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Night fell as the airport taxi rattled along the six miles of coastal road into Beirut. From the back seat, Dahlia Iyad watched the Mediterranean surf fade from white to gray in the last light. She was thinking about the American. She would have to answer many questions about him.
The taxi turned onto the Rue Verdun and threaded its way into the heart of the city, the Sabra district, filled with many of the refugees from Palestine. The driver needed no instructions. He scanned his rear-view mirror closely, then turned off his lights and pulled into a small courtyard near the Rue Jeb el-Nakhel. The courtyard was pitch dark. Dahlia could hear distant traffic sounds and the ticking of the motor as it cooled. A minute passed.
The taxi rocked as the four doors were snatched open and a powerful flashlight blinded the driver. Dahlia could smell the oil on the pistol held an inch from her eye.
The man with the flashlight came to the rear door of the taxi, and the pistol was withdrawn.
"Djinniy," she said softly.
"Get out and follow me." He ran the Arabic words together in the accent of the Jabal.
A hard tribunal waited for Dahlia Iyad in the quiet room in Beirut. Hafez Najeer, head of Al Fatah's elite Jihaz al-Rasd (RASD) field intelligence unit, sat at a desk leaning his head back against the wall. He was a tall man with a small head. His subordinates secretly called him "The Praying Mantis." To hold his full attention was to feel sick and frightened.
Najeer was the commander of Black September. He did not believe in the concept of a "Middle East situation." The restoration of Palestine to the Arabs would not have elated him. He believed in holocaust, the fire that purifies. So did Dahlia Iyad.
And so did the other two men in the room: Abu Ali, who controlled the Black September assassination squads in Italy and France, and Muhammad Fasil, ordnance expert and architect of the attack on the Olympic Village at Munich. Both were members of RASD, the brains of Black September. Their position was not acknowledged by the larger Palestinian guerrilla movement, for Black September lives within Al Fatah as desire lives in the body.
It was these three men who decided that Black September would strike within the United States. More than fifty plans had been conceived and discarded. Meanwhile, U.S. munitions continued to pour onto the Israeli docks at Haifa.
Suddenly a solution had come, and now, if Najeer gave his final approval, the mission would be in the hands of this young woman.
She tossed her djellaba on a chair and faced them. "Good evening, Comrades."
"Welcome, Comrade Dahlia," Najeer said. He had not risen when she entered the room. Nor had the other two. Her appearance had changed during her year in the United States. She was chic in her pants suit and a little disarming.
"The American is ready," she said. "I am satisfied that he will go through with it. He lives for it."
"How stable is he?" Najeer seemed to be staring into her skull.
"Stable enough. I support him. He depends on me."
"I understand that from your reports, but code is clumsy. There are questions. Ali?"
Abu Ali looked at Dahlia carefully. She remembered him from his psychology lectures at the American University of Beirut.
"The American always appears rational?" he asked.
"But you believe him to be insane?"
"Sanity and apparent rationality are not the same, Comrade."
"Is his dependency on you increasing? Does he have periods of hostility toward you?"
"Sometimes he is hostile, but not as often now."
"Is he impotent?"
"He says he was impotent from the time of his release in North Vietnam until two months ago." Dahlia watched Ali. With his small, neat gestures and his moist eyes, he reminded her of a civet cat.
"Do you take credit for overcoming his impotence?"
"It is not a matter of credit, Comrade. It is a matter of control. My body is useful in maintaining that control. If a gun worked better, I would use a gun."
Najeer nodded approval. He knew she was telling the truth. Dahlia had helped train the three Japanese terrorists who struck at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, slaying at random. Originally there had been four Japanese terrorists. One lost his nerve in training, and, with the other three watching, Dahlia blew his head off with a Schmeisser machine pistol.
"How can you be sure he will not have an attack of conscience and turn you in to the Americans?" Ali persisted.
"What would they get if he did?" Dahlia said. "I am a small catch. They would get the explosives, but the Americans have plenty of plastique already, as we have good reason to know." This was intended for Najeer, and she saw him look up at her sharply.
Israeli terrorists almost invariably used American C-4 plastic explosive. Najeer remembered carrying his brother's body out of a shattered apartment in Bhandoum, then going back inside to look for the legs.
"The American turned to us because he needed explosives. You know that, Comrade," Dahlia said. "He will continue to need me for other things. We do not offend his politics, because he has none. Neither does the term 'conscience' apply to him in the usual sense. He will not turn me in."
