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Whatever it takes

 

 

 

WHATEVER IT TAKES

 

 

BOOK ONE

of the TOM WILDER

THRILLER SERIES

 

 

JACK BRANDON

 

 

 

Author’s note

 

 

Although this is a work of fiction, much of the background is based on real international events during the spring of 2017. So much so, that I have been persuaded to publish the novel “Whatever it Takes” while some of these real events are still playing out. I hope that readers will enjoy the book, as the sequel will be available soon afterwards. Readers wanting to know when these books will be free, please refer to the end of the book. And, whilst writing this, I hope my American readers will put up with the way in which we English spell some of the words in our shared language.

 

 

Whatever It Takes

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.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

PROLOGUE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

[]PROLOGUE

 

 

The Russian president is upbeat. The West hasn’t been in such a state of chaos in decades. There’s a new and untried US president in the White House. There’s a relatively new government in the UK, engrossed in trying to separate itself from the European Union. In the EU itself, there may soon be new, untested leaders too. Does he propose to take advantage of this unsettled scenario? You bet he does!

Yet, though he projects an image of the international strongman, all is not as it seems. The Russian economy is in decline. Its main source of revenue, oil, has dropped in price by two-thirds. Despite his dwindling income, he’s spent huge sums of money on the military. Still, he won’t risk direct confrontation with the West.

But luck is on his side. News comes that the US and the UK have developed a new technology weapon. It can shut down vital elements of any country’s infrastructure – power grids, air traffic control or communications: a perfect way to cause mayhem without even admitting to doing so. He orders his people to do whatever it takes to locate and steal one – or at least learn how to build one of their own.

Tom Wilder is a maverick ex-SAS hero of Afghanistan. He’s used to dealing with people who don’t play by the rules. He and his small team will need to fend off the Russians as well as the Chinese and organised crime. They will do whatever it takes to keep the weapon safe. Will the little guy win out in the end?

 

 

 

[]1

 

 

The Branchester Hotel, London

 

John Freeman found the penthouse suite of the Branchester Hotel as luxurious and comfortable as he’d expected. The fitted carpets, covered here and there by expensive-looking Persian rugs added to the sound-insulation of the long room. Floor to ceiling plate-glass windows ran along half of the sitting room’s west wall, affording him a panoramic view of London’s Hyde Park.

Alphonse the butler, dedicated solely to the care of guests of the suite, had put a tray of coffee and biscuits on the low, glass-topped table in front of the sofa that stood at right angles to the windows. Weary from his trans-Atlantic flight, Freeman slumped down onto the sofa. He watched, half mesmerised, the traffic circulating around the park’s perimeter road. Cars and London taxis scurried to and from heaven knows where and yet, from up here, did so in utter silence thanks to the impenetrable double-glazing.

He’d had a sleepless night – even the attentive pampering of the British Airways first class flight had failed to dull his worries. But now, with the drowsiness of jet lag, his eyelids began to close. He decided that he still had plenty of time to take a short nap – especially needed as his nerves had been on edge these past few days. He flipped off his shoes and putting his feet up onto the sofa, he arranged a silk cushion against one of the sofa’s arms and nestled his head onto it. As his anxieties began drifting away, he fell into a light sleep.

There was a discrete knock on the suite’s main door and he woke with a start. Disoriented at first, trying to work out where he was, he sat up, swung his feet round and put them down on the floor. Turning to his right, he looked across to the carriage clock on the delicate, inlaid chest of drawers. It was twenty-five minutes to midday. As his mind came into focus, he realised where he was and that this was, therefore, London time.

The knock on the door would be Macrae. Strange that he’d arrived twenty-five minutes early for the handover meeting, but that was fine. Freeman felt an accelerating surge of relief well up within him – and he became excited by what would follow Macrae’s arrival. Macrae would release him from the burden of his project. And there was another bonus – he would pay him the balance of his fees.

He looked down at the coffee table. Next to the files lying there ready for the handover were a couple of brochures on properties for sale in Florida – in just minutes from now Macrae would bring those dreams that much closer.

 

The knock came again.

‘Yes?’ said Freeman in a weak gravelly voice. Clearing his throat, he repeated it louder, ‘Yes?’

‘Towneley Bank,’ came the reply from the far side of the door.

‘Come in,’ said Freeman, louder still.

The door opened but, instead of Macrae, a man of some six-foot-two or three, gaunt and of sallow complexion entered the suite. Freeman froze, his euphoria of moments before replaced by a sharp spasm in his throat and a sudden ache of fear just below his ribs. It was as though one of his nightmares of the past few days had suddenly become real.

The tall man faced Freeman all the while, his hands behind his back, and closed the door behind him by taking a couple of steps backwards and pressing till the catch clicked. Casually, he dropped a newspaper. It landed silently on the thick pile of the carpet. The man’s cold stare held Freeman transfixed. Freeman glanced down at the files and then back up again at the stare, his breathing now shallow and fast.

Then the man’s dark-eyes left Freeman and looked around the room. During the respite from this unsettling gaze, Freeman’s mind raced. He tried to concentrate. Another bizarre fear had invaded his half-numb thoughts. Freeman felt that he’d seen this man before. While not being watched, Freeman looked him over more carefully.

He was wearing a navy-blue American baseball cap with a wide peak to it. His dark green jacket was a well-known UK brand – a waterproof Barbour jacket. The man’s strange mix of apparel could hardly have been more different from that of either Macrae or a Towneley Bank employee. Then it struck Freeman. The way he’d said ‘Towneley Bank’ had been wrong. He’d pronounced it as though spelling it out in full, ‘Town-nelly’ – an Englishman would have pronounced it ‘Townli’.

This man was an American, like himself.

In that instant, the next question answered itself. The man must have been on the same flight as him. Had he travelled in cattle class while Freeman was in first? Or had he come on a different flight soon after his own? Now his subconscious told him he’d seen him at JFK International. That was it. He’d hardly have missed such a haunting figure. Yes, he’d seen him in the bookstore buying magazines for the flight. This man had followed him there from New York.

But how had he got as far as the floor of the penthouse suite? The elevators stopped at the floor below, unless you had a key-card that gave you access to this level. Other questions rattled through his mind. Where was Alphonse the butler? Where was the hotel security guard – supposed to be on duty till Freeman returned to New York the next day?

Too late, Freeman realized that the newspaper the man had thrown to the floor as soon as he’d entered had been his ticket up to the penthouse floor. Had he ordered it for the suite and followed the messenger bringing it up here? That made sense, but where was the messenger? More importantly, what was this strange and eerie man doing here?

His worst fear then sank into his brain – the man was there for the files.

In confirmation of his fears, the tall man now brought the other hand out from behind his back. In it, there was a gun with the longest barrel and silencer on it that Freeman had ever seen. Swiftly crossing the room, he loomed over Freeman.

He bent down, and spread the papers on the table.

‘Where are the rest of the papers – the trials?’ he barked.

‘Macrae has them.’

‘Where?’

‘I sent them to where he told me was staying last night.’

‘And where’s that, you cretin?’

‘Eaton Square. I, er, I don’t remember the number, I’d need to —’

‘No need.’

The tall man snatched the files up from the table and stuffed them into a canvas bag slung around his shoulders. He turned and walked towards the door. As he reached it he spun round again, facing Freeman. Raising the gun, he fired it three times.

It was a professional kill – two shots to the chest and one between the eyes.

Freeman’s association with Macrae’s project had just ended, though not the way that either of them had planned it.

 

 

 

[]2

 

 

IPI Limited, Haymarket, London

 

Tom Wilder was relaxed. Leaning back in his office chair and tilting it to nearly forty-five degrees, the lids of his blue eyes drooped, as though at any moment he might close them and doze off. A faint smile flickered round his mouth as he half- listened to Mike Rogers.

Rogers was not only a good friend; as head of International Private Investigators for Europe, was also Wilder’s boss. Sitting upright and intent the far side of Wilder’s desk, he looked serious about what he was saying.

‘I know you don’t like being stuck in this big office or being a director of the company. And I understand that you love being out in the field like the investigators, but surely you also see the bigger picture, don’t you?’

‘Such as?’ asked Wilder.

‘Such as seeing the importance to IPI of the job you’ve just finished. Getting the Chinese to finally admit that they’d been involved in industrial espionage on this scale is a real coup for the company,’ replied Rogers. ‘Apart from the huge compensation payment to our clients, it’s also a great boost to IPI’s reputation as the world leader in industrial and commercial espionage investigations.’

‘Maybe, but I proved the case by going out to Beijing and beating them up a little. I didn’t do that from behind this desk – makes my point, I’d say,’ retorted Wilder now grinning broadly.

The telephone rang out – demanding.

Wilder frowned and gave it a kind of look that said he was going to ignore it. But when the second telephone started to ring, he relented and picked up the first phone – the ringing of one phone after the other was their way of signalling when he was really needed.

‘Yes?’

‘It’s a Mr. Macrae from the Towneley Bank.’

‘Put him through.’

‘Tom, I’ve got a crisis on and I need you help right away,’ said Macrae. Wilder switched the speakerphone on so that Rogers could hear the rest of the call. There was an urgency in the voice, verging on panic – completely at odds with the Angus Macrae he knew so well.

‘Of course I’ll help – if I can; what’s the problem?’

‘It’s too urgent to explain it to you right now. But I’ve just heard something that makes me think that Tatiana might be in danger. Your Lucy was also going down there this morning as she wanted to say goodbye to Tatiana before she goes back to the States tomorrow morning. I tried telephoning but the lines to the house are dead.’

‘Where are they, down at your place?’

‘No, we were staying last night with my uncle in Eaton Square.’

‘I know it, I’m on my way.’ He slammed down the telephone and leapt to his feet, as did Rogers. At six-foot-three, Wilder towered over his friend as both rushed out of office and down the corridor towards the lifts.

‘Here, take my car, it’s in my parking bay,’ said Rogers. He tossed the keys though the air to Wilder who caught them just as he was getting into one of the lifts.

‘See if there’s anything on the breaking news,’ Wilder shouted, as the lift doors were about to close, ‘and ring me if there’s —’

As soon as the lift reached the executive car park in the basement, Wilder ran across to Rogers’s parking bay, shouting to the security guard up at the garage exit, ‘Open the barrier Fred, I’ve an emergency on.’

Wilder backed Roger’s car out of the bay at speed., accelerating up the short ramp and out into the Haymarket, where he turned right down the one-way system. He was careful to use the power and acceleration of the car with discretion as he weaved his way through the light traffic – a red Ferrari was an attraction enough for traffic cops but a speeding one would be irresistible. He drove to the bottom of the hill and then took the quickest route he could – slight longer but less traffic. Along the Mall, past Buckingham Palace and up Constitution Hill he had to watch his speed closely but as soon as he got to Hyde Park Corner, he cut south behind the Palace’s Gardens and used the speed of the machine through the narrower streets of Belgravia – hopefully comparatively police-free.

As he drove, thoughts cascaded through his mind. Of course he’d help one of his closest friends. But what was this all about? One of the City of London’s most prominent young banker’s wife in danger? What kind of danger? And his own daughter Lucy? Wilder knew she was saying goodbye to Tatiana who she had always regarded as an aunt though there were no blood-ties. But, God, was Lucy at risk too? He was suddenly aware of a dull, nauseous feeling that had come up in his throat. He never gave too much thought about his own safety, but Lucy’s safety, that dread for it now enveloped him in a cloak sending his heartbeat sky-rocketing and despite his peak of fitness, his breathing was now fast and shallow as a fine sweat formed on his forehead. And his insane sense of guilt flooded in on him. When Lucy was just a year old and her mother, his beautiful Liz, had died in the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11, he’d abandoned Lucy to the care of Liz’s sister and her husband. He’d enlisted in his father’s old regiment and gone off on a wild rampage for revenge in Afghanistan. Though he knew this incident today had nothing to do with that past, whenever he felt Lucy to be in danger, he was haunted by the memory of missing four years of her early life – while he was off pursuing his own revenge.

 

When he got to Eaton Square, his fears were suddenly replaced by the professionalism of the SAS hero he’d been while out in his private war in Afghanistan. Just as he was getting near to Macrae’s uncle’s place, he saw that he was in luck as a car was just pulling out of a parking space.

Parking, jumping out of the car and flicking the locking button behind him, he ran towards the house. But on seeing that the front door was slightly-open, he slowed his pace. Creeping up the steps, he peered around the door as he slowly pushed it open. Suddenly he stopped and caught his breath. The figure of the butler was lying sprawled on the marble floor. Grasping the door and quietly pushing it wider, he entered the house and silently crossed the hall to the body. Bending down onto one knee, he felt for a pulse on the man’s neck. He was alive and now that Wilder looked more closely, it appeared that he had been knocked unconscious rather than shot. He was just checking that there was no blood around or serious wounds, when a couple of shots rang out on the first floor above the hall. Not having a gun with him, he grabbed a stout stick from a large Chinese vase, which contained several walking sticks and umbrellas. He ran up the wide flight of stairs, and yelled out Macrae’s wife and his daughter’s names – ‘Tatiana? Lucy?’

There was no reply but a head wearing a blue baseball cap appeared over the bannisters from the floor above him, quickly followed by the shoulders and then a couple of shots were fired at Wilder. The man was clearly a good shot, for the wood of a tall dresser next to Wilder’s right ear smacked open and splinters showered his face.

Wilder pulled back but then heard footsteps run along the landing and up the next flight of stairs. Keeping well back from the stairwell, he followed the sound as fast as he dared, two steps at a time, up a second flight of stairs. As he reached the landing he could see a fire exit door to his left, at the end of a corridor. The door was open and swinging in the light breeze outside. Trusting to his luck that the man had run out through it, Wilder hurried along the corridor and stopped to look down the fire escape that ran down the rear of the building. He poked his head out cautiously a bit further out and another shot thudded into the door-surround beside him.

Holding back a second or two, he looked again. He was just time to see a tall gaunt man reach the bottom of the metal steps and run to a small red car parked a few yards from the foot of the fire escape’s steps. The figure dived into the little car, which drove off at speed down the alley, turning right at the end of it and vanishing out of sight.

Wilder managed to get a vague idea of the number plate and turned back into the house shouting out Tatiana and Lucy’s names again. The nausea of fear for his daughter now even worse after what he’d seen here. Though not a religious man, what could easily have passed for a prayer ran through his mind, begging some unfamiliar being for Lucy to be all right. He ran back along the corridor from the fire escape and stopped at the top of the stairs. He shouted out their names again and then listened intently. There was not a sound.

 

 

 

[]3

 

 

Manderton Hotel, London

 

The tall, gaunt man, going by the name of Hector Slade at the time, drove the red car a mile or so. Going around Sloane Square and out of it on a narrow road at the far end, he turned the first available right and parked the car. Without bothering to lock it, he turned away from it and walked back towards his hotel, the Manderton, a couple of blocks away. He kept his baseball cap pulled down to cover his face and avoid surveillance cameras.

Though he had picked the Manderton more for its location than its facilities, it had turned out to be comfortable if somewhat full of tourists, even this early in the season. When he reached it, he went round to the back of the building. He looked as carefully as he could that he was not being watched, then quickly ran up the fire escape steps to his floor and in through the fire-escape door he jammed slightly open earlier that morning. Pulling out his room keys, he sighed with relief as he’d seen no one on his way to his room.

Back in the safety of the room he continued to move fast, for now he had a second imperative – his flight back to the US. He carefully laid the canvas bag on the bed. Tearing off his baseball cap and outer clothes, he got a tailor-made suit out of the cupboard and a clean fine-striped blue shirt out of his suitcase. As soon as he had put these on and finished off with a dark blue silk tie, he looked in the long mirror on the back of the cupboard door.

He’d transformed himself.

No longer the slightly stooped, untidily-dressed figure of Slade, in his place there was now a well-fed gentleman of taste, Mr. Aart Vandervelde, a well-respected philanthropist of Fifth Avenue, New York City.

Packing away his Slade clothes into his suitcase, he also dismantled his carbon-fibre gun into small pieces. The long barrel and the metal pieces of the gun fitted into a metal tube labelled ‘paintbrushes’. His small stash of rounds for the gun went into a large lead tube marked ‘thinner’, which had been unfurled at the bottom while the cap at the top remained untouched, giving the appearance that the tube had never been opened. With the metal parts now safely invisible to airport scanners, he tightened up the base of the tube and put it carefully into the large flat paint box at the bottom of his case.

As soon as the metamorphosis into Aart Vandervelde was complete, he picked up the canvas bag, took out the Freeman files and sat down at the small desk near the window. He then slowly leafed through the papers occasional giving out little grunts and nodding his head. After he’d looked carefully through about half of the file, he skimmed through the rest of it quickly, pausing a couple of times to look closely again.

When this was finished, he glanced at his watch, turned his face upwards as he did a calculation. Though Giuseppe Massimo would be waiting for his call, it was still only seven-thirty in the morning in New York – he’d give it another half hour before ringing. Anyway, this would give him time to look through the files a bit more and, before that, he also needed to check himself in the long mirror for after the telephone call, the car he’d ordered would be here.

He had been warned that London was the capital of the surveillance camera world, so his dual-persona of Slade and Vandervelde had been more necessary than ever – being the non-existent Slade for the job, but back to Vandervelde the moment it was done. There had been tricky moments getting in and out of the Branchester Hotel when dressed as Slade, but using the fire escape had worked well. Now, with John Freeman gone and his files safely here, he double-checked he’d removed all signs of Slade. Surveying his full-length reflexion, he adjusted the silk handkerchief in the top breast pocket, nodded with satisfaction at the sharp creases in his trousers and smiled at the almost patent-leather shine on his shoes. Satisfied that no trace of Slade remained, he crossed the room and sat on the side of the bed near the telephone. Here he studied the last few files more closely as he knew that Massimo would ask if they were up to expectations.

After some twenty-five minutes, he was done – the files were indeed all they’d been led to expect. He then dialled Massimo’s number direct.

‘Guiseppe? It’s Hector Slade,’ he said – for although he had changed his clothes for the trip back to the US, for work matters he was always Slade.

‘Hi, how did it go?’

‘As planned, of course. For your money, you’d expect no less would you?’

‘True,’ said Massimo – just reminded of the monstrously high fees he’d had to pay for the job. ‘So, you got the files? What do they look like?’

‘That runt of a partner of Freeman’s,’ replied Slade, ‘what was his name? Peter Kyle? Whatever his name, he was right – the files are going to do the job for us just fine. Have you made a start on finding out how much we can get for them?’

‘I already have good idea of how much to ask for,’ said Massimo. ‘I’m just trying to decide who to approach first. But I’ve started some initial talks with some contacts. It seems clear that the Russians are going to be the best payers. But I need to see the files myself before contacting my main man in Moscow; for the sake of authenticity, I need to be able to use some phrases and perhaps some technical words straight out of the files.’

‘Got you,’ said Slade. ‘I’ve got to rush for my flight now, and the car I ordered will be here at the hotel soon. But keep your spirits up. This Gemini thing is quite something – I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.’

‘Good to hear that,’ said Massimo. ‘Guess you can safely order that yacht you had your eye on up in the Hamptons.’

‘That’s what I like to hear. Just need to get the hell out of here without getting caught,’ came the reply. ‘I was chased as I got the last set of files from Macrae’s uncle’s place so they’re looking for me already. Just need to keep dodging the surveillance cameras.’

‘How are you getting back?’ asked Massimo.

‘You don’t want to know,’ he replied, some of his secrets were best kept that way – even from as good a client as Massimo. ‘See you in your restaurant tomorrow.’

 

 

Finishing his packing, he went down to the front desk, paid his bill and then sat down on the small sofa in the lobby. As he waited, he consulted his watch at regular intervals; a fine film of sweat began to cover his forehead. He frequently looked across to the main entrance but, sharp on the agreed time, the driver of the car he had ordered came into the lobby.

‘Mr. Vandervelde?’

‘That’s me.’

The driver took his case though Vandervelde kept a firm hold of the briefcase containing the files. As soon as he was settled into the comfort of the top of the range BMW, and they had set off, he asked the driver if they were going to make the rendezvous for the flight in good time.

‘With the fake diplomatic papers and the prominent diplomatic plates fitted on the car, we’ll be fine,’ replied the driver and, as though to demonstrate their immunity to traffic cops, set off west at a brisk pace from the hotel.

‘Northolt or Luton?’ asked Vandervelde.

‘Northolt, less traffic,’ replied the driver. ‘ and, in case we need to change the flight-plan at the last minute, Northolt also seem to have better connections with air traffic control. From there the Hawker will take you into Schiphol airport. By the time you’re flying out of Schiphol for New Yorkm, Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police will still be doing their basic forensics back at the scene of the crime. As I said, you’ve nothing to worry about.’

But the driver was wrong about that.

As soon as DCI Imrie, had viewed the growing numbers of images of the tall gaunt man caught on camera, the order had gone out to seal the UK’s borders to him: land, sea and air.

But the geography of the west end of London favours fugitives such as Vandervelde. With so many tourist hotels in the area, just the outlines of a tall slightly stooped man was simply not going to be enough to stop him getting out of London and, for someone of Vandervelde connections and skills, there were several ways of sneaking out of the country. Nevertheless, police patrol cars, both in the city and out near ports and airports, were warned to stop any vehicles exceeding the speed limit, especially if being driven by a tall man or carrying someone fitting the suspect’s description.

Around half-way to Northolt, as Vandervelde’s driver, either ignoring or unaware of the police warning, pressed the car on well above the speed limit and suddenly there was the sound of a police car siren behind them. The police vehicle had been concealed in a narrow alley, its crew watching for the fugitive. On checking the speed of Vandervelde’s BMW, they gave chase. The BMW driver watched with irritation as the flashing lights drew closer and soon pulled the car into side of the road. But he then quickly picked up some papers from the passenger seat, jumped out of the car and ran back to the police car, which had stopped close behind them.

Turning around in his seat, Vandervelde watched as his driver showed the police what he assumed were the false diplomatic papers. The driver then pointed back to the car and looked at his watch. The policeman gave a nod and the driver returned to the car.

‘All okay,’ was all he said and they were soon off again at a cracking pace.

‘What the hell did you say to them?’ asked Vandervelde.

‘I said you were an important Brussels diplomat, late for your flight, and they said okay, simple as that.’

So, despite DCI Imrie’s efforts at apprehending the killer of Freeman, Alphonse and the Branchester Hotel security guard, Vandervelde got to Northolt. There he was driven out across the tarmac to a small private jet with the driver taking the car right to the steps of the aircraft. Vandervelde had paid good money for this well-executed escape and as the Hawker lifted off the Northolt runway he cared not how the flight had been cleared or who had been paid what. It was to take more than a month to put right that simple police patrol error of letting the BWM on its way.

 

 

 

[]4

 

 

Eaton Square, London

 

As Wilder ran back downstairs shouting out Tatiana and Lucy’s names, his heart was pounding in his chest, and he gasped for breath, not from exertion – for he was supremely fit – nor from fear which was a rarity for him, but because he still had not heard a sound from either of them. This was extremely worrying: Macrae had sent him down here because he felt they were in danger. But where were they?

When he got down to the first-floor landing from where the shots had been fired earlier, he called out yet again and then listened intently. As he strained to listen, he thought he heard a faint voice coming from behind him. He retraced his steps and, sure enough, there was a voice coming from behind one of the doors leading off it. He went closer to it and a voice whispered, ‘Is that you, Tom?’

‘It is, it’s me,’ he replied. It was only then that he saw the bullet holes in the door where the assailant had fired at the lock in his attempt to get it open before being disturbed by Wilder’s arrival in the hall below.

Tatiana quickly fiddled with the lock the far side of the door, opened it.

‘Thank God you got here before that brute broke in! I’ve no doubt he would have killed me for getting away from him. Where did he go? Did you chase him away?’

Wilder was reassured: she looked and sounded all right. ‘My shouting or running up the stairs must have frightened him off – he wouldn’t have known if I was police or armed. But where’s Lucy? Angus told me she was coming down here to say goodbye to you.’

Tatiana smiled and put a reassuring hand up onto his shoulder.

‘She was here earlier,’ she said. ‘We had a long chat about how much fun she’d had on her holidays here with you. But she also told me how much she was looking forward to getting back to all her friends at school in New York. But she left hours ago.’

‘Thank God for that,’ said Wilder and Tatiana noticed that his eyes had glazed over with what might have been tears of relief.

‘She’s fine, she knows nothing of this,’ continued Tatiana. ‘She was long gone before that monster got here. She said she was off to meet up with a whole bunch of her English friends for lunch.’

Wilder gradually recovered from the roller-coaster emotional ride of the last few minutes, gave her a hug of relief and then asked, ‘And you’re okay?’

‘I’m fine. This is not the first time something like this has happened. Over the years that my father was building his empire – if that’s the right word for it – I’m afraid he made a few enemies, so we’ve experienced incidents like this before.’

‘I’m hugely relieved, as will Angus be,’ said Wilder. ‘But what about Sir Jeremy? Is he here in the house too?’

‘No, he had one of his bad turns and was rushed off into hospital yesterday. We’d come to see him and we just stayed on after we got back from seeing him into the hospital.’

‘How’s he doing?’ asked Wilder.

‘I’m afraid he’s on the way out, and that’s a great strain on Angus,’ she said, shaking her head.

‘Well, it’s bound to be.’ Then suddenly he looked up. ‘Damn, I’d completely forgotten, the butler was lying down in the hall when I came in.’

‘Oh no, I’ve been up here all the time in the drawing room: I’d no idea. I —’

She didn’t finish her sentence as both rushed down into the hall. There they found that the front door was now closed and Marston had got himself up and was now sitting in one of the hall chairs, bent over, his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees.

Wilder ran across the hall to him. ‘Are you all right? I think we’d better get you to hospital, that’s a hell of a blow you’ve taken to the side of your head.’

‘I’m fine Mr Wilder, honest, nothing a bit rest and a cup of tea won’t fix.’

‘Rubbish,’ said Wilder, as he got out his phone and rang for an ambulance – Rogers’s Ferrari was not the ideal transport for a patient and he was not about to let Tatiana do anything for a while either. A door half opened the far side of the hall and a face appeared round it.

‘Ah, Mrs Marston,’ said Tatiana. ‘Everything’s all right now, you can come out.’ She and two other members of staff came out into the hall and immediately took charge of Marston till the ambulance arrived. Wilder and Tatiana walked back up the stairs to the drawing room on the first floor.

The huge room was exquisitely furnished with fine antique furniture and portraits of the Towneley family with more at their ancestral home, Towneley Hall in Lancashire and at Towneley Place, not far away; built when the Towneley Bank was founded in the 1640s. Four tall Georgian windows, rose from the floor almost to the ceiling fifteen feet above them. This was the quintessential town residence of an English gentleman. Tatiana led the way over to a glass-topped table on which sat an array of bottles with a tray of glasses of many kinds.

‘After that, I’m going to have a large brandy to calm my nerves,’ she said smiling.

‘Your nerves are fine,’ said Wilder smiling back at her.

‘Nevertheless,’ she said as she poured one into a brandy balloon glass. She led Wilder over to a pair of armchairs placed on either side of a coffee table, looking out over the still winter-bare trees of Eaton Square.

‘Angus should get here before long,’ said Wilder. ‘My journey here was no distance at all – from just near Leicester Square. But it may take him a while to get down here from the City as the traffic this time of day will be a nightmare.’ He paused and then added, ‘I should have thought of this before – I’ll give him a call to say that everything down here is fine – I won’t even tell him about Marston. And I’ll tell him that, as he hasn’t yet explained to me what this is all about, I haven’t rung the police about it yet.’

‘I was wondering that. How come you suddenly appeared here?’ asked Tatiana.

‘Angus telephoned me at IPI and said you and Lucy might be in danger, that’s all he had time to tell me. No doubt we’ll find out what it’s all about when he gets here.’

 

Wilder made the call to Macrae, then looked across again to Tatiana. He smiled.

‘What?’ she said returning his smile.

‘Just thinking,’ he said. ‘Though it must be all of ten years ago that I was Angus’s best man when the two of you were married, you hardly look a day older.’

‘Oh, God, you flatterer,’ she said, bursting into laughter. ‘How could you expect to get away with a lie like that?’

‘Not lies, I swear. Perhaps you’ve a few more laughter lines around those great saucer eyes of yours but, yes that’s it, I remember now, much of the time you looked as serious as this during the reception.’

‘We’d only just survived that attack on the Dacha in the Crimea. My mother was killed, remember? I was wondering who was responsible for that and wondering if the same people would have another try on my big day.’

‘There was never the remotest chance of that, though,’ said Wilder. ‘Four or five hundred of Moscow and St. Petersburg’s elite; President Sergei Balakin; all his security people and your father’s old friend Borislav Boreyev’s security people as well —’

‘I know you’re right but I worried just the same. Still it was a good day was it not?’

At that moment, there was a shout from down in the hall – the unmistakeable voice of Angus Macrae arriving. Perhaps after he’d reassured himself about Tatiana and heard what had happened down here, he’d then tell the two of them what the hell this was all about.

 

 

 

[]5

 

 

Eaton Square, London

 

Macrae was soon able to reassure himself about Tatiana and was relieved that Lucy had been away most of the morning and missed the drama. Another reason to be grateful was that his own son Jerry had already gone off to boarding school. Tatiana reiterated that she was fine but still needed to pack for her trip to the Crimea to see her father.

Macrae took Wilder to his uncle’s study. This was a comparatively small room – lined on two walls, floor to ceiling with leather-bound books. A third wall was dominated by a huge open fireplace in which a fire was pleasantly flickering away. This merely augmented the house’s perfectly adequate central heating but added a pretty, flickering, roseate glow to the room as the light bounced off the mahogany book-shelves and predominantly walnut furniture. The fourth side of the room consisted largely of a tall Georgian window, like all on this floor, sashed and with a small balcony outside it.

‘I’m sorry I couldn’t think of anything else other than ask you to rush down here,’ said Macrae. ‘So, I owe you both an apology and an explanation.’

‘No apology needed,’ said Wilder, ‘but an explanation would be interesting.’

‘I was due to have a meeting at midday today at the Branchester Hotel with a man called John Freeman. He’s – sorry, he was – a New York attorney, head of a small two-partner firm. I received a call just before ringing you to say that he had been professionally assassinated – a hit man job without a doubt. The penthouse suite’s butler and an hotel security guard were also killed in the incident.’

‘Good God,’ said Wilder.

‘Freeman was murdered so that his killer could steal some files. These files were so important that Freeman had come the whole way from New York to hand them to me in person.’

Wilder frowned but said nothing.

‘He sent some of the less important files to me this morning as soon as he got to his hotel from the airport,’ continued Macrae. ‘The really important files he kept with him. As soon as the hotel informed me of the tragedy I knew that the assassin was after the files both those still at the Branchester and the ones I’d been sent. I’m only guessing now, but I’ll bet the assassin asked Freeman where the rest of the files were and Freeman, to save his life, sent the man down here for the rest of them.’

‘And in coming here to Eaton Square he’d almost certainly run into Tatiana and Lucy?’

‘Exactly that,’ confirmed Macrae. ‘And hence my panic.’

‘You do yourself down! I wouldn’t call that a panic; I’d say it was a good guess which probably saved Tatiana’s life and my little Lucy’s too if she’d been here. But what kind of files are these? With all these bodies lying about the place there must be something pretty special about them.’

‘Those files are important because they confirm the existence of something that until now has just been a rumour on the internet. It was a rumour of a new game-changing weapon that could alter the balance of power between the West and anyone who got their hands on it.’ He paused and looked intently at Wilder. ‘That weapon is called Gemini, and it’s been developed by a small team that I’m responsible for. With the theft of the Freeman files, whoever stole them now knows not only that Gemini is not a rumour but that it really exists. And thanks to the files, they’ll now know how immensely powerful it is.’

Wilder looked puzzled. As IPI’s director of investigations into international commercial espionage, he wanted to be sure that Macrae was talking fact rather an exaggeration. But so as not to give offence, he smiled at his old friend and said, ‘You say this Gemini could change the balance of power. Do you mean between Russia and the West for example? Has a touch of exaggeration has crept in there?’

‘Absolutely no exaggeration at all,’ replied Macrae. ‘And before we go any further I’d like you to take this case on for me. Find those missing files and who took them.’

‘Okay’, said Wilder slowly. ‘But can you give me an example of how this Gemini could affect the balance of power? If you don’t mind my saying it, that’s one heck of a claim.’

‘I know it is, but Gemini is an absolute game-changer in the world of East-West politics. Whereas some young hackers have got into the Pentagon and regularly hack their way into banks, Gemini can get through or past the computer defences of any institution, company, or most importantly of any defence system or homeland facility on the planet and can do so in just seconds.’

Wilder frowned again, but did not interrupt.

‘Let me give you just one example,’ Macrae said as he leant forward. ‘Let’s suppose that Russia’s President Balakin got himself a working copy of Gemini. Suppose he used it to take over the New York and Philadelphia air traffic control system – the ARTCC ZNY and its backup systems as well. They’re based near the town of Islip on Long Island. Suppose he then telephoned the new, untested president of the US and said he’d leave the hundreds of aircraft flying around up there above their great city, but with the air traffic control and guidance system closed down by him. Let’s suppose further that he then said that unless the US President agreed to remove his entire missile defence system currently sitting in eastern Europe, he’d leave the air traffic control system switched off. What do think the new US President is going to say? Just imagine it. He’s sitting there in the White House; he hasn’t had time to get to the situation room or call together his top brass or special advisors, it’s just him and, if he’s lucky, maybe his White House chief of staff. What’s he going to do?’

‘Jesus Christ,’ Wilder swore. ‘You mean that Gemini could do that, take over New York’s air traffic control system?’

‘Yes, that or the electrical supply grids anywhere in the west or any other critical piece of infrastructure – take your pick. What I’m saying to you is this, without firing a single intercontinental ballistic missile, sending off any drones, putting any troops on the ground anywhere, or committing any kind of act of war, the Russian president could achieve much the same results on the quiet with just one Gemini setup.’

‘Jesus,’ said Wilder. ‘But how the hell did you get involved in this Gemini project?’

‘It started as my uncle’s response to the growing threats of a major cyber-attack on one of the big banks – the kind that could bring it down. In turn that would cause a whole lot of the others to collapse like a house of cards. It would quickly lead to the total collapse of the world’s banking systems – no ATMs, no banking, no credit cards, nothing. It would be followed by a depression far worse than the nineteen-thirties. Millions jobless. Millions starving. Rioting in the streets. Need I go on?’

‘No, I get the picture,’ said Wilder.

‘My uncle’s response was to go on the offensive. Instead of spending ever-increasing sums of money on cyber-defences like other banks, he decided to counter attack hackers.’

‘Makes sense.’

‘He built a team of the best young hackers that his people could find in the world – one of them is from China. Unfortunately, he was then diagnosed with terminal cancer and I had to take the team over. One of the Towneley Bank’s large customers is a huge industrial and commercial conglomerate, leaders in researching and developing the very latest computer technology, quantum computing they spoke to me about the same time.’

‘I thought I read somewhere that quantum computing was still in its infancy, barely even functional yet,’ said Wilder.

‘Yeah, lots of people believe that, but it’s far from true. Anyway, we brought the conglomerate with its quantum computing expertise to join up with my uncle’s project. After that the thing just took off; the team seemed unable to stop the revolutions in technology that unfolded – one after another.

‘Taking on a life of its own?’

‘Yes, and quite soon,’ replied Macrae, ‘the synergy between quantum and digital computing had become quite extraordinary, marrying the two technologies – hence, the name Gemini.’

‘So where are you with Gemini now?’

‘With such a perfect covert weapon, whomever is after it will do whatever it takes to find it and get a hold of it. As you’ve just heard that’s already responsible for three dead at the Branchester Hotel and a lad in hospital and that’s just to get proof of its existence. God knows what they might get up to in the next stage.’

‘The next stage?’ repeated Wilder.

‘Yes, finding its location.’

‘Which is where?’

‘My father’s castle on the Island of Craithe.’

‘What?’ exploded Wilder. ‘That vast place perched on the mountain crags where you used to take me to when we were at university?’

‘That’s right,’ replied Macrae. ‘To entice the team to stay with the project and look after Gemini we needed to make the place perfect somewhere they’d love to live and continue work on Gemini. We needed to go on developing it and installing it in key companies and institutions – at the moment mainly in the US and the UK; we also needed to run its anti-hacker software for all those who wanted to use it for their protection. The conglomerate, the Towneley Bank and the growing profitability of Gemini itself spent an absolute fortune completely transforming the south-east tower and some of that corner of the castle – finished up making it better than almost any five-star hotel I know.’

‘This is quite the most astonishing thing I’ve ever heard,’ muttered Wilder, ‘though it does explain the Freeman business and why I had to come rushing down here. So, what do you want of me and IPI do now?’

‘With the dangers involved in this Gemini business,’ said Macrae, ‘I want you to talk to Lucy about this before you give me your decision on coming in on it, all right?’

‘Lucy will say what she always does,’ said Wilder. ‘I know she’s only seventeen but she’s got her head screwed on tight. She’s even cleverer than her mother and with the poor kid being brought up half by me and half by Liz’s sister Betsy and her husband Jim, she’s wise way beyond her years. I bet you anything she’ll tell me to do what I do best – which means of course that she’ll want me to help you out irrespective of the risks involved. I suspect she’ll only add one proviso —’

‘A proviso?’

‘She’ll just ask me not to leave her alone in the world again – as I did when I went off to Afghanistan after 9/11, in other words to stay alive. That’s all.’

‘So, you’re telling me you’re not even going to consult her?’

‘Consult her? No. But I think that she knows that I’ll keep doing what I do best but not take unnecessary risks.’

‘And going up against the kind of people who’ll be after Gemini?’ said Macrae, ‘how are you going to manage that?’

‘We’ll have to see, won’t we,’ said Wilder smiling back at his old friend.

 

 

 

[]6

 

 

Slade’s Apartment, Greenwich Village

 

Tired from his flight back to New York and suffering from jetlag, Vandervelde had to change from his travelling persona into his Slade clothes again before going to meet Massimo. When people looked for him as a hit man, he was always Slade and even Massimo was not aware that Vandervelde existed. He needed to keep it that way.

He took a cab from the airport to his Greenwich Village apartment. He had asked to be dropped at the back of the property and walked through the small backyard and up to the back door. As he unlocked it and bent down to pick up his suitcase everything went black and from the musty smell of it, was sure that a black bag had suddenly thrown over his head. He next felt strong arms pick him up and though keeping track of things was difficult and he was distracted by the muffled noises beyond the bag, he reckoned and he was being pulled through the apartment into the kitchen.

Here he was thrown into a chair, his ankles kicked to get him straight. Next he felt the bite of plastic cuffs around his wrists and guessed that they were trying to strap them to the chair. As he felt these tighten and bite into his wrists, he strained with all his strength to hold his hands away from the chair so that they would be loose when he relaxed them again.

His assailants next removed the hood and seemed uncaring that he could now see their faces. He was surprised to see that they’d taken him through to the living room. They started quite gently, teasing him with mock punches to the face and stomach. Their questions were all around the same subject. They were gentle at first but as he did not answer any of their questions, the blows became harder.

‘What did you go to the UK for? And what did you bring back with you?’

He had put the files in a purpose-built hidden compartment in the bottom of his suitcase and only a professional would have found them. This had clearly baffled these people as they had thrown the case open and emptied the contents onto the sofa but not found the files. Even during later more brutal questioning, they returned occasionally to the contents to search through them yet again – perhaps for a memory stick somewhere? The treatment became progressively more painful and he now began to answer, but not in a helpful way.

‘I went to visit and hire some people who are specialists in tearing apart Italian-American scum’, he said. Even though there were three of them and they took it in turns to hit him, they eventually tired and retired to the kitchen to discuss tactics and refresh themselves with some of their victim’s wine.

As soon as they were out of the room Vandervelde strained at the loose bindings and soon got one hand free. He pulled himself across the room to a chest of drawers and with his loose hand opened a drawer, took out a knife and cut his other bindings. Standing now freely he rubbed his wrists for a moment and ran his hands through his blood-stained hair.

He went to another drawer, took out a small gun and loaded it. He could hear them enjoying the wine and he listened to their banter for a short while. He then put the chair back where it had been when his tormentors had been in the room and sat down in it with his hands looking as though they were still tied behind the chair and his ankles to its front legs.

He then slumped forward, bent over as though semi-conscious. In due course the three of them returned and, peeking out of the corner of his eye, Vandervelde could see in the mirror on the wall that all of them had gone over to the sofa to look at the suitcase and its contents again – obviously finding it difficult to understand why their informant had got his information wrong.

Vandervelde took a deep breath, held it in for a minute and on letting it out, sprang to his feet and shot each just to wound them to start with. With yells of agony the three collapsed clutching their destroyed knees. He then walked over and killed the nearest of them – the one who had been yelling obscenities at him. This had the intended effect on the other two. Both quickly backed themselves up against the sofa and managed to get themselves into sitting positions.

‘As my friends from the UK who specialise in dealing with Italian-American scum are not here, I suppose I’m going to have to do it myself,’ said Vandervelde.

One of the two made a swift movement – perhaps to get a hidden gun from inside his jacket, and had his elbow joint shot away for his efforts.

Vandervelde then went on to ask the same question over and over. ‘Who sent you to do this to me?’ and each time he got a curse for an answer, he shot yet another part of one of their appendages. Eventually, when both were utterly crippled, one of them could take it no longer.

‘Rocco Balboni sent us,’ he shouted out.

‘And does Mr. Balboni know what he was looking for?’

‘Yes, files.’ Seeing this tall gaunt torturer reload the gun for the third time and that his last answer was about to elicit another shot somewhere he dared not even think about, he added, ‘Files Mr. Freeman took over to the UK.’

‘And does he have a buyer for the files?’ asked Vandervelde.

‘He does, some English mafia man, who he says will sell them to some Arabs.’

‘Which Arabs?’ asked he asked, aiming the gun close to the man’s genitals.

‘I don’t know, I promise I don’t know. I don’t have anything to gain by lying: please don’t—’

‘And how does Balboni know about the files?’

‘He’s had one of his men working inside the Massimo organisation for a few months and ’.

Vandervelde shot him dead.

He next turned to the last. This interrogation went quite easily, hardly surprising after what he’d just had witnessed. Vandervelde got the information he wanted and then shot him dead as well.

He crossed the room, picked up a telephone there and dialled a number.

‘Hi, its Hector.’ He said as soon as he was through. ‘I’ve a clean-up job for you.’

There was some talking the other end.

‘Standard. Three bodies. Usual price?’

More talk the other end.

‘Is that the best you can do? I must be one of your best clients.’

More talking.

‘Okay, that’s fine. Address? – my own address in Greenwich Village —’

Laughter then more talk.

‘Yes, I know, clumsy of me. I was jumped.’

‘As soon as you can, thanks.’

 

After all this activity, he went through to the bathroom, showered and changed out of his Vandervelde clothes and donned his usual Slade outfit. Getting the Freeman files from the base of the suitcase he hurried out, only few minutes late for his lunch appointment with Giuseppe Massimo at his restaurant, Mario’s.

 

Guiseppe Massimo was as large as ever. But considering that he never did much other that sit around and while away his time between meals, why should he be any different? His sallow skin and the brown rings under his eyes gave him a ghoulish look, and one of his junior staff, a keen film-buff, had been severely reprimanded for likening him to Jabba the Hut.

As Slade approached him, Massimo shouted out, full of joy and bonhomie, ‘Aha, the hero approaches. Walk into a door a few times, did you?’

‘Very funny,’ said Slade as he sat down. A glass of Massimo’s favourite wine was poured for him by an attentive waiter – if others didn’t share Massimo’s taste in wine, that was just bad luck.

After a moment, Slade turned to Massimo, looked at him steadily for a moment.

‘What?’ said Massimo, after a few seconds of this staring.

‘A few more jokes like that at my expense and I might just go and sell the files to Rocco Balboni.’

Massimo’s glass, half-way to his mouth, stopped in mid-air,

‘What?’ he said for the second time. ‘Rocco Balboni? What the hell’s he got to do with anything?’

‘It was three of his men who jumped me in my own place, would you believe. But all three of them are now dead for doing that to me. So, if you don’t want a turf war you’ll need to do what you usually do when the two of you clash –take a deep breath and count the bodies before you begin. But those three who beat me up knew all about the files as one of Balboni’s men, Raimondo something-or-other, is working for you.’

‘Son-of-a-bitch,’ cursed Massimo. ‘Thanks for the info, I owe you one. I’ll enjoy dealing with him’. While contemplating this, he took a long draft of his wine and signalled to the waiter to top up his glass again.

‘At least we’ve had a good warning from Balboni,’

‘Yes, at my expense,’ said Slade.

‘Yeah, but that’s life. The important thing is to move fast,’ said Massimo, ‘and the Russians have far greater resources to find the location of Gemini – that’s why we should stick with them. Anyway, let’s have a look at the files.’

Slade passed him the canvas bag and, in his eagerness, Massimo tore it open, his chubby hands making a couple of attempts to do it tidily but finally ripping the files out onto the table in a jumble. He tidied them and began reading through them. Throughout the process he slurped down more wine and every now and then, let out a grunt, his way of expressing shock or surprise. The whole thing took around twenty minutes and Slade has his glass refilled twice in that time.

‘My God, what a great package, eh?’ he said as he sat back on the bench seat.

‘You won’t have any trouble getting good money for those, I hope,’ said Slade.

‘No trouble at all,’ replied Massimo. ‘I’ve just this minute decided – we’ll go with the Russians. I’ve got my contact in Moscow positively drooling at the prospect of getting a hold of something like this Gemini thing.’

‘Drooling enough to pay good money?’

‘Huge money by the time we’ve finished.’

‘What do you mean, by the time we’ve finished?’

‘These papers, as I had expected when Freeman’s partner first told me about them, are just the start. With my bid, I’ve put in a condition that we get the contract to go on and find the location of the Gemini and then again for stealing the technology – with more payments for each stage.’

Slade nodded his head slowly. ‘Sounds good,’ he said. ‘So, what now?’

‘I send key bits from these files to my contact in Moscow. The proposal then makes its way up the chain and gets signed off at the top and we’re in business.’

‘And how close to the top are we going with this? Obviously the higher the better.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Massimo. ‘My main contact is one of the brotherhood, Anton Novikov. Big empire in Moscow. Hard as nails. Has done the Kremlin’s dirty work for them before. Knows the ropes. You probably don’t know this but the top people in the Kremlin never want to be seen getting their hands dirty with projects like this – always do them through the likes of Novikov. Novikov, in turn, will go to Igor Rodchenko, the Russian President’s chief fixer. That’s how close we are.’

‘Good, so when do we know we’re in business and have a buyer?’

‘Very quick,’ said Massimo, ‘my contacts won’t miss a minute, none of us want anyone to get in with a bid first.’

‘Good,’ concluded Slade. ‘So, I can look forward to some results in just days?’

‘Yeah days, maybe a week or so at most.’

 

 

 

[]7

 

 

IPI, Haymarket, London.

 

Wilder soon discovered that in his hunt for Slade, he would have greater resources than in most cases he took on. Apart from IPI’s considerable network and connections, the Gemini team had three people assigned to it at the Government Communications Headquarters – GCHQ – located at Cheltenham in the UK’s beautiful west country.

It had been granted this unusual facility for a couple of reasons. The first was because of its strategic value to the country in providing unique defences and counter-attack services to a rapidly growing number of key institutions. It was thus regarded as having a strategic value in the country’s defence. The second more important reason was that government realised that Gemini would be sought after by other countries and that if they discovered it existed it would become vulnerable to attempts to steal it. And it took just one demonstration by the Gemini team of its powers for Government to realise what would happen if an antagonistic foreign power were to lay their hands on it.

The GCHQ small team had a watch-list of keywords, which would alert them to anyone discussing Gemini on some telephone landlines, but most mobile phones, emails or texts. The watch-list obviously contained its name – Gemini – but many others such as the names of people closely connected to the project, its location’s name and so on.

The GCHQ team could also be asked for special searches to be done for the Gemini team. This facility was restricted to Angus Macrae or Professor Hapsley, the leader of the Gemini Team, and Wilder’s name was added to these – particularly useful in trying to hunt down Freeman’s killer.

Like its US counterparts, such as the intelligence-gathering centre at Langley, GCHQ’s surveillance capabilities had become quite extraordinary. For example, it had the power to use everyday objects such as mobile phones, domestic appliances connected to the internet, television sets, and others, to eavesdrop on conversations almost anywhere in the world. Wilder was also given a very special mobile phone which everyone directly connected with Gemini had issued to them. By simply pressing a couple of keys, it scrambled conversations and texts in a way which made them unintelligible to anyone else. These phones also had the capability of capturing data off other mobile phones within twenty feet of it. Such data might be addresses, user information such as inbox, sent emails and the like – making it a veritable weapon in its own right.

In addition to these services from GCHQ, Wilder had access to similar facilities in the US via to a unique route. His good friend Bob Brady, head of IPI in North America, had built a small team around him, known only to each other. They called themselves simply ‘The Five’. The group had formed quite quickly once the idea had caught on between the first two members. Originally Brady’s idea, it made such sense that it was built from the first member to the whole group of five in just one month. It first arose on one occasion when Brady had need to cooperate with one of the US’s huge agencies – Homeland Security. Sadly, he found that inter-agency rivalries blocked progress as each guarded their own secrets or vied with others to get better funding, kudos or whatever.

These rivalries sometimes became real obstacles to effective investigations. The solution was simple. Brady recruited one bright star from each of the agencies who would become one of the Five. Each agreed to put their agency’s own agenda or self-interest to one side in favour of the interests of the investigation in hand or of The Five rather than the agency. Though this might have been regarded as sacrilegious, it evolved and it worked.

This principle and its implementation was a tough ask. Each new member joining the team was given a new first name and his or her other details were known only to Brady. The first to join was Nick of the NSA, followed by Chris of the CIA and soon the team had grown to include Frank of the FBI and Homer of Homeland Security. Bob Brady, in his mid-fifties – old, compared to the thirties of the others – was the only one known by his real identity. In this way rivalries that might give rise to investigations by other members of the team were avoided. In fact, a unique camaraderie developed, probably unique it its field.

