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Stealth

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STEALTH

 

 

 

BOOK TWO

of the TOM WILDER

THRILLER SERIES

 

 

JACK BRANDON

 

 

Stealth

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © David Stuart Black 2017

All rights reserved. Except as provided by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

 

 

A note from Jack Brandon

Occasionally I have books available for FREE

or at greatly reduced prices.

For more information, see the end of this book,

where there is also information on joining

the JB Readers Club for free and enjoying its benefits.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1 – Eaton Terrace, London

Chapter 2 – The Zorin Residence, London

Chapter 3 – Bayswater, London’s West End

Chapter 4 – Albert Mews, London’s West End

Chapter 5 – The Zorin Residence, London

Chapter 6 – The Rostov Residence, Moscow

Chapter 7 – The Rostov Residence, Moscow

Chapter 8 – The Ritz Carlton Hotel, Montreal

Chapter 9 – Boston, Massachusetts

Chapter 10 – Vnukovo Airport, Moscow

Chapter 11 – Kensington Palace Gardens, London

Chapter 12 – The Russian Embassy, London

Chapter 13 – Craithe Castle, Scotland’s Western Isles

Chapter 14 – Kings Lynn, North Norfolk,

Chapter 15 – Kings Lynn, North Norfolk

Chapter 16 – King Street, Norwich, Norfolk

Chapter 17 – King Street, Norwich, Norfolk

Chapter 18 – Yulian’s Apartment, Norwich

Chapter 19 – Warehouse, King Street, Norwich

Chapter 20 – Norwich City Centre

Chapter 21 – Norwich City Centre

Chapter 22 – Off South Shore Road, Bermuda

Chapter 23 – The Warehouse, King Street, Norwich

Chapter 24 – Norwich Airport, Norfolk

Chapter 25 – Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Chapter 26 – Ballikinrane, South Shore, Bermuda

Chapter 27 – JFK International Airport, New York City

Chapter 28 – St. Regis Hotel, New York City

Chapter 29 – Queens, New York City

Chapter 30 – Ballikinrane, South Shore, Bermuda

Chapter 31 – IPI Offices, New York

Chapter 32 – The St. Regis Hotel, New York

Chapter 33 – Craithe Castle, Western Isles, Scotland

Chapter 34 – Zorin Residence, London

Chapter 35 – Fifth Avenue, New York City

Chapter 36 – Ballikinrane, Bermuda

Chapter 37 – Ballikinrane, Bermuda

Chapter 38 – Queens, New York City

Chapter 39 – Craithe Castle, Scotland

Chapter 40 – The White House, Pennsylvania Avenue

Chapter 41 – The Kremlin, Moscow

Chapter 42 – The Quantum Installation, Queens

Chapter 43 – Wade International Airport, Bermuda

Chapter 44 – Hamilton Harbour, Bermuda

Chapter 45 – Government House, Bermuda

Chapter 46 – Government House, Bermuda

Chapter 47 – Wade International Airport, Bermuda

Chapter 48 – St. Regis Hotel, New York City

Chapter 49 – Albert Place Mews, London

Chapter 50 – The Towneley Bank, London

 

 

 

1

 

 

Eaton Terrace, London’s West End

 

It was the most devastating text message that Wilder had ever received. All the more so, as just before it arrived to upend his world, he had been thinking that he’d fixed everything. Finally, just before lunchtime, he’d felt sure he’d brought an end to weeks of turmoil. How could he have been so wrong?

That morning had started with Tatiana Macrae being kidnapped by helicopter from a Scottish island. Wilder had given chase of course – though, before he could do so, he’d had to wait for charter helicopter to get up to the island from Glasgow. Even as he waited for the chopper to arrive, he had started his fight-back. He’d made a frantic telephone call to Jessie Marker in London – the obvious destination of the kidnapper. Could she track the kidnapper’s helicopter to its place of arrival for him? There couldn’t be many London helicopter charter companies who had lent-out a machine to Russian clients. In a panic, this had not been an easy task for her, but, with the help of MI6, she had managed it.

But after that small success, she had ignored Wilder’s instructions. Having traced the kidnapper – the Russian FSB agent Izolda Volkova – to a small hotel in London’s West End, she had gone against everything he’d told her. Wilder had warned her just how dangerous Volkova was. A supreme exponent of hand-to-hand combat. But Jessie, in the heat of pursuit, had followed Volkova and her prisoner up to the hotel room and waited for Wilder to arrive. But when she had heard shouting coming from the room, it was too much for her.

Ignoring the dangers, she burst into the room. But she was no match for Volkova. It was thanks only to Wilder’s timely arrival in his pursuit helicopter that he reached the hotel room in time to prevent Jessie being killed.

But it had ended all right. After Wilder had dealt with Volkova, she’d been carted off to hospital. And Tatiana had been taken back to her husband waiting anxiously nearby. Everything was supposedly restored to normal and the Russian threat was back under control at last.

 

Afterwards, Wilder and Jessie had met up with Mina Falcone from MI6. They thanked her for her invaluable part in helping with the helicopter tracking. The three of them had enjoyed a pub lunch – discussing not just that morning but also the extraordinary events of the days that had preceded it. As far as they were aware, they had put the whole nightmare behind them, bringing closure at last.

 

Falcone had gone back to the headquarters of SIS, the British Secret Intelligence Service at Thames House. After dealing with the arrest of Volkova, Wilder had gone back to his place and tidied up. He then drove down to meet Marker for lunch at the Antelope. After a quick sandwich and a beer each, they were walking back to their cars. At six-foot-three, Wilder’s brisk strides forced Jessie Marker to break into a trot every few paces to keep up with him. Typical of him, she thought, to have already put the dramas of the morning behind him, while she was still trying to come to terms with the fact that she could have been killed.

Then that devastating text arrived.

Wilder’s phone buzzed in his pocket. Still striding along, he pulled it out and glanced at the screen; it was from his daughter Lucy. Her fight from New York wasn’t due to land till now. So why text him as soon as she landed? He opened the message. In that instant, he stopped abruptly and his mouth fell slightly open.

Jessie, slow to react, had walked on a few paces. When she noticed he was no longer beside her, she stopped too and looked back at him. She had never before seen what she saw now. The colour had drained from his face and the muscles around his jaw were standing out, clamped and strained.

‘What’s happened?’ she asked.

He didn’t answer, as he was busy trying to type a response to Lucy’s text. But his fingers were clumsy and he cursed under his breath. It looked to Jessie as though he’d pressed the wrong key and deleted his half-finished reply. He tried again, frantic by now.

‘For God’s sake, what’s wrong?’ asked Jessie, putting a hand on his arm.

He was concentrating so intently on his mobile phone that he didn’t appear to have heard her. She watched him with a growing sense of dread

He put the mobile away and turned towards their cars again, but Jessie held him back by the arm. ‘What is it?’ she asked a second time, more insistent. The look in his eyes as he stared back at her made her catch her breath.

‘We’ve got to go,’ was all he said. She knew that Wilder didn’t do fear, but there was a wild look in his eyes – a look she’d never seen before – if not fear, then what?

‘What’s happened? What’s wrong? For goodness sake, Tom, tell me.’

‘It’s Lucy. She’s been abducted – I mean, kidnapped.’

‘What? Your daughter Lucy?’ Jessie shouted it out, involuntarily as though being engulfed by the same panic. ‘From New York?’ she stuttered as her mind got into gear.

‘I… yes… she’s at college there. But she was coming over to here today to spend the rest of her holidays with me – here in London to start with, then maybe Paris next week.’

‘Oh my God.’ Jessie just stared back at him, not knowing what to say.

Looking back at her with a kind of pleading expression on his face, he said, ‘I don’t understand this. She says she’s been taken, but she’s still able to send me a long text. Her language threw me for a second. She said the car pulled into a cul-de-sac as soon as they left the airport and she was taken out of the back seat and thrown into the trunk. She’s spent most of her life in the US, though – she would call it the trunk. So, she’s been able to send this long text because she’s in the boot of the car. Her kidnappers must be in too much of a hurry to have checked her for a phone. Dammit, I’ve got to concentrate.’

Jessie needed to know more. ‘What does she say after that?’

‘Let me think this through,’ said Wilder. ‘If it hadn’t been for Tatiana being kidnapped in Scotland this morning and brought down here… and me chasing after her and Volkova… I’d still be in Scotland. I hadn’t planned to come down to London until this afternoon. Lucy was going to make her own way to my place. At the airport, there must have been one of those drivers – in a chauffeur’s uniform perhaps – you know, peaked cap, probably holding up one of those boards with her name on it.’

‘But would she just go with a driver if she hadn’t been told she was being met by one?’

‘If she thought I’d arranged it,’ replied Wilder. ‘I’ve done that for her before when I’ve not been able to meet her myself – to make it easier for her to get into London with all her holiday baggage. But in her text she talks about two of them. After that, something must have happened – the message stops mid-sentence.’

He turned and began to hurry on towards their cars again. Jessie, now taking two quick steps to every one of Wilder’s strides, hurried along beside him. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She was still trying to work out why Lucy should be involved in a kidnapping. Was this the Russians again?

‘But why kidnap Lucy?’ she shouted, trying to catch up with him.

‘This is pure revenge.’ Wilder spat the words out. ‘A swift but well-planned retaliation for our rescuing Tatiana this morning. I should have seen this coming.’ Wilder bent into the stiff breeze and walked even faster.

‘So, what do we do now?’

‘Lucy always has a tracker hidden on her if she’s travelling alone. I’ve trained her that if she’s taken, she’s only to activate it once she’s gets to a destination – wait till she’s settled somewhere from where she might be rescued. She won’t switch it on while she’s still on the move. These people are unlikely to have detected the tracker yet. It also implies they’re still on their way into London. As with Tatiana, this being the Russians, this time they’ll be taking her to the Russian Embassy.’

As they hurried along the last stretch, with their cars now in sight, he ran his fingers through his dark hair and raised his face to the weak afternoon sun, almost as though in prayer.

‘Oh shit,’ he said, suddenly stopping and looking directly down at Jessie. ‘What if they’re going to put her on some private flight and take out of here? What if they take her back to Moscow along with Volkova and that IT specialist of hers, Sasha Gulina? Volkova’s supposed to be under guard in hospital, but what if they manage to get her out of there? They’ll probably want to take both of them back home so they can’t be questioned by the police.’

‘You mean so that they can’t be asked about rigging the bank or the kidnapping of Tatiana?

‘Both. But we haven’t time to worry about that now; my focus has to be on Lucy. God knows how we’ll find her if they get her back to Moscow with the other two.

‘What exactly are we going to do about this?’ asked Jessie. Wilder was now just fifty yards from the cars.

‘We’ve got to focus on stopping them getting Lucy to Moscow,’ he shouted back over his shoulder.

As they got to his car and he fumbled, rushing to get the keys from his pocket, he looked back at Jessie, now with a look of anger on his face, his muscles taught, his deep blue eyes unblinking.

‘I know it’s only a hunch,’ he said, ‘but we know that Rodchenko’s flying into London from Moscow this afternoon. I’ll bet they opt for Northolt Airfield. Private flights. I’m going to assume they’ll send a car to collect Rodchenko from Northolt. I’ll also bet anything that they’ll then take Lucy and their two out to Northolt – put them on the same plane and whisk them off to Moscow that way. My guess is they’ll be stuck at the Russian Embassy at the top of Kensington Palace Gardens until the plane’s ready for the return flight. I’ll head for the Embassy and see if I can spot them there.’

He looked down into Jessie’s upturned face. ‘While I’m on my way there, can you contact Mina Falcone? Then, between the two of you, could you do some things for me?’

‘Of course.’

‘I don’t know in which of her two offices you’ll find Mina, but give her a ring on her mobile,’ he said. ‘She’ll either have gone back to MI6 at Thames House, or she may be in the diplomatic section of the Home Office. But get a hold of her. See if you two can pull off any images from cameras near the Russian Embassy – both at the top and bottom ends of Kensington Palace Gardens. I’ll go to the top end, up on the Bayswater road – easier to find somewhere to park while I have a look around. I’ll keep an eye out for anything coming out of the Embassy that might be headed west towards one of the three airports they could use. As I said, I reckon Northolt or Luton but it could be Luton or even Heathrow. See if there’s a flight-plan been lodged for an incoming private jet from Moscow. Outgoing flights too, of course. But I don’t need to teach you your job, do I? Just keep in regular contact with me. You’ll both need to be my eyes and ears till we get this sorted.’

‘Sure, we’ll manage that and we’ll keep you posted.’

‘Lucy’s the most important thing in my life,’ he said as he climbed into his car. ‘But I don’t want anyone knowing I’m going to the Russian Embassy,’ he said as he eased the car out of its parking space. ‘And I certainly don’t want the cavalry coming to my rescue.’

 

 

 

2

 

 

The Zorin Residence, London.

 

Victor Zorin smiled. The kind of self-satisfied smile that has no mirth in it. He was humming an old Russian war song under his breath. Even if there had been anyone else in the room, they would barely have heard it. He tapped in time to the tune with a gold Cross pen on the hand-tooled pale green leather top of his huge desk. As he sat there, he indulged himself with a few minutes relaxation, basking in a glow of quiet excitement; it was beginning to look as though a whole new life was about to unfold for him. One of Russia’s richest men, he had more money than he could spend in several lifetimes; now, a move back into the world of politics had its attractions. And with great timing, a hand-written letter from President Balakin himself had seemed to open that door for him this morning. Nor was it just that the letter was hand-written; it had come in the diplomatic bag and had been delivered to him direct from the Kremlin.

During these idle moments, he reflected on the past. Having lived in London for a few years, just a few doors down from the Russian Embassy, he felt that this letter was proof at last that he’d risen to the top. Living here in arguably London’s most desirable road – maybe the most expensive road anywhere in the world – he’d come a long way from the slums of St Petersburg where he’d been born fifty-five years earlier.

But enough of this. He stopped humming, leant forward and stretched across the desk. He had been busy earlier finishing some notes. Notes were rare for him, as he usually avoided putting things in writing – things that could come back to bite one later. He considered these particular notes, however, to be necessary, as the President’s letter demanded a series of very specific actions. From today, everything would need to be carried out with meticulous care. Each action needing to be precise, with little leeway for variations and none for errors. The notes were also needed as many of the steps would have to be carried out by Alexis Mitkin. Originally Zorin’s bodyguard, Mitkin had matured thanks to solicitous nurturing from Zorin; he had become an indispensable righthand man – though he still needed occasional guidance and supervision. He had become like an additional limb as well as a sounding-board for Zorin – almost an extension of himself.

He glanced at the exquisite eighteenth-century marble and ormolu clock on the dresser nearby – time to call Mitkin in for his briefing. He took off his gold-rimmed glasses and ran a hand over his face and his bald head; his pate was so shiny it might have been hand-polished by some minion. He took in a couple of deep breaths and let them out slowly again. Although the president’s letter opened up the prospect of a great new life, it also carried risks.

For a moment, he thought about his predecessor in the project, Igor Rodchenko. He’d taken chances with the risks inherent in the project. And though Rodchenko didn’t know it yet, those chances were going to cost him – not only his exalted position, but his life as well. Unlike Rodchenko, however, Zorin would keep a close watch on everything and impress the same on Mitkin – keep an eye on the risks, take no chances. And now the time to set the ball rolling had arrived.

Zorin picked up the President’s letter and hid it away under some other papers in the top righthand drawer of the desk. Reaching out again, he pressed one of the intercom buttons and asked his secretary to find Mitkin and get him to the office right away.

A couple of minutes later, Mitkin entered the room. He closed the door noiselessly behind him and walked briskly to one of the two comfortable Chippendale armchairs across the desk from Zorin. He said not a word as he watched Zorin finishing a telephone call.

‘… No, do not take Mr Rodchenko to the Embassy, bring him here to my house… That’s right… See you in around three quarters of an hour.’ Zorin hung up, looked across to Mitkin and smiled at him.

‘As you may have just overheard, Igor Rodchenko will be here shortly.’

‘Is he the man they call the President’s fixer?’ asked Mitkin.

‘He is.’

‘One of the most powerful men in Russia, isn’t he?’

‘Until recently, yes.’

‘What do you mean, until recently?’ Mitkin looked puzzled.

‘Over the past few months he’s made an unbelievable mess of a project to find and steal a thing called Gemini. He also made the mistake of telling President Balakin how it could transform his negotiating powers with the West. So, when his people let him down no less than three times getting this Gemini for the President, he lost the one thing he should have guarded with his life.’

‘And what was that?’ asked Mitkin, leaning forward. As always, eager for the boss’s insights.

‘He lost the President’s trust,’ said Zorin. ‘The final nail for Rodchenko’s coffin is being driven in by a man called Wilder.’

‘Who’s he?

‘Of late he’s been guarding the Gemini thing Rodchenko was trying to steal. But he’s always been a jump ahead of Rodchenko. On a couple of occasions this man Wilder had the audacity to use Gemini to take copies of a month’s-worth of all the top-secret communications between the President and his innermost circle…’

‘He what?’ interrupted Mitkin.

‘Wilder took electronic copies of all the inner circle’s secret files and threatened to publish them on the internet – like WikiLeaks did with those American files.’

‘Good God,’ said Mitkin, grinning. ‘I can see how that might dent Rodchenko’s popularity with the President.’

‘Denting one’s popularity might be survivable,’ said Zorin. ‘But Wilder’s still threatening to publish – holding the files over the President’s head like a Sword of Damocles. Rodchenko’s got to go.’

Mitkin stopped smiling and just nodded his head.

‘The upshot is that, though he doesn’t know it yet, I’m to take over from Rodchenko. The project of finding and stealing Gemini for the President is now our responsibility. So, just as soon as we have got out of Rodchenko everything he knows about the Gemini Project, we’ve been ordered to… er… facilitate disposing of him. It’s one of the reasons the President sent him over here. The pretext is that he’s here to clean up his mess, though we’ll do that for him. The real reason of course is for us to deal with him while he’s here out of the sight of the President’s enemies in Moscow.’

‘You mean we’ve got to do the President’s dirty work for him?’ said Mitkin, frowning.

‘Yes, but we’ll discuss how we’re going to do that later. Right now, before Rodchenko gets here, we’ve other matters to clear up.’ Zorin leant forward and pushed the pad and pen across the desk towards Mitkin.

‘You’ll see on the pad that I’ve listed a number of things that need to be done as we take over the Gemini Project. Have a look at it and put a question mark against anything you don’t understand.’

Mitkin took the list and, looking down it, occasionally let out a low whistle. At other points, he just nodded his head. Twice he put question marks against items.

‘Unlike Rodchenko,’ said Zorin, as Mitkin finished reading, ‘we’re going to approach this huge opportunity in a step-by-step manner,’ said Zorin. ‘Rodchenko charged at the project; we’re going to do it by stealth. We’re going to be subtle in our approach and, above all, we’re not going to make any mistakes. So, let’s deal with the list now, in chronological order.’

‘Okay.’

‘Rodchenko’s last major mistake was this morning. His chosen agent, Volkova, ultimately failed in her kidnapping of Tatiana Macrae. She’s the wife of the head of the Gemini programme. She was to have been held in ransom in exchange for Gemini. Unfortunately, that meddler Wilder managed to rescue her and put Volkova in hospital in the process. Incidentally, that was quick thinking on your part and a good job of yours getting Volkova and her IT expert out of the hospital and police custody. What gave you the idea of diplomatic immunity?’

‘I needed to act fast, didn’t I? You told me you needed to get them both here so they couldn’t be questioned by the police,’ replied Mitkin. ‘So I just ran up the road to the Embassy and I got Anatoly Borkin to take over from there.’

‘And he thought up the ploy of saying they were Embassy staff?’ queried Zorin.

‘Yes. I thought he did well, even got the Ambassador along to the hospital. Now that’s what I call pulling out the big guns.’ Mitkin grinned, clearly pleased with his part in the successful rescue of the two women.

‘Well done,’ said Zorin. ‘As it happens, it turned out even better than anyone could have anticipated. That IT girl Gulina gave me a mass of vital information about Gemini. Stuff even Rodchenko didn’t know. Most important of all, she told me that she’s worked out exactly what this Gemini thing is. She even told me where to get a critical missing element that’s part of its makeup.’

‘You mean that Rodchenko’s been trying all this time to get Gemini for the President and yet he didn’t know exactly what it consisted of?’

‘That’s right,’ scoffed Zorin. ‘He knew from the stolen files how unbelievably powerful it is, but he never knew what machines or software run it.’

‘So, as we take the project over from Rodchenko, we get the Gemini and, unlike Rodchenko, you already know what it is and where to get it?’

‘I do,’ said Zorin, that self-satisfied smile returning for a second. ‘But, once again, that’s still not our first priority timewise. First, we need to finish off going through the list in front of you. If you look, you’ll see that the next item on it is that we’ve got to deal with the rest of Rodchenko’s kidnapping of Wilder’s daughter – Lucy, I believe is her name. I don’t approve of this kidnapping nonsense but we need to make the best of it now that Rodchenko’s started it. I need to get her here into my office before we ship her out to Moscow. Now that she’s been taken we can at least use her as a bargaining chip. So, how’s that progressing?’

‘I spoke to Anatoly about that too when I was up at the Embassy. He told me that there were a couple of SVR agents up there who are trained up for this sort of thing,’ replied Mitkin. ‘They went out and met this Lucy Wilder at Heathrow. She fell for the trick that they were there on her father’s orders. She’s now on her way back here. As you suggested, the Embassy have accepted that you’ve now taken Rodchenko’s matters over and she’s to be brought here to join Volkova and Gulina. When you’ve finished with all three of them, they can be taken back to Moscow on the private jet that’s bringing Rodchenko into Northolt Airport.’

‘Good. And where exactly is this Lucy Wilder right now? The timings are getting tight.’

‘Somewhere on the Cromwell Road – she should get here any minute now.’

‘Good,’ said Zorin. ‘And, as I said earlier, this is an important point – before we send her off to Moscow, I want to see her here in my office. Got that?’

‘Got it.’

‘Right. Now, and still keeping it chronological, Rodchenko will arrive just after Lucy Wilder gets here,’ said Zorin. ‘I want Rodchenko to be treated like royalty until we have everything we need out of him. I’ll deal with him personally. I’ll be pretending that we’re here to help get him get out of the mess he’s got himself into. He’ll jump at that. I’ve an outline plan of how to dispose of him tonight. I have in mind a way that will get Wilder blamed for his death – but I’ll tell you the details later.’

‘So, all of this is really about this Gemini thing, isn’t it?’

‘It is.’

‘Can I be allowed to know what the hell Gemini is and why it’s so important?’ Mitkin looked sternly at Zorin, almost as though challenging him for keeping Gemini from him.

‘Okay, but we haven’t much time, so I’ll try and put it as briefly as I can. The young IT genius Sasha Gulina has just confirmed to me that it’s called Gemini because it’s a combination of two technologies – digital, which currently runs just about everything on the planet, but added together in some unique way with the new quantum computing technology. A small team in the UK, together with a huge US conglomerate’s research team, have come up with a way of synergising the two. All you need to know is that, in just seconds, it can penetrate virtually any known computer defence system anywhere in world’

‘It can?’ interrupted Mitkin.

‘Not only can it get through even the most sophisticated computer defences yet devised, it can then take control of whatever it is that it’s penetrated. It can do this over the internet or by someone inserting a tiny specialised dongle into virtually anything connected to the target computer’s system. I’ll give you just one example. Suppose President Balakin had a Gemini and took over the air traffic control hub near Islip on Long Island. He’d be in complete control of all the air traffic in and out of the five airports around New York City – including Philadelphia. Using its control as a bargaining chip, suppose he then rings the new US president and demands, for example, that the US remove all their strategic missile placements in Eastern Europe. With all those aircraft up in the air over New York, what’s the US President going to say?’

‘Jesus Christ,’ whispered Mitkin.

‘Well, he might say that,’ grinned Zorin, ‘but in practical terms, the American President would have no option but to bow to Balakin’s demands. That should give you an idea of what’s at stake here.’

‘Yes, quite astonishing. I had no idea it was that important.’

‘And now, thanks to President Balakin’s letter to me this morning, we’ve been given this chance of a lifetime. As I said earlier, we’re to take over delivering Gemini to the President. Once we’ve achieved that, with Rodchenko gone, I could well be taking over his position – one of the most powerful in all of Mother Russia.’

‘Aha! Returning to Moscow as heroes?’ beamed Mitkin.

‘Okay, but don’t let’s get carried away. Now at least you now know what’s at stake here. Fortunately, Sasha Gulina has pointed the way ahead for us. You’re to get us one of the main components of Gemini – a quantum computer. They’re as rare as unicorns, but my people have found one. It’s soon to be on its way to a customer and I’ve already set that up for you in Canada. We’ll go into that just as soon as we’ve got these three women off to Moscow and disposed of Rodchenko.’

Mitkin smiled. He liked it when the boss was on a roll.

 

 

 

3

 

 

Bayswater, London’s West End

 

As soon as Wilder had driven through Hyde Park and out onto the Bayswater Road, he turned left and, about level with Kensington Palace Gardens, turned into a small mews and parked there. He walked quickly back towards the top of the Palace Gardens road itself. Here he waited for a call from either Mina or Jessie – surely one of them would have something to report back to him soon. He also hoped there would be a clue as to where the Russians taken his Lucy.

As he waited, he felt physically sick; he dug the nails of both hands into their palms, trying to generate enough pain to take his mind off what terror she might be going through, or whether she was trying to reach him. Finally, after a quarter of an hour, he’d managed to remind himself that she was his daughter and that, as such, she’d been better trained than most on what to do in a situation like this.

At last his mobile phone buzzed. This time it was a text message from Mina. He read it twice: ‘Lucy seen at Heathrow climbing into black SUV. Poor visibility so no vehicle registration number. But probably the same SUV which recently entered Ken. Palace Gdns south entrance. Lost sight but not out again north or south. Still there now.

At least that was a good sign, even if not definitive. He’d wait for Lucy to activate her tracker. But he would need to stay up at the top end of the road, near to his car so he could give chase if they left to take her away and fly her to Moscow. At the same time, he wanted to know where she was right now – to give him better warning of when they might make that move. His crushing sense of helplessness was suddenly relieved by another text from Mina: ‘Another SUV collected large man from Russian registered private jet at Northolt Airfield. Headed for London.’ That would be the car that Sasha Gulina referred to when she’d been questioned by police in the hospital – the car bringing Rodchenko into London. The next question: would they wait for Rodchenko to get here or would they take Lucy out with the others in another car?

He tagged himself onto a group of what looked like Embassy staff; they seemed to be known to security and as he passed through the wide gates into the road, he held up his own office pass with most of it obscured by his hand. Once through he considered what to do next. Switching to the tracker map on his mobile, he immediately saw that Lucy’s tracker had been switched on and had now appeared on the map – a small red button blinking in Kensington Palace Gardens. But there was a surprise; it was near the bottom of the hill, the far end from where he was standing.

Then came the call.

‘Hi Dad.’ It was Lucy, and it tore into Wilder’s soul. Her voice was trembling. ‘I’m so sorry for falling for the…’ Her voice was interrupted as Wilder heard a harsh voice cut across her. Then she continued. ‘The gentleman who had me collected at the airport says that if you don’t go to the…’ There was a break again while Wilder heard the other voice in the background, followed by Lucy, continuing, ‘If you don’t go to the Newby Centre at eight o’clock tonight, you’ll never see me…’ Her voice faded away in sobs and became fainter, and he guessed that the phone had been taken from her.

The next voice was deep and only slightly accented, but with an unmistakable Russian guttural sound to it. ‘You will get instructions to your mobile phone later today. As your daughter just said, if you are not at the Newby Centre tonight, you will never see her again. Is that clear?’

Wilder felt like giving vent to his pain, anguish and rage. He wanted to yell out and give this man a taste of his fury; but he knew it would be pointless and the outcome was more important that his rage.

‘I’ll await your instructions,’ he said, as calmly as he could manage under the circumstances, his voice firm and slow. The telephone then clicked off and his only remaining connection with her, the tracker on the screen of his mobile, began to move as he watched. He looked up from it and scanned the houses to his left and then his right. Then he spotted it. A good number of houses further down the hill, he saw some people getting into a large SUV outside its front door. Though it was difficult to recognise anyone at this distance, he was sure that the stooped figure of Lucy was among them. Another thought occurred to him and he punched the number he knew well into his mobile. He was soon through to Mina Falcone.

‘It’s Tom. I’m standing opposite the Russian Embassy and… one, two… eight houses south of it, there’s an SUV leaving a house. Can you find out who lives there?’

‘Eight houses south of the Russian Embassy… Give us minute and I’ll see what I can come up with,’ said Mina.

He waited, his heart pounding, as Mina did what they do at spooks HQ. He watched as the SUV came slowly out of the semi-circular driveway and began coming up the hill towards him. He turned and began to run back towards the gates at the top of the road and to his car parked beyond. His mobile phone was still clutched tightly to his ear as he ran.

‘The house you indicated is owned by a Russian by the name of Victor Zorin,’ said Mina. ‘Does that mean anything to you?’

‘It does now,’ said Wilder. The SUV was now moving faster. He sprinted back up the hill towards his car, keeping ahead of the SUV’s sedate progress. But just as it reached the large wrought-iron gates it passed him and he made a mental note of the registration number. As he got to the gates himself, he saw the SUV swing left out of the end of the road heading towards Northolt. He crossed the Bayswater Road, dodging between the traffic, and ran on towards the mews where his car was parked.

‘If they’re going to try and use diplomatic immunity to get Lucy and anyone else out of the country,’ he shouted into his phone as he ran for his car, ‘I need someone there with me at Northolt who can bluff their way past any diplomatic waffling they might use. I know that Northolt is a British Airforce base as well as being used for a lot of private aircraft flights, but see if someone can come up with a way to ground the Russian plane. Though I haven’t got absolute proof, tell them that the Russians have abducted my daughter and are about to fly her out of here to Moscow.’

‘Leave it with me,’ replied Mina. ‘I’ll see you at Northolt too and I’ll bring some diplomatic weight with me. In the meantime, do not – I repeat – do not get up to any heroics.’

‘This is my Lucy we’re talking about,’ he shouted back, now entering the mews. ‘I’m promising you nothing.’

He ran across the cobbles, but just as he jumped into the car, a man of medium build ran over towards him. From his body-language and the scowl on his face, he was clearly angry about something. He arrived at Wilder’s car just as he started it. The man smashed his clenched fists down onto the roof of the car and was shouting something. Wilder wound the window down to hear him properly.

‘You can’t park here,’ he was screaming. ‘Can’t you see this is a private mews? Do you think that just ’cos you’ve got a fancy fast car you can park the bloody thing anywhere you like, you selfish…’ His voice trailed off as he ran around to the front of the car to stop Wilder from driving off.

His heart thumping, Wilder looked for a way of avoiding this confrontation and the time that it might take. He looked in the rear-view mirror but saw that there was no way of backing out of the situation. So, as calmly as he could, he opened the door to get out and pacify the man. But as he was getting out, the man had come back around the car and, before Wilder was even properly upright, swung a wild wheeling punch at Wilder’s head. Wilder deflected it and quickly pulled himself fully upright.

‘Oh shit,’ he muttered, as he got himself round the car door, letting it fall shut behind him. He blocked two more of the enraged man’s blows and tried to calm him at the same time by shouting out that he was sorry to have caused offence with his parking.

The man’s next punch caught Wilder on the cheek. It was a glancing blow, but it indicated that the man was not going to listen to reason or accept an apology.

‘Sorry about this,’ said Wilder, and with two short, sharp and very precisely aimed blows, he knocked the man out cold. Wilder stepped swiftly forward and caught him before he hit the ground, and then gently laid him down. Wilder looked around to see if there was anyone about who could help but there was no one in sight. He took off his Parka coat, emptied the pockets, rolled it up and put it under the head of the prostrate figure; he then straightened out the man’s legs and placed his hands across his chest.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said quietly.

He climbed quickly back into the car again, cursing at the amount of time this incident had cost him. He just hoped it hadn’t given the Russians the time to get the girls onto the jet bound for Moscow. He accelerated at speed out of the mews and onto the Bayswater Road, and headed for Northolt. He slotted his mobile phone into the holder in front of the dashboard and contacted Jessie Marker to update her on the situation.

 

When he got to Northolt, he approached the security check-point at the entrance to the Airforce Base with some trepidation, but the guard at the gate bent down to talk to Wilder as he drew up and pressed for his window to go down.

‘Mr Wilder?’

‘Yes?’

‘The Base Commandant is expecting you. If you drive over to the building with the flagpole outside it,’ he said, pointing as he spoke, ‘you can park in front of it and go right in.’

With his pulse thumping in his throat, Wilder drove over, parked and ran into the building. Beyond the small hallway, there was a heated argument coming from a room with its door wide open. Wilder’s pulse-rate rose sharply as soon as he could make out what they were saying.

‘Have you any idea of the diplomatic implications of what your man has done?’ came angry shouting. ‘Your people can’t just turn up here, run over to an aircraft, pile into it, taxi out onto the runway and take off. It’s, it’s…’

‘What the hell’s going on here?’ shouted Wilder as he burst into the room. The last speaker was clearly the Base Commandant and he had been shouting at a group of three. The one nearest to the commandant was a small man, completely bald, wearing the thick pebble glasses of the very short-sighted. He had been taking the brunt of the commandant’s fury. The other two were both very large and very Slavic-looking, and Wilder expected no prizes for guessing them to be Russians from the Embassy – probably SVR people. A young man standing next to the commandant looked on, clearly bewildered – no training course he’d ever been on had covered this situation. Wilder guessed that he might be the base’s second in command?

They all turned as Wilder crossed the large room towards them.

‘You must be Wilder,’ said the commandant.

Wilder nodded.

‘I’m really sorry to have to tell you that, outrageously, though instructions had come over the telephone from a senior aide to the Home Secretary that their flight had been grounded pending further investigations, a small party of four sneaked out to the Russian jet and, without air traffic clearance, just fired up, taxied out and took…’

‘What?’ yelled Wilder. He felt his eyes glaze over and the thumping in his throat now completely enveloped him. He felt as though his body was shutting down. The room seemed to go dark. He clenched his fists as hard as he could. In that instant, knowing that his little Lucy was now bound for Moscow, the only thing he could do for her was what he did best, what he was trained for – he needed to take command of the situation. He also needed a couple of seconds to work out the best way to do that.

‘No way of intercepting the Russians, I suppose?’ he asked the commandant.

‘No way,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘I’m also sorry to have to tell you that after the jet’s take-off and after less than a minute’s arguments over the airwaves, it became obvious that if we didn’t patch them into a hastily made-up flight-plan for Moscow and treat them as a legitimate flight, they could endanger the whole of our airspace. As a result, I’m afraid they’re now bound for Moscow and there’s nothing we can do but let them go. Of course, we’ll make strong representations but…’

Wilder thought about this for a moment. No point in worrying about the Russians here in the room – they could be dealt with later and, it would certainly not help get Lucy back if he went over and pummelled the life out of them. He took the commandant to one side and said quietly to him, ‘Have you an office where I could make some quick calls to try and respond to this?’

‘Yes, follow me,’ he said, and turning to the young man beside him, said ‘Keep an eye on them and if we have any trouble, use your side-arm, call out the guard, and we’ll slap the lot of them in the lockup.’

‘Yes sir,’ replied the young man, seeming to mature years in a matter of seconds.

As soon as the commandant had settled Wilder into a cold, sparsely-furnished office, he departed to organise some coffee for his guest and, seeing how pale Wilder was, offered him some brandy as well. Wilder grinned for the first time in a while – that was just about the last thing he needed.

He found an old A4-sized pad and a couple of tired looking pens in one of the drawers of the desk and quickly scribbled out some notes before making his first call. These notes were more than just a list of people to call, they were also his first thoughts on the huge task of getting Lucy back – and doing so as fast as possible. She would have endured terrible trauma over this and getting her back was his number one priority. Task number two – revenge. But that could wait a bit longer too.

If the Russians wanted to do some bargaining involving Lucy and Gemini – a likely eventuality – he’d need to get from Gemini’s boss, Angus Macrae, his final red line in any negotiations. He also wondered if the Russians might take him in exchange for Lucy. That would be the quickest and easiest solution, of course, and one he could make without even thinking twice. But he doubted whether Macrae would allow him to do that. Gemini’s protection would be seriously jeopardised if Wilder was locked away in Lubyanka prison. It was beginning to look as though an appalling set of conflicting interests were going to come into play here, and a shiver ran down the back of his neck.

But before they got anywhere near negotiating, he needed to get to Moscow to physically rescue Lucy – the kind of thing he’d turned into an art-form in Afghanistan. To get into Moscow without being immediately seized, he’d need to be smuggled in – no point in becoming a target himself. That might be best be achieved if Angus Macrae’s father-in-law Mikhail Rostov sent his Hawker jet over from Moscow to collect him. It shouldn’t be too difficult to sneak in that way. Boris Boreyev with his huge Moscow-based security company could supply the Russian know-how and manpower if physically seizing Lucy seemed feasible.

Right now, call number one needed to be to Mina. Between her own MI6 spooks’ resources and those of GCHQ, they might even be able to track Lucy’s flight into Moscow and Boreyev’s people might be able to shadow Lucy to where the kidnappers were going to hold her. The flight would take some three hours, so if they all got onto that now, there was some hope.

After he’d scribbled down these ideas, he put the pen down, picked up the phone, dialled nine for an outside line and got through to Mina. As fast as possible, she would galvanise the huge resources of the country’s renowned spy network, tracking Lucy’s flight, the people behind the flight, and later Lucy’s imprisonment location. Though this would have been a horrendous if not impossible task even for his own employer’s formidable resources and expertise, for MI6 it should be simple enough. The fight-back had begun. More than any battle he’d fought in Afghanistan or the back streets of cities around the world, this was a fight with only one outcome – the rescue of Lucy. Nothing would stop him until he’d achieved that.

 

 

 

4

 

 

Albert Mews, London’s West End

 

Wilder needed to keep his mind off Lucy. Every time his thoughts veered towards her loneliness, her cries for him to rescue her, he had to play a couple of tricks on himself; the first of these was to remind himself of what a strong, independent young woman she’d grown into, how wise beyond her eighteen years. He consoled himself that he had trained her extensively for situations like the one she was now in. He hoped she’d remember that his military and civilian careers had been built on dealing with crises of this kind and that at some point he would appear.

The second trick, if it could even be called that, was to immerse himself in every detail of what he was doing at present; those details were naturally all driven by his desire to get over to Moscow and rescue her. All he needed to do was to think and to see every detail of his preparations as being small stepping stones to getting her back.

His preparations included a meeting with Angus Macrae in his offices at the Towneley Bank in the City of London. There was no doubt that Lucy had been kidnapped with a view to her release being in exchange for information on Gemini. Wilder needed to check with Macrae, who was head of the entire Gemini project. He needed to know how far Macrae would allow him to go in negotiations – not far at all, he suspected.

This had proved difficult for both of them. How the hell does one strike balance between a young woman’s life and a weapon so powerful that it could affect the balance of power between Russia and the West? For Macrae, the choice was especially difficult; he’d known Lucy all her life and was her godfather. His wife Tatiana was also devoted to Lucy, who had always been like an older sister to their son Jerry Towneley-Macrae.

For Wilder, trying to strike a balance between Lucy’s life and the importance of Gemini was near impossible. But he tried to steer his mind away from a situation where, in trying to rescue her, he came to a choice between her and giving Gemini to the Russians – to somehow find a way to take the fight to the Russians, to make Lucy the least of their worries. Though nothing occurred to him immediately, he felt sure that by the time he got to Moscow, a solution would come to him – some way perhaps of appearing to give the Russians Gemini until Lucy was safe and then reneging on the deal as soon as she was.

He also had a meeting with Mike Rogers, his friend and boss at IPI – International Private Investigators. He was relieved to discover that he and Macrae had already made a deal. Wilder was to remain an employee of IPI but was to be lent on long term secondment to the Gemini Project. There was better news even than this: he would have first call on Jessie Marker to assist him anywhere in the world. She had been his partner many times when he was just an investigator, and even after being made director, she had been his backup on a couple of major cases.

Tatiana Macrae’s father also contributed. As much in gratitude for Wilder rescuing his daughter from being kidnapped by Izolda Volkova as from his long-standing anger at the Kremlin’s high-handed ways in government, he sent his Hawker jet over from Moscow to the City of London Airport. It took less than half an hour to refuel and was ready to take Wilder to Moscow as soon as he was ready to go.

Unfortunately, Zorin had already prevented Wilder from leaving immediately. Wilder had to stay in London till he had been to the Newby Training Centre this evening. Whether it was a bluff or not, he could not risk ignoring Zorin’s threat – that he would never see Lucy alive again if he was not there at seven.

Though this threat was probably just a ploy to delay Wilder chasing after Lucy, Zorin correctly guessed that Wilder would not risk treating it as such. Though it was difficult to see what Zorin could do to Wilder here on British soil and get away with it, he took some precautions. He got Detective Chief Inspector Jock Imrie to go to the Newby Centre at about six-thirty. He agreed to sneak into the place shortly after it closed to the public and to hide there until Wilder himself arrived and gave him further instructions.

 

As the Newby computer training centre was not far from the City, Wilder took his travelling bag with him and got there at around twenty to seven. He let himself in by the back door and, creeping through the building, found DCI Imrie in the kitchens. Both were intrigued as to what Zorin’s threat would turn out to be. Wilder had known Imrie for some years and they’d become good friends, working together on a couple of IPI cases. Imrie had also been the officer called in on the murder of John Freeman, which had started the Russians on the hunt for Gemini. They chatted quietly about Zorin as the watched the hands of the large wall clock creep towards seven.

Their wait was suddenly over. There was shouting coming from the back of the building. This noise was quickly followed by a couple of shots being fired. Wilder left Imrie crouching in the kitchens and rushed through the building to the back door and the source of the noises. As is was near dusk, Imrie decided it was safe to follow Wilder, but kept some ten feet behind him and out of sight. Just as Wilder rounded a corner in the corridor to the back door, another a couple of shots were fired, followed by the noise of receding running steps and voices.

Wilder ran on towards the back door but nearly fell over a body lying in the passageway just before he reached it. He groped on the wall for the light switch and found it just as Imrie arrived on the scene. There at their feet lay the body of a large, well-dressed man, He had clearly been killed in a professional manner – a couple of shots to his chest, already oozing blood through his clothes, and a neat hole in his forehead from a third shot. Imrie quickly pulled on a pair of fine rubber gloves and searched the pockets of the body. Eventually, in one of the pockets, he found the man’s wallet; though the driver’s licence and other identifications were all in Russian, it seemed almost certain that this was Igor Rodchenko.

To double-check, Wilder got through on his mobile to Angus Macrae, who spoke fluent Russian, and described the writing to him. Macrae confirmed their guess.

More police arrived along with forensics. What surprised Wilder and the others was what a poor attempt this was to frame Wilder for the killing. Even if the perpetrators had not known that a senior Scotland Yard detective was with Wilder and had witnessed the whole event, the gun used for the murder had just been cast casually away near the back door. Without Wilder’s finger prints on it, it was almost useless for putting the blame onto him.

It had achieved its main purpose, however – it had delayed Wilder’s pursuit of Lucy. As soon as DCI Imrie squared it with his bosses at Scotland Yard, Wilder rang Mina to tell her he needed to get to the City of London Airport and could she meet him there. But she had other ideas.

‘You won’t need to be smuggled into Moscow,’ said Mina. ‘While you’ve been packing and having your meetings, I’ve been quite busy too – on your behalf.’

‘You’ve what? What the hell have you been up to? My plans needed to be dead secret if I was to have any chance of Boreyev finding out where they’d taken Lucy and…’

‘Calm down,’ said Mina. ‘I’m on my way to the Newby Centre right now. I’m going to pick you up and take you to the City of London Airport myself. I’ll tell you all about it on the way.’

 

As soon as Mina and the limousine arrived, Wilder jumped in.

‘You may find some of what I’m going to tell you incredible,’ she said. ‘But it’s all true, and it’s going to transform the way you’re going to get Lucy back – so you’d better listen carefully.’ She smiled and put a hand on his arm as he turned in the seat of the limousine and looked back at her/

‘Okay. I’m the epitome of concentration. On you go,’ he said.

‘To start with, you’ll maybe find it hard to believe this,’ she began, ‘but despite the false dual role I played with my cousin, the Moscow Mafia boss, he still doesn’t know that I’m also with MI6.’

‘You’re joking,’ replied Wilder. ‘You mean to tell me that Novikov hasn’t cottoned on that you’re a spook?’

‘Apparently not,’ replied Mina. ‘Mind you, I did try to sound quite different depending on who I was trying to be. Anyway, the good news is that Anton took my call today eagerly…’

‘Eagerly, really?’

‘Yes, really. He’s genuinely glad of anything that can get him back in with the Kremlin. This is particularly so now that Rodchenko has been assassinated.’

‘Hey! Wait a minute, how the hell did he know about Rodchenko? We’ve only just left the scene of the…’

‘No, no,’ interrupted Mina. ‘As forensics will show Rodchenko was killed soon after getting to Zorin’s place. What they then did was dump the body with you and just fired some shots to implicate you. I must say, it was a pretty half-hearted attempt to put the blame on you – but we think that Zorin hoped you’d be tied up with questioning for many more hours yet.’

‘We? Who’s we ?’

‘I’m coming to that. Anton Novikov told me that he and Rodchenko’s right hand man, Pavel Polichev, suspected that Rodchenko was being sent to London by the President, not to clean up his mess but to hand over getting Gemini to Zorin. They realised that this might mean that Rodchenko would be eliminated and warned him.’

‘Didn’t stop him being killed, so what went wrong?’

‘Rodchenko obviously didn’t believe he was at risk. He and President Balakin go way back so I suppose he thought that the President would never sanction such a thing as his assassination. Anyway, to cut a long story short, with Rodchenko being disposed of like this, Pavel Polichev has lost what he thought was his right to succeed his boss and become the President’s new fixer. And here’s where it gets interesting.’ Mina moved closer to Wilder as though someone might be listening in on them.

‘My cousin Anton tells me that Pavel Polichev will do just about anything to see Zorin taken down. If he doesn’t stop him, Zorin will get the influential position and the implications of that are apparently horrendous for others within the President’s circle. According to Anton, Zorin’s a pathological maniac and Gemini in his hands will mean World War Three.’

‘That’s a bit over the top, surely?’ said Wilder.

‘Don’t know, don’t care,’ replied Mina. ‘The important thing is that you have Pavel Polichev as an ally in getting Lucy back from Zorin’s clutches. Could be a great help, don’t you think?’

‘I do,’ muttered Wilder. ‘But what does this mean in practical terms?’

‘When you get to Moscow, you’ll be met by your old friend Boris Boreyev.’

‘Yes.’

‘He’ll take you to meet Polichev. You can all then decide between you how to pull Zorin down. My cousin guesses that Polichev will want to do a deal with you on Gemini. That will help him get back into favour with the President.’

‘Okay. But presumably that discussion could wait while I get Lucy back…’ he mused. ‘Does this Polichev speak English?’

‘Passably,’ said Mina, ‘But you’ll have Boreyev with you, so that won’t be a problem.’

‘And your cousin Anton Novikov, how does he fit into this strange new alliance?’ asked Wilder.

‘The Kremlin used to use him a lot to do sometimes shady things they didn’t care to do for themselves – but those days are gone. He too needs Polichev to succeed his old boss. So, as you say, there you have a strange mix – Polichev and Novikov helping you to get Lucy back in exchange for your help when you get back to the UK in bringing Zorin down.’

