An Eye For An Eye Free Chapter 1

Chapter 1

When the car drew up outside the club, a guard glanced in the back and nodded before the barrier was raised so the chauffeur could continue on up a long drive, finally coming to a halt outside a palatial villa that could have been plucked out of Monte Carlo. The Saudis can duplicate anything money can buy, thought Simon, as he climbed out of the car and made his way into the club.

Simon had been in Riyadh for a week, after a crash course of ‘familiarisation training’ at the Ministry of Defence. He had been briefed by a small team of experts, who covered everything from submarine pistons to Sharia customs and beliefs, and how to correctly address a prince of the royal blood. A Mr Trevelyan from the Foreign Office had been on hand to assist him, but tonight Simon was on his own.

He was about to meet Hani Khalil, the local agent suggested by the Ambassador. Although Kestrals Bank disapproved of go-betweens when conducting business in a foreign field, the British government were far less squeamish, not least because their rivals for the arms deal, the French, the Italians and the Americans, all lived in the real world.

Simon already knew that the going rate for an official agent was ten per cent, and if they were willing to do the job for any less, it was because they didn’t have the ear of the Minister. If they demanded even more, they were greedy and ‘skimming off’ from both sides. Simon had wanted neither the former nor the latter, and was well aware that selecting the right person to represent the British for such an important contract would be the most important decision he would make, if they were to have any chance of closing the deal ahead of the French. In the end, he had reluctantly settled on Hani Khalil, who he had been assured could bend the ear of Prince Majid bin Talal Al Saud, the Minister of Defence.

It was Khalil whom Simon was due to meet tonight, at his club a few miles outside Riyadh – technically called the Overseas Club but known, the Ambassador had warned him, as ‘the compromise club’.


As he approached the front door, Simon had only to murmur the hallowed name of Hani Khalil and he was immediately invited to enter and accompanied by the manager down a long corridor into a large palatial room. He was ushered towards a man sitting at one end of the bar, an empty seat by his side.

The man wore a smart fashionable suit that had probably been tailored in Savile Row and a smile that suggested they were old friends, despite the fact they had never met before.

‘My name is Hani Khalil,’ he announced, thrusting out his hand. ‘Thank you for joining me. The Defence Minister has asked me to welcome you to Riyadh and say how much he’s looking forward to meeting you.’ The same warm smile followed. ‘What can I get you?’

‘Just an orange juice,’ said Simon, recalling the Ambassador’s warning. Over the years, Simon had often dealt with sharks who swam in the same water as Khalil, some of whom had ended up in jail, while others got knighthoods. He had learned to live with both of them.

Once he’d taken his seat, Simon’s eyes slowly circled the room, which was decorated with expensive paintings, stylish furniture, and available women.

‘A man of your reputation,’ Khalil was saying, ‘will be well aware there are only two serious candidates being considered for the arms contract: the French and the British.’

‘What about the Americans?’ asked Simon, well aware why they had recently made a tactical withdrawal.

‘They are no longer in the running while Gore is still hoping to be president,’ said Khalil. ‘He’s clearly not interested in being involved in a deal that might prevent his Jewish supporters back home from bankrolling him.’

‘And the Italians?’ asked Simon.

‘Want too large a slice of the cake,’ said Khalil, ‘and in any case, everyone knows they can’t supply the necessary equipment, so they were never really in the game.’

Although Simon had learnt nothing he didn’t already know, he was beginning to get a feel for the man who was sitting beside him. He delivered his next well-prepared line, ‘But that doesn’t apply to the French.’

‘You’re right my friend, and in truth, they are your only real rivals. However, with me as your representative, I can promise you they will be returning to Paris empty-handed,’ Khalil assured him, as if the contract had already been signed.

‘And what do you expect in return for your services?’ asked Simon.

‘I feel sure you are well aware, Simon, that ten per cent is the going rate for such deals.’

