A Novel by Robert Landori
Baghdad, October 2001. Chemical Ali, Saddam Hussein's cousin, has a Weapon of Mass Destruction - human, new variety Creutzfeldt-Jakob (Mad Cow) Disease against which there is no known cure.
Ali plans to weaponize the virus in bulk, disguised as surgical glue, at a Hungarian facility, but first needs a vaccine to protect the True Believers against this deadly virus.
He learns that the Canadian scientist, Jason Moscovitch, is feverishly working on such a vaccine. Ali recruits an Al Qaeda Snatch Team, composed of Iraqi, Bosnian and Jordanian elements, who kidnap the man. When the scientist refuses to work for the extremists the team kidnaps his mother as well.
Robert Lonsdale, a contract officer with the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Division, is tasked to find and free Moscovitch. To succeed, he must first penetrate the unbelievably complex web of Islamic Factionalists involved in the case and then overcome European indifference to the growing menace of international terrorism.
THIS IS AN ENTIRELY PLAUSIBLE AND TOPICAL TALE.
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MAYHEM ON THE DANUBEA Novel
By Robert Landori
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Robert Landori
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJason Moscovitch was having a wonderful dream.
On his way to the podium to accept the Nobel Prize for Virology, he acknowledged the thunderous applause that greeted him with an elegant wave of his hand. He glanced skyward to catch a glimpse of the jetfighters screaming overhead in his honor ... and awoke with a start in his Budapest apartment on Széchenyi Street to the insistent, high-pitched buzzing of the front door telephone.
Cursing, he struggled into his dressing gown and padded to the foyer. "Who is it?" he croaked into the mouthpiece, incensed. Once again, some drunk must have picked his bell's button to push, forcing him from the comfort of his warm bed at two a.m. on a Sunday morning.
"It's Amina. I need to see you right away." His secretary, and lover when she felt like it, sounded agitated. "Open the door. It's urgent ..."
He buzzed her in, unlatched the apartment door and headed for the bathroom where she joined him a couple of minutes later, out of breath, and disheveled from running up three flights of stairs. "Get dressed and come with me," she panted. "Don't ask questions. My car's downstairs. We'll talk on our way to the lab."
The word 'lab'did it for Moscovitch. Fearing the worst, he threw on some clothes, grabbed his special flashlight and rushed after Amina who was already halfway down the stairs.
"I was at the Nadasi Tavern around the corner," she explained as she piloted her Suzuki Swift 1000 through the deserted streets of the Hungarian capital at top speed, "and got involved with a couple of Iraqis, recent arrivals from Baghdad".
"I thought they were not supposed to leave their compound ..."
"Don't interrupt. As I said, I got involved with these two—I'm sure you know what I mean." She gave Moscovitch a sideways glance and watched him pretend that he was not feeling jealous. Tall, with flashing dark eyes and a body that wouldn't quit, his secretary was a fabulous looking woman, exuding sex appeal.
"They were competing fiercely for the honor of seeing me home when this third guy appeared out of nowhere. He began to speak very softly in Arabic and never suspected that I would hear him or understand. He thought I was Italian." She swerved to avoid one of the many potholes that dotted Nádor Street and paused to catch her breath. Then she made a few neat maneuvers, at times sliding sideways on the road slick with rain until she hit one of the main thoroughfares, Rákóczi Boulevard.
"What's all this got to do with me?" Moscovitch didn't follow.
"The third man who seemed to be their boss wanted my two guys to help him drill the safe of a pharmaceutical company so they could steal some vaccine samples."
Jason Moscovitch felt as if an icy hand were reaching for his heart. He gulped and moistened his lips. "Did they mention the name of the company?"
"No, but one of them asked if I knew where Zászló Street was."
The twenty-nine-year old Moscovitch gagged. He was the Managing Director and Chief Scientific Officer of Phylaxos Pharmaceuticals, a company of which he owned a third. Fifteen per cent belonged jointly to the Hungarian Government and Moscovitch's working partner, Esad Delic, an Iraq-trained virologist. The rest was the property of a Japanese conglomerate.