‘Seems to be a workable proposition. Getting Lucy back’s obviously my top priority. After we’ve achieved that, if the next steps suit us, let’s see how it goes. As you say, it’s an unexpected alliance, but if it works, why not?’

 

 

 

5

 

 

The Zorin Residence, Kensington Palace Gardens

 

Victor Zorin watched Alexis Mitkin as he poured the coffee and brought it over. A hell of an investment, he thought to himself as he admired the tall, bristlingly fit figure. On his way up the treacherous paths to become one of what used to be called the Russian Oligarchs, Zorin had needed a strong-armed right-hand man who was also street-wise, even genuinely clever – a Mitkin in fact. Looking for him in the first place was a tall order; then he’d chanced upon the Mitkin case.

Mitkin had clearly been framed and was on his way to death row. At that time it was a place in which the convicted stayed but a few days before they were dispatched. Zorin had not only provided the lawyers who got Mitkin off death row and his false conviction quashed, but had also invested heavily in his education. There were two strands to this education. One was in the ways of the world, the other in two different disciplines in unarmed combat. Looking at him now he was well-pleased with his investment in both time and money.

‘I’m sorry the plan to get Rodchenko’s murder blamed on Wilder didn’t work,’ said Mitkin, as he sat down across the desk from Zorin.

‘Yes, but you weren’t to know that he’d have a senior policeman there with him right in the centre itself. Still, it served its purpose. We delayed him till tonight.’

‘Yes, but that’s now the third or fourth time this man Wilder has got in the way of our plans.’ Mitkin spat out the name.

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Zorin. ‘And you’ll get your chance to take him down some day. But right now we need to move fast, we’ve more important things to do than you getting even with Wilder.’

‘Okay, okay.’

‘As I think I told you, the real breakthrough with Gemini came from the IT girl, Sasha Gulina. She studied all the photographs of the laboratory where Wilder and Macrae have hidden Gemini.’

‘Is that Craithe Castle, on the island?’

‘It is. On those photos she spotted a computer control console which was unlike anything she’d seen before. With some difficulty, she was able to research the logo on it and was able to trace it to a manufacturer of quantum computers in Canada.’

‘Quantum computers? I’ve heard a bit about them but…’

‘Don’t worry about them just now; I’ll tell you in more detail some other time. Meanwhile, being a genius with computers, she’s worked out that this quantum element is why Gemini is so unbelievably powerful.’

‘Because of the quantum machine?’

‘Yes. But the trouble is they are as rare as hens’ teeth. That’s why I’m sending you off to Canada – to pick a brand-new one which is about to be on its way to a customer over there.’

‘We’re going to steal it?’

‘I prefer the word borrow,’ said Zorin, smiling. ‘The one we’ll take is about to be delivered to McGill University in Montreal. My facilities outsourcing company has found this all out for us and it’s by far the fastest way of getting hold of one. I’ve also made arrangements with a New York organisation who are setting up the necessary route to get it out of Montreal, into the States and then to us here in the UK.’

‘Why bother with that? Taking it out via the States, I mean?’

‘It would be tracked down in a matter of hours, even minutes, if we tried taking out of Canada. Once it’s over the border and into Vermont, they’ll have one hell of a job tracking it – too many alternative airports and shipping container ports to find which one we’re using.’

‘I see. So this Gemini thing has been what all this is about?’

‘It is. President Balakin has set his mind on one of them and that’s that. All we have to do now is take over from the mess Rodchenko left behind him. This time we’ll actually get him one – or, rather, put one together for him.’

‘I don’t understand. What do you mean, put one together?’

‘Sasha Gulina has told me that the team up on the island of Craithe, the one your friend Wilder’s protecting so assiduously, must have found a way of getting the new quantum computing technology to work in synch with a top-end digital computer. She says that’s the only thing that explains the extraordinary results of all the test files that Rodchenko got from the murdered Freeman’s files. Thanks to Gulina’s deductions, we now have a clear goal – to build our own Gemini for the President, but do it by stealth. I also have a plan for how to put it together. The computer research centre in Moscow is producing the means which will allow us to build one for ourselves. In no time at all we’ll have the ability to bring the West to its knees.’

‘Good. And my first step on that job is to go to Montreal?’

‘It is. But be careful, there are two organisations capable of stealing the quantum machine and getting it out of Canada. Both have experience running contraband goods across the US-Canadian border. In fact, both of them have been involved in cross-border operations going back to the days of running liquor across during prohibition in the thirties. They like to play down their mafia roots these days, pretend to be legitimate businesses, but I don’t believe that leopards change their spots. So, although I chose to go with Giuseppe Massimo, that’s only because a friend of mine in New York warned me off the other one, the organisation run by Rocco Balboni. I’m afraid that what we’ve finished up with is only the better of a dicey duo.’

‘Thanks for that,’ sneered Mitkin.

‘Still, as soon as they’ve got you and the quantum machine over the border, they’ll have served their purpose and you can split. You’ll see from the from the plan I’ll send you to your mobile phone. You’ll then take the van with the quantum computer with you while they chase their own tails going to the original air freight export point. Will you be okay with that?’

‘I’ll manage.’

‘You always do.’

 

 

 

6

 

 

The Rostov Residence, Moscow

 

Borislav Boreyev met Wilder at Vnukovo Airport and, on the drive into Moscow, told him of the arrangements for the next couple of days. Wilder was of course desperate to get on with rescuing Lucy – after all, she’d been kidnapped early lunchtime and it was now ten at night. But Boreyev reminded him that with the new alliance with Pavel Polichev, their chances of success had increased considerably and it was therefore worth waiting till the morning. At Wilder’s suggestion, however, no sooner had they arrived at the Rostov residence than he got Boreyev to pretend that he was Alexis Mitkin checking up on the prisoner. He got him to ring and to speak to Lucy. Though worried that the person answering might know Mitkin’s voice well, Boreyev rang through to Zorin’s house.

‘Hello, it’s Alexis Mitkin here,’ he said. ‘I’m checking up on our valuable prisoner. Just get her on the line for me, will you?’

Reluctantly, and muttering about security, but obviously too terrified of Mitkin to object overmuch, whoever it was who had answered the phone went off to collect Lucy.

Wilder spoke to her the moment she was put on the line. ‘As quickly as you can, say the words “Yes, Mr Mitkin”…’

Despite the shock of hearing her father’s voice, she immediately understood.

‘Yes, Mr Mitkin, they’ve been good to me here,’ she said. ‘And one of the women who was on the flight with me, Sasha Gulina, has been very kind.’

‘This is just to say that I’ve arrived in Moscow,’ said Wilder. ‘I’ve come to get you out of there tomorrow. Right now do not show any relief; remember that you’re supposed to be talking to the man who organised your kidnap. When I finish speaking pretend that’s who you’ve been speaking to and tell me, using Mr Mitkin’s name again, that you’ll do whatever you’re asked to do. Okay?’ He resisted the urge to finish off by using the words my darling, as she might have broken down and given the game away.

‘Of course, Mr Mitkin. I promise I’ll do whatever you say.’

The call ended and Wilder let out a loud sigh of relief.

‘At least she’ll now be able to spend a night knowing I’m on my way. So, what’s our plan with this Polichev?’

‘First you need to understand that with the death of Rodchenko, there’s huge uncertainty here in Moscow, said Boreyev. ‘As the President’s chief fixer, most people had to defer to him. But, with him gone, the air’s thick with whispered rumours; no one dares to say openly what they think is going on. While in this vacuum, it is assumed that Pavel Polichev will just step into Rodchenko’s shoes. This gives him huge power in the short term.’

‘Short term?’ asked Wilder.

‘Until he’s replaced by Victor Zorin – though that might not happen right away. Much would seem to revolve around your Gemini.’

‘I see,’ said Wilder. ‘And is there anything I should know about Polichev before we meet him in the morning?’

‘I can answer that,’ said a voice from the doorway, as Mikhail Rostov, Tatiana’s father, entered the room. ‘Firstly, Tom, I want to thank you personally for saving Tatty from her dreadful second kidnapping. I don’t know how the hell you managed it but the two of us will be forever in your debt.’

‘Just doing what I’ve been trained to do, Mikhail – and happy it turned out okay. It did have its dicey moments.’

‘You’re too modest, Tom. But getting back to Polichev… As you know, I’ve known President Balakin as long as anyone, excepting perhaps the departed Igor Rodchenko. I can say without fear of contradiction that for the President to have ordered his death is quite extraordinary.’

‘Yes, Boreyev told me that.’

‘There’s much more going on here than meets the eye. In my view, two things are certain. One is that Zorin aims to get his hands on a Gemini, both for himself and for the President, and hopes to get Rodchenko’s position as a result. The other thing of which I’m certain is that Polichev knows no other life than working for Rodchenko. He has no family, and the nearest he ever got to it is Rodchenko’s daughter Katya. Polichev used to be almost a surrogate father to her when her real father was too busy doing the President’s dirty work. Until Polichev loses what he sees as his birth-right to Rodchenko’s job, he’ll be a good ally for you.’

‘Well, thank you for that Mikhail,’ said Wilder, ‘and roll on tomorrow when I meet the guy.’

 

The following morning, Boreyev took Wilder over to Nikol’skaya Street to Rodchenko’s old offices. Boreyev stayed on to act as interpreter even though, from the outset, it was clear that Polichev’s English was perfectly good enough to discuss the straightforward problem of a kidnap rescue.

‘I see your problem as very simple,’ said Polichev. ‘You want your daughter back. Today, I think. Yes?’

‘Yes.’

‘My problems however are many, and none of them simple. The first is that these are uncertain times. With my boss, a good man, suddenly gone, a greedy man who deserted Russia many years ago now wants his place. No one to trust anymore. How I trust you? I help get your daughter away from pig Zorin but you both get home and forget me and my problems. Yes?’

‘No,’ replied Wilder. ‘I have been in a war. In war you must trust the men around you or you die. If you lead them, they must trust you or they die. If I trust you to help my daughter live, you can trust me to help you do what you wish with Zorin.’

‘Yes, okay,’ said Polichev, drawing out his words. ‘I look you up; I know about you fighting in Afghanistan. I too fought there. Maybe we both know that it was without any point? We both were always going to lose.’

‘I agree,’ said Wilder. ‘But sometimes we do things because we said we would?’ Wilder wondered if this might strike home. It did. Polichev smiled, leant forward over his small desk and offered Wilder his hand. They shook hands, and each gave an almost imperceptible nod, as though to confirm a bond.

‘Okay Mr Wilder. I make no threat, but I must tell you that if you forget me when you get home with your daughter, our reach is anywhere in the world.’ Then, as though that had just been the small print in an agreement, he went straight on. ‘Your daughter is being held at Zorin’s residence at Serebryanny Bor – in fact, not far from Mr Macrae’s father-in-law’s residence where you are staying, are you not?’

Wilder was momentarily shocked at Polichev’s bluntness. But he remembered that Polichev’s boss and long-time mentor Rodchenko would have had all the powers of both Russia’s internal and its foreign intelligence agencies at his disposal.

‘Sorry for hesitating. I’m not sure of the area Mr Rostov’s house is in.’ He glanced at Boreyev who gave him a quick nod.

‘Is fine,’ said Polichev. ‘I hope you not mind but I have suggestion how you might get your daughter out. Mr Boreyev I have known for years, so I know he can tell you if plan is good or not.’

Wilder was taken aback – not only by the suggestion, but also by the way Polichev immediately followed up his remark by pulling a map out of a folder on the desk. To both his and Boreyev’s amazement, it was a detailed plan of all three floors of Zorin’s house and grounds. Even more astonishing was that, without waiting for any sign from him or Boreyev, Polichev went straight on into a detailed narrative about the most likely place for Lucy to be held. He also outlined a good-sounding plan for getting her out.

‘I hope you will understand why I’m not able supply men to help you with this idea, but Boreyev here has no problem for men, eh?’

Boreyev nodded and Wilder could think of nothing to add. In Afghanistan Wilder had broken into many well-guarded houses, both large and small. He’d been tasked in those days with capturing and returning high-value enemy officers and politicians. He was therefore familiar with the best ways of carrying out such dangerous operations. He was impressed with Polichev’s suggestions. They discussed both details for Lucy’s rescue and some ideas of how Wilder could help bring down Zorin when he got back with Lucy to the UK.

Polichev insisted that it was Russian etiquette to toast a successful agreement with shots of vodka. Wilder looked quickly across to Boreyev as Polichev got a bottle and glasses out of an ornate cabinet. Though it was only ten-thirty in the morning, Boreyev nodded forcibly that this needed to be endured, even with an air of enthusiasm.

Wilder reckoned it must have been at least three quarters of an hour later when he and Boreyev emerged into Nikol’skaya Street. It had been a surprising morning.

 

 

 

7

 

 

The Rostov Residence, Moscow

 

That evening Polichev came around to Rostov’s house with the items he had agreed to supply. There were several men with him because it took four of them to lift one of the items into Boreyev’s van. This was a four-foot-long two-wheeled barrow. It looked as though it contained a large pile of fir-tree branches, thrown into it at random. In fact they were tied together so that if it was wheeled over rough ground they would not fall off. Under these branches was a mixture of high explosives and incendiary devices which, on detonation, would produce a huge fireball.

He had also supplied the requisite number of FSB uniforms which, initially at least, would make it look as though the attempt to free Lucy was being carried out by the FSB themselves. There were also small arms, some stun grenades, and other materials Wilder had asked for.

As dusk was falling and Wilder, Boreyev and four of his men were all dressed and ready to go, Polichev bade them good luck and said that though he’d love to come along to see ‘the show’ it would be better for Wilder if he didn’t. He and his men refreshed themselves with toasts in vodka and then left. Shortly after that, the van full of supplies and Boreyev’s four men followed Wilder and Boreyev’s small red car. As Mikhail Rostov and Victor Zorin had both become oligarchs around the same time but were unlike most – not of the bling-loving kind – both lived near to each other in this area, rather than in the new extravaganza houses occupied by some of the newer mega-rich.

The first job was to blow open the huge wrought-iron gates in a way that would allow the van and car through but not alert the surveillance people in the house. Photographs of the view were pinned up in front of all the surveillance cameras and the gates were then blown. As soon as the van and the car were through, the gates were closed again so that if anyone were sent down the long drive to have a look, all would appear to be in order.

The van followed the car, and almost as soon as they had set off up the dive, they took a right and went off into the woods and bushes surrounding the house. They eventually arrived at their first target. This was an ornate wooden summer house. It was in full view of the house but had a back door giving access to storage for groundsmen’s tools and brushes. With some difficulty and much grunting, they managed to get the barrow full of explosives into the storage area and primed it. They also checked the mobile telephone triggering device.

Just before they crept forward in the dark towards the bright lights of the imposing house, Wilder took Boreyev by the arm and looked him in the eye.

‘Remember, the overriding objective of all of this is Lucy’s rescue. Whatever happens from here on, she must be got out of here and then flown back to the UK in Mikhail’s plane. Is that understood?’

‘I’ll put my life on it,’ replied Boreyev. They began to skirt through the bushes of the formal gardens as they made their way noiselessly forward in single file.

They reached one of the side doors which the map had told them led to the servants’ quarters – a likely place to keep Lucy, they reckoned. It was away from the main living quarters used by Zorin when he was here and could be easily guarded from the servants’ hall.

The door was unlocked and the small hallway and corridor beyond it were dark and silent. But then a noise caught them unawares as a servant came out of one of the rooms off the corridor. In his soft-soled shoes, Wilder ran up behind him. With one well-aimed blow, he knocked him unconscious and laid him gently down where he would otherwise have fallen.

It was time for the distraction. Wilder looked across at Boreyev and they nodded to each other. Wilder tapped out the number Polichev had given him on the small mobile phone. Around half a second later there was a huge explosion from behind them. The floor beneath them shook as they crouched down. The reinforced glass panel on the side door into the house shook and was lit up by a flash of light, accompanied by an almost deafening noise. In the distance, nearer the explosion itself, they could hear breaking windows and the din of other damage to buildings.

Pandemonium broke out.

A few figures came running out from the door the member of staff had used earlier. These people ran away from the crouching figures behind them, not seeing them in the dark. As soon as they had all gone, Wilder and the group rose silently and followed on towards the noise of voices in the hall beyond. When they reached the door the staff had poured out of, they turned in through it. They found themselves in a large open kitchen. It contained an eating area and a large sitting area beyond, furnished with a motley collection of old but comfortable sofas and deep armchairs. The group filed silently through this large open space and Wilder tentatively called out Lucy’s name. He tried to strike a balance – not making too much noise, but loud enough for her to hear him if she was near.

There was an immediate response – a high-pitched shriek of ‘Dad?’ – from behind a door at the far end of the sitting area. Wilder called out her name again and shouted out that he was coming for her.

The door was locked but Wilder stood back, quickly raised his foot, and smashed it with all his strength against the lock. With a grinding of twisting metal and splintering wood the door burst open, and Wilder ran into the room beyond it. Lucy leapt, sobbing, into his arms. The others let them stand for a moment locked, immobilised in silent embrace. But Boreyev then tapped Wilder on the arm and silently they all retreated the way they had come. Wilder led the way with Boreyev near the back of the file holding Lucy’s hand. They crept out through the side door they had come in by and began to move silently through the bushes and flowerbeds, back towards the van and the small car in the woods.

Suddenly floodlights came on and a megaphone blared out in Russian. Wilder and the man directly behind him were lit up like ducks in a shooting gallery. Those behind were still in darkness and Boreyev whispered for the others to retreat towards him. These four plus Lucy then quickly ran round the building, keeping to the darkness of the deep shadows cast by the bright floodlights. They crossed a small half-lit gap and ran into the woods. As they passed the summer house, they could see even in the dark that there was nothing left there at all – just a deep crater left by the explosion.

They ran on, reaching the car and the van. Boreyev told Lucy to get into the van – they would leave the small car with the keys still in it on the off-chance that Wilder and the other Boreyev man might get away from the spotlights. As they climbed into the van, Boreyev looked back at the house and saw that Wilder and his man had been surrounded by a group of angry gesticulating figures.

Boreyev turned to Lucy, looking back at the house, her tear-stained face a picture of utter dejection. ‘Your father had planned to exchange himself for you, so he knows what he’s doing. He ordered me to get you away from here at all costs and if we don’t move right now we might be too late.’

Lucy nodded, gave one more look back at her father and, turning away with a sob, climbed into the van, followed by Boreyev. He powered out of the woods onto a small track and back towards the main gates and the road. As they approached the gates, they could see that they were in luck – they were open. But it turned out not to be luck at all.

As they were almost through, a large truck full of men came round a corner in the outer drive – the gates had obviously been opened for them.

Boreyev had little option but to play the age-old game of chicken. He told Lucy to scramble over into the back and, just as the two vehicles were about to meet head-on, the driver of the truck lost his nerve. He swerved off the road and into a great bank of shrubs. Hitting the soft verge, the truck, as though in slow motion, tipped over onto its side, spilling its human cargo into the bushes. Boreyev shouted out with relief and delight. Then he put on a scowl and drove as fast as he dared for the sanctuary of Mikhail Rostov’s residence.

 

 

Back outside Zorin’s house, matters had got nasty. Wilder and Boreyev’s man were encircled by some dozen men. All of them were armed. Most were pointing their guns at the two of them trapped in the middle. Retaliation or even resistance was pointless from the outset. To start with, the taunts from the men surrounding them were merely jibes in Russian. But as soon as news of came in from the gates of the overturned truck and the escape of an unknown number of assailants, several of the men surrounding the two of them left to check on whether the important captive girl had escaped. The moment it was discovered that she’d gone, all hell broke loose.

The men, now conscious of how vulnerable their own positions had become with Zorin, vented their fear and their fury at the two trapped with their circle. Men took turns to move in close and strike one or other of two as hard as they felt inclined and wherever they wished. Suddenly there was a shout from a huge man who came through the side door and strode across the lawns to the circle.

Wilder stepped forward towards him and they finished up almost nose-to-nose, out-staring each other, unblinking – two very large, very fit men sizing each other up.

‘So you’re the one who’s been giving my boss such a difficult time these past few days,’ he said in English, with hardly a trace of an accent. Wilder was intrigued and thought he’d test him out.

‘It would appear so. But all of that might have been avoided if your boss hadn’t been stupid enough to kidnap my daughter – I found that decidedly irksome.’

‘Irksome indeed,’ replied the other. ‘Is that all? Irksome?’ He stood there close to Wilder, and then threw up his arm as though to hit Wilder across the face. Wilder had been waiting for something like this to happen. He blocked, and smashed the side of his other hand into the outside of the big man’s arm, just about level with his biceps. It struck home inch-perfect. The man let out an involuntary yelp of pain as his arm fell limp by his side, partially paralysed. Then, as an ultimate insult, Wilder slapped the man’s face hard, twice, once across each side of his face – the kind of strikes more usually associated with chastising an errant teenager.

This humiliation of his boss was too much to bear for one of the staff, who swiftly stepped up behind Wilder and smashed his gun into the back of Wilder’s skull. Wilder dropped first to his knees, then out cold to the ground.

 

The big man, Zorin’s steward, helped two others pick Wilder up and carry him into the room where his daughter had been imprisoned. Here they began to tie Wilder and Boreyev’s man in kitchen chairs. They started with Boreyev’s man. While they were doing that, Wilder’s consciousness returned and, though aching and nauseous, he quickly realised what was happening.

He forced himself to pretend to be still unconscious, but when the time came to tie him to the chair he strained with all his strength to keep each hand and then each ankle as far as possible from the parts of the chair they were being tied to. As soon as Zorin’s men had completed this task they left the room, locking the door as they went.

Wilder immediately straightened up, looked across to Boreyev’s man and, through the bruising and blood covering his face, gave him a broad smile. Though he was not sure if his companion spoke English, he said, ‘Time to get us out of this mess.’

Whether the other understood or not, he grinned back at Wilder, who had already begun working his bindings loose. His efforts at keeping his limbs clear of the chair had worked and it didn’t take him long to get one hand free. After that it took but minutes to get all of his and then his companion’s bindings off. He indicated by sign-language that the other should stay in his chair and pretend to have fallen asleep, with his head lolling onto his chest. He next acted out what was to follow, his companion grinning both at the mime acting and in anticipation.

What was going to happen next was likely to happen fast, so, still in complete silence, Wilder practised by playing through each move, exactly what he was going to do for real in a minute’s time. When he had run through the entire sequence, he stopped, took a deep breath, and loosened his neck muscles, working his head around and stretching.

He picked up the chair, raised it above his head and, after a brief pause, smashed it down onto the floor. After several efforts along the same lines, he finished up with just a chair-leg in each hand. The breaking up of the chair had made a considerable noise but the over-confident guards had presumably gone off some way because, by the time Wilder and Boreyev’s man heard the door being unlocked, Wilder was standing by the doorway and would initially be hidden by the door as it opened.

The first of Zorin’s men to come through the door received a near-fatal blow from one of the chair-legs, smashing into his throat below his voice box, followed by another to his head from the other leg, which cracked into the back of his head as he went down.

Swiftly, Wilder stepped round from beside the door, and slammed the point of one of the chair-legs into the bridge of the second guard’s nose, following this up with a blow to the throat. Wilder then delivered powerful kicks to the heads of both men, who now lay twisted and unconscious on the floor.

Boreyev’s man and Wilder picked up the men’s weapons and crept out through the door and into the kitchens. Rather than risk going out into the corridor beyond, they opened a window and climbed down into the flowerbeds below.

Here they stopped and surveyed the scene. There was no sign of anyone, so they ran down through the ornamental flowerbeds by the side of the sweeping lawns and into the woods. Zorin’s men had not bothered to check over the small red car and, under the driver’s floor-mat, Wilder soon found the keys. He started up the car and, as quietly as he could manage, drove it along the rough track through the woods and out onto a stretch of driveway they’d not seen before. Although he only remembered from the map where this second arm of the driveway would take them, he turned away from the house and drove as fast as the bends would allow.

Soon they came to a second set of gates. They were clearly seldom used, for they were secured by a chain and an old padlock, rusted from lack of use. Wilder and Boreyev’s man got out of the car and went over to examine it. Wilder smiled. At least this meant that the gates were not electrically operated. Using sign language again, Wilder told his companion to get back into the car and be ready to drive through the gates as soon as he had them open.

When the other was ready, Wilder picked one of Zorin’s men’s guns which he hoped would have the lowest muzzle velocity. Though he knew there were risks involved, he aimed the gun from quite close into the main hinge at the rear of the lock. There was a loud crack and metal splinters shot off in various directions – though luckily none near Wilder.

The lock fell to the ground.

 

Wilder quickly unravelled the chain and Boreyev’s man came rushing over, and between them they managed to push both gates open. Once out onto the main road, Boreyev’s man seemed to recognise where he was, and drove as fast as he could back to Mikhail Rostov’s house. The moment they arrived, the front door of the mansion was thrown open and Lucy came running down the steps and into her father’s arms, knocking him back against the car.

 

Back in London, the news of Lucy’s escape from his house in Moscow put Zorin into a state of fury. Though the event was a setback, his plans to build himself a working imitation of Gemini were making good progress elsewhere, so he soon calmed down again. He decided that retribution on his staff could wait. Looking for the positives, he smiled at the thought of the effect his next move was going to have on the unsuspecting Wilder.

 

 

 

8

 

 

The Ritz Carlton Hotel, Montreal

 

The telephone rang. Alexis Mitkin glanced at the bedside clock – there was only be one person likely to call him at this ungodly hour. It would be a leisurely nine-fifteen and broad daylight in London – not four-fifteen in the morning and dark, as it was here in Montreal. He stopped packing and answered it.

‘Mitkin,’

‘I’m ringing just to warn you to watch your back,’ said Zorin.

‘Watch my back?’ repeated Alexis.

‘I know you can look after yourself, even with the people you’ll be up against today. But what I learned last night just made this project a little bit trickier. Giuseppe Massimo has found out what’s in the consignment. This may mean that he’ll want to keep it for himself. But you know how critical the consignment is to all our plans so, as I say, watch your back and don’t let him get away with anything.’

‘Okay. Anything else?’ asked Mitkin.

‘No, just ring me when it’s over.’

Mitkin sat for a minute after putting down the phone. He ran his fingers through his long, unkempt blond hair, sighed, then rose to go back and finish checking his equipment and packing. As he passed the table where even at this hour they had brought him breakfast, he poured some more coffee. He stood there sipping it for a moment and, especially after the warning, gave some more thought to those he was going to be ‘up against’ today – the Massimo organisation.

So, Giuseppe Massimo now knew what was in the consignment, did he? At more than eleven million bucks in value, it was hardly surprising that he might now want to keep it for himself.

He finished packing, checked his two guns and slid the smaller of the two into its holster, strapped above his left ankle. Down in the deserted lobby, he was told the bill had been paid and that the limousine was here to pick him up – it was already outside the hotel. It was precisely 4.30 am.

From Sherbrooke Street West, the trip north out of the city to Meribel Airport was uneventful; this was just as well, for he needed to rehearse in his mind the critical part of this morning’s job.

After what he guessed had been a twenty-five-mile trip, the car pulled off the airport approach road and made its way over the uneven, dilapidated roads within the airport complex itself. Even in the half-light he could see tufts of grass growing in some of the joints of the roadway’s concrete blocks. This confirmed for him what he had been told. The whole Meribel Airport development had become a great white elephant; the out-of-the-way location and the fact that it was now used only for cargo flights had made it the ideal arrival point for the consignment. It had come in from the west coast yesterday evening and was now sitting in a forwarding agent’s warehouse not far from here.

As Alexis’s limousine crossed the parking lot, he could see, even though dawn was still an hour away, that the four of them were there, waiting for him. They were standing, as though on parade, in front of a compact Chevrolet and a police car, stolen for this job. He did a quick appraisal of the group; they ranged from one at six-foot two – similar in size to himself – to a short, tubby one, maybe five-foot eight, who was dressed in a cop’s uniform.

When his limousine came to a halt, the driver got out, came round to open the door for him and handed him his small overnight bag. Alexis thanked him, turned and walked across to meet the group. His confident stride – that of a fitness freak – belied his quaking stomach, for these were tough mafia men he’d be working with until he dumped them. On reaching the group, the tallest of them stepped forward holding out his hand.

‘You’ll be Alexis, I presume,’ he said. ‘I’m Carlo.’ After shaking hands, he was introduced to each of the others in turn. Alexis barely bothered to commit their names to memory as he hoped never to see any of them again beyond midday today. He remembered only Carlo and Emilio, the one dressed as a policeman, for it was he who would partner him for the first part of the mission. After the introductions, Emilio fetched a police uniform which he handed to Mitkin.

It was a simple enough plan. Posing as police, they would find the quantum computer destined for McGill University. They were to hijack it and get it over the border and into the USA, then to be shipped out to the UK as quickly as possible.

Mitkin changed into the cop’s uniform – it fitted well – and joined Emilio in the police car. Emilio drove and, soon after leaving Meribel, Emilio cut off the highway and, after some turns to the right and then the left, they arrived at a tall wire-mesh fence. Behind this they could be see the buildings of Lachapelle Transport & Security. Emilio flashed the car’s headlights and switched on and then off again the police lights on the roof of the car. The gates ground their way open and Emilio drove through and up to the reception entrance.

Inside the wide reception area, one security guard was seated at a console, watching screens; but they were greeted by his tall angular partner who was standing in the middle of the open area in front of the desk. He was tapping his thigh with his truncheon in what Alexis guessed was irritation at this unwanted intrusion.

‘What can I do for you officers?’ he asked.

‘We’ve had a tip-off,’ replied Emilio, ‘a threat to steal a consignment that came in on a flight yesterday evening. The tip-off said there was going to be an attempt to steal it before it’s shipped out to McGill University later today. We need to take a look, so can you show us where it is?’

‘Better follow me then,’ shrugged the guard.

The guard behind the reception desk got up from his chair, flicked a couple of switches and picked out a set of keys from a board behind his chair; then, with one hand resting on the butt of his holstered pistol, he said, ‘I’d better come too.’

Alexis and Emilio followed the two guards through some empty offices and then swung right into the first of the sheds. After turning a corner and unlocking a connecting door, they came into a second shed and to a van parked in one of its loading bays.

‘This is it,’ said the leading guard.

‘I’d like to check what it’s like outside the shed; I mean, beyond those roller doors,’ said Alexis.

Without answering, the second guard went over to the wall next to the doors and Alexis watched carefully how he switched on the power and then raised the doors. As soon as the bottom bar of the doors was high enough off the ground, Alexis went over to it, bent low and went outside to have a look. On re-entering the shed, he saw that Emilio had positioned himself near the two guards who were chatting away together near the van. He walked over to join Emilio, exchanged looks with him and they both nodded – time to take over the van. Both quickly stepped forward and delivered swinging blows to the backs of the heads of the two guards. Both crumpled to the ground. Emilio didn’t bother to bind or gag them; instead he delved into one of the pockets in the uniform and produced a neat box which, when opened, turned out to contain some syringes and small bottles. He deftly filled one syringe after the other and injected each of the guards in their necks; he looked at his watch and nodded as he looked up to Alexis.

‘Those injections should keep them quiet for a good two hours at least, plenty of time to get where I’m headed. Because this is where we part company. My real boss, Rocco Balboni will be waiting for me in New York,’ he said, rising to his feet and levelling his gun at Alexis, ‘In case you’re wondering, you can tell Carlo, if you ever see him again, that Rocco got me into the Massimo organization a few months back to find out more about their European connections. And then I find myself in the middle of a really valuable heist – great, right? Anyway, enough of this. I need you to get down on your knees so I can put you to sleep like the other two.’

Alexis did as he was told and got down onto his knees with his back to Emilio. In the chrome of the van’s wheel-hubs he could see Emilio’s reflection; just as he was about to be injected, he twisted his body violently and threw out a leg to his right with all the force he could muster. It caught Emilio on one of his ankles and he dropped his gun as he doubled up in pain. Alexis pulled a spare gun from its ankle holster on his other leg, spun around, allowing himself to fall sideways as he fired two shots into Emilio.

The shots struck home before Emilio had recovered enough to reach for his own fallen gun. They hit him with dull thuds in the chest and stomach. Alexis’s third shot hit Emilio smack in the middle of his forehead and knocked him backwards, stone dead.

‘Shit,’ cursed Alexis as he got to his feet. ‘Idiot,’ he thought. ‘How the hell did he think he’d get away with that?’

He collected up the keys to the van which one of the unconscious guards had brought along in case they wanted to look inside it, and also took the police car keys from Emilio’s pocket. Squeezing out under the roller door, he ran around to the front of the building and into reception; after some searching he managed to switch off all the lights. Next, leaving by the front doors, he locked them, ran over to the police car and drove it back to the loading bay’s roller doors. Back under these, he wound them fully up. With some quick manoeuvring, he swapped the vehicles around, putting the police car in where the van had been and leaving the van outside. He lowered the roller-door as low as he could – still allowing for his last exit under it. Once outside again, he got into the van and drove out of the yard, through the wire gates, and headed south.

With these unplanned complications, Mitkin realised that there was an added time-pressure to get the van over the US border before any of this was discovered.

Back up on the highway, he drove as fast as he dared without attracting the attention of an overnight police-car shift – it would be tricky explaining what he was doing dressed as a policeman driving a delivery van. As he drove, he stripped down to just shirt and trousers.

 

Down in the Montreal suburb of Lachine, Massimo had hired a small garage on an industrial estate just north of the Saint Lawrence river. Here a small team had been assembled to help his people spray the Lachapelle van a dark green. Oval panels had also been prepared declaring that the van belonged to Cockerel Transport – it even boasted a small rooster as its logo. In the unlikely event of the police discovering the theft and the bodies, even if they closed the bridges over the river to set up vehicle-checking, the green van would get through.

When Mitkin got to the garage Carlo accepted the story that Emilio had been shot dead by an overzealous warehouse guard.

With his own plans at risk, Mitkin decided to leave out the complication of Emilio being a part of the Balboni organisation. They needed to get on with the plan to get the van across the border some fifty miles south of here. So it was decided to leave Massimo to deal with Emilio’s body and family.

Mitkin changed back into his old clothes and added the cop’s uniform to all the other pieces of evidence that were already burning away in a brazier just outside the garage building. He then got the US licence plates from the Chevy and changed them for the Canadian plates still on the van. By now the quick-setting paint was touch-dry and Carlo called together those taking the van over the border.

‘When we get down to the border,’ he said, ‘here’s what’s going to happen. The van, the licence plates and Cockerel Transport have all been fast tracked through customs – that means going through the sign-posted fast-track lane. We don’t want anyone having the time to give it a long inspection, do we? Once we’re in Vermont, we’ll meet up at the services restaurant and go on down to Albany, get the consignment on its flight to Europe. Okay?’

They all nodded agreement. Wilder was accompanied by Guido in the now green van and they set off following the Chevy. From Lachine they crossed the Saint Lawrence by the Honoré Mercier Bridge and turned south when they got to Highway 15. This would take them down to the border crossing; there it became US Highway 87 and would take them the whole way to Latham and Albany Airport.

Alexis glanced at his watch. If the Lachapelle guards recovered unusually quickly from the drug, they might regain consciousness just about the time the van and the Chevy reached the border. This would be the nightmare scenario – the authorities would be alerted, and with Montreal being only three quarters of an hour or so from the border, it was entirely possible that they would ask police there to have all vans stopped and searched – fast-track or otherwise.

 

As Carlo had said, as the lines of border-crossing booths came into view, Alexis spotted the fast-track lane, and as the van passed the slowing Chevy on the inside, Carlo, unsuspecting, gave him a wave.

As planned, the van got through both Canadian and US formalities in little time. When one customs officer asked Alexis about the contents of the van, he used the prepared excuse he had been briefed on – that a factory in Albany could not operate till the spares in the van got there. This worked well and the van came through clear into the wide stretch of road before it narrowed back into highway. They were well ahead of the Chevy – in fact, so far ahead that it was out of sight. Alexis immediately drove the van over to the right and as he reached the side of the road he slowed to a stop. Producing his gun from his pocket he raised it to Guido’s neck.

‘Sorry about this Guido, but this is where you get out of the van.’

Guido looked sideways at the gun, and then across into the van’s rear-view mirror. There was still no sign of the Chevy. He realised that there was nothing he could do about his situation, said nothing, and did as he was told. As soon as he was out of the van, Alexis pulled the door closed, checked to the rear and accelerated away as fast as the van would go. He turned down the next slip-road to the right. This took him onto the west highway service road, and a couple of hundred yards further on he turned left under the highway itself and into the small town of Champlain.

Once through the small town, he pulled up onto the wide verge, got out his phone and began tapping out a text message. ‘Alone in van heading as planned Boston this evening no pursuit yet so confident container ship departure tonite.’ He sent it.

He slammed the clam phone shut and thrust it into his pocket. Starting up the truck again he waited for a short while, watching for the Chevy. After a few minutes, there was still no sign of Carlo or the Chevy and Mitkin took the van over the two tranches of the top of Lake Champlain and pressed on across-country for Boston.

 

 

 

9

 

 

Boston, Massachusetts

 

As Alexis drove down to Boston, he had plenty of time to plan ahead. He started with the assumption that the Massimo threesome would discover soon enough that he was not putting the consignment onto a flight out of Albany. He smiled at the thought of the hell that Massimo would rain down on Carlo when he realised that they had been outsmarted.

The Massimo shipping people would not take long, however, to sift through all the container-ship sailings from the US east coast to Europe; they would quickly rule out both New York and Philadelphia – he reckoned that he had perhaps a three- to four-hour head-start on them, but probably no more than that. He would need to move fast.

On arriving in Boston, he drove to Independence Square and parked the van in a side street. It didn’t take him long to find a restaurant that met all his requirements. It was called Dean’s Diner. It had both a front and a back entrance, but more importantly, an internal stairway up to a flat roof. The fact that none of the steps creaked was a nice bonus.

The proprietor quickly became amenable when given suitable financial inducement and was happy to give him a number of his restaurant’s business cards and some of its handy advertising flyers. Mitkin booked a table which would be visible from East Broadway, the main street. He said that three friends of his might come looking for him and they were to be told that he would meet them at the booked table at nine-thirty.

Mitkin returned to the van and drove down to the Conley Marine Terminal where the container ship Calgaria was berthed. She would be sailing tonight, and would take the consignment to Rotterdam.

As he arrived, a gang of six longshoremen were already there and waiting for him. He manoeuvred the van to near the small container. Before he left, he told them he would be back shortly to see that the consignment had been put into the container and was ready to be loaded onto the ship.

He went up meet the ship’s Master and they discussed the itinerary. The Captain confirmed the container’s expected date of arrival in Rotterdam and gave him an estimate of when it would arrive in London after trans-shipment. Before leaving to get back to the container, Alexis warned that there just might be two or three gentlemen coming around looking for him. Could the crew be told to say that they knew nothing of the small container or of himself? He also said that he’d be grateful if it could be loaded aboard as soon as it was ready. Just before leaving to get back and see how the longshoremen were progressing, he excused himself, went to the Captain’s adjoining shower room and double-checked his gun, fitted the silencer and made sure he had plenty of spare rounds. Sticking it in his belt in the small of his back and pulling his canvas jacket over it, he then returned to the Captain, bade his farewells and left.

The longshoremen had finished the job and were waiting for him. He gave each of them a bonus and they started the loading procedures right away, and Alexis waited and watched as the container was hoisted and stowed on board.

He next drove the van slowly back towards East Broadway. He took it round the block of the Marine Park and in a loop back again towards the terminal. There were not many parking spaces available but eventually he picked what looked to be an ideal spot. Whether the Massimo three came down the William Day Boulevard, East Broadway, or any of the smaller east–west streets, this was the ideal spot. They could not miss spotting the van with its Cockerel Transport Logo and sign. He parked it there, leaving the cards and flyers for the restaurant on both the dashboard and front seat of the van.

He walked slowly back up towards Independence Square. This time, however, he took a side street, just in case the threesome arrived earlier than expected. He glanced at his watch – seven-thirty. He had not yet seen the Massimo Chevy but he went to a small restaurant across the road from Dean’s Diner. He ordered a steak, and just as it arrived he saw Carlo and the other two arrive at Dean’s. Carlo went in while the other two waited outside. Carlo reappeared and the three of them held a furtive conference outside the restaurant before setting off in the direction of the centre of South Boston.

Alexis finished his meal at his leisure, paid for it and went across to Dean’s. On entering, the proprietor hurried up to him and told him his friends had called in looking for him. He thanked him, but before going to his table he went through the back of the restaurant, and checked that the back door was locked and the curtain was drawn, hiding the stairway to the roof. Returning to his table, the took his seat and ordered a glass of red wine. Sipping it, he read a newspaper in such a way that he could see any approaches to the restaurant over the top of it.

He did not have long to wait. Carlo and the other two arrived and came cautiously towards the restaurant. As soon as Carlo spotted Alexis, he momentarily froze, and then all three of them backtracked out of sight again. Alexis gave them a moment to regroup, rose, and quickly went out towards the back. As he passed the proprietor, he whispered in his ear and then went on and hid behind the curtain leading up the stairs, leaving a chink in the curtain open so that he could see back into the restaurant.

After what seemed an age, Carlo entered the restaurant. He held his gun out in front of him and immediately the few customers in the restaurant panicked. Dean ushered them quickly out of the front of the restaurant and, turning to Carlo, whispered that the man he was after had gone to freshen up before his dinner and that the restroom was through the back on the left.

Carlo crept forward, his gun held out in front of him, his attention focused on the door into the men’s washroom. As soon as he was level with the curtain, Alexis shot him in the knee. With a cry of acute pain and shock, he began to crumple. As he went down, Alexis stepped swiftly over him and smashed the butt of his gun into the base of his skull. The rest of his fall was silent.

Turning, Alexis silently ran up the stairs, through the small door at the top and out onto the flat roof. Creeping forward, with extreme care, he eventually got near enough to the edge to peer down into the small garden below. As he had anticipated, both Guido and the other were well hidden, positioned to shoot Alexis if he tried to escape out the back. From his vantage point on the roof, they presented Alexis with quite easy shots. He got down into a prone sniper’s position and, steadying his gun by resting it on his left arm, firmly braced on the felt roof, he shot both of them in their knees, one after the other, just a second or so apart. He then got up quickly, tucked his gun into his belt again and left the two screaming men lying on the ground clutching their knees. Back down in the restaurant, he stopped beside the bewildered proprietor.

‘Give us a couple of minutes, will you, and then ring for an ambulance and the cops?’

‘Sure,’ stammered the proprietor as he accepted another wad of notes.

‘And which is the quickest way out of South Boston?’

‘Where are you parked?’

‘Just across the street,’ said Alexis,

‘Go directly to Dorchester Bay,’ said the proprietor, taking him to the front of the restaurant and pointing the way. ‘When you reach the bay, take a right. That takes you up and onto the 93 Highway. Go west, and you’ll be outta Boston itself in no time.’

‘Thanks, I owe you,’ said Alexis, almost as though he might repay it one day.

He then left by the back door, and knocked the Massimo men out of their pain with quick blows from the butt of his gun. He went back, collected the Chevy keys from the still unconscious Carlo’s pocket and hurried away through the back streets. He found the Chevy parked a block away, got into it and drove it down towards the terminal, but as he got close to it, he abandoned the car in a side street, keeping the keys. In this way, he would set a false trail – with Carlo’s Chevy gone and his asking the restaurant owner the way out of Boston. As he walked the rest of the way to the terminal, he tapped out a text to Zorin.

Pursued as expected, dealt with them, consignment sails tonight, see you tomorrow. Alexis.

 

When he got to the van, he collected his overnight bag, walked back to a taxi rank he’d seen earlier and got one to take him to Boston Logan International. Less than an hour later he climbed aboard a flight to London Heathrow. As the plane soared out over the Atlantic he gave a brief thought to his exploits in Canada and the US.

Though all he’d done was what Zorin had paid him to do, he was happy enough with the outcome. When he got to London he would tell Zorin the details, and around ten days after that he would need to get to Felixstowe Container Port to meet the consignment as it came in from Rotterdam. There was still an outside chance that the Massimo organisation would trace the shipment and cook up some crazy plan with their European associates to disrupt the quantum machine’s progress. He thought this unlikely but with so much of Zorin’s future now relying on this machine, it was going to be worth taking precautions. Besides, if they did try anything, he’d enjoy kicking ass again.

 

 

 

10

 

 

Vnukovo Airport, Moscow

 

The unusual circumstances surrounding Rodchenko’s death and the dumping of his body at the Newby Centre initially caused the police to refuse the release of his body. But quickly the Russian Ambassador intervened and the funeral was allowed to go ahead. Most of the arrangements had been made by Pavel Polichev and Rodchenko’s only next of kin, his daughter Katya, was hugely grateful to him.

But she was used to Polichev’s kindnesses over the years. He had tended to her needs since she was quite small – admittedly on her father’s orders. Though it would have been nicer if her father hadn’t been so busy doing the President’s dirty work for him. Though this trip was to London to bury her father, she was not in any great state of sorrow, but more one of interest in how her father had died.

The press had enjoyed a riot of speculation over his death and no amount of story-spinning could cover the fact that he had been assassinated. In a macabre kind of way, she knew she would manage to get some more out of Polichev and, unknown to her, with an agenda of his own, he’d be happy to give it. He was not surprised when she started on this while in the VIP lounge before the flight.

‘I suppose you’re going to tell me that these stories of my father’s assassination are lies,’ she said, thrusting her chin out at him.

‘Not at all,’ he replied, ‘and if you promise not to do anything stupid in revenge, I’ll tell you who was responsible and what I propose to do about it.’

For a moment Katya just sat there, open-mouthed, then rushed on excitedly. ‘I promise not to do anything if you tell me who it was – go on, you owe it to me.’

‘On one condition.’

‘Yes, yes,’ she replied, hardly caring what the condition might be.

‘I haven’t proof enough yet to put him behind bars, but I’m working on that. It was Victor Zorin, the London-based oligarch. You remember the guy, you stayed with him for a bit when you were studying for your art degree in London?’

‘Of course I remember him – short, fat, with the shiny head. But why would he do that?’ She seemed genuinely intrigued.

‘Politics, basically,’ replied Polichev. ‘He’s taken over your father’s project – a thing called Gemini – and he hopes to use that to take your father’s position as the President’s righthand man.’

‘Really? So my father was killed trying to get something for the President?’

‘Exactly,’ replied Polichev. ‘But your father had some bad luck actually getting Gemini. The President, desperate for what Gemini could do for him against the West, lost patience and has given the job to Zorin…’

‘But that’s outrageous,’ exploded Katya. ‘Anyway, what’s so special about Gemini? I mean, for starters, what is it?’

‘Without going into technical details, it’s a mix of old and new computer technologies. The people who invented it refuse to allow it to be used against civilian populations but that won’t bother President Balakin. He wants to use it to bring the West to its knees.’

‘It can do that?’

‘We believe so, and test results show it to be true.’

‘But what does it actually do? Is it a new missile system, or what?

‘No, it’s not a missile system; it’s potentially far more powerful than a missile system,’ replied Polichev.

‘Come on. What’s more powerful that a missile system – especially one delivering nuclear warheads?’ Katya jutted her chin out a second time.

‘Let me try and explain without getting into technical stuff which even I don’t understand.’

‘Okay, go!’

‘I’ll just give you an example of what it could mean to President Balakin, why he’s so keen to get his hands on it and why Zorin believes he’ll get your father’s old position if he can deliver it. It can get through any digital computer defence system there is. Once in, it can then take control of whatever it is it’s just got into. Let’s suppose it targeted the main electrical supply systems of the US Eastern Seaboard; it could shut down as much or as little of it as it wished. Black out New York just as everyone’s trying to commute home. Think about it – the subway, traffic control systems, lights and so on. And in people’s homes – light, heat and cooking off just as the breadwinner gets home after a long day.’