‘Ten per cent of three billion pounds is a very large sum of money, Mr Khalil.’

‘And ten per cent of nothing is nothing,’ countered Khalil. ‘And you have to remember that the Minister has a large family to support, and one in particular who will be expecting to get a big slice of the cake, while, let me assure you, I will have to satisfy myself with a few well-earned crumbs.’

‘One in particular?’ repeated Simon.

‘Prince Ahmed bin Majid, the Defence Minister’s second son, who has been a personal friend of mine for many years. Indeed, we have closed several deals together in the past.’

The Foreign Office had already supplied Simon with a thick file on Prince Ahmed bin Majid, and it wasn’t flattering, referring to him as the Black Prince.

‘I’ve already arranged for you to have an audience with Prince Majid at ten o’clock tomorrow morning,’ Khalil went on, ‘which is why I needed to see you this evening.’

Simon listened as Khalil tried to reassure his guest, a little bit too enthusiastically, that the deal was already in the bag. This made Simon even more convinced that Khalil and the Black Prince, would eventually walk away with several million more pounds deposited in a Swiss bank account, while he was left to explain to the Prime Minister that the deal had been closed even before he got off the plane.

Simon sipped his orange juice, while Khalil showed no such inhibitions, allowing the barman to pour him a brown liquid from an unmarked bottle, from which the label of a contented grouse had been removed. He tried to concentrate on what the Defence Minister’s representative on earth was saying.

‘I see that your Italian rival, Paolo Conti, is with us tonight.’

Simon glanced across the room to see a man who had an arm draped around an attractive young blonde, while the other rested on her thigh. The Italian looked slightly inebriated, but then he didn’t have an appointment with the Minister in the morning. According to the Foreign Office brief, Mr Conti was famed for his Italian good looks and Mafia connections, and although the Italians were on the shortlist, it was no more than what diplomats described as ‘a face-saving exercise’.

Khalil took another sip of whisky before announcing, ‘And that’s another contract he won’t be closing.’

Simon took a closer look at the woman seated next to Conti, who was sipping a glass of champagne. She looked to be in her late twenties, possibly early thirties, and there wasn’t any doubt how she earned her living; the black leather mini skirt and sheer silk blouse would not have been acceptable on the streets of Riyadh, or even in one of the five-star hotels that littered the city. But inside this private enclave such rules didn’t apply, as the scantily clad women and shelves of unlabelled bottles testified.

‘Conti still believes he’s in with a chance,’ said Khalil, as an attentive barman refilled his glass with another shot of the forbidden nectar.

‘With the girl or the contract?’ quipped Simon.

‘Both,’ replied Khalil. ‘But what Conti doesn’t realize is that Avril is one of Prince Ahmed’s favourites, and if he turns up and sees her with another man, believe me, sparks will fly. The Minister’s son has a short fuse, and I have a feeling Conti’s about to light it.’

‘Should I assume Avril is aware of the consequences, should the Prince turn up?’

‘You catch on fast, Simon, so my advice is to go back to your hotel before the Prince arrives. Meanwhile, I’ll remove the Italian from the shortlist – unless you want Avril after the Prince has left?’

‘No, thank you,’ said Simon. ‘I think I’ll take your advice and have an early night.’ He didn’t give Avril a second look as he thought about Hannah, who would probably be preparing supper for the boys while they did their homework. He’d done his homework; all he needed now was a good night’s sleep.

‘By the way,’ said Khalil, as Simon drained his glass, ‘Avril’s not French. Her name is Jenny Prescott, and she comes from somewhere called Cleethorpes.’

Simon laughed as a door on the far side of the room was flung open and half a dozen men, dressed in long white thawbs and keffiyehs, marched in as if they owned the place – and they probably did. There wasn’t any doubt which one was Prince Ahmed bin Majid Al Saud, or the role his courtiers were expected to play if they hoped to remain on the payroll.