Phylaxos had just submitted a patent application for an experimental vaccine against a new variety of Creutzfeldt-Jakob (human Mad Cow) disease. The new virus was highly contagious and invariably fatal, a new plague, easily turned into a means of mass destruction.
As long as no protection existed against nv.C-JD, no one dared to think of converting it into a weapon, but Moscovitch's preliminary discovery was about to change the rules. Those possessing the vaccine could declare open season with impunity on those who did not.
It had taken Moscovitch two years to produce a dozen test tubes of his discovery as seed stock for testing on humans. Some of these 'samples' were now in Phylaxos'built-in vault at the company's laboratory on Zászló Street for God's sake. Although the vault had two combination locks that needed to be operated in unison, its door was almost a hundred years old, and drillable.
"Were these guys still at Nadasi's when you left?"
Amina nodded as she watched the imposing building of the Eastern Railway Terminal flash by.
"We must get the samples to somewhere safe," Moscovitch insisted. "We can open the vault because you know the combination of the lower lock."
"So do others."
"But I'm the only one who knows the one for the lock on top. You think we have the time?"
"The men were going to be picked up by their leader at three."
Moscovitch glanced at his watch, then out the window. They were crossing the wide expanse of Mexikói Boulevard. "It's a quarter to and we're almost there. Ten minutes to open the vault and another ten to get away. We might or might not make it. Why don't we just call the police?"
"Because by the time they get their shit together it would be too late." Amina had seen the Budapest police at work. "They'd never send a patrol car unless a burglary was actually in progress and for sure not on the strength of a conversation overhead in a bar."
The Phylaxos laboratory was in the Zugló, a district of Budapest in which modestly priced residences alternated with buildings housing fair-sized industries.
Entrance to the complex was through a tall steel door for cars and trucks with a smaller entrance cut into it for pedestrians. Amina parked nearby and followed Moscovitch who unlocked the pedestrian access then stood aside for Amina to enter. In seconds they were in the company's third floor lab. Squeezing past the centrifuge and the fermenting vat, they raced along the equipment-laden tables to Moscovitch's corner office.
The scientist shone his flashlight's beam on the locks while first Amina then he, their fingers slippery with sweat, twirled the knobs, until they managed to open the vault door on their third try.
"I have to pee, I'm bursting," Amina said, making a face. "Don't forget to relock the vault door when you're done." She headed for the corridor.
Moscovitch entered the vault, turned on the light and, with a key hanging from a platinum chain around his neck, opened one of the ten steel drawers fitted into the left wall. He extracted a brown leather cigar case containing four vaccine-filled test tubes and clipped the special flashlight he had brought with him to the case.
He looked around for Amina then shut the vault's steel door, re-engaged the locking bars, and gave the combination locks a couple of twirls.
He was pocketing the cigar case when Amina reappeared in the doorway, smiling broadly.
"Look what I found." She brought her hand out from behind her back and pointed a large silencer-equipped automatic at Moscovitch's head. "Put the case on the worktable slowly." She was no longer smiling.
Momentarily stunned, Moscovitch managed to recover, and pressed the button on the flashlight twice in rapid succession, counted slowly to three and, taking his time, placed the case on the table.
Amina backed away from him. "Step away and turn your back to me." Paralyzed with fear, Moscovitch was unable to move. "I said, turn around," Amina commanded, the barrel of her pistol now pointing downward. "Move or I'll shoot you in the knee."
Something snapped inside Moscovitch's head. How could this be happening? Ever since beginning to work in Hungary in mid-2001, and especially since the events of 9/11, he had been fretting about what would happen if his vaccine were to fall into the wrong hands. He had, therefore, arranged for destroying the samples at a moment's notice through ultraviolet radiation, hence the special flashlight that he had designed himself. With the Hungarian government as co-owner of his company, he had felt that the security arrangement she had put in place were adequate, never expecting that Amina—lovely, loving, tender Amina—would be the one to betray him.