‘Ah, yes, I see how that could be worse than just one missile. No loss of life, but I suppose you’re going to tell me it could affect all the other main domestic services…’

‘Not to mention locking the military out of using their missile silos,’ added Polichev.

‘So why haven’t the West used it against us?’

‘The man whose team invented it is a prominent London banker. Gemini started as a retaliatory weapon for use against bank hackers. Its development just ran on out of control, you might say. It’s since become the super-weapon it now is. But the banker said he’d never allow politicians to wage war with it, the way I just described to you – innocent civilians being targeted.’

‘But our dear President Balakin would?’

‘You bet he would,’ said Polichev, ‘which is why so much is at stake here.’

‘So, if you’re about to be cheated out of taking over from my father when he taught you so much, what are you going to do about it?’

‘Frankly, I’m going to need all the help I can get,’ replied Polichev.

‘If there’s any way I can help,’ said Katya, laying a hand on his arm, ‘I’d be happy to – though as you know my father always kept me away from the world of spooks. He said it was for my safety.’

‘That still applies, of course…’ said Polichev, throwing a quick glance at her. She was looking out of the VIP lounge but she appeared to be staring blankly, her eyes bright with… was it excitement? It was a possibility too good to miss.

‘We might find quite a safe way in which you could help me,’ he mused.

‘Really, you think so?’

Not wanting to appear too eager, Polichev just smiled and nodded his head as though deep in thought. ‘Leave it with me,’ he said. And although he had already worked out exactly how she could help, he let her excitement incubate for a while.

‘Perhaps during the flight I’ll come up with some way in which you could help,’ was his final encouragement.

 

The flight from Moscow to London was to be just on the four hours so Polichev waited until after they’d been served a meal. He then moved back into the subject obliquely.

‘What if you said to Zorin that you wanted to get away from Moscow and do some of those murals you’re so good at…’

‘What, you mean stay with him again now?’

‘Look at it this way,’ said Polichev, leaning over towards her. ‘If he was responsible for your father’s death, what better way of showing he could never have been involved by having his daughter to stay. I could put it to him at the funeral. I think I could do it in a way he couldn’t refuse.’

‘You think you could?’

‘I do. And you could help both me and the people guarding the Gemini project.’

‘Really? How would you manage that?’ Katya’s large dark eyes had grown even larger and were shining; her mind was clearly racing over Polichev’s words.

‘Don’t worry about how I’m going to arrange it,’ he said. ‘If you’re up for the challenge and would really like to nail him for your father’s death, you can safely leave setting it up to me – after all, it’s the kind of thing your father and I used to get up to all the time.’

Including her father’s work in this way was the clincher for her.

‘Done!’ she cried. ‘Let’s get it fixed up. And though my English isn’t as good as it was a few years back when I was at uni, it will be great to get back into it. ‘And I’ll need a contact at Gemini. Who will that be?’

‘His name’s Tom Wilder,’ said Polichev. ‘Have you ever seen any of the Bourne films, or Jack Reacher?’

‘Oh, yeah, all of those kinds of films. I love ’em.’

‘Well, Wilder’s a bit like a taller version of one of them – you’ll like him, and he’ll be really glad to have a spook helping him from inside Zorin’s house.’

‘Wow! I can’t wait to get started,’ said Katya, shifting about in her seat and grinning back at Polichev.

 

On arriving in London, Polichev took Katya to the Russian Embassy. Although Rodchenko was now gone, vestiges of the power of his small department still hung on. Everyone in the Embassy knew that Polichev might take over his old boss’s mantle and so accorded him due deference.

As Polichev’s whole being was infected with his desire for revenge on Zorin, one of the first things he did was to contact Wilder; he was keen to use his new British ally to the full and one step that would get that moving would be to introduce Katya to him.

As soon as he mentioned this to her, she bounced with enthusiasm.

‘If you don’t want him coming to this dreary place,’ she said, ‘I remember now there used to be a really nice London pub right across the main road from the top of Kensington Palace Gardens.’

‘How far is that from here?’

‘Fifty yards; he couldn’t miss it.’

She got out her phone, looked up Google Maps, and gave Polichev its name, The Champions.

 

Half an hour later, Wilder met the two of them and they went out into the gardens there with their drinks. They were lucky there were no other customers out there at the time and Katya could hardly take her eyes off Wilder – especially after Polichev having earlier likened him to her film heroes. But she particularly noticed how he quietly listened to her intently and softly answered her slowly in his deep voice as she questioned him about her father’s death. She wanted to know what had happened that night at the Newby Centre.

‘I think you need to realise that whoever killed your father just wanted to pass the blame over onto me. I’d taken precautions, so it didn’t work,’ he said. ‘But you can be assured of one thing. We’ll find out who did this. The British police may have been stopped in their investigations by the Russian Ambassador – like the Litvinenko case, which is still ongoing to this day, the Kremlin tried to shut it down.’

‘What was that case?’

‘It was very complex, but the point I’m making is that this country hasn’t given up hope yet of getting to the truth, and that was ten years ago. So, as we say in this country, chin up and we’ll get to the truth one day.’

‘What does this mean, ‘chin up’?’

‘It means that even though you feel like sitting down and crying with sorrow, disappointment or frustration, take your courage into your hands, put a defiant look onto your face, stick your chin up and go forward even if you don’t feel like it at the time.’

‘And does it work?’ Katya looked back at him with a sudden unwelcome welling up of emotion coming over her as the realisation of her father’s death hit her again.

‘It does,’ said Wilder. ‘You’ll see. It’s a scientifically proven fact that sometimes if you act the way you wish to be, it will come to pass. You’ll begin to behave as though the way you want to be is real, and soon it will be.’

‘Really?’

‘Really. Whenever you feel down, smile to yourself; stick your chin out at what’s worrying you. Soon enough you’ll find the scientists were right; you’ll feel better able to look your troubles in the eye. Troubles are often like bullies; they don’t like to be challenged, so when they are, they fade away. But don’t take my word for it. Give it a go.’

She smiled through her tears and, sure enough, she began to feel better. She’d find the proof of who killed her father. And suddenly that seemed not just a vague possibility but, with this film-star’s help, a very real one.

 

 

 

11

 

 

Kensington Palace Gardens, London

 

Igor Rodchenko’s funeral service was quite well attended – considering it was taking place on foreign soil. Katya had been looked after by Polichev both at the memorial service and the cremation. Back at the Russian Embassy there was a small wake attended by a couple of dozen people. There was plenty of vodka and champagne available and Polichev ensured that Katya met Zorin again. After so many years since she’d stayed with him briefly, Polichev even hung around during the conversation in which Katya invited herself to stay.

As Polichev had anticipated, Zorin saw it as an excellent opportunity to confirm to the world that he was unlikely to have killed Rodchenko Senior and then had his daughter for an extended stay so soon afterwards. Indeed, as Zorin sat in a corner of the reception talking to Katya he had about him the peaceful air of a consoler and friend.

‘I have no doubt that I can get you commissions if that is what you wish for,’ said Zorin. ‘So if you’d like to move from the Embassy down the road to my place I would be delighted.’

 

The following day Zorin’s and the Embassy staff helped Katya to move. She bade farewell to Polichev and as they parted, Katya stood, a rather forlorn little figure in the hall of the Embassy.

‘I’m sure I’m doing the right thing; it’s just that I feel really nervous about trying to follow in my father’s world,’ she whispered.

Polichev gave her a hug, stood back and replied, ‘You’ve no need to worry about a thing. Follow your instincts. Just listen, look and learn, and when you need encouragement or have something to tell me, just use the special mobile phone I’ve given you. Give me a ring any time, day or night. And remember that Tom Wilder’s mobile number is on there too.

Katya smiled weakly, gave Polichev another hug and, turning away quickly to hide her welling eyes, followed one of Zorin’s waiting staff down the road.

 

Zorin greeted her warmly and showed her to her suite of rooms – a bedroom, bathroom, and a walk-in wardrobe large enough to serve as a dressing room. There was also a small study with a large tilting table where she could work on drawings for murals for the clients she would find through Zorin. After a good look round, she followed Zorin back downstairs and into his private study. They sat down in comfortable leather chairs as coffee was brought in; looking across the room, on the wall opposite where he was sitting, there was one of her early floor-to-ceiling murals.

It portrayed a beautiful if somewhat idealised English countryside with gently rolling hills covered with a patchwork of fields of different crops; there were sweeps of green meadow harbouring sheep and cattle and lush ancient woodlands. The painting had a delicate feel to it and might easily have fooled an amateur into thinking it was an unknown Fragonard.

‘Look at it,’ said Zorin, following Katya’s gaze, admiring the wide sweep of the canvas that covered the wall. ‘I thought it was a brilliant idea of yours to paint it onto canvas and then stick it to the wall. Not that I shall be selling this place, but it does mean I could take it with me if I wanted to. And I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to its painter. I love that mural of yours more and more every time I see it. So, I’d be very happy to sound out some possible clients for you.’

‘Before you do that,’ said Katya, ‘as I would propose to do most of my murals in the same manner, I need to look for a studio – preferably near here. Then if it also has sleeping accommodation I could move in there and get out of your way here. As soon as that’s set up I would be most grateful for some introductions.’

‘If that’s the way you want to go, that’s fine by me,’ said Zorin. ‘In the meantime, just treat this place as home till you’re fixed up. And if it would be helpful, I could get my property development people to find a place such as you describe – though I’ve no idea how long such a search might take,’ he added.

‘That would be a great help; my English is not as good as it was – I need to do quite a bit of practising to get it back to where it was when I was at university here.’

‘That’s settled then,’ said Zorin. ‘As soon as we’ve found you a studio I can get you going with some introductions and, of course, if you want to show your work to anyone, you can bring them back here to show them this mural – save you relying on photographs.’

‘That’s very kind of you, Mr Zorin…’

‘Victor. You must call me Victor. I was an old friend of your father, after all.’

This remark touched Katya like a hand pressing on a wound, but she let it pass.

It was maybe a couple of days later that her first real opportunity arose to snoop around the place, to see what she could learn of the rather sinister Zorin. He and Mitkin had gone out for the morning and from the window of her room she saw them both get into a limousine and drive away.

She waited till the car was out of sight and ran downstairs. There was neither sight nor sound of any of the staff so she crept into Zorin’s study. Though there was nobody about, she was as quiet as she could be as she started to look through the drawers of the desk. She had no idea what she was looking for, but spurred on by Wilder’s kind remarks a few days earlier, she put a bold look on her face and rifled through the drawers with careful efficiency. She had started on the left-hand side of the desk, working her way down through the five drawers. They all contained files of various kinds, accounts, projects, reports from some of the companies in his huge business empire.

She then started on the right-hand set of drawers. She mostly just glanced at the files, but beneath one of them she found a letter with a very grand embossed letterheading – it was from President Balakin, and it was handwritten.

With a sharp intake of breath, she took the letter out from under the file, sat down in Zorin’s huge chair and began to read. Its contents were horrifying. It appeared to be a series of step-by-step instructions from the President himself for Zorin to take over the Gemini project. Unlike her father, Zorin was to make no mistakes and had just one month to find and steal – or clone, or do whatever else was necessary – Gemini and deliver it to him. Though words such as assassination and murder did not appear in the letter, this was, in effect, her father’s execution warrant.

By now her hands were trembling with both fear and excitement. She was actually holding in her hands the proof others were looking for. She fumbled in her pockets but suddenly realised that she’d left her mobile phone up in her room. She nearly screamed out with frustration. The one time she really needed her phone…

She looked around the room for a photocopier. There was none that she could see. She was wondering whether to run up to her room and get her phone – obviously she would need to put the letter back where she’d found it. She was just working her way through these options when she heard a car arriving at the front door. In a sudden panic, she rushed over to the window to have a look. It was Zorin and Mitkin returning. They were already getting out of the car.

Her heartbeat now pounding in her throat, she rushed back to the desk and began carefully putting President Balakin’s letter back where she had found it. By now she could hear Zorin’s and Mitkin’s voices outside the office in the hall. She quickly closed the drawer, checked she hadn’t left any sign she’d been there and, panic now threatening to paralyse her, dashed around Zorin’s chair and hid behind the great heavy curtains that hung on either side of the tall window behind his chair. She had barely settled herself behind the great folds of heavy materials when she heard the two of them coming into the room. Once more she cursed not having her mobile phone with her; she would otherwise have been able to record what they were saying.

‘So, while you were in Canada, my people checked back through Rodchenko’s notes on the Gemini project,’ Zorin was saying. Katya let out her breath noiselessly; there was no need to go on holding it just so long as she made no sound.

‘What they did manage to find,’ continued Zorin’s deep voice, ‘was a real breakthrough. I won’t bore you with all the details, but just listen to this for a stroke of luck. The head of the Gemini team is certain Professor Henry Hapsley. All you need to know is that he’s one of the world’s leaders in computer sciences and especially in the new technology of quantum computers. He was working in Cambridge University where he held a top professorship of some kind. He was in collaboration with a large unnamed American conglomerate which was apparently also researching quantum computing.’

‘Is that the breakthrough?’ asked Mitkin’s voice.

‘No, the breakthrough was the person working most closely with Professor Hapsley – a young Russian computer genius by the name of Yulian Agaron. This young man’s father was none other than the famous Moscow mathematician and dissident, Evgeny Agaron…’

‘The one who so publicly defected to the UK?’

‘That’s the one. Young Yulian Agaron was no more than a boy at the time he fled with his father; his mother couldn’t go with them as her own mother was dying in Moscow. It was Professor Hapsley who took the two Agarons under his care, gave the father a job, and became a virtual saviour to the two of them. With me so far?’

‘Yes, but I still don’t see the breakthrough,’ said Mitkin.

‘I’m just coming to that,’ said Zorin, and though she couldn’t see him, Katya could hear the irritation in his voice. ‘The professor left Cambridge for the Newby Centre in London. There he concentrated on the beginnings of the Gemini Project. Meanwhile, the young Agaron was apparently too young to carry on working alone on the Cambridge University quantum computer. Since his father had died a couple of years back, he left the UK and went back to his old mother in Moscow. But here’s the breakthrough. The FSB found him for us and good old Anna Kuznetsova from my human resources recruitment company went and saw him.’

‘And?’

‘As soon as she offered him the opportunity to come back to the UK and work again with Professor Hapsley, his father’s saviour and his own mentor, he jumped at it. So there’s the breakthrough. Young Yulian Agaron, a great friend of the professor’s, who’s already worked with him on quantum computers, is now going to work for us. He was probably involved in the beginnings of Gemini and we’ve now installed him in Cambridge. He’s ready and eager to take control of the quantum machine you brought back from Montreal.’

Shortly after, Katya heard Zorin telling Mitkin to get up to Cambridge and ensure that young Agaron was content with his accommodation and had the quantum machine set up. Mitkin left, and before long Katya heard Zorin leave the room as well. It was just a moment later that, to her horror, she heard him out in the hall shout out her name. She crept out from behind the curtain and ran across to the door. Zorin was just going into the drawing room and she swiftly ran across the hall. Opening the door through to the kitchens, she then slammed it shut again and walked back across the hall towards the drawing room.

‘Were you calling me?’ she said as she breezed into the room, almost bumping into Zorin as he was coming out.

‘I wasn’t really calling for you, I was just wondering if you…’

‘Oh, I was down in the kitchens stealing some biscuits.’

He smiled, took her by the arm and led her into the room. Though she played the bright young woman without a care in the world, rich beyond imagination from her inheritance from her father, she was in turmoil inside. In her heart she wanted to confront Zorin with what she knew. Fortunately, she had also inherited some of her father’s guile, and decided she would savour it all the more once she had a copy of President Balakin’s letter safely in her hand.

 

 

 

12

 

 

The Russian Embassy, Kensington Palace Gardens

 

As soon as Katya was able, she made an excuse – going shopping up on Portobello Road – and skipped off out of Zorin’s house. As soon as she was out of sight of the house, she broke into a trot and ran the rest of the way up the hill to the Russian Embassy. As she’d being staying there earlier and her father’s wake had been there she was allowed straight in. Once past the simple security checks, she ran on to the temporary offices that had been assigned to Polichev.

She felt she was about to burst with all the information she had for him, and she was lucky that he was on his own. He got her to calm down, gave her a glass of water and settled down to listen to her outpourings. Soon, however, he pulled a lined pad across the desk and began to jot some notes.

He took in a sharp breath as she told him of President Balakin’s letter. Though even reading it would be regarded as treason, he vowed to get a copy of it – though didn’t say so that minute. He also nodded his head approvingly as she told him about the recruitment of Yulian Agaron.

From her descriptions of Zorin ‘finding’ Yulian Agaron, Polichev sensed he would need to tread warily. The word ‘finding’ suggested that the job had been done by the FSB’s internal intelligence people. If this were the case he might be about to run into a trap. Though Rodchenko dealt mostly directly with the President himself, in theory he reported to General Zharkov, head of the FSB. More than that, it was currently rumoured that the President was about to reunite the FSB’s internal operations with those of the SVR’s external intelligence and thereby reconstitute the KGB. This would make the General even more powerful than before. And here was the danger. If Zorin had found out about Yulian Agaron through the FSB, Zharkov would know all about Zorin and his plans.

He would ring Zharkov but he would need to tread carefully, like someone creeping out onto an ice-covered lake, ever fearful of it giving way and plunging him into deep water.

Katya felt much better after unburdening herself of all her secrets. She then added, ‘And I suppose as Tom Wilder’s helping us to put Zorin away, I should let him know about all of this as well?’

‘No need for that,’ cut in Polichev quickly. ‘He’s taken his daughter off to Paris and Rome for a few days to take her mind off the kidnapping business. No need to worry him while he’s busy patching up family affairs; I’ll tell him all about it when he gets back. Okay?’

‘Whatever you suggest,’ replied Katya. ‘But we’ve made good progress, don’t you think?’

‘We have, and it’s down to you. Well done. But how did you get away from Zorin to tell me all this?’

‘I just said I was off up to Portobello Road to look at the market, do a spot of shopping.’

‘If I were you,’ said Polichev, ‘I’d carry on and do that so that you have some shopping with you when you get back. We don’t want him to get suspicious – especially as he knows I’m still staying here.’

You’re right, and you’ll tell Tom Wilder?’

‘I will, don’t worry about that. And again, well done.’

 

As soon as Katya had gone, Polichev glanced at his watch. The General would have indulged himself in a lengthy lunch in Moscow. With a bit of luck, he would be in somnambulant mode, drowsy after his usual glass or two of brandy, not quite as sharp. He rang and got the telephone operator to put him through to the General – leave it to them to fiddle about trying to find him at FSB headquarters at Lubyanka Square or his Kremlin office, near the President’s private quarters.

As soon as he was through he heard that he was in luck – the General sounded as though he was in a good mood.

‘So, Igor’s funeral went off all right?’ asked the General.

‘Yes, so it should stop all the media chat and the investigations into his death.’

‘Good. That means that Victor can now get on with putting a Gemini together for the President,’

‘Yes,’ said Polichev slowly, drawing out the word as though he had reservations. ‘But if you’ll excuse my ignorance, I thought that this Gemini thing needed a quantum computer in its make-up and that implied that it also needed a special operator?’

‘Don’t worry about that,’ replied the General. ‘We found one for the project. A genius young man who has a personal connection to the head of Gemini’s technical side.’

So, there it was. It was the General’s FSB people who had tracked down Yulian Agaron for Victor Zorin. Did this mean that the General was on Zorin’s side? Would that include going as far as promoting him to Rodchenko’s old position? This was of such burning interest to Polichev that he just had to creep a little further out across the ice.

‘Assuming Zorin’s successful in putting a Gemini together and getting it operating on behalf of the President, how are you going to take the Gemini system back under the Kremlin’s control?’

‘I don’t follow you,’ slurred the General.

‘Get the Gemini under the Kremlin’s control so that it goes for the President’s targets and that Zorin doesn’t get to pick the tragets?’

‘Good question,’ replied the General. And to Polichev’s relief, he continued, ‘Don’t worry about Zorin; here in the Kremlin we still hold all the strings for all of our puppets.’

Though this didn’t spell out Zorin’s eventual fate, Polichev liked the thought of puppets on strings. If Zorin, for all his wealth and scheming, was still a puppet, there was still hope for himself. Hopefully this might include a way by which, working with Wilder, Polichev could thwart Zorin’s plans. Maybe, even, the Polichev-Wilder alliance might find a way to deliver Gemini to the President. Emboldened by these thoughts, he told the General he’d be back in Moscow shortly, and they ended the call.

With Katya’s news this morning, and the General’s remarks, Polichev felt he might still get his old boss’s job. But he needed to know more of Zorin’s plans so that they could be frustrated. It was time to get Wilder back from his family holiday in Paris and Rome and working on Zorin’s UK operations.

 

 

 

13

 

 

Craithe Castle, Scotland’s Western Isles

 

When the news got back to them that Tatiana had been rescued, Professor Hapsley and the Gemini team relaxed security from high alert down to just watchfulness. As she could not be used as a bargaining chip to gain access to Gemini, it seemed that the Russian attempts to steal Gemini might now fade.

No sooner had this been decided than they learned that Wilder’s daughter had been taken in revenge for that rescue. When that was swiftly followed by the news that she’d been shipped out to Moscow, the team became edgy again. There was now the complication that the tourist season had begun. Hundreds of them swarmed all over the castle and grounds every day – especially in the fine weather. There was a constant fear that one of them might present themselves at the lab, prove that they were connected to Lucy’s kidnapping, and demand access to Gemini.

These worries, and the renewed vigilance required – at least till Lucy was rescued – were all but forgotten when Professor Hapsley got a call from the son of a late good friend, his former pupil Yulian Agaron. Memories of happy days spent with Yulian in joint quantum computer research in Cambridge flooded in on him.

‘My dear boy, how are you?’ asked the professor. ‘When I got involved with the Gemini programme and had to leave Cambridge, I’m afraid I rather left you in the lurch…’

‘Not at all,’ replied Yulian. ‘The exciting news I have, and why I’m ringing you, is that I’ve been offered and have taken a new job back in Cambridge.’

‘That’s great, Yulian. With the same people?’

‘No, a new project, but I’ll be in charge of my own quantum computer,’ Yulian bubbled on.

‘Doing what?’

‘I’m in charge of one of the latest ones – same as the one we worked on but a newer model.’

‘That’s wonderful. And you’re enjoying it?’ asked the professor.

‘Generally speaking, yes.’ Yulian was now more subdued. ‘I have to confess to you that I’ve run into a slight problem and I’d appreciate your advice.’

‘Sure, what’s the problem?’

‘You know the special suite of software we devised to connect the quantum machine and sync it to the digital mainframe?’

‘I do.’

‘I seem to have lost my way round it. I’d got most of it sewn up – or so I thought – but the synching is not as consistent as we achieved. I was wondering if I could just copy the file we finished together all that time ago?’

There was quite a pause and then the professor answered. ‘I do remember you contributed greatly to that, so, just for that piece of software…’

‘It would really put me in my new employer’s good books if I could just copy across that snippet,’ interrupted Yulian. If you let me log into your digital controller, you could monitor me all the way to make sure I don’t steal anything you aren’t happy for me to take.’

‘Okay. I don’t see why not – just this once,’ replied the professor.

 

What he could not know was that this very telephone call had been rehearsed over and over between Mitkin and Agaron. They had also practised how to respond to every conceivable response the professor might come up with. What had just occurred was the best they could have hoped for. But there was more to come.

Just as Yulian was given the login details and was about to make the connection to the Gemini machines, Mitkin put a telephone call in to the professor’s mobile. All that Yulian needed was around a minute during which the professor would be distracted from his monitoring of the link-up.

Mitkin did a good job of putting a handkerchief over the mouthpiece of the telephone and producing some static interference from an old radio switched on next to him. Every now and then, he’d tone down the static, turning away from the radio and muttering in a high-pitched voice the distinct word ‘Hapsley’, interspersed with gibberish.

It had the desired effect. On his landline, Yulian could hear the professor shouting back down the mobile connection, ‘Yes, this is Professor Hapsley, where are you calling from…? I’m afraid we’ve got a very poor connection… Would you like to ring again?’

Eventually, Yulian gave Mitkin a thumbs-up. He had managed to copy all of the vital software that he needed and Mitkin ended his call to the professor.

‘Get what you wanted?’ asked Mitkin.

‘I did,’ said Yulian, grinning like a boy clutching an apple stolen from an orchard. ‘It won’t be anything like as developed as the real Gemini, but I could have blown the whole thing if I’d been greedy and tried to steal more. Still, what I did get will give us most of the basic Gemini functions.’

Though what Yulian had just told him wasn’t exactly what he had expected to hear, ‘most of the basic Gemini functions’ sounded good enough to Mitkin. As always, the proof that this was the case would be critical, and Mitkin was glad that the next phase was to provide just that – by trying out Yulian’s new quasi-Gemini on a real target.

 

 

 

14

 

 

Kings Lynn, North Norfolk

 

The taller of the two men held up his hand for quiet. Both, their heads and faces hidden by black balaclavas, were crouched, listening. They could hear the voices of their pursuers in the distance, shouting instructions to each other – mostly about where to look next. The voices faded, and the noise of running footsteps receded away into silence.

The taller man turned and found his face but inches from his companion’s, whose eyes were wide, unblinking through the slit in the helmet, his panic seeming to freeze them.

‘No one said nuffing about armed security,’ he whispered, still not blinking.

‘Maybe we’ve been set up,’ said the other. ‘One thing’s for certain, mate. The money for the job ain’t worth being shot at – we need to get the hell out of here. Follow me, I think I know a different way out.’

He peered around the corner of the corridor; seeing no one, he ran across it, and immediately turned down a short cul de sac towards an emergency fire exit at the end. The other followed him, also running quietly. The first, now sure he’d come the right way, gave his mate a thumbs-up. Both then pushed hard on the jammed exit door. Finally, it gave, and opened with a jarring noise. With some difficulty, the leader got out onto the lawn and paused, looking left and right along the building. He could see no one, so he ran, half-crouching, towards some low bushes some twenty-five feet from the door. Peering ahead from his new vantage point, he checked again.

Still no one in sight.

He beckoned to his mate. As soon as they were together again, huddled behind the scant cover, he put his hand up to his mouth.

‘I know where we are,’ he whispered hoarsely. ‘The holes I cut in the mesh fence are just to the right of the large post over there. It looks all clear to me. We don’t need to run now; I think we’ve lost them.’ His companion looked past him. Sure enough, there was just a short bit of open ground between them and the holes.

‘Once we’re through, we’ll be into the woods in no time and back to the car. Are you ready?’

The shorter man pulled off his balaclava; he looked younger than his twenty-four years. He nodded and wiped his hand across his dry mouth. ‘Ready,’ he whispered.

‘Okay. On the count of three, run over there behind me.’ The leader paused for a moment and then said, much louder, ‘One, two, three,’ and stepped out. Still stooping slightly, they hurried towards the fence.

They had covered less than half the distance when two shots rang out in quick succession. Both of the young men crumpled mid-stride, dead before they hit the ground. They had never stood a chance.

 

It took Detective Inspector Jack Howard more than an hour to get the first lot of statements from everyone at the power grid sub-station; the more information they gathered from each successive interviewee, the less sense it made.

The two young terrorists – as they were immediately branded – had clearly been here to cause the power failure. They had on them a map and detailed plans of the sub-station. They had cut their way into the station and gained access to the computer room where the ultimate controls for the electrical supply were situated. It had not taken long to find a small but specialised USB memory stick – inserted into one of the computer mainframes. This small device was immediately blamed for the hour-long cut in electricity supplies. Yet one of the power company’s own computer people checked it out further and said that it still didn’t explain what was preventing the computers from restarting; even later extensive diagnostics checks failed to explain why the computers were dead.

Yet more tests and further detective work showed that the two young men had been shot from the direction in which they were heading, both hit smack in the middle of their foreheads by a marksman outside the grounds.

‘Who the hell would kill them as they were leaving?’ said DI Howard, as much to himself as to the sergeant standing next to him. ‘It’s almost as though the people that sent them in to do the job didn’t want them to make it out again. Damn it, the shots came from right by their own car.’

Their discussion was cut short by the sub-station’s manager, Jim Forbes. ‘We had a call earlier from some people who said they could fix the mainframe computer, the one which our own chap can’t get restarted. And now there’s a couple of blokes arrived; they say they’re from the company that telephoned. Can I bring them in? I need to fix the bloody computer as quickly as possible; it’s getting dark and already we’ve had hundreds of irate calls about the power cut. And people have their evening meals and their bloody telly to watch and…’

‘Yes, let them in,’ said Howard. ‘Forensics have finished, and anyway I think we’ve got everything we can from here. We can do background checks on these two repair people later. Who cares as long as they can get the job done, and the lights, TVs and cookers can go back on?’

Forbes went back out to where the two men were standing by their van.

‘What company did you say you were from?’ Forbes asked one of the repairmen.

‘PowerPlus,’ said one. ‘As my boss said when he rang, we had a similar power failure in the next county. When he heard of your blackout, he thought he’d give a ring and offer some help.’

‘Okay. Thanks. Can you just get on with it as quickly as possible?’ said Forbes. ‘Just get the bloody thing up and running again.’

 

 

 

15

 

 

King’s Lynn, North Norfolk

 

The two repairmen from PowerPlus got to work immediately. From what appeared to be a brand-new van, they took just two laptops. They explained that these contained their company’s sophisticated computer diagnostics and software repair programmes. Forbes was suspicious but intrigued. His own IT people had spent a considerable amount of time without being able to find out what was wrong and, try as they might, had been unable to restart the computers.

He now watched as one of PowerPlus men plugged a laptop into the dead mainframe whilst the other, with his back turned to Forbes – and his laptop therefore hidden from view – tapped rapidly on his keyboard.

To Forbes’s astonishment, the mainframe sprang back into life in less than five minutes. Not only was this embarrassing for his own people, it seemed to him to be almost like a sting. How could these two have fixed it so quickly when his own people – who were no slouches with technology – had been baffled for several hours?

 

Though the population around King’s Lynn would soon forget all the inconveniences of the black-out, Forbes felt that he could not let matters rest. His company’s reputation was at stake. He noted the PowerPlus details and was told that an account would be sent to him from their head office in due course. Apart from Forbes’s continuing puzzlement and desire to find out more, matters might have rested there had it not been for the following day’s newspaper. Whilst Forbes was flipping through the main news pages on his way to the sports section, the word “PowerPlus” caught his eye in the business section.

There it was, the heading to an article: “PowerPlus bid approved”. He read on with growing conviction that his sub-station had been involved in some kind of plot, for it told of PowerPlus’s successful bid to get a foothold in the UK power marketplace. Forbes knew well that the UK power market was virtually closed to newcomers. So the more he read of PowerPlus’s successful entry into it, the more suspicious he became.

He read on further. The article went on to explain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Freddy Briston, had launched a new initiative to encourage more supply companies into the country’s supply provision. The article explained that, having been driven into the measures by months of campaigning about rigged markets, power company near-monopolies and price fixing, the Chancellor had declared that this initiative would increase fair competition and soon reduce power charges to consumers.

Another article, tucked away in different section of the paper, remarked on the how fortuitous it was that PowerPlus had been able to come to the assistance of the national grid in King’s Lynn at the very moment that they had made an application to the Business Secretary for a licence to operate in the UK. The way both articles dealt with this angle finally convinced Forbes that he was right – there was a conspiracy somewhere here. He decided to telephone someone and say his piece. Though he thought this might prove embarrassing to the National Grid, he rang his superiors at head office.

He was encouraged. His story, and his conclusions that there might be a link between the King’s Lynn computer malfunction, the instant repair at the sub-station, and PowerPlus’s bid for a foothold in the UK power marketplace quickly gained traction. This was soon followed up at the National Grid’s senior management level and, although this kind of wild west business approach was unheard of in the world of UK power generation and distribution, both the Fraud Squad and the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were briefed on Forbes’s conspiracy theory.

Freddy Briston, anxious that his power initiative should not be tainted by scandal, asked the Fraud Squad to hold off their investigations for a couple of days, as he had a way of getting to the truth even quicker than they were likely to. Some opponents of Briston complained that this was gross interference by the Executive into the process of law, and the Fraud Squad agreed. Briston, furious at being thwarted, telephoned his old friend Angus Macrae.

‘I need someone to check this conspiracy theory out for me,’ said Briston. ‘And as your people are in the forefront of the latest technologies, and your man Wilder is with the leading industrial espionage company, could they get down there and check this out?’

‘Okay, I’ll get Wilder and our people onto it right away,’ said Macrae, and took down the particulars. These included the location, the manager’s name, the timings of the incident and so on. He was just thankful that Wilder was back from Rome and had sent his daughter back to her uncle and aunt in the States, and so could take over from here.

Macrae first contacted the professor at Craithe. He told him the whole story, and said that his going down to King’s Lynn would be a politically astute gesture; the professor agreed to go and to take his genius hacker Perry with him.

‘So long as Tom Wilder’s there as well,’ he added. ‘He can deal with any tricky political aspects, while Perry and I look into these conspiracy theories.’

‘That would be great, Prof,’ replied Macrae. ‘See if you can get to the root of it as fast as possible. I don’t want the government breathing down my neck – even if it’s in the form of an old friend of mine. Oh, and I’ve ordered the helicopter over from Glasgow. It will take the two of you direct from Craithe to King’s Lynn, and I’ll get Tom Wilder to meet you there.’

‘Fine, we’ll have it sorted in no time.’

 

Macrae telephoned Wilder at IPI and explained the situation.

‘Haven’t the police got a unit that would deal with a suspicious stoppage like this?’ asked Wilder.

‘There’s a potentially embarrassing political angle to this,’ explained Macrae. ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows all about Gemini and is terrified that this might be a complex attack, as none of the people down there could fix it. These mysterious PowerPlus people just turned up. The Chancellor didn’t say why he was worried about this PowerPlus company, but before you go down to King’s Lynn, see if your people at IPI can find out a bit more about them, will you?’

‘I will, and if the budget will stretch, I’d like to take my old IPI colleague Jessie Marker on this assignment.’

‘As far as a Gemini-related investigation is concerned there’s no such thing as a budget,’ replied Macrae. ‘We need to do whatever it takes to establish that there’s no connection between this King’s Lynn incident and Gemini.’

‘Just so long as you understand that the two of us may have to stay on up there if there’s a hint of a Gemini-like attack – you know, nose around a bit,’ said Wilder.

‘Yes, It’s fishy. Who goes to King’s Lynn unless they have to – or are passing through on their way to the coast? So, do whatever you need to do and get back to me the moment you have anything – I’d like to get Freddy Briston’s interest in this incident and in Gemini shut down as quickly as possible. The last thing we need government calls to take over Gemini in the name of National Security.’ He spat out the phrase as though it were some kind of conspiracy itself.

 

Wilder and Jessie Marker met up at King’s Cross. They took a train north to King’s Lynn, a trip of an hour and a half or so. On the way, Wilder checked and found that the professor and Perry were there already.

The four of them met up at the sub-station and were greeted by Forbes. He now seemed embarrassed that his conspiracy theory had evoked such a wide response. While Perry and the professor got to work on the sub-station’s computers, Jessie Marker rang IPI to check on investigations into PowerPlus’s background and ownership.

The professor explained to Forbes what he and Perry were doing as they ran diagnostics on the mainframe. It did not take them long to establish that a quantum computer had been used and, to his horror, he found a Gemini-like footprint hidden away inside some of the computer’s activity logs.

It was at this point that the truth bore in on the professor. He got up from where he’d been kneeling to pick up a USB stick which had fallen out of the mainframe. He went back over to a desk near the mainframe and sat down at it. He put his head into his hands and the others looked on in astonishment as he sat here for a few moments before letting out a loud moan.

‘Are you all right, Prof?’ asked Wilder. ‘Had a funny turn?’

‘Oh Tom, what have I done?’ He ran his hands through his thinning white hair. Perry, Jessie and Forbes looked on anxiously, Forbes worried in case the professor was having a heart attack or a stroke.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Wider.

The professor let it all pour out. His long telephone conversation with his former protégé, Yulian, his allowing Yulian to copy some files across from Gemini to his machine in Cambridge.

‘And were you distracted at any point while you were supposed to be monitoring what Yulian was doing?’ asked Wilder. ‘At any time during which his computer was linked up to the Craithe machines?’

The professor let out a long sigh.

‘Oh God, yes,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘Now that you mention it, there was another call. It seemed it was a wrong number or a mobile on a bad connection.’ He stopped for a moment as he gave this more thought. ‘Christ, what a fool I’ve been. Now Gemini is out in the open. We must track and destroy it. In the wrong hands, it could be…’

‘Did your young friend Yulian happen to mention who he was being employed by?’ interrupted Wilder.

‘No, when he said he was back in Cambridge again, I never really thought about it; I assumed he meant the University itself. How stupid of me, I never even asked. God, how careless can you get?’

‘Don’t make yourself ill with this, Prof,’ said Wilder, laying a hand on his shoulder. ‘We’ll get it sorted. What’s done is done; don’t beat yourself up about it.’ The professor looked back up at him, a look of despair on his pale, drawn face. ‘Look. With the best will in the world, we were never going to keep Gemini entirely to ourselves for ever, were we?’ said Wilder, smiling down at the Prof. ‘I’ll bet that they’ll only have a shell of the real thing in the little time they had while they were distracting you.’

‘Well, that’s certainly true,’ said the Prof, brightening a bit. ‘Though they’ve managed to use whatever they’ve got to shut this sub-station down. We must find them or…’

‘That’s enough, Prof,’ said Wilder, in a mock-stern tone. ‘Now you’re distracting me. Give me a minute to think about this.’

Shortly afterwards, he got out his mobile and rang Katya at Zorin’s place.

‘Hi Katya,’ he said. ‘How are you?’

The others could hear her excitedly talking at the other end.

‘Did Polichev ever pass on my message to him about what I overheard while I was hiding behind the curtain in Zorin’s office?’

‘No,’ said Wilder. ‘What was that about?’

Katya breathlessly told him all about the Russian President’s letter to Zorin, and the plans he had then discussed with Mitkin. The others watched as Wilder’s face lost some of its colour and he began to frown and shake his head. Eventually he thanked Katya for her help and told her that he’d be back in touch shortly.

‘They’re not wasting any time,’ said Wilder as he put his mobile down. ‘They’re on the move.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked the Prof.

‘Katya’s just told me a whole lot of stuff that was supposed to have been passed on to me by Rodchenko’s number two Pavel Polichev. I can see why he didn’t. Zorin and his righthand man Alexis Mitkin have moved.’

The others clearly didn’t get the full significance of this news.

‘They’ve gone, packed, taken big bags with them,’ said Wilder. ‘Unfortunately, Katya doesn’t know where they’ve gone to. She got back from lunch and shopping and the housekeeper told her she was welcome to stay as long as she wished but that Zorin and Mitkin had been called away on urgent business.’

‘Does that mean what I think it does?’ said the Prof.

At that moment Wilder’s mobile rang. As he answered it, he mouthed the name ‘Mike Rogers’. Rogers spoke for some time and, again, the others watched for any reactions from Wilder, who listened to Rogers, intently nodding his head and muttering the occasional ‘Uh-ha’.

‘I see. So PowerPlus is owned by Zorin, but through a series of companies in the Bahamas?’ said Wilder at last. ‘So that was only a part of his plan, is that what you’re saying?’ Shortly after that, the call ended and Wilder turned to the professor.

‘I’m afraid there’s not really time to tell you all that Mike Rogers just told me. But here’s the gist of it. PowerPlus had just applied for entry into the UK power supply industry. It’s already a large setup, but is linked to other companies straddling Russia, Europe and the Eastern Seaboard in the States. It looks as though Zorin was just testing his new proto-Gemini. He picked King’s Lynn to try it out because it’s near where Yulian Agaron was based in Cambridge. What’s clear from all these bits of information is that Zorin believes he has enough of Gemini’s power to start on his plans, whatever they might be.’

‘And the two young men? The ones they killed?’ asked Jessie.

‘They must have known who was employing them and needed to be sent to their graves, taking that secret with them. Remember, if there hadn’t been the complication that brought the Chancellor in on this incident, it would have hardly got beyond the local news. We’d never have heard about it. We wouldn’t have been called in. No one would have ever discovered that it wasn’t just a minor local breakdown. And discovering that it’s been a trial of a proto-Gemini has been a series of unlucky events for Zorin – he came really close to getting away with his trial being unnoticed.’

‘But how about this, then?’ said the professor. ‘Zorin may have hoped to test his new setup at his leisure and then move on at his own pace with his plans.’

‘You’re right,’ said Wilder, taking up the point. ‘But we’ve exposed all of this. Even though we haven’t broadcast it, he’ll now need to bring his plans forward as fast as he can.’

‘Just my thoughts,’ said the professor.

‘Right. We need to move fast,’ said Wilder. ‘Prof, can you and Perry get back up to Craithe as fast as possible and contact GCHQ. We need to look for any activity that could give us a clue to their next move. I’ll get in touch with my contact in MI6 and before long we can come up with a way of finding Zorin and Mitkin. We also need to track down Yulian Agaron and his machines. It’s possible Katya may remember some other things about the conversation she overheard between Zorin and Mitkin. We need to get a lead on where they’ve gone and what they’re up to.’

 

 

 

16

 

 

King Street, Norwich, Norfolk

 

It was after three in the morning by the time the vans had transferred the computers and all the other pieces of equipment to the old warehouse by the river. Getting Yulian’s machines out of Cambridge in the pitch dark had not been easy. But now, safely installed around forty-five miles from King’s Lynn, Zorin was confident the move would give him time enough for more trials before moving on to his main plan. Taking Yulian and the machines here had the additional advantage that Norwich had its own airport on the outskirts of town – ideal for what was to come later.

With all of the equipment now hidden away in the old warehouse off King Street, the removal people handed the keys to Alexis Mitkin and departed. For Mitkin it had been a long day. Just as soon as the King’s Lynn electricity sub-station trial attack and shutdown had succeeded, the next phase of the plan had swung seamlessly into action. He and Zorin had come up from London, and had booked into a nice small hotel in the centre of Norwich under assumed names and false passports.

Yulian had been dropped off at his new accommodation – a magnificent if small apartment near to the warehouse. The operation had gone smoothly. They had needed to be sure that the first trial of the new mini-Gemini setup would work, after which they would need to move it. But Zorin had never expected the turmoil that was to follow the trial, and just thanked Lady Luck that he’d had the foresight to make his move earlier.

 

Early in the morning, after a full breakfast, Mitkin and Zorin checked out of their hotel and took a taxi over to Yulian’s apartment. He was still sleeping, so they let themselves in and brewed some fresh coffee. It was nearly ten in the morning by the time Yulian joined them, rested but still bewildered by the speed at which things had developed in the last twenty-four hours.

‘Professor Hapsley’s going to be so proud of you,’ were Zorin’s first words to Yulian as he joined them in the apartment’s large living room. He was standing, sipping his coffee and looking out over the apartment block’s neatly trimmed lawns.

‘Going to be proud of me?’ repeated Yulian, joining him at the window. ‘How do you mean?’

‘The people who now employ Professor Hapsley have consistently told the UK Government that they will never allow Gemini to be used aggressively, as innocent civilians always suffer. This means that the professor will never be able to develop the full power of his and his team’s wonderful invention. You, however, have just shown how powerful Gemini really is – and that’s without having the full capabilities of his more developed programmes.’

‘Oh, I see, and you think he’ll be proud of that?’

‘Of course he will – even if only secretly,’ said Zorin. ‘But till we’ve got our proto-Gemini set up again here in Norwich, just keep our little success a secret, will you? We’ll contact the professor again when we’ve got our next success under our belts.’

‘What’s that going to be – our next success? I thought we were just going to develop our own Gemini – the proto-Gemini, as you call it – and that we’d still be doing it alongside the professor,’ said Yulian, his eyes darting a glance at Zorin.

‘We will, we will,’ said Zorin, slapping Yulian on the back. ‘But, as I was saying, he’s not allowed to use his original version aggressively, so we’re going to break this whole exciting area of computer research to him gently by showing him how it’s done. That way we will dominate Gemini’s full capabilities. I think it’s a very exciting prospect and one which has been denied to the professor because of his boss’s scruples.’

‘Ah yes, I see,’ said Yulian. ‘So we’re just keeping ahead of the bad guys who might come along later and usurp Gemini?’

‘Exactly,’ said Zorin. ‘We managed to get our hands on enough of Gemini’s software for you to build us our proto- system. Who’s to say that someone else with less worthy motives than our own might not be able to do the same?’

Zorin took Yulian gently by the arm, winked at Mitkin as he passed him, and sat Yulian down on the sofa.

‘Alexis and I now have to go off for a couple of days, maybe more. But around lunchtime tomorrow a real nice guy called Andrei Boykov will be arriving here. He’s from St Petersburg, and though he’s not quite up to your genius level with computers, he’s pretty damned good with them. We think you two will get on well together. He’s the one who wrote the software that allowed you to take the Gemini software you’d worked on with the professor without being detected. I want you to show him how to set up and run your new proto-Gemini here in Norwich. Okay?’

‘What, he’s to be my assistant?’

‘Exactly. You’ll be the boss. It’s your proto-Gemini, it’s not even mine. But his extra pair of hands and another head to bounce more development ideas off will even things up,’ said Zorin.

‘I don’t understand. Even what up?’

‘You and the professor. He has a whole team and a young genius called Perry. Now you and Andrei will become a real match for them. Who knows… the two of you may even devise developments that the professor will really thank you for.’

‘Ah, that sounds great.’ Yulian gave a Zorin a smile and seemed to go off into a daydream.

‘Alexis and I will be off now,’ said Zorin. ‘You can start setting up the proto-Gemini down in the warehouse and Andrei will join you tomorrow. Here’s some spare cash to tide you over. It might be better if you use this cash rather than your bank account for the next few days, all right?’

‘If we’re to be in hiding from other bad guys looking for us,’ said Yulian, ‘that makes sense.’

Zorin fumbled in his pocket, took out an envelope and handed it to Yulian. It felt both thick and heavy, so Yulian half-opened it and took a look inside. After leafing through the notes, he gave a low whistle.

‘There must be thousands here,’ he said, looking up in surprise at Zorin.

‘Two thousand, to be precise,’ replied Zorin. ‘Treat it as a bonus for your great work. Giving you cash also keeps the taxman’s hands off it. Treat yourself. There are some nice shops just up the hill and over into the city centre.’

 

The taxi that Mitkin had ordered arrived, and he and Zorin got their suitcases into it and bade farewell to Yulian. As they drove off, Mitkin watched the young man standing by the apartment block’s main entrance. He looked forlorn and alone, and Mitkin turned to Zorin.

‘Do you think he’ll be okay setting up the machines and being on his own till Andrei gets here tomorrow?’ he asked.

‘Yes. He’s a computer geek through and through,’ replied Zorin. ‘He’ll become completely absorbed in setting the machines up and he assured me he’ll really enjoy teaching Andrei about Gemini. Soon after that, he and Andrei will be joined by Goran Anokhin. In no time at all, the three of them will be up to speed and we can then crack on with the next phase.’

‘I didn’t have anything to do with the detail of the next moves,’ said Mitkin. ‘So what are they?’

‘As soon as we’d established that out Gemini worked, we needed as clean a break with the past as possible, both for security reasons and for what I’ve planned for Yulian. I’ll bet that the Craithe lot – or at least that thorn in our sides Wilder – will have put a search on our names. They may even be looking at the possibility of us leaving the UK. Hence false passports and names. Right now we’re flying from Norwich Airport to Amsterdam. That should confuse anyone trying to track us flying west towards the States. By tonight we’ll be incognito and ready for our next phase.’

