Elements of Chance - Excerpt

Chapter 1

August 22, 1994

An America West Delta Tri-Star thunders down the black tarmac, gathering speed, hurtling past checkpoints, lifting into the sky over the nations capital. It banks slowly over Alexandria, flattens into its flight plan and heads west. In the first class cabin, Elton Braceway puts down the magazine he's used to distract him from the unsettling process of a D.C. take-off, tilts his seat to a reclining position, closes his eyes and settles into one of his favorite fantasies.

It's a dream about a reality; one in which he has never participated but the history of which, purloined from his uncle's carefully secreted files, he has read and reread until the facts are forever etched in his brain.

Paris: April 12, 1981

A small, tree shaded park off Rue Malserbes. A wrought iron fence surrounds a cobble stone walk. Children play, nannies gossip. Michael Dietrich, an athletic looking, six footer with cut features, long red hair and glasses is seated on a park bench, his quiet reading barely disturbed by the delighted squeals of the children and the murmured chiding's of the care givers.

Across the street a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud glides to a stop before a row of elegant, limestone townhouses. Inside, a man lounges casually in the tan leather rear seat. He is Jean Marie Bressac, fifty-six, healthy, wealthy and unashamedly content, and why not? Msr. Bressac is currently one of his nation's leading financiers, a money magician with ties to Arab princes, German industrialists and The Vatican. He has a Right Bank apartment off Rue St. Honore, a five bedroom chateau outside Nice, three cars, a sailboat, a loving wife, two extremely bright and attractive children and one very young, very beautiful mistress, who at the moment in question, awaits within.

The gray liveried chauffeur has circled the car to open the door and Msr. Bressac heaves his chubby frame off the seat and steps into the dazzling, midday sunlight. His hand absently caresses the gleaming surface of his silver charger as he steps from it and strolls regally into the courtyard of the silent building.

Across the street, Michael Dietrich has folded his newspaper, placed it on the bench next to him and is seemingly watching the children. His gaze shifts momentarily to the Rolls as the driver re-enters it and starts the engine. Before it can depart, his attention is reluctantly drawn from it to the large blue plastic ball nudging against his shoe. He regards the sphere and then the open expectant face of its four-year-old owner. The child stands a few yards away, desiring his toy but hesitant about approaching the stranger. A gentle nudge sends the orb to the child and Dietrich's attention back to the departing vehicle. He watches as it eases into traffic.

Above this scene, inside the imposing edifice, Msr. Bressac, having ascended in its tiny decorative brass elevator, enters the third floor apartment he provides for the lovely Violaine Dalle´.

He surveys the room fondly, taking in the authentic period furnishings, the freshly cut flowers and the sheer curtains that stir slightly in a warm breeze that emanates from the partially open French doors.

He sighs at the loveliness of the scene. He is, he realizes, a man doubly blessed—and justly content. He removes his jacket and drapes it across the back of a Louis XIV chair, revealing a profoundly drooping belly and the true artistry of his tailor.

*

"Can I get you something, sir?"

Elton Braceway's eyes snap open, revealing, not the elegant apartment of Violaine Dalle', but the claustrophobic confines of the Delta Tri-Star's gray plastic cabin and the freckled face of the red headed stewardess who smiles and indicates the contents of the drink cart at her side.

He shakes his head, checks his watch and realizes that in four hours they will be landing in Cancun. Once on the ground, he will rent a jeep and lose himself among the thousands of vacationing tourists but right at that moment there is plenty of time to continue his private journey. He sits back, closes his eyes and restarts the projector in his head.

*

Across the street from Violaine Dalle's sumptuous apartment Michael Dietrich glances at his watch, rises, drops the newspaper into a trash receptacle, pokes lightly at his longish red hair, adjusts his horn-rimmed glasses and crosses the street.

He enters the building through the same door used by Msr. Bressac, crosses the deserted courtyard, passes the ground floor apartment where no concierge is in evidence, checks the brass elevator cage and starts up the polished marble steps of the interior stairway. As he ascends, his movements undergo a gradual transition from casual to precise so that by the time he has reached Violaine Dalle's apartment he is moving briskly and with purpose.

He halts briefly in the ivory painted hallway just outside the tall, ornately paneled apartment door and allows himself the few seconds of controlled silence that will enable him to acquire a sense of the building's rhythms.

The momentary pause satisfies him that he has achieved his purpose. He places an ear to the door, then, carefully tries the knob. He finds it locked, removes a pair of small, leather-handled tools from inside his jacket; inserts them into the lock, moves them around and twists. The cylinder turns and access is his. He listens again for a moment and hearing only silence, he opens the door and slips into the apartment.

