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Authors: Mukul Deva

Assassins

 

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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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This book is dedicated to Dhirendra Saxena.

Each of us has a Krishna in our lives, a charioteer who guides us and supports us, no matter what the circumstances or how severe the odds.

That is what Dhirendra has always been for me: a bulwark of support.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book would never have been possible if it had not been for certain people who came into my life at the right time. My editor, Bob Gleason of Tom Doherty Associates, and his assistants, Kelly Quinn and Elayne Becker, for their consistent support and for putting together this book so well. My agent, Al Zuckerman of Writers House, who was invaluable in helping to give the story shape. And, considering the chain of synchronicity, Fran Lebowitz, who brought us together. Also, the dozens of other people I interviewed to get a handle on the technical aspects, who prefer to stay anonymous.

A very special vote of thanks to Meher, my favorite younger daughter, who went through every draft of this book and helped with several creative suggestions.

Thanks also to the National Arts Council of Singapore for their perennial support. Singapore has been a fantastic breeding ground for me, freed me from so many worries, and enabled me to focus single-mindedly on writing.

Any errors, factual or technical, that still exist in this book are solely my fault or have been deliberately left in there by me to prevent any misuse of a technology or an idea.

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

This book is a work of fiction, although some of the events mentioned here may have actually taken place.

All the characters, countries, places, and organizations described or mentioned in this book are fictitious or have been fictitiously used, and any resemblance to any place, organization, country, or person, living or dead, is absolutely unintentional.

In several cases, artistic license has been taken with the places mentioned in the book, distances between places, and the general topography.

In order to prevent an actual attack from being carried out on any monument or building, the location and layouts of all monuments and hotels mentioned in this book have been suitably altered. Similarly, the security arrangements of all places have been fictitiously described.

The technical details of the various weapon systems, the specifications and methodologies of bomb making and weaponry, as well as the tactics and security procedures employed by any police, military, intelligence organization, and/or militant organization, as also all criminal, forensic, and investigative procedures, have been deliberately kept slightly vague, inaccurate, and/or incomplete, once again to prevent any misuse, accidental or otherwise.

There is no slur or malice intended against any religion, race, caste, creed, nation, organization, or people.

 

Harry was left to ponder in silence the depths to which girls would sink to get revenge.

—J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

 

DECEMBER

22

 

ONE

Leon Binder needed to quickly secure at least two safe houses in Delhi and get on with the critical aspects of his mission. However, doubts kept hammering at him. Never had he taken on a twin-target assignment at such short notice.

Five measly weeks to eliminate Pakistani Prime Minister Abid Zardosi and the ex-dictator General Pervaiz Masharrat … it was
not
enough.

Leon rationalized his skittishness.

Two heavily protected targets … each had survived a dozen assassination attempts.

It was no secret that the people who wanted to see Zardosi dead would easily fill the twenty-eight thousand capacity Lord's Cricket Ground without much effort. Equally numerous were those who wanted the deceitful Masharrat pushing up daisies.

That's why their security staff takes things so seriously. I should have had more time for planning this.

Leon valued his careful, meticulous planning; rightly so, it had helped him succeed each time
and
kept him alive.

This time, to make things worse, both targets were reaching Delhi on the same day. Leon felt certain that in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror strike and the more recent attack on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Summit held at Delhi, the Indian authorities would pull out all stops to ensure no further embarrassment.

There was no denying the complexity of the tasks. Equally undeniable was that he could retire in comfort if …
when …
Leon auto-corrected himself … he had terminated these two targets.

But he needed more time to study their routines and routes, evaluate their quirks, then decide who to hit first, where and how. There was much to be done and now just six days left. His stomach clenched tighter.

And knowing how much his white skin made him stand out added to his turbulence. Yes, he
had
operated a couple of times on the Indian subcontinent, but that did not make it any easier.

The klaxons in his head had not yet started blaring, but soon they would.