"Let's look at him again," Najeer said. "Comrade Dahlia, you have studied this man in one setting. Let me show him to you in quite different circumstances. Ali?"
Abu Ali set a 16-millimeter movie projector on the desk and switched out the lights. "We got this quite recently from a source in North Vietnam, Comrade Dahlia. It was shown once on American television, but that was before you were stationed in the House of War. I doubt that you have seen it."
The numbered film leader blurred on the wall and distorted sound came from the speaker. As the film picked up speed, the sound tightened into the anthem of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the square of light on the wall became a whitewashed room. Seated on the floor were two dozen American prisoners of war. A cut to a lectern with a microphone clamped to it. A tall, gaunt man approached the lectern, walking slowly. He wore the baggy uniform of a POW, socks and thong sandals. One of his hands remained in the folds of his jacket, the other was placed flat on his thigh as he bowed to the officials at the front of the room. He turned to the microphone and spoke slowly.
"I am Michael J. Lander, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, captured February 10, 1967, while firebombing a civilian hospital near Ninh Binh. . . near Ninh Binh. Though the evidence of my war crimes is unmistakable, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam has not done to me punishment, but showed me the suffering which resulted from American war crimes like those of my own and others . . . and others. I am sorry for what I have done. I am sorry we killed children. I call upon the American people to stop this war. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam holds no . . . holds no animosity toward the American people. It is the warmongers in power. I remain ashamed of what I have done."
The camera panned over the other prisoners, sitting like an attentive class, their faces carefully blank. The film ended with the anthem.
"Clumsy enough," said Ali, whose English was almost flawless. "The hand must have been tied to his side." He had watched Dahlia closely during the film. Her eyes had widened for a second at the close-up of the gaunt face. Otherwise she remained impassive.
"Firebombing a hospital," Ali mused. "He has experience in this sort of thing, then."
"He was captured flying a rescue helicopter. He was trying to retrieve the crew of a downed Phantom," Dahlia said. "You have seen my report."
"I have seen what he told you," Najeer said.
"He tells me the truth. He is beyond lying," she said. "I have lived with him for two months. I know."
"It's a small point, anyway," Ali said. "There are other things about him of much more interest."
During the next half-hour, Ali questioned her about the most intimate details of the American's behavior. When he had finished, it seemed to Dahlia that there was a smell in the room. Real or imagined, it took her back to the Palestinian refugee camp at Tyre when she was eight years old, folding the wet bedroll where her mother and the man who brought food had groaned together in the dark.
Fasil took over the questioning. He had the blunt, capable hands of a technician, and there were calluses on the tips of his fingers. He sat forward in his chair, his small satchel on the floor beside him.
"Has the American handled explosives?"
"Only packaged military ordnance. But he has planned carefully and in minute detail. His plan appears reasonable," Dahlia answered.
"It appears reasonable to you, Comrade. Perhaps because you are so intimately involved with it. We will see how reasonable it is."
She wished for the American then, wished these men could hear his slow voice as, step by step, he reduced his terrible project into a series of clearly defined problems, each with a solution.
She took a deep breath and began to talk about the technical problems involved in killing 80,000 people all at once, including the new President of the United States, with an entire nation watching.
"The limitation is weight," Dahlia said. "We are restricted to 600 kilos of plastique. Give me a cigarette please, and a pen and paper."
Bending over the desk, she drew a curve that resembled a cross section of a bowl. Inside it and slightly above, she drew another, smaller curve of the same parameter.
"This is the target," she said, indicating the larger curve. Her pen moved to the smaller curve. "The principle of the shaped charge, it--"
"Yes, yes," Fasil snapped. "Like a great Claymore mine. Simple. The density of the crowd?"
"Seated shoulder to shoulder, entirely exposed at this angle from the pelvis up. I need to know if the plastique--"
"Comrade Najeer will tell you what you need to know," Fasil said loftily.
Dahlia continued unfazed. "I need to know if the explosive Comrade Najeer may choose to give me is prepackaged antipersonnel plastique with steel balls, such as a Claymore contains. The weight requested is of plastique only. The containers and this type of shrapnel would not be of use."
"Weight, of course." She was tired of Fasil.
"And if you have no shrapnel? What then, Comrade? If you are counting on concussion, allow me to inform you--"
"Allow me to inform you, Comrade. I need your help and I will have it. I do not pretend to your expertise. We are not contending, you and I. Jealousy has no place in the Revolution."
"Tell her what she wants to know." Najeer's voice was hard.
