No Comebacks
by Frederick Forsyth   
(Narrated by Nigel Davenport)

Hughes stared at him without change of expression.

'Do you like music?' he asked at last. Sanderson was startled. He nodded.

'Let's have some music,' said Hughes. He rose and went to a portable radio standing on a table near the bed in the corner. As he switched on the set he also fumbled under the pillow. When he turned round Sanderson was staring into the muzzle of a Colt .45 automatic. He swallowed and breathed deeply. The volume of the music swelled as Hughes turned the radio up. The mercenary reached into the bedside drawer, his eyes still on Sanderson above the muzzle. He withdrew a notepad and pencil and returned to the table. One-handed he scribbed a single word on the sheet and turned it to Sanderson. It just said: 'Strip'.

Sanderson's stomach turned over. He had heard men like this could be vicious. Hughes gestured with his gun that Sanderson should move away from the table, which he did. Sanderson dropped his jacket, tie and shirt on the floor. He wore no vest. The gun gestured again, downwards; Sanderson unzipped his fly and let his trousers fall. Hughes watched without a trace of expression. Then he spoke.

'All right, get dressed,' he said. With the gun still in his hand, but pointing at the floor, he crossed the room and turned the music from the radio lower. Then he came back to the table.

'Toss me the jacket,' he said. Sanderson, with his trousers and shirt back on, laid it on the table. Hughes patted the limp jacket.

'Put in on,' he said. Sanderson did so. Then he sat down again. He felt he needed to. Hughes sat opposite him, laid his automatic on the table near his right hand and lit a French cigarette.

'What was all that about?' asked Sanderson. 'Did you think I was armed?'

Hughes shook his head slowly.

'I could see you weren't,' he said, 'but if you had been wired for sound I'd have tied the mike flex round your balls and sent the recording to your employer.'

'I see,' said Sanderson. 'No hardware, no tape-recorder, and no employer. I employ myself; sometimes others. And I'm serious. I need a job done, and I'm prepared to pay well. I'm also very discreet. I have to be.'

'Not enough for me,' said Hughes. 'Parkhurst is full of hard men who trusted punters with more mouth than sense.'

'I don't want you,' said Sanderson evenly. Hughes raised an eyebrow again. 'I don't want anybody who lives in Britain or has roots here. I live here myself; that's enough. I want a foreigner for a foreign job. I want a name. And I'm prepared to pay for that name.'

From his inside pocket he drew a wad of fifty brand-new £20 notes and laid them on the table. Hughes watched, expressionless. Sanderson split the pile in two, pushed one pile towards Hughes and carefully tore the other pile in half. He put one sheaf of twenty-five half-notes back in his pocket.

'The first five hundred is for trying,' he said, 'the second half is for succeeding. By which I mean the "name" must meet me and agree to take the job. Don't worry; it's not complex. The target is no one famous, a complete nonentity.'

Hughes eyed the £500 in front of him. He made no move to pick it up.

'I may know a man,' he said. 'Worked with me years ago. Idon'tknowif he still works. I'd have to find out.'

'You could call him,' said Sanderson. Hughes shook his head.

'Don't like international phone lines,' he said. 'Too many are on tap. Especially in Europe these days. I'd have to go over and see him. That would cost two hundred more.'

'Agreed,' said Sanderson. 'On delivery of the name.'

'How do I know you won't cheat me?' asked Hughes.

'You don't,' said Sanderson. 'But if I did, I think you'd come after me. I really don't need that. Not for seven hundred.'

'How do you know I won't cheat you?'

'Again, I don't,' said Sanderson. 'But I'll find my hard man eventually. And I'm rich enough to pay for two contracts as opposed to one. I don't like being conned. Point of principle, you see.'

For ten seconds the two men stared at each other. Sanderson thought he might have gone too far. Then Hughes smiled again, broadly this time, with genuine appreciation. He scooped up the £500 in whole notes and the other sheaf of half-notes.

'I'll get you your name,' he said, 'and set up the rendezvous. When you've met the name and agreed the deal, you mail me the other half of the bundle, plus two hundred for expenses. Poste restante, Earl's Court post office, name of Har-greaves. Ordinary mail, well-sealed envelope. Not registered. If not within one week of the rendezvous, my mate will be alerted that you're a welsher, and he'll break off. OK?'