 

 

Even with these extra resources, Wilder was getting worried that Macrae was relying on him to carry so much responsibility in the Gemini case and soon after spending time with DCI Imrie, he felt it time to tell him so.

‘I’m pleased to be able to tell you that having worked so well with Imrie in the past,’ said Wilder, ‘that the two of us are making good progress.’

‘That’s great,’ replied Macrae, ‘though I don’t suppose you’re yet about to arrest Freeman’s killer?’

‘Not that good,’ said Wilder laughing. ‘But seriously, the more I think about Gemini and that the files so comprehensively detail the technology’s powers, the more worried I get. I don’t mean that Freeman’s killer is about to publish any of this on the internet like a WikiLeaks exposure – that wouldn’t be in their interests. But when I think of the powers of the Russian or the Chinese surveillance capabilities, I wonder how the hell we’re going to keep this a secret?’

‘I know, it’s a tough one Tom,’ said Macrae, ‘but you’re better qualified than anyone I can think of to deal with this situation.’

‘Look, I can use my SAS experience to look at ways I myself would try and find and steal Gemini,’ he said. ‘I may find gaps in security which need to be plugged and, physically, Gemini’s safety can probably be quite well protected. But I’m still concerned about the enormity of the task you’ve given me.’

‘I realise that,’ said Macrae. ‘But as I said earlier, if you can’t manage something I doubt if anyone else can. So just keep at it with Imrie and your American contacts and I’m sure you’ll get your breakthrough – you always do.’

‘Okay, will do,’ said Wilder. But having voiced his concerns and got back only nice compliments left him with little option other than his usual ‘will do’ attitude and begin to build himself extra resources. Disappointed but resigned, he threw himself back into the investigation, but now looking even closer at some of the resources at his disposal. And, as luck would have it, the breakthrough came.

It happened thanks to one of Imrie’s team’s discoveries. The latest version of facial recognition software was so good that it showed that the tall, slightly stooped figure caught on camera leaving the Branchester Hotel’s rear entrances minutes after Freeman’s assassination, was, with over ninety percent certainty, the same man as a well-dressed gentleman who had travelled recently across the Atlantic. The possibility that the hitman might wear disguises and appear as two different people was that real breakthrough that Macrae had so airily tossed into his conversation with Wilder earlier.

It was of such significance to the case that Wilder asked the findings and conclusions to be checked again. He also watched the surveillance camera footages personally with Imrie. Both were fascinated to see that a slight limp in the right leg of both men became unmistakeable when in replay, especially if it was either slowed down – in slow-motion mode – or speeded up. Though the various footages might not be enough to secure an arrest or a conviction, they was certainly enough to persuade Wilder of his next move.

The killer was an American and they traced one of the identities to Aart Vandervelde who had entered the UK on the same flight as Freeman. This development got Wilder over to the US on the next flight available. On arrival, he enlisted the help of IPI, Bob Brady and his group, the Five.

There was another nice bonus to this discovery and his flight to New York. He checked Lucy’s flight and found that by upgrading her to business class, the two of them could fly to New York together. The combination of these advances in the case and the prospect of flying back with Lucy lifted his spirits.

The flight to New York was one of the most enjoyable Wilder had ever had. Father and daughter laughing till they nearly cried on one occasion and on another arguing whether Lucy – born and largely brought up in the States and educated there – could claim the higher score in a game of Scrabble by spelling the word organisation the American way with a ‘z’ rather than her English father’s miserable score of one using his spelling of it with an ‘s’.

This was to be the first of three trips for Wilder and it was later seen to have been a real turning-point in the case and a good example of the ‘will do’ attitude. It was great also that on each subsequent visit to New York, he could steal a few hours to be with Lucy.

 

 

 

[]8

 

 

Fifth Avenue, New York – Sis weeks later.

 

After six weeks had elapsed since his alter-ego Slade had disposed of John Freeman, Aart Vandervelde thought that he and his accomplices had got away with not only the killings but also with the theft of the files. But today that assumption had suddenly begun to unravel.

For the past twenty minutes or so, Vandervelde had been pacing back and forth along the length of the row of windows in his seventh-floor apartment’s living room. It was still only six-thirty in the morning. Occasionally he stopped, checking on the progress of the coming dawn and watching more lights appear in the buildings around Central Park. Some of the snow from overnight flurries had settled, and he could now distinguish the filigree branches of the park’s trees silhouetted against the blanket of the pristine white snow covering the open spaces, roads, and pathways.

He was still sweating even though the temperature dial for the air-conditioning was turned to a comfortable seventy degrees. Tiny beads stood out on his forehead, and his hands felt clammy. They’d been this way for some time and were due to his heightened anxiety. Last night too they had been wet enough to cause a glass of his best malt scotch whisky slip from his moist grip. It had fallen barely a couple of inches yet had smashed onto the toughened glass top of the side table beside his favourite chair and had caused a jagged crack to shoot half-way across the glass.

He stopped his pacing again and looked at his reflection in the window. Forlorn and still in his pyjamas, his dressing gown hanging off his tall, gaunt body like a shroud, he wondered why he’d bothered to dress for sleep. He’d been so tensed-up that he hadn’t even bothered to get into the bed, but had spent much of the night tossing and turning on top of it – that is, when he wasn’t walking round the apartment the rest of the time. The sight of himself in the mirror disgusted him, and he looked round the room for the cause of his dishevelled appearance.

At last he spotted it, a half-finished bottle of Tallisker Scotch whisky, he hurried across the room, snatched it up and carried on into the kitchen. Here, he reached up and put it onto the top shelf of the drinks cupboard. He then slammed the cupboard door shut behind it so hard all the bottles inside it rattled.

His sleeplessness and the tension had been the result of a couple of notes signed by a ‘Tom Wilder.’ Up until then he’d never even heard of the man. But what an appalling and sudden reversal of fortunes they threatened.

Those fortunes ran from the high of just a week ago when he’d been paid the final balance for the Freeman job. With his fee and expenses for going over to London to kill Freeman a month ago, and finally his cut from the sale of the Freeman files, the two had netted him just over a half a million.

The contrasting low was that this Tom Wilder seemed to have proof of not just the Freeman assassination, but of others murders as well. If, as he threatened, Wilder were to take his evidence to the NYPD, the Vandervelde/Slade game would be over and he would be swapping his two apartments and his weekend place in Connecticut for one hell of a long stay in the Clinton Correctional Facility near Dannemora. But how on earth had this stranger Wilder tracked him from where that hit had taken place – in London – back here to New York?

As he had begun to sober up this morning, he had felt ashamed at his reaction to Wilder’s two notes. Now that he was calmer, he still needed to counter last night’s excesses. He picked up his fresh cup of black coffee – his third this morning – and went back into the living room to look at Wilder’s first note again.

Sitting down in his favourite chair, he picked the note up from the table with its cracked glass – both stark reminders of how he had overreacted the night before. A threat was only a threat, and he knew perfectly well how to deal with those.

The note had been handed to him by security as he was crossing the lobby downstairs. It had been around five o’clock yesterday evening. When he had first read it, he simply couldn’t believe it. In his professional career, he’d never seen anything like it. He read it again now, ‘If you want to discuss the Freeman situation, I will be at Brook Lodge, Westport at seven pm sharp this evening’. It was signed Tom Wilder in neat italic handwriting.

God damn it, Brook Lodge was his own weekend hideaway. What the hell was this stranger doing up there? Worse, how dare he invite Slade up there to discuss a crime he hadn’t even been accused of until now?

Thanking the security man, he’d stuffed the note into his pocket, gone straight back down to his car in the basement car park and driven out to Connecticut. Though the note had suggested they discuss Freeman, Slade had no intention of discussing anything – this would be answered quickly with just a couple of bullets. Another of those morons who thought they could blackmail him – him of all people. The only risk to the solution he proposed use to deal with Wilder was that his ‘cleaners’ wouldn’t be able to deal with Wilder’s body until the following morning.

As he was to discover, his real problem was that Wilder never even showed – he’d not even left any signs that he’d been there at all. But effrontery that he’d used such a cheap trick like this to fool Slade was enraging but also frightening.

Consumed with rage, he’d driven straight back to New York. Eyes blazing, fists clenched, he’d stormed through the lobby to the elevators. Seeing Vandervelde in this state had called for some courage from the security guard, but he had passed the second Wilder note nevertheless – same neat italic handwriting: same bold signature.

 

Slade now took a sip from his coffee and looked down at this second note lying on the side table. He took a deep breath. This time he was determined not to repeat last night’s stupidity of throwing a precious piece of jade across the room, breaking a mirror in the process. He picked the note up slowly and unfolded it.

‘I was sorry to miss you in Connecticut this evening, but I was busy looking through your other apartment in Greenwich Village. I’m pleased to say that I found most of what I was looking for. I have left a third note for you there. It will give you some more details as to why I’m doing this. Should you wish to talk to me about any of these matters, I shall be at the Maple Leaf Café at precisely nine o’clock tomorrow morning. Again, it was signed by Tom Wilder.

The revelation that this Wilder had also discovered his place in Greenwich Village meant that he also knew of the dual persona, Vandervelde up here, Slade down in the Village. It also meant that his whole world of professional hitman one day and respected philanthropist the other was blown. But, in the cold light of this morning, he could still understand why these notes had caused him to take to the whisky, so alien to him to descend into self-pity. Still, he was now close to sober, and his frame of mind was improved. It was time to go and fix this in Slade’s usual way – and get both of his lives back on track.

Though he’d have to plan the detail, it took only a moment’s thought to decide that the multi-storey car park on Parsons Street near his Village apartment would be a good place to end this. Yes, that would do just fine.

Though there was still nearly three hours before Wilder would be at the Maple Leaf Café, getting from Fifth Avenue down to the Village with rush hour starting soon, he’d need to leave plenty of time.

Now, he felt the power of the Slade side of himself. Before he killed this impudent tormentor, he’d have the pleasure of finding out who this Tom Wilder was. He’d find out how the hell he’d come this close to ruining everything. Yes, that was going to be good.

 

 

 

[]9

 

 

Hampton Street, Greenwich Village

 

Hector Slade arrived at his Greenwich Village apartment at eight o’clock. As he opened the living room doorway, he froze. Wilder had moved the table from against the wall behind the door. It now stood in the middle of the room demanding his attention the moment he opened the door. The mass of bric-a-brac and small ornaments that that usually covered it had been taken off it and were now scattered down on the floor in front of the fireplace. To ensure that Slade would not miss the third note, it was propped up in the middle of the table against an empty green flower vase from the kitchen.

Whether these theatrics had been designed by Wilder to intimidate, they had that effect – even on Slade. He postponed picking up the note and instead turned and went into the kitchen. He brewed himself yet more coffee, poured some into a large mug and drank some of it down as soon as it was cool enough to do so.

‘This is ridiculous. Get a grip,’ he muttered to himself. He cleared his throat and marched back into the living room. He first closed the laptop and moved it off the sofa and onto the table. On closer inspection, it looked as though Wilder had used it and just left it running till the battery had died.

As Slade could feel his fury against Wilder still bubbling away in his mind, he needed to get this whole business over with. He picked up the note and took it over to the sofa. He sat down heavily – weary from lack of sleep and stress, put his coffee down on a side table and tore the envelope open. What else had Wilder dreamed up for him?

‘I have been through your laptop. From it, I’ve taken what I came for – copies of the Freeman papers – in fact, his whole file. Good to find plenty of paper and a proper working printer too. I’ve also downloaded onto a USB memory stick a copy of your contract with Kyle to kill John Freeman and a note of your fee for effecting that assassination at the Branchester Hotel in London. I intend to put copies of all these documents into a new file, which I will take to Captain Frank Hudson at the NYPD Sixth Precinct tomorrow morning. Should you wish to discuss these matters with me, as I said in my previous note, I shall be outside the Maple Leaf Café at nine o’clock and will have the file with me.’ It was signed Wilder.

As he had feared, this note merely confirmed what he dreaded the most – that Wilder had all the details of his assassination of John Freeman and enough to put him behind bars for years. There was only one small relief – there was no mention of the people to whom he and his partner had sold the Freeman file, just the information that he had netted half a million dollars for his participation in the various crimes. He was thankful at least that there was no mention of the buyers of the files – the last thing he wanted was for the Russian mafia to come breathing down his neck and add to his woes.

If Wilder managed to take all this information to the NYPD, however, Slade’s life would be over – and of course Vandervelde’s too. Talk of being at the Maple Leaf Café might be just another of Wilder’s tricks.

Rage that there was still a possibility of exchanging his comfortable way of life for one in the Clinton Correctional Facility finally became too much for him. He jumped up from the sofa, took the three steps to the table and in less than a couple of seconds, snatched up the green vase from the table and hurled it blindly across the room to his right with all the violence his fury had summoned up in him. It narrowly missed the large ornamental fish tank on the dresser and the vase smashed into the wall exploding loudly into myriad pieces, which then fell almost silently onto the fitted carpet below.

For a short while, he just stood there, shaking, his breathing coming in fast irregular gasps – as though he’d run a marathon instead of merely throwing the vase. He put his hands onto his hips and forced himself to breathe slowly, counting the number of seconds both in and out until he’d brought himself back under control. Soon, the gasping stopped and his breathing became more regular. He shut his eyes, screwing them up tightly. These were techniques he’d learned at an anger management clinic and they were proving quite effective against his occasional bouts of temper. When he opened his eyes, he looked about him as though hoping these exercises had also revealed that all of this was a dream.

Having succeeded in calming himself down, the panic was gone, and the pain in his bowels as well. Slade had taken over again from the threatened and weak Vandervelde.

This second note confirmed that it had indeed been Wilder who had been pursuing him for the Freeman murder. Another detail clicked into place. He’d called a thumb drive a USB memory stick – this confirmed that Wilder was an Englishman, no New Yorker called it anything but a thumb drive, surely.

Good, things were beginning to fall into place. He figured that if Wilder was later found dead in a multi-storey car park in the Village, it would take the authorities ages to track him back to the UK. This would give him ample time to obliterate any evidence that Wilder had uncovered about Freeman and his other crimes.

The final solution came to him. If he left Wilder alone – did not go over and speak to him at the café, he would almost certainly cut down Parsons Street, taking the shortest route to the sixth precinct building. Soon after he had turned down Parsons he would take Wilder – at gunpoint if necessary – into the car park and put an end to all of this. Yup, that would do just fine.

He rose from the sofa. It was eight-thirty, time to check out his guns and gear himself up.

 

 

Denise had just finished setting out the tables on the sidewalk outside the Maple Leaf Café. Though it was cold, it hadn’t taken her long to sweep the sidewalk clear of the light fall of snow and get everything ready for customers. Many of them were regulars who came for a light breakfast, a quick relax and chat before work, though some just came in for a coffee to go. The tourists would be along later, but as it was still only the end of March, there wouldn’t be many of those.

She was just about to go inside to warm herself after this chilly chore outside when she spotted Wilder coming down the street. The tall, attractive thirty-something man had been here the day before – his first visit. And here he was again today. Her heart gave a little jump.

He followed her into the café.

There was an unoccupied table in the window; he went over and sat himself down, putting a yellow folder on the chair beside him. Although there was still half an hour till Slade was due to appear, he wanted to keep an eye on the door to the apartment block. As it got near to nine o’clock, he would move – pick a table outside and with the temperature not much higher than freezing, there was sure to be a place available when he needed it, especially as all the office people would be in their places of work by then.

‘Hello again,’ said Denise as she arrived with a menu. ‘More questions for me again today?’

‘It wasn’t that bad yesterday, I hope?’ replied Wilder, ‘all my questions I mean.’

‘No not at all,’ replied Denise. ‘Anyway, I enjoyed our little chat and the guy you were asking me about across the street – as I think I told you, though he’s creepy enough himself, some of the people he brings in here are even worse – would send shivers down your spine.’

‘Yes, you told me something like that. It was useful information as were some of the other things you told me,’ said Wilder. ‘But I promise, no more questions today, just a large black coffee please.’

She smiled in the coquettish way she reserved for those she fancied and went off to get the order.

Wilder was early; it was only twenty-five to nine. He needed to relax before going through what was likely to be a challenging ordeal. Though what he was risking this morning was likely to be less dangerous than some of his missions in Afghanistan, he was nevertheless offering himself and the yellow file as bait to trap Hector Slade.

He ran over his plan in his mind again. He wasn’t over-confident. Slade had a reputation – New York’s most secretive and expensive hitman, a professional well able to look after himself. He just hoped that the one or two of the mind games he’d played on Slade these last couple of days just might take the edge off his game.

His coffee arrived, and he sipped it slowly going over his plan again. As it got towards nine o’clock, he picked up the yellow manila folder and then waved to Denise who brought his check over to him.

He was about to just pay it so he’d be ready to go at any moment when he noticed that the check belonged to someone else – it was for a considerably more expensive full breakfast, toast, and coffee.

‘Sorry, Denise but you’ve brought me the wrong check.’

Whereas she might have just apologised and gone to get the correct one, her reaction was extraordinary. At first, she threw up her hands to cover her face, and when she took them away again a few seconds later, her colour had heightened, and there were tears in her eyes.

‘Oh, my God,’ she whispered looking up at Wilder. ‘This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. He’ll probably fire me this time, I …’

Wilder had put the folder down.

‘Here, Denise, take it easy,’ as he put a calming her hand on her shoulder. He suddenly thought that one day this might be his Lucy working in a café to help her through college. He reached into his pocket, pulled out some notes and gave her more than enough money to cover the wrong check – and more bedsides.

‘Take this and use it to sort out the mistake. Keep the rest of it for yourself. I’m just going to sit at one of the tables outside. If you get any hassle from the boss, just let me know, and I’ll happily come back in and pour some oil on troubled waters.’

He gave her another pat on her shoulder, picked up the folder and went outside where, as expected, all the tables were still empty.

He looked down for a moment as he seated himself and put the folder down on the table and as he looked back up again, Slade had appeared in the doorway of his apartment block. Though they had never met, there was no mistaking him. He was dressed in the same clothes as in the numerous surveillance camera shots he had collected over the past six weeks. Some were from the start of the case, in London; more were recent, from New York.

He had appeared like a ghost and was standing in the doorway, giving the street a seemingly casual scan, though Wilder knew he was looking for him and the file. For just an instant the two spotted each other, though both sets of eyes moved unblinkingly on, both pretending they’d seen nothing, neither giving even a flicker of recognition.

As Wilder had guessed might happen, Slade had no intention of coming across the street to ‘discuss’ anything. In his dry run of the situation the day before, he had taken a personal bet with himself on what Slade would do this morning. It would be interesting to see if he had called it right.

One thing was certain, however; from those split-second glances the game of cat and mouse was now on. From the way that Slade was dressed, he was aiming to dispose of Wilder. Still, that was what they were both here for – each with different aims but the same battle.

 

 

 

[]10

 

 

Parsons Street, Greenwich Village

 

Wilder rose from his table but took his time. Without looking back up to Slade still standing at the top of his steps, he picked up the manila file and tucked it under his arm. Denise had come to the café door, smiled at him and gave him a wave – which he returned with a smile. Wilder was glad – whatever came of the next short while, at least someone had made a good start to their day. He turned and walked towards Parsons Street.

It had taken Wilder weeks to track Slade to this point – from the Branchester Hotel to there. He had only partially succeeded in his primary task, that of recovering the Freeman files. Whatever happened in the next few minutes, it was critical for Wilder to take Slade alive. He had a plan to achieve this, but as he knew well, once a chain of events such as this was set in motion, it could take on a life of its own – not quite as bad as tossing a coin on the outcome, but unpredictable nonetheless.

After passing a couple of shops, Wilder stopped outside Mason’s, its dark window display making a perfect mirror in which to see Slade’s reflection and check on progress. His earlier look at Slade at the top of the steps and now this reflected image in Mason’s window dismissed any lingering doubt Wilder might have had. The person he was looking at was identical to his now extensive collection of videos and stills.

Eyeing him now across the street, everything about him was the same – the same tall, gaunt figure, slightly stooped, the same baseball cap pulled low to hide his face, the same incongruous UK-made Barbour jacket like Wilder’s own, but his with its deep collar turned up.

Wilder walked slowly on from Mason’s but glanced in the last shop window before Parsons Street and saw that Slade was crossing the street to the same side as himself. He was walking briskly now, needing to be sure to seize the file Wilder was carrying before he got to the end of Parsons. Wilder smiled to himself. He knew that Slade would be worrying that he was cutting it fine – for what if Wilder had got to know the area? What if he had a car in the multi-storey? Wilder was hoping that as Slade was a professional, he would have looked at all the angles. He would have spotted risks like this. Would his hurrying in these next few minutes make him careless? Wilder hoped it might – though, yet again, he wasn’t counting on it.

As soon as Wilder reached Parsons Street, he turned to his left into it and immediately flattened himself against the wall. He dropped the file to the ground – it contained nothing but blank sheets of paper anyway. His heart pounded in his chest. ‘Must be out of practice’ he thought. He cursed himself for this unexpected physical reaction to the tensions of the moment.

His earlier military training, the ordeals he’d had undergone on active service, had prepared him for moments like this. Damn it, he’d been through far worse in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. ‘For Christ’s sake, just get on with what you’re good at,’ he muttered to himself.

As he’d practiced the day before when setting up the trap, Wilder could now see Slade’s reflection in a side window of a shopfront the other side of Parsons from him. The angle of the bow-fronted window gave him a view back up the street the way he’d come. Slade had now broken into a slow lolling trot.

Wilder needed to get the next bit right. He ran through his calculations once more. Slade looked to be the same height as him, at six-foot-three, but was probably always slightly stooped – take perhaps an inch or two off for that. In around five paces, Slade would arrive at the alley. On turning into it, if there was no one else about like now, he would raise his gun to shoulder level, to shoot Wilder. With a silencer attached, two shots would do it, three to be sure or maybe he’d take him at gunpoint along to the multi-storey car park further along Parsons to do the job there. Either way, he’d be likely to come round the corner raising his gun ready for use.

Concentrating on Slade’s approaching reflection, Wilder checked once more the gun Captain Hudson had lent him. He had turned it round and was now gripping it in his right hand, holding it by the barrel and breach with the butt sticking out. He counted Slade down.

Four, three, two.

Then, stepping swiftly out to his right, back into the street he’d come down, and on a certain collision course with Slade, he put all the force he could into a fast-swinging straight-arm arc to where he had calculated Slade’s throat should be.

He’d got it right.

The path of his hand had passed neatly over the top of Slade’s arms just as he was bringing them up to shoot. The butt of Wilder’s gun slammed into Slade’s throat inch-perfect. Slade let out a muffled gurgling noise. It might have come out as a yell of shock and pain but the damage being inflicted on it had already choked off the noise.

Slade’s gun fell to the ground clattering on the stone of the sidewalk. Upon hitting, it awkwardly bounced into the snow on the side of the road. With stifled gasps for air, Slade’s hands shot back to his throat, his eyes bulging as he began to collapse forward. His onward momentum from his running had now brought his left leg level with Wilder who, stepping back, kicked it hard in the side of the knee-joint. As the knee and leg buckled, it accelerated Slade’s fall, and he threw down his arm nearest Wilder to break his fall. But as his body got nearer the sidewalk, his arm furthermost from Wilder shot up into the air in a vain attempt to keep some semblance of balance.

Wilder lunged forward, grabbed it and keeping it straight, stepped over and astride Slade’s falling body, positioning himself to sit down onto Slade’s back as the two of them hit the ground. That impact and Wilder’s extra weight expelled what little was left of the air in Slade’s chest. On top of him, Wilder pulled Slade’s straight arm over and against his own left knee – another few inches, and he could have destroyed the elbow joint. Slade’s lower legs and feet came up in a weak attempt to retaliate, but Wilder smacked them away, and Slade went still.

 

During all of this, there had been no time to see what had happened around him. But now Wilder looked about him as he continued to hold down the barely struggling Slade. The sparse crowds of early tourists, shoppers or those not at work had scattered. One or two had screamed in their flight. Once at a safe distance, some had now stopped and turned to watch the extraordinary show.

Behind him, right on cue, Wilder could hear the running shouting arrival of the NYPD officers. He half turned. There were four of them coming towards the two of them on the ground, weapons held out in front of them. He couldn’t quite make out what they were shouting, but who cared? His job was done.

From the other direction, the way he’d come, three police cars came screaming up, their sirens wailing, roof lights twirling. As soon as their vehicles had come to a halt right by the curb, more officers poured out of them as their sirens went quiet and their lights were switched off. It was over at last.

He and Slade were pulled to their feet and cuffed. Legal warnings and rights were uttered, and with hands pressed down on their heads, the two of them were thrust into separate cars and driven off.

 

 

 

[]11

 

 

NYPD Sixth Precinct, New York City

 

The two cars that had picked up Wilder and Slade were escorted by two more as they drove back to the sixth precinct building. On arriving there, cops jumped out of all four cars and came together to form a corridor through which the two cuffed men were hurried on and through its glass-fronted doorway. A small crowd of people, held back with the sidewalk blocked off by this operation, naturally had no idea of the significance of what they were witnessing. Some looked on, irritated by the disruption to their journeys. Others stood peering at their mobile phones for something to do while they waited.

When they read about this event in the papers the next day, some would curse they hadn’t used their phones to photograph it. Without the backup proof of a photograph to show they’d been there, no one would believe them when they said they’d witnessed the infamous Slade being taken in. The papers would be full of it, for Slade had acquired the aura of a Berkowitz or a Manson though he’d never been photographed before nor recognized for who he was. After that day, they could gawp to their heart’s content at one of today’s most notorious killers.

On reaching the Sixth Precinct’s general office, flanked by officers on either side of him, Slade was marched through the large low-ceiling room. Cluttered as usual with cops, untidy desks piled high with files and strewn with papers and other office detritus, all heads turned, and silence descended like a pall upon the place. Even the usual coterie of petty criminals and hookers being questioned or waiting their turn to be processed fell quiet.

The rumour had been around for half an hour, so anticipation had been high. At last, he was here. Those in the know – some of the cops – looked on with interest, seeing the man so often spoken of but never recognized– so brilliant had he been in masking his deadly trade in anonymity. In Mario’s Italian restaurant not far from there, the next day they would finally know the identity of the odd guy who always dined alone every Friday night, spoke to no one and always paid with cash.

Moments later, as Wilder was brought in, the room was transformed. Officers rose from their desks. One cop near the door clapped. This spread like a warm draught blowing through the place as others joined in; some cheered, and a lone whistle of congratulation pierced the general din.

As the young officer escorting Wilder got near the captain’s office, grinning like a boy with a new pet dog on a leash, he uncuffed Wilder who rubbed his wrists and looking round the room, acknowledging the accolades by smiling, embarrassed but nodding his head.

Captain Frank Hudson came out of his office followed by Bob Brady of IPI.

‘Thanks for the file you gave me before you went off to do your crazy citizen’s arrest,’ said Hudson shaking Wilder’s hand. ‘During the three hours or so you’ve been pulling off your stunt, I had a chance to look through it. It’s pretty amazing stuff and we’ll need to go through it sometime soon – especially as you’re going back to the UK shortly.’

‘Fine,’ said Wilder, ‘and you followed up my tipoff about his apartment?’

‘Sure did,’ replied Hudson. ‘We’re getting the warrant now to search the place later this morning.’

The three of them retired to Hudson’s office and sat down at a table where coffee and bagels had been laid out. Hudson excused himself to go check that Slade had been securely locked away and Wilder took the opportunity to leave the room as he needed to make a telephone call to Angus Macrae. He reassured him that the ploy to take Slade in had worked.

‘Good,’ said Macrae. ‘So, it sounds as though this closes the case as far as John Freeman’s assassination is concerned, and it looks certain that Slade’s going away for it. Is that right?’

‘It is,’ replied Wilder, ‘though there’s a matter which doesn’t really concern us and that’s discussions between the US and the UK over the fact that, although Slade was a US citizen, his crimes were committed in the UK.’

 

 

Wilder left a report for Captain Hudson covering his part in the Freeman case. There was a summary page. It outlined the whole case. From Macrae’s commissioning IPI to recover the John Freeman documents to his murder – details of how he’d found out about Slade tracked him back to the US.

By around twelve-thirty the three of them had finished looking through Wilder’s report. Hudson was delighted. Halfway through the process, he’d called in their legal guy, and all were agreed that on the overwhelming evidence – most of it collected by Wilder – Slade was going away for life whether here or in the UK.

Hudson thanked Wilder again for a great job well done, and Brady took Wilder out to the IPI car he’d organized to take them from Greenwich Village up to the St. Regis Hotel, a couple of blocks south of Central Park.

‘I guess that with Slade put away that’ll be a relief but if you want to use us to help you find the files that were stolen or who Slade or his associates sold them to, be sure to give me a call,’ said Brady. ‘And don’t forget my group, The Five. They helped you find Slade their access to all the US agencies might help as well with finding who he sold your files to.’

Wilder thanked him and said he’d be sure to take up the offer – a group as powerful as The Five was sure to be of help in the task ahead, finding out who would be the first to be coming after Gemini.

 

 

 

[]12

 

 

Albert Mews, London

 

Tom Wilder’s flight from New York to London arrived at Heathrow early in the morning. It had been a peaceful flight and had given him time to reflect on what seemed to be the end of a difficult case. With these pressures off, Wilder had only just arrived back into his mews house when a telephone call came from Macrae.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve even had time to put the coffee on, let alone have a shower and change,’ said Macrae, ‘but I’m afraid I have a change of plan for you right away and needed to catch you before you came into the bank here.’

‘Nothing to do with the Slade case I hope.’

‘Yes and no. It’s a bit more complex than that,’ replied Macrae.

That was not the kind of answer Wilder had been expecting, so he asked further, ‘What do you mean a bit more complex than that?’

‘With the speed at which everything’s been developing and you in New York finishing up the Slade/Freeman case, I didn’t want to distract you. What I’m coming to is that I I’ve been behind your back whilst you were in the US. I had a long meeting with your friend and boss Mike Rogers.’

‘What did you do that for?’

‘I have asked if you can stay on with the aftermath of the Slade case – as I really need you to look at Gemini’s security both at the London office and its fairly new home on Craithe. Though I’m glad it’s no longer based in the Newby Centre, that would have been a nightmare from a security point of view.’

‘The Newby Centre?’ queried Wilder. ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s one of eight centres located around the UK. They’re computer and business training centres for young people in deprived parts of the country – aimed at giving them a better chance in life. They’re part of my uncle’s Towneley Foundation, a charitable trust.’

‘We can discuss all that when I get your office, can’t we?’ said Wilder. ‘I’ll get in there as soon as I can.’

‘Yes. But pack for a couple of days up on Craithe and maybe two after that in Moscow. I’ll see you whenever you can get in.’

Two ore in Moscow? Wilder frowned, still, he’d do it.

He showered and changed and caught a taxi into the famous Square Mile and ran up the wide steps into the Towneley bank. As soon as he was shown into the office, Macrae jumped up and came over to him. ‘I’m sorry to have told you about having to go up to Craithe at such short notice.’

‘Don’t give it another thought,’ replied Wilder. ‘One of these days this whole Gemini business will stop changing every five minutes, settle down and we can all relax. In the meantime, we need to keep at it, don’t we?’

‘Unfortunately, we do,’ replied Macrae. ‘I’ve ordered some coffee, and I need to bring you up to date with a couple of things. The first is that GCHQ picked up on an email sent from the FSB in Moscow. It was in the form of an email from the Lubyanka surveillance unit to a Rodchenko. They tell me he’s President Balakin’s ‘fixer’ an unofficial kind of right-hand man. It’s bad news I’m afraid.’

‘What kind of bad news?’

‘The email tells Rodchenko that I’m the head of the Gemini programme and that Tatty is staying with her father in his Crimea dacha. The implication is that they might use her as a pawn in the game of finding Gemini.’

‘Of course they might,’ said Wilder. ‘So, are you getting her to come home right away?’

‘I’m afraid it’s not as easy as that,’ said Macrae. ‘Tatty went there to the Crimea because her father had a mild heart attack. The only way I’ll get her and perhaps Mikhail as well to come back to the UK, is if I go there and persuade them of the danger they may be in. I may even have to bring them back forcibly.’

‘I see.’

‘What I’ve decided to do is we go up to Craithe this afternoon, and fly to Moscow tomorrow morning.’

‘Okay,’ said Wilder. ‘When Tatty’s under the threat of a kidnap, that’s not ideal. But, if you that’s what youy’ve decided, let’s do it.’

‘This will give you a couple of hours to spare. As there’s no knowing where this will lead us or for how long we may be away, you may have some loose ends you need to tie up so you’d better get them done now.’

‘Thanks. There are a couple of things,’ replied Wilder and then, smiling, he added, ‘and can I take it that this latest change will also be the last for a while?’

‘No guarantee,’ replied Macrae. ‘But don’t worry. They’re all part of the same picture. Once you’ve seen Gemini for yourself this evening, you’ll see that all the advantages are really on our side. When it comes down to face-to-face confrontation with any of the Gemini hunters, they’ll find we’re no pushover.’

‘Ah well, that’s fine then,’ said Wilder in a slightly mocking tone – as though all his worries had just evaporated.

‘Oh, it’s not going to be that easy,’ said Macrae. ‘God knows what else might have changed by the time you get back here to the office around two o’clock.’

‘Keeps us on our toes, though,’ said Wilder.

As he took a taxi from the city of London, he reflected again on this quick dash down to IPI. He nodded to himself. Taking on the Gemini project was clearly the right thing to do but he’d ask Rogers for additional talent to be loaned to him from IPI. He needed to strengthen his base in this extended job of keeping Gemini safe.

 

As soon as he got to IPI he first had a talk with Mike Rogers and, having got his blessing for more resources, he went and found Jessie Marker. She’d been an outstanding colleague on several jobs with him and they had both agreed never to talk again of a brief affair they’d had once which had started in Copenhagen and lasted six months. Both of knew that this pact would turn out to be meaningless one day when their mutual attracton and some job or other would throw them together; in the meanwhile she would provide the experienced extra brainpower, a much-needed extra pair of hands, and an expert in hand-to-hand combat, she would make the perfect addition to his team.

In the few minutes available, he explained as much as he about the Gemini project and its potential dangers.

‘I hope that if you get a call from me while I’m in Scotland, Moscow or New York, you can drop everything and help? I’ve squared this with Mike, I just wanted to know if you to be happy with it as well.’

‘Happy? Of course I am,’ replied Jessie. ‘You know me well enough for that, Tom,’ and she stretched out a hand and gently touched his arm. He was on the brink of returning the gesture by leaning over to her and giving her tender kiss as memories of the wonderful times they’d had together flooded through him. But professional propriety stepped in a second before he did so. This was going to dangerous territory they were entering and though he felt much happier with Jessie as part of the team, he was still acutely aware of the danger he was inviting her into. Their past affair would have to remain just that – in the past, for the immediate future at the least. He gave a deep sigh and wondered – not for the first time – how the random events in his life had brought him to this way of life. He didn’t mind it for himself, but it still pained him when he sucked others into the vortices of danger that so often seemed to form around him.

He quickly snapped out of these thoughts. The positive side was that he now had the beginnings of a top team. Now there was Jessie Marker to add to the Brady Five and at some point, he’d also get Agent Tercel from MI6 on board as well. He smiled. Agent Tercel indeed. A Tercel is a male of the falcon species and she was most definitely not male – didn’t inspire much confidence in MI6 personnel department who gave her that codename. Still with these top flight people on now on board and the physical security for Gemini to come from the trip to Moscow, things were beginning to look up.

 

 

 

[]13

 

 

Crinan, Mull of Kintyre, West Coast of Scotland

 

As soon as Wilder got back to the Towneley Bank, they went up onto the helipad on the roof of the bank and a helicopter took them direct to the City of London Airport. The bank’s private jet had been able to update its flight plan and the two of them ran from the chopper straight across the tarmac to the jet. The trip north was just under the hour, and on arrival at Glasgow International airport, Wilder could understand why their plans had been brought forward.

The weather, always unpredictable in Scotland around the spring equinox, had turned wild and blustery with low dark clouds speeding across the sky and the intermittent showers chasing in, wave after wave of dense driven rain hurled across the tarmac by the near gale-force winds. These pounded the airport buildings and rattled against the windows of airport buildings.

The helicopter company telephoned Craithe Castle as soon as Macrae and Wilder arrived and asked for an update on the weather conditions there. The consensus was that it would be too dangerous to attempt a landing at the only place possible near the castle itself and suggested that, in weather like this, it would be best to put them down on the mainland. There was a well sheltered spot near the Crinan Hotel, in the lea of a rocky bluff, that the helicopters often used when ferrying people up to Craithe in bad weather.

Macrae then spoke to the castle and told them he’d need the Louisa to come over from Craithe to take them back to the castle. As a recently retired Arun-class lifeboat, the Louisa was one of maybe only three or four vessels on this whole coastline that could navigate around the area when the winds got up and the seas got wild. Even so, he needed to check with her skipper because there were times when even the Louisa would be at risk – especially in the Corryvreckan – the world’s third largest marine whirlpool system. Macrae waited on the line while they rang the skipper to check with him. It appeared that would be fine and the Louisa would come out for them.

 

On the half-hour helicopter trip from Glasgow Airport up to Crinan, they flew mainly over wild moorland populated almost exclusively by hardy blackface sheep, Highland cattle, and red deer. On the way, Macrae pointed out the few salient features they could see on the wind and rain-swept journey.

Wilder later described the helicopter’s landing as ‘interesting’ as the machine rocked back and forth, buffeted by the gusts of wind as it descended to the sheltered landing spot.

The Louisa’s skipper had left a message for Macrae at the Crinan Hotel. As it was going to take the Louisa nearly an hour longer in the roughening seas to get from Craithe to Crinan, Macrae took Wilder into the Crinan Hotel’s bar. Here its panoramic windows gave the two of them a magnificent view of the coast and islands. Macrae reminded Wilder about the geography and took him over to a large map on the wall of the bar. On it, he showed Wilder the significance of his choice of Craithe as a home for Gemini – the only direct route out to the island passed through the Corryvreckan.

They then returned from the map over to the window and looked out to the west. The two islands filling the immediate horizon, Jura to the left and Scarba to the right, were both plainly visible through the rain, but the blustery squalls turned the view of Craithe just beyond the gap between these two into a spooky children’s wicked-witch castle, dark, shrouded, mysterious.

Half an hour or so after their own arrival in the hotel, the Louisa approached the Crinan quay. They gathered up their bags and went out to get aboard.

The Louisa set off back to Craithe as soon as all were on board. With the roar of the twin fifteen-hundred horsepower engines rumbling reassuringly as the Louisa powered towards the gap between the two islands and Corryvreckan, even before they had reached the whirlpool system, the strengthening westerly squalls had whipped up the seas, and the waves were around eight feet or more from trough to crest. As the Louisa ploughed her way through them at only a quarter of her full speed, every now and then her bows vanished into oncoming waves only to reappear, throwing a ton or more of water each time thrown over the boat. Some of these great volumes of blue-green water smashed onto the glass in front of them, and until he got used to it, Wilder threw up his arms in defence as he saw what was coming at them.

When the Louisa got halfway through the gap between the two islands, Sandy pointed out the whirlpool system itself. They could see a huge shallow depression in the seas maybe a hundred yards or more across. Within this, the waves were nearer eight to ten feet from trough to crest. The waters themselves had strips of wind-blown spray seemingly painted across their surface. These trails of spume showed that the waters seemed to be travelling in opposite directions in some places causing standing waves. These would rise up where waters travelling in opposite directions came up against each other as though in some macabre dance. Sometimes, these standing wave formations would exceed fifteen feet in height but would last only a few seconds before collapsing and fading away again.

Sandy had the wheel to steady him and was well used to the seas being like this, but Macrae and Wilder had to stand with their legs well apart, firmly planted on the deck and needed to hold on with considerable strength to the brass bar that ran around the front of the bridge. Beneath their feet, the deck lurched violently as the Louisa ploughed on towards Craithe.

Once past the Corryvreckan, the seas subsided somewhat, and Wilder could now see the island of Craithe in all its splendour. The towering jagged peaks of the island’s three-thousand foot mountains and the massive castle seemed to be grafted to the mountainside a couple of hundred feet or so above the small harbour and picturesque town of Stanleytoun.

Sandy slowed the Louisa and guided her through to the narrow entrance to Stanleytoun’s walled-in harbour. Inside the high walls, the waters were almost calm, ruffled only by the squall’s still violent gusts of wind which occasionally swirled down onto the otherwise calm waters of the old port, chasing swift ripples across its surface.

They were met by two Land Rovers and a game cart for Boreyev’s equipment. As soon as they’d got their bags into the back, they climbed in and were driven from the quayside up the winding road from the small town to the massive castle gates some two hundred feet higher up and a mile or so from the town. As they wound their way up the hill, Wilder caught the occasional glimpse of the castle, and it struck him that he didn’t remember it to be so vast.

The cars stopped at the castle’s massive fifteen foot main doors seemingly cut into sheer granite of the castle walls. Once through it, Macrae led the way through the entrance hall with its thirty-foot ceiling topped a floor higher than that by a glass dome, past the grand stairway, and into the great hall. Macrae led the way across the room to where his parents were sitting on high-backed armchairs either side of a huge roaring log fire within a six-foot-high fireplace.

Wilder had forgotten the huge size of the room – he guessed it must be all of seventy f19eet long and perhaps forty feet across with a barrel-vaulted ceiling maybe thirty feet above them. The walls were covered in some places with great swirling arrangements of weapons from the past, swords, claymores, daggers, muskets, pistols and shields. These arrangements were interspersed with huge portraits of Macrae ancestors going back over the centuries and of the occasional tapestry displaying historical events. The room was so large, however, that this great mixture of wall coverings seemed just to blend into a unified montage of history, awesome to study but not intrusive to those not bothered with the castle’s or family’s past.

Wilder was reintroduced to Macrae’s father, Sir James Macrae, thirteenth baronet and clan chief of the Macraes of Craithe. In appearance, however, he could have been his own gardener, and Wilder immediately remembered the well-cut, but ancient tweed jacket he was wearing and an old kilt so faded that it could easily have belonged to one of the ancestors now portrayed on the walls above them.

Tall but bent and with white hair and Angus’s blue eyes, the laird – as he was always called – rose from his chair nimbly enough and shook Wilder’s hand. He then reintroduced his wife Florence, Sir Jeremy Towneley’s sister. They all sat for a while reminiscing about the days when Wilder had visited during his university days – more than ten years ago, though the laird thought it was longer ago than that.

‘I’m keen to introduce Tom to the Gemini team,’ said Macrae to his father. ‘So, shall we meet in here again for drinks before dinner?’

‘Yes, indeed,’ replied the laird, ‘see you then, and again, welcome to Craithe, Tom.’

Macrae led Wilder back into the entrance hall, and up the main stairway, which halfway came to a wide landing and then ran back up on itself on both sides till it reached the wide gallery, which ran around the entire top of the stairwell. Wilder followed Macrae round many bends along corridors and then up the south-east towers spiral stone stairway. On the fourth floor Macrae pressed numbers into another keypad. They came into a huge well-lit room with large windows looking out onto the most magnificent views. The room itself had numerous tables on which sat every kind of computer, laptop and peripheral one could imagine. The half a dozen people in there stopped whatever they were doing, and all of them came over to the open space near the door to meet Wilder.

His first impression of them was that the team had been assembled to show as wide a variety of humanity as possible. The tallest was also by far the oldest – Wilder put him in his late fifties. He was introduced to Wilder first.

‘This is Professor Henry Hapsley,’ said Macrae. They shook hands formally, with the Prof’ – as Wilder later discovered was what everyone called him – gave a slight mock bow to Wilder, smiled broadly and said, ‘Welcome to our madhouse.’

The other five all grinned as though this was a high compliment. The Prof introduced the others one by one – but by Christian name in one case, the other four by their nicknames. Wilder did not try to remember them all right away, as he hoped to pin the name to the person individually later when there would be more time. The Prof’ led Macrae and Wilder over to two tall cabinets and two other waist-high tower computers.

‘These are why all of us are here,’ he said as he gave a flourish of his arm. ‘This array is Gemini.’

‘Wilder looked so surprised that the Prof’ saw that he needed to explain further.

Inside the tall cabinet is the quantum computer itself plus its mechanisms and insulation keep it running at well below freezing point – as though it were running inside a fridge.’

He moved slightly, and then showed him a large console with a keyboard unlike any Wilder had ever seen before. ‘And this is the controller for the quantum machine,’ he said. Moving on a bit further he then pointed out the two small mainframes one smaller than the other. Both were about the size of small chests of drawers and each with its own console and keyboard.

‘The larger of these two is the digital mainframe which we have managed to get to run in synch with the quantum machine and the rest help us control the two of them to run more or less together and allow us to play all our wonderful tricks on – we’re still developing the extraordinary combinations that these machines are capable of and are coming up with new developments almost daily.’

‘And all of this is Gemini?’ asked Wilder running his eyes back and forth over the array, from one end to the other and back.

‘And if you were going to attack something with Gemini, what pieces of all of this equipment would you be using?

‘Oh, just the controllers, these three here.’

‘But not these two big cabinets here on the right or the larger mainframe here?’ asked Wilder pointing to each of them in turn.

‘No, not directly,’ replied the professor, ‘And if I you’re going where I think you’re going with this, the answer is that from an operational point of view, the two cabinets and the larger mainframe could be hidden away in another room.’

‘Thank you, Prof’ you did indeed see where I was going with my line of thought,’ said Wilder. ‘So, if we took these three boxes – which if I’ve understood you correctly are the core of Gemini – and put them in another room, would it make any difference to machines’ operations?’

‘Absolutely no difference at all,’ said the Prof’.

Wilder turned to Macrae.

‘As quantum computers are as rare as hen’s teeth, most people won’t know what they look like will they?’

‘No, almost certainly not,’

‘So even if we assume that one day someone is going to discover that Gemini is a combination of both a quantum machine and high-end digital mainframes like these, they wouldn’t know if they were getting the real thing or not?’

‘No, they wouldn’t.’

‘Okay,’ said Wilder. He then paused for a while in thought.

‘If, on the other hand, someone knew what quantum computer controllers look like but couldn’t see one here, they might conclude there wasn’t a quantum machine here. Is that right?’

‘Yes, it probably is.’

‘How easy would it be to get some cheap jazzy big boxes with lots of little twinkling lights on them and put them in here instead of the real Gemini array? So that, for example, if someone managed to get up here into the lab and wanted to destroy Gemini, he could shoot-up some fakes and Gemini would be all right – hidden away some place else?’

‘Very easily, I would think,’ replied Macrae smiling. ‘In fact we’ve got some old machines here from before these two latest mini-mainframes.’

Two of the youngest members of the team who looked barely out of their teens also listened intently, intruigued at these developments.

‘That’s what we need to do then,’ said Wilder, ‘could you please get all the quantum machinery out of the lab’ here and into another room? Then get the old machines back in here and just leave them permanently running, doing nothing?’

‘We could certainly do that. It might take a day to finish the job, set the machines up again, that kind of thing.’ said the Professor. ‘But it makes a lot of sense so we’ll get all that done as quickly as we can.’

‘Great,’ said Wilder, ‘and perhaps you tell me when it’s done?’

‘Of course.’

As the Prof’ showed Wilder around the rest of the lab, Macrae took an urgent call. A few minutes later he came over and joined the other two.

‘That was GCHQ on the line,’ he said.

‘I’m sorry to say that they’ve discovered that the main Chinese Republic MSS Centre in Beijing has found out that Gemini exists – they probably now know as much as the buyers of the Freeman papers. GCHQ thinks that they will almost certainly have hacked their way around the internet by now though they probably won’t yet know where it is.’

‘What are the implications of this from a security point of view?’ asked Wilder. They had now been joined by the rest of the team, forming a circle around them.

‘The main threat from the Chinese,’ said Perry, the most senior and brilliant of the team’s hackers, ‘they are by far the best at computer work. They probably won’t try physically to steal Gemini themselves, though they have what we call sleepers who can be sent to check out things which the internet can’t access.’

‘I’m beginning to get the impression that pretty soon we’re going to have quite a gathering coming here knocking at our doors,’ said Wilder. He smiled around the group as though he was announcing a party. But, despite his efforts to show that he wasn’t worried by this news, he realized that he and Borislav Boreyev – head of Mikhail Rostov’s huge security organisation – would need to come up with more than just patrolling guards for Craithe.

 

 

 

[]14

 

 

Nikol’skaya Street, Moscow

 

Igor Rodchenko’s lengthy official title was usually replaced by most people with his unofficial tag – ‘the president’s fixer’. He had started his career as a young KGB officer alongside his then great buddy, now President Sergei Balakin. A third inseparable friend in those days had been Andrei Zharkov, now a general and head of the FSB – the state’s internal intelligence service. Zharkov was currently being tipped to head up a new service. At present, it had no name, but the rumour was that the president was planning to reunite the FSB with the external intelligence service the SVR – to return them to the old KGB.

But the new KGB was still just rumour, and Rodchenko usually ignored rumours, preferring to get the facts direct from the president himself. If true, however, it would be an acknowledgment that President Balakin was presiding over a dying state, especially economically. Anyone coming up with practical ideas on how to restore Russia to her former greatness immediately got an enthusiastic hearing.

It was for reasons such as this that Rodchenko was now eagerly awaiting the arrival of Anton Novikov. Novikov was a deeply unattractive character: not even his own men really trusted him. But he had several uses for those close to the president – like Rodchenko and Zharkov – because he had a large organization and managed to get things done for them, often outside the law. Most now tried to forget that until quite recently Novikov’s organization was still much like its mafia beginnings and had only recently become quasi-respectable.

Rodchenko now sat in his offices on Nikol’skaya Street. These were almost exactly halfway between his old offices in what used to be the KGB building in Lubyanka Square and the Kremlin – a good walk in either direction for countering his occasional lavish lunches with either the president or General Andrei Zharkov.