The moment Avril saw the Prince, she moved back, despite Conti leaving his hand on her thigh. The result was exactly what Khalil had predicted, because the Prince walked quickly across the room and, without warning, pushed the Italian to one side before sitting down between them.

‘You can fuck off, Eyetie,’ said the Prince, a sentiment that didn’t need to be translated into any language.

Conti rose unsteadily to his feet, a fist half raised. Although the Prince ducked, the Italian landed a glancing blow that knocked off his keffiyeh, revealing a bald head, which  clearly didn’t please the Prince.

Simon couldn’t believe what was happening in front of his eyes, and it quickly became clear several of the other guests were equally surprised. Only Khalil remained unmoved, almost as if he’d scripted it.

As the Prince adjusted his headgear, Conti began to raise his fist a second time, but not before two of Ahmed’s bodyguards came charging towards the Italian, grabbed him by the arms and held him down. They were about to escort him off the premises when Conti defiantly leant forward and spat in the Prince’s face. Ahmed immediately leapt on him and Conti tried to defend himself by grabbing the Prince around the throat, which only caused Ahmed to become even more angry.

Before his minders could drag Conti off, the Prince pulled a short, curved dagger from inside his thawb and, without a second thought, thrust it into his assailant’s chest. Avril let out a piercing scream, while Ahmed laughed.

The bodyguards let go of their prey, and could only watch as Conti collapsed on the ground, clutching his chest while gasping for breath.

Simon was horrified, and even though the Ambassador had warned him about the Black Prince, he was unable to believe what was happening in front of his eyes. He turned to the barman and shouted, ‘For God’s sake, call an ambulance,’ but the man didn’t move.

‘Best not to get involved,’ Khalil said, ‘especially remembering he’s the Defence Minister’s son, and without his backing it won’t be your name on the bottom of the contract.’

Simon hesitated while Avril continued to scream. The Prince ignored her as he bent down and slowly extracted the dagger from Conti’s chest, causing him to let out a long, whimpering groan which brought a smile of satisfaction to Ahmed’s face.

Simon watched in horror as several other foreigners in the room began to slip quietly away, not wanting to be involved in the unfolding drama. Simon would have followed them, but couldn’t come to terms with what was happening in front of him.

An older man who Simon hadn’t noticed walked calmly across the room and whispered in the Prince’s ear. Ahmed hesitated for a moment before wiping the blade of his dagger clean on Conti’s trouser leg. He then adjusted his keffiyeh and walked slowly towards a door that was being held open by one of his followers. He looked back, not at his victim, but at Avril.

‘If you’re still hoping to keep your good looks,’ said Ahmed, crossing his throat with the dagger, ‘make sure you keep your mouth shut.’ He placed the dagger back in its sheath and left without another word, followed by all but one of his entourage.

Simon couldn’t take his eyes off Conti, who was still trying to stem the flow of blood now oozing from the wound like water from a running tap. Khalil seemed to be the only person in the room who remained calm, as if he was watching a scene from a horror movie where he’d already seen the last reel.

Simon decided to ignore Khalil’s advice and go to Conti’s aid, hoping he still had time – then he heard the sound of a siren in the distance.

‘There’s nothing you can do for him now,’ said Khalil, placing a hand firmly on Simon’s arm, ‘So I suggest you leave before the police arrive; and when you see the Minister of Defence in the morning, just remember you were never here.’

Simon still didn’t move while the sound of a police siren became louder and louder.

‘I’ll pick you up from your hotel at nine thirty, so we’ll be well in time for your meeting with the Minister.’

Simon stared down at the Italian, who was no longer moving, and reluctantly accepted there was little he could do to help him. After taking one last look at the prostrate body, he made his way out of the club. Once he was on the street, he climbed into the back of his waiting car.

‘Back to the hotel,’ he said, when he heard the sound of the siren coming closer and closer. ‘Get moving!’ he added even more firmly, as a police car swung around the corner and moments later screeched to a halt outside the entrance to the club.

