his back pressed against the wall of the Paris hotel's dim hallway,
screwed the silencer onto the .38 caliber automatic. From inside
Room 51, he could hear the low voices of the Moroccan diplomat and
his Russian spyhandler. Raspel's first shot would be through the
Moroccan's heart - that was the kill he'd been hired for - it was
the second shot, at Kaborasov, that Raspel had anticipated for five
years. Ever since Berlin. And before Kaborasov died, he would hear
two words: "Monique Tristan," and he would realize who
was about to kill him - and why. Raspel eased off the safety and
kicked open the door to Room 51."
sitting in Row 22, Seat A, put down his pen and reread what he'd
written. Should somebody else be in the room, he wondered, someone
who hadn't spoken? That would make it tougher on Raspel. He would
still shoot the Moroccan first, maybe need two shots to finish the
unexpected third person, and, by then, Kaborasov would have his
gun out. Gates couldn't make it too easy for Raspel.
danger were the foundation of espionage novels, but, of course,
he wouldn't kill off his lucrative legend in The Return of Raspel.
A four-book contract for $20 million guaranteed that.
Outside the window next to Gates, there was nothing to see. It was
night, and the cloud cover was so thick he didn't even try to look
for lights below. Instead, he glanced at his watch. The time was
8:15 p.m. GMT, which meant the airliner must still be over the Continent;
the English Channel was at least another 10 minutes away.
As usual, Gates was traveling alone, though as a former foreign
correspondent, he was used to it. What he wasn't used to anymore
was traveling in coach, but first class was sold out.
In his mid-50s, Gates was just under medium height with thinning
gray hair and humorless eyes. The face that had appeared on the
back of several million books could have been handsome in a stern
way but for his mouth's natural expression of peevish irritability.
Gates' clothes were expensive, especially the Italian silk sportcoat
tailored to hide his paunch. Five best-sellers allowed him to indulge
In the late 1980s, Gates was working as the European correspondent
for a Chicago newspaper when he wrote his first book. Nine publishing
houses turned it down. At the tenth, an editor bluntly told him
that he wasn't much of a writer and that he lacked imagination.
But she said that in the morass of his words, there was one memorable
"I don't know how it happened in your book, Mr. Gates, but
this Raspel is intriguing. He makes his living killing people, and
yet the reader somehow ends up rooting for him. I wanted to know
what he was thinking and why, where he'd been and where he was going.
Except for him, your book's about as interesting as a doorstop."
Ten months later, Gates had completed a new thriller, this time
using Raspel as the central character. The day he signed the book
contract, he quit his job; six months later, the movie offer made
him a millionaire.
In each of Gates' best-sellers, Raspel was the hero/villain, an
assassin whose self-devised code of ethics set him apart from the
world he operated in. Raspel became so popular that the roguish
French actor cast in the role needed only two films to jump from
anonymity to worldwide fame.
And yet, despite Gates' own success, he knew that the publishing-house
editor was right: He was basically a lousy fiction writer who had
stumbled upon a great character, though his ego prevented him from
admitting this to anyone. A second truth was common knowledge -
that Raspel wasn't Gates' creation. In the late 1970s, there had
been a legendary assassin-for-hire from Israel, an elusive lone
operator named Raspel who was ingenious in his methods, earned half
a million dollars per kill, and reportedly turned down any job if
he admired the target.
Then, after seven years, Raspel disappeared. The ruler of a small,
oil-rich country in the Middle East, believing that he was Raspel's
next target, had placed a $4 million bounty on the assassin's head.
Although the bounty was never publicly claimed, the ruler ceased
to fear for his life, and nothing more was heard of Raspel.
Fifteen years later, the myth, polished and embellished by Gates,
had spread around the world. So few facts were known about the true
Raspel - including his real name - that the best-selling version
had to be invented. Gates decided that Raspel was fluent in half
a dozen languages, that he had been trained by the Mossad and in
the Orient, and that he could change his appearance to suit an opera
house or an alley. And even though Raspel was a man of no distinctive
characteristics, he did possess one remarkable trait - an intense
life force, an almost tantalizing energy that women were keenly
Gates picked up his pen again. He could grind out a few more paragraphs
before the jet reached Heathrow. Then he'd have a 35-minute taxi
ride to his house in Belgrave Square, where he'd drop off his bags
before continuing on to Claridge's for a late dinner. What was his
date's name? Oh, yes, Alissa. Beautiful and not too bright. That's
the way he liked them.
"Pardon me," said a voice close by. Gates looked up at
the man sitting next to him, who had been asleep since takeoff.
"Aren't you Louis Gates?"
(End of excerpt)