From the incomparable New York Times bestselling master of gripping adventure, Bernard Cornwell, comes a relentlessly suspenseful contemporary thriller set in the lethal world of international terror.
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November 30, 2004
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Excerpt from Scoundrel by Bernard Cornwell
August 1, 1990 was my fortieth birthday. Sophie, my lover for the past three years, left me for a younger man, the cat fell sick, and the next morning Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Welcome to the best years of my life.
Three weeks later Shafiq asked if I could deliver a boat from the Mediterranean to America. Hannah, my part-time secretary, had taken Shafiq's telephone call and late that afternoon she came to the fishing harbor to give me the day's news.
"Who called?" At first I thought I must have misheard her. I was working in a trawler's engine room with the motor going. "Who called?" I shouted up through the open hatch again.
"Shafiq." Hannah shrugged. "No other name, just Shafiq. He said you know him."
I knew him all right, knew him well enough to wonder just what the hell was coming next. Shafiq! For God's sake! "He wanted what?"
"He wants a boat delivered."
"He doesn't know."
"From where in the Mediterranean? France? Spain? Italy? Cyprus? Greece?"
"Just the Mediterranean. He said he couldn't be more specific."
"And I'm to deliver it where?"
Hannah smiled. "Just America."
I shut off the engine. I had been testing the trawler's hydraulic pumps, making sure that some scumbag hadn't lowered the pressure by half a ton to disguise a bad valve or a weak hose. I waited for the noise to die away, then looked up at Hannah. "What kind of boat?"
"He doesn't know." She laughed. Hannah had a nice laugh, but since Sophie had taken off every woman seemed to have a nice laugh. "I shall tell him no," she said, "yes?"
"Tell him yes, yes."
"Tell him yes."
Hannah adopted the patient look she used when she was trying to save me from myself. "Yes?"
"Yes, oui, ja, si. That's what we're in business for." Or at least that was what my letterhead said: Nordsee Yacht Delivery, Services and Surveying, Sole Proprietor, Paul Shanahan, Nieuwpoort, Belgium; though in the last few years the servicing and surveying had taken over from the delivery.
"But, Paul! You don't know when or how or what or where! How can I commit you to something so stupid!"
"When he phones back, tell him the answer is yes."
Hannah uttered a very Flemish noise, a kind of glottal grunt which I had learned denoted a practical person's scorn for an impractical fool. She turned a page in her notebook. "And a woman called Kathleen Donovan called. An American. She wants to see you. She sounds nice."
Oh, Christ, I thought, but what is this? A man turns forty and suddenly his past comes back to haunt him, and I had a swift filthy image of Roisin's blood on the yellow stone, and I thought of betrayal and of unhappiness and of love, and I hoped to God that if Roisin's sister was looking for me that she never, ever found me. "Tell her no," I said.
"But she says -- "
"I don't care what she says. I've never heard of her and I don't want to see her." I could not explain any of it to Hannah who was so very practical and so very married to her plump policeman. "And tell Shafiq I want to know why."