Marc Rodin took his seat behind his desk and surveyed the other two. They gazed back with curiosity but no questions.
Carefully and methodically Rodin began his briefing, concentrating on the growing list of failures and defeats the OAS had sustained at the hands of the French Secret Services over the past few months.
His guests stared gloomily into their glasses.
'We simply must face facts. In the past four months we have taken three severe blows. The frustration of the Ecole Militaire attempt to free France of the Dictator is merely the latest in a long list of such attempts which have failed even to get off the ground. The only two in which our men have even got within spitting distance of him have been fouled up by elementary mistakes in planting or execution. I don't need to go into the details, you know them all as well as I do.
«The kidnapping of Antoine Argoud has robbed us of one of our most astute leaders, and despite his loyalty to the cause there can be no doubt that with modern methods of interrogation, probably including drugs, used on him, the whole organisation stands in jeopardy from the security standpoint. Antoine knew everything there was to know, and now we have to start again almost from scratch. That's why we are sitting here in an obscure hotel rather than in our headquarters in Munich.
«But even starting from scratch would not be so bad if it were a year ago. Then we could call on thousands of volunteers full of enthusiasm and patriotism. Now that is not. so easy. The murder of Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry will not help matters. I do not blame our sympathisers too much. We promised them results and have given them none. They have a right to expect results, not words.»
«All right, all right. What are you getting at?» said Montclair. Both listeners knew Rodin was right. Montclair realised better than any that the funds gained in robbing banks across Algeria were expended on the costs of running the organisation, and that the donations from right-wing industrialists were beginning to dry up. More recently his approaches had been met with ill-concealed disdain. Carson knew his lines of communications with the underground in France were becoming more tenuous by the week, his safe-houses were being raided and since the capture of Argoud many had withdrawn their support. The execution of Bastien-Thiry could only accelerate this process. The resume given by Rodin was the truth, but no more pleasant to hear for all that.
Rodin continued as though there had been no interruption.
«We have now reached a position where the prime aim of our cause to-liberate France, the disposal of Grand Zohra, without which all further plans must inevitably abort, has become virtually impossible by the traditional means. I hesitate, gentlemen, to commit more patriotic young men to plans which stand little chance of remaining unrevealed to the French Gestapo for more than a few days. In short, there are too many squealers, too many backsliders, too many recusants.
«Taking advantage of this, the Secret Police have now so completely infiltrated the movement that the deliberations of even our highest councils are being leaked to them. They seem to know, within days of the decision being taken, what we intend, what are our plans, and who are our personnel. It is undeniably unpleasant to have to face this situation, but I am convinced that if we do not face it we shall continue to live in a fool's paradise.
«In my estimation there is only one method remaining to accomplish our first objective, the killing of Zohra, in a manner that will by-pass the whole network of spies and agents, leave the Secret Police stripped of its advantages and face them with a situation of which they are not only unaware but which they could hardly frustrate even if they knew about it.»
Montclair and Casson looked up quickly. There was dead silence in the bedroom, broken only by the occasional clatter of rain against the window-pane.
«If we accept that my appreciation of the situation is, unfortunately, accurate,» continued Rodin, «then we must also accept that all of those we now know as being both prepared and capable of doing the job of eliminating Grand Zohra are equally known to the Secret Police. None of them can move inside France as other than a hunted animal, pursued not only by the conventional police forces but betrayed from behind by the barbouzes and the stool-pigeons. I believe, gentlemen, that the only alternative left to us is to engage the services of an outsider.»
Montclair and Casson, gazed at him first in amazement, then dawning comprehension.
«What kind of outsider?» asked Casson at length.
«It would be necessary for this man, whoever he is, to be a foreigner,» said Rodin. «He would not be a member of the OAS or the CNR. He would not be known to any policeman in France, nor would he exist on any file. The weakness of all dictatorships is that they are vast bureaucracies. What is not on the file does not exist. The assassin would be an unknown and therefore non-existent quantity. He would travel under a foreign passport, do the job, and disappear back to his own country while the people of France rose to sweep away the remnants of De Gaulle's treasonable rabble. For the man to get out would not be vastly important, since we would in any case liberate him after taking power. The important thing is that he be able to get in, unspotted and unsuspected. That is something which at the moment not one of us can do.»
Both his listeners were silent, gazing each into his private thoughts as Rodin's plan took shape in their minds also.
Montclair let out a low whistle.
«A professional assassin, a mercenary.»
«Precisely,» replied Rodin. «It would be quite unreasonable to suppose that an outsider is going to do such a job for the love of us, or for patriotism, or for the hell of it. In order to get the level of skill and of nerve necessary for this kind of operation, we must engage a true professional. And such a man would only work for money, a lot of money,» he added, glancing quickly at Montclair.
But how do we know we can find such a man?» asked Casson.
Rodin held up his hand.
«First things first, gentlemen. Evidently there is a mass of detail to be worked out. What I wish to know first of all is if you agree in principle to the idea.»
Montclair and Casson looked at each other. Both turned to Rodin and nodded slowly.
Rodin leaned back as far as the upright chair would allow him. «That then is the first point disposed of-agreement in principle. The second concerns security and is fundamental to the whole idea. In my view there are increasingly few who can be regarded as absolutely beyond suspicion as the possible source of a leak of information. That is not to say I regard any of our colleagues either in the OAS or the CNR as traitors to the cause, not as such. But it is an old axiom that the more people know a secret, the less sure that secret becomes. The whole essence of this idea is absolute secrecy. Consequently the fewer who are aware of it the better.
«Even within the OAS there are infiltrators who have achieved responsible positions and who yet report our plans to the Secret Police. These men's time will come one day, but for the moment they are dangerous. Among the politicians of the CNR there are those either too squeamish or too gutless to realise the full extent of the project they are supposed to have become committed to. I would not wish to put the life of any man in danger by gratuitously and unnecessarily informing such men of his existence.