A classic spy novel from the bestselling author, Trevanian, about a westerner raised in Japan who becomes one of the world''s most accomplished assassins.
Nicholai Hel is the world’s most wanted man. Born in Shanghai during the chaos of World War I, he is the son of an aristocratic Russian mother and a mysterious German father and is the protégé of a Japanese Go master. Hel survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world’s most artful lover and its most accomplished—and well-paid—assassin. Hel is a genius, a mystic, and a master of language and culture, and his secret is his determination to attain a rare kind of personal excellence, a state of effortless perfection known only as
Now living in an isolated mountain fortress with his exquisite mistress, Hel is unwillingly drawn back into the life he’d tried to leave behind when a beautiful young stranger arrives at his door, seeking help and refuge. It soon becomes clear that Hel is being tracked by his most sinister enemy—a supermonolith of international espionage known only as the Mother Company. The battle lines are drawn: ruthless power and corruption on one side, and on the other . . .
“One hell of a pleasure to read.” —
“It’s hard to imagine a more nearly perfect spy story.” —
A westerner raised in Japan, he survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world''s most artful lover and its most accomplished assassin. His greatest desire is to attain a state of effortless perfection . . . shibumi. But he is about to face his most sinister and corrupt enemy -- a supermonolith of espionage and monopoly bent on destroying
him. . . .
From the Paperback edition.
Nicholai Hel is the world''s most wanted man. Born in Shanghai during the chaos of World War I, he is the son of an aristocratic Russian mother and a mysterious German father and is the protege of a Japanese Go master. Hel survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world''s most artful lover and its most accomplished--and well-paid--assassin. Hel is a genius, a mystic, and a master of language and culture, and his secret is his determination to attain a rare kind of personal excellence, a state of effortless perfection known only as "shibumi.
Now living in an isolated mountain fortress with his exquisite mistress, Hel is unwillingly drawn back into the life he''d tried to leave behind when a beautiful young stranger arrives at his door, seeking help and refuge. It soon becomes clear that Hel is being tracked by his most sinister enemy--a supermonolith of international espionage known only as the Mother Company. The battle lines are drawn: ruthless power and corruption on one side, and on the other . . . "shibumi.
Trevanian lives in the French Basque region. He is the author of
The Crazyladies of Pearl Street, The Eiger Sanction, The Loo Sanction, The Main, The Summer of Katya, Incident at Twenty-Mile, and
Hot Night in the City. Visit trevanian.com for the Crazyladies cybernotes, Trevanian’s commentaries, items from the author’s desk, and more.
The screen flashed 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 . . . then the projector was switched off, and lights came up in recessed sconces along the walls of the private viewing room.
The projectionist''s voice was thin and metallic over the intercom. "Ready when you are, Mr. Starr."
T. Darryl Starr, sole audience member, pressed the talk button of the communication console before him. "Hey, buddy? Tell me something. What are all those numbers in front of a movie for anyway?"
"It''s called academy leader, sir," the projectionist answered. "I just spliced it onto the film as a sort of joke."
"Yes, sir. I mean . . . considering the nature of the film . . . it''s sort of funny to have a commercial leader, don''t you think?"
"Well, I mean . . . what with all the complaints about violence in movies and all that."
T. Darryl Starr grunted and scrubbed his nose with the back of his fist, then he slipped down the pilot-style sunglasses he had pushed up into his cropped hair when the lights first went off.
Joke? It damn well better not be a joke, I shit thee not! If anything has gone wrong, my ass will be grass. And if the slightest little thing is wrong, you can bet your danglees that Mr. Diamond and his crew will spot it. Nit-picking bastards! Ever since they took control over Middle East operations of CIA, they seemed to get their cookies by pointing out every little boo-boo.
Starr bit off the end of his cigar, spat it onto the carpeted floor, pumped it in and out of his pursed lips, then lit it from a wooden match he struck with his thumbnail. As Most Senior Field Operative, he had access to Cuban cigars. After all, RHIP.
He scooted down and hooked his legs over the back of the seat before him, like he used to do when he watched movies at the Lone Star Theater as a boy. And if the boy in front objected, Starr would offer to kick his ass up amongst his shoulder blades. The other kid always backed off, because everybody in Flat Rock knew that T. Darryl Starr was some kind of fierce and could stomp a mud puddle in any kid''s chest.
That was many years and knocks ago, but Starr was still some kind of fierce. That''s what it took to become CIA''s Most Senior Field Operative. That, and experience. And boo-coo smarts.
And patriotism, of course.
Starr checked his watch: two minutes to four. Mr. Diamond had called for a screening at four, and he would arrive at four—exactly. If Starr''s watch did not read four straight up when Diamond walked into the theater, he would assume the watch was in need of repair.
He pressed his talk button again. "How does the film look?"
"Not bad, considering the conditions under which we shot it," the projectionist answered. "The light in Rome International is tricky . . . a mixture of natural light and fluorescent overheads. I had to use a combination of CC filters that brought my f-stop way down and made focus a real problem. And as for color quality—"
"I don''t want to hear your piddly-assed problems!"