Once inside, with the door closed behind him a brief inventory of the room and its treasures produces a nod of envious approval. Thick oriental rugs provide a base for ornately carved furniture from the periods of several Louis'. Large paintings in heavy gilded frames, one perhaps a real Lautrec, line the walls. He ignores a vase of hyacinths, put off by their thick sweet fragrance and moves silently down the eggshell hall past a series of dark, elaborately carved walnut doors to one that is slightly ajar.

The sounds from beyond are unmistakable. He nods to himself, reaches into his jacket and extracts a shiny black automatic. His other hand slips a silencer from his side pocket and twists it onto the barrel of the weapon.

A particularly prodigious moan followed by a series of gasps, cover his movements as he steps through the doorway into the bedroom.

Violaine Dalle' lies on the massive bed, writhing, naked against purple satin sheets, her eyes glazed, her hands twisted in the hair of the eagerly feeding Msr. Bressac, who kneels, hairy rump aloft, between her slender, girlish, widely spread thighs.

Admiration for the carelessly displayed beauty of this child is evident in the eyes of the interloper as he moves silently to the side of the bed and stops at a position behind and slightly to the right of the industrious Frenchman.

It is at this point that the lovely Miss Dalle´ becomes aware that she and her lover are no longer alone.

Her eyes snap open and she gasps, a sound fortuitously mistaken by her lover as a sign of his oral artistry.

She sees the gun and gathers breath for a scream but Dietrich calmly places a finger across his lips and slowly shakes his head. It is at this precise moment that her lover applies a particularly ingenious caress. She emits a breathy squeak. Is it terror or her lover's yeoman efforts?

The gun moves to within an inch of Msr. Bressac's temple, the girl's eyes expand to monumental proportions, her body clenches in anticipation and her stomach roils. Msr. Bressac, taking the movements as a sign of completion, begins to rise in triumph from his enjoyable endeavor. Too late! The assassin's finger has already touched the trigger.

There is a whispered, "phffit" and a fine spray of blood splatters across Violaine Dalle's lovely belly and petite breasts. She releases her lover's head, her hands fluttering in the air, as she stares first at the dead thing that has collapsed between her legs and then imploringly at the assassin.

"Please!" she entreats.

Her eyes are lovely, her naked beauty exquisitely vulnerable but this is a decision he has already made. He moves the gun.

"Close your eyes." He commands.

She does, knowing that this is the end. Her hands rise, involuntarily, a vain but futile effort to protect the beauty of her face. He stares down at the fragile, trembling girl.

Christ, he thinks, she's a baby, and an already solidified decision is reversed.

"I didn't get paid for you." He murmurs, thereby providing the necessary excuse for this inexcusably unprofessional decision, as he turns and strides from the room.

Moments later he is on the street, dodging traffic, hurrying down the steps of a nearby metro station. He emerges from the metro at Invalides, hails a cab and takes it to Gare Austerlitz where he goes directly to a locker and removes a gym bag.

He carries the bag to the cold, marble walled men's room where he strips off jacket and shirt, replacing them with others from the bag. The red wig and glasses are discarded, revealing short, prematurely gray hair and clear brown eyes. He loads the costume into the bag and hurries out of the room.

He leaves the station by a side door that opens into a grimy, garbage strewn, alley. There he drops the bag and its contents into a trash container and continues down the cobble stone street to disappear into the crowd.

Reuters 4/13/81

Jean Marie Bressac, prominent financier, was murdered

today, in the Paris apartment of a close friend. Msr. Bressac was a highly regarded member of the European Banking Community. He was Chairman of the Board of Banque de Brittane with offices in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, New York and Rome where he maintained, it is reported, close ties with The Vatican Bank. Authorities are investigating possible links to Arab terrorists, which may have been a contributing factor in his death.

*

Elton Braceway sits quietly, rerunning the tape in his head, relishing the details of the assassination of Andre Bressac, lionizing the genius of Michael Dietrich.

It had been only one assignment in a long career but throughout it Michael Dietrich had exhibited the precision of a master craftsman coupled with the flair of an artist. Leaving the girl alive. Beau geste. Beau fucking geste, rhapsodizes the awed Elton Braceway. What a touch!