That’s when he heard the second siren and – once again – felt guilty he hadn’t gone to the Italian’s aid.

Simon prayed it was an ambulance and would get there in time.


Back in the club, the Prince’s right-hand man approached Khalil and, without a word passing between them, handed the Lebanese agent a thick wad of cash. He, too, disappeared without even glancing at the victim.

Khalil peeled off some notes from the bundle and handed the first payment to the barman, who pocketed the cash. He then offered Avril a bonus, but she threw the money back in his face. Khalil shrugged and gathered up the notes, before handing out smaller amounts to some of the girls who remained behind. They would claim they hadn’t seen a thing – not for the first time.

Just as he was handing out the last payment to a waiter, the police came charging into the room. Khalil was still holding on to half the cash, which he immediately handed over to the officer in charge, who pocketed the money before turning his attention to the body lying in a pool of blood on the floor.

Having disposed of the entire backsheesh, Khalil made his own exit, not bothering with his ten per cent on this occasion.

But then he had his eyes on a far bigger prize.


Once Simon’s driver had dropped him back at his hotel, he took the lift to his suite on the top floor, got undressed and took a long cold shower before collapsing onto the bed.

He couldn’t sleep as the nightmare relentlessly repeated itself without him having to press the playback button. He tried to concentrate on the carefully worded questions he would need to ask the Defence Minister if he had any chance of finding out if he knew what his son and Khalil were up to. If he did, he would be catching a plane back to London later that afternoon in the hope of getting home in time to see his father.

But his thoughts kept returning to Conti, who had ended up with a contract he hadn’t bargained for. Once again, he prayed that the ambulance had got there in time.

Simon woke just after five, his body covered in a sticky sweat. He took another long, cold shower, but nothing was going to wash away the memory of the previous night.

He put on a dressing gown, sat down on the end of the bed and began to pen a series of questions that he hoped would lull the Minister into a false sense of security. He finally gave up and got dressed: a navy blue suit his father would have approved of, a white shirt he would be wearing for the first time, and a green silk tie chosen by his wife. He began to pace around the suite, checking his watch every few minutes as he waited for Khalil to join him.

Simon made an even greater effort to put his questions in the correct order, aware of how much was at stake, when the long-term consequences of the three-billion-pound contract would guarantee a flow of income and jobs for over a decade, or more.

If the Saudis backed the British, a billion pounds would be transferred to the government coffers, one hundred million of which would be deposited in a numbered account in Geneva, with no questions asked as to how it would be disposed of, or to whom.

A second payment of a further billion would be made once the equipment had been despatched to Riyadh.

And the final payment of a further billion would be handed over once the equipment had arrived safely in Riyadh, along with six hundred highly trained operatives, who would spend the next six months instructing the local mariners, pilots, engineers and foot soldiers on how to operate their newly acquired equipment.

Simon checked his watch once again, aware that while ministers could keep you waiting for an hour, sometimes two, he still needed to be on time for the meeting that morning.

When the door finally opened, Simon assumed it would be Hani Khalil who would be joining him before they left for the ministry, but to his surprise three men dressed in police uniforms marched in unannounced.

‘Are you Simon Hartley?’ demanded an officer with three silver pips on his shoulder, before Simon could speak.

‘Yes,’ said Simon without hesitation, assuming they had been sent to accompany him to the Defence Minister’s office.

But without another word, the two younger officers stepped forward, grabbed Simon by the arms, thrust them behind his back and handcuffed him.

Simon was about to protest when Khalil entered the room, no suggestion of surprise on his face. He was confident the handcuffs would be removed within moments and he’d be set free, but his agent remained silent, his expression unmoved, when the senior officer said authoritatively, ‘You are under arrest, Mr Hartley.’

It was some time before Simon recovered enough to ask, ‘On what charge?’

‘Murder,’ said the Chief of Police, as the two officers escorted him out of the room.

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