Caroline Kent, feisty oil troubleshooter, isn’t the kind to take an insult lying down. She gives as good as she gets when a derogatory remark about a third party leads to an incident with another customer in a New York diner. Unfortunately, he is powerful Mafia boss Salvatore Scarlione, who feels his dignity has been compromised and must be avenged. Caroline soon finds that Scarlione isn’t prepared to let the matter drop. Also, that he appears to be able to find her wherever she is in the world, placing her in mortal danger. For the Mafia have stolen something which gives them the power not only to restore their waning fortunes but to effectively control the entire developed world by seeing whatever anyone is doing, at any time, anywhere. Meaning that far more than just Caroline’s life is at stake. She and her friends must fight back, by finding the secret of Scarlione’s power and destroying it. But to take on an enemy with the gift of omniscience will require all their courage, determination and ingenuity.

Guy Blythman

Obviously when I wrote this book, the intention was that it should be published not too long afterwards. In fact it wasn’t, and I can only ascribe this to the way the publishing industry operates these days. To be fair to them, they are inundated with so many manuscripts, everyone wanting to be the next J K Rowling or Ian Rankin, that they don’t have time to consider but a tiny fraction of them. The rest are sent back without being read, accompanied by a generic cover letter. Consequently it is very difficult for many new writers to get published. I would humbly suggest that the quality of the work has nothing to do with it. Naturally the publishers seek to give a contrary impression, since otherwise people might have stopped submitting manuscripts and thus deprived them of the source of their livelihood.
They are also, I think, wary of experimenting with anything a little bit different in approach and style from what they usually get, in case it doesn’t work out – doesn’t, in other words, prove a money-spinner. We still live in a Thatcherite world where commercial success matters more than anything else and where there is therefore a constant race to make that much more money than one’s rivals in the field, in which putting a foot even slightly wrong could be disastrous.
In my case unemployment, which was a more serious problem in the days before the recession that is commonly admitted, and which tends to cut off your funds, plus the rising cost of everything combined with the factors mentioned above to delay publication for many years. It meant that by the time the first few books in the series finally saw the light of day they had effectively, and inevitably, become historical novels. The alternative would have been extensive rewriting to the extent of scrapping the whole lot, and this I wasn’t prepared to do. Sorry.
As a result, the world Panopticon describes is clearly that of the 1990s and early 2000s, though it’s not too different from our own – it was, after all, only a decade or so ago – in that it is consumer-orientated, materialistic and often dysfunctional. The issues they deal with are of course very much relevant today. To those who think that the passage of time renders the story an impractical proposition, and that I ought not to have attempted it, all I can say is that the necessary delay between penning and publication and any problems it might cause highlights the dangerous extent to which commercialism has become dominant over all other principles within Western society, and cautions us against allowing such a culture to ever develop again.

It is important to stress that a certain sequence in chapter thirty-four was written entirely from imagination. I have no idea whatsoever how to defuse a bomb, since that would imply a knowledge of how to construct the device in the first place, information which military experts are never going to give me and quite rightly too because if published it would be of inestimable value to budding terrorists and criminals. If there is any resemblance between the description of the bomb mechanism and any explosive device which currently exists in real life then it is purely coincidental.

Thanks are due to Ian Passingham, Ken Neville-Davies, Josie Coltman, Peter Morley, and Surrey Libraries for providing the kind of essential background information on certain subjects which you can’t get just by tapping into the Internet.

I guess this world won’t ever be Heaven, thought Ken Amata, but there are times when it gets pretty close.
Sitting on the deck of the yacht, under the blue sky of a beautifully sunny day, and watching the light gleaming off the sparkling, gently rolling sea he felt great to be alive, and young. It being his gap year between finishing his course in Oceanography at Berkeley and looking for a job, he had nothing much to do at the moment.
Of course he wasn’t going to spend all his time indulging in hedonistic pursuits. He’d be sure to gain some work experience, doing temporary or part-time jobs which had some kind of connection to his chosen profession; and if the offer of something more permanent did come up, he’d take it. Meanwhile he had the money to do more or less whatever he liked, for the immediate future at least.
Yes, right now Kenneth John Amata of Ladyoake, New Jersey, felt very much alive. Everything around him was alive too; he knew that because of the salty tang of the sea, the smells of fish and engine oil, the cries of seabirds and of holidaymakers frolicking in the water. The sounds from the little beach due east of the marina were dying away gradually in the distance as the yacht chugged on towards its destination.
Wasn’t it a beautiful world. And, he thought, a fairly stable one right now, offering the right conditions in which to build a successful, lasting career. At the same time, what he liked about it was its fluidity. The Cold War had been over now for years, and still nothing like the former Soviet Union had arisen to divide the planet into two hostile blocs, conflict between whom threatened global destruction. You couldn’t be sure where the next threat would come from or indeed if there would be one at all. That there would be none seemed less likely, but it was a lovely idea all the same; dare he hope it would actually come to pass?
And everyone was being brought closer together by the global village, the mass media, the world wide web. The rapidly expanding network of international business links made it less likely to his mind that people would start wars like they’d done in times past, because they’d have so much to lose by the general dislocation to trade and the barriers that would go up.
All that had to be good. Sure there were problems; regional trouble spots which kept on flaring up, environmental pollution, and too much poverty still in what people continued to call – without much justification now that the old geopolitical alignments were a thing of the past – the Third World; and all those things had to be watched. But he preferred to look on the bright side.
He wasn’t quite sure why he had come here on his own. With everything looking good he didn’t really feel the need to be by himself. Maybe a time like this was still a time to take stock, to try and decide what to write on a sheet of paper which apart from the certainty, more or less, that with his qualifications he’d be able to get some decent employment was pretty much blank.
Normally he went on vacation with some of his buddies from college. Well, there was no reason why he shouldn’t invite them down later. They’d have great fun drinking and surfing and picking up pretty girls, doing the coastal roads in Shaun’s father’s car at just within the safety limit, and at night touring the bars and discos, whether in search of female company or simply to have a good time.
He hadn’t specifically planned to do any diving but he had little doubt it’d figure on the agenda at some point. He loved that strange, silent underwater realm where you could be yourself, away from all the noise and bustle of the streets, which he had to admit got on his nerves at times.
All the world was at his fingertips. His life was a wide open space stretching away before him to the horizon; virgin land on which he hadn’t yet decided what to build. It seemed he had sole power to determine the shape his future took; to choose such things as his employer or the point at at which to start looking for long-term commitment in personal relationships. He’d have to make his mind up sometime, of course, especially with respect to the job question. He didn’t want to lose any of his freedom in a hurry. But once the money ran out, he’d be at a disadvantage if he didn’t get that job, and knew it.
Now the right oportunity had come along, or so it seemed, and he’d taken it.
Yesterday he’d been sitting outside one of the seafront bars drinking a beer and perusing the quarterly magazine of the diving association to which he belonged when a guy had come along and sat down at the table opposite him. He could have chosen a different table, one that wasn’t occupied, but maybe he didn’t want to seem to be giving Ken the cold shoulder. He was about fifty, with a tanned, bronze face and silver hair. He had sat for a while drinking his cocktail and gazing out towards the harbour and the sea beyond. Then he’d noticed the Underwater Exploration Ken was reading. “You’re into diving, huh?” he smiled.
“Could say that. You?” His easy friendliness and familiarity didn’t faze Ken because both of them were Americans and that was what Americans were like.
“I run a company that makes deep-sea diving equipment. We sell our gear to scientific institutions, private oufits too, anyone who needs it. We do a few salvage operations ourselves and sometimes I go along to lend a hand. I’m a qualified diver…”
“Me too,” Ken grinned, unable to keep the note of rather smug, he supposed, satisfaction out of his voice. It had been quite an achievement for someone only just out of university. But then he’d always had an affinity for the water.
It was a pity that his aims in life had always diverged from those of his father. Ken had made it clear he wanted a job that had something to do with the sea. He didn’t share his father’s interests, regarding them for the most part as sterile and boring, though he never said so openly for fear of offending his parent who had after all paid for this trip, among other things.
Dad had grinned at him, winked, and told him to go off and do all the things he had done, or wished he had done, at his age. After all, though being young was great you could only do it once, so far as you knew. His mother had warned him to be careful, but nonetheless expressed the hope that he’d enjoy himself.
“What are you doing down here?” his new acquaintance had asked.
“Well, I’ve just graduated from Berkeley in Marine Sciences and I’m taking a year off. I call it my gap year though I’m going to be looking for work some of the time at least. But I’m counting this as a holiday; not a lot will be going on this time of year anyway. My folks often used to take me here when I was a kid and I kind of liked the idea of going on my own. I love this place.”
“Me too. Weather good all the year round…but you’ll be looking for a job once you get home?”
“That’s the idea.”
The man was looking thoughtful. “From next January we’ll be looking for someone to join our management team at a junior level, working as assistant to our chief scientist. Seems like you’d be just right for the job.” Ken’s eyes lit up, and the silver-haired man smiled. “There’ll be other people going for the job, of course, but I’d certainly be pleased to consider you when the time comes, if you’re interested.”
“Yeah, I’m interested,” said Ken.
The man leaned forward, offering his hand. Ken took it.
“I’m Bob Devereaux.”
“Ken Amata.”
“And you’re into anything to do with the sea, right? I can sense it.”
“Always have been.”
“If you like I’ll take you out for a cruise sometime, to the headland and out beyond it for a few miles. There’s some interesting wrecks there, and we could do some deep-sea fishing if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve got all the gear.”
That sounded great, but Ken was thinking most of all about the job offer. Maybe his hunch that he should come here for a few days had been a nudge by Fate in the right direction. It had just deposited something potentially absolutely wonderful right in his lap. Just think of it, being paid to enjoy your number one interest in life.
“Yeah, OK,” Ken smiled. “When were you thinking of? My time’s my own while I’m down here, and I’ve got the whole week to play with.”
“Tomorrow afternoon be OK?”
“Should think so.”
“Then I’ll meet you two o’clock down at the quay, after lunch.” He told Ken how to find his boat.
They’d chatted for a while longer about matters marine, about Devereux’s company and its work. Then Devereux had shaken Ken’s hand and said he looked forward to seeing him at two the following day.
At the appointed time, Ken had gone down to the quay and searched among the vessels moored there until he found Devereux’s yacht, the Marilu. He’d introduced himself to the deckhand who’d challenged him, and the man welcomed him on board. Devereux appeared and shook hands. They sat and talked in the yacht’s bar for a while over cocktails, then went out on deck. One of the crew started the engines and they set off. Bob invited Ken to choose a deckchair and relax while he saw to something in his cabin, where he had a computer and fax machine set up so that he could keep in touch with the company and continue to attend to business matters while on holiday, if he wished.
They were some way out by now, round the other side of the headland from the town, which you couldn’t see from here. The coast had receded to a faint black line with clusters of buildings, individually unidentifiable, at intervals along it. It wouldn’t be long before they reached the spot where they planned to dive.
To be honest, Ken didn’t actually feel like diving right now. The air was so fresh and invigorating, the sunshine so glorious, that if anything the sea when you were beneath it seemed an oppressive presence, dark and clinging and gloomy. He just wanted to sit here and enjoy the sun. But he didn’t want to disappoint his new friend, and possible future employer, so he guessed he’d have to play ball.
The sun was so bright that leaning back in your chair with it shining into your eyes, you could barely see properly. Through the haze he saw Bob coming towards him. Time for the dive, he guessed.
He rose from the deckchair. “OK, I’ll get kitted up.”
And then he realised that his new friend was pointing a gun at him. At first he stared open-mouthed in shock and horror, then he looked round wildly in search of some way of escape and saw the two men who had come out of the cabin of the yacht and planted themselves solidly between him and the deck, squashing any chance of jumping over it and swimming to safety. Even though, to be honest, the gun rendered the matter somewhat academic.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. But finally Joseph Amata had made it.
He had been standing at a window of the apartment, looking out beyond the other buildings of the Facility to the stretch of gently undulating hills on the horizon, for what seemed to have been forever. The trees in the garden and the woods it gave way to that succeeded it were already a rich golden-brown, the colour of autumn, and somehow it gelled with his thoughts entirely. He had been out for a walk earlier, and although the cool peace and quiet of the forest had relaxed his fevered mind to some extent he still hadn’t been able to resolve the matter.
But then it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
A lot hinged on it; more than just his own future. He had shared his doubts with his wife. Had had to in the end, even though he’d been breaking confidentiality; she’d kept on asking him what was wrong and his refusal to tell her had created a barrier between them.
He knew there were beneficial applications to what he was doing. After all, it was progress, regardless of what the thing was used for. And it could be used for good, there was no doubt about that. As well as for evil.
Only he really understood how it all worked. Which was why such a responsibility weighed crushingly upon his shoulders.
In many ways he’d be glad to be rid of it. He had every possible creature comfort here at the Facility and the people who lived and worked there formed a close-knit, friendly community. But the strain of the project, the hours he’d had to put in, had been wearing him out and at the same time keeping him apart from his family even though his wife and daughter – currently away visiting Megan’s relatives out west – were allowed to live here with him in the Residential Block as long as they didn’t talk to anyone outside the organisation about his work. But wasn’t it wrong to put such personal considerations before the security of his country – perhaps of the entire western world?
Before him he saw the beauty of a North American forest in the Fall, rather than a brilliantly sparkling blue sea off Florida, but his thoughts were the same as Ken’s had been. Such a lovely world. And Joseph Amata didn’t want to spoil it.
Finally, with a harsh, bitter sigh, reflecting his resentment at being asked to make such a difficult choice, Amata returned to his computer nd his fingers began to move about the keyboard, typing out a letter.

“To the President of the United States, the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.

Mr President
For the last four years I have had the honour to be chief scientist on Project 231. When the Project was conceived, it was in a spirit of patriotism, its object being the defence of our country against terrorists and rogue states, an aim with which of course I heartily concur.
Nonetheless, I would be failing in my duty to Mankind if I did not express my growing doubts and reservations about the Project. The human desire to push forward the frontiers of science is a fundamental impulse which cannot be eradicated or ignored. The need to recognise that truth has perhaps led us to be casual about the dangers involved.
The potential of the Project is obvious. It will have important applications in other areas than national security. In my opinion, however, it extends the frontiers of human technological achievement too far. It will give whoever possesses it power of a kind I do not believe we have yet learned to use wisely. The potential for abuse is too great and I am convinced we ourselves would suffer, as well as inflict suffering on others, to an extent I do not regard as acceptable.”

After setting out in what way precisely the Project was likely to be so dangerous, he continued:

“What I am saying is that I believe the dangers outweigh the benefits. It is time we asserted the view that scientific progress is not a black hole sucking in every other consideration. It will of course continue, in this and in other fields. We should be prepared to accept the disadvantages of abandoning the Project and compensate for them by continuing to make advances elsewhere. I wish to terminate all involvement with the Project, accordingly I am resigning from my post as chief scientist to it. If you would prefer me to keep silent about my reasons for doing so, and I imagine you would, I am happy to comply with that. But you would be well advised to do as I recommend and cancel the Project before it progresses much further.
There is a certain action which I am about to take, and of which you will no doubt hear before long, that I imagine will seem particularly unhelpful to those wishing Project 231 to continue. I can only assure you that it is motivated by what I believe to be the best possible intentions, and hope that I am correct in that estimation.”

Yes: tonight, before posting the President’s letter, he would go over the road to the Facility and destroy the plans. He’d get into trouble for that, of course; lose any chance of working for the government ever again, maybe wreck his entire career. He might even be charged with treason. But he knew it was all worth it.
What would his wife think? She’d be disappointed, of course, but relieved at the same time. As for himself…he still had a string of illustrious scientific achievements behind him in which he could take pride. But this would have been the crowning glory, wouldn’t it?
He needed to think about it. He needed to think about what would happen to him afterwards, and whether or not he ought to change his mind while there was still time. He needed another walk in the woods.
So he took the car down the road to the point where they began, turning off into a little clearing where a couple of other vehicles were parked. He wasn’t by the look of it the only one to seek solitude in the forest today, but that didn’t bother him. It was extensive enough for a single person to lose themselves in entirely.
Making sure the car was locked and the alarm turned on, he started out on his walk. He wandered around for hours, gloved hands thrust deep into the pockets of the thick overcoat protecting him against the autumn chill. The air was so clear up here in the hills that it rendered his thoughts likewise. Pretty soon Amata knew why he had taken the decision he had, and that it was the right one. All the same, he’d better get on with sending that letter and seeing to the destruction of the plans. Before he changed his mind. He was about to turn back when -
“Dr Amata?” It was a female voice, youngish and with a note of authority that stopped him in his tracks. It was high, sharp and clear, cutting through the cold afternoon air like a knife. He didn’t recognise it but supposed it must belong to someone from the Facility, or from officialdom. Must be something urgent, he thought, for them to track me down here. Something wrong at the Facility. They know my habits, my hobbies, and guessed where I’d be if not at home.
He turned to see two people he didn’t know. Both wore overcoats and scarves. One was a heavily-built man with prematurely greying hair, the other a woman in her thirties or early forties. The woman had shortish, well-groomed raven hair and was petite, with olive skin and dark brown, almost black eyes.
Something about those eyes caught his attention immediately, held it. And made him shiver.
She spoke again. “Dr Amata, we’d like to speak to you for a moment if that’s alright.”
“May I ask who you are?” At once he was on his guard. He mustn’t volunteer any information about his work to those he couldn’t be sure of.
“We’re not concerned with that at the moment, to be honest,” she said.
“Oh, I see,” he muttered, disconcerted by her choice of words. He was sure now they weren’t from the Facility, certainly he’d never seen either of them around the place before, or from the DOD either. FBI? No, they’d say who they were and they’d probably be wearing name badges, which these two weren’t. CIA? Much more likely. Why would they want him though? Did they know of his doubts about Project 231? He couldn’t see how, he’d been very careful not to let anything slip. Perhaps Megan had blurted something out to a friend; but then they’d want to speak to her about it, not him. In any event it seemed strange that they’d accost him here, deep in the woods, rather than call on him at the apartment.
“What was it you wanted to see me about?” he asked, trying to keep his voice calm and steady, courteous even.
“Dr Amata, we have your son.”
For a moment he stared at them in confusion. Then bewilderment gave way to alarm.
“You – “ He knew what it meant, but couldn’t take it in. No, it was impossible, surely. His head was reeling. He swayed, clutching at a tree for support. “What do you mean, you have my son? Ken’s on vacation in Florida. I, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Perhaps it might help if I showed you some pictures.” For the first time Amata saw she was carrying a plastic folder, from which she took a sheaf of blown-up colour photographs and thrust them at him.
The first showed a young man lying on his side on an uncarpeted floor, naked, his knees drawn up almost to his chin as if in a protective gesture, or to brace himself against some excruciating pain. There were ugly, livid bruises on his face, chest and stomach. What could be seen of the room appeared devoid of furniture apart from a radiator against the one wall part of which was visible. Underneath it ran a pipe; the young man’s hands were handcuffed together behind his back and a chain led from the cuffs to the pipe. His mouth was partly open, his eyes wide and staring. It was a face that showed pain and fear, though there was a suggestion its owner was struggling to suppress them.
Amata didn’t bother looking at the other photos, because he’d got the message. He stared at the image in horror, shock and distress. Suddenly he snapped and launched himself at the woman in a frenzy of rage, teeth bared like an animal. He couldn’t have helped himself. “You shit! You filthy Goddamn festering little bitch! I’ll – “
The man stepped between them and seized Amata’s wrists in a vice-lke grip. The scientist kicked and twisted, yelling obscenities at the top of his voice, but there was nothing he could do to break free. He gave up trying and slumped in despair. The man let him go, then kicked him hard in the pit of his stomach. He fell to his knees, gasping and spluttering.
Recovering his breath, Amata stood with an effort. “I hope there’ll be no need for any more violence,” said the woman. “But that depends on your full co-operation.” For the first time he became aware of the nasal, New York twang in her voice. And beneath it, a slight trace of a foreign accent. “I imagine you consider the conditions in which we are holding your son and the treatment he is receiving to be degrading to him. All I can say is that if you wish it to cease, you simply have to do what we tell you. By the way, I think he’d like to speak to you.”
She produced a mini-cassette recorder and switched it on. A voice, shaky and distorted but just recognisable as Ken’s, issued from the tape. “Dad…Dad, listen. I guess I don’t quite understand what all this is about; and I certainly can’t make you do what they tell you to. I just want to say that if you don’t, they’ll kill me. And the way they’ve said they’ll do it…it’s not very nice. I don’t know if they’re serious or not.
“That’s all, Dad. Try not to worry about me, although I know you won’t be able to help it. Stupid thing to say really…give my love to…” The tape ended.
Again Amata glared at the woman in helpless rage. “You…you just can’t do this, you realise that? It’s inhuman, it’s monstrous…”
“Well Dr Amata, I don't think you’re in a position to object right now. We hold all the cards, and for your own peace of mind and that of your wife, who would I am sure be very distressed if any irresponsibility on your part were to lead to tragedy, you’d be well advised to remember that.
“Dr Amata, I want to emphasise most strongly the dangers of contacting the authorities at any point regarding this matter. If you do, if you tell your superiors or the police about this meeting, your son will die. You do not wish to know how we intend to dispose of him; it’s sufficient for me to advise you that there won’t be much left for you to bury.”
“How did you know who I was?” he asked flatly.
“That is another thing which does not concern you. Personally, I had thought you would be more interested in ensuring your son’s safety and wellbeing. So if we could continue? It’s time I explained what precisely is required of you.”
He had hardly dared ask, because he thought he knew, and knew too well, what the answer would be. All the same it made him feel sick. His heart seemed to plunge from a giddy height into a pool of freezing cold water.
“We require you to obtain for us all copies in existence of the plans for the device. I believe they are kept in a safe in your office at the Facility.”
“How did you know – “
“Remember your son, Dr Amata.”
“Do you realise how tight security is there? I’d never be able to do it. Everything has to be signed and counter-signed – “
"You'll find a way, Dr Amata. Believe me you will, if you want to see Kenneth alive again."
"Well...I suppose it might be possible to smuggle a copy out."
“I should think it would be quite possible for someone like yourself. You are, after all, Director of the project. A trusted, reliable employee, a good servant of his country who has national security very much at heart. No-one’s going to ask any questions or show undue concern if you appear to be bending the rules a little.”
Her voice hardened, the New York accent becoming more pronounced. “You have the necessary authorisation to remove the material from the premises. Don’t play games with us. We’ll see you here, with the plans, this time tomorrow. Then you might just get your son back, not before. Alright?”
“Uh-uh-uh-alright,” Amata gasped, drawing a weary hand across his forehead.
“That’s good, Dr Amata. I’m glad you’ve decided to see reason. Now - you walk in these woods a lot, you probably know them like the back of your hand. Will you be able to remember the way here? To this exact spot?”
“I should think so,” he answered.
“I should hope so, Dr Amata, for Kenneth’s sake.” The woman smiled briefly, but it was a cold smile, the smile of a brass plate on a coffin. Amata shuddered at the thought, and briefly wondered if he ever actually would see his son alive again. But he had the impression that it wasn’t Ken who had died but something in the woman, unless it had never been there in the first place. She obviously wasn’t too bothered by it. “That’s all for now. Don’t forget: same time, same place. Goodbye now. Oh and don’t try to follow us. You know what’ll happen if you do.”
She and her companion started to move off. “Wait,” Amata called desperately.
They stopped and turned, the woman’s eyebrows raised quizzically.
“Do you realise how potentially dangerous the device is? The things you can do with it - ”
“Whether it’s dangerous depends on your point of view, Dr Amata. It’s not dangerous to us. To us it could be of incalculable benefit.”
With a brief wave she turned and walked away with her companion along a path leading in the opposite direction to that Amata had come from. The scientist was left standing there, eyes closed, head bowed.
“You bitch,” he whispered softly. ”Oh, you bitch.”
He checked his watch. Four o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Today had been his day off, although the people who ran the Facility didn’t know he had taken it in order to help him resolve doubts about the wisdom of the project. Two in succession…they might wonder. He’d just have to think up a reason.
How did the people who had Ken know where the plans were kept? How did they know about the Project in the first place, or his role in it?
And should he still send the letter? Might as well do. They didn’t seem to know about it and it wouldn’t make any difference anyway, not now.
He heard a car engine rumble into life some way off. It didn’t sound as if it had been parked with his and the others, so he couldn’t tell the police anything he remembered about one or other of the vehicles in case the information proved useful. Supposing that would have been wise. And supposing he’d noted it down anyway, because he’d no idea – oh Jesus, he’d no idea this Goddamn, awful, evil thing was going to happen.
Besides, they wouldn’t have been that stupid.
Gradually the sound died away and Amata was left alone in the wood, with his thoughts.


He just said he’d left something at the office and needed to go back for it. Once there, he deleted the copy of the plans which had been held on his computer, after transferring them to a disc. He was familiar enough with computing to know how to avoid the unauthorised transmission being detected and recorded.
His briefcase would have been opened and searched by the security guard on leaving, so instead he tucked the disc and the folder containing the paper copy of the plans inside the thick overcoat he had put on before leaving home; it worked. The guards just nodded and smiled at him, and said goodnight.
He supposed he could tell his employers all that had happened once Ken was back safe and sound. Meanwhile he couldn’t ring Megan in case Security were tapping his phone and because he didn’t know whether he should abruptly terminate her visit to her folks, which she’d been looking forward to, by giving her the news or let her go on enjoying herself in blissful ignorance of Ken’s and his plight. He couldn’t decide which would ultimately upset her more. And maybe she might take the view that they should go to the police. With any luck Ken would have been freed before she returned.
Unless Ken, in his captors’ estimation, knew too much. By that same token, would they harm him?
And what would be the consequences of his action, the forgiveable but fateful action he was taking in order to get his son back safe and sound? It would help if he knew who they were. Agents for a foreign power? That accent…
They were there as arranged. The woman took the plans from him, and the disc, and deposited them inside the shopping bag she was carrying. “Security at your workplace really isn’t very good,” she commented. “I’m most disappointed.”
“Where’s Ken?” he demanded, his heart thudding. “You promised me…”
“We didn’t actually promise to deliver him to you here if you gave us the items. We just said what would happen if you didn’t.”
“So when – “
“We’re taking you to see him, Dr Amata. If you’ll just come with us.” The man produced an automatic pistol from beneath his coat. They led him along the path down which they’d disappeared the day before, the woman in front and the man behind, to a clearing where a convertible was parked.
At least he’d get to see Ken. But what did it mean if neither of them were to be granted their liberty just yet? That had to be significant. These people wanted more from him, it was clear, when all he desired was for Ken to be freed alive and unharmed. Oh God, how long was this nightmare to go on for?
They reached the car. The woman opened the boot, which caused Amata a twinge of unease, and then he sensed the man move behind him. “What’s this?” he demanded, starting to turn. Then something cold and hard slammed down on top of his head, and for a while he knew no more.

The man checked his watch for the fourth time. Nearly eleven o’clock.
The bustle and chatter inside the bar had a comforting monotony about it, in which you could easily lose yourself if you were in the right frame of mind. But he wasn’t. He sipped at his fourth glass of Bourbon and glanced around furtively at his fellow customers. His nerves were preventing him from getting drunk, which was fortunate because he didn’t want to miss the appointment. They were also making him increasingly self-conscious. Mustn’t let it show, he told himself not for the first time since entering the bar. Otherwise people might remember having seen him here, and that he’d been agitated and uneasy.
It was a something that constantly nagged at his mind; could his employers have put him under surveillance? He was doing an important enough job. Maybe he’d better call a halt to it now.
But how could he? They would want to know why he hadn’t shown. There would be…consequences. He’d already committed himself too far to pull out now.
The thought helped to ease his conscience.
He decided that if they – his employers, that was - had been watching him, he’d have realised it by now. You got to recognise the signs after a while, and there had been nothing.
As for chickening out; he could stay in the bar beyond the deadline, not leaving until it closed at about two in the morning. But how was he to know they wouldn’t be waiting for him?
11.15, they’d said.
He caught the bartender’s eye. “If I was you I’d make that your last one,” the man cautioned. “Though if I may say so, it doesn’t look like it’s doing you any good.”
“My wife just left me,” he said, affecting a dull uninterested tone of voice.
The bartender’s face changed. “Gosh, I’m real sorry. All the same – “
He shook his head. “Don’t worry, I’ll be alright. I’m going soon.”
Eventually, unable to stand the tension any longer, he left his seat, his drink unfinished. Before departing the building he looked round to see what the bartender was doing. Busy serving another customer. He slipped out.
He stood on the pavement outside the building with his free hand in the pocket of his overcoat, waiting. His other hand held a Samsonite briefcase.
After a while he began to pace restlessly up and down.
He had actually forgotten all sense of time when the convertible pulled up beside him and the window was wound down. The man in the driver’s seat called out to him, and he walked over. “Get in the back,” the man ordered. The tone wasn’t unfriendly; they wanted to put him at his ease in case he did decide to pull out whatever the consequences for himself.
He obeyed. He presumed he was to hand the material to the man sitting on the back seat, on the far side by the window. A black man, he noted for no apparent reason.
“Well, here they are,” he said, trying to sound cheerful, and took from the briefcase a sheaf of flimsies on which the notes and sketches had been executed. “I had to do it all by hand as otherwise it’d have looked too official and I’d never have been allowed to take it out of the office. I don’t know what you can do with it…”
“But it’s all there?”
“It’s all there. It was done partly from memory, at home. Only way to get round security.”
“You’re sure it’s accurate?”
“I’m sure. Over a long enough time it was quite possible to memorise the details. And I do have experience in this kind of thing, after all.” The man was being modest. He was one of the greatest experts in his field of work in the entire world.
The black man studied the diagrams, and after a while nodded. “Our people are pretty good. Yeah, it can be done.” These days his organisation had clever people working for it, people with education and qualifications. It had adapted. To some extent, it had not so much been washed out as evolved into a new form more suited to changing times, like dinosaurs turning into birds.
The black man folded the notes and tucked them away inside his coat. “OK, now let’s take you home.” It needed to look as if they were being social, and not as if some shady rendezvous had taken place for the purpose of handing over to the “wrong” people information which ought to be the sole preserve of the intelligence services.
“Pete, you reckon anyone saw anything?” the black man asked.
“Don’t think so. Let’s be off, anyhow.” The driver’s voice held a trace of an accent that an inhabitant of the United Kingdom might have recognised as originating from the Clydeside area of Glasgow. He turned the key in the ignition and depressed the accelerator, pulling away from the kerb. As they drove off the black man reflected that it was nice that this time they hadn’t had to threaten anybody to get what they wanted.

FBI Headquarters, Quantico, Virginia
“We can find another scientist who’ll take over the Project,” said Dr Holtzmann. ”Amata’s a clever guy but he’s not the only one who could do it.”
“Oh, sure, the Project’s gonna continue,” nodded the Director of the CIA, Sam Tyzack. “That’s a foregone conclusion. But it may not benefit us as much unless maybe we can find those plans. Without them we’ll have to start again from virtually nothing, and it’s going to take us ages to get to where we were before this happened.”
“He’s probably destroyed them,” sighed Winston Caulfield, current Director of the Bureau, in whose office they were. “Must have done, if he didn’t want anyone to have the knowledge. “There is a certain action which I am about to take, and of which you will no doubt hear before long, that I imagine will seem particularly unhelpful to those wishing Project 231 to continue.” It’s got to mean that, I don’t see any other possibilities.”
“Meanwhile someone else presumably knows how to build the thing, or will do once they’ve had a good look at those plans. That could be…I don’t need to tell you how dangerous. If they just have a head start on us, that’ll be enough.
“Of course it depends who they are and what purpose they intend to use the device for. The mere fact they’ve stolen the plans doesn’t mean they’re necessarily hostile to us. They could just have figured we wouldn’t want to share the information.”
“No, but the thing could be dangerous in anyone’s hands.” Except America’s, of course.
“It has to be significant that Amata disappears at the same time as the plans. And that he does so after writing a letter saying he’s got cold feet about Project 231 and doesn’t want anything more to do with it.” They had found the letter to the President, still unsent, on Amata’s desk at his home at the Facility.
“But Amata didn’t say anything about disappearing in the letter. That’s what’s bugging me.”
“Could he have committed suicide?” asked Caulfield. “I mean, he must have known it’d screw up his career bigtime. Not resigning from the Project, but destroying the plans. It could have been seen as an unpatriotic act. He’d have been worried about how he’d be perceived afterwards, by the public, by his colleagues, by the government.”
“The letter didn’t say anything to suggest he was going to kill himself,” said Holtzmann. “And his wife doesn’t think it’s very likely.
“A lot of people do it on impulse. Of course, there has to be some underlying reason, some ongoing problem in their lives, that keeps surfacing from time to time, which ultimately explains it. The thought of it suddenly gets to them and they…”
“So you didn’t notice anything about his behaviour over the last few months that indicated unusual stress?”
“Not unusual stress. Unless maybe it was due to the particular nature of the Project. It’s required of all those involved an exceptional amount of effort, mental, physical or both, in order to overcome the technical difficulties we’ve faced. To get to the stage where we can even contemplate starting to build the thing…of course someone can do a pretty good job of disguising just how much they’re suffering.”
Caulfield pondered this for a moment. “The possibility Amata killed himself can’t be ruled out. That’s why we’ve ordered a nationwide search for him. We might find the body if not the living man. But something about this whole business bothers me.”
“You think he might actually have been kidnapped?” Tyzack seemed sceptical. “It’s a bit of a coincidence that it should happen just after he writes that letter, there’s got to be a connection. And it must have been him who took those files.”
“Coincidences do happen. If there’s been foul play, they might want Amata as well as the plans. He designed the thing in the first place, so he’d understand the finished product better than anyone else would. They’d needed him on hand in case anything went wrong with it. Or if they wanted to build in modifications – remember, what was on the drawing board didn’t quite represent the ultimate development of the device as we’d envisaged it. There were things we wanted to do with it but didn’t yet know how to, so they weren’t provided for in the design.”
“From the sound of it Amata didn’t want anyone to have it. If he gave the plans to someone else, it can’t have been willingly. They must have had some kind of hold over him. The fact his son’s also gone missing clinches it, surely.”
“How did they know about the Project in the first place? Or that Amata was chief scientist? His daily routine, details of his family and their movements?” Caulfield looked to Holtzmann for an answer.
“It must have been an inside job. We’re already conducting an investigation, which will be accompanied by a thorough review of security. It’s pretty worrying, I agree. But…well, hopefully if we do find Amata we’ll find the plans.”
“They could have murdered him to stop him talking,” Caulfield said. “The plans will be gone.”
He stared fixedly at the model of a Union soldier of the Civil War which sat on his desk. One of his interests was military history. “Assuming I’m right and it was a snatch,” he said finally, “who could they be? Iraqis? Iranians? Something else entirely?”
Tyzack pursed his lips. “In this uncertain world there are all kinds of candidates.”
In all of this none of them gave a thought to Amata’s misgivings, expressed in the letter that they’d found at his home, and which had now been handed back to them after being read by the White House staff. That wasn’t the issue as far as they were concerned. It was a foregone conclusion that the device was vital to their country’s security. That made no difference to the dangers of its falling into the wrong hands.
Whoever’s the wrong hands were.