Sanderson nodded. 'When do I get the name?'

'In a week,' said Hughes. 'Where can I contact you?'

'You don't,' said Sanderson. 'I contact you.'

Hughes was not offended. 'Call the bar I was in tonight,' he said. 'At ten p.m.'

Sanderson made his call at the agreed hour one week later. The barman answered, and then Hughes came on the line.

'There's a caf6 in the Rue Miollin in Paris where the kind of people you want get together,' he said. 'Be there next Monday at noon. The man will recognize you. Read that day's Figaro, with the headline facing towards the room. He will know you as Johnson. After that it's up to you. If you are not there on Monday he will be there at noon on Tuesday and Wednesday. After that it's blown. And take cash with you.'

'How much?' asked Sanderson.

'About five thousand pounds, to be on the safe side.'

'How do I know it won't be a straight stick-up?'

'You won't,' said the voice, 'but he won't know whether you have a bodyguard elsewhere in the bar.' There was a click and the dead phone buzzed in his hand.

He was still reading the back page of the Figaro at five past twelve the following Monday in the caf6 in the Rue Miollin, seated with his back to the wall, when the chair in front of him was drawn back and a man sat down. He was one of those who had been at the bar for the past hour.

'Monsieur Johnson?'

He lowered the paper, folded it and placed it by his side. The man was tall and lanky, black-haired and -eyed, a lantern-jawed Corsican. The pair talked for thirty minutes. The Corsican gave his name only as Calvi, which was in fact the town of his birth. After twenty minutes Sanderson passed across two photographs. One was of a man's face, and on the back was typewritten: 'Major Archie Summers, Villa San Crispin, Playa Caldera, Ondara, Alicante'. The other was of a small white-painted villa with canary-yellow shutters. The Corsican nodded slowly.

'It must be between three and four in the afternoon,' said Sanderson.

The Corsican nodded. 'No problem,' he said.

They talked for a further ten minutes about money matters, and Sanderson handed over five wad3 of notes, £500 in each. Foreign jobs come more expensive, the Corsican explained, and the Spanish police can be extremely inhospitable to certain kinds of tourists. Finally Sanderson rose to leave.

'How long?' he asked.

The Corsican looked up and shrugged. 'A week, two, maybe three.'

'I want to know the moment it is done, you understand?'

"Then you have to give me some way of contacting you,' said the gunman. For answer the Englishman wrote a number on a slip of paper.

'In one week's time, and for three weeks after that, you can ring me between seven-thirty and eight in the morning at this number in London. Don't try to trace it, and don't fail at the job.'

The Corsican smiled thinly. 'I shall not fail, because I want the other half of the money.'

'One last thing,' said the client, 'I want not a trace left behind, nothing that links back to me. It must look like a local burglary that went wrong.'

The Corsican was still smiling. 'You have your reputation to consider, Monsieur Johnson. I have my life, or at least thirty years in Toledo Penal. There will be no traces, no comebacks.'

When the Englishman had gone Calvi left the caf6, checked to see he was not followed, and spent two hours on the terrace of another caf6 in the city centre, lost in thought in the early July sunshine, his mind on the problems of his job. The contract itself presented little trouble, a straight shooting of an unsuspecting pigeon. The problem was getting the gun safely into Spain. He could take it on the train from Paris to Barcelona and risk the customs check, but if he were caught it would be by the Spanish police, not the French, and they have old-fashioned attitudes towards professional gunmen. Airplanes were out — thanks to international terrorism every flight out of Orly was minutely checked for firearms. He still had contacts in Spain from his old OAS days, men who preferred to live along the coast between Alicante and Valencia rather than risk returning to

France, and he reckoned he could get a shooter on loan from one of them. But he decided to avoid them all, for with nothing to do in exile they were too likely to gossip.

Finally the Corsican rose, paid his bill and went shopping. He spent half an hour at the inquiry desk in the Spanish tourist office, and another ten minutes in the office of Iberia Airlines. He finished his shopping in a bookshop and stationers in the Rue de Rivoli and went back to his flat in the suburbs.