Leon thought he had put away these doubts during his six-day weapon procurement sojourn in Seoul. Now he realized they had been overshadowed by his apprehension of betrayal by Ri Yong Ho, the rogue weapons dealer from Pyongyang. Betrayal was a possibility Leon could not ignore. And that fear had submerged his worry that Ri Yong Ho would be unable to get hold of the Sarin-AXR aerosol he so desperately needed to complete this mission. Ri Yong Ho had once worked in the North Korean industrial complex at Sinuiju and was possibly the only one known to Leon who could come up with the deadly sarin at such short notice.

Then the monotony of life intervened.

“Isn't it a lovely apartment?” The landlord's English was fluent, but the accent unmistakably Indian. Six feet tall in slippered feet, the powerfully built, jeans- and kurta-clad Om Chandra was smiling. The crisp white, freshly laundered kurta gave him a scholarly look, but he made Leon uneasy. Perhaps his constantly darting eyes, which evaded making contact. Perhaps his alert posture, which was in marked contrast to his silken, over-friendly tone. Possibly both. They gave Leon the impression of a man with a violent disposition or a deceitful temperament. Again, possibly both.

Someone to watch out for.

“It is perfect.” Checking the impulse to walk out as fast as possible, Leon lied, pitching his voice several octaves higher. A lopsided smile accompanied his practiced American accent. Both went well with his current cover; the one Leon referred to as his benign American hippie look. Padding around his waist and an extra pullover added the required inches to his girth. His almost shoulder-length hair, liberally showing lots of gray, had been left loose and unkempt. His slumped posture and shuffling gait reduced his height and added years to his age, giving Leon the appearance of an aging out-of-shape hippie; useful to lower the guard of an opponent.

Leon maintained his lopsided smile as he surveyed the serviced apartment. It was a seedy, run-down place: peeling paint, faded curtains, and furniture that would have been more at home in a scrapyard. If the pictures advertising it on the RoomsToShare website were of this same apartment, they had been taken ages ago. And that's possibly why there were no endorsements from previous users.

Barring the exquisitely crafted ivory chess set on a side table in the living room, Leon saw nothing that appealed to him. Yet it had some obvious advantages; located in the last row of the four-story, eight apartments per block, government-built colony of Sarita Vihar, it was a corner house with no external signboards that it was being run as a serviced apartment. Inside a middle-class residential colony, it was not likely to attract attention.

More important, this landlord had not asked Leon for any identification: a given in this terror-infested day and age. That reinforced his suspicions about Om Chandra, but it also made the apartment eminently desirable. Cautioning himself to watch his back, Leon pushed aside his misgivings.

“I will be taking it for two weeks as I had requested in my email. My wife will only join me later.” There was no wife; however, Leon knew that mention of a wife invariably lulled suspicions.

“Good, good.” Pleased, and now visibly relieved, Om Chandra shifted gears. “Is there anything else you need me to help you with, sir? A chauffeured car? A maid to cook for you? Or even…”—he allowed a sly smile to complete that sentence—“any other kind of
entertainment
 … till the wife comes along. You just need to tell me.”

Leon had no doubt what kind of entertainment.
Drugs, girls, boys, and perhaps even weapons … this man would be wary of getting the cops involved.
Leon decided it was an opportunity worth capitalizing on. “A car would be great, though I don't want a driver. I assume the car would be auto-transmission.”

“It'll be what you wish it to be, Mr. Berman.” That's the name Leon had given him, David Berman. “Though the rental for automatic gears is a little higher.”

“How much higher?” Leon sensed it would be a mistake not to bargain. Om was the kind who would take it as a sign of stupidity or worse, weakness. And Leon had no desire to set himself up as a mark. He negotiated.

Ten minutes later, ensuring Om Chandra left feeling good, Leon had the two-bedroom apartment to himself and the assurance that a suitable car would be delivered within the hour; auto-transmission but Indian make, nothing that would make him stand out; his white skin did that already.

Once Om Chandra left, Leon's thoughts returned to his targets. He was sure the conference Masharrat was speaking at would be easier for him to penetrate, so Masharrat was tactically the first choice. However, strategically he should be targeting Zardosi first.

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