His partner Delic, the Iraqi-trained Bosnian, maybe, but not Amina!
Tears welled up in his eyes. "How could you?" he stammered, "after all we've done together; the confidences shared; the joint work, the lofty goals. Why?" he sobbed, realizing that, unless he acted decisively, he was a dead man. Feigning submission, he started to turn.
"You Jews are all the same," she spat at him. "Conceited and arrogant. Did you really believe that I worked like a dog for long hours and slept with you because of your ugly body? Or for the lousy wages you paid me? Did you think that Esad Delic, Islam's foremost virologist, agreed to play second fiddle to you as your junior partner because he was dazzled by your knowledge and talent?"
Pent up frustrations, fuelled by unrequited hatred caused her to lose control. She pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off the metal table behind Moscovitch with a whining ping. The shot gave him an excuse to accelerate his turn. His left arm half-raised, he pivoted on his right heel and swept the lab reagent bottles off the table beside him. They crashed to the tile floor, splattering hydrochloric and sulfuric acids in Amina's direction.
She lost her balance as she stepped away to avoid being burned.
Moscovitch completed his turn then lunged at the woman. His right shoulder caught her in the gut and knocked the wind out of her. Hurt, she doubled over and dropped her weapon. As he bent down to pick it up, she kicked him in the face, breaking his nose. In spite of the blinding pain and the blood, Moscovitch kept groping for the gun, but she managed to kick it away. The weapon slid into the next aisle and they both scrambled after it. Moscovitch got there first and kneeled to retrieve it. She kicked him in the chest. He grabbed her leg and fell backwards. She tumbled forward and hit him in the nose with the palm of her outstretched hand.
* * *
The cell phone on Esad Delic's hip began to vibrate. He lifted the instrument to his ear, depressing the 'SEND' button in the process.
"Come fetch us. We're ready for Phase Two."
"On my way." Delic hung up and looked at his watch. Three-thirty a.m., fifteen minutes behind schedule.
He told his three companions in the SUV to wait and walked forward to the cab of the semi-trailer parked behind it. He stepped up to the driver's window and knocked. "Follow my car to the gate. When I open it, drive to Building B, it's on the right." He reached the main entrance, unlocked the heavy metal gate and, straining, pushed it back into the courtyard. He waved the semi-trailer and the SUV through.
The vehicles pulled up in front of Building B. The men knew exactly what to do. While Delic and Shabir, his second-in-command, went to Amina's assistance, the other four opened the rear of the specially constructed container behind the cab and winched down a double gangplank. Next, one of the men drove a forklift truck down the ramp and to the freight elevator entrance at the rear of Building B.
Delic found Amina standing guard over a semi-conscious Moscovitch sitting, back-to-wall on the floor, his face a puffed-up, bloody mess, his nose grotesquely distorted.
"I told you not to harm him," Delic remonstrated. "We need to get him to a doctor and quick. He's no use to us in the state he's in."
"It couldn't be helped," The woman shrugged coldly. "He resisted."
"Did you get the samples?"
Amina pointed at the cigar case on the worktable. Delic pocketed it, told Shabir to fetch the forklift and the rest of the men, then gave his wounded partner a glass of water and a couple of pills that Moscovitch mistook for extra-strength Tylenol caplets. Actually, they contained 50 milligrams of Demerol each.
"Sorry she became so physical with you," Delic apologized as he wiped Moscovitch's face with a wet cloth, "but she says you started it. I'll get a doctor to set your nose as soon as possible, but I'm afraid this won't happen for a few hours, so let the painkillers do their work and try to rest."
