Far behind him on the sandy soil of Egypt, long since buried by the baffled and furious Egyptian police, each with a neat bullet hole through the spine, were the bodies of two German missile engineers. Their departure from life had set back the development of Nasser's Al Zafira rocket by several years and a Zionist millionaire in New York felt his money had been well spent. After passing easily through Customs the Englishman took a hire car to his flat in Mayfair.
It was ninety days before Rodin's search was over and what he had to show for it was three slim dossiers, each encased in a manila file which he kept with him permanently in his briefcase. It was in the middle of June that he arrived back in Austria and checked into a small boarding house, the Pension Kleist in the Brucknerallee in Vienna.
From the city's main post office he sent off two crisp telegrams, one to Bolzano in northern Italy, the other to Rome. Each summoned his two principal lieutenants to an urgent meeting in his room in Vienna. Within twenty-four hours the men had arrived. Rene Montclair came by hired car from Bolzano, Andre Casson flew in from Rome. Each travelled under false name and papers, for both in Italy and Austria the resident officers of the SDECE had both men top-listed on their files and by this time were spending a lot of money buying agents and informers at border checkpoints and airports.
Andre Casson was the first to arrive at the Pension Kleist, seven minutes before the appointed time of eleven o'clock. He ordered his taxi to drop him at the corner of the Brucknerallee and spent several minutes adjusting his tie in the reflection of a florist's window before walking quickly into the hotel foyer. Rodin had as usual registered under a false name, one of twenty known only to his immediate colleagues. Each of the two he had summoned had received a cable the previous day signed by the name of Schulz, Rodin's codename for that particular twenty-day period.
«Herr Schulz, bitte?» Casson enquired of the young man at the reception desk. The clerk consulted his registration book.
«Room sixty-four. Are you expected, sir?»
«Yes, indeed,» replied Casson and headed straight up the stairs. He turned the landing to the first floor and walked along the passage looking for room 64. He found it halfway along on the right. As he raised his hand to knock it was gripped from behind. He turned and stared up into a heavy blue-jowled face. The eyes beneath a thick single band of black hair that passed for eyebrows gazed down at him without curiosity. The man had fallen in behind him as he passed an alcove twelve feet back and despite the thinness of the cord carpet Casson had not heard a sound.
«Vows desirez?» said the giant as if he could not have cared less. But the grip on Casson's right wrist did not slacken.
For a moment Casson's stomach turned over as he imagined the speedy removal of Argoud from the Eden-Wolff Hotel four months earlier. Then he recognised the man behind him as a Polish Foreign Legionnaire from Rodin's former company in Indo-China and Vietnam. He recalled that Rodin occasionally used Viktor Kowalski for special assignments.
«I have an appointment with Colonel Rodin, Viktor,» he replied softly. Kowalski's brows knotted even closer together at the mention of his own and his master's name. «I am Andre Casson,» he added. Kowalski seemed unimpressed. Reaching round Casson he rapped with his left hand on the door of room 64.
A voice from inside replied, «Oui! Kowalski approached his mouth to the wooden panel of the door.
«There's a visitor here,» he growled, and the door opened a fraction. Rodin gazed out, then swung the door wide.
«My dear Andre. So sorry about this.»
He nodded to Kowalski. «All right, Corporal I am expecting this man.»
Casson found his right wrist freed at last, and stepped into the bedroom. Rodin had another word with Kowalski on the threshold, then closed the door again. The Pole went back to stand in the shadows of the alcove.
Rodin shook hands and led Casson over to the two armchairs in front of the gas fire. Although it was mid-June, the weather outside was a fine chill drizzle and both men were used to the warmer sun of North Africa. The gas fire was full on. Casson stripped off his raincoat and settled before the fire.
«You don't usually take precautions like this, Marc,» he observed.
«It's not so much for me,» replied Rodin. 'If anything should happen I can take care of myself. But I might need a few minutes to rid of the papers.»
He gestured to the writing desk by the window where a thick manila folder lay beside his briefcase. «That's really why I brought Viktor. Whatever happened he would give me sixty seconds to destroy the papers.»
They must be important.»
There was nevertheless a note of satisfaction in Radin's voice. «But we'll wait for Rene. I told him to come at 11.15 so the two of you would not arrive within a few seconds of each other and upset Viktor. He gets nervous when there is too much company around whom he does not know.»
Rodin permitted himself one of his rare smiles at the thought of what would ensue if Viktor became nervous with the heavy Colt under his left armpit. There was a knock at the door. Rodin crossed the roam and put his mouth to the wood. «Oui?-.This time it was Rene Montclair's voice, nervous and strained 'Marc for the love of God…»
Rodin swung open the door. Montclair stood there dwarfed by the giant Pole behind him. Viktor's left arm encircled him, pinning both the accountant's arms to his side.
Va va, Viktor,» murmured Rodin to the bodyguard, and Montclair was released. He entered the room thankfully and made a moue at Casson who was grinning from the chair by the fire. Again the door closed, and Rodin made his excuses to Montclair.
Montclair came forward and the two shook hands. He had taken off his overcoat to reveal a rumpled dark-grey suit of poor cut which he wore badly. Like most ex-Army men accustomed to a uniform he and Rodin had never worn suits well.
As host Rodin saw the other two seated, in the bedroom's two easy chairs. He kept for himself the upright chair behind the plain table that served him for a desk. From the bedside cabinet he took a bottle of French brandy and held it up enquiringly. Both his guests nodded. Rodin poured a generous measure into each of three glasses and handed two to Montclair and Casson. They drank first, the two travellers letting the hot liquor get to work on the chill inside them.
Rend Montclair, leaning back against the bedhead, was short and Stocky, like Rodin a career officer from the Army. But unlike Rodin he had not had a combat command. Most of his life he had been in the administrative branches, and for the previous ten years in the pay-accounts branch of the Foreign Legion. By the spring of 1963 he was treasurer of the OAS.
Andre Casson was the only civilian. Small and precise, he dressed still like the bank manager he had been in Algeria. He was the coordinator of the OAS-CNR underground in Metropolitan France.
Both men were, like Rodin, hardliners even among the OAS, albeit for different reasons. Montclair had had a son, a nineteen-year-old boy who had been doing his National Service in Algeria three years previously while his father was running the pay-accounts department of the Foreign Legion base outside Marseilles. Major Montclair never saw the body of his son, it had been buried in the bled by the Legion patrol who took the village where the young private had been held a prisoner by the guerrillas. But he heard the details of what had been done to the young man afterwards. Nothing remains secret for long in the Legion. People talk.
Andre Casson was more involved. Bonn in Algeria, his entire life had been wrapped up in his work, his flat and his family. The bank for which he worked had its headquarters in Paris, so even with the fall of Algeria he would not have been out of work. But when the settlers rose in revolt in 1960 he had been with them, one of the leaders in his native Constantine. Even after that he had kept his job, but realised as account after account closed and the business men sold out to move back to France that the heyday of French presence in Algeria was over. Shortly after the Army mutiny, incensed by the new Gaullist policy and the misery of the small-time farmers and traders of the region, fleeing ruined to a country many of them had hardly seen across the water, he had helped an OAS unit to rob his own bank of thirty million old francs. His complicity had been noticed and reported by a junior cashier, and his career with the bank was over. He sent his wife and two children to live with his in-laws at Perpignan, and joined the OAS. His value to them was his personal knowledge of several thousand OAS sympathisers now living inside France.