That evening he rang the Hotel Metropol, the best in Valencia, and booked two single rooms for one night only, a fortnight hence, in the name of Calvi and the name on his own passport. Over the phone he introduced himself as Calvi, and agreed to confirm the bookings in writing at once. He also booked a return air ticket from Paris to Valencia, arriving on the evening for which he had made the hotel reservation, and returning to Paris the following evening.

While the telephone call to Valencia was coming through he had already written his letter of confirmation to the hotel. It was short and to the point. It confirmed the two bookings and added that as the signatory, M. Calvi, would be travelling constantly until his arrival in Valencia, he had ordered a book on the history of Spain to be sent forward to him, care of the Hotel Metropol, from Paris, and asked the hotel to be kind enough to hold it until his arrival.

Calvi estimated that if the book were intercepted and opened the moment he inquired for it under his reed name the expression on the clerk's face would indicate there was something wrong and give him time to get away. Even if he were caught, he could claim to be an innocent party doing a favour for a friend and with no suspicion of any ulterior motive in the absent Calvi's request.

With the letter signed left-handed in the name of Calvi, sealed and stamped for posting, he went to work on the book he had bought that afternoon. It was indeed a history of Spain, expensive and heavy, on fine quality paper, with plenty of photographs which gave it added weight.

He bent back the two covers and held them together with an elastic band. The intervening 400 pages he secured as a block to the edge of the kitchen table with two carpenter's clamps.

Onto his block of paper he began to work with the thin, razor-sharp scalpel acquired the same afternoon. He sliced away for almost an hour until a square, set 1 Vi inches into the area of the page from each edge, had been cut out, forming a box 7 inches by 6 inches and 3 inches deep. The insides of this hollow square he daubed thickly with a tacky glue, and smoked two cigarettes while waiting for the glue to dry. When it was hard the 400 pages would never open again.

A cushion of foam rubber, cut to size, went into the hollow to replace the IV2 pounds of paper which had been cut out and which he had weighed on the kitchen scales. He dismantled the slim Browning 9-mm automatic he had acquired on a trip into Belgium two months earlier when he had used and thrown into the Albert Canal his previous gun, a Colt .38. He was a careful man, and never used the same shooter twice. The Browning had had the tip of its barrel exposed to half an inch, and the barrel's end tooled to take a silencer.

A silencer on an automatic is never truly quiet, despite the efforts of the sound-effects men in television thrillers to pretend it is. Automatics, unlike revolvers, do not have a closed breech. As the bullet leaves the barrel the automatic's jacket is forced backwards to expel the spent cartridge and inject a fresh one. That is why they are called automatics. But in that split second as the breech opens to expel the used shell, half the noise of the explosion comes out through the open breech, making a silencer on the end of the barrel only 50 per cent effective. Calvi would have preferred a revolver with its breech closed during firing, but he needed a flat gun to go into the cavity in the book.

The silencer he laid beside the parts of the Browning was the largest component, 6 Vi inches long. As a professional he knew the champagne-cork-sized silencers shown on television are as much use as a hand-held fire extinguisher to put out Mount Vesuvius.

Arranged side by side on top of the rubber cushion, the five parts, including silencer and magazine, would not quite fit, so he smacked the magazine into the automatic's handle to save space. He marked out the beds of the four components with a felt-nib pen and began to cut into the foam rubber with a fresh scalpel. By midnight the parts of the gun lay peacefully in their foam beds, the long silencer vertical, parallel to the book's spine, the barrel, butt and jacket breech in three horizontal rows from top to bottom of the page.

He covered the assembly with a thin sheet of foam rubber, daubed the insides of the front and back cover with more glue and closed the book. After an hour pressed between the floor and an upturned table, the book was a solid block that would need a knife to prise it open. He weighed it again. It was just half an ounce heavier than the original.

Finally he slid the history of Spain into an open-ended envelope of strong polythene, such as publishers of high-quality books use to protect the dust covers from dirt and scratching. It fitted snugly, and he bonded the open end of the envelope together with the blade of his switch-knife, heated over the gas stove. Should his parcel be opened, he hoped and expected the examiner would be content to assure himself through the transparent polythene that the contents were indeed a harmless book, and reseal the parcel.