Instantly Fasil said, "The plastique is not packaged with shrapnel. What will you use?"
"The outside of the shaped charge win be covered with layers of .177 caliber rifle darts. The American believes they will disperse over 150 degrees vertically through a horizontal arc of 260 degrees. It works out to an average of 3.5 projectiles per person in the kill zone.
Fasil's eyes widened. He had seen an American Claymore mine, no bigger than a schoolbook, blast a bloody path through a column of advancing troops and mow down the grass in a swath around them. What she proposed would be like a thousand Claymores going off at once.
"Electric blasting cap fired by a 12-volt system already in the craft. There is an identical backup system with separate battery. Also a fuse."
"That's all," the technician said. "I am finished."
Dahlia looked at him. He was smiling--whether from satisfaction or fear of Hafez Najeer, she could not tell. She wondered if Fasil knew the larger curve represented Tulane Stadium, where on January 12 the first 21 minutes of the Super Bowl game would be played.
Dahlia waited for an hour in a room down the hall. When she was summoned back to Najeer's office, she found the Black September commander alone. Now she would know.
The room was dark except for the area lit by a reading lamp. Najeer, leaning back against the wall, wore a hood of shadow. His hands were in the light and they toyed with a black commando knife. When he spoke, his voice was very soft.
"Do it, Dahlia. Kill as many as you can."
Abruptly he leaned into the light and smiled as though relieved, his teeth bright in his dark face. He seemed almost jovial as he opened the technician's case and withdrew a small statue. It was a figure of the Madonna, like the ones in the windows of religious articles stores, the painting bright and hurriedly executed. "Examine it," he said.
She turned the figure in her hands. It weighed about a half-kilo and did not feel like plaster. A faint ridge ran around the sides of the figure as though it had been pressed in a mold rather than cast. Across the bottom were the words "Made in Taiwan."
"Plastique," Najeer said. "Similar to the American C-4 but made farther east. It has some advantages over C-4. It's more powerful for one thing, at some small cost to its stability, and it is very malleable when heated above 50 degrees centigrade.
"Twelve hundred of these will arrive in New York two weeks from tomorrow aboard the freighter Leticia. The manifest will show they were transshipped from Taiwan. The importer, Muzi, will claim them on the dock. Afterward you will make sure of his silence."
Najeer rose and stretched. "You have done well, Comrade Dahlia, and you have come a long way. You will rest now with me."
Najeer had a sparsely furnished apartment on an upper floor of 18 Rue Verdun, similar to the quarters Fasil and Ali had on other floors of the building.
Dahlia sat on the side of Najeer's bed with a small tape recorder in her lap. He had ordered her to make a tape for use on Radio Beirut after the strike was made. She was naked, and Najeer, watching her from the couch, saw her become visibly aroused as she talked into the microphone.
"Citizens of America," she said, "today the Palestinian freedom fighters have struck a great blow in the heart of your country. This horror was visited upon you by the merchants of death in your own land, who supply the butchers of Israel. Your leaders have been deaf to the cries of the homeless. Your leaders have ignored the ravages by the Jews in Palestine and have committed their own crimes in Southeast Asia. Guns, warplanes, and hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed from your country to the hands of warmongers while millions of your own people starve. The people will not be denied.
"Hear this, people of America. We want to be your brothers. It is you who must overthrow the filth that rules you. Henceforth, for every Arab that dies by an Israeli hand, an American will die by Arab hands. Every Moslem holy place, every Christian holy place destroyed by Jewish gangsters will be avenged with the destruction of a property in America."
Dahlia's face was flushed and her nipples were erect as she continued. "We hope this cruelty will go no further. The choice is yours. We hope never to begin another year with bloodshed and suffering. Salaam aleikum."
Najeer was standing before her, and she reached for him as his bathrobe fell to the floor.
Two miles from the room where Dahlia and Najeer were locked together in the tangled sheets, a small Israeli missile launch sliced quietly up the Mediterranean.
The launch hove to 1,000 meters south of the Grotte aux Pigeons, and a raft was slipped over the side. Twelve armed men climbed down into it. They wore business suits and neckties tailored by Russians, Arabs, and Frenchmen. All wore crepe-soled shoes and none carried any identification. Their faces were hard. It was not their first visit to Lebanon.
