mile away. Gorilla thought the protection team were flagging. He knew that they had been on the go for several days now on their entertainment jaunt to the South of France. For them, it had been a whirlwind of excursions, lunch dates followed by hours of hanging around the hotel of the ‘Principal’, and then off out again for dinner at one of the most exclusive restaurants in Nice, before finally spending the last three nights at the casino. Add in the odd French hooker and the Hungarian kept his security detail on pretty much a full-time itinerary.
Up until recently, the Hungarian had been a colonel in his country’s security apparatus, but a recent defection to the French Secret Service, along with a host of intelligence ‘product’ that he had brought with him, had turned him into the SDECE’s new best friend.
Gorilla had been assigned this job several days early, presumably after the Hungarian had spent weeks locked away with his case officers, being de-briefed somewhere. This was the Hungarian’s treat for being a good boy. Grant wasn’t part of the ‘official’ protection team. The Hungarian’s bodyguards had been supplied by the DST, the French internal Security Service. Gorilla thought that they looked sloppy and off their game, too busy chatting, preening themselves and being distracted by every woman that walked across the casino floor. Well, they were French after all.
Gorilla was there as the eyes and ears of the French Secret Service, the SDECE. They needed a good man on point, able to keep an eye out should things get a bit violent and he was the contract man that people came to when things got unpleasant. He was also deniable if anything went wrong.
The bodyguards and the Hungarian didn’t even know of his existence. He was doing what he was good at, keeping out of sight, staying hidden and watching the scene with his gunman’s eyes. In the trade, Gorilla’s role was known as protective surveillance. If anything went down, the bodyguards would be there to whisk their VIP away to safety and protect him – or take a bullet for him.
Gorilla, on the other hand, was there to run interference and do the killing of the assassin, quietly and unofficially, then disappear into the shadows once more. Beneath his jacket he had an official SDECE identification card in a false name and a 9mm Heckler & Koch P9 semi-automatic pistol.
He had a perfect vantage point on the upper balcony, with a clear view of the gaming tables and the patrons of the casino. He could see the winners, the losers, the grifters and the hookers, all keen to latch onto the gentleman who had just had a big win. From a professional point of view, it was unparalleled. He had his back to the wall, perfect vision on the access and entry points, and if, God forbid, he should have to draw and fire, he had a perfect sniper point to take anyone down.
But for now, everything looked normal. The gamblers were gambling, the bodyguards were pretty much switched off and the Principal looked happy, especially now that his ‘date’ for the evening, a tall, lithe blonde woman in her thirties, was snaking her arms around his waist in a seductive way.
Gorilla took one more sip of his drink. It was good, but it would be the only one he would have tonight. Alcohol slowed you down, made your reactions foggy and, in Gorilla’s line of work, seconds counted. Gorilla’s mantra had always been that seconds could be the difference between a bullet in your head, or in the enemy’s head.
He glanced down as the cheer from the main table filled the subdued atmosphere of the room. Evidently the Hungarian had just won big! He was clapping his hands together like a fat child about to be let loose on a cake. The blonde hooker had slithered her way around to his front and was kissing him while his hands were running over her ass.
He took a last sip at his drink and reflected on his working career. Over the past few years, things had gone well for Jack ‘Gorilla’ Grant. He had been recruited by the French several years earlier, after a series of prolonged meetings over many months, to work for them as a contract agent. He wasn’t a full-time staffer, there was no way that the SDECE hierarchy would allow that, but for an experienced field agent and Redactor like Gorilla Grant, there were always rules that could be bent, if not broken, to ensure that he was on board.