As he waited for Anton Novikov, he thought about the call he’d taken from him earlier. He was intrigued. When asking for an urgent meeting, Novikov had been annoyingly upbeat. Rodchenko was also irritated though, from the sound of it, he was coming to propose a lucrative project.

Over the years, projects run for the Kremlin had made Novikov extremely rich, though he was always generous. When he made particularly outrageous profits from one of these jobs for the Kremlin, his kickbacks to Rodchenko were always both substantial and welcome.

 

Peter Bazarov, the Kremlin’s top IT man, arrived first, a few minutes before the appointed meeting time and was followed on the stroke of the hour by Novikov who breezed into the room with irritating bonhomie.

All three of them, knowing each other well after many deals over the years, needed no introductions and ignoring Rodchenko’s taunt about being late, Novikov pulled three files out of his slim red leather briefcase.

‘I’ve brought you each copies of the documents I think that you’ll be excited to see, retaining one for myself,’ he said as he passed them over to the others. ‘There are many more documents than these that have come into my hands, but I thought you would get a taste of what I’d like to discuss with you from just a few pages. If you open the file, you’ll see a brief executive summary and then some backup, supporting pages. May I suggest you both take a moment to read those and then we can get started?’

The files were, of course, copies of the documents for which John Freeman had been killed – and the backup pages were copies of the Gemini tests against some of the West’s top banks, companies, and institutions. It did not take long for Rodchenko and Bazarov to get through the summary and understand the implications of the test results sheets.

‘Good God,’ said Rodchenko at just about the same time as Bazarov gave a muted whistle.

‘These papers raise quite a lot of questions, don’t they?’ said Rodchenko. ‘Like where did you get them? And what the hell is this thing that got through the defences of all these … these…’

‘I’ve never seen anything like these test results,’ said Bazarov. ‘What is it that can manage such results?’

Novikov then gave the two of them his carefully prepared presentation. It was smooth and he only twice referred to the notes lying on the table in front of him.

He first ran through the chain of events chronologically – Freeman overseeing the Gemini project tests in New York; then there was Freeman’s partner in the New York law practice, Peter Kyle. It was this man Kyle being enraged at being left out of Freeman’s project, talked to Massimo, who he knew from way back; it was these two who came up with the idea of disposing of Freeman.

‘My good friend, Giuseppe Massimo, was a bit suspicious of Peter Kyle’s approach,’ said Novikov, ‘but when Kyle showed him some discarded photocopies left in a bin near the copiers and told him of Freeman’s many visits to banks and the like, he agreed to go ahead with the deal, and they hired Slade to get rid of Freeman.’

‘The documents they stole are those you have before you,’ he continued. ‘Quite rightly, Giuseppe guessed that of all the people who could put this Gemini to best use, it would be yourselves.’ Novikov sat back in his chair with a self-satisfied grin.

‘And the people out of whom you two could extract the most money?’ suggested Rodchenko.

Novikov’s smirk vanished, and he quickly responded, ‘Well, only in the sense that your good selves would immediately see that with such remarkable technology, the damage you could inflict on the West. Just imagine it if you will,’ said Novikov waving a hand in the air like a circus performer, ‘being able to shut down Air traffic control at London’s main airport at Heathrow, or black out the whole eastern seaboard in the US by shutting down successive power plants.’

‘I get your point, what you’ve just said is merely an extension of what’s here in the files,’ said Rodchenko. ‘So, knowing you, what kind of money are we talking about?’

‘As Massimo and ourselves are in a relationship of long-term mutual trust and have been doing business together for generations,’ said Novikov, ‘there has been virtually no profit-taking between us and the sum I have in mind represents great value for money.’

‘Which is what?’ asked Rodchenko, tapping the arm of his chair in his irritation with Novikov’s theatrics.

‘Two million US dollars as a one-off payment for this proof that the wonder technology exists,’ replied Novikov. ‘Next we could make a start for you looking for the location of the weapon and then preparing to steal it for you. With expenses not to exceed a further one million, and a final two and three quarter million would secure you delivery of a working Gemini. This means that, as usual, the president, the Kremlin, and yourselves don’t have to get your hands dirty with the potentially messy business of getting a hold of this Gemini.’

‘Done,’ said Rodchenko without even a moment’s hesitation. His fixer mentality had equated this five and three-quarter million plus his own personal markup of another couple of million to come out of the armed forces budget. As such, it was peanuts. Although all they had so far was proof of existence, the proposed deal amounted to less than a couple of Armata T-14 tanks. Once delivered, however, the Gemini was clearly capable of huge psychological damage to traumatized urban populations almost anywhere on the globe. It would represent many times better value for money than a couple of tanks could ever achieve.

He had also worked out in an instant that he could paint enough of a picture for President Balakin of being able to wreak havoc on the West with such a weapon that the president would happily write him off a project budget of eight million plus expenses.

Before the meeting broke up, they discussed the steps that would need to be taken to get the project started.

‘Going ahead with this has a few conditions attached to it,’ said Rodchenko.

Novikov’s face froze, hoping none of them would be too onerous.

‘First, I want this Gemini thing to be made as exclusive to ourselves as possible,’ he said. ‘That means that I want all but your friend Massimo prevented from passing on any of this information about Gemini to anyone else. Second, I need you to start today on your search for the location of Gemini. And thirdly, I want a plan from you as to how you’re to physically get us a Gemini – whatever it turns out to be. I keep referring to ‘you’ in this matter as there’s no way that I, the president or the Kremlin can be seen to be involved in the project. You may request resources such as FSB agents to help you, but everything else linked to this will be denied by us if the media get a hold of it for example. Lastly, I want as few people as possible to know about this. The searches and theft are to be carried out by the smallest numbers of people possible – nothing is to be done that might suggest what it is that you’re up to. Whereas I recognize the huge potential of having a Gemini, you’re not to give the West an opportunity to accuse us of invading their countries or stealing their property. Is all that clear?’

‘Of course,’ muttered Novikov, ‘as in the past.’

Novikov confirmed that talented team who had developed Gemini, had done so initially from a computer training centre for young people belonging to the Towneley Foundation. But he confessed that none of his people would be a match for one of the FSB’s top agents.

After a brief discussion, an FSB agent by the name of Izolda Volkova was recommended to assist them in the venture. Her reputation had spread outside the FSB, and she had the additional advantage of being licensed to operate under the auspices of the SVR – the body that had come into existence in the late 1990s when the dying and chaotic KGB was split into the FSB and the SVR, which was made the latter responsible for external intelligence. She was to be sent to the UK immediately to start a search for Gemini.

As the meeting broke up, Rodchenko undertook getting the project signed off by the president, and as they parted company, there were smiles all round and much mutual congratulation – the Russia of its greater days was about to re-emerge, an overblown piece of nonsense of course, but it had Rodchenko humming an old Russian solidarity tune as he turned back into his office. He would now contact his old friend President Balakin and see him about Gemini.

To make a presentation to Balakin, Rodchenko quickly noted down the salient points of the Gemini proposal, memorized them and made his appointment.

 

 

 

[]15

 

 

The Newby Centre, Tower Hamlets

 

Izolda Volkova found the Stamfordham Hotel handy as a base for her mission, particularly as it was nearly full of young tourists of many different nationalities. She immediately felt at ease, blending in with so many other non-British people. She played the same part as they did – busy tourists with a lot to see and not enough time to fit everywhere in. Her comings and goings at early and late hours attracted no particular attention.

Her room would do her just fine. Dumping her bag on the bed, she got out her new mobile phone and the file she’d been given. Between the two of them, these provided her with more detail about her mission than she would need, but the FSB had wanted to err on the generous side with their support.

What they’d given her included the address of the Newby Centre where Gemini had been originally developed. Gleaned from the files that Slade, Massimo and finally Novikov had each passed on in turn, ending up in the Kremlin, they gave the location, the nearest underground station, and phone contact number. Volkova looked through some other notes giving Gemini’s history of development but nothing of its present location, of course.

As the main objective of the mission was to discover where Gemini had been moved, she hoped to be able to pick up clues within the centre itself – most likely source would be the office computers.

Before her visit, she read up as much about the Newby Centre as she could. Its principal function was as a computer and business training centre for the youth of the deprived area of London, Tower Hamlets. It had been funded and purpose built from the outset by the Towneley Foundation, set up by Sir Jeremy Towneley, head of one of the City of London’s oldest banks, the Towneley Bank.

When she had finished reading up on it she took the London Underground from Sloane Square to the east end of London. On getting to Blackwell Station in the heart of the Tower Hamlets district, she alighted from the train and wandered around the area with her mobile phone held out in front of her – doing a passable job at being a tourist.

Whilst walking around, she called in on a few cafés, bars and pubs asking for directions to the Gemini programme – just in case someone, in a loose moment or in idle pub chatter, let slip some information on it. She was unlucky – the exercise drew a blank. Once she had got a good idea of the area, she decided to get into the centre itself but well after it had closed at six.

 

By around 7pm that evening, the streets around it were almost deserted. With the remnants of winter still hanging on, it had turned into a bitterly chilly evening, and she was glad she’d been back to the hotel for warmer clothes and a Russian fur hat.

She decided to break in by the rear entrance as she’d quickly checked it out during the day’s visit that it was going to be an easy job for a professional. Yet, despite the way she had handled her interview with Rodchenko, there were moments when her past caught up with her – like now and waiting for it to get dark enough so as not to be spotted picking the locks.

To get to the rear entrance of the centre she had to turn down a narrow alleyway at the back of the building. By now it was beginning to get dark, but it was still light enough to see as soon as she turned into the lane that there was likely to be trouble up ahead. Halfway along it there were a couple of hooded youths. They were probably on the prowl for easy cash or jewellery or for an easy break-in from which to raise some money to feed their drug addictions. She guessed that they would presume that she, a small, almost waif-like figure in a fur hat, was going to be just one such easy target. It was a bad presumption.

Volkova sized up the situation, this kind of distraction being familiar to her from the backstreets of Moscow where she and her brother had learned how to fend for themselves. She obviously couldn’t allow them to attack her, but neither could she ignore them. Trouble was, she needed to get into the centre and wanted no witnesses. She had no option but to deal with them.

Rather than allow them to keep ambling towards her with their arrogant presumption that they could do as liked with her, she confused them by running straight at them. The first to go down was the luckier of the two as he never knew what hit him – though he would have great difficulty in walking normally for some weeks as her first blow was with a foot to his knee joint which caused him to crumple forwards only to meet, full-on, the blow to the side of his head that would lay him out cold for some considerable time.

The second hoodie was less fortunate as he’d had to watch the destruction of his mate. Time, they say, heals all and the second one would indeed recover fully within a month.

With both left lying there, she had a quick look about her to be sure no one had seen the incident and to check that no one else had arrived in the alley. All was well on that score, and she hurried on to the centre’s backdoors.

Getting into the building was easy for someone of Volkova’s training – there were just a couple of locks and no bolts to contend with. Once inside, she used a pencil torch with a fine-focused LED beam. She crept through the centre, and was clearly alone, but she also kept a wary eye on any sign of life outside. Just once, a car passed nearby, and its headlight’s beams shone through the building. Volkova ducked and turned off the torch. As soon as it was gone, she hurried on through to the offices.

Once there, she peered around for a computer that looked most likely to belong to the boss of the centre. It was then that she spotted the manager’s office as it said so on the door under his name painted on the frosted glass. She entered, went over to the computer and after waiting for it to start up, plugged a small memory stick into a USB port and allowed the program on it to find and bypass the password.

As soon as she had gained access to the computer, she hunted through the files. Soon, she found what she was looking for. It was a file tucked inconspicuously amongst the others named ‘Gem project,’ and she took this to be short for Gemini. Taking the password-breaking memory stick out of the USB drive, she replaced it with an empty memory stick and copied the entire Gem file onto it. Hopefully, there was plenty there that would be of interest back in Moscow but what she needed was also there – the address of the Gemini’s other secret office in London.

She was just about to leave when she heard the faintest noise from the direction of the backdoor. As there was unlikely to be any reason for this other than someone else coming into the building, she crouched down below the level of the office’s half-glazed panels.

Someone was creeping along the corridor and coming her way. This new arrival would be in there either for information like herself or for cash from the safe. Both the place’s office computers and the safe were in the room where she was. She crawled forward till she was behind the door and waited. The footsteps were faint as though they belonged to someone wearing something like bedroom slippers. Then, silently, the figure was right above her, casting the faintest shadow on the glass part of the door.

She held her breath as the figure came into the room. It appeared to be a fit-looking young man in his twenties, quite slim and not likely to be a fighter. This assessment of Izolda Volkova’s could not have been further from the truth.

As soon as the young man was clear of the door, without a sound, Izolda sprang up moved swiftly forward and kicked the figure in the back of the knee. As she had anticipated, his leg collapsed but then, totally unexpected, he fell onto one hand, and his other leg came swinging through the air in a fast arc. The foot, angled to inflict a blow with the side of the foot, caught Izolda a smacking hard blow to the side of her head. Shocked and surprised, she fell back but immediately recovered and swung round again to face the young man.

He was now slightly crouched, and to her horror, Izolda realised that he practiced in the art of Muay Thai. She was not herself proficient in this discipline but knew it tended to focus on deadly blows. This was serious. If she herself was to survive, she might have to kill him and do so before he damaged her sufficiently with one of his specialist and probably fatal blows.

Now that she saw him clearly, she judged him to be Chinese and she understood that this was likely to be a death match – she had to risk all and kill with her next blow. She quickly rushed forward as though an amateur, pretended to stumble, putting one hand down on the floor to break the fall but unexpectedly he took two steps raised his arm and was about to chop it down on her head when she rose quickly and hit him as hard as she could with a rising blow into his crotch.

This must have been agony for him but she was horrified to see that his face remained an impassive mask and he ran to his right at a corner of the room, seemed to run up it, gaining height and then returned towards her so fast that she barely saw on the feinting blow coming from his nearest arm, but certainly did not see the blow from his left leg. This caught her in her kidneys and she crumpled in agony to the floor.

In an instant, he was on top of her but his first blow to the head was mistimed and failed to kill her as it became only a glancing blow. She arched her back and flicked up her legs, which threw him to the side. Scrambling to her feet, she was only just in time to fend of two more swingeing blows to her arms one after the other. She must have damaged him earlier for both strikes were again just centimetres off target though they hit her and hurt so much so that she fell to the ground again as one of his legs swept past under her taking her feet off the ground. Potentially fatally, she still had not got used to his incredible speed nor his fighting methods. From her position on the ground she kicked him again as hard as she could in the genitals. This time, in agony, he let out a gasp of exhaling breath and began to double up, crumpling down towards her. She rose up at speed, and as their heads came level, she delivered a vicious blow to the side of the neck and as he began to go down from this, she threw another tight punch to the tender spot on the side of his head. The combination knocked him nearly unconscious, and as soon as he hit the ground, she stepped over him, grasped his chin and with a forceful twist, broke his neck.

Severely shaken by a fight that had tested her more than for some years, she sat for a minute, shocked at how close she’d come to death. She breathed deeply for a minute and then gently got to her feet.

Leaving the office and going as fast as she could through the building, she let herself out into the alley at the rear of the building. One of the young hoodies had recovered enough to struggle away and there was no sign of him. His mate still lay there where she had felled him. There was no one else in sight, so she bent down and checked the pulse on his neck. He was alive. She shrugged her shoulders, straightened up and left him there.

After another underground journey, this time in almost deserted carriages, she went into a pub in Sloane Square and had a drink before her meal and a second with a good steak with chips and peas. Back at her hotel, she felt that she had recovered but decided that though the Gemini office address was not far down Kings Road, maybe less than a mile, she was too exhausted after her ordeal.

It had been a long day but, with any luck, she would find the Gemini the next day. She got ready for bed, climbed into it and, propped herself up on some extra pillows from in the cupboard. She sipped at a cup of chamomile tea she’d made for herself with the kettle provided and soon her eyes were beginning to close. But she picked up her new mobile phone, the one with automatic connection to Rodchenko and Novikov. She’d been so busy most of the day that she hadn’t referred to it. Now she checked if she’d been sent any messages. There were none.

Alone in a strange city, she was a little sad she had no one to share her anticipation for what she hoped she might find the next day at the offices off Kings Road.

Buoyed by these thoughts she picked up her mobile again where she’d put it down on the bed beside her. She wrote an email giving an update on today. Barely conscious of what she was doing, she dozed off for a moment only to be woken as she spilled her still-hot tea on the bedclothes. She mopped away at the spill and put the cup on the bedside table. Seeing the mobile phone there, she picked it up, peering at it only partially focusing on it.

She reread the email she’d written before she’d fallen asleep. ‘Newby training centre difficult mission but computers have provided secret secondary London address for Gemini off the Kings Road and will look tomorrow see if this also its location – looking good.’

Not concentrating, she pressed send and minutes later, with the lights still on, she fell sound asleep.

Unlike her, however, the many international surveillance bodies in both the east and the west did not sleep, and because she had included the word ‘Gemini’ in the email, some had spotted it and read her email to Rodchenko.

 

 

The discovery of Chen Wei’s body in the Newby Centre the following morning was a complete mystery to the police, and they assumed it was someone who had broken into the centre looking for cash – probably for drug money. Up on Craithe, the news of the death at their former place of work was no mystery at all. The combination of emails picked up and the chat about Gemini told the whole story. It meant that the Beijing was interested enough in Gemini to have sent someone to back up information they had gathered off the internet. They would be unlikely to send anyone else like Chen Wei, but in the light of his death would certainly pursue Gemini with renewed vigour.

 

 

 

[]16

 

 

Craithe Castle, Scotland

 

The day after arriving at Craithe Castle, Macrae and Wilder spent most of the morning looking at Craithe’s security. They went through every aspect of it, with Wilder using his SAS skills and playing the role of an attacker trying to get into the castle to steal Gemini.

They had finished this exercise and were about to leave the team and the lab to go discuss their findings when a call for Macrae came through on the lab phone – the landline call had been necessary as the mobile telephone connectivity to the island of Craithe was virtually nil for all but satellite mobiles.

It was GCHQ on the line.

‘Mr Macrae, is that you?’ said the voice at the other end.

‘It is. Who’s this?’

‘It’s James from the Gemini team here at GCHQ,’

‘Yes, James, we’ve met,’ said Macrae. ‘Do you have something urgent for me as—?’

‘In our opinion we do,’ replied James.

Macrae quickly shouted out to Wilder and beckoned him over. As Wilder crossed the room, Macrae put the phone on speaker. GCHQ was bringing him up to date with the finding of Chen Wei killed in the Newby Centre and took him through to the conclusion was that a Russian FSB agent had run into someone sent by the Chinese and the two of them had battled it out.

‘If that wasn’t bad enough,’ continued James. ‘We’ve been picking up a lot of what we call chatter on names of people on our watch lists who are connected to Gemini. If I can just explain that if I may, then I hope you’ll understand our concern.’

‘Fine. On you go.’

‘As head of the Gemini project, naturally you are on its watch list – if that makes sense to you?’

‘It does.’

‘And on the same associated watch list are Mr Wilder, Professor Hapsley and Perry Hunter. But also on that list are your wife Tatiana and father-in-law Mikhail Rostov. I could go on, but it’s these last two names that have been the subject of the most recent chatter and had, therefore, worried my supervisor.’

‘Why. What did the chatter say?’ asked Macrae

‘It came in the form of an email from the FSB in Lubyanka Square to another name on a different watch list, namely Igor Rodchenko.’

‘Okay,’ said Macrae, ‘go on.’

‘It informs Rodchenko of the fact that your wife is presently staying with her father, Mikhail Rostov, at his dacha in Crimea. In view of—’

‘Yes, she’s been out there twice before as her father had a mild heart attack and she’s been back and forth and is there now. But thank you anyway.’

‘Glad to help,’ said James and the call ended.

‘If I were in the Russian’s shoes and I had just realised the connection between Tatiana and Gemini, however tenuous that might be, I wouldn’t hesitate to kidnap Tatiana and hold her till you told them all about Gemini,’ said Wilder. ‘You don’t mind me butting in on your family business I hope but we need to get there and physically collect her and get her back here right now. How quickly could we do that? You must have had to use emergency travel arrangements in the past?’

‘Yes, we have. We can certainly get a chopper here, probably within half an hour,’ said Macrae. ‘But experience has shown that even if we fly first class, we need to fly out of London to be sure of seats. Besides, in emergencies like this in the past we’ve needed to get special visas through the Home Office who have back channel connections with their Russian counterparts – but you’re not supposed to know about that kind of thing. But we need to get the Towneley jet back up here – that might get us to Moscow by the morning.’

The two of them bade their rushed farewells to the team in the lab and hurried down to the Laird’s study. They were in luck. The helicopter set off immediately after their call and would be there within half an hour. Macrae rang his secretary in London to get her to fix Moscow flights for them.

Meanwhile Wilder had time to think about the speed with which these events around Gemini had unravelled. He reckoned it was time to become more proactive – to come up with a different way of doing things. Surely there must be a way of using the supposedly great powers of Gemini itself in its own defence. Between now and arriving in Moscow he’d better come up with something or he’d be in danger of letting them all down.

 

 

 

[]17

 

 

The Kremlin, Moscow

 

The sudden arrival of the Chinese joining in the hunt for Gemini, though important, nevertheless took some time to get through the information distribution systems in Lubyanka. It had, therefore, not yet reached General Zharkov as he got to his desk the next morning.

But since receiving an email the previous day about the head of the Gemini Project’s wife staying in the Crimea, he had done two things. Firstly, he had furiously reminded them of the folly of using the email system to tell him of this. Their response that he had been in meetings and could not be reached with the information had cut no ice with him either. In future, if there was anything to communicate on Gemini they were to treat it with urgency but not to use any way of transmitting the information in a way that might be seen by foreign surveillance people.

The second thing he had done was to ring his old friend Rodchenko. His further researches into Tatiana Macrae’s whereabouts had revealed that her father had been in one of the best hospitals in Simperofol, the Crimean capital, and that she had flown over to see him there – though his stay in hospital had been brief.

He knew that Mikhial Rostov was not only an old friend of the president’s but also one of his best routes to much-needed cash. Apparently, his use of the Isle of Man offshore bank – the Towneley-Rostov Merchant Bank – had been most helpful in raising cash for the president and the General hadn’t wanted to upset delicate political relationships.

Rodchenko had advised him to go ahead anyway and seize Tatiana – they could pacify Rostov later with pleas of the greater interest of mother Russia or flattery about his huge importance; the president having to take a second seat just for once. He had already made the first move by sending an undercover FSB team down the Crimean dacha to cut all telephone communications with it and put a mobile phone jammer on the roof.

He’d had reports back that this had been done and was about to order the seizure of Tatiana when a call came through for him.

 

‘It’s Portnov here from the surveillance unit,’ said the voice. ‘We just spotted a couple of men, General, one of whom is on our watch list. I felt you’d like to know right away. They came through Vnukovo airport immigration on special diplomatic visas. We did try to reach you and tell you earlier about this but they said you were in a meeting and couldn’t be disturbed. While we’re waiting for your meeting to end, we looked up some additional background them – just in case you asked.’

‘All right, all right,’ muttered the general. ‘Who the hell are they that I need to know about them?’

‘We thought it important because they both are connected to Gemini,’ said Portnov.

‘Gemini?’ the general shouted, ‘why the hell didn’t you say that right away? Who is it you’re talking about what’s the connection to Gemini?’

‘The first person is an Angus Macrae, husband of the woman for whom you were about to issue an arrest warrant.’

‘All right, Portnov, thank you for letting me know.’

The general thought about this news for a minute. So Macrae had seen the danger of a kidnap and using her to get at Gemini. Why not wait till he got down there to rescue her and seize him at the same time? Excellent.

 

Careful here,’ he said to himself. Who was the second man with Macrae – MI6 maybe? Need to be careful not to get into a spy-swapping fight with the UK, especially if the seizures were to be conducted in the president’s old friend’s dacha. Damn it, this could complicate matters. He’d talk it over with Rodchenko, always the wily fox in difficult situations like this.

He picked up the phone. Rodchenko had only just arrived back at his offices from the Kremlin and as soon as the general had told him of the new arrivals and his own take on the reason for Macrae’s visit to Russia, Rodchenko was inclined to agree that snatching the entire Macrae family was too good an opportunity to miss. With Macrae and his wife in the same room together, Macrae might even go as far as giving us the makeup of Gemini itself – save us no end of speculation and hunting about the place.’

‘You’re right,’ said the general. ‘So, are you in favour of going ahead and take them both?’

‘Without a doubt. The potential gain from taking them in far outweighs the risks of upsetting Rostov or the spy community,’ said Rodchenko.

‘And you’re sure?’ said the general. ‘As soon as I give the order to take all these people in, it would be difficult to stop it.’

‘Look. Tell Rostov something like Russia’s strategic needs demand it. If he doesn’t already know about Gemini, he needs to be told what it could do for Mother Russia. Surely you’ve got some people subtle enough to be able to get the message over that seizing his family is only a temporary measure and that it’s for the greater good.’

‘Okay, I’ll try it that way,’ said the general. ‘But there’s more news that comes with this. Macrae and the tall friend that came into Vnukovo Airport were met there by Borislav Boreyev.…’

‘What, the owner of the big security company?’

‘Yes, that’s the man,’ said the general. ‘Don’t tell me that it gives us another problem.’

‘Yes, I’m afraid that it might,’ said Rodchenko. ‘You’ll need to take Boreyev as well. He was around in the days when the president and Rostov were into everything together, thick as thieves. …’

‘That’s not a phrase you should use in connection with the president,’ said the general, ‘though I know the times you’re talking about. So, I’ll order the snatch of the whole lot of them? Good, that’s cleared my mind.’

‘But do this right away,’ said Rodchenko.

‘I’ll see what we can manage,’ said the general. ‘The last report said that Macrae has gone to the airport with Boreyev driving him there. Mikhail’s private jet has apparently filed a flight plan for a return flight to Crimea. We’re probably too late to snatch Macrae at the airport – too public as well.’

‘Just seize the stranger and Boreyev now and Macrae when he gets down to his wife, okay?’ said Rodchenko, exasperation with the General’s slow uptake of such an important opportunity.

‘Yeah, I’ll get that organised right away,’ said the General and put the phone down.

When he’d finished his call, relieved at having shared the burden and rang Lubyanka back. He would look forward with great anticipation to how this unfolded. The prospect of disabling an MI6 agent and then getting Macrae to tell them all about Gemini was just too delicious a prospect not to celebrate. He rummaged in his vast desk for one of his Havana cigars – well deserved after such good work.

 

 

 

[]18

 

 

The Rostov Residence, Moscow

 

Having fought his way up to become one of Russia’s richest people, Angus Macrae’s father-in-law, Mikhail Rostov, had many of the trappings of wealth and power. His magnificent Moscow townhouse standing on Tverskaya was one of his favoured possessions – furnished with great taste – that of the old aristocracy rather than the ostentatious bling of some of his fellow oligarchs.

Macrae remembered the house well enough, having been seconded from the Towneley Bank to the Rostov Bank for a year some eight years earlier. He often used to come here to pick up Tatiana to take her out. It was also where he had proposed to her. Wilder had been here too, but only as best man for their wedding, so he remembered it only sketchily. Its understated magnificence and exquisite furniture and pictures reminded him of one of the great town houses of London, and the two of them settled in quickly.

The first thing they did on getting to the house was to try and contact the dacha again. The landline house number gave the ‘out of order’ tone and none of the mobile phones could be reached – an ominous sign. Macrae did, however, manage to reach the pilot of Mikhail’s private jet on his mobile phone and discovered that Mikhail Rostov had instructed the pilot early that morning to come up to Moscow to be ready to pick up Macrae whenever it suited him.

The pilot told Macrae that he had left Belbek Airport in Crimea almost an hour and a half before his call and would shortly be arriving at Vnukovo Airport ready to take Macrae back to the dacha. As the most urgent point of coming to Russia was for Macrae to go down there to collect Tatiana and get her back to the UK, Boreyev and Macrae set off for the airport the moment they got this news. They left Wilder for a couple of hours on his own – a perfect opportunity for him to get on with matters he’d been thinking about during the flight over from the UK.

 

 

The first idea concerned the rate at which the possible threats to Gemini were developing. Wilder was determined to find a way to get the supposedly all-powerful weapon to contribute to its own defence. And he’d come up with an idea. When he got through to Perry in the Craithe Lab to check out his idea, he asked a basic question which would either allow it to work or it would not. But when he asked the question, Perry laughed.

‘Funny you should come up with that idea,’ he said. ‘Not long ago myself and our team were thinking around the technicalities of how WikiLeaks found their information and then published it on the internet. We and our small dedicated team at GCHQ then experimented with Gemini’s powers and used the very exercise you’re now suggesting as a research project. Between us we found just such a cache of files as you’re now asking me about. Great minds think alike,’ he said, adding the familiar cliché.

‘Let me just double-check this with you,’ said Wilder his heart now pounding in his chest with pent excitement. ‘I’m talking about private conversations, emails, texts, documents and the like between President Balakin and his innermost circle of confidants and advisors. Is that the same cache you’re talking about?’

‘Exactly the same,’ replied Perry.

‘That’s great,’ replied Wilder a sudden sense of euphoria flooding through him. ‘Do a couple of things for me, will you? Copy say a month’s worth of all those files and hold them ready to publish up onto the internet like WikiLeaks might. Secondly, pick out a couple of recent emails or texts between General Zharkov and the President and send me copies of them to my mobile phone, will you? I know they’ll be in Russian but, knowing the internet the way you do, I’m sure you can get a translation to near enough identify what I’m talking about’

‘As good as done,’ said Perry. ‘Anything else?’

‘Not at the moment thanks, but just be ready to act on the cache at a moment’s notice from now on.’

‘Will do.’

 

His second task was to get his long-time friend and collaborator in the UK’s intelligence agency MI6 to pick up a folder he’d left for her at his mews house. When he got through to MI6, he asked for Agent Tercel.

‘Hi it’s Tom Wilder,’ he said as soon as he was through to her.

‘Tom, what a pleasant surprise, what excitement have you got for me this time?’

‘I’m speaking to you from Moscow so I’ll be brief.’

‘Okay, on you go.’

‘You know about Gemini of course, but what you might not know is that it’s being reintroduced via a Bank of England private invitation conference to some more City of London organisations. That takes place on Good Friday the fourteenth and I’ve got them to send you an invitation – in your capacity as a senior aide in the Home Office.’

‘Yes, it arrived this morning.’

‘Good. I have been concerned over some issues that might arise out of that conference. So, before I had to rush out here to Moscow, I wrote you a full brief on what I’d like you to get involved in. Is that okay with you?’

‘Of course it is.’

‘You’ll find a large envelope taped to the underside of the little drawer in the small table in my mews house entrance hall – you haven’t forgotten how to get in have you?’

‘No I remember. I’ll go and collect it as soon as you’re off the phone. I’ll read through it and be ready for your next call whenever it suits you.’

‘Thanks,’ said Wilder. ‘Don’t know when I’ll be back from here, but expect a call from me in the next few days and keep Good Friday free if you can.’

‘Look forward to your next call Tom, bye.’ And she was gone.

 

He was about to move onto the third issue when his mobile rang. It was Perry calling him.

‘Your package is ready for use, ready to go up onto the internet like a WikiLeaks posting anytime you like. I’ve also sent your mobile a couple of things between the President band the General.’

‘That’s great, many thanks,’ said Wilder, but before he could say anything more, Perry interrupted him.

‘But that’s not why I rang you. GCHQ picked up a message from an Izolda Volkova to a Rodchenko in Moscow. I’ve sent you a copy.’

Wilder looked at it on his phone.

It read ‘Newby training centre difficult mission but computers have provided secret secondary London address for Gemini off the Kings Road and will look tomorrow see if this also its location – looking good.’

‘Thanks Perry, What’s the name of the manager at the Kings Road office – I also need her telephone numbers.’

‘Her name’s Janet Fellowes’ and after a pause, he gave Wilder not only the office number but her home and mobile numbers as well.

As soon as Fellowes answered, Wilder explained who he was, that he working with the company on Gemini.

‘I know exactly who you are Mr. Wilder, what can I do for you?’

First, he explained who Izolda Volkova was, that she was in London and that GCHQ had intercepted an email message from her. Volkova would be visiting the Kings Road offices the following morning. He emphasized that she was dangerous and would not hesitate to kill to achieve her objectives – in this case, finding the location of Gemini.

‘She’s under pressure and in a hurry. Under these circumstances, she may come to your offices early tomorrow morning.’

‘Oh no,’ said Fellowes. ‘What about the staff? Should I move them out?’

‘If it’s possible and provided they don’t object, it would be better if your office looks as though it knows nothing of Volkova’s visit. Let some of them go, but try to keep enough of them staying in to make it still look like a normal working day.’

‘Okay, I’ll let people choose for themselves but hope I can persuade some to stay in.’

‘It would be good if and can. Can you yourself get in really early, well before office hours?’

‘Yes, I can manage that. What do you suggest I do once I’m in?’

With little time available, Wilder gave detailed instructions about what to do and gave her a feel of what was likely to happen when Izolda Volkova arrived.

‘Are you happy with all of that?’ he said as he ended his instructions.

‘Yes, fine,’ said Fellowes, ‘and can this Jessie Marker also ring me so that I know that we’ve set up the trap for this Ms. Volkova?’

‘Yes, I’ll ask her to ring you and you can both double-check the arrangements,’ said Wilder. ‘And try not to worry about this too much – I know this is easy to say rather than do, but the Russian is only after one thing – the location of Gemini. She’ll be expecting us to set up warning system like this and that she’ll have only a short time available to her. My best guess – and I think it’s a good one – is that as soon as she discovers Gemini isn’t physically in your building, she’ll leave again.’

‘Thank you for all of this, Mr Wilder. I’m sure we’ll manage fine,’ said Fellowes and they ended the conversation.

Wilder now next contacted Jessie Marker and get her to organise her side of the reception for Izolda Volkova. When he got through to her, he told her what he told Janet Fellowes was going to do and what Marker needed to do to alert the SWAT team who would come and, if possible, seize Volkova.

She was still repeating back to him his instructions when Wilder heard the front-door bell of the Rostov house ring in the hall below and staff going to answer the door. He could have sworn he heard odd exchanges at the front door and he quickly crossed the room to the window and peered down into the street below. There were two black SUVs with darkened windows parked directly below him, outside the house.

‘Hang on a second, Jessie. Something’s not right at the front door. It might be nothing but…’

A few seconds later, three large men in dark suits burst into the room pointing their guns at him. He was still on his mobile to Jessie. There were three of them and any resistance would have been suicidal.

‘I’m being taken at gunpoint,’ he shouted out to Jessie just before he put the telephone down on a table next to him. He left the call still open so that she would hear everything that happened after that. He raised his arms in the air and went on speaking for her benefit. ‘Mr Rostov won’t be happy about you coming here into his Moscow house and abducting me, not happy at all. …’

The leading man in black smashed the butt of his gun down on the back of Wilder’s head rendering him unconscious. The three men then heaved Wilder to the door where the largest of them, a giant of a man, lifted him single handedly as though Wilder was a child and took him out of the room down the stairway and into the hallway. Here the staff were cowered in a corner under the watch of yet another thug dressed in a dark suit.

The leader of the group opened the front door, looked out and watching the road for around thirty seconds or so, shouted back to the others that it was all clear.

The whole group shuffled down the half dozen steps from the front door and bundled the still unconscious Wilder into one of the two SUVs that had been waiting with their engines running throughout the abduction. Both cars sped off whilst the staff now watched from the front door. One of them rang for the police – though this would be too late to be of any use.

Jessie Marker heard most of this through Wilder’s mobile until it got too faint to hear any more. She knew exactly what to do. She first completed Wilder’s instructions for the King’s Road offices and made sure that a small armed response unit would be on standby during the morning to try to get there in time to apprehend Volkova at the Kings Road offices.

Then, her breathing faster than usual at the horror of Wilder’s abduction, she used the number Wilder had given her earlier for Craithe Castle – they too would need to know of Wilder’s abduction.

 

 

 

[]19

 

 

Vnukovo International Airport, Moscow

 

After seeing Macrae off to the Crimea at Vnukovo Airport, Boreyev headed back for Mikhail’s house. With recent developments and the fear that they might check back on airport surveillance camera footage and find that Macrae and Wilder were now in the country, he needed to get back as fast as he could. But he was confident that Wilder would not leave Mikhail Rostov’s house, and from now on he would have one of his people keep an eye on Wilder while he was there in Russia.

He followed the heavy traffic, but after a few miles, on the Leninskiy Prospekt, he noticed that he was being followed by a large SUV with darkened windows. Having considerable experience in close protection, training super-rich clients on how to avoid ambush or kidnap and having also been an FSB officer, he knew how they tailed people. He knew how to deal with this situation. He double-checked that he was indeed being followed by changing lanes, as though he was about to leave the motorway at the next exit. The black SUV with tinted windows did the same.

With a plan quickly forming in his mind, he watched carefully as he approached bridges over the Moskva river. Glancing back and forth between the rear-view mirror and a turnoff ahead, just as he reached it, but leaving it to the last moment, he pulled the wheel over and swung the car off the main road, down a slip road to the right, and then right again along the river bank. As he’d expected, the SUV followed. Driving now at over sixty miles an hour, he waited till he had gone along the riverside for a couple of blocks, and again at the very last moment, he swung the car violently up to the right and away from the river. Here he was into narrower streets.

The SUV followed and began to close on him. At the next right, he pulled the car sharply to the right again. This brought him back parallel to the river once more but a block away from it. Up ahead he saw roadworks with traffic control lights. As he approached, the lights changed from green and he accelerated through the red light. The SUV immediately switched on its blue flashing lights behind the radiator grille. As he’d expected, they were FSB.

Using driving skills honed whilst training clients in anti-kidnap tactics, he began to deploy one or two of these techniques – taking to the pavements a couple of times to avoid oncoming traffic in the narrow streets, taking last minute turns first to the left then to the right again. But the following car, though losing distance on a couple of occasions, managed to stick behind him.

The time had come for one of the ‘terminal’ options. He waited for the right conditions – with no other traffic in sight and a fair gap between himself and the pursuing car. As soon as he came to a stretch of road where there was a hundred yards of clear road ahead, he accelerated as hard as he could. The SUV responded. Boreyev then slammed on his brakes as hard as he could and as soon as the car had come to a halt, he threw the manual gear into reverse and accelerated backwards into the path of the following SUV. He braced himself by leaning forward and pulling himself onto the steering wheel.

On impact, the front of his car was raised up off the ground by the impact of slamming into the front of the oncoming SUV. It seemed to hang in mid-air, wheels off the ground for a moment but still he clung to the steering wheel. The noise of breaking glass and tearing metal was horrendous, and at one point it felt as though both cars, locked in some kind of weird dance, might overturn. Relaxing his grip on the wheel, and sitting back up straight, he corrected the slide, and the two vehicles finally came to an eerily silent stop.

He immediately restarted his car and accelerated as hard as he could. There were a series of jerking movements and more noise of tearing metal as his car dislodged itself from its entanglement with the SUV.

Though this ploy had no doubt destroyed the rear end of his car, it had completely incapacitated the SUV. He looked in the rear-view mirror again to see that the whole front of it was bent in on itself and unrecognisable; its front suspension had collapsed on one side, and one of the front wheels had buckled outwards at a sharp angle, its suspension snapped.

He drove on, with the damage to his own car being made clear to him by the noise and vibrations of something metal rubbing against one of the rear wheels and another piece of distorted metal grinding along the road. No doubt, seeing what the crash had done to the SUV, his own car would be a write-off. After about a mile and out of sight of the SUV, he pulled into the side of the road; looked at the road name on a building next to him and on his mobile phone, rang for a taxi.

There was a wait as the nearest taxi had to come from the airport, but Boreyev was glad when it eventually arrived as he did not wish to call out any of his own busy people.

No sooner had he got into the taxi than two large black SUVs drove up at speed and cut in front of the taxi and behind it cutting off its exit routes. Boreyev thought about this for a couple of seconds – the SUV which had been following him earlier had obviously contacted backup cars and finding him had obviously been easy when he’d used his mobile phone to call for a taxi.

Rather than risk the taxi driver’s life with a shooting spree, Boreyev walked slowly away from the taxi with his hands in the air. Four large men got out of the two cars, and two of them came over to Boreyev. Though he was big man himself, Boreyev found himself face-to-face with one of them the same size as himself who pointed a gun right into Boreyev’s cheek. Boreyev then sensed rather than saw a blow coming from another of them who had made his way around behind him, but could do nothing about it. It smashed into the back of his head, sending him crashing to the ground, unconscious.

It took all four of them to man-handle Boreyev into one of the SUVs and as they drove away, the taxi driver, reckoning he had been lucky not to have been further involved, returned to the airport to pick up a less troublesome fare.

Boreyev remained unconscious as the SUV took him over the river, past the Kremlin. He began to come round as the SUV drove down Nikol’skaya street and into the FSB headquarters in Lubyanka Square.

They were not overly rough on him as they threw him into a cell as one of them had recognized him from his FSB days. It was a moment or two before he heard someone in the next cell whispering to him. Peering through the bars separating the bare cages, he realised that it was Wilder.

There was no more to be done for the moment, and Boreyev made a couple of hand signals to Wilder while the nearest guard had his back turned to them. The first, a forefinger to his lips suggesting silence and the other miming that they should wait till all prisoners filed out to go to the canteens for their next meal.

Having been stripped of their watches, they could not tell when that would be, so, for the time being, they would just have to sit here. But Wilder was keen to use the ploy that he had set up with Perry, and as they waited, he began to hatch a plot that would get them out of there sooner rather than at a time of the FSB’s choosing.

 

 

 

[]20

 

 

Kings Road, London

 

Izolda Volkova reached the side street off Kings Road around eight-thirty in the morning. She had a look at the general geography around the address she’d been given for the London West End Gemini offices. At the supposedly correct place, there was only an Italian restaurant but no sign of an office entrance.

She walked past the restaurant to the end of the side street also thinking ahead to escape routes. From experience, she knew that pursuers often left one or two backstop people in case she tried to make an escape back out through the restaurant or out into the back lane. In case she should need one, she noted that, as all the houses were joined together, escape along their roofs would always be a good alternative.

She came to the end of the short side street on its eastern, Sloane Square side, ignoring the western side, which curved away with the road into Fulham. Going round the end of the last house, she looked at the backs of the houses; a few had fire escapes dropping down into their small backyards. These gave onto a narrow lane with the gardens belonging to the houses of the next lane east also backing onto it. She then went back in the direction of King’s Road and found a small café opposite the Italian restaurant, and the address where Gemini was supposed to be.

She bought herself a coffee and picked a window seat so that she could observe people arriving for work and lights going on up in offices on the first and even the second floors. It did not take her long to decide that the offices above the Italian restaurant housed the Gemini staff and, if she was lucky, maybe Gemini itself.

She finished her coffee, crossed the street, entered the restaurant and ordered another coffee there, though she had no intention of drinking this one. There were a few people having breakfast or just pre-work coffee or tea, and she picked a table at the back of the restaurant to be near the toilets. She had guessed there might be an access to the offices above from stairs at the back or from a backdoor from the lane behind the houses.

She watched those coming into the restaurant, those going to the ladies’ or gents’ toilets and those who came back out into the restaurant again. There was a discrepancy in the numbers. Not all of those that went out to the toilets came back into the restaurant. One smartly-dressed young woman came in, didn’t order anything, nodded to the young Italian behind the counter and walked straight through to the toilets. Volkova got up and followed her. Instead of turning left towards the toilets door, the woman turned right and, pulling aside a curtain there, tapped an entry code into a keypad next to a door hidden by the curtain.

Volkova, now close behind her, pressed her gun into the small of the woman’s back and said quietly into her ear in her good if heavily accented English, ‘What’s your name?’

‘It’s Janet Fellowes, and I’m the manager of the offices upstairs.’

‘Just carry on as usual, and no-one needs to get hurt.’

Upstairs, in the Gemini offices, Janet had done a good job earlier at short notice and had briefed the staff. As Volkova and Fellowes mounted the stairs up to the office, Volkova asked her where was the manager’s office in relation to the door they would enter by.

‘There’s no manager’s office; it’s all open plan, and my desk is directly opposite the door we come in by.’

When they reached the door at the top of the stairs, Volkova leant forward again and whispered in her ear once more. ‘When we get in, just walk over to your desk with me. I won’t harm you if you do just that – I’ll be right behind you, so don’t do anything stupid.’

As soon as they entered the office, almost hidden from the rest of the staff behind the larger Janet Fellowes, Volkova shouted out to them. ‘All of you get up from where you are and go up to the far end of the room.’

This they did, but also took their time in obeying the order.

‘Quick, more quick,’ shouted Volkova, ‘I don’t want to use the gun but I can if I need.’ They all stopped and looked back at her and, without warning, she raised the gun, hardly seemed to take aim and shattered a lone ceiling light the far end of the room. ‘And can be accurate too.’

The staff moved quickly after that and Fellowes was aware of Volkova constantly scanning everyone. But, as Volkova turned on one occasion to check on one particularly slow member of staff, Fellowes managed to press the small button at the end of a wire that Gregorio had set up behind the curtain of the window near Fellowes’s desk – one of Wilder’s suggestions.

Knowing all his fellow shopkeepers in the street, Gregorio had rattled relentlessly on the door of the electrical shop until Jock had come down from his living quarters above his shop. Jock welcomed him in and fixed him up with a length of electrical wire with a push-button at one end and a small battery and bare red bulb at the other.

He set up the length of wire so that the button hung down behind a curtain right next to Janet Fellowes’s desk. This wire led out of a window and down into the restaurant below. It was a makeshift arrangement which had only been rigged up an hour earlier, but Wilder had said it would do the job just fine.

 

Despite the restaurant often being busy like this morning, with regulars wanting either breakfast or coffee, Gregario noticed when Janet Fellowes had come in and had nodded to her, but he had failed to notice her being followed out of the back by the small dark-haired girl who had come in earlier.

But now seeing the bare red bulb light up as Fellowes pressed it up in the offices above, he hurried over to the telephone and rang the number he’d been given. When it was answered, as instructed, he simply said, ‘She’s here’.

‘Thank you. We’ve been waiting for your call,’ said a voice at the other end.

Upstairs in the office, the staff were now at the far end of the room from the door and Volkova was standing behind Fellowes who had been told to sit down at her desk. She now leaned near to Fellowes’s ear.

‘Now take me slowly to Gemini,’ said Volkova.

‘Gemini’s not here. We only handle sales, administration and installations here. I’ve no idea where Gemini itself is. I don’t know if anyone’s told you this, but Gemini’s covered by the Official Secrets Act and so only authorized people can tell you anything about it. I’m sorry to say I’m not one of them and neither are any of the staff here.’

To double check what Fellowes had just said, without warning, Volkova suddenly stood upright and shouted out to all of them, ‘Where’s Gemini?’

It was clear from their reactions that no one knew the answer as they all looked terrified by Volkova’s gun but their eyes did not go off to where a special machine might be hidden but stayed focused on her. Still holding her gun against Fellowes’s back, she turned to a young man next to them. She had noticed that he had kept on glancing down at a laptop on the desk next to him.

‘You,’ she commanded him, ‘sit down and start up that computer.’

He winced and gave a quick look of supplication over to Fellowes. She had no option but to nod that he should comply with the instruction. When he had done this, Volkova put a memory stick down on the desk beside him. ‘Copy all of the documents folder onto that memory stick and then do the same with Miss Fellowes computer, and do it right NOW.’

Her unexpected shouting of the last word caused him to let out a whimper of fear. He had just finished copying the contents of the document files and handed her back the memory stick when Volkova’s sharp hearing caught the slight noise of a SWAT team arriving. Before they reached the office entrance door, Volkova got Fellowes to sit down at her desk and told all the others to sit somewhere, even if it wasn’t their own place.

The SWAT team burst into the room. Volkova now looked as terrified as all the others. She hid her gun under the desk next to Fellowes and said nothing. But when the leader of the SWAT team’s gaze lighted on her, she indicated with a nodding of her head and her eyes that the person they were looking for had escaped by going into the toilets. All three of the team passed by her and crept towards the toilet doors, their guns poised at shoulder level.

As soon as Volkova was sure that all three were concentrating on the toilet door, she wrestled Fellowes to a standing position and getting behind her, shouted out to them, ‘Okay, all weapons down on desks where I can see them. One false move and the girl here dies and all three of you as well.’

The SWAT team members turned around slowly and seeing their predicament, looked to the one who appeared to be their leader. He nodded and put his gun on the desk in front of him. The others did likewise. Still hidden behind Fellowes but with her gun now held to Fellowes’s head, Volkova moved both of them slowly towards the main door.

At one point, Volkova saw one of the team making a move as though to pull out a hidden weapon and she fired just the once, shattering his wrist. As he fell sideways with the shock and the impact, she yelled at them.

‘The next one who tries anything like that will die.’ She then started again to walk Fellowes towards the door, always keeping herself out of sight from the two remaining members of the SWAT team.

As soon as she reached the door, she forced Fellowes to stand in the doorway. She then backed herself quickly away round the door and spinning round, ran off down the corridor.

At the end of it, there was a notice pointing up a flight of stairs to a fire escape on the roof, and she ran up these, two steps at a time. At the top of the stairwell there was a security door giving access out on the roof. She looked around and saw an old discarded television aerial and pole lying there on the flat roof. Picking it up, she slammed the door shut and jammed the aerial against the handle forcing the other end of it deep into the asphalt of the roof covering.

Turning, she sprinted along the flat roofs of the row of houses. Jumping over the low brick walls that separated one property from another she soon reached the end house. Here, she stopped and peered over the parapet. In the distance behind her, she heard the efforts of the squad trying to push open the door she’d jammed shut.

She swung herself over the low parapet, and down onto the top of one of the fire escapes. Pulling herself around and onto its steps, she ran down them holding only the railing on one side. At the bottom, she jumped down the last three feet out into the garden and ran across it to the back gate. She fiddled for a couple of seconds with the rusted latch, abandoned it and vaulted over the low fence and into the narrow lane. Turning left, away from King’s Road, she sprinted to the end of the lane. She stopped.