"Sorry, sir. I was just answering your question."
The door at the back of the private theater opened with a slap. Starr glanced at his watch; the sweep second hand was five seconds off four o''clock. Three men walked quickly down the aisle. In the lead was Mr. Diamond, a wiry man in his late forties whose movements were quick and adroit, and whose impeccably tailored clothes reflected his trim habits of mind. Following closely was Mr. Diamond''s First Assistant, a tall, loosely jointed man with a vague academic air. Not a man to waste time, it was Diamond''s practice to dictate memos, even while en route between meetings. The First Assistant carried a belt recorder at his hip, the pinhead microphone of which was attached to his metal-rimmed glasses. He always walked close beside Mr. Diamond, or sat near him, his head bowed to pick up the flow of clipped monotonic directives.
Considering the heraldic stiffness of CIA mentality, it was inevitable that their version of wit would suggest a homosexual relationship between Diamond and his ever-hovering assistant. Most of the jokes had to do with what would happen to the assistant''s nose, should Mr. Diamond ever stop suddenly.
The third man, trailing behind and somewhat confused by the brisk pace of action and thought surrounding him, was an Arab whose Western clothes were dark, expensive, and ill-fitting. The shabby look was not his tailor''s fault; the Arab''s body was not designed for clothes requiring posture and discipline.
Diamond slipped into an aisle seat across the auditorium from Starr; the First Assistant sat directly behind him, and the Palestinian, frustrated in his expectation that someone would tell him where to sit, finally shambled into a seat near the back.
Turning his head so the pinhead microphone could pick up the last of his rapid, atonic dictation, Diamond closed off the thoughts he had been pursuing. "Introduce the following topics to me within the next three hours: One—North Sea oil rig accident: the media suppression thereof. Two—This professor type who is investigating the ecological damage along the Alaska pipeline: the termination thereof by apparent accident."
Both these tasks were in their final phases, and Mr. Diamond was looking forward to getting in a little tennis over the weekend. Provided, of course, these CIA fools had not screwed up this Rome International action. It was a straightforward spoiling raid that should not have presented any difficulties, but in the six months since the Mother Company had assigned him to manage CIA activities involving the Middle East, he had learned that no action is so simple as to be beyond CIA''s capacity for error.
Diamond understood why the Mother Company chose to maintain its low profile by working behind the cover of CIA and NSA, but that did not make his job any easier. Nor had he been particularly amused by the Chairman''s lighthearted suggestion that he think of the Mother Company''s use of CIA operatives as Her contribution to the hiring of the mentally handicapped.
Diamond had not yet read Starr''s action report, so he reached back for it now. The First Assistant anticipated him and had the report ready to press into his hand.
As he glanced over the first page, Diamond spoke without raising his voice. "Put the cigar out, Starr." Then he lifted his hand in a minimal gesture, and the wall lights began to dim down.
Darryl Starr pushed his sunglasses up into his hair as the theater went dark and the projector beam cut through slack threads of blue smoke. On the screen appeared a jerky pan over the interior of a large, busy airport.
"This here''s Rome International," Starr drawled. "Time reference: thirteen thirty-four GMT. Flight 414 from Tel Aviv has just arrived. It''s going to be a piece before the action starts. Those I-talian customs jokers ain''t no speed balls."
"Starr?" said Diamond, wearily.
"Why haven''t you put that cigar out?"
"Well, to tell you God''s own truth, sir, I never heard you ask me to."
"I didn''t ask you."
Embarrassed at being ordered around in the presence of a foreigner, Starr unhooked his leg from the seat in front and ground out the almost fresh cigar on the carpet. To save face, he continued narrating as though nothing had happened. "I expect our A-rab friend here is going to be some impressed at how we handled this one. It went off slick as catshit on linoleum."
Wide shot: customs and immigration portal. A queue of passengers await the formalities with varying degrees of impatience. In the face of official incompetence and indifference, the only passengers who are smiling and friendly are those who anticipate trouble with their passports or luggage. An old man with a snow-white goatee leans over the counter, explaining something for the third time to the customs officer. Behind him in line are two young men in their twenties, deeply tanned, wearing khaki shorts and shirts open at the throat. As they move forward, pushing their rucksacks along with their feet, camera zooms in to isolate them in mid-close-up.
"Those are our targets," Starr explained needlessly.
"Just so," the Arab said in a brittle falsetto. "I recognize one of them, one known within their organization as Avrim."
With a comically exaggerated bow of gallantry, the first young man offers to let a pretty redheaded girl precede them to the counter. She smiles thanks, but shakes her head. The Italian official in his too-small peaked cap takes the first young man''s passport with a bored gesture and flicks it open, his eyes straying again and again to the girl''s breasts, obviously unfettered beneath a denim shirt. He glances from the photograph to the young man''s face and back again, frowning.
Starr explained. "The mark''s passport picture was taken before he grew that silly-assed beard."