Sundown. The distressed sloop, its mainmast shattered by lightning, its sails ripped by the winds of the open sea, drifted into the small, quiet beach of a private island in the Lesser Antilles. During the past three days, before the dead calm descended, this section of the Caribbean had suffered not only a hurricane with the force of the infamous Hugo, but sixteen hours later a tropical storm whose bolts of lightning and earth-shaking thunder had set fire to a thousand palms and caused a hundred thousand residents of the island chain to look to their gods for deliverance.
The Great House on this island, however, had survived both catastrophes. It was made of iron-bolted stone and steel and built into the huge rising hill on the north side, impenetrable, indestructible, a fortress. That the nearly destroyed sloop had managed to survive and find its way into the sweeping rock-hewn cove and the small beach was a miracle, but it was an ominous miracle, not of her God’s making, that caused the tall black maid in a white uniform to rush down the stone steps to the water’s edge and fire four shots into the air from the gun in her hand.
“Ganja!” she yelled. “No lousy ganja here! You go ’way!”
The lone figure, kneeling on the deck of the boat, was a woman in her midthirties. Her features were sharp, her long hair stringy and unkempt, her shorts and halter abused by the weather she had endured . . . and her eyes were enigmatically cold as she rested her powerful rifle on the gunwale and peered through the telescopic sight; she squeezed the trigger. The loud report shattered the stillness of the island cove, echoing off the rocks and the hill beyond. Instantly, the uniformed maid fell facedown into the gently lapping waves.
“There’s shooting, gunshots!” A shirtless, strapping young man, well over six feet in height and seventeen years of age, burst out of the cabin below. He was well-muscled and handsome, with cleanly chiseled, even classic Roman features. “What’s happening? What have you done?”
“No more than had to be done,” said the woman calmly. “Please get to the bow and jump over when you see the sand; it’s still light enough. Then pull us into shore.”
He did not move to obey, but stared at the slain white-uniformed figure on the beach, rubbing his hands nervously over his cutoff jeans. “My God, she’s just a servant!” he cried, his English accented with his native Italian. “You are a monster!”
“It is ever so, my child. Am I not in bed? And was I not when I killed those three men who bound your hands, whipped a rope around your neck, and were about to throw you off the pier, hanging you for murdering the dock supremo?”
“I didn’t kill him. I’ve told you that over and over again!”
“They thought you did and that was enough.”
“I wanted to go to the police. You wouldn’t let me!”
“Foolish child. Do you think you would ever have reached a courtroom? Never. You would have been shot in the streets, a piece of garbage blown away, for the supremo benefited the dockworkers with his thefts and corruption.”
“I had angry words with him, nothing more! I went away and drank wine.”
“Oh, you certainly did, a great deal of wine by yourself. When they found you in the alley, you were incoherent until you realized that a rope was around your throat, your feet at the edge of the pier. . . . And for how many weeks did I hide you, racing from one place to another while the scum of the waterfronts were hunting you, sworn to kill you on sight?”
“I never understood why you were so good to me.”
“I had my reasons . . . I still have them.”
“As God is my witness, Cabi,” the young man said, still staring at the white-uniformed corpse on the beach. “I owe you my life, but I never . . . never expected anything like this!”
“Would you rather return to Italy, to Portici and your family, and face certain death?”
“No, no, of course not, Signora Cabrini.”
“Then welcome to our world, my darling toy,” said the woman, smiling. “And believe me, you’ll want whatever I care to give you. You’re so perfect; I cannot tell you how perfect you are. . . . Over the side, my adorable Nico. . . . Now!”
The young man did as he was told.
Deuxieme Bureau, Paris
“It is she,” said the man behind the desk in the darkened office. On the right wall was projected a detailed map of the Caribbean, specifically of the Lesser Antilles, a flickering blue dot centered on the island of Saba. “We can presume she sailed through the Anegada Passage between Dog Island and Virgin Gorda--that’s the only way she could survive the weather. If she survived.”
“Perhaps she didn’t,” said an aide, sitting in front of the desk and staring at the map. “It would certainly make our lives easier.”