He placed the book inside a large padded envelope of the kind books are sent in, sealed only by a metal clip which can be opened by simply bending the soft metal lugs through the hole in the envelope's flap. With a do-it-yourself printing set he devised a stick-on label in the name of a well-known book store, and typed the name and address of the consignee — Monsieur Alfred Calvi, Hotel Metropol, Calle de Jativa, Valencia, Espagne. With the same printing set he made up a stamp and daubed the package with the words 'LIBROS - IMPRESOS -LIVRES.'

The following morning he mailed the letter by air and the package by surface post, which meant the train and a ten-day delay.

The Iberia Caravelle drifted into Campo de Manises and touched down as the sun was setting. It was still furiously hot and the thirty passengers, mostly villa owners from Paris arriving for six weeks' vacation, grumbled at the usual baggage delays in the customs shed.

Calvi carried one medium-sized suitcase as hand baggage. It was opened and inspected carefully, then he was out of the airport building and into the open air. First he wandered over to the airport car park and was glad to see that a large area of it was screened by trees from the airport buildings. The cars stood in rows beneath the trees, waiting for their owners. He decided to return the next morning and take his transport from there. Then he took a taxi into town.

The clerk at the hotel was more than helpful. As soon as the Corsican presented himself and his passport, the desk clerk recalled the booking, the letter of confirmation written by M. Calvi, and dived into the back office to emerge with the package containing the book. The Corsican explained that unfortunately his friend Calvi would not be joining him, but that he would obviously settle both room bills when he left the following morning. He produced a letter from the absent Calvi authorizing him to take receipt of the book awaiting collection. The clerk glanced at the letter, thanked the Corsican for offering to settle both the room bills, and handed over the package.

In his room Calvi checked the padded envelope. It had been opened, the metal staples had been bent together to pass through the sealing aperture, and then bent back again. The blob of glue he had placed on one of the metal lugs was missing. But inside, the book was still untouched in its polythene wrapper, for it would have been impossible to open the polythene without tearing or distorting it.

He opened it, forced the book covers apart with the blade of his penknife and extracted the parts of the gun. These he assembled back together, screwed on the silencer and checked the shells in the magazine. They were all there — his special slugs, with half the explosive removed to cut down the noise to a low crack. Even with half the usual power behind it, a 9-mm slug still goes straight into a human head at 10-foot range, and Calvi never fired at more than 10 feet on a job.

He locked the gun into the bottom of the wardrobe, pocketed the key and smoked a cigarette on the balcony, gazing out at the bullring in front of the hotel and thinking of the day ahead. At nine he came down, still in his dark grey suit (from one of Paris's most exclusive tailors) that passed perfectly with the staid atmosphere of the old and expensive hotel. He dined at the Terrassa del Rialto and slept at midnight. From the hotel clerk he learned there was a plane to Madrid at eight in the morning, and he had himself called at six.

The next morning he checked out at seven and took a taxi to the airport. Standing at the gate he watched a dozen cars arrive, noting the make and number of the car and the appearance of the driver. Seven cars were driven by men without passengers, in what looked like business suits. From the observation terrace of the airport building he watched the passengers stream out to the plane for Madrid, and four of the car drivers were among them. He looked at the notes on the back of an envelope in his hand, and found he had a choice of a Simca, a Mercedes, a Jaguar and a small Spanish Seat, the local version of the Fiat 600.

After the plane had taken off he went to the men's room and changed from his suit into cream jeans, pale blue sports shirt, and blue zip-fronted nylon windbreaker. The gun he wrapped in a towel and stowed in the soft airline bag he took from his suitcase. The case he checked into left-luggage deposit, confirmed his evening booking for the Paris flight and walked back to the car park.

He picked the Seat because it is the most common car in Spain and has easy door handles for the car thief. Two men drove into the car park as he waited, and when they had gone he approached the small red beetle of a car. He slipped a metal pipe from his sleeve, slid it over the door handle and j erked downwards. The lock gave with a soft crack. From inside he opened the hood and clipped a wire jumper from the positive battery terminal to the starter motor. Behind the wheel the car started at the touch of a button, and he bowled out of the car park on the road to Valencia and the new seaboard highway N332 south to Alicante.