Mercifully, the Demerol kicked in within minutes. It gave Moscovitch relief from pain and dulled his combativeness. This helped Amina to control him during the hour it took to transfer the essential equipment in the lab to the container downstairs and to place remote controlled phosphorous incendiary devices at strategic points of the facility.
At a quarter to five, the semi-trailer, carrying the drugged Moscovitch and enough equipment for a bare-bones mini lab, pulled out of the complex.
Sunday morning at five a.m. on the dot, Delic locked Building B's front door then had himself driven to the main entrance in the SUV. He got out, waved the SUV through, locked the gate, got into Amina's car and told her to drive him home.
At six thirty-seven on Monday morning, on her way to work, Amina detonated the incendiary devices by calling her office from a public telephone and dialing nine. The explosion and fire that followed gutted the lab.
Chapter TwoAfter toweling down, Robert Lonsdale carefully lowered his aching body into the deckchair and arranged his limbs in a way that would cause the least amount of discomfort. The bullet wound had healed, but the chipped bone was taking longer than expected to get better and the pain remained constant.
It was a pleasant, warm day and he luxuriated for a while in the late autumn sunshine, enjoying the tranquility of the deserted pool area. He was glad he had chosen not to stay at his business partner's house near the southern tip of Palm Beach where the comings and goings became unbearable at times. In contrast, his client's condo on Bradley Place in a luxury building with only two apartments on each of its four floors had been just what the doctor had ordered. There was peace here, and quiet, plenty of rest and an opportunity to exercise. His tender hip prevented jogging for the time being, but not swimming. Lonsdale was up to thirty laps per day in the heated pool.
His companion, Adys, appeared with two glasses of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice on a tray that also held slices of mango, flavored with lemon. She placed the refreshments on the table and sat down beside him. "How's the hip querido?"
He gave her his standard answer. "Sore, but getting better."
She knew he was lying, but pretended not to 'la vista gorda', seeing but not seeing as the saying went in Cuba, the country of her birth.
They had only known each other for about a year, half of which they had spent living together in Washington. Falling head over heels for an exciting and sophisticated man with a dangerous job had been one thing, nursing him back to health after he had almost gotten killed while exercising his profession, another.
They were both still adjusting.
She didn't really mind because she had begun to understand how passionately her man felt about the Western concept that embraced the right of every person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, safe from totalitarian rulers. Before she left Cuba she had experienced what the loss of these rights could mean in a country where the population lived under the yoke of a dictator. She also perceived clearly that life under the rule of Muslim tyrants practicing Sharia law would deny these rights universally, but especially to women.
"What time do you expect Jim Morton to show?"
Lonsdale glanced at his watch. "I'd guess around noon." He had a couple of hours left before having to come to a final decision.
Sensing his unease, she finished her drink then leaned over and kissed him on the lips. "Whatever you decide will be all right with me," she murmured, but her heart was aching. "I'll be here when you come back."
He squeezed her arm. "I know that."
She smiled and changed the subject. "What shall we offer our guest for lunch?"
"How about picking up some stone shell crabs while I make my Hungarian potato salad that he likes so much? Do we have a decent Chardonnay left to help wash it down?"
"Si on all counts."
"You mean the crabs and the wine, or did you have something more in mind?"
She blushed, miffed by his flippant way of dismissing her, and left him to fight his demons alone.
Robert Lonsdale's name, before his induction into the CIA's employee protection program, had been Bernard Lands. Half Austrian, half Hungarian, he had settled in Canada after knocking about for years in England and on the Continent while his parents searched for a place to start a new life after World War Two.
He had been a loner even before coming to Canada.
Drifting from boarding school to boarding school in a war-ravaged Europe is not conducive to making close friends. Since his family had been part Austrian, he had ended up more or less on the losing side after the war. Not the best of backgrounds for the only foreign-born pupil at an English public school, where his classmates believed that all Europeans were Nazis.
Excerpted from MAYHEM ON THE DANUBE by Robert Landori Copyright © 2012 by Robert Landori. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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