At the end of 18th Street in Brighton Beach, New York, just a few yards from the water’s edge there is a bar, where food may be served and which is popular with all kinds of people from all walks of life; it has an atmosphere that’s lively and friendly but nonetheless still allows for moments of peace and quiet, of reflection.
At the table nearest the window looking out to sea, not so long ago on a warm evening in early spring, sat three people. Relaxed by the gentle tinkling of the piano, the comforting burble of the other diners’ conversation, and the faint sound of the waves lapping on the boardwalk, they talked softly in low voices, partly it seemed because it was their habit at times like these; it was as if they were a little club who all knew each other and whose friendship had been cemented by shared experiences, of a kind which for some reason outsiders weren’t meant to know about just yet. Every now and then over their drinks they laughed at some joke one of them had told, suggesting that whatever they had all been through together some of it, at least, had been fun.
One was a woman, an attractive and striking blonde in her mid- to late-twenties, to whom the heads of the male diners kept turning; the female ones too, because something about her commanded attention. It would have done even if she had not been quite so pretty. She carried herself with an air of mature sophistication and self-possession, yet when she laughed at a joke or showed pleasure, surprise, puzzlement at some remark by one of the others there was something engagingly childlike about her manner. She flirted mildly with her two male companions, from time to time patting one or the other on the wrist or cuddling against them in sympathy at some misfortune they were relating, or as a way of demonstrating gratitude for some past favour, but the gestures came over as spontaneous, a part of her natural personality rather than an affectation. She had an oval face with fine, high, narrow cheekbones and a pert retrousse nose. The eyes were fascinating; a rather startling Pacific blue, they commanded attention by more than just their colour. They reflected right now a range of emotions from the exuberant to the whimsically thoughtful, subtly shifting, sometimes from moment to moment, but none negative. They were, indeed, not unlike the sea; one whose waters were so clear and pure that you could see what lay just beneath the surface, so vividly that to some she might seem transparent and shallow, yet if you looked closer there was a sense of fathomless, mysterious depth. A hint of something complex and meditative beneath the bold, brash exterior.
The two men with her were both stockily built, but otherwise presented a contrast. One was shortish with a pleasantly rounded, vaguely handsome face and dark wavy hair. His accent might have been described as classless, though it owed more to London than the Home Counties, by someone who knew anything about British accents. The other man, fairish in his colouring, was a big, tall fellow whose clipped public school tones, not dissimilar to the woman’s, carried an unmistakable note of authority. They suggested an army officer, which in fact he was, although he didn’t as a rule advertise which branch of the army he belonged to.
Caroline Kent was in America to celebrate the merging of International Petroleum Limited, the oil company for whom she worked as a general troubleshooter among other things, with the US firm Amacon. To be honest it wasn’t so much a merger but a takeover. The thought that in these days a British company (which IPL effectively was, despite its name) could swallow up an American one gave her a certain feeling of patriotic pride. Though her country’s political power might have dwindled in recent decades, it could still exert a degree of economic muscle when required. Which was good because athough she liked Americans for their friendliness, their dynamism, she sometimes felt they needed to be taken down a peg or two. Though she wasn’t sure if she should ever share the sentiment with her friends Dan and Lisa Beckenbaum in San Francisco.
To be honest Amacon had been doing badly of late, otherwise the takeover might not have happened. Her fellow executive Chris Barrett, who often accompanied her on her troubleshooting missions, was there as her number two at IPL’s Personnel and Public Relations Department (of traditional tastes in such matters, Caroline was fighting what she suspected was a losing battle against the transformation of the Personnel bit into “Human Resources”).
Major Michael Hartman, SAS, was present as an indirect result of an assignment Caroline and Chris had undertaken in the South American state of Camaragua. The three of them had met in adjoining Brazil in what might be called extraordinary circumstances. On Caroline’s assignments extraordinary things did seem to happen, whether or not from design.
Since the Major had happened to be on leave and spending part of it in America the three of them had taken the opportunity to hold the annual general meeting of what they referred to as the Camaragua Survivors’ Club. It seemed not inappropriate that those who had been through the whole incredible – and often perilous - affair should meet up at least once a year to find out how each other were doing, as well as reminisce about their experiences in South America; editing the conversation, or not having it too loudly, in case anyone either thought they were crazy or heard something which the intelligence services of Britain and the US would have rather they didn’t.
“Camaragua,” Caroline sighed. “What a country.”
“They seem to be doing OK now,” commented the Major. “Everywhere in Latin America is. Viellar was the last of the really big drug barons and we terminated his contract, alright.”
“All the same, I’m not sure I want to go back there in a hurry. Long queues at the post office, people calling me "Senorita" all the time..."
"That was hardly the worst of it. Getting kidnapped, taken hostage, nearly killed by hostile Indians or eaten by alligators…”
"Oh, that," she said nonchalantly.
Actually, despite its faults she had evolved a certain affection for the place. Apart from anything else it was Camaragua which had broken her in as a troubleshooter, if rather more drastically than she cared to contemplate.
For Chris also it had been a baptism of fire. He still couldn’t get over, whenever he thought about it, the fact that he’d actually killed somebody. Quite a few somebodies. It wasn’t something he’d ever envisaged doing.
“We did have some fun,” he acknowledged. “I heard what you did to Viellar when you escaped from his bondage den.”
Caroline gave a loud, cackling laugh. “Best part of it,” she said.
Chris raised his glass. “Here’s to the next one,” he said.
“The next what?”
“The next adventure.”
“Are you kidding?” she sniffed. “The last one nearly got us all killed.”
“Don’t tell me that Caroline Kent, fearless oil troubleshooter, is afraid to risk her life for the sake of truth and justice,” teased the Major.
I’m not sure how much truth and justice you’ll find in an oil company, Caroline thought. It looked after its own, the high-flyers anyway, but IPL hadn’t always been solicitous of the welfare of indigenous peoples whose way of life was affected by its projects; she was continually having to sort out that kind of thing.
“No-one does that lightly,” she said with dignity, in response to Hartman’s ribbing. “Even you, I suspect.”
Chris grinned. “We’d sort of figured it out,” he said, his voice dropping again, “but all the shame it was a bit scary when you told us you were in the…you know…”
“I only told you because you asked, and because you’d so obviously worked it out for yourselves there wasn’t much point in denying it,” Hartman reminded them severely. “Would have been a bit irresponsible otherwise.”
“You’re sounding like a crotchety old colonel,” Caroline chided.
“I’m a crotchety young Major. Tell me, why was it scary?” he asked Chris.
It was Caroline who answered. “I thought at one stage you were going to kill me to protect your secret.”
“That’s spies,” Chris told her.
“It’s not, actually,” she said. “It just means you blow your cover. So I gather anyway.”
“I hope Dattari and his people are alright,” she mused, thinking again about indigenous peoples. “Wouldn’t mind paying them a return visit someday.”
“Would be nice,” agreed Chris.
“No,” she said airily, “I’ll leave fighting for truth and justice to this guy here.” She smiled at the Major.
Hartman wore a dubious expression. “Is it?” whispered Chris. “Is it “truth and justice”, would you say?”
“Some of the jobs I’ve done,” Hartman muttered, “were a case of doing the government’s dirty work for them. Of course they called it “protecting British interests.” It probably helped to keep us relatively wealthy and powerful in the post-colonial world. But innocent people got killed. The thing is…suppose it was wrong. If I’d refused to do it I’d have been cashiered. And then I wouldn’t have been able to fight for what was true and just.” It was an excuse, but a good one.
“Shame Barney couldn’t be here,” sighed Caroline.
“Where is he, by the way?” asked the Major.
“He’s off at some rally or other in support of the rain forest,” she replied. “Still, good luck to him.”
“Not sure he’d come anyway,” Chris said. “Funny bloke, Barney.” Mention of the ecologist reminded Chris that he had killed people too, though for a very different reason from Barrett or the Major. It hadn’t really been his fault, but nonetheless they’d agreed afterwards not to talk about it.
Caroline smiled at Hartman. “Glad you could make it.”
“I was over here to visit someone,” he explained, a little diffidently.
Caroline and Chris exchanged glances. “Were you now,” said Caroline thoughtfully, eyebrows raised.
Chris nudged him, grinning slyly. “Come on, let’s have it. Who is she?”
“She’s called Gillian and she’s very nice and sweet. Works on the clerical staff of the Department of Defense over here. She was in London on a fact-finding trip and that’s how I met her. As you know, I do a lot of liaison work with the Yanks between assignments.” Soldiers had to find something to occupy themselves between battles or training exercises. “We got talking one day and…well, she invited me over here to meet up with her sometime. That’s all.”
He seemed embarrassed. Caroline’s eyes had grown big and were twinkling mischievously.
“I imagine she just wanted to talk business,” she said. “Nothing more than that.”
“Nothing more than that,” said the Major unconvincingly.
“So she’s American?” Chris asked.
“Very. That’s why I like her.”
Both of them were pleased for him. Somehow, you got the impression the Major needed something like that.
He fished out a photograph and showed it to them. “That’s her.”
“Pretty girl,” said Caroline. She was being polite but in fact the woman wasn’t unattractive, all told. That face, slightly elfin and framed by strawberry blonde hair, certainly had character, suggesting an impish sense of humour. She looked not unlike Cameron Diaz, perhaps Michelle Pfeiffer.
“How’s your folks, by the way?” Caroline asked Chris. “Your father was going to have that operation, wasn’t he?“ Her concern was genuine.
“Turns out he didn’t need it after all. His results had got mixed up with someone else’s.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling despairingly. “Still, it doesn’t happen that often, I suppose.”
“Must be a relief for him. Means some other poor sod’s got to go under the knife, though. Such is Fate.”
“They’ve a pretty good success rate. No, Mum and Dad are both fine. How about yours?”
“Not too bad. Still arguing.”
“They’ve got to learn to do it affectionately,” said the Major. “That’s the secret.”
“More or less what I told them. I also said they were too old to get divorced, but I don’t know if that’s true nowadays. They didn’t appreciate it anyway.”
“They’ve had a lot to cope with lately,” said Chris. “I mean, with Douglas…” Caroline’s brother had been killed by a terrorist bomb just as he’d seemed on the point of sorting out his traumatised, chaotic, messed-up life.
“Yes,” said Caroline softly, bowing her head. She fell silent.
“Are you alright?” Chris asked. She didn’t reply.
Gently he took her by the arm and led her out onto the terrace, where he waited until she had recovered her composure, then they went back in. The Major had remained in his seat, knowing she might find too much solicitous attention, however well meant, not to her liking. “OK now?” he asked her. She smiled back a little weakly, and managed a nod.
For a while the mood was subdued. Soon, however, she was back to her old self, and the conversation once again in full swing.
Outside, the lights of the seafront were twinkling in the water, the moon shining down from a star-studded sky, reflected in the gleaming black surface of the sea as a wavering, ghostly shape.
Their main course arrived and was tucked into with relish. The bar had filled up somewhat, signifying that they should cease talking about confidential matters to do with spies and Special Forces. Caroline found her eyes travelling over the other customers. She noted that a man was taking his seat at the table next to theirs, along with two women and a fourth, male, companion. In his late forties, he was short and of compact build, perhaps once muscular but now gone a little to flab; heavy-featured with hooded, slightly protruding eyes and thick lips. His brown hair was sleekly combed and he had on an obviously expensive Versace suit with silk tie. As well as the suit he wore a disgruntled expression which amounted to a fixed scowl, as if something weighed heavily on his mind. One of the women was blonde - with dark roots showing, Caroline noted disparagingly - the other brunette, and both wore flashy necklaces and bangles and low-cut dresses which left little of their generous busts to the imagination. The other man was tall with curly hair and something in his face seemed to recall the first, although the features were more refined, the lips thin and tightly compressed. He too was smartly dressed, in a similar fashion to his – father? Uncle? Certainly there was an age difference of some twenty, maybe thirty years between them.
The younger man perused the menu while the older stared moodily through the window at the dark sea.
The head waiter, hovering solicitously in the background keeping an eye on everything, caught sight of Versace and immediately went over to him. “What can I get you, Mr Scarlione?” he asked. Although the service was good here, he seemed particularly eager to please. Evidently a valued customer. “Some wine to start with?”
“Yeah, OK. I’ll have a glass of Chianti.” He glanced at his companions, who nodded to signify they’d have the Chianti too, as if choosing something different would be a form of disloyalty. The maitre d’ beckoned over a waitress.
Caroline noticed that two men had entered the bar and were standing with their backs to the wall, not far from where Scarlione and his party were sitting. She found their presence a little intimidating, but the other diners seemed to take it for granted, carrying on talking and eating quite happily with only the occasional glance in their direction.
“Wonder who he is?” she said.
“Who?” asked Chris.
She nodded towards Scarlione. “That chap. You get the impression they’re falling over backwards to please him.”
“Yes, I noticed,” said the Major thoughtfully.
The waitress, a young girl in her late teens or early twenties, approached the table where Scarlione’s group sat, smiling nervously. Caroline studied her. The type who would grow to be competent, but at the moment wasn’t quite sure of herself; she must be fairly new to the job, this could even have been her first day in it. She thought back to when she herself had started at IPL, feeling all the time desperately self-conscious and struggling manfully to hide it.
Earlier she had gone the rounds, taken their own order. Observing her talking with the customers, a little nervously but realising she had to make the effort to be friendly, Caroline hadn’t been able to help sizing her up. Despite her nerves she had a pleasant manner and would be an asset to the establishment, given time.
She rested the tray with the four glasses and bottle of wine on the edge of the table, poured the wine into the glasses, then transferred them to the table. Scarlione grunted what might have been a thankyou, and raised his Chianti to his lips.
Maybe it was nerves again, maybe it was a simple mistake, but as the girl turned away with the tray the edge of it caught Scarlione’s arm and jogged it as he drank. A little of the wine splashed onto the cuff of his freshly starched, gleaming white shirt.
“Hey!” he shouted.
The girl turned and saw what had happened. “Sorry,” she grinned, embarrassed. “Shall I clean that up for you?”
“I think you’d better,” said Scarlione dangerously.
“Sorry.” She went to fetch something to do it with, Scarlione glaring after her as she moved away. “Stupid bitch,” Caroline heard him mutter.
Though he obviously had something on his mind the unfairness of the insult, of his whole manner, grated with Caroline. “Charming,” she commented. Whether by accident or design, she said it just loud enough for him to hear it.
At once Scarlione’s head snapped round and he glared hard at her, the fleshy lips compressing. “You got a problem, sweetheart?”
“Don’t think so,” she replied evenly, “but it’s very kind of you to ask.” She went happily back to her meal.
Scarlione pushed back his chair, which scraped hard on the floor, and stood up sharply. Slowly he took a few steps towards Caroline, to halt with his arms held rigidly by his sides, the fists clenched.
“Hey,” he said in a low, menacing, warning tone. “You don’t talk to me like that, OK?”
Caroline was busy chatting to the Major and didn’t hear him.
Chris suddenly realised that the music had stopped, and forks paused halfway to mouths. Everyone was staring at Caroline and Scarlione, their faces uneasy, yet at the same time showing a certain fascinated interest. You could have heard a pin drop, etc etc.
He and the Major twisted round to face the American. The Major got up and went to stand in front of Scarlione, looking stern. He put an authoritative, parade-ground note into his voice. “Alright, that’s enough.”
For a moment the American faltered, then the scowl returned to his face. “Hey, pal, do you mind? I was having a nice friendly little talk with the lady here.”
Chris joined the Major. “Look, we don’t want any trouble.” He tried to sound friendly and reasonable, non-confrontational. This approach didn’t work either. Ignoring them, the American moved round the table until he was standing beside Caroline, who was still trying to eat her food as if nothing had happened. He bent to whisper in her ear. “I said, you don’t – talk – to – me – like – that. Goddit?”
Caroline winced and flinched away. “Your breath smells,” she told him. “I’d clean your teeth a bit more often, if I were you.”
“Jesus,” he gasped, astonished by her refusal to be intimidated. It obviously wasn’t something he encountered very often.
“Or maybe it’s a bowel problem. They can have that effect.” She realised she had put herself off her food and regarded it uncertainly, lowering her knife and fork.
“I think you need one or two lessons in manners, babe,” he told her. “Wanna step outside?”
“Not particularly,” said Caroline. “Look, why are you making such a big thing of this?”
The waitress, who had by now returned with a cloth to wipe up the spilt wine, was hovering uncertainly in the background, as was the maitre d’. The other staff were attempting to go about their business as normal, but their unease was palpable. Scarlione’s two bimboes were shifting about in an exaggerated fashion, forced smiles on their faces. The two men by the wall had moved forward a little, tensed to intervene if it seemed necessary.
Someone tapped Chris on the shoulder and he turned. The diner leaned over and whispered a few words in his ear.
“Oh,” said Chris, starting. He went decidedly pale. “Oh, er, thanks.” He tried to attract Caroline’s attention, without success, while she and Scarlione continued to exchange pleasantries.
The Major went up to Scarlione, and the heavies marched to intercept him, hesitating as Hartman only put a placatory hand on their boss’s shoulder. “Listen – “
Scarlione shook the hand off and rounded on him. “Get off me, you fucking homo.”
Hartman ignored the insult. “She’s right, you’re over-reacting.” He wasn’t quite sure what had caused the argument in the first place. “I’m sure the lady’s sorry for whatever she said.” Caroline’s sour expression suggested she wasn’t.
“Sorry, is she? That’s no fucking good unless it comes from her own Goddamn lips, is it?” He clenched his fist and shook it, a fraction from Caroline’s face. “Well I’m telling you, you’d better be sorry or you’ve had it, blondie. Yeah, you’re dead meat, you lousy worthless cock-sucking little slut.”
Caroline froze. She scraped her chair round through a half-circle and very slowly rose, Scarlione straightening up with her until their faces were on a level. The blue of her eyes suddenly became very prominent. Her manner might have served to chill the wine being served that night, had it not already been so treated. There was a brief moment’s silence.
“What did you call me?” she hissed.
Before the gaze of everyone in the room Scarlione seemed actually to flinch. But the fear itself, and the knowledge that he had shown it, only made him angrier, the more so because he couldn’t explain quite why he had been so afraid. “If my memory serves me well,” he snarled, “I called you a cock-sucking little slut. And if you don’t apologise to me, I’ll do to you what sluts deserve. Got that?”
A man who was presumably the manager hurried up to him, clearly agitated.
“Keep the fuck out of this,” Scarlione snapped. “This is between me and the slut.”
“Slut, am I?” Caroline said. “Well if I’m a slut, then you’re an obnoxious arrogant slimy putrid little toad.”
Scarlione’s jaw dropped, his eyes popped from his round football-like head. It was a whole minute before he could say anything. When he did it was more a series of strangled gurgling sounds than proper speech. Gradually it penetrated through to his consciousness that people were laughing at him. Others were cheering, egging Caroline on, or trying to look nonplussed, or going through a variety of extraordinary expressions in an attempt to keep a straight face.
One of the hoods, if that was what they were, suddenly saw the funny side, his icy look melting. He stifled a giggle, not entirely successfully. His companion jabbed him in the side with his elbow and whispered something fiercely through the corner of his mouth. The hood regained his composure remarkably quickly.
Scarlione was still gasping and choking gutturally. You might have thought he was about to have a stroke or a heart attack. “Feeling all right?” asked Caroline pleasantly.
The manager was glancing helplessly this way and that, uncertain what to do. Certainly no-one seemed to be interested in calling the police.
The young man with the curly hair suddenly decided he should intervene and sprang from his chair, bounding over to Scarlione. “Cool it, Dad. We don’t wanna start a fight in here, OK? Just cool it.”
Scarlione didn’t hear him. When he finally managed to speak coherently his voice was like fingernails scraping down a blackboard. “You called me a turd,” he said slowly. “You got any idea who you’re talking to, honey? Uh?”
Caroline looked puzzled, then her face seemed to clear in realisation. ”Oh, I see,” she laughed. “You misheard me. No need to get worked up, I only called you a toad. That’s all,” she finished, as if that settled everything.
Then fear flashed across her face as Scarlione lifted an arm to strike her.
The Major’s hand shot out and grabbed it just below the wrist before it could descend. The American struggled to break free but it was like trying to budge solid steel. The Major took his other arm and pushed him slowly back, away from Caroline. The two heavies marched forward, honour bound to intervene if someone laid hands on their boss, but Scarlione’s son waved them away. They hesitated, uncertain whose orders to obey.
Scarlione erupted in a torrent of quite remarkable, and seemingly endless, abuse. Eventually he gave up, slumping helplessly in the Major’s grip. But if looks could…
Still holding Scarlione by the wrists the Major spoke to him calmly but firmly. “Listen, Mr Scarlione. I don’t normally get physical, but if you’re not careful you’ll leave me no choice. You were about to hit the lady and that I’m not standing for, alright? I don’t want a fight, but if you insist on one you may just get your wish. However, I’m sure that at heart you’re big enough not to let words rattle you so much. Right now all you’re doing is making a spectacle of yourself. Just go and sit down, yeah?”
He held Scarlione for a moment more, then released him and stood back, still eyeing him with the warning look that had frozen many a troublesome new recruit in terror in the days before he had left the mainstream army for the SAS.
For a moment it looked as if Scarlione might be prepared to go on making a confrontation of it. Then, with a final glance at Caroline – it was as if he had hurled a dagger at her with his eyes – he returned to his seat. The curly-haired young man did likewise. The heavies returned to their place by the wall, their gaze now focused on Caroline and her friends in case of any further trouble from that quarter.
Chris and the Major sat down also. “Are you alright?” Chris whispered to Caroline.
“Of course I am,” she snorted. Though unsettled by the incident by a greater extent than she was letting on, she was still more angry than shaken.
“What happened? Why did he flare up at you like that?”
Caroline told him. “I know how you feel,” Chris said. “The guy’s obviously a state-of-the-art, card-carrying, first generation arsehole. But I’m not sure it was wise to get into an argument with him.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Do you know who he is?”
Chris raised his voice a little so that the Major could hear him too. “That was Salvatore Scarlione, the local Mafia boss.”
Caroline went very still and very quiet, her mouth half open. ”Oh,” she said at last.
“Yes. Not the sort of bloke you get on the wrong side of, if you’re sensible.”
She came back to him at once. “And I’m not?”
“I didn’t say that. Just that it might be a good idea to leave now.”
“I’m not leaving because of him,” she insisted. “I’ll stay as long as I like.”
“Alright,” said Chris. “If you want to. But me and Mike are a little tired, we’d both like a early night. So we’ll be off now, if that’s OK.” He rose. Catching his eye, the Major did the same.
Caroline started. “Er….wait…..”
Their faces studiously impassive, the two of them sat down again.
The evening wore on. After a while Chris and the Major ran out of conversation but Caroline went on talking, the others politely nodding and “mmm”ing at everything she said. She listened attentively to the music, had a couple more drinks. She appeared to be enjoying herself, although Chris suspected she was only trying to show she wasn’t frightened by Scarlione. An hour, maybe two, passed during which her companions managed from time to time some desultory small talk, between trying to stifle bored yawns.
Eventually she decided the charade had gone far enough. “Right, time to go,” she said briskly.
As they filed out, Chris noticed that Scarlione and his entourage had gone.
They emerged from the building into the parking lot. Most of the other customers had already left. As they approached the bay where the company car was parked, there was a flicker of movement in the shadows behind a nearby vehicle, and then a group of figures were coming towards them out of the darkness.
Instinctively the Major tensed, ready to fight.
They stepped forward into the lighting; Salvatore Scarlione, his son and the two heavies. Scarlione’s plump face wore a broad grin. “S’alright,” he beamed. “I wasn’t planning on giving you any shit. Just got a proposition to make, that’s all.”
“Well, I suppose we may as well hear it,” said the Major genially.
Scarlione was looking directly at Caroline. “The thing is,” he began, “I’m a guy who’s…let’s say I employ a lot of people. I’ve an important function to perform in the local community. Means I gotta have some authority. It’s kinda bad for discipline if you show me up the way you did back there. I gotta reputation to maintain. Got to think of my standing within society. That’s why, this business of an apology, it’s important to me y’know? Lot could hang on it.”
“And if I don’t apologise?” said Caroline.
“Like I said, I employ a lot of people.” He paused to let the meaning of the remark sink in.
“Are you threatening me, Mr Scarlione?”
“I ain’t threatening you, honey, I’m promising you. If you don’t

let me settle my account with you here and now, this is gonna go

on and on until I finally get satisfaction. The stakes will get

higher and higher. Am I making myself quite clear?”

“That’s stupid talk,” Caroline snapped. “Of course you’re threatening me. Anybody with half a brain listening to this conversation would see it that way. What do you mean by “settling your account”, anyway?”
“I just need to give you a little something to remember me by. Leave my calling card, so to speak. That way honour’s satisfied.”
“What’s honourable about mutilating people? That’s what you’re proposing to do to me, I take it?”
“You got it, sister. You won’t be so high in the glamour charts once one of my boys has slashed you right across the face. All I’ll need to do then is spread the word that it was me, and make damn sure everyone sees the photographs. Then the message will sink in that you don’t badmouth Salvatore Scarlione if you got any brains in your stupid head.”
“I also asked what was honourable about mutilating people,” Caroline said, angry at his evasion of the issue.
“What’s honourable about letting yourself be made a fool of?”
“Better to be a fool than a…pig,” she retorted, unable to think of a suitable alternative epithet.
Suddenly losing his temper, Scarlione lunged forward. Chris and the Major closed ranks to protect her. He skidded to a halt, breathing hard and fast.
“Just drop it, Scarlione,” Hartman snapped. “Now. Or we’ll have the police onto you. I’m sure you don’t want any trouble with them.” Scarlione scoffed at this. “I’m not stupid,” he laughed. “I’d be careful to make damn sure there was no proof I did it. I haven’t survived in my line of work without a little discretion.” He signalled to his companions. “Vito, keep watch. Charlie, Mario, take care of these two will you?” He indicated Chris and the Major. “I’ll see to Goldilocks here.”
The two heavies moved to close with Barrett and Hartman. The Major shot out an arm, jabbing with two fingers at Mario’s windpipe. The man folded silently in two and collapsed at his feet. Like the rugby player he was Chris dived at Charlie’s legs the action taking the Mafiosi by surprise, and brought him down. As he picked himself up the Major seized him from behind in an armlock.
Caroline was surprised at the speed with which Salvatore Scarlione came at her. Despite his bulk and relative age he was remarkably strong and agile. She stopped thinking this and reacted to his attack just in time.
She needed to evade it, and also to incapacitate him through pain. A skilled dancer, if not professionally trained, and a keep fit enthusiast into the bargain she dodged nimbly to one side and executed a smooth, neat turn through a half circle, at the same time slashing at his face with her fingernails, the best and sometimes the only weapon a woman had against a stronger man. Scarlione screamed and staggered to a halt, covering his face with his hands.
Vito shouted out a warning, and ran to pull his father away from Caroline. “Dad, hold it!”
Scarlione had put a hand to his cheek and was now staring down at the blood on his fingers, as if in astonishment. “Yeah, what is it?” he grunted, absently.
“Someone’s coming.” A couple of clients were emerging from the bar; one was a little drunk and the other, concentrating on trying to support him, didn’t seem aware of the fracas that had been going on.
“Ah, it’s nothing,” Scarlione scowled. He caught sight of the heavy the Major had knocked out. “Mario OK?”
Vito bent to examine him. “Well, he’s breathing alright. Yeah, I think so.”
“He’s lucky,” the Major told them. “I knew exactly the right place to do it. A fraction lower and he’d no longer be with us.”
“Oh, right,” muttered Scarlione. “Yeah, well, you hurt any of my boys and you’ll be sorry.” He transferred his attention back to Caroline. In the moonlight they could see, gleaming, the stripes of blood she had drawn across his face. “You just made a big mistake, blondie,” he snarled. “A very big mistake.”
As he spoke the last few punters were leaving the bar. The Major released Charlie and gave him a push which sent him staggering. He put his hand on Caroline’s arm, intending to usher her back to the car.
Scarlione glanced briefly at the punters, then leaned towards her, lowering his voice slightly. "Tell you what, sister," he said, grinning slyly, "I'll let you off if you'll do me a favour or two. Free of charge, with plenty of extras included."
And THEN I’ll carve you up like I said, he thought savagely. Caroline’s expression showed exactly what she thought of his offer. “You must be stupid as much as anything else if you think I’d do that, especially after what you called me earlier on.”
“You’re the one who’s stupid, bitch, to make an enemy out of me.”
“I’m not from round here, as you can probably tell. There’s little point in turning this into a vendetta.”
“Yeah, well,” said Scarlione, “that’s as maybe. But believe me, you’d better watch that mouth of yours if you want to keep those good looks. Just a friendly piece of advice.”
"I'd rather lose my looks and keep my dignity," she said. She probably would, Chris thought, however much she’s proud of them. Scarlione made a derisive noise. “Some day you’ll make one smart-ass remark too many.”
You might be right there, Chris mused.
“And then,” Scarlione went on, “you’ll be sorry you ever poked your head out of your mother’s – “
Again, something flashed in her eyes that he didn’t like, and the cold rage in them made him quiver – he, Salvatore Scarlione. Then, before the eyes of those who had stopped to stare at the altercation, she marched up to him and slapped him across the face. He felt it. The blow made the sore skin where she’d scratched him sting like hell.
This time he didn’t lash out. Not physically, anyway, or even verbally. Instead he returned her look of hate in kind, and now it was Caroline’s turn to quail. She rallied a little, and for a few moments they stood trying to stare each other out, Caroline ignoring Chris and the Major’s efforts to drag her away.
Vito tugged at his father’s shoulder. “C’mon, Dad. She ain’t worth it.”
Caroline reacted to this immediately. “I’m worth rather a lot actually.”
“Cool it, both of you,” snapped the Major. “Look, this has gone on long enough. Are we going to stand about here arguing forever? Let’s just put it behind us.”
“You keep out of it,” the Mafiosa spat. But he seemed to have decided it might indeed be better to call a halt. “Get Mario into the car,” he ordered his accomplices. Between them Vito and Charlie started to drag their colleague by the arms towards a gleaming black Buick. As Scarlione set off after them he looked back over his shoulder at Caroline. "You can curl up and fucking die, you fucking whore."
“Why do you call me a whore?” she asked, raising her voice as the distance between them increased.
“’Cause you ain’t got no respect.”
“For who?” she shouted. “You?” Her nose wrinkled in disdain.
“Just remember this. If I ever set eyes on you again, you’re in trouble. You and your friends.”
She brushed the threat aside. “If you mean respect for myself, I’ve plenty. That’s why I don’t let myself be intimidated by the likes of you. And there are some “whores” who’ve got more decency in them than you have.”
“Don’t fucking preach to me.” Scarlione and his companions climbed into the Buick and were gone. Caroline stood glaring daggers after it until the Major tugged her away. Suddenly longing to be safe in bed back at the hotel, she let herself be escorted to the company car.
They drove out of the parking lot, the Major at the wheel. Chris glanced over at Caroline and saw the studiously expressionless look on her face. “Don’t let it rattle you,” he said.
“I’m not rattled,” she lied.
“He left first. And it’s dark, makes it more difficult for anyone to follow us to the hotel.”
“I’m not afraid of him,” she insisted. “Besides, I didn’t think the Mafia had that much power these days. Aren’t they supposed to be on the way out?” Losing power to black gangs, the Russians, the South American druglords.
“It’d be as well not to chance it.”
“Are you saying he really will come after me?”
“If he can. You know what these Mafia big shots are like. But I shouldn’t think we’ve anything to worry about. We go home tomorrow, and Scarlione can’t touch us once we’re out of the country. Still, I suppose we’d better stop off at the cop shop first and report it. Meanwhile don’t worry, OK? There’s nothing more to be said or done about it. Anyway, you certainly left him with something to remember you by.”
“Yes, I did,” she said. Cheered by the thought, she forgot her fears and her smouldering resentment, and for the next few days was pleasant company.

"I've reason to believe we may be in danger," Caroline told the desk officer at the police station nearest the hotel, once she and her companions had introduced themselves.
"What's the problem?" he asked.
She gave her account of the incident in the restaurant. She was quite happy to repeat to him word-for-word the things Scarlione had called her, though her face twisted in disgust. “I, I’m afraid I used some rather strong words myself,” she coughed. “Not like those, but…”
“What did you call him, may I ask, ma’am?” the policeman enquired. “You see, if you don’t mind me pointing it out someone could accuse you of causing a disturbance, if you get my drift.”
“The bloody cheek,” snorted Caroline. She described in more detail how she had insulted Scarlione. The look on the policeman’s face made clear he thought it had been an unwise thing to do. “OK, so what happened then?” he prompted. Not that Caroline needed any prompting. She launched into an indignant summary of the following events, the desk officer’s eyes widening in increasing astonishment.
Once he’d finished taking down the details he turned to Chris and the Major. “And you guys?”
They more or less corroborated what Caroline had said. The policeman wrote it down and then took the trio’s details. The Major described himself as a member of the British Armed Forces and said he could be contacted through the Ministry of Defence in London.
“Fine. You’d better write out your own statements in case this gets to court, or there are any further…incidents. And you’re leaving…tomorrow?”
“That’s right,” said Chris. “Probably not much he can do between now and then, but I thought we’d better be on the safe side.”
“Did this threat apply to all of you?”
“Yes,” said the Major, “but I think it’s Caroline he’s most interested in. I guess if Chris or I got in his way somehow he wouldn’t scruple to harm us.”
The policeman seemed to think very carefully about the whole business. “Alright. Well, all we can do is to inform him you’ve made this complaint and to caution him. Do you want to bring any charges of attempted assault?”
Caroline thought about it, then decided she didn’t want to be tied up here in some complicated legal case. “No, I don’t think so,” she said. With some satisfaction she paraphrased Vito Scarlione’s remark of the night before. “He’s not worth it.”
The policeman glanced enquiringly at Chris and the Major, who shook their heads.
They filled in the forms and handed them to him. “OK, I guess that’s it,” he said. Flashing a smile at him, Caroline led the way out.
Chris was the last to leave the room. The policeman stopped him just as he got to the door. “Hey, one sec.”
Chris turned to face him. “Uh-huh?”
“Your friend; she’s an exec, yeah? For a big multinational.”
“That’s right.”
“So her job involves being nice and friendly to people. You have to be to make deals and sort out union disputes, period?”
“I suppose so.”
“So how come she manages to piss off the most powerful Mafia boss in the country? Not a very smart thing to do, in my humble opinion.”
Caroline, who had overheard something of the conversation, came back into the room. “Look here, I’m not psychic,” she protested. “How was I to know who he was? And besides, when I’m at work I have to spend most of my time being polite to people I’d much rather tell to get stuffed. When I’m unwinding and trying to enjoy myself with friends I shouldn’t have to put up with some lout coming along and spoiling it.”
She tugged at Barrett’s sleeve. “Come on, Chris.”
The policeman gazed after them for a moment or two once they’d gone, then smiled, shaking his head at the same time, and went back to his paperwork.

Despite everything, Boris and Anna Tchernikayev were happy. Their standard of living was not good – they barely had enough to buy food and to keep themselves decently clothed - but they nonetheless felt they had all they wanted out of life. Their one regret was the loss of their eldest son, who had joined the army and been killed twenty years before in Afghanistan; every morning Anna would stand for few moments before his photograph on the wall, which showed him looking spruce and handsome in his new uniform, and mouth a silent prayer for his wellbeing in the next world, even though he hadn’t believed. But they still had two other grown-up children, one currently enjoying a distinguished career as an engineer, of whom they were very proud. And they had each other. Besides, Russian history was so characterised by hardship, stagnation and administrative inefficiency that neither of them expected things to get better anyway. For Anna at any rate religion provided some measure of consolation, as the icons dotted around the house and displayed in the windscreen of their ancient car testified. On a regular basis she would nip across to the Orthodox church over the road to attend a service, not caring that there weren’t enough seats and she often had to stand, the other worshippers tending to block her view of the priest. However grim things were in this life there was always the prospect of a better one to come, without which they would be that much harder to bear.
Having nothing else to do that afternoon the retired couple had taken the car intending to travel from Smolensk, on whose outskirts they lived, to visit Anna’s relatives in the town of Jarcevo. They were driving along the highway between the two towns, about halfway to their destination, when the car gave a shuddering lurch to first one side, then the other. It slowed a little, and didn’t respond when he pressed the accelerator.
Next the vehicle was zig-zagging all over the road, twice narrowly missing cars in the other lane, whose drivers honked their horns in anger and alarm.
And Anna could smell burning.
The engine was making a ghastly screeching sound, like an orchestra of lost souls. Anna was shouting at Boris to stop, and he was inclined to think it might be a good idea.
He pulled off the road onto the grass verge. They got out to inspect the car and almost immediately saw smoke coming from beneath the bonnet, thinly at first, then in much greater quantities, making them cough and splutter.
“The engine has overheated,” Boris announced crossly. He couldn’t see why it should do that. Their surviving son, Maxim the engineer, checked the car over regularly and could arrange for it to be repaired – not replaced, they were far too fond of it for that – whenever necessary. And at their age they had no taste for fast driving anyway, so nothing got worn out from being overstretched. Something here wasn’t quite right.
Boris sensed, more than anything else, what was about to happen. “Run!” he screamed at his wife. She stared at him briefly in incomprehension, then took off after him as he sprinted along beside the road desperate to get as far away from the smoking car as possible.
They didn’t get far enough. For just a second they felt the blast of heat on their backs as the petrol tank ignited and the car went up in an enormous fireball. Then the sheet of flame engulfed them, their minds going blank like a wiped tape, their bodies shrivelling into two charred lumps of carbonated flesh on whose crumpled faces the expressions of fear and alarm seemed to have frozen.

As he started work that morning at the depot from which his fleet of garbage trucks had already departed to collect the accumulated waste of Mansfield Borough, New York, Ben Kowalski wondered with some trepidation what the day might bring.
The depot also served as the administrative headquarters of the firm. It wasn’t much, just a small private office to which he retired whenever he needed to be alone, like now, and the poky little room where most of the time he and his secretary Gloria, a plump, cheerful Italian woman, worked, containing a couple of desks with a telephone and computer on each and a filing cabinet. Though cramped, it was cosy and the two of them got on well, as both did with the manual workforce. Although the company hadn’t been in existence for long, there’d always been a good atmosphere at the depot; but now unease was starting to creep in.
Made redundant from his job as a garbage worker as part of a ruthless cost-cutting exercise, Kowalski had decided to start out on his own. He got together a good bunch of guys and set up the company, which bid successfully for the contract to collect and dispose of the borough’s garbage. Remco – the name didn’t actually mean anything, it just sounded good and like the sort of appellation a private company might have - wasn’t a big outfit, its catchment area was small as yet, but it was doing pretty well. He earned enough money to give his children what they wanted at Christmas and birthdays and for the family to go on holiday three times a year. As for the job itself, it was pretty unglamorous but someone had to do it. Of course he himself, being a manager, was insulated from all the stink and the filth in his comfortable office smelling of disinfectant painstakingly applied by Gloria. Though he still went out with the workforce from time to time to show that he was one of them. Along with the decent wages he paid them, it helped to keep them happy.
He had had no previous experience of running a company on his own. But yeah, things had been going alright until the incidents had started.
The police hadn’t been any damn use. Just said it would be investigated, but it would be difficult because no-one else seemed to have witnessed the incidents. Like hell they hadn’t. Someone must have seen or heard something, they were just too scared to sing out.
He sighed. It looked like he was going to have to fight this. He had no idea how, only knew that he couldn’t let it grind him down. He had already taken on new men to replace the ones who’d left, repaired the damage caused to company property. Yes, he was going to fight it and he knew his wife and kids would back him all the way, which made a lot of difference.
There came a knock on the door. “Ben?” he heard Gloria call. He went to open it.
“Ben, there’s a coupla guys want to talk to you. They say it’s urgent.”
“What’s it about?”
“They didn’t say. Just that it was urgent.”
“Where are they now?”
“Outside. If you speak to them through the Intercom – “
He went into the outer office and spoke into the grille on Gloria’s desk. “Hello? Heard you wanted to talk to me.”
“Mr Kowalski? We…we have some information concerning the attack on your home last night.”
“Why don’t you go to the police?”
“I, I don’t want to go to the police.” It sounded like the guy had one or two things to hide himself. But he seemed nervous, frightened. Ben hesitated for a beat or two, then said “OK, come in.”
“Is there anyone else in there with you?”
“There’s my secretary.”
“I’d rather see you alone if you don’t mind. It…it’s confidential.”
“Hang on.” He put the receiver down on the table and called out to Gloria. “Gloria, go take a break for a few minutes. Buy yourself a coffee and a hot dog. OK?”
Her eyebrows rose. “OK,” she said, not objecting despite her dedication to her job, but bemused. “I’ll be back about…three?”
“I expect we’ll be finished by then.”
She gave him a thumbs-up sign. “OK, see you later.”
Opening the door, she saw the two men who had been standing just outside it, caught the eye of one of them and smiled. He smiled back, stepping aside to let her go by.
And as she passed, turned sharply on his heels. She felt the movement, frowned for a second, then gave a muffled cry of shock as his hand, coming out of his pocket with the pad of chloroform in it, was clapped firmly over her mouth. She breathed in the thick, cloying fumes and at once everything went blank.
Ben addressed the Intercom again. “It’s OK, you can come in now.” He frowned at the slight delay before the door opened and they stepped into the room. “This way,” he said, and they followed him into his office.
“OK,” he said, gesturing to them to sit down. “You said you wanted to talk to me about the intimidation I and my workers have been subjected to these last few weeks. You had information I might be interested in.”
Neither of them accepted his offer of a seat. “Oh yeah,” one said. “Yeah, we know a lot about that alright.”
Ben stared at them.
“You did it, didn’t you,” he said slowly. Silently he cursed himself for a fool.
“Well, not personally,” one said. “But we know the people who did. Buddies of ours. We’re a big outfit, nice friendly bunch…”
“Who are you?” he demanded. “Mafia?”
“If you like.”
Ben rose slowly from his chair, trembling with anger. “My daughter opened the door to find the cat dead on the doorstep. She had that cat since it was a kitten… was her cat. And I guess it’s you who’ve been beating up my drivers.” Slashing the tyres on the garbage trucks and putting things in their petrol tanks so they wouldn’t start. Sending threatening telephone calls to his wife. And firebombing his house while everyone was in bed asleep; on that occasion they’d been lucky to have escaped with their lives.
“And you didn’t take the hint,” tutted the man, shaking his head slowly. “Well we can’t be held responsible for that, can we?”
He looked hard at them. “I wanted to start out on my own. I wanted to do well for myself.”
“And we offered to protect you from anyone trying to muscle in on your patch.” They had come to see him almost as soon as it was known there was a new kid on the block, offering help should rivals resort to sabotage and other dirty tactics in order to put him out of business. He had refused, knowing very well what was being proposed here. The following day the attacks had started.
“And what do you think YOU’RE doing?” he shouted.
“Ah but you see, Ben, it’s a lot simple when there’s only one operator in the business. It’s just that we know what we’re doing, whereas other people too often don’t. Deregulation; I was never that keen on it myself. Reaganomics…”
“I assure you I provide an efficient and reliable service to the citizens of this borough. I’ve had very few complaints.”
“With us as your business advisers you’ll do even better. You won’t get any.” Because folks will be too scared to complain, Ben thought. “And…well my point, my point is Ben, you must be worried about rivals. We’ll make sure they don’t even think about bidding for the contract next time it comes up for review.”
“That’s not how I want to do things,” he snapped. He liked to think Remco had the contract because they were good, not because their competitors had been scared off by bully boy tactics. That was no hallmark of quality, no object of pride. It was a degradation of everything he believed in.
“Oh yeah, I know who you are alright,” he told them. “What you are.”
“There’s still areas where we’re influential,” said the smaller man. “I mean both geographically and economically. You thought we were finished when you set up your little outfit, didn’t you? Big mistake.”
“And I guess you’ve got the police round here in your pocket.”
“Combination of that and letting people know what might happen if they decide they don’t like our business methods and say so. We’ve got to safeguard our interests like anyone else.”
“Where’s Gloria?” Ben demanded, suddenly fearful for her safety.
“Hog-tied round the back. We’d no idea how long this was going to take, you see, and we couldn’t risk her coming back and seeing everything. But we haven’t harmed her, don’t you worry.”
That wasn’t entirely true, as the scar on her face that Gloria would find she had acquired when she woke up testified. Since she had disobeyed the warnings not to continue working for Remco, they’d decided they might as well.
“Concerning yourself, Bob…well, you didn’t take the hint. The fire, we guessed you had smoke detectors and that they’d wake you up. We just wanted to scare you off. But now it looks like we’re going to have to go all the way.”
They moved with frightening speed, yanking him from the chair and wrestling him to the ground, one man holding him down while the other tied his hands and feet.
“What are you doing?” he howled. Sweat poured down his forehead at the thought of what they might have in store for him. A length of thick masking tape was torn off and wound around the lower part of his head, sealing his mouth. He felt himself being lifted and slung over the bigger man’s shoulder.
They carried him from the building and onto the tarmac apron behind it where the fleet of sanitation trucks was parked. Then towards the nearest of the trucks. To his horror, he thought he could see what they were going to do.
The crusher was up and a third man stood by the controls, his hand poised over the lever that turned it on.
Muffled screams issued from beneath the masking tape as panic overwhelmed Bob. They made not the slightest impression on his assailants. He was dumped roughly in the back of the truck, rolling a few inches along the floor. At once he tried to stand up, but it was impossible to gain the leverage and he simply flopped about like a stranded fish, struggling in vain against the ropes and the masking tape and issuing muffled curses and obscenities from beneath the latter.
“Nice to have met you, Bob,” the man at the controls smiled. “Sorry it was so short.”
The most Bob could manage was to get to his knees. From this position he saw the man press the button. Next moment his bladder and bowels evacuated themselves.
He heard the whine of hydraulics, the grinding sound of the mechanism in operation as the huge sheet of metal swung down, propelled by the twin pistons of the electrically-operated ram. The square of daylight shrank until he was plunged into darkness, then the steel box in which he found himself imprisoned began to shrink too. Desperately, seeking to prolong his life for another few seconds, he scrambled backwards toward the far wall of the compartment, trying to use his buttocks for leverage. When this didn’t really work he rolled instead. He came up against the wall and pressed himself as tightly to it as possible, in the frenzied hope that this might save his life. He turned his face away from the advancing metal surface as it travelled remorselessly towards him with a sound like a hungry monster devouring its prey.
Then when it was mere inches from him it stopped moving, a shuddering tremor running through it. He slumped down, sobbing with relief. There followed the ghastly thought that they were merely toying with him, and would start it up again in a moment; then the wall of metal retreated, rising back up into the open position. They hauled him out and dumped him on the ground at their feet. He was shaking uncontrollably, his nerves shot to pieces, his clothes soiled and sodden with sweat and urine. They waited for him to get over the worst of it.
“Next time it’ll be for real,” one of them said. “You want to work for us, that’s fine. Or maybe you feel a change of job might be on the cards. We don’t much care what you decide as long as you don’t go singing to the cops. That wouldn’t do you a lot of good anyway, round here, but we aren’t taking any chances. ‘Bye now.” They left him to untie himself.
He stared after them, continuing to stare for a long time after they’d gone; in the end crushed not physically but by the realisation that after what had just happened he didn’t have the guts, just didn’t, to take a stand against it. In a way that was just as bad.