 

 

 

17

 

 

King Street, Norwich, Norfolk

 

True to Zorin’s prediction, no sooner had the two of them left in their taxi than Yulian went down to the warehouse and let himself in. Utterly absorbed with his passion for his machines, he started setting them up. This was the third time he had done this. The first time had been with the professor when the very first quantum computer had arrived at Cambridge University. On that occasion the two of them had been assisted by the manufacturer’s technicians. The second time he’d done this had been only days ago. Again, one of the manufacturer’s people had flown in from Canada for the day and had helped Yulian set up the machines.

He was now so familiar with the procedures that he hardly had to refer to his or the manufacturer’s notes at all. He worked through the lunch period and, oblivious of time, continued until it was mid-afternoon. When he eventually glanced at his watch, he suddenly felt tired, hungry and thirsty all at once. He shut the machines down, locked up the warehouse and walked up the hill to the apartment block.

It was only now that he remembered that he’d done no shopping at all. The company who were renting the apartment to Zorin had thoughtfully stocked the fridge with milk, butter, some cheeses, and some bottles of soft drinks and sparkling water, but nothing else other than breakfast cereals and biscuits. In the cupboards he found coffee, a box of teabags, sugar and other essentials, but nothing to satisfy his now gnawing hunger. He slurped down some sparkling water and then, on a whim, picked a few notes out of the envelope Zorin had given him. He stuffed them into his pocket and put the envelope in the back of one of the kitchen drawers.

Checking that he had the apartment keys, he left. Walking briskly up the hill he went straight to the pub Mitkin had told him about. He found it to be more of a restaurant than an old English pub, but that was fine. He quickly ran an eye down the menu and ordered himself a sirloin steak with chips and peas. Then, unusual for him, he ordered a large vodka and tonic. The barman said he’d bring the food over shortly and Yulian walked across to a small table with a couple of comfortable chairs and, on his way, picked up a couple of magazines from a rack full of them.

He quickly drank his first vodka and tonic while skimming through the first of the magazines; he found that it contained little of interest to him. Before his food had arrived, most uncharacteristically, he called a waitress over and followed his first drink with another of the same size. His meal then arrived and, as it was the first thing he’d eaten that day, he soon had the plate clean. He now felt better about life but lonely. The pub had filled by now – a large number of people all enjoying themselves.

He ambled up to the bar, paid for his late lunch and for a third vodka and tonic. He got into an idle chat with another young man who seemed to be on his own. His new companion told him about a couple of nice places to eat, and he and Yulian had a few more drinks together before the young man said he had to go. By now, Yulian had drunk considerably more than he had in a long while.

 

Now unsteady on his feet, he decided that perhaps it was time to get back home to the apartment while he still remembered where it was. On the way he cut a corner, walking across a small stretch of open hillside; it was fortunate that it was covered in grass, as he fell. Tripping over his own feet and falling forward onto his face, he winded himself and lay there on the grass, gasping for breath. Being drunk, as soon as he’d got his breath back, he thought he had done more damage to himself than he actually had, and he rolled around for a moment groaning.

Getting back up onto his feet proved too challenging at the first attempt, so he just sat there quietly laughing to himself. He suddenly had the urge to disobey Zorin’s instructions – he would ring the professor. Then he remembered – he’d left his phone back at the apartment. Spurred on by this new goal, he managed to get onto his knees. Finally, he rose unsteadily to his feet. Tottering off again down the hill, he was lucky not to fall a second time but, as the grass sloped downhill sharply, he broke unintentionally into the semblance of a trot. The ground levelled out as he reached the apartment block, and he managed to get into the apartment without further mishap.

Once back into the bedroom, he flopped down onto the bed, still fully clothed and with his overcoat and heavy outdoor shoes still on. By now, having lost his normal, well-developed sense of propriety, he stretched across to the far bedside table and managed, with some difficulty, to pull his old mobile phone out of the bedside drawer. Pulling himself up into a sitting position, he squirmed his way to the bedhead and propped himself up against the wall. Zorin had told him to dump this old phone as it had notes and other potentially incriminating details on it. He now opened up the clam to get to the keys and giggled with satisfaction that he had gone against his occasionally frightening new boss’s orders. He rang the professor.

As soon as he got through, he found that he had forgotten momentarily why he had rung – loneliness was hardly the kind of reason one could confess to, especially not to the professor, and for a few moments he just mumbled. The real reason for his call was immediately clear to the professor, and after some more rambling from Yulian, he cut in.

‘Where are you, Yulian? It’s most unlike you to drink at all, let alone get smashed.’

‘I… I’m in Norwich,’ mumbled Yulian. ‘I’m supposed to be in hiding. Mr Zor… Mr Zorin has a very important mission ahead of us and I’m not supposed to tell anyone…’

‘Where’s Zorin?’ asked the professor.

‘He’s sugared off to the States or Bermuda.’ He stopped and gave this some more thought. ‘Yes… Bermuda. And he’s going to ring me back later to tell me more about his important mission. But meanwhile… meanwhile… I’m just here on my own.’

The Professor manged to get little more sense out of Yulian, who agreed to drink large quantities of water and get into bed to sleep it off. But the professor did glean some information which a sober Yulian Agaron would never have divulged

The information confirmed what they had suspected. The King’s Lynn incident had indeed only been a trial for other targets. It appeared that as soon as he had set the machines up again in Norwich, Yulian’s next task was to write a series of attack modules for different but very specific targets. Unfortunately, Yulian fell asleep mid-sentence before he had divulged any details of these.

The professor immediately rang Wilder.

He told Wilder every detail he could remember of Yulian’s drunken call and, as soon as he’d finished, Wilder ran back across the bar of the King’s Lynn hotel and told Jessie Marker all of it.

‘There’s nothing we can do tonight,’ said Wilder. ‘We’ll get over to Norwich early in the morning. With a bit of luck the professor’s mobile phone will have captured the number of the phone Yulian rang him on. But I’ve no idea how we set about finding him.’

‘You forget I’m Norfolk born and bred,’ said Jessie. Norwich is quite a big place – at least a couple of hundred thousand people, I’d guess – but we can worry about that in the morning.’

They paid their account that night and Wilder went out and hired a car for an early start in the morning.

 

 

 

18

 

 

Yulian’s apartment, Norwich

 

Yulian was not quite sure what was happening. As he woke, he became aware of the ringing of the doorbell and a loud insistent hammering on the door. It was dark outside as he rolled over and managed to rise up onto one elbow and then, in one slow-motion manoeuvre after another, got off the bed and onto his feet. He noticed his mobile phone lying there and quickly stuffed it into his pocket – too many secrets on it for comfort.

‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’ he shouted, as he clutched at his head and stumbled towards the door. The banging and the ringing had stopped and, as his head throbbed less, relief flooded over him like a soothing balm. When he opened the door, he was confronted by an exceptionally tall young man who Yulian guessed to be in his mid-thirties. He had a haunted look to him, with dark rings under his eyes, and his sallow skin made him look as though he might be ill, though his smile was warm enough.

‘Hello, I’m Andrei Boykov. Mr Zorin told me you’d be expecting me,’ he said.

Yulian immediately brightened. Apart from occasional chats with Zorin, Yulian had spoken little Russian; it reminded him of his father. He immediately took to Andrei.

‘Come in. You’re a welcome sight,’ said Yulian, ushering him into the room with an exaggerated sweep of his arm, a gesture he would never have used had he been completely sober. ‘I’m afraid I went on a bit of a bender at lunchtime and must have dozed off. Sorry not to have answered a bit quicker.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ grinned Andrei, dropping his large canvas bag in the narrow hallway and walking on into the apartment. ‘If I were all alone in a small city like Norwich I’d go on a bender too. Anyway, as I said, Mr Zorin sent me here not just to assist you and keep you company but to work with you on developing the fullest possible potential of the quantum machine.’

‘That’s wonderful news,’ said Yulian, immediately forgetting his anger at having to pass on years of acquiring knowledge of quantum machines to a stranger. ‘Can I get you a drink or something?’

‘Well, it’s already past my usual time for my evening meal and I have to say I’m starving, so…’

‘Oh, I’m afraid I have nothing here in the apartment,’ said Yulian, looking crestfallen. ‘I’ve been having all my meals at a nice pub just up the hill,’ he added, forgetting that he’d only been there the one time. ‘It’s only about half a mile from here at most. We could go up there if you’re desperate for something to eat.’

‘We could kill two birds with one stone, as I think they say here in England,’ smiled Andrei. ‘Let’s go up to your pub and we can get a meal and have a celebratory drink all at the same time.’

‘I’m sorry. I have no idea what time it is. I had a meal in the afternoon and then I… I… er…’

‘It’s after seven o’clock, and I feel like I’ve been travelling for hours,’ said Andrei. ‘If you’re not hungry you could just have a drink to keep me company.’

‘Great. I can show you to your room when we get back,’ said Yulian.

 

The two strolled up the hill to the pub in the balmy evening of late spring. They got themselves their celebratory drink and something to eat – very little for Yulian but a huge T-bone steak with chips, mushrooms and peas for Andrei; he plunged into it as soon as the waitress had put it down in front of him and devoured it as though he hadn’t fed for a week.

Yulian nursed a couple of pints of lemonade while Andrei enthusiastically downed two pints of strong lager as he ate. During the meal he brought Yulian up to date with his knowledge of quantum computers which, to Yulian’s surprise was well advanced. Yulian assured him that in no time at all he would fill him in on how he had mastered the synergy between the quantum computer and the digital machines. He also told him about the professor and, in his new delight at such a personable new companion, he unloaded days of pent-up loneliness by rambling on about on Gemini, his theft of Perry’s track-hiding software and other matters of a similar kind.

Had he not still been suffering from his lunchtime bender, he would never have dreamed of such an outpouring but, as Andrei was confident would happen, even if he touched no alcohol, he would soon be suffering again from the quite pleasant effects of the lunchtime session and would weaken. He was right. After the lemonade, Yulian swapped back to vodkas and tonic.

It did not take long for Yulian to get drunk again and, with talking to someone his own age for the first time in maybe months, he suddenly confessed to his call to the professor.

Andrei knew this was strictly against Zorin’s orders, and with good reason. His own instructions were to have no contact whatsoever with outsiders. As soon as they’d eaten and finished their drinks, Andrei helped Yulian back down the hill and into the apartment. He then guided the stumbling Yulian to his bed, allowed him to collapse onto it and, pulling off his shoes, covered him with a blanket. Yulian was snoring even before Andrei was out of the room.

 

As soon as he got back into the living room, he glanced at his watch: ten-fifteen; it would be six-fifteen in Bermuda. He rang Zorin.

He was afforded complete silence as he told Zorin everything that had happened since his arrival including all the details of Yulian’s call that late afternoon to the professor. When he had finished, Zorin simply said, ‘Put the phone down, go and find a pad and something to write with, and then pick up again.’

Andrei did as he was told, returned to sofa, and pulled the low coffee table closer.

‘Ready,’ he said.

‘First, find and destroy the mobile phone that Yulian used. Let’s just hope he didn’t use the landline for the call to the professor. We may be in luck. Since Yulian was drunk when he made the call and the professor’s number would be on his own mobile, find it, destroy it, and we’re still in the clear. Next thing to do: first thing tomorrow you need to get up to speed with the new proto-Gemini. You need to get from Yulian exactly how it syncs with the digital machines, what to do with breakdowns and all of that. Though we have unlimited support from the manufacturers, I want as little contact with outsiders as possible. Check all the attack modules Yulian is supposed to have written. They should be virtually complete by now. Hopefully you’ll only need to add in the specifics for each of the targets. By tomorrow afternoon, you need to be as near as possible to one hundred percent competent on Gemini, okay? You know that this was always likely to happen to Yulian, and you know what we now need to do about it.’

‘I do,’ said Andrei, ‘and I can get a hold of Goran Anokhin; he came up to Norwich with me and is staying less than ten minutes away from here.’

‘Good,’ said Zorin. ‘We’ll have to do the next attack after the move – after we’ve got you and all the machines over to New York. All the arrangements have already been made and all I need to do is to tell them to come in and get you late tomorrow rather than the middle of next week as originally planned. There’s little doubt that Yulian’s call to the professor will have got that pain in the arse Wilder coming after you and the machines. Do you think you can get one hundred percent up on the machines by, say, lunchtime tomorrow?’

‘I don’t see why not,’ said Andrei. ‘Why don’t I ring you from the warehouse by midday tomorrow. That’ll be eight in the morning in Bermuda. That should be enough time to fix everything and get us out of here in the afternoon.’

‘That sounds good,’ said Zorin. ‘The only one I need to check on is the flight. We may need to charter another freighter, but that’s my people’s problem, not yours. We’ll leave it like this, then. Ring me by midday tomorrow. All you need say is ‘go’ or ‘hold’ and I’ll have the rest in hand by then. In the meantime, cover all the bases, and for God’s sake destroy anything that Wilder could use to track you down.’

 

 

 

19

 

 

Warehouse, King Street, Norwich

 

The following morning, a Sunday, Yulian had recovered from the previous day’s excesses and, chivvied by Andrei, the two of them went down to the warehouse as soon as they’d had a meagre breakfast. They made themselves more coffee from supplies found in the small office, but had to drink it black. They started work with enthusiasm and swift dedication. Yulian was impressed by the speed with which Andrei picked up everything that was thrown at him. He also excelled on a test that Yulian set him – replicating the attack on the electricity supply, at an electrical sub-station like that at King’s Lynn. This they did over the internet on an out-of-the-way village in the Camargue region of France, where there was a good chance few would be using electricity at the time anyway.

 

It was late on Sunday that Andrei finally sat down in one of the two chairs in the warehouse and beckoned for Yulian to take the other one. Yulian left off tinkering with one of the laptops and came over.

‘You’ve taught me well,’ said Andrei. ‘So well, in fact, that I think that between the two of us, we’re now ready to implement the next phase of Mr Zorin’s plans.’

‘Come over here,’ said Andrei, rising and going over to the trestle table on which his briefcase stood open. He pointed to map of the next target lying open there. Yulian went closer, bending forward to concentrate on the map. Andrei silently picked up a small iron bar used for opening crates, which was lying nearby, and swung it down hard onto the back of Yulian’s head. Yulian crumpled forward, just missing the briefcase on his way down to the concrete floor. He was dead before he knew what had hit him.

Andrei knelt by the fallen Yulian and checked for any sign of life. There was none. He quickly searched through Yulian’s pockets, emptying them out on to the concrete. A substantial sum in twenty-pound notes he stuffed into his own pockets. But he was really concentrating of finding Yulian’s own personal mobile phone, the one he had used to contact the professor. That needed to be destroyed; even if it was switched off, the surveillance people at GCHQ could probably track its location. He wasn’t entirely sure of the state-of-the-art technology in that specialised field, but it worried him. He couldn’t find it, and made a mental note to search for it when they cleared out the apartment. He then wrote a quick suicide note and stuffed it into one of Yulian’s pockets.

Next, he grabbed a large sheet of thin tarpaulin lying nearby and, with some difficulty, rolling the body first one way and then the other, wound Yulian’s body up in it.

This done, he sat for a moment as he gathered his breath and his thoughts. Leaving Yulian bundled up in the tarpaulin, Andrei sat on a pile of pallets and rang Goran.

‘It’s me,’ he said as soon as Goran answered. ‘The time’s come. Did you do as I asked you?’

‘I did,’ replied Goran. ‘And am I glad you’ve called. I was beginning to despair of ever getting out of this place.’

‘Well, the deed’s done so it’s all “go” from now. Get yourself over to the warehouse. We’ll settle your B&B account and collect your things later. Right now I need you here as fast as you can make it.’

‘I’ll be there in a few minutes.’

Andrei shoved his mobile into his pocket, hurried out of the barn and, collecting his car from a large car park just up the road, he drove down and parked it outside the warehouse doors.

Goran arrived in less than ten minutes and the two of them immediately set about getting Yulian’s body into the boot of Andrei’s car. From the warehouse to the bridge that Goran had found was just a ten-minute drive and, once there, it took them no time at all to unwrap Yulian’s body, heave it up onto the bridge’s parapet and roll it over to fall to the railway line below. They then drove back to the warehouse, stopping half way for Andrei to ring the police from a phone box and tip them off anonymously about a body they’d seen on the line.

 

As train commuter services would start early on Monday morning, the police had no choice but to get the body off the line right away, destroying much of the potential forensic evidence. But, even though it was a Sunday night, there was some effort made to identify the victim of what was assumed to be a suicide.

There was no identification on the body. And battered by its fall from the bridge above, there was no significance given to the severe blow to the back of the head. In one of the pockets was a tightly scrunched receipt for a late afternoon meal and many vodkas and tonic. In a different pocket was a note written in Russian. Forensics called in an interpreter from the University of East Anglia decipher it for them. It was sad tale of loneliness in a foreign land. The signature was indecipherable, even to the interpreter.

The tragic incident was mentioned briefly on television in the local Look East news. It was also some time until the police got around to interviewing those that responded to the television plea for anyone who knew anything to contact them. In responding to one such call, what puzzled police most was that whereas the piece of paper had cited loneliness as the reason for the suicide, two members of staff at a city centre pub came forward to say that the victim had moved into the city recently and that they had seen him with a stranger the previous evening and eating a meal alone earlier in the day.

 

By Monday evening these witness stories, and other circumstances surrounding the death of the young Russian, made the suicide theory untenable. This immediately put new life into the story and two national newspapers sent reporters up to Norwich to delve in in greater depth.

Two top investigative journalists from one of these nationals were sure they would soon crack the truth to this intriguing story but, however persistent they might be, it was going to be too late to have any effect on Zorin’s plans – far too late.

 

 

 

20

 

 

Norwich City Centre

 

Wilder and Jeesie Marker had spent a fruitless Sunday hunting around Norwich but both saw the Monday morning news on television and had no doubt that the body referred to was Yulian’s. But even with the young man now dead, it was still possible that Perry or GCHQ might be able to track his mobile phone. And after a call from Wilder, Perry contacted GCHQ and attempted to do this.

Wilder and Marker left immediately after that and drove over to Norwich. On the way they discussed what to do when they got there. They decided to discover what the police knew and, fortunately, Marker’s connections gave her an entry through a senior officer she knew in the local force.

On arriving in Norwich, Jessie directed Wilder to the police HQ where they met up with her contact. In exchange for much valuable background on Yulian from Wilder, he told them all that the police had gathered to date. It was clear from this that Wilder and Marker’s first visit should be to the pub where Yulian had eaten the meal for which the receipt had been found.

‘Let’s try and get an idea of the atmosphere of the place,’ said Wilder as they walked from their hotel up the hill to the pub; though it was only mid-morning, as it was a prominent city-centre pub it was sure to be open for coffee.

‘See if we can work out which of the waitresses fits the descriptions in the news – the one who was interviewed by the police,’ said Wilder as they got there and parked the car.

‘With a bit of luck,’ added Jessie, ‘Yulian may have been here for a few days, may have had several of his meals here, so I suppose that it’s possible that some of the other staff would also have known him – give us more than one impression of him?’

‘Yeah, maybe,’ agreed Wilder. ‘We can pretend to be mourning relatives. From what the professor has told me of Yulian, he was a nice quiet young man, so maybe the staff will commiserate with us and help with some more information. It’s possible he may have come here with his killer.’

‘Yes, and if we’re playing the grieving relations,’ said Marker, ‘we might coax more out of the staff than the police did.’

 

They found that the pub was quiet, as expected so early, and they ordered themselves coffees. They picked a small table tucked away on its own. After a while, an attentive waitress came round checking that the tables were freshly polished and that the menus were sitting up neatly in their little stands. Marker began sniffing and mopping at her eyes, pretending to be crying into her handkerchief. As she had hoped, this attracted the waitress’s attention and she came over. Wilder, playing the part of a male lost at what to do when a woman cries, looked pleadingly at the waitress.

‘Is there anything I can do?’ she said, bending down near Marker.

‘I’m afraid I perhaps shouldn’t have brought Jessie here,’ said Wilder. ‘It’s my fault. But the newspapers said that this was the really friendly pub where her cousin came for all his meals – that is, before he took his own life yesterday.’

Marker blew her nose heavily into her handkerchief.

‘Oh, do you the lonely young foreign man?’ said the waitress. ‘Such a lovely, quiet customer.’

With Marker still quietly crying, Wilder took advantage of the waitress’s friendly approach.

‘As you don’t seem to be too busy at the moment,’ he said, ‘could you tell us how he seemed when you saw him last? I mean, we were mortified when the news said that he took his own life. Was he sad and…?’

Before he had even finished his sentence, the waitress cut in on him. ‘Heavens no, not sad at all,’ she said. ‘On the contrary, he had a friend with him the second time he came in. They spoke in a foreign language all the time.’

By now she had checked that her conversation was not causing the young manager at the bar any problems and, seeing that all was well on that account, she squatted down on a chair next to them and leant forward.

‘He came in on his own earlier, and he seemed really happy to have some company now. It was the first time he cracked a smile all day – laughing with his friend and enjoying long conversations. That’s why we were so mystified when the very next day the police came to question us about his suicide. They were really surprised when I told them about his new companion.’

‘And this man who was with him,’ said Wilder, leaning forward like the waitress, ‘this new companion of his, what was he like?’

‘To be honest I didn’t like the look of him at all,’ she replied. ‘Maybe it’s because he was a foreigner, but then so was Yulian. But he was really rude to us staff – very abrupt and demanding, and he had a spooky kind of look about him.’

‘Still, you said that Yulian seemed to get on well with him?’ said Wilder. This friend – was he tall, short, slim, fat?

‘Oh, very tall,’ answered the waitress instantly. ‘I watched as he left, had to bend right down to get through the door there.’ She nodded her head towards the double-door entrance to the pub.

‘Don’t suppose you’ve seen him since then, have you?’

‘Only the once, thank God,’ horror at the thought flitting across her face. ’It was just after the police had been here…’

‘Sorry to interrupt, but how did the police know to come here?’ cut in Wilder.

‘I asked the same thing,’ she smiled – great minds thinking alike. ‘They told me he had nothing on him but a crumpled five pound note and inside that a receipt from this place.’

‘Okay. You were saying that Yulian’s companion came back after the police had gone?’

‘Yeah. He asked first, real nice like, if we’d told the police anything. Well, of course we said, “Tell them what?” I mean, what did we know? They didn’t seem to be bothered, to be honest – said it was just a routine suicide enquiry, and they just wanted to find out what the victim had been doing, who he’d been with. Things like that.’ She seemed disappointed not to be able to tell Wilder more, and she shrugged her shoulders.

‘The very tall man,’ said Wilder. ‘After he’d asked you nicely if you’d told the police anything, what did he do then?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ said the waitress, ‘that’s right. He turned real sinister like – real nasty, you know, and all aggressive like – and says we’re not to breathe a word to anyone that we saw him with his friend, or…’

‘Or what?’

‘He didn’t say. Didn’t have to, if you know what I mean – like on those TV thrillers. Gave the impression he’d come back an’ do us all in, finish us off, know what I mean?’

‘I do,’ said Wilder. ‘Well, thank you very much; you’ve been more helpful than you can know. Here’s my card, and if this very tall man comes here again, can you give me a call right away? I’ll be around for the next few days anyway, so we’ll see you again.’

The waitress peered down at the card, which had on it just Wilder’s name and his mobile number.

‘Yeah, I’ll certainly ring if I see him again.’

At that moment a call came through for Wilder. He excused himself from the other two and took the mobile outside. The call was from Craithe.

‘Yes, Prof. Got something for me?’

‘I most certainly have,’ replied the professor. ‘On my large monitor here, I can see that you’re standing outside a pub near the city centre…’

‘I am.’

‘Okay. First, face the front entrance. If you now walk away from the pub, to your right…’

‘What’s this about, Prof? I’d better go and get Jessie Marker from in the pub if you’re sending me off somewhere.’

‘GCHQ have picked up a weak signal from the mobile that Yulian Agaron used to call me…’

‘Good God,’ shouted Wilder. ‘I’ll get Jessie right away and we can go together.’

He rushed back inside the pub and waved frantically to Jessie, who quickly rose from her chair, bade farewell to the waitress and came running out of the pub to join him.

 

 

 

21

 

 

Norwich City Centre

 

As soon as Jessie Marker joined him, Wilder got back to the professor on his mobile.

‘Sorry about that. You were about to give me instructions as to where Yulian’s mobile is?’

‘Yes, I’ll repeat from the beginning again. Facing the pub entrance, go a hundred yards to your right.’

As Wilder and Jessie set off, Wilder put his mobile onto speaker so that Jessie could hear as well. They followed the professor’s directions down a steep hill towards the river maybe a quarter of a mile below them. At the first road they came to, he told them to go left along a row of houses. This they did, but as they approached a four-storey block of luxury apartments, two men ran out of the building. At that moment the professor knew that this very building must be the site of Yulian’s phone. One of the men was exceptionally tall, maybe six-foot-six or even seven, the other short and swarthy. Both ran, carrying a couple of suitcases and some other bits and pieces. They threw these into a four-wheel-drive SUV, climbed in, and with wheels spinning accelerated off up the slight incline towards the city centre.

On impulse, Wilder shouted out for them to stop and sprinted forward, trying to get a better view of the men as the SUV drove away.

‘Damn,’ he said, giving up the chase. Jessie had already taken out her mobile and noted down the registration number of the vehicle. This Wilder passed on to the professor.

‘I don’t suppose it will do any more than confirm my suspicions, but can you check on the owner?’

The professor said he would, and as Wilder and Jessie ran into the building, he promised to get back to them as quickly as possible.

In the large hall, he saw that a door into the ground level apartment had been left wide open, and remembered that the professor had been directing him to Yulian’s mobile. He rang him back, and apologised for the hiccup.

‘The signal from Yulian’s phone: is it near mine, as we speak?’

‘Absolutely side by side. So that means you’re in Yulian’s apartment. You say that a couple of people just fled as you arrived? Well, you’re in luck because Yulian’s phone is still in the apartment rather than with them. They would certainly have looked for it, knowing that if they didn’t destroy it we would do exactly what we’re doing now. If they were living there with Yulian you might have a job finding it, as Yulian might have hidden it from them. Anyway, I’ll let you get on with your search and I’ll be in touch if we get news on the owners of that SUV.’

 

Inside the apartment, it looked as though a bomb had hit it. Every room in the place had been torn apart, perhaps with looking for Yulian’s mobile, perhaps for other things Yulian had left behind – things that might give a clue as to where the people who turned out to be his assassins might be headed.

‘My guess is,’ said Wilder to Jessie, ‘that one of those two we saw fleeing this place may have been keeping a look-out for us and seen us coming down the hill. Let’s just take our time and do a proper search, room by room. We’re in no hurry till we get a lead on the SUV.’ They worked their way through the sitting room, the bedrooms and the bathroom, and were starting on the kitchen when Wilder suddenly said, ‘Hang on a minute. If Yulian wanted to keep his old connection to the professor as his link to the past and didn’t want the other two to know about it, the only place he could take it in and out of its hiding place if others were in the apartment would be in the bathroom.’

He ran back in there and slowly and systematically looked about him. Suddenly his eyes lighted on some glass shelves holding unusual ornamental objects – decorations serving no main bathroom function. On the top shelf, at around his head height, there was large glass bowl holding inside it a huge candle – probably scented when lit. Beside it was a box of matches, and further along the shelf some old apothecary jars with ancient names of medicines they’d once contained. Wilder gently picked up and shook each of these in turn. The left-hand one contained something. The jar rattled with it. His heart pounding, he pulled it down and looked inside. There was Yulian’s mobile phone.

‘They must have been in a real hurry to have missed this,’ he said as he retrieved it from the jar.

He and Jessie went back into the living room and Jessie found a pad and some paper in one of the drawers of a tall dresser. As they went through the contents of the phone, it gave them a wealth of information about Yulian’s orders for the development of his new proto-Gemini, and an hour later Jessie had jotted down three pages of notes. They took a break and she went to make them some coffee.

They were just about to go through their list when the professor rang back and told them that the SUV had been rented by a Mr Andrei Boykov, who gave his UK address as Zorin’s house in London. Clearly he had never expected to be caught driving it, though, in emergencies, the Zorin empire would swiftly have dealt with accident claims and the like.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of the location of the machines, though there were numerous other cryptic, almost shorthand notes, and Wilder decided to look into these later. Yulian’s mobile was of a well-known brand and Wilder was later able to put it on to charge in his hire car. Though it was highly unlikely, he wondered if Zorin might ring it, if only to see if the telephone had been found by Wilder and, if so, if any of his secrets had been found on it. He also got Mina at her MI6 intelligence office to check through the surveillance cameras in the area around Yulian’s apartment. Yulian’s flatmates might have used the car when going to the machines, but as Yulian had been on foot here, Wilder hoped that the machines might not be far away. Perry, the most inventive of the Gemini team, spent considerable time trying to find a way to track them. He was looking for what he called ‘markers’ in the software – they might respond to a search by GCHQ.

 

For the rest of the day, Wilder sat and waited. Like a cat near a mouse-hole, he sat, hoping perhaps that Andrei might need some cash from an ATM to fund his travels. Unfortunately, though Wilder was not to know it, Andrei had taken over Yulian’s large wad of cash. He was not going to use a cash machine till he got to New York.

 

 

 

22

 

 

Off South Shore Road, Bermuda

 

Victor Zorin paced up and down the teak decking. Alexis Mitkin sat in his wicker chair nearby occasionally casting a furtive look towards his boss. But he was wary of being caught doing so, for Zorin was in one of the fieriest moods he could remember. He hoped the fury might die down as matters now seemed resolved and the large single-storey house they had rented near the beach was tranquil and largely isolated from its neighbours. Tall hedges, covered in bougainvillea and low dense trees, bent over permanently by the sea breezes, gave the place a much-needed air of seclusion. Mitkin had already run down off the end of the couch-grass lawns, across the beach of caster sugar-white fine sand and plunged into the warm crystal-clear sea. He urged Zorin to do the same, but he was still too busy nursing his rage.

Zorin stopped pacing and came and sat down in a wicker chair next to Mitkin and in the shade of an enormous pink umbrella.

‘As soon as we’ve got the machines,’ said Zorin, ‘and we’ve got Andrei and Goran over to New York, we’re going to have to do something about this menace Wilder. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s got in our way.’

Mitkin sought to divert the conversation.

‘Has Andrei confirmed the cargo flight the machines are on?’

‘Well, those are separate matters now,’ replied Zorin, ‘and with so much happening, perhaps I should bring you up to date.’

‘Yes please; leaving the UK in a rush has kept me pretty busy,’ said Mitkin.

‘We always reckoned that the King’s Lynn trial might alert the authorities. With hindsight, I should have specified that when I said I wanted the two young men kept silent about their raid, I didn’t mean for them to be publicly killed and left lying on the lawn there.’

‘Not very bright,’ agreed Mitkin.

‘But when the Gemini team was called in, I have to confess that was a bit of a shock. Still, we’d always planned to move to Norwich because of its airport, so moving earlier than planned was no great hassle. Pity about Yulian going off the rails. That was a real pain. And this man Wilder coming looking for him…’ He gave a grunt of exasperation. ‘God damn it, that’s about as much as I can take from this man.’

‘But it’s sorted now, isn’t it?

‘Well, thank God that Andrei’s a quick learner and got himself up to speed on Gemini. So, yes, in a sense it’s sorted. Though I won’t relax till I get confirmation of all the arrangements. Just now, for over an hour, I’ve been waiting for a call from John Straker.’

‘The director of the travel group?’

‘That’s the man. After the Yulian Agaron business and, as I said, Wilder following it up, we’ve had to bring all our plans forward. I had wanted to do the next trials from the UK. But we’re here now, and I must say it’s a pleasant change from the cold.’

 

To his relief, the call came around midday.

‘John here,’ said Straker. ‘Just calling to give you an update on what’s been happening since you left the UK. Andrei has been in touch with me and spent a good hour giving me a full account of everything. He said that Yulian Agaron taught him all he needed to know on the machines and the two of them did some trial runs on the next planned operations. He’s shut them all down and they’re ready for shipment.’

‘And the press and police aftermath with Yulian?’ asked Zorin. ‘No chance of a follow-up or repercussions?’

‘No, all clear. Everyone’s accepted it was suicide so all of that is now finished with.’

‘So, shipment and the men’s flights are when?’ asked Zorin.

‘We’re getting Andrei and Goran out this afternoon. We’re using the well-tried transatlantic ploy that will get them into the States through what I might call the back door. It will take us a bit longer – a whole day longer, to be precise, but better that than having them stopped at a border attracting attention.’

‘Oh, absolutely. And there’s no concern about their false identities and their backup paperwork?’ asked Zorin. ‘I understand that the authorities have new machines that can detect the age of the paper of forged documents. I know my heart nearly stopped as my papers were scrutinised when Alexis and I came into Bermuda – and that was off a private jet, for goodness sake.’

‘Yes, I know. But there’s no need to worry; we have a tame ex-senior customs and immigration man who looks over all our forged documents trying to detect even the most minute flaws.’

‘Okay, but you know how much is riding on this?’

‘As I said, don’t worry. I know only too well you’d pursue me into a hole in the ground if I let you down.’

‘Oh, I’m not sure I’d…’

‘Yes you would, and you know it.’

 

 

Since driving away at speed from Yulian’s apartment, with a shouting Wilder chasing them on foot, Andrei and Goran had counted themselves lucky they had left when they did. Had they left Yulian’s apartment a minute or two later they would all have met up somewhere in the building.

After driving few hundred yards up the hill towards the city centre, Andrei had to pull over to the side of the road so that Goran could open the door and throw up into the gutter. Like Andrei, he was not only a highly competent computer hacker, but had also been in dangerous situations. The difference this time was that he was in a foreign land, under a false name, and was an accessory to murder. This combination of circumstances was proving rather more testing than he’d been used to before.

But he recovered, and as soon as they reached the city centre, Andrei drove the SUV right up to the top of the city’s largest multi-storey car park. He drove over to the side of the roof directly above the entrance. Here he and Goran got out of the car and went over to the side of the building. Andrei sat precariously where he could get a good view of cars coming into the car park. If there was any sign of police arriving to block the building, they would take the lifts down to the floor that gave access to the shopping mall, where they could lose themselves amongst the shoppers.

Here they waited, Goran pale and pacing back and forth like a caged zoo animal. Andrei waiting for the call. At last, an hour since they’d been sitting there killing time, the call came through.

‘John Straker here; how are you doing?’

‘How do you think?’ answered Andrei – close to shouting at the man for keeping them waiting so long. In that time Andrei had even been wondering if they’d been abandoned. It was only Andrei’s knowledge of all Zorin’s plans that reassured him that being left to their own defences was not an option. ‘I already told you, a tall Englishman chased us as we drove away from the apartment. Goran’s been sick with worry and we’re here just…’

‘Okay, I’m sorry about that,’ cut in Straker. ‘It was difficult rearranging the cargo flight for the machines – but that’s all been done now. So, here’s what’s going to happen from now. Incidentally, where have you been lying low?’

‘The main multi-storey car park.’

‘Okay. By the time you get back down to the warehouse the van collecting the machines going to the States will be nearly finished loading up. We need you to double check that the right machines have been loaded up and that there’s nothing missing from the van. Once it leaves the warehouse, there’ll be no going back. Have you got that?’

‘I’ll make sure and Goran will make second check.’

‘Good. The two of you can just dump the SUV, hide it away somewhere – just not so ridiculously difficult that we can’t recover it later. Okay?’

‘Yeah, I know a place.’

‘Once you’ve double checked the machines again, you’re to leave the two men we’ve sent to clear up all the evidence you were ever there. They’ll take away the machines that aren’t going to the States. The two of you are to go to Norwich Airport in the van just in case they’re putting a block on roads out of the city. When you get to the airport, just check in with your bags for the six-fifteen flight to Amsterdam. When you get to the Schiphol, you’ll be met off the flight and given new instructions. These will include which transatlantic flight you’re on and at that time you’ll also be given new names, identities and papers. All right?’

‘Is this really necessary? How are we to remember who the hell we are supposed to be?’

‘If you just sit down at some point and give it some serious thought, you’ll realise that if you can’t be bothered to remember your new identities, you can of course spend the rest of your days behind bars. If you get your act together, when you get out to New York, it’ll be into the arms of Zorin’s men. With these two choices, you may think it worth the effort to…’

‘Okay, okay, I understand,’ said Andrei. ‘We get new IDs and we’re put on a flight to where?’

‘You’ll get all your instructions at Amsterdam,’ replied Straker, a sharp edge to his voice. ‘For now, until you get to Amsterdam, just concentrate on seeing the machines safely into the van and accompanying it to Norwich Airport, okay?’

‘Okay.’

Straker was gone, and the two of them climbed back into the SUV and Andrei drove it back down to the warehouse. The two men who were to clean the place up had arrived. They must have been there a while as the machines that were bound for the States had already been stowed away in the large van.

Andrei and Goran carefully checked the machines and some peripheral equipment off their list and then checked again. Everything seemed in order, but they also gave a good look around the warehouse.

Satisfied, Andrei parked the SUV up a narrow alley opposite the warehouse and they all climbed into the van and left. Both sighed with relief as they set off on their way out of trouble and away from trials for murder.

 

 

 

23

 

 

The Warehouse, King Street, Norwich

 

On leaving Yulian’s apartment, Wilder and Marker’s most immediate and pressing problem was where the hell to look next. All they knew was that the suspects had fled from outside the apartment block. Yulian’s mobile had in its notes section just one helpful comment -like instructions to himself when he and the machines had first arrived in Norwich. Out of apartment block, down to King Street, warehouse right then up on the left, the note read,

‘Why don’t we take a walk down a hypothetical route he might have taken and maybe we’ll strike lucky?’

‘You think so? asked Jessie, looking decidedly quizzical.

‘Think positive,’ replied Wilder.

 

They set off down the hill from the apartment block and soon reached King Street. If Yulian’s warehouse was going to be on the left, as his note suggested, they now needed to turn right up the slight incline of King Street. Sure enough, on their right were some more apartment blocks, some of them quite new but others on their left were old warehouse conversions. After a couple of hundred yards, Wilder happened to glance up to his left. There was the white SUV, half-hidden by a large builder’s skip full of building renovation junk. He immediately put out an arm and pulled Jessie back towards him, putting a finger up to his lips. Both then crept forward, on the lefthand side of the road, close to the buildings. Just twenty-five yards further on there was a large warehouse and Wilder pointed to it and gave a thumbs-up.

With their hearts thumping within their ribcages, they moved forward on tiptoe. As they got nearer they could hear talking inside. It was in a foreign language and it was an easy guess that it was Russian.

The front door was ajar and they got themselves right up to it. Wilder peered through the gap between the door and the lintel. All he could see was a small hallway beyond which was another doorway into what looked like the warehouse itself. The voices came from this second space. It was now obvious that they had been able to hear the men inside earlier because their voices were raised in heated argument. Whilst these two voices continued with their dispute, Wilder signalled to Jessie and they both moved quickly through the first doorway and took cover behind the door into the larger room beyond.

Hearts still pounding and senses heightened, they could smell a strong aroma of something like linseed. Wilder shifted his view a bit and could then see that the warehouse was largely filled with packing cases and oil drums. Some of these appeared to have been pushed back to make space for two long trestle tables.

Without doubt, this was where the quantum machine had been and, nearest to the door they were hiding behind, there were a couple of laptops and some other small pieces of equipment on one of the trestle tables.

Two large men, looking like fitness-keen gymnasts or sportsmen, were standing on opposite sides of the trestle tables. They seemed to be arguing about the amount of equipment that had been left here – one of them gesticulating at the machines and then shrugging his shoulders. The other was insisting that it all had to be cleared. Quite near them, draped over a pair of chairs, there were jackets and on the floor, amidst some personal items, there was a gun, still in its shoulder holster.

Wilder made signs to Jessie that she was to stay hidden until he had the gun and was in command of the situation. He ran forward, and was very near to the gun when one of the men reached forward and pulled another gun from behind what looked like a printer sitting on one of the trestle tables.

‘What have we here?’ he said, as he levelled the gun at Wilder. Then, gesturing with the weapon, he ordered Wilder forward and indicated that he wanted him to sit down in a chair further on. Wilder walked past them both. They were just too far for him to lunge for the other gun so he kept going till he reached the chair. The one holding the gun now had his back to Jessie as the other went to get a length of rope.

She dashed silently over to the gun on the floor, pulled it from its holster and, hoping it was loaded, threw off the safety catch and fired, just as the man holding his gun on Wilder spun round at the click of the catch. Her first shot hit him in the knee and, with a howl of pain, he lowered his gun, both hands going down in an automatic response to his injury. Wilder leapt to his feet and smashed the side of his hand into the back of the man’s skull. By instinct, he also swung round just as the other man was bringing down a shaft of wood onto him. He managed to deflect the blow, though it still hit him hard on the shoulder – enough to get a sharp grunt of pain and anger out of him.

He then swung his other hand sharply in a wide arc and caught this second man inch-perfect in his solar plexus. The man let out a gurgling gasp as he crumpled forward, and as his head came level with Wilder coming up after the blow to his shoulder, the bridge of his nose was met with a vicious blow from Wilder’s other hand. He went down onto his knees and then fell forward onto the concrete floor, unconscious.

The man with the gun was about to recover himself when he received another strike from Wilder, who had spun round again before the other man had even hit the ground. He dropped his gun, and Wilder grabbed it and held it to the man’s head as he lay writhing on the ground holding his shattered knee.

Wilder gave Marker a quick look and suddenly noticed for the first time that she was lying on the ground, wounded. One of the shots must have come from the man on the ground. She struggled to a chair and he ran over to her to help, still keeping half an eye on the two men on the ground.

She gave Wilder a weak grin and nodded her head.

‘You all right, or at least not too bad?’

‘I’m okay,’ she whispered back.

Wilder, reassured, stepped forward towards the two groaning men, the second one now coming back to consciousness. Wilder gestured that both should back up along the floor and prop themselves up against a stack of wooden pallets just behind them. This they both did, though with difficulty.

Taking out his mobile he rang Craithe. As soon as Angus answered he quickly ran through what had happened and summed up the current situation. He asked him to phone for an ambulance to be sent to collect the three wounded, and gave him the address. This done, he asked Angus what the Russian was for “where is Andrei?”

Angus gave him the phrase and Wilder used it on the two men. The younger of the two now looked terrified, and cast his eyes down to the floor. The elder just looked back up at Wilder and smirked as though he did not understand. Wilder stepped forward quickly and put his foot firmly down on the man’s shattered knee. He then applied a bit of pressure which got screams of agony in response. As soon as the man had recovered and was sitting there whimpering, he looked back up at Wilder and grinned again.

This time Wilder stepped forward and nonchalantly fired a shot near the man’s other undamaged knee. The shot was close enough to pass through the cloth right next to the man’s flesh. It might even have nicked him, and it instantly got the message through to him – with two shattered knees he would probably never walk again.

In passably good English, he said, ‘He left long time ago, maybe two hours.’

‘Where to?’ asked Wilder.

‘New York,’ replied the man.

Wilder rang Angus again.

‘Ambulance is on the way,’ said Angus, ‘How are things your end?’

‘Andrei left for New York an hour or two ago. Even if he’s on a feeder flight from Norwich into Heathrow or Amsterdam, he’ll be long gone by now. Even though it’s a long a shot, I’m going to get myself out to Norwich airport, see what I can find out.’

Just as he was about to leave, the ambulance arrived and the two Russians were loaded into it. Wilder agreed to take Jessie Marker in his car.

He ran back to where he’d parked it before coming to the warehouse and drove back down as fast as he could. By the time he got back, Jessie had recovered somewhat and the ambulance people had confirmed that it was only a flesh wound. To make the journey to the hospital a bit more bearable, they gave her a painkiller injection. Before leaving the warehouse, Wilder collected up the two laptops and put them on the back seat of his car. He would later need to get these sent up by courier to Craithe Castle so that Perry could go through them. Perhaps they’d be lucky and find some clues as to where the other machines had been taken.

He drove Jessie out of town to the City’s main hospital; luckily this was in the same direction as the airport. He saw her settled in the Accident and Emergency area and said he’d be back for her within the hour. Leaving the hospital, he took a cross-country route, using an enlarged map on his phone. On reaching the airport he parked and ran into the main concourse. Being a small local airport this was a low-ceilinged room, and it didn’t take him long to find out that there had only been two flights out recently. One of these had gone to Edinburgh, the other to Amsterdam. He managed to find one of the check-in hostesses who would have knowledge of the passengers on that flight.

‘I wonder if you could help me. I am anxious to know where a couple of Russian passengers were booked through to. They left here on the Amsterdam flight but they will have been booked on from there.’

‘I’m sorry; we can’t divulge passenger information.’

‘I’d rather not get the police or the Home Office involved, though I will do that if you can’t give me just that one piece of information I’m after.’

The hostess seemed willing to help, but said it would be more than her job was worth to do so.

‘I quite understand,’ said Wilder, smiling kindly at her. ‘So, to keep your job safe let’s get your most senior manager available in here, then whatever we do will not impact on you personally.’

A senior supervisor was duly called for, but when he arrived he appeared to be one of those thankfully rare people who, as soon as they don a uniform, believe they have been elevated to a position of power. Even after Wilder told him that the two Russians might be evading a murder charge if they managed to get out of Europe on a flight to the States or to Russia, he still refused to give him the information he needed.

‘We’d better get you some assistance, then,’ said Wilder, still smiling, and hoping this might work before the two Russians did indeed fly out again from Amsterdam.

‘I’m ringing Deputy Commissioner Tremayne in Norwich and I’ll put the call on speaker so that you can hear that I’m being completely fair to you.’

The supervisor had now gone pale, and as Wilder got through to the police HQ and asked for Jessie’s contact, Tremayne, he touched Wilder’s arm and whispered, ‘I’ll give you the information you need.’

At that moment Tremayne came on the line.

‘Commissioner, it’s Jessie Marker’s friend, Tom Wilder. We met yesterday on the…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. How can I help?’

‘I’m here at Norwich airport. The two Russians that Jessie and I were trying to find and who may have been responsible for Yulian Agaron’s death flew out of here this afternoon bound for Amsterdam. I’ll pass you over to the two airline officials in a minute and they can give you the passenger names and their final destination.’

The supervisor had leant close to Wilder and whispered, ‘New York.’

‘I believe they’re bound for New York, and you may want to invoke the European arrest warrant to stop them getting out of Europe. I also just wanted to say how very co-operative and helpful the two airline people here have been in passing on this vital information. Indeed, I hope you manage to stop them as result of their help.’

‘As Wilder passed his mobile to the supervisor he gave Wilder a mimed ‘thank you’, and gave Tremayne the details of the two Russians.

As soon as he got his mobile back from the supervisor he made another call to Bob Brady, head of IPI in New York. He gave him an abbreviated version of the story. If the Russians had already flown to New York, Zorin would be that much closer to whatever dreadful plan he might have for Gemini.

‘I’ll need to discuss this with my colleagues here in the UK,’ he said to Brady, ‘but my guess is that they’ll be happy for me to come out to New York. I’ll let you know for sure in less than an hour.’

 

 

 

24

 

 

Norwich Airport, Norfolk

 

Andrei and Goran’s flight arrived spot on its scheduled time. As they walked along the seemingly endless corridors towards passport control, Andrei wondered what their next instructions were. His last instructions had included having his mobile phone on at all times except when forbidden to do so on the aircraft.

As they were getting near to passport control, Andrei got a call on his mobile phone. It was from Alexis Mitkin. As Mitkin was speaking to him in Russian, Andrei pulled Goran aside and they stood while their fellow passengers passed on by.