Catching her breath, she next checked that there was no one in sight to the right or to the left. She now ran up this street, the wall on her right, more houses on the narrow street parallel now to King’s Road. Stopping once again, she stripped off her black one-piece jumpsuit to reveal underneath it pale blue trousers with a dark blue pullover above them.

She felt deep into one of the trouser pockets and pulled out a fine, rolled-up hooded jacket in dark blue and quickly unrolling and smoothing it out, she put it on, zipped it up and pulled up the hood. Hiding jumpsuit, the gun and thin belt in the large pouch, she strapped it on and looked about her once more. On reaching the main road, she walked briskly through the crowds of tourists and shoppers until she got back to her hotel.

In reception, she had to push her way through a throng of young foreign tourists. But as soon as she had her key she bounded up the stairs to her room on the third floor rather than wait for the busy lift. As soon as she got into her room, slamming the door behind her, she ran across the room and pulled her suitcase out from under the bed. Tearing her laptop out from under a panel in the bottom of the case, she started it up and plugged the USB memory stick from her pocket into it.

Had anyone been there to observe her, they would have seen a truly rare sight – an excited Izolda Volkova. In eager anticipation, she began looking through its contents. Would she be lucky and find Gemini’s location this time?

 

 

 

[]21

 

 

The Rostov Dacha, Crimea

 

Angus Macrae arrived at the Rostov dacha as dusk was approaching. As quickly as he could, he got Tatiana and her father into the living room.

‘I didn’t want to worry you before and it’s too late tonight to leave for Moscow but tomorrow morning we must.’ He then went on to explain about Gemini being found and the email to Rodchenko telling General Zharkov that Tatiana was staying here. It didn’t take long for them to see how the Kremlin might get their mafia stooges or the FSB to kidnap them and turn them into bargaining chips for Gemini.

Telephones and mobiles blocked confirmed that they had already taken the first steps in this process.

‘We’ll all need to pack tonight,’ said Rostov, ‘and Angus you can take one of the cars and get to the airport and warn the pilot we need to fly up in the morning.’

‘I could do that tonight, couldn’t I?’ said Macrae.

‘Too risky,’ said Rostov. ‘If they’ve cut the communications links already, they may set up guards as well. If they come for us before we can leave in the morning, I’ve installed what in the USA they call a panic room.’

‘I didn’t know you’d done that.’

‘I’ll show it to you in the morning – unless, of course, we’ve already left for Moscow.’

The rest of the evening was tense and the three of them dined mostly in silence. It was not until after dinner that Rostov waited till Tatiana had gone up to bed almost as soon as they’d finished eating and he took Macrae into his office.

‘My heart was only a mild warning, I’m to do lots of walking and mild exercise but they say I won’t have another attack, so I’m fine. So why don’t you just take Tatiana up to Moscow and back to the UK and I’ll stay here.’

‘Can’t do that,’ said Macrae. ‘I know you have considerable influence with President Balakin and he relies on you for cash through our joint venture bank. But I haven’t been able to tell you before now just how powerful Gemini is and therefore how much your old friend wants it now. We can’t afford to leave any leverage for him, not even you. And Tatiana wouldn’t allow it so you’ll have to come with us.’

‘I don’t want to worry Tatiana, so I’ll do that. If the worst comes to the worst, and we have to hole up in the panic suite I’m sure your best man, Tom Wilder will come up with something to sort this mess out, won’t he?’

‘Yeah, he’s a smart operator, but I’ve put one hell of a lot onto his shoulders already and although he’s got your security man Boris Boreyev with him, this is not his country.’

‘I’m sure the two of them will get us to the UK once we’re back in Moscow.’

‘Lets’ hope so,’ said Macrae

 

 

 

[]22

 

 

Craithe Castle, Scotland

 

The inability to communicate with Macrae, Wilder or Boreyev caused growing concern in several places. The first was Jessie Marker, for she had been speaking to Wilder as he was being abducted. As soon as the shouting coming down Wilder’s mobile telephone had become too faint to hear what was happening after that but she wrote down what she’d heard on a notepad while her memory was still fresh.

She remembered it clearly, as it was so shocking. Wilder’s last words were ‘I’m being taken at gunpoint’ followed shortly afterwards by, ‘Mr Rostov won’t be happy about you coming here into his Moscow house and abducting me, not happy at all.…’ which, though fainter, was unambiguous. It was a pity that Wilder had not been able to identify his abductors, but at least the alarm had been raised by his quick thinking.

Marker’s first call was to Craithe Castle, and it coincided with a call from Boreyev’s people who had also been unable to contact him. Craithe immediately set up a conference call with Professor Hapsley at Craithe taking control of it.

‘So, it seems clear that only the FSB have the resources to mount a simultaneous snatch of three people in different places. And both Wilder and Boreyev should be very difficult to kidnap, so we’re talking here about professional people,’ said the professor summing up the situation for all three of them.

Yuri Bragin, Borislav Boreyev’s general manager, then made his contribution:

‘Borislav told me that if anything happened to him, we were to set up watches on the main exits from Lubyanka. He was sure that the president wouldn’t want to be blamed for seizing him, an old friend of some years back. It follows that he’d want them out of the FSB’s hands and Lubyanka a quickly as possible.’

‘You obviously know the politics round this issue,’ said the professor, ‘so are you saying that if they’ve been taken to get information on Gemini out of them, they’ll take them somewhere else?’

‘Yes, that’s what they’ll do,’ said Bragin. ‘I don’t think it will be long before we see them being moved. Once they leave that huge complex, we’ll be sitting waiting for them.’

‘But surely they’ll do the moving in heavily guarded personnel carriers won’t they,’ said Jessie. ‘I mean a lot hangs on getting their captors to talk and they won’t risk them being rescued.’

‘That’s true, but our company is well-practiced in hostage recovery techniques,’ continued Bragin. ‘And another thing to bear in mind is that if the president is genuinely concerned about getting international blame for this, my guess is that they’ll move them in unmarked SUVs rather than in FSB armoured personnel carriers. What I’m saying is we should be able to deal with getting them back at some point.’

‘Are you telling us then,’ asked professor Hapsley, ‘that whether we get a warning or not, you’ll be able to carry out a safe rescue of the three of them?’

‘In our line of work there’s no such phrase as a safe rescue,’ said Bragin. ‘Trying to snatch people from the likes of Novikov won’t be easy. All his people will expect us to attempt a rescue – especially as they know what’s at stake here.’

‘So, we just sit tight and wait? Is that it?’ asked the professor, suddenly feeling the huge distance from the hostages and the isolation of Craithe.

‘Afraid so,’ said Bragin. Jessie Marker agreed.

‘All right then,’ said the professor, ‘I suggest we use this place as a central intelligence point. That way any of the three of us can update the rest simply by leaving a message here. I’ll also alert GCHQ. I’ll ask them to put a specially focused watch on Moscow and Lubyanka Square. If any of us has anything to report, please post it here, and either myself or Perry will remain on standby till we get through this mess.’

 

 

 

[]23

 

 

Rostov Dacha, Crimea

 

Mikhail Rostov hadn’t slept well. He had been worrying about the discussions about Geminin last night – worried all the more that Angus was trusting so much in Tom Wilder to keep them and Gemini safe.

It was soon after dawn, and he was back in his chair on the patio and beginning to see some of the fine detail of the magnificent trees at the end of the lawn. His dark, short but broad-shouldered form could just be made out in the pre-dawn light. He was seated in one of the large wicker chairs. He was fully dressed even at this early hour as he had every intention of following up last night’s decision to try and get away from here and up to Moscow soon after daylight.

Though he had promised himself he would give up smoking, sitting now in the peaceful stillness of the early hour, he was puffing on one of his extra-strong Georgia tobacco cigarettes. As the spirals of smoke curled up into the still air, he still fretted that they’d get away all right and his mind also drifted to his recent talks with President Balakin.

His cigarette died on him and, uncharacteristically, he took another out of the packet and lit it – probably the first time he had chain-smoked in his life. It was at this very moment that something distracted him. He sat up straight from his lounging position and leaning forward, tried to concentrate on it.

He got up from his chair and walked slowly off the stone flagging of the patio and out, onto the lawn. There, he turned left and faced to the east. The still unidentifiable noise was there and getting louder. Now walking fast, he crossed the lawn, went to the edge of it and looked down towards the Black Sea, three hundred feet below, listening intently.

In that instant, he realised what he was hearing – and there, silhouetted against the dawn, he could now see them, two tiny specs – helicopters. After discussions the night before, he had no doubt about it. They were coming after Macrae, maybe even Tatiana. He threw his cigarette over the parapet, turned and ran back to the house shouting as he went. ‘Everyone, get up, get up! Get into the hall. Get down into the hall!’

He urgently had to gather them all into the safety of the panic room suite. But time was not on their side. The helicopters would be there within minutes.

‘Come on. Come on, down into the hall,’ he shouted again, as he crossed the hall and picking up the gong stick, hammered on the large brass gong on its ornately carved mahogany stand. He then swapped the gong-stick for a large hand-bell – used mainly for getting people back up from the Black Sea beaches for meals. He rang it a few times and his efforts were soon rewarded.

First to arrive in the hall were the indoor staff. They had been up early preparing breakfast for themselves and for the family.

‘No time for any possessions,’ Rostov shouted out as he stopped ringing the bell. ‘Get everyone down here now.’ A couple of the senior staff ran off to chase up the family and one missing member of staff. As soon as he had heard the helicopters and then the bell, Angus Macrae realized what the reason was sure to be. He had got himself and Tatiana dressed and shortly afterwards they arrived down in the hall to join everyone else.

The first of the two helicopters was descending onto the lawn and bending down, Macrae could see the first of the invading troops abseiling down ropes, their feet just about to reach the height from which they could jump to the ground. Rostov then counted family and staff down the steep steps into the panic room suite and he and Macrae pulled the heavy steel door closed.

‘I never thought that Sergei Balakin would be stupid enough to do something like this to me,’ said Rostov. Perhaps he told his people to go easy on us but they’ve overstepped the mark going this far. Well, I’ll have news for him when we re-establish communications, he’d better keep an eye on his throne and, what’s more, he’d better be prepared to sacrifice one or two of his misguided advisors.’

 

As soon as everyone had found themselves somewhere to sit Rostov took Macrae to a console which, above it, had several screens showing views from cameras placed here and there in the house as well as the gardens. There were more cameras than screens but swapping from camera to camera was easy.

The first thing that came up on the screens were views of all the troops searching around both inside and outside the dacha. They were all wearing charcoal-grey uniforms but with no distinguishing markings of any kind – though it was obvious to Rostov that an operation like this could only have been mounted by the FSB.

After watching the screens for a while, a tall, gaunt man appeared before the camera by the door into the panic suite. The steel door had been painted as a picture of an idyllic rural scene and was framed so as to disguise an otherwise ugly steel door in the elegant hallway. He was looking round the perimeter of the fake picture – looking for a camera and microphone and after a short while seemed to lose patience and gave the picture a short blast of gunfire from a small, neat automatic gun.

‘There’s no need for gratuitous violence,’ said Rostov over the speaker system. The man outside heard it coming from just above his head and to his right. He stepped back quickly and looked again for a camera and a microphone into which to reply.

‘This is Mikhail Rostov speaking and I’m sure you’ve been told that I’m a friend of President Balakin’s,’ he said, keeping the man in focus as he had stepped further back from the camera, still looking for something into which to respond.

Rostov’s friendship with the president had certainly been true until quite recently, and further back in time the president had been a guest at Angus and Tatiana’s wedding – a close friend at least until the pressures of the past couple of years had turned the president almost permanently irritable. The pressures of the presidency had lost him many of his former friends.

General Zharkov, aware of Rostov’s friendship with the president, had explicitly warned the tall, gaunt man, commander of this operation – a certain Colonel Vlasic – of Rostov’s power. He’d advised Vlasic to be as deferential towards Rostov as possible – even in these difficult circumstances. But there was never going to be a way of glossing over the fact that this was still an armed invasion of Rostov’s private property.

‘I’m sorry to have to inform you Mr Rostov,’ said Vlasic, ‘that the workmen here the other day dismantled your communications with the outside world, though no one told us about the existence of the rooms you are now occupying. I have to tell you that your signals by mobile telephone, including satellite models, are being jammed, so there is no way you can call for help. It would, therefore, be in everyone’s best interests if all of you were to come out of this place you’re now trapped in and we can soon bring matters back to normality.’

‘If you were not even aware of this facility, you will also not be aware that we can survive in here for some time. You might like to pass on the following message to either President Balakin or to Andrei Zharkov. It is this. If they think they have had trouble with dissidents of late, those small disturbances and the couple of local riots they were responsible for will be nothing compared to the trouble they have just started here this morning.’

This message and the use of Zharkov’s Christian name and without his title – being referred to in terms of an old friend – had an immediate and visible effect on Colonel Vlasic. He stepped back even further from the door, hesitated, looked down at the floor and then some seconds later, looked back up at the camera.

‘I shall pass on your message to General Zharkov, and I will inform you of his reply if he gives me one,’ he said and then retreated.

On the monitors, they watched as Vlasic went into the main sitting room and used presumably a satellite mobile phone from there. Perhaps he was lying about the block on communications or had lifted it. The fact that he was ringing General Zharkov in response to Mikhail Rostov’s threat, finally confirmed that the FSB were responsible for this attack.

At least Rostov now knew who to get back when this was all over. But he was not to know that right about now, a far neater revenge than any he could devise was just about to be delivered on his behalf. It was to come in a manner never used before by anyone – the idea Wilder had devised to get Gemini itself more involved in its own defence.

 

 

 

[]24

 

 

Lubyanka, Moscow

 

Although General Zharkov had agreed to use FSB snatch teams as coordinated operations of this nature were beyond the capabilities of Novikov’s organisation. There was a strict condition, however – Novikov was to collect Macrae and Boreyev within half an hour of their arrival in Lubyanka prison.

As their stay was to be short, the two were put into holding cells rather than the main prison blocks. These cells consisted of two rows of half a dozen barred cages on each side of a narrow passageway onto which the cage doors opened. Each cage had a rear wall but was separated from its neighbour just by the bars and a thick wire mesh to prevent prisoners either passing things from cage to cage or doing each other damage. On the back wall, each cell had a small bench seat and down one side of the cell, a plain uncomfortable bed.

Wilder counted himself extremely lucky that in being knocked unconscious, he had been hit on the other side of his head to his metal plate. Boreyev arrived twenty minutes later after Wilder had recovered and had taken stock of the place – mainly, of course, looking for any way in which he might escape. Even a cursory look around made it clear that the openness of the area was going to make this difficult as the guards’ view of all the cages was unimpeded.

Almost as soon as Boreyev arrived, the guards left the room. Boreyev looked around at the surveillance cameras and soon found a spot that looked to him as though it was not covered by them – it was near the edge of his bench next to Wilder’s cell. He beckoned Wilder over and to get as close as possible. To do this, Wilder lay down on his bunk bed.

They talked in whispers about their respective ordeals, and Wilder said, ‘I have a way of ending this and getting us out of here, but I need a mobile phone to do it. Before you came in, I saw the guard with blond hair making a call on one. Does your FSB experience give you any ideas how we might get the guard over here and between us then get a hold of his mobile?’

‘I might come up with something,’ replied Boreyev. ‘Give me a minute.’

They had four fellow prisoners, among them a burly red-headed man, dishevelled and looking as though he had recently been in a fight, with his nose bloodied and one eye half closed and bruised and Boreyev stood and considered him for a while and then returned to sit beside Wilder.

‘Come on up to the front of the cage,’ he said, ‘and stand next to me. I’m going to accuse the guy in the cell opposite – the ugly one with the red hair – of being the one who was rude to my wife in the supermarket yesterday. He’s got a broken nose that is still red from some confrontation or other, so he’s obviously the type who gets involved in fights. Though you won’t understand a word of what I’ll be saying to him, just act as though you do. Occasionally, I may refer to you for corroboration of my story, and all you need to say is “Da”. Can you manage that okay?’

‘Sure. What then?’

‘I’ll make it rowdy enough to get a guard in, and we’ll just hope it’s the one with blond hair and the mobile phone. From there you’ll just have to play along with me as neither of us will have much control over how it develops.’

‘Bit of a long shot,’ said Wilder, ‘but I’m game to give it a go.’

The two of them got up and went to the front of their cages. Wilder took off his leather belt – which he had been left with presumably because the guards had been told that these particular prisoners would only be in Lubyanka for a few minutes before being collected by Novikov. He now hid it behind his back – ready for any opportunity that might present itself.

The ploy started well. After Boreyev shouted his accusation about his wife at the red-haired prisoner opposite, a noisy slanging match developed between the two of them. The guard who had gone out a short while before hurried back in. They were in luck. It was the blond who’d used his mobile phone to make a call earlier.

Boreyev beckoned the blond guard over and whispered something in his ear. From the way this happened, Wilder guessed that Boreyev and the guard must have known each other – maybe from Boreyev’s days in the FSB. The guard responded by going straight across the gangway and began shouting at the red-headed prisoner.

This soon escalated. The red-head came right up to the bars by the gangway and pressed his face against them pouring out what were clearly insults at the blond guard. After a minute or so of this, the guard responded by prodding the redhead in the chest with his baton. The further enraged prisoner suddenly somehow managed to get one arm out through the front bars – the only ones with no wire mesh on them, and he grabbed at the guard pulling hid violently against the bars and smashing his face into the cell door.

The guard retaliated with a yell of pain and fury by striking out at red-head with his truncheon. Both became so riled-up with each other in their slanging match that the guard probably used more force than he intended as he struck through the bars.

As the redhead began to fall, he put his hands up to protect his head, but the guard seemed to have lost his self-control, and he continued to beat the prisoner as he went down.

Whether the guard struck a vulnerable spot on the collapsing man’s head or neck, Wilder would never know, but he collapsed to the floor by the bars, clearly unconscious if not dead. Something about his twisted posture suggested that it might indeed have succumbed. Seconds later, blood began to ooze from the man’s nostrils and mouth. The guard instantly recoiled from what he’d done and turned to look back at Boreyev with panic on his face. Boreyev responded by beckoning the guard over, and beckoning him close to his cell door as though to offer him advice.

By now, the other prisoners had begun to shout abuse at this brutality form the guard, and Wilder was intrigued as the guard stood close to Boreyev listening to the advice – Boreyev later explained to Wilder what had happened next. He’d told the guard he’d once been in the FSB, backed that up with some FSB insider jargon and had given him some confidential advice on how to get out of the mess. He also told him that if he quickly concocted a story to exonerate himself, he and Wilder would back his story up.

With the guard leaning right onto the bars with his ear pressed on them, Wilder managed to get one arm through the bars of his cell door and grabbed the guard’s shoulder by the epaulette. With all his strength and a sudden jerk, he managed to pull the guard off his balance. As he began to fall backwards and, with Boreyev’s help, Wilder smashed the guard’s head onto the bars.

As the dazed guard was falling, Wilder stopped his fall by throwing his belt around the guard’s neck and pulling it tight. He passed one of the two ends of the belt over to Boreyev who held the half conscious and choking guard from falling any further. Wilder found the mobile phone in the guard’s breast pocket and extricated it.

By now the guard had lost consciousness, and Boreyev loosened the belt and allowed him to slip silently to the floor. Using his foot pushed between the bars, Boreyev then tried to get the guard’s body further out into the alleyway between the cells, but the body fell to its right, nearer Wilder’s cell.

 

Wilder’s first call on the mobile was to Craithe. He was lucky that it got straight through. It was Perry who answered. Wilder explained as quickly as he could over the noise around him where he was and why. He then hurried into the purpose of the call.

‘President Balakin’s files?’ asked Wilder, his heart thumping in his chest.

‘As I said before,’ replied Perry. ‘They’re all ready for you to use as soon as you give me the word.’

‘Yes, but as you can see I’m on a different mobile phone, so can you send me again the two emails between the General and the President?’

‘Doing that now,’ said Perry.

‘I’ve got all the other files both on both Gemini and the small mainframe,’ said Perry, ‘what do you want me to do with them?’

‘Keep them safe,’ replied Wilder. ‘I’ll call you again later but could you make up just a small mixed package on emails, texts, documents, maybe a telephone conversation and put them into – let’s call it the mini-packet. Okay?’

‘Okay, will do. Anything else?’

‘Have you heard recently from Angus Macrae?’

‘No not a squeak.’

‘Okay. I don’t have time for any more of this right now. The guards could be back in here any moment – then all hell will break loose. I hope to be able to contact you again shortly.’

He then noticed that his belt was still round the guard’s neck. He turned to Boreyev. ‘See my belt out there with the guard?’ he said. ‘I’d better take the blame for this, so you take the phone. Guard it with your life as it holds the power to get us all out of this mess. Now, get yourself to the back of the cell then create a noise to bring the guards in here. They’ll probably cart me away because it’s my belt is round the guard. I hope to see you later.’

Boreyev did as he was told and shouted for help. When the guards came in and saw the body of the guard lying next to Wilder’s cell and his belt around its neck, it seemed to be enough evidence for them and the three of them entered Wilder’s cell. They beat him with their truncheons. And as he had also volunteered himself as guilty of the attack, they ignored Boreyev and the mobile phone he was keeping safe. When they saw they had knocked Wilder unconscious, they dragged him out of his cell and out of Boreyev’s sight.

 

It must have been around a quarter of an hour later that they came for Boreyev. He was man-handled out into a yard and thrust into a black SUV. A minute later, he saw two guards dragging along the ground what, at a distance, looked like the unconscious Wilder. It soon turned out to be him and with some difficulty got him into the SUV. Boreyev helped pull him in from inside the car and his limp and awkwardly angled body finished up at Boreyev’s feet. As they were about to set off, the guards with their guns in the front seat, Boreyev looked down with concern at Wilder. He was surprised to see that he was fully conscious and had been faking unconsciousness. He continued to lie there in a heap as the SUV left the Lubyanka prison by a seldom-used rear gate and sped off north towards the Arbat area of the City.

Using several pursuit cars, Boreyev’s men kept in touch with each other but followed the two SUVs with Boreyev and Wilder aboard at a safe distance so that it was not possible for Novikov’s SUVs to know they were being followed.

Boreyev’s men got progressively more frustrated as no suitable ambush point presented itself along the route, but were encouraged when the convoy turned down a narrow street as they got into the old Arbat area of the city. Soon after that, as the Novikov vehicles got caught in a snarl-up in the narrower road, two of Boreyev’s vehicles were sent racing up a parallel alley to cut off the Novikov vehicles’ exit at the far end. These two managed to get ahead. Two of the Boreyev team of cars reached a point of being able to come out of a side street and block the road. As they waited and could see the Novikov vehicles getting near. Using their private intercom channel, they kept in touch and were on the point of calling out ‘go’ for the ambush when the two Novikov SUVs turned sharply off the street and in through large double doors.

The ambush had suddenly become superfluous and until this pursuing group got details back from head office on what lay behind the double doors, they could not risk following into what might be a trap. For the time being, Boreyev and Wilder were on their own. Naturally, both realised this and needed to come up with an escape plan before they were taken into the bowels of the warehouse complex where they’d be at the mercy of Novikov’s interrogators.

 

 

 

[]25

 

 

The Kremlin, Moscow

 

Just when General Zharkov’s search for Gemini seemed to be coming together nicely, there came a setback important enough to for him to call Rodchenko and Novikov in for a meeting. The setback was that when Izolda Volkova went through all the files on the memory stick, she found not a single reference to Gemini’s location.

This meant that the hunt for Gemini was now down to getting the information out of one of their three hostages – Macrae, Wilder or Boreyev. But as Macrae was not yet physically their prisoner and Volkova had found nothing while chasing around London, matters were not as bright as Zharkov would have liked.

Unless he made progress with the prisoners, the president might send the dreaded Vlad Vasiliev down to see them. Vasiliev was the president’s equivalent of a mediaeval grand inquisitor; someone tasked with finding scapegoats for embarrassing situations. And as the General was beginning to find his own situation as leader of this project becoming more embarrassing by the day, the time had come to tell the others of his backup plan.

It had arisen as soon as private invitations had gone out to several smaller banks and financial institutions in the City of London. Novikov’s mole in the Home office had tipped them off that Gemini was going to be introduced to these organisations at a private conference run by the Bank of England. He had invited Rodchenko and Novikov to his private rooms in the Kremlin to tell them of the plan and the three of them were seated in a semi-circle with the low circular coffee table in front of them where coffee and biscuits had been laid out. There was also a bottle of vodka and some small glasses.

After helping them to coffee, the general poured three glasses of vodka. ‘I want you to raise your glasses in a toast,’ he said as he raised his glass.

They picked up their glasses in readiness and looked back at him expectantly waiting for the toast. His large slumped figure was smiling back at them and he had about him an air of triumph. Rodchenko, who had his fingers on the pulse better than most, was intrigued as, offhand he could think of nothing for the three of them to celebrate.

‘To the imminent success of the quest to find Gemini,’ he said and raising his glass, immediately drank its contents down in one. The other two did likewise returning their glasses to the table. The General refilled them but did not yet propose another toast but instead swivelled his bulk slightly towards Novikov.

‘Anton, have you got anything out of Wilder and Boreyev?’

‘We’ve taken them into one of our warehouse complexes and as soon as we begin our interrogations, I’m sure we’ll make progress.’

‘So, if I hear you right,’ said the general. ‘You haven’t yet begun to question them on Gemini’s location? I only mention this because we’ve also run into a problem of taking Macrae into custody.’ He then quickly recounted the problem they had encountered – the panic suite that no one had known about.

‘In summary, at this moment I can safely say that if Vasiliev were to walk in here right now and ask us how far we’d got with finding and acquiring Gemini, we’d have to tell him we are no nearer knowing where Gemini is than when we started.’

The mention of Vasiliev’s name and the truth in what the General had just said made the other two twitchy. Rodchenko felt particularly vulnerable for bringing Novikov into the project and making him the main implementer of the project and at this moment they had little to defend themselves with in front of someone like Vasiliev.

‘Luckily,’ said the General, looking smug with, ‘I have been pursuing another route to find Gemini.’

The other two looked back at him warily.

‘Let me explain,’ said General Zharkov, no longer smiling. He helped himself to another slug of vodka. ‘The Gemini project is being relaunched this coming weekend – presumably when the markets are closed and can’t be spooked till they reopen on Monday. The launch is being hosted by the Bank of England and we have secretly been preparing to launch an attack on a bank during their Gemini launch.’

The other two looked on, dumbstruck.

‘The bank we’ve chosen to attack,’ continued the general, ‘is one of the new banks being encouraged by the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer – apparently he was keen to widen competition in the restricted UK banking marketplace. It’s called the Manchester Mercantile Bank. And as it’s very much in the public eye, so we hope that when we attack it, they’ll have little option but to use Gemini to defend it. If they don’t call out Gemini to protect the Manchester Bank, and it collapses under our attack, at least it won’t bring the whole financial system down.’

‘So how are you going to be sure of getting through this Manchester’s defences and attract Gemini to come to its rescue?’ asked Rodchenko.

‘Good question,’ replied said Zharkov. ‘We’ve established that the Manchester’s defences are provided by a UK company called Computer Solutions Laboratories – CSL. So, we set up a brilliant young computer hacker who specializes in bank hacking – had good successes in small-time crime. He’s based in Manila in the Philippines and—’

‘The Philippines?’ cried Rodchenko.

‘Let me finish. You’ll see the reasoning in a minute,’ said Zharkov. ‘He’s been perfecting a CSL defence cracking package to use on the Manchester bank. To build this package, he’s needed to carry out several trial and error attacks, perfecting his attack package along the way – by that I mean he’s been learning from each attack. There are a lot of Chinese banks in Manila, and he’s been practicing on them. As none of the attacks have had serious consequences, no one’s yet kicked up a fuss. What I’m saying is he’s sticking well away from European banks so’s not to arouse suspicions, hence, our choice of the Philippines for this trial and error process.’

‘Why Chinese banks in particular?’ asked Novikov

‘Because the Chinese are obsessed with saving face,’ replied General Zharkov. ‘After an attack, they tend to sort out any resulting mess and pretend nothing happened – ideal from our point of view.’

‘See if I’ve got this right then,’ said Rodchenko. ‘He produces a CSL defence-cracking package which you use to attack the Manchester bank on the Gemini relaunch day? What happens then?’

‘We’ll setting up a veritable battery of tracking devices around the Manchester Bank – this is already in hand. As Gemini comes to the Manchester bank’s rescue, we track Gemini back to its location.’

‘Well, that’ll be great,’ said Novikov, ‘just so long as the people tracking Gemini are up to the task. I know from experience that it’s not that easy doing what you’re planning.’

The other two ignored Novikov’s remark as it clearly referred to some of his illegal activities from his past.

‘Don’t worry about the competence of the people doing this job. I’m told they’re among the best in the business, however difficult it might be,’ replied Zharkov and stretching forward, he picked up his glass of vodka and drained it.

The meeting broke up shortly after that with Novikov promising to update the other two as soon as they had Gemini’s location out of questioning Wilder. The general insisted that they’d continue with the attack on the Manchester Bank as it would also test Gemini and they might learn more about it even if they already had its location by then. He also told them he’d let them know just as soon as they’d managed to break into the dacha’s panic room and take Macrae and his wife.

As they went their separate ways, each had brightened as the possibility that they would soon know Gemini’s location was now moving into a final phase – acquiring a Gemini of their own and avoiding a visit from Vasiliev.

 

 

 

[]26

 

 

Novikov’s warehouses, Moscow

 

As soon as Novikov’s two SUVs were through the double doors, they carried on under a large arched passageway beneath the house. The end of this substantial space, with the full width of the house above, was shut off by a wooden-slatted wall with a row of half a dozen windows at head-height. These gave a glimpse of a courtyard beyond. Though the windows were coated with many years of grime and garage work, they still allowed Boreyev to see that the area beyond had been converted into an ornate formal garden.

Under the arched roof there was plenty of room for both SUVs, and as soon as both had come to a halt and some helpers inside had shut the double doors, the armed men climbed out of the leading car. Boreyev watched closely from the second car and saw that they had gone over to the left and begun talking with a large fat man who was seated outside a small glass-fronted office.

For maybe five or six minutes Boreyev and Wilder were being guarded by two of Novikov’s men, still sitting with them in the SUV. One of these leaned out and shouted to those in the office, asking what they were to do with their prisoners.

‘Leave the unconscious one in the car and bring the big guy over here,’ came the answer.

The guard on the passenger front seat got out of the SUV and turned back to his side’s passenger door to get Boreyev out of the car, leaving the driver still gathering up his gun and belt. As the driver bent down to pick something he’d dropped off the floor of the vehicle, Wilder, who’d been conscious for some time but lying motionless, sprang upright, lunged over the seat and smashed the side of his gym-hardened hand into the left side of the guard’s head. The guard slumped unconscious to his right with his head falling into the passenger seat.

Boreyev, who had known that Wilder was faking unconsciousness, took his sudden burst of life as his cue and opened his passenger door with all his strength smack into the guard who was just coming round to collect Boreyev. He followed this up by swinging himself out of the car and smashing his fists into the guard who had reeled back, off balance and with his face already pouring blood from where the door had smashed into his nose. Boreyev got the rest of the way out of the SUV and kicked the crumbling guard in the groin and followed that up with bashing his head against the SUV and finishing him off with a blow to his temple as he went down. To help Wilder get into the driver’s seat, Boreyev opened the front door on his side as wide as it would go and heaved the body of the unconscious driver out his side of the vehicle and onto the ground. As all of this had taken place on the passenger side of the SUV and thanks to its dark-tinted windows, the guards over by the office had not yet noticed anything was going on.

This allowed Wilder to clamber awkwardly over into the driver’s seat and keeping as low as he could, start up the SUV. Meanwhile, Boreyev had got himself into the passenger seat but waited till Wilder started the engine before slamming the door shut.

Wilder gave him a warning shout and accelerated the SUV backwards as fast as it would go, crashing the vehicle into the double doors behind them. The doors shook violently from the impact of the SUV and gaps showing daylight appeared in several places. Unfortunately, the impact hadn’t quite opened the doors.

This had happened so fast that the group of guards around the fat man only realized what was happening as the rear SUV’s engine started up. They came rushing round the front SUV, pulling out their guns and opening fire on Wilder and Boreyev. Their shots merely produced small bullet impact-fractured stars on the bulletproof windscreen and appeared to do little damage to the semi-armoured vehicle either.

Having smashed at speed into the double doors, Wilder now ran the SUV forward again accelerating towards the shooting guards, scattering them to the left and right of the SUV in front of him. Wilder’s SUV smashed into the rear of the front vehicle pushing it forward with such force that it was thrown into the wooden slatted walls almost breaking through into the courtyard. The noise of splintering wood, breaking glass and the revving of the engine of Wilder’s SUV was deafening within the enclosed space.

To add to mayhem, both Wilder and Boreyev had picked up the guns of the guards that had been in their vehicle and now returned fire. For Wilder, this was difficult as not only was he trying to do the driving, he was also having to shoot left-handed. As he reversed away to have another run at the double doors behind, one of his shots must have hit a can of something highly volatile – probably petrol. There was a substantial explosion which caused other tins and a barrel to explode into a great ball of flame. The blast of light and hot air shot past Wilder and Boreyev and shook the double doors behind them just as the backwards-accelerating SUV struck them.

The SUV burst through, scattering large quantities of shattered door, shards of wood and twisted metal out into the road behind accompanied by the blast of hot air, flames, and smoke.

In the street outside, passers-by had already moved out of the way, alerted by the first crashing of the double doors and as soon as the SUV had bounced its way over the scattered debris and screamed out into the roadway, Wilder swung the vehicle back down the way it had come. As soon as the front of the it was clear of the parked cars, he threw it into first gear and sped off up the street leaving the scene of mayhem behind them.

Boreyev yelled out directions over the roar of the screaming engine. As soon .as it became clear that they were not being pursued, Wilder slowed down. Boreyev told him his place was not far away and they had only been weaving through the traffic for a few minutes when they came to the tall wrought iron gates of Boreyev’s headquarters offices. Boreyev stretched across to the steering wheel and pressed the horn with two long blasts followed by three short. The gates, backed by black metal sheeting, opened quickly and as soon as the vehicle was into the courtyard beyond, were closed again blocking sight of the SUV. Boreyev shouted instructions as they clambered out of the SUV he rushed Wilder up to his office.

One of the first things to be done was to check on Macrae. Boreyev had no doubt that his and Wilder’s abduction were to prevent them interfering with a much more important Kremlin plan of seizing Macrae and probably his wife too.

He tried the dacha telephone numbers first but found these unobtainable. Having been involved in the security arrangements for the building of the panic suite some of his men had stayed in the gate-lodge there and he still had the telephone number for that. He rang the number. Wilder looked on as the conversation was held in Russian. Some of the time Boreyev was quiet, listening and nodding his head. At the end of the call he looked across to Wilder.

‘That was one of Rostov’s security people. He’d been allowed to stay in the gate-lodge on the understanding there was no telephone there,’ said Boreyev. ‘He remembered me and told me the whole thing. There had been two helicopters, though he couldn’t see how many grey-uniformed men because the descended out of sight in the patio area. But two came to check on him.

‘So it was a hostage attempt to get at Gemini?’

‘It was, and he told me that more similar uniformed troops have just arrived by road.’

‘No time to lose,’ said Wilder. ‘Thank God I’ve got a surprise for them ready for just this moment.’

 

Wilder immediately got back to Craithe again.

As soon as he was through to Perry, he asked if the sample emails and the mini-package were ready. They were.

‘Can you remain on standby there, Perry? I’m going to need you to send an email shortly, I’ll text when to do that inn around a minute from now.’

Perry confirmed he would be ready anytime.

This next bit was going to be one of the trickiest of the whole plan. As in most states, the man in the street cannot just pick up the telephone, ask to speak to the head of that state and expect to be put straight through. With a president who spent most of his time these days looking over his shoulder in a near-permanent fever of paranoia, this was especially so here in the Kremlin.

Wilder remembered that Macrae had once told him that his father-in-law Mikhail, Boreyev and the president together with General Zharkov and Igor Rodchenko had, all of them, once been good friends.

This was going to be pivotal to his plan as he now needed Boreyev to contact General Zharkov.

 

 

 

[]27

 

 

Novikov’s warehouses, Moscow

 

Wilder’s plan needed to be carried through with complete confidence – even if Boreyev had concerns that they were digging a huge hole for themselves. He told Boreyev to carry out his instructions boldly, and then told him to get General Zharkov on the line.

The general was confused. He’d just recently been told that Boreyev was captive in Lubyanka. So when he was informed that it was Boreyev wishing to speak to him, he was intrigued. For all his friendship of years gone by, Boreyev was sweating with worry as he was put through. But he managed to describe the files of the president’s inner circle’s communications and that Wilder had copies of them for the past month. Zharkov listened to in complete silence and Boreyev then passed the telephone to Wilder.

‘You must be mad,’ said Zharkov. ‘Have you any idea of the rage this will throw President Balakin into? Anyway, how dare you do such a thing?’

‘My former regiment’s motto was “Who Dares Wins”, said Wilder, ‘so I had no trouble with taking copies. And as to the president’s outrage, I reckon it must have been him who gave succour to Mr Snowden when he published huge quantities of US documents up onto the internet. I haven’t done that yet, though I will do so if my demands are not met.’

‘But you’ve used Gemini to steal the private files of belonging to President Balakin. These are matters of state you cannot simply…’

This was followed by a cry of utter exasperation from the other end of the line as though Zharkov had been personally attacked. He then added, ‘Anyway, how do I know you’re not bluffing?’

‘If you give me a mobile telephone number or an email address, I will send you a sample as proof.’

Again, there was silence except for what Wilder thought was whispering in the background.

‘Here is my email address and a mobile number to be sure I get what you send,’ said Zharkov.

‘Thank you,’ said Wilder. ‘My people will shortly send you some samples.’

Wilder had already written the text to Perry asking him to send samples and he now sent that text. Two minutes later the general called Wilder.

‘What you have just sent me breaches all proper protocols of how heads of state and their private—’

‘Do you want me to put these up onto the internet for all the world to read or not?’ said Wilder interrupting him in mid-sentence.

This was met once more with silence.

‘Are you still there? General?’ asked Wilder.

‘I am,’ came the curt reply. Then the general spoke again. ‘So, what is it you wish to demand?’

‘The first thing is I want is for the block on communications to Mikhail Rostov’s dacha to be lifted this instant so that within a few minutes from now I am able to speak personally to Mr Macrae. As you know, he is being held hostage there by people no doubt under your ultimate control.’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking—’

Once again Wilder cut through his sentence but this time with a more clipped tone in his voice, an edge of impatience in it. ‘If I am not talking to Mr Macrae in less than one minute from now, I will just pick a random bunch of files and slap them up onto the internet so fast that—’

‘All right, all right,’ shouted the general. ‘I’ll see what I can …’

‘I’m maybe not being fair to you in conducting this conversation in English. Would you like me to hand the telephone to Borislav Boreyev sitting here beside me so that he can explain to you in Russian.

‘No need to talk to Mr Boreyev. I’ll get Mr Macrae to speak to you right away.’

There was a wait of a minute and a half – no doubt some sharp exchanges over the telephones as calls were exchanged, signal blocks lifted and Wilder’s call from another phone got through to the dacha.

 

Understandably, Macrae’s first question of Wilder was how the hell he’d managed to break the siege at the dacha. Wilder said there was no time for that right now, was he ready to take Tatiana and if they wished Mikhail Rostov too back to the UK, yes or no.

‘Christ,’ said Macrae, ‘you don’t do things by halves do you?’ The answer’s yes to Tatiana and me going back to the UK; but Mikhail will come up as far as Moscow with us but no further – he’s just told me he has unfinished business with the president.

 

 

 

[]28

 

 

The Kremlin, Moscow

 

Zharkov’s fury mixed with his fear for any of the president’s files getting up onto the internet and becoming public knowledge had left him in a state of mild trauma. He had then called Rodchenko and Novikov to urgent talks in his Kremlin office.

‘How the hell did we not know about this man Wilder? He’s like a bloody loose cannon as they say in the West. How could we have so misjudged there would be such a reckless moron working with Macrae?’

‘Reckless. I’ll grant you,’ said Rodchenko, ‘But hardly a moron. He’s got us exactly where he wants us.’

‘Yeah, yeah, always the last bloody word, Igor,’ said Zharkov. ‘Fact remains, we never saw anything as disastrous as this coming, did we?’

‘No,’ agreed Rodchenko, ‘and the problem is that this Gemini thing we’ve been after has just shown us in an appalling way what it can do. Damn it, we’ve still failed to find out where the thing’s hidden.’

‘I know,’ said the general, getting out a large silk handkerchief and running it over his face like a towel. ‘We have to find this Gemini thing right away. It’s no longer a nice-to-have covert weapon to use against the West, it’s a gun to our heads with the safety catch off.’

‘Yes and it’s not heped by the thought that Balakin might ask Vlad Vasiliev to look into all of this – after all he was very taken with the idea of Gemini so he’s not going to just forhet it, is he?.’

‘Christ, I hadn’t thought about him,’ said Zharkov. ‘He and his network of spies…’

‘If he comes across any of this as he noses about looking for ways to ingratiate himself with the president…’

‘He doesn’t just do what he does to ingratiate himself,’ cut in Rodchenko, ‘I think he’s no more than a sadist who gets his thrills from putting people down.’

‘And with this Gemini fiasco, he could get us all in Lubyanka cells in minutes.’

‘When I was serving as an attaché in London,’ said Rodchenko, ‘I heard a British phrase – ‘might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb’. Everyone else nodded sagely when it was used way back then, but I was too new and shy to say that I had no idea what it meant.’

‘What the hell does it mean?’ asked Novikov.

‘It comes from the historical fact that in mediaeval Britain, you could be put to death by hanging for stealing either a sheep or a lamb – irrespective of the age of the animal. To them it meant that if you’re going down for a small crime – stealing a lamb – you might just as well go down for a bigger crime of stealing a sheep while you’re at it.’

‘And what the hell’s that got to do with our present situation?’ asked Novikov.

‘As all three of us could go down for this mess, I don’t mind going the whole way and taking on the job of disposing with Vasiliev. With him out of the way, we still have the General’s plan to find Gemini at its launch next week. If Vasiliev’s people find out about this before then…’

‘I agree with you,’ said the General. ‘Just get it done.’

 

 

It was not until a few hours after the meeting had broken up that Rodchenko got a plan organised to deal with Vasiliev. During the process, he thought again about the British saying and realised that if his plan failed he would simply bring their fates forward in time.

 

There are probably several places in the huge Kremlin complex where Vasiliev could have been ambushed, but to hint that one of his own staff might be responsible for his death, Rodchenko chose a secret passageway that Vasiliev himself had designed to give him quick access to the president’s personal quarters. Though it was a secret to all but the builders of it, Vasiliev just had to boast about it – the proof of his very special links to the president himself.

That very night, after dark, Rodchenko and Vasiliev took that route together to go and see the president about something that Rodchenko said was bothering him. And the Samurai sword used to sever Vasiliev’s head from his body with just one clean slice of the razor-sharp blade, came from the collection of one of the man’s most trusted personal aides. It was clear to almost everyone that blaming his aide for Vasiliev’s death was a clumsy fabrication but, in true Kremlin tradition, Vasiliev’s death was just a message that no one was invulnerable; and it blew though the corridors of the Kremlin like a wind carrying the plague.

 

 

 

[]29

 

 

The 300 Club, Moscow

 

Novikov had to move fast. Though the threat from Vasiliev had been removed, he still had a pressing problem. It looked as though the General’s plan to find Gemini’s location was now the only one left. Yet the general and Rodchenko had paid him and as yet he had nothing to show them for it.

The next morning, he had to wait as UK time was three hours behind Moscow. He looked at his watch yet again and then rang his cousin’s daughter, Giacomina, part of the successful Falcone syndicate in London.

‘Ciao, Mina. It’s Anton Novikov in Moscow,’ he said as soon as she answered. ‘How are you doing?’

At least a couple of seconds passed and then Mina replied. ‘What a pleasant surprise, cousin Anton. I’m intrigued. I wonder what underhand scheme are you onto today that you should ring me after a year’s silence?’

‘That’s a bit blunt,’ quipped Novikov. ‘I might be ringing to find out how all my lovely Falcone cousins are doing and you in particular.’

‘Not a chance in hell,’ replied Mina laughing.

‘Okay, you got me,’ he said. ‘But as I have found that you’re still on this telephone number, you’re obviously still in a job in the UK’s Home Office.’

‘I am.’

‘Good. I have something interesting coming up, and if you are able to help me, there might be a tidy amount of money in it for you.’

‘If there’s any way I can help, I’d be happy to oblige,’ said Mina. ‘As you guessed, I’m always keen on extra income.’

‘Have you heard of a new computer defence-busting programme called Gemini?’

‘No,’ she replied without hesitation. ‘That’s my birth sign, so I’d remember if I had.’

‘I know that the Home Office is aware of all major security issues and as the Bank of England is shortly going to be launching Gemini on its own premises and this will be very hash-hash…’

‘It’s hush-hush,’ Mina corrected him, ‘the English phrase is hush-hush.’

‘Ah yes, even if it’s all hush-hush, there were bank papers stolen not long ago which said that the launch is on Good Friday the fourteenth of April and that it starts at 9am. In particular, I’m looking for this Gemini thing’s location. It was in London until just recently, but has been moved and I’ll pay handsomely to know where it’s been moved to.’

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ replied Mina. ‘I’ll get back to you as soon as I have anything. I’ll even ring if I come up with a blank, all right?’

‘Great, look forward to hearing from you again as soon as you can manage.’

 

 

 

[]30

 

 

The Rostov Residence, Moscow

 

Mikhail Rostov, Macrae and Tatiana returned to Moscow. From there, Macrae took Tatiana to London while Boreyev and Wilder stayed on in Boreyev’s offices to plan what they should do about security for Craithe and the Gemini London office. Both were agreed that the events of the past few days would force Zharkov and the others to increase their efforts to find and to steal Gemini. Indeed they’d need to do so before President Balakin discovered it had been used to steal his private files.

‘So, that’s it is it?’ said Boreyev to Wilder, ‘four of my top security men to help guard Craithe Castle and a couple for the offices in London. But a word of warning if I may.’

‘Yes?’

‘You can’t be expected to know about our President Balakin. If – and it’s a big if – someone is brave or rash enough to tell him about the theft of his files, he’ll go nuts. Especially if he’s also told that you’ve threatened to put them up onto the Internet for all the world to see. You should understand that half the reason he’s managed to remain in power so long is the constant propaganda about his personal invincibility. If you blow that open by exposing his files, the façade will be stripped away, and he may fear for his position. But the knowledge that you can use Gemini in seconds and could still use his files any time, will cut off most other options for him so you can bet he’ll order the pursuit of Gemini all the more.’

‘Yes, I understand that,’ said Wilder. ‘So, do you have any other suggestions about further Gemini’s security?’

‘Not till I’ve been over to where you keep it and studied the location in detail.’

‘Right,’ said Wilder, ‘if you can get away at such short notice, why don’t you come back with me to the UK right now?’

‘I am the keeper of myself,’ said Boreyev. ‘And everything I have is thanks to Mikhail Rostov and his family. So, especially after what happened to them these past few days, there’s nothing will stop me from seeing this thing through. I’ll come to Scotland with you today if you wish.’

 

The two of them caught the next flight to Glasgow and on arrival went directly to the helicopter charter company now owned by Macrae. As the tourist season did not start till the Easter weekend, they had a couple of choppers lying idle and were able to fly them out to Craithe immediately.

On a calm, spring evening, they landed on the top terrace of three just below the main front door to the castle, and staff soon appeared to collect their bags and show them into the Great Hall. On introducing Boreyev to Macrae’s parents, the laird of Craithe and his wife Florence insisted they be welcomed in the traditional Scottish way for this time of day – a cup of afternoon tea and hot Scottish scones, dripping with melting butter and jam. But as soon as he could do so politely, Wilder took Boreyev on a tour of the castle and, in particular, up the hundred-foot southeast tower which housed Gemini and the lab and the team.

Even this cursory first tour of the castle, seeing the three terraces below the main entrance to the castle – the only viable helicopter landing spot within a mile of the castle, and after witnessing the potential hazards of the Corryvreckan, Boreyev had a good idea of what was needed by way of security. It was not going to be that easy because next week, when the tourist season began, the castle and its grounds would be overrun by tourists and they would provide excellent cover for someone wanting access to the castle. And, although there were two sets of security key-pads before one could get into the south-east tower, neither were of the latest design and could be bypassed by a sophisticated key-code reader.

One of the anomalies of the castle was that near the main building and its towers there were two much older twelfth century towers with unusual conical tops. They stood right on the cliff-tops, impregnable from attack from either the sea or the immediate ground behind them and the quantum machines had been moved to the tower closest to the laboratory.

So now, in a worst-case scenario, if anyone intent on stealing Gemini did manage to get access to the lab, they would find no trace of a quantum machine and hopefully, might conclude that Gemini was hidden elsewhere.

 

Boreyev also showed Wilder some very unusual weapons he had brought with him that would be a major deterrent to a helicopter attack. And, despite the seriousness of what they were doing, allowed themselves some fun practising with his defence system.

 

 

 

[]31

 

 

Makati City, Manila, Philippines

 

The instructions to the SWAT team were explicit: they were to take their target alive as there was much vital information to get out of him. Sergeant Aquino and his team crept forward silently along the narrow alley. Carefully he counted down the numbers on the doors. Just as he and the team were reaching the address they’d been given by the anonymous tip-off, a short but large Filipino woman burst through the beaded curtain that served as her front door and into the alley in front of them. Brazenly, she crossed her arms over her ample chest, her feet firmly planted on the ground, intent on blocking their way.

‘What you doin’ in my alley?’ She gave Aquino one of her matriarchal stares.