“You should have seen his face,” laughed Frankie Liddell. “Oh boy, was he mad! I’ve never seen anyone so mad. Jesus Christ…”
“Who was she?” asked the man he was speaking to on the phone, a business associate.
“Some Brit woman. Had two guys with her, I dunno who they were. That’s all I know.”
“He got upstaged by a broad?”
“Yeah! He must still be pretty mad about it. She slapped his face…in public. And those scratches…my God…Jeez, I knew a woman’s fingernails could do a lot of damage but…”
Liddell heard the doorbell ring. “’Scuse me a moment.”
It was Scarlione, with Vito standing beside him and Charlie hovering in the background. ”Frankie,” Scarlione said, “I’d a like a little word with you if that’s alright.”
“Sure, Sal,” said Liddell. “Come on in.” He returned to the phone. “Sorry, Mart, got to go. Something important to see to. Talk to you later.” He replaced the receiver.
“Frankie,” said Scarlione softly. “Heard you’ve been going around telling everyone how funny it was when that blonde bitch showed me up in Maxie’s the other night.”
Liddell went cold. For a moment panic almost got the better of him, then on an impulse he decided to brazen it out. “Well, I mean you gotta admit it was pretty…” His voice tailed away.
Scarlione’s voice was unnaturally calm. “Was pretty what, Frankie?”
“I mean…” Liddell’s courage failed him. “Look, Sal, I’m sorry if I cut you up the wrong way. I guess I don’t blame you for being pissed off with me. If anyone’s going round saying you’re a laughing stock because of this, all I can say it’s pretty mean of them.”
“It’s exactly what you’ve been doing. You’ve been telling all your friends what a dork I’ve been made to look, laughing your sweet head off over it just as they have. Only reason you’re licking my ass is because you can see I’m so sore about it. That’s not good enough, Frankie, I want loyalty. And that’s why I’m disappointed in you. I shouldn’t have to do this to make sure you stay in line.”
While he’d been talking to Scarlione Liddell hadn’t noticed Charlie come and stand beside him, as had probably been the intention. Now Charlie took hold of his hand, swallowing it up in his, knuckling the fingers and bunching them into a ball.
Charlie squeezed, gradually increasing the pressure. Liddell screamed out in agony; a shrill, high-pitched scream like a woman’s. Not only were his fingernails being forced painfully into the palm of his hand, but the very bones were on fire with searing agony. He was sure he could hear them cracking. He twisted and tugged in a desperate attempt to wrench himself from Charlie’s grip. “Ah, no Sal! Ah, for Chrissakes get him off me, please! Ahhhhh…oh shit…oh my God! Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh….” Vito Scarlione looked on without expression, while his father’s eyes gleamed in vicious satisfaction.
At the sound of the bone splintering Charlie let go and Liddell staggered away from him, doubled up, clutching at his broken knuckles and shrieking. Gradually the mist of pain cleared, and through it he heard Scarlione’s voice. “When the doctor asks you how it happened, tell him whatever you like. Just remember this, Frankie. You go to the police about this, I’m gonna arrange for something nasty to happen to that little daughter of yours. Got that? And you tell all your friends that if I hear they’ve been crapping themselves laughing because some Brit princess bad-mouthed me, they’ll get the same as you. Or worse.”
Liddell collapsed into a chair, sobbing and wailing like a child. Silently Scarlione and his companions left, closing the door. Once he’d recovered his composure Liddell glared after them, eyes smouldering in helpless rage.
Outside they took their seats in the black limousine they called the company car. Charlie was to drive.
“Shame we had to do that,” said Vito as they buckled up.
“I guess it is,” his father growled. “But like you say, we had to do it.” A prominent local businessman with his own considerable private army of henchmen, Liddell had his uses as a fixer. But like everyone else, he had to be disciplined whenever he stepped out of line. “There’s guys in this organisation who want to get rid of me, you can bet. I can’t afford to be shown up like I was last night.”
The car started off. “Dad, everyone knows where they stand,” Vito insisted. “They’ll get the message, especially after what we did to Liddell. They’re all too scared to lift a finger against you. Look, I know you’re feeling mean right now because you can’t be sure our, our new project is going to work out OK. I feel the same way. But it will work out, you’ll see. And as for the business with the girl, everyone’ll forget about it given time.”
“Hope so,” Scarlione muttered darkly.
“I mean, in a hundred years’ time – “
“I’m not gonna wait a hundred years. By the way, you did have a little word with Mario and tell him it isn’t a good idea to laugh when someone lips me the way she did?”
“You bet, Dad. He said you ought to see the funny side.” Scarlione bristled, drawing himself up. “I mean, she’s got guts, you have to admit.”
Scarlione swung round on him suspiciously. “What do you mean?”
“Chill out, Dad. I docked Mario’s pay. And I warned him he wouldn’t last long in this outfit unless he learned to treat you with respect. Next time he’s dead, of course.”
Finally Scarlione nodded, satisfied. But there was silence in the car from then on, until Vito’s cellphone rang.
Listening to what the caller had to say, he broke into a wide grin. “That’s great. I’ll let the boss know. Stay on the line in case he wants to speak to you.”
Scarlione tensed, shifting to the edge of his seat. “What is it?”
Vito’s eyes, gleaming delightedly, met his father’s. “It’s up and running,” he said, breathless with excitement. “The Project. Fully operational. Online. They’ve tested everything and it works. We’re in business, folks!”
In an instant Scarlione’s manner completely changed. His eyes lit up and he smiled. For the time being he forgot about Caroline Kent. His gloom thoroughly dispelled, he punched the air with a yell of triumph. They both did.
You wouldn’t appreciate it right now, thought Scarlione. But we’re very grateful to you, Dr Amata.

Some months later
The four men sat around a table in what had been the study of a Victorian gentleman, a prosperous farmer with extensive lands in the area and a generous patron of the local church. The place where had once stood a mahogany escritoire was now taken by a hideous-looking desk coated in some green plastic material, on which sat one of those pen holders like the Giant’s Causeway, of matching colour with the desk, along with a computer and printer, flatbed scanner, mobile phone and fax machine. The walls were lined with video cabinets and bookcases, and the matter on display was of a sort which would probably have made the Victorian gentleman explode in righteous wrath. There were complete sets of Men Only, Club International and Penthouse, along with some titles that weren’t supposed to be legally available. A few pages from a Pirelli calendar had been turned into framed prints which were the only form of decoration, apart from the garish psychedelic zigzag-patterned wallpaper.
Joe Hickman leaned back in his chair at the head of the table, a posture which had the effect of forcing his burgeoning paunch downwards so that it resembled the pendulous breast of an old woman. His smooth, almost hairless dome of a skull gleamed in the shaft of bright sunlight from the window as if the bare bone was itself exposed. Other things which gleamed were the enormous gold watch Hickman was wearing and the jewelled bangle on his other wrist. The air was thick with cigarette smoke.
“So,” Hickman said. “We’re bringing them in evening of next Tuesday, the 27th. Agreed?”
The East European, a tall gaunt-featured man named Gheorghiu, nodded. “Everything should be ready by then.” The lorry would arrive at Calais around mid-afternoon and at approximately six o’clock drive onto the train that would convey the vehicle and its contents along the Channel Tunnel to Dover. The cleverly constructed false compartment should hopefully conceal from the prying eyes of the customs people at either end what its trailer contained in addition to the cargo of meat it was officially registered to be carrying. As an additional precaution, one or two people had been found who could be paid to turn a blind eye. Having gone through Customs, the vehicle would stay overnight at a lorry park at the port and then, early the following morning when it was still dark, go on to a warehouse on the outskirts of south-east London where it would discharge the human part of its cargo before delivering the frozen meat to the superstore. The people would remain at the warehouse, one of a number of “reception centres” Hickman had established around the south-east for his illegal immigrants, until all the arrangements for them to start their new life in Britain were in place.
“So once they’re over here, what happens exactly?” asked Ray Selnick, a stocky fair-haired man, anxiously. “I’ll need to be sure no-one’s gonna ask questions.”
“Don’t worry, Ray,” said Vidler, the tough-looking Eastender with the scarred face who acted as Hickman’s general Number Two, as well as having various specialised functions within his organisation. “I can fix them up with fake IDs, work permits. Make sure they get the right benefits.” After that they were on their own, which wasn’t a problem since they’d be having a cushy time of it, much better than many of the indigenous population who were on the dole or low incomes. The men would, anyway. The girls would find over half their earnings creamed off by their employers, depending on where they finished up – certainly Hickman would want his cut for helping to supply them - but they were unlikely to make a fuss even though Hickman didn’t imagine they’d be happy at the situation in the least. To put it in a nutshell, the men would have nothing to complain about and the women would be too frightened. Make sure they’re alone and afraid in a country whose language they know only a few words of; that was the trick. And for Christ’s sake, Hickman thought, it was their own fucking fault if they were stupid enough to be duped like that, so where was the sense in blaming him?
There was however one thing he needed to establish before they proceeded much further. “Do they know each other?” It might cause undesirable complications if they did. Often, once one of them heard that a free passage to a better life in the UK was to be had, a group of friends would try to go over together; even if it could be arranged so that each made the journey separately from the others, they might afterwards want to know what had happened to their associates, where they were living, so they could stay in touch in the new country. If they found out the truth or got an evasive answer it could set alarm bells ringing and then someone might go to the police, if they were brave enough.
“The men do.” But they weren’t really where the potential problem lay. “The girls are strangers to them and to each other.”
Hickman nodded his approval. “That’s the way we want it,” he said brightly. “So – the girls. What do you think, Ray?”
Selnick considered for a moment. “Nice arse on the older one, and she’s not bad in the tit department either. Reckon she’ll do for our outfit, or I could sell her on for a decent profit.” There were establishments in Soho, and elsewhere in the country, who were constantly on the look out for new pole- or table-dancers, since for their customers variety was the spice of life. Or who catered for those men who wanted to touch and not just look, and whose appetite might only be whetted by what was termed a “private dance.”
“And the other?”
“Nah, she’s too skinny.”
“Some blokes like that sort of thing.”
“She’s flat-chested and her hair’s dyed. I tell you, I don’t think she’s right for the meat trade.”
Hickman glanced at the Rumanian. “What about – “
Gheorghiu nodded. “She’s healthy enough. Yes, I should think so.”
With a serious native shortage of donors, there were those in Britain who would pay handsomely for a replacement liver or kidneys for themselves or a loved one, without inquiring where it might have come from.
The men could be put to work in illegal, back street businesses making clothes and other commodities for low wages, the main cost to their employers being the generous payment Hickman expected for supplying them. Considering the poor quality of the product its cost on the shelf or a street trader’s stall might be considered exorbitant, but small businesses often had to charge higher prices to make ends meet and if nothing ever broke or wore out and had to be replaced then everyone’d go bust, wouldn’t they? Use your fucking brain.
“Right, so it’s all settled. You’re sure the driver’s kosher?” It wasn’t uncommon for organisations like Hickman’s to run this kind of operation without the knowledge of the lorry driver or indeed anyone at the haulage company. It could be pulled off if you were clever, and careful, enough but not always. Unless the driver was in on it there was risk he might suspect something and take a closer look at what he was supposed to be carrying, leading to a prison sentence for all those involved in the scam. Hickman no longer took such chances.
“He’s kosher all right,” Vidler confirmed. “Mate of mine. And he knows what’ll happen if he talks.”
Hickman nodded briefly. “OK, so it’s settled then.” He looked at Gheorghiu. “Oh, one last thing. They’ll be right next to the refrigerator where they are. Make sure they don’t freeze to death.” That had actually happened on one such operation. Or, sometimes, they had tried to cram in too many and several had suffocated. In any case the conditions the human cargo would have to endure would be cramped, stuffy and uncomfortable, with toilet facilities rudimentary to say the least, but Hickman didn’t care. His main concern was that he didn’t deplete his assets to the point where overall profits were significantly reduced.
“You OK with everything then, Ray?” Hickman asked Selnick.
“Seems like you’ve got it all sorted,” the blond man commented with approval. “I don’t think the boss will have any cause to complain.” Selnick was the representative of a gangster who owned a string of brothels and strip clubs and had a long-standing relationship with Hickman’s gang by which the crimelord provided him with the girls from Eastern Europe who these days were his bread-and-butter. He had been checked out and pronounced clean, from the gangster’s point of view anyway.
But he wasn’t “clean”.
It had not proved possible to break into the house and plant bugs. So the police had tried a different approach. Beneath “Selnick’s” shirt was a body belt to which was clipped a miniature radio receiver recording every word spoken at the meeting and relaying it to the Operations Room at New Scotland Yard.
Minute by minute, the evidence against Conrad Joseph Hickman was mounting.

Mrs Dorothy Westernheimer stood on the doorstep of her ground floor apartment and looked out into the street, surveying the scene before her with approval. Not a scrap of litter in sight. At the best of times the district of grim tenement blocks where she’d lived all her life was a little depressing – though it was her home all the same - but it made such a difference when the waste disposal was efficiently executed. And the garbage men were so nice, so polite and helpful and friendly, not like so many other people these days.
Nearby two men had just finished unloading the last of the bins on her side of the street into the compactor at the rear of their truck. One of them caught her eye and greeted her cheerfully. “Hi, Mrs Westernheimer! How’s your grandkid’s measles?”
“Oh, he’s much better now, thankyou.”
“Glad to hear it. Say, did you see the Chicago Redskins last night?” Mrs Westernheimer was a fan.
“Five-nil,” the old lady said disgustedly, shaking her head. “I must say I’m ashamed of the Dolphins. They’ve rather gone to the dogs lately.”
“Oh, but you should have seen them against the Yankees last Tuesday. Reckon they just hit a bad patch, that’s all. ’Bye now!” He climbed into the cab of his truck, his partner joined him, and they drove off down the street, their work done for the day. Dorothy gazed after them with a smile.
The rubbish was always collected on time, without leaving a scrap behind, and they didn’t seem to have any trouble with strikes. Mind you it had been the same with the previous outfit, which was why their sudden disappearance from the scene puzzled her. She’d heard one or two rumours about the new bunch, about why Remco had closed down, which had disquieted her for a time. But they surely couldn’t be true. Malicious lies spread by competitors, most likely. In the end Dorothy wasn’t sure she cared. They were doing the job properly, and that was all that mattered.

As Vito Scarlione drove his hired car up to the gate at the entrance to the driveway his eyes travelled over the imposing red brick frontage of the big former farmhouse, with its modern extension built on. Vito knew enough about architecture and history to guess that the original building must be eighteenth century, erected at about the time his country was fighting its war of independence against Britain. He thought of it as “his” country, though he was equally proud of his family’s Italian roots. It did seem to him that they mattered increasingly less as the years went by, but he didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing. He suspected it was still important to his father, and had been even more so to the first and second generation of immigrants as they made their way in the New World, getting by through and drawing comfort from the old traditional networks and community support structures. But how much it mattered, and ought to matter, to him personally was a moot point. He didn’t feel he was advancing the interests and increasing the influence within society of a particular ethnic and cultural group so much as keeping alive a tradition, one it was nice to feel yourself a part of even if a lot of it was nostalgia for times you never knew.
The house looked quite grand, all in all, though the extension, which had probably been built in defiance of planning regulations, clashed with it uncomfortably, the brickwork of a different colour and clearly made by machine rather than by hand. Not that the owner of the house had bothered about that sort of thing when commissioning the work.
Here out on the Essex marshes it was lonely, which suited Joe Hickman. The landscape had its own kind of bleak attractiveness, but Hickman wasn’t concerned about the aesthetics of the natural environment, any more than he was about the quality of the built one. As long as the house had all the mod cons, as long as he could live in the style and to the standard to which he felt himself entitled, and as long as he was isolated enough from the city to somehow feel safe from the law’s attentions.
Now that agriculture in the UK was becoming less important, a lot of farms were being sold off and the houses snapped up by property developers who modernised them ruthlessly before putting them on the market. The premises now boasted a satellite dish, a swimming pool, a table tennis court and riding range. Some of this Vito had seen from the road long before he neared the house, some he was already aware of from the extensive research his father always commissioned into prospective clients.
He got out and pressed the button on the gatepost. A moment later a voice issued from the grille beneath it. “Yeah?” it demanded. Vito announced himself.
After a pause the voice said “OK,” and Vito heard a click, followed by the whine of the electronics as the gate swung slowly open, allowing him to drive onto the forecourt of the house. He alighted from the car and stood waiting for a moment or two.
The front door opened and Hickman stood there, a smoking cigarette in his hand. He muttered something Vito didn’t catch and gestured to indicate the American could come in. As he reached the threshold Hickman turned and led him down the hallway to a door which stood open on the left. Once in the room Vito was told to take a seat.
Hickman raised his voice. “Tyson!” he called. “Hagler!”
There came an answering bark, and the sound of a pair of large dogs racing each other down the hallway. They bounded into the room and at Hickman’s command seated themselves, front paws crossed before them, just a few inches from Vito’s chair. Vito contemplated them briefly before catching their eye and averting his gaze sharply, afraid of what might happen if he seemed to stare. He could tell from the shape of the sleek, evil-looking heads that they were Rottweilers. Devil dogs, he thought. The Romans had bred them to take down lions in the amphitheatre, lions for fuck’s sake. And they had no facial expression, so you couldn’t tell what mood they were in. They were unpredictable, even more so than other dogs. He and other leading members of the Family kept Dobermanns, German Shepherds and bull terriers as a necessary precaution against burglars and none of those were the sort of beast you got on the wrong side of if you were smart, but Rottweilers….He marvelled at someone who could actually like them and quite happily keep them as pets, letting them stroll around the house as they pleased, as if they were like any other dog, any other animal.
By now Hickman too was seated, and sizing Vito up with his cold, piercing eyes. “Mafia,” he said slowly. “I thought you guys were finished.”
“I’d say reports of our demise are exaggerated. We’re still around, and we’ve got a proposition to make to you. I came to your outfit because it’s the biggest in London, maybe in the whole of the UK. Wouldn’t make sense not cutting you in.”
Hickman nodded slowly. “Suppose not. OK, shoot.”
He listened in something like astonishment as Vito outlined what Salvatore Scarlione had in mind. He didn’t know whether to be angry or to laugh. Eventually he decided that the sheer nerve of what Vito was suggesting, its offensiveness as he saw it, was the central issue. “Fuck off,” he snarled. “I’m not taking orders from a bunch who are finished, kaput, screwed, yesterday’s news. Even if you weren’t I wouldn’t do it. I’m not against us working together, if you’ve got something in mind that could be to our mutual benefit. But right now I’d say you’re pushing your luck. Sorry, it’s a no-go. Me and my boys are doing absolutely fucking fantastic right now, and we don’t want to split the dosh with anyone else. We’d hardly, with everything going so well. Nor would you.”
“There’ll be so much money, and for everyone, if this gets off the ground that your share of the profits, if you decide to come in with us, will increase proportionately. You can’t lose.”
Hickman made a short, sharp, savage gesture. ”Not interested. I’m not so stupid as to think there are no benefits in it for me. I know there are and I still don’t give a fuck. It’s our thing, right? Just like you call your own outfit. Our thing.”
The rottweilers shifted, restless, and Vito wondered if they’d picked up on their master’s hostility towards him. He chose his words carefully.
“OK,” he said slowly. “Well I guess I don’t blame you being sore about playing second fiddle. Thing is, I’m convinced it’s in your interests, and in those of everyone concerned. In a little while you’ll see why it might not be wise to turn our offer down.”
“You threatening me, mate?” If Vito was, he’d regret it.
“No,” said Vito. “You won’t come to any actual harm. It wouldn’t be fair anyway. You’re not likely to see the sense in what I’m proposing until you’ve had a little demonstration of our…influence.“
“Yeah, well I’ll look forward to it.” Hickman chuckled drily. “I mean…you trying to make me laugh? There’s no way anyone could do that kind of thing. It’s crazy and it hasn’t got a hope of succeeding, which means that apart from anything else you’re wasting my time, dickhead. Well I’ve told you what I think of your “proposal”. You’d better fuck off out of here while you’re still in one piece.” He glanced significantly at the two Rottweilers.
Vito got to his feet, his expression deadpan. Without speaking, Hickman showed him to his car. He stood in the doorway, not budging from there until he saw the vehicle disappear from sight. Then he went back into the house.
He lounged by the pool for a while, had a brief swim followed by a session in the gym. He knew he was becoming seriously unfit and feared that with physical decline his authority over his associates, and his victims, might diminish. Then he decided it was time for another check on how well his organisation was doing financially. He went back into his “office” and turned on the computer. He called up the menu screen, found the file he wanted and clicked on it. The screen changed and Hickman was presented with a run-down of the profits from the drug trafficking, the immigration scam, the knocking shops and strip joints, the organ trade, the protection rackets, everything. He pretty much knew what he’d see but he still liked to gloat over it. Yes…all looking good.
Hickman was a millionaire, albeit unofficially, and he’d got to that stage without being born with a silver spoon in his mouth or having to answer questions from fucking Chris Tarrant. There was enough to keep it all going for the rest of his life, as long as he was careful not to leave too much evidence of his activities behind him. High-class prozzies in abundance, holidays in exotic places, creature comforts many people born into much more advantageous circumstances could only dream of; and finally a comfortable retirement somewhere like the Costa del Sol. Ah, life was just fucking brilliant!
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, the screen flickered and changed again. “What the fuck…” Hickman exclaimed.
He was back to the menu, the directory of all the files currently held on the computer. Frowning, he was about to return to the “Proceeds” document when he noticed something which froze him cold in horror.
Beneath the name of each file was given the number of bytes it amounted to. Apparently, the Proceeds file consisted of approximately 0 bytes.
In other words, it was empty.
Not only that, but all the others were the same.
Although he knew what this meant he began clicking on each file in succession, in a desperate bid to convince himself it wasn’t true. He got the same result every time. Just a blank page.
They’d all gone; the proceeds from his various operations, his holiday snaps, the photos of him and his mates on their stag nights or celebrating having pulled off another haul…shrugging, arms spread wide with the palms upturned, he stared at the computer in helpless bewilderment. “What…woss going on?” he gasped, addressing the question to no-one in particular.
Then it clicked.
“Ah, you fucking Yank-Wop cunt,” he snarled. His voice rose to a shout of pure, hate-filled rage. “You arsehole!”
Babs, his wife, a highlighted blonde in her early thirties, came running in. “Joe, what’s the matter? I heard you shouting – “
“You don’t wanna know,” he told her. Like all women she would gossip. The less she knew about the business side of his activities the better. “Just a problem with the computer, all my fucking files have gone down. I’ll get Jonty to sort it out. Hang on…“ A large blue square had appeared in the centre of the screen. On it white capital letters began to form. Babs came to stand beside him and peer at them. ”I said you don’t want to know,” he hissed. She left him, seeing the sense in such a policy. What she didn’t know she couldn’t be personally blamed for, hopefully.
Hickman read the message on the screen. TOLD YOU IT MIGHT NOT BE A GOOD IDEA TO TURN US DOWN!
He got the Menu screen again. To his relief he saw that all the files were back. The blue message box superimposed itself over the list. IF YOU LOOK YOU’LL NOTICE A FEW THAT WEREN’T THERE BEFORE. The box vanished and he saw that tagged on at the end of the list were a number of files that no, he hadn’t created himself and which shouldn’t be there. He selected one at random, called simply “1”, and clicked on the icon.
With a mixture of alarm, disgust, and a certain horrified fascination which made him feel embarrassed, he found himself looking at images of children, some naked and some wearing what seemed to be swimming costumes, being forced to take part in intimate sexual acts. It was a website used by a paedophile ring. There were a number of links on the homepage and simple curiosity might, he supposed, have led him to find out more, to learn something of how these characters went about their sordid trade, the mental world they inhabited. But…
In his estimation the police were pretty useless nowadays. He would have said that anyway because he naturally didn’t like them, even though they were often rendered ineffectual by the stupid laws that hamstrung them - and of which he shamelessly took advantage. But even they would drop everything and come down on him like a hundred-ton weight if they found out he was looking at kiddie porn.
He tried to delete the file, but nothing happened; no dialog box appeared asking if he really wanted to ditch it. He felt panic start to come over him.
The images suddenly disappeared, and he was back to the menu screen once more. He tried again to delete the file from the directory and this time succeeded, almost sobbing with relief.
The blue box was back. NOW CHECK YOUR OTHER FILES.
He did. They all seemed to be corrupted. Photographs were blurred and indistinct and text had been replaced by a jumble of characters some of which didn’t seem to belong to any known language.
A ripple ran across the screen as they changed back to what they had been before, resolving themselves into proper English.
Hickman stared at the message. Filled with a sudden savage resolution, he smashed his clenched fist down on the desk. “Yeah, well we’ll fucking see about that,” he snapped, and picked up the phone.

In his car heading towards Heathrow Vito grinned at the thought of the shock Hickman had just received. It shouldn’t be long before he was brought into line. Meanwhile, there were a few more visits to make. To France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland – the drug, prostitution and child porn rackets – Denmark, Sweden, Greece. His grand European tour. Simultaneously other fixers would be concentrating on the former Eastern bloc countries and Russia, before moving on to China and Japan. The thing would spread gradually from those centres, as the big players – like the Yakuza, the Triads, the Russian Mafiya - snapped up those in the countries adjoining their homelands.
He knew what to do in the event of anyone objecting. Let the authorities know what their plans were, and where their leading members lived if the information wasn’t on police files. His father had considered using the tactic to completely destroy all the various organisations so that the Mob would have direct control of all international criminal enterprises. But it was better to let them remain in existence and make use of their resources, their expertise. Against other criminals the technology was to be used primarily to blackmail; even if Salvatore Scarlione would never consider involving the Mafia itself in the child pornography trade, those who lacked such scruples could find their sordid practices used as a weapon against them.
By such methods, an empire would be built which would far surpass in extent anything that had ever been achieved by political or military means. And one day, Vito reflected with a warm thrill of pride, all of it would be his.
Jonty Slade was the best in the business, and nowadays an indispensable requirement for an organisation like Hickman’s. There was nothing he didn’t know about computers. To him they were everything, a toy he could play with for hours on end without getting bored, a turn-on he found vastly more satisfying than drugs or sex or alcohol. In their modern form they were the greatest achievement of the later twentieth century, far surpassing the ultimately pointless, in his opinion, putting of a man on the Moon. They could do virtually everything, and as far as he was concerned were everything. The guy was a geek, so obsessed with cyberspace that he didn’t bother questioning the morality of what went on there – fortunately. He was a tall, pale, skinny young man not long out of college, with lank dark hair and enormous spectacles not unlike those worn by the Thunderbirds character Brains. He looked so placid, scholarly, harmless that no-none ever suspected he could possibly be involved in any way with organised crime; which had always been his strength.
First he checked there’d been no further penetration of the computer by the Mafia’s virus. Then he got down to work, inserting various discs into the slot in the tower and copying their content to the computer; calling up an assortment of programs and sub-programs and either overwriting them or deleting them from the directory. The job took him about an hour, during all of which time Hickman watched with an almost inhuman patience and stillness, arms folded, eyes staring fixedly over Jonty’s shoulder at the screen of the computer.
“That should do it,” he said finally. “I’ve built in about as many firewalls as the system has capacity for. All the ones anyone’s ever designed. You should be OK now.”
“Thanks, Jont,” grunted Hickman. He still sounded uneasy. Twenty-four hours until the Mafia’s deadline expired…the first indication that it hadn’t worked would be a visit from the Scotland Yard vice squad. Christ, if he did end up in prison he’d never be safe.
Maybe he ought to do as Vito Scarlione wanted after all?
Jonty glanced at him curiously. “You alright?”
“’Course I’m alright,” Hickman snapped. He seated himself at the keyboard and called up the list of files, more on a whim than anything else.
His jaw dropped. As before, the number of bytes for each document was zero. There was nothing at all on the computer except for the child pornography site, which was back. Nor could he gain access to the Internet.
By now the pattern of events had become established. The kiddie porn site vanished and his deleted files came back; so did the abominable blue box. SORRY, JOE. YOUR COMPUTER PROGRAMMER’S GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH. WE, WE’RE THE BEST. WHATEVER FIREWALLS YOU BUILD TO KEEP US OUT, WE WILL KNOCK DOWN. NO-ONE ELSE HAS THE KIND OF EQUIPMENT WE ARE USING TO DO THIS.
They’d known, straight away, that he’d put the firewalls in. “I don’t get it,” murmured Jonty, both puzzled and upset by this defeat. He relished a challenge until he failed to overcome it, something which until now had never really happened. “I just don’t understand.”
“I’ve never come across anything like this before,” said Jonty, collapsing into a spare chair. His chagrin had been replaced by a kind of admiration. “If they really can do this, no-one’s safe.”
Hickman stared at the message on the screen for a long time. “Shit,” he said eventually. “Fucking shit.”
“What are you going to do?”
“You really can’t work out how to get round this?”
“No. They must be using something pretty advanced. What it is I haven’t a clue. I wasn’t too sure before. Only thing I can say is that it probably originated in America, because they’ve got the most advanced equipment. That’s about all.”
Hickman’s fingers beat a tattoo on the desk. Maybe eventually Jonty could find a way to get round it. In the meantime, these people were going to cause him all sorts of problems if he didn’t do what they told him.
“Well,” he muttered, “I don’t see that we’ve got any choice. For the moment we’ve got to go along with what they want.”
“And see what we can get out of it?”
“Uh-huh.” That, on the whole, made more sense. These people obviously knew what they were doing. Despite the hold they had over him, they must know what they were proposing wouldn’t really work unless he could be assured of a decent share of the rich pickings.
It had better be bloody good, he thought.

At his ranch near Dallas Senator Jerry Rothwell was on the phone. “You got it all sewn up?” asked the caller.
“I think so. My vote should clinch it.” If Rothwell declared his intention to do that which the caller had indicated would be most advantageous to his friends, then so would the voting bloc in Congress which tended to follow his lead. There would follow a relaxation in the planning laws which would enable the caller’s associate to build his power station regardless of the environmental lobby’s concerns.
“You’ve spoken to all the other waverers?”
“Uh-huh. But if it goes to the Supreme Court?”
“Don’t worry, we’ve taken care of that.”
“Now if we could discuss payment? Five hundred thousand pounds directly into my account. You’ve got the details.”
Of course we have, the caller was thinking with a grin. It occurred to him that they could get away with not bothering to pay the money at all, these days. Best to keep Rothwell happy, though. He had no choice other than to obey them anyway, but let him find that out in his own time.
After finishing with Rothwell Tony D’Enrico, alias Bob Devereux, rang another prominent Senator to discuss another Bill due to go before Congress the following week. “Frank, we think it’s important full diplomatic and commercial relations are restored between the US and those countries as soon as possible. I know we’ve had our differences with them in the past, but the world’s a different place from what it was twenty years ago. And I’ve a number of clients who are looking to expand their business overseas and would lose out if they didn’t have this opportunity.”
D’Enrico would see to the parcelling out of the contracts separately.
“I got the message,” said the Senator wearily. He sounded a little pissed-off.
“You’ll get a good return on your investment. All the same, Frank, I’d better remind you what’ll happen if you should experience a sudden attack of conscience.”
“There’s no need to threaten me,” said the Senator indignantly. “I’ve always been happy to go along with this, you know that.”
“Sure, I know that. ‘Bye, Frank.”
D’Enrico consulted his diary to see what else he had to attend to that day. Thornton had to be persuaded to stand down as chairman of the Congressional Committee on Law and Order; the aim was to replace him with Dowling, who wouldn’t be quite so effective. The hotel people wanted the contract to build that place in London; Vito could see to that, or Joe Hickman. It seemed Eckstein, fearful with good reason that Scarlione was after him, had changed his identity and gone underground somewhere, but they had one or two good leads and could probably track him down fairly easily. Once Hickman had finished with a certain business whose resolution he considered long overdue.

Ronnie Bowker was no angel. He’d beaten people up himself, in one case leaving the victim permanently crippled; then there had been instances of rape, pimping, robbery with violence. It had been a personal dislike of Hickman, who in his estimation had not given him as big a cut as he deserved of the proceeds from that bank raid, which had led Ronnie to grass. Hickman had accused him of “always whingeing”, blamed him for messing up a couple of jobs – unfairly, Bowker felt - and seemed to be leaving him out of the planning for any major operation. So, feeling enough was enough, he’d gone to the cops and given them the names and addresses of the other people involved in the robbery, during which bank staff had been tied up and threatened with one or two afterwards suffering recurring nightmares as a result. They’d all got thirty years, depriving Hickman of some of his ablest and most trusted lieutenants. There hadn’t been enough evidence to convict the ganglord himself, largely because all the accused were too scared to supply it. And Hickman was always careful to remain the shadowy, nameless figure behind the scenes, ultimately responsible for everything that happened but never identifiable with certainty – at least, there was never any proof of his guilt that would be legally admissible. Perhaps also it was a case of thieves’ honour.
So Joe Hickman was safe from arrest. But Bowker’s action had ruined one of his most promising and potentially lucrative ventures. And though Hickman was always careful to reward favours, he never forgot a betrayal either.
Ronnie could have sought police protection. But he had no desire to live the rest of his life a virtual prisoner. He decided to take another route.
He had plastic surgery and grew a beard, took to wearing glasses. He got an associate to make a false passport and other documents to create a whole new identity for himself. Using his reward money, plus the fifty grand he’d had stashed away that the police didn’t know about, he went to the Spanish embassy, applied for Spanish citizenship, bought a villa in the hills overlooking the Costa del Sol and caught the first available plane out of Gatwick to Madrid. He took with him just a few possessions and sold off the rest, along with his house in Peckham; anything to do with his former life had to be destroyed, for there must be no way Hickman could trace him. All documents that could give a clue to where he’d gone were burned in a massive bonfire the night before he left Britain. He’d seen to the whole thing as quickly as possible, so that no-one who might be after him had time to realise what he was up to.
Ronnie was now enjoying what he considered a well-earned retirement, spent mostly relaxing in the sun, boozing in the nightclubs of Malaga and pursuing women of easy virtue, whether prostitutes or tourists. He was careful to tank up with Viagra and the house had a gym, which he used to keep himself in good shape with the result that unlike most men in their sixties he could still wear trunks and not look silly.
Right now he was stretched out on a sunbed by the pool, which Carmen, his housekeeper, had cleaned that morning and whose surface gleamed brilliantly in the noonday sun, as did the sea a couple of miles away in the distance. Apart from Rita, his German shepherd bitch, he was alone in the house; Carmen, who worked mornings only, had gone home and Julia, the woman forty years his junior with whom he currently lived, was out shopping. Meant he was getting some peace and quiet.
Which was suddenly disturbed by a furious barking from Rita. “Oy, shut it,” he shouted.
The dog failed to heed his command. She sounded increasingly agitated. “What the fuck’s the matter with you?” With a sigh Bowker lifted himself from the sunbed and went to investigate. It sounded like she was out the front, in the garden, and had become excited by something she saw there. Well as long as he could calm her down and stop her making that awful racket he didn’t give a toss what it was. Nothing to worry about, anyway; of that he was sure.
He heard Rita give a low, warning growl. It cut off suddenly in an anguished yelp. Ronnie stiffened, and a chill of unease began to creep through him. “Rita?” he called. “Rita, what’s the matter? You OK, girl?”
Still in his trunks, he ran through the sliding door into the living room, where a bank of TV screens on one wall showed the approaches to the house and various locations around it. He’d had the cameras installed at the time he moved in, not wishing to take the slightest risk. The looks his ex-colleagues had given him at the trial were printed indelibly on his mind and if any of them managed to escape, or were let out for good behaviour…
Ronnie froze in utter horror. One screen showed the body of a dog, apparently dead; another a group of five men, moving slowly and with sinister purposefulness towards the house. Each carried a pistol, evidently silenced as he hadn’t heard the shot which had killed Rita.
No, he thought feverishly. It isn’t possible. How could they…for one thing, the gates at the top of the drive were electronically operated and you had to look into the camera positioned there, at the same time speaking into a grille to announce your identity and business before Ronnie pressed a button to open them. They must have succeeded in bypassing the system, but he couldn’t see how.
At the back of his mind, though he’d never liked to admit it, had always been the mortal fear that somehow they would find him, despite all precautions. And now…
As he watched two of them broke away from the rest, each heading for one side of the house. They were seeking to block all his escape routes. His best chance might be the woods which bordered the property. If he could lose himself in there…nothing alarming was showing on any of the cameras which covered the part of the wood adjoining the house. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. He couldn’t have cameras dotted all over the wood, and there might be more of them hiding among the trees and bushes, lying in wait…after all, it was what they’d expect him to do. They’d have sussed out the lie of the land well. Just as they’d known Carmen and Julia weren’t in the house, having been watching it since early in the morning and seen them leave.
There was a door in the high fence surrounding the property, but someone could be hiding on the other side of the fence waiting to jump him as soon as he came through it. The thought terrified him.
His only hope was to find somewhere else to hide and then call the police on his mobile. He snatched up the phone from the sideboard.
On an impulse he ran back out onto the patio, then into the garden. There was the shed, also the wooden summerhouse which had been built by the villa’s previous owners: a retired expatriate couple, themselves British, fleeing here from a cold, damp, rainy country where life was becoming increasingly stressful and expensive. He never bothered to lock it, his security already being tight enough to deter burglars, so he wouldn’t have to lose time looking for the key.
The summerhouse was full of bric-a-brac accumulated by the couple over the years, and among which a man could easily conceal himself, for a time at least. But then so was the shed, which he didn’t lock either.
Sweating like a pig, he padded across the grass to the little wooden hut, knowing he couldn’t run because they’d hear him, and slowly opened the door. The grounds were extensive, which meant they weren’t yet close enough to see him go into the shed. Or hear the noise he made as he climbed into an old trunk, after shifting various pieces of junk so they hid it from view, and crouched down low inside it, closing the lid. Thank God he hadn’t got around to clearing any of this stuff out yet.
He listened to the sound of their movements. They weren’t far off but it didn’t seem as if they’d gone into the house, which was just as well, because they might have seen enter the shed on one of the monitor screens. They’d probably check the summerhouse first because it was bigger and you could see through the windows that it was full of rubbish. Altogether a more likely place for someone to hide.
But they’d find him eventually. Trembling, he dialled the number for the emergency services. He remembered that the lid of the trunk might muffle the signal and raised it, checking first that his hiding place was out of line with the window and no-one could see the movement from outside.
In his fear he spoke in English initially, then got a grip of himself and started again in Spanish. “Someone’s broken into my house. Five men. I think they’re going to kill me. They’ve got guns. Please, get down here right away, do you hear me? It’s an emergency.” He gave the address. There was a pause in the proceedings while the telephonist passed on the call.
Hardly daring to breathe, his heart beating like a tom-tom, he listened again to the footsteps. And felt a warm liquid with a slightly acidic feel collect inside his trunks, soaking into the lycra.
They had regrouped and were moving towards the shed. Straight towards it. Ignoring everywhere else, as if by some miracle they’d known at once he was there.
But how? They couldn’t have seen or heard him go in. The very spookiness of it added to his fear, made him sob like a little child.
A sixth sense…it was like they had a sixth sense…
Ah, there was no chance of the cops getting here in time. He swallowed, retched and was violently sick. Such was his state of mind that he didn’t realise he’d fouled himself for good measure.
Instinct told him he must stay alive as long as possible. He closed the lid again and lay down, struggling frantically to stop himself shaking with fear. If the trunk started to move about, scraping on the floor, knocking things over…they’d hear…
The door of the shed was flung open and then they were inside, shifting the rubbish and chucking it out, clearing away anything which might be being used to hide behind. He clasped his hands together and prayed silently, feeling somehow ashamed as he reflected that prayer was something he hadn’t done, silently or otherwise, for a very long time.
He let out a long, wailing scream as they lifted the lid of the trunk and looked down at him. They recoiled at the smell, faces screwed up in disgust.
Ronnie erupted from the trunk, knocking two of them back, and bolted for the door. “I’ve called the police!” he screamed. “I’ve called the police! I’ve called the police!”
Several pairs of hands seized him and then a hard metal object descended on the back of his head, plunging him into oblivion.
The blow had been designed merely to knock him out for a few moments, during which the smell subsided a little. He woke to find himself lying on his back on the grass with his hands and feet manacled, the five looking down at him with wolfish grins that seemed to peel their lips right back.
Immediately he began shouting. “I called the - ”
One of them dealt him a vicious kick in the stomach, driving the breath from his lungs. He rolled onto his side and drew up his legs, curling into a ball.
“You…you heard what I said,” he gasped. “You’d better get out of here right now.”
“Oh, we’re not worried about the police, Ronnie.” The speaker was Vidler, Hickman’s number one enforcer. “There’s been a change of plan, they’re not coming.”
“What – “ Ronnie spluttered, both puzzled and afraid.
“It’d take a while to explain,” Vidler said. “Just as I’m not going to tell you how we knew where you were. Could still make things awkward for us if anyone saw or heard something they didn’t like. So we won’t waste time in doing what we came here for.
“There’s no point in telling you why we’re doing it either, is there?” Vidler kicked him again, in the ribs this time. “Yew scumbag,” he snarled.
Ronnie’s eyes were shut tight against the pain, tears forcing their way past the lids and trickling down his cheeks. “Please don’t hurt me,” he wailed. “Please…I’m sorry….”
Vidler’s manner seemed to change. “Tell you what, Ronnie. If you promise to keep quiet about this, we’ll let you live. Rough you up a bit, teach you a lesson…have to be something surgery isn’t going to cure, not altogether. Or we’d lose the point of the whole exercise. But we’ll let you live, OK?”
It sounded like a fair deal to Ronnie; the best he could hope for right now, probably. He nodded like a jackhammer. “I-I-I won’t scream, I promise you,” he sobbed. “Just get on with it, yeah? Please.”
Vidler signalled to one of his companions, who produced a length of ducting tape and gagged Ronnie with it. Bowker’s frightened eyes darted in all directions. Whatever they were banking on doing to him, it still wasn’t likely to be very nice.
Again Vidler inclined his head. One man hooked his arms through Ronnie’s, another took him by the ankles, and together they carried him into the garden and towards the house, the rest of the hit team following.
The procession halted by the swimming pool. “Messed yourself a while back, didn’t you,” said Vidler. “Reckon we ought to get you cleaned up. Eh lads?”
He savoured the look on Ronnie’s face as Bowker realised what he meant. “Yeah, we lied. Not very nice of us really, was it? But then it wasn’t very nice of you to grass on us, was it shitface? OK boys – bath time.”
Ronnie’s protesting whimper turned to a shrill piping sound as the two men holding him swung him to the left, then to the right. And let go, stepping back to avoid being splashed.
Immediately Ronnie started to sink. The group gathered at the edge of the pool erupted in sniggering laughter as his bound limbs jerked uselessly in a pathetic attempt to keep him afloat. For a brief moment it seemed he actually succeeded; his head broke the surface, water pouring in twin streams from his nostrils, for a brief moment before going under again. He thrashed and twisted in a desperate attempt to snap the manacles, churning up the water, coughing and spluttering as it filled his nasal passages and forced its way in behind the gag, the harsh stinging taste of the chlorinated liquid burning the inside of his mouth.
The pain in his chest, in his head…it felt like his brain was about to explode. He willed that moment on, because after it he would feel nothing.
The shape in the water gave a final convulsive twitch and was still. For a moment Vidler’s gaze lingered on its distorted, rippling outline. “Goodbye, Ronnie,” he whispered softly. “And good riddance, you fucking piece of trash.”
As he led them all back to the car, he thought that perhaps Salvatore Scarlione’s “thing” hadn’t been such a bad investment after all.