‘Listen to me very carefully and say nothing until I have finished. Understood?’ said Mitkin.

‘Yes,’ replied Andrei, a sudden dread filling his head and causing his stomach muscles to contract. Was there some hitch to their getting out of Europe. Were they about to be apprehended at passport control. Had they been traced in time to be extradited back to the UK? These thoughts rushed through his mind in fractions of a second.

‘When you get through passport control and customs at Amsterdam, this is what you are to do. Although you and your luggage are booked straight through to New York, you will not, I repeat, you will not go through the channels marked for transit passengers. Instead you will follow the passengers who are terminating their journey at Amsterdam. Is that clear?’

‘But what about our luggage?’ asked Andrei.

‘Your luggage will go straight on to New York and you will never see it again. In a minute, I will tell you what to do about that. When you’ve been through customs and have only your hand baggage with you, you will be met by a very large Dutchman by the name of Jan. He will recognise you from photographs he has been sent. You therefore do not need to worry, look anxious or feel any sense for being on your own. Jan speaks good Russian, but while you are in public will speak to you in English. You will do exactly as he tells you, and you have Victor Zorin’s personal assurance that you are in safe hands. Do you understand all of that?’

‘Yes, absolutely,’ replied Andrei, his spirits visibly lifting and affecting Goran too.

‘Good, then repeat it all back to me,’ said Mitkin.

This Andrei did without making a mistake.

‘As soon as you are able, you and Goran are to write down everything from your suitcases that was of any importance to you. Try to give an indication of sizes of collars and shoes but don’t worry if you do not know them. Just remember you do not have to worry about anything at all, other than going out of the right channel at Amsterdam and surrendering yourselves to Jan. Do you have any questions?’

Familiar with Zorin’s huge organisations, Andrei knew better than to question these instructions – and he was well aware of how important both he and Goran were to Zorin’s plans.

‘No questions, no,’ he said. ‘And I’ll convey all of this to Goran. You can take it from me, he will do exactly as I tell him.’

‘Okay, but first, before we end this call can you hand your mobile phone to him?’

Andrei turned to Goran.

‘It’s Mitkin,’ said Andrei as he handed over the phone. Andrei watched as Goran listened to Mitkin and smiled as Goran handed the mobile back to him. Goran had perked up considerably.

As they got out into the busy arrivals area, they walked slowly through those meeting people off flights. Suddenly, from their right, a tall and somewhat overweight man put a heavy hand on Andrei’s shoulder, causing his heart to miss a beat.

‘Hi, I’m Jan,’ he said in faultless Russian, beaming with what seemed to be a genuinely welcoming smile. ‘I’ll be taking care of you from now on. Just follow me.’

He strode off at a brisk pace, Andrei and Goran hastening after him. As they got out of the concourse and into the chilly air, a large SUV with darkened windows drove right up to Jan. The driver leapt out of the vehicle and snatched their hand baggage from them, and Jan asked both for the lists of the things in their suitcases which they had been asked to provide. After a bit of fumbling around to find their lists, they handed them over to a man they had not seen earlier and who had suddenly appeared from nowhere and, on getting the lists, vanished again into the crowds.

Jan then ushered the two of them into the SUV, telling them to sit on the wide back bench-seat while he climbed into the front. The moment he had slammed the door shut, the SUV powered away through the heavy traffic as though it possessed some magical pass; traffic seemed to part in front of it as it sped out of the airport complex. Jan gave the driver a couple of instructions in what Andrei assumed was Dutch, and then shared a joke with him. He turned in his seat to talk to them.

‘Probably a bit disconcerting,’ he said in fluent Russian, ‘to have no control over what’s happening to you. And though this may have appeared to be a panicky operation to get you safely out of the UK, there was always a possibility that Yulian Agaron might leave us suddenly and a quick exit like this might become necessary. So, as I just said, though all of this may seem rushed it’s been well-planned for some time.’ Once again, thinking about the time he’d been with Zorin, Andrei was impressed with the way all of his different organisations seemed to tick over with Swiss watch efficiency and reliability – most reassuring.

‘Just before we get to the French border, I’ll tell you more of the full plan, taking you to Paris and giving you new names, passports and papers. I’ll also give you cheat-sheets written in Russian to help you learn more of our further plans for you. It must have been a worrying time getting away from Norwich and, if you wish, you will find some glasses and Victor Zorin’s own favourite vodka in the cabinet in front of you. You will also find, next to it, small pull-down tables. Help yourselves. I’ll leave you in peace for a bit now as the driver and I must use an unusual route out of Amsterdam. This is just in case the UK has already issued a European Arrest Warrant for the two of you.’ After this rather alarming message, Jan turned away from them and started up a conversation in Dutch with the driver.

Andrei opened the cabinet, pulled down one of the tables and poured three glasses of vodka. He handed one to Goran and Jan, hearing the clinking of glasses, turned around and joined them in a toast to a successful escape from British justice.

The two Russians enjoyed a couple more vodkas, and the combination of these and Jan’s air that he was in complete control of events soon had them relaxed. Just before the French border Jan handed them their new passports and they looked through them – both finding it strange looking at their own photographs next to names they’d never seen before. Going through the French border took no time at all and a while later, as they began to drive through the suburbs of Paris, Jan turned to speak to them again.

‘As you will have appreciated by now, your parts in Zorin’s plans are too important to risk you flying into New York. There is a Mr Wilder taking a keen interest in you two. Mr Zorin has long had good contacts running contraband across the Canadian-American border. So, from Paris you’ll be flying to Montreal. From there you’ll be taken down to New York City by whichever route is being least heavily patrolled. The authorities have purges on one route one week and then nothing on it for weeks. But we know their patterns so you’ll be fine. You may also find it reassuring if I tell you that Mr Zorin’s contacts have been playing this game for over a hundred years – they’ve got pretty good at it by now – so you’ll be safe.’

‘And the machines?’ asked Andrei.

‘Flown into New York already. They’re hidden in Queens, a major district of New York City. Your hideaway is close to New York’s JFK International Airport – just in case we need to evacuate you in an emergency.’

Andrei didn’t like the sound of this but said nothing.

‘As always these days,’ continued Jan, ‘travel is a tedious business, even if well looked after in business or first class. But on some sections of your journey things may get a touch rough. Don’t worry. Above everything else, getting you safely to your hideaway in Queens is the top priority.’

Jan left them alone again, suggesting they read their briefing papers and learn who they were now supposed to be.

As he bade them farewell at Paris’s Orly Airport, he wished them bon voyage and, almost before they could reply, he was gone.

 

For their cover getting into Canada, Andrei and Goran were a pair of important Ukrainian dissidents who were being granted asylum in Canada. They were accompanied on the flight by a genuine Canadian diplomat whose financial problems were such that he was willing to escort them in return for a substantial sum from Zorin. He looked after every aspect of their travel and entry into Canada, and was there of course to back up their story. The accompanying documents and background stories were impressive, and as they walked out to the waiting car at Montreal’s Dorval Airport, they both felt important and almost invincible.

As they went out to where the buses and arriving passengers’ cars congregated, the Canadian diplomat handed them over to an Italian-American New Yorker who told them only that his name was Carlo. He was affable enough but gave them no more information. They were driven south-west up the Saint Lawrence river, and after around an hour and a half they pulled off the highway and were soon in a delightful small riverside township. As they got near to the wide St Lawrence, the car pulled into the driveway of an extensive riverside house. It was well-kept but seemed deserted.

‘This evening we’ll take you on a little pleasure cruise,’ said Carlo, ‘and we’ll finish up at one of our regular spots in upper New York State.’

‘Surely they patrol the river?’ said Andrei.

‘Oh sure they do, but we’re well known and we have a business taking tourists up and down the river so they don’t give us any problems.’

 

But it didn’t work out that way. The plan was that they would keep Andrei and Goran down below-decks in the tourist cruiser. In addition to Carlo, and his assistant whose name they could not remember, there were three other men, complete strangers. The ploy was that five of them would be in the cabin below, playing cards and drinking, with the two Russians furthermost from the cabin door. They were nearing their arrival point on the American shore when a patrol boat came powering over to them. They were ordered to heave to. Andrei and Goran had gone pale but had been told to try and appear to be slightly drunk and enjoying themselves. They were given US passports which were placed on a shelf behind their heads.

As the US customs and immigration officer jumped across from the patrol boat to the tourer, down in the cabin the scene was one of laughter, cards and drink – too much drink. There was much clinking of glasses in toasts and a cacophony of discussion on who had just won or lost the last hand of poker. As the officer came down the steps into the cabin, the laughter in the smoke-filled cabin died down only as his foot came to rest on the floor of the cabin. He was tall, unsmiling, and had to take off his peaked cap to see down into the cabin. He looked at the bunch and Andrei, who had been told what to do, raised his glass and said, ‘Hi.’

The officer looked him over and then the others, all of them grinning drunkenly. One of the strangers suggested that the customs officer’s shift must be nearly over and offered him a place at the table.

‘Passports,’ said the officer.

Everyone fumbled about and Andrei reached round behind him, pulled the two US passports off the shelf, handed one to Goran and, like everyone else, held his up in the air, proof of temporary possession maybe, certainly not of authenticity. The officer took the passport of the man nearest him, leafed through it, but didn’t seem that interested.

‘Where are you from?’ he shouted out to Andrei.

‘Potsdam,’ replied Andrei, genuinely slight slurred with drink, the bottle of bourbon on the table drained down to within a centimetre or two of the bottom.

‘Potsdam down the road?’

‘Sure.’

The officer challenged another and then, turning, went back up the steps to the top deck.

‘Whose deal is it?’ shouted out one of the strangers, and the general din of the card game started again. Moments later they heard the engines of the patrol boat increase again; the idling rumble became a full-throated roar and then faded as it left them to hunt down other smugglers.

Carlo came down from on deck and, not that reassuringly, said, ‘They’re not usually that bothered.’ He gave a thumbs-up in Andrei’s direction and went back up the steps. It was only just enough to stop Andrei from throwing up from tension and fear.

 

 

 

25

 

 

Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital

 

After Wilder had got all the information he could from the airline staff at Norwich airport, he checked on Jessie Marker at the huge hospital where she’d been taken with her gun-shot wounds. She was fine, but they were going to keep her in for a couple of days to ensure there were no complications from her ordeal. He spoke briefly to her and told her he’d be in touch as soon as he’d decided what to do next.

It took him around an hour of telephone calls to gather enough information to make his next decision. It did not surprise anyone that Andrei and Goran had vanished the moment the flight had landed at the Schiphol. And though their luggage had been routed right through to New York, the authorities were able to check that they did not themselves transfer onto any flight to the US.

Matters were made no easier when a quick check showed that there were no cargo flights out of Norwich. Later careful investigation showed a van that had come out of King Street in Norwich was later seen on surveillance cameras travelling down the M11 motorway, headed south towards London. Too late, it was spotted parked at Heathrow Airport, not far from where cargo flights were loaded. Its being there meant that it was likely that Zorin’s quantum computer and other digital machines had been flown out of the country. This was near-useless information, as they could have been equally sent to Moscow as New York.

 

Wilder caught a train to London and, from some more calls made on the way, just one tiny glimmer of hope came to him from the professor up at Craithe Castle.

‘We won’t know if this is going to work but I’ll try and explain to you something hypothetical which may help you later.’

‘Anything at all, Prof; even the smallest amount of help would be great,’ said Wilder. ‘What’s this hypothetical thing, then?’

‘Firstly, have you ever come across propriety software, which will track your laptop when it’s stolen?’ asked the Prof.

‘Yes, I’ve got one on my mobile to track my laptop and vice-versa.’

‘Good, at least you understand the principle. We may be able to use the same kind of software to track Zorin’s quantum computer.’

‘That would be great. How and when are you going to do that?’

‘Can’t do anything till their machine’s switched on. We can then begin our searches. There are a number of techniques we can use and we can send GCHQ a link which will give them a snippet of our identifier software. Using the global reach of their surveillance capabilities, all their satellite links and their links to search capabilities in, say, New York, Moscow, Manila and so on, as soon as Zorin’s people switch on their quantum computer some identifiers within it should become visible.’

‘That’s incredible. So you’ll be able to give us the location of the machine?’

‘Haven’t tried it before,’ said the professor, ‘So I won’t go that far. An analogy might be that it will be like a metal detector telling which of two haystacks a needle is in. But I doubt we could triangulate accurately enough to take you closer than to tell you which part of a city it’s in. We’re unlikely to be able to take you to the street or the building.’

‘Pity,’ said Wilder.

‘But look on the bright side,’ continued the professor. ‘We’re still working on some other ideas which might enable us to get more focused and give you a smaller area and, who knows, maybe the building.’

‘Well, keep at it, Prof, and let me know if you get even a clue as to where they’ve gone with this machine. I don’t have to tell you, but as soon as the American authorities learn that there’s a weapon out there with the massive capabilities of Gemini, all hell’s going to break loose. The last thing we want is for politicians to get involved.’

‘Why do you say that so vehemently?’ asked the Professor.

‘Because they’ll mobilise as though for a third Wold War and that’ll prompt Zorin to hide his machine away even more by delaying using it. Then, at some point of his choosing, when our guard is relaxed, he’ll strike. Better allow him to proceed now with whatever plans he has while he thinks no one’s expecting anything.’

‘Well, that’s true,’ said the Professor. ‘If his operator puts his main quantum machine inside something like a Faraday Cage, not even GCHQ would be able to find it.’

‘A Faraday Cage?’ repeated Wilder. ‘That jogs an old memory or two. I seem to remember that from school physics – remind me, what is it?’

‘In simplest terms it’s a wire-mesh cage. They could surround the machine with something as simple as chicken wire mesh, run a small electrical charge through it and anything inside the cage can’t be scanned – becomes invisible, if you like.’

‘I see,’ said Wilder slowly. ‘And do you think that they’ll consider doing that with their quantum machine?’

‘Well, if I were in their shoes, that’s exactly what I’d do. But don’t worry, if they want to do any damage with their machine, they’ll have to come outside the cage to do it.’

‘Oh God. Don’t things ever get easier than this? Still, I have great faith in you, Prof, and in that genius team of yours. As soon as they settle their machines and switch it on to see it’s survived its travels, I expect a call from you telling me you know where it is.’

‘You can mock me and the team,’ laughed the professor, ‘but get yourself ready for the call.’

 

The following day, Wilder got the call.

‘You’ll be pleased to hear,’ the professor told Wilder, with undisguised pleasure in his voice, ‘that Zorin’s quantum computer has arrived in Queens, somewhere not far from JFK. I know that’s still a pretty big haystack, but as I said before, we’re continuing to work with GCHQ on a way to narrow that down for you. But at least you can get yourself out there, can’t you?’

‘That’s wonderful news, Prof. Many thanks, and tell the rest of the team how much everyone appreciates the work they’re doing.’

‘They know that already,’ said the professor, ‘but I’ll pass on the compliment nevertheless.’

 

Wilder flew out to New York on the next available flight. The hunt for the proto-Gemini had begun in earnest.

 

 

 

26

 

 

Ballikinrane, South Shore, Bermuda

 

Victor Zorin sat out on the decking at the back of the house. It had been a long day, much of it taken up by putting the final touches to the next phase of his plans. Both he and Mitkin sipped long cool Tom Collinses – heavy on the vodka, light on the soda water.

‘So you’re not that pissed off about that man Wilder being largely responsible for the changes of plan?’

‘Oh, I’m still pissed off with him, but the new arrangements have worked out okay. I’m relieved that we’re back on track,’ replied Zorin.

‘I know I haven’t been involved in what you’ve been arranging this morning, but I’d be interested in how all these different strands come together – I mean, some of your calls have seemed to be unconnected with others…’

‘I don’t see why I shouldn’t tell you now,’ mused Zorin as he took another sip of his drink. ‘Let me see… the best way to explain this…’

For a minute or two he gazed off across the crab-grass lawns, over the sugar-white beaches and at the crystal waters of the sea beyond.

‘You know about the next two attacks, the ones that Yulian wrote the basic software for?’

‘Yes, but about those,’ replied Mitkin. ‘How did you explain those attacks to such a meek and mild guy as Yulian? I’d have thought he’d be the kind of guy who’d rebel at inconveniencing tens of thousands of people, which his attack software most certainly will.’

‘Simple, my dear Alexis,’ replied Zorin with one of his self-satisfied smiles. ‘I told him that the computer engineers at both sites would be made fully aware that the attacks were coming and would take action the moment they hit. In that way there wouldn’t actually be any power cuts that the general population would notice. There might be a flickering of the lights or, at worst, a cut for a second, and people would just have to reset their oven clocks – hardly disastrous, eh?’

‘I see,’ said Mitkin slowly. ‘But actually, we are going to cause blackouts near Moscow and then in Queens?’

‘Of course we are. How else am I going to make a few million, even a billion or two, at the same time as we’re testing our proto-Gemini?’

‘And the long call and the exchanging of pages of emails with the press and publicity people, I didn’t get that – am I being stupid?’

‘Now that you surely should have understood,’ said Zorin. ‘The press bit is the most important part of the whole phase.’

‘I’m sorry, I really have been stupid.’

‘Oh, don’t knock yourself out about it,’ said Zorin. ‘That’s why my bank account’s healthier than yours.’

‘Well… are you going to spell it out for me or not?’

Zorin laughed, and looked across at Mitkin for a moment. Without his strong-arm man, for all his devious brilliance, some of his shadier successes would never have been possible.

‘Okay, what’s going to happen is this. Andrei is going to use the proto-Gemini to cause disruption, first in Russia, and then in Queens in suburban New York,’ said Zorin.

‘And I presume that these disruptions will be of the same kind that we tested in King’s Lynn?’ asked Mitkin.

‘They will. Yulian has set up the attacks for the several different electrical sub-station defence systems; and to make sure that Andrei had mastered all that he’d been taught, he set him a test on the Moscow one, which he passed with distinction. But the most important part of these attacks comes in through the press releases. Hence all my discussions of them. As I said a moment ago, the two attacks are near meaningless without the press back-ups.’

‘So what role do they play?’

‘The key role. Tip off the major publications throughout Russia, Europe and the US that there are rumours of attacks about to take place – you know the kind of thing: Sources high up in the Kremlin are preparing for a major cyber-attack on their financial trading systems… Then come the attacks from Andrei’s machines. The press come into play again immediately after the attacks. In the Moscow press they’ll naturally blame the US and, after the attack on Queens, they’ll say that those were caused by Russia retaliating. The press will also hint at this being the start of a major cyber war between the Russia and the US. And it’s at that point that I stand to make a small fortune on the foreign exchange markets.’

‘And how exactly does that work?’ asked Mitkin.

‘I won’t go into that technically but, in essence, all those calls to the brokers were setting up what you might call my bets.’

‘Your bets?’

‘Yes, forward positions for very large sums of money,’ said Zorin, ‘which, in non-technical language, means I’ve placed bets that both the rouble and the dollar will drop in value as the markets react to the consequences of a cyber war.’

‘And?’

‘Technically, it’s called selling the two currencies short. I borrow vast sums to cover my bets that the currencies will drop in value on the international markets and, when they do, I take the profit – hopefully a billion or two. Very neat when all we’re doing otherwise is testing our proto-Gemini ready for President Balakin’s really big one.’

‘President Balakin’s big one, what’s that?’

 

Before Zorin could answer, the telephone rang. Mitkin rose, went over and picked up the handheld for the landline. After a moment, he came back, holding it out towards Zorin.

‘It’s Andrei for you.’

Mitkin listened intently to what followed, as it was likely to signal the start of the fun.

‘The fara-what…?’ said Zorin, a frown on his face. It cleared a moment later. ‘Ah, a Faraday Cage. Yes, I understand. So you’re ready to go with the Moscow attack this evening and the Queens attack eight hours later? Good. I’ll notify the Kremlin. Good luck, and keep me posted, especially if you detect any reaction to what you’re doing from the real Gemini people on Craithe. Don’t worry about the time differences or whether I’ll be awake or not, just keep me informed. Oh, and good work, Andrei. Your very special reward will be in your bank account just as soon as the job’s done.

 

 

 

27

 

 

JFK International Airport, New York City

 

Sitting in a plane for some seven hours had been deeply frustrating for Wilder. The relief that they at least knew where the proto-Gemini had been taken was tempered by the fact they still didn’t know what its targets would be. This was not helped by the fact that there was no one to share his worries with.

On his own side – Macrae, Jessie and the Craithe team. But the last thing he wanted to do was worry any of them further by constantly reminding them of the danger Zorin posed. The only certainty about Zorin was that he would use his new toy with discretion to start with – no flamboyant trials that would help Wilder or Bob Brady track the location of the machines or tell them what his targets were going to be.

Though this kind of investigation was quite usual for him, Wilder’s great difficulty right now was the knowledge he had of the devastation that even a poor version of Gemini could wreak on the US. About the only person with whom he could be frank about the potential horrors of the current situation was Bob Brady. During the flight, he’d written Brady a long email and had sent it the moment the aircraft allowed mobiles and laptops to come out of flight mode.

 

As he was waiting for his luggage, he rang through to IPI in Manhattan. Brady was out so he just he waited for his baggage along with the several hundred others off the flight. But, as he had his phone out anyway, he re-read the email he’d sent.

It finished up with this:

 

My guess is that when Zorin decided to steal the quantum computer in Canada, it was for a couple of reasons. He knew he’d never manage to steal what was needed from Craithe – too many machines, too large. Impossible. I guess the other reason was that it would be easier to build a Gemini piece by piece in the UK and run tests there on small out-of-the-way locations. His bringing it back to the US strikes me that this is where he proposes to deliver his coup de grace. Have your group of five detected anything which could give us an idea as to what he’s up to or what his main target is going to be? Could this be the subject of our first meeting when I land?’ Bob Brady’s Group of five, consisting of himself and four of the brightest young rising stars from the four biggest US intelligence agencies, would be sure to contribute greatly to his search capabilities and would portably already have files on Zorin – so clues might result.

 

As he waited he also resolved to get away for a couple of hours and go and see Lucy. Another thought struck him on this resolve. After Zorin had kidnapped her once, he’d need to arrange that meeting carefully. Oh God, why did life sometimes seem to get so complicated?

 

Brady had been out of the office as he had done Wilder the favour of meeting him at JFK – a pleasant surprise. Wilder walked out into the main concourse and they got all the personal catching-up out of the way on the drive back to Wilder’s hotel – the St Regis on Fifth Avenue.

Up in his suite Wilder quickly freshened up, splashed welcome cold water over his face and brought his mind back into sharp focus. With Brady, who’d once been his boss, he’d need to be sharp as a tack and there was not a moment to lose in hunting down Andrei and his machines.

Brady had ordered some coffee and bagels and got straight down to business.

‘There’s only one intriguing thing that my group of five have come up with that we thought might be connected to Zorin’s Gemini machine,’ said Brady as they tucked into the bagels.

‘Good, what’s that?’

‘The Canadian manufacturers sent an email to Zorin. Of course it doesn’t tell us where he is but it intrigued us because we didn’t fully understand whether it had significance or not. I’m only mentioning it to you now because we wondered why there would be email exchanges unless it was significant.’

‘Now you’ve got me interested,’ said Wilder.

‘In brief, it talked about a specialised dongle for the quantum computer. Does that make any sense to you? A dongle usually being for communications purposes.’

‘It does indeed make sense to me,’ said Wilder. ‘And I’m afraid it means it’s not good news for us or for the US.’

‘Enlighten me.’

‘The professor told me a while back,’ said Wilder, ‘that in most cases installations can be attacked by Gemini through the internet, right?

‘Yes.’

‘But in a few cases, for maximum security, some institutions isolate their critical mainframes from danger of attack via the internet by isolating key machines from any direct link between them and the internet. In these cases Gemini could still get at them by getting a highly specialised internet dongle secretly inserted into such an institution’s mainframe – this giving them access to it for an attack.’

‘The implication of that being what?’

‘That Zorin’s making sure that if his main target – or targets, plural – is sensitive enough to be isolated from the internet, he’d still be able to attack it.’

‘But if such institutions were that paranoid about security to isolate their machines, how the hell would they to get a dongle into the machine they want to attack?’

‘Not as difficult as you might think,’ replied Wilder. ‘Don’t you remember in the case of that Japanese company I got access to where they’d hidden stolen intellectual property on one of their mainframes. I got fake computer engineers to go in to do an unnecessary software upgrade…’

‘Ah yes, I remember that. Anyway, on you go. The internet dongle – you were saying…’

‘I believe that for a dongle attack the attacking machine and the target need to be fairly close geographically.’ That may give us a clue to the machine’s location if we can think up a list of the most vulnerable and devastating targets in New York City.’

‘Christ, that list could be a mile long.’ Brady took a gulp of his coffee and then quickly put his cup down again. ‘Another thought has just occurred to me… Yes, it makes sense now you’ve told me about dongles.’

‘What’s that?’

‘There’s been just one other internet telecoms chatter with Zorin’s name included in it. That chatter has been between two of the largest brokers on the foreign exchange markets – the Forex markets. They’ve been confirming between them huge credit facilities for a company that belongs to Zorin. Though they were obviously trying to make it look as though they just need forward funds for legitimate business purposes, the credit lines they were talking about were so vast that Zorin can only be preparing to do one thing…’

‘Play the foreign exchange markets,’ said Wilder finishing his sentence for him.

‘That’s it,’ said Brady. ‘But with huge sums at stake, he’d only do that if he’s certain he’s onto a winner. And to be onto a winner he either has to use his proto-Gemini to fix the markets – almost impossible, I’d guess – or he’s going to do something that will affect the markets so that he can bet on them in the certainty of winning.’

‘Ah, so nice and easy,’ joked Wilder. ‘All we need to do is to guess what he’s going to do to get the foreign markets to move.’

‘Yes, and equally importantly,’ added Brady, ‘we need to warn the authorities that this is likely to happen.’

‘I think I know how we can get that to happen almost instantly,’ said Wilder.

‘Which is?’

‘For me to ring an old friend of Angus Macrae’s,’ said Wilder. ‘Turn what Zorin thinks is going to be a nice little earner into a financial disaster instead.’

‘And you can arrange that?’ asked Brady, smiling at such a delightful prospect.

‘Let’s see, shall we?’ said Wilder.

 

 

 

28

 

 

The St. Regis Hotel, New York City

 

Wilder checked his watch. It would be mid-afternoon in London. Still time to put a cat among the pigeons. As managing director of the City of London’s second oldest bank, Angus Macrae would know just how to thwart Zorin’s plans and Wilder knew that in addition to overseeing one of London’s most prestigious banks, he was also a long-standing friend of the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was lucky too. Macrae was in his office – not bogged down in some interminable meeting.

‘Angus, good afternoon. It’s Tom Wilder here. I’m calling you from New York.’

‘Yes, Tom, how goes it?’

‘Hectic as usual, but not as bad as I need to make your day right now.’ Wilder then went on to give Macrae the evidence collected by GCHQ and the big agencies in the US and he finished up with his and Brady’s conclusions.

‘It seems to us that Zorin’s setting himself up to do some big gambling on the foreign exchange markets. We don’t know how his version of Gemini is going to come into this, but more importantly, what the two of us are asking for is for you to see if you can get the Bank of England and probably the Federal Reserve Bank in the US to go into the markets to counter any bets he might make. We’ve got the names of the two brokers that have been discussing Zorin’s lines of credit.’

‘Good tip-off, Tom, and thank Bob Brady for his part in this too.’ Wilder had purposely put the phone on speaker for this call and, on hearing the remark, Brady smiled and nodded his head.

‘I can certainly get things moving this end,’ Macrae added, ‘and no doubt the Bank of England will make whatever arrangements it deems necessary as far as support elsewhere around the world goes. It’ll be good to give one of these speculators a good kick up the arse. You say you don’t know yet how this man Zorin is planning to use his Gemini to get the markets moving.’

‘Not yet, so we’ll need to look out for unusual events which might spook the markets and cause them to fall.’

‘Doesn’t matter that much; we can act in seconds once big brokers like those two begin to play games. But if you do hear any more, let me know. In the meantime, relax and let me get to work.’

‘Thanks Angus,’ said Wilder, and rang off.

 

Angus Macrae first called his old university friend Freddy Briston. He was in luck as Briston was in his office at the Chancellor’s official London residence, Number 11 Downing Street. He was thankful, as Briston might have been in the House of Commons, The Treasury, or any one of half a dozen other places.

He got personal greetings and polite exchanges about each other’s families out of the way in less than half a minute. These were followed by a near-verbatim summary of what Wilder had told him.

‘That’s good work by your man and his American colleague,’ said Briston. ‘Be sure to pass on our thanks to them. As you know, my political position vis-à-vis the Bank of England has to be seen as being completely independent of them – you know, all that rubbish about political threats and all that. But I can get around that, especially in an emergency such as this. So, take it easy and leave it with me.’

 

The Chancellor went downstairs in person to see one of his most trusted aides, Bill Mason. He was so busy running over the most diplomatic way of saying what he needed Mason to do that he just walked straight through his outer office, smiled and nodded to Mason’s secretary, and went straight on into the room. Mason leapt to his feet; this was probably the first time he had been visited by the Chancellor in person.

‘Sit down, sit down,’ said the Chancellor as he sat across the desk from Mason. In turn, he repeated almost word for word what Wilder had told Macrae.

‘So, you need to get on to the Governor of the Bank of England, give him all the information, the names of the big foreign exchange brokers. The fact that they’ll be acting for Victor Zorin may not be immediately obvious but that’s not the important point. He’ll know what arrangements to make with the Fed and others to get them to smash Zorin. Okay?’

Briston left Mason’s office, nodding to Mason’s secretary again on his way. As soon as he was past, she quickly rose from her desk and scuttled into Mason’s room.

‘I’m so sorry, but as I’m kinda trying to give up cigarettes, I didn’t have one at lunchtime. I’m afraid I’m not completely winning yet. May I go out the back of the building to have one now? – if you don’t need me for anything, of course.’

‘No, I don’t need you for anything, I’ve an important couple of things to occupy me for half an hour. On you go, Francesca. See you later’

 

She ran downstairs and out of Number 11 into the gardens at the rear of the building. She carefully checked around her and looked at the windows directly above. She got out her cigarettes, lit one, and then got out her mobile phone. Her hands trembling slightly, she looked up a number and rang it.

‘Frobisher and Smiley,’ came the answer.

‘Mr Frobisher, please. You can tell him it’s important and that it’s Francesca from 11 Downing Street.’

The mention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s official London residence opened the way through to Frobisher as though by magic.

‘Hello, Francesca,’ said Frobisher. ‘Very unusual for you to risk ringing me like this. Some kind of emergency?’

‘Just thought you’d like to know that if Mr Zorin goes ahead with his playing the markets later today or tomorrow, the Bank of England are preparing to move against him and it could cost him a bit. I’ve been here in Number 11 long enough to know the sound of the trumpets of war when I hear them.’

For a few seconds there was complete silence, then Frobisher spoke again.

‘You’ve done well calling me,’ he said. ‘Though the news is not good, I’m sure that Mr Zorin will be very grateful. Very grateful indeed. Thank you for that, and I’m sure we’ll be in touch with you shortly. You haven’t changed your bank details, have you? Same sort code and account number?’

 

While in the business of making herself some extra money, Francesca had one more call to make. But she paused before making it. Her late father’s cousin Alfredo Lupo had recently died and his huge crime organisation in New York had been taken over by Rocco Balboni – an apparently ruthless operator. She’d never done business with this Rocco, but anyone as ambitious as he was reported to be was sure to know what to do with her information on Zorin.

 

Had she known that Balboni was aiming to take over his biggest rival in New York – Giuseppe Massimo’s outfit – she might have been more ambitious when making this call. Had she also known that it was the Massimo organisation which was currently helping Zorin with his plans in New York, she would have realised that the potential for earnings was huge. But she was not aware of any of this.

She rang anyway.

‘Rocco Balboni,’ came the answer.

‘This is Francesca Lupo, Giorgio’s daughter. I live in London and I work in the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer’s offices.’

‘Yes, yes, of course, Francesca. So the two of us will be related by marriage. I was sorry to hear of your father’s passing. You may not know this, but the Lupo family has given me everything I have,’ said Balboni.

‘…everything you’ve taken,’ thought Francesca. She went on to explain how she knew what she did. It was greeted with stunned silence at Balboni’s end. She gave the story that neat touch of credibility when she added that she’d telephoned Zorin’s accountants with this same information. She finished by saying, ‘But Frobisher and Smiley are crooked and devious enough to pay me as a mole in Downing Street. They like to be tipped off in advance of tax laws coming down the line. It occurred to me that, for their own reasons, they might not pass on this important information I’ve given them. I considered that they might even use it to their own advantage without even telling Mr Zorin’s brokers.’

‘Well, well, well,’ said Balboni. ‘So, you thought that for old time’s sake I might be able to turn a buck or two by using the information and passing an introductory fee back to you for giving it to me?’

‘Precisely.’

‘And of course, if I didn’t do right by you, you’d get your own back by ringing Mr Zorin to question my trustworthiness?’

‘Exactly.’

‘This is a dangerous world, Francesca,’ said Balboni, with distinct menace in his voice. ‘This has been a bold call of yours. But I must say it shows guts and good business sense – I like that. I’ll check this out and if it’s all on the level, I’ll see you well rewarded. Thanks for the call. I’ll speak to you again soon – one way or the other, of course.’

Balboni’s remarks, in his harsh Bronx Italian-American accent and the underlying threat of his words were strangely reassuring to her. It seemed to her to confirm that he’d pay well. She clicked the clam phone shut and smiled. She wondered what the going rate was for saving someone from making a billion-dollar Forex-trading mistake.

Quickly she stubbed out her third cigarette, pushed the fag-ends under a bush by the doorway with her foot and went back up to her office. She amused herself by trying to picture the events that would follow these two calls.

 

 

 

29

 

 

Queens, New York City

 

The customs men checking on the boat on the St. Lawrence had been a shock to both Andrei and Goran. Both had suffered similar visions of being locked up in a Canadian or US jail and the key being thrown away. Both also felt emotionally drained as they got ashore half an hour later. They were met by Carlo, the most experienced of Giuseppe Massimo’s people at running things or people over the US-Canadian border. His breezy confidence soon had Andrei and Goran relaxing as they drove south through New York State down towards New York City.

Carlo drove them to the Massimo headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. He made a couple of calls and then explained to them that one of Mr Zorin’s people would arrive shortly and take them to their new home in the US. About half an hour later an SUV arrived. A large man who introduced himself as Kimber took them and their luggage out to the car and they were relieved when they climbed into it with its darkened windows all around. It was reassuring too when Kimber greeted them in fluent Russian.

‘That was the most terrifying journey either of us has ever made,’ said Andrei. ‘From leaving Norwich in the UK, being chased by a man called Wilder, it was dreadful.’ He rambled on, regaling Kimber with his story till Kimber stopped him.

‘Yeah, but you two are valuable parts of Mr Zorin’s plans. He needed to be sure you got down to New York safely, and those mafia Italian-Americans are the best there are at smuggling over the border.’

‘So why didn’t they take us to our new place?’

‘Oh come on,’ laughed Kimber. ‘You wouldn’t expect Mr Zorin to let a bunch of squabbling ex-mafia know where he was hiding you two and his machines, would you?’

‘I suppose not,’ conceded Andrei.

‘The machines have arrived and been installed in suitable premises in Queens. As required, this is not that far from your main target. They are also just round the block from a nice apartment we’ve got for you. From here on, I’ll be looking after everything you need, your comfort, provisions, all that kind of thing. And when the job’s done, I’ll take you back to Massimo’s people, who’ll get you safely out of the US again. Okay?’

‘And who are you, if you don’t mind my asking – I mean, a name like Kimber but accent-less Russian-speaking?’

‘I don’t mind you asking, but you don’t need to know.’ He said this in a light and kind enough manner, but it ended that particular conversation.

Once they had gone over the Hudson, through Manhattan, over the East River, they eventually arrived in Queens. As always for first-timers, the sight of downtown Manhattan took the breath out of them. Having originally come from St. Petersburg, got used to Moscow and been to London, they might have felt they’d seen it all. But nothing had quite prepared them for this first view of New York City. And both felt a similar tingle of excitement, whispering to each other that this was the world they were about to turn upside down.

 

When they got into the apartment they found it large with a good-sized sitting room, and a kitchen with a comfortable-looking eating area containing a table and chairs to seat six. It also had a spacious bathroom with a bath and shower, and two decent-sized bedrooms. Cheerfully airy and decorated throughout in bland pastel shades, its décor could not have been described as very imaginative, but it was far from the prison Andrei had been expecting.

The quantum computer, with its refrigeration units, the digital computers and all the other paraphernalia had also arrived, and was housed at ground-floor level in an old warehouse nearby and within the same block.

As soon as they were settled into their new accommodation, they got a welcome telephone call from Zorin. Following warm words, they got their instructions. The absolute imperative of complete security and secrecy was the first of these. Though it should hardly have needed mentioning, Zorin reminded them that their lives depended on no one knowing where they were. The instructions also included, therefore, the absolute banning of outbound telephone calls – either by landline or mobile.

Kimber then took them over to the machines, and after he left them, they began right away working on setting them up. It took just short of twenty-four hours to complete this and, when finished, Andrei texted the number he’d been given: ‘ready for the first assignment.’

 

The first assignment was to be a couple of attacks on suburban electrical supply sub-stations – the first one on the outskirts of Moscow and the second in Queens. With this latter target, they had taken care looking at detailed electrical supply maps of the whole of the Queens area to ensure that they didn’t cut off their own supply. Whilst carrying out this search, it alerted Andrei to the possibility of Wilder finding their general location and arranging for their own supply to be cut. He contacted Kimber and had a small electricity generator installed. They also installed the quantum machine and its controller laptop on a false floor on wheels. This allowed them to be wheeled in and out of a Faraday Cage within which Andrei could work on the machines, confident that they could not be found by any electronic means. Andrei realised that when he brought the machines out to connect to the internet or to their ‘big’ and ultimate target later on, they would need to come out of the cage.

They were acutely aware that not only would Wilder and the Craithe team be looking for them, but also GCHQ, the formidable surveillance capabilities of the NSA, Homeland Security and the CIA at Langley. But they were not cowed by these thoughts – they had a job to do and knew that, despite the risks, when it came to the final target, it would change the whole balance of power between Zorin and the rest of the world.

His first target was a minor sub-station on the outskirts of Moscow near Pavshino. At 5.30 p.m. local time in Moscow – 10.30 in the morning in Queens – he ran through his final procedures and pressed ‘Enter’ on the controlling laptop. Almost instantly, the combined power of the quantum computer’s algorithms and the assembled high-speed digital machines here in the warehouse did what they had practised on the plant in King’s Lynn – they shut down the sub-station at Pavshino.

 

As intended, it quickly brought mounting chaos. Traffic lights failed in Pavshino, and as the black-out fed back to the huge spaghetti junction of roads nearby, it soon brought the E22 and the M9 coming out of Moscow to a standstill. In turn, the MKAD motorway which encircles Moscow slowed and then came down to crawler speed.

In situations of this kind the world over, drivers’ initial resignation quite quickly turns to anger. Soon increasing numbers of drivers began to react. Ill-tempered phone conversations sprang up between those stuck in the traffic snarl-ups and their wives and partners waiting for them at home.

Andrei was to hold the power-grid incapacitated for two hours. This would stop its electrical distribution for long enough to mystify engineers sent to fix it and cause maximum disruption to customers, but not long enough to escalate into a major issue for either.

These same two hours would also enrage those in their homes – those dependent on electricity to prepare meals. Zorin had mused on this subject several times. Each time he did so he wondered why it had taken so long for a Gemini-type weapon to arrive into fields of propaganda and war. The potential for either real or imagined damage for so little effort had mind-numbing potential.

 

Having achieved its purpose, exactly two hours after shutting down the sub-station, Andrei switched off the lock-down. The engineers trying to work out the mysterious fault had no idea what was causing it. Even advanced diagnostic tests could not determine the cause of the stoppage. They were equally amazed when it suddenly righted itself. Their relief was such that, as anticipated by Zorin, they probed no further into its causes and departed – just happy that the power was back on again.

By design, it was too late in the day for the incident to get into the evening press. This gave Zorin’s well-briefed publicity organisations around the world the time to stoke the story up into a major incident. Contrived quotes from ‘leading experts’ and those ‘close to’ the seats of power laid the blame squarely at the door of the US. As intended, these resulted in a frenzy of speculation both in governments and the general public.

Zorin’s plan gave President Balakin the perfect excuse to try out a new weapon that had been acquired for him and use it in retaliation on the US, but from the safety of foreign soil – Queens.

 

At exactly 5.30pm Eastern Standard Time, Andrei completed the last steps of a similar attack on an electrical sub-station in Forest Hills, just next to Queens. As with the Moscow attack, this hit commuters just as millions were either about to make their weary way home or were already en route. As in Moscow, those about to prepare evening meals would also have to contend with calls from their partners’ mobiles complaining about the horrendous traffic snarl-ups.

In Queens, as traffic lights went out, the number of major roads which converge and meet in many places ground to a halt within minutes. The parkways, turnpikes and expressways all seized up. The Jackie Robinson, the Union, Queens Boulevard – all were turning into inescapable nightmares. With tempers fraying, Zorin’s media people were quickly provided with very real personal stories and quotes and reports, many of them on video, which poured into New York and social media.

As with the Moscow attack, it had been planned to happen too late to get into the evening papers, but the following day all New York’s press and the nationals were full of it. Cleverly, the press had been fed the rumour that escalating East-West cyber-warfare would soon lead to much more serious incidents, and this was soon seen by millions on their television screens.

 

 

 

30

 

 

Ballikinrane, South Shore, Bermuda

 

Zorin had enjoyed his swim and had not even bothered with a towel when he came out of the sea. He had simply flopped down on the sand and dried in minutes lying in the hot sun. He’d often read of the beautiful Bermuda beaches when browsing holiday brochures, and experiencing them for the first time soothed any worries he might have had about his project. After lying there for several minutes, he rose and sauntered over onto the wide decking of the patio. He was soon glad of the shade from the striped canvas awning that ran round over it, as the full sun was now too hot for comfort.

By now the full blast of his press releases would be having its desired effects, not just on the public, but also on the financial markets. He’d leave it for another half-hour and would then ring to see how things were going with his plans to exploit market movements. He was about to pour himself a cool drink when the telephone rang.

It was Rocco Balboni on the line. He too was relaxing, in the late Giuseppe Lupo’s apartment overlooking Central Park. He too was sipping a drink, but with the time-zone putting him an hour earlier than Bermuda, his was just a cup of morning coffee. Balboni had the advantage over Zorin as he was initiating the call, and he had every intention of using that advantage to the full. It included a delicious opportunity over the next few minutes of listening while he turned Zorin’s world upside down.

‘Rocco, long time no see,’ said Zorin. ‘In fact, if I recall correctly, last time we met was at a fundraiser in New York when you were general dog’s-body to old man Lupo.’

‘Yeah, that’s probably right, but with Lupo’s sad passing a month or so ago, I’ve now taken over the Lupo organisation. Sadly, his son Roberto didn’t really have the stomach for the business, if you get my meaning. But, since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, as they say, and much of that in the past few hours.’

There was something in Rocco Balboni’s tone that sent a chill down Zorin’s neck and made the hairs on it stand up.

‘So what’s happened in the past few hours that’s got you calling me?’ ventured Zorin.

‘I’ve done you a great service, my friend,’ came the unexpected reply.

‘You have?’ Zorin’s attention now focused, pin-sharp. The menace in Balboni’s voice had not just been in his imagination.

‘Yeah, saved you being taken to the cleaners, as we say in New York. From impeccable sources in Number 11 Downing Street, the seat of the real power in London, as you will know, I learned that the Bank of England and the Fed here in New York were preparing to come in against your positions in the Forex markets. They had every intention of wiping you out. Not knowing when your options were going to go live, I tipped off your brokers and your positions were quickly covered. I’m surprised they haven’t rung you yet to tell you about this.’

‘They don’t know how to reach me direct here, that’s why,’ snapped Zorin. ‘Anyway, how the hell did you get this number, or anything else for that matter?’

‘Through the Massimo organisation, of course,’ said Balboni.

Zorin’s stomach did a cartwheel. Not only did it appear that his highly lucrative dealings in the markets had been destroyed, but he was now being informed, in this manner, of something disastrous about them. One of the most difficult aspects of his plans had concerned which of the two big mafia organisations to pick as his partners. He had chosen the Massimo organisation, but here he was, apparently being saved by their arch-rival, Rocco Balboni’s Lupo organisation.

This was a nightmare.

As his mind tried to absorb all the implications of this catastrophe, he quickly crossed the decking, and with his hand slightly unsteady, he put aside his cool lemonade drink and poured himself a large brandy from one of the bottles on the drinks table. Immediately taking a large gulp from it he realised he’d missed something Rocco had said and concentrated harder.

‘I don’t know how much money you were aiming to play about with on the markets,’ continued Rocco, ‘but having saved you what I guess might have been some pretty hefty losses, I have a proposition for you.’

For a second or two there was complete silence on the line. Zorin had taken yet another gulp of brandy and waved furiously for Mitkin to get up out of his sun-lounger and come over to him. He hastily scribbled a note on a pad and pushed it across the bar table to him.

‘Sorry about that. Someone ringing me on another line,’ said Zorin in an effort to cover the silence.

‘That’s okay,’ replied Balboni. ‘Probably your brokers telling you how many millions they’ve just saved you. But as I was saying, I have a proposition for you.’

‘You won’t mind if I just check with them, will you?’ said Zorin as he watched Mitkin’s reactions to the note. Mitkin had understood the message from the barely readable scribble on the pad and had got out his mobile phone to ring Zorin’s brokers. In less than a minute he was scribbling a note back for Zorin. Meanwhile, Balboni was explaining.

‘… So I know you patched things up with Massimo and gave him the job of moving your package back from the UK to here in New York. But, in view of the favour I’ve just done you, and trying to keep all of this just between you and I, I’d like to take the rest of that job over from his organisation. Nothing would need to change, just that I would supervise the premises where you have your machines and where your two operators are hidden. I would also provide them with escape routes if anything were to go wrong with your little operation there in Queens.’

‘How the hell do you know about all of this? I…’ exploded Zorin.

‘It’s my job to know about these things,’ cut in Balboni. ‘I admit I was lucky hearing from Downing Street this morning, but I’ve been keeping an eye on the Massimo organisation for some time now. Poor old Massimo doesn’t even know yet that he recruited one of my people into his organisation. He’s lost his touch, that’s his problem. Too fond of his food and wine for his own good.’

As he had been speaking, Mitkin had come across and put a second note on the table next to Zorin. It read, ‘Brokers confirm threat to trading exposed, pulled out of all positions. Millions, maybe more saved.

‘I’m really grateful for your prompt actions on my behalf regarding my trading,’ said Zorin, accepting defeat and trying his best to put a good face on it. ‘And as your man now appears to know all the details of what’s going on in Queens, it seems to make sense if you now take over the project. I have no intention of getting involved in a turf war between you and Giuseppe Massimo. With this change-over, I want to hear back from you within the hour that the two of you have come to an understanding over this and that there will be no war between you. Is that clear?’ He switched on the speaker-phone and waved for Mitkin to come over and witness this last vital bit of the conversation. ‘Naturally, I’ll also tell Giuseppe Massimo that that his services are no longer required. And I’ll tell him that the change-over is thanks to some quite extraordinary service you have provided for me elsewhere. But I want you to assure me this will all be done peaceably.’

‘Of course, Victor.’