“Of course it would.” The head of the Deuxieme lit a cigarette. “But for a she-wolf who has lived through the worst of Beirut and the Baaka Valley, I want irrefutable proof before I call off the hunt.”
“I know those waters,” said a second man, who stood to the left of the desk. “I was posted to Martinique during the Soviet-Cuban threat, and I can tell you the winds can be vicious. From what I understand of the battering those seas took, my guess is that she did not survive, not with what she was sailing.”
“My assumption is that she did.” The Deuxieme chief spoke sharply. “I cannot afford to guess. I know those waters only by the maps, but I see scores of natural recesses and small harbors she could have gone into. I’ve studied them.”
“Not so, Henri. In those islands the storms blow first one minute clockwise, the next counterclockwise. If such inlets existed, they’d be marked, inhabited. I know them; studying them on a map is merely a distant exercise, not seeking them out, looking for Soviet submarines. I tell you, she did not survive.”
“I hope you’re right, Ardisonne. This world cannot afford Amaya Bajaratt.”
Central Intelligence Agency, Langley, Virginia
In the white-walled subcellar communications complex of the CIA, a single locked room was reserved for a unit of twelve analysts, nine men and three women, who worked in shifts of four around the clock. They were multilingual specialists in international radio traffic, including two of the Agency’s most experienced cryptographers, and all were ordered not to discuss their activities with anyone, spouses no exception.
A fortyish man in shirt-sleeves wheeled back his cushioned swivel chair and glanced at his colleagues on the midnight shift, a woman and two other men; it was nearing four o’clock in the morning, half their tour over. “I may have something,” he said to no one specifically.
“What?” asked the woman. “It’s a dull night as far as I’m concerned.”
“Break it up for us, Ron,” the man nearest the speaker said. “Radio Baghdad is lulling me to sleep with its bilge.”
“Try Bahrain, not Baghdad,” said Ron, picking up a printout discharged from his word processor into a wire basket.
“What’s with the rich folks?” The third man looked up from his electronic console.
“That’s just it, rich. Our source in Manamah passed the word that a half a million, U.S., had been transferred to a coded account in Zurich destined for--”
“Half a million?” interrupted the second man. “In their league that’s chickenshit!”
“I haven’t told you its destination or the method of transfer. The Bank of Abu Dhabi to Zurich’s Credit Suisse--”
“That’s the Baaka Valley routing.” The woman spoke with instant recognition. “Destination?”
“The Caribbean, the precise location unknown.”
“At the moment, that’s impossible.”
“Why?” asked the third man. “Because it can’t be confirmed?”
“It’s confirmed all right, the worst way possible. Our source was killed an hour after he made contact with our embassy point man, a protocol officer who’s being pulled out posthaste.”
“The Baaka,” said the woman quietly. “The Caribbean. Bajaratt.”
“I’ll secure-fax this up to O’Ryan. We need his brains.”
“If it’s half a million today,” said the third man, “it could be five tomorrow, once the D‑route proves out.”
“I knew our source in Bahrain.” The woman spoke sadly. “He was a good guy with a lovely wife and kids--goddamn it. Bajaratt!”
“Our field man in Dominica flew north and confirms the information the French sent us.” The chairman of Britain’s foreign service intelligence approached a square table in the center of the conference room. Covering the surface was a large, thick volume, one of hundreds in the bookshelves, that held detailed cloth maps of specific areas of the world. The gold lettering across the black cover of the volume on the table read: The Caribbean--Windward and Leeward Islands. The Antilles. British and U.S. Virgin Territories. “Index someplace called the Anegada Passage, would you please?” he asked his associate.
“Of course.” The other man in the strategy room moved quickly as he noticed the frustration of his superior; it was not due to the situation but instead to his rigid right hand that would not obey his commands. The associate flipped the heavy cloth pages to the map in question. “Here it is. . . . Good God, no one could have traveled so far in those storms, not with a craft that size.”
“Perhaps she didn’t make it.”
“Wherever she was going.”
“From Basse-Terre to the Anegada during those three days? I’d think not. She’d have to have been in open water more than half the time to reach it so quickly.”
“That’s why I asked you here. You know the area quite well, don’t you? You were posted there.”