House of Commons, Westminster, London
“So, Mr Daniels, what can I do for you?” asked Stephen Goddard, MP, closing the door of his office. Daniels, a smartly if rather flashily dressed young man who couldn’t have been long out of school, had rung his secretary saying he was a representative of a lobby group for the music industry who wanted to discuss ways of giving greater encouragement to young British pop artists.
“Oh, all sorts of things,” said Daniels cheerfully. He paused. “But first I’d like to have a little word with you about last night, if I may.”
At first Goddard was merely puzzled. “”Last night”?” he frowned. “Er - what do you mean? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Daniels selected a chair and leaned back in it. “You were seen coming out of a certain establishment in Soho; by us, anyway. You’re no doubt anxious to discuss how the matter can be kept from too much public scrutiny, and that’s why I’m calling you today. I have to advise you that photographs were taken; and it would no doubt be very embarrassing if the tabloids were to get hold of them. So I thought we ought to open negotiations. Are you interested?”
The man studied Goddard’s reaction with a detached interest. His face showed shock, horror, amazement, disbelief, distress. Such a heady cocktail of emotions that it was a moment or two before the MP could collect himself enough to speak.
“Who…who are you?” he asked in a small strangled voice.
“Never mind who we are. I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”
“You…you’ve got photographs?”
“Not of what went on inside, unfortunately. That would have been even more juicy. But they’re enough for our purposes. You’re on videotape, as well. That should prove beyond any doubt that this isn’t a frame-up. You go into the building and a few minutes later you come out of it.”
From his leather briefcase Daniels took a sheaf of blown-up black-and-white photos, handing them to the MP. They showed Goddard coming up to the half-open door of the establishment, standing there thoughtfully as if trying to make up his mind whether to go in, eventually taking the plunge, being greeted by the man who had been standing just inside, and finally leaving the building. In each shot the sign which had been stuck on the wall beside the door was clearly visible. “MASSAGE TWO FINE LADS COME ON UP.” There were gay brothels in Soho, too.
The decision had been taken on impulse. Maybe the latent homosexuality which perhaps lies dormant in all of us to some exent had in him happened to break surface. Whatever the reason, he was now regretting his action. It made him sick that just one wrong decision, taken on the spur of the moment, could have such terrible and far-reaching consequences, trapping him so inexorably.
“But you…you must have been following me…” Were they MI5, letting him know they were aware he did this sort of thing and that it wasn’t a good idea? He’d had to have already looked like a security risk, and wouldn’t have have done because it was the first time he’d…He wasn’t in possession of state secrets. Though he was an influential backbencher, and a former Chief Whip, who could sway opinion by the authority and prestige he enjoyed with fellow members of the governing party, including the Prime Minister, and was generally regarded as a shrewd political fixer.
“We decided to check on all the people we needed to target, their lifestyle, hobbies etcetera, to see if there might be some means of…bringing pressure to bear. Thankyou for being so helpful in the matter, Mr Goddard.”
Goddard’s head slumped while he considered the implications. He thought of the effect on his career, his marriage, if this was to get out. After all it was sordid homosexuality. Most disagreeable, and frightening, of all was the throught that he was now these people’s tool, their puppet, because he didn’t have the guts to call their bluff.
“What are you expecting me to do?” he asked, his voice flat.
“We need you to ask a few questions in the House for us. You’ll get the details later. The other thing you can do is vote in favour of the Gambling Bill when the time comes.”
Again Goddard’s chin dropped onto his chest. “Yes. I can do that for you, if it’s what you want. It’ll just look as if I’m concerned about the effect of the new law on businesses.”
“That’s fantastic. We may need you to do other favours for us in the future.” Goddard’s heart sank in dismay as his worst fears were confirmed. “Do you have to do this?” he shouted. “I mean, it…it’s disgusting. Unacceptable. I-I-I-I…” He realised how he must appear and his shoulders slumped miserably.
The “lobbyist” was unimpressed. “It was your decision to get yourself sucked off by another bloke, or whatever went on in there. So there’s no point in blaming us, is there? Think about it.” He waited for Goddard to collect himself.
“Well, I’ve said I’ll do what you ask,” the MP snapped, raising his head and looking at his visitor with distaste. “Unless there was anything else you wanted to say, you can get out now.”
“It’s not a very good idea to speak to us like that,” the man said darkly. Goddard couldn’t be sure whether he was really angry or simply enjoying the power he had over a well-known and important parliamentarian.
“Well I’ll be off now,” the man smiled. “It was a pleasure to meet you, I hope we can do business again in the future.” It was clear from “Daniels’” tone that they would. “Meanwhile if we need to contact you we will. I’ll see myself out, don’t worry.”

That evening after dark there was a meeting between two men in the car park of some tenement flats on a housing estate in South London. One, a senior detective in the Metropolitan Police, handed to the other a thick manila envelope containing some highly confidential official documents. In return the other gave him a cheque for several thousand pounds.
The policeman lingered for a while after his contact had driven off, thinking. Then turned away. He was too far into this now.
A few days later a similar scene, involving a High Court judge this time, took place in an alleyway behind some lock-up garages on the northern outskirts of the capital. In fact similar scenes were taking place, on virtually a daily basis, all over the developed world.

A British dependency, the small group of Caribbean islands served as a place of refuge, a retirement home one might say, for members of the criminal fraternity; they were also a repository for money that wealthy businessmen wanted to keep free of tax. Some would have maintained that these two roles complemented each other ideally.
In the capital and chief seaside resort of the largest island, on the coast road overlooking the beach, was a bar where the criminal brotherhood of all nations, whether retired or still active, whether running from the law or from former colleagues they’d got on the wrong side of, frequently met to compare reminiscences and, if they were sure no-one could hear them, plan some new scam or heist. Such as that maturing in the mind of Maltese financier Horace Oliviera as he sat sipping his Bourbon and listening to the
muzak playing from the old-fashioned juke box in the corner. It involved what was termed “insider trading” and hopefully wouldn’t entail having to beat someone up this time, although he was quite prepared to do that if necessary. The islands’ laws meant the money would be difficult to recover. The UK government hadn’t yet seen its way to reforming them, seeing it as an interference with the normal working of the free market.
“Olly, how you doing?” The Maltese looked up and saw a man in a floppy-brimmed sun hat, brightly-coloured short-sleeved shirt, jeans and sandals. His thick beard was streaked with grey and he wore spectacles. The beard and the glasses were recent acquisitions, intended to throw up a smoke screen around their owner and prevent him being identified by certain people who he had managed to offend during the course of his criminal “career”.
They weren’t the reason why Oliviera didn’t at first recognise the man – though he hadn’t known where he was he did know he’d had to change his appearance after defrauding the Mob out of millions of pounds from that racing scam. The American hobbled across the floor of the bar to meet him with a stick, like the ones blind people carried, clutched tight in one hand and the whole left side of his face was a mass of scar tissue, not yet fully healed.
“Johnny?” Oliviera gasped. “Shit, what happened to you?” He pushed forward an empty chair with his foot.
Johnny Blanco collapsed into it. “Scarlione,” he muttered. “You know what happened and that he got pretty mad about it. Well, they got me in the end.”
“You should have had the surgery.”
“I’m not sure it would have made any difference.” Oliviera looked at him strangely, startled by the remark and by something in his old associate’s manner. “How d’you mean?”
“What I don’t understand is how they could have known where I was. I’d changed my name, and my appearance…used what was left of the cash to set myself up here. I hadn’t told any of the guys where I’d gone. Should have thrown them right off the trail. But somehow they found me.
“Shit, pal, I was afraid they were going to kill me but they did these instead.” He pointed to the scar, then down at his crippled leg. “Said it was something to remember them by.”
“They often do that. All the same I guess you’re one of the lucky ones.”
“Sure am,” Johnny Blanco grunted. Though it seemed he was out of danger now he shuddered nonetheless. “I tell you, I don’t know how they knew I was here but they did. They seem to know everything. Everything…”

The young man stood before a gathering of about twenty people, all male, who were seated beneath a glittering chandelier at the huge mahogany table in the living room of the house. The room was plushly carpeted with oak-panelled walls and French windows looking out onto well-kept lawns.
The man’s right arm was raised and in the hand he held aloft a piece of scrap paper. The other hand was grasping a cigarette lighter. His face was taut and grim but no fear showed in it, yet. A little tense themselves, those around the table waited, anxious to see if he could stand the ordeal he was about to subject himself to.
The man held the lighter to the scrap of paper and flicked the wheel. The jet of blue-yellow flame flashed, and then the paper was alight, crumbling into ash as the tongues of fire licked down it towards the man’s unprotected fingers. They saw him swallow, sweat breaking out on his forehead and glistening in the light from the chandelier. He could feel the heat now, but the flames weren’t quite close enough to cause him pain. In a moment…
His face twisted as the heat became uncomfortable yet still the fragment of paper, what was left of it, remained firmly clutched in his hand. If he lost face before them all now…
He was shaking, but knew that if he dropped it before the flames reached his fingers….
They lashed at his flesh, and he screamed. The burning paper fell from his hand and fluttered down onto the cork mat which had been placed for it to land on. He staggered, face contorted in pain. Then the memory of that pain faded and he straightened, his expression changing to one of triumph. He knew he couldn’t have stood it for a moment longer and that therefore, because he had been tested to the utmost limit and not chickened out before that stage was reached, he had passed the test. He was now a Mafiosi.
“Let’s see,” said Salvatore Scarlione, and nodded to one of the seated men, who rose and went to examine the candidate’s fingers. He saw the red weal and nodded to the gathering, who erupted in a chorus of cheers and hurried to congratulate the candidate, slapping him heartily on the back.
Salvatore Scarlione smiled. It brought back memories of his own initiation and the celebration afterwards. He remembered the good old days, which now were back and which he intended should not go away again. He had missed the old rituals; the pricking of the finger, the burning paper. People were scared of going through the ceremony because if anyone was secretly filming them they would be marked down as Mafiosi and targeted by the law. But from now on they shouldn’t have to worry about that.
As for the actual point of Omerta and the rites by which the pact was sealed, they gave purpose and focus to it all. They were a kind of substitute for religion. To be a Mafiosi was to belong to a club, a fellowship cemented by powerful ties of blood or friendship, codes of loyalty and honour – Omerta. A team that acted for the good, the advancement, of its members. He liked the comradeship, the sense of belonging to a clan who would protect him and who he could protect, the way a father liked to nurture a child so it would grow, as he had grown. The continuity of tradition and ritual; the sense of power he had from being the one in charge of it all; and last but not least, the material wealth he gained from it. .
The other thing Scarlione had missed, and now revived, was the more formal organisation that had existed during the golden age of the 1920s and 30s, but later broken apart, the process starting with the reforms of Lucky Luciano. The democratic structure Luciano had given the Mafia, in which the boss had less power, had not been to Scarlione’s liking.
But some of Luciano’s reforms were good. He had also removed the power of Mafia capos to execute their soldiers. In future a capo must prove his case to the family's consigliere before he could order a killing. You had to have discipline, it was what the world increasingly needed. And you had to kill with care, with discretion, with precision. Or you’d have the cops on you. The change had greatly improved morale among the troops; discipline could be maintained not only though fear, but also through loyalty, which was how it should be with La Cosa Nostra (the actual term Mafia was one he, along with most of his associates, rarely used). You wouldn’t work for it if you thought you could be killed, perhaps on a whim, by your own people just because you’d made one or two mistakes or knew things that could be of great interest to the police if you got arrested. When you started killing each other it was a sure sign you’d lost it. But you shouldn’t lose it. You had to stick together.
There was no way the Mafia could prosper while riven by internecine slaughter, and Luciano had known that. Discipline had fallen apart again later on but now Scarlione had successfully restored it. Thanks to Argus.
For a long time there had been a steady haemorrhage of “made men” as they opted out of life in the Mob to take ordinary professions. And the ones who stayed on were no good at their jobs a lot of the time. The guys were soft, unlike the first generation of Mafiosi who’d had to fight their way to wealth and power and influence from poor immigrant beginnings (he’d had it fairly easy himself, to tell the truth). But even before Argus – which made sure the foot soldiers did their job properly - the Scarliones had seen the need to move with the times, and many of the academics and business professionals were recruited to help the organisation break into white collar crime as it became something of a growth industry.
The Scarliones had moved like all the other families into the Sunshine Belts of Florida and California, exploiting the wealth those regions gained from tourism and the silicon chip. They had concentrated their efforts very profitably on gambling, loansharking, and manipulating the stock exchange. They employed smartly dressed, clever, smooth-talking lawyers to defend their members and clients in court. They’d got rid of a lot of dead wood, culled the sick and the lame, and as a result had become stronger in some ways than anyone ever suspected.
One change that Scarlione both regretted, in some respects, and could do absolutely nothing about, was the relative dilution of the Mafia’s ethnic composition. He regretted it not because he was a racist - he had nothing against non-Italians in general, though he felt contempt for the poor blacks and Hispanics – but because it meant the end of a cosy little club. However, employing people from other ethnic groups was another example of the way the Mafia had changed and diversified in order to survive. They joined it either because they had no choice or because they admired its power and ruthless efficiency in maintaining control, were bewitched by the aura, the charisma, which surrounded it.
We were a multi-racial society these days, weren't we? All in the same boat, all playing the same game. It meant that Scarlione could kill whoever he liked, if they got in his way or crossed him in any fashion, regardless of their colour or race. In his view the ideas and feelings which made the unlawful killing of a white person by a non-white particularly atrocious were dead, buried, gone right out the window. A black or a Chinese could kill a white - or vice versa - without compunction if they trod on his patch.
But by whatever means the Scarlione family had survived while others went to the wall, moving in on another family’s territory whenever it was wound up. They, and the wider Mafia, were still there seventy, eighty years after the poor Sicilian immigrants began to arrive in large numbers, Scarlione’s grandfather among them. It seemed incredible to him, as well as a source of pride, that what had begun as a collection of brigands on a small island in the Mediterranean had grown into something that had such influence – perhaps the controlling influence – in the most powerful nation on Earth. The Mafia had survived for centuries as a kind of guerilla movement, a loose confederation of rural bandits and urban racketeers, who set themselves up in opposition to foreign oppressors and absentee landlords. They were able to pose as protectors of the people. In effect they were still doing so now, albeit unofficially, against bureaucratic inefficiency and unpopular laws.
Yes, they were still there. But something had been missing.
Where they did not love the Mafia, people were still afraid of it – its reputation persisted regardless of any threat it actually posed. That suited him fine. But if the reality didn’t match the perception, sooner or later people would get wise. And fear gave La Cosa Nostra power over the rest of the underworld.
In the old days they had had style. And they had done things properly. For the Mafia to recover its former position it had to go back to what it was before – to the status quo in the US before Luciano. Trouble was, in the new conditions that just wasn’t possible. Somehow, a way had to be found of making it possible.
If the Mafia was in decline it was because everything else was too. Nobody had faith in the traditional centres of authority any more; and the Mafia was one of those centres, because the fear it caused enabled it to command respect. The world was falling apart and somehow it had to be made to pull itself together. The Mafia couldn’t do that unless it was more efficiently organised itself. It was harder to maintain order and authority with a loose structure which people couldn’t identify with a particular organisation, a particular leader.
Another problem was Witsec and the RICO statutes, which by making convictions more likely scared the younger generation out of joining the Mafia. Scarlione had needed something which would get round that problem, show them there was nothing to worry about.
Academics studying the growth of new, often ethnic-based crime groups who while not pushing the Mafia out were at least challenging its supremacy commented that in the contemporary criminal world there was room for everyone. Sure. But if there were different criminal groups all competing, none of them in overall control, that to Scarlione was anarchy. With one group in charge you knew where you stood; there was order and stability. It wasn’t enough for him just to have a decent share of the cake.
How to change things? He doubted the Mafia would ever disappear entirely, but it would never again be what it had been in Al Capone’s time. Unless…
And then along had come Argus.
Thanks to Argus, and to other things as well, the Mafia was undergoing a further evolution; a synthesis of the old and the new. It could consolidate its control over the new areas into which it had moved, while moving back into old ones such as the drug and sex trades. It could force the black and Hispanic gangs to toe the line and pay it protection money. It could get round the wiretaps and the bugging devices with the equipment it had “acquired” from the FBI and CIA. In fact it could control anything and anyone it liked, with impunity.
It was easier now to operate more formally (the informal way of doing things had its advantages, in that it was harder to identify people as belonging to a particular crime organisation) and openly. Yet Scarlione still preferred to eschew flamboyance the way the Russian Bratva did, somehow feeling uneasy at the attention it attracted. He’d dine out at a good restaurant, with his minders on hand because he felt safer that way, but that was about all.
In any event “Our Thing” - his thing – was alive and kicking. Giving him power and giving him companionship; a family. We are Mafia. And I, Salvatore Scarlione, am the head of it, the spider at the centre of the web.
Everyone returned to their seat and chatted among themselves while they waited for the food to arrive. The gathering comprised the heads of all the other Families, along with their senior capos. The entire National Commission was meeting here today, for the first time since Scarlione had announced the institution’s revival. It was a historic occasion, of which the initiation ceremony had been intended to be the highlight. The routine business had already been got out of the way.
Scarlione waited for a lull in the conversation and then turned to the man sitting beside him, one of his own capos. “Oh by the way, Jimmy, I never knew you had a heart condition.”
The capo froze in surprise. “Uh…I’m sorry, Mr Scarlione?” Then puzzlement turned to unease, and finally alarm, though the capo tried hard to hide it. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“That thing you’re wearing under your shirt. It’s a pacemaker, isn’t it? At least that’s what you’d have said if it happened to fall out by accident, wouldn’t you? That happened to one guy who was spying for the cops, as you are, but he managed to convince them it was a pacemaker. We’ve got ways of making absolutely sure.”
Scarlione got up and came round the table towards Jimmy. Jimmy backed away from him as he approached. “I don’t know what you mean, Boss, I don’t…hey, what – “ Suddenly Scarlione lunged towards him, took hold of one of the buttons on his suit and ripped it off.
Jimmy ran for the door. “Get him!” Scarlione barked, and two of the capos sprang from their seats, rushing at Jimmy and intercepting him just before he could get there. They held him fast between them as Scarlione bore down on him again, eyes narrow with hate.
In full view of everyone in the room, Scarlione tore away a patch of Jimmy’s shirt to reveal a slender grey-coloured metal object, about the size and shape of a matchbox, taped to his chest to the right of his navel. “Wired for sound, weren’t you?” Savagely he ripped away the recording device, causing Jimmy to squeal in pain.
“OK, boys, you know where to take him. Find out who he’s working for and how much they know. And then if he co-operates, we’ll make it quick.” This was a lie, of course.
“How…did you know it was there?” Jimmy gasped.
“Never you mind,” said Scarlione vaguely.
Jimmy looked round the room in dismay, still shocked by the suddenness with which it had happened. It dawned on him that the whole thing had been stage-managed so he could be dramatically exposed.
“You betrayed Omerta,” said Scarlione quietly. “That’s about the worst thing anyone can do, y’hear me? You’re gonna go for a little ride.”
They dragged him out screaming and struggling wildly. He had no doubt whatsoever that Scarlione intended him to die and nor did any of those at the table. Neat, huh, the Don thought smugly. The new “made man” had not only sworn the oath of allegiance and cemented it by the ritual, he had just had a demonstration of what would happen if he ever broke it. Scarlione always liked to kill two birds with one stone.

Briefing Room, New Scotland Yard
Sir Kenneth Ransley, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, generally preferred to let his subordinates get on with their jobs and restrict himself to general matters of administration and policy. However in view of the seriousness of the threat the man was deemed to represent he’d decided to sit in on the planning meeting for the operation against Joe Hickman. Besides him those present included Derek Watkins, the Deputy Commissioner; Celia Rimmer, Acting Assistant Commissioner responsible for the Specialist Crime Directorate, whose brief included all serious and organised crimes; and Gordon Featherstone, head of SCD7, the Serious and Organised Crime Group, one of the eight Operational Command Units which made up the Directorate. Under SCD7’s umbrella were the Flying Squad, potentially likely to be called in where firearms might be involved, the Vice Squad, the Kidnap and Special Investigation Unit and the Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Unit, though the latter would not be needed if things turned out according to plan. Representatives from all these groups were present at the meeting. Finally there was “Ray Selnick”, in reality a Detective Sergeant with Vice called Tom Thorogood.
“After the meeting at Hickman’s house we think we now have enough evidence against him,” Celia Rimmer told Ransley.
The Commissioner wasn’t a man to mince his words. “With respect, Celia, “think” isn’t quite good enough. I’d like to be bit more certain.”
“From what DS Thorogood has learned, including the contents of the tape, and our other sources I believe there should be sufficient material for the Crown Prosecution Service to work with.”
“I want them caught in the act,” Ransley told her. “I want a watertight case against him this time. Something he can’t wriggle out of.”
“Are we confident the trail will lead back to Hickman?” asked Derek Watkins. “He’s not going to be at the warehouse personally, is he?”
“No, probably not,” answered Gordon Featherstone. “But he was at the meeting, his voice is on the tape. On top of the evidence we’re likely to get tomorrow, it should be enough.”
“I hope so,” muttered the Commissioner. “We had several promising informants but they all seem to have chickened out after what happened to Ronnie Bowker. Everyone’s too scared of Hickman to talk.” Ransley breathed hard. “I still don’t understand how his men managed to find Bowker. Somehow it’s a bit worrying.”
“With any luck Hickman won’t be able to do a great deal anyway, soon,” Watkins said. “However he tracked down Bowker.”
Ransley turned to Celia Rimmer. “So…the other evidence we’ve got, the other sources you mentioned; what are we talking, exactly?” “We’ve got film of Hickman meeting with Gheorghiu. There’s no record of what passed between them, unfortunately, but in the light of everything else it’s going to look highly suspicious.
“And one of the girls is prepared to talk. Some friends of hers here, English people, who’d realised what was going on and wanted to help her, managed to get her away from the prostitution ring. I think it’s because she’s a foreigner and not familiar with Hickman and his reputation, as we are, even though she’s certainly suffered from his activities, that she isn’t afraid to co-operate. Another…she was a Catholic and she went and told a priest. We’ll just have to hope Hickman’s people don’t get to them before the case comes to court.” The gang was a large one, with branches in different parts of the country. “They shouldn’t, of course, if the witnesses are receiving protection.”
“That’ll be crucial, bearing in mind what Hickman is like.” The witnesses would be probably be moved to safe houses rather than guarded in their own homes. The Hickman gang was large, its members forming a network that covered the whole country, and Hickman expected absolute loyalty from them, which would extend to getting him out of trouble when it struck. If any happened to find out where a witness was living that person was sure to be intimidated, beaten up or even killed.
“Of course, there’s all sorts of things we can get Hickman for,” Featherstone said. “Drug dealing, illegal possession of firearms…he’s been up in court for those offences before, and we know very well he’s still committing them. So far we haven’t been able to produce firm evidence but I strongly suspect that it’ll turn up during the course of the investigation into the immigration scam.”
Ransley glanced at Thorogood. “You’ll be there of course?”
“Yes, Sir, I’ll have to be. They’ll get suspicious otherwise.”
“Take care then.” Ransley’s eyes gleamed. ”Well, it seems we’re definitely in with a chance, one we’ve been waiting for for years.” Hickman had been careful to avoid arrest, by abuse of legal technicalities and other such devices, in the past but now his luck had run out. “It’ll give me the greatest of pleasure to see that repulsive fat bastard banged up for the rest of his natural life.”

The following morning, the lorry carrying the illegal immigrants turned off the main road down the long gravel drive which led to the warehouse. It slowed as it approached the building, and turned off again onto a covered forecourt which served as a loading bay. Gheorghiu, Vidler, “Ray Selnick” – who needed to inspect the goods at first hand to testify as to their quality - and two more of Hickman’s men, Kane and Walters, had been standing there waiting for it. The driver got down from the cab, nodded to Vidler, and made for the rear of the lorry to open the doors, the others following.
All at once, seeming to appear from nowhere, two police vans and a police car came racing down the drive from the main road and onto the forecourt. The rear doors of the vans burst open and a dozen police in assault gear, with Heckler and Koch rifles, jumped out of each. Although Tom Thorogood had not thought it likely the gang would be carrying guns, it was nonetheless considered safer for the officers to be armed.
The gang froze, startled. An officer got out of the car and addressed them through a loudhailer. “Police!” he shouted unnecessarily. “Get your hands up!”
There wasn’t much else they could do but obey. Two officers ran to the back of the lorry while the others rounded up the gang and handcuffed them. They forced open the doors with crowbars and cutting gear and scrambled in.
Faint sounds from inside the secret apartment as the Rumanians shifted nervously, hearing the shouts and hurried movement from outside and wondering what was going on, led the officers to them. The false wall was unscrewed and lifted out.
The immigrants were helped down from the lorry, looking anxious and frightened, uncomprehending. An officer who had been brought along because she spoke Rumanian introduced herself to them and explained what was happening. They were ushered into a third van which had by now appeared and driven off to the nearest police station to make their statements.
The officer in charge of the raid studied the group of villains as they were led away. They looked sullen, resentful, but to him their feelings seemed strangely muted. Not what you’d expect from people who stood a good chance of spending the rest of their days in a prison cell.
Vidler was looking around him almost casually, appearing to the onlooking police to be slightly puzzled. He thought Selnick had been nabbed along with the rest of them, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Then he glimpsed the fair-haired man, his hands free, standing talking to one of the policemen as if they were colleagues.
“Arsehole,” Vidler snarled. Thorogood heard him, but wasn’t unduly bothered. Abuse from criminals was a fact of life for someone like him. He climbed into a police car just as the doors of the van closed on Vidler and the other gang members, and in a moment the convoy of vehicles was on its way to the police station in south London where the suspects would be held for the time being, while Forensics arrived to search the warehouse for any clue which might assist in building up the case against one of the most vicious and ruthless criminal organisations the country had ever known.

Checking the gang’s balance sheet again on computer, Joe Hickman wondered how things were going at the warehouse. A certain percentage of the money from the operation – from all his operations, in fact - would have to go to Scarlione. But to compensate for that Hickman would receive a not insubstantial sum of cash from the Mafia’s own operations. It wasn’t really the financial aspect which bothered him about this, he was getting quite enough to maintain him and his friends in their cushy lifestyle; what stuck in his craw was the loss of independence, the knowledge that he wasn’t doing this entirely off his own bat but as part of a co-ordinated international concern overseen by someone else. Not that he could do a thing about it at the moment.
Time to ring Vidler at the warehouse. Much to his annoyance, his sidekick didn’t answer. Then he heard what sounded like a lot of cars pulling up outside the farmhouse, and knew what it meant. Somehow they must have deactivated the alarms and overridden the gate control.
His wife came in, white-faced. “Joe, there’s police all round the house.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out,” he said, seeming to her maddeningly calm. “Just keep out of the way.” She stared at him.
“I said go!” he snapped, and Babs scurried off.
Hickman dialled a New York number and asked to speak to Scarlione. He had to wait a few moments, then was put through to the Don. “Hi, Joe, how ya doing,” the American greeted him, as if they were already old friends. “Guess I’m fine,” he replied. “But I think I might need the help of your little toy.”
“I’m using it for something else at the moment…shouldn’t be too long, though.”
“OK. Just keep watching the British news and you’ll know what I was talking about. ‘Bye for now, got to go.” Hickman heard someone bashing away at the front door with an axe, several axes. He stood waiting while it disintegrated, listening to their colleagues running round the back of the house to cover the other exits. The Rottweilers were barking furiously.
The door finally gave up the ghost and two officers rushed in and overpowered him, forcing him to lie flat on the floor while they handcuffed his hands behind his back. As they hauled him to his feet a third officer entered and stepped up to him. “Conrad Joseph Hickman, you are under arrest on suspicion of the offences of people trafficking and consorting with known offenders for criminal purposes. You do not have to say anything but anything you do say may be taken down and used as evidence against you.”
Hickman shrugged.
One of the Rottweilers attacked an officer and had to be put down, but otherwise there was no hassle. Hickman was taken out to the van while a policewoman went to see to Babs, to offer her counselling if she wanted. Given what Hickman was and the seriousness of the crimes of which he was accused, the issue of a warrant to search the premises had been considered justified, and the police now began to comb them for incriminating evidence.
The officer in charge of the raid studied Hickman’s face as he was led away. He didn’t think the man was particularly happy but his expression, his whole manner, seemed too casual for the policeman’s liking. However, an arrogant nonchalance in the face of arrest was something he’d encounted before, many times, in habitual criminals like this. It was nothing to worry about.

Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Commissioner’s Office
“We’ve got him!” Derek Watkins grinned, raising both fists high in the air and shaking them in triumph.
“You think there’s enough proof then?” asked Kenneth Ransley.
“They found some of the jewellery stolen in the Hatton Garden raid. And a few notes from that bank job last year. Stacks of hardcore porn, though that’s not really what we want him to go down for. Plus a lot of other things that can now be returned to their rightful owners, including several priceless works of art. Yes, it’s enough.”
Watkins was literally rubbing his hands with glee. “The people trafficking; sex slavery; drugs; illegal porn; robbery, grievous bodily harm, kidnapping, protection, extortion…take your pick. He’s got to go down for something. I reckon we can put away half the gang at the same time. We won’t get all of them but we’ll certainly make the world a far better place to live in.”
Two days later Hickman, currently being held at Pentonville Prison, was formally charged with people trafficking, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit a crime, protection racketeering and several other offences. The witnesses at the trial would be police officers involved in the human trafficking and other investigations; participants in Hickman’s operations who had gone straight or turned snout and been undeterred by the fate of Ronnie Bowker from giving evidence; members of the public who had witnessed certain things, overheard dodgy deals being made or were among bank staff – for example - who had found themselves kidnapped/tied up/threatened/taken hostage; victims of Hickman’s sex trade who had been persuaded to talk. As evidence accumulated it was added to computer or stored in paper form at Scotland Yard’s Records Section.
At the station in North London which had been charged with the task witnesses were being allocated to the various safe houses and officers detailed to protect them. As the officer supervising this operation finished his briefing, the man sitting in his car a few yards down the road from the building put away the device with which he had been listening to the conversation and smiled coldly.

It was like being in prison, thought Sharon Rossiter. But it wouldn’t last forever. In the meantime at least she was safe, and presumably any danger there might be would disappear when Hickman was jailed.
But might he be let off on a technicality? Or could she and the other witnesses be targeted in revenge, by any of his associates who had managed to remain at liberty, after he was put away? Did that sort of thing happen?
She thought back to that awful day at the bank where she had worked as a cashier, to the incident which explained why she was now cloistered here in the safe house unable to go out without an escort. She recalled the terrifying speed with which the armed men, all dressed in black and wearing balaclavas, had appeared, the violence with which she had been flung against the wall, the robber’s mouth twisting in a vicious snarl and the eyes gleaming coldly and mercilessly in the slits which had been cut in the mask. The barrel of the sawn-off shotgun thrust savagely in her face; the harsh voices which seemed to bark and snarl like dogs. “Over there! Give me the key – yeah, the key, that’s what I said and if you don’t do what I fucking tell you…or are you fucking deaf or something…I said shut it, you fucking bitch! One peep out of you and you’re dead!” Was it hatred they felt for her, real hatred, or simply a psychological weapon to get her to do what they wanted? It was hard to tell.
Then the tape wrapped around her wrists and ankles and pulled tight. It was painful, and partly because of that degrading, an assault against her person, an infringement of her dignity.
At first the idea of giving evidence publicly with her tormentors present shook her rigid; she really didn’t think she could face it. It had taken a long time to psych herself up. In the end she decided that it was precisely because they had been so vicious and callous that she ought to do it. She wanted to show them that she wasn’t afraid to face them in court, to stare them out if their eyes happened to meet hers. She’d tell her story alright, and if it helped to get them sent down for a substantial slice of their natural life then she’d have done the world of good.
She was sitting downstairs with the other witnesses and one of the two officers protecting them, PC Mark McSorley, watching the news while the other officer, PC Helen Sutler, was in the kitchen washing up, having told her charges to relax while they were here and let she and McSorley do all the work. It was a kind gesture, and one which had assisted a bond in forming between guards and guarded.
McSorley heard the sound of a car on the drive. Though the shift wasn’t due to change until tomorrow he presumed it was his colleagues. All the same he drew back the curtain and peered out, but it was dark now and he couldn’t see much.
It happened so suddenly he barely had time to feel surprise or alarm. The car screeched to a halt barely inches, it seemed, from the front door. The four men jumped out, ran to the door and two of them, armed with sledgehammers, began to batter it down. It splintered like matchwood under the heavy blows. When they thought they’d weakened it enough they hurled themselves against it, snapping the chain and bursting it open.
PC McSorley just had time to call the station and yell for an armed response team.
A man sprang into the room. He wore a black tracksuit, balaclava mask and gloves and carried what looked like a sub-machine gun. He aimed the Uzi point blank at McSorley’s chest and fired, the impact of the bullets knocking the young policeman backwards. Riddled with holes, his bloodstained corpse slumped like a sack to the floor.
The men split up and searched the house. One went into the kitchen and shot the WPC, a second looked upstairs, a third took the living room where the witnesses were starting to their feet in alarm. Flinging the door open, he ran in and started firing.
While bodies collapsed to the floor all around her Sharon Rossiter ran for the sliding door that opened onto the patio, intending to escape through the garden. Two more balaclava’d figures appeared at a rear window and her guts turned icy cold as she realised she was trapped.
Desperately turning this way and that, she caught the eyes of the man in the balaclava and a sickening sense of déjà vu filled her. It seemed that time had flashed back several years to that dreadful day at the bank. All she could feel was utter, unbelieving horror. No! No, you can’t! No….this isn’t fair! Oh God, how could You do this to me?
The gun was already aimed point-blank at her chest. It fired.
Once satisfied everyone was taken care of the men ran out, jumped into the car, and drove off into the night. By the time the response team got there they had left the house of death far behind them.

In plain clothes, PC Jane Mitchelmore came out of the store where she had been buying food for the people in her safe house and set off down the street towards it. From some way away she heard a car revving its engine to full pitch. It shot off in her direction, going much too fast by the sound of it. But lots of people drove irresponsibly like that. She sighed inwardly at the perversity of the world but otherwise gave the matter no thought. Then she heard the car pull up with a screech right opposite where she was standing. Immediately she was on her guard, a sudden suspicion, a sudden sense of danger, freezing her where she stood.
Before she could act on it the muzzles of the rifles poking through the car’s windows spat a hail of bullets, which ripped her to pieces. She crumpled and fell, her blood running from the pavement into the gutter, her shopping bag spilling its contents around her, while her killers made their getaway at full throttle, taking no more care than was absolutely necessary to avoid an accident and seemingly unconcerned that they might nonetheless be stopped for speeding.

Scotland Yard
“Using Kalashnikovs?” Ransley gasped. “Uzis?”
Watkins nodded solemnly. “Smuggled into the country somehow.”
“Evidently. We need to find out how. And a drive-by shooting…here in England?”
“It’s happened before. Particularly, but not exclusively, in black crimes.”
“But this is something more. I know it.”
“We need to tighten protection,” Ransley said, once he’d finally got over the shock of it all.
“The trouble is, protection’s about as tight as it can be.”
“How did they know? How did they know where the witnesses were?” The thought instantly flashed through Ransley’s mind. The same way that they found Ronnie Bowker. It can’t be a coincidence. There’s something going on that we don’t understand. “There’ll obviously be a full enquiry,” he said. “And from now on we’d better make sure that any police guarding witnesses have such weapons themselves. Some of them will need special training. That’s about all we can do. And this has happened at three other safe houses?”
“Yes. They seem to be getting nastier. Some of the witnesses are refusing to give evidence, and I’m not sure we can force them to do it.”
“They’ll be alright if armed police are guarding them.”
“I hope so. Er, the Home Secretary rang while you were out. He’s expressed his concern.”
“I expect he has,” Ransley said.
“What now?” demanded the Commissioner. He could see from Watkins’ expression that he hadn’t come to impart good news.
“They let Vidler walk out. The duty officer claims it was a mix-up, they got him confused with someone else, but I’m inclined to be suspicious.”
“Any particular reason?”
“As we know, in the past week quite a few other bigtime crooks, all associated with Hickman, have been released from the stations where they were being held. Each time it was a clerical error, apparently. We’ve also had one escape, it only happened in the last few hours which is why you didn’t know about it. It was up north; the van taking the prisoner to the station stopped on an isolated road so they could let him out to have a pee. Would you believe it?
“You think people are being got at?”
“Compromised and intimidated in some way, yes I do. It’s the only explanation. What puzzles me is how they could have known that the duty officer in the Vidler case was going to be that particular man. Unless it was an inside job.”
Or, if someone had had the right equipment, an outside one. Or both.

Cheryl Hampson gazed proudly from the kitchen window at the two young boys happily kicking a ball around on the communal play area adjacent to the estate’s car park. They were her pride and joy. She wondered what they would be when they grew up. By the look of it the younger one, Ricky, could be a professional footballer if he set his mind to it. Perhaps he would. Sean, the elder, looked up to his father with something like awe, regarding him as a very important figure in the community because of his job. There was no doubt which career he would choose when the time came.
The microwave pinged. Cheryl opened the window and leaned out to call to the boys that their supper was ready. The words had just left her mouth when it happened. A car came through the gates of the estate at breakneck speed and turned onto the play area, then wheeled and raced back the way it had come.
The car’s front fender smashed into the two little boys and sent them flying. They hit a wall and bounced off it. At first Cheryl stared in disbelief, unable to comprehend what she’d just seen, paralysed by the violence of the incident and the realisation that it had happened to her own children. Then, screaming hysterically, she ran to where the broken, battered little bodies lay unmoving and clutched them to her. Those who had witnessed the attack, for that was what it was, could only hover in the background, appalled, while she gave full vent to her grief and rage. Someone had already called an ambulance.
Ricky was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. Sean was placed in intensive care where it was found that his ribcage was shattered, causing massive internal bleeding, and several vital organs ruptured. He also had severe brain damage and would be a vegetable if he lived. But he didn’t live.

PC Roy Hampson, currently on compassionate leave, sat in his living room trying to make sense of the shattering loss which had turned his world inside out. Of course his colleagues had been
fabulous, kindness itself, but no amount of sympathy could bring Sean and Ricky back and they all knew it. Fortunately, he and his wife were still young enough to have more children, but of course it was far too soon to start thinking about that just yet. All he could think about was the obscenity of losing both his kids after all the love and care that had been expended on raising them from birth. Since going to bed for the first time following the deaths his wife had barely stirred from there; it was like she was in some sort of coma. So far the counselling wasn’t doing her any good.
Vaguely he thought that it was time to check his e-mails.
The Menu screen came on, but before he could click on Outlook Express a blue square appeared in its centre, superimposing itself over the directory of files. On it in white capital letters was a message.
They’d known of course that the hit-and-run must have been deliberate. All the same he sat and stared at the screen, uncertain whether the emotion uppermost in his mind should be anguish, shock, disbelief or rage.

