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FORSYTH, Frederick

The Day of the Jackal

Colonel Marc Rodin stared at the man from London. The visitor, apparently in his early thirties, was about six feet tall, with a lean athletic build. The face was suntanned, with regular but not remarkable features. He looked like a man who retained control of himself, but the eyes bothered Rodin. The flecked grey irises seemed smoky, and it took Rodin a few seconds to realise that they had no expression at all. Whatever thoughts did go on behind the smoke screen, nothing came through, and Rodin felt a worm of unease.

‘We know who you are,’ he began abruptly. ‘I had better introduce myself. I am Colonel Marc Rodin’

‘I know,’ said the Englishman. ‘You are chief of operations of the OAS. You are Major René Montclair, treasurer, and you are Monsieur André Casson, head of the underground.’ He stared at each in turn as he spoke, and reached for a cigarette. Then he lit up, leaned back and blew out the first stream of smoke.

‘Gentlemen, let us be frank. I know what you are and you know what I am. We both have unusual occupations. I operate for money, you for idealism. But we are all professionals. Therefore we do not need to fence. You have been making enquiries. It was important to me to know who was so interested in me. As soon as I discovered the identity of the organisation, two days among the French newspaper files in the British Museum were enough to tell me about you. Bon. What I would like to know is what you want.’

There was a silence for several moments; then Rodin spoke. ‘I will not bore you with the motivations behind our organisation. We believe France is now ruled by a dictator and can only be restored to Frenchmen if he dies. Our attempts to eliminate him so far have misfired. We are now considering engaging the services of a professional. However, we do not wish to waste our money. The first thing we would like to know is if it is possible.’

The last sentence brought a flicker of expression to the grey eyes. ‘No man in the world is proof against an assassin’s bullet,’ said the Englishman. ‘The point is that the chances of escape would not be too high. A fanatic prepared to die in the attempt is always the most certain method. I notice,’ he added, ‘that despite your idealism you have not yet produced such a man.’

‘There are patriotic Frenchmen prepared—’ Casson began hotly, but Rodin silenced him with a gesture.

‘And as regards a professional?’ prompted Rodin.

‘A professional does not act out of fervour and is therefore more calm. Not being idealistic, he is not likely to have last-minute thoughts about who else might get hurt, and being a professional, he has calculated the risks to the last contingency.

So his chances of success on schedule are surer than anyone else’s, but he will not even enter into an operation until he has devised a plan enabling him not only to complete the mission, but to escape unharmed.’

‘Do you estimate that such a plan could be worked out to permit a professional to kill de Gaulle and escape?’

‘In principle, yes,’ the Englishman replied. ‘But it would be one of the hardest jobs in the world. But you did not call me here for a chat about political assassination. You called me here because you have concluded that, since your organisation is infiltrated by the secret service, you must have an outsider. And you are right. The only questions that remain are who, and for how much. Now, gentlemen, I think you have had long enough to examine the merchandise.’

Rodin looked sideways at Montclair and raised an eyebrow. Montclair nodded. Casson followed suit. The Englishman gazed out of the window without a shred of interest.

‘Will you assassinate de Gaulle?’ asked Rodin at last. The voice was quiet but the question filled the room.