Aquino halted the team and, as silence was an absolute requirement of the raid, he resisted the risky option of forcing her aside. Instead, he stepped quickly forward, towering over her, his chin just inches above her head. Slowly she tilted her face up towards his, her expression still defiant.

‘National Security,’ he whispered as harsh and loud as he dared. ‘If you don’t want to spend the rest of your miserable life in jail, you’ll get back to where you came from right now, do you understand?’

Apparently she did understand. This close to him, she could see the discrete label on his left shoulder: the initials SAF – the Special Action Force. She’d heard of them – the Tagaligtas. Their reputation was enough for her. She dropped her arms and went back into her house.

 

Above them, in the first-floor apartment that had been rented for him for the duration of the job, Antonio Ramos caught a slight echo of this exchange. He frowned. It was strange for there to be any activity in the alley at such an early hour. Rising from the trestle table where he was working, he tip-toed as silently as a cat across the bare floorboards to the half-open window above the alley. He winced and pulled a face as he stepped on a squeaky board; his presence here was supposed to remain unknown. On reaching the window he used just one finger to move the curtains a couple of inches apart. Peering down, he could now see the five of them – charcoal-grey helmet tops, gun muzzles, bulky body armour. He was just in time to see his neighbour Imelda going back into her house.

He felt his pulse rate rise swiftly; sixty, one hundred, a hundred and twenty, and, suddenly, there it was, throbbing in his throat.

He had known there were risks working for ‘the foreigners’ – as his partner called them – but the oney had been too good to let that worry deter them. What did worry him at this moment, however, was how they had located him. The foreigners had rented this place for im, equipped it, bought the sparse furnishings – and all of it in supposedly absolute secrecy. Still, no time to think about that now. He knew instinctively, that the squad had come for him.

Letting the curtain drop, he ran back across the room to the front door. On his way he pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and, despite fumbling fingers, managed to press a speed-dial number. Whilst it was ringing out, he reached the door, turned the heavy key in the old lock and grimaced again at the noise this made. Reaching up, he threw the heavy bolt across the top of the door. Neither of these actions would stop the squad, of course, but they might give him an extra minute or so to make his escape.

The mobile was answered as he ran from the door back to the trestle table,

‘Don’t talk,’ he whispered. ‘There’s an SAF hit squad on their way up here to get me – not sure if they’ll try to take me in or shoot to kill,’

There was a babble of noise from the mobile.

‘Don’t have time for any of that, gotta go. You know where all the money is… no, no the money the foreigners paid me…’

More babble from the phone,

‘Yes, take the lot, get the hell out of Manila. Get down to Uncle Paolo’s in Boracay, I’ll meet you there.’ He slammed the clam mobile shut and thrust it into his pocket. On reaching the trestle table, he tried to work his feet into sandals with their straps still done up, while at the same time, pressing down on the power buttons of the two laptops he had been working on – no time to shut them down properly but vital to turn them off. This would give the authorities the trouble of having to crack the passwords and break through the special defences he had installed on both of them.

‘Come on, come on,’ he urged the machines to shut down He waited for what seemed like an age for the machines to die – though, in fact, they did so in just four seconds. With a flicker of a relieved smile, he shut their lids and gave each a tap as though to reinforce his defences.

This was no sooner said than he heard the faint creak of a board on the stairway. Jolted back into action, he looked around. Snatching up an old green canvas shopping bag, he grabbed the smaller of the two laptops and forced it into the bag. Next, hurriedly but carefully, he pushed a printer to one side to make more room on the top of the flimsy trestle table. With the help of a chair, he climbed up onto it. It creaked and moved a couple of inches to the left but, to his relief, it then seemed to steady and settle.

Just then the silence of the apartment was shattered by an explosion of noise from the door behind him, and a blow from something metallic, which left a ringing echo. In a frenzy now, he reached forward, undid the latch of the window and threw it open as far as it would go. Putting the straps of the canvas shopping bag around his neck, he cradled the bag itself into his lap, bent double, and began to squeeze through the window frame. As he desperately forced himself through it, a second blow landed on the door, showering the room with splinters of wood and screws. The old-fashioned lock sagged lopsidedly, now held to the door by just one screw.

The corrugated roof of an outhouse was only five feet below the windowsill and Ramos jumped just as a third blow burst open the door behind him.

 

On the far side of the door, the young squaddie had thrown the third blow of the two-handled battering ram in a wide arc above his head. It had torn the bolt from the catch on the doorframe and burst the door wide. The squaddie stepped back to allow Aquino to squeeze past and enter the apartment first.

Aquino, gun held out in front of him at shoulder level, was just in time to see the silhouette of Ramos as he was about to jump. His first shot hit Ramos in the leg, disabling him as intended. But the strap of one of Ramos’s sandals caught in the long arm of the window stay, turning Ramos’s jump into a fall. By the time Aquino fired his second shot, Ramos’s body was horizontal. The bullet entered his groin, tore through his vital organs and exited at his neck, slicing through his carotid artery. He was dead as his body hit the corrugated iron roof below.

Aquino rushed forward, leant over the trestle table as far he could and peered down at Ramos. The young man lay sprawled like a rag doll, the straps of the shopping bag entwined round his neck. A trickle of blood oozed from his mouth and his nose, and his eyes looking up, unseeingly, at the blue Manila sky.

The tip-off they had received in the early hours of the morning had proved to be right both about this address and about Ramos: ‘The way he had tried to escape proved that,’ thought Aquino. But with him now lying dead, they would need to find out from the laptops what they come for in the first place. This might take time and, according to the tip-off, time was not on their side. He fretted as he waited for head office’s van to arrive. The sooner he could get out of this place, get the laptops back forensics and Ramos’s body removed, the sooner he could begin to forget this blot on his reputation.

 

 

 

[]32

 

 

Ayala Avenue, Manila, Philippines

 

A meeting of the Association of the Asian Bankers of Manila had been specially convened to discuss several recent cyber-attacks on small banks in and around the City. These were but an echo of similar attacks all over the world though there seemed something strange about this particular spate of them. No money or vital files had been taken in any of them.

Understandably, the attacks were unnerving for the Association’s members. The blinds in the conference room were half down to cut the glare from the sun giving the room a relaxing feel. The atmosphere was the perfect blend of temperature and humidity. The only two sounds were those of the speaker and the faintest whirring from the air-conditioning unit.

Those attending were seated round a large oval mahogany table and all were focused on one of their number who was demanding to know what the authorities were doing about these attacks. The Chairman was sweating despite the cool of the room and he fidgeted anxiously, as well he might for he knew that his members were half the problem. Not wishing to lose face, or admit that their banks had been attacked, all who had suffered the indignity just wanted enquiries over and forgotten as quickly as possible. This, in turn, stifled proper investigations.

The Chairman was restless for the truth of the matter was he had no answer to the question being asked. The police had only one lead – one that had come in that very morning but had passed no details on to him yet.

‘…so, Mr. Chairman, perhaps the cyber police are making some progress at last?’ concluded the questioner. The chairman was about to give his usual unsatisfactory answer when the proceedings were interrupted. A bank messenger entered the room just as the speaker finished asking his question.

‘One minute if you please,’ said the Chairman with relief. He turned towards the messenger, ‘I hope this is urgent as —’

But the messenger merely bowed as though he were mute and pointed to the far side of the table.

‘Very well, carry on,’ said the Chairman. The messenger went round the table, all eyes following him, until he stopped beside the chair of Zhang Wei, Chief Executive Officer of the Manila Beijing Bank. Bending low, he whispered his message into the other’s ear. What little colour there was in Zhang’s face drained away and he put a hand up to his forehead, hiding his eyes from the others. After delivering his news, the messenger backed slowly away from Zhang, straightened up, gave another shallow bow to the Chairman and hurried from the room. Zhang looked up and, avoiding eye contact with the others, turned to the Chairman.

The message could hardly have been worse or come at a more embarrassing time and he made his first decision on the crisis that had just struck his bank – he decided to save face by telling his fellow bankers a lie.

‘My wife’s been involved in a serious motor accident’ he said, ‘and is now on her way to St Luke’s Hospital in Global City. I beg that I may be excused to go and be with her.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ said the Chairman, ‘I’m sure we all wish her well – of course you must be excused to be with her.’

Zhang rose, collected his papers and stuffed them into his briefcase. Then, with downcast eyes, he hurried from the room.

In the lobby outside, waiting for the lift, he shifted his weight back and forth from one foot to the other, his gaze fixed on the lighted box above the lift doors telling him of the lift’s dilatory progress towards his floor. The lift arrived after what seemed an age; he continued to fret the whole way down to the lobby, desperate to get out of the building before someone stopped him and asked what he had just been told.

On reaching the marble lobby he half-ran out into the bright sunlight and the wall of heat and going down a couple of the wide marble steps, he stood for a moment, peering left and right for a taxi. At last he spotted one coming down the street and as it got closer he could see that it was for hire, and he ran down the last few steps, using his briefcase as a weapon to barge through the crowds, hailing the taxi with his free hand as he went. To his relief, the car pulled over. He struggled for a second or two with the reluctant door handle, finally won, and clambered in.

‘The Manila Beijing Bank, Paseo de Roxas,’ he said in a demanding, abrupt tone.

Spurred on by the promise of double the fare, the driver pushed the taxi on as fast as he could whenever the traffic allowed. As the taxi was approached Zhang’s head office building, he could see up ahead a large gathering of people pressing towards and against the thick glass doors. Even at a distance it was clear that they were in a state of collective agitation and as the taxi drew closer, he could hear the shouting too. He made his second decision of the crisis. He sat up, leant forward and told the driver to pass on by the bank’s front entrance and take the first left. As soon as they had turned into the alley and were out of sight of the crowds, he had the taxi stop, got out and paid.

Crossing the narrow street, he entered the bank by a small side-door and hurried across the narrow hallway. He pulled open the metal gates of one of the two service lifts, which was standing there at the ground floor level. He quickly entered, closed them and pressed the button for the top floor. After an unsteady ride, the lift ground to a noisy halt on the top floor. Hurrying out, around a couple of corners, and through two sets of swing doors, he came at last into the main lobby of the executive suites.

As soon as he appeared, the crowds of whispering people, gathered in small groups, drifted apart to allow him through to his office, which, like the hallway, was a melee of anxious people. They stopped speaking and most sidled away out of the room as he entered. He went round his desk and slumped into his chair. The remaining people in his room dispersed and, soon his most senior manager, Guan, and one other short darkish man were all that were left of the earlier crowd.

Eventually, Zhang appeared to have regained some composure, Guan cleared his throat, stepped nearer the desk and introduced the short dark man.

‘This is Emilio Gonzales, head of Manila’s cyber police unit,’ he said.

Gonzales took a step forward and held out his hand. Zhang, remembering his manners, got to his feet, bowed slightly and shook hands. With a sweep of his hand he indicated that all three of them should sit.

‘I’m afraid that whilst you were out at your meeting, we suffered a major cyber-attack,’ said Manager Guan. ‘We lost all our current customer records, names, account numbers, transactions, balances. We could have replaced all of these files with the last back-up files but these were out of time and all the transactions this morning would need to have been worked out and added into the backup files – an absolute nightmare. With you away at the meeting we had to decide on our own and thought it best to just close the bank and issue a statement about computer glitches—’

‘Okay, okay, we can go into all of that later,’ said Zhang, ‘But our databases: were they destroyed or have they been stolen to be put to some other use?’

‘Destroyed, we think,’ replied Guan. ‘But Mr. Gonzales is here because this attack is apparently just the tip of an iceberg. Perhaps he should take over from me now and explain that to you.’ Guan made a small gesture with his hand towards Gonzales.

‘We had an anonymous telephone tip-off early this morning,’ said Gonzales. ‘When we followed it up, we raided a young computer hacker in the Pasay City area of Manila. I’m afraid he was killed trying to escape but we’ve seized his equipment. The machine he tried to escape with was easiest of the three to get into it. Though there is hopefully more to learn from this machine, I can tell you already that the main reason for the attack on your bank was not to damage the bank itself or steal anything from it.’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Zhang. ‘If you’re attacking a bank, what other reason could there possibly be other than taking money?’

‘I’m afraid that this attack follows the pattern of the others,’ said Gonzales. ‘The hacker has been practicing only on banks defended by a British company called CSL – Computer Solutions Labs. It looks as though they’ve been practicing for something much bigger.’

‘What? Are you saying that the attack on us was just a trial run for something else?’ repeated Zhang.

‘Yes, the hacker has been in contact by email with the people who set him up and were paying him. The emails explain that he was perfecting software for them.’

‘Aha, excellent,’ cried Zhang. ‘So presumably you managed to trace these backers through the email address?’ his face muscles relaxing almost as far as a smile.

‘I’m afraid not,’ replied Gonzales, ‘the email account and all particulars of it were terminated last night. But his last email was the one that shocked us the most.’

‘What do you mean shocked you?’ asked Zhang.

‘I’ll quote it,’ replied Gonzales. ‘It says, “The attached software amendments are the very last that the CSL attack software package needs. Why don’t you try them yourselves on the Manila Beijing Bank, that’s the last CSL bank I’ve been using as a guinea-pig. That will show you I’ve finished what you set me up to do for you. This means, of course, that this last batch of software will allow you to go ahead with the attack on the big one in London.”

‘Good God,’ whispered Zhang wiping his dry mouth with the back of his hand. ‘But here’s another thing I don’t understand,’ he went on, ‘you say you got all of this from a tip-off. If you’re going to ‘attack’ a bank, why give anyone a tip-off about it? Doesn’t make sense.’

‘Right now, it doesn’t make sense to us either,’ said Gonzales, ‘all I can say is that we’ve warned our counterparts in London of the attack that Ramos has mentioned in that email. We’ve given them all the information we’ve got so far and promised to update them if we get anything more we get later. With the eight hour’s difference, it’s still only three-thirty in the morning in London, but at least the threat will be there to greet the decision makers as the first thing in their day.

Zhang thanked Gonzales who left shortly after that, promising to keep him updated. From here on, it just depended how big ‘the big one in London’ was. A major attack on one of the big five banks there would be likely to bring the whole financial system crumbling down.

 

  • * * * *

 

Shortly after he’d left the Manila Beijing Bank, Gonzales got a call on his mobile phone.

‘The tip off, did it work okay?’

‘It did and the leader of the SWAT Team said thanks for the money,’ said Gonzales. ‘I got mine too, thanks.’

‘And you’re sure that London have got the message about the big one?’

‘I am,’ replied Gonzales, ‘and I’ll keep trying to make contact with my counterpart there.’

‘That’s good. Thank you again for keeping a lid on all the trial bank attacks till this one. It’s also the last time we need to speak on this matter. Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye, to you too,’ said Gonzales.

 

 

 

[]33

 

 

Home Office, Whitehall, London

 

The news of the Manila cyber-attacks and the threat of an attack on a big bank in the City of London came first to Sandy Scale. As the head of the City of London’s Cyber Crime Unit, Scale was responsible for monitoring and countering cyber threats to the City. He was Emilio Gonzales’ counterpart in the UK and part of the international network dealing with the rapidly growing incidences of cyber-attacks, especially on banks.

Although there was no detail yet to Gonzales’ news, Scale knew of the plan from his mafia connections. He would play along with it, but act as though he knew nothing. With a bit of luck, on the official job side of his life he might discover the Gemini’s location, saving his associates the trouble of even carrying out the attack. He quickly discovered the complication of Gemini being covered by the Official Secrets Act, so realised he’d have to make his enquiries discretely.

As agreed with those planning the attack, he did not warn the Home Secretary in person. Instead he contacted Peter Forsyth, one of the Home Secretary’s chief advisors. This approach would be the most likely to get the Home Office to alert Gemini to watch out for the attack and prepare for its defence but, hopefully, would not trigger too high a level of reaction, such as a Cobra meeting involving government ministers and their top advisors.

When Scale got through to Forsyth, he was relieved to that he hadn’t woken him and that Forsyth was having his breakfast. After Scale had told him all that he knew so far, Forsyth said, ‘first thing to do is warn the Gemini team and I’ll do that. But will you ring Bill Fisher at the Bank of England? – they’re organising a launch of Gemini and should also know of this.’

‘Sure, I’ll do that,’ said Scale.

‘I don’t know if you’ve met Fisher yet, but he’s the Governor’s recently appointed advisor on any cyber warfare attacks. Fix up a meeting with him. Give him all the information you can and, if necessary, pursue matters further with your contacts in Manila for any more information they may have by now. The Home Secretary will expect you and Fisher to take a lead in this and keep us all of us advised of developments. And, with all this suddenly blowing up, if you can’t get a hold of me, my secretary Mina Falcone is highly efficient and will do most of what I could do for you anyway.’

‘Thanks for that, Peter. I have met Fisher and I’ll speak to him right away,’ replied Scale.

 

Although Scale probably outranked Fisher, he had yet to meet the Governor of the Bank of England, so he agreed to meet there – maybe another chance to get Gemini’s location. Perhaps even from a casually dropped remark

‘Good, I’ll warn the security people here to look out for you,’ said Fisher.

 

Scale took some time to get to the Bank of England as, even at eight in the morning, traffic was heavy. When he eventually arrived, Fisher had organised coffee for the two of them and poured some as Scale seated himself and got some papers out of his briefcase.

‘Thanks for your early morning call about the threat from Manila,’ said Fisher.

‘You know, on the way here in the taxi, an appalling thought occurred to me,’ said Scale. ‘If this threatened Manila attack were to succeed, chances are that the banks I passed on the way here and all the other banks throughout the country be shut down in a gathering bank collapse. I just pictured the queues of people snaking away from the shut doors of the buildings I passed, all of ’em waiting in vain to get their money out. So even if the first collapse wasn’t disaster, these runs on banks would be the final death-knell of the whole thing. I just thought further too, all the ATMs turned off, cash drying up, credit cards useless: a nightmare. Before you could say it, there’d be bloody anarchy in the streets… In terms of security, which is our remit, it could turn into an absolute nightmare.’

During this outpouring of pessimism, Fisher had just leant back in his seat, watching as Scale made each of his points by tapping on the table between them with his pen. When Scale had finished, Fisher leant forward and rested his forearms on the table.

‘I understand why you might cncern yourself with a horror story such as that – except that none of that’s going to happen,’ he said.

There was a silence for a moment as Scale looked back at him. ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘What do you mean, “none of that’s going to happen”?’

‘You’ve been invited to the conference here at the Bank of England tomorrow, haven’t you?’ asked Fisher.

‘Yes, I’ll be there,’ replied Scale then added, ‘Ah, yes, the cyber defence software you’re introducing to some of the financial world at the conference.’

‘Well it’s a bit more than cyber-defence software,’ said Fisher. ‘But yes, we’re introducing Gemini to a number of banks in the City of London as well as other financial institutions such as brokers, hedge funds, insurance and so on. But Gemini is why a bank collapse isn’t going to happen.’

Scale just frowned but was pleased that the conversation was heading in the right direction. And decided to prod it further down that route. ‘I have to make a confession,’ he said at last. ‘I haven’t read all the literature your people sent about the conference or… er …about Gemini – thought I’d learn all about it when I got to the launch.’

‘Well, you will,’ said Fisher. ‘But we don’t have time for that now, we just need to make sure that any of the banks who could be attacked by this Manila lot already have Gemini’s defence system installed and that the Gemini team know that an attack is likely to happen during the launch.’

‘And where’s this Gemini located?’ asked Scale.

‘I’m afraid that’s covered by the Official Secrets Act,’ replied Fisher, ‘and I’m surprised that in your position you haven’t been told more about it. But it’s more than my job’s worth to be the one to tell you – and maybe there’s a reason you haven’t been told.’

Scale swore under his breath but decided not to pursue matters in case it raised suspicions. He now listened in as Fisher telephoned the Gemini team.

As soon as he got through, he was told he’d be put through to Tom Wilder. As events had moved at some speed within the Gemini organisation, Fisher did not know that Angus Macrae had temporarily handed over the day to day running of Gemini to Tom Wilder. It needed some explaining.

‘I’ve dealt with Angus Macrae to date and I had no idea that …’ faltered Fisher.

‘Why should you know of the changes Mr. Fisher,’ replied Wilder, ‘or that the Gemini programme had been passed on to someone you’ve never heard of.’

‘I didn’t mean to infer that …’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Wilder. ‘As Angus Macrae has already briefed me about the launch which you’re running at the Bank of England, what can I do for you?’

Wilder listened to Fisher’s account of the Manila threat. The account was detailed but Wilder had some key questions as he was still new to Gemini but already he realised that this was not just a threat of a bank attack.

‘You say that there was a tip-off about the young hacker’ said Wilder, ‘and that he died in the raid on his apartment?’ asked Wilder.

‘Yes, that puzzled the cyber defence unit,’ said Fisher. ‘And the bank in Manila that was the target of the latest attack. They wondered who the hell would tip off the authorities about the hacker and get him raided.’

‘My guess is because whoever did the tipping-off wanted to be certain that those of us in charge of Gemini would get the message,’ said Wilder.

‘What makes you think that?’

‘Maybe I’m paranoid, but Angus Macrae took me on to ensure that Gemini doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. You might think that makes me focused on everything as a potential threat to Gemini. And in that you may well be right. But I think I know what’s going on here.’

‘And what’s that?’ came Fisher’s reply. It was said in the tone that cocky tone people adopt when they’re certain the explanation’s going to turn out to be rubbish.

‘How about this?’ said Wilder. ‘You just said that the young Manila hacker’s been concentrating on CSL defended banks only. He’s taken no money from the banks he’s hacked into and you say that his last email that he suggests they try the last attack themselves as proof that he’s done the job they asked him to do.’

‘Yes, I see that.’

‘To me it seems they’ll pick a bank that won’t bring the whole City down,’ said Wilder. ‘They’ll hope that we wheel Gemini out to defend it. I’ll bet they smother the bank they are going to attack with all manner of tracking devices so that they can trace back to Gemini’s location then come and steal it.’

‘How the hell do you know all this?’ asked Fisher.

‘I don’t know it at all,’ replied Wilder. ‘It’s just a theory but it’s based on what I’d do if I was looking for ways to find Gemini’s location.’

‘Well that bit of makes sense,’ said Fisher. ‘But what if your theory is wrong?’

‘Won’t make any difference whether I’m right or wrong,’ said Wilder. ‘We’ll get a list of all the banks protected by CSL from the company itself. We’ll try and make sure we have our protection system installed and worry later about their tracking mechanisms.’

‘Won’t that just play into their hands?’

‘I’ll check with the experts but I doubt it,’ said Wilder. ‘Anyway, that’s the Gemini team’s problem. But if there are worriers, would you ask them to contact me?’

‘Sure,’ said Fisher. ‘And thanks for the reassurances.’

 

There was never a truer word than that bad news travels fast. Wilder had had only the time to get up to the Lab at Craithe Castle to discuss the Manila threat with the team, than a call came in for him from Macrae.

‘Just had a call from Fisher of the Bank of England,’ said Macrae, ‘he was very complimentary about your handling of the so-called crisis.’

‘Thank you for that,’ said Wilder. ‘As it was the Bank of England and he was on your list of Gemini confidants I thought I’d spell it out for him – my theory that is.’

‘I agree completely with your analysis,’ said Macrae. ‘You’ll also find the professor adept in dealing with emergencies but it seems to me you already know what you’re doing – thank God you’re around to handle this.’

‘You don’t need to thank God,’ said Wilder. ‘Just thank yourself for your decision to put me here. And, out of interest, will Gemini be able to deal with an attack on a bank and keep its own location a secret at the same time?’

‘Practically certain it can,’ replied Macrae. ‘The prof will let you know one way or the other.’

 

Though Macrae’s remarks were supposed to reassure Wilder, the time had come to tell his contact in the secret service – MI6 in this case – that her involvement needed to start now. He had to get down to the conference and would be in London tonight but wanted to give her plenty of warning.

‘Agent Tercel,’ he said as get got through.

‘Hi, Tom,’ she said in her familiar bright and cheerful manner. ‘I enjoyed reading through the package you left for me at your house, interesting reading. I hope you’re ringing me now to tell me that I start tomorrow morning on the project?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘it’s all go.’

‘Good. I thought there was a chance it might start tomorrow so I’ve already got myself an invitation to the Gemini launch – though I won’t recognise you there of course. Be in touch further down the line. Bye.’ And she was gone.

 

 

 

[]34

 

 

Gresham Street, The City of London

 

In the eerie half-light of big cities at night time, the taxi, drew up outside the Stamfordham Hotel. Its arrival in the small side street near Sloane Square in London’s west end – there was no one around to witness it.

It had been paid for in advance. This particular cabbie was a regular driver for Russian Embassy people and was used to night work – no questions asked, no explanations given. The occasional long waits, while Russian customers spent their time at their destinations were often boring but they were profitable. He was an avid reader of thriller novels and being paid while reading them was fine.

With a mission as important as this, Izolda Volkova and Sasha Gulina were early and had been waiting in the hotel’s small lobby. Both had backpacks beside their chairs, Gulina’s pack was twice the size of Volkova’s, but in no way remarkable for two young tourists in London. At five to nine the two of them went outside to be ready for the taxi. It was chilly for the early spring night and both wore heavy parkas but they had the fur-lined hoods down, as they were both wearing dark blue, broad peaked baseball caps to partially cover their faces. Though Volkova had checked earlier that there were no surveillance cameras near the hotel, there would be plenty of others on the mission and the caps were better at hiding faces than their hoods.

Standing outside the hotel Gulina, at five-foot-nine, towered over the five-foot-five Volkova, but from her body-language alone Volkova was clearly the leader. Both had dark hair, almost black – the tall Gulina’s short and cut in a bob-style, Volkova’s, usually free-flowing was tied into a neat ponytail, which fell down to near her shoulder blades. Whereas Volkova looked about her with keen interest, Gulina, standing just behind her seemed to be studying the paving stones at her feet.

As soon as the taxi drew up both climbed in. Volkova gave her name and confirmed the destination. From Sloane Square the taxi made its way to the river Thames and took the embankment route into the City of London’s financial heart, avoiding the growing numbers of tourist out for their night’s entertainment.

Just short of their destination, the Mercantile Bank of Manchester, the taxi drew into one of the City’s many ancient narrow lanes and the two young women alighted. Though this was the first time either had been here, they behaved as though they’d been here many time, swift actions, no looking about them, and definitely purposeful; Volkova give the taxi driver a nod and saying ‘see you later, Benny’ as she passed him. They approached the bank and on reaching it, they turned down another side alley and half-way along its high, dark, back wall, they stopped at a small door.

Volkova tapped out a coded knock and waited. She now looked about her, interested in possible escape routes – though she already knew these by heart – and was whistling a tune to herself, scarcely audible even to Gulina standing beside her. Gulina was still studying the ground at her feet – though now they were ancient cobblestones rather than the paving stones back at the hotel and she nervously bit her lower lip, only occasionally looking up to check that Volkova was still there.

The small door in the tall blank wall opened, and a security guard’s cap appeared in the chink of it followed by a face. The whole head then emerged and looked furtively in either direction before letting the two of them into the bank. Once in the building, Volkova took out a small gun and fitted a silencer to it. Gulina was now looking about her, her eyes wide, moist and darting about the place. Volkova, seeing her companion’s nervousness, turned to her, put a reassuring arm up and around the other’s shoulders and smiled. Had any of her fellow FSB agents seen Volkova do this, they would have been astonished, since her nickname among them translated from the Russian for ‘the frozen north’.

When Volkova was ready she nodded to the guard and they followed him as he set off along the narrow corridor into the bowels of the bank. All three were wearing rubber-soled shoes and crept along in single file; the complicit guard in front, Volkova next with her gun held down in both hands in front of her, followed by the nervous Gulina frequently peering back the way they’d come as though expecting someone to suddenly appear and chase them.

On reaching a large dimly lit hall with high vaulted ceilings, the guard raised his hand and the three of them stopped and listened. They could hear some voices somewhere in the distance, but they sounded too far off to worry about.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the loud chiming of a couple of clocks – one of them directly ahead: another way down the hall to their right. Both struck the half hour. After what seemed an age to Gulina, their little group moved into the hall itself and after only thirty feet or so stopped at a large door. Here the guard punched a code into the security keypad and the three of them hastened through the doorway. The guard went back behind Gulina and after looking out into the hall, closed the door slowly and without so much as a click.

More boldly now, he took the lead again and after going through a couple more doors, went down a wide stairway into the basement. At each of the doors they went through there were keypads and Volkova committed the codes to memory along the way. As one of the Russian internal security services’ top agents – the FSB’s most decorated officer in fact – she automatically kept mental notes for getting back out of any mission should something go wrong.

Sasha Gulina, just following along, had her mind occupied by just two things: her terror of what might happen to them if they were caught but also mentally rehearsing her key role in the mission. She had been made aware in daunting detail not only how important the mission was but also that the president himself was taking a keen interest in its progress.

Renowned in the upper echelons of both the Kremlin and the Russian computer fraternity, she was seen as genius level not only in her expertise but in her sometimes-astonishing bursts of inventiveness. These showed she had an almost intuitive understanding of even the most complex computer challenges of the day – she was even familiar with the main advances in the new quantum computing technologies though she’d never actually seen one.

Right now, however, her mission was involved in blatant sabotage and she was coping with that appalling truth by denying that this was what she was doing. She managed this by going over and over the complex technicalities of the mission rather than its ethics. And it was at this moment, as they went through yet another door, that they came into the bank’s main computer room. The temperature of the room was distinctly chilly and she could hear the familiar whirling noises of giant fans keeping the computers cool.

Rows of mainframes stretched away in each direction and as soon as they were into the room and the door had been closed, she took the rucksack off her back, put it down on the ground and, squatting down, opened it and rummaged around in it. Bringing out a plan of the room she orientated it and, picking up the rucksack again, led the way down one of the alleys between the machines. After a few paces they came to an open area, like a glade in the woods, where there was a desk and a mainframe set apart from the others – the very heart of the bank’s computer network.

She first looked it over and, for the first time on the mission she smiled. All she had learned of the Mercantile Bank of Manchester now seemed to be borne out by this magnificent state of the art mainframe. The Mercantile had a respectably long history but with the new incentives and massive increases in capital it had become the poster-boy for the Chancellor’s new policy of opening up the banking sector to more participants. This was reflected in the Mercantile splashing out considerable sums on its image and its technology – and here was a good example of it before her.

The Kremlin team had chosen it for their attack partly because of this ‘high-profile’ image; yet not big enough to cause too much damage to other banks or institutions if it collapsed because of the attack.

Gulina put the rucksack down on the desk and began taking a number of boxes of different sizes out of it. There were also varying lengths of wire, each neatly bound up with elastic bands. Then, taking three of the boxes and some lengths of wire she squeezed through between the new mainframe and the machine next to it and vanished behind them both.

Volkova, ignoring the no smoking signs, slouched down into the large chair behind the desk and lit a cigarette while Gulina plugged boxes into the mainframe and hid them and their connecting wires as much out of sight as possible.

The entire job took just half an hour and Volkova and Gulina followed the guard the whole way back up as far as the main hall. Whether it was end of mission carelessness or bad luck it did not matter, but as they were half way towards the door to the corridor that would take them back to the exit door from the bank, a large overweight security guard barrelled slowly round the corner on the other side of the hall.

‘Hey!’ he shouted as soon as he saw the three of them, and he went for his gun in its holster. There was a hissing thwack from Volkova’s gun and Gulina simultaneously threw herself against the wall, whimpering quietly.

Volkova’s first shot took out the guard’s nearest knee and he shouted out in agony as he began to go down. Before he’d even hit the ground, her second shot struck the hand that was just getting his gun up towards her. The spent round passed through the hand and into his body above his liver. Crying out in pain he landed on the ground, writhing in pain. His partner suddenly appeared around the same corner and was immediately shot in one of his knees and then, like his partner, above the wrist holding the gun he’d just drawn. Then, sprinting across the hall towards the two guards, Volkova delivered swinging kicks to both lying on the ground, putting them out of their pain and returning the hall to silence once more.

She ran back to Gulina, gathered her by the arm and hurried her out of the hall. It took just two minutes from the hall back to the door they’d come into the bank by. Benny had been reading his book but as they had gone past the time they had said they’d be out by, he had been keeping a watchful eye on the door these past ten minutes.

As soon as they were safely on board with their rucksacks, Benny drove them back to the hotel in a leisurely manner so as not to attract attention. On the way, Gulina, felt proud of herself, smiling – her first field operation. She’d already checked that the comms boxes she had fitted would track Gemini back to its location and were working as they should. Later today she hoped to be a hero of the Federation.

 

 

 

[]35

 

 

The Bank of England, City of London

 

With the increasing numbers and sophistication of cyber-attacks on banks, The Bank of England and its regulatory authorities were relieved when the Gemini defence system became available late in 2016. Its installation was a simple matter. All that was added to a bank’s computer system was a small box which, on detecting an attack, triggered a Gemini counter-attack, disabling the attacker’s equipment. Thus the ‘big five’ banks were instructed to install it, as the collapse of any one of them would almost certainly trigger a domino-effect collapse of the world financial system. Though some smaller banks and financial institutions were slower on the uptake, the government couldn’t risk coercive legislation with such a secret project.

Considering the rising risks of so many still depending on conventional cyber defences, the Bank of England decided they needed to force the hands of those who were still procrastinating. To achieve this, a conference was set up and attendance was made mandatory to all those invited. The date chosen was Good Friday, 14 April 2017.

Tom Wilder, arrived at the conference venue as it opened at eight-thirty in the morning. On the sunny, mild and cloudless spring morning, almost all those attending would rather be out in their gardens or on the golf course. It was therefore unlikely that many would have any enthusiasm for this imposition placed on them.

Bill Fisher, was waiting for Wilder at the side entrance to the bank. The two introduced themselves for this was their first meeting in person. The two differed substantially both in appearance and manner. Wilder, six foot three and having rowed for Cambridge University, was clearly still an athlete even though his rowing days had been fifteen years earlier. His dark hair and piercing blue eyes were in sharp contrast to Fisher, who was nine inches shorter; his pale face and whole persona dominated by his huge pair of tortoise-shell glasses which made his pale grey watery eyes appear outsized, out of proportion to his whole body – almost owl-like.

Fisher led Wilder into the large conference room which had been set up theatre-style for the launch. At the far end from the entrance, a stage stood some three feet above the rest of the floor. On it were a few chairs for speakers, and a lectern.

After about three quarters of an hour, the room was almost full and one of Fisher’s assistants near the door signalled that all but two guests were now here. On the chiming of nine o’clock from one of the bank’s grandfather clocks at the back of the room, Fisher got up and, from the lectern welcomed the gathering and came close to apologising for having them in here this holiday morning. Then, turning to the huge screen behind him he set in motion the business of the day.

‘I hope I don’t have to remind any of you ladies and gentlemen of the seriousness of this morning’s main topic. But, as though to emphasise the importance of today’s proceedings, last night two security guards were shot and seriously injured at the Manchester Mercantile Bank.’

Around the room, those who had not heard the early morning news shuffled in their seats.

‘Nothing was stolen from the bank and though nothing could be found amiss in the bank’s computer facility, we now know that a cyber-attack on the Mercantile this morning. But I am happy to tell you that the Mercantile, being the most prominent of the new banks and a major new force in the banking sector, is covered by the Gemini anti-hacker defence programme. We therefore have no worries for it and will keep you advised if anything does happen later.’

‘You will have seen from the agenda sent to you all,’ continued Fisher, ‘that I’m now going to talk to you about the Freeman files.’ He then went on to tell them of the major banks and institutions in New York and London whose defences had lasted only seconds in the Gemini challenge. It was clear that this was a considerable shock to most, especially as the signed results sheets went up on the big screen – though, to save embarrassment, the few seconds that all organisations’ defences had withstood the Gemini attack had been blanked out. Fisher further shocked the delegates by telling them that the Bank of England’s defences had survived less than ten seconds longer than only two other organisations out of over a hundred and fifty.

He also told them of Freeman’s assassination and that it had been planned and executed solely in order to steal proof of Gemini’s existence. He also warned them that this was likely to lead to more serious attacks in the future.

‘But I know many of you personally and guess that some of you will still procrastinate over the very simple installation of Gemini’s linked protection system – even though your boards of directors have agreed to it. And, in some cases, a more cynical bunch of people would be hard to find.’ A wave of murmuring and smiles ran around the room.

‘So, as you will see from your agenda, we’ve organised a short demonstration. This is a video taken after a hedge fund, known for its jealous guarding of its trading algorithms, was penetrated by Gemini and had those algorithms re-engineered. For less than half a minute, the company’s trades were allowed to run with its upper and lower trading limits removed and its hedging facility switched off. ‘

There was a murmur round the room.

‘Most of you, being in the financial world and used to trading screens like the one we’re about to show you on the big screen now, will understand what I’ve just said. But for the few who did not fully understand, what was allowed to happen was a bit like a book makers on the railings at all big horse racing meetings taking bets of unlimited size and not bothering to lay the bets off – that’s to say hedging them. Any bookie doing that would almost certainly go bankrupt in no time at all.’

The delegates then watched the video and saw the huge swings in the trading during the brief unprotected period. Mina Falcone, who’d heard a rumour that this would be shown, covertly recorded the whole thing on her mobile phone.

‘That trading spell cost them one hundred thousand in losses.’ said Fisher. ‘Though we at the Bank of England are covering those losses in this instance, there may come when someone catches up with Gemini’s technology and your only defence against that frightening eventuality is to install Gemini.’

The points made naturally struck home and the delegates talked amongst themselves as soon as the demonstration had finished.

 

 

By the end of the morning only two companies had said they would need more time to get board approval, the others all said that either they had already got provisional board approval to install Gemini or would seek it right away.

Mina Falcone grabbed Scale by the arm and they walked out of the conference hall together as everyone made their way towards the doors. There was coffee and biscuits being served but Mina had much more urgent business in mind. She took Scale over to thank Fisher for an interesting morning. ‘And as I’m sure my boss at the Home Office is going to ask me, you will have got the permission of the Hedge Fund to use their company as a guinea pig for the demonstration?’

Fisher suddenly look embarrassed, looked to the ground and then back up to Mina. ‘We had floated the idea but when we came to do the actual exercise, we found both partners were away. Nat Matthews skiing in Switzerland and Paul Finch on business in New York. But they’ll know that all losses will be covered by us and all will be fine, I’m sure.’

Mina was well aware that when people use the phrase ‘I’m sure’ in a context such as this, that’s the one thing they’re not sure of.

‘I wish you well with Nat Matthews,’ said Scale. ‘I’ve had run-ins with him and he’s highly protective of the Matthews Finch trading algorithms. In the absence of both Paul Finch and Nat Matthews, may I respectfully suggest that you talk their PR company’s boss Max Wheeler.’

Fisher said nothing but nodded as though to agree to do so.

After they’d bid their farewells to Fisher, Mina Falcone and Scale left the Bank of England and as they crossed Threadneedle Street to look for a taxi on the almost deserted streets of the bank holiday, Scale shot a glance at Mina.

‘Knowing you and your family connections, I’d guess that some evil little plan is worming its way round your mind as to how you and they can profit from this Matthews Finch mess. Am I right?’

‘I’m saying nothing,’ said Mina, a broad smile on her face.

‘Well, I’ll give you a piece of advice,’ continued Scale, if you’re thinking about asking for big money, I should warn you that if you ask for too much, it’ll be cheaper for them to dispose of you.’

‘Thanks, and ciao,’ she said as the taxi she’d hailed stopped right by her. She got into it, waved Scale away with a smile, and left him alone in the street.

 

 

 

[]36

 

 

The Home Office, Whitehall, London

 

Mina was going to have a busy time to get her plan up and running. But, as it was a Bank Holiday, the streets were almost empty and she got from the Bank of England down to Whitehall and the Home Office in the fastest time ever. The security guards were naturally surprised to see her but when she referred to the Bank of England conference and said she knew something the head of the city’s cyber warfare boss needed to be aware of, their mild caution evaporated.

She knew exactly where to look for what she wanted. Armed with the latest report on the Gemini project and all its most carefully guarded secrets, she rang Max Wheeler’s number at his home. She was in luck, he was there and chided her for interrupting his DIY project – though in fact he was glad to have a good excuse to tell his wife when he had to abandon it.

‘You don’t know me, Mr Wheeler,’ she said and next, in order to get her whole introduction over to him before he hung up, she got straight to the point.

‘I have just been attending a private conference at the Bank of England where it was disclosed one of your major clients was grossly abused.’

For a heart-stopping moment there was absolutely not a sound and Mina was about to ask if he was still there.

Then he spoke. ‘I heard of the conference, but how come you got my number and why this call?’

‘As I said, one of your clients was outrageously abused. I’m what people call a whistle-blower and I think that for the Bank of England to use the Matthews Finch Hedge Fund as a guinea pig to show the world how dangerous cyber-attacks are getting is outrageous.’

Again there was silence.

‘You’re telling me that somehow the Bank of England used Matthews Finch as an example for cyber-warfare?’ he said after Mina had once again thought he had put the phone down. She quickly went on to explain the conference, the launch of Gemini and how the video had been used to show what the latest computer technologies could do against conventional computer defences. And when he asked her for more details, she emailed a copy of the video over to him.

‘I think this kind of heavy-handed behaviour by the authorities – in this case the Bank of England – should be punished,’ she finished up saying. ‘Do you think your client would agree and want to take steps to retaliate?’

‘Absolutely I do,’ replied Wheeler. ‘In fact, one partner I know will be impossible to find as he’s in the US but the other I may be able to reach.’

 

  • * * * *

 

Wheeler knew that Matthews did not spend that much of his now very substantial earnings on himself – unless, that is, you were to include his Turbo Bentley, his Quattroporte Maserati and his house in Wilton Crescent. His only other personal extravagances were his two holidays each year. On these, he always went alone – St Moritz usually around Easter, and Italy – usually Tuscany followed by Rome in the late summer.

The cognoscenti might not consider the skiing facilities in St Moritz as being the best in the Alps, but it had the Cresta Run, the horse racing on the lake, and, above all, the cachet of being one of the oldest and grandest ski resorts in the world. It was that aspect of it that appealed the most to Nat Matthews. When possible, he always stayed in the same room at the Palace Hotel. He liked familiarity and had come to regard it, with its wonderful views out over the lake and across the mountains the far side of the valley, as though he owned it.

Matthews’s had a strict embargo on communications from the office whilst he was on holiday, but Wheeler considered himself to be outside that ban since he was neither a partner nor staff. He also considered that he had a special relationship with Matthews. As his PR advisor, he had managed to extricate Matthews more than once from one indiscretion or another – he had even once managed to put his errant client in a good light after a tawdry tale involving a lady of the night and a nightclub of poor repute. For these ‘extra’ services, Matthews was always genuinely grateful.

 

Wheeler now had to set about contacting Matthews as the video showed that this Gemini, whatever it was, had just removed the company’s boast that its clients’ money was safe in its keeping. If a cyber-attack could penetrate its defences and rewrite some of its core trading algorithms, the boast was clearly meaningless – if it ever got out, that is.

In trying to reach Matthews, he tried the obvious first. He telephoned him at the Palace Hotel. As he had anticipated, Matthews was out skiing and not expected back till after dark as on leaving the piste, he nearly always went to Hanselmann’s for its ridiculously rich but delicious cakes and tea.

Failing the easy approach, Wheeler then sent him a text message “ring Wheeler immediately, business threatening situation”. From reports of his previous holidays in St Moritz, Wheeler also knew that Gustave, the concierge, was the epitome of a great fixer and looked after Matthews every outlandish whim – so he also sent a message to Gustave, urging him to get Matthews ‘to contact Wheeler urgently’.

This second message eventually had the desired effect, and Matthews rang him back shortly after three. Gustave had managed to track him down to the Corviglia Club half way up the mountain behind St. Moritz and Matthews had responded immediately, taking the funicular down to St Moritz rather that skiing back down.

 

‘This had better be bloody important,’ said Matthews as soon as he was on the line to Wheeler from his Palace Hotel room. ‘I’ve cut short my usual afternoon programme to respond to the text message you sent to Gustave – so what’s this all about?’

Wheeler recounted the whole thing, Mina’s telephone call, the email and the attached video. He also told him of the role played in this by Macrae and Gemini.

Wheeler finished by saying, ‘I felt sure that either you or Paul must have agreed to it – I mean we assumed that…’

‘Of course I didn’t bloody agree to it,’ shouted Matthews, ‘Do you think I’d suddenly go mad enough to agree to such a hare-brained idea? Christ, you weren’t joking when you texted the words “business threatening”. Don’t you realise that if we aren’t trading completely normally on Tuesday morning when the Stock Exchange reopens, we could lose all our bloody clients? Millions draining out of the company like a severed bloody artery.’

Wheeler held the telephone away from his ear during some of this tirade but still heard it perfectly well.

‘Look, as soon as we’ve finished this conversation,’ continued Matthews, his voice calmer, ‘I’m going to get myself back to London the fastest way that Gustave can arrange it for me. As soon as I am away from St Moritz, I’ll have him to text you the time I’m expected to get home – by then I’ll probably be in a helicopter arriving in Zurich. But, here’s the important bit, by the time I get back home, I want you, my lawyers, and anyone else you can think of to have started on a plan to get me free of bloody computer clutches of this Gemini thing and the people who run it. I also expect you to have found a way that allows me to tell all our clients, first thing Easter Tuesday morning, that whatever happened this afternoon was just a hiccup. They need to hear that our trading is entirely under our complete control again. Is all of that crystal clear?’

‘Crystal clear,’ repeated Wheeler as he heard the telephone click dead the other end of the line.

 

The message was stark. Get the company shot of the influence of Gemini or, in a matter of days, there would be no Matthews Finch Hedge Fund left. Wheeler bit his lower lip and for just a few seconds wrestled with what to do first. He then decided there was just one person ideally suited to meet Matthews’s dilemma; he rang, but his man was out.

He left a message, ‘Max Wheeler calling, need you and your unusual contact’s special skills urgently. Ring me back on this mobile as soon as you can, thanks’. Whether the recipient of this message would come up with a legal way of helping mattered far less than that he should be available. It would be a difficult wait till he got an answer to this for who Wheeler had in mind was just perfect to get the hedge fund out of its difficulties

There was little doubt in his mind, however that he was going to have to step outside the strict confines of the law if he was going to solve Nat Matthews’s problem by Tuesday morning’s trading.

 

 

 

[]37

 

 

Wilton Crescent, London W1

 

As with most things organised by Gustave at the Palace Hotel, Nat Matthews’s journey home was impeccably arranged. It was both fast and comfortable. From the Helipad near the Palace Hotel he was whisked in a Eurocopter to Zurich’s Engadin Airport. There a chartered Cessna six-seater jet flew him direct to London’s City Airport where there was a car waiting to meet him and he arrived at his house at Wilton Crescent at seven twenty-five, just over four hours in all. The journey, pampered all the way, also put new fight into him to deal with the potential demise of his company.

At exactly eight o’clock, Wheeler rang the doorbell at Matthews’s house. It was opened to him by a butler – an essential status symbol for the class-conscious Matthews, newly arrived from his East End of London humble beginnings, to Wilton Crescent. Although Wheeler had extricated Matthews from some embarrassing situations, and regarded himself to being as close to Matthews as anyone, it was his first visit here. He liked to think of himself as ‘a man about town’ and that there was therefore little that would surprise or shock him. He was wrong about that. As he looked about him in the hall and up the elegant unsupported spiral Georgian stairway of this classical house, he let out an involuntary gasp; never had he seen such an extravagant, outlandish display of wealth. Gone were the staid furnishings and understated simplicity of its previous aristocratic owner’s taste in decoration. In its place, there was now a profusion of both pictures and furniture and as much gold leaf as might have rivalled an Austrian Baroque church.

‘Well, you’d better come up here, then,’ came Matthews’s voice from beyond the top of the stairs; it had a sharp edge to it. The Butler laid Wheeler’s coat temporarily on a small chair near the front door, led him up the stairs and ushered him into the drawing-room. This bright thirty by forty-foot room, with three tall windows looking out onto Wilton Crescent, was, like the rest that Wheeler had seen, over-furnished and decorated. There was an incongruous mix of classic Dutch School still-life paintings next to minimalist modern works in garish colours; it had an un-lived-in air, and it made Wheeler feel even more uncomfortable than before. Matthews himself had already crossed the room and seated himself in a large wing chair to the left of an ornate white marble fireplace.

‘Have a seat,’ he said, indicating a similar chair to his own the opposite side of the fireplace. Wheeler sat down on the front edge of it and looked back at Matthews with a degree of trepidation. He had witnessed the other’s temper before.

Matthews’s face was blotchily red and his small pale blue eyes darted here and there, agitated; his close-cropped light red hair glistened slightly; with sweat Wheeler surmised. Sweating, darting eyes, red face: danger-signs Wheeler knew well. He quickly rehearsed again the opening lines he had practiced earlier.

‘I’m sorry to have dragged you away from your holiday, but as I told you on the phone, I thought…’

Matthews cut his sentence short. ‘If I properly understood your call to me in St. Moritz, the Matthews Finch Hedge Fund has been hacked into over the internet and my unique trading algorithms have been illegally tampered with. Have I got that right?’

Wheeler had barely time to open his mouth to reply than Matthews continued, at pace. ‘This hacking team’s mucking about with the company’s trading may have lost us millions already; I’ll be checking that in detail in due course. Those losses, however, pale into insignificance against what will happen as soon as any of my clients discover that the money they have invested with the Fund is no longer under our complete control. Am I right in that too?’

‘I’m afraid that’s also true, but…’

‘And I told you, I needed two things right away. The first is a top PR storyline to be held in readiness in case this hacking story gets out. The second thing is for you and all your fancy contacts to make a start on getting this fixed. As you’ve had more than four hours since we spoke, and I pay you extortionate sums as my PR consultants, where are we with those?’

Wheeler put up his hand, as might a child in class, and this time Matthews allowed him to speak.

‘First I felt that we needed to look at all the options open to us,’ he said. ‘Would you like me to run through the options which I considered?’