Scotland Yard
“How did they know Hampson was on the team that arrested Hickman?” asked Ransley.
“Our first thought was that there might be a connection,” said Celia Rimmer. “But I still don’t understand why they would target him after the event.”
“Pure spite?” suggested Derek Watkins. “Like I said, they’re getting nastier.”
It was a vicious but simple and effective technique, the best way for people to get the message. Just target anyone who had anything to do with the matter, directly or indirectly. Their families too, because whereas they might be noble enough to risk their own lives and limbs for the sake of fighting crime, they couldn’t force someone else to be sacrificed to that cause, possibly against their will.
“Well, we’ll launch an investigation,” Ransley sighed. There wasn’t much else they could do.
The phone rang and he took the call. “There’s been a threat to the family of one of the officers guarding a safe house,” he reported.
Again, they had known.
Later that day, in Edmonton, two young children were walking with their nanny along the road from the shops to the house where they lived when a car drew up alongside them and a sub-machine gun blazed away, killing all three instantly. The children’s mother had been one of the officers involved in arresting members of the Hickman gang who’d hijacked a security van a couple of years previously.

Dave Trickett worked as Head Records Clerk at the Yard. One day during his lunch hour, when he was alone in the office, he was surfing the Net on his laptop and a message came up on the screen.
“Your kids could be in trouble, big trouble, unless you do something for us. And don’t go to your colleagues and tell them we’ve got them. You’ll know from all that’s been happening that we can find anyone we want to.”
We’ve got them….
Another blue box appeared. RIGHT, THIS IS WHAT WE WANT YOU TO DO.
He read the following message almost in disbelief. He couldn’t do that…could he? He was horrified at being put on the spot like this. What they were asking of him was…wrong…
A part of him hoped this was merely some kind of sick joke. It was half-term, so the kids should be at home, with Lorna looking after them. He rang but received no reply. He rushed there immediately but his loved ones were nowhere to be seen. The door had been forced and there were signs of a struggle.
Over the next few days hundreds of other police personnel, including civilian clerical staff like Trickett, received messages from the gang over the phone or on their computer. There seemed to have been no problem finding their contact details. The gist of each message was either “you’ll be next” or “we want you to do us a little favour.” It was either the recipient themselves or a loved one who was threatened with death in the event of non-compliance; in each case the result was the same. No-one ever succeeded in tracing the calls.

“I think it’s for the best,” Inspector Dave Newcomb told his wife. “If they targeted Roy Hampson the chances are they’re targeting us too, since I was on the same investigation. I want you to take the girls and go to your sister’s place. With any luck they won’t find you there.”
So Rose Newcomb and the couple’s two teenage daughters jumped in the car and set off for Rose’s sister’s cottage in the Lake District. On their way there they stopped at a service station for snacks. As they were returning to the car afterwards, another car pulled up beside them and three men jumped out, seized them and bundled them into it.
“We can only assume they’d been watching the house,” Derek Watkins said afterwards. “They followed the car from there.”
“But they could only have known at very short notice that Newcomb had decided to send his wife and kids away.” Ransley seemed angry.
“Don’t ask me how they did it, Sir. Oh, and I’m afraid Tom Thorogood’s dead. He was out for a walk in the park when he was ambushed and knifed. There’s no clues as to who did it. Either no-one saw anything or they won’t talk.”
Ransley’s head fell into his hands. “Jesus, what next? For Christ’s sake, Derek, what is going on here?”
Dave Trickett glanced at his watch.
Ten minutes to nine. There was hardly anyone else in the building, apart from the security guards and he’d told them he’d be working late. He had the place to himself, and plenty of time in which to carry out his instructions.
He went through the connecting door from his office into the room where the archives were kept, and turned on the light. Rows and rows of shelves each stacked with bulky folders containing the documents and exhibits to do with criminal cases both current and closed. He selected the ones he wanted and stuffed them into a large black plastic bag, in which he carried them to the room containing the enormous shredder in which files were destroyed after a certain period of time, along with general office waste.
He turned on the shredder and started to feed the papers into the machine, several at a time, taking care not to overload it. Naturally he wouldn’t log his use of it, how much he’d destroyed and when, as he was supposed to. Whenever the bag inside the machine became full up he changed it. After a while, he could smell it becoming dangerously hot. Time to pack it in.
There was still quite a lot to go. He’d have to painstakingly return the remaining papers to the folders and the folders to where he had found them, at some convenient time starting again where he’d left off. It was likely the files wouldn’t be needed immediately, the start of the trial being still some days off, so no-one would notice they were missing.
He took the bags full of shreddings and carried them down to the incinerator in the basement, for the janitor to burn the following morning. You could reconstitute a shredded document if you had the time and the patience, but the stuff would have gone before anyone realised what had happened.
Anyone who saw him would assume that the items were no longer needed, and were being disposed of in accordance with the regulations.
His next stop was the exhibit room. He found the items he wanted, removed the labels from them and put them in his briefcase, to be taken home and disposed of some suitable time and place. He repeated the process with the remaining exhibits the following night, and the night after, until he had done all that was required of him.

Vidler had decided it wasn’t necessary to actually kill the relatives for he and his colleagues to achieve their objective, which was the release within a week of Hickman and the other gang members who’d been arrested. Instead they had started kidnapping them instead, letting the authorities (but not the hostages, who they didn’t want to panic) know what would happen if the demand wasn’t met. He wondered if that had been a mistake. Hostages were a pain in the arse to look after, an expensive and bothersome liability. One in particular was always complaining that it was too cold at night or her kids weren’t being given enough to keep them occupied during their captivity. Posh bitch, Vidler thought. He hadn’t needed her advantages in life to do well for himself.
The house was surrounded by Leylandii in a remote part of the country near the Welsh border. The hostages were all in the living room watching TV. A couple of members of the gang, to whom they had to apply whenever they wanted to leave the room for any reason, stood watching over them, their gaze occasionally drifting to the screen.
Their sources didn’t indicate anything to that effect was being planned but Vidler suspected that the authorities, who so far hadn’t replied to the gang’s ultimatum, were planning to storm the house and rescue the hostages, probably at night and using the SAS, rather than capitulate. They’d have to be on their guard. But so far the police hadn’t found the house, and hopefully wouldn’t until it was too late.
Vidler’s gaze, full of contempt for anyone who could be married to a policeman, travelled round the room and over its tense, frightened occupants. A little girl was shifting restlessly beside her mother, who had wrapped an arm round her in an attempt at comfort. “Mummy, when can we go home?”
“Soon, dear.”
“Mummy, I don’t like it here. I want to go home.”
“We can’t go home yet, dear.”
The little girl looked up at her imploringly. “Why?”
“Because we’ve got to stay here.” They were going round in circles, and the girl’s expression showed she wasn’t reassured.
Suddenly one of the kids, a baby boy, started crying. The sound turned into a high-pitched scream. “Calm the kid down,” barked Vidler.
The mother tried, but to no avail. Vidler scowled. The noise was splitting his skull open, besides which he was afraid it would attract attention. “I said shut him up! What’s the matter with you?”
“I’m trying!” She rounded on him furiously. “Do you have children? Do you realise how hard it is sometimes to be a parent?
What do you do with your kids when they’re like this?” Vidler looked blank. He simply beat them, just as his own father had beaten him.
“Oy, SHUT IT!” he shouted at the child. This only made the boy cry even louder.
“Ah, let me do it.” Vidler wrenched the baby from its mother’s arms and shook him furiously. “No!” shouted the mother. ”That’s not the way!” She tried to grab the child from him but he gave her a shove which sent her staggering. She tripped over something and fell, the other hostages immediately making to help her up.
Vidler shook the baby until its teeth rattled. “I said shut it, you little wanker!” More crying. Vidler shook him even harder.
The wailing suddenly cut off.
“There, that’s sorted him,” said Vidler. He thrust the baby back at its mother and turned away curtly. “And if the little cunt gives me any more hassle I’ll fucking kick his head in, understand?”
Cradling it in her arms again, the mother began rocking the baby gently from side to side, whispering words of comfort. After a moment the other hostages saw her stiffen, the blood rushing from her face, on which a look of horror had appeared.
The little body in her arms was cold and still.
She looked up, her face crumpling into a mask of rage. “You…you killed him! You killed my baby!” Screaming and sobbing, she threw herself at Vidler and started to punch him. In a kind of sympathetic group madness the other hostages rushed the second gang member, overwhelming him before he could draw his gun and pulling him down. Vidler too was knocked over and trampled on as everyone flooded towards the door, dragging their children after them. A third gang member burst in, alarmed by the commotion, and saw what was happening.
He started shooting.

Scotland Yard
“This is getting ridiculous,” sighed Ransley.
The attack on the safe house had not been repeated, as the gang had guessed they’d stand a good chance of getting shot. But the cost of providing armed guards, with body armour etc., for both witnesses and their families, plus the police officers and their families, was proving too much. Overstretching resources.
“Who guards the guards, eh?” commented Watkins.
“Quite. We’re getting literally hundreds of cases where officers – including those guarding the witnesses - and their families have been threatened. Dozens have had relatives actually killed or kidnapped in the last few weeks. And each person has to be fully protected.” That included the witness to the Michelmore and Hampson killings who were themselves now in danger.
It was the strain, mental and physical as well as financial, of the entire operation that was causing the protection system to collapse. “Logistically, it’s just…it’s just impossible.”
“Are you saying we may not be able to keep doing it?”
“Yes,” said Ransley quietly. “I am.”
They were silent for a while.
“Oh,” said Watkins wearily, almost as an afterthought; “you’re not going to be pleased about it, but…”
“You may as well get it over with.”
“All the paperwork relating to the Hickman trial. In fact any evidence at all…it’s gone from the Archives. We’ve looked and it’s just not there.”
“But how – “ Ransley realised there wasn’t any point in asking.

Terri O’Dowd sat in her bedsit and thought. She knew what she had seen, alright. A woman bundled into a van, screaming and struggling, and driven off to some unknown fate. At a guess it was prostitution, enforced prostitution. An abduction, at any rate.
The scene had appalled Terri so much that it would remain forever imprinted upon her mind. She was sure she could remember the men’s faces, and the girl’s, and had had the presence of mind to note the van’s registration number. That information would surely be important.
There was a time when she would have come forward. But after what had happened to those other poor people she was virtually certain that if she did testify it would mean being kidnapped, murdered or both. No, sorry.
Sobbing, she got down on her knees and begged the girl’s forgiveness for what she was doing, or rather choosing not to do. She knew it wasn’t going to help matters. She knew she was giving into evil. But no.

Scotland Yard
The physical evidence might have gone, but it was thought worthwhile to check that they still had all the data on computer. They didn’t. All the information relating to the Hickman gang and its activities had disappeared from the Met’s computers and however hard they tried, they couldn’t get it back. It had also been wiped from HOLMES (Home Office Major Enquiry System), the police national computer, from which it had originally been copied.
The following morning Derek Watkins reported to Sir Kenneth Ransley that the trial had collapsed. Somehow Ransley had been expecting it. All the same…
“Incredible as it seems, we’re going to have to release Hickman and his pals. Unless we want to overturn the whole basis of the law and have a police state. And that people won’t accept.”
Christ, thought Ransley. There were implications which went way beyond the Hickman case. He could see nothing now to stop all sorts of criminal rackets going on without anything to stop them. “How’s this going to affect our investigations into other gangs?”
“It looks like Hickman’s snapped them all up. Seems to have absorbed all the ones of any consequence in this country. He’s terrorised those who wanted to preserve their independence into giving in. He can’t have accounted for all of them but you don’t know who’s a member of his outfit and who isn’t.”
“Can the Security Services help?”
“They don’t know how it’s being done either. Apparently there’s some problem with their investigation, not quite sure what but it’s something to do with the Yanks. That’s all I can tell you.”
And as with the blackmail and fraud and corruption, the pattern was the same all over the world. In France, in Germany, in Italy, in Russia, in Holland, in Hong Kong and many other places investigations were dropped, witnessed scared into refusing to testify, notorious criminals freed without charge even though they were clearly guilty.
“And the families who were taken hostage? What’s happening to them?”
“No word from the gang,” said Watkins. “But we think we’ve found them. The hostages.” A telephone call from a concerned member of the public had led West Mercia police to the now abandoned house where they had been held. “I, I’m afraid they’re…”
Something told Watkins that Ransley didn’t want to hear the details. “Er, that was about all,” he said. When Ransley didn’t respond, Watkins nodded and quietly left the room.
For a while Ransley thought about nothing in particular. Then his mind began to drift back through the years. His father had been a copper, back in the fifties. God, that had been such a different world. He liked to think there had been some degree of reality behind the its cosy image, that the British bobby of those years really was dependable, decent and trustworthy. Well some of the time he had been. In those days the problem had been corruption. “If you want to know the time, ask a policeman.” He knew the origin of the saying. He remembered his father telling him about the time when his station had received a call from a jeweller in the area who thought someone had broken into his shop. It was a false alarm; when a team of officers got there they found nothing missing. There was, however, rather a lot missing after they’d gone. Robert Mark had put a stop to all that. Afterwards, though Ransley didn’t like to admit it, the problem had been racism and brutality. Now, as an overreaction to those things, the police were too nice; hamstrung by liberal legislation, much of it originating with the EU, which prevented them from being as hard on criminals as they’d have preferred – or judges from properly punishing the villains they apprehended.
What they were supposed to be was a body of people who the public could trust, who protected them from vicious and distressing criminal acts. They had their faults. They possessed an authoritative, forceful manner which could sometimes offend people; he supposed it came with the job. They might sometimes be too eager to close ranks to protect their own; that too was understandable when you were doing a difficult, often dangerous job where it was essential that each member of the team supported all the others, and frequently facing criticism, often unjust, for your actions. But basically, they were a Force for good. And now…
Occupying pride of place on Ransley’s desk was a silver statuette of a Victorian sergeant with which he had been presented by colleagues at his old station on his promotion to Scotland Yard. To him it symbolised solidity, dependability, uprightness. There might have been a lot wrong with that era, but it had upheld standards which later came to slip disastrously; many people in those days could have a comforting certainty that things would always be the same, that you’d be as safe from violence and intimidation as one ever could. He thought he knew why they had clubbed together to buy him it; they might have thought it looked cute but he was certain there was a bit more to it than that.
Sir Kenneth Ransley, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, sat at his desk, picked up the little statue, cradled it in his hands and gazed down at it, memories flooding back. And in the privacy of his office, unseen by any other human being, he wept.

Part Two

Director’s Office, FBI HQ
Winston Caulfield looked round at the others in the room, collecting his thoughts. “OK,” he began.
“During the past year – in other words, a relatively short time, which is what’s striking – there has been a clear increase in certain forms of criminal activity; in corruption, fraud, and intimidation. We think the Mafia, and the Scarlione family in particular, are at the heart of it. In just the last few months, they’ve undergone considerable growth in both membership and influence.
“They’re up to all their old tricks again. Through strongarm tactics or the threat of them they force any business they don’t own to close, or to let themselves be taken over. The businesses earn them cash which is then laundered.
“They appear to be moving back into areas from which they’d been seen to be withdrawing, like drugs. There’s also evidence that many of the black, Israeli, Hispanic, Chinese and Puerto Rican gangs are now operating under their umbrella, working for them either directly or indirectly. We thought the newer crime groups were successfully challenging their monopoly and had managed to retain their independence. Turns out we were wrong.
“What’s made this possible is a return to a more formal organisation, with a concentration of power in the hands of one “family”. In the past couple of years Salvatore Scarlione has established a dominant position over the other Mafia families, in Illinois, Florida, California, Wisconsin, Las Vegas, Texas, Arizona, New Orleans, New Mexico. He’s revived the National Commission, on which each of the families has a seat, but integrated it into a much wider organisation which goes beyond the Mafia itself, yet is under his control. The infighting between the various Mafia and other criminal groups has stopped, more or less, now that Scarlione has knitted them all into one outfit under his leadership.
“This new Mafia is bolder, and others more afraid of it. And as they’re proving more successful, and by the look of it more impregnable, more people are joining them. Either because they’re afraid or because they want a share of the rich pickings.
“It uses cyberspace and the IT industry to expand into new areas and spread its influence, as the old Mafia was beginning to. Scarlione was one of the last of the old school, but he had the wisdom to see that things had to change. He’s learnt a lot of new tricks with the aid of his son, Vito, who’s college-educated and has degrees in business and computing. I think Vito handles a lot of the technical and financial side of the operation. Altogether, it’s a very successful combination of the old and the new. The structure of the Scarlione family appears to be traditional Mafia, but its MO is modern and very effective.”
“We’ve all become a bit complacent about the Mob recently,” admitted the Attorney General, Raymond Houseman. “But these new developments…it’s all got to mean something. We knew the new breed of mobster was smart; and now they’ve hit on something very smart indeed to strengthen their hold on this country.”
Caulfield nodded. “They seem able to secure deals in favour of their front companies fairly easily. And I suspect they’ve been able to force changes in government policy where it is thought to threaten their wealth by its effect on the stock exchange.
“So far they’ve had no problem protecting themselves from the authorities while they’re doing it. A lot of people are suddenly refusing to testify in court cases. And incidents of witnesses or their families being murdered, or intimidated, have gone up. It’s like the witness protection scheme isn’t making any difference anymore. Furthermore there have been a number of recent acquittals of mobsters, which has only served to encourage organised crime generally. And for which I’m not quite sure what the reason is.”
“You think the judges were compromised in some way?” The Secretary for the Interior glanced at the Chief Justice.
“Judges are compromised, in one way or another, from time to time. I must admit, a whole string of unexpected acquittals…but why should the Mob suddenly be able to pull off something like that when they haven’t been for a long time?”
Unsurprisingly, the Chief Justice didn’t look happy. “You’re suggesting all those judges were – are - corrupt? That’s a pretty serious allegation. I’m not saying you’re wrong in making it, only that we’d need something pretty substantial to back it up.”
“We need to revive the strike forces,” said the Attorney General, referrring to the special police teams which had at one time been set up to investigate and punish Mafia activity, and were disbanded in 1990. “Something tells me it won’t make a lot of difference,” said Caulfield quietly.
“It won’t?”
“There’s nothing to prove it’s Scarlione who’s behind it all. He’s always been careful to avoid being fingered. Besides, like I said people are just too scared to talk.”
“But Witsec…for one thing, it applies to judges too. At least they can be given police protection from anyone wanting to threaten or blackmail them.”
“I’m thinking about the people who are running Witsec.”
“If the Mafia are now operating in a more structured way they should be easier to indict and bring to trial under RICO.” RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act) was a Federal law under which penalties for criminal activity were increased and might include civil actions being brought as well.
“That depends on whether RICO’s working in the first place. Right now I’m not sure it is.”
“Ray’s right,” said the Secretary for the Interior. “It’s true we’d been sitting on our laurels over the Mafia, thinking they were busted when in fact they were lying low, recovering their strength. But even given their new power, I still don’t see why RICO and Witsec and the wiretaps and everything aren’t making any difference. I’ve no idea what we’re dealing with here, and it’s making me very unhappy indeed.”

PM’s Office, 10 Downing Street
“Well, it…would seem,” said the Prime Minister slowly, “that these…criminal elements are exercising an undue influence over this country’s affairs.”
Paul Martens, Minister Without Portfolio in the government, general political fixer and one of Tom Buchan’s most trusted colleagues, agreed. “It certainly would.”
“Do we know how far it extends?” Buchan asked.
“Quite a way, going by all that’s happened.” Marten didn’t directly broach the subject of whether anyone in the government might be involved. “I mean, if you look at the collapse of recent criminal trials, and some of the legislation that’s been passed lately, particularly when it was a close-run thing and it all depended on winning over a few waverers…fortunately, a lot of those measures tie in with our own plans to increase the opportunities available to private enterprise and to create a fully competitive commercial environment within this country.”
The Prime Minister still looked unhappy. “I can’t believe they really do run everything…are we working with other governments on this? I mean clearly, it’s…not the sort of thing we should…”
“They all have the same problem. This criminal consortium is just too powerful and they don’t want to make an enemy of it. I thought maybe the Americans might make a difference but they don’t seem to want to get involved, presumably for the same reasons as everyone else. The security services are afraid of getting targeted themselves and won’t do anything unless the government tells them to. Of course, if we did tell them to…”
The PM continued to look perturbed. Then he seemed to brighten. “If the situation is as it seems to be, then we must arrive at a solution which is acceptable to these organisations.”
Marten nodded vigorously, but asked, “in what way, Prime Minister?”
“I think we must accept realities. It is clearly impossible at the moment to reverse the decision of the organisations to involve themselves in the conduct of public business. On the other hand I am sure some understanding is possible, if not desirable. There is no option but to allow these people to make their maximum contribution to the life of the nation.”
“You mean we’re not to take action against them?”
“It seems that would be quite out of the question.” Buchan shrugged. “Of course, if the situation changes…but in the meantime, everything will continue as normal and most people won’t get hurt. No…as I see it, for this government the issue is not at the present time a priority.”

A summons to the MD’s office frequently led Caroline Kent to wonder “what have I done now?”; on the other hand, it could mean another troubleshooting assignment and there was always a certain thrill in never knowing where you were going to be sent next. So it was with mixed feelings that she made her way there, a heady blend of apprehension and excitement.
“Morning, Caroline,” said Marcus Hennig, looking up from putting a golf ball across the floor of the as she entered. He put down his club and poured a couple of sherries for them both from his drinks cabinet. “So what did you think of last night?”
Yesterday had been the seventieth anniversary of IPL’s founding, and she had been invited along with all the other illuminati of the company to a celebratory dinner at the Institute of Directors. There had been plenty of speeches, punctuated with awful jokes, and someone had dug up the son of the founder who was now himself in his nonagenarian dotage and did little more than smile at everyone with senescent benevolence and pick from time to time at his food. It would have been a lot kinder just to have left him at home.
“Oh, very interesting,” said Caroline. In fact she’d found it mind-numbingly boring, but she had to give the impression that she had enjoyed it because if she didn’t it would get back to the Board, even though she knew Hennig’s opinion of the event was much the same as hers.
Following some banal small talk Hennig gestured to her to sit. He plonked himself down behind his enormous desk. “Now,” he said, getting down to business, “something funny seems to be going on at the refinery in the Caucasus.”
“Uh-huh. Is it anything like the trouble we had in Camaragua?” she asked, a little nervously. “Have they had any problems with terrorists, political extremists?”
“I don’t think so. There is a Caucasian separatist movement and it’s been causing a lot of trouble lately in Chechnya – we all know about that – Dagestan, North Ossetia, Ingushetia.” Military clashes, kidnappings of aid workers and foreigners, violent crimes and muggings had all increased. “But the refinery is north of those areas, where things are relatively safe.
“No, it’s not really political. But there’s some reason to suspect the petrol that’s being produced at the plant isn’t of the right quality.”
“Could that be a technical problem?”
“I know a lot of things in Russia don’t work properly. But we sent an engineer to check the place over – in case anything dodgy was going on, we couldn’t trust them to make their own inspections. He reports that everything seems to be working properly. But it may not be the equipment itself that’s going wrong. We can’t rule out someone adding something to the process that’s changing the composition of the oil.”
“How do we know there’s a problem in the first place?”
Hennig put on his sad expression. “There’ve been a number of accidents, several of them fatal. Cars catching fire, that sort of thing. In one case a whole family were burnt alive.”
Caroline closed her eyes in pain. “Nasty,” she murmured. She was distressed by the thought of the company for which she worked being responsible for such a tragedy.
“Last week a tanker went up at a terminal in Rumania, killing the driver. It was a miracle the fire didn’t spread to the tanks, and if it had there’d have been an inferno of Dantean proportions. We also know of at least one plane crash that can attributed to something in the fuel, which was refined at our installation at Kamchuk.
“It’s all in here.” He handed her a file. “It looks like what that refinery is actually producing is a low-grade form of petroleum not unlike diesel oil, which shouldn’t cost as much as it does. Our customers in the region are getting ripped off. And in addition, the stuff’s highly dangerous. Volatile. It’s touch and go whether anything happens and most of the time nothing does. But when it does, the results are horrific. There’s already been talk of suing us. And that’s because of what’s already happened. It’s only a matter of time before a filling station goes up and when it does…”
He made to lit a cigar, then remembered her long-standing aversion to smoking and abandoned the idea. “It’s a bit of a dilemma, I suppose. The longer this goes on without our being able to trace the source of it, and the more people get killed, the greater the hassle in the long run. But if we do find it was us, then of course we’re liable.” He looked more worried than he had been by the problems in Camaragua. “You see what this could lead to. With so many countries in the region dependent on oil from Russia; I don’t want an international scandal with us at the heart of it.”
“The Russians will be keen to make sure we get the blame for it and not them. Are they shouting for action?”
“They’ve made a few noises. I have a letter from their Energy Minister – it’s in the file – which makes clear they’re expecting action. If there isn’t any, you can bet they’ll cancel the contract and come to a new arrangmement with one of our rivals.”
“And not all the incidents have been on their territory? You mentioned Rumania.”
“Most of them have. One or two in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Byelorus, each of the Central Asian republics. What scares me, apart from the general damage to our reputation, is the possibility of a nasty accident at the refinery itself. You can bet those responsible will make sure they steer clear of all the places where it’s most likely to happen.”
“But why would someone do it at the point of production?” Caroline wondered. “Why not at the pumps? That’s happened, loads of times.”
“We can’t be sure it’s happening at the refinery. But the police in Russia and the other countries involved have already been investigating the scam, and they can’t find evidence of wrongdoing at any of the filling stations where our petrol is sold. The owners all seem to be honest people.”
“Or they wouldn’t risk their lives everyday by handling such a dangerous substance on their own premises. A filling station…well you can imagine what would happen if one did catch fire. Nor could anyone make them take such chances. But there’s all sorts of places, apart from the refinery itself, where the adulteration could be carried out.”
“It’s hard to be sure because there’s so much corruption in the former Soviet Bloc, now the iron hand of Communism has been removed. It extends to the police, I’m pretty sure of it. But usually some evidence turns up. It looks to me as if in this case, someone’s decided it might be an idea for the adulteration to be done at the point of production for a change. They thought they’d be less likely to be suspected, also that the intensive safety precautions in place at a refinery would minimise the physical risk to those involved, which they do – to some extent. Of course there’d have to be people in place at points further down the line to make sure no-one got suspicious. People paid to turn a blind eye, or to make sure that others did. Intermediary companies who act as a front for the organisation that’s behind all this. But they’d still be selling an ersatz product that doesn’t get taxed as highly as the real thing, with all those concerned in the scam, including the people at the refinery, getting their share of the increased profits.
“We should know for sure pretty soon. When our engineer was there he took a sample of the oil directly from the plant, after it had been through the refining process but before it could be pumped to the terminal. It’s now at Southampton where it’s being compared with samples taken from the filling stations or from the destroyed vehicles, which certainly show evidence of adulteration.
“In a way it’s not worth the fuss. Oil reserves in the Caucasus have been declining for a good many years, it won’t be long before they’re not profitable. But I want every last drop squeezed out of them, if possible. And I don’t like people turning my company into a criminal enterprise, you understand Caroline?”
“Well, I wouldn’t in your shoes. And the company belongs to all who work for it, so they say anyway.”
“Yes, of course,” Hennig nodded. He certainly had a major stake in it, with the extensive shares he had bought and could profitably sell whenever he liked, his director’s salary, and the generous company pension scheme from which he could expect to benefit when he retired. But then she was a shareholder too, and wouldn’t have said no to either a higher salary or the pension scheme, which in fact she had already joined to cover herself against accidental injury while in the company’s service. We took whatever advantages came our way, and in itself there was nothing wrong with that.
“Personally I think the Siberian refinery’s a more profitable investment, in as far as it’s anything to do with me,” Caroline said. It was located in an area of vast, relatively untapped mineral resources which in the last few decades had been gradually opened up, the process beginning under the former Soviet Union, although it was still, compared to most places in western Europe, a wilderness.
Hennig frowned by way of making clear it was nothing to do with her. “There’s some doubt as to whether the Siberian refinery is viable,” he said gloomily. “It’s too remote, for a start. I know they’ve got all the facilities they need at the commune but I’m still not sure I’d want to work out there, to be honest.”
He didn’t mind if someone else did, of course.
“It’s not that remote,” said Caroline. “I know it’s more expensive to supply and to staff it but there are more isolated refineries in existence. It hasn’t been as productive as we’d hoped, I know, but then it hasn’t been open for all that long either. And we could always resite it. The cost of the move might be balanced by the long-term savings in other areas.”
“I know that,” he said with an edge to his voice.
“But we’d have to abandon the new devolatalisation process.” Because of the Siberian refinery’s remote location, the poor state of the road network in that area, and the resulting costs and practical difficulties of transporting the finished product to where it was needed, the refined oil was pumped to the point of distribution along a pipeline, in the same way that the crude had reached the plant from the drilling rigs further north. Great care had to be taken, using robot vehicles called pigs, to keep the inside of the pipe clean and so avoid contamination of the product. The other major consideration was safety, especially in view of the amount of oil the refinery was intended to process each day. Normally, pumping refined oil – petroleum - through a pipeline in large quantities would be incredibly dangerous, since it was considerably more flammable than crude. Fortunately, IPL’s scientists had invented a chemical which when added to the oil during refining rendered the end product less volatile than it might otherwise be. The whole process was very finely tuned. In the particular conditions existing within an internal combustion or jet engine, which after all did not normally destroy the vehicles they powered when turned on and full of fuel, it would still ignite. But it would not be ignited by accidental means such as a workman dropping a lighted cigarette through a hatch in a pipeline – IPL did not encourage its workforce to be so irresponsible as to smoke in the environment of an oil refinery, but occasionally someone might choose to disregard the rules – or a spark from malfunctioning electrical equipment (though whenever the pipe had to be manually inspected and the lights turned on to allow the workmen to see better, the flow of petroleum was of course stopped anyway).
Hennig nodded at Caroline’s words. “Yes, and that’d be a pity.” The devolatalisation process had undoubtedly been a remarkable achievement, the team who’d developed it winning several awards for their ingenuity and application. “Shame we can’t adopt it at all our other refineries. But the tanker drivers would moan at being out of a job.” Caroline felt obliged to say she didn’t suppose one could blame them.
“We’re not social workers,” Hennig growled. She decided she’d better keep to the subject. “And with any luck, the refinery being so far out means someone’s less likely to infiltrate it with criminal intent.”
“I hope so,” Hennig grunted. “Anyway, I’d like you to fly out to Kamchuk with Chris Barrett as soon as Southampton confirms that sample is like the others; assuming it does. An unannounced visit. I want you to poke around and see if you notice anything suspicious. Interview all the people who could have been responsible; make it sufficient to put the frighteners on whoever it is without directly accusing anyone.
“But be careful,” he warned. “If someone’s up to no good they may harm you to protect themselves from exposure.”
“I understand the risks.”
“I know it’s a dangerous world, but the criminals seem to be getting even more vicious. What’s happening in our own country is bad enough. That chap Hickman; I don’t understand how he managed to get away with it. All the nasty things he’s done and yet they still say they haven’t got enough evidence…I just don’t get it.”
“Nor do I,” said Caroline. “Though he’s probably got friends in high places. It’s the only explanation I can think of.”
Later that day, in white coat, Caroline stood beside Reg Broadhead, the company’s chief research chemist, at his workbench on the floor of IPL’s principal research laboratory on the outskirts of Southampton. She’d felt it would give her more ammunition if she’d actually been there when he’d examined the sample. She watched him unstopper the phial containing it and pour the contents into a test tube that had a series of gradated markings down one side. Raising it to eye level, he squinted at it under the halogen lighting. It was half full of a colourless liquid which appeared at first sight no different from ordinary petrol, the petrol used in the tanks of cars and all manner of other vehicles.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said after a moment. “See that black line there?”
“I see it.”
Before her very eyes the vertical strip of material like litmus which ran down the inside of the tube was gradually changing colour; turning black. “That indicates impurities. This oil's been adulterated, all right. Someone's trying to con us."
Next he transferred the contents to a centrifuge to analyse their composition. As he turned it on a sensor went off, flashing and bleeping, and a needle began to rise up a gauge.
He studied the figures on an LCD. “There’s definitely been a change in the chemical composition. I estimate 30 percent benzahyadrine, fifteen per cent thyrrinium.”
“What would the consequences be if this were to be introduced into the fuel tank of a car or other vehicle?” Caroline asked.
“I should think it would be potentially catastrophic. Mixed in with other substances, and with the type of process we use, it’s an explosive combination. This probably wasn’t intended by the people responsible, they just didn’t care. Besides, I doubt if there’d be an accident at the refinery itself because of the particular safety procedures in operation there, so they wouldn’t personally be in much danger. But in its new form I’d say the stuff’s considerably more flammable than would otherwise be the case. The very act of ignition makes it unstable. It depends on variables such as local temperature…but once it’s left the refinery, having been processed, any further exposure to intense heat, or any uncontrolled discharge of the same, could set it off.”
“So now there’s no doubt,” she said slowly. “Right, thanks Reg. I’ll need some record of it, of course.”
Broadhead entered his findings on a computer and printed them off. He handed the documents to her and she inspected them briefly. “Well, I’m only an executive but it looks like it’s all there.”
She stood thinking. “I suppose it could have been done at night when there wouldn’t have been so many people around. In the daytime…well they’d have to be personnel with some knowledge of the process. But it’d be possible, as long as no-one noticed anything.”
“Not my territory, sweetheart,” grinned Reg. “Sorry.”
“I know,” she muttered, reminded of what she might be taking on. An assignment which, if some criminal operation was behind the trouble, might well be dangerous.

“Hey Mike, tell me something,” said Gillian Lands suddenly. “Why do you do it – be a soldier, I mean?”
They were having drinks in her London flat. She was perched on the sofa opposite him, her legs curled beneath her, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Her feet were bare.
Mike Hartman grinned. “Why do you do it?”
“I’m not a soldier. I’m a civilian worker with the Department of Defense.”
“Would you like to be a soldier?”
She thought about it. “Not really.”
He raised his eyebrows quizzically. “Why not? You help us in our work but it seems you prefer to keep us at arm’s length if you can.”
Gillian sensed that now she was the one being psychoanalysed. She wondered what she should say. “I...I know someone’s got to do it, and I know that if I’d rather it wasn’t me that makes me a bit of a coward, I guess. But I can’t understand how someone could be in a job where there’s such a high probability of getting killed.”
“Being prepared to do that is a virtue. And I often think virtue’s sadly lacking in modern western society.”
She was more interested in his response than offended by any suggestion, though there hadn’t necessarily been one, that she was lacking in courage. “I see.”
“You’re trying to find out what makes me tick, aren’t you? You’ve been reading too many of those pop psychology books your lot keep churning out.”
“And you are dodging the issue. Evading questions with counter-questions. You know, I don’t think you like people trying to figure you out. You’re a funny guy,” she added after a moment.
He pretended to look offended. Then smiled. “Maybe I am. I don’t care.”
Which was what he sensed she liked about him.
“I guess I’m kind of intrigued.”
“By me? Why?”
“I’ve a hunch there’s more to you than meets the eye. But I reckon I’m not ever going to find out what it is.”
Depends how far we get to know each other, maybe.
“Well I’ll tell you one thing,” the Major grinned. “You’re right, someone’s got to do it. But maybe you can’t unless you’re a bit mad, because no-one would risk their life as often as a soldier does unless they were. So there’s a method to the madness.”
Gillian knew she had got her answer. There was really no need to enquire any further.
“Why do you do it?” he asked. “Be a civilian worker with the Department of Defense.”
“Protecting my country, I suppose. I’m not too happy when an American family loses a son or a daughter, a wife or a husband, because someone decides they don’t like us and bombs one of our embassies.”
“Like in Kenya? Most of the victims there were Africans though, weren’t they?”
“Small consolation to the Americans who did get killed.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – “
“No sweat. Besides,” she went on, “those people don’t care who gets caught up in their bombs, and never have. That’s why they’re a danger. But my job, my priority, has first and foremost to be to prevent them from harming America.”
“As mine is to protect Great Britain.”
“And is it still great?”
The Major thought. “It depends how you look at it. We’ve still got nuclear weapons, though realistically I’m not sure we could use it without your say-so. And any country which has nukes is a superpower compared to those which don’t.”
“Period. Not sure who the enemy is now, though. The world’s still in a state of…flux.”
“The enemy could come from any quarter. It’s best to be prepared.” Hartman sighed wistfully. “I don’t think you can have the Empire back. But I can’t help regretting that we don’t count for as much in the world as we used to.”
“You can’t help no longer being the ones on top. And I guess the bigger they come…”
“Which means America will probably suffer some major disaster sometime in the future which destroys it as a world power.”
Gillian shrugged. “I guess that’s the way it goes. Civilisations rise and fall..mind you, it may not happen for hundreds of years. The Roman Empire lasted quite a while.”
Now it was she who was being reflective. “Americans…well we have our problems too. In our personal lives, and as a people. Being on top isn’t what it’s billed as a lot of the time. There’s too many people who’re jealous of your success and like to show it.”
On her way to refill their glasses she paused at the window and looked out over the sprawling city. “Y’know, I like London. It’s a big city but it always surprises me how much goes on there. Hey, why don’t we go out on the town later on? See a movie or something?”
It was the first time she’d actually suggested anything of the kind to him; his military and staff duties had prevented him from staying too long with her in America and the opportunity just hadn’t arisen.
He brightened. “Yeah, why not?”