“If there’s such a thing as an expert, I suspect I qualify. I was the Sixer control for nine years, based on Tortola, and flew all over the damned place--rather a pleasant life, actually. I still stay in touch with old friends; they all thought I was a fairly well situated runaway with a penchant for flying my plane from island to island.”
“Yes, I’ve read your file. You did outstanding work.”
“The cold war was on my side and I was fourteen years younger--and I wasn’t a young man then. I wouldn’t get behind the controls of a dual engine over those waters now on a heavy bet.”
“Yes, I understand,” said the chairman, bending over the map. “So it’s your expert opinion that she couldn’t have survived.”
“Couldn’t is an absolute. Let’s say it’s highly unlikely, damn near impossible.”
“That’s what your counterpart at the Deuxieme thinks.”
“You know him?”
“Code name Richelieu. Yes, of course. Good man, if rather opinionated. Operated out of Martinique.”
“He’s adamant. He’s convinced she went down at sea.”
“In this case, his opinion is probably justified. But, if I may, since you’ve asked me up here for whatever I can offer, might I ask a question or two?”
“Go ahead, Officer Cooke.”
“This Bajaratt woman is obviously somewhat of a legend in the Baaka Valley, but I’ve been poring over those lists for the past several years and I don’t recall ever having seen the name. Why is that?”
“Because it’s not her own, not the Bajaratt part,” interrupted the head of MI‑6. “It’s the name she gave herself years ago, the name she thinks preserves her secrets, since she believes no one has any idea where it came from or who she really is. On the assumption that we might be infiltrated, and in the projection that she could be on to larger things, we’ve kept that information in our black files.”
“Oh, yes, yes, I see. If you know a false name and its origins, meaning the real one, you can trace a background, build a personality, even a pattern of predictability. But who exactly is she, what is she?”
“One of the most accomplished terrorists alive.”
“No, and I wouldn’t broach that speculation too broadly.”
“Nonsense. The Mossad has a broad spectrum of activities. . . . But, if you will, please answer my question. Remember, I’ve spent most of my service on the other side of the world. Just why is this woman such a priority-red?”
“She’s for sale.”
“She’s what . . . ?”
“She goes wherever there’s unrest, rebellion, insurgency, and sells her talents to the highest bidder--with remarkable results, I might add.”
“Forgive me, but that sounds balmy. A lone woman walks into caldrons of revolt and sells advice? What does she do, take out advertisements in the newspapers?”
“She doesn’t have to, Geoff,” replied the chairman of MI‑6, returning to the conference table and sitting down somewhat awkwardly as he adjusted the chair with his left hand. “She’s a scholar where destabilization’s concerned. She knows the strengths and weaknesses of all the warring factions, as well as the leaders and how to reach them. She has no lasting allegiances, moral or political. Her profession is death. It’s as simple as that.”
“I don’t think that’s simple at all.”
“The result is, not the beginning, of course, not where she came from. . . . Sit down, Geoffrey, and let me tell you a brief story as we’ve pieced it together.” The chairman opened a large manila envelope in front of him and removed three photographs, enlargements of rapidly taken candid shots of a woman in motion. The face in each, however, was clearly in focus, the sunlight bright. “This is Amaya Bajaratt.”
“They’re three different people!” exclaimed Geoffrey Cooke.
“Which one is she?” posed the chairman. “Or is she all three?”
“I see what you mean . . .” said the foreign service officer hesitantly. “The hair is different in each--blond, black, and, I assume, light brown; short, long, and midlength--but the features are different . . . yet not markedly so. Still, they are different.”
“Flesh-toned plastic? Wax? Control of facial muscles? None is difficult.”
“Spectrographs would tell you, I should think. At least with respect to the additives, the plastics, and the wax.”
“They should, but they don’t. Our experts say that there are chemical compounds that can fool photoelectric scans, or even a refraction of bright light that can do the same--which means, of course, they don’t know and won’t risk a judgment call.”
“All right,” said Cooke. “She’s presumably one or all three of these women, but how the devil can you be sure?”
Excerpted from The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum. Copyright © 2012 by Robert Ludlum. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.