‘I suppose so.’ Matthews let out a grunt of irritation. ‘But make it brief – all I want to know what you decided to do about this…this outrage.’

‘Okay,’ replied Wheeler, clearing his throat. ‘To start with, as this hacking operation seems to be under the auspices of the Bank of England, I ruled out trying to do anything like mounting a legal challenge. I also thought these pointless as I felt we’d never get anything done along legal lines with the holiday weekend upon us. Next, bearing in mind the over-riding need to be trading normally on Tuesday morning, I decided that whatever we decide to do, it should be as under-cover – as secret as possible.’

‘That sounds good to me,’ said Matthews. ‘So what exactly does that translate into?’

‘You’ll be pleased to hear, I think, that I’ve already got the first lot of people on board with this. I’m confident that they and another group I’m contacting shortly will have everything back to normal – as though nothing had happened – by Monday night.’

‘Well that sounds better.’ Matthews’s eyes closed for a moment as though he was lost in thought. ‘But that’s not very specific, is it? Who are these people and what exactly are they going to do? If you can give me the outcome, it can’t be that difficult to tell me how they’re going to get there, can it?’

‘That brings me to one of only two conditions I need in all of this,’ replied Wheeler.

‘Conditions?’ Matthews face instantly reddened further and Wheeler noticed his hands go from a loose clasp to tight fists. Wheeler reacted quickly to this apparent escalation in Matthews’s state of agitation. He got to his feet and going over to stand in front of the fireplace. From this vantage, he looked back down at Matthews. ‘You’ll recall that last year I got you out of that mess in Budapest and also dealt with the fiasco in Siena the year before that…?’

Matthews said nothing, struck silent by this unexpected turn in the conversation.

‘What you probably don’t realise,’ continued Wheeler, ‘Is that I have sometimes had to do things to get clients out of trouble which it’s far better the clients know nothing about, do you understand what I’m saying?’

‘Yes, I understand, and I appreciate what you’ve done for me in the past. Are you now saying that it would be better I don’t know what people you take on or what they might have to get up to?’

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying,’ replied Wheeler. ‘You’re a notable City figure and a partner in a well-known company; not only must you not be involved in any way with what now needs to be done, but it will also be much better for you if you know nothing of what we may need to do.’

‘I understand,’ said Matthews. He looked down at his hands, which were now just loosely clasped in his lap once again.

‘All you really need to know is of a satisfactory outcome once it’s all over, don’t you think?’ added Wheeler.

Matthews gave a nod, his face now expressionless, though at least he now looked relaxed for the first time and some of the heightened colour had gone from his face.

‘I can’t tell you more for a further reason,’ continued Wheeler. ‘Because of the time-constraints, we’re going to have to use what I might call a gloves-off approach, a way which I believe this situation requires. Do you understand that too?’

‘Gloves off? That’s fine by me,’ said Matthews. ‘A moment ago you said you had two conditions, one is that I don’t ask any questions about what you’re doing, what’s the other one?’

‘Money,’ said Wheeler but then quickly added, ‘to get the results we both want, I’m going to be using only the best of people, those with proven track records. You’ll just have to steel yourself to the fact that if you want to get your company back safe within this tight timeframe, is going to cost you. Do you need to talk to your partner Paul Finch, about that?’

Matthews had not thought about his partner Paul Finch until this moment. Whereas Paul was an accountant at heart, Matthews saw himself as the vitality of the partnership, the one who had seen the future in algorithmic trading. Paul provided the gravitas of someone known throughout the City, and respected even by the City’s more traditional bankers. He did not mind being called ‘flash’ by some of Paul’s more staid friends, for, despite marked differences between the two of them, it had evolved into an ideal partnership.

At this moment, Paul was on business in New York and, was probably already in Florida for the rest of the weekend; it suited Wheeler that it would be nigh impossible to track him down there for a consultation.

‘No, I don’t need to talk to Paul,’ said Matthews, as though reading Wheeler’s mind. ‘This situation comes under operations, my side of the business anyway.’

‘Good, so let’s get the money side agreed and out of the way, shall we?’

‘Right, so what do want of me?’

‘Can you transfer one hundred thousand into my account straight away? That will allow me to make a down payment to the first of my contacts who have already started on the problem. Everything needs to be done in cash: we don’t want any pieces of paper leading back either to me or to you.’

‘Right, a hundred thousand and no paper trails. Done.’

‘After that, we’ll just see how it goes,’ said Wheeler. ‘But I guess that if we’re going to secure a future of Matthews Finch, we’ll need to be prepared to spend whatever’s needed, won’t we?’

Matthews thought about this for a couple of seconds but simply replied, ‘Of course’. Going over to a small, delicately-inlaid chest of drawers, he took out an iPad. On it he logged into one of Matthews Finch’s accounts, the operations account.

‘If you give me your bank details, I can transfer the money to you right now,’ he said.

Wheeler read these details off from his mobile phone and Matthews tapped them into the iPad; within a minute, the money had been transferred into Wheeler’s account.

As he completed this simple electronic task, Matthews seemed to brighten up, he even smiled a wan smile as though relief came in some liquid form and had somehow suffused right through him. By handing over of the problem to someone he now hoped could put it all back the way it had been before the hacking, he appeared to have gone from the irritated and angry to the calm and rational. He went over to a drinks tray in the corner of the room and poured himself a brandy. He looked across to Wheeler and, by gesturing, asked him if he would like one. Wheeler accepted. Returning, he handed Wheeler his drink, went back into his fireside chair, sank into it with a deep sigh and took a large swill from the glass.

The same wan smile lingered on his face as he seemed to be looking into the distance. Strange thoughts scampered across his mind, helped maybe by the brandy. He had instantly liked Wheeler’s use of the phrase ‘gloves off’. It had suddenly reminded him of his father’s excited stories of his father, Nat’s old grandad. Back in the great depression of the 1930s, almost any form of income could mean the difference between having a meal or not. He had been enthralled by tales of his grandfather’s involvement in the illegal bare-knuckle fights just off the East India Docks; tales of lookouts to warn of the police, of quickly snatched winnings, and of the hurrying of the young fighter back home to tend the hands for another fight another day. Yes, gloves off, they would show young Angus Macrae he could not play around with another’s business with impunity.

Whilst Matthews had apparently retreated into this mild trance, Wheeler too, relaxed somewhat. He was growing in confidence as his barely mapped-out plan matured in his mind; as soon as he had finished his drink, it was time to begin implementing it for, to meet the inexorable deadline of Monday night, he and the Major needed to get on with it. Their combined ideas and contacts would have to translate this sketchy plan into action and then implement it; fast.

He finished his coffee and rose to leave. Matthews got up too, came over to him, and facing him, put his hands-on Wheeler’s shoulders. Looking into Wheeler’s eyes, he said, ‘Come to think about it, I don’t care what this costs. I’m putting my trust in you to get my company back for me by Monday night. Everything I’ve built up over these past few years is at stake here, so, for God’s sake, don’t let me down.’

‘I won’t let you down. You’re safe to put your trust in me. I know the right people to get everything back to normal – sooner than you think.’

 

They parted and on leaving Matthews house, Wheeler walked up to Knightsbridge and hailed a taxi. Whilst Matthews had been on his way back from St. Moritz, he’d got a reply back from the first of his contacts – Major Harry Tait – and had agreed to meet him at the Antelope pub near Sloane Square.

 

 

 

[]38

 

 

The Antelope Pub, London

 

Wheeler arrived at the Antelope pub in good time for his meeting with the Major. He was pleased to find the place was nearly empty, to be expected as it was Good Friday and there were no commuters. His usual table was empty and soon he’d got himself a pint of best bitter and settled comfortably by the fire -both pretty with its flickering flames and the sharp cold spell over the Easter weekend. As he waited for the Major, he was surprised to get a call from Mina Falcone.

‘I have the location of Gemini and some other facts which might help if you’re planning to retaliate in some way,’ she said.

‘Talking of retaliation, I have someone coming to meet me at the Antelope pub, near Sloane Square. Do you know it?’

‘I do.’

‘Then why don’t you join us, as your information is sure to be helpful to his plans?’

He put his mobile back in his pocket and on looking up he spotted the major coming through the main bar towards the snug. The two of them greeted each other with an embrace of camaraderie. Wheeler got him a pint the same as his own and they sat for a while catching up on what each had been doing since they had last met. After twenty minutes or so, Wheeler could hold back no longer from asking what the major had for him.

 

‘When we first discussed your client’s problem I took the liberty of talking to of my most reliable contacts,’ said the Major. ‘And, I’ve heard that he and his people are available to help us if we decide to use them.’

‘Tell me more,’ said Wheeler.

‘With the problem you’ve got, both myself and my contacts have no doubt that the quickest and most effective way of dealing with it would be kidnapping someone close to the person responsible for this Gemini thing. And through my contacts, I’ve found out quite a lot about this Gemini programme which has given your client his problem. It’s run by an Angus Macrae, though day to day stuff is in the hands of an ex-SAS guy called Wilder. We suggest you avoid him at all costs.’

‘I’d agree with that, don’t want to tangle with ex-SAS people,’ said Wheeler.

‘I’ve found out that this Macrae and his family are getting together on Macrae’s father’s island for the Easter weekend,’ said the Major. ‘It struck me that a pretty straightforward way of sorting out your mess would be to kidnap Macrae’s wife. These contacts I’ve just mentioned are experts in that field, having used it on behalf of the UK Government during ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland in the nineteen-nineties.’

‘You reckon that if we were to take his wife hostage and hold her in captivity, Macrae would respond to our demands concerning his Gemini’s control over the Matthews hedge fund?’ asked Wheeler.

‘Yes, I do. And, initially, it doesn’t matter where it’s located, just so long as this Macrae gives in under the pressure of his wife’s kidnapping.’

‘That seems a pretty straightforward plan, I like it.’

‘My contacts are based in Northern Ireland just a short distance from where the family will be staying for the weekend. With the powerful boat they have, they could take her to Northern Ireland, demand that Macrae remove their team’s control of Matthews Finch’s trading software, maybe even give us the software they’re using – this Gemini thing. We could be onto a real winner here.’

‘Right, so who exactly are these contacts of yours?’ asked Wheeler.

The Major went on to explain about Mick Rollo and his team of ex-coverts. ‘The Coverts’ were not even supposed to have existed. Indeed, anyone making enquiries about them through the Ministry of Defence, The Northern Ireland Office, or trying to conduct internet detective work on the Northern Ireland Troubles, would soon come to information cul-de-sacs. Even though the coverts had played a key role in establishing the peace in the troubled provinces, it was impossible to find anything about them even from the almost infinite data sources of the world-wide web.

The reason ‘the Coverts’ had been needed in those times, explained the Major, was that individuals or small groups of renegades on both sides of ‘the Troubles’, posed serious threats of violence but could not be stopped through the normal processes of the Law. In such cases, successive UK Governments had used small, highly trained teams of ‘Coverts’ to remove such renegades from the conflict. The Coverts became masters at kidnapping and delivering these undesirables to the hands of the authorities, though what happened to them after they’d been delivered, no one seemed to know or care. All the Coverts operations were carried out on a ‘deniable’ basis; if a mission became exposed or failed, the coverts were on their own. It was not a job for the faint of heart, but it was well paid and it had a special kudos to it as well.

These days, following the success of Northern Ireland peace process, most of ‘the Coverts’ had become redundant. They had mostly left the army and some fell by the wayside – like many soldiers do as they try to return to civilian life. A few had used their savings and skills to carve out new lives for themselves – some of them in illegal activities.

‘You amaze me,’ said Wheeler.

‘It brings us neatly to your client’s problem, doesn’t it?’ said the Major. ‘One such surviving group of ex-coverts was assembled over a period of time by Mick Rollo. I’ve known Mick since back during those times and we’ve remained in contact since. I’ve found work for them and brokered three mercenary jobs for them in Africa, two in Bosnia and one recently in the Ukraine. Indeed, wherever trouble flares up I’ve been able to pass work on to Rollo and his team. And they’ve never let me down in anything I’ve passed over to them.’

‘So this will be child’s play for them?’

‘Indeed it will.’

‘I gave my word to Nat Matthews,’ said Wheeler, ‘that we’d have fixed his problem by Saturday or Sunday night.’

‘As I told you,’ replied the Major, ‘I took the liberty of contacting them as soon as you’d outlined the Matthews problem to me. Naturally I didn’t give them any details or tell them anything about you, so all they know at the moment is that it’s a kidnap job somewhere in the UK. I’m pleased to tell you, however, that, for the right money, they could have their best men available any time you give the go-ahead.’

‘That’s a relief, what sort of money are we talking about?’

‘As I’ve used Rollo and his coverts before,’ replied the Major, ‘and I think around a hundred thousand for a two or three-day job of this kind would be about right.’

‘Good, let’s get the job confirmed and get it under way,’ said Wheeler, his spirits lifted by what seemed to be such a quick solution to the major problem of just a few hours earlier.

Even though it was by now getting on for ten o’clock, the Major got through to Mick Rollo right away. With business in the offing from the Major’s earlier contact, Rollo had been waiting for the call and Wheeler sat back in his chair relaxing – though listening in on the telephone conversation next to him.

 

At that moment, a pretty, dark-haired young woman came across to them from the far side of the snug bar.

‘From your voice you must be Max Wheeler,’ she said.

‘And you’re Mina Falcone?’

‘I am.’

He bought her a drink and after the Major had finished his call, he too was introduced. Not one to waste time on pleasantries, Mina leant forward close to the two of them.

‘You look as though you have a plan to get back at these bastards who think they can just ride roughshod over small private companies like Matthews Finch?’

Wheeler, who had checked up on her and found that she did indeed work for someone high up in the Home Office, first asked her why she was still interested in the Matthews Finch dilemma now that she’d met her objectives by blowing the whistle on the Bank of England and their collaborators.

‘I’ve no further interest in what you do for Matthews Finch other than to say I hope you get them justice. But I do have another interest and it may well serve your purposes quite well.’

‘Is this coincidence or what?’ asked Wheeler.

‘Don’t know if it’s coincidence or not,’ replied Mina. ‘But I know through a cousin of my mother’s that some Russians are keen to steal the Gemini. But, obviously, they don’t want to flood its location with a bunch of Russians and it occurred to me that it might suit both of you if they could kind of piggy-back your effort. I’m sure they’d contribute something useful and would only want to add just one person to your people’s group. So, if I give you the Gemini location, do you think this collaboration might be of benefit to both?’

‘I don’t see why not,’ said Wheeler.

‘But that’s the beauty of it,’ said Mina, ‘Gemini’s location is the same place as where the Macrae family have gone for the Easter break. So what I’m authorised to offer you is the unlimited use of a six to nine seater helicopter for the use of your people, while the single Russian person added to your group, does whatever it is he’s planned for the Gemini software. There’s another advantage of joining the two operations.’

‘Such as?’ asked Wheeler.

‘It will be better doing this thing together rather than the Russians getting in the way of your plans because they’re were working on their own rather than in collaboration with you.’

‘Can you give a moment to discuss this?’ said Wheeler.

Mina didn’t even need to say anything except to excuse herself when she left them to go outside the pub and have a cigarette.

 

‘Makes sense to me,’ said the Major. ‘And, for goodness sake, if we have two or three of Mick Rollo’s top men alongside just one Russian, what harm can it do? So, I say accept his offer – a helicopter could get the men up close to the Macrae island and be very quick at getting Macrae’s wife back to Northern Ireland after the kidnapping.’

‘Yes, it would give Rollo has a base on the mainland,’ agreed Wheeler, ‘and allow him to do the actual kidnapping using a local boat perhaps.’

‘Yes, Rollo’s a professional, he can work out the details and all we need to do is present him with our decision – we needed to agree to this to get the Gemini location.’

‘Done,’ said Wheeler.

Mina was able to go back to Igor Novikov with confirmation of the idea she’d floated to him earlier. She had known Novikov would go for almost anything after the failure of the arrack on the Manchester Bank. He’d told her in great detail how the team in London had sat monitoring their attack hoping to track Gemini’s counter and track it to its location. She could hear his description in her head. ‘As soon as our people pressed ‘enter’ on the laptop controlling the attack, in virtually the same instant, the laptop itself shut down. Two other laptops, wired to boxes attached to the bank’s mainframes, also just stopped. Worse still, there was nothing that any of their experts could do either then then or later to restart the three machines.’

She had also been told that some other attempts to get Gemini’s location had failed – though she was not told what these were. The upshot of her conversation with Novikov was one of delight at getting the Gemini location and would happily contribute a UK charter helicopter towards the collaboration.

 

The negotiations had given her a fraught twenty-four hours but she was pleased with the result – happy that both Wheeler’s lot and Novikov’s were happy with the final deal.

For her role as broker for Novikov – who seemed especially relieved with the new arrangements – she managed to extract twenty thousand pounds from him. She decided to wait until she had learned some more about Wheeler, the Major and Mick Rollo before asking for money or expenses from their side. But she was confident she could make something out of them too – just further down the line perhaps.

Novikov wired the money to her and using her Home Office credentials she organised the charter of an eight-seater Eurocopter on an open contract. She told both the Major and Novikov’s man Dmitri Zaytsev to be at the London Helicopter Terminal on the south bank of the Thames at eight o’clock on Saturday morning.

 

 

 

[]39

 

 

Norbally House, Portrush, Northern Ireland

 

As instructed, the pilot took the helicopter in near Belfast airport to top it up with fuel. It had been explained to the charter company that there might need to be several trips between Northern Ireland and the West Coast of Scotland over the weekend, and that further refuelling visits should just be debited to the account which Mina had set up on behalf of Novikov; it would be settled at the end of the charter; as the charterer seemed to be on the authority of the Home Office, this was readily accepted. From Belfast there it was just another twenty minutes flight time to Portrush and Norbally House on the north coast.

Only a few years earlier, Norbally House had been almost derelict – a large Northern Ireland mansion in the Georgian style with a home farm adjacent. During ‘The Troubles,’ whilst the Irish Economy was in poor shape, it had been put up for sale though, for years, no one seemed interested in buying it. Eventually an anonymous buyer appeared, and though the offer they made for the place was low, the sellers, keen to get it off their hands, accepted it and the deal was quickly concluded.

For a while afterwards, the buyer’s identity remained unknown. Much work on it and its grounds could be seen by the locals, including large new wrought iron gates and over six miles of tall, electrified wire-mesh fencing. It was only after this work appeared to be complete that the new owner moved in and his name was eventually discovered to be Mick Rollo.

There was some local speculation about his origins and the nearest anyone got to the truth was that he had once been in the British Army’s Special Forces. This was thought possible as it was also rumoured that, with a name like Rollo, he was originally from Scotland. He was soon joined at by a team of six or seven fit, military-looking young men. Some of these occasionally came down to the pub not far from the main gates, though they always kept to themselves. Eventually it became known that this team had all once been members of ‘the Coverts’ and as many in Northern Ireland knew, the coverts were best left to themselves.

As soon as the pilot had landed the helicopter on Norbally’s large front lawns, Mick Rollo came out of the house and stood, arms folded, waiting for them by the front door. As soon as the Major had jumped down from the helicopter and come across the lawn, Rollo greeted him with an embrace and mutual back-slapping. He was then introduced to Zaytsev.

After going through to the large drawing room, Rollo summoned three of his coverts – Flaxman, Tulloch and Rookie – so called because he’d had yet to go on one of the group’s missions. They then moved to Rollo’s study where there was a large whiteboard standing on an easel. He had already written up on it the names of the four members of the mission.

‘This initial briefing won’t take long,’ he said, ‘as the Major will go into more detail when you get up to the Inn where you’ll be staying tonight. Your two jobs are quite straightforward.’

‘Greg,’ he said, turning to look at Flaxman, ‘you’ll take Rookie with you and the two of you will be responsible for kidnapping Macrae’s wife. He turned slightly and looking at Tulloch, continued, ‘You’ll be with Mr Zaytsev here…’

‘Dmitri, please, my name’s Dmitri,’ interrupted Zaytsev.

‘You’ll be with, er, Dmitri who’s in charge of our Russian friend’s end of this mission. We’ve booked rooms for a few days at an old inn called the Galley of Lorne, though we hope to be out of there in two. The owner’s called Hamish Munro. He appears to be an obliging man and it seems that he has a liking for the bottle and, conveniently, I’ve found him helpfully talkative. He should be a good source of local knowledge for us. Shaun,’ he said turning to Tulloch, ‘I picked you because you’re a keen photographer and I’ve already told this Hamish Munro that you’ve photographed castles all over Europe. This is an extra cover should we need access to areas of the castle not open to the public. Dimitri, you can pretend to be Shaun’s European cousin, interested in comparing castles in whichever country you choose to come from.’

‘The Ukraine,’ said Zaytsev. ‘We have many beautiful fortresses and old castles in the Ukraine.’

‘Good, the Ukraine it is,’ said Rollo. ‘Munro is hiring a boat for us for just long it takes us to complete our two missions. Munro vouches for this boat captain as being the best there is as he’s been taking tourists around the coastal waters there for more than thirty years.’

‘The major and I have discussed all of this and we feel confident that our success will be down to surprise and to small, unobtrusive two-man teams. Once we’re settled into the inn this afternoon, the Major will discuss with each of you individually, the details of the two missions. Are there any questions so far?’

There were no questions asked, but a few lesser points were covered – for example, a hired SUV would arrive from Oban at the Galley of Lorne soon after their arrival at the inn. It would be used principally to find a rendezvous point for the boats and the helicopter after the kidnapping and the theft of Gemini. Then there was the major’s hope that, as a backup to stealing Gemini, he might be able to find and sever the Island of Craithe’s Internet cable. He had already booked an appointment in Oban with one of the engineers who had installed this fibre optic cable. The four carrying out the two operations would have the rest of the afternoon to familiarise themselves with the castle layout. This they were to do from the internet and from the castle’s own brochure and from these studies they could work up the details of their plans.

The meeting concluded with the four participants suitably fired up for the tasks ahead. But, just before they went out to the helicopter, Zaytsev asked what facilities Rollo had for the kidnapped prisoners once they had been brought back to Norbally House. He asked what had they by way of rooms that might be used to get information from people who were not immediately willing to impart it. Rollo was surprised at the question, as the kidnapping was nothing to do with him, but keen to show off his facilities, he simply said, ‘Come with me’.

Zaytsev followed Rollo to the back of the house and then into a dimly lit room.

‘Wait here and look at that large mirror there,’ he said as he pointed to it taking up much of the space on one of the walls. Rollo then left and a moment later lights came on beyond the mirror, showing it to be a two-way window into what was obviously an interrogation room. From the room, Rollo flicked a couple of switches and then asked, through a speaker system,

‘Does that answer your question, Dmitri?’

‘Yes, but how do you have a facility like this?’

‘It was put in and used by the previous owners,’ replied Rollo. ‘Probably used in the very difficult times of in Ireland known as the Troubles.’

‘Ah yes, the times of the bombs,’ said Zaytsev.

They walked back through the house, picked up the three coverts’ overnight bags and equipment lying in the hall and went on out to the helicopter.

As soon as all were aboard, the pilot started up the Eurocopter and they climbed off the front lawn and immediately swung north over the shore nearby. They headed towards the Mull of Kintyre which became clearly visible as soon as they had gained height over Norbally House and, as it was just 75 miles to the Galley of Lorne, the trip was going to take them around half an hour. Despite his training with the SAS all those years ago, this was the first time that the Major had joined in on one of the missions he had brokered. He was both surprised and embarrassed to feel that his stomach was churning at the thought of how things might go from here.

 

 

 

[]40

 

 

Glasgow International Airport

 

Borislav Boreyev and his team of five had arrived at Glasgow International Airport about a couple of hours later than planned, about eleven o’clock. The flight in Mikhail Rostov’s Hawker 800 jet had been delayed for take-off – some confusion over the flight plan.

With some assistance from Peter Forsyth at the Home Office, Angus Macrae had got diplomatic status for the flight and on arrival at Glasgow, the jet was directed to a private tarmac apron which would gave access to private customs clearance and the hired vehicle organised by Angus.

No sooner were the doors opened and the steps let down, than a UK customs officer, accompanied by a smart young man in a well-tailored suit entered the aircraft.

‘Mr Boreyev?’ enquired the young man in the suit.

‘Yes, I’m Borislav Boreyev,’ he replied as he unstrapped himself and rose from his seat.

‘My name’s Geoffrey Plumstead. The Home Secretary has sent me to convey our welcome to the United Kingdom to you and your group. As a diplomatic gesture, all your baggage and belongings will be loaded directly into the minibus, which has been hired for you by Mr Macrae. Chief Customs Officer Smalley is here with me to ensure your smooth passage through the documentary formalities and then to speed you on your way. Is there anything else I can do for you?’

‘No, thank you, and please convey our thanks to the Home Secretary,’ replied Boreyev.

‘I will indeed, Mr Boreyev, and welcome again to the UK.’ He turned and left the plane. Chief Customs Officer Smalley stayed behind, examined the passports and asked Boreyev to sign a couple of documents. After that, he too was gone.

A minibus with a large luggage space behind the seats had arrived next to the plane. As soon as Boreyev and the other five were down on the tarmac, they watched as their baggage and equipment were loaded. Just as this was being completed, there was the sound of a mobile telephone ringing from the driver’s seat inside the minibus. It had been put there on Angus’s instructions and its number had been passed back to him by the minibus rental company. One of the baggage handlers picked it up, answered it and brought it over to Boreyev.

‘I think this’ll be for you,’ he said as he handed it over.

‘Borislav, you arrived safe and sound?’ asked Angus.

‘Yes Angus we have,’ replied Boreyev in Russian. ‘And thank you for the welcoming party, much appreciated.’

‘You’re welcome,’ replied Angus, ‘In addition to the mobile telephone, I asked the van rental people to get a map for you and to mark it with your route from the airport to Crinan. Tatty and I will be waiting for you there. There’s no hurry as we have to wait for slack tides to get us through the Corryvreckan, but I’ve booked a table for lunch for all of us at the Crinan Hotel.’

‘The Corry-what?’ repeated Boreyev,

‘The Corryvreckan,’ repeated Angus, ‘I’ll explain that when we meet.’

As he had been speaking, Boreyev had found the map, and half-opened it to see Crinan highlighted on it.

‘The marked map looks good; how long will it take us to drive up to Crinan?’

‘As you’re not familiar with driving on the left, and with some winding roads in places, it’ll probably take you about a couple of hours.’

‘Good, we’ll see you in Crinan for lunch then,’ said Boreyev.

 

The map showed them the way across the River Clyde north of the Airport and then along its north bank turning away from the river at the ancient Dumbarton Castle and on up the west side of Loch Lomond. They motored on good, well sign-posted dual-carriageway roads for much of the way and Boreyev drove at a steady pace, slow enough to take in the beautiful surroundings. Some stretches of the road were high above the loch and the views of it and Ben Lomond on the far side of it were spectacular. Cameras and smartphones clicked as they drove through the magnificent scenery.

Near the head of the loch, at the tiny hamlet of Tarbet, they turned away from the Loch Lomond and the road now took them up over wild mountain roads, with steep inclines followed by deep valleys with towering rugged mountains on either side of the road. After going around the heads of a couple of sea lochs until, at last, they arrived at Inveraray. Cameras clicked again for the magnificent Inveraray Castle, its four grey slate-roofed towers glistening after a brief April shower.

The last leg of the journey, from Inveraray to Crinan was just a short trip across flatter land and on arriving in Crinan, they soon spotted the large white building that was the Crinan Hotel – their rendezvous with the Macraes. After parking the van in the hotel car park, they sauntered down to the loch’s edge to admire the views, stretch their legs and draw in the fresh sea air. Looking west, straight out from where they stood on the high quay, the horizon west was dominated by the bulk of the Isle of Jura and, to its right, the slightly smaller island of Scarba. Through the gap between these two, they could also just see the towering mountains on the island of Craithe.

‘There you are,’ came a deep voice from behind them speaking in Russian. It was Angus Macrae coming down from the hotel, with the Tatiana by his side, and Tom Wilder following behind. Boreyev turned and walked briskly over, first to Tatiana who he engulfed in his arms and then kissed on both cheeks and then to Angus who he enveloped in a hug.

As he released Angus from his embrace, he said in Russian, ‘How beautiful a place you bring us to.’ He then turned to Wilder standing a few yards back towards the hotel. He walked briskly over and embraced him as well, a new bond between them after their ordeals together in Lubyanka prison.

‘Right all of you,’ said Angus in Russian, ‘Lunch is ready.’ And taking Tatiana by the hand, added, ‘Follow me.’

As the group, all conversing in Russian, entered the hotel. The staff knew Angus well of course, the son of Sir James Macrae, Laird of Craithe one of the biggest landowners in this part of the world. But they were astounded to hear him conversing in fluent Russian – only the hotel’s manager knew that Angus had spent some years in banking in Moscow. The group sat at a large table next to windows giving wide panoramic views out west towards the islands. Angus explained the geography of this part of the world to Boreyev and his men and went on to tell them why he had called on their services, and the babble of conversation was replaced by attentive listening.

‘As your boss knows,’ said Angus, ‘We have a team of computer scientists on the island where you’ll be staying for a while. They’ve developed valuable software and there are many who would want to steal it. Your job will be to protect the team and the software from theft or harm. When we get to the island you’ll be told what this will entail for each of you. In the meantime, I welcome you all to Scotland and hope you enjoy your stay. We’ll have a thorough session on security when we get to the castle.’

After lunch Angus knew that the slack tide was due, one of the group went and collected the mini-bus, the others, their meal eased down with holiday quantities of vodka, made their way down to the Laird’s boat.

The boat itself as an ex-lifeboat was amongst the safest sea-going boats for the often treacherous waters on this coastline. The Laird had been on the point of getting something different but just as he was making his choice, a young couple had lost their lives in the wild seas of the Corryvreckan. The thought that a lifeboat might have saved their lives, prompted him to look into the possibility of buying one no longer in service. He found the Louisa and, on agreeing to allow her to be used as a backup to the Oban lifesaving boat, he bought her at a substantial discount off the one-million-pound price tag. Even this discounted price was high but Angus, returning from Russia to start the new joint-venture bank, offered to pay a substantial part of its purchase and running costs and the conglomerate also contributed.

 

Her skipper, Sandy Forbes, a large man in his late forties had been chosen as skipper from many candidates, all of whom had to undergo interviews both with the Laird himself and the Lifeboat service. A local man, Sandy was one of those people that instil instant confidence and soon became known along the coast as one who had saved a number of lives since then, as the Louisa’s services had been called upon help out the Oban RNLI boat in the stormy conditions of the previous year.

 

Once the Boreyev group’s equipment had been transferred from the minibus into the Louisa, the bus itself parked back in the Hotel car park, with all aboard, Sandy made ready for the return to Craithe. He had some difficulty initially in starting one of the two large diesel engines. He had to do some quick tinkering with that engine’s fuel injection system but after a few minutes started them both with deep powerful grumbles from the 1500 horse power between the two them. He then shouted for the willing helpers ashore and as soon as she was cast off, he nudged her out into Loch Crinan.

Once clear of the many yachts and small boats anchored near the quay, he gently pushed the throttles forward for more speed. The growls became muted roars and even in the choppy passage of sea known as the Dorus Mhor, with its seven or eight knot tide rips sweeping past the boat, the Louisa just bobbed occasionally the powerful cross currents and sliced her way through them. Soon, even above the noise of the engines, they could all hear the roar of the straits of the Corryvreckan ahead them and, a short while later, they were in the midst of churning and standing waves – these where seas, coming at each other from different directions, clashing and standing against each other as though in a test of strength. The Louisa’s exceptionally wide beam of some seventeen feet made her comfortably stable and despite the violence of the waters all around them, she just gently rolled a few degrees, first this way then that, as she powered at nearly twenty knots round the side of the maelstrom. Angus pointed out the Great Whirlpool itself as they passed within a hundred yards of it – a great, wide depression in the sea, some hundred yards across filled with waves tumbling over each other and circulating in a macabre marine dance.

As soon as they were through the straits and past the islands of Jura and Scarba on either side of the gulf, the island Craithe loomed large ahead of them; its massive castle and jagged mountains beyond it awed even Boreyev’s men to stop talking to each other as they looked out on it. As they approached the entrance to the old walled-in harbour of Stanleytoun, Sandy Forbes eased-off the power and the Louisa settled down into a slow gurgling approach towards her own permanent berth. It was at this point that an intermittent coughing sound could be heard coming from the same engine that had initially refused to start. Forbes exchanged glances with Angus.

‘If Tom Wilder or Borislav Boreyev need her over the weekend,’ said Angus, ‘she’s got to be in full working condition – full power, total reliability. She doesn’t sound quite that now, does she?’

‘No, she’s sounding a wee bit wheezy,’ replied Sandy.

‘Can you get her a hundred percent by the end of the afternoon?’

‘Oh Aye, I can tell without even looking that it’s nothing serious, but the worst that could happen would be making do with just the one engine.’

‘No, no. That won’t do. See if you can get it fixed at Brown’s and let me know up at the Castle when that’s been done, will you’, said Angus.

‘Aye, I’ll do that’.

Forbes nudged her gently towards her berth and as they came near the quayside, people appeared as from nowhere to help tie up the Laird’s boat. These same people then helped with getting the baggage and Boreyev’s equipment up on to quayside. Two Landrovers had been driven down to near the Louisa. One of them had a game cart attached to the back of it and soon all had been loaded. With the Louisa’s enclosed cabin then safely locked, they all made their way along the quay to the Derby Arms Hotel.

This had once just been just a good pub and restaurant with a dozen rooms and just a couple of bathrooms. Recently, with the tourist trade quadrupling over just a few years, a large extension had been added and it now boasted a fine panoramic view restaurant, and eight more bedrooms; most of them with their own bathrooms. Boreyev’s five were to stay here in the rooms that Angus had managed to book for them. As soon as they had been signed into the hotel they were each given a number of sterling notes out of their wages and Angus, Tatiana, and their ten-year-old son Jerry, on holiday from boarding school, led Wilder and Boreyev up to the castle.

Wilder, getting more accustomed to the island, seemed relaxed about the threat of intruders, and Boreyev was keen to learn about the layout of the castle right away. Angus gave them a guided tour around both the castles vast interior and gardens outside it. As they went, Boreyev made notes and did little sketches; already, almost intuitively, planning a defence strategy.

 

 

 

[]41

 

 

Galley of Lorne Inn, Ardfern, Argyllshire

 

Hamish Munro at the Galley of Lorne Inn, had told the major at the time he had made the booking that he would put out a large white H of sheets on the best level spot near the inn to show where the helicopter should land. After passing Crinan, the pilot slowed the Eurocopter as the white symbol came into view up ahead. He landed, let his passengers off, and, as the helicopter would not be needed here again till tomorrow afternoon, took off again and swung south back to Ireland.

The five of them quickly settled into the comfortable inn and after a quick lunch, each of them had research to do for their missions.

Greg Flaxman had become a master in the art of kidnapping, but in his days with the Coverts his targets had usually been snatched from some housing estate in cities such as Belfast or Derry or from a lonely cottage in the countryside. The time factor to this mission, however, meant that he and Rookie needed to seize Macrae’s wife from the security of the huge castle – a very different proposition. This was made even more difficult in that it had to be done at the earliest opportunity. In turn, this meant it would most likely have to be carried out in broad daylight.

This task, daunting at first glance, was made easier by Munro. As a gesture of hospitality, he offered to get his cousin Geordie to act a special guide for the modest extra fee. It was explained that poor Geordie was handicapped in that although he was thirty years of age, he had the mental development of not much more than a ten year-old but it led Flaxman to come up with a neat plan. He decided to try it out with Munro after lunch. He arrived at two-thirty in the bar, and found the large, red-cheeked Munro pouring himself a significant slug of whisky.

‘Would you like one of these yourself, Mr Flaxman – on the house?’ asked Munro. ‘I find it helps the digestion.’

‘No thanks,’ replied Flaxman. ‘Too many of my former comrades turned to the bottle in a big way on returning from Afghanistan, so I don’t touch the stuff at all myself.’

Munro did not appear to notice the slight but by now had already taken a large swig from the glass. The two of them settled into a long bench-seat in the bow window at the end of the bar and Flaxman leant forward towards the other. ‘I need your advice,’ he said.

‘Happy to help in any way I can,’ replied Munro.

‘I’m an old friend of Angus Macrae’s and I’d like to give him a nice surprise when I get over to the castle tomorrow,’ said Flaxman.

‘Well, what a small world,’ said Munro. ‘Where did you know him?’

Pleased with his fabrication, Flaxman, leant back smiling. ‘Moscow,’ he said. ‘My Russian cousin Dmitri Zaytsev who’s with us on this trip also met Angus there. We also met his lovely wife Tatiana, she’s from Moscow, did you know? So, do you have any ideas on how we might get close to them before surprising them? It’d be fun to if it’s completely unexpected.’

‘I see what you mean,’ said Munro. ‘I should think that Geordie could find out what his and Tatiana’s movements will be tomorrow, though he might not be able to get them till the morning. He’s an odd-job man about the place and generally seems to know who’s where and doing what. Why don’t we try and get in touch now, let him in on our little secret?’

‘Perfect, let’s do that’ replied Flaxman, ‘and you can confirm if you will that we’d like Geordie to act as a special guide for us tomorrow. Tell we’d like to more than double his fee to fifty quid as we’re asking him this special favour.’

Munro beamed with delight at the plan. Geordie was always pleased when Galley of Lorne guests were directed towards him for guide work of this kind. Munro went back over to the bar whilst Flaxman leaned on the bay window and looked out at the view over the loch and the islands beyond. He listened carefully, however, as Munro talked to Geordie. After the call, Munro returned to the bench seat smiling.

‘Geordie’s delighted with the whole idea,’ he said, ‘and he’s sworn to secrecy – loves a secret does Geordie. And don’t be fooled by his appearance tomorrow – he’s a little backward, if you know what I mean, but absolutely ideal for a prank such as this.’

‘Good,’ said Flaxman getting up to leave. ‘So after breakfast and before the boat gets here I’ll come to your office and we can ring Geordie again? Did he think there will be any problem finding out what Angus and Tatiana will be doing tomorrow?’

‘I don’t know if you overheard me ask him that very question,’ replied Munro, ‘but he said it would be no problem at all. I reminded him to be careful not to give the secret away when he was trying to find out about their movements.’

‘And what did he say to that?’ asked Flaxman.

‘He told me that he often asks Angus if there’s anything he would like done for him,’ replied Munro, ‘so asking him won’t seem unusual.’

‘Excellent!’ said Flaxman. ‘Looking forward to tomorrow morning then.’ As he rose, he gave a wave and left the bar.

The rest of the afternoon was spent learning as much as they could of the castle and its layout. This meant studying the visitor’s brochure for Craithe Castle and a large-scale map they had brought with them. The inn also had other booklets about the west coast of Scotland, and the islands around here, just south of Oban. They found it both interesting and informative and both the kidnapping and software theft were beginning to look much easier than either Flaxman or Zaytsev had initially feared.

There was just one thing they came across in the local guide that concerned them and the effect it might have on their plans. The booklet explained that, due to the sparse population and the mountainous terrain, mobile telephone services ranged from very poor to non-existent. This meant that once they were any distance from the mobile telephone relay masts on the mainland, mobile telephone connections were either out of range or the signal could be blocked by intervening mountains – unless they had a satellite phone, of course. In the rush to get on with this mission, such a small but significant oversight was a blow but it was too late now to get a hold of satellite mobiles or radios so they would need to be careful to bear this in mind when setting up the rendezvous tomorrow.

As they all met in the bar that evening for a drink before dinner, they agreed that, apart from the late discovery of communications difficulties in this remote part of the world, their plans looked eminently doable.

 

 

 

[]42

 

 

Craithe Castle, Scotland

 

During Friday morning, Angus spoke to several people about the results of conference. The Bank of England team had been pleased with the way it had all gone – especially Gemini’s successful counter attack to the attempted attack on the Manchester Bank. It was not until the afternoon that he caught up with Wilder and Boreyev who had been going into further detail over security for Gemini.

To make the south-east tower and that corner of the castle a truly attractive place to live, all living quarters were outside the keypad security system. These areas were almost gutted and every modern facility for their comfort was installed. This area included bedrooms, bathrooms, a large sitting-room, a smaller television room, and a restaurant with its own kitchens and staff.

The laboratory itself and access to it were equipped with keypad security on the doors, thought to be sufficient to deter tourists who had wandered away from their group or got lost in the labyrinth of corridors in the oldest parts of the castle. Wilder made a note that as soon as the Easter weekend was past, an even more secure keypad system should be installed.

Still, the security of the castle was child’s play compared to the set-up that would have been needed for a building in London or even near it.

The main security risk was from would-be software thieves posing as tourists. A large-scale attack to steal Gemini could only get onto the island by boat or by helicopter, and, as in times past, would be easy to rebuff. Due to the island’s mountainous terrain and few level areas, there were only few patches of ground large enough for a helicopter to land and an attack by sea would be likely to succeed only under cover of darkness.

Boreyev had taken a long look round the castle and grounds and Wilder had used his SAS skills to see how he would get into the lab. Both of them agreed on how best to use the Russian team.

‘I know we got you over here to do some protection work,’ said Wilder as they went out of the castle’s main front door, ‘but I think that your stay here is going to be more of a holiday than anything else. For starters, I don’t think anyone knows yet that the Gemini team is based here on the island and for some time now Perry has had in place a software decoy programme which entices those looking for Gemini to search the west end of London or Cambridge. And Perry tells me that we’ve had a number of people trying to hack into those false locations.’

‘You may be right,’ replied Boreyev, ‘but as you just launched the Gemini defence system to God knows how many people in London, we need to expect a leak eventually from somewhere. I’ve done a rota system with my men that should keep everyone safe – even if no one turns up to steal your software.’

 

  • * * * *

 

Although Tatiana had been to Craithe a couple of times and Angus’s parents had been to Moscow also on two occasions – not least her wedding of course – she had spent little time with the Laird. On Angus’s advice she had arranged a time with him for a chat for, although she guessed he was in his late sixties, he seemed to be constantly busy. The two of them had agreed to meet in the Great Hall for morning coffee. They had an interesting talk together the main upshot of which was the Laird’s suggestion that she should try and get him to relax a bit – forget about Gemini – leave more of that to Wilder. He even suggested that, as a boy and a young man Angus had loved mackerel fishing and other west highland pursuits and though Tatiana wasn’t that keen on the idea, she promised to suggest something of that kind.

The two of them had been so intent on their chat that neither of them had heard him come in but he now strode across the room to join them.

‘I was just saying to Tatty that I think yours and Jeremy’s ways of shaking up the international financial world to protect it may be brilliant but that it’s dangerous,’ said the Laird. ‘And thank God you’ve got Tom in to help you.’

‘Oh absolutely,’ agreed Angus, ‘and it also means I have someone to blame if anything goes wrong.’

They all laughed and it didn’t take Tatiana and the Laird to bring the subject round to the desirability of the two of them going out together while it was still a lovely spring day but the weather looking less certain for the afternoon.

 

 

 

[]43

 

 

Crinan, Argyllshire

 

Starting the new season, this particular year Neil McKinnon was in good spirits. This was the first time he would be taking out his gleaming Mitchell 31 touring boat, Calistra, with the loan on her paid off – the first year she was truly his. Her sleek black hull, reflecting mirror-like the waters of the loch, her beige decks, the white cabin, the large open space in the stern, she was the perfect craft for touring around this, one of the most beautiful coastlines in Britain.

The booking for today had been made by Hamish Munro, owner of the Galley of Lorne Inn. Most of the hotels and B&Bs and some of the caravan parks along the coast had leaflets extolling the delights of trips aboard the Calistra. McKinnon took bookings from the owners or managers of these outlets in return for a small commission. But, rather than the commission, it was his reputation for giving everyone a great day out that kept up a steady flow of business coming his way. Of all of his business providers, Hamish and his Galley of Lorne Inn was his preferred source.

At the last minute, only an hour before McKinnon was due to pick up the four clients, the time of departure was put back by a couple of hours to eleven o’clock – something about a fifth gentleman, maybe joining the four but delayed in getting back from Oban.

Despite the tiresome change of plan, McKinnon made sure he left Crinan to be at the Galley of Lorne in good time. Young locals helped him to cast Calistra off from the quay and he motored north across Loch Crinan and up Loch Craignish, arriving at the Galley of Lorne’s private jetty just before eleven – the amended time. A young lad who had been fishing off the end of it jumped to his feet and helped to tie Calistra up alongside. McKinnon thanked the lad and then climbed out of boat and stood on the jetty next to her bows, his battered white-topped captain’s hat tucked under his arm.

There he waited for his four customers. They were late. After McKinnon had been standing there for some twenty minutes, and was just about to go back aboard Calistra to try to contact Munro when he spotted just four people leaving the inn up the hill above him. He waited until they appeared round the corner of the path leading down to the jetty. As soon as they reappeared, he immediately guessed that they were military – all of them tall, straight-backed, in step, one behind another. He guessed that they were either still serving or newly retired; perhaps they were on well-deserved leave form the hell of Afghanistan or Iraq. When they got to the jetty, the leader introduced himself as Greg Flaxman and, waving his hand to indicate the other three behind him, he mumbled their names as though they were of little account. This and the lack of an apology for their lateness irked McKinnon. Used to years of assessing his customers, he decided that this was not a nice man, nor a leader to have to follow either.

They had also brought with them an old-fashioned wicker picnic basket which, as soon as they were aboard, Flaxman put down carefully in the stern of the boat. They then stood near the basket as McKinnon did his usual introduction to the boat and told them a few things on safety at sea. ‘When we get out into the open sea, especially near the gulf, I’ll need to use the microphone and address system on account of the noise of the waves and the engine, but I’ll tell you more about that later when we get out there. Any questions at all?’

None of them spoke. McKinnon sensed that this might be a difficult day, but he smiled – perhaps they all had weightier matters on their minds.

He started up the engine and waved to the young boy who cast off, then headed Calistra south, back down Loch Craignish. At the end of the loch they turned to the west. The two younger members of the foursome sat on the seats in the stern, Flaxman and the equally large man who seemed to shadow him everywhere, both came up and stood next to McKinnon who had now settled himself up onto his skipper’s high white leather swivel chair behind the wheel.

‘How long to get out to Craithe?’ asked Flaxman.

‘On a calm day like this, about an hour an’ a half’ he replied, ‘depending, of course how much time any of you wish to spend looking round and photographing the famous Corryvreckan.’

‘What’s that exactly, the Corryvreckan? Someone was talking about it in the bar last night but I wasn’t really listening,’ said Flaxman.

‘One of the largest whirlpool system in the world,’ replied McKinnon. ‘Quite safe on a day like today and the present state of the tides. But when the seas are rough, it can become impassable to almost any craft, except maybe the lifeboats. Today, because of the tides and the afternoon weather forecast, we’ll need to be coming back through the gulf by four o’clock, will you remember that?’

‘Four o’clock, yes I’ll remember that,’ said Flaxman. Then, on hearing for the first time that this whirlpool system might affect the timing of their return he added. ‘So why the whirlpools: what causes them?’ There was sharp irritation in his voice.

‘The waves an’ the swell come a-rolling some three an’ a half thousand miles across the Atlantic. As often as not they’re driven on by the westerly winds, an’ the first thing that they hit on arriving here are the three or four hundred foot underwater cliffs of Scarba. That island up ahead there, to the right.’ He pointed it out to Flaxman. ‘Anyway, as I was saying, the waves smash into the underwater cliffs and with a ragged sea floor and a great underwater stack of rock, the seas are thrown up all o’er the place – causes the waters to turn an’ turn about themselves – you’ll see what I mean quite soon.’

‘And you say this becomes impassable?’ asked Flaxman peering ahead.

‘Oh aye, the waves can get up to ten, fifteen feet or more, too much for this poor wee boat,’ replied Mckinnon.

‘Not today, I hope,’ said Flaxman, looking even more intently at the churning waters.

‘Not unless the weather turns more than expected. They say there are to be a squall or two later on, but here on the west coast that can happen at any time, especially this time o’ year. I always keep an eye on the weather, though,’ he added. ‘Only a couple of times in all the years I was not able to get my customers back home on time.’

Flaxman fell silent, not sure if this meant he need not worry about getting back today or not.

As they got nearer to the narrow point of the gulf, McKinnon pointed out to them some of currents in the waters coming in against them from the Atlantic Ocean. Flaxman could see the bubbles and spent spray on the surface of the sea flowing past them like rivulets in a fast stream. Already there was a roar from the sea ahead of them and McKinnon leant forward and switched on the small speaker system. About half way through the gulf they came towards the Corryvreckan itself. McKinnon, spoke to them through a microphone.

‘If you’ll look on ahead, on the starboard side of the boat – that’s on the right – you’ll see the whirlpool of the Corryvreckan,’ he said. The speakers were loud but not offensively so – enough to be heard over the roar of the cascading waves some of these now higher than Calistra’s decks. The four guests each raised their binoculars and looked out of the right-hand side of the boat at the larger, white-topped waves coming into view. As they drew closer they marvelled at the huge bowl-like depression of rotating waves of the whirlpool itself. The bowl must have been many times the size of Calistra, maybe a hundred yards across.

‘Nice to see her so peaceful,’ said McKinnon over the speakers.

The four of them looked on in silence as they passed on by. None of them could have imagined the speed of the currents sweeping past, nor the occasional six-foot standing waves. This show of the power in nature was accompanied by a roaring sound that was like a combination of huge ocean rollers crashing onto a beach and some mighty waterfall. Even past the Corryvreckan itself, the constantly breaking waves caused the Calistra to wallow and yaw in her progress. Flaxman’s two companions looked as though their arrival at the small town of Stanleytoun on Craithe could not come soon enough, both pale and clearly not enjoying the boat’s lurching progress.

As they drew closer to the island, McKinnon could tell that none of them had seen before anything quite like the castle. They all looked up at it and two of them scanned its massive walls, towers and French-style blue-grey slate roofs with their binoculars. Its position and size meant that it dominated everything around it and it seemed to echo the grandeur the craggy mountain peaks behind it. Beneath it, the little town of Stanleytoun was a tourist’s dream of charm, with its walled-in harbour, church steeple and neat, granite-built waterside houses.