The helicopter settled onto the tarmac of the airfield at Kamchuk, its rotor blades whipping up clouds of dust. The rotors slowed, stopped, and the exit ramp was lowered. Thanking the pilot, Caroline Kent and Chris Barrett stepped down onto Russian soil, or rather Russian tarmac-surfaced runway, and looked around to see a small group of people coming towards them from the administration section.
Looking around at the landscape beyond the refinery, Caroline saw an unappealing prospect of low hills covered in a thin, arid-looking brown soil from which clumps of scrubby grass occasionally sprouted, and sand dunes. Not the most uplifting environment in which to work. The temperature was hot and clammy and she flicked away a large insect which was dancing about her face, its long legs brushing her skin.
The reception committee halted a few feet away and Caroline regarded them expectantly. ”Mr Ardzhikian?”
One of the group came forward. “I am Eduard Ardzhikian.” A Georgian, he was short, squat and stockily built with a beaky nose, bushy eyebrows and a fierce sweeping moustache which made him look not unlike the late Josef Stalin. They could sense the undercurrent of hostility in him.
Caroline shook his hand. “I’m Caroline Kent, IOM(2). This is my colleague, Chris Barrett.”
Ardzhikian nodded curtly to Chris, but otherwise ignored him. “To be honest I am not happy about this,” he grumbled.
“I don’t suppose anyone ever is when an IOM comes calling,” she smiled. Unless perhaps they were devastatingly attractive, and even that didn’t always work; she should know. “Don’t worry, I understand how you feel.”
“But I had had no prior warning.”
“That I was on my way? Well, unannounced visits by IOMs aren’t unknown. Best way to keep people on their toes, you see.” At the Georgian’s puzzled look she explained what the expression meant. She couldn’t be sure if he understood or not, but he didn’t seem any happier.
Ardzhikian introduced his colleagues; they were the chief PR person, the chief engineer, and the chief security officer, Josef Okhranov. She nodded to, smiled at, and shook hands with them all in turn, as did Chris. “Thankyou for coming to meet us.”
“We’d like to see you in your office for a few minutes, if that’s alright,” she told Ardzhikian. “I may need to speak to the rest of you later.”
He led them to a people carrier parked at the side of one of the airfield buildings, and the six of them climbed in. Nothing was said on the drive to the admin block, at the end of which Ardzhikian dismissed the others and showed Chris and Caroline to his office. There was a teasmade there but he didn’t offer them anything. They dumped down their briefcases and the holdalls which contained their luggage, and he waved them brusquely to chairs.
“Before we get started I’d like to say just one thing,” Caroline began. “IOMs never pay unannounced visits like this unless there’s something seriously wrong. Believe it or not, we much prefer to leave people to get on with their jobs without any interference from us. I’m not trying to make your life difficult.”
She didn’t always blame people for resenting it when she turned up, uninvited or otherwise, at their refinery wanting to know where everything was, poking into every nook and cranny, requesting innumerable reports each in triplicate and subjecting the management to a barrage of probing questions. The implication, after all, was that they weren’t doing their jobs properly. But then sometimes that might be the truth of the matter. Or something crooked might be going on.
She took a deep breath. “A sample of oil from here – refined, not crude - was tested at the laboratories at Southampton and found to contain impurities. We think it explains the recent spate of accidents in this part of the world involving petrol manufactured by this company.”
Ardzhikian drew himself up. “You took a sample of oil from this refinery? I do not remember anyone asking for permission. I knew there had been these regrettable accidents, but I thought you were simply going to check the refining equipment, the cracking plant, to see if the fault lay there. Did your engineer do it on his tour of inspection?”
Chris Barrett nodded. “You’ll understand the situation, Mr Ardzhikian. If someone here was responsible for the adulteration, we wouldn’t have wanted to alert them to our suspicions. Our enquiries elsewhere had produced no result so by elimination we guessed the root of the trouble must be here.”
“This sort of thing is not calculated to inspire trust between the national branches and the parent company.”
“Perhaps not,” agreed Caroline. “But there was an excuse for it.” She wasn’t comfortable about the business at all, but then Hennig and the top management must have had good reason to suspect Ardzhikian and his colleagues long before they’d acquainted her with their misgivings. It took one slimy rat to know another, she reflected. “If there was anything wrong with the oil being processed here I would know about it,” insisted the Georgian.
“That depends who the person responsible is,” Chris pointed out. “Though we’ll assume it’s not you.” He had to say that of course.
For the adulteration to be carried out successfully, a number of people would have to be involved. Ardzhikian unless he was really incompetent and didn’t know what was going on; the cracking plant foreman and the technicians working under him; and some at least of the security guards, including their supervisor.
“I assure you all my colleagues are reliable, entirely trustworthy. You are sure the scientists could not have been mistaken about the sample?”
“They’re normally pretty good at their job. I was there when they did their analysis.” Caroline took a laminated plastic folder from her briefcase and placed it on the table before him. “There’s the report.”
Ardzhikian took it and began to read through it, clearly intending them to assume all else was to be suspended until he had finished. She cut ruthlessly through this stalling. “I want you to be extra vigilant from now on, to tighten up security. I want – “
“Our security is already adequate, I assure you Miss Kent.”
“And yet the oil is being adulterated – the evidence is right there in front of you. So it can’t be adequate, can it?”
“Surely the blame lies with Head Office,” the Georgian said. “As soon as they suspected the adulteration was being carried out here, they should have told us and we would have taken steps to prevent it.” She sensed he was trying to make her feel guilty at that family’s being burnt to death, and all the other tragedies.
“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” she said sweetly. “And besides, if your security officer was in on the scam…”
“That is an insulting suggestion,” said Ardzhikian. “If you will forgive me saying so.”
Chris felt her bristle, but she kept her cool. “I’m quite prepared to forgive you. I can understand you resenting what I’m saying. But I don’t know your security officer as well as you do. Do I?”
Ardzhikian shrugged. “I suppose not.”
“As I was saying, I want you to tighten security from now on until further notice. Especially at night, which is when I suspect it’s being done – the adulteration. It’s only fair to warn you that if the problem continues you may find yourself and your security people, maybe other personnel too, being replaced. I’m only concerned for the company’s image and its profits – and of course the danger to the public.”
She’d long ago begun to take a dislike to him. “I don’t like to have to say these things, of course,” she said insincerely.
He sat there with a wooden expression, saying nothing. Something told her that despite his show of baffled indignation he’d been expecting this visit for some time.
“As for me, I’ll be here for the next three days, doing mainly routine checks.” And prowling around to see if she could catch the perpetrators in the act, though she wasn’t going to let Ardzhikian know that. “Part of the job, of course.”
“Of course.” Ardzhikian seemed suddenly to brighten. “It could be that the adulteration is the work of someone with a grudge against the company. Someone who wants to discredit it in the eyes of the public and does not care if innocents get killed in the process. There are such sad people. As a matter of fact we have had to dismiss several employees for inefficiency during the last few months…”
That wouldn’t surprise me, thought Caroline. “So you think it might be them?” She had to admit the possibility hadn’t occurred to her.
But I know when you’re covering something up. I know when you’re trying to throw me off the scent. “I suppose I’d better look at your personnel records at some point.” It would give her something to do if she found herself at a loose end.
“With respect, I think it would be appropriate to explore such possibilities before anyone currently working at this plant is accused of some wrongdoing,” Ardzhikian said.
“Quite,” Caroline nodded. She stood up, prompting Chris and the manager to do the same. “I’ll need to speak to your security guy myself at some point. Where would I be most likely to find him?”
“When not at his duties, in Hut….” Ardzhikian glanced at a list on the wall. “Hut 26. But such information should be in your quarters. I’ll have Josef show you there, if he’s available.” He pressed a button on his desk and spoke into an Intercom.
It turned out the security officer was available, but would take a while to reach the office from the part of the refinery he had been inspecting. Ardzhikian asked if they would like some tea while they were waiting. “English tea, I suppose,” he grinned. He seemed to be in a more friendly mood now, perhaps because he thought he had, indeed, thrown them off the scent.
He made a cup each for the three of them. They chatted cordially enough for a while, then Ardzhikian seemed to grow uncomfortable and little was said until Okhranov turned up to escort the two executives to their living quarters. Later Chris went to see Caroline in her hut, one of a complex of prefabs which served as accommodation for those staff permanently on site, plus visiting executives from Head Office or the regional branches. “What do you think?” he asked.
“It’s like at the plant in Camaragua. Something’s not right here.”
“Ardzhikian and his people could have been threatened, of course.”
“The vibes are different this time. They’re in on it from…well, in some cases it could be fear, like you say. In others…I think it’s something that’s become a habit.”
“We’ll have to be very careful how we handle this. Try and get close enough to make them worry, but not think any particular one of them is in danger of being found out. It’s going to be difficult.”
“And I think we’d better go around together as much as possible. Safety in numbers, even if there’s only two of us.”
She stared out through the window of the Portakabin at the distant mountain range. “Yes, you’re right. It’s going to be tricky. Very tricky…"

Headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Vauxhall Bridge Cross, London
The top management of MI6, the British external security service, were meeting as they periodically did in the building’s Briefing Room to discuss what seemed to be the most serious threat to national and international security and how to respond to it. As on all such occasions the organisation’s Director, Sir Derek Winlett, and his deputy Sophie Cameron-Davies, plus the various Section Heads were present. This time the Executive and Senior Case Officers had also been invited, Winlett thinking it would help them gain a clearer idea of the kind of issues they would have to deal with in the future.
Winlett explained what the subject of the meeting would be this time. “I believe this is not the first time we have discussed this matter,” said Cameron-Davies.
“That was the drug barons,” said the head of the South American section, Jeremy Farmer.
“Well they’re still a problem, though less so after Viellar’s operation was smashed,” Winlett told the meeting. “However, there’ve been suggestions in the past that we take on organised crime, of which the drug trade is a part. I think it was worth seeing what you all thought about that.
“Dealing with gangs operating in this country will of course be the job of the police or MI5. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t assist foreign intelligence services on their own territory, given that the problem affects everyone. We’ll be taking a hand because the problem has an international dimension.” Besides, they still needed something to do in the post-Cold War world. “And the drug trade, for example, affects the quality of life of people in this country.”
“Who do we regard as the main threat?” asked an EO.
“Well, globally the Russian Mafia’s influence is on the increase; we’ve all been slow to wake up to how powerful they’re getting. Apart from them…there are Triads, Yardies, Yakuza, Chechens, Israelis, Nigerians. Drugs are being smuggled into this and other Western countries from Afghanistan. There are prostitution rackets smuggling women from the Far East into Europe and America, and from Europe – particularly the former Eastern Bloc countries – to the Gulf States. And, of course, the Mafia – the American one. Organised crime is carried out in all sorts of places by all sorts of people. The whole situation’s become impossibly complicated.”
“I imagine we’ll be tackling the problem by means of infiltration, surveillance?” asked Rachel Savident, a Senior Case Officer.
“Yes. We’ll have to work very closely with Interpol, other intelligence services, and the national police authorities. Everyone concerned will need to stress that they’re assisting the police in this, not taking over from them.”
“Are we agreed in principle that we should do it?” he asked. Everyone nodded. “I mean, since the scale of the problem is so severe…” said Cameron-Davies.
“Quite.” Winlett’s face fell. “However, recent developments completely change the nature of the problem. This new international syndicate which sees to have emerged…at the moment it’s too difficult and too dangerous for us to take on.”
“We need to identify who could build the kind of device the -Syndicate are using to spy on everyone,” said Nigel Haverhill, another SCO. “We know how they’re doing the computer hacking and the electronic surveillance. But this…”
“So far we haven’t had any leads. The most likely source of the thing is America, since they’re so far ahead of everyone else technologically. But they insist they don’t know and can’t help. And no-one else has been able to turn up any clues.”
“Generally I don’t think the Americans are being very co-operative,” Cameron-Davies said.
“I think they’re hiding something. They developed the device and somehow it fell into the wrong hands. Apart from that being a major embarrassment to them, they want to eliminate the slightest chance of anyone else getting hold of it. It’s something they’d prefer to reserve for their own use.
“Because they’re being so cagey we’ve no idea if they’re planning anything on their own, although it could be they’re completely hamstrung like us.” Winlett asked for suggestions on how to break the deadlock, but no-one had any. The meeting ended without reaching any clear decision.
Afterwards Rachel Savident went back to her office, to find Bob Deller waiting by the door. He was one of the team of Junior Case Officers working under her. Slightly older than herself, he had joined the Service at about the same time, since when they had got to know each other well. They operated together smoothly when at work, and also enjoyed each other’s company outside of it.
“Can I have a word?” he asked.
She nodded and let them both in. The door closed. “I just want you to know I meant what I said last night,” said Bob.
“It was very sweet of you,” Rachel smiled. Then her face changed. “But – “
“Are you saying you don’t think it’d work out?” Bearing in mind how well they’d always got on, it seemed to him that a romantic involvement, if they wanted to take things that far, would only be a logical extension of their current relationship.
“For one thing, I’m a higher grade aren’t I?” Rachel pointed out. Could they perform two separate roles, live in effect double lives, be husband and wife at home and senior and junior at the office? Was that possible?
“I…” Bob hesitated, not wishing to sound conceited. “When the next round of promotions comes up…the rumour is Bullard and Haverhill will be moving up a peg or two. They’ll need to be replaced and I stand a good chance of being made an SCO.” Rachel was glad of that. It meant it would be less improper her having certain feelings towards him. However…
“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s because…because whatever rank either of us was, there’s the danger I could make the wrong decision just to keep you from harm.”
“We did all right together on the Kassabi case.” But then he hadn’t known then that he…loved her?
“Besides, the Israelis do it.”
“That’s very different.”
“And because we’re both in the Service, we wouldn’t have to keep secrets from one another.” He shrugged. “In the last resort, I could always find another job.”
“But then I wouldn’t be able to tell you about my work, would I?”
“As a former member of the Service I’m sure I could be trusted to keep quiet.”
Rachel bit her lip. “I’ll think about it a bit more, Bob. I promise you that at least.” She sat down behind her desk. “Look, I’m sorry but I’m a bit busy right now…”
“Well for what it’s worth, I like you,” he told her. “I mean…more than like. I just felt I ought to say that, even if it was just once. Even if it doesn’t mean a great deal to you.”
With the briefest of nods he went off, leaving her with much to think about.

Both wearing donkey jackets and hard hats, Caroline Kent and Chris Barrett patrolled the night-time corridors of the refinery, the sound of their slow, measured footsteps ringing out hollowly. There didn’t seem to be anyone else about. However security guards needed to do their rounds, and an emergency might occur which required staff to get out of bed and over to the refinery to deal with it, so the lights were usually kept on, enabling them to see what they were doing and justifying what would otherwise have been a waste of energy. Production often went on through the night anyway, although on this occasion the whole place seemed still and silent, apart from themselves. There was no sound from the cracking plant where much of the refining process went on, no hum and whine and clank of machinery in operation.
Caroline found herself listening for any noise, any at all, that might disturb the peace of the night, her senses unusually alert. Despite Chris’ presence beside her, she couldn’t help feeling nervous, wary at any rate. Any sound she did hear made her stiffen, ears all but physically pricking up. Shafts of moonlight from the windows threw spooky shadows on the walls and floor.
It was especially important she did not go unaccompanied about the place at this time of night. Or that she went with anyone other than Chris, because she couldn’t be sure right now she could trust them.
From time to time they talked in low whispering voices. “You know what’s going to happen, of course,” said Caroline wearily. “They’ll make sure nothing suspicious goes on while we’re here, then as soon as we’ve gone…”
“We could stay a bit longer,” Chris said, without much enthusiasm.
“Somehow I’ve even less desire to be here for any length of time than I had to hang about in Camaragua,” she muttered. “At least there you could go walking in the Andes, or take trips into the jungle to visit interesting ruins. Here you have to travel vast distances to find anything worth seeing.”
“It must be interesting to the locals.”
“I’m sure.” She wasn’t in a particularly good mood at the moment.
“Tourist industry’s been screwed up by terrorism anyway,” Chris commented.
“Rest of Russia’s no different,” she complained. “Aesthetically speaking I mean.” What she had seen of the place from the train between Moscow and St Petersburg on a school trip some years before had been drab and scrubby, like one huge patch of waste ground.
“But there are things worth seeing,” he reminded her. “Even if, like you say, you have to go a long way to – “
He froze. So did Caroline. From down a corridor to their left they could hear footsteps, slow footsteps. Coming in their direction.
They waited, hearts pounding, once or twice glancing at each other anxiously. Then security officer Okhranov, appeared, his hands clasped behind his back. He saw them and paused for a moment. He was a balding, heavy-featured man in his early fifties.
“Everything alright?” Caroline asked.
“Yes, everything is fine,” Okhranov said. With a nod and a smile he moved on, Caroline and Chris stepping aside to let him pass. Although she could have been mistaken, Caroline thought she saw a brief look of resentment on his face that they were doing what he considered to be his job. It’s like this, Caroline thought. If you’re innocent, I don’t blame you. If you’re not…
It was an added complication that he was about. She noted that he didn’t offer to accompany them on their tour of inspection, and wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. If he was innocent it was arguably a wasteful duplication of effort, though no more than that. If he was guilty, he’d try and make sure they didn’t see anything they weren’t meant to.
So did the fact that he hadn’t offered to go with them mean he was in the clear?
“What do you think of him?” Chris asked once he was sure Okhranov couldn’t hear. She’d spent some time earlier that day talking to the Russian, as planned.
“Hiding something like everybody else,” she sniffed. “Certainly if any funny business is going on here, he’d have to be aware of it. And if he’s not hiding something he’s incompetent. Even if it is a DFE – Disgrunted Former Employee – behind everything, which I don’t believe for one moment, they couldn’t possibly break in here to do their stuff – and they’re obviously doing it on a regular basis - unless Mr Okhranov simply isn’t doing his job properly.”
“We should have called in the Russian police,” Chris said. “Be a way of putting additional pressure on Ardzhikian.”
“I don’t think Hennig trusts them. Still, there’s nothing to stop us. Thing is, if they can’t do it I don’t see what luck we’ll have.”
“We’re not corrupt,” he pointed out.
“No. But we aren’t a police force either.”
Certainly they hadn’t had much success so far. They had checked everywhere; the oil storage tanks, the workshops, the cracking plant, the maintenance section where among other things the pigs were kept that set off at intervals surveying the pipelines which conveyed the oil hundreds of miles to locations in southern Europe, central Asia, and Russia itself. A lot of it was simply routine checking that had nothing to do with the mystery of the adulterated oil. But whatever the purpose of the inspection there had been nothing out of place, nothing that shouldn’t have been there, nothing that appeared to have been tampered with. Ardzhikian still insisted, despite the evidence of the sample, that the funny business was more likely to take place at the pumps than at the refinery. She was once again becoming impatient with him. He might have a point when he suggested that on one occasion at least someone could have done it at the refinery to draw attention away from the filling stations; they might have been an outsider who got lucky rather than a member of staff who knew the best point at which to contaminate the oil. But she had the impression he was searching for anything, anything at all, which would cause Head Office to think the scam was centred elsewhere. And nothing changed the fact that what evidence there was did point to the refinery.
The checking was best carried out at night rather than during the day when there were more people around, going about their various tasks, and you were likely to get in someone’s way – causing them obvious annoyance, whether or not they were involved in concealing something from the company management. That was why they now repeated the search they had made a few hours earlier.
The most likely place where the adulteration could be carried out was the cracking plant. And so they inspected it again, Caroline opening the door, which was locked at night, with the keys she’d been given by Okhranov. Inside there was no natural lighting, but the neon lamps suspended from the ceiling illuminated everything with their harsh, yellow-white glare. Under it gleamed the banks of huge, complex machinery, dead for now but still giving an impression of tremendous, slumbering power. They split up, each concentrating on one end of the room. The sound of their feet echoed eerily in the vast, high-ceilinged chamber.
Neither of them, to be honest, had a clear idea what they were looking for. The adulteration would have to have been done while the refinery was actually in operation, most likely during daylight hours. There were CCTV cameras in here and they were on all the time, but to Caroline’s annoyance the film from them for the last few weeks - right up to just before she’d arrived here, which in itself was highly suspicious – had already been thrown away. It could, of course, have been plain carelessness, and since there was no way of knowing for sure their investigations were thus somewhat hampered. But they might still be able to find some clue, whatever it was, which proved that illegal and dangerous practices had been going on.
Caroline made for the nearest of the vast machines. She was right in the centre of the room when the lights flickered, hurting her eyes, and dulled. “What’s going on?” she heard Chris ask.
“Don’t know,” she replied crossly. “But I can’t see very well now.” She was having to squint a bit.
“We’d see better if we had a couple of torches.” He pointed to a door in the far wall. “I think that’s a storeroom. We should find some in there.” They started to walk towards it.
They were almost there when suddenly Caroline’s feet shot from under her and she fell. Or rather sat down heavily, her backside cushioning the impact as backsides were designed to do. Anyway it hurt, sending a stab of pain up her spine from her bruised coccyx. “Ow!” she yelled.
Chris crouched down beside her. “Are you alright?”
“I think so,” she winced. “Watch out, there’s something…something on the floor…”
He squinted. The patch of flooring where she had fallen seemed slightly darker than the rest. He reached out and touched it. Oil; he recognised it by that sticky, slippery feel. They hadn’t seen it in the dim lighting.
“You’re lucky you didn’t injure yourself,” he told her. She could have twisted her ankle or even broken a leg. As a matter of fact, so could he. The patch of oil was large enough for them both to have stepped in.
She managed to stand up. “Now how did that get there?” she wondered, realising what the stuff must be. There was nothing nearby from which it might have leaked.
“I think that was a warning,” Chris said quietly. “Shall we find those torches and carry on with it, or…”
Caroline considered it for a moment. “I think I’ve had enough for one night. In the morning I’ll have a word with Okhranov about it. It’s obvious it was staged so one or both of us would have a nasty accident.”
“You think he could have been responsible?”
“Him or one of his team. It depends if there was anyone else on the premises at the time.”
“If it is Okhranov, the more suspicious he knows we are of him the more we’re putting ourselves in danger,” Chris said.
“Danger is sometimes part of the job,” she replied. “Anyway, let’s go and find Okhranov. That oil’s a safety hazard and the sooner something’s done about it the better.” They went looking for him, calling out his name at intervals. And noting that it seemed to be only the lights in the cracking plant that were malfunctioning.
At length Okhranov appeared. “Is there anything wrong?”
Caroline told him what had happened. “Are you hurt?” he enquired.
“No, but somebody else might be. You’d better tell Maintenance about it. They’re to get it cleared up and also see to the cracking plant lights. First thing in the morning, please. No-one must go in there in the meantime. And I want you to make a few enquiries. We need to find out how that oil got there in the first place. Report back to me once you’ve found out, if you would.”
“Of course. If that’s all…”
“For now.”
Chris saw Caroline back to her quarters. Fortunately he didn’t have to go far to get to his own, it being next door. He was a bit worried about something happening on the way.
“What are we going to do now?” he asked anxiously once they were out of earshot from the refinery.
“Take things one step at a time,” she told him. “If too much happens too quickly, if we go through this like a bulldozer, it could panic them and then we don’t know what they’ll do. Tomorrow we’ll have a good long think about it.”
He shared one final thought with her before they parted. “That was a bit too obvious a warning, in my opinion. They must be pretty confident of getting away with the scam. But when we saw Ardzhikian yesterday he seemed nervous of us, in my opinion.”
“Some people are naturally shifty. Well, goodnight.” She turned her key in the lock and disappeared inside.
She didn’t get much sleep that night, and not only from trying to work out what their next move should be. Every now and then she thought she heard footsteps approach the hut, pause and then go away. And whenever the wind rattled the door in its hinges she wondered if someone was trying to break in.
But it is only the wind, she told herself. Isn’t it?

Private residence of the US Attorney General
“Thanks for agreeing to this meeting, both of you,” said Raymond Houseman to Winston Caulfield and the Chief Justice. “Now what I’m suggesting is this. It’s quite intolerable our country should be debased in this way, by being run by a group of criminals. But it is; there’s no doubt the Mob are trying to control, have virtually succeeded in controlling, the police and judiciary and political system. They may not be concerned with everything that goes on, but what they are doing is having a bad enough effect on the life of the nation. The President doesn’t seem to know what to do about it, so it looks like it’s going to be down to us three. He hasn’t said he’s gonna stand in our way.
“We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to be the Untouchables – you know, like Elliott Ness.” Houseman grinned. “I suggest the three of us make a pact to prosecute any Mafiosi found guilty of a criminal offence. Winnie’s boys catch the criminals and I – or Mr Chief Justice here if there’s an appeal - prosecute them. There’s a risk involved, of course. We’ll need to obtain maximum protection for our families so no-one can compromise us by threatening them. Generally we’ll watch our backs. And if we’re successful, hopefully others will follow our example. What do you say to it, gentlemen?”
There had to be some discussion first; but eventually, the other two agreed they couldn’t keep putting up with the Syndicate’s poisonous influence and had to do something to draw its venom. “We’ll need someone to bring a case first, though,” said Caulfield. “Won’t they be too scared?”
“I can’t believe that someone, somewhere, won’t decide they’ve had enough of it and do something. Meanwhile, I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait.”

Caroline sat at her desk in the living section of her hut, going through the personnel files on the three sacked employees. They included a typewritten summary of the information in English, for her benefit. It seemed one of the men had been guilty of striking a colleague, the other two of absenteeism and general inefficiency. She’d known charges to be trumped-up before, and if they had been it would be an incentive, though not a justification, for sabotage. But there was no way of telling without interviewing the men personally, and although that could be arranged if necessary they wouldn’t be likely to admit they’d taken their grievance to the extent of jeapordising innocent lives. It would be a job for the police, she decided. Meanwhile, she was really only looking at the files in order to keep Ardzhikian happy.
Chris, accompanied by an interpreter, was off chatting to the workforce to see if they had any matters they wanted to discuss with a representative from Head Office. Though no doubt they would prefer to be talking to her, his genial and open manner made him good at that sort of thing, and increased the chances of him learning something.
As for the oil on the floor of the cracking plant, she had made it quite clear to Okhranov she considered it had been left there deliberately, with the aim of frightening she and Chris off their investigation, if not hospitalising them and thus eliminating them from the situation. He said he was still looking into the matter but at the moment could find no clue as to who had sabotaged the lights or put the oil where she could slip in it. Without admitting that she included him among the principal suspects, she pointed out that once again he’d been shown to be inefficient, if the culprit had been able to do the job undetected.
She heard someone press the buzzer and went to the screen in the wall which showed what the CCTV camera covering the approach to the hut was seeing. Three smartly-dressed men in suits and ties, with ID cards clipped to their lapels, were standing just outside. Obviously company personnel of some kind. Probably from the headquarters of the Russian branch in Moscow, here to complain because Hennig had sent her to investigate the scam over their heads. Well, they’d have to take their moans to him personally. In the meantime, out of politeness, she’d better hear what they had to say.
She opened the door to let them in. "Good afternoon," she smiled. "Can I help you?"
The words were barely out of her mouth when one of them barged forward, pushing her back and nearly causing her to lose her balance. Wrapping one arm around her waist he whipped something from his pocket, a small gleaming metal object, and held it against her throat.
"Do not make a sound," he hissed. “Don’t scream or you’re dead.”
By now the other two were in the room, closing the door behind them. They pushed forward a chair and he shoved her into it. His colleagues held down her arms, pinning them to those of the chair, while he brandished the knife menacingly before her eyes. It looked like he might be intending to use it, and she panicked.
It had been a mistake to leave her legs free. She kicked out savagely, and the man staggered back with a shriek of pain, one hand going to his genitals. He had no idea a woman could kick so hard.
He recovered his wind. “Do that again and you will wish you had never been born.”
She fought to control her fear, knowing she wasn’t entirely succeeding. “Who are you?” she demanded. “What’s this all about?”
The Russian ignored the first question, but answered the second. "Mr Salvatore Scarlione asked us to have a little word with you,” he said.

Caroline’s first reaction was to freeze with fear. If these men were acting on behalf of Scarlione, who had obviously conceived a bitter hatred for her because of what she’d said and done to him in the bar in New York, then something unpleasant was surely about to happen.
Once the initial shock had passed, it was succeeded by a sense of astonishment. Scarlione…here?
The main thing was what to do about it. If she did scream it might only make matters worse. On the other hand it might alert Security to the fact that something was wrong. For the moment the conflicting considerations cancelled each other out and she just sat there staring blankly at the man before her.
She became aware he was speaking. “But first, I think we’d like some answers.”
“What do you mean?” she asked calmly. If she co-operated with them it would buy her a bit of time. She wondered how she could best make use of it.
“Scarlione told us you were one of these investigative journalists who had been taking an interest in organisations like ours, and needed to be taught a lesson. Yet it seems you are not a journalist, you are an oil company executive.” They must have agents at the refinery, who’d tipped them off as soon as she’d shown up here. “Or perhaps you are both, yes? The English expression is “moonlighting”. An intriguing combination, wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled. “Do they pay you so badly you have to supplement your income by investigative reporting?”
“He said I was a journalist?” For a moment she was puzzled. “I don’t know why he’d – “
“Something strange would seem to be going on. I would like to know the real reason why he wanted you hit, and thought perhaps you could enlighten us.”
At first Caroline didn’t reply. She was thinking that events seemed to have taken a totally unexpected, and not entirely unwelcome, turn. Could it mean she was out of danger?
The man’s face looked as though it had been crudely carved from a block of granite. “I am waiting for an answer, Miss Kent,” he reminded her. The voice matched the expression.
The knife was at her throat again. “Our orders were to disfigure you. And I will do it here and now if you do not co-operate, is that understood?”
No skin off my nose, she thought, though that might be an unfortunate way of putting it. “Scarlione’s only mad with me because I insulted him.” With a certain pleasure, she related in detail what had happened between her and the Don in New York. “I’m struck by the fact that he didn’t care to tell you the truth. He didn’t want everyone to know how he’d lost face. I think it’s pathetic, quite frankly.”
The Russians absorbed the news. Then they started laughing; loud, hearty laughter coming from deep in their lungs. For a moment they staggered about room helplessly, tears of mirth glistening on their cheeks, clapping each other on the shoulder and poking each other in the ribs.
Momentarily forgotten, Caroline jumped up from the chair and ran to her desk, slamming her hand down on the panic button which was wired to the Security Section. It might not do any good, but she presumed they still meant to harm her and wanted to avoid that if possible.
Outside, alarm bells began to ring. The Russians froze, then looked at one another uncertainly. She bolted for the door, flung it open and shouted out a call for help.
One of the Russians grabbed her and flung her away from the door, slamming it shut. She stumbled and fell, landing on hands and knees. The other two seized her and dragged her back to the chair.
They could hear shouting and sounds of people running, far-off for the moment. The Russian with the knife looked down at it and then at Caroline, hesitantly. He didn’t relish the job, spoiling a beautiful face like that, and the alarm would serve as an excuse not to do it.
“We still have a score to settle with you,” he told her. “Be careful.” With a nod to the others he turned from her, marched to the door and yanked it open. The three of them hurried out, leaving her to slump in the chair with her eyes closed, sighing in sheer relief.
She made herself a cup of tea and sat down to drink it. A couple of minutes later Chris appeared with Okhranov and a couple of his men. “What happened?” Chris demanded.
“I was – threatened.” She took a deep breath, her nerves still a little frayed. “By three men.”
"Who were they, Caroline?” asked Chris. “What did they want?”
She looked hard at Okhranov, not getting up. “I think I need to have another little talk with you. In confidence, please. You can stay, Chris.”
After a moment Okhranov nodded to the two security guards, who left. Caroline waved him and Chris to seats. The pair looked at her expectantly.
“They said they wanted to carve me up.” Chris shuddered at the thought of that face so hideously mutilated. “At a guess, they were Russian Mafia. But the point is, they said Salvatore Scarlione had asked them to do it.”
Chris did a double-take. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“No. No, I’m not. My guess is they would have had a go at me anyway, because they’re probably the ones behind the petrol scam. But Scarlione wanted them to say it was from him.”
“I think you had better explain one or two things,” said Okhranov, sounding a little more businesslike. “Who is this Salvatore Scarlione?”
His eyes widened as she told him. “I sense you have a way of making enemies,” he commented. She gave a noncommittal shrug. “Well I think we had better put an extra guard on this cabin while you are here. There’ll also have to be an enquiry into how they got in.”
“And would it make a lot of difference?” she said challengingly. “Or are you a changed man now, Mr Okhranov?”
Okhranov stared at her, then let out a weary sigh, his head slumping onto his chest. Slowly he looked up. “You see, the problem is, Miss Kent…the problem is, these people are very influential.”
“They’re not going to stand in the way of this company doing what it was set up to, and in an ethical fashion,” she said severely. “But carry on.”
“Yes, they are Mafiya. Although I caught a glimpse of the men I think may have done it and I suspect one was a Chechen.”
“That’s surprising,” interjected Chris, passing by the fact that Okhranov had seen the men but not succeeded in stopping them. “I wouldn’t have thought the Chechen and Russian mafias would work together. Russia and Chechnya aren’t exactly best buddies at the moment.”
“Evidently it is possible. Perhaps it is the case that crime knows no boundaries. Anyway, the Mafiya are certainly involved in the oil swindle. They have been involved in many similar scams in the past, before and after the fall of Communism. And they are very well informed. They seem to know where each employee of the company lives, from the manager downwards, where their children go to school, the daily movements of them and their loved ones.” He looked at Caroline significantly.
“They threatened you?” she said.
“Yes,” he answered softly. “How else could your attackers have got onto the premises? How else could the oil have been contaminated?” In a sudden burst of courage he admitted it. “And why do you think I spilt that oil on the floor of the cracking plant, and then sabotaged the lighting?”
Again he lowered his head. “I didn’t really want to do it. At the least I could have gone to the police. But…not long ago a foreman here was run down and killed by a forklift truck. Another was crushed when a stack of oildrums fell on him. The young son of a workman who had refused to act as a spy for the Mafiya here was picked up from school by two strange men one evening and not seen again until two days later when his body was found in a ditch by the road with the skull smashed in. I don’t know how they do it but their influence is everywhere. Always you feel they are watching you…excuse me, Miss Kent, it is not a polite thing to say in the presence of a lady but…”
“Oh, that’s alright,” she told him.
“In his retirement the former Soviet leader, the late Nikita Khrushchev, was always being spied on by his successors. He used to say he only had to fart on the toilet and the KGB would know about it. That is exactly how I feel.” He buried his head in his hands. “I would resign, but how could I guarantee getting a better job anywhere else? Your company pays well, whatever people might say about it. And it wouldn’t mean I was free from the Mafiya. They would be listening to make sure I didn’t say anything I shouldn’t.”
Okhranov looked from her to Chris in appeal. “Tell me, what would you have done? Either of you?”
I’d have fought it, Caroline decided. But then not everyone’s as brave, or as daft, as I am.
“Well, I’m not sure, really,” said Chris. “But we’ve come across this sort of thing before – haven’t we?” He glanced at his colleague.
“Yes, in South America,” Caroline nodded. She came to a sort of decision. “Despite the fact I was nearly crippled I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame you, Mr Okhranov. You were naturally concerned for yourself and your family – you do have a family, I take it?” Okhranov nodded. “And I don’t think it’s practical to employ only single people at our company. In any case there’d still have been the consideration of your own welfare. If we were to sack you we’d only get the same problem with your predecessor.”
“So what are you going to do, may I ask?”
“I’m not sure yet. In the meantime, just get on with your job as normal. OK?” She gave him a friendly smile. “I’ll just have to consider the position very carefully. Rest assured I will.”
“Of course he’ll go and tell his friends all about that conversation,” Chris said once Okhranov had gone. “At least he might do, if he thinks they’d have liked to know about it.”
“Can’t be helped,” Caroline sighed. She appeared to think things over. “Russian Mafia…to be honest, I already had my suspicions. I think this is something bigger and a lot more difficult to deal with than Viellar. It’s too widespread, and it’s got its finger in too many pies. Not just drug trafficking – I’m pretty certain it’s involved in that – but prostitution, extortion, fraud, blackmail – and oil scams. It’s got too many centres, and I don’t think there’s any one person or group of people in charge of it, though some might be more important than others. It’s an international thing, too. I keep hearing rumours it’s active in Britain. They think that Hickman scumbag’s got links with them.”
“We know Scarlione does. Which means he could be in on the oil scam too.”
“As regards the Russian end the most we can do is speak to the government in Moscow and impress upon them how important it is this thing is dealt with. In the meantime I’m going to recommend the plant be closed. As a temporary measure while we plan our response to the problem.” That would be so much more satisfactory than a permanent closure, which would leave her afflicted by a sense of failure. Failure was something she took badly. “How the Mafiya will react to that I don’t know. But we can’t have any more people being killed.”
“I agree with all that,” Chris nodded. “But I don’t think we ought to hang around here any longer.”
“Do you think you’re safe for the time being?” he asked.
“Maybe, if I don’t linger for too long in Russia. With any luck they’ll think they’ve frightened me off.” She didn’t like to leave her enemies with the impression that she was running scared, but if it helped to keep her safe…
She suddenly seemed to shrink back into herself. “Chris, I’m scared,” she said in a small voice. He rested a hand on her arm. “It’s alright.”
For once she wasn’t making a point of downplaying her feelings. Which shows how much she really is rattled, he thought.
"It’s not entirely suprising,” he told her. “It's a known fact there are links between international criminal organisations.”
"All the same..." It made her shudder.
"The Russian Mob are active all over the world. Scarlione obviously asked them to do him a favour and keep a lookout for you. Shit, he must be really cut up about it."
"I hurt his fragile male ego, you see," said Caroline contemptuously.
She fingered her cheek. She could have afforded plastic surgery, but it had always been a source of great pride to her that her beauty was natural. Though no doubt ugly people didn’t want their faces carved up with a knife either.
“How do you suppose they knew who you were?”
“Someone in management here must have tipped them off. Ardzhikian, at a guess.”
There came a knock on the door, and Caroline jumped. Chris went to look at the screen. “It’s Okhranov,” he reported.
“I’m afraid they got away,” said the security chief. “There’s no sign of them anywhere on the premises.”
“I didn’t think there would be,” Caroline sighed.

The dacha served as the headquarters for what in Britain would have been called a country club. One specifically for gentlemen, which meant what it so often did in the West; though there were frequently women there, they were not present as guests but rather to provide entertainment, and of a particular kind.
Ivan Grishkov was sprawled in a seat in the front row of the little auditorium watching one of them, a willowy girl with a bob of dark hair, swing herself around a pole to the accompaniment of a thumping Western pop number. Her discarded clothes, such as they had been, lay in a heap on the floor. A bluish light played over her smooth white skin, giving it a purple tinge. In a corner of the room vodka brewed in the illegal still round the back of the building was on sale. Guests leaned on the bar and chatted to one another, when not watching the “performers” do their stuff, or took their drink with them to their seat and sipped it in solemn-faced silence while the women gyrated provocatively before them.
The dance came to an end and there followed an interlude while the stripper went around asking for money, shaking the bag she was carrying so that the coins inside rattled by way of reminding the punters that if they wanted to feast their eyes on her unclothed flesh they ought to pay for the privilege. It was notable that she didn’t approach Grishkov with such a request, but then she wouldn’t have dared.
When the bag was filled to her satisfaction she went off to change, having finished work for the day, and the performance resumed. This time it was a Nordic-looking blonde with generous breasts and backside. Grishkov had seen her dance on a number of occasions already and she no longer held much interest for him; instead he concentrated on the music, which was slow and seductive and made him feel relaxed, turning his thoughts to an assessment of his life so far.
He had been born in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, in 1960 into a prosperous family, his father being one of those who had done relatively well out of the Soviet system, partly from luck and partly because they knew one of the local party apparatchiks. The family’s fortunes changed for the worse when their patron lost his job following a scandal; nevertheless Ivan was able to go to university where he obtained degrees in politics and business studies. For him involvement in crime was not born of economic necessity but rather a way of life. It soon got him into trouble, the Mafiya – or “Organisation”, or “Brotherhood” (Bratva in Russian) as it was more commonly referred to by its own members -
in those days having rather less freedom, and he ended up in the Gulag for black marketeering (a common offence in Russia at this time) and fraud. While in prison he associated with many hardened, more experienced criminals from whom he learned a lot, forging contacts which were to prove useful later on. His fellow inmates gave him plenty of advice on how better to work the system and avoid arrest. Following his release he successfully operated a money-laundering scheme and a scam by which Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel were defrauded, Grishkov selling the possessions they could not take with them and keeping the money for himself instead of sending it on as he was supposed to do. Identifying corrupt officials who could protect him, he built up an extensive and profitable business based on prostitution, gambling, extortion, drugs and arms trafficking, and protection racketeering. Besides money-laundering. The organisation was divided into different sections each of which was responsible for one of these activities. He established a number of bases around the country which he used among other things as punishment centres for those who had failed to pay him extortion money, kept a larger share of the profits than they were entitled to, or sought to betray him to the authorities. There the offenders were beaten up until they were permanently crippled; one was even castrated. Those who worked for him willingly meanwhile grew in number, their ranks added to by unemployed ex-soldiers and, later, KGB agents who had lost their jobs with the end of the Cold War as well as civil servants made redundant by the scaling down of the public (meaning government) sector. There were now numbered many thousands of them – some estimates put the figure at several million.
With the Gorbachev reforms, which lifted restrictions on private enterprise, and the collapse of the Soviet bloc Grishkov’s empire grew even further and extended its operations into both eastern and western Europe, setting up bank accounts and purchasing property there although strictly speaking not allowed to do so by Russian law. In the east he set up the oil scam, which was continuing to prove highly lucrative, though before Scarlione came along and things changed he had to periodically shift the focus, the target, from one company to another as each got wise to what he was doing. The spread of his influence was assisted by the growth of the European Union, which in the 1990s gradually relaxed border controls between its members and also expanded to include former members of the Soviet bloc.
During the later Soviet era exceptions to restrictions on Jewish emigration were made in the case of those known to be involved in criminal activities, the government seeing an opportunity to ride the country of those whom it considered undesirable (while its leaders made use of the prostitutes, and from time to time other services, they supplied). It dumped them instead on Israel, the US – where they settled in large numbers in New York, Miami and LA - and Europe. Though Grishkov himself was not Jewish he knew many of these people and they later proved invaluable to him in extending his empire worldwide. The Brotherhood was active in Israel and many of its members held Israeli passports.
Wherever he went Grishkov either took over existing companies or set up dummy ones to act as fronts for the Bratva. With the smaller businesses the profits went to underground dealers in the commodity in question, with everything buttressed by intimidation and bribery, as it was at a higher level. White-collar frauds, involving companies both at home and abroad, lost the public hundreds of millions of dollars. Grishkov’s people came to virtually own the Russian banking system; honest bankers and businessmen who objected to what they were trying to do and formed associations to resist it were murdered, or kidnapped and tortured into submission.
Within a few years Ivan Grishkov had become the most powerful, if not the only, Mafiya boss in the country. He counted himself as one of the oligarchs, the new tsars of post-Communist Russia, sending his children to an expensive English public school and wining and dining at the best restaurants. Riding around in fast cars – his only concession, in fact, to ostentation, and that motivated by the practical consideration of needing to get around fast in order to supervise his vast empire effectively. His dachas and other residences throughout the world were well-appointed but unremarkable in design and décor. Grishkov was content simply to enjoy the material pleasures and the feeling of power his success brought him. Though he got VIP treatment at any establishment he visited, and appreciated it, he didn’t feel the need to advertise his success by the clothes he wore, his architectural tastes or his means of transport. He was always driven around by a chauffeur but this was a necessary security precaution, like the bomb-proof armour-plating in which his limousines were coated. If anything, Grishkov tended to shun publicity; it could after all be extremely dangerous. And although he should be able to operate these days with less fear of arrest or assassination, old habits died hard.
Not all the oligarchs were criminals, of course, but there was little doubt the criminals were oligarchs; those of Grishkov’s standing, anyhow. He was, in fact the most powerful Mafiya boss in the world. Reaping the benefits from thousands of business concerns, both licit and illicit, across the globe, sharing the profits out fairly generously among his associates and subordinates so that he could retain their loyalty while keeping the biggest share for himself; shipping prostitutes from Asia to Europe and from Europe to the Gulf States, and drugs to anywhere there was a market for them. Through his influence over the international stock exchange and banking system he could control the prices of the commodities he traded in, to his benefit, and enjoy a certain amount of political influence, forging multi-million dollar business deals, where they materially benefited his organisation, from behind the scenes through his friends in government.
He maintained control of his global operation through an international communications network run from one of his dachas. It used secure satellite and cellular clone phones, encrypted fax machines, and of course the Internet, and its computers, which stored information on potential enemies as well as on any business opening which looked particularly lucrative, were of the most modern and advanced kind, serviced by highly intelligent, college-educated experts. The base had about three hundred permanent staff, all on Grishkov’s payroll.
Beneath Scarlione his eminent position within the criminal world was unassailable. He controlled a vast number of other criminal gangs who might or might not themselves be described as Mafiya (though subordinate to him they were doing much the same kind of thing, which meant that the distinction between Mafiya and non-Mafiya was blurred at best and at worst meaningless). In the past there had been vicious turf wars, in which innocent citizens had died as well as mobsters, between his organisation and all the others, for domination of the various rackets going on in Russian and eastern Europe. There had been car bombings, with the explosives put together in special factories and detonated by mobile phone, shootings by professional hitmen armed with sniper rifles. Today these methods were employed mostly against those in the political establishment or media – or concerned citizens acting outside either group – who sought to expose him for what he was out of misguided moral objections to “crime”. Grishkov could have successfully absorbed all the other Mafiya groups (which themselves had a substantial membership covering many countries) into his own, but there wouldn’t really be much point. Everyone worked for Scarlione now, even the Chechens who had been the most powerful crime group in Russia after the Mafiya, as well as Grishkov’s bitter rivals. This applied overseas as in the motherland; there were no more clashes with the Triads or Yardies as those groupings tried to prevent the newcomers muscling in on their territory. And certainly not with the Italian-Americans; because they had taken on the new boys and won.
Grishkov felt himself to be equally safe from those challenges to his power which came from legitimate authority. He frequently hired hitmen to kill reporters who were getting too close to uncovering the extent of his influence. He had successfully blackmailed a Federal Prosecutor who had shown more interest than most in waging a determined campaign against organised crime and might have got him arrested. No-one else had sought to assume his mantle, either from fear or because they were implicated themselves in the kind of activities he had wanted a stop put to. Ultimately Scarlione would always bail Grishkov out if he did get into serious trouble, but normally he could rely on his friends within the Russian police, government (his close associates included elected members of the Duma) and judiciary, who took bribes to ensure that businesses owned by him remained free to operate without interference and had delayed the legal process by which he was banned from entering Britain by failing to supply crucial information to Scotland Yard.
He had had setbacks; his clubs, strip joints and other businesses were occasionally raided and closed down, although they were soon back in business again under different names. For a time he had been banned from America and Britain; but now, thanks to Scarlione (to whom he supposed he should be grateful), he was able once again to operate freely in both countries, even if it didn’t matter anyway if he wasn’t because though he couldn’t be physically present in either country he still enjoyed the wealth generated by his operations there, which remained unaffected.
Of course whenever questioned, Grishkov always denied everything he was accused of doing.
He left his seat and crossed to the bar. There he was joined after a while by Vladimir Dubienkin, his number two and general enforcer. The two of them talked for a while, their eyes occasionally straying to the stage and the figures performing there.
“That new girl,” muttered Grishkov. “She’s got it alright.”
Dubienkin nodded eagerly. Despite his bespectacled, scholarly appearance he was as interested in the pleasures of the flesh as any other man.
Grishkov found his gaze held by the smooth contours of the girl’s body. He decided he wanted her, and badly. After each dance there was a special room where the girls could entertain the clients in a more intimate fashion; it might not be a private dance, though some were content with that, but actual sex. They had been told that their duties would include this, and got extra money for it, but had this not been the case they’d have been expected to do it anyway, on pain of punishment if they refused.
In the last few minutes a man had come in and been watching the stripper; now his eyes and Grishkov’s met. “Viktor’s back,” Grishkov said. He rose from his seat and walked to the door, nodding to the new arrival as he passed him. Viktor and Dubienkin followed Grishkov down the corridor to an office where Grishkov seated himself behind the manager’s desk, waving his subordinates to chairs.
“We weren’t able to hit the girl,” said Viktor. “She managed to sound an alarm. We thought it best to get out.”
Grishkov regarded him searchingly, a wry smile on his face. “Weren’t able to, or didn’t want to?”
Viktor shrugged.
Grishkov weighed the possible consequences of it in his mind. “I suppose Scarlione will be angry.”
“What do you think he’ll do?”
“Possibly reduce our…allowance. Though I suspect he will be willing to give us another chance.” His tone hardened a little. “We’re going to have to hit her if she keeps poking her nose into our operation at the refinery,” he reminded his companions. “Perhaps Scarlione’s interests in this matter and ours are not too different. Why did he want her anyway? I don’t suppose you managed to find out?”
“We did actually.” Viktor repeated what Caroline had told him and again Grishkov smiled; this time the smile broadened, and broadened, until the crimelord burst into a peal of booming laughter.
His mirth subsided. “Interesting,” he remarked, then became serious. “No, she’s going to have to suffer if she doesn’t get the message. Only I don’t really want to do it.”
“We already tried to break her leg.”
“A broken leg can be repaired,” Grishkov said. “But a face…such a beautiful face, an exquisite masterpiece of natural craftsmanship…once damaged, it can never be quite the same again. Even with plastic surgery. If only she’d taken our hint, but I somehow don’t think she did.” He reached a decision. “If she interferes again we’ll arrange for her to have another little accident. Preferably nothing permanently crippling or disfiguring, but enough to put her out of action for a while. Scarlione will have to be satisfied with that. And if she decides to stay safe in England instead…well as far as I’m concerned that will be the end of the matter.”
Viktor nodded. “By the way, our friend wants to talk.”
For a moment Grishkov was puzzled, his eyebrows lifting. “Our friend? Oh, yes of course. So he wants to talk, does he?”
“He rang while you and Volodya were at the meeting with the Minister. I told him you were busy but he called several times more to see if you had finished.”
“Well I suppose I’d better keep him happy,” Grishkov muttered. “Would you leave the room please for a moment, Viktor?”