It is 92 kilometres or 55 miles from Valencia to Ondara, through the orange-growing centres of Gandia and Oliva, and he took it easy, making the trip in two hours. The whole coast was blistering in the morning sun, a long ribbon of golden sand dotted with brown bodies and splashing swimmers. Even the heat was ominous, without a breath of wind, and along the sea horizon lay a faint and misty haze.

As he entered Ondara he passed the Hotel Palmera, where he knew the former secretary of General Raoul Salan, once head of the OAS, still lived with his memories. In the town centre he had no trouble asking the way to Playa Caldera, which he was told by helpful townspeople lay two miles out of town. He drove into the residential sprawl of villas, mainly owned by expatriates, just before noon, and began to cruise, looking for the Villa San Crispin familiar from the long-destroyed photograph. To ask directions to the beach was one thing, to ask them to the villa might stick in someone's memory.

He found the yellow shutters and the white-painted terra cotta walls just before one o'clock, checked the name marked on a tile set into the pillar by the front gate and parked the car 200 yards farther on. Walking idly, his bag slung over one shoulder like a tourist heading for the beach, he cased the back entrance. It was easy. From farther up the earth road on which the villa stood, a small footpath led away into a plantation of orange trees behind the row of houses. From the cover of the trees he could see that only a low fence separated the red earth of the orange orchard from the garden and the unshaded patio at the back of the villa with the yellow shutters, and he could see his man pottering about the garden with a watering can. There were french windows leading from the back garden into the main ground-floor room, wide open to allow a draught to blow through, if there should be a breath of wind. He checked his watch — time for lunch, and drove back to Ondara.

He sat till three in the Bar Valencia on Calle Doctor Fleming, and had a large plate of enormous grilled prawns and two glasses of the local light white wine. Then he paid and left.

As he drove back to the Play a the rain clouds finally moved in off the sea and there was a dull rumble of thunder across the oil-smooth water, very unusual for the Costa Blanca in mid-July. He parked the car close to the path into the orange grove, tucked the silenced Browning into his belt, zipped the windbreaker up to the neck and headed into the trees. It was very quiet when he came back out of the grove and stepped across the low wall into the garden of the villa. The locals were all taking a siesta in the heat, and the rain began to patter onto the leaves of the orange trees; a score of large drops hit his shoulders as he crossed the flagstones, and when he reached the french windows the shower broke at last, drumming onto the pink tiles of the roof. He was glad; no one would hear a thing.

From a room to the left of the sitting room he heard a typewriter clack several times. He eased the gun out, standing immobile in the centre of the lounge, and moved the safety catch to 'Fire'. Then he walked across the rush matting to the open study door.

Major Archie Summers never knew what happened or why. He saw a man standing in the doorway of his study and half rose to inquire what he wanted. Then he saw what was in the visitor's hand and half opened his mouth. There were two soft plops, drowned by the rain outside, and he took both bullets in the chest. The third was fired vertically downwards at 2-foot range into his temple, but he didn't even feel that one. The Corsican knelt by the body for a moment and put a forefinger where the pulse should have been. Still crouching he swivelled round to face the sitting-room door ...

The two men met the next evening in the bar in the Rue Miollin, the killer and the client. Calvi had telephoned his message that morning after arriving back from Valencia the previous evening just before midnight, and Sanderson had flown over at once. The client seemed nervous as he handed over the rest of the £5000.

'No problems at all?' he asked again. The Corsican smiled quietly and shook his head.

'Very simple, and your major is very dead. Two bullets in the heart and one through the head.'

'No one saw you?' asked the Englishman. 'No witnesses?'

'No.' The Corsican rose, patting the wads of notes into his breast pocket. 'Though I'm afraid I was interrupted at the end. For some reason it was raining hard, and someone came in and saw me with the body.'

The Englishman stared at him in horror. 'Who?'

'A woman.'

'Tall, dark-haired?'

'Yeah. A nice-looking piece too.' He looked down at the expression of panic in the client's face, and patted the man on the shoulder.

'Don't worry, monsieur,' he said reassuringly, 'there will be no comebacks. I shot her, too.'