Balboni’s use of his Christian name riled Zorin, but then so did this whole nightmare situation. His only consolation was that it appeared he had been saved huge sums of money. Yet, despite the financial savings, Rocco Balboni taking over had been an outsider’s coup – he would need to find a way of getting back control as soon as possible.

‘So, in conclusion,’ said Zorin, ‘I’d like you to call me back within the hour to tell me that the transition to your people looking after my interests has taken place peacefully. I also want you to give Giuseppe Massimo this number and ask him to ring me and confirm that he’s happy with these new arrangements.’

‘Of course I’ll be happy to do that, and I look forward to mutually beneficial business between the two of us continuing into the future.’

‘Indeed,’ said Zorin, now gritting his teeth. ‘Look forward to hearing from you again just as soon as all of this has been smoothed over, but within the hour at the outside.’

He put the phone down gently and then screamed out in a volley of the vilest Russian swearing. His pent-up rage blasted out of him, he poured himself some more brandy, went back to his chair and slumped into it. It had been years since he had been this close to a major financial setback and even longer since he had been so comprehensively outsmarted. He was not enjoying the experience. But as the soporific qualities of the brandy began to take the edge off his seething anger, he started to give the new situation some colder, more measured thought.

How the hell had the central banks known about his plans and moved against him? Had that constant thorn in his side Wilder been involved? How would the change from Massimo to Balboni affect his plans – especially now that he’d suddenly been driven by these events into bringing forward the timing of the ‘big’ one?

The peace and quiet of Bermuda, from which to watch his carefully-laid plans unfold, had suddenly become a prison. He needed to take command of the situation or all might unravel. The failure of this project would also end his chances of returning to Moscow in triumph. Time to get a grip.

 

 

 

31

 

 

IPI Offices, New York

 

The morning after he’d prompted Macrae over Zorin’s trading ambitions, Wilder went downtown to IPI’s offices on lower Madison Avenue. He sat in Brady’s spacious office, much of the time watching Brady as he studied a relayed Bloomberg screen, concentrating on the main foreign exchange markets. Both were relieved to see that although both the dollar and rouble had dipped as the markets responded to Zorin’s press release stories, there was nothing worrying about the movements, which recovered after the intervention of the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Messages were posted on most trading screens that the newspaper rumours of imminent cyber-warfare between Russia and the West were what was now being dubbed ‘False News’ – news which had no truth to it and had been put about on the internet to move markets or public opinion in the direction wished by a rogue trader.

Both knew, however, just how close Zorin had come to making billions following his closing down of the electrical sub-stations outside Moscow and in Queens. And, in an attempt to expose Zorin’s operations, IPI had put large numbers of staff onto chasing every clue and lead.

 

The first of these was trying to work out how Zorin had got to know that his plans to play the markets had been found out. It had been Wilder’s guess that had prompted the call to Number 11 Downing Street – could there be a leak there? It did not take long to trace it to Francesca Lupo.

Under the threat of the hugely powerful anti-terrorism laws that were mentioned during her interrogation, she crumbled and confessed to everything. This included being a tax information mole for Frobisher, but most importantly she told of her tenuous relationship with Rocco Balboni and her call to him. This was just the kind of breakthrough that Wilder and Brady had prayed for, and they quickly discussed the best way of using the new information.

 

‘The latest update from the Five is that Rocco Balboni has been aiming to take over from his arch rival Giuseppe Massimo in helping Zorin with a major project in the US,’ said Brady. ‘I wouldn’t mind betting that refers to the proto-Gemini project.’

‘That’s pretty impressive private knowledge about New York ex-mafia,’ said Wilder. ‘Of course I know of your group of five, but remind me who they all are.’

‘I’ll need to explain that to you later, but believe me, they’re probably the best-informed group of people this side of the Atlantic. Hold me to giving you that explanation again once we’ve got this problem out of the way.’

‘Okay,’ said Wilder, raising his eyebrows in surprise. ‘You were saying…’

‘Hardly surprisingly, Massimo is well aware of Balboni’s ambitions and we understand is in a permanent state of siege, fighting off Balboni’s efforts to take him down. My guess is that Massimo would probably blindly grab at anything plausible that might damage Balboni. So, why don’t we say in this introductory welcoming email that you’ve been sent over from IPI Europe. Tell him that IPI Europe have been taken on to help an Italian special prosecutor who’s looking into some serious crimes in Europe. The crimes he’s looking at involve the old Lupo organisation, which Balboni has recently taken over from the Lupo family.’

Wilder nodded slowly.

You can say,’ continued Brady, ‘that you’ve been sent over here to gather evidence on Balboni’s Lupo group. A little dicky-bird has told you that Massimo’s an expert on the subject of Balboni. All you’ll need to do is ask for a meeting with Massimo, drop a hint that you need whatever he’s got on Balboni and I have no doubt he’ll grab at the opportunity to meet you.’

‘And what if he suspects that I’m a fake, or that my excuse is phoney?’ asked Wilder.

‘I don’t think that’ll happen. Just repeat that you’re at your wits’ end as to how to bring Balboni and the Lupo organisation down. You might hint – just hint, mind you – that you’ve been told by the US authorities that the Massimo organisation would be seen in a very favourable light if it could help. With me so far?’

‘Certainly am.’

‘Wise too to pop in the sentiment that you fully appreciate the fraternity amongst his brotherhood and that you wouldn’t be asking him to become a snitch; his name would be kept out of it.’

‘It sounds plausible to me.’

‘You could try and shut down any further questions on this by using Europe as the background – it will make it too difficult for him to check it out. One last thing, drop the name Frattini in at some point.’

‘Who the hell’s Frattini?’

‘Massimo will know the name, all right – he’s the most successful Mafia-prosecutor in Italy’s history.’

‘And will this work? It sounds pretty high-risk stuff to me? It’s not that I’m over-anxious for my own safety, but I’d rather not find a dead horse’s head next to me on my pillow tomorrow morning – I’ve only just got here,’ said Wilder.

‘No risk whatever,’ said Brady.

‘No risk?’

‘Absolutely none,’ replied Brady. ‘That’s the beauty of this approach. I’ll bet every last cent I have that when Giuseppe Massimo wakes each morning, the first thing he thinks is ‘Is this going to be the day I get rid of Rocco Balboni and the Lupo organisation?’ So much so that I reckon he’d give his right arm to open up to you and help you out.’

‘Okay, I’ll give it a go. Anything else you can suggest?’

‘I can give you some top-class surveillance help from IPI. You’ll probably need a firearm too. I can get all that kind of stuff for you and I’ll arrange for you to meet a good buddy of mine who’s the top man on mafia matters in the NYPD. He’s in charge of taking down not just Balboni’s outfit, but Massimo’s as well.’

 

They made the call. What Brady’s Five thought was rumour had actually happened – Giuseppe Massimo was already seething with fury that Rocco Balboni had manoeuvred him out of a lucrative, indeed prestigious, deal with Zorin. In short, Wilder was about to walk into an open-arms welcome.

As soon as he was through to Massimo he gave his brief presentation, reading from some notes he’d made before the call.

‘So let me get this straight, Mr Wilder,’ said Massimo. ‘You want me to snitch on my good friend Rocco Balboni? Do I have that right?’

Wilder took a deep breath.

‘I hate both the word and the concept of a snitch as much as anyone, Mr Massimo. But I’m over here from the UK following a lead from the UK government that, if I can prove it, implicates Rocco Balboni and his Lupo organisation in some potentially horrendous crimes. I need all the help I can get to nail him. If I succeed, I’m confident that what we’re pursuing will take down Balboni and his group for ever. Now, you’re right in a way, you might be justified in calling anyone involved in helping me of being a snitch, but what I’m trying to do, Mr Massimo, is to prevent a simply horrendous loss of American lives.’

‘Well, Mr Wilder, you deserve at least a bit more of a hearing. Would you care to join me for lunch at a restaurant down in the Village? It’s called Mario’s.’

With the phone on speaker, Brady had heard this, and mouthed the words ‘I know it’ to Wilder.

‘I’d be honoured, Mr Massimo,’ replied Wilder. ‘What time do you suggest?’

‘One o’clock? Just ask for me when you get there.’

‘I look forward to it,’ said Wilder, and hung up.

‘That was good,’ said Brady. ‘But watch yourself with Massimo. For all his outward bonhomie and apparent charm, he’s a rattlesnake with a deadly bite.’

 

 

 

32

 

 

The St. Regis Hotel, New York

 

Wilder found Mario’s easily. A typical Italian restaurant, with red chequered gingham table cloths and a bright, busy and friendly air about it promised a good meal even if the atmosphere was chilled. Clearly, he was expected, for the moment he entered, he was greeted by someone he presumed was Mario, and was ushered to a table at the back of the restaurant set apart from the other tables by a wide gap. It was a large table, could have seated at least half a dozen people, though only Massimo was seated at it.

As Wilder approached, Massimo rose from the table – a hugely overweight man, whose long face was wreathed in a broad smile. But Wilder could not help but be drawn to his eyes – they looked pitch black and were underlined by dark rings as though the man never slept. Wilder took Massimo’s outstretched hand, and as he sat down on the chair being held for him, he shook it firmly, noting the other’s vice-like grip – too strong for good manners, this was the handshake of a power-player. Massimo seated himself again and gave a waiter hovering nearby an imperious click of his fingers. At that moment Wilder had the uncanny feeling he had just sat down at the centre of a large spider’s web.

‘You’re most welcome here, Mr Wilder,’ said Massimo. ‘Despite its humble appearance, this one of the best restaurants in New York. Would you care for something to drink? Some wine, perhaps?’

Knowing it to be proper etiquette to accept such a specific offer of hospitality, Wilder accepted – though the days of long, well-lubricated lunches were regarded now as being a thing of the past. The lurking waiter had scurried off when Massimo had clicked his fingers and, though he had not actually been given any instructions, he now returned and poured Wilder a glass of red wine.

Massimo turned to size Wilder.

‘I hope the St Regis is looking after you well and that you’re already enjoying whatever time you have with us here in New York.’ He beamed, though his black eyes remained expressionless. ‘I didn’t know it was a requirement of IPI to insist on men as fit as you appear to be, Mr Wilder. Somehow, as you told me you had a whole lot of information on Mr Balboni and some plot he’s involved in, I expected that you would turn out to be a smaller man, perhaps a devious little backroom worker.’

‘Well, despite being tall and fit I could still be a devious little backroom worker, could I not? And as to IPI, it’s quite a large organisation, room for all sizes. But chit-chat aside, we’re both here to talk about Mr Balboni’s and your own involvement with Victor Zorin, are we not?’

Massimo blinked twice, involuntarily, but recovered himself in an instant.

‘Mine?’ he said in exaggerated surprise. ‘But I’ve never met this Zorin.’ He added a chuckle as though he found the thought amusing.

Wilder had made his point and was sure that Massimo had got his message. He decided on a return to the pretence of a light, enjoyable lunch.

‘As I said over the telephone,’ he said, watching Massimo closely, ‘I am at my wits’ end as to where Mr Balboni has hidden the machine that Mr Zorin proposes to use to the endangerment of so many New Yorkers. Is there a possibility that, for the sake of the lives of all the innocent flying public, you could put the usual loyalty to the mafia fraternity aside just this once and help me out?’

‘You’re very blunt, Mr Wilder,’ said Massimo, who had stopped smiling and now looked as though a heavy mantle of righteous responsibility had fallen over him. ‘As I said in reply to you over the phone, I wanted to meet for lunch to make sure you were genuine – genuine enough to give you our organisation’s support. For example, how would you expect me to help you?’

Wilder gave him his view of Zorin’s plan, but only in sketchy outline so as to give Massimo a chance to add something if he wanted to.

Massimo didn’t add anything.

Wilder finished by saying, ‘And as I believe it was your organisation that helped Zorin to steal the quantum machine in the first place, I assumed that you had pulled out of his latest plan because American lives might be lost. Is that right?’

Massimo grabbed at this let-out being offered him.

‘You’re right there, Mr Wilder…’

‘Tom, please…’

‘Tom… As you say, I was appalled at what he was proposing and I said no amount of money was worth the appalling risk he was taking. Imagine it. What if the authorities didn’t come up with a ransom demand? There would be God knows how many aircraft up there, running out of fuel, and five airports in the area all closed and… No, I couldn’t go along with it.’

‘So, I imagine that as soon as you pulled out, Zorin froze you out of all the details of where he was going to hide the machine, things like that?’

‘That’s exactly right, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have any idea of where the machines are or how Balboni will help Zorin carry it out,’ he said, leaning forward slightly towards Wilder.

‘Naturally I have spoken to many people since I got to New York,’ said Wilder, mimicking Massimo in leaning forward, ‘and I have the firm impression from all of them that were you to make a positive contribution to putting Balboni away for this and other matters, that their view of you and some of your past activities would be dramatically changed for the better.’

‘My past activities?’ repeated Massimo. He picked up the menu and handed it to Wilder as he weighed up the implied offer. ‘I can highly recommend the Bistecca di Manzo here,’ he added.

‘I’m in your hands, I’m happy to go along with whatever you suggest.’

Massimo clicked his fingers again and nodded, and once again the waiter merely nodded in return and hurried away.

‘My people have eyes and ears all over this great city of ours,’ said Massimo. ‘Virtually nothing happens that we don’t get to hear about. It would just be a question of time till we found where Balboni and Zorin have their machines hidden.’

‘Unfortunately time is not on our side,’ said Wilder, ‘and we need to take Balboni and Zorin down before they can activate their plan, not after the event. So, for example, if after lunch today you could put your people to work helping the NYPD and my colleagues from IPI look for Zorin’s machines, I have little doubt that you’d be regarded in a new light by the authorities.’

‘Well, my organisation hasn’t always been on the same side as the NYPD…’ They both laughed. ‘But, yes, we could support everyone else in a covert way and maybe I personally could act as liaison between what we might call the good and the bad sides in this Zorin project?’

‘That would be great,’ said Wilder, ‘and as you’ll know far better than anyone else how Balboni thinks – you may even know of some of his hideaways, that kind of thing.’

‘I do,’ agreed Massimo, and the two clinked glasses as their food miraculously arrived at that moment. ‘And for our part in this joint effort for the good of the city and preventing the possible loss of so many lives, I presume that the authorities will forget our differences from the past and that we will be allowed to start again with a clean slate?’

‘Well, provided there aren’t half a dozen unsolved murders included in that,’ replied Wilder, and again they both laughed.

 

They finished lunch, but only the first bottle of Barolo, as Massimo boasted about some of his past escapades, most of them poking fun at Balboni and his gang. During this, at a specifically agreed time, Bob Brady got one of his people to ring Massimo’s mobile. When he answered there was an apology for a wrong number, and Massimo switched his mobile off again – though not before Wilder had captured all its data using Perry’s pairing software.

As Wilder was about to leave, he again impressed on Massimo the need for extreme urgency.

‘You’re only going to be able to start with a clean slate and a new first day in the rest of your life if we find where Balboni’s hidden the machines before they can use them,’ he said as they parted.

‘I do understand, Tom, and I’ll ring you within the hour with something, I promise.’

 

As soon as Wilder had left the restaurant, two men came over to Massimo from another table. Three glasses of brandy were ordered and after the waiter had delivered these and left the three of them alone, Massimo leant forward towards the middle of the table, as did the other two.

‘We have an excellent opportunity here,’ said Massimo. ‘We can keep feeding Wilder and his colleagues whatever information we choose to give them. Even with the NYPD and IPI resources they’re never going to find the machines in time to stop Zorin.’

‘So what do you have in mind?’ asked the smaller of the two, his large eyes made even more grotesquely big by thick pebble glasses.

‘You’re the brains of the organisation, Alfredo, you tell me,’ said Massimo.

Completely un-phased by this mockery, pebble-eyes paused for a moment and then said, ‘I would have thought that Mr Zorin would pay a king’s ransom to be kept constantly updated with everything that his pursuers were doing, wouldn’t you?’

‘That’s exactly what I think Zorin would do, pay very handsomely indeed,’ agreed Massimo.

‘You mean we just pretend to be on Wilder’s side?’ said the large thick-set man, who looked more suited to the role of club bouncer than conspirator.

‘Well done, got it in one,’ said Massimo, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder. ‘I’ve only met this Zorin a couple of times and I could see immediately how he got to be a Russian oligarch. It’ll be interesting to see how much he’ll pay to know what Wilder and his people are up to and how far they’re getting on hunting down the machines.’

He took a long sip of his brandy.

‘He’s going to ask me, of course, how much I trust Wilder to come up with truthful information, isn’t he?

Though this was a rhetorical remark, Alfredo answered it.

‘This guy Wilder, his buddies in IPI, the cops – the lot of them – their lives are on the line, they gotta find the machines, they gotta keep telling the truth. Though on our side we can say whatever suits us. Good game, eh?’

‘I think you’re right,’ said Massimo. ‘Genuine info on how much the other side know has got to be worth a bundle – besides, I have another idea on how I can screw that bastard Balboni. I’ll give Zorin a ring. This should be good; let’s liven things up a bit in sunny Bermuda.’

 

 

 

33

 

 

Craithe Castle, Western Isles, Scotland

 

It had taken some time to get the two laptops from the warehouse in Norwich and up to Craithe Castle. As they might contain all manner of Zorin’s or Andrei’s secrets on them, Perry and other members of the team set about looking through them as fast as they could. As one might expect, there was a mass of rubbish to go through, but they were in luck. An early find was scanned images of a couple of maps.

The first showed Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens; the second, a strip of Long Island beyond Queens and including the township of Islip. Both maps had annotations on them though all of them were in Russian and one particular symbol was repeated here and there.

The Craithe team contacted Macrae who, fortunately, was in his office. As he had spent nearly two years seconded from the Towneley Bank to his father-in-law’s bank – the Rostov Kapital Bank of Moscow – Macrae spoke fluent Russian and could read it too. The symbol repeated a number of times was clearly to denote ‘Target’. And the most chilling of these came together with a note alongside it just near Islip itself – the greater New York City and Philadelphia air traffic control hub sited there. This confirmed earlier suspicions. This was Zorin’s ‘big’ one.

Macrae telephoned Wilder at the St. Regis Hotel to make sure he was in and then emailed the maps to him. As soon as they arrived, he and Brady got down to studying them. Not only was there a mass of targets of different types but also what looked at a glance to be computer centres for food distribution, the New York subway and many more tasks. As they looked around the maps it became clear that the first plan to avert disaster was the right one – to find the proto-Gemini and its operators in their hideaway and to somehow disable them. The secondary plan – of somehow disabling the machines over the internet, though considered very difficult to achieve, was still being worked on.

‘I just need to contact the professor at Craithe,’ said Wilder. ‘A short while ago the team were working on a possible way of tracking Zorin’s version of Gemini to its location.’

‘What else are we doing? Just so I can see what else the Five can do.’

‘Ah yes – the Five,’ said Wilder. ‘A while back you said you’d explain to me who they are, what they do.’

‘I did. It came about on a big case. IPI and me got involved with two of the big agencies. I don’t remember if it was the CIA or the Homeland Security guy who complained first. But whoever it was complained about the constant inter-agency turf wars and the manoeuvring to get more for their budgets. Anyway, to cut a long story short, he and the other guy from the other agency came to a truce.

‘A truce?’

‘Yeah. Both decided to stop holding up the investigation and just get on with it. In time, I’ve recruited one from each of the five big agencies. Each has come into the group on the understanding that their first loyalty was to the case they were working on, and their agency was only their second consideration.’

‘That’s unusual, surely?’ said Wilder. ‘I mean, isn’t it against an oath of each agency, something like that?’

‘Don’t know, don’t care,’ grinned Brady. ‘Each has been given a new Five name. No one but me knows their real names or identities. They’re all in their thirties. As I’m in my fifties, they call me Dad.’

‘Dad? How cute,’ said Wilder, grinning back.

‘Yeah, but it works. Really collaborating, they crack cases unbelievably quickly. They’ve become stars in their own agencies, which don’t even know of the extra brain-power their young stars are pulling in on each of their cases.’

‘So you have five young bright guys…’

‘Hand-picked, the very best of their agencies.’

‘So you virtually have each agency at your disposal?’

‘That’s it.’

‘So how can the Five help with finding Andrei and his machines?’

‘I’ve given Charlie of the CIA most of the details and told him what could happen if Zorin picks one of his big targets. He passed it on to the others and they have a meeting later today to assess how much each of them has managed to find out. Of course I’ll let you know the outcome.’

‘Great.’

‘For example, all five agencies are likely to have something on the Massimo and Balboni organisations. They guess that these two have not really been let in on Zorin’s plans, so there’s no point in bringing them into any of the agencies for questioning. But Massimo in particular may come in handy, with his organisation’s eyes and ears out looking for Andrei or picking up any street-talk about his machines.’

‘Good. There’s only one other avenue that’s occurred to me,’ said Wilder, ‘and that’s finding the head of the snake – Zorin himself – and chopping it off.’

‘And what are you doing about that?’ smiled Brady.

‘I’m working on it, may have an answer for us in the morning.’

‘In the morning, eh?’ said Brady. ‘Knowing you, if you manage it by then it will only be by barely legal means – the width of a human hair. Is that right?’

‘You don’t want to know,’ replied Wilder.

 

 

 

34

 

 

Zorin’s Residence, London

 

Katya Rodchenkova got back to Zorin’s house at around six in the evening. She had been surprised when, just two days earlier, Zorin and Mitkin had suddenly packed and left. They told her they might be away a couple of weeks. But she was happy enough. Zorin had arranged for one of his rich friends to give her a commission and each day she went out and did what she enjoyed most, painting murals.

She freshened up and was delighted when a call came through for her from Wilder. Their long chats about finding who’d killed her father always cheered her up.

‘You remember the chat we had in the pub about it maybe becoming necessary for you to help me out by doing a search of Zorin’s house?’ asked Wilder.

‘Yes, I wrote all your instructions down. Very exciting.’

‘It will be easier now that Zorin’s left you alone in the house. But you’ll still have to do the bit with the two security guys. Do you feel up to that?’

‘Oh, yes I do,’ said Katya, ‘The day after our chat I went to your house and I found the little blue bottle in the bathroom cupboard. I’ve hidden it in my room. Does this mean we’re going through with the plan?’

‘Yes, it does,’ said Wilder. ‘My young colleague from IPI will come to the house this evening, after you’ve dealt with the guards. But before we commit to this, are you absolutely sure you can manage it?

‘Come on. Though my father always kept me away from his world, it’s in the blood. Don’t worry, I’m up for it.’

‘Good,’ said Wilder. ‘The young man from IPI will come this evening. Just give him the signal when you’re ready and he’ll be with you. Good luck, and ring me in the morning to tell me how it went. Okay?’

‘Will do,’ she said, and put down the phone, her body trembling with excitement.

 

As Wilder had suggested, that evening she left Zorin’s house, walked down the hill and out of Kensington Palace Gardens. She turned right and, soon after that, up a side street to the Mason’s Arms pub. She was wearing a bright red scarf around her neck and had been told that Wilder’s young colleague from IPI, Peter Smythe, would be wearing a plain red tie.

As soon as she entered the pub she spotted him sitting in a bay window seat by himself, nursing a pint of best bitter.

‘Hey, Katya. Tom Wilder sent me.’

Somehow his appearance reassured her. His thick-rimmed glasses gave him a serious air and she instantly felt that Wilder’s description of him as being very thorough and dependable looked to be true in the flesh. He rose quickly from his seat and went off to the bar to buy her a glass of white wine.

‘I don’t know if Mr Wilder told you,’ he said as he sat down beside her, ‘but I’m trained in house searches and I thought that after you’ve drugged the guards, the two of us working together would increase the chances of finding something useful for him.’

Katya grinned back at him. ‘That’s good, ’cos I’m not.’

‘Don’t worry. When we get to the house, you go on in and I’ll hang back,’ said Smythe. ‘You can let me in as soon as the two security guards have been drugged and are asleep. Then we can get going and share the workload – we’ve got less than an hour till the drug wears off so, to be on the safe side, I’ll set an alarm on my phone. After our searches, I’ll leave a trail such as an incompetent burglar would leave, remember?’

 

As they got towards the house, Katya let herself in. She went straight down to the kitchens just as the two security guards came in for their usual pre-shift mugs of tea.

Luckily Katya was already boiling the kettle and setting out the mugs and it seemed natural for her to continue doing that. She had already ground some of Wilder’s pills from the blue bottle. These were now a fine powder so that they would quickly dissolve. The two guards had their backs to her, busy discussing some play in a football match and she slipped some powder into each of the mugs.

‘There you go,’ she said, as she put the mugs down on the large refectory table where they had settled themselves. She joined them and watched, fascinated to see how soon they would begin to fall asleep. In due course, they both did begin to nod off, and Katya helped them as they gently slumped to the floor.

She looked at her watch. It was eleven-thirty.

She ran upstairs and into the main entrance hall where she switched off the alarm and opened the front door. Peering out, she looked left and then right, and Smythe appeared from shadows.

‘So what do we do now?’ she asked as he came in and quietly shut the front door.

‘You take Zorin’s bedroom and bathroom and I’ll do the drawing room and his study’ he said. ‘Let’s meet back here in the hall about twelve-thirty to see how we’ve got on.’

They duly split up and Katya made her way upstairs and into Zorin’s bedroom. She carefully searched each drawer in each chest of drawers, the small ornamental desk in the corner, and both of the bedside tables. In the drawer of the bedside table with the telephone on it, she found a small jotter pad. It had just one telephone number on it. She immediately took a note of it on her mobile phone but left the note and pad where she’d found them. She was quite excited by the find as she recognised that it was a Moscow telephone code and number.

She found nothing in the bathroom but was amazed when she got into the dressing room. It was almost the same size as the bedroom itself. It consisted of a large walk-in cupboard with open-topped tray-drawers filled with what must have been more than fifty shirts. She noticed that almost all were hand-tailored by Turnbull and Asser of Jermyn Street. On the other side of the corridor running down the middle of the room there hung countless suits. These were hung in what was clearly an order – heavier winter suits at one end of the cupboard and lighter suits at the other. Beyond these summer suits were jackets, from tweeds through to cotton. Beyond them was a large number of slacks, casual trousers and Bermuda shorts.

It was a tedious task going through each of them, feeling the pockets from the outside in the hope of finding that one or two might contain forgotten notes, wallets, or other items of interest.

Suddenly, she was rewarded for having been so thorough; in one of the suits, halfway along the row, she felt something in one of the inside breast pockets.

Her heart thumping, she felt inside the pocket itself and pulled out a small notebook. It had only a few notes in it and she feared that they might be old, forgotten, having sat there for months, maybe years. She took it over to a chair at the foot of the bed and examined it a bit more closely. She was particularly intrigued and suddenly excited by a note dated only the previous week. Why had the note been dated, she wondered, and what did it mean? It simply read ‘Bermuda contact DBx DAG trippt556’. As there were a few more scribblings, she kept the notebook and glanced at her watch. It was 12.33 a.m.

Putting the notebook in her pocket, she got up and hurried downstairs. The two of them discussed what they had found and agreed that Katya would ring Wilder with their findings at around seven or eight in the morning New York time.

Smythe then looked around the drawing room for something worthy of a burglary here in London’s most expensive road. He soon spotted a late Russian Tsar’s Fabergé Easter egg. Carefully he lifted it off its stand. Looking around the room he spotted a smallish waste paper basket and, using some old newspapers which had not yet been cleared away and were still lying on the coffee table, he gently wrapped both the egg and the stand and stowed them away in the basket.

‘You’d probably best get back down into the kitchen now,’ he said. ‘Take about a quarter of the amount of powder you gave the Guards and then join them on the kitchen floor.’

‘I will, but out of interest, how is this break-in going to look plausible?’

‘Ah, what you don’t know is that before Wilder suggested this particular incident, he checked and found that the security alarm system was upgraded only two weeks ago. This incident will be blamed on the security people who installed the upgrade. Whoever looks into this in due course will be sure to come to that conclusion. So don’t worry about it anymore, okay?’

Katya went downstairs, took her powder and lay down near the two guards. Smythe left the Zorin house, leaving the front door only just open, and made for a small car parked nearby. A few minutes later he managed to get into the car, hot-wired it and drove out of the north end of Kensington Palace Gardens, giving a cheery wave to the security people there at the top of the gardens.

Within half an hour the first of the guards slowly woke and, soon guessing at what must have happened, got up and roused the other two. There was a heated discussion for a few minutes about how this could have happened. But that was until they realised the futility of their arguing and went upstairs and looked around. It didn’t take them long to find the front door slightly open, the alarm switched off and the Tsar’s Easter egg missing.

As predicted by Smythe, they blamed the people who had upgraded the security system and rang the police. It being the early hours of the morning, the police took some time to arrive, and when they did, they took hours testing for finger prints, looking around for anything else that might help them find who had done this – though they too quickly bought into the story that the upgraders of the alarm system were to blame. ‘Must have had a member of the gang who’d installed it,’ said one. With many of the houses in the road being either embassies or owned by the likes of Zorin, they were keen to be seen to do a thorough job, and it was broad daylight by the time they were finished.

 

Katya answered their questions and, as it was still far too early to ring Wilder, she decided to go back to Wilder’s mews house where she now knew the location of the key and the alarm code. There she lay down for a few hours so as to be more alert for her call to Wilder.

She woke around ten and did her calculations again – she could safely ring at about eleven-thirty; it would be six-thirty in New York. She made some coffee and breakfast, went out and got a newspaper, and it soon got to the time she had decided to ring Wilder.

‘How did you get on, then?’ asked Wilder as soon as he answered the call.

‘I’d say pretty well,’ replied Katya, and went on to give him a full report, discussing their finds and giving details of those notes that had particularly caught Katya and Smythe’s attention.

‘I’ll certainly try out the Moscow telephone number when we’ve finished this call and I’ll let you know what I think of the other finds when I’ve had a good look at them,’ said Wilder.

 

Wilder rang room service for some coffee and, after this had arrived, he settled himself comfortably and rang the Moscow number.

‘Zharkov,’ came the strong, deep voice he knew so well. He immediately replaced the receiver and, in case Zharkov rang back, Wilder rang Brady – that way Zharkov would get his caller busy and assume that it was just a simple wrong number.

 

Wilder was intrigued by the note Katya had found in the suit pocket. He decided he would discuss it with Brady as, try as he might, he could make no headway in understanding it.

When Wilder got through to Brady he relayed Katya’s findings, and Zharkov answering the telephone number from the bedside pad. Brady had an immediate explanation – at least for the Zharkov call.

‘Overnight we’ve had a lot more in from your people at GCHQ and the NSA. With what we have now put together, it seems clear that Zorin just may be doing all of this on behalf of the Russian President.’

‘You surprise me,’ said Wilder. ‘Though it might explain a number of things, I still didn’t see Zorin as a President’s man.’

‘We can look into that later,’ said Brady. ‘But your Bermuda note also begins to make more sense. It looks as though that’s where Zorin has moved to. We’ve already been on to the office of the Governor of Bermuda, but haven’t heard anything back from them yet.’

‘It seems today’s going to be the day Zorin makes his move and attacks what has been referred to as the ‘big’ one… Craithe will think it’s still too early for them to ring me, so I’ll make it easy and ring them – see what news they have,’ said Wilder.

Before ringing Craithe, he took a large swig of coffee and a deep breath. He could feel it in his bones – it was a similar feeling to the one he often used to get before a mission in Afghanistan. This was indeed going to be a big day.

 

 

 

35

 

 

Fifth Avenue, New York City

 

It was just a few blocks up Fifth Avenue from the St. Regis Hotel to Bob Brady’s apartment. Though it was unseasonably cold, Wilder looked forward to a brisk walk. The snow had gone from the sidewalks, but when he reached Central Park it looked beautiful in the morning sun, with sprinklings of still un-melted snow lying around like icing on a cake.

When he tried to recall it later, he was unable to remember what had made him look further up along Fifth Avenue at the particular moment that he did. But his attention was suddenly, inexplicably drawn to an exceptionally tall, thin man fifty yards up ahead. He had just come out of an apartment block and seemed anxious, looking this way and that and, even at a distance of some fifty yards, it was easy to see that he had a furtive air about him.

Gauging him against his fellow pedestrians, he seemed substantially taller than Wilder’s six-foot three – maybe two inches taller, towering over those about him. From what Wilder could see of him, he was dressed in a dull grey British-style waterproof, the drab kind which is not even actually waterproof. It hung from him as though he were a coat-hanger – he was clearly very thin. Inexplicably, a chill ran through Wilder. The man seemed uncertain which way to turn. As he stood there looking both left and right, it occurred to Wilder that he was looking for a cab.

It was while doing this that the man’s eyes suddenly met Wilder’s. For no apparent reason, both of them stood locked in each other’s gaze. Wilder now noticed his pale sallow complexion, deep shadows under his eyes – a haunted look in them; he remembered all of this, and later put his next reaction down to a flash of his heightened senses, on edge lately with his hunt for Zorin’s copy of Gemini.

Wilder was hardly even consciously aware of what he was doing, but a mirror image of the man sprang into his mind. This was the same man he’d seen rushing out of Yulian’s apartment in Norwich and driving off at speed in an SUV. In that instant he remembered all the information that had been gathered, The name of Zorin’s man suddenly sprang into his mind and, on a sudden impulse he shouted it out.

‘Andrei!’ he yelled. The man’s mouth fell open, but at that instant a yellow cab pulled up and, though he seemed half-frozen in shock, he eventually fumbled with the cab door and climbed into it. The cab come down the one-way system and passed by Wilder. The man looked up at Wilder as the cab went by. There could be little doubt – this was indeed Andrei, the man sought by the police for the murder of Yulian, but more importantly right now, Zorin’s operative of the machines.

There was no time to analyse all the thoughts that raced through Wilder’s mind, but his response was immediate. He was lucky. There was a cab-for-hire immediately there for the taking. He jumped in and told him to follow the cab in front.

 

It was the shortest taxi ride he had ever had. At the next available turn, Andrei’s cab took the left just after the lights had changed, and before Wilder could urge his driver to follow on, he’d stopped at the lights. Wilder memorised Andrei’s cab’s number, paid his own driver and disconsolately climbed out to see Andrei’s cab vanishing into heavy traffic.

Wilder turned back the way he’d been going and ran further up Fifth Avenue towards Brady’s building. On his way, he rang ahead on his mobile. As soon as he got through to Brady he told him what he’d seen and gave him the cab’s number.

‘Any chance that your friends in the NYPD could find out where the cab was taking the tall man?’ asked Wilder.

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ said Brady; Wilder rang off and continued running towards Brady’s place.

 

When he got up to Brady’s apartment floor, he ran straight in through the open front door to find Brady waiting for him.

‘NYPD have done a great job. They got through to the cab company and tracked the cab. Your man dumped it only two blocks further on.’

‘Had he given an address before that?’ asked Wilder, hoping wildly that it might give them the area where the quantum computer was – even if not the actual address.

‘No, must have been frightened off by you because he only said ‘Queens’ to the cab driver.’

Then another thought occurred to Wilder.

‘Where’s Balboni’s apartment?’ he asked.

‘One block back down from here… Oh my God, that seems to finally confirm that it was in deed Andrei. Wonder what the hell he was doing calling on Balboni? I would have thought the very last place he’d risk going would be coming down here to visit him.’

‘Christ,’ cursed Wilder. ‘There was just something about the man. How extraordinary I should see him like that. We’ll need to redouble our efforts to find him. I guess it would need to be something damned important to bring him out of the safety of his hiding place in Queens. Why wouldn’t he just ring Balboni? Perhaps he needed to come and physically collect something. What would Balboni have for him that meant a visit? A gun? No, surely not just a gun – one of Balboni’s men could have dropped that into him in Queens without risking him being seen out in the open.’

‘Could some friction have come up amongst them, some kind of falling out?’ suggested Brady. ‘It would sure be interesting to know the answer to this. Still, all we can do is speculate at present. We’ll know the truth soon enough.’

‘Soon enough?’

‘Yes,’ said Brady, ‘I reckon they’ll have to do whatever they’ve got planned tomorrow at the latest. Almost every hour that passes makes it more likely that one of our lot will come up with a break that will expose them and put an end to their plans.’

‘Or our people on Craithe will make electronic contact with their machine,’ said Wilder. ‘As you say, one way or another, if they’re going to manage to do this thing at all, they’re now under pressure to do it soon.’

 

 

 

36

 

 

Ballikinrane, Bermuda

 

Zorin had just got back up onto the long lawn that lay between the house and the beach; he had enjoyed the exhilaration of another swim in the crystal-clear seas. It had cleared his mind and reinvigorated him. But as he walked up towards the veranda he saw Mitkin standing there urgently waving a telephone.

As he stepped up onto the decking Mitkin handed him the phone and half-whispered as he mouthed the name, ‘Rocco Balboni’. Zorin raised his eyes skyward in mock-supplication but took the phone.

‘Rocco, what’s up?’

‘As you told me it would look less suspicious if I got Andrei’s escape air tickets out of Montreal rather than your Matt Kimber, I went ahead and got open tickets. Then, damn me if your man Andrei doesn’t come bursting in here to get the tickets.’

‘He what?’ shouted out Zorin.

‘Yeah, comes the whole way here. Explained he no longer trusted not actually having his escape tickets in his own hands. I don’t know what’s going on in your organisation but he forced my address out of Kimber and next thing…’

‘Okay, okay,’ said Zorin. ‘I’ll sort Kimber out and give Andrei a call.’

‘Well, I’d do that right away. The man’s really on edge, if you ask me he looks as though he wants to jump ship – quit the project.’

‘Calm down,’ said Zorin. ‘For a start, they’ll surely never remember his face from a glimpse of it in Norwich. Secondly, though he’s worried that the people on Craithe are looking for him and getting closer, there’s no need to panic. They’ve an almost impossible task in finding him or his machines. Anyway, there’s no harm done, is there? I’ll give him a call.’

‘I’m not so sure that no harm’s done,’ said Balboni. ‘He rang me after he’d got back to his machines. He told me that someone he’d seen only for a matter of seconds in Norwich seemed to have remembered him and had shouted out his name as he climbed into a taxi outside my place on Fifth Avenue. He wondered if by any chance some of the authorities had made up an identikit picture of him or retrieved his passport photo or somehow got hold of a photograph of him. In short, he was worried there might be leaflets out there with mug-shots of him.

‘Oh shit,’ said Zorin.

‘Well, of course I told him that was just crazy, not true. But he’s on the brink; you need have a word with him, yourself.’

‘Okay, I’ll deal with it. Just keep him in Queens till the job’s done. Talk to you later,’ said Zorin, and slammed the phone down.

 

A few minutes passed while Zorin raged that such pettiness had come close to jeopardising the operation. The telephone rang again. Zorin looked across to Mitkin, who frowned – only about three people in the world were supposed to know the number. Perhaps it would be someone for the owners, not knowing that they were away and had rented it out.

‘Yes?’ said Zorin, giving nothing away.

‘Mr Zorin? It’s Giuseppe Massimo here.’

‘How the hell did you get the number here?’ asked Zorin, rattled by the surprise.

‘If you remember, you gave it to me before you decided to give your project to Rocco Balboni,’ replied Massimo, an icy tone in his voice.

Zorin’s mind raced. He had entirely forgotten about Massimo, though it was only days before that he had dumped him. ‘How many days? Who cares? Better care now – he knows too much about the project, doesn’t he?’ As these thoughts rushed through his mind he also thought about conciliation; at this delicate stage of the game, this needed conciliation.

‘Yes, of course. What can I do for you, Mr Massimo?’

‘It’s more what I can do for you,’ said Massimo. Zorin caught the hint of menace.

‘Really? How so?’ he said, as breezily as he could manage.

‘I’ve been approached by a Mr Wilder. I believe you know him?’

For a second time in just minutes Zorin felt a sense of panic well up in him. Wilder indeed? What was the new sales director of Gemini doing in New York? But, more importantly, what the hell was he doing talking to Massimo? Need to find out more – play for time.

‘Wilder, Wilder,’ Zorin mused as though trying to place the name. ‘The name kinda rings a bell,’ he said at last.

‘Well, anyway, he knows you,’ continued Massimo. ‘He’s after the man who has a clone or copy of their Gemini software and he’s also looking for your Andrei.’

‘And?’ said Zorin, desperately trying to get a grip on this unwelcome development.

‘As I said, this Mr Wilder came to me,’ said Massimo. He went on to tell Zorin how he had been recruited to help put Balboni away for what he was planning to do; to do the same to everyone involved in it. Zorin sighed as Massimo reeled off the list of people working with Wilder on finding and stopping Andrei.

‘To cut a long story short,’ said Massimo, after rambling on for some time, ‘Wilder himself is going to coordinate all the US agencies and his own people’s progress in finding your Andrei. He’s going to keep me informed of any progress in return for me telling whatever I know. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Everyone in the pack knowing each time one of the others get closer to the prey – your Andrei and his machines.’

‘All right, all right. Where are you going with this – as though I couldn’t guess?’ said Zorin, the sting of bile rising in his throat.

‘I thought that it might be worth a modest investment on your part to be regularly updated on how close the hounds of State and Mr Wilder are getting to your project.’

‘What size of investment would we be talking about for a regular updating service?’ asked Zorin, prepared for the worst.

‘A hundred grand?’

‘Done,’ said Zorin. ‘I’ll pay you half now, half when all of this is finished. And for that I want to know every single move this Wilder makes as well as all the moves of all the rabble of the State authorities?’

‘Agreed. And so to the first piece of news for you under our new agreement,’ said Massimo. ‘The NYPD have had an identikit drawing done of your Andrei as seen by Wilder on Fifth Avenue this afternoon. It’s being circulated as we speak. Soon enough a cast of hundreds will be out looking for him. I strongly suggest you contact your Andrei and tell him to keep inside with the curtains drawn, if you see what I mean.’ There was a seriously misplaced chuckle from Massimo, who then added, ‘Sorry, I was only joking about the curtains.’

 

After the call from Massimo, Zorin was happy to make the necessary financial arrangements. It was almost worth it to keep Massimo on side, even if he got no more bulletins from him. If some did come in, however, they’d be welcome. Less welcome would be the telephone calls, but he supposed that was just part of the price of doing business again with the man.

 

As soon as he had organised Massimo’s money, he rang Andrei.

‘I’m sorry you felt you had to go to Balboni to collect your escape money and tickets. I’ve reprimanded him for not following my instructions to get those to you the moment he’d arranged your flights,’ he lied.

‘Thanks Victor. I knew it wouldn’t be your fault – we’ve been through too much together for you not to take care of me properly.’

‘That’s right,’ said Zorin. ‘But what prompted you to risk leaving the warehouse? You must have known I’d ensure you got your escape package in due course.’

‘That’s just one of the things that was bothering me,’ said Andrei. ‘I got the impression that your Mr Kimber had vanished as soon as he left me here. I felt alone. And I also felt that this guy Balboni might be holding out on me. And, finally, the other thing nagging at me is the Craithe lot. They are deploying just about everything at me. I can sense it on the laptop that’s twinned with the quantum machine. It keeps making a pinking sound from time to time. I daren’t shut it down as it’s an integral part of the whole operation. Yet there must be some kind of tracking software hidden on it – very eerie, though I’ve had no luck finding it.’

‘But apart from that how’s it going?’ asked Zorin, keen after all the mounting distractions of the day to learn how near they were the culmination of the project.

‘I’ve been doing my last calculations yet again,’ replied Andrei. ‘It’s now safe to say that I can just about guarantee breaking into the air traffic control system by mid-morning tomorrow at the very latest. You can now prepare your recorded announcement and demands for the US President if you haven’t done those already.’

‘No, they’re not done yet, but that’s for a reason you don’t need to worry about,’ said Zorin. ‘We’ll just stick to the original plan. I’ll give my demands out at eleven tomorrow morning and you give them a quick demonstration of a control centre shut-down to show we mean business; they will then have till midday to comply.’

‘Yes, it’ll be good to get to that point,’ said Andrei. ‘I seem to have been waiting forever for it, can hardly wait for it to be here.’ There was a pent-up excitement in his voice and Zorin was glad that, from the sound of him, he didn’t have to worry anymore about Andrei’s motivation or staying power.

‘Keep in touch with developments,’ said Zorin, ‘but whatever happens, keep indoors, maybe even keep the curtains drawn.’

As he put the phone down he turned and looked at Mitkin.

‘Do you think Andrei really appreciates how difficult his position is?’ he asked.

‘How do you mean, his position?’ Mitkin looked back at him, puzzled.

‘Just as soon as the Americans have agreed to our demands,’ explained Zorin, ‘the two of us have to leave Bermuda. Andrei knows that if the US President doesn’t agree to our demands, our plan says that Andrei has to abandon the system right there and then and get himself up to Canada. He’s to leave his machines running on their own, holding control of New York’s air traffic, with the US authorities unable to do anything about it. That’ll give them plenty to do while Andrei makes his escape.’

‘Yeah, he knows that’s the plan, so what are we worrying about?’ Zorin kept looking at him. Mitkin still did not get it.

‘Let me explain, then.’ A note of anger had crept into Zorin’s voice because Mitkin was forcing him to say what he didn’t even want to admit to. ‘I give our demands. The other side have an hour to comply. But we can’t sit around here waiting to see if they do or don’t. The moment the President hears what all this is really about – our demands – everybody up at the White House is going to go berserk. They’ll start by tearing their hair out in rage for misjudging this thing and then they’ll calm down and, probably with cold fury, they’ll throw everything they’ve got at us.’

‘Yes, I accept that’s probably what’ll happen,’ said Mitkin, ‘but I still don’t see…’

‘So, I have to spell it out for you, eh?’

Mitkin said nothing.

‘While the two of us are getting the hell out of here, there will be nothing we can do for Andrei. He was right to worry. With these images of him now out on leaflets, how far do think he’ll get when he comes out into the open to try making his escape?’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Mitkin, reality dawning on him.

‘Exactly. Trouble is we can’t spell that out for him or everything we’ve been working for will count for nothing. If he panics, we’re lost; he just needs to do the job.’

The two of them sat on the veranda and rather disconsolately looked out to sea. Tough trying to change the world, especially when you’re up against the most powerful nation on Earth and, of course, that bloody man Wilder from Craithe.

 

 

 

37

 

 

Ballikinrane, Bermuda

 

Zorin glanced at his watch. It would be coming up to 3 p.m. in Moscow. It would not be long now till the big event. But he was nervous and he cursed his weakness as he saw that his hands were shaking. So much depended on this final attack working that he’d lost his usual cool. He’d even put out two pens next to a pad – in case one of them failed during the telephone call. He cursed again under his breath and reminded himself that he had known the President for years.

A strange, faint spasm shot through his throat and neck as the telephone rang, and he forced himself to calm down. Damn it, he wasn’t even going to be speaking to the President, he was only calling General Zharkov.

‘General Zharkov,’ he said. ‘How are you this afternoon?’

‘I’m well, thank you, Victor. Everything all right your end?’

Zorin could not possibly answer the General’s question with the unvarnished truth – that they were not yet ready to carry out the attack. He’d need to prevaricate.

‘Like all operations of this kind, there are some minor tweaks to be done, then we’ll be a hundred per cent,’ he said.

‘What does that mean, minor tweaks?’ asked General Zharkov. His job was simply to stand between the President and the world, to shield him from any possible scandal. ‘Minor tweaks’ sounded well away from normal – was everything really all right?

‘Minor tweaks,’ replied Zorin, ‘simply means that Andrei’s machine needs to remain hidden inside what one might call an electronic safe-house until the very last moment before it can then do the final hacking into the target computers. The job’s ninety-nine percent completed; these minor tweaks are like doing the fine tuning when listening to a radio programme and getting it spot-on to the right channel or programme.’