Chapter 2

Warren, Connecticut

September 18, 1994

Mike Dietrich tosses and twists in his sleep. It is playing again, like a sequence in a terrifying movie; an establishing shot of a bearded laborer, carrying a cloth knapsack and a lunch pail, moving laboriously along a cluttered street in the rundown industrial section of Munich. He knew it was Munich and he knew that he was the laborer. He had seen it all before and he knew that despite his struggles, despite the pain and the anger, he was about to undergo the whole awful experience yet again.

He stops in front of a dilapidated industrial building, checking the iron numbers that cling to its grimy brick façade as a group of pre-school children are herded past by a pair of clucking matrons. They move in an orderly fashion, singing a simple, cheerful song. He watches them momentarily, gazing over their uniformed rows, marveling at their innocence, the purity of their being, contrasted with the rotting fabric of the society in which they exist, in which he is about to act.

The children disappear around the corner and he turns, pushes open a decaying door and enters a fetid, garbage-strewn hallway. At the end, past several locked doors and down a plaster cracked, paint peeled hallway festooned with anti-Turkish graffiti are a flight of steps, their wooden treads worn by a century of patiently plodding feet. He scans the hall before beginning his ascent.

The climb is five floors but he reaches the roof without breaking a sweat, crosses quickly to a wire glass skylight, kneels at it and carefully wipes a single pane of its accumulated grime.

Before he can look through it an alien sound attracts his attention.

He ducks behind a row of rusting vent stacks, slipping a silenced automatic from the harness under his shirt. The sound is repeated—once, twice, again—a small cracking noise. He peers around the edge of the stacks. Twenty feet across the roof is the wooden shed that houses the elevator mechanism. The sound, he realizes, is coming from its far side.

He leaves his place of concealment and silently steals across the open space to the near side of the housing, flattens himself against its wall and takes a tentative step toward the corner.

Once more he hears the sound and he stops, listening, interpreting. He remains immobile as it is repeated again. He waits through a few moments of silence then inches stealthily to the corner of the structure and pauses. A few seconds pass and once again he hears it, but this time it is followed by an even fainter sound like some almost weightless object dropping onto the tar roof. A smile catches at the corners of his lips and he reaches up to the roof of the housing, secures a grip and hauls himself soundlessly up to its flat surface.

He waits there, on the edge, poised, motionless as he scans the broad, empty expanse of roof. Again there is the sound, this time a little louder and the unmistakable addition of something being dropped to the tar.

He inches across the surface and looks down. Below him is a swarthy, mustached, man in his late thirties, a machine pistol slung carelessly across his shoulder, a bag of nuts spread before him on top of an old air conditioner housing. As he watches, the guard cracks another nut, retrieves the meat and brushes away the shells.

He smiles, slides a thin wire with fitted handles from around his waist and leans forward. The guard cracks another nut but before he can bring the morsel to his mouth, the wire loop is dropped over his head and pulled taut.

The guard convulses, hands clawing at the painful invasion, feet kicking free as he is pulled into the air. He thrashes in agony for brief seconds as the wire shuts off his breath, works its deadly way into his flesh, reaching the spinal column, slicing through it and the bundle of nerves it surrounds—snuffing out his life.

Dietrich lowers the lifeless corpse to the tar and slips from his perch. Seconds later he has entered another stairway and descended to the top floor of the building where he systematically investigates a series of empty rooms. He checks a second hallway and finds more of the same but when he starts on a third he becomes aware of a series of scratching, clicking sounds emanating from a closed door halfway along it's length. He inches toward it, listening to the sounds, anticipating any interruption from an unexpected source.

Inside the room a portable radio plays a Grieg sonata as a grotesquely malformed man in a wheelchair carefully sets the delicate mechanism of an electronic timer. The long thin tweezers in his one good hand slip the slender bronze indicator into its correct notch and slowly lower it until it connects with a brass back plate. There is a moment of tension as he releases it, followed by a muted whir as the motor starts its cycle. The little man smiles and leans back in his chair just as the door opens and Dietrich steps into the frame.

The little man turns his head to confront his visitor, the unspoken admonition halted in mid-expression by the realization that the intruder is a stranger. His initial surprise turns to fear at the sight of the weapon. He leans forward, the one good hand reaching for an automatic that lies on the table but it's already too late. The intruder's gun spits twice and he is nailed to his chair.

Dietrich steps to the bench, checking the just completed mechanism. He shakes his head in grudging admiration, swings the knapsack from his shoulder, extracts a crude timer and a brick sized hunk of plastique and places them next to each other on the workbench. He attaches two wires to the timer, shoves their bare ends into the brick, sets the timer and places the whole arrangement on top of a barrel marked "Naphtha".