The water was smoky gray under the quarter moon, and the sea was riffled by a warm off-shore breeze. Eight of the men paddled, stretching to make the longest strokes possible as they covered the 400 meters to the sandy beach of the Rue Verdun. It was 4:11 A.M., 23 minutes before sunrise and 17 minutes before the first blue glaze of day would spread over the city. Silently they pulled the raft up on the sand, covered it with a sand-colored canvas, and walked quickly up the beach to the Rue Ramlet el-Baida, where four men and four cars awaited them, silhouetted against the glow from the tourist hotels to the north.
They were only a few yards from the cars when a brown-and-white Land Rover braked loudly 30 yards up the Rue Ramlet, its headlights on the little convoy. Two men in tan uniforms leaped from the truck, their guns leveled.
"Stand still. Identify yourselves."
There was a sound like popping corn, and dust flew from the Lebanese officers' uniforms as they collapsed in the road, riddled by 9-mm bullets from the raiders' silenced Parabellums.
A third officer, at the wheel of the truck, tried to drive away. A bullet shattered the windshield and his forehead. The truck careened into a palm tree at the roadside, and the policeman was thrown forward onto the horn. Two men ran to the truck and pulled the dead man off the horn, but lights were going on in some of the beachfront apartments.
A window opened, and there was an angry shout in Arabic. "What is that hellish racket? Someone call the police."
The leader of the raid, standing by the truck, shouted back in hoarse and drunken Arabic, "Where is Fatima? We'll leave if she doesn't get down here soon."
"You drunken bastards get away from here or I'll call the police myself."
"Aleikum salaam, neighbor. I'm going," the drunken voice from the street replied. The light in the apartment went out.
In less than two minutes the sea closed over the truck and the bodies it contained.
Two of the cars went south on the Rue Ramlet, while the other two turned onto the Corniche Ras Beyrouth for two blocks, then turned north again on the Rue Verdun..
Number 18 Rue Verdun was guarded round the clock. One sentry was stationed in the foyer, and another armed with a machine gun watched from the roof of the building across the street. Now the rooftop sentry lay in a curious attitude behind his gun, his throat smiling wetly in the moonlight. The sentry from the foyer lay outside the door where he had gone to investigate a drunken lullaby.
Najeer had fallen asleep when Dahlia gently pulled free from him and walked into the bathroom. She stood under the shower for a long time, enjoying the stinging spray. Najeer was not an exceptional lover. She smiled as she soaped herself. She was thinking about the American, and she did not hear the footsteps in the hall.
Najeer half-started from the bed as the door to his apartment smashed open and a flashlight blinded him.
"Comrade Najeer!" the man said urgently.
The machine gun flickered, and blood exploded from Najeer as the bullets slammed him back into the wall. The killer swept everything from the top of Najeer's desk into a bag as an explosion in another part of the building shook the room.
The naked girl in the bathroom doorway seemed frozen in horror. The killer pointed his machine gun at her wet breast. His finger tightened on the trigger. It was a beautiful breast. The muzzle of the machine gun wavered.
"Put on some clothes, you Arab slut," he said, and backed out of the room.
The explosion two floors below, which tore out the wall of Abu Ali's apartment, killed Ali and his wife instantly. The raiders, coughing in the dust, had started for the stairs, when a thin man in pajamas came out of the apartment at the end of the hall, trying to cock a submachine gun. He was still trying when a hail of bullets tore through him, blowing shreds of his pajamas into his flesh and across the hall.
The raiders scrambled to the street and their cars were roaring southward toward the sea as the first police sirens sounded.
Dahlia, wearing Najeer's bathrobe and clutching her purse, was on the street in seconds, mingling with the crowd that had poured out of the buildings on the block. She was trying desperately to think, when she felt a hard hand grip her arm. It was Muhammad Fasil. A bullet had cut a bloody stripe across his cheek. He wrapped his tie around his hand and held it to the wound.
"Najeer?" he asked.
"Ali, too, I think. His window blew out just as I turned the corner. I shot at them from the car, but--listen to me carefully. Najeer has given the order. Your mission must be completed. The explosives are not affected, they will arrive on schedule. Automatic weapons also--your Schmeisser and an AK-47, packed separately with bicycle parts."
Dahlia looked at him with smoke-reddened eyes. "They will pay," she said. "They will pay 10,000 to one.
Fasil took her to a safe house in the Sabra to wait through the day. After dark he took her to the airport in his rattletrap Citroen. Her borrowed dress was two sizes too large, but she was too tired to care.
At 10:30 P.M., the Pan Am 707 roared out over the Mediterranean, and, before the Arabian lights faded off the starboard wing, Dahlia fell into an exhausted sleep.
From the Paperback edition.