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The public-address system at Cairo airport made a noise like a doorbell, and then the arrival of the Alitalia flight from Milan was announced in Arabic, Italian, French and English. Towfik el-Masiri left his table in the buffet and made his way out to the observation deck. He put on his sunglasses to look over the shimmering concrete apron. The Caravelle was already down and taxiing.
Towfik was there because of a cable. It had come that morning from his "uncle" in Rome, and it had been in code. Any business could use a code for international telegrams, provided it first lodged the key to the code with the post office. Such codes were used more and more to save money—by reducing common phrases to single words—than to keep secrets. Towfik's uncle's cable, transcribed according to the registered code book, gave details of his late aunt's will. However, Towfik had another key, and the message he read was:
Observe and follow professor Friedrich Schulz arriving Cairo from Milan Wednesday 28 February 1968 for several days. Age 51 height 180 cm weight 150 pounds hair white eyes blue nationality Austrian companions wife only.
The passengers began to file out of the aircraft, and Towfik spotted his man almost immediately. There was only one tall, lean white-haired man on the flight. He was wearing a light blue suit, a white shirt and a tie, and carrying a plastic shopping bag from a duty-free store and a camera. His wife was much shorter, and wore a fashionable mini-dress and a blonde wig. As they crossed the airfield they looked about them and sniffed the warm, dry desertair the way most people did the first time they landed in North Africa.
The passengers disappeared into the arrivals hall. Towfik waited on the observation deck until the baggage came off the plane, then he went inside and mingled with the small crowd of people waiting just beyond the customs barrier.
He did a lot of waiting. That was something they did not teach you—how to wait. You learned to handle guns, memorize maps, break open safes and kill people with your bare hands, all in the first six months of the training course; but there were no lectures in patience, no exercises for sore feet, no seminars on tedium. And it was beginning to seem like There is something wrong here beginning to seem Lookout lookout beginning to—
There was another agent in the crowd.
Towfik's subconscious hit the fire alarm while he was thinking about patience. The people in the little crowd, waiting for relatives and friends and business acquaintances off the Milan plane, were impatient. They smoked, shifted their weight from one foot to the other, craned their necks and fidgeted. There was a middle-class family with four children, two men in the traditional striped cotton galabiya robes, a businessman in a dark suit, a young white woman, a chauffeur with a sign saying FORD MOTOR COMPANY, and—
And a patient man.
Like Towfik, he had dark skin and short hair and wore a European-style suit. At first glance he seemed to be with the middle-class family—just as Towfik would seem, to a casual observer, to be with the businessman in the dark suit. The other agent stood nonchalantly, with his hands behind his back, facing the exit from the baggage hall, looking unobtrusive. There was a streak of paler skin alongside his nose, like an old scar. He touched it, once, in what might have been a nervous gesture, then put his hand behind his back again.
The question was, had he spotted Towfik?
Towfik turned to the businessman beside him and said, "I never understand why this has to take so long." He smiled, and spoke quietly, so that the businessman leaned closer to hear him and smiled back; and the pair of them looked like acquaintances having a casual conversation.
The businessman said, "The formalities take longer than the flight."
Towfik stole another glance at the other agent. The man stood in the same position, watching the exit. He had not attempted any camouflage. Did that mean that he had not spotted Towfik? Or was it just that he had second-guessed Towfik, by deciding that a piece of camouflage would give him away?
The passengers began to emerge, and Towfik realized there was nothing he could do, either way. He hoped the people the agent was meeting would come out before Professor Schulz.
It was not to be. Schulz and his wife were among the first little knot of passengers to come through.
The other agent approached them and shook hands.
Of course, of course.
The agent was there to meet Schulz.
Towfik watched while the agent summoned porters and ushered the Schulzes away; then he went out by a different exit to his car. Before getting in he took off his jacket and tie and put on sunglasses and a white cotton cap. Now he would not be easily recognizable as the man who had been waiting at the meeting point.
He figured the agent would have parked in a no-waiting zone right outside the main entrance, so he drove that way. He was right. He saw the porters loading the Schulz baggage into the boot of a five-year-old gray Mercedes. He drove on.
He steered his dirty Renault on to the main highway which ran from Heliopolis, where the airport was, to Cairo. He drove at 60 kph and kept to the slow lane. The gray Mercedes passed him two or three minutes later, and he accelerated to keep it within sight. He memorized its number, as it was always useful to be able to recognize the opposition's cars.
The sky began to cloud over. As he sped down the straight, palm-lined highway, Towfik considered what he had found out so far. The cable had told him nothing about Schulz except what the man looked like and the fact that he was an Austrian professor. The meeting at the airport meant a great deal, though. It had been a kind of clandestine VIP treatment. Towfik had the agent figured for a local: everything pointed to that—his clothes, his car, his style of waiting. That meant Schulz was probably here by invitation of the government, but either he or the people he had come to see wanted the visit kept secret.Triple. Copyright © by Ken Follett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.