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«Eye Of The Storm aka Midnight Man», Jack Higgins

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They stood at the bar and the old man looked worried. “No trouble,” the younger one said. “We only want a drink.”

The big man turned and looked at Dillon. “It seems as if we’ve got one right here.” He crossed to the table, picked up Dillon’s glass and drank from it. “Our friend doesn’t mind, do you?”

Without getting out of his chair Dillon raised his left foot and stamped downwards against the bearded man’s kneecap. The man went down with a choked cry, grabbing at the table, and Dillon stood. The bearded man tried to pull himself up and sank into one of the chairs. His friend took a hand from his pocket, springing the blade of a gutting knife, and Dillon’s left hand came up holding the Walther PPK.

“On the bar. Christ, you never learn, people like you, do you? Now get this piece of dung on his feet and out of here while I’m still in a good mood. You’ll need the casualty department of the nearest hospital, by the way. I seem to have dislodged his kneecap.”

The small man went to his friend and struggled to get him on his feet. They stood there for a moment, the bearded man’s face twisted in agony. Dillon went and opened the door, the rain pouring relentlessly down outside.

As they lurched past him, he said, “Have a good night,” and closed the door.

Still holding the Walther in his left hand, he lit a cigarette using a match from the stand on the bar and smiled at the old barman, who looked terrified. “Don’t worry, Dad, not your problem.” Then he leaned against the bar and called in English, “All right, Makeev, I know you’re there, so let’s be having you.”

The curtain parted and Makeev and Aroun stepped through.

“My dear Sean, it’s good to see you again.”

“And aren’t you the wonder of the world?” Dillon said, just the trace of an Ulster accent in his voice. “One minute trying to stitch me up, the next all sweetness and light.”

“It was necessary, Sean,” Makeev said. “I needed to make a point to my friend here. Let me introduce you.”

“No need,” Dillon told him. “I’ve seen his picture often enough. If it’s not on the financial pages, it’s usually in the society magazines. Michael Aroun, isn’t it? The man with all the money in the world.”

“Not quite all, Mr. Dillon.” Aroun put a hand out.

Dillon ignored it. “We’ll skip the courtesies, my old son, while you tell whoever is standing on the other side of that curtain to come out.”

“Rashid, do as he says,” Aroun called, and said to Dillon, “It’s only my aide.”

The young man who stepped through had a dark, watchful face, and wore a leather car coat, the collar turned up, his hands thrust deep in the pockets.

Dillon knew a professional when he saw one. “Plain view.” He motioned with the Walther. Rashid actually smiled and took his hands from his pockets. “Good,” Dillon said. “I’ll be on my way, then.”

He turned and got the door open. Makeev said, “Sean, be reasonable. We only want to talk. A job, Sean.”

“Sorry, Makeev, but I don’t like the way you do business.”

“Not even for a million, Mr. Dillon?” Michael Aroun said.

Dillon paused and turned to look at him calmly, then smiled, again with enormous charm. “Would that be in pounds or dollars, Mr. Aroun?” he asked and walked out into the rain.

As the door banged Aroun said, “We’ve lost him.”

“Not at all,” Makeev said. “A strange one this, believe me.” He turned to Rashid. “You have your portable phone?”

“Yes, Colonel.”

“Good. Get after him. Stick to him like glue. When he settles, phone me. We’ll be at Avenue Victor Hugo.”

Rashid didn’t say a word, simply went. Aroun took out his wallet and extracted a thousand-franc note, which he placed on the bar. He said to the barman, who was looking totally bewildered, “We’re very grateful,” then turned and followed Makeev out.

As he slid behind the wheel of the black Mercedes saloon, he said to the Russian, “He never even hesitated back there.”

“A remarkable man, Sean Dillon,” Makeev said as they drove away. “He first picked up a gun for the IRA in nineteen seventy-one. Twenty years, Michael, twenty years and he hasn’t seen the inside of a cell once. He was involved in the Mountbatten business. Then he became too hot for his own people to handle so he moved to Europe. As I told you, he’s worked for everyone. The PLO, the Red Brigade in Germany in the old days. The Basque national movement, the ETA. He killed a Spanish general for them.”

“And the KGB?”

“But of course. He’s worked for us on many occasions. We always use the best and Sean Dillon is exactly that. He speaks English and Irish, not that that bothers you, fluent French and German, reasonable Arabic, Italian and Russian.”

“And no one has ever caught him in twenty years. How could anyone be that lucky?”

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