‘Okay, but when we get to the agreed hour,’ said the General, ‘and when Andrei switches on his machines and takes over the place, will all the air traffic controllers sitting in front of their computer screens acknowledge that they have lost control of their system to him – yes or no?’

‘Yes they will,’ confirmed Zorin – hoping that this would be the case, though he hadn’t had this confirmed by Andrei yet.

‘Just so that we’re all completely clear on this, when the White House gets our message, will they instantly panic, get through to the air traffic control headquarters to check that’s true, and will they be told that it is indeed true?

‘Yes, exactly that,’ confirmed Zorin.

At that moment, Mitkin put his head and shoulders around the door. He had a wide grin on his face and he gave Zorin a thumbs-up, which Zorin acknowledged with one in return.

‘Oh, and I’ve just had a message from your namesake, Andrei. The link from his computer into the heart of the air traffic control computers has just become one hundred percent – the tweaks have been successfully tweaked.’ He could hardly believe his luck at the timing.

‘That’s excellent news indeed,’ said Zharkov. ‘The President will be delighted. And may I say that your handling of this whole project has been an object lesson to us all in perseverance and masterly organisation.’

‘Well, thank you, Andrei,’ replied Zorin. ‘But we should perhaps wait till the show is over and the US President has acquiesced to all our demands.’

‘You’re right, Victor,’ replied Zharkov. ‘When we embarked on this cyber-warfare idea I had my doubts. Yet here we are, without a shot or a single ICBM being fired; we’re on the brink of getting the greatest power in the world to back down on so many of its cherished policies.’

Silence fell as the two contemplated the implications.

‘Just one thing – apart from the rumour that the people who invented the software, what’s their name…?’

‘Gemini,’ replied Zorin. ‘A team of geeks on the Scottish island of Craithe…’

‘That’s the people,’ said Zharkov. ‘Apart from the vague possibility of that Craithe lot being able to block what your Andrei is about to do, could the US President back down on all these policies as soon as we lift the threat to his aircraft?’

‘The short answer is “No”,’ said Zorin. ‘The machine is effectively hidden in a vast city and we can just sit there with it on stand-by for months if necessary. Just sitting there until the President fulfils the promises he makes today. He will get that message too. This is no quick here-today-gone-tomorrow problem for him. Today he has to bow to our threat, and then implement the changes afterwards for all the world to see, or else…’

‘Excellent,’ cried Zharkov. ‘A bloody one-man army!’

‘Well, there is Andrei at the machine, and Mitkin my invaluable right-hand man, and…’

‘Yes, yes, of course, your team,’ conceded Zharkov. ‘They too will be recognised and honoured. Anyway, I’ll now send you the two recordings. I am only sending them because we’re still doing this pretence thing that the President is powerless to stop these fanatics – that’s you and Andrei – from holding both the US and Russian presidents hostage to the idea of returning Russia to its former international standing.’

‘Yes, I am aware of the narrative behind all of this,’ said Zorin. ‘But I forget why you’re sending me the recordings.’

‘Just in case anything goes seriously wrong and you get caught, you need to be in possession of what are supposedly your demands,’ replied the General, irritation creeping into his voice. ‘I’m sending them now.’

‘Ah yes, I remember now,’ said Zorin.

As they both waited for the files to come through, Zharkov asked ‘So what are you going to do when we’ve pulled this off?’ There was no way in which Zorin could tell the General the complete truth, so he gave him a version of it that he had agreed personally with the President.

‘I’ve had enough of playing the playboy in London,’ said Zorin. ‘Idling away in Monte Carlo, Aspen and all that. I want to go home. I’ve already got people working on my houses in St Petersburg and Moscow and my dacha in the Crimea. But I don’t want to sit doing nothing when I get back to Mother Russia, and I’m attracted by the President’s idea of my fulfilling the kind of role Igor Rodchenko held – “Fixer to the President” – though I wouldn’t want it to lead to the same end as Rodchenko’s, of course.’

They both laughed.

‘Ah, the files are coming through,’ said Zorin. ‘Why don’t I play them through and then ring you back?’

‘Do that,’ said Zharkov, and, ignoring Zorin’s suggestion that perhaps they should not celebrate till after the show was over later today, he added, ‘And my personal congratulations on an excellent job well done.’

Zorin, also ignoring his own caveat that this whole thing was not yet in the bag, replied with, ‘Thank you, Andrei. That means a lot to me, especially coming from you.’

 

 

 

38

 

 

Queens, New York City

 

The game of cat-and-mouse that Perry and Andrei were engaged in was conducted in fractions of fractions of a second. Though waged across the three and a half thousand miles of the intervening Atlantic Ocean, every move that either made could spell success or failure for either of them.

Andrei needed to pull the machines out of the wire Faraday Cage so that the quantum machine was able to communicate with the outside world through its synchronised laptop. But in doing so he exposed it to an attack from Perry – like two aircraft engaged in a dogfight, but in the old-fashioned way, all of it fought on visuals, each manoeuvring round the other in and out of banks of cloud, in sight of each other one millisecond, gone again the next.

This put a huge strain on the hunted Andrei, for he could see nothing of Gemini, but was just aware that it was constantly there waiting for him. He had to just try one more time that he had a good link onto the air control centre’s machines. This last, hopefully quick attempt would establish for certain all he needed to do the real shut-down of the hub at precisely 11 a.m. As soon as he’d set the cage aside, he was out in the open. His fingers rattled over the keyboard of the controlling laptop, and then pressed ‘enter’. He should go instantly onto the internet, get connected to the air traffic hub at Islip and be able to initiate the attack.

It worked.

 

Exactly thirty-two seconds after 11am, all the air traffic controllers found themselves sitting in front of blank screens. All the small icons depicting individual aircraft were gone. All the little tags denoting the flight number, each representing hundreds of souls, suddenly gone.

 

 

Over a light meal a week or more earlier, Wilder and Lucy had laughed a lot. Though he was at the height of his problems with Gemini and Zorin, he’d hidden it well. He’d even given his blessing to her latest holiday treat. She was going off to Italy. Her explanation of it was muddled. Her uncle’s brother – no relation really, was marrying for the second time and she’d been invited to attend. This wedding was to an Italian lady and was taking place in Rome. She’d be travelling with her uncle and aunt who’d shared bringing her up with Wilder. The romance of Rome, the fun, friends, what more could you ask for?

Wilder hadn’t even troubled himself to ask her how long this wedding trip was to be. It was not till the day of the culminating battle between Craithe and Andrei that he received a text from her. She’d be flying back into New York with her uncle and aunt at the very time Andrei was attempting to shut down the air traffic hub. A feeling of nausea suddenly swept over him. But there was nothing he could do; the flight was due to land around 11 a.m.

 

Lucy had enjoyed the flight. They would soon be approaching New York. It was one minute and forty-eight seconds after 11 a.m. – just one minute and sixteen seconds after Andrei had blanked out the controllers’ screens. Though Lucy was a frequent flyer – going to Europe every holiday to spend some time with her father, she still loved the wonderful sight of downtown Manhattan whenever her aircraft’s flight plan took her into JFK that way.

The captain had announced that they were beginning their descent. Lucy peered out of her window, excitement widening her eyes. It was just past eleven.

Suddenly she recoiled when the noise of the aircraft engine suddenly increased in volume to a roar; the aircraft lurched violently upward and to the right, physically pressing all the passengers down sharply into their seats. She could feel the G-force of the manoeuvre. Within milliseconds another aircraft shot past below them, going in the opposite direction. The speed of the near-miss was enough to cause some passengers to shout out. Lucy herself sucked in a breath sharply and instinctively as she reached for her uncle’s hand nearby.

She did the maths. Travelling in opposite directions, the aircraft had passed each other at substantially more than a thousand miles an hour.

‘God, that was close,’ she almost whispered, her voice harsh, her mouth suddenly dry. She reached out for the flute of champagne sitting in a small holder by the seat. Though none of the three of them had drunk much of the endless first-class supply through the flight, she was never more grateful for it in that instant of sharp shock.

She now looked back at her uncle. He, like her, was pale and sweating profusely. Once the terror had subsided a bit, Lucy looked out of the window again. She could now see more aircraft very close. They were both above and below them, though none at the same height. In all of her trips she could not remember ever seeing so many other aircraft at the same time.

 

On the flight deck the Captain was desperately trying to contact ground control; this was the first time he had ever experienced being suddenly shut off from a flight instruction in mid-sentence. Shocked and apprehensive he tried again and again, the sweat now trickling down into his eyes. It was now nearly two minutes since Andrei had cut the computer feeds to the air traffic controllers’ screens.

Peering ahead, the captain brushed this sweat from his eyes. The near miss had told him that normal height separation and directional safeguards had somehow been breached. Then it came to him in an instant; he had just been instructed before the silence to bank left on a new heading and to drop height to five thousand feet.

He now realised that he was still completing that manoeuvre. But what should he do now? Should he continue with that manoeuvre or should he straighten up? He felt he was going to be sick. He decided to straighten up.

Then he saw it dead ahead. At first it was but a tiny speck, like a fly on the glass in front of him. But it grew at an alarming speed. Within just seconds there it was again, suddenly far larger. As it came clear of an intervening cloud, the huge oncoming mass of metal seemed to be hurtling directly at him like something in a video game.

Guesswork told him the two aircraft would meet head-on in seconds. He pushed on full power and slammed the aircraft into a steep dive. It seemed like nothing had happened. Then, at blast, the nose dipped. He froze in his seat, squirming down into it as though to stop being hit by something physical. It was like a repeat of the other child’s tennis racket that had smashed into his head all those years ago. He winced at the memory and screwed his eyes tight shut. He even gave out a child-like whimper.

The backdraft of the other aircraft as it shot over the top of them caused his aircraft to react violently. It was as though he was in the midst of unimaginably dangerous turbulence, being thrown about as though the plane was just a tiny single-seater. Over the noise of his own aircraft’s engines, now at full throttle, the crescendo of noise as the other passed over the top of them with no more than a few feet of clear space between them was absolutely deafening.

But they missed each other.

Coming back to his senses with the shock of realisation that they had not actually hit each other, he glanced to his right at the young co-pilot next to him. He was still rigid with fear and had clearly wet his uniform, for he was beginning to squirm about in his seat. He was also wiping tears away from his face.

The captain got back control of the aircraft and, just as he managed it, ground control came on again in his earphones.

 

 

Perry, sitting with his face close up to the computer screen had been monitoring Andrei’s machine. Once locked onto it, it appeared as a small red dot amidst the lines of code. It came and went as Andrei took his machine in and out of its cage, on and off the internet.

Suddenly, he saw a flash of red again. It was just three minutes and six seconds after 11 a.m. Then, for no apparent reason, the red light stayed on. Perry’s fingers rattled across the keyboard confidently, pouring out the code that could kill Andrei’s machine. Row upon row of code flowed down the screen. He was aware there was a possibility that Andrei might try and lock the Craithe Gemini machine out. Perry’s first two attempts had failed to eradicate the red dot. It was like some mad video game without pictures, just seemingly senseless letters, numbers and symbols. But this was no game. As Perry could well guess, this situation was likely to lead to aborted landings, near misses and, in this now uncontrolled airspace, fatal collisions.

He typed feverishly. He then pressed a couple of keys on the quantum computer control panel. More code cascaded down the laptop screen. Then, as suddenly as it had all begun, it stopped. The red dot began to fade, through orange and then to nothing. In just three seconds, all that remained of was a little cursor caret. It sat there blinking away on the screen as though asking what it should do next.

But Andrei’s machines were dead. In that instant, Zorin’s great plans had died too.

 

 

Lucy’s uncle put his arm around her shoulder. The aircraft was now in level flight once more and the engine noise behind them had subsided to a mere murmur.

 

‘Sorry about that; brief technical glitch,’ said a voice from the air traffic control centre. ‘All’s well and we have you under our control again. Maintain heading two-two-eight and current height.’

The young co-pilot burst into tears but quickly got a hold of himself as the captain put a reassuring hand over onto his arm.

 

In first class, the cabin crew came around to see that everyone was all right, and Lucy’s uncle asked for a couple of large brandies.

Lucy looked out of the window, her thoughts in turmoil. She wondered if these events had anything to do with her father’s worries over the past few weeks. Suddenly the plane came out of a bank of clouds and, reassuringly, the magnificent sight of downtown Manhattan appeared below them. All right after all.

 

 

 

39

 

 

Craithe Castle, Scotland

 

In the lab on Craithe the team had been watching Perry’s every move. Now they breathed a collective sigh of relief and the professor went over to Perry.

‘I’m proud of you,’ he said. ‘You’ve proved decisively that even sophisticated clones of Gemini can be beaten by our original programme.’

‘Still,’ said Angus, ‘though others may have guessed that the threat is over, we’d better tell them officially.’

He glanced at his watch – it would be just five past eleven in New York. This confirmed, as they had guessed, that Zorin had chosen 11 a.m. as his moment of greatness. Angus looked down at a slip of paper and rang Wilder at Brady’s apartment.

There would be plenty of time later for congratulations and to go back over the struggle between Perry and Andrei, but right now it was time to tell the US President that it was officially all over. The President would already have been informed through his own communications channels that the air traffic control system had come back online. He would need Craithe’s technical confirmation that the threat was past and that he could prepare to tell the American people – especially New Yorkers – that a hoax threat had been dealt with and that stories of a new super cyber weapon were just myth.

 

 

Wilder and the others in Brady’s apartment opened a bottle of Brady’s prized thirty-year-old Talisker single malt scotch and drank a toast to the disaster averted.

But though that might have appeared to be an end to it, Brady and Wilder still had urgent work to do. Wilder rang the Governor of Bermuda again to make sure that nothing had flown out of Bermuda and, as far as it was possible to tell, that no powerboats had left the islands either. Wilder confirmed that they were leaving New York shortly and hoped to be arriving in Bermuda as fast as possible, in around three hours from now.

 

 

The news spread fast throughout the ring of expectant conspirators. Andrei rang Zorin with the bad news. Having failed, he was naturally on the defensive and spent some time telling him what had gone wrong and that he had really needed more time to perfect his clone. During Andrei’s call, Zorin had the time to make urgent signs to Mitkin. The first was made with a movement across his throat to indicate that the plan had failed, the second asked for a notepad and pen. With Andrei still trying to say how close he’d come to success, Mitkin gave the pad and pen. Zorin quickly scribbled a note and turned around on the table so that Mitkin could read it. ‘Destroy all evidence – get ready to leave’, it said.

Finally, Andrei asked Zorin what he should do about making his escape.

‘You took a trip down to Balboni’s place on Fifth Avenue, didn’t you? And you got your money and tickets all right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Okay then. Rocco Balboni has all the plans to get you back out of the US via Canada – the way you came in. Give him a ring immediately after this call. But bear in mind that though the US authorities will be out in force looking for both you and the machines, they have absolutely no idea where you are. I know this is going to be difficult, but try to relax as much as you can. You did a fantastic job and this project is not over just because the first attempt didn’t work out. You’re going to get another shot at this, only the next time with that bloody Gemini machine out of the way.’

‘So all’s not lost?’ said Andrei with a lift in his voice.

‘Certainly not,’ replied Zorin, ‘though we need to get you into Canada at least in the short term. So, chin up, as they say in the West, and ring Balboni as soon as I’m off the line.’

 

Andrei rang Balboni right away. He had been cheered by his conversation with Zorin. Nevertheless, he was still on the defensive as he told Balboni the details of the attack and how he had been stopped by the superior technology of the people who had invented the attack software.

‘They’ve spent years for all I know perfecting their software, I’ve only had weeks.’ Though this was an exaggeration, he went rambling on, speaking fast in his poor English. And after Zorin’s encouraging comments on the future, telling Balboni what he would do the next time – this had become so convincing that even Balboni began to believe it.

But in Andrei’s disappointment at his failure, his mind had lost its usual sharp edge. He had indeed already begun to talk about the future and failed to give any thought to Balboni’s organisation’s position. In talking to Balboni about what he now thought would be an escape, he had not reflected on the immediate problem that Balboni still had fifty-thousand to collect from Zorin.

‘Sure, I understand that the other guys had more powerful machines,’ Balboni manged to say at last. ‘But, hey, you can’t win ’em all, can you? Don’t you worry about it, Andrei. Right now the most important thing is for me to get you safely out of here. But, with that safety in mind, don’t make a move just yet. In fact, don’t even leave the building without us to escort you – there will be lots of people out there looking for you. And consider this, though there will be another shot at this sometime, out there are people looking for a scapegoat. If you don’t want that fall-guy to be you, just stay where you are till we come for you.’

Andrei promised not to make a move and settled himself down to some TV in the small area that had been set aside for him in the warehouse so that he could stay with the machines till the project was over.

 

Balboni then rang Zorin.

Sorry to hear the plan didn’t work out,’ he said. ‘I’ve told Andrei to stay put, but what are we actually going to do about him and the machines?’

‘I’ve had a re-think about getting him or the machines out of Queens straight away,’ replied Zorin. For now, leave Andrei and the machines where they are. If he keeps his head down, they’ll never find him. So, for the rest of your money, I need you to make sure he stays put and that we all keep our mouths shut and just lie low.’

‘But I think that Andrei’s hoping to be whisked away on a magic carpet to Canada right now – even if it’s only for a short time till this next attempt everyone seems to be talking about now.’

‘Okay, Rocco, I can understand all that,’ said Zorin, in what he hoped was a calming voice. ‘But the fact remains, you just need to keep him pacified and staying put for a while, at least till the heat subsides. As I said earlier, just calm him down and tell him we’ll deal with his situation shortly.’

‘Okay, will do. And the money?’

‘Don’t worry about the money,’ said Zorin. ‘As soon as we’ve let the dust settle, the US President has calmed the nation and the police realise that there’s no point in their rushing around like headless chickens looking for either Andrei or us, we can sort everything out in a calm and rational manner. But I do suggest you don’t do anything rash for the rest of today at the least.’

‘Okay, I’ll tell Andrei it’s in his best interest to leave it for a day or two.’

 

But Balboni thought about this for a moment as he put the phone down. He had a niggling worry that Zorin might cut his losses and make a run for it. At least the machines and Andrei were still an asset. As an insurance against Zorin’s possible departure, he decided to move the machines and Andrei to near his main headquarters in Newark. This would at least give him some assets with which to bargain with later on.

With a renewed sense of purpose, he rang his three men who were keeping watch over Andrei and his machines. Up till this point their job had been to deter, and if necessary dispose of anyone getting too close to him. Now he told them they would have a different job to do – one of great urgency.

‘Paulo, that you? Sorry, Pietro. Didn’t recognise which one of the two you it was. There’s been a major change of plan. The Russian, Andrei, flunked the job. So maybe his people will come after him. We’re the only people who know exactly where he is, but I don’t trust the Russians and so we need to move him and the machines nearer to our headquarters. The warehouse below us on the Hudson should do the job. Everyone out looking for the machines and for Andrei will expect them to lie low, so we’ll do the opposite. We’ll just pretend it’s a normal delivery we’re doing. Get a van over as quick as you can, load everything into it and tell Andrei that you’re starting the process of escorting him back to Montreal. He won’t know where he’s being taken but it will keep him quiet. As far as the general public is concerned, this is just an ordinary delivery, so we don’t want an armed escort. I’ve told the Russians that we’re all going to sit tight, so they won’t bother to check on us while you’re doing the move. Is all that perfectly clear?’ he asked as he came to the end of his instructions.

‘Yeah, no sweat,’ replied Pietro. ‘We’ll get that all done and I’ll only ring you back if we hit a problem. Should get all that done within a couple of hours and I’ll ring you then.’

Not fully understanding the rage amongst all the national and New York authorities over this whole episode, Pietro got on with this as though it was a normal job – an attitude of gross over-confidence that would not serve him well.

 

 

Giuseppe Massimo, having heard nothing from Wilder or Zorin, realised that something had gone wrong. Aircraft were still flying in and out of JFK well after the target time of 11 a.m. As Wilder had told him that their best guess for Andrei’s attack would be at exactly that time, he decided to ring Wilder for news. He got through to Brady’s apartment.

‘Brady,’ came the reply.

‘Ah, Mr Brady. It’s Giuseppe Massimo. You may recall I was to keep you informed if we got any idea of where Balboni had hidden Andrei and his machines?’

‘Yes, Mr Massimo. I’m pleased to be able to tell you that the Russian did indeed try to attack the air traffic control centre at 11 a.m., but failed, and his machines have now been disabled. So the threat is over. But you’re right, we still need to find the machines and Andrei. You say you have an idea where they might be?’

Fearing that everyone would vanish now that the game was over, Massimo was still keen to make sure he got some benefit from all his efforts. He was also determined to get the better of his old rival Balboni.

‘No luck yet,’ he said, ‘but I’m still hoping to earn the amnesty you promised me, so my people will continue looking. What do you think Mr Zorin’s plans will be now?’

‘We’ve discovered that he’s holed up in Bermuda, though we don’t know exactly where yet. Mr Wilder and myself are off down there right now to make sure he can’t make a getaway.’

So this is the new game,’ thought Massimo. ‘Better get myself down to Bermuda too. I’d like my one hundred-thousand-dollar payment from Zorin before he vanishes, and I’ve an idea how my people can find Andrei and the machines while I do that…

He finished his call to Brady and rang Zorin.

‘Don’t worry about your hundred grand,’ was the very first thing that Zorin said. ‘I know you didn’t get a chance to do much investigating for me, but I’ve another way you can earn it. That is, if you’re still interested.’

‘I am,’ said Massimo.

‘As you know, Rocco Balboni has Andrei and the machines hidden away somewhere in Queens,’ said Zorin. ‘I’ve suggested that no one should make a move for a day at least until the dust settles. My first guess, however, is that, Balboni being Balboni, he’ll try and keep both Andrei and the machines to himself as insurance. My second guess is that he’ll try and move them to nearer his own place – across the river to Newark.’

‘Knowing Balboni much longer than you, Victor, those were exactly my own thoughts as well. I can practically guarantee that’s what he’ll try and do,’ said Massimo.

‘Okay, Giuseppe, to confirm: a hundred grand,’ said Zorin. ‘I’ll add another fifty if you can find a way to catch Balboni taking Andrei and the machines to Newark. I need you to take them from Balboni and up into Connecticut or Massachusetts or wherever it is you have another of your hideaways?’

Ignoring the shock of learning that Zorin even knew of these secret locations, he laughed. ‘I’d be delighted to do that for you.’

‘But there’s also more,’ said Zorin. ‘Whilst your men are doing that, I need you to get yourself down here to Bermuda as fast as you can. There’s the future to discuss.’

‘Sure, I could do that.’ There was a clear hesitation in this reply, as he was quite shocked that Zorin seemed to have read his mind and had just suggested he do exactly what he had planned himself. Zorin, sensing this, quickly came back to him.

‘Naturally I’ll pay all your expenses,’ he added. ‘So charter a private jet if you can. I’ll text you later as to where I am when you’ve actually landed here on the island.’

‘I’ll see you in Bermuda just as soon as I can arrange it,’ said Massimo, though between now and then he would need to give this new development more thought – stupid to walk into the centre of a spider’s web unprepared.

 

 

Massimo rang Carlo, his head man, and explained the new plan. He stressed that finding where Balboni had hidden the Russian and the machines was now top priority. He also knew that the moves they were now planning would meet with resistance from Balboni.

‘Don’t worry, Giuseppe,’ said Carlo. ‘The easiest way of dealing with this will be to put a tail on any trucks leaving the Lupo organisation’s premises. Then we simply overpower Balboni’s men after they’ve led us to where the machines are. I’ve already got men tracking his people’s moves ’cos we’ve been trying to find the hiding place these past couple of days. But now that he’s likely to move them, the job of finding them will be easy. But don’t worry – all of that’s our problem now.’

 

Three telephone calls later, Massimo felt confident that he had covered any eventuality. If anything went wrong on Bermuda he also now looked forward to hearing later this evening that Andrei and the machines had become his property. He had just finished the last call when his secretary came on the line.

‘It’s not been easy, seeing how it’s a Sunday, but I’ve got your flight organised by private jet to Bermuda, and I’ve also got some Bermuda dollars ready for you too – would you like me to bring them in to you?

‘No thanks, Maria, I’m on my way.’ ‘Indeed, I’m on my way,’ he repeated to himself under his breath – this was going to be an interesting end to an already most unusual day.

 

 

 

40

 

 

The White House, Pennsylvania Avenue

 

Henry Steiner’s time at the White House as Chief of Staff had never been more frightening than today. Around an hour after what might have been a series of disasters to rival 9/11, a degree of calm had returned to the corridors of power. In retrospect, the air traffic control system for New York’s five-airport area had been disrupted for only three minutes or so.

Though not all the reports were in yet, one said that there had been six near misses. One instance had been of an appallingly close one between an Alitalia Airways flight and one of United Airlines’s; the White House were told that the two aircraft had passed each other with only a few feet to spare.

At one point, Steiner had wondered what the President would have had to say if there had been a mid-air collision; but he was a positive kind of guy and he didn’t dwell long on what ifs. But now it was he and not the President who had the comparatively simple task of flannelling his way through a White House press conference. This was something at which he had grown adept. He was relaxed as he went to the press room to meet the phalanxes of reporters and commentators.

‘In this great country of ours, we have one of the best track records in aviation safety,’ he said, standing behind the podium with row upon row of faces staring up eagerly at him. ‘But it would be a rash man who dared to say that even these great and safe systems are perfect. So yes, for no more than a few seconds there was a computer glitch in our air traffic control systems. During that infinitesimal time, New York was slightly affected before our backup systems kicked in. So no harm resulted.’ This was, of course, rubbish. Andrei’s attack had earlier disconnected the back-up system, though that had not even been noticed.

‘I’m speaking to you all here right now to say how sorry we are if any passengers suffered from aircraft being delayed by the glitch. I’m also here to tell you that rumours of something more sinister than a computer glitch are entirely unfounded.’

He beamed down over the gathering as would a teacher surveying a bunch of wayward children.

‘We are not aware of any conspiracies and what I’ve just told you is our best information at this time. Are there any questions?’

Naturally, there were questions. In separate but uncoordinated ways, a few members of the press and a couple of lobby groups could not resist the opportunity to stir up trouble for the authorities. They had an enjoyable time asking awkward questions and were encouraged by others who were just there, as usual, in the hopes of a digging up a more meaty story that would sell better.

Compared to what might have been, Steiner got off lightly. Had Andrei succeeded, he might have been here answering questions on a massive change to the US relationship with Russia. He might have been having to explain the reversal of many cornerstones of foreign policy. As it was, he would get away with no more than a few column inches of print – and none of them on the front pages.

As Steiner left the room, the conference was over and many left gloomily, packing up their belongings. Later, one seasoned hack described the whole business as a non-event.

Steiner, on the other hand, would have sold a member of his family for cash – maybe the youngest one who was going through teething at present and was keeping them from sleeping at nights; it would have been worth almost any sum, however large, to have been in Moscow as the full horror of the project failed.

 

But there was another matter that would need to be addressed after Steiner left the press room. Though he had lied and got away with it, the air traffic control system had been attacked, the screens had been blank for long enough to have caused more than one fatal air disaster, and though they had Craithe – the ultimate experts in this field – now confirming that those responsible had nothing left but junk, the perpetrators needed to be found.

Trouble was, they had absolutely no idea how to start looking for them – an area the size of Queens could take months to search when looking for the one small area holding the machines.

 

 

 

41

 

 

The Kremlin, Moscow

 

Steiner might have paid handsomely to be a fly on the wall in the Kremlin – to hear the reaction there. But he would have been disappointed if he was expecting a hugely disappointed President upbraiding everyone around him for the failure of a project so close to his heart.

‘Well, Victor, as you haven’t opened your call with a triumphal whoop,’ said the President, as soon as he was told it was Zorin calling, ‘I imagine everything did not go exactly as planned,’

‘Would you like the good news or the bad news first?’ asked Zorin.

‘Don’t play games with me. What do you mean by good news?’ replied the President. But, intrigued, he relented. ‘Oh all right then, the bad news first.’ He knew well anyway that both the good and the bad would be Zorin’s own gilded versions of the truth.

‘The whole team did a remarkable job,’ said Zorin. ‘We actually had the air traffic of the greater New York area under our control for all of five minutes. Unfortunately, the inventors’ software which we used – the original Gemini – managed to track down our machine. They’ve had years in which to perfect their version of the software, so they were able to shut down our man’s machine. Sadly, of course, that means that your ability to reverse many of the US foreign policies has had to be put off temporarily.’

‘Temporarily?’

‘Yes, temporarily, which brings me on to the good news.’

Even the President had to admit to a touch of admiration for the way in which Zorin had moved at such speed over the disappointment of the project’s failure and on to what he had the brass neck to call ‘good news’.

‘I have made arrangements for the machine and its operator to be moved out of New York as soon as the dust settles,’ said Zorin, ‘and, almost before you can draw your next breath, it will be ready for use in whatever manner you choose.’

‘What do you mean by “whatever manner”?’ asked the President.

‘I’ve spoken to you before about the brilliant young Yulian Agaron?’

There was a muffled grunt of acknowledgement.

‘Well, before his unfortunate accident, he wrote a whole mass of software for the machines. That, combined with the excellent operator we still have, means that the next time around we shall definitely succeed. Would you like to know what I have in mind?’

‘Go on then.’

‘I myself have plans to vanish shortly, until things have calmed down a bit,’ continued Zorin. ‘But I’ll ring you again within the next few days once I’m safe again and away from here. I can tell you then of my plans. They include a detailed method of destroying the Gemini installation on its Scottish island – that was the only thing that stopped us this time. Eliminating them will give us a clear run at our chosen target next time.’

‘Well this project has always been your baby from the start, Victor,’ said the President. ‘So if you’ve had contingency plans in place against this latest set-back, I naturally take your word for that.’

‘Well, thank you for that vote of confidence. You won’t be disappointed and, as I say, I’ll tell you more of what I have in mind as soon as the dust has settled. Now, I should make a move, as I believe that my present location may be compromised.’

‘Before you go,’ said the President, ‘there’s another side related to all of this which I should tell you. The world, but especially the US president, will have seen this as a disaster for us; they will expect us to make heads roll. If no heads were to roll, they might think that we were not that disappointed and that we therefore still had something up our sleeves. Well, of course we do, as soon as you’ve sorted out the hiding of the quantum machine and its operator, but in the meantime, heads are still going to have to roll.’

‘What exactly are you saying?’ asked Zorin, a sudden catch in his voice.

‘You’ll not be surprised to hear that since Rodchenko’s death, there have been attempts to shift the blame for that onto you.’ said the President.

‘I suspected as much,’ said Zorin. ‘I even think that they tried to get Rodchenko’s young daughter Katya involved in trying to implicate me.’

‘That’s right,’ said the President. ‘Pity about that, but it will all be forgotten as soon as those responsible for Rodchenko’s death are brought to justice.’

‘I don’t suppose you mean General Zharkov and Rodchenko’s understudy Polichev, by any chance?’ ventured Zorin.

‘You’ll have to wait till it’s official, and in case anything goes wrong with your plans for vanishing when you leave Bermuda, best you know no more – what you don’t know you can’t lie about, eh?’

‘All right. I look forward to reading about it, when you see fit to announce it. Do you have that announcement planned yet?’

‘Yes, but I’m holding off until I hear back from on the three following matters. Firstly, that you’ve got yourself clear of Bermuda; secondly, that you’ve got the machines and their operator hidden away and secured for further use; and thirdly that you have a plan for dealing with the people on the Scottish island. As soon as you can reassure me of each of those three with greater detail than you have to date, I’ll make my move. Those to be used as scapegoats have no idea what’s coming their way, so it should be perfectly straightforward. But you mustn’t know what’s coming. Do you understand that?’

‘I do. I’ll get myself out of here today. And, as I said earlier, my plans for this were in place even before our attack in New York. What’s more, they were designed irrespective of which way the attack went.’

‘Good, I’m pleased to hear that,’ said the President. Just one more thing before you make your escape. Some of the manoeuvrings around this whole Gemini business have shaken up my confidence in one or two people close to me. Now that Rodchenko’s gone and some other changes are on the way, would you be interested in taking on Rodchenko’s role when you get back here to Moscow?

Zorin’s spirits soared. He’d been unsure how badly the President would take the New York failure. But now he was being offered the one thing he had only expected had he pulled off a stunning success. It was almost too good to be true.

‘I most certainly would – just so long as I don’t finish up the way Rodchenko did.’

They both laughed and the President added, ‘I wouldn’t expect you to work out of his dreadful little office in Nikol’skaya Street; you could do all I would need of you from your pretty little palace here in the city.’

‘It would make a wonderful homecoming present for me,’ said Zorin. ‘I’ve been away from the seat of power in Moscow too long and this project has given me an appetite to get back into the swim of things.’

‘That’s what I wanted to hear,’ said the President. ‘In the meantime, good luck with your escape from Bermuda and I look forward to your early confirmation on those three outstanding matters we’ve just spoken about.’

‘You’ll hear as soon as I’m clear of Bermuda’.

The call ended with Zorin in high spirits.

 

The President’s next call was to General Zharkov, asking him to come to his personal quarters. The General knew that after the failure of the New York project, some scapegoats would have to be found, and was sure this meeting would be about that. He hurried along the winding corridors in the hopes that he might be called to help implement that process rather than be one of those scapegoats himself.

‘You’ll relieved to hear, my dear General Zharkov,’ said the President, after he’d told the General to seat himself comfortably, ‘that, though I say it myself, I think I said enough to Victor Zorin over the phone to get him rushing back here to Moscow – and faster than he’d planned. I’m telling you this because I’ll bet that you were just about to get your bloodthirsty people to go over to Bermuda to fetch him back here. Now be honest with me – was I right?’

‘Well, I had thought you might need him here to answer in person for the failure of something that had been so close to your heart. I had been dreading having to go all the way over there and embarrass him by dragging him back here unwillingly. So the fact that you got him rushing back here of his own accord is good news.’

The President grinned.

‘Quite,’ he said.

‘So, are we now ready to put this sorry business out of its misery?’ asked the General.

‘I think we are,’ said the President. ‘Though, as you will have guessed, I’m not giving up on the idea of still getting one of those Gemini programmes. Just need to think who we can entrust that project to next.’

 

 

 

42

 

 

The Quantum Installation, Queens

 

The failure of Victor Zorin’s project had naturally left all the others involved in it in a state of uncertainty bordering on fear. In Rocco Balboni’s case, he reckoned he had now dealt with that uncertainty to his satisfaction – at least he was taking over the machines, hiding them somewhere else and keeping the operator. These were all powerful insurances for his survival.

Being a cynic, he had quickly translated in his own mind Zorin’s advice to lie low into the opposite. It meant to him, ‘Don’t make a move yourself. I am coming for my man and my machines myself.

Carlo, one of his senior people, had initially suggested that moving the machines was crazy – no one knew where they were at present and moving them would be like waving a red flag in front of the proverbial bull. Calling everyone’s bluff, however, the plan was already underway and a van had left the organisation’s headquarters in Newark for Queens.

 

As though this decision was not stupid enough, he’d made another miscalculation. He had been in such a rush to grab the machines; he thought that by acting so fast, no one would be watching. This made it easy for Massimo’s people to find and follow the Balboni van as it set off from their headquarters in Newark. The two Massimo organisation cars assigned to this task did their job well. Following Balboni’s van, they anticipated slowdowns during the pursuit as well as points where traffic flow allowed for faster progress – a perfect tailing operation, with no suspicions raised amongst Balboni’s people.

When the van reached Queens, the Massimo party were particularly cautious – talking to each other over radios and swapping tailing cars as seemed necessary. When they arrived at the warehouse where the quantum machine was hidden, the two trailing cars came to a halt before turning into the same road as the hideaway. Massimo’s people then went forward on foot to watch the van’s arrival at the warehouse.

This Massimo team consisted of five strongmen; they watched from a safe distance as Balboni’s people began loading the quantum machines and all the other equipment from the warehouse into the van. With no Balboni look-outs or guards posted, it was easy for Massimo’s men to bring the larger of the two cars up closer. This would be used to block the dead-end road when they were ready.

They watched as Balboni’s men seemed to be getting the van full. But they also needed to know when the van’s departure was imminent and when Andrei would be brought out. To check on how close this was getting, one of them walked down the road towards the warehouse and the van. He was carrying a clipboard and a small package so that he looked like someone trying to make a delivery. As he got near the van, he shouted over to one of them, ‘Hey, buddy, can you help me out here? I’m looking for Brace Brothers’ place to make this delivery.’

‘Sorry, but we’re just doing a collection here,’ replied the nearest of Balboni’s men. He looked irritated being stopped from the job in hand, but as clipboard man hadn’t moved, he added, ‘I dunno the area so I can’t help you.’ With that, he turned back to loading the van as though that was the end of the matter. It was not.

The Massimo man had looked past him into the warehouse. He had seen that there were only one or two more small items still to be loaded. Judging it to be the moment for the rest of his team to make their move, he dropped his clipboard and the package onto the ground and pulled a gun from where it had been tucked into his belt in the small of his back. At the same moment, one of Massimo’s cars drove into the cul de sac and as soon, as it had lurched to a halt, two others jumped out. They all raised their guns to shoulder level and the larger of the two cars they had hidden around the corner drove across the top of the cul de sac, blocking the exit.

‘Down on the ground, all of you,’ shouted the leading Massimo man as he walked slowly into the warehouse. Balboni’s people, taken completely unawares, meekly obeyed, and soon all were prone on the ground.

At the back of the warehouse, in the area which had been made vaguely habitable for him, Andrei and Goran both crouched, trembling. Andrei even more than Goran, was confused and terrified. His command of the English language had been challenged by all this shouting in Italian-American accents. It left him confused about what was going on.

Only an hour earlier Balboni’s men had arrived to take himself and Goran and all the equipment ‘to safety’ and then on to Canada. They had not mentioned anything about the flight to Montreal for which he had their tickets, nor had they told him who they were. And now, here was another bunch of people he had never seen before. Who were they? Why were they here? Why were they brandishing guns? Were they here on Zorin’s orders or were they a new gang intent on stealing the machines? Many questions but no answers.

After a few minutes of the extreme discomfort, his very tall frame doubled-up behind the office partition windows, Andrei’s mind was turning over at ever-increasing speed and into near-panic. He felt the urge to stay out of these two sets of people’s quarrel. Leaving Goran still crouching, he stood up in the half-light at the back of the room with his hands above his head. The sudden appearance of this gaunt giant behind the dirty glass, dressed in his dark drab overcoat, was too much of a shock for one of Massimo’s men. Already on edge, he fired off a couple of shots before his leader could shout out ‘Hold your fire’.

Andrei went down.

The leader of the Massimo group rushed forward but stopped in the doorway and gasped. Andrei had fallen to the floor next to the whimpering Goran, near the bedding laid out there and was groaning and rolling around, clutching at his arm. The space around them both was an unbelievable mess. There were two low camp-beds and a jumble of loose bedding on it – set up there so that the two of them could work here and take breaks without having to go back to the apartment. And there on the floor next to it was these priceless assets, Andrei and Goran.

‘Hey, Marco, get in here,’ the leader shouted back over his shoulder. He put his gun away, as he knew that the Balboni men would already be tied up. He bent down over the two. He then helped Andrei to get up onto the camp-bed and looked into his eyes with what appeared to be genuine concern. Andrei got the impression from him that he was genuinely trying to help and managed a weak smile and a thank-you.

The leader of the Massimo group stood up and turned to the others.

‘Right, listen up. I want the rest of the equipment out here and into the van. Giorgio, you drive the van. I’ll take Andrei and Goran in my car. I know where we can get Andrei seen to by a proper doctor. The rest of you take the route we planned and I’ll meet up with you in Vermont.’

As soon as the remaining equipment was in the van and all Balboni’s men’s bonds had been checked, the Massimo group dispersed to their various vehicles and the leader went back into the office to collect the pale and still groaning Andrei. He helped him to his feet and out to his car as Goran followed meekly behind.

‘We’re used to getting gunshot wounds treated in our line of work,’ he said in a kindly way to Andrei, ‘so you’re in good hands.’ How much Andrei actually understood was irrelevant; he had no alternative but to do as he was told.

 

Balboni’s men looked and felt ridiculous. It took them a considerable time to squirm their way around until one of them found a sharp object with which to cut his cuffs off. Eventually all were freed and they wandered out into the road. They had no money or mobile phones. One of them remembered that there was a landline back in the apartment which Andrei had used from time to time. They hastened there and the leader of the group rang Balboni.

‘What do you mean you don’t know who they were?’ shouted Balboni. ‘For Christ’s sake, were they Italian-American mafia or what? You mean you don’t know whether they were acting on behalf of Zorin or Massimo or even, God forbid, some entirely new group? Next you’ll be telling me that they were in the pay of that Englishman Wilder.’

 

Whilst Balboni raged at this unforeseen disaster, Massimo’s people and the convoy slipped away on minor roads out of Queens and then headed north into Connecticut. From there they continued on to yet another place known only to a handful of people in Vermont. The leader texted Massimo, who would shortly land in Bermuda. It was welcome news. And when his private jet did get him to Bermuda, Massimo was delighted – it would greatly strengthen his hand when striking a deal with Zorin.

 

 

 

43

 

 

Wade International Airport, Bermuda

 

The flight from New York to Bermuda had been comfortable but frustrating for Wilder and Brady. They’d been assured that flight departures had been rigorously checked and checked again to prevent Zorin and Mitkin leaving. As far as possible, considering Bermuda’s miles of coast-line and generations of smuggling, in theory at least, boats had also been stopped from leaving the island.

 

They were keen, naturally, to bring this long saga to an end by apprehending Zorin. And they were hopeful they might be on the last stretch as their jet was on approach into Wade International. The Governor was sending a car to meet them. This would also cut arrival formalities to a minimum.

Moscow’s attempts to get instant diplomatic status for Zorin and therefore a safe, no-questions-asked passage off Bermuda were emphatically blocked by London. This made the Governor of Bermuda’s job that much easier than if he had had to make the decision by himself.

On purpose, this refusal had not yet been passed on to Moscow – or naturally to Zorin himself – and he and Mitkin now sat in the villa, sipping cool drinks, still under the misapprehension that they would soon be able to get off the island without further questioning or hindrance.

As soon as Wilder and Brady’s plane landed, a car with the Governor’s flag drove over the tarmac to the aircraft and even before they had collected up their papers and mobiles and put them into their briefcases, a sprightly young gentleman entered the aircraft and introduced himself.

‘I’m Blacker, John Blacker,’ he said, extending his hand and grinning broadly.

‘Mr Blacker, thanks for coming out to meet us. I’m Tom Wilder and this is my colleague, Bob Brady.’

They rather formally shook hands and, half-turning, Blacker added, ‘The Governor’s looking forward to meeting you and I’m to take you straight to Government House. Shall I lead the way?’

With that, he ducked under the low aircraft door and led them down the steps and into the waiting car. The drive from the airport to Government House did not take long. They travelled at the island’s strict speed limit of around twenty miles an hour with the large car almost filling the narrow winding roads. These were lined on both sides for the most part with white, pink, and palest green and blue bungalow houses. Their white roofs were all stepped to collect the island’s scant rainfall.

They reached the large imposing Victorian building of Government House and here Blacker ushered them straight to meet the Governor, James Fremantle. After introductions and some brief polite exchanges about the comfort of the flight and then the awkwardness of the Zorin situation, they were served some cool drinks and got down to the serious business of what to do about the Russian himself.

‘With the help of my colleagues in the UK I have managed to get a firm view of this mess from a legal standpoint,’ said Fremantle. ‘For a start, I was surprised to find that Mr Zorin applied for and was granted dual British-Russian nationality…’

‘You’re joking,’ said Wilder.

‘I’m afraid not,’ said Fremantle. ‘It appears that he was thinking of asking for asylum on the grounds that most of his life was now based in London. I understand that if this had been granted it would have been embarrassing for the Russian President and so the dual-nationality was granted as a kind of compromise.’

‘|How does that fit in with his situation here?’ asked Wilder.

‘As you will know we’re under British law here and so I also got our legal people to draw up a list of offences with which he could be charged under both UK and Bermuda laws. And here it is.’

He handed a single page of to each of them.

‘I don’t suppose for a moment that he will dispute any of these so this sheet will come in handy when we catch up with him, won’t it?’ said Wilder, looking across to Brady who nodded agreement.

‘The only slight problem is, we don’t know exactly where he is on the island,’ said Fremantle.

‘Damn, I hadn’t even thought about that,’ said Brady. ‘How are we going to set about apprehending him?’

‘Hang on a minute. It may not be much to go on but this was found in his house in London.’ Wilder delved into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper on which he had copied out several of the notes from the book Katya had found. ‘The note at the top of the page in particular, just under the word Bermuda, does that mean anything to you?’ said Wilder handing the piece of paper over to Fremantle.

Fremantle studied the note that Wilder was referring to – ‘Bermuda contact DBx DAG trippt556’.

‘Unless it’s a coincidence, which I doubt, the “DAG” is sure to be the retired old rascal Douglas Alexander Garnier. He lives just across the water from Hamilton at a place called Salt Kettle – he’s also an old friend of mine. We can either ring him or just go and see him,’ said Fremantle. ‘And as to the “DBx” – under the circumstances it’s probably “Dropbox”, the internet document transfer facility. The last bit, “trippt5565”, would therefore seem to be his password for Dropbox. Do you want me to try that on a laptop here? Doug won’t mind me doing that at all.’

‘That would be great,’ said both Wilder and Brady, almost in unison. Fremantle rang a bell on a small table nearby and when a uniformed servant appeared, asked him to bring him his laptop from the office. As soon as it arrived, Fremantle started it up and soon brought up Dropbox.

‘I know Doug’s email address almost as well as my own,’ he said. ‘He spends a lot of his time in a summer house at the bottom of his garden where he refuses to have a telephone so we often exchange emails – you know, jokes, help requests with the crossword of the day, drink invitations, that sort of thing.’

The other two got up from their chairs, and came round behind Fremantle. They stood behind him to see what was in Garnier’s Dropbox. Fremantle had put in Garnier’s email address and added the password from Wilder’s piece of paper. Dropbox opened and inside was a whole mass of documents, some of them in Russian Cyrillic. They opened one or two of those that were in English, and there on one of them was the lease agreement for the rental of a house down on South Shore.

‘Ah, there we are,’ said Fremantle. ‘That explains everything. It appears that Zorin’s renting a house from the Balantynes, a retired Scottish couple who come out here about twice a year for a month or so at a time; I happen to know that Doug Garnier acts as a kind of host to anyone who rents that particular place, as he’s a good friend of the Balantynes.’

‘What do you suggest we do now?’ asked Wilder. ‘I mean, you’re the boss here and know everyone involved.’

‘Shall we go down to the place where Zorin’s staying but call in on Doug Garnier first? It’s on the way.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ said Wilder. Brady nodded too.

‘If we’re going to arrest him, should we take police or whatever it is you have here?’ asked Brady.

‘I can take my firearm,’ said Fremantle, ‘but I doubt very much if anything else will be needed. The ban I’ve put on flights out of the island still holds and, anyway, why don’t I ring him? Zorin, I mean. He’s expecting a call from me anyway – waiting to hear if he’s been granted diplomatic status. He’ll think I’m coming to discuss that. I can try and judge his mood over the telephone. What do you think?’

‘That sounds good to me,’ replied Wilder. ‘But, not that it should be necessary, Bob and I are also armed and I’ve some experience using them.’

‘Yes, I was told quite a lot about you when I was being briefed on this whole business,’ said Fremantle. The two of them smiled at each other and Fremantle added, ‘Saying you have some experience with them is short-changing yourself a bit, isn’t it? From what I’ve been told, you’re the nearest thing to a James Bond to come to Bermuda in years.’

