The Mark of the Assassin


When he heard the approach of the Dauntless, the man called Yassim quickly flashed a powerful signal lamp three times. The smaller vessel came into view. Mahmoud reduced power, and the Dauntless glided toward the stern of the yacht.

Even in the weak light of the moon he could see it on the boy’s face: the crazed excitement, the fear, the rush. He could see it in the shining deep-brown Palestinian eyes, see it in the jittery hands fumbling over the controls of the Dauntless. Left to his own devices, Mahmoud would be up all night and the next day too, reliving it, recounting every detail, explaining over and over how it felt the moment the plane burst into flames.

Yassim detested ideologues, detested the way they all wore their suffering like armor and disguised their fear as valor. He distrusted anyone who would willingly lead a life such as this. He trusted only professionals.

The Dauntless nudged against the stern of the yacht. The wind had picked up in the last few minutes. Gentle swells lapped against the sides of the boats. Yassim climbed down the ladder as Hassan Mahmoud shut down the engine and clambered into the forward seating area. He reached out a hand for Yassim to help him out of the boat, but Yassim simply drew a silenced 9mm Glock pistol from the waistband of his trousers and shot the Palestinian boy rapidly three times in the face.

That night he set the yacht on an easterly heading and engaged the automatic navigation systems. He lay awake in his stateroom. Even now, even after countless killings, he could not sleep the first night after an assassination. When he was making his escape, or still in public, healways managed to remain focused and operational cool. But at night the demons came. At night he saw the faces, one by one, like photographs in an album. First alive and vibrant; then contorted with the death mask or blown apart by his favorite method of killing, three bullets to the face. Then the guilt would come, and he would tell himself that he had not chosen this life; it had been chosen for him. At dawn, with the first gray light of morning leaking through his window, he finally slept.

He rose at midday and went about the routine of preparing for his departure. He shaved and showered, then dressed and packed the rest of his clothing into a small leather grip. He made coffee and drank it while watching CNN on the yacht’s superb satellite television system. Such a pity: the grieving relatives at Kennedy and Heathrow, the vigil at a high school somewhere on Long Island, the reporters wildly speculating about the cause of the crash.

He walked through the yacht room by room one last time to make certain he had left no trace of his presence. He checked the explosive charges.

At 6 p.m., the precise time he had been ordered, he retrieved a small black object from a cabinet in the galley. It was no larger than a cigar box and looked vaguely like a radio. He carried it outside onto the aft deck and pressed a single button. There was no sound, but he knew the message had been sent in a coded microburst. Even if the American NSA intercepted it, it would be meaningless gibberish.

The yacht motored eastward for two more hours. It was now 8 p.m. He set each of the charges and then slipped on a canvas vest with a heavy metal clamp on the front.

There was more wind tonight. It was colder and there were high clouds. The Zodiac, cleated at the stern, rose and fell rhythmically with the three-foot swells. He climbed into the craft, untied it, and pulled the starter cord. The engine came to life on the third pull. He turned away from the yacht and opened the throttle.

He heard the helicopter twenty minutes later. He shut down the Zodiac’s engine and shone a signal lamp into the sky. The helicopter hovered overhead, the night filled with the thump of its rotors. The cable fell from its belly. He attached it to his vest and pulled hard on it twice to signal that he was ready. A moment later he rose gently from the Zodiac.

He heard explosions in the distance. He turned his head in time to see the large motor yacht being lifted out of the water by the force of the blasts. Then it began its slow descent toward the bottom of the Atlantic.


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