He is almost to the door when he hears the footsteps. He flattens himself against the wall and slips a dark blade from the harness under his shirt. The door swings open and a burly man with a thick red beard enters and stops, staring in surprise at the grotesque form hanging over the side of the wheelchair.

Before he can react Dietrich is behind him, one hand covering his mouth, the other dragging the dark blade around his neck in a tight circle that severs the jugular and slices through the windpipe. The bearded man struggles briefly, emits a wispy gasp of bloody mist and slumps to the floor.

The Dietrich slips into the hallway, moves silently to the stairway at the far end and hurries down to the second floor where he finds that the rest of the steps have been demolished. There is no time to return to the roof so he hurries along a hall that he hopes will lead to a stairway at the other end of the building.

He approaches an open door cautiously, hears nothing and is about to slide past when he spies the sleeping girl. Her long blonde hair caresses her shoulders and an almost imperceptible whistle of breath comes from her slightly parted lips. Such a pretty thing, he thinks, such a shame. He is gripped by an urge to wake her, take her with him, save her life but he dismisses the romantic aberration and continues on his way.

Another door is ajar and from it comes a series of unmistakable groans and rhythmic grunts. He slides past catching a fleeting glimpse of naked limbs that barely distract him from his escape.

A moment later he is on the other stairway and hurrying down to the main floor. He arrives, weapon in hand and in a few steps is out the door and on the street.

He moves to a small vacant lot at the end of the block where he unbuttons the bloodstained front of his shirt and folds it back under his jacket. He checks his watch and looks back at the building, nods, smiles, and is about to step into the street when, from down the block, he hears for the second time that morning, tiny voices raised in song. He looks up as another group of four and five-year-olds come toddling around the corner and head off down the street.

The alarm in his head has gone off and he is frantically computing seconds but it's far too late. The building erupts with a thunderous roar. It appears to rise in the air, shudder and settle back onto its foundation. The sides, billow out as the entire structure starts to crumble into the street emitting a huge cloud of smoke and dust that is immediately turned to luminescent shadows by the raging flames already consuming the interior.

He is not looking at the building. He is running down the street in the direction taken by the children. Running blindly into the sickening clouds of smoke and dust until he stumbles onto the pack of frightened, sobbing, but for the most part unhurt toddlers. He satisfies himself that they are safe, then turns away and hurries off through the smoke.

A block away he enters a public washroom where he strips off the beard, wig and laborer's clothes. He rolls them and his weapons into a bundle, which he exchanges for a young white-collar worker's sweater, shirt and fine trousers taken from the knapsack.

Moments later he is out of the washroom and cutting through a back alley where he drops the knapsack into an industrial trash container. He continues out to the street as emergency vehicles power past on their mission of mercy.

An hour later he is sitting in an airport bar, staring numbly at the flashing lights and excited reporters on the TV. Next to him an American tourist, a young woman, smiles at the man she accompanies.

"Do you understand what he's saying?" She asks, pointing at the analyst on screen.

"Fuckin' bastards", the man murmurs. "They blew up their own place."

"Who did?'

"Bunch of terrorists. Their bomb factory exploded."

"What's so bad about that?" The woman demands.

"It was next to a day care center", the man explains. "It blew the whole place sky high. They killed all kinds of kids."

Michael Dietrich remains immobile, staring at the horrifying events playing out on the screen, even as the waking man is now, staring at his bedroom ceiling, at the images that had been there but are no longer. Staring, unable to move, trying not to comprehend. Immersed in the horrors that are the rewards of his work.

Michael Dietrich, forty-nine years old, widower, father of one living daughter, assassin, greets the day.

Chapter 3

August 22, 1994

High above the skies of Oklahoma, still seated in the Delta Tri-Star, Elton Braceway glances at his watch realizing that in little more than forty-five minutes the plane will be on the ground. Forty-five minutes and he will be launched into an adventure for which he has prepared his entire adult life.

It is the assignment that will put him on an equal plane with men of cunning and daring he has admired since he was old enough to read through his spymaster uncle's secret files and dream that one day, his name too, would be recorded on those pages. It is the mission that will make him the equal of men like Michael Dietrich and will finally prove to his uncle and his mother that their judgment of him has been totally, unequivocally wrong.

He gazes out the window at the clear blue sky knowing that on the ground, the sky will be overcast and the air, as always, will be coated with smog and weighed down by steaming humidity.

He doesn't care.

Elton Braceway is about to kill a man.

A man he has never met.