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The Infinity Gambit
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If Aniello Frangini had had more brains and refrained from resorting to kidnaping of children to enforce his political demands, he wouldn't have ended his days prematurely at the age of twenty-four, stretched out on a bed in the Novotel hotel in Paris with two closely space .22-caliber holes in the middle of his forehead.

The assortment of violently disposed misfits and malcontents who had nursed their grievances under his leadership at different times numbered typically between ten and twenty, and had begun as a splinter faction of the Italian Red Brigade. A ragtag affair operating in the fringe world of European political-linked crime, it sought to legitimize a record of kidnaping, murders, and small-time bank holdups through a fairly standard recipe of anticapitalist semantics and leftist ideology. Aniello had seen it as merely a prelude to bigger things to come, which would propel him to glamour and notoriety on the international terrorist scene, another "Carlos." But he hadn't had the connections. So he had kept the funds coming in by subcontracting the group's services to other, longer-established groups in the network. The Japanese Red Army had begun the same way.

And that was how Aniello had agreed to front for the Belgian anti-NATO "Cellules Communistes Combattants" and provided the snatch squad that had grabbed the ten-year-old daughter of the technical director of a French military electronics supplier, the Compagnie Electronique Spatiale. The arrangement worked well, and the child had been released earlier that day for a quarter-million-dollar ransom. With CCC doing the negotiating while Aniello's people held the hostage, the negotiators had been able to claim that the kidnappers were acting according to get instructions and not under their control. Now, according to the plan, all that should have remained to complete the job was for Aniello and the CCC moneyman to meet at the hotel, and for Aniello to deliver the proceeds, minus his agreed cut. The only problem was, Aniello wouldn't be there.

Bernard Fallon finished transferring twenty-five wads, each of a hundred hundred-dollar bills, into plastic bags and packed the bags into a black Samsonite briefcase. He peeled off the surgical gloves that he had used -- the cash would doubtless have been marked by an ultraviolet fluorescent dye and possibly other devices -- sealed the gloves in another plastic bag for disposal later, and snapped shut the lid of the Samsonite. As he stood up from the chair at the room's bureau-cum-vanity, he clicked his tongue at the corpse on the bed and shook his head reproachfully. "Fancy using second-raters for your protection." The two Tunisian bodyguards should have stuck to Aniello like glue all the time the money was in his possession; but Fallon had lured them to the far end of the hotel with a ruse for a few vital minutes. "Which I'm afraid, my old son, makes you a bit of a Berkeley Hunt."

Fallon spoke in the flat, softly cynical tone of the native Londoner. He was thirty-eight, with a lean and supple 180-pound frame which in years gone by the British Special Air Service had shaped into a fine-tuned coordination of reflexes and muscle. He had a dimple-chinned, puckish face with brown, curly hair that he kept comfortably short without a part, thought a shade full above the collar and with generous sideburns. His eyes were deep and contemplative most of the time, varying from amber to dark brown depending on the light, and tending to take on a lazily distant look when his mind was at its most active -- a look that could be both deceptive and disarming.

He crossed to the door and opened it a fraction to check the corridor, then went down to the lobby and left the hotel. Walking quickly, he went a block and a half back to his own hotel and checked into his room. By then, he estimated, the two Tunisians should have returned to Aniello's suite. He called the Novotel and asked for the room number. "Oui?" The voice that answered sounded fearful and shaky -- hardly surprising, considering what they had just come back to find waiting for them.

Fallon spoke in accented French, which could have been from the Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium. "Who I am does not matter. You are being set up. The CCC is double-crossing Aniello."

"Who is this?" the voice demanded.

"I said it does not matter. But their hit man is there in the Novotel. He is using the name of Duvalier. I thought that Aniello might like to know."

Fallon hung up. "Duvalier" was in fact the pseudonym that the moneyman coming to meet Aniello would be using. Fallon opened the Samsonite again and put the plastic bags containing the money into a mailing carton already addressed to the board of directors of the Compagnie Electronique Spatiale. He didn't want to touch any of this stuff himself; the agreed twenty percent commission would be paid in clean money via a regular transfer to London. On top of the wads of bills he placed a piece of notepaper bearing the letters "BF" scrawled with a distinctive flourish, which was his whimsical hallmark--surely only a bloody fool would have chosen to make a living this way. Above the initials he drew a simple design of a fork formed by two elongated, curvy shapes tapering to points, suggesting a pair of ass's ears. It could also, depending on the variation that he chose to emphasize, be read as the indomitable Churchillian "V" sign, or alternatively the ultimate British gesture of derision as conveyed with the fingers reversed. He sealed the carton, which he would mail from the airport, picked up his already packed garment bag, and went downstairs to check out.

In the Novotel farther along the street, meanwhile, a Monsieur Duvalier was paged to the front desk. A minute later, a swarthy, mustached man in a black suit went up to the desk, where on of the clerks handed him a large envelope easily recognizable from a distance. Duvalier moved a short distance away, opened it, and frowned as he read the slip of paper inside. The message wasn't important; but now the two Tunisian who had been watching over newspapers from chairs on opposite sides of the lobby knew who he was. They nodded to each other, folded their papers, and rose to follow when he left.

In revenge for losing the money as well as their moneyman, the CCC would take out more of Aniello's operation. And the ensuring internecine exchanges would save European counter-terrorist units such as France's GIGN and the Belgian ESI a considerable amount of trouble and expense. And a lot of would-be victims would be spared from other crimes which now wouldn't happen. Everything smooth and without hitches for once, Fallon reflected, as he allowed himself to relax fully for the first time in days and sat back in the taxicab, gazing with satisfaction at scenery along the route to Charles de Gulle Airport.

Less than an hour later, he took off aboard a British Airways Boeing 757 on his return flight to London.

 
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