General Yuri Solokhov stood at the window of his Moscow apartment
looking out over the lights of the city, and dreaming, as he was often wont to do, of the past.
The girl had left a few minutes ago. It was fortunate that his wife had chosen that evening to go out with her girlfriends, although she accepted his whoring with a world-weary resignation. It was quite amusing really; sometimes she would arrive just as the girl was leaving and their deliberately blank, rather solemn expressions were a sight to see. But she didn’t spend a lot of time here anyway, these days.
“You can’t let go of it, can you,” she had said to him once. “That’s why you just sit there moping all the time, never talking to me.” He found it surprising that she hadn’t walked out on him already; but then she probably had a fancy man somewhere he didn’t know about. Maybe that was where she was going tonight.
He was comfortable here in these flats, reserved for former military and political leaders and maintained at the state’s expense. He also had a dacha in the country where he could holiday. But there was still something big missing from his life, that no amount of luxury could replace.
Solokhov had been thinking about the old days, before the Soviet Union had opted so spinelessly to dissolve itself and become the Russian Federation. Its demise had been followed by what he saw as a decline in Russia’s international status and military strength. When the Union broke up and its constituent republics become independent states, it weakened Russia’s prosperity and diminished her power by denying her their resources. Though she remained a member of the nuclear club she had significantly reduced her numbers of intercontinental ballistic missiles and withdrawn them from sites in the Baltic Republics and Transcaucasia. There were reductions also in the size, in terms both of personnel and equipment, of the conventional army, navy and air force. And not only were they more or less halved but corrupt and incompetent leadership, military and political, had diminished their prestige; those who had opposed the coup of 1991 were rewarded for their loyalty – in Solokhov’s view, treachery – by being appointed to senior positions in the armed forces or government even when they lacked ability and intellect. Solokhov had been fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to be out of the country at the time of the coup. Had he been there he would most certainly have become involved in it, might even have assumed its leadership, and under that leadership it would have succeeded and restored the Soviet Union to its previous greatness.
Morale plummeted and discipline suffered, hampering the army’s effectiveness, which was what leaders like Yeltsin wanted since it made another coup attempt less likely. In Solokhov’s view Glasnost had resulted in a decline of respect for the military; it was certainly true that many officers and their families had returned from serving in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to a reduced standard of living and a frosty reception from the civilian population. The lot of ordinary soldiers was worse and while their equipment was privatised and sold off, they deserted to become hit men for the rising Mafiya or form armed criminal bands of their own.
At least they’d brought back the old Soviet national anthem from 1943 (Russia, our holy country, Russia, our beloved country), but that was small consolation, especially when military decline and the loss (arguably) of international status was accompanied by social collapse and moral degeneration back home. Unemployment was rising and population declining, the number of deaths exceeding births. Women were almost ten times as likely to die in childbirth than their sisters in the West (Solokhov still thought of it as the West, though he had no objection to Russia being considered part of Europe). One in ten newborn babies died of some infection due to poor hospital care. Poor diet and alcoholism (both of which claimed lives on a large scale) led to infertility.
There was domestic violence, prostitution, pornography, a rising divorce rate (which some reckoned at about 70%), and illegitimacy (over a quarter of the population were estimated to have been born out of wedlock). Single mothers who could not afford to look after their children abandoned them to fend for themselves on the streets where they were snapped up by criminal gangs, joining the latter either willingly or unwillingly. According to the latest estimate there were between two and five million of these children. The family as a social institution was breaking down as many men couldn’t afford enough money to support a wife and children and women sold their bodies to support themselves and their dependants. Also on the increase were mental health problems, sexually transmitted and other diseases, suicide, and drug abuse (there were reputed to be some twenty million addicts in the country).
There was poverty; twenty per cent of the population had incomes below subsistence level. And crime was bleeding the country dry. There were the vodka tsars, whether Russian or Chechen, with their illegal shebeens. And Grishkov. Capitalism had got out of control and the scum of the earth had all flocked to jump on the bandwagon.
What was happening to his beloved country made him sick. He blamed it on the influence of decadent Western ways to which Russia had become exposed since the end of the east-west divide. All the purges, the atrocities, of the Tsars and the Communists, brutalised us and made us insensitive to suffering, Solokhov admitted to himself. The question is, with Western-style consumer comforts have we now become too soft? Yes, we have.
Some would have blamed things on the state of the country in the last years of the Soviets and on the too sudden transition to private enterprise, which Russian men, unaccustomed to the new system because the Communists had so rigidly suppressed individualism in business, couldn’t cope with, taking refuge from the stress of redundancy or bankruptcy in drugs and booze. Fair enough. But Solokhov’s reply was simple. You wouldn’t have had the problem if the Soviet system had not been dismantled in the first place. Given proper leadership, proper management, that system would have worked. If, say, we had fully exploited the resources of Siberia – all that oil and gas - during those years we could have taken on the West and won, he muttered to himself with a scowl. Economically if not militarily. We would not have been saddled – as we are now – with a crumbling infrastructure. If only reform had been implemented long before Gorbachev, and not delayed until it was too late to change without dismantling the whole edifice. Though Gorbachev could still have turned things round if he hadn’t been too weak and had sent the tanks in to quell the protests in Eastern Europe and the Federal German Republic, ignoring what would been the howls of protest from Western liberals. Carried away by the momentum of change, and basking in the goodwill of the world, earned by his reforms and the reduction in nuclear arms, Gorbachev had lost his head and his nerve.
And because of his weakness, the culmination of which had been the Union cravenly voting to disband itself without a fight, we now had to put up with the Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States, which in Solokhov’s view was a fiction, a farce…and its leaders! The less said of that drunken buffoon Yeltsin the better. And so far he wasn’t impressed by Putin. As for alternatives; well there was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist leader, who seemed the most likely candidate though he’d been a bit quiet of late, probably because the less savoury side of his nature had attracted too much attention. That begged the question; the man was an idiot and a thug. His physical attack on a woman member of the Duma, for example, had been disastrous for his chances. And some of his statements…he had vowed to fight for Scottish independence. Huh! What could he possibly care for Scotland? The only thing that mattered to him was making Russia strong again and that as much for the sake of his own ego as the motherland’s. At best he was discredited, at worst a liability. Lebed seemed to have given up and had opposed the coup anyway. That left only Yuri Solokhov.
The Intercom for his flat bleeped. “Hello?”
“Comrade General, it’s me, Ostrosky.”
“Come on up.” Solokhov pressed the button ad a minute or two later Sasha Ostrosky entered. He was a tall man in his forties with a young-looking face, with which the streaks of grey in his blond hair contrasted strangely. They dropped the formalities, embracing and kissing each other on the cheek which was still the custom among male friends in Russia. “Sasha, how are you?” beamed the General.
“I’m fine. Petya and the kids too. Did you enjoy your holiday?” Solokhov had not long returned from a week at a Black Sea resort, on which his wife had not accompanied him.
“Very much so. I’m feeling fitter than I’ve ever been and I’m keen to see some action. Can everyone make the training session next weekend?”
“Yes, everyone’s free. I – “ Ostrosky bit his lip, and contemplated the floor awkwardly. ”Yuri, I was wondering…is there still any point in what we are doing? I mean, if you think about it…”
Solokhov stared at him, shocked and appalled. His face clouded. Then he closed his eyes and sighed wearily. “Sasha, I had not expected defeatism like this from you. And yes, of course there’s still a point in it. Look at the state of the country, it’s desperate.”
“But Putin…”
“You think he’s any different? I haven’t had much cause to be optimistic so far. He should have asked for Western assistance over the Kursk. Seek their aid, use their help…until you no longer need it. That was what Peter the Great did, and he made Russia for the first time a power to be feared, a force that counted for something on the international stage.” But Vladimir Putin had decided that for reasons of national pride Russia should deal with the disaster on her own. And men had died. He thought of the widow of one of the drowned sailors, declaring that if she set eyes on the President she would be unable to restrain herself from physically attacking him. It had been a serious miscalculation and not one Solokhov would have made.
“It’s true that was a mistake. It might have made a difference if - ”
”And that girl; she wrote to him with some helpful suggestions as to how the country’s problems could be solved and he railed on at her about how poor her spelling was. He should have encouraged her, for goodness’ sake.”
“He’s relatively young, and hasn’t been in the job for long. All men in such a position make mistakes at first. Give it time, he’ll turn things round.”
“I hope so,” grumbled Solokhov.
He drifted off again, losing himself in his memories. Once more was watching the May Day parades with the members of the Politburo, having the Order of Lenin pinned to his chest for his bravery in Afghanistan when he had taken on a group of fanatical Mujahiddeen almost single-handed, gunning them all down and so rescuing the young Russian soldier who they had captured and were threatening with beheading if he did not convert to Islam. Getting the handshake from Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko.
He believed in the Union because it had made Russia great. And the army had been his life. Even now he still got up at five o’clock in the morning, to eat a frugal breakfast and then exercise for a couple of hours in his private gymnasium.
It was a moment or two before he realised Ostrosky was speaking. “You do think I’m right, don’t you? At heart.”
Solokhov’s eyebrows lifted sharply. “No, actually I don’t.”
“There aren’t enough of us and we don’t have the resources, the equipment. We might have succeeded in ‘91 but we couldn’t do it not now.”
“We’ll have enough equipment if – “
There was a call on Solokhov’s mobile. “It’s Grishkov. I understand you wanted to talk.”
“I did. Put simply, Ivan Alexandrovich, I need more money. I am of course grateful for what you have given us in the past, but it is not enough.”
“It isn’t?”
“No. We have done a study and we are considerably short of the funds we need to buy the material we need.” To purchase vital tanks and aircraft which had been sold overseas with the end of the Cold War and now needed to be got back, reclaimed for the Revolution.
“I am sorry to hear that,” Grishkov said. “Well, I will consider your request.” He didn’t bother to ask how much Solokhov needed.
“May I remind you of the one hundred thousand roubles you had already promised me? It was nearly a year ago and still I have not seen it.”
“Please be patient, Comrade General.” The use of the title was intended to mock, Solokhov was sure. “I urge you to remember that I am a busy man with many responsibilities – “
“From what I hear you should have no reason to fear bankrupting yourself through being a little more generous towards me. So where is the money? I warn you, Ivan Alexandrovich, I am becoming impatient.”
Grishkov sighed. “I said I would consider your request. But I would advise you to abandon your plan to seize political power here in Russia. You realise it has little hope of succeeding.”
“Perhaps that is why I have not received the money,” said Solokhov slowly. “In truth you are not really committed to the project.”
“I did not say that.”
“If you were to give me the money the project would succeed.” This looked like becoming a circular argument.
“I will consider your request,” repeated Grishkov. “That is all I can promise you. It is true my business is doing well at the moment, but there are other demands on my time.”
“I think perhaps we should meet,” Solokhov said.
Grishkov didn’t seem particularly interested in a get-together. There was a long silence, as if he was considering how he should reply. “When would you suggest?” he said curtly.
“Tomorrow at your dacha? Four o’clock?”
“It will have to be Thursday. I have urgent business in America tomorrow. Otherwise the time and place are acceptable. As always I will look forward to seeing you. Das vdanya.”
Solokhov’s clenched fist crashed down on the table. “The son of a whore,” he snarled. “He just said he would “consider your request.” He agreed to meet but only so I’d shut up. We need that money, Sasha, and he’s obviously not going to give it to us. And with the nation in the state it’s in, so corrupt and crime-ridden…”
“But we turn to those same criminals for funds,” pointed out Ostrosky, struck by the irony of it.
For a moment Solokhov looked uncomfortable, then he shrugged. “It is in a good cause. In any case, once we are in power we shall turn on them. That was the plan, wasn’t it? But it could be they realise that. That is why they have failed to lend us any further assistance. They’re not stupid.”
“We needn’t turn on them entirely, nor would it be wise. As a criminal himself Grishkov is hardly likely to support a political movement he expects to deal harshly with crime once it becomes the government. And there’s always been organised crime, perhaps always will be. It does have its uses; remember the old KGB were quite happy to use us on occasions when they wanted someone taken care of.”
“I suppose you are right. But Grishkov was expecting to be the power behind the throne in our new Russia.”
“He’s the power behind the throne now. He doesn’t need us.”
“Then why are we bothering at all?” In fact, Solokhov had often been troubled by the thought that Grishkov might betray him to the authorities, like a public-spirited citizen committed to the new Russian democracy, in order to increase his standing with them. It might have been because he couldn’t do so without revealing he had himself been involved in treasonous activities. A more likely explanation was that he simply didn’t think Solokhov and his followers were worth bothering about. “You really don’t think he’s interested in our project any more?”
“In the early days he might have been. The Mafiya backed us because they weren’t sure whether Putin would turn out to be their lackey or decide to wage war on them. They felt we were more controllable.”
“They thought I was but a fool,” snorted the General. “Well if I ever do succeed in taking power they’ll get a shock, that’s for sure.”
“But Grishkov doesn’t seem bothered about anything the government might do,” Ostrosky continued. “Of course I know how powerful the Mafiya are…but even so, it seems strange to me somehow. There’s something happening in the world we haven’t been told about, and I don’t like it.
“Anyway. The issue we must decide is, do we go ahead without Grishkov’s money?”
Solokhov pursed his lips. “We could seize the government buildings, perhaps the whole of the capital. That’s the easiest part in these things. I’m not so sure we could hold our gains against a determined assault by the Army.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“We’ll all meet some time to decide what to do. But I think we should keep on training, whenever happens. It’s an uncertain world and we never know when it might be needed.”

“To be honest,” said Dubienkin, “these days our friend the General is something of an embarrassment to us, wouldn’t you say?”
Grishkov shook his head. “He’s not even that. I think we can safely afford not to bother should he stick his head out of the woodwork from time to time. You know, Volodya, I’m sometimes not sure why we decided to back him in the first place.”
“We thought we could control him more easily than we might Putin. He’s a good soldier, I’ve no doubt, but he’s no politician. Once he seized power he’d have no idea what to do with it. Much better to leave the running of the country to us, we’d keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t start World War Three. And he’d have been beholden to us for the help we gave him in obtaining power.”
“I’m not sure he would have seen himself as beholden to us. For one thing he doesn’t like us much, for another he prefers to be his own boss. But he wouldn’t have been able to cope on his own, despite what he thinks. We’d have been laughing.” There was no doubt that for a time, Solokhov had seemed to the Bratva a good investment. He was their route to even greater power.
And then Scarlione had come along, and changed everything.
Grishkov had no intention of giving Solokhov the money he needed because it would mean sacrificing a large part of his “allowance” from the Syndicate and because he knew Scarlione wouldn’t authorise use of Syndicate funds for such a purpose. It would be in his view a waste of resources. Somehow Grishkov sensed Scarlione would see Solokhov, assuming he was even aware of the man’s existence, as a buffoon, a madman, a relic from a vanished age who ought to take a time machine, if that were possible, and go back there. It wasn’t even as if a successful Communist coup d’etat would benefit Solokhov. If he did succeed in seizing power he’d have to dance to Scarlione’s tune, and wouldn’t like that.
“Why don’t we tell him about Scarlione; about just how powerful the man is?” said Dubienkin. “That’ll get him off our backs.”
“I told you, he’s nothing to worry about. In any case, it wouldn’t stop him. He’d still go and do something stupid, given the chance. Of course what he’s planning would be crazy enough even if there wasn’t any Scarlione, any Syndicate. But for that reason no-one would support him when the time came.”
“We don’t know that,” said Dubienkin.
“Besides, he’d go and tell someone and I don’t think Scarlione likes too many people knowing that he’s running everything.” There was a third reason, although neither of them could mention it. It would be a blow to Grishkov’s pride, his ego, if everyone knew it was Scarlione and not him who was the world’s most powerful crime boss. And Dubienkin couldn’t allude to that without seeming to offend him, which wasn’t wise.
But both men were unanimous in the conviction that the Bratva didn’t need Solokhov. They were successfully running everything in Russia without his help. Or rather, Scarlione was.
Though even if the General was little more than a nuisance, they would still prefer to be rid of him. “You know,” Dubienkin said, “I don’t think it would hurt us if we betrayed Solokhov to the government, even if it meant admitting to our part in things. We’re untouchable now.” By the same token Solokhov would not abandon his dreams of power and in a fit of pique betray them.
“We might have to go to prison for a time, for the sake of appearances,” Grishkov told him. “It isn’t worth the inconvenience, not over a minor irritant. Also…it seems cruel somehow. Let the man go on playing with his toy soldiers, if it keeps him happy. He’s but a ghost, a has-been. We’ve got our own business to attend to, so let’s get on with it.”

After her last meeting with Okhranov Caroline and Chris got their papers and their luggage together, and then Caroline rang Ardzhikian to tell him they were returning home “to discuss matters in more detail with Head Office.”
“I hope you have enjoyed your stay,” he said politely. “Apart from one or two – unfortunate incidents.”
“It’s been very nice,” she replied vaguely. He arranged for the helicopter to fly them to Volgograd where, after a brief rest and something to eat, they caught a plane to Moscow.
They took a taxi from the airport at Sheremetyevo to the company’s offices. It pulled up outside the building, they alighted and Caroline paid the driver. He took the money without a word and drove off.
One of those “wedding-cake” office blocks with the spire on top, which had sprung up around the city during the Stalin era, on the other side of the street caught her eye. She looked up at the huge, grim concrete edifice and shuddered. They had been designed to crush the soul, and still did so.
St Petersburg, with its many buildings still surviving from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, had character and a sense of grandeur. Apart from the area around the Kremlin with those lovely old churches Moscow, most of which was post-World War Two, had nothing. It was very like some of the grimmer parts of London; a collection of faceless, monolithic concrete buildings which left you feeling intimidated and depressed. This one had probably been the headquarters of some equally faceless bureaucrat who spent most of his time filling in forms recording how many people had been arrested that week for dissident activities, or the production figures from some tractor plant or power station.
At its foot a woman hawked into the gutter.
Beside the building was a junkyard which contained among other things a number of statues and busts of Lenin, some in pieces or with the heads missing, that had somehow escaped total destruction in the period immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. They wondered how the founder of Russian Communism would feel if he could see how his achievement had ended in failure and disillusion. It might depend on where he was now; if in some blissful afterlife he might be rueful, but not, given his surroundings, so upset as to be permanently depressed by it. Although of course Lenin had been an atheist.
Inside IPL Russia Chris bought himself a cup of coffee from the machine in the corner of the lobby while his colleague found herself a spare office and from there made her call to Hennig explaining to him what had happened and recommending that the refinery be closed for an indefinite, though hopefully short, period. He agreed it was the right policy. “What happens if the Russian authorities can’t do anything, though?” she asked.
“I sincerely hope we don’t have to close the refinery permanently,” he answered. In any case it would be his decision, not hers, for which she was profoundly grateful. “We’ll see. As for your quarrel with Mr Scarlione, well frankly I’m not surprised, on the evidence of what happened in Camaragua. I guess you’ll be OK as long as you avoid Russia or the States for the time being.”
“If we are staying on at Kamchuk, it might be an idea to send a different IOM out there next time. I wouldn’t want the business to have a disruptive effect on the company’s operations.” Thus she saved her face.
The following morning she and Chris went to see the Russian Interior Minister. She asked if the government could consider assigning a team of police officers to the refinery to assist Okhranov in his duties and also protect staff and their relatives from intimidation by the Mafiya. He replied that he did not think the proposal feasible as it would mean relocating the policemen and their families to another part of the country, one where they would find it hard to settle in and which in parts was politically unstable. In truth, Caroline was inclined to agree with him. In the end he contented himself with a promise to look into the matter and see what could be done. They all said that, of course.
Having done their duty by the company, the two of them took a taxi to the airport to catch the next flight back to London.
The idea was that the governing committee of the Syndicate met four times a year, always at a different venue. This was the second such gathering, and the scene was the living room of Springlands, Scarlione’s sprawling early twentieth-century house – some would have said mansion – on the outskirts of New York. Scarlione, Vito and Tony D’Enrico, the latter as a trusted right-hand man and confidante, were all there. Also seated at the table were representatives of the Russian Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, the Triads and a South American drug cartel; crime bosses from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Holland and Nigeria, a few of the emerging Central Asian and East European nations. In addition the committee’s membership included some who, like Gershon the drug baron, specialised in particular activities; there were one or two international arms dealers and the head of a sex trafficking ring. Altogether about two dozen people were present. The air was thick with cigarette smoke.
The first item on the agenda, and generally seen as the most important, was allocation of profits. First the Syndicate’s accountant, a Yale graduate named Waldermann, passed round a sheet with graphs and pie charts showing the turnover for the last quarter – effectively, the period the Syndicate had so far been in existence – along with distribution of the proceeds. Having been laundered several times over the money was paid into a number of different accounts, each in the name of an outwardly legitimate company which was usually a front for one of the Syndicate’s constituent organisations. The precise sum which went to each organisation was reviewed at the quarterly meetings.
“Our total funds amount to…well the fact is it’s impossible to estimate,” Waldermann told the meeting. “But since we need to have a rough estimate to work with, the figure we’ve arrived at is something like one hundred billion pounds. We have attempted to apportion this roughly equally among the membership but the amount each receives depends on the size of the organisation and how active it has been.
“I am aware that the Tokyo branch has not received the full funds due to it.” This had been a matter of some sensitivity. “There was an error in our calculations but this has now been rectified. My apologies.” The Yakuza inclined his head graciously.
“So does everyone agree that the figures are correct?“ Waldermann asked once everyone had had time to read the paperwork.
The representatives nodded, but their faces betrayed the fact they were still resentful that the biggest share of the cash was going to the Americans. Scarlione sensed this. “The way it works out, there’s still more money for everyone,” he told them. That should be compensation for their not being their own bosses any more. “And besides, we’re the ones who set this up. It wouldn’t have been possible without us, don’t you think we deserve one or two special favours?”
“Us guys…” He meant the US-American mafia. “Are the past masters. You gotta take your cue from us, we know how it’s all done.” With that made clear, he moved them on to the next item. “Understand the Nigerians have been sort of taking over the crack trade in Holland. You got a few people pretty mad, Chris.” Chris Ojuka, the Nigerian representative, looked stony-faced. “Stay out of there, OK, leave it to the local boys. Keep to France and Germany. Holland’s a small country, there’s not enough room there for everyone. OK?” Ojuka nodded solemnly. It would have to be OK, because what Mr Scarlione said went, or…
Scarlione turned to more general matters. “Now, security. Do we think we’re fully protected?”
“In respect of our surveillance and computer technology, we’re as protected as we can be at present,” answered Gershon. “I mean, we can’t be sure the authorities won’t develop a counter to anything we’re using, but we’ve got state-of-the-art technology and the brains to make it even better, so…”
“Does anyone want to move against us at the moment?” asked the Frenchman.
“I’m sure they want to,” answered Vito. “But they’re afraid of the consequences if they do, and they’re reluctant to go rogue. They’ll do nothing except by order of the governments, and we’ve got the governments in our pocket.”
“And the public?”
“It varies from country to country, as the reports from each branch confirm. There’ve been protests in Latin America and the Mediterranean region, but the troublemakers only succeeded in getting themselves arrested. However, most people don’t mind us as long as they’ve a roof over their heads and enough money to keep body and soul together while enjoying a certain degree of luxury.”
“If that is so,” said the German, “if no-one, not the public or their leaders, is going to seriously oppose us then why do we not announce our existence officially? Give ourselves an emblem, demand diplomatic representation in all the world capitals and at the United Nations? It would save us a great deal of trouble.”
Scarlione looked uncertain at this. “We don’t do it because we don’t need to,” he said finally. It was true enough. “And some people wouldn’t like it.”
“But if everything you and your son have said is true, that wouldn’t be a problem.” Scarlione seemed to be contradicting himself.
“They wouldn’t like it,” repeated the Don. “Look, I don’t take chances. Now we’ve got this thing up and running and it seems to work, there’s a danger we’ll become complacent. I know it’s a pain in the ass but we have to go through the motions of being afraid of the cops and trying to avoid being caught by them. If we don’t, people will know what’s going on.”
“But they do anyway, or will soon,” said the Australian.
“I tell you, we don’t need to do what Helmut’s suggesting,” Scarlione insisted. “I mean, we don’t stand for any nonsense. We just tell people that if they don’t do their jobs properly they’re gonna end up with their eyeballs split. That way you don’t get any shit. My point is, it means we do things better than anyone else. Better than any government. In time people will see that, even if in the short run some of them may not know what’s good for them. They’ll support us whether we have an…official existence or not.”
The matter seemed to have been settled. “Anything else anyone wants to bring up?”
“I don’t suppose you would care to tell us,” said Ivan Grishkov, representing the Bratva, “how exactly it is that you are able to know the movements of all your enemies with such ease?” It wasn’t the first time someone had asked that question.
Or got the same answer. ”That’s my secret,” Scarlione smiled craftily. “As it always has been.”
“Surely if we are all to work together there can be no secrets between us,” said the Triad Kuan Ho.
“It was agreed when we started this thing up,” Scarlione said, “that I would retain certain…privileges. Prerogatives. You owe it to me. I tell you again, without me none of this would be possible. I created this thing, set it all up…and as I keep telling everyone, for security reasons it’s better to keep some things in the Family.” He laughed at his joke. “If we want this thing to work out you’d better remember that.”
The meeting broke up. Some left straight away, others accepted Scarlione’s offer of drinks and women. Afterwards when everyone else had gone home, Scarlione stayed up boozing for a while with Tony and Vito.
“They screwed it up,” he snarled as soon as the door had closed behind the last of the delegates. “Can you fucking believe it, they screwed it up.” He had made his disgust perfectly plain to Grishkov, without actually saying anything.
“Maybe they got soft on her,” said Vito. “I mean you have to admit, she’s a babe.”
“We can’t afford to get soft in our business,” Scarlione snapped. “And in case you’ve forgotten, she made me look a laughing stock in front of – ah, what the hell, I shouldn’t have to keep saying it.
“Whatever happens, that bitch has got to suffer for what she did to me. They may not show it but behind my back they’re all laughing at me because of it. As long as she’s still in one piece, grinning fit to bust because she made me look stupid, I’m weak. They’ll be tempted to disobey my orders, or worse, even if Tony has their pricks cut off afterwards.” He knew there were some people in the organisation who resented his power and would have liked to topple him off his throne, Argus or no Argus. Kent had publicly humiliated him, caused him to lose face before his subordinates. Neither his ego or his prudence could permit that.
“She’d better not show her face over here again, anyhow,” he snorted.
“Let’s hope her friends aren’t around when she does,” said Vito. “That big guy could give us a lot of trouble. He's tough. Army, I think."
"I don't care what he is," snarled Scarlione. "He gets in the way, he dies. No, if you think I'm gonna leave things as they are you got shit for brains. We oughta let her know where she stands."
He went on smouldering with resentment. He had meant to mark her; instead she had marked him. He stroked his cheek, where the fading traces of the three parallel slashes were still visible. It had taken a lot to get rid of them.
For a moment, something about her had actually left him feeling afraid. That was another thing he couldn’t forgive her for.
His anger burst forth. "You know what she called me? I think people who call me that should be shot, should be put down like a fucking dog. You hear me, Vito? Tony? You hear me?" He turned to his son. “Vito, do you promise me that after I’m gone, if she’s still around you’ll settle my account with her?”
“If I can,” Vito nodded. If that was his father’s wish then in the end he would honour it.
“From now on I don’t want just her looks spoiled, OK? I want her alive and in one piece, locked away somewhere till I’m ready for her; then she’s gonna die, slowly, with me looking on and loving every minute of it.”

Solokhov decided on one last try. “The world today is falling apart,” he commented. “It needs order. I will bring that order to Russia.”
A faint hope, thought Grishkov. No-one has ever succeeded in governing Russia properly; apart from perhaps the Syndicate.
“Another five hundred thousand roubles,” Solokhov said. “That should do it. Enough to hold the capital, and maybe St Petersburg, long enough for elements in the army to rally to our support and decide the matter.”
Grishkov was silent, calculating. It was possible he might still need Solokhov at some point. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to jettison him entirely.
“How about one hundred thousand?” he suggested.
“That’s nowhere near enough. Four hundred and fifty thousand?”
“Not possible. Two hundred thousand?”
“Still not enough.”
“Two hundred and fifty thousand, then?”
“I can’t accept anything less than three hundred.”
“Very well,” Grishkov nodded. “Three hundred thousand it is.”
Solokhov realised he was lucky to be getting anything at all. He knew his supporters would not be pleased. But it was better than nothing. “Thankyou,” he said.
“You do not sound grateful.”
“My apologies for that.”
By itself it would not be enough. Perhaps he could build on it from other sources; the trouble was that apart from Grishkov Solokhov lacked powerful and wealthy backers. And all Grishkov would do was throw him a few titbits every now and then. It would be years before he could accumulate enough for a successful coup, and by then he would be too old to lead it. Even supposing the money wouldn’t end up being squandered, fritted away on beer and women, long before then by an unreliable treasurer.
Or by himself.
Certainly some of his colleagues were less than trustworthy. He suspected they babbled about his plans to anyone who’d listen whenever they’d had too much to drink, which was frequently the case. He often had the feeling, disquieting rather than reassuring, that the authorities knew perfectly well about his activities but weren’t in the least concerned because they didn’t actually consider him much of a threat.
Grishkov smiled charmingly. “Now that our business is concluded, would you like to watch the entertainments?” Knowing what he meant by that Solokhov frowned, uncertain, then decided it would take his mind off things. He nodded curtly.
Grishkov showed him to the auditorium, where he sat watching the nude dancers with, the crimelord thought, a look of exaggerated solemnity. If anything Grishkov found it increased his contempt for the man.
He was wearing civilian clothing, but all the same Solokhov couldn’t help wondering if any of the punters recognised him. He realised, not altogether to his liking, that he wasn’t sure he really cared.

Director’s Office, CIA HQ, Langley, Virginia
Though in the past the CIA and FBI had sometimes been rivals, there was little doubt that on a matter like the Syndicate they needed to work together. Even if the scale of the problem meant they wouldn’t achieve anything much.
In the room with Sam Tyzack were his deputy, Patrick Lerpiniere, and Winston Caulfield. “It would appear,” Tyzack was saying, ”that the Mafia’s new-found influence extends overseas as well. Over recent months we’ve come to realise that what’s happening here has been happening everywhere else too. The expansion in organised crime is global. The various national and international criminal groups are working together. Including the US-Italian and Russian Mafias, which is unusual as previously they’ve been rivals.
“We already knew there was an international dimension to all this. The Mafia have been using their influence to ensure our government passes laws that are favourable to its expansion of its businesses in other countries. But there’s more.
“There’s an international syndicate, with the Mafia at its head, which involves all the major criminal organisations, and probably the minor ones as well, in the developed countries. Of course, it’s the situation here in this country which is your main concern, Winston. But the cause of the problem is the same. It’s pretty certain the source of the Syndicate’s power is Argus, there’s nothing else it could be. The readings we’ve been picking up confirm that."
Caulfield nodded slowly. “I guess we were reluctant to admit it at first. Even though the thing would have been just as dangerous in the hands of a rogue state.”
"Scarlione knew the old, Italian-controlled Mafia was on the way out. This is a way of revitalising it. He wanted it to be the dominant force in the new world order; to resuscitate La Cosa Nostra by forming an international alliance with other crime groups, using state-of-the-art technology to maintain both the Mafia’s dominance within that consortium and the consortium’s effectiveness as a group. He’s revived the National Commission but subsumed it within a wider, global organisation. One that right now is more powerful than any nation state.”
“If this is an international problem,” said Caulfield, “then it needs to be tackled on an international basis. I presume you’re going to be working with the foreign intelligence agencies?”
“That’s the problem,” replied Lerpiniere, darkly. “We can’t. Argus is the reason behind the Syndicate’s success. So if we co-operate too closely with other countries on bringing them down, there’s a risk they may find out about it. Someone besides the Syndicate may want it for themselves. And Argus is so effective, so dangerous a quantity that it’s best only America should possess it for the time being. We might offer to use it on our allies’ behalf against their or a common enemy. But if they so much as set eyes on it, or the plans…”
“But we’ve got to get it back off the Syndicate, somehow.”
“That’s not going to be easy,” Tyzack said. “While they’ve got it they’re virtually impregnable. And everyone’s too afraid of reprisals if we move against them. I’m afraid, for God’s sake. And we’ve no idea how they’re doing it, where Argus is being controlled from, which kind of hog-ties us. I doubt if they’ve got listening equipment better than Fort Meade – I’ll wager it’s as good, which means everyone’s quits on this score, but not better – but with what they stole we can’t spy on them, even if they can’t spy on us.” He paused. “And they may have compromised people within the Federal and state authorities, maybe even the intelligence services, who can warn Scarlione of anything we decide to do.”
“But you must have some idea where the control centre for Argus is,” protested Caulfield.
“Well, in fact we’ve identified several likely locations. But we can’t just go storming in there without permission from the national governments concerned unless we want to cause an international incident, and we’re not likely to get that permission if they’ve been compromised by the Syndicate. Who might in any case retaliate, and in some way I don’t care to think about.”
“So what do we do?” Caulfield asked, despairingly. There wasn’t even any point in continuing the search for Amata. It was quite obvious now what had happened to him.
Tyzack shrugged. “Just get on with our normal business. Crime isn’t entirely the preserve of the Syndicate. And just hope that some day something comes up.”
Caulfield remembered he was supposed to be an Untouchable. Perhaps his group represented the last chance to do something concrete about Scarlione; if they couldn’t attack him at the source of his power they could still prevent him from wielding it. If things went according to plan.