As they were still some minutes or so out from the harbour walls, McKinnon, following his usual routine talk for tourists he gave them a brief history of the town and the castle. This little discourse always got favourable comments from his customers – though he would not be expecting much response from these four. Out of habit, he gave it anyway.

‘You’ll see a something of a French chateau in the look of the castle,’ he said. ‘That’s because the wife of John Stanley, seventh Earl of Derby, was French. That was about 370 years ago, in the 1640s. She spent some time here when Oliver Cromwell was rampaging about the countryside down south. His daughter Louisa Stanley married the young Macrae, son of the Laird of Craithe of the time. The Stanleys were amongst the richest families in England in those days, hence the magnificence of the castle here compared to some other castles in Scotland. In addition to the fortifications against the clan wars in these parts, the Stanleys also strengthened them to keep Cromwell out when he extended his military campaigns to Scotland in 1650. In fact, Cromwell’s main field commander, General Monck, had a go at taking over the castle but failed. It’s never been breached by anyone,’ he concluded with almost proprietary pride in his voice.

Shortly after McKinnon had finished his short tale, Calistra passed through the narrow entrance to the harbour and as they glided slowly to the quayside where there were many willing hands to help tie her up. Charming as the views of the town might be, all four of them were off the boat and onto dry land as soon as she was tied up, and whether psychological or not, the colour returned to their faces.

‘We’ve no plans.’ said Flaxman to McKinnon as he climbed ashore behind the other three. This, as McKinnon would later discover, was a lie, but what he said next did have some truth to it. ‘We’re meeting an acquaintance here in Stanleytoun,’ he said, ‘and after that we’ll decide whether to go over the castle or motor on out to see some of the other islands’. Flaxman then bent down, picked up the wicker picnic basket and took with him. With an hotel, a pub, restaurants and cafes in plain sight, taking a picnic basket with them struck McKinnon as odd, though not odd enough to comment upon at the time.

‘Fair enough, Mr Flaxman,’ he said. ‘I’ll no be going anywhere, except maybe to get a bite to eat, so you’ll find myself and Calistra here whenever it suits you.’ Then he added, raising a hand and pointing a finger to the sky. ‘Just remember we’ll need to be leaving here around three thirty to be going back through the Corryvreckan by four and get you back to the mainland and the Galley of Lorne today’.

‘Understood,’ replied Flaxman as he left to catch up with the other three.

 

After they had gone, McKinnon clambered out onto the quay and walked over towards a lifeboat; it was the Laird’s, the Louisa. She was tied up near Brown’s repair shops at the far end of the quay from Calistra. He had known the captain of the lifeboat, Sandy Forbes, all his life. But it had only been these last couple of years that he had seen more of him – ever since the laird had bought the Louisa and Forbes had become her skipper. Forbes had been up to the RNLI station in Oban on several occasions to learn the many facets of the ex-Arun Class boat. He had learned well – especially on the back-up call out with his brother and some others during the great storm of 2013 when he saved a couple of lives. More than once too he had justified the Laird’s purchase of her when he had got through the Corryvreckan in atrocious weather when no other vessel could have done so.

‘Hi there, Sandy,’ said McKinnon as he reached the Louisa. Forbes climbed down off the lifeboat, came across the quay and both shook hands warmly.

‘Repairs won’t come cheap on her, I’ll suppose,’ said McKinnon, inquisitive about one of the most expensive boats on the coast.

‘Oh, nothing serious,’ said Forbes. ‘She’ll be back in service tonight or tomorrow morning. Have you time the now for a wee dram?’

‘Certainly have, and maybe I’ll have time for something to eat too.’

The two of them made their way towards the corner of the quay towards a small side street that would take them to Jimmy’s bar – the locals’ favourite.

As arranged, Geordie was wearing a bright yellow shirt and Flaxman and the other three had met up with him outside the Derby Arms and formally introduced each other, Geordie shaking hands with each in turn.

‘I’ve some useful news for you,’ said Geordie – addressing his remarks mainly to Flaxman. ‘Angus Macrae and his wife are going out mackerel fishing about two o’clock – a perfect time I would suggest, Mr Flaxman, for your wee surprise for your old friend, and I can take the other two round the castle while you do that. How’s that sound?’

Flaxman looked pleased, leaned over and clapped Geordie on the back.

‘Excellent plan, Geordie,’ he said, and then, looking down at his watch, added, ‘That gives us just time for a quick lunch, does the Derby Arms do sandwiches?’

‘They do,’ replied Geordie. ‘Follow me.’ He led the way into the main bar, followed by the four. It was a long, low room, with huge beams, hundreds of years old, holding up the low ceiling. They picked a long table with bench seats either side of it and ordered sandwiches and beers – a pleasant break before the activities of the afternoon.

 

 

 

[]44

 

 

Craithe Castle,

 

After their lunch with all the family, Angus and Tatty duly set off for their boat trip to explore some of the island’s coastline, with Angus overheard by the others still trying to persuade Tatiana that she would enjoy trying the mackerel fishing as well.

Wilder was apprehensive. If there was to be an early attempt to look for Gemini and someone had leaked is location, this weekend would be the perfect time to come to the castle along with the season’s first tourists. He decided to spend his time wandering around the castle and its grounds keeping a look out for anything that struck him as unusual.

On reaching the boathouse Angus and Tatiana found the clinker-built dingy waiting, tied up by the water gates. Earlier in the morning, Geordie had also put out the basket with the mackerel lines ready, together with nets and a bucket of water, to keep fish fresh in if they wanted to bring any of their catch back to the castle. Angus checked the outboard and found that Geordie had failed to top up the outboard engine’s fuel tank. There was a can of fuel nearby, however, so he stowed that aboard the dingy along with all the fishing gear and some waterproof clothing in case of April showers.

He helped Tatiana aboard and pushed the boat off, nimbly jumping aboard as they drifted out into the channel in front of the boathouse gates. After several energetic pulls on the outboard’s starter rope, the aged engine eventually coughed into life.

With his very substantial income as managing director of the Towneley Bank, Angus could have afforded to do many things around the castle – like updating this old boat or buying a new engine for it. But whilst his father was still the laird, he would not interfere with anything – besides there was a charm to using old, familiar things like these, many of them with memories attached to them. Tatiana had watched his efforts to start the engine and tried to imagine him doing the same thing as a little boy or even as a young man and she loved seeing him in his boyhood surroundings.

They motored a short way out from the boathouse and then turned to the west, parallel to the shore. Tatiana looked up to the castle above them but soon could only see the top of the southwest tower and, although somewhat fearful of small boats, she put her trust in Angus. It had been some twenty minutes after the view of the tower had disappeared that, without warning, the stiff breeze that had been with them since they had got out from the shore, suddenly stiffened and soon it began to rain. It started as a gentle April shower, light and warm, but soon it began to pour and the temperature dropped dramatically.

Angus, well organised from years of experience, quickly pulled a couple of large capes from his rucksack and these they hurriedly put on. Next, from under the stern seat, he pulled out a large thin sheet of tarpaulin. He got Tatiana to rise from her seat and, after spreading the tarpaulin along the bench, they both sat back down on it and he pulled the rest of it up over their backs and then their heads. Their last defence against the sudden squall came in the form of a large, gaudy golfing umbrella, which he raised above them, slanted back at a sharp angle into the oncoming storm. With the anchor now holding firm and the engine switched off, the boat naturally swung slowly so that the bow of the boat behind them faced into the strengthening wind from the west.

So used to doing this kind of thing since childhood, Angus had managed to get the weatherproofing up before they had really got wet. Now, huddled together cosily under the tarpaulin and with their backs to the strengthening wind and rain, they just needed to ride out the spring shower. Tatiana giggled a little from time to time at the novelty of the experience.

As often at this time of year, the squalls dissipated within a half hour, and in this space of time, the weather had changed back from a torrential downpour to being dry again with bright sunshine and with some warmth returning. They were left, however, with choppy water and the boat rocked quite sharply at anchor. They laughed with relief as the last clouds ran on past them heading east through the Corryvreckan and on towards the mainland.

It was then that Angus found that not only had Geordie not topped up the outboard fuel tank, but that the spare can of fuel which he had left for them to be take out with the boat, was filled with diesel instead of a petrol mix that the outboard engine ran on.

‘Goddamit!’ he said. ‘Looks as though I’m going to have to row us back, unless there’s someone up on the southwest tower to see us.’

‘Can’t you ring on your mobile phone,’ suggested Tatiana.

‘That would be great wouldn’t it,’ he replied,’ but unfortunately there’s no signal unless one’s practically sitting under a mobile phone mast on the mainland – too few people for them to bother with more phone masts out on the smaller islands and the terrain’s too mountainous anyway. Some people go to the lengths of buying themselves radios to get round this problem but, other than this very moment, when I stupidly forgot to bring my satellite phone.’

hey were well round the corner of the mountain beyond the castle and therefore out of sight of it, so Angus got the rowlocks and oars up from the bottom of the boat and began to set them up. As he was in the midst of this process, to their relief, a medium-sized tourist cruising boat came round the point of the island and into view. Angus stood up carefully so as not to rock the boat and waved energetically, shouting as he did so. They were soon spotted and the cruiser turned towards them and cut its engines as it approached. As it got nearer Angus could at last read its name, the Calistra.

‘Aha, that’s good,’ he said looking down at Tatiana, ‘it’s Neil McKinnon and some of his customers.’ Having got quite close to experiencing mackerel fishing without actually doing any, and having by now had enough of the vagaries of the west coast weather, she was quite ready for something a bit more comfortable. She turned round, somewhat awkwardly, and peered at the approaching boat. She was glad to see that it had a covered cabin in which to warm up.

The Calistra came on towards them and as they were about to touch together, Angus lifted up an oar for the large, fair-haired tourist to grab a hold of and pull the dingy alongside.

‘Could you perhaps give us a tow back into Stanleytoun?’ he asked. ‘We’d be happy to carry on wherever you’re going so long as we get back there at some point.’

‘Sure, no problem,’ said the tall man. ‘Come aboard and hand me the bow line.’

Angus helped Tatiana get up into the Calistra’s wide stern area, fetched the bow line and holding it firmly, climbed up after her. That was the last thing he knew for a good ten minutes, for the moment he was aboard, to Tatiana’s horror, the tall fair-haired tourist whacked the back of Angus’s head with the butt of an automatic pistol and he crumpled to deck; to immediate appearances, lifeless.

She let out a wild scream of rage and leapt forward and down to him, picking up his head and cradling it in her arms. She then rose to her feet and, on her way up whacked her tightly closed fist into the fair-haired man’s genitals. He let out a gasp of pain and smashed the empty hand into the side of Tatiana’s head. The sheer power of this vicious retaliation sent her crashing down onto the deck next to her husband. Rookie quickly stepped forward between her and Flaxman and, firmly held, she struggled to get at Flaxman again. Not wanting Flaxman’s well-known temper taunted any more he turned his back on the big man, shielding her from him and passed her to McKinnon who was standing further away, still in shock at the suddenness and violence of this affray. McKinnon held her away from Flaxman as he and Rookie manhandled Macrae’s body down the short stairs and into the small for’ard cabin. There they threw him onto one of the bunks and returned to the wheelhouse. Shielding Tatiana from the other two, McKinnon obeyed Flaxman’s gestures and guided her down the steps and into the cabin. She sat, perched on the narrow bunk-seat, beside her husband, seething with anger and muttering Russian oaths as McKinnon bent down and whispered close to her ear.

‘Don’t worry, Missus Macrae, we’ll get you both out of this safely somehow and see yon bully gets his deserts. At least he didn’t tell me to tie either of you up. You’ll find painkillers in one of the cupboards in the Galley for when he comes to as that was one heck of blow he took. You’ll need to get them yourself later as I must get right back up on deck before they become suspicious.’ He then hurried back past the galley and up into the wheelhouse.

‘I don’t want you talking to them again, do you hear?’ said Flaxman and McKinnon nodded, and turned towards his white swivel seat. Under normal circumstances he would have asserted his authority as master of his boat, but in all his years he’d never experienced a planned kidnap which this appeared to be and he decided he’d wait till matters were to his advantage to do something about this appalling situation.

‘From now on, only Rookie here talks to them, is that understood?’

Again McKinnon nodded his head but this time added a barely audible ‘Aye, I hear ye.’

‘Right,’ cried Flaxman, shouting this time, ‘back to the mainland as fast as this tub will take us.’

‘Aye, aye,’ muttered McKinnon and he started up the motor, gently steered Calistra away from the abandoned dingy and, pushing the throttles to full ahead, put her into a wide arc back east towards the Corryvreckan and the mainland.

‘And keep well wide of the town as we pass, I don’t want anyone to be able to see the name of the boat, is that understood?’ shouted Flaxman over the noise of the engines, straining at full power. This time McKinnon simply nodded that he had got the message.

 

 

 

[]45

 

 

The Corryvreckan

 

Geordie, Zaytsev and Tulloch had seen Flaxman and Rookie off in Calistra. They then left the quay and walked back to the Derby Arms. Here they tacked themselves on behind a group of tourists who, judging from their eager chatter, were bound for the castle. The group, with the three of them close behind, wound their way up the steep road till they reached the castles main gates. The road swung on to the right, past the gates, leading on round the island. The group halted and gathered together into a huddle to sort out their entrance fees between them. Geordie took his two guests and led them towards the small trestle table, which had been set up under the massive arch of the ancient gateway. Here, where tickets were to be sold for entrance to the castle or for the gardens and grounds, Geordie quickly got out his wallet and bought tickets for Zaytsev and Tulloch.

‘Best to have tickets in case you’re asked for them,’ he said. ‘I’ll explain this to Angus later on and he’ll give me my money back’. The other two smiled. After what they had in mind, they rather doubted that.

Over lunch, the unsuspecting Geordie had boasted about the high-powered team of scientists who worked on something secret up in the southeast tower – so secret, that the only access to the tower was now from the first floor gallery. Initially, Zaytsev allowed Geordie to take them where he wished and, eventually, he took them up to the gallery at the top of the wide, sweeping main staircase. It was at this point that Zaytsev suddenly produced his Yaragin automatic pistol from inside his bulky leather jacket and pointed it with a firm prod into Geordie’s ribs.

At first Geordie thought this must be some kind of joke and let out a brief giggle. When Zaytsev prodded him a second time hard enough to almost wind him, Geordie turned pale and his face changed to an expression of one about to burst into tears.

‘Take us to the southeast tower and the computer laboratory,’ said Zaytsev.

By now Tulloch had also produced a gun and he led on as directed by Geordie, who had been told to whisper directions to him. They went along one of the corridors running off the gallery and, three quarters of the way along, entered a doorway, which in turn led to a landing with narrow stairs at the end of it.

Ahead of them they could see one of Boreyev’s men guarding the entrance to the tower. As they approached, the guard recognised Geordie, smiled and held up his hand to turn him and his tourists back. Zaytsev steeped smartly forward as they neared the guard, and raised the gun he had being prodding Geordie with, pointing it directly at the guard’s forehead and no more than a foot from it.

‘Not a move,’ he whispered in harsh, heavily accented English.

Tulloch then went round behind the guard, cuffed him with plastic ties and gagged him with a strip of cloth. He then smashed him with a vicious blow to the back of his head. The guard crumpled to the ground and Geordie let out another whimper of misery. They dragged the guard to the side of the corridor and prodding Geordie again, all three went through the door and began to mount the tower stairs. They climbed for three floors, till they reached the top and Geordie, by now tearful, pointed to a door and they gathered close together outside it.

On a nod from Zaytsev they burst into the lab. The whole team were there, and looked back at the intruding three with a mixture of puzzlement and shock. They continued to watch, somehow transfixed, as Tulloch quietly shut the door behind him. He then roughly pushed Geordie over to join the others and in passably good English, Zaytsev began his instructions.

‘As always they say in the films,’ he said, looking round the Craithe team, ‘don’t give trouble and no one will be hurt.’ He looked at each of them, one by one, a cold stare of one who cares only for his own wishes.

‘Who is head man, here?’ he asked, looking straight at the professor.

The team’s defence strategy for a break-in such as this had been practiced, even though it was deemed to be an almost impossible eventuality: any intruder was to be allowed to download what he or she thought was the Gemini software. With all its valuable equipment and the possibility of knocking out a machine with even more valuable software on it, intruders were not to be challenged here in the lab. The most valuable machine by far, the quantum computer had been moved downstairs and all the interconnecting cables to the controllers up here just vanished through a hole in the floor. This hole was behind the machines and could not be seen at all.

To the surprise of the Gemini team, while Tulloch held them with his gun, Zaytsev took out his satellite phone and pressed a quick-dial number.

As soon as it was answered he asked in Russian, ‘is that you Sasha?’

‘It is. I presume you are in the Gemini laboratory?’ she replied also in Russian.

‘I am and I’m ready to take the photos.’

‘Good,’ she said. ‘What you should see in front of you should be an array of machines of varied sizes with some control consoles at which operatives can sit and run the various machines.’

‘Yes that’s exactly what I’ve got here.’

‘Good,’ she said again. ‘Now I want you to do is take photographs of the entire array – every machine and console there, okay?’

The Gemini team watched and the professor, who immediately understood what was happening, sidled slowly to place himself in front of the console used for controlling the quantum machine.

Zaytsev took photographs along the entire length of the array and had to ask the professor twice to move so that he could take the shot he was hiding. When he had finished he lifted the phone to his ear again.

‘How’s that?’

‘That’s fine, plenty to work with,’ replied Sasha. ‘And before you go, are you absolutely sure you’ve taken and sent me photos of everything in the room?’

‘I have.’

‘Good. Now, at gunpoint if necessary, ask the man or woman in charge of the room and all the equipment if there are any more computers anywhere else in the castle.’

Zaytsev did this pointing the gun close to the Professors head. ‘Other computers in this castle?’

‘No, the machines here are all the equipment we have here in the castle.’ He put on a convincing performance by shaking in what seemed an uncontrollable manner. Zaytsev stood further back and turned to look at Tulloch. Both nodded to each other and then slowly backed away from the team and the machines and towards the door.

Zaytsev then held his gun pointing towards the team as Tulloch went forward and tied up the whole team, hand and foot, with plastic ties he took from a small bag he had over his shoulder. He then tore the telephones out of their wall sockets and when he’d finished, backed away and joined Zaytsev again. The two of them then backed out of the room. Unfortunately, they were so focused on a smooth exit from the lab, that they did not notice that they had backed straight into Wilder, Boreyev and one of Boreyev’s men who had alerted the two of them to this raid on the lab.

Wilder stepped fast and as he grabbed Tulloch’s gun, he hit him hard in the voice-box and spun him round at the same time and tearing the gun out of the choking Tulloch’s hand, fired it, point blank into Zaytsev’s arm. Zaytsev who had earlier swapped his gun for his mobile phone to take photographs, was just too slow in getting his gun out and now, and with a shattered wrist, would never do so again – at least with his good shooting hand.

 

Zaytsev and Tulloch were then told to get down on their knees and were quickly bound with ties from Tulloch’s shoulder bag. Then Wilder hurried over and cut the Gemini team’s bonds.

‘What happened here?’ Wilder asked the professor.

The professor, with his back to the two prisoners, who were now seated and tied to their chairs, winked in an exaggerated manner and, largely for the benefit of Tulloch, he explained that, in his opinion they had been sent here to see if the quantum machine was here and if it was here and if it had been, what its configuration was.

‘So they’ve come on a wild goose chase and will just have to try again down south won’t they?’

‘They will,’ replied Wilder.

 

Zaytsev grimacing with pain had nevertheless looked unperturbed until Boreyev went over to him and put his face close to Zaytsev’s ear and said in a harshly exaggerated Russian, ‘Your mission is over and it has failed. Would you like me to tell you what happens to people who perpetrate this kind of commercial espionage in Russia?’

‘Won’t do you any good threatening me,’ said Zaytsev through gritted teeth, ‘You’ll have to release us – and you’ll find out why soon enough.’

Boreyev did not move his head at all, giving no sense of a reaction to this completely unexpected remark but, out of Zaytsev’s line of sight, his eyes swung up to meet those of Wilder who, standing behind Zaytsev. Continuing as though nothing had happened, Boreyev put his face back close to Zaytsev’s.

‘Bluffing will get you nowhere,’ he said, but he was immediately interrupted by Zaytsev.

‘No bluff,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you ask your man Geordie what he told my colleagues at lunchtime?’

‘Your colleagues?’ repeated Boreyev until this moment unaware there were more of this group. He looked up to Geordie.

‘What did you tell these people at lunchtime, Geordie?’ asked Boreyev.

‘All I did was tell Mr Angus’s friend, Mr Flaxman, that he and Mrs Macrae were going mackerel fishing…’ His voice tailed off as he realised just now how he had been deceived by Flaxman’s tale of being Angus’s old university friend. ‘Oh God, what have I done?’ he cried.

‘Start at the beginning, but as quickly as you can,’ said Wilder.

Geordie, stuttered and mumbled his way through the sorry tale; the call from his cousin Hamish, these old friends of Mr Angus’s wanting to give him a surprise not having seen them since University – right up to his fixing of the can of fuel so that McKinnon’s boat the Calistra could catch up with their marooned rowing boat.

Wilder and Boreyev exchanged looks of horror.

‘The rest of you stay here and keep guard on the two prisoners,’ said Wilder and he and Boreyev hurried out of the room. From the lab, they took the stairs at the end of a short corridor, climbed to the top of the stairs and opened the door, which gave access to the roof of the tower. Unlocking it, they then came out onto the flat, lead-covered roof at the far end of which stood what looked like a small shed, and they hurried over to it.

Wilder who’d been shown this many years ago, undid a heavy-duty clasp on the corner of the shed and then showed Boreyev that its south and east walls folded back on themselves, concertina-style, to expose a large object covered with a tarpaulin sheet tied with thin rope at its base. On undoing the rope and pulling off the tarpaulin, a large mounted telescope was revealed, similar but superior to the coin-operated telescopes sometimes found at notable tourist viewpoints.

Wilder quickly adjusted the eyepiece and swivelled it round to look back east. ‘Yes, there we are,’ he said and then beckoned Boreyev to have a look for himself.

Almost filling the whole field of view, there was a small touring motor-boat and such was the powerful magnification of the telescope that the boat’s name, Calistra, could easily be read with three figures also easily discernible in the wheelhouse.

‘That’s the boat Geordie spoke of,’ said Wilder. ‘We need to get back down and see if we can trick the Russian into telling us more.’ Both had another look and Wilder also focussed the view on the Corryvreckan beyond it.

After the afternoon’s sharp April squalls and strong winds, the seas around the whirlpool were a mass of white-topped waves, and even at this distance he could see that some of the standing waves were larger than Calistra herself. Knowing that the Louisa would not be repaired till late tonight, he quickly came to a decision on what to do now. He turned to Boreyev.

‘What you don’t know is that not long ago there was a kidnap and ransom incident on the west coast and the way it was mishandled by the police and their hostage negotiators resulted in the death of the young person kidnapped. I am not going to risk that with Angus and Tatiana. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll ring the Oban police and tell them about the threatened theft of the Gemini software. I shall tell them that the laird is happy to keep the prisoners who tried to do this here until the weekend is over – and as the laird is an ex-magistrate, they’ll probably be happy with that.’

Boreyev nodded agreement.

‘But I’m not going to mention the kidnapping – we’ll handle that ourselves. This will mean that we lie to the police – a lie of omission. It means that you’ll have to back me up when I say that we discovered the kidnapping much later – are you happy with that.’

‘Of course I am,’ replied Boreyev, ‘but how we can fix this if Angus and Tatiana are prisoners on that boat?’

‘There’s no way the Calistra will get through the Corryvreckan tonight,’ said Wilder, ‘and tomorrow at first light we’ll have the Louisa back in operation.’

‘You have an idea how that will be possible to use her in a rescue?’

‘Not at the moment I don’t,’ replied Wilder, ‘but then I’m an amateur. Sandy, the skipper of the Louisa, is a professional and he’s sure to know the captain of the Calistra. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that those two will know instinctively what to do once we can get the two boats – the Calistra and the Louisa – close to each other.’

‘Whatever can be done, my men will do their utmost,’ said Boreyev. ‘They will be happy to help your skipper Sandy in any way he asks. All my men know and love Tatiana and they know what a special friend Angus is to me, they’ll do whatever is needed to get them back safely.’

‘Good, let us go and see what other information we can get from our prisoners,’ said Wilder. ‘Maybe the one who likes to brag, the Russian, can be goaded into telling us more about the men on board Calistra.’

‘Yeah, I can do that,’ replied Boreyev.

‘Tell you what to do. Tell him that when the Corryvreckan becomes impassable to small craft, coastguard and police launches go out and patrol the area so there’s no repeat of the loss of life like last year. Tell him the Calistra’s been pulled in by the police – see what effect that has on him. Then I’ll take over, all right?’

‘Sounds good to me,’ replied Boreyev.

 

 

 

[]46

 

 

The Corryvreckan

 

On board Calistra, things were getting very uncomfortable. Flaxman could now see for himself why McKinnon had insisted on getting back through the Corryvreckan by four o’clock. He looked at his watch. It was after five thirty. He knew enough about seafaring to know that in addition to the time and tide factors that affect the whirlpools, additional forces had been at work during the day. There had been a quite a few spring squalls, one of them particularly strong and these had swept on through here at maybe fifty miles an hour, pushing the incoming tide ever faster into Scarba’s underwater cliffs and further stirring up the cauldron of waters and waves.

Driven by his overriding need to get his two prisoners back to the mainland tonight, Flaxman had stood next to McKinnon since leaving Craithe, his unblinking gaze fixed ahead, willing Calistra on. Ahead of them, however, Flaxman could see, even from this distance of over a mile from the Corryvreckan, that the waves in the gulf were wild and white-topped. He fumed at himself and at the way things were turning out. How could he have missed factoring this weather and these seas into his otherwise careful plans? For Christ’s sake, he had been told often enough about the bloody Corryvreckan, the whirlpools, the maelstrom – he could at least have given some credence to the accounts of its dangers, dammit. Everything else had worked so perfectly. But now, instead of celebrating having got the hostages back to the mainland and from there just a helicopter’s hop back to Northern Ireland, there now looked to be a strong possibility of being unable to get back through this gulf tonight. This would throw up a whole load of additional problems. Would news of the kidnapping reach the authorities? If they postponed the trip back to mainland till the morning, would police helicopters be scouring the area by then? How would the major contrive a rendezvous if the authorities were on the lookout for them? Worst of all, was getting the prisoners back to Northern Ireland now in jeopardy?

He was jolted out of these thoughts by the VHF ship-to-shore handset ringing. McKinnon quickly leant towards him and picked it off its stand on the bulkhead and leaned to his right and put it onto the speaker system.

‘Calistra? Come in Calistra’, said the voice the other end.

‘Aye, Calistra here,’ replied McKinnon into the handheld.

‘Oban Coastguard here, we’ve had telephone call from Craithe to say you’d been seen heading into the Corryvreckan – did you not hear the local forecast?’

‘No, afraid not, missed the forecast,’ he said, lying but aware that Flaxman’s eyes were on him.

‘The Corryvreckan up ahead of you will be impassable to a boat of your size,’ continued the Coastguard. ‘There was also an official announcement from us earlier to say that only the Oban RNLI lifeboat or the Louisa if she was also needed by the RNLI were to pass through the straits till further notice, did you no hear that? Yon afternoon squalls have turned her nasty an’ you’ll need to go back west immediately; do you hear me this time?’

‘Aye, I hear you,’ shouted McKinnon back into the handset. ‘Sorry about missing the forecast: I’ll be turning back just now.’ He glanced to his left, his face taut. Then he added in his native Gaelic tongue, ‘a couple of gunmen have the laird o’Craithe’s son and daughter in law seized on board, will you tell the laird?’

McKinnon saw that Flaxman was looking directly back at him, eyes narrowed at the talk in the Gaelic.

‘What was that last bit you were saying?’ shouted the huge man over the noise of the sea, leaning right across to McKinnon.

‘Coastguard’s my cousin,’ lied MacKinnon through the loudspeakers. ‘Just a bit of family banter in the Gaelic – I was just saying to him that I’d sooner be where he is than out here – an’ he agreed with me. He warned me again that it’s no safe up ahead.’

Flaxman grimaced and let out a bellow of anger.

‘Well, to hell with the Coastguard,’ he shouted across to McKinnon. ‘We agreed that we’d get back to the mainland today – so that’s what we’re bloody-well going to do, right?’

‘Would you no consider a quiet night, sheltering along the coast o’ Jura, and making a run for the mainland first thing in the morning?’ shouted McKinnon leaning over towards Flaxman. ‘Better that than going to a watery grave tonight, do you not think?’

Flaxman was appalled by this thought. Yet, at the same time the prospect of a police helicopter scouring the area tomorrow as they tried a second time to get back to the mainland was even more powerful. But, at the very moment these conflicting points were scrambling his brain, Calistra reared up onto a wave larger than herself and then quickly fell away again its far side into the next deep trough between the white-topped mountains of water. As she struck into the next oncoming wave there was a loud crack, as though something had given way below decks. McKinnon knew this would just be something loose in the chain locker but, with the boat’s lurch, Flaxman fell to one side smashing a hip into a large brass hook sticking out of the bulkhead on the side of the cabin. He gave a sharp curse of pain and pulling himself back up against the angle of the tipping deck by heaving on the handrail, he rubbed the hip feverishly with his other hand, muttering oaths and obscenities under his breath. McKinnon noticed that in that instant Flaxman had seemed to lose his air of invincibility as, for just a second, his huge bulk seemed to sag as though some invisible force had leaked from it.

Flaxman peered out to the left, then to the right and finally back, the way they had come. He shook his head, but still said nothing. But two more fairground-like lifts and plunges of the boat later, he looked back across to McKinnon and nodded his head. ‘Okay, back,’ he mouthed and made a gesture with his hand and cocked thumb to confirm it.

McKinnon did not need to hear the words. Instantly, his slight, wiry frame, almost a midget compared to the huge kidnapper, relaxed and he spread his legs wider as he spun the wheel fast to starboard. The Calistra responded, turning about almost within her own length, rearing over a couple of waves like a horse being allowed to return to the stables, and began her way back the way she had come and away from the dangers of the Corryvreckan. Once fully turned, straight ahead were the mountains of Craithe once more.

‘What now?’ shouted Flaxman, and remembering the maps he had looked at the previous day added, ‘Any chance of getting back round the top of that island?’ He was looking to his right at the cliffs of Scarba.

‘Nowhere near enough fuel for that,’ shouted McKinnon, now well accustomed to his growing toll of lies. Then he added a spot of truth, almost as a consolation, ‘There’s shelter and a hill-walker’s bothy a bit down the Jura coast at Glengarrisdale Bay. Anyone’s free to stay there.’

‘What the hell’s a bothy?’

‘It was a wee crofter’s house till after the last war, now it’s just used by hill-walkers. It’ll do fine: we cannae all of us sleep on the boat tonight,’

‘How will we know if it’s available?’

‘We’ll see when we get there. We’ll tie up at the jetty an’ have a look but my guess is it’s too early in the season for anyone else to be it on the hills yet. Bearing in mind the amount of fuel we’ve got, the only other place we could go would be Craithe.’

Flaxman shook his head – no chance of that.

‘Will this Glenthingamy place you’re suggesting be out of sight of anyone on Craithe?’

‘Aye, aye, don’t worry about that, no one will know where we are or find us in this weather,’ he lied again, ‘and tomorrow we’ll get back to the Galley of Lorne, or anywhere else you want to go.’ He had already worked out that, with this delay, there would be no going back to the Galley of Lorne itself – it would likely as not have the police expectantly waiting for them there.

Down in the for’ard cabin, riding the waves was like an out of control fairground ride. Angus had recovered consciousness, Tatiana had already been through to the galley and, after rummaging around in some drawers, found some pain killers and got him to take them for his throbbing head. Feeling stronger, he took the trembling Tatiana in his arms and braced his strong legs against the bunk opposite to hold them both steadier. With the noise right up front of Calistra crashing every few seconds through successive waves, there was no way to speak and be heard – he could only hold Tatiana tight. He cursed himself for being so stubborn as to dismiss both his Wilder’s and Boreyev’s cautions that, especially after the demonstration on Friday and the conference, that there was a chance that those looking for Gemini might try to find it this weekend.

Endeavouring to find a brighter way of looking at this dangerous mess he had got them into, he was heartened by just one thing – at least they had turned back from trying to go through the Corryvreckan tonight. He also felt confident that the minor troubles with the Louisa’s engines would be fixed by now and even he, nowhere near as experienced a seaman as Sandy Forbes, could imagine the Louisa being able to come up with some plan to rescue the two of them. He also knew that Wilder would be dreaming up suitable retribution for these two here on Calistra.

 

 

 

[]47

 

 

The Galley of Lorne Inn

 

As dusk began to creep in from the east, the Major stood on a small sharp rise in the ground just beyond Poltalloch. He had borrowed a more powerful pair of binoculars than his own from Hamish Munro – though he did not plan to return to the Galley of Lorne or meet him again. He had paid the bill in cash and was now just above the rendezvous point he had chosen for when the boats returned to the mainland, their missions accomplished. From this chosen vantage-point, he would be able to spot them easily as they came through the Gulf of Corryvreckan, and as soon as they were within range of the mainland’s mobile phone masts, they would come under his instructions as the where exactly to meet him.

Once again the Major cursed himself for not researching better the mobile phone coverage in these wild and remote parts. If he’d given it more thought he might have realised that this was one of the advantages of hiding Gemini up here. The thought that the mission could be seriously affected by these communications failures was appalling and he lowered the binoculars yet again on seeing nothing coming through the Corryvreckan.

The first pair due back should have been Zaytsev and Tulloch as their job was simply to get into the Laboratory, and send a comprehensive array of photographs back to Sasha Gulina in London. From the photos, she and others would be able to tell what was the configuration of Gemini so that plans could be made for stealing it.

This operation was a straightforward mission so they should have got back in the boat organised for them, the Eileen Donan II long before now. But the photographs had been sent to Gulina so it was less worrying that they hadn’t yet appeared.

Of far greater concern for the Major was that there was no sign either of Calistra supposedly carrying the kidnapped Macraes. The Major was sweating slightly, and his worry caused his face to twitch involuntarily just below his right eye. He looked at his watch once more, six-fifteen. He turned towards the car. Time to abandon the rendezvous spot for the night and go and check in at the Crinan Hotel using yet another false name.

He climbed into the Landrover and set off along the country lane and back onto the main Oban to Crinan road. On reaching Crinan, he parked at the back of the hotel car park, out of sight from the road and went in and asked for a room. Although the season had started today, he was lucky in getting a room with a view out towards Jura, Scarba and Craithe and hurried up there with an overnight bag.

He postponed making the calls he dreaded by getting out his binoculars yet again and having another look at the gulf, and he swept the area methodically to make sure that neither of the two boats were there. Finally, he crossed the room to the mini-bar got out a couple of miniatures of whisky from it poured both into a glass by the television set. Taking a couple of large gulps, he sat on the bed, composed himself and made his first call – the one to Rollo.

‘Ah, it’s you Jock,’ said Rollo as soon as the Major was through. ‘I was wondering what the hell was going on – I expected news of the boats coming back and wondered what was going on when we got texts from you telling us you didn’t want the helicopter yet. What’s up?’

‘I’ve been keeping an eye on the gulf for the past three hours, and eventually gave up,’ replied the Major. ‘I’ve also moved out of the Galley of Lorne Inn and paid up. I’ve now staying at the Crinan Hotel and am booked in the name of Brown. It was only when I got here that that I found out from them some more information on this bloody Corryvreckan. The hotel itself had been expecting a couple of guests coming back through it from Craithe and on checking with the coastguard, found that it’s been closed to small boats till the morning. They also told me that this happens occasionally, so I’m not worrying about our two boatloads.’

‘But what if the Russian’s visit or the kidnapping are reported to the police?’ said Rollo. ‘Won’t they come looking for you?’

‘My guess is that won’t happen over the Easter weekend,’ replied the Major. ‘But we don’t know yet if anything’s gone wrong – for all we know both might have gone off fine and are still undetected.’ He knew, even as he said it, that this was unlikely, but just now he was more intent on calming everyone until the facts became known.

‘I suppose you’re right,’ conceded Rollo. ‘But we’ve all got a hell of a lot riding on the success of both of our missions, haven’t we? Have you spoken to the Russian guy in Moscow yet? He’s been onto me a couple of times – said he couldn’t get hold of you at the Galley of Lorne. Now that we’ve made contact, could you get onto him now and give him a shortened version of what you just gave me? Above all, keep him off our backs till we’ve got the Macrae wife or both back here to Norbally, will you?’

‘I’ll do that, and I’ll also speak to Max Wheeler,’

His call to Wheeler was not as easy. Wheeler had given Nat Matthews his word that he could put complete reliance in him to get everything sorted by Monday night. It was an embarrassment that his plan to achieve this had faltered at the first obstacle – even more embarrassing that the failure would appear to be due to the weather.

‘With these setbacks to our plans,’ said Wheeler, ‘I’ll take over from you in telling with Matthews and Moscow what’s going on.’ What he meant by this, of course was that, as a top PR man, he’d be able to calm their clients better than anyone else.

The Major, dispirited by today’s set-backs, meekly agreed and as he went down to the restaurant for an early supper, an early rise in the morning and, hopefully, the arrival of the two boats.

Wheeler’s call to Novikov was easy. He had heard that Sasha Gulina had got all the photographs before Zaytsev had been captured was happy with their end of the operation. Wheeler didn’t even bother to contact Matthews about the apparent hiccup in the kidnapping operation – all Matthews was concerned with was getting the whole matter dealt with by Monday night. Wheeler even managed to persuade himself that all was still on track for a successful outcome – in this part of the world, misguided optimism at the very least.

 

 

 

[]48

 

 

Glengarrisdale, Island of Jura

 

After turning back from an almost inevitable fate in the Corryvreckan, McKinnon took the Calistra west and then turned south, away from Craithe and down the coast of the Isle of Jura. Soon, as dusk fell, they were out of sight of Craithe and Flaxman seemed to relax – especially as there had been no sign of police boats or helicopters.

He wondered why this might be so, but soon just counted his blessings and put it from his mind. In time, they eased into the bay at Glengarrisdale and as they approached a small jetty, much in need of repair, MacKinnon brought her gently alongside and Flaxman and Tulloch got onto the jetty and helped to tie her up. The Macraes were then allowed up on deck but with Flaxman keeping an eye on them seated in the stern.

McKinnon brought all his remaining stores up from the drawers and lockers, and laid them out on the table in the wheelhouse. There were some tins of thick stew-like soup kept by him for those occasions when beautiful mornings degenerate into miserable wet afternoons and cold customers get tired and hungry. There was also a goodly supply of biscuits, some small cakes, some beers and several bottles of diet Coca Cola.

After a meagre supper, Flaxman and Tulloch went ashore to stretch their legs but, not trusting McKinnon and Calistra to stay tied up at the jetty if left alone, they took it in turn for this exercise. For the night, there were the two bunks down in the for’ard cabin for the Macraes and benches for McKinnon, Flaxman and Tullock to stretch out on. There were blankets enough though what was not so readily available, was sleep. Each had their own particular torment to keep them tossing and turning.

Angus managed to reassure Tatiana that Wilder would come up with a solution in the morning and eventually the regular noise of the water lapping at the hull outside began to have a soporific effect and they both fell asleep.

 

Flaxman realised that dwelling on the mistakes of the day would achieve nothing and he began to doze off, consoling himself that he had at least accomplished the most difficult part of the mission – the kidnapping.

McKinnon lay on the bench seat in the main cabin. He envied the young kidnapper – the one who went by the odd name of Rookie. There he was, sprawled out on a bench in the stern of the boat. He’d gone off to sleep almost as soon as his head had fallen onto one of McKinnon’s pillows; seemingly the one person without a worry to keep him awake. His own mind tumbled round how to foil Flaxman’s plan to reach the mainland and spirit away the Macrae couple. Though they had not discussed it, he guessed that Sandy Forbes would have got the Louisa repaired by now. With her stability and being capable of twice the speed of Calistra he was confident that he and Sandy would manage a rescue of some kind.

A plan for the meeting of the two boats began to crystallise in McKinnon’s mind, keeping an eye on Flaxman and Rookie, he wrote a note to Angus. In the morning, on the pretence that he was ensuring that all was battened down for the passage through the Corryvreckan, he would drop the note down through the plastic hatch cover so that it landed at Angus’s feet in the for’ard cabin. This plan’s details would need to be refined but, with the framework for a rescue now in mind, he, like the others, began to drift off into fitful sleep.

 

 

The morning was cold and grey. The five of them managed to eat some breakfast, the last of McKinnon’s supplies. McKinnon was keen to delay departure as long as possible so that, after more squalls in the night the Corryvreckan would be at its wildest – the wilder the seas, the more advantage the Louisa would have.

 

Flaxman seemed well pleased with the thought that by midday he could have got his two captives over to Northern Ireland by helicopter and handed them over to Rollo. As soon as he decided that breakfast was over, he insisted that the time had come to get back to the mainland. Everyone was forced to gulp down their tea or instant coffee and to finish off the few remaining biscuits. McKinnon played his captain of the boat role and warned them that although they would probably get through the Corryvreckan this time, it was going to be rough.

Despite Flaxman’s eagerness to get going, he insisted he be allowed to take the time to check round the boat. During this process, whilst making his way round the boat, checking the tightness of a rope here, or a fastening there, he glanced back at the wheelhouse to see if he was being watched. There was no one in sight. He quickly bent down, undid the latch of the plastic hatch-cover above the for’ard cabin and dropped the note he had written last night down the hatch. He saw it land on the floor in front of one of the bunks and immediately shut the hatch cover but making sure that it was not latched and could be opened easily from below when the time came for the Macraes to use it for their escape. Getting up again he checked: no one had seen him and that boded well for later this morning.

Before long, with everything battened down or stowed away, McKinnon had run out of excuses to delay their departure any longer and came back into the wheelhouse. As soon as Rookie had cast off the mooring lines, given Calistra a push-off from the jetty and jumped aboard, McKinnon took Calistra out into the roughening waters beyond the shelter of Glengarrisdale Bay.

Flaxman was now pulling some lengths of fine but strong rope that he had taken from inside his picnic basket and said that he wanted Angus and Tatiana tied up.

‘It’s going to be worse than yesterday in the Corryvreckan,’ said McKinnon, ‘so not only must they remain untied but they must also wear life jackets.’ For a moment it looked as though Flaxman was going to challenge this so McKinnon added for good measure, ‘It’s not as though there’s anywhere for them to run to, is there?’

The idea of the two of them absconding was so preposterous that even Flaxman momentarily grinned. Flaxman and Rookie refused to wear the somewhat cumbersome life jackets, especially as Flaxman worried about agility if Angus tried anything. He did not seem worried when the others put on theirs. Angus and Tatiana were then bundled down into the for’ard cabin and, just before securing the door up into the wheelhouse, McKinnon saw that Angus had bent down and picked up his note.

Motoring round the point at the end of the bay towards the Corryvreckan and the mainland beyond, they came into view to the castle on Craithe. This no longer seemed to worry Flaxman, yet even at this early hour, up on the roof of the southeast tower, Perry had uncovered the large telescope again, having volunteered for the first shift watching out for the reappearance of Calistra. As soon as he spotted her coming round the point on the Jura coast and heading east for the Corryvreckan and the mainland, he ran downstairs and told the others. The rescue attempt swung into action.

 

 

 

[]49

 

 

Craithe Castle

 

The previous evening Wilder, Boreyev and Sandy Forbes had held talks up at the castle about how to attempt a rescue. They agreed that, without communications with McKinnon, he and Sandy would just have to act on instinct to bring the boats close together. The hope was that Angus and Tatiana would take advantage of what the Louisa was built for – plucking people out of the sea. Though this meant both of them jumping into the icy cold waves of the gulf, it was such an obvious way to affect a rescue that they hoped it would also occur to them on board Calistra.

The Louisa’s repairs were completed by late evening and Sandy made her ready for the work ahead. The most important of these was the preparation of two lengths of rope with grappling irons at their ends. These would be deployed when they made contact with the Calistra. For extra support and either to take the helm or help with the rescue, Sandy Forbes had got his younger brother Jimmy to join the trip. Two of Boreyev’s also arrived and it was just after six o’clock in the morning when Wilder came down, climbed aboard and Sandy edged the Louisa out through the harbour walls and as soon as she was at sea.

He powered her up to near top speed of some twenty-five knots. The tide had recently reached its peak, as she went through the narrow straits, the welling up of the waters from the deep caused the Louisa to wallow and dip as she forced her way through the six to eight-foot waves, only slowing down for the worst tide rips near the whirlpool area itself.

Sandy had thought about the outline plan during the night and, soon after passing through the Corryvreckan, he turned south and motored a short distance along Jura east coast. On finding a good sheltered spot, he turned her back north the way they had come and put down the anchor. The Louisa now sat under the cliffs of Jura’s eastern shore just near the little harbour of Kinauchdrachd, out of sight of the Corryvreckan but now within the range of the mainland mobile phone relay masts; he even moved her a couple of times to get the best reception. The group were more confident, as this time both the Louisa and the Castle had satellite mobile phones.

Using these, with guidance from the Laird up on the southeast tower with the telescope, Sandy reckoned he would be able to pick exactly where to intercept the Calistra and aimed to confront her at the most difficult point in the gulf. Although it was not certain that those aboard Calistra would hit on the same plan as themselves, as a back-up, they borrowed an electrically powered ship’s loudhailer from Brown’s yard.

Unable to plan any more of the confrontation with Calistra, they all now sat aboard the Louisa, full of nervous anticipation as to how this would all turn out.

 

 

 

[]50

 

 

Calistra & the Corryvreckan

 

Aboard the Calistra, Angus spotted McKinnon’s little handwritten note, quickly picked it up and stuffed it into his belt. As soon as Calistra was well under way, he sat down and read it carefully. It was starkly simple.

‘Remember, Douchka,’ he said closely into her ear, ‘all we have to do now is relax. And when I give you a sign, you just need to follow me, all right?’

Tatiana smiled back up at him, grateful for his efforts to reassure her. Angus had one arm around her the other helping to brace them against the boats increasingly uncomfortable ride. His feet were planted firmly against the benches opposite and, with his free hand, he held onto a hand-rail that ran around the cabin at what was now head height.

As Calistra came round the western shoreline of Jura, McKinnon kept as far out from the shore as he could to be nearer to the castle. In the wheelhouse, Flaxman once again stood forward up next to him, watching the sea changing before them as they progressed. Coming round Jura the swell had been heavy but the waves still not much more than just choppy, but as they approached the Corryvreckan, they got noticeably steeper, the boat’s progress became ever more laboured and Flaxman was forced to keep a strong grip the bar in front of him.

Progressively, as the waves got to about Calistra’s size, the beginnings of the Corryvreckan came into sight. Rookie stood behind Flaxman, pale, and clutching a plastic sick-bag MacKinnon had given him.

‘I thought you said the gulf here was going to be okay this morning!’ said Flaxman. Now he was peering with a worried look on his face as the waves had increased sufficiently to be throwing water up onto the glass in front of them at regular intervals.

‘Never can tell just what it’s going to be like till you’re actually here,’ shouted MacKinnon back to him, as the Calistra wallowed and crashed on from wave to wave. Suddenly, Flaxman threw up his arm and pointing ahead, shouted out, ‘What the hell’s that?’

McKinnon, who for a second had been checking his bearing, looked back up and, right in front of them, coming at speed straight towards them, was the Louisa. She was throwing up large bow waves and through the wind-chased spray it looked as though a collision was imminent.

Just as the two boats seemed to be on the very point of impact, Sandy, from his higher vantage point in the Louisa’s cabin, swung his wheel sharply to starboard – the rule of the sea being that boats approaching each other from opposite directions should pass port-side to port-side. MacKinnon, taking his timing from the Louisa, also threw his wheel also sharply to starboard. Thus, travelling in opposite directions, the two boats veered off away from each other, nudging as they grazed past each other at the combined speed of nearly forty knots – the equivalent of well over forty-five miles an hour on land.

As soon as they were past each other, Sandy spun his wheel back to port and increased to full power on the bow propeller. Keeling over half onto her side, at an angle of some twenty or thirty degrees, the Louisa turned back round towards Calistra. As this manoeuvre was just about complete, Sandy shut off the power to the bow propeller and the Louisa finished directly astern of the Calistra, and Sandy then nudged her forward alongside and just ten feet or so away from Calistra.

Flaxman, slow to realise what was happening, quickly plunged his hand into the deep pocket of his trousers to find his gun but, in letting go of his firm grip on the cabin railing whilst doing this, fell heavily to the side and then down with the full weight of his seventeen stones right on top of Rookie. Before either of them could get up, McKinnon again spun his wheel hard to port and this time Calistra came round, beam on, that is, sideways on to the heavy seas.

The huge waves, now flecked with foam, and some ten feet from trough to crest, tossed Calistra about as though she were as insignificant as an empty cardboard box. She now lurched over the top of one wave only to fall over in a great arc of more than sixty degrees, down into the next. This constant changing of the angle of the bounding deck was just about manageable for MacKinnon, who had the ship’s wheel to steady him, but it was too much for Flaxman and Rookie on the deck beside him. A few seconds later McKinnon had to shift himself out of the way as both of them were thrown right across the boat.

They landed in a writhing pile of arms, legs and torsos on the cabin deck behind him. Flaxman, now desperate, pulled himself clear of Rookie just as a grappling iron came flying through the air from the direction of the Louisa. It bounced off his back and then caught the boat’s side-coaming, piercing it and holding firm. As the broad line went taut, it pulled the hook through the glass reinforced plastic gunwale. With a breaking strain of several tons, the line held and Calistra keeled over violently. McKinnon reached up and sounded the Calistra’s horn twice. Already keyed–up and waiting for it, Angus and Tatiana clambered up out of the cabin through the for’ard hatch. Then, just as the Calistra did another sixty degree swing down into the trough of another wave. They could now see Wilder on the Louisa. He was standing no more than fifteen feet from them and was beckoning them to take the plunge as he waved a lifebelt at the same time. Angus and Tatiana jumped together, holding hands, over the low railings and into the froth and spume of the wild seas.