 

They all left together and one of Fremantle’s cars, flag on the bonnet, took them from the Governor’s house through the narrow roads as before, hemmed in much of the way by the pretty little pastel-coloured houses.

‘We could take the Salt Kettle Ferry but I think we’ll just drive the longer way round as it’s often quicker,’ said Fremantle, ‘and after we’ve had a word with Doug it’s not far across the island and down onto South Road to the Balantynes’ place.’

They found a convenient place for the car to pull off the road and Fremantle led the way into Garnier’s house, shouting out his name as they went through the house and out the other side onto the lawns. Halfway down the tight, clipped crab-grass towards the waters of Hamilton Harbour, Doug Garnier came out of his summer house and walked up to meet them.

Wilder and Brady were introduced and they went into the cool of the house and settled into comfortable chairs. They refused the offer of some tea and Fremantle quickly briefed Garnier on why Wilder and Brady were here. As Fremantle’s tale unfolded, Garnier’s eyes grew wider and his mouth fell open involuntarily. At the end of the tale he just shook his head slowly, appearing to be running the story over in his head a second time.

‘I’ve never heard of such a tale. You absolutely amaze me,’ he said at last. ‘I just offer my email and Dropbox facilities for people who rent the Balantynes’ place. I’m not their agent or anything like that, but I keep an eye on the house for them and help their guests in any way I can. But to have a Russian oligarch staying there… Well, words fail me, I…’ At that point words did fail him and Fremantle leant over towards him.

‘Don’t worry about it, but is there anything you can add?’ asked Fremantle. ‘Or haven’t you had anything to do with Zorin?

‘Almost nothing, except when the bloody great boat arrived for him,’ replied Garnier.

‘Bloody great boat?’ repeated Wilder.

‘Yes. He asked me if it would be okay for him to keep it here in one of my Salt Kettle berths in case he wanted to use it,’ said Garnier.

‘Could we have a look at it?’

‘Sure, I’ll lead the way. They followed Garnier out of a small side-gate and onto a pathway raised above the beach of Salt Kettle bay.

There were a number of boats anchored in the bay itself but at the end of a small pier a large, powerful-looking forty-footer was tied up. As they got closer it looked as though there was someone aboard. In case it was Zorin, they increased their pace and Wilder, clearly the fittest of the four of them, ran on ahead.

He already had his gun out, and he sprinted the last bit and jumped on board. Fremantle and Brady watched as, to their horror, the engines started up and, seconds later, with a great roar, the boat lurched away from the pier and rapidly gathered speed, tearing a mooring bollard off the top of the planking of the pier and taking a couple of boards off it as well.

Brady and Fremantle watched helplessly as, with a wide wake, the boat powered off west down Hamilton Harbour, heading for the open sea where the harbour curved to the north. If it got out onto the open seas it might go anywhere – a bit over six-hundred miles from the US mainland, only a bit over seven hundred to Canada, but, more importantly, to something else out there that might help make good their escape.

 

 

 

44

 

 

Hamilton Harbour, Bermuda

 

The Bermuda Triangle has its particular reputation for good reason. A craft as big as that could make it to any of those places with ease, and it would be like trying to find a very small needle in an enormous haystack – even tracking it down from the air. Fremantle made an urgent call on his mobile.

‘Not much we can do but buzz them with the helicopter. But with a boat as powerful as that, and a head-start, I don’t know if we can catch them before they get to the open sea. Out there, they might have a rendezvous. Who knows with someone as rich as Zorin? Let’s just hope Wilder isn’t too heavily outnumbered and can do something about it on board.’

As neither of them had binoculars with them, they continued to watch as the boat began to disappear out of sight.

 

On board, Mitkin was at the wheel. The moment the boat had taken off in such a violent, unscheduled departure, Zorin came up from down below only to be met by Wilder coming the other way. Though he prided himself on his fitness regime and was a judo black belt, Zorin never knew what hit him. Feinting with his left hand, as though to hit Zorin with it, Wilder’s right hand came round as from nowhere and caught Zorin smack on the temple, just at its most vulnerable spot. Zorin went out like an extinguished candle and crumpled to the deck.

Mitkin, on the other hand, was going to be a much harder proposition. He had taken the boat out as fast as he could the moment he recognised the sprinting man as Wilder. It took him but seconds to piece together the entire puzzle. If Fremantle had been on his way over to meet them to talk about the diplomatic application, he would have come alone. Accompanied by Wilder and another stranger meant only one thing – trouble. Worse, it might even be in the form of an arrest. This had given him no choice but to go for the second of their escape plans. Further along to the sheltered water at the western end of the harbour was a small flying boat at anchor, ready if needed.

As Mitkin tried to watch Zorin and Wilder whilst also keeping an eye on where the boat was headed, he saw Zorin go down; he quickly secured the boat’s wheel by locking it in place with his belt, the other end of which he tied to the swivel seat in front of it. He now turned with a quick twist of his body and, balancing himself on the swivel seat, threw out his right foot as he straightened his leg. It met Wilder coming up from the cabin area where he had left Zorin lying on the deck. He caught Wilder full in the face with his sand-shoed foot. Wilder fell back and smacked his head on the deck with a loud crack. He felt he was beginning to pass out. His vision blurring, he saw Mitkin raising a gun and pointing it down at him.

Was this the end? After all he had been through in his life, was this it? Without even a proper fight with Mitkin? It just didn’t seem fair. Sheer anger sent adrenalin coursing through his body.

At that very second, he heard the sound of a distant rifle shot. Was he dreaming? Was this part of the hallucination that comes with the end?

At the same second, Mitkin was spun around as the force of a high velocity bullet struck his right shoulder; he came tumbling down like a tree, felled by an unseen hand. He crashed onto the deck next to Wilder. Coming more to his senses as the adrenalin poured through him, Wilder rolled over from where he had been lying on his back. With all the strength he could muster, he swung his straightened arm over in a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree arc and smashed it down onto Mitkin’s throat. Had he not been close to passing out a moment earlier, this blow could have killed Mitkin. As it was, it knocked him unconscious. Wilder, still dazed, slowly got himself to his feet by pulling on the boat’s side-railings.

He looked about, saw some coils of mooring-rope nearby and, as fast as he could, tied up first Mitkin and then Zorin. He then suddenly realised that the boat sounded as though it was on full power. He pulled himself up the steps and onto the bridge. Here he could see that the wheel had been locked by Mitkin at a slight angle to straight ahead and that the boat was heading for the rocks near what he later learned was called Spanish Point.

He quickly untied the belt and cut the power; his headache and the swimming sensation was coming back almost to normal. Looking back to Spanish Point, he saw the rifleman who had shot Mitkin. He was uniformed and Wilder surmised that he must have been one of Fremantle’s people – probably armed police. He was just putting his rifle into a travelling sleeve and was heading back to a small van.

In full control of the boat, he turned on full power again and swung it full circle back to Salt Kettle. As he approached the pier, he could see Fremantle and Brady standing there. Fremantle had been busy and as soon as the boat was tied up Zorin and Mitkin, now both conscious but weak, were brought ashore and transferred into the hands of the police.

 

‘We were lucky,’ said Fremantle. ‘My top rifle-shot was at the practice ranges. He and his companion had only a mile and a half to travel to get to Spanish Point. Sheer luck your boat had gone off course and headed that way as opposed to the other. That would have been out of shot for our man. As soon as you had jumped aboard Doug Garnier confirmed that Mitkin, driving the boat, was one of the two who had taken the Ballantynes’ house. Interesting, too, they had both used different names to the ones you now talk about.

‘With Doug’s help, I relayed a description of the boat and its owners to my sharp-shooter. He’s told me since that you were bloody lucky as, through his telescopic sights, he could clearly see Mitkin get out his gun and point it downwards. It was only when you must have got up onto your elbows to meet your death that he understood what was happening. At that point it wouldn’t have mattered who he was. Seeing as Mitkin was aiming to kill someone meant that he needed to be disabled. The rest was easy.’

 

Zorin and Mitkin were taken back in a police van to Government House for questioning. On the drive back to Government House, Wilder reflected on how lucky they had been to find Mitkin and Zorin before they had got away and how fortunate he was personally that Fremantle’s sharp-shooter had been able to stop Mitkin bringing his life to an end.

If any of them had thought this was at last the end of the past few weeks’ nightmare, they’d have been gravely mistaken. Unknown to them, Giuseppe Massimo’s private jet was on its final approach to land at Wade International.

 

 

 

45

 

 

Government House, Bermuda

 

Although Rocco Balboni always thought and said that Giuseppe Massimo was an idiot, any impartial assessment would have turned that view around. Whereas Massimo was now stepping out of the private flight to Bermuda, Rocco Balboni was discovering that there was no reply to his frantic calls to any of his men’s mobile phones.

Massimo’s men were now speeding beyond Massimo’s main residence in northern Connecticut to an even more secret spot in Vermont. They had with them both the quantum machine and its all-important operators Andrei and Goran. Rocco Balboni had paid handsomely for transport, escape documents and cash, had only been paid fifty grand, with no prospect of any more to come.

Massimo smiled to himself at these thoughts as he walked into the terminal building. Having no luggage to collect, he walked straight through and out the far side to the taxi rank.

‘Government House, please,’ he said.

He ran over in his mind what he would say whilst he was there, but more importantly, he also thought about what he was not going to say. He enjoyed the short ride from the airport to Government House, especially as he was feeling quite pleased with himself. For here was a drama which had started for him towards the end of March when he was putting together the plan to steal McGill University’s quantum computer, and finally here he again was about to tie up most of the loose ends – and very profitably.

 

When he got to Government House he paid for the taxi in American dollars – always welcome – and walked with a bounce in his step into reception.

He was greeted by a pretty girl behind the desk with the customary ‘Can I help you?’

‘I hope so,’ he replied. ‘My name’s Giuseppe Massimo and I’m here to see Mr. Zorin who I believe you will find is a guest of the Governor’s right now.’

For a couple of seconds, the girl hesitated, thrown by such an unexpected answer. She then looked back up at Massimo. ‘I’m sorry; what did you say your name was?’ she asked, blushing slightly.

Massimo, passed her a business card. She rang through to the Governor’s office, and whilst alternately looking down at Massimo’s card and then back up to the man’s pale, gaunt face, she eventually told the Governor’s secretary that there was someone to see a Mr Zorin. A couple of minutes later Tom Wilder appeared in the reception hall; he was smiling broadly, came straight over and shook Massimo warmly by the hand. In that instant all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place for Massimo, so he didn’t show any surprise at Wilder’s appearance.

‘Nice to see you, Mr Massimo. Come with me.’ He nodded to the girl in reception and took Massimo back through to meet the Governor.

‘I expect you’re here to see Victor Zorin?’ said Wilder as he led the way back to the Governor’s office.

‘Yes, I’d like to speak to him if that’s okay.’ replied Massimo.

‘That’s fine,’ replied Wilder. ‘We’ve already made arrangements for you to do that, though they’ll frisk you before you see him – after all, we wouldn’t want you to shoot or cut him.’

‘Of course, Mr Wilder. I’d expect no less.’

 

Massimo was frisked for a gun or knife and then led into the only interview room in Government House. Zorin was brought in and the trio of Fremantle, Wilder and Brady were surprised to see Zorin smile at Massimo as the two of them sat down opposite each other across a wide trestle table.

Fremantle led the way out of the room and Wilder and Brady followed him next door so that they could observe Zorin and Massimo through the two-way mirror. Fremantle also fiddled for a moment to set up the sound system so they could hear the Zorin-Massimo conversation.

Just as these two were about to talk, however, there was a crackling sound, like static interference, and the trio watching their prisoners could hear nothing else.

‘Christ, Massimo must have had a jamming device in his pocket,’ said Fremantle, as he got up from his seat to go and get it put right. But Wilder restrained him with a hand on his arm.

‘No need,’ he said.

‘What do you mean, no need?’ said Fremantle, looking back at him, irritation on his face. ‘We have to hear what passes between them.’

‘It’s okay,’ said Wilder. ‘One of the young men in the outer office must have thought me very strange when I gave him ten bucks for the gum he was chewing.’

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ asked Brady.

‘I went into the interview room as you were frisking Massimo and bringing Zorin along from his cell,’ went on Wilder, ‘and I stuck my mobile under the table in there with the chewing gum – just hope it holds till the end of their chat.’

Fremantle nodded.

‘Better leave them the way it is now,’ continued Wilder. ‘No doubt Massimo will tell Zorin about the jamming device so they’ll talk freely. By the end I hope we’ll get what we want.’

‘The truth?’ suggested Brady hopefully.

 

The three of them sat for the best part of half an hour while Zorin and Massimo talked. At one point Massimo took a piece of paper out of his inside pocket together with a pen and passed them to Zorin, who wrote a long scribble and handed them back to Massimo.

‘We’ll need that note off Massimo when he comes out,’ said Brady.

‘When their allotted time was up, Wilder, Brady and Fremantle went back into the interview room. Massimo and Zorin, both smiling happily, got up out of their chairs and Massimo yawned and stretched. Wilder held out an open hand towards him and, after looking down at it with disdain, he took the jamming device out of his pocket and handed it over.

Wilder took it, dropped it on the floor and smashed it into a small pile of wires with the heel of his shoe. He then looked up again at Massimo, still holding out his hand. Once again, after a wait of a few seconds, Massimo went into his inside pocket and, taking out the note Zorin had written, handed that over too.

Wilder then bent down and from under the table took out his mobile. Peeling the stickiness off it, he went to put it in his pocket. Massimo had watched this with growing horror on his face and, after a second’s delay, shouted out in fury and lunged at the mobile. Wilder’s free hand swung into Massimo’s ribs just below his heart and Massimo crumpled, letting out a gasp of air as he collapsed back into the chair he’d been sitting in. Zorin was taken away to the cell he had come from.

 

Once Massimo had recovered, he looked utterly crestfallen; begrudgingly he thanked the three of them for the opportunity to talk to Zorin and then said he was off back to New York. As, at this time, they were not aware that Massimo had taken possession of Andrei and his machines, they saw no objection to this and let him go.

Just before letting him go, they checked on New York-bound flights and discovered that Massimo was booked to return on a United Airways flight.

‘I’ll make arrangements for Massimo to be met off that United Airways flight as it gets into New York,’ said Wilder. ‘So apart from us listening to the recording of the chat between Zorin and Massimo, it looks to me as though we’ve just about got this sewn up, doesn’t it?’

But Massimo had arrived by private jet and would be returning that way; they could watch all the commercial flights they liked, Massimo would not be on any of them.

 

As the three of them left the interview room to go back to Fremantle’s office, Wilder sensed that all was not right but couldn’t put his finger on it – perhaps matters would become clearer when they played back the recording of the conversation between Massimo and Zorin?

 

 

 

46

 

 

Government House, Bermuda

 

Content that they were near the end of this roller-coaster drama, Wilder and Brady followed Fremantle to his office. They settled themselves comfortably and, pouring some welcome fresh coffee, Wilder got out his mobile and went to put it on for them to listen to.

‘Damn,’ he said as he looked down at it. ‘Isn’t that just our luck? Very unprofessional of me; the bloody thing’s out of power.’ He immediately got out his wallet and took out a slim spare battery and swapped it into the mobile. The three of them then bent towards the machine lying on the table and Wilder prepared to take some notes as, with volume high, it replayed the Zorin-Massimo conversation.

 

‘When your man Mitkin took the quantum machine from my men on the way down to Albany, I must confess that I was a bit pissed off…’ said Massimo’s voice.

‘Well I couldn’t tell you all of the detail of my plans, could I?’ replied Zorin’s voice with its slight Russian burr, distinctive enough to be immediately recognisable. ‘It would have meant a whole lot of play-acting, so it was easier just to keep most of my plans from you.’

‘And I suppose that shooting and wounding two of my men in Boston comes under the same heading?’

‘Afraid so,’ said Zorin.

‘Christ, you’re a hard man.’

‘I’ve had to be,’ came Zorin’s voice again, adding, ‘But at least Mitkin didn’t kill them. May I suggest that you don’t dwell on small incidents like that; think of the prize, think of the bloody prize, man.’

‘Yeah, guess you’re right.’ Massimo’s voice. ‘And I thought that a neat trick diverting the machine in Amsterdam from Moscow to London. Good re-organisation, that.’

‘Yeah, but, hell, I’ve got companies and people all over the place. What do you think I’ve been doing these past ten years, wasting my time in Monte Carlo?’

‘Well, I know you go sometimes,’ said Massimo’s voice.

Laughter.

‘After that I understood just about everything,’ said Massimo’s voice again. ‘Setting the machine up in Cambridge, getting the Craithe lot to educate Agaron on how to set up the quantum machine to hack into just about everything – brilliant.’

‘We’d learned our lessons. I was given the project because earlier attempts to steal the Gemini software had proved hopeless. Bloody fiascos, all of them,’ said Zorin’s voice. ‘After Rodchenko’s attempts, which included embarrassing the President with his secret files being stolen, he’d had enough. Realistically, we were never going to get the quantum machine past the West’s sanctions and get it out of the EU and into Russia, but doing all our trials from Cambridge was fine.’

‘And the bit about cutting the power supplies in King’s Somewhere. That trial went well?’

‘King’s Lynn.’ Zorin’s voice. ‘Yes, that proved we’d got our work-in-progress Gemini right.’

‘Confirmed that Yulian Agaron’s software was fit for the bigger jobs?’ Massimo’s voice again.

‘Exactly – ready to go.’

‘And the move to Norwich and Agaron’s death?’

‘Yes, that bloody interfering Wilder,’ came Zorin’s reply. ‘Though I wouldn’t have minded having the man in my organisation. He was a right pain, caused me to bring my plans forward.’

Sitting round the table, Brady gave Wilder a light prod on the arm and Wilder said, ‘We were lucky in Norwich, must have put real pressure on Andrei.’

The mobile had been silent for a moment and Wilder looked worried that this was where it had run out of power.

But then it continued.

‘That brings us to the war games and playing the money markets.’ Massimo’s voice again.

‘Yes. All of that still just good practice for our main event, the one the Russian President had been asking for.’ Zorin. ‘It might have been fun to make a bit of money off the markets. Arrogant little sods, some of those traders. Anyway, as I was saying, all very good practice for what we’ve really been planning for.’

‘Yeah.’ Massimo’s voice. ‘Again you didn’t let me in on the air traffic control attack and all that stuff, scared the living daylights out of me. There were all of us, I mean half my damn New York organisation, running around trying to catch up with what the hell you were doing.’

‘I know, sorry about that.’ Zorin. ‘But yet again, I couldn’t afford any slip-ups simply because someone was trying to act out a part.’

‘I understand that now.’ Massimo. ‘So it’s all looking good. The machine’s on its way up to my new place in Vermont along with Andrei, who incidentally seems much happier now that we got him patched up and into his new home. So, where from here?’

‘I presume you have your plan for how you’re going to extricate yourself from this little island in the middle of nowhere?’ Zorin.

‘Yes, it’s all organised; I’ll be fine.’

‘I myself will have to work out how I get Mitkin out of jail later – but I can do that from anywhere, even from Moscow.’ Zorin’s voice now sounded melancholy and he cleared his throat after this observation.

‘So that just leaves the people on that island of Craithe to deal with before we have another go at a similar target?’ Massimo’s voice.

‘Yes, maybe the same target, anything that gives the US President no room for manoeuvre.’

‘So do you have a date in mind for this next go at the same target?’ Massimo’s voice.

‘Just a bit more time, that’s all I’ll need. I need to consolidate my position in Moscow. Next time I’ll need the full might of the state under my control so that I can use those powers to finally deal with Craithe and the team there.’

‘And you don’t worry that Andrei might get to feel forgotten, stuck up in Vermont? I have set him up beautifully there.’ Massimo’s voice, edgy. ‘After all, he’s still the key to the next time.’

‘No, I’m not worried about him.’ Zorin’s voice. ‘He’s fiercely loyal to me and he has no one else in the world. He’ll be fine. Hey, on that subject, hadn’t you noticed that all my key people have no one else in their lives but me?’

‘Yes, I had.’ Massimo’s voice. ‘Anyway, we’re to make contact in a few days’ time, right? Once we’re both free again and you can give me the details of what you want me to do about Craithe. And after that’s fixed, I can get back to the States and…’

At this point there was just silence; it must have been the point at which Wilder’s mobile ran out of power.

 

Wilder muttered again under his breath.

‘Sorry about that, gentlemen. It would have been interesting to hear what they said next.’

‘Especially the plans for your boss’s island, Craithe,’ commented Brady

‘No doubt you’ll be ready for anything they might throw at the island?’ said Fremantle rhetorically.

‘Yes, taken care of. But Zorin,’ said Wilder. ‘Got to be sure he doesn’t get away from us between here and a UK prison.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Fremantle. ‘Everyone along the route will be made aware of who he is and what he tried to do. If anything, his personal safety might be our biggest concern.’

‘Pity you can’t hold Massimo here as well,’ said Wilder. ‘Still, once he gets back to the States no doubt you and your lot, Bob, can help the authorities to find where exactly in Vermont he’s taken Andrei and the machines.’

‘Certainly will, and once we’ve found them we can throw the book at him.’

‘Bob, can you get the authorities in New York to meet Massimo?’ said Wilder. ‘With luck, they may already have enough to hold him in custody the moment he lands.’

‘That’s right,’ repeated Fremantle. ‘Just because we haven’t anything to hold him on here doesn’t mean the same for the US. After all, that’s where the crimes were committed.’

‘And what of Zorin? What’s the plane for him?’ asked Wilder.

‘I’ll have to double-check that,’ said Fremantle. ‘As all of this landed on my plate only this morning, I wouldn’t want to mislead you by telling you something which I can’t follow up on. But all the legal paperwork will be completed by the end of tomorrow, and he’ll be escorted back to the UK under armed guard Monday or Tuesday and handed over to the Home Office people or someone like MI6.’

‘Could anything go wrong with that?’ asked Wilder

‘Apart from a miracle escape he’s already planned? No,’ said Fremantle, ‘You can bet that the Russians and the US will try and bully us into letting him go to them, but I’m quite clear on that – initially at least he’s here on British territory and his arrest will stay British until people far more senior than myself decide otherwise.’

‘Good,’ said Wilder. ‘So I have till late Tuesday to be in London to see the arrival of Zorin and Mitkin there.’

‘I’d say that’s about right,’ said Fremantle.

 

After discussing a few more matters, Wilder and Brady bade their farewells to Fremantle and were driven out to their plane to return to the States.

‘We get Massimo as he lands in New York,’ said Brady as they took off, ‘and you confirm Zorin and Mitkin put away in London and I’d say job well done.’

‘I didn’t like the Governor’s mentioning some Zorin miracle escape plan,’ said Wilder. ‘If you’ve a bank balance of several billion and your people focus entirely on springing you from an escorted trip to jail, I’d think twice before calling it “job done” – not yet anyway.’

 

 

 

47

 

 

Wade International Airport, Bermuda

 

At JFK International, a heavy police presence was on hand for all flights coming in from Bermuda from Sunday afternoon well into Monday. They were under orders to detain Massimo for questioning, though there was not yet sufficient evidence to arrest him.

The trouble with these orders was that Massimo wasn’t on any of the scheduled flights that came in from the island. He’d gone there and returned by private jet. Understandably, anger spread as they realised that they’d missed their man. By the time the police were asked to check on flights arriving from Bermuda into European cities such as London, Amsterdam and Paris, Massimo could have got to anywhere.

 

As for Zorin and Mitkin, their situation was straightforward. Mitkin was to remain under armed guard in his hospital room and Zorin was to be taken on a commercial flight to London – also under armed guard. He and his guards were allowed an upgrade to first class – provided he paid for it – and on arrival, the three of them disembarked from the plane quickly. They went through the special customs area reserved for VIPs.

It was in this suite of rooms that Zorin’s people had planned for his escape. Following his escape organiser’s instructions to the letter, he asked to go to the toilets on his way through to customs. One of his armed guards remained outside the toilets, while the other accompanied Zorin. They were hardly through the door when a complete stranger struck out and incapacitated the guard inside the toilets. This was not witnessed by anyone and it was later discovered that of the numerous surveillance cameras posted on this route, the ones in these toilets had all been disabled. After Zorin and his guard had been in there an inordinate length of time, the guard outside went in to investigate. He met with the same fate as his fellow guard and, a minute later, three disguised men came out of the toilets and proceeded to customs.

From there, the three disguised men – one of them being Zorin, of course – cut through a connecting door and joined the economy passengers who by now were going through passport control and customs in large numbers. By the time the VIP area airport security people searched the toilet areas where Zorin had escaped, he had vanished without trace.

 

Later, a hastily summoned enquiry came to the sorry conclusion that, without much difficulty, the ‘get Zorin out’ team must have given him a fake passport for a UK national, a change of clothes and perhaps a notable distinguishing feature such as a moustache. Such a feature would be likely to fool a passport control officer into assuming he was looking at the right passenger. Later, more detailed checking proved that this guess was exactly how they had done it.

The following day, when Brady and Wilder heard of this disappearance, Brady reminded Wilder that, during their recorded chat, Massimo had asked Zorin if ‘all his arrangements were made’. It was now clear that when Zorin replied that they were ‘all covered’, this was what he was referring to.

Thus, to the fury of the US authorities, with Zorin and Massimo gone and Andrei also hidden away, they were left with only Balboni on whom to vent the nation’s fury for the air traffic control disruption.

 

Wilder and Brady returned to New York from Bermuda on their private flight. It was therefore late morning before Wilder could ring Katya – even though he had an urgent message for her. It was that either Zorin or Massimo – or even both of them – might return to Zorin’s house in London and that she should therefore move out of it.

‘Aha, that would explain it,’ said Katya on being told this.

‘Explain what?’ asked Wilder, one of his bad feelings coming on.

‘There was a call from, I think, an American. I’m not so good at telling other accents in English.’

‘What did he have to say?’ asked Wilder.

‘When I said Mr Zorin was abroad, he asked if there was anyone else staying here, and that suddenly sounded a bit creepy to me – I mean who rings and asks a stranger if anyone else is staying in a house they’re ringing? So I pretended to be a member of staff and asked who was calling.’

‘And what did he say to that?’ asked Wilder.

‘He said it didn’t matter; he would call round in person to see Mr Zorin in a few days’ time, as he’d been invited to stay here.’

‘And still no name?’

‘No, just this strange accent,’

‘Okay, here’s what you do,’ said Wilder. ‘As I said a minute ago, you need to get out of the house right away. Go and stay at my mews house till I get to London tomorrow. Ring the telephone number I’m going to give you in a minute, tell the person who answers that I’ve told you to stay there. She’ll come to Kensington Palace Gardens, collect you and take over and settle you into my place – all right?’

‘That seems a bit extreme; are you sure I need go that far?’

‘Yes, I am,’ replied Wilder. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m afraid you won’t find much to eat in the house, but I’m sure you can eat out for just the one or two meals. I’ll ring you when I know which flight I’m on and when it gets in. In the meantime, leave Zorin’s house as soon as you’ve put the phone down and don’t go back there again for any reason till I get back and meet you at my place. Got that?’ He gave her Jessie Marker’s telephone number.

 

 

 

48

 

 

The St. Regis Hotel, New York City

 

After dealing with the urgent business of getting Katya out of Zorin’s house, Wilder rang Jessie and asked her to help Katya move. After that, he relaxed for the first time in days. Not that Zorin would risk going back there just yet, but Massimo might. He next had a pleasure he’d been putting off for too long – he rang Lucy. As always, she was relieved to hear that he was still in one piece and they arranged that she’d come to the St. Regis for dinner at eight. He promised to have got rid of business by then.

 

After freshening up he went down to the King Cole Bar where Brady was already waiting for him.

‘Back at the apartment there were a number of messages waiting for me,’ said Brady as they sipped at their first celebratory drinks. ‘There were congratulations from the President in person for our efforts. They were for both of us, so at least he was well briefed. Apparently, the various agencies involved had all said that, without us, the disaster would have been unstoppable.’

‘Well, let’s face it, that’s true,’ said Wilder.

‘They also want to talk with us about the threat of similar attacks using really advanced quantum technology as was used in this case; apparently its use by Andrei caught them completely unawares,’ said Brady. ‘They were aware of the Craithe team’s invention because of all the trials and tests carried out by Freeman. But now they’d be grateful if you could meet with someone from the White House staff at some point to discuss how Gemini could be used by them to a much greater extent.’

‘Yes, but you know about Angus’s wariness of politicians getting their hands anywhere near Gemini,’ said Wilder. Brady smiled.

‘To change the subject a bit,’ said Brady, ‘pity about Rocco Balboni.’

‘Why the commiserations for him?’ asked Wilder.

‘Because of his disjointed involvement in all of this. He only ever played a supporting role, but now he’s been taken into custody on terrorism charges. That means he’ll be incarcerated for God knows how long, maybe forever.’

‘Well at least he won’t be worrying that they didn’t find Andrei and the machine,’ said Wilder.

‘It’s worse than that,’ said Brady, and went on to tell Wilder that he’d rung the Homeland Security man who had been in his apartment earlier and got the whole story.

‘In trying to save his own skin, Balboni told the authorities about Massimo’s attack on his men, the abduction of Andrei and all the machines, and of the Massimo organisation’s secret hiding place in northern Connecticut. Naturally, a small army rushed up to that part of the world but found nothing.’

‘But in the recording of the conversation between Zorin and Massimo on Bermuda,’ said Wilder leaning forward, ‘Massimo said he had sent them to northern Vermont, not Connecticut. We can check that. Hang on a minute.’

He got out his mobile and went through the recording and, sure enough, there was Massimo’s voice – he played it for Brady to hear: ‘The machine’s on its way up to my new place in Vermont along with Andrei’.

‘I can pass this on to the authorities and we’ll see if they can find some place in Vermont that has a connection to him,’ said Brady. ‘I’ll get on with that right away because you’re meeting Lucy for dinner, aren’t you?’

‘I am. I’ll catch up with you later about tracking down Andrei and his machines. But in case I don’t get a chance again for a while, many thanks for everything. We’d never have managed to stop Andrei without IPI over here and your personal help,’ said Wilder. They finished their drinks just as Lucy arrived for the dinner date. Wilder introduced her to Brady, as it was a year or two since they’d last met – part of Wilder’s policy of keeping her well separated from business. Though, come to think of it, he hadn’t done so well on that score of late.

 

Brady then left to chase up on the search for Andrei and Wilder gave Lucy the big hug he’d wanted to give her when she’d first arrived.

‘I understood from Uncle Jim that this last bit of business you’ve been involved with was to do with what the White House said was a computer glitch,’ said Lucy as they sipped their drinks.

Wilder put an arm around her as they sat on the bench seat in their little cubicle. ‘We don’t need to talk about my business, do we?’

‘This time we do,’ she said firmly, and went on to describe what had happened on the flight she’d been on with her uncle and aunt.

‘Oh God, I’m so sorry,’ said Wilder, suddenly putting his hands on both her shoulders, turning her round and looking into her eyes. He felt a great surge of emotion begin to well up within him. ‘My business really has put you through hell just lately, hasn’t it?’

She saw that he was appalled by this news of her flight and she threw herself forward onto him. Whispering into his ear, she said, ‘If it wasn’t for you saving the world every second day, from what I heard when I rang Jessie in London, there might have been mayhem over the skies of New York and maybe lots of mid-air crashes.’

Wilder separated himself from her and pushed her out to arm’s length.

‘Jessie’s not supposed to tell you anything about what we do,’ he said, trying to hide a smile form her.

‘Oh, come on, Dad,’ she said, smiling back at him. ‘I got the measure of Jessie years ago. I know all about the two of you and I’ve been blackmailing her for years to find out about every job you go out on.’

They both laughed – as they did during the rest of their happy evening together. But she knew that, joking apart, he did often play a role in significant matters and that he needed to leave her again to get on with those.

 

That night he caught the late flight back to London. Zorin and Massimo had both disappeared – time to get back to work.

 

 

 

49

 

 

Albert Place Mews, London

 

Katya Rodchenkova had set her alarm early. Even though this gave her plenty of time before Wilder arrived in from the States, she still hurried. As he had promised, he texted her from the airport.

As she heard him unlocking his front door downstairs, she rushed down them and leapt into his arms, almost knocking him over. She buried her head in his chest for a short while. After a few seconds, she unwound her arms and, looking back up into his handsome face she relaxed, lowered herself onto her feet and stepped back from him.

‘Sorry about that.’ she said. ‘But I’m suddenly happy with good news I got, and it’s also great to have you back again. I’ve been quite frightened when you were away and I can now share the news with someone else.’

‘Good news?’ repeated Wilder, standing back and looking down at her.

‘Yes. I had a call from Mr Zorin just before I left his place yesterday.’

Wilder frowned, bent down, picked up his suitcase and, with Katya following him, began going upstairs. Even before she told him the rest, he was trying to work out how this was possible.

‘Tell me about it,’ he said as they reached the top of the stairs. He put down the case and went with her into the bright sunny sitting room, and they sat down together on the sofa.

‘He went back to Moscow,’ she said, ‘and he told me that they had found and arrested my father’s murderers – or rather the two who had organised it.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, but then something odd,’ she went on. ‘He was just about to tell me the names of the people responsible when he excused himself for a moment – he said there was someone at the door.’

‘And then?’ said Wilder.

‘He never came back on the line – almost as though he’d gone to meet someone at the door and then forgotten that he’d left me on the line.’

‘And that was all?’ asked Wilder, now frowning.

‘That was all, yes. Though I thought I heard some shouting after Zorin had gone.’

‘There is another explanation,’ said Wilder, but Katya seemed in a daydream of her own, thinking about Zorin – so he let the conversation end.

‘These things are sometimes complicated,’ said Wilder as she buried her head on his shoulder. Being careful in what he now said, he went on, ‘Politics around the Russian President is particularly complex. But we don’t need to speculate. I have a couple of good friends in Moscow. I’ll ring one of them who’ll be sure to know more about all of this.’

‘Oh, and another thing,’ she said, quickly sitting up straight and looking back at him excitedly. Just before I left Zorin’s house, there was a telephone call. It wasn’t answered by the staff so eventually I thought I should answer it. On the other end of the line there was someone with a really creepy voice.’

‘Someone with a creepy voice?’ Wilder nearly laughed but saw that Katya was still serious.

‘He told me he was called Rossi, Mr Rossi. He said he was a friend of Zorin’s and that he’ll be calling round to Zorin’s house sometime today. I’m to let him in and he’s been told by Mr Zorin to go the safe in the office where there’s a large envelope inside it. He knows where the safe’s hidden and the combination to open it. He said that would prove that he was bona fide. He said he would take the envelope and that was all.’

‘And do we have a time for this Mr Rossi’s visit?’ asked Wilder, now fully alert.

‘Some time near midday today. He said it was important for me to be there so that he could follow Mr Zorin’s instructions.’

Wilder glanced at his watch – a couple of hours to spare.

‘I need to change after the flight. After that we need to get over there before Mr Rossi arrives,’ he said. ‘Could you make me some toast and coffee while I have a shower and change? Though they gave us some breakfast on the flight, that was ages ago. After that we can get over to Zorin’s place.’

‘Of course,’ she said, jumping up from the sofa.

 

It was just after eleven as Katya let herself and Wilder into Zorin’s house. They were met in the hall by the housekeeper.

‘I’ve been speaking to Mr Zorin,’ she explained to the housekeeper, ‘and I’ve agreed with him that when a Mr Rossi comes here I can deal with him. Okay?’ The housekeeper nodded and left.

As soon as she’d gone, Wilder took Katya into the study and, turning and facing her, took hold of her by the shoulders. Looking intently into her eyes, he said, ‘I want you to pay very careful attention to what I’m going to tell you. I need your complete concentration and for you to remember what I want you to do. Okay?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘When Mr Rossi gets here and after you’ve met him at the front door, bring him directly in here and take him over to the safe. Don’t make any offers of coffee or anything like that. Just stick strictly to what he’s come for – the package in the safe. So far so good?’

She repeated back to him exactly what he had just told her.

‘Good. As soon as he has opened the safe and got the package out of it, I am going to come in and get up behind him. It’s very important that you don’t look up at me as it will send a signal to him that I’m there. Do you understand that?’

‘I do. I tell you what, I won’t even look at you at all. I’ll keep gazing at him. I’ll even pick on something to concentrate on – his cuff links or his watch or something.’ She looked so earnest that Wilder had no doubt that that was exactly what she would do.

 

Wilder retired to the drawing room and placed himself behind the door there. He made sure that from this spot he could see both the front door and the whole of the route from there to the study the opposite side of the hall from where he was standing. Katya went into the study and nervously leafed through magazines till the front door bell rang.

Wilder watched and, as she opened the door to Mr Rossi, as Wilder had expected, Giuseppe Massimo stepped into the hall.

‘Nice to see you, Mr Rossi,’ said Katya, welcoming him in with a sweep of her arm. ‘Mr Zorin said you’d be calling and that you needed to get a package from the safe.’

Wilder watched as Massimo looked around the place, seeming to satisfy himself that he was alone with Katya.

‘If you’ll come this way I’ll show you where the safe is.’

Massimo had said not a word, but now muttered a ‘Thank you’ and followed her into the study.

Wilder waited a few seconds, got out his gun, ensured for a third time that it was fully loaded and the safety catch was off. He crept out of his hiding place and crossed the hall.

In his usual state of heightened awareness, the ticking of a large carriage clock on one of the hall tables suddenly seemed loud, and he had a fleeting urge to tell the damned thing to shut up. Creeping forward to the study door, he peered through the chink between the door and the doorframe.

By moving his head to see as far as he could to the right, he could now see Massimo. He was on one knee in front of a safe built into the floor under a small Indian rug which he had rolled back to expose it. Behind him, and at the far side of him, stood Katya, concentrating, looking down at him.

Wilder waited.

He could feel his heart pounding in his ribcage as though trying to get out. The clock behind him ticked even louder.

Suddenly he almost jumped as the clock struck midday, so loud he felt sure it would disturb Massimo. But it didn’t. As he continued to watch, Massimo took out of the safe a large buff-coloured manila envelope. It had a red ribbon tied around it. From where he was standing, Wilder could see no writing on it.

Massimo now seemed about to close the safe and quickly Wilder reviewed his options again. He could wait for Massimo to come out into the hall and take him then, or move quickly right now and risk Massimo turning round before he could reach him. He decided to risk the second choice and moved swiftly into the study and across the room until he was standing over Massimo and just behind him.

Massimo had locked the safe, and was just about to roll the carpet back over it when Wilder gently put the gun muzzle next to Massimo’s ear.

‘Good morning, Mr Massimo. I was wondering when we’d meet again.’

Almost in slow-motion, Massimo put the package down and raised his hands above his head. He got to his feet, turned slowly and faced Wilder.

‘I might have expected that you’d manage to get in the way yet again, Mr Wilder.’

‘Shall we sit?’ said Wilder, as he indicated with the gun that Massimo should go over to some chairs by the fireside. Wilder, who had not taken his eyes off Massimo, except to indicate that Katya should pick up the manila folder, could now see that it was a very substantial package – three or four inches thick and twice the size of a glossy magazine.

‘Katya, could you please bring me over a couple of the curtain tie-back cords from the windows?’ asked Wilder, still looking directly at Massimo.

She did as he asked, and Wilder then asked her to tie Massimo’s hands behind his back, being sure to wind the cord round his wrists a number of times and make sure the knot was secure. As soon as she had done this, Wilder put the gun down on a small table nearby and led Massimo over to a large armchair. Here he ordered him to sit down, and then quickly bound his ankles to one of the chair’s legs.

Leaving him sitting there with not another word yet spoken, he took the manila envelope and, keeping his eyes on Massimo, took it over to a large ornate table. With his elbows he pushed a lamp and some ornaments out of the way to make space, laid the envelope on the table and carefully opened it.

‘Well, well, well, what have we got here?’ he said. He smiled as he pulled the contents slowly out of the envelope and onto the table.

‘I see that you and Mr Zorin have taken a keen interest in the island of Craithe,’ he said as he spread the papers out on the table.

As he leafed through the contents, he could see large-scale maps of the island, the castle’s tourist brochure, press cuttings, print-outs from the internet, and notes on varying sizes of paper.

‘As Mr Zorin may have told you, Mr Massimo,’ said Wilder, looking back up at him, ‘this file is probably the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle of your ambitions to hold the US and therefore the West to ransom. It looks from this file as though you are planning to destroy the Gemini programme before you have another attempt.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ said Massimo, attempting an absurd ploy of ignorance. ‘I was here at the request of the owner of the property to get a file for him from his safe and send it to him. In fact, you taped the conversation between the two of us so you’ll know that’s the truth.’

‘Well, Mr Massimo,’ said Wilder, ‘I’m very grateful to you – so will Angus Macrae be. This file will help us to perfect our defences on Craithe.’

Massimo’s face was now pale, and at one moment his eyes went across to Katya – they seemed to plead with her to do something, though quite why she should or what he might expect of her just added to the pathos of the moment.

‘So, all that really remains now is for you to tell me where you have hidden away Andrei and all his machines in Vermont.

‘And what makes you think that Zorin or I will…’

‘Don’t let’s waste time with all that ridiculous defiance,’ said Wilder. ‘In a minute, I shall ring my colleagues in IPI and ask their opinion on who of all the people out looking for you I should ring to tell that you’re here, ready for collection.’

A look of fear suddenly crossed Massimo’s face.

‘If all we want from you right now is where you’ve hidden the machines, who should we hand you over to so that you can tell them? First, I could hand you over to Balboni’s people. They would probably use informal, probably illegal methods to get the information out of you, wouldn’t they? But they’d probably be quite persistent. You put their boss into the hands of the US authorities, who are probably sending him to Guantanamo Bay right now.’

Massimo flinched.

‘Or maybe my IPI friends might suggest we ring Homeland Security. With you still hiding the machine which threw the airspace over New York into chaos, I’m sure they’d love to talk to you. What’s more, you’re still harbouring the man who did that, Andrei. Of course they well might treat you as a terrorist, and I presume you know what that would mean for you?’

Massimo now sat there, his mouth dropped slightly open, just staring blankly in front of him.

‘Note I said terrorist, not suspected terrorist,’ added Wilder just to rub the point in. ‘What about Guantanamo? Despite all the promises, it’s still open for business. No defence lawyers, no visitors, no nothing, ever again.’

‘All right, all right,’ shouted Massimo. ‘What exactly do you want of me?’

‘The address in Vermont where you’ve hidden the machines and Andrei. That would do for a start.’

‘But that would mean the end of…’

‘Precisely,’ cut in Wilder. ‘Though, if you stop to think about that for a moment…’ He paused to let Massimo do just that. ‘If you cooperate and give me the address of your Vermont hideaway, willingly pass over the files on your plans to destroy Craithe and Gemini, and point out that it was actually Rocco Balboni who was harbouring the machines and Andrei when the crime was being committed…’

Massimo seized on this last point as though it was the very straw that would save him from drowning.

‘Okay, okay, I’ll tell you.’

 

Wilder rang Brady in New York. It took him a while to tell even an abbreviated version of the events since he had last seen him. He then gave Bob the address in Vermont where Massimo’s people were hiding Andrei and the machines. Shortly afterwards, after another couple of calls, a special police detail came to collect Massimo and take him somewhere secure for questioning. Wilder would need to keep a check that Massimo hadn’t given them a false address for the place in Vermont and wouldn’t be truly relaxed till that had been checked out.

 

 

 

50

 

 

The Towneley Bank, London

 

Wilder joined Angus Macrae in his office at the Towneley Bank. He brought him up to date with everything that had happened of late.

‘It seems that we’re near the end of an epic struggle, then,’ said Macrae. ‘Although Mike Rogers has told me that this has been one of IPI’s biggest cases, that’s hardly the point, is it? He might be keen as hell for you to stay on with Gemini for the kudos it’s brought, and the profit. But there have been times when we’ve wondered if it was ever going to end – let alone end well.’

‘You can say that again,’ agreed Wilder.

‘Nor had I expected it would be so dangerous. Not just for you but also for Tatiana, Lucy, Jesse Marker, and probably dozens more. Still, as soon as we’ve got Bob Brady and the US authorities to find Andrei and the machines, we’ll be back to square one, but much wiser as to how to keep Gemini safe.’

‘But what about the Russian President and Victor Zorin?’ asked Wilder.

‘Good God, how crass of me,’ said Macrae. ‘I’d entirely forgotten to tell you. Mikhail Rostov, my father-in-law, rang me last night. Initially it was just a rumour, but he’s spoken to President Balakin since then.’

‘He’s spoken to the Russian President?’ Wilder almost shouted it out. ‘But I thought that after the President had turned a blind eye to the kidnapping of his daughter and had indirectly sanctioned the blockading of his dacha in the Crimea, he was on the brink of declaring a personal war on his old friend.’

‘You’re absolutely right, that was the case,’ replied Macrae. ‘But since then the President’s been desperate for cash. Apparently, he went to Mikhail, practically on bended knee. They agreed to bury their differences and have since got back on friendly terms. As though to say that he was giving up the chase after getting a Gemini for himself, he told Mikhail about Zorin. The diplomatic crisis over Zorin’s holding the New York air traffic control system to ransom was near-catastrophic. As a sop to the US President, he’s dealt with Zorin and made a public apology for him.’

‘Wow, that’s quite a turnaround,’ said Wilder.

‘Yes, and since the recent G20 heads of state meeting, apparently the US and Russian Presidents are almost buddies.’

‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ said Wilder. ‘So some good has come out of all the shenanigans of the past month or so.’

‘That’s the way it appears,’ said Macrae. ‘So, formally I now release you back from your secondment to IPI. Again, I can’t thank you enough for everything that you and your friends and contacts did for us. I know that you and your people take in your stride the kinds of ups and downs of the past few months. Even I was shocked at the violence these people were prepared to indulge in to follow through their plans. I understand the effectiveness of kidnapping from their point of view, but if it hadn’t been for you lot, God knows what the outcome might have been.’

‘We were just doing our jobs,’ said Wilder. ‘And, anyway, once you’d explained what the consequences would be if we didn’t fix this business for you, we didn’t have much choice, did we? Fix it or let the likes of Zorin take over the world? No thanks. But what now?’

‘It’s clear that we need to follow up on the address Massimo gave for where his people have hidden the machines and Andrei – this thing’s not over till their version of Gemini has been destroyed and Andrei’s been locked away,’ said Macrae. ‘Still, that need not bother you anymore. No doubt the US authorities have the know-how to take this over now and finish it.’

‘I hope so,’ said Wilder. ‘I’d rather you didn’t ring me again in a couple of months’ time to tell me that they haven’t sewn up all the loose ends.’

 

Wilder left Macrae and made his way back to IPI in the Haymarket. Ever the optimist, he did not expect another call from Macrae about Gemini. How wrong he was.

 

 

 

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Stealth

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © David Stuart Black 2017

All rights reserved. Except as provided by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.


Stealth

There’s a new high-tech weapon which could bring any country to its knees. The UK and the US won’t use it – too many innocent civilians would suffer. But the Russian President has tasked ruthless London-based Russian Oligarch, Victor Zorin to steal it for him. He has no scruples about civilian deaths – he aims to use it to bring the US and the UK down But they have called in Tom Wilder, ex Special Ops Afghanistan War hero to stop Zorin. But can Wilder is used to dealing with people who don’t play by the rules; But this time will he and his small team succeed against this State-backed megalomaniac and his and their resources? The fate of the West is in Wilders hands and only one of the two of them can win.

  • ISBN: 9781370332632
  • Author: Jack Brandon
  • Published: 2017-09-06 12:45:39
  • Words: 83930
Stealth Stealth