Having jumped overboard right next to the Louisa, there might have been a risk of them being crushed between the two boats, now perilously close to each other, but one of Boreyev’s men was holding the apart with a long boat-hook. Wilder had by now also got a boat-hook and lowered it for Angus to grab. He reached up for it, pulling himself near the Louisa as he did so. With the other hand he pulled on the rope between himself and Tatiana and helped her as she did two last strokes of the crawl to bring her to him. That moment Wilder bent down, grabbed her by the wrist of her outstretched arm and with one powerful lift, pulled her from the water bodily and up into his arms. The first of Boreyev’s men then helped Angus aboard and as the seas brought the two boats almost crashing into each other, Angus and Tatiana were hurried along the narrow gangway and into the safety of the cabin.

By now, with his survival more in his mind than the fate of his two former captives, Flaxman, half-kneeling, grabbed the grappling hook and its line. He waited for a moment until the line went slack as Calistra fell over the top of another wave towards the Louisa and, with all the strength he could muster, pulled the grappling iron out of the plastic coaming and threw it overboard.

His instinct to get Calistra free of the Louisa had been sensible enough but he was unlucky in his timing. The grappling iron fell down into the sea the far side from Louisa and as her stern rose up, the line passed under the keel but with the iron hook raking along the keel. The next moment, as the two boats drifted apart again, the line tightened and was pulled directly into her propellers. There was an unearthly grinding noise and then the sound of metal tearing against metal as the grappling iron, the propellers and the rudder became enmeshed with each other. MacKinnon knew that any further tightening of the rope could pull Calistra over, perhaps even onto her side and, grabbing a lifejacket from under his seat, pulled himself round the side of the cabin and jumped overboard, vanishing into the spray.

Almost immediately, as Calistra rose up the side of the next wave the grappling iron line went taut again, pulling it clear of the water. The rope went so taut, that it vibrated like a violin string. Sandy had been intent on coming alongside Angus and Tatiana to pick them up and was too slow to shout a warning to his brother or to Boreyev’s men to cut the rope attached to the grappling iron. Calistra was already precariously balanced and she was pulled further and further over by the line until, passing the tipping point, she rolled over, capsizing.

This all happened fast – in a matter of a few seconds, but to the onlookers aboard the Louisa, it appeared to happen in slow motion. One second Calistra had been riding a wave, the next she was keel-up, her entangled propellers sticking up into the sky like a raised arm with pain-wracked fingers.

One of Boreyev’s men quickly realised the danger now to the Louisa, still tied to the other upturned boat, and leapt forward with a large hunting knife, which he had drawn from a scabbard on his belt, cutting through the three-quarter inch line. So taut had it been that, as soon as it was severed, it recoiled away from him like a strike of lightning. This released the Louisa’s pull on the upturned Calistra and she shook violently, rolling fast from one side to the other.

Boreyev’s men helped Jimmy to pull McKinnon from the water. As soon as he was aboard, he too was hurried into the forward cabin for hot drinks and a change of clothes.

Sandy now spun the wheel and put on full power to turn Louisa round almost in her own length once again. Next, with Boreyev’s men and young Jimmy either side of Louisa looking out for the other two; he cut the power again to allow gentle bouncing, wallowing and yawing progress, back towards the upturned hull of Calistra. As they approached the stricken vessel they spotted Rookie, clutching the lifebelt that he had not had time to put on properly.

Whilst Boreyev’s men were busy with McKinnon’s rescue Wilder pulled a line around him tied it firmly in one deft move and dived overboard and under Calistra. Next they spotted him surfacing again holding on to Rookie. Sandy swiftly powered the Louisa over to them and two of Boreyev’s men found boathooks and ran along Louisa’s side to try and keep the upturned hull of the Calistra from crashing into them.

Dropping their boathooks back into the well in the stern, they rushed for the rope tied to Wilder and pulled together. Some moments later Wilder pulled himself up onto the Louisa and helped a spluttering and coughing Rookie on board.

Despite the Louisa slowly cruising in ever-wider circles around the upturned hull for the next quarter of an hour, there was no sign of Flaxman.

The outgoing tide was now conflicting with the strong winds coming in from the west, while the tidal race was running at maybe six or seven knots: the powerful undertows and churning of the waves could drown even the strongest of swimmers. Not even the fit young folk who came here for what they call their ‘extreme swimming challenge’ would tackle these waters unless at slack tide and Sandy Forbes had no idea if Flaxman was a strong swimmer – nor indeed if he could swim at all.

After the Louisa had circled the upturned hull of the Calistra for some while, all of those not down in the cabin took a long last look at the sad sight of the capsized boat. It was being tossed and battered in the swirling seas and Forbes feared she would be smashed on the rocky shore of Scarba long before a salvage vessel could get here, get a line onto her, and tow her back to Crinan.

At last, with a nod from the forlorn McKinnon back in the cabin, Sandy veered the Louisa off and away from the upturned boat and took the Louisa in one last slow arc round the stricken hull, taking bearings on her position. After making a guess at the speed of the boat’s drift on the incoming tide, a salvage attempt could be assessed and a judgement on how fast she was drifting towards the shallower waters of the rocky shore. These positions taken, he got onto the Oban RNLI station on the VHF and gave them the standard reporting details of the loss of both the boat and one life. He also relayed Calistra’s positional co-ordinates back to them, and requested that they also be passed on to the Crinan area salvage tug. This done he turned the Louisa and headed back towards Craithe.

 

Angus and Tatiana seemed to have recovered. Sitting wrapped in blankets, they sipped some hot soup. But, with Flaxman gone, Rookie was clearly in a state of shock, frequently running both his hands through his hair and rubbing his face.

These silent thoughts were interrupted by a change in the tone of the Louisa’s engines. With the change of tone, her bow came down and she slowed approaching the harbour’s outer walls. Above them, out in the bridge cabin, Sandy shouted down to Jimmy to get organised with Boreyev’s men to tie the boat up as they came alongside the Stanleytoun quay.

Jimmy, of an age when one feels invulnerable to danger, swiftly responded to his brother’s call, apparently shrugging off his role in dramatically saving Rookie’s life and the rescue of McKinnon and the Macraes.

 

 

 

[]51

 

 

Nikol’skaya Street, Moscow

 

Mina Falcone had been on duty in the Home Office and had heard the news of the fiasco in the Corryvreckan. She immediately got in touch with Anton Novikov who, in turn passed the news on to Rodchenko. Both were therefore in a state of terror. The President’s hopes of acquiring Gemini suddenly appeared to have evaporated and both feared what the consequences might be if they did not recoup the situation.

Rodchenko immediately took control from Novikov and contacted Izolda Volkova at her hotel in London. He instructed her to charter a small helicopter and fly over to Norbally House immediately. He followed the call to her with another to Wheeler. It took him barely two minutes to persuade him that another kidnapping was the only choice left to them. With time running out, it was the only way Macrae’s submission to save his wife would put the situation right.

Wheeler, in turn, got through to Rollo. His position was even more precarious. Rookie kept the records of all his transactions – and therefore had access to them going back years into the days of the troubles. Rookie was now in the hands of the ‘enemy’ in Craithe Castle, and to Rollo’s horror he had found that all the records had been taken from the laptop which Rookie used for them. He immediately assumed that the ‘enemy’ had persuaded Rookie to tell them how access his laptop and steal them. Like Wheeler, his only chance of getting his incriminating records back was to kidnap Rookie at the same time as the others kidnapped Tatiana Macrae. The whole scenario was becoming a living nightmare.

 

Rollo’s remaining ex-Coverts were to be deployed and Rodchenko told them that detailed instructions on this second attack on Craithe would arrive with Izolda Volkova. He also told them that on pain of termination, Izolda Volkova’s orders were to be followed without question.

A newly chartered small helicopter took Izolda Volkova from London, direct to Norbally House. Such was the curiosity over this top FSB operative who was to tell them what to do to restore their honour, that the whole team went out to the lawn to see her arrive. Their expectation of a matronly woman, built like a tank ready to do battle was instantly shattered.

Instead, a five foot five, slim, though visibly fit young woman climbed down out of the small helicopter and they were shocked by the appearance of someone so petite. This situation was not unusual for her – she’d experienced it often enough in FSB training sessions.

She needed to establish her authority.

As soon as she had got down from the helicopter, she strode away from it, coming towards the ex-Coverts.

‘My bosses in Moscow are keen to see your setbacks put right. We have a plan and if we stick it, we will win out in the end.’

‘Welcome to Norbally House,’ he said Rollo they shook hands. Rollo then led her away, just the two of them, and went to his office. First, he briefed her about what had happened to date and the reasons for the failures. He played up the size of the waves in the Corryvreckan and the treachery of the Laird’s lifeboat in ‘ramming’ and sinking the Calistra without ‘any regard for life’.

She was more interested, however, in why Zaytsev had failed to get away after passing the photographs to London. Although Rollo’s account of how the two of them had been captured was second or even third hand –Izolda listened to it intently. She was particularly interested in Rollo’s description of the ‘imported’ Russian security people at the castle. She already knew about Boreyev and had done her research on him and his men, but she was keen to get the others’ impressions of them to add to her knowledge of them.

‘I don’t know whether he’s told you or not,’ said Rollo, ‘but it bears repeating anyway. Your boss, Igor Rodchenko, thinks that the Craithe lot will simply not believe anyone will be rash enough to have another go the Castle so soon after the last debacle. He reckons – and I agree – that we have therefore a good element of surprise in this next venture.’

‘I agree,’ said Izolda, surprising Rollo. He looked back at her but could see nothing in her large, expressionless, almost black eyes.

The team of ex-Coverts, had been busily checking over their equipment. The urgency of this response to the Craithe kidnap fiasco was less to do with the death of Flaxman, it had much more to do with Rollo’s keeper of his secrets, Rookie. He, of course, was now being held at the Castle and from the way the team was working this was what motivated them too. Rollo also knew that a bold attack now would restore his remaining team’s morale.

Izolda then told Rollo what she wanted to happen when they landed and he nodded agreement. A team of his five Coverts were told to get themselves into ‘battle order’. This meant donning army-like camouflage uniforms together with standard black balaclavas – the usual uniform of soldiers of this kind. In addition to small arms they were to take a surface to surface rocket launcher and its missiles. These armaments were aimed at intimidating the castle’s defence forces – such as they might be – and Izolda told them that she had a different agenda to the others and that they were welcome to go and liberate Rookie, get back Rollo’s secret files and bring back Zaytsev but that she would be doing something else.

She did not elaborate on this when the plan of the attack was given to the assault team, but after the demonstration of her prowess, no one was going to challenge her.

 

 

 

[]52

 

 

Norbally House, Northern Ireland

 

The Covert team clambered aboard the Eurocopter with Izolda first in as it had been explained that on landing, she would remain in the helicopter until the six of them had set of on their mission and as soon as all were aboard, the Eurocopter started up, clattered into the air and swung north.

They were quickly out over the Irish Sea and continued due north with the Mull of Kintyre already in clear view over to the starboard side. As soon as they reached the first of the islands, however, the helicopter swung out to the left, west and flew the outer, western side of the island of Islay and on up to Colonsay. Unknown to them of course, this was the route that Boreyev had predicted they would take – hardly surprising as this was the only viable approach for an undetected attack on the castle.

The flight got them to the south end of Islay in less than four minutes. Not only were they still out of sight of the castle, but the noise of the machine was also shielded from the castle by the lower slopes of the mountains. The approach brought them round to the southwest tower and almost immediately to the terraced lawns below the castle’s south entrance. It was just before coming in to land that Izolda swung herself over the back of the rear bench-seat and hid herself in the small, empty luggage-well there.

The helicopter landed on the top terrace. As soon as it was grounded, the engines were switched off and, as rehearsed, Rollo, his men and the pilot jumped down out of the machine. They ran forward a few paces from the helicopter and crouched down onto one knee, AK47 assault weapons at the ready. Rollo then went forward and gave a signal to one of the men who had a rocket launcher over one arm. The rocket launcher was raised aimed and fired. The rocket itself covered the distance in less than two seconds and exploded into the granite wall of the tower. A deafening smack of the impact and explosion echoed round the castle walls. For all the noise of the impact, it left only a four-foot star-shaped circle where it had blasted the surface off the granite.

Less than a couple of seconds later, as the balaclava-hooded man began to lower the rocket launcher to reload it, there was a sound of two dull thuds as mortars were fired from behind the low walls on either side of the terraced lawns. Two arcs of smoke traced the fired canisters through the air. Both canisters exploded directly over the helicopter, with as much noise as the rocket moments earlier and two huge umbrellas of dark grey rain-like material spread out in wide circles from each of them – like grim, dark star-bursts from some sinister firework display. These wide charcoal-coloured umbrellas of grey gunge then fell towards the ground, landing on and covering the helicopter rotors and then the helicopter itself and, all the while, the constituent parts of the umbrellas seemed to be coalescing into a fine net, droplet merging with droplet.

The men beneath this spreading net that had exploded over them looked up in stunned silence. They seemed frozen by the effect of the extraordinary weapon that had been unleashed. Seconds later, just as the first ‘rain’ was reaching the men themselves, two more mortars were fired at slightly different angles from the first two. Further umbrella-shaped nets of the fine rain also fell over the machine and the men below.

Within another two or three seconds the helicopter and men were coated in a cold, dark-grey gunge which was quickly setting like an epoxy glue. Like dark-grey honey in texture to start with, it quickly set thicker and, if pulled, it stretched apart stickily, a little as would any glue if pulled just before it has set. The men were now struggling with it, arms sticking to sides, hands to weapons, fingers to fingers. The more they struggled, the more the myriad fine strings stuck a hand to a thigh, or a weapon to a knee. In a matter of seconds, the whole area looked as though it were coated in some weird Spanish moss, with the immobilised men entrapped within it.

Boreyev and his six men, along with Wilder, Angus, and the laird walked slowly out to the men from behind the walls and hedges bordering the terraces. All but two of the attackers had by now given up struggling. These two were still valiantly trying to fire their weapons – now in self-defence. At first they found the sticky glue-like substance caused their fingers to slip off safety catches but, within seconds, with the glue set, it rendered them powerless to do anything.

All six from the helicopter – Rollo, the pilot and the four coverts – were now gently handcuffed with plastic pull-through handcuffs by the castle group and relieved of their weapons, which were collected up into a pile and taken to one side, well away from the helicopter and the men. Wilder, now able to touch the set glue, helped Rollo to his feet. The latter was red in the face and seemed in danger of heart failure, except for the stream of vituperative cursing pouring out of him.

There was a sharp contrast between the two men standing there facing each other, both in appearance and in character; the tall Wilder, towering over the much shorter Rollo. Wilder smiling, but not unkindly, Rollo now reduced to an almost speechless, glue-covered statue.

‘Don’t suppose you were expecting that reception, were you Mr Rollo?’ said Wilder.

Rollo did not reply immediately. He looked down at the ground for a moment and then looking back up at the other simply said, ‘What in God’s name is this stuff?’

‘It came yesterday from Moscow,’ replied Wilder, not very helpfully. Then he added, as though to complete the answer, ‘It came with the small team of Craithe’s defenders, the whole way from Russia – quite effective don’t you think?’

As he spoke the set glue-like substance began to turn white and then, quite quickly, to degenerate into fine white powder. This released the bonds and all those formerly entrapped in the glue-netting, and they all became progressively freer to move – apart from the handcuffs of course.

“That’s been a problem with this new weapon,’ said Boreyev who had come up to stand next to Wilder. ‘We’re working on that. In crowd control not long ago in the Ukraine, we had to work fast before the degeneration released everyone, because of course those formerly entrapped can run off as soon as the glue turns to powder.’

Soon all the ex-coverts and the pilot had been brought over and stood there in a group near Wilder and Rollo. As though no one but Wilder was present, Boreyev continued with his explanation of the failings of this new weapon of his.

‘And what do you propose to do with us now?’ asked Rollo in a whisper of fury.

‘We’ll answer all your questions in due course, but for now, we just need to get you all locked up until the authorities get here,’ replied Wilder.

The group was then turned and moved up the steps and across the gravel towards the great oak doors.

By now they had all filed into the cavernous outer hall and from there back through the kitchens areas, across an inner courtyard and put into an outhouse full of stacked piles of logs and firewood. There were a number of redundant old benches and chairs, long past normal use, which would one day feed the fires in the castle. Wilder indicated that the prisoners should sit on these and wait to be told of their fate after the authorities had been informed.

 

 

 

[]53

 

 

Craithe Castle

 

Almost as soon as the prisoners had been gathered together and taken through the castle – indeed even before they were fully out of sight through the front door – Izolda emerged from the helicopter. She had kept low in the well behind the rear seats when Boreyev’s man had checked it out from the ground. She now climbed over the bench-seat. Peering at the disappearing captors and prisoners, she scrambled forward and jumped down racing across the grass to join a group of tourists who were just coming round the side of the castle, through the great arch near the south-east tower. Though they had heard the helicopter’s arrival and the subsequent detonations, neither the tourists or their guide had witnessed the attack and the counter attack. If they questioned the sight of the helicopter now sitting there, they might well have wondered whether a film was being rehearsed, since there were no cameras in sight.

The group in front of Izolda was shepherded in through the main front doors and into the entrance hall. They had not noticed as she tagged herself on behind them.

Having memorised the castle diagram and descriptions that Zaytsev had emailed to Sasha the previous day, she just followed the group. With everything that had gone so wrong for her bosses and their allies the past two days, something had to go right, surely.

And it did.

Just as she was wondering how she would find Tatiana in such a huge place, there she was, just about to go into the Great Hall. Izolda sprinted across and laid her gun on Tatiana’s arm as she was carrying a basket of flowers. Tatiana looked down to see the unmistakeable nozzle of a silencer at the moment Izolda told her in Russian that all would be well if she just did as she was told.

This kind of threat was all too common for wealthy individuals and their families in some parts of Russia, so Tatiana knew instantly what was happening. As instructors in anti-kidnapping situations had trained her, she kept as calm as she could and – for the time being at least – did exactly as she was told.

Izolda walked her fast out of the main front door and down to the Eurocopter. She ordered Tatiana up into it, quickly bound her hands and attached them to the headrest of the seat in front of her and then leapt into the pilot’s seat.

 

It was only as she started up the Eurocopter that Wilder and Angus came running out of the front door – too late to do anything but stop and stare, horrified as Tatiana peered down at them from a distance as the helicopter took off and swung away south, up and over Jura –bound for London.

 

Tatiana, sitting beside Izolda, had been warned not to try anything stupid. Flying over the sea, initially Izolda followed the route she had come. She needed to refuel at Belfast, and as arrangements had already been agreed for the Charter Company to pay, that proved easy. From Belfast, she crossed the Irish Sea and flew along the coast of Wales, then east to Cardiff, over the English coast to the River Thames, following the river right to the London Heliport on the south bank.

On landing, Izolda went in with its papers, explained that the pilot had been taken ill and was in the care of Sir James Macrae at Craithe Castle. She confirmed that she was fully certificated on Eurocopters, and her whole demeanour and the speed with which she rattled all of this off in perfect English, left the official at reception so taken aback, that, when she was asked to get them a taxi, she got one for them immediately and without question. Izolda resisted when asked where she was going, but on being told it was a requirement of the taxi company, she told them it was the Stamfordham Hotel near Sloane Square.

While waiting for the taxi to arrive, Tatiana asked if she could let Macrae know that she was all right.

‘No, not until I’ve discussed your position with Mr Rodchenko,’ said Izolda, ‘and now that I’ve got you this far with me, I know he’ll have plans for you.’

‘You do understand that my father is an old friend of President Balakin’s and that the president was trying to raise some cash through my father just the other day?’ said Tatiana, now that it was quiet enough to speak her mind.

‘I know nothing of that,’ said Izolda. ‘My life is much simpler than yours. I have my orders and I do my best to follow them. If something crops up to stop me doing that, I find ways to get back on track. Not difficult. Not as difficult as yours with a son and an important husband. Life can be a bitch, eh?’

This little homily was so unexpected that it silenced Tatiana – she remembered again what training sessions on kidnap situations said.

As soon as they had set off in the taxi for the hotel, Izolda asked the taxi driver if he would mind going along the river, and he soon turned off York road, and up a side street. Inexplicably for her – as she later regretfully recalled – she had not noticed that, as soon as they had left the heliport, they had been tailed by a large black SUV. It was no more than a couple of hundred yards further on that another large SUV pulled out of a side-street in front of them and came to an abrupt halt in front of the taxi, blocking its path. Within seconds there was a gun at the open window of the taxi.

‘Not a move, or I’ll blow your head off,’ said an American accent. Another gun-waving man, also in dark glasses had appeared on Tatiana’s side of the taxi and the two of them were ordered out. Then, with no warning, as Izolda complied, getting out of the taxi with her hands held empty out in front of her, then with no warning, as Izolda’s head cleared the taxi, it received a vicious blow at its base. She crumpled towards the ground but was caught by another large man who had come around beside the one with the gun. She was carried to the rear SUV as though she were just a rag doll and Tatiana was ordered into the same vehicle. The doors were slammed shut and both the unconscious Izolda and Tatiana were blindfolded.

Tatiana next felt the sharp acceleration of the SUV and was thrown from side to side on the rear seat as it was driven at speed round corners on what was obviously a circuitous route to their destination. Minutes later she was thrown forward as the car came to a sharp stop. She was helped out of the car and, as she could hear the heavy breathing of someone nearby exerting themselves, she sensed that Izolda was being carried next to her. She was helped up several flights of stairs, and along a corridor. After several turns in the corridor, they stopped and their blindfolds were removed. They were in a small room with just one window looking out across a narrow space onto the back of another building that was covered in white ceramic tiles. There were only two pieces of furniture in the room – a chair and a bunk-bed – and it had the feel of a derelict rental property – bare, unpainted walls, plain concrete floor and ceiling.

As soon as their captors had left the room, Tatiana heard the door being locked just as Izolda began to regain consciousness. Tatiana got up quickly from her chair and crossed to the bunk-bed on which they had lain Izolda; she helped her as began to struggle to get upright. As soon as she had managed this, Izolda got up from the bed and wandered around the room shaking her head from side to side and round in circles. Then, quite suddenly, she came back to the bed, sat down and turned to Tatiana.

‘I’m sorry this had to happen to you,’ she said unexpectedly, ‘though there was always a risk this might happen, it was not part of my…’

‘Plan?’ suggested Tatiana.

‘It’s now time for us to make our escape,’ said Izolda.

‘Make our escape: how are we going to manage that?’ asked Tatiana.

In the next instant, before Tatiana realised what was happening, Izolda made some movements like a circus contortionist, and got her bound hands from behind her back to out in front of her – it was so unexpected and happened so fast that Tatiana had only the vaguest idea how she had done it – slipping her feet through between her bound hands once these had been brought through to the front.

Izolda now put her finger up to her lips and made the gesture for silence. She went over to the door, lay down and, putting her face to the floor, looked under it, shifting her head a couple of times to get views in different directions. She got up again and listened with her ear pressed against the door. Next, she turned away from Tatiana, and thrust her still-bound hands down her front and deep into her underwear. A moment later she took her hands out again and Tatiana could see that they now held a small pouch. This she brought over to the bed, sat down and, holding one end of the pouch in her mouth, she managed to undo the smallest zip that Tatiana had ever seen, spilling the pouch’s contents out onto the bed. She selected a tiny blade from an array of the smallest and strangest assortment of objects.

‘Turn round’, she said and severed the plastic cuff around Tatiana’s wrists.

‘Now me’, she said handing the blade to Tatiana and holding her hands out in front of her. All of this happened so fast that it had never occurred to Tatiana to try and escape from Izolda. As soon as they were both free, Izolda took Tatiana by the shoulders, looking intently into her eyes.

‘I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m now going to tell you,’ she said. ‘We’re now going to make our escape and I need you to do exactly what I tell you to do. Can you manage that?’

‘Depends what that is, but I’ll have a go at anything to get out of here.’

‘Good,’ said Izolda. ‘Just one minute while I prepare, then I want you to lie down on the floor over there so that you’re the first thing that anyone sees on coming into the room, okay?’

‘Yes, I can do that.’

‘I’m going to call for help and I want you to writhe around on the floor, not too theatrical, but just enough to gain attention,’ continued Izolda.

‘But won’t whoever it is that comes in suspect that it’s a trick?’

‘Almost certainly they will. But, as you are about to see that won’t matter,’ said Izolda, ‘and as soon as I say the word ‘now’, I want you to get up as fast as you can and get behind me. Got that?’

‘Yes, just get up as fast as I can, ignore everything else that’s happening and just concentrate on getting behind you the moment you say ‘now’,’ said Tatiana.

‘That’s good, are you ready now for our escape?’

For a second Tatiana did not know how to answer as she could practically hear her heart beating in her throat and feel it in her chest, wondering at the same time what the hell was going to happen next, but she nodded her assent.

‘This will take just a second,’ said Izolda and from the bed she picked up what looked like a small white hair-band but soon saw it fitted over a thumb and finger to form a tiny catapult. She then picked out a tiny object, which she manipulated for a moment, turning it into a minute dart.

‘Okay, now over here,’ she said, leading Tatiana to the right spot. ‘Lie down in the foetal position, facing this way so that you can see what’s happening,’ she continued, ‘and as soon as I fire this dart, that’s when I’ll say ‘now.’ She indicated the catapult and the tiny dart. ‘That’s the moment you get up and rush round behind me, all right?’

‘Yes,’ said Tatiana, so hoarsely that only a whisper came out.

‘And from that moment on you just follow me, as fast or as slow as I go, exactly as though you are my shadow, yes?’

This time Tatiana just nodded ‘yes’ as Izolda helped her to lie down as instructed.

What happened next happened at such speed that, later trying to recall it, Tatiana had concentrate hard to remember – so much happened in so few seconds.

As soon as Tatiana was lying down, Izolda carefully positioned herself so that she would be just behind the door when it was pushed about half-way open. She then got herself down on the floor next to Tatiana, making a surprising amount of noise as she did so. Instantly she was back up onto her feet and positioned where she had been in her practice. She began shouting for help before she was even up. A moment later there was the noise of the door being unlocked and then it swung open quickly. The huge man entered and saw Tatiana lying on the floor. From down on the floor, she watched spellbound at what happened next. Izolda said, ‘Hi.’ and she raised her catapult to the man’s eye-level just as he spun round to face her. At that second, she fired the dart, which sprang alight the moment it hit the gunman’s left eye like a lighted match. As he yelled out in shock and pain, dropped his gun and rushed both hands up to his burning eye. Izolda caught the falling gun before it even hit the ground and shouted ‘now’. At that same moment she struck the gunman a savage blow with the gun and he collapsed like a felled tree. Tatiana did as she’d been told, leapt up and got behind Izolda. No sooner had this happened than a second gunman arrived and Izolda put an almost-silent bullet smack between his eyes. In a single movement, she laid the first gun on the floor and grabbed up the gun from the second gunman. Both had silencers on them. Now she stuffed one into her trousers, checking the second and ensuring it was loaded and cocked with the safety catch off. Beckoning for Tatiana to follow her, she moved out of the room and along the corridor. She was just nearing a corner when a third gunman came running round it shouting out, asking if everything was all right. For him it was not. As soon as he was out of sight of anyone behind him, Izolda put a bullet neatly into his left temple. The next two gunmen that came running round the corner were also felled from the side and landed almost like fish on a fishmonger’s slab, side-by-side next to their earlier companion. Then there was silence.

Izolda peered cautiously round the corner and across from it could see into a room where the five of them had been playing cards. There was an eerie silence and slowly, gun held in front of her but pointing first this way then that as they crept forward, they moved towards the doorway of their guardians’ room. On reaching it, she looked round it, following the point of her gun as she did so. The room was empty. She stepped over the threshold and looked round the room more carefully – searching for something. Eventually she spotted it. She crossed the room, picked it up some tags, two mobile phones and a small laptop, putting what she’d gathered into a canvas bag with a long strap – at least they’d later know who had seized them.

‘Right, just wait here a moment,’ said Izolda, and she went back, collected up the other guns, bound the unconscious first gunman with plastic cuffs she had found in his pocket and did a quick search of pockets of all the dead men. She found several things that seemed to interest her, but especially there was one mobile phone lying in full view on the table. She picked it up and went first to the phone’s logs to see the most frequent number called and the latest. One number qualified on both counts. She rang it.

‘Rocco Balboni,’ said the voice. She shut it down. Interesting. She had been told that Balboni headed up a rival New York mafia and organised crime group and had already tried to cut into Novikov’s project. She’d need to pass this information on in due course.

‘You okay?’ she asked Tatiana, smiling for the first time since they had met in the hall at Craithe.

‘As well as can be expected – no, I’m sorry – I mean fine,’ said Tatiana.

‘Good, let’s get the hell out of here before anyone else appears,’ said Izolda, ‘and whilst we’re here in the building continue to follow me like a shadow again, doing exactly what I do. As soon as we get out into the street, pretend we’re just a couple of friends, arm in arm, out for a gentle stroll. I’ve got one of their mobile phones, so let’s find a café and get the embassy to collect us this time. Enough chases for one day, eh?’

‘Yes,’ agreed Tatiana.

‘Then we’ll have to think what the hell we’re going to do with you, aren’t we?’ she said.

Tatiana did not answer. She hardly dared think what options might be going through this little Russian’s mind.

 

 

 

[]54

 

 

Craithe Castle

 

Angus Macrae was so traumatised at seeing Tatiana being kidnapped a second time in two days, that he stood seemingly rooted to the spot as the helicopter disappeared into the distance. Wilder had to grab him by the arm and drag him at speed back into the house. On the way to the laird’s study he gave Angus his instructions.

‘I know what you have just been through with the first kidnapping but we have to move with the utmost speed and, though I might sound heartless, I need you to get your mind to take over from your heart and do exactly what I ask of you. Can you do that?’

As they ran into his father’s study Angus blurted out, ‘Of course you’re right. What do you want me to do?’

‘I need you to use all the power and influence you can to get me to London as fast as is possible. Whether that’s a chopper from here to Glasgow and a charter jet to the City of London Airport or a chopper the whole way, I’ll leave up to you and the charter companies to work out which is our fastest option. I’ll also need a charter helicopter when I get to London. By then I hope my contacts will have found out where this Russian woman has taken Tatiana. Can you do that for me?’

‘Yes, I can,’ replied Macrae. ‘And I’m sorry for being such a wimp and not reacting faster.’

‘You’re not a wimp, you’re just recovering from a traumatic kidnapping only to see your loved one subjected to another dose of the same thing. But I’m afraid that in their situation, it was about the only course of action left to them. You’re just being human, seeing this happen again and it’s my job not yours to sort it out. So just do as I say and we’ll get it fixed okay?’

Almost overcome by his friend’s firm hand in taking control of this appalling situation, Macrae was close to breaking down, but he mastered himself and set about doing what Wilder had asked.

Meanwhile, Wilder first spoke with Jessie Marker at IPI. He explained what had happened; ‘It was a UK-registered Eurocopter. It took off into the sun so I couldn’t get the registration,’ said Wilder. ‘But there can’t be that many London companies that have a six or eight-seater helicopter on charter to a bunch of Russians. Luckily, I issued everyone with tracker buttons and I just hope that Tatiana has hers activated. I’m on my way south as soon as it can be arranged. As soon as we have an idea where Tatiana’s being taken to, as you’re already in London, I may need you to get to wherever she’s been taken and pin the kidnapper down till I get there.’

‘Absolutely, I’ll get on with tracing who chartered the helicopter and from where – they may have a tracking device on that as well,’ said Jessie. ‘I’ll feed back to what I can and I’ll then for further news from you.’

Wilder then got through to Agent Tercel at MI6 and gave her a resume of what had happened and he finished by saying, ‘With your contacts in Russia, this man Wheeler and so on, can see what you can find out? But no police – if they get involved we’ll be straight into a quagmire of what we can and can’t do. I’m sure that we can sort out their sensibilities later and throw them some credit even if they don’t get involved at all.’

‘Will do and I’ll be back to you the moment I find out anything.’

By now Macrae had the best option for Wilder to get south.

‘The fastest way of getting south is to pick you up here by helicopter of course and take you direct down the west coast into London. That was all fixed while you were on the phone, and it should be here in about quarter of an hour. But I’m coming with you!’

‘Fine, though I’ll probably need to ban you from further involvement when we begin to close in on the kidnapper.’

‘I really need to be near Tatiana when we get close to getting her back,’ said Macrae.

‘I understand that but we’ll have see how it goes first,’ said Wilder, though he rather doubted if Macrae quite knew what it was going to be like doing this the rough way as was likely to be necessary.

 

The helicopter arrived at the castle shortly after they’d spoken and both rushed out and climbed aboard. It rose swiftly, the clattering noise of its rotors magnified by the echoes bouncing back at them off the castle.

Fortunately, Macrae was so bound up in the horror of his situation, his worry about what was happening to Tatiana and how she must be feeling, that he did not appear to want to talk to Wilder.

Wilder needed to prepare himself mentally and calls also came back to him from both Jessie and Agent Tercel. Jessie had little difficulty tracing the helicopter charter to a company based at the London Heliport on the south bank of the River Thames. The company had just had the helicopter brought back to them by a petite, dark-haired woman pilot. As she was new the helicopter company, she had to show her passport. She went by the name of Izolda Volkova and the other much taller woman passenger was called Mrs. Tatiana Macrae. The pilot had ordered a taxi for them and she had told the taxi company that they were going to the Stamfordham Hotel near Sloane Square.

‘I followed all of that up,’ said Jessie, ‘and there’s a room at the Stamfordham let to a Ms. Izolda Volkova and a Ms. Sasha Gulina. Only Ms. Gulina was in the hotel but naturally I didn’t try and speak to her.’

‘You’ve done wonders, Jessie,’ said Wilder. ‘Can you do us another favour, please?’

‘Sure.’

‘Get over to the Stamfordham and keep a lookout for the pilot this Izolda Volkova. According to MI6, she’s a top FSB and SVR Russian agent and is highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat. I’ll bet she arrives there shortly and the taller woman passenger is Angus Macrae’s wife, Tatiana. Under no circumstances whatever are you to put yourself in danger at any time. Is that clearly understood? So do not, I repeat do not confront her till I get down to London. Having said that, one way or another see if you can keep a watch on the two of them and track them if they move from the hotel?’

‘For you, anything,’ she replied with a brief laugh. ‘Just don’t keep me waiting too long. If this Ms Volkova has just abducted Macrae’s wife from Scotland, she must have some follow-up plan, so they won’t just be staying at the Stamfordham, will they?

‘No they won’t but watch yourself. No heroics,’ said Wilder, ‘and I’m on my way.’

 

The helicopter taking Wilder and Macrae south got into the City Airport, stayed there for the length of time stipulated in the flight plan – two minutes – and then, thanks to Macrae asking favours of some senior people at the Home Office, took off again and flew the two of them to the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital not far south west of Soane Square. Jessie had organised an IPI car to meet them and it sped Macrae and Wilder up to Sloane Square.

As Wilder got out of the car he shut the door, he leaned on it and spoke to Macrae with a tone the other had never experienced before from his old friend.

‘I know it’s going to be tough just sitting by the telephone waiting to hear what’s happening. You may feel

You want to get in touch with me to check on how things are going. You mustn’t do that under any circumstances. Is that clear?’ Macrae nodded.

‘I have to keep my mobile on for communications with others trying to get Tatty released, we cannot have any interruptions, understood?’

‘Promise,’ said Macrae.

‘Just wait by the telephone and have your mobile on. Be ready to do as I ask, all right?’

Again Macrae just nodded and Wilder said to the driver, ‘okay, take him to Eaton Square.’

Wilder went on foot to the Stamfordham Hotel. On the way he ran through some of the scenarios though he could make no plans of course – from here he’d be driven largely by circumstances. His mind was calm though his body was a jangle of the adrenalin being pumped around it and he tightened and loosened his hands to distract himself from thinking too much about the dangers ahead.

When he got to the Stamfordham, he had hoped to find Jessie in the lobby area with news of Volkova and Tatiana, but the lobby area was empty and strangely silent.

He hurried over to the reception desk.

The receptionist, a small square man in his fifties Wilder guessed and lapel badge declared him to be James Morton.

‘I’m looking for a woman with dark auburn hair, I was expecting to meet her here in the lobby?’

‘Oh yes, Sir and you’ll be Mr. Wilder?’ replied the Morton raising his eyebrows as he asked the question.

‘I am.’

‘She said her name was Jessie Marker ….’

‘And?’ asked Wilder cutting in urgently.

‘She said she’d no alternative but to join the others in room 206, Sir. She said you’d know what to do.’

‘Yes, they’ll all be expecting me to join them,’ said Wilder.

‘Want any room service, Sir?’

‘No, not till we ring down, thanks,’ replied Wilder and forcing himself to move slowly and calmly to the lift, hurried nevertheless.

The lift arrived down just as he reached it and a group of happy laughing tourists poured out of it speaking some Balkans language Wilder guessed. He entered quickly, pressed for the second floor and let out a great gasp of pent-up relief as the lift set off with him alone in it.

He guessed that room 206 would be near the lift and was right. What was not so right was that shouting was coming from it. He ran silently to the door, stopped and listened intently. The shouting was in heavily accented English. Volkova!

‘Who sent you? I’ll ask you one more time who …’

Wilder stood well back from the door, paused for a second as he ran through what was about to happen. Up against Volkova, he would have only the one chance to get this right.

He then took two fast running steps and threw up his foot against the door-lock using all the speed, power and kicking-force he could muster. The door smashed open with metal and splintering wood showering into the room. Carrying through the momentum, he saw he was arriving at great speed towards Volkova who was getting up from pinning down Jessie Marker lying face-up at the foot of the bed. Concentrating on Volkova, he was still able to see, out of the corner of his eye, Tatiana and a slender dark young woman cowering over near the window some ten feet beyond.

Volkova’s speed was quite extraordinary. In the fractions of a second it had taken Wilder to cover the six feet from the door to her and the prone Jessie, she had got to her feet and was throwing a side-of-hand blow aimed at Wilder’s genitals. His sheer size, weight and momentum were just enough to block the blow dead in its arc and both of them felt the near bone shattering crunch as their arms met at speed.

Volkova then spun, again with incredible speed, throwing up her foot towards Wilders knee joint hoping to disable one leg. Wilder stooped, to catch the foot, but was just too late as it crashed into his shin, a fraction of an inch too low to cause the damage intended. But the force and shock were enough totemporarily buckle the leg and Wilder felt himself going down. Still concentrating fiercely on Volkova, he could see she was about to follow-up with another kick, this time towards his head.

In that instant, the craziest thought blasted its way through his mind. Had she been expecting to meet him one day? Had she studied his strengths and weaknesses? Had she learned about the metal plate in his head.

As he fell to the floor, rolled to absorb the impact and threw his hands up towards her foot coming at him at an astonishing speed. As though this were some kind of ball-game and this was to be the most heroic catch of all time, Wilder caught the foot as it was getting near his skull. Using all his strength to divert the kick reaching its mark, he also put his entire concentration on just one further reaction – holding the foot in a vice-like grip, he twisted it as far as it would go. There was a violent crack as the foot passed by his head and Volkova let out a shriek of agony as her body followed through past Wilder and both finished up flat out on the floor.

In an instant, Wilder turned and rolled himself up onto his knees and then his feet, Volkova had been about to try something similar but her foot was bent at a strange ankle.

Dislocated, thought Wilder and hen stepped forward as Volkova gave up in mid-move and clutched down to her ankle with both hands. Wilder knocked her unconscious and out of her pain with just one swift and accurate blow to the head.

Still ignoring the two cowering by the window, he rushed over to the motionless Jessie Marker. He knelt down on both knees beside her, his heart pounding both from exertion and the stress as to whether or not she was alive. He felt for a pulse in her neck. She was alive but the pulse was so weak he could scarcely feel it. He immediately began to apply CPR but had only just started, frantic ad with tears misting over his eyes, when she opened her eyes and gave him a wan smile.

He pulled her up into his arms and, gently so as not to damage further anything she may have sustained from a fight with Volkova, he held her for what seemed an age as he got himself emotionally under control again. This was in fact only two seconds though it might have been a short lifetime.

He then gently laid her back down and asked simply ‘all right?’ She nodded and Wilder then quickly looked up at the two by the window.

Gulina was trembling so much that the gun she was holding, hung down by her side pointing towards the floor and was waving gently about, completely out of control. Wilder took it gently from her and Tatiana moved over and took her in her arms. Wilder crossed back to the bedside table and ordered an ambulance as he looked down at the still unconscious Volkova.

 

Jessie Marker recovered quickly – she had only been knocked unconscious by Volkova and did not even seem to have a headache. The Ambulance arrived just as Volkova was coming to and the paramedics injected her with painkillers as she was taken away to hospital. The other four went downstairs and Wilder comforted them while Morton the receptionist got them a taxi. Though it was not far to Eaton Square, they were driven the half a mile to meet up with the waiting Angus Macrae. Soon after their arrival, Wilder said there was something he needed to do urgently and excused himself from all the congratulations, even though they were only just starting.

He crossed the hall and went into Sir Jeremy Towneley’s office. Jessie Marker followed him. He dialled a number he knew well and as soon as it was answered, he asked for Agent Tercel. He explained the happenings of the past few hours and finished by saying, ‘I’d be grateful if you could get your people to come to Eaton Square and collect Sasha Gulina and get a guard over to the hospital to keep an eye on Izolda Volkova. But I’d like you to come down here and meet myself and Jessie Marker from IPI as there are a number of loose ends which I’d like to sort out informally, if you get my meaning.’

‘Yes, I can manage that all right, Tom, Where shall we meet when I’ve got all the other things arranged?’

‘There’s a pub just down the road from here, the Antelope in Eaton Terrace, do you know it?’

‘I was there a couple of days ago,’ replied Tercel. ‘It’ll take me maybe forty-five minutes to get things out of the way, then I’ll see you there.’

‘Good, look forward to that.’

He turned to Jessie. ‘You’d better come too.’

 

 

 

[]55

 

 

The Antelope pub, London

 

There was plenty of time to run over the events of the past few hours and the Macraes were both so relieved that Tatty’s horrendous second abduction was over, that they clearly wanted to be left alone.

Wilder had one other thing to do before going to the Antelope and when he got through to Lucy he made the excuse that he just wanted to check when she’d be arriving in London for her part of the Easter holidays with him. She said she’d ring him later with the details. They swapped kisses over the airwaves and after the call was finished, he said to Jessie that he was glad he’d done that as he just needed to know when Lucy was arriving.

Jessie knew better. After what he’d just been through, he was as human as anyone: he’d made the call for quite a different reason.

 

Wilder and Jessie then excused themselves from the Macraes and walked along the road the quarter of a mile to the Antelope. They went through into the small snug bar and Wilder bought drinks for the two of them and a large glass of Chardonnay for Agent Tercel who came walking through the main bar and into the snug to join them just a few minutes later than the agreed time.

‘So this is the famous Agent Tercel,’ said Jessie shaking her hand.

‘This is out of business hours Jessie, so we can drop official names,’ said Wilder. ‘This is, as you say the irreplaceable Agent Tercel, known outside the office as Mina Falcone, to whom I owe a great deal for a magnificent job extremely well done.’

Jessie just sat there in astonishment, speechless before wanting to know how such an extraordinary situation was possible.

‘Let me see if I’ve got this straight,’ said Jessie. ‘You, Mina, really are related to Novikov of the Russian mafia?’

‘I am.’

‘And yet you’re also a proper MI6 agent?’

‘I am.’

‘And Tom got you to broker the Russian’s attempt to steal Gemini along with the irate Mathews Finch Hedge Fund managers wanting revenge? Are you telling me that you, er, you helped plan their joint attack on Craithe and allowed —’

She faltered to a halt still trying to understand how the hell this was even possible. Wilder had been sitting back in his chair, smiling and occasionally massaging his head.

‘I know you can be devious Tom, but this —’

‘Quite straightforward, really,’ he said. ‘As we began to see what was coming our way – both the Russians making plans to find Gemini, and the irate Matthews lot wanting revenge – it was going to be much easier to keep an eye on what they were doing if we took a controlling hand in guiding it. We had no idea they would manage to find a way to kidnap Angus and Tatiana so that was mistake number one and we were lucky it turned out all right for us all, though it cost Flaxman his life.’

Jessie was still sitting there her mouth slightly open, her eyes wide.

‘We were well prepared for the helicopter attack,’ he continued, ‘especially as Mina here had facilitated so much of it – helping, hire the helicopter and having one of her own people pilot it as well. But my next big mistake was not seeing that there were going to be two agendas aboard that attacking helicopter. One was Rollo trying to recover his secrets and get revenge on Rookie. But we should have spotted that Izolda Volkova was going to use it as a wildly ambitious second attempt to kidnap Tatiana. I won’t make that kind of mistake again. Everyone wearing tracker buttons may be helpful after the event, but buttons aren’t much use as protection, are they?’

‘You’re being hard on yourself – it all worked out okay in the end,’ said Jessie.

‘I was luckier than I deserved,’ said Wilder.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Jessie, frowning.

‘When Zaytsev sent Sasha all those photographs of the machines in the lab, it was to try and find out what Gemini consists of. They need to know what it is before they can decide how to steal it. Either our little ruse has worked and they’re still none the wiser that half of Gemini is a quantum computer, or they’ve seen through it. Either they think it’s somewhere else or one of their experts will spot something like a control console so different that it must be for a quantum machine. This might tell them that there’s a quantum machine somewhere else in the castle but just not in that room.’

‘You mean that only time will tell and there’s nothing you can do until they make their next move?’ suggested Mina.

‘I’m afraid so,’ replied Wilder. ‘But we can all relax for a bit, I reckon, whether that’s for a week or two or a month or two.’

‘But isn’t Mina’s position now blown?’ asked Jessie.

‘Maybe not,’ said Wilder smiling, ‘I think some heads will roll for this in Moscow. But one thing’s for sure: lots more people will be after Gemini now, so thank God I’ve made so many mistakes this time round and got away with them – I’ve learned a lot to help against the next bunch.’

‘Yes, here’s to that next bunch,’ said Mina, ‘and my secret role continuing – it’s been fun.’

 

 

 

Thank you for reading my story. I hope you have enjoyed it; if you did, there is a sequel coming out shortly and you can find out not only when it is to be launched but also when it will be FREE by visiting the author’s website at:

 

http://www.jackbrandonbooks.com


Whatever it takes

A new technology threatens the world order. Tom Wilder may be the only man who can manage it. He gets the enormity of the task when he’s told that what he’s to guard. It could take over the air traffic control hubs of New York or London, or shut down power supplies to huge areas – in effect, it could bring almost any country to its knees in just days. As a maverick ex-SAS Afghanistan hero, he’s used to dealing with people who don’t play by any rules. But will even he be able to keep at bay the Moscow Mafia who have been ordered by the Russian President to steal this, the world’s latest, unique high-tech weapon? This intriguing, fast paced thriller is perfect for those who expect the nail-biting action of a Jack Reacher story, the international conspiracies that Leopold Blake has to deal with and understand that assassinations and kidnapping are just a means to an end for those that will do whatever it takes to get what they want. Interview with the Author Q.–How did you get into writing? A. – I was briefly between jobs back in the nineteen-seventies and was so intrigued by a Grisham thriller I read that I thought I’d give it a go. And I still get a great kick out of putting a plot together for a thriller. Q. – And how do you set about planning a thriller? A. – I start with the theme. With ‘Whatever it takes’, my first book in the new Tom Wilder thriller Series, I was intrigued by the statement by a leading expert in international affairs that soon wars will no longer be won by missiles, planes, drones or men on the ground, but by clever people in the IT world. Q, - Although “Whatever it Takes” is fiction, is it based on reality? A. – Very much so. Although one of the next great technological advances will be in quantum computing; as I write it’s still in its infancy. I’ve just speeded up its development. In time, I’m sure it will have some of the extraordinary and frightening powers that I’ve given to my imaginary Gemini. Though I wouldn’t dare claim to be some kind of H.G.Wells – foretelling the future – I’m sure something like Gemini will come along. Q. – And in your view what makes a good thriller? A. – In no particular order of precedence, I’m sure you need good strong likeable characters. Maybe not like those that you’d meet every day but credible and with their own reactions to the thriller. Then of course, I think lovers of action-packed thrillers expect some who will do whatever it takes to get what they want and will use assassination, kidnapping, and other ruthless behaviours in trying to achieve their goals. Q. – Why did you decide to publish on Amazon and other eBook channels? A. – I believe that even the immensely successful J.K.Rowling had her first Harry Potter book turned down by something like a dozen publishing houses. My literary agent retired some time ago and I don’t have the time at my age to chase after finding another – same goes for traditional publishing houses. I fear they are so inundated with manuscripts that they only take on a tiny percentage of what comes their way. Although with Amazon, Smashwords and all the other excellent e-publishing channels available, although one still has to write the very best book one can, the actual process of getting a book out to potential readers is dead simple. Q.- So you’ve just published ‘Whatever it takes’ and I see that it’s part of a series, so what comes next? A. – ‘Whatever it Takes’ tells the story of a bunch of not very salubrious people finding Gemini and, rather clumsily, trying to find and then steal it. The next, book in the series is called ‘Stealth’ tells how one group recognise their mistakes and use a bit more cunning and stealth to acquire a working copy of Gemini. Once they succeed, their ability to hold the West to ransom becomes quite horrendous – lots of scope for conspiracies, more assassinations, and a top female FSB protagonist from Moscow. And a third, in the planning will tell how the weapon is sued to take down a rogue state.

  • ISBN: 9781370877607
  • Author: William Wield
  • Published: 2017-05-30 18:20:21
  • Words: 88908
Whatever it takes Whatever it takes