It’s always good to be back home again, thought Caroline as she sat with her cat, Jack, on her lap and a mug of tea in her hand, relaxing in the comfort of her well-appointed living room in her house on the edge of Richmond Park.
Finishing her tea, she gently eased Jack from her lap onto the sofa, giving him a consoling pat on the head. A great believer in knowing your enemy, she seated herself at the keyboard of her computer, clicked on Google and proceeded to look up the Mafia. Not the Mafiya, the Mafia: the Italian-American one. It had begun life in Sicily as a guerilla movement, a rag-tag band of bandits and thieves, who gained popularity by taking a stand on behalf of the people against foreign oppressors or tyrannical rulers. In this form it lasted for centuries. Later it grew into a more coherent organisation which spread first to the mainland of Italy and then, with the emigration of millions of Italians to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, spread its influence to that country, eventually becoming the most powerful criminal organisation there. Its principal base was within the Italian population but its influence, where felt, extended beyond that and it was able to bend the entire community to its will, by fear if necessary. But the vast majority of people, whatever their ethnic origins, never experienced at first hand its violence, its vengefulness, because they didn’t ask who was providing the services they needed for a healthy and happy existence, merely got on with the business of using them.
The Valachi papers had revealed that the Mafia was in fact a number of different “families”, each ruling organised crime in their respective cities. Most cities had only one crime family but New York had five. The members of each family were bound to the others by ties of biological relationship, sentiments of loyalty and honour, or simple fear. The families did not necessarily form part of a single coherent organisation; the Mafia was a…She groped for a suitable word. A tendency.
Traditionally, the families rarely worked with one another and on many occasions were rivals. The head of each family was called the "boss" or the Don, the latter a title of respect. Directly beneath him and of equal status were the "under-boss", his deputy, and the consigliere, who acted as advisor to the boss and also as the outfit’s general fixer. In Scarlione’s organisation his son Vito was believed to be underboss and a man called Tony D’Enrico consigliere; D’Enrico’s area of responsibility was the US itself while Vito looked after the family’s interests abroad. Beneath the under-boss and consigliere were the "caporegimes", each commanding a number of "soldiers". The latter were the hitmen who carried out the task of executing, punishing, and intimidating. Though the lowest rank in the Mafia hierarachy they were often major criminals in their own right and it was sometimes necessary to step in to prevent them getting too big for their boots. They were able to pursue their own criminal careers as long as they didn’t encroach on their superiors’ territory. Nationwide there were around five thousand of these “made men”, through whose associates the Mafia’s criminal network was effectively extended. Within the US the total number of people working directly or indirectly for the Mob, as the organisation was collectively known, amounted to roughly fifty thousand men and occasionally women. There was at least one Mafia family in Canada.
In the 1980s and 90s, according to the FBI, there were some twenty-five “families” in America, although some of the smaller ones were effectively controlled by the larger – for example the two families running Rockford and Springfield in Illinois came under the Chicago Mob, San Francisco and San Jose under Los Angeles. Other centres of population where the Mafia had been influential in the past included Boston, Kansas City, New York, Miami, New Orleans and Las Vegas where the casino had often been under their control. From time to time there had been a “National Commission" – existing unofficially, of course – of all the major families, which settled disputes between them, made policy decisions, apportioned profits where families co-operated in an enterprise and decided on the exact boundaries of each one’s territory.
By extortion, graft, intimidation, kidnapping and murder, the families had amassed a vast fortune for themselves, shared out sufficiently with their henchmen to ensure the latter’s continuing loyalty. They set up all manner of businesses as fronts, money-earning ventures for themselves, either directly or by money-laundering, and terrorised legitimate concerns into either being absorbed by them or closing down. They were reputed to have powerful figures in the government and judiciary in their pocket.
The Mafia was the arbitrator to whom underworld figures turned when they wanted a dispute resolved peaceably. In the past when one arose it would take the side of whoever was willing to pay them more for their services as mediator. They would then force the other party to cough up money owed, or close down its operations, on pain of physical violence against their property, their families or themselves. And when all other means of persuasion (including violent ones) had failed they paid contract killers to assassinate anyone who was threatening to expose them to the authorities or start out on their own and thereby become a threat to Mob interests. Their decisions were enforced by violence and they had a code of honour, which they called Omerta, according to which severe punishment was meted out to anyone who sneaked on and so betrayed the team ethos of the organisation, whose members referred to it as La Cosa Nostra - simply, “Our Thing”.
Directly or indirectly the Mafia’s influence extended well beyond the shores of America, or of Italy where it still remained powerful despite the clean-up campaign of the 1970s and 1980s which had seen many Mafia chiefs convicted. The Mob owned, and therefore controlled, casinos and banks throughout the Caribbean and had interests in all the world's leading financial centres, including London. They were earning quite a bit from the international drug trade, as well as from investment on the stock exchange.
The Mafia was thought by some commentators to be on the wane. There was competition from drug dealers, especially the South Americans, and crime organisations within the growing and relatively young black and Hispanic communities in the States, which had forced it out of some street activities such as bookmaking, gambling and loansharking. There had been a certain haemorrhaging of its membership; some were joining the new, rising crime groups while others chose to work as legitimate businessmen, working in information technology and related fields, or law, and studying for college degrees to help them in their new careers. La Cosa Nostra was losing control over its foot soldiers.
Improved electronic surveillance techniques such as phone taps and listening devices, the results from which could now be produced as admissible evidence in court, had resulted in an increase in convictions, something which deterred many young men from joining the Mafia. The FBI and CIA could prove connections between it and its front men, could know what the Mafia was doing and exploit divisions within its ranks. Witsec, the government’s witness protection programme, had encouraged hundreds of Mafia members to turn informant without suffering an unpleasant fate (though sometimes they might still do so). The RICO statute allowed mobsters to go to jail for life for crimes that in the past might only have meant a few years. The thought that the man who might take revenge against them would be in prison for life helped persuade people to come clean and give evidence. In the last couple of decades hundreds of Mafiosi had been jailed, including many family bosses. Links between La Cosa Nostra, as the Mafia was called, and corrupt cops and judges could be proved, taking away the protection that mobsters enjoyed and rendering joining the outfit a less attractive proposition.
As the old Dons, the “godfathers”, died off discipline tended to fall apart among the Mafia’s ranks and it was harder to prevent demoralisation at the way things were going from resulting in faction struggles within and between the families as they started killing each other. Omerta became a thing of the past and “family” members started killing other Mafiosi or shopping them to the authorities. Meanwhile new laws prevented Mob families from owning casinos and they lost their control of the trade unions, which were taken over by Federal “monitors”. A combination of all these different factors was strangling them. They had ceased to exist altogether in some places, such as Cleveland and Phildelphia. FBI officials felt confident enough to make bold statements that the organisation was finished.
However some commentators disagreed with this rosy view of things. In their estimation the convictions of Mafia bosses in America and Italy merely served to weed out the older generation of Mafiosi who had failed to move with the times. A new leadership, perhaps more clever and ruthless, had simply moved in to replace the old. Rather than giving up the Mafia was changing its modus operandi, concentrating more on white collar crime, a field in which the new generation of college-educated high flyers who knew how to use a computer and to work the stock exchange, and what to say when defending a client in court, enabled it to excel.
While some families had died out others were growing in strength. They could still take over certain industries, such as construction and waste disposal, and newly opened businesses. They simply operated less flamboyantly, and without the same time-honoured customs and terminology as before. Some felt the Mafia was going back to what it had been in the beginning, before the first moves towards a formal structure were made in the early 1930s: a loose alliance of people who would work freelance but not be permanently on the payroll of a particular family. That would make it no less dangerous and, in fact, harder for Mafiosi to be fingered. Meanwhile, some families had stopped making new members, because they wanted to preserve their traditional identity and cohesion but also because they wanted to keep a low profile and quietly recover their strength while the forces of law and order, thinking the problem had been solved, became complacent.
Increased Mafia activity had been reported in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. It was, after all, a crime-ridden world and there was no reason why the Mafia, in a different and somewhat reduced form, should not continue to prosper.
It was hard to actually tell which was the more accurate analysis of the situation. Whether the Mafia was really in decline or not. She rang Chris, who had been doing his own research in the meantime, and they compared notes. “The evidence all seems to be contradictory,” she complained. “But we know from our own experiences it’s alive and kicking. If Scarlione, in the States, can order a hit in Russia…”
"I've been doing a little swotting up on him,” Chris said grimly. “He won’t let it go. He'll hunt you for years if that's what it takes. His brother was once beaten up in mistake for him during a turf war, when Salvatore was finding his feet as a young “soldier” for the Mob. Thirty years later he finally managed to track down the bloke who did it. The bloke protested he was sorry and that he’d retired from crime and gone legit, which was true. It made no difference. Scarlione had his goons kidnap him and take him to a lonely spot where they, well, put bullets in every orifice; the mouth last, because that would have been the one that killed him.”
“Which only goes to show what a vicious bastard he is.”
"Well, considering that you slapped his face in public…Scarlione has rivals within his organisation, people who might want to take over from him. He can't afford to look vulnerable. He has to show he's at least trying to settle his account with you." Chris paused. “You know, I really do think it might have been better to have kept your thoughts to yourself back in that bar.”
“Oh, I see,” she said huffily.
“I’m only saying it out of concern.”
As always she was touched by such solicitousness on his part. “Bless you. But believe me, I always know what I’m doing – are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m just clearing my throat…got a bit of a cold. Well, let’s just say it’s unfortunate.”
“I suppose it is,” she agreed. “Most of the time, if you don’t -tread on the Mafia’s toes, they won’t tread on yours.”
“That’s not always true. There was a guy once in the States who knocked down and killed the son of the local Mafia boss. It was the kid’s fault entirely, wasn’t looking where he was going and ran right in front of the car. There was no way the driver could have helped it. But not long afterwards, they guy...well, he disappeared.”
A deathly silence seemed to fall. After a moment Chris heard Caroline breathe in sharply. "WHAT?" she gasped, outraged and astonished. "They killed him...just because of that?"
In Kingston Caroline's jaw dropped and her eyes widened, before astonishment gave way to other emotions. Even several miles away Chris could see those blue irises gleaming dangerously, sense the temperature in her vicinity plunge. She seemed to detest, more than any other crime, the killing of people for tragic accidents that weren't their fault.
“There are lots of lovely theories as to what they did to him. You know, I read about one case where they…” She listened in horror as he told her the story. "That's not possible," she protested. "That doesn't happen in real life, only in cartoons."
“I seem to recall Viellar had some cruel and unusual tastes in these matters.” He adopted a more serious tone. “It’s always possible people have been killed, deliberately or otherwise, in ways that would cause distress to the public if the truth was known…even the relatives aren’t told the full story because it would upset them too much. Instead you get rumours, urban myths. I heard a story once about a guy who got trapped in a car crusher, or something similar, by accident. They managed to turn it off but couldn’t dismantle it without starting it up again and…well, mincing him. But they didn’t want to leave him to starve, so…”
Caroline pulled a face. “Chris, I don’t really…”
“And then there was another bloke who fell into a furnace they used to make blocks of graphite, and apparently they buried the block…”
“Oh shut up!” she snapped.
“They’re supposed to have killed the Black Dahlia, remember her? Although it’s only a rumour. And did you ever hear about Estelle Carey?”
“Did I ever hear about who?” she asked wearily.
“Estelle Carey. She worked as a prostitute among other things in a dodgy casino the Mob ran. She was the girlfriend of the casino’s owner. He’d been fingered by the law and the Mafia thought he might be about to turn informer to get an early release, so they killed her to teach him a lesson. They thought it would better serve as a warning if it was someone close to him.”
“That’s the worst kind of crime there is,” she said. “That’s how it seems to me anyway.”
“To be honest, they were also trying to get her to reveal where he’d hidden his share of the money from an extortion racket.”
“I’m sure that manifestly excuses it.”
“Anyway, do you want to know how they killed her?”
“Not particularly.”
“They tied her to a chair, tortured her and then poured petrol over her and set it alight.”
“Oh no.”
“The fire destroyed her legs up to her knees,” he informed her.
“Ugh,” she winced.
“Actually it’s not funny,” he conceded. “Whatever she was.”
“Was she Italian?” Caroline asked.
“I don’t think so. But if you swim with sharks sooner or later one of them’s going to eat you, whatever its ancestry.”
“Hmm, maybe,” she said. She had nothing against Italians, of course. Most Italian-Americans were honest, decent law-abiding people. But it was a strongly held opinion of hers that when people emigrated somewhere, they should leave their bad habits behind.
"It was as long ago as 1943, but judging by the general state of the world, if people were capable of doing that sort of thing then they're capable of doing it now."
The image of a burning girl etched itself into Caroline’s mind. “Why are you treating me to all these delightful graphic details?” She didn’t appreciate being wound up like this. All sorts of unpleasant thoughts were going through her head right now. She had visions of Jack’s head turning up in her bed…or was that horses?
“Sorry,” Chris said guiltily. “I guess it’s because I don’t think you’re actually in any real danger right now.”
“How so?”
“Well,” he said, “I doubt if they’re likely to do anything nasty to you in England.”

As he relaxed on the beach at Honolulu, Luigi Beretta reflected nostalgically on his life of crime, the proceeds from which kept him comfortable in his retirement. But as always, his mind was not entirely at ease.
He had turned state’s evidence during the clampdown on the US Mafia during the seventies and eighties, in return for a reduced sentence. He had committed the ultimate sin; he had betrayed Omerta. When he came out of prison he’d used the money set aside to help resettlement of ex-offenders to buy a condo out here, at the same time changing his identity and appearance, which the authorities had helped him do as part of the witness protection scheme. Whether this meant he was safe, well…
Luigi knew from the grapevine, both criminal and legit, that the Mob seemed able to find anyone these days, wherever they were. But he had decided to give Scarlione a run for his money – he hadn’t anything to lose. One guy he knew, who had also turned reformer, got religion out of the fear that the Mafia would find and kill him and in fact was now a monk. As far as was known he was still alive, though Beretta wasn’t sure whether Scarlione would be deterred by any respect for religion from breaking into a monastery to kill his targets.
But the monastic life wasn’t for Luigi Beretta. Like the late Ronnie Bowker, he wanted to spend the rest of his days partaking of the pleasures of the flesh, or at least living in reasonable comfort and security. He had decided to defy Salvatore Scarlione. He took precautions of course. He had surrounded his house with CCTV cameras and owned two fierce dogs he was quite prepared to set upon any visitor he didn’t like the look of. In view of the danger to his life from his former employers he had secured a permit to own a loaded hangun, which weapon he carried with him wherever possible.
But one thing was puzzling him. When he considered what had happened to other people who’d gone on the run from Scarlione, or the crime groups under his control – he’d heard about those incidents either on the news or through the criminal grapevine, which he occasionally still made use of – he couldn’t quite figure out why he was still alive. Whey they hadn’t yet found out where he was.

Caroline finished the washing-up, leaving the plates and cutlery to drain, and went back into the lounge. There she poured herself some sherry, put on Nora Jones, and sat down to relax. She’d got home late from work, but there was still three hours to go before bedtime and she meant to use it unwinding in preparation for the long hard boring day she’d have to go through tomorrow.
The bell rang and she wondered who it could be at this time of night. Was anything wrong somewhere?
She peered through the little peephole she’d had made in the door on taking possession of the property. The porch light had come on, as it was programmed to do whenever anyone approached the door, and in it the man standing outside was revealed as big and black, dressed in chords and a leather jacket. He was stockily built and getting on for six foot. His size alone made him seem intimidating, but that didn’t mean he was necessarily up to no good.
She’d put the chain on so she could feel safe and secure for the evening. She opened the door as far it would allow and leaned forward. “Er yes, can I help you?” she asked warily.
She gave a cry of shock and jumped back as a hand was thrust through the gap. The hand closed on the chain and gave it a sharp tug.
A man that size, if his strength was in proportion to it, might well succeed in breaking the chain. In which case he’d be in the house and on top of her, in one way or another, before she could get to the phone and call the police, or find some way of concealment/escape. She thought fast.
She ran to the downstairs lavatory, where she snatched up the can of air freshener standing on the shelf above the toilet, twisting off its top, then back to the door. As she got there she saw and heard the wood around the slot where the chain went in start to splinter. Then the chain snapped.
Before he could pull open the door she aimed the aerosol spray through the gap, pressing the button down hard with her thumb. The gas hissed out in a single sustained jet, straight into the man’s eyes. The piercing scream he let out probably woke the whole neighbourhood. She saw him turn with his hands clasped over his eyes and stagger off into the night, shrieking like a little boy.
Caroline slammed the door shut, bolted it and ran into the lounge, to where the phone sat on the sideboard. She snatched it up and dialled 999. As she stood there waiting for a reply she heard the sound of a car driving off.
As always these days it took ages to get through to the police, but eventually she did so. She told them what had happened and they promised to send two officers down to talk to her within the next half-hour.
She turned to the phone to see Jack coming towards her with what she always thought of as his worried expression, demanding to know what was going on. “It’s alright, sweetheart,” she smiled, bending down to stroke him reassuringly. “The nasty man’s gone.”
But of course he, or one of his friends, might be back. Depending on what he had wanted.
Her immediate thought was of Scarlione. A bit of a coincidence, if this was some totally different matter. Coincidences, of course, did happen.
But could it possibly be…
Surely not…
Best not to chance it, though.
It seemed to take the police considerably longer than half an hour to arrive. When they did, she gave them a full account of the incident with as detailed a description of her would-be attacker as possible. The man could of course have been a burglar, who might or might not have had rape on his mind as well. He wouldn’t necessarily have been staking out the house, and known who lived there. They asked if she knew of anyone who might want to harm her.
This was the moment when she had to make her mind up. Did she mention Scarlione and the threats he had issued to her, the incident at the refinery in Russia? She wasn’t sure if they’d believe her.
The two policemen must have noted her uncertainty, and decided that if there was something she wasn’t telling them about it was her business, and her fault if anything bad happened as a result. “Right,” said the older and senior of the pair. “We’ll log the incident at the station and put out an alert. You’ll be notified of any developments. That door should be OK for the moment but you’d better get it fixed as soon as possible, have a new chain put in. We can arrange to have that done for you.” He gave details of a scheme by which the work could be carried out free of charge. “In the meantime I’ll have a couple of officers, one of them a female, stationed in the house at all times.”
“I’d like that.”
He made a call to the station. “We’ll stay here with you until they come.”
“Then I’d better go and make the three of us a cup of tea,” said Caroline, who needed one just then. She paused. “Er, there was something else actually.” The men looked at her enquiringly.
She told them about Scarlione. “If you check with the police in America they’ll confirm it. But I’d like to apply for permanent round-the-clock protection if I may. Permanent until we can be sure they’ve given up, that is. There may not be a connection of course, but with a man like Scarlione it’s better not to take risks.”
“I understand, Madam,” said the senior policeman sympathetically. “It’ll be a matter for the Chief Constable to decide, though. But we’ll certainly consider your request.”
“I’d be grateful for that,” Caroline said.

Fyodor Zubin didn’t altogether like being manager of the Siberian refinery. For one thing there was the cold; for another the general isolation of the place. On the other hand the refinery and the “village” a few miles away with its own shops, meeting room, cinema and other facilities, where the workforce lived constituted a friendly, close-knit community with all necessary facilities and was regularly supplied with a variety of consumer goods by helicopter.
And there was one other very important consolation.
Zubin was on one of his regular tours of inspection. Right now he was in the cracking plant watching the refined oil being fed into one of the pipelines, which would carry it to the terminal hundreds of miles away, from where the tankers collected it and delivered it to the filling stations and other customers. It really was a remarkable process - and one which had presented Zubin and certain of his associates with an opportunity. But the pipelines could also be used to transport crude oil as at most conventional refineries, in this case from the drilling rigs further north or the fields in Kazakhstan for refining.
He moved on, to the maintenance section from which the pigs set off on the tours of inspection of the pipes, scanning among other things for impurities which could contaminate the oil/petrol. Normally they did the job entirely by themselves, but the design IPL used could carry a gang of workmen to wherever a job needed to be done manually. Zubin was just watching one enter the pipeline with just such a crew when his mobile rang. “Reception here, Mr Zubin. Your friend has just arrived.”
“Thankyou. I’ll come over to meet him.”
When he arrived at Reception Zubin saw that a very fair man was leaning against the desk, tapping his fingers on it idly. He smiled on seeing Zubin and went to join him. Zubin moved off, nodding to the visitor to follow.
In his office Zubin treated his “friend” to a glass of Bull’s Blood, while he himself chose vodka. “Everything well?” he enquired.
The other shrugged. “I suppose so. Our enterprise needs a lot of hard work to run. The main thing is no-one else can do anything to sabotage it.”
“I hope so,” Zubin said. “I’m a bit concerned about events at Kamchuk. If Head Office knows the oil from there has been adulterated, they may wonder if it is being adulterated here too. They may send a troubleshooter out.”
“Then we deal with her like we did this woman Caroline Kent,” replied the blond man with a shrug. “We scared her off, anyway.”
“What if they decide to close the refinery down?”
“They can’t close down every refinery in Russia. And Siberia is too important a source of oil still.”
“But bearing in mind the safety issue…”
They could go back to adulterating the oil, or switching it, at the pumps. But it was easier to do it this way. There were only a small number of refineries, but hundreds of filling stations. Besides, it wouldn’t be in Zubin’s interests for them to go back to the former method. He was making a lot of money out of the scam.
“It depends how scared they are of reprisals,” Zubin’s companion told him. “And if I were them I’d be very scared. These days there’s nowhere for anyone who opposes us to hide. Nowhere at all.”

Joe Hickman stiffened, drawing in breath sharply. “You screwed up? How come?”
The Yardie’s eyes flashed with anger. “Don’t diss me, man. Not my fault, OK? She sprayed fuckin’ air freshener in my eyes.”
“Ah dear,” said Hickman. “Did it hurt?”
“I had to split, I tell you. They’d have heard what was going on.”
“Yeah, I bet you screamed fit to bust.” On the whole Hickman felt safe indicating just what he thought of the Jamaican’s failure to do what had been required of him. Normally something about these guys chilled him, made him wary of them; it was that constant sense of aggression and hatred they left you with, whether suppressed or manifested in verbal or physical violence. And whenever doing business with them in the past he’d had to be very careful. But Scarlione, who didn’t seem to have much regard for the Yardies’ judgement, considered them to rank below Hickman in the hierarchy of the Syndicate and with the Don backing him up there wasn’t a lot they could do.
“I knew it was a mistake using you guys,” Hickman sighed. “All right, just get out of here. Let’s just forget about it, OK?”
“What about our share of the dosh, man?”
“You failed,” Hickman reminded him, making it clear by his tone that this decided the matter. “Just be glad you’re still in one piece. Now fuck off out of my sight.”
The Jamaican shot him a look of pure venom, and seemed about to say something, but he bit off the words and stomped from the room, perhaps remembering the presence of the Rottweilers, who had been eyeing the confrontation with an apparent disinterest that could be converted instantly to aggression at a command from their owner. Hickman dialled Vito Scarlione’s mobile number but got no response, Vito no doubt being busy on some urgent job for the Syndicate that had required turning it off. He decided to try Salvatore Scarlione himself.
A telephonist put him through to the Don. “Joe?” answered Scarlione excitedly. “You got her?”
“No joy, I’m afraid. The stupid dopehead messed it up.” He elaborated.
Four-letter words had been a part of Hickman’s vocabulary for as long as he could remember. Everyone around him had used them and he was always slightly puzzled, as much as anything else, by people who objected to such language. But even he winced at the torrent of abuse which burst from Scarlione, although it wasn’t directed at him personally.
“Seems there’s only one way to do it,” Scarlione said when he’d calmed down. “I’m gonna have to use a professional.”
“And what are me and my boys?” Hickman said flatly. His gang were nothing if not experienced killers, having been doing it for twenty years or more, although until recently they’d had to observe some discretion. And nowadays he himself tended to delegate that side of the business to his subordinates.
“No disrespect, Joe, but believe me this one’s the best.”
“You got somebody in mind?”
“I have,” said Scarlione. “And believe me, you don’t want to mess with her if you’re smart. Well, I’ll call you if I need your help again.” Abruptly he cut Hickman off.
Since I obviously can’t rely on these idiots, Scarlione thought, I’m gonna bring in someone I can trust to do the fucking job properly.
He laughed to himself at the thought of how the Brit public would react once they realised such things were taking place on their territory. The British liked to think they were above all that. Too sober and sedate. Well they had to be told, they lived in the global village now, were a part of it like everyone else. London was still a major international financial centre, which made it a legitimate sphere of activity for the likes of Scarlione. It was a hard, ruthless, cut-throat world, especially these days, and he saw no particular reason why the Brits should be spared from it and others not, because there wasn’t one. As Caroline Kent would shortly, and to her disadvantage, find out.

The house was a couple of hours out of town, and its grounds were being patrolled twentyfour-seven by security guards with dogs. Its owner had been told to take a week’s holiday in Bermuda, all expenses paid.
In the back room the girl was playing a little desultorily with the doll they’d bought her to keep her occupied and thus out of mischief. She had been taken to make sure her father didn’t testify against the Buccetti family in a major fraud trial. The case had been heard by the District Attorney the previous day and the suspects were duly acquitted, but they still weren’t sure what to do with her. The dark little woman was of the opinion that she’d seen too much and might be able to identify her, along with others of the kidnap team, to the police. She was a bright kid who could be relied upon to remember details correctly.
On a whim she decided to check on her charge. She opened the door of the back room and peered in.
The girl looked up, an appeal in her wide eyes. “When can I go home?” she asked. At first she’d just been puzzled but now she was beginning to get restless, uneasy. It looked like she might have been crying.
The dark little woman answered her question. “Soon.”
“You said I could go home today.” She was both frustrated and uneasy at the constant deferral of what she most wanted.
“Your Mom and Dad aren’t back yet. We’ve got to look after you till they come back.”
“But you said they’d be back today.”
“They called to say they’d be late. Sometimes it happens that people can’t come back from somewhere when they want to. Their plane couldn’t take off because there was something wrong with it – do you understand what I mean?”
“Yes,” said the girl emphatically. Then she frowned. “Why didn’t Mommy and Daddy take me with them?”
“Sometimes you can’t take your kids with you when you go away.” “But Mommy and Daddy never go away together. Except when they go on holiday and then they always take us with them.”
“This is a special kind of holiday. It’s called a “business holiday.”” The dark little woman hoped the girl wouldn’t ask her to explain what that meant. “Don’t you worry, honey, they’ll be back tomorrow and then you can go home.” Sniffling, the girl went back to her play.
“That’s it,” the dark little woman smiled. “You just sit there and play with the nice dolly.”
She considered their options. Scarlione had said he’d leave it up to her to decide what happened as long as the kidnapping wasn’t traced back to him personally – though such things never were. They weren’t that bothered about getting fingered, not these days. As Scarlione kept saying, sometimes they had to go through the motions of being arrested so that people didn’t realise the true extent of their power (while the police for their part had to make it look as if they were doing something), but they’d probably be at liberty again in a few weeks. However, it was always tiresome and on this occasion she decided she didn’t want the hassle. It would also assist generally in ramming home the lesson if a loved one died.
Her mind was made up. Slowly, her small feet making little sound on the carpet, she stepped up behind the girl, taking the knife from her pocket. Engrossed in her play, her victim wasn’t aware she was there.
The dark little woman put the knife to the girl’s throat, and slashed the blade across it, all in one swift lightning movement. She probably couldn’t have known what had happened to her, although afterwards the dark woman fancied she wore a faint look of surprise. She heard the blood spatter on the floor, then the little body slumped forward onto its face and lay still.
Her mobile rang. “Yes?” she answered. “Oh, Mr Scarlione.”
“What have you done with the kid?” Scarlione asked, almost casually.
“She’s been taken care of. I think we’ll leave the body to be found by the police, it’s the simplest way to make sure Dad gets the message.”
“Fine,” Scarlione said. “Now listen, Maria, if you’re finished over there I’ve got another job for you to do. It means taking a little trip across the Atlantic.”

A party was in progress at Scarlione’s house, one of those regular gatherings of his extended family. Not all the guests were part of the Mob; a lot had come simply from social and biological ties to the Don. These events were fun occasions, although everyone missed the presence of Scarlione’s wife Alessandra, who had always acted as hostess, shepherding the recalcitrant or those who didn’t know where to go in motherly fashion. Tragic she should suddenly decide to kill herself like that – they still didn’t know the actual reason - but then a lot of people had problems that never showed on the surface. Such was life.
Italian parties were a voluble affair, and Ray Volcker, caporegime for the western half of New York City, wandered off after a while because the noise was giving him a headache. A drink in his hand, he sauntered along the corridors of the house casting an appreciative eye over the furnishings, the chandeliers and candelabras, the carpeting and oak panelling. He’d always thought it tasteful, if a little ostentatious.
He came to a substantial oak-panelled door and paused, intrigued. The woodwork was new. Scarlione had had the door changed within the last few months; Volcker couldn’t work out why, since the old one had been quite good enough. And the new lock was different; instead of an ordinary Yale it had a slot where you could insert a swipecard. These revised security measures suggested there was something within the room Scarlione was particularly anxious to prevent people seeing.
On a whim more than anything else, Volcker went to take a closer look. A shrill alarm signal went off, almost startling his heart out of his mouth. He must have broken some kind of light beam.
He thought it best to creep away as quietly as possible. Unfortunately for best results he’d also have to move as quickly as possible, and the two were somewhat contradictory. He heard footsteps heading in his direction, coming fairly fast, and steeled himself, realising he was going to have to face the music.
Vito Scarlione appeared around a corner, and stopped dead on seeing Volcker. “Uh, hi Vito,” Ray grinned. Scarlione junior was always addressed by his first name to avoid confusion with his father.
Ignoring him, Vito went to the locked door and produced his card, inserting it in the slit. The alarm cut off and Vito took the card out.
Vito had got there as fast as he could and there wasn’t anyone in sight other than Volcker. “You’re interested in what’s behind that door, aren’t you Ray?” he said.
Volcker tried to decide what he should say. “Well yeah, I mean no…”
“I wouldn’t bother, Ray. If you tried to break in…well you saw what happened. And you forgot there’s CCTV everywhere.”
“I wasn’t trying to break in,” Volcker protested, sincerely enough.
“And if I caught you, I’d kill you.”
“I swear, Vito, I – “
“I don’t blame you for being curious. But there are reasons why some things are kept a secret. The fewer people who do know about something, the less likely the wrong bunch will get to hear about it. And in this case the ones with the knowledge will guard it with their lives, if they know what’s good for them. So run along now and enjoy yourself; have another drink. And remember what happened to Jimmy Brancuso.”
Volcker went on his way, a little embarrassedly. Vito waited for a moment then put the card in the slot again, the other way round this time. The door – of solid steel behind the fake wood cladding - slid open. It was always kept locked whether or not someone was actually using the room. Only himself, his father, Tony D’Enrico and the trusted people who manned the place had copies of the card and none of the copies were allowed to leave the building.
In the room was a telephone bank where a row of people sat wearing headsets, taking calls and relaying them to his father’s study at the house or to one of the Syndicate’s millions of members worldwide. From time to time they would key information into the computers in front of them. By contemporary standards it wasn’t particularly advanced equipment; the really impressive stuff was elsewhere, operated by people who could be relied upon not to sell the technology to anyone outside the Syndicate. The room was merely a means of maintaining contact with them, or with other Syndicate members including those here and abroad who worked directly for La Cosa Nostra. The house had a satellite dish on its roof, but then so did a lot of houses.
On the wall was a series of flow charts setting out how various of the Syndicate’s operations were run, how the profits from them ultimately ended up in the Scarlione family’s hands. One showed the international drug trade, the air and sea routes it used, and the role of various national crime groupings in it. The Nigerians and Russians dealt with the cocaine, the Ukrainians the cannabis, and central Asians the opium. In the case of the heroin Scarlione preferred not to deal with the Pakistanis and Afghans who initially manufactured it, because he didn’t like operating in Muslim countries. He left that to the subordinate organisations, stepping in at the next point along the line where the product began to be distributed worldwide. The Syndicate’s cut was either conveyed to them in strongboxes full of notes or gold bullion or transferred electronically to Scarlione’s or a front organisation’s bank account.
The telephonists looked up as Vito entered. “It’s alright, just a false alarm. Anything interesting going on?”
“Berlin should send us their quarterly payment within the next week,” one reported. “And the French want to borrow Argus for a while.”
“Is there anyone else who does?”
“No, not at the moment.”
Vito made an executive decision. “Then they can have it.” Sometimes a queue built up but a lot of the time the device wasn’t necessary anyway, except in so far as it created discipline merely by the knowledge that it existed.
Vito nodded to the telephonists and left. Thinking of Volcker, he decided it probably was just curiosity; and what was in the room wouldn’t, in itself, be of much value to him anyway. If he did want to find out what exactly the Syndicate derived its power from, so he could tell the authorities or try to steal it himself, there were ways that could be done; for example, kidnapping one of the few people who knew - he could probably guess who they were – and forcing them to divulge their secret. But he would be terrified by the thought of something going wrong, of any unforeseen flaw in the plan leading to his discovery and subsequent butchering.
Sometimes, simple fear was enough.

“I’m sorry,” gasped Chris. “I never thought…” He stared at Caroline in horror, remembering how he’d made light of things on the phone to her a couple of nights before.
“That’s alright,” she told him. “I didn’t exactly think it was possible myself.”
Chris scratched at his chin pensively. “As a matter of fact, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Organised crime gets everywhere. It’s always been international, because it’s opportunist, wants to maximise profits. Spread its web as widely as possible. And if these people are mad enough about something… not so long ago there was a gangland killing in Woking, Woking of all places. It was the sister of a woman who was married to some East European gangster – at least he had criminal connections - and some rival outfit wanted to kill his wife to teach him a lesson. They came calling one day while she was visiting, she opened the door, they mistook her for her sister and shot her.”
“It wouldn’t have been any better if it had been the wife,” she muttered, eyes narrowing. “And if I suppose if the wife was a citizen of a foreign country that ought not to have made any difference in their opinion?”
“I can’t answer for such people,” Chris shrugged.
Her fists clenched and her face froze in anger. Not only her patriotism but her sense of justice was offended.
“Besides, it’s globalism,” he went on. “Internationalism. Easier these days to get a plane ticket to anywhere in the world you fancy. More than that, it’s the whole modern mindset, the way we jet between continents to do business with one another. Organised crime tends to think that if you can fly to Hong Kong to discuss a trade deal with a Chinaman, you can fly there to kill him as well. National barriers have been broken down and the only loyalty is to business, legit or otherwise. We all live in a global village nowadays, you know.”
Caroline snorted, then remembered that as someone whose job involved ensuring the efficient running of a big multinational corporation she couldn’t very well knock globalisation. But then she often found herself asking if she was really happy in that job.
“So it’s not something new,” Chris said in an attempt to make her feel better about everything. But he hadn’t really expected it to work, and it didn’t.
“This is different,” she insisted. “I’m not a criminal or related to anyone who is. All right, so I said a couple of things he didn’t like, but to go to such lengths to kill a foreign citizen…I’m not an American or an Italian, am I?”
“The Mafia has outgrown the Italian community in the States. It’s mushroomed into something that’s much bigger than that…always was, I think.”
“But there’s still a big difference between offending someone and actually trying to do them out of business, tread on their patch. You hear a lot of rumours about how corrupt everything’s getting, and the extent of international crime, how it’s growing…especially if it’s imported from abroad, we’ve no idea who really makes the clothes we wear, the food we eat…”
Or what goes into it, Chris thought, thinking of rumours about the bodies of Mafia victims being disposed of in sausage factories. But he thought better of it.
Caroline still couldn’t quite accept it, or didn’t want to. “Here…in England…of course there’s no one hundred per cent proof it was the Mafia.”
“Would they employ blacks?”
“They employ all sorts of people nowadays, according to one of the sites I looked at. You were right about it having expanded beyond just one ethnic community. But was that guy black British?”
“There’ve always been links between criminals in different countries.”
“I still think this is something different. But right now I don’t know what.”
“I reckon it must be Scarlione,” said Chris. “It’s too much of a coincidence. And I think you should apply for police protection.”
“Too darn right I will. I’m going to Kingston cop shop this afternoon, as soon as I’ve finished my final report on the Kamchuk business.”
“Well that should do the trick, surely.”
“I imagine so. I just hope I’m not going to have to be too restricted in my movements.”
"They won't be so daft as to try to kill you at the office. Or in the street; not in broad daylight, anyway."
“I don’t want them to kill me at all,” Caroline said.

The Major’s mother had bought the farm, which had belonged to a distant relative, with the money from her husband’s legacy when he died. It nestled in a little valley deep in the Cotswolds, near the Oxfordshire-Gloucestershire border, and earned the family valuable income which would serve to keep her in comfort when she retired from her job as a company secretary.
The Major, his mother and Gillian were sitting drinking tea (or coffee in Gillian’s case) in the living room of the red brick eighteenth century farmhouse. The fittings were a mixture of ancient and modern, enough of the former remaining to give the room a character too many places lacked on the inside, these days. On the mantelpiece above the fireplace was a framed photo of the Major’s father, a fine-looking man with grey-edged dark hair and rather fierce bushy eyebrows. He had a stern face, but with a hint of kindliness about the eyes.
Alison Hartman, a handsome woman in her fifties with dark blonde hair highlighted in places, was quizzing Gillian as to what she thought about the differences between America and Britain, native and foreigner comparing their impressions of the States based on holidays Alison had taken there in the past.
“What always strikes me is how polite everyone is here,” Gillian said. “Polite but…reserved. Not like us. And so many of those cute old buildings…” The Major pitied the Americans for not having so much of a history as most other people, though that didn’t apply, of course, to the indigenous inhabitants of the country.
He sensed Gillian was slightly bored. “Gill and I thought we’d go for a walk sometime, mother,” he said, hoping with all respect due to his parent that she wouldn’t want to come with them. “Maybe you’d – “
But she seemed to sense they wanted to be left to themselves, and understand. “Oh no, you go. I’ve got plenty of work to do around the house so I’ll see you both later.” And so they set off, to spend the afternoon exploring the lanes and footpaths around the village.
“Was that your Dad’s picture on the wall?” Gillian asked some way into the walk.
“Uh huh.”
“He looks kind of awesome. I mean, scary. I hope I’m not offending you.”
The Major laughed. “He was scary. A bit…Victorian. Had his good side, though. I think he wanted the best for us. I like the Army, I like the way it can knock some decency into rough types by disciplining them. But I joined it partly because he wanted me to, he’d been a soldier himself as was his father before him and liked to think of me carrying on the family tradition. I didn’t like to disappoint him.” He smiled wryly. “Now what’s a shrink going to make of that?”
“Some unhealthy Oedipal compex leading to excessive guilt and overcompensation, I’m sure.”
They talked more, in light-hearted vein, about the differences between US and British culture, between two countries divided by a common language. As before, the more they bantered the more at ease they felt in each other’s company.
It had happened by degrees; the affectionate gesture which was not objected to, or which originated with her in the first place, the realisation that for the two of them shared pleasure was particularly pleasant. Yet there was still a way to go before they could assume they were in what was called a “relationship”. It could be that both of them wanted one but were too afraid to take the plunge. Well one or the other would have to, sooner or later. Meanwhile it was clear Gillian liked England. “Do you think you’d like to live here?” the Major asked her. “To be an Englishwoman?”
She seemed uncertain. Probably she found Britain a less dynamic, more static society than the US. Would she get bored after a while? For his part, would he be at home in America? There was that lack of a history to identify with, and he would miss the sedate, though often appealingly eccentric, way of life which was one of the things he so loved about his own country.
She seemed to come to a decision. “I don’t think I’d mind as long as I had plenty to do.”
“I’d make sure you did.”
They walked on. She listened enthralled as he recounted his exploits in the Amazon, in the process rising even futher in her estimation.
After a while, almost unconsciously, his hand slipped into hers and grasped it. She didn’t resist. It was a stage in that gradual, unconscious, subtle process, all but impossible to describe but of which both parties are well aware, by which friendship turns into something more.
They wandered a little from the path, onto land which the Major said was part of the farm so they wouldn’t be trespassing, and found themselves in a clearing within a dense thicket, into which enough light penetrated from above to make it a pleasant, as well as secluded, spot. Brilliant sunshine, the trees in full leaf, the flowers beautiful and nature going about its business all around them, the air ringing to birdsong, the drone of bumblebees and the chirping of crickets. “Why, it’s lovely here,” Gillian smiled.
“Sure is. Used to play a lot in that woodpile over there as a kid. Let’s stop for a while, shall we?” They sat, then lay down at the base of a tree, the grass there forming a comfortable bed on which to rest.
When they returned from their walk a couple of hours later they were lovers, if they had not been before.

Caroline sat before the senior CID officer at Kingston police station. “We have indeed checked with the Americans,” he was saying, “and I can assure you the senior officers who made the decision were in possession of all the relevant information. However in view of there being no proof of a connection with this Scarlione, we don’t think there is a justification for providing round-the-clock protection in the long term.” Because that kind of thing was expensive, placing strain on an already overstretched budget, especially on top of the many thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money spent on elaborate protection schemes for Joe Hickman’s victims and the witnesses at his trial, which had completely failed to achieve their desired result. “Naturally, if any such proof does emerge we’ll have another look at the situation.”
It occurred to Caroline that the proof could only come if something nasty happened; if there was another attempt at a hit on her, one she might not survive. Oh, great.
She decided there wasn’t any point in arguing.
“In the meantime, I can only advise you to take maximum care. Be extra vigilant, maybe vary your daily movements for a time. Don’t open the door to anyone you don’t know.”
Why do you think I put the chain on it? she thought.
“I believe a new chain is being made for you right now. And we’ve got some leaflets on home security you can take away with you.”
“I’ve already got plenty of that sort of thing, but thanks anyway.” She stood up. “Well, I suppose I can see your point of view. Thankyou for your help.”
What is the country coming to, she muttered beneath her breath.

Located on the edge of a wood among scrubby little fields, the airfield had been chosen by Solokhov and his associates because it wasn’t too far from Moscow, thirty-two miles to be exact, and the tanks and armoured personnel carriers wouldn’t have that far to go in order to do their stuff. The faithful had pooled their resources to buy it as their training camp and general base of operations. Fortunately, the area was sparsely populated and the trees screened it from view from the nearest road. Officially it was simply a private airfield used for recreational purposes.
On the runway stood an ex-Air Force Antonov troop carrier and a few helicopters. For the moment all these aircraft bore civilian markings. Concealed out of sight in the hangars were about half a dozen tanks – not enough for a successful coup even if they struck swiftly and in the right place – and APCs. The vehicles were mostly Russian but had been snapped up from both sides in the Cold War when declared surplus to requirements as part of the downscaling of the armed forces. Solokhov’s supporters had bought them on the pretence they were intended for private use or conversion to other purposes, and spent a great deal of time lovingly repainting them with Soviet insignia.
In a clearing in the wood men were drilling, wrestling each other bare-chested, carrying out manouevres which included storming a mock-up of a government building, and undergoing an assault course. Apart from the wrestlers all the soldiers wore Soviet military clothing, in the form into which it had evolved by the dissolution of the Union and appropriate to their respective ranks. Some of it had been kept by its sentimental owners, some had come from shops that dealt in militaria.
Solokhov and Ostrosky had been inspecting the proceedings, both in full uniform (Ostrosky’s was that of a colonel). At the moment they were watching the wrestlers, Solokhov wondering if he ought to challenge one of them to a bout; probably not. He could still give a good account of himself but the chances were the younger man would win, which he felt would diminish his prestige and authority before his troops.
A platoon marched past, saluting as they caught sight of him. He saluted back and they marched on stiffly.
They seemed dedicated enough, most of them. But even if all had guns, which were easy enough to lay hold of nowadays, they wouldn’t without more tanks have the right degree of mobility.
Solokhov’s aim was to seize the Duma building and key radio and television stations in the capital by a helicopter assault, taking the deputies hostage. The tanks would then roll in and his forces – a couple of hundred men strong – occupy the centre of the capital. He had abandoned the plan to seize St Petersburg as well, in case it weakened the effectiveness of his forces by dividing them. If only he was a little wealthier…
Sympathisers at the air-, army and naval bases – there were a few – would rally the troops there. Solokhov’s calculation was that once he had declared his manifesto and shown that he had been bold enough to take the initiative, others would follow where he led.
The manifesto would include the rebuilding of the Russian armed forces, conventional and nuclear, to their pre-1991 strength, the restoration of the Communist party to a supreme position in the state, and the reannexation of the former republics. The West would be alarmed but wouldn’t intervene militarily while Russia remained a nuclear power. They could however cut trade links; but he’d worry about that when the time came.
Without telling Grishkov, who might still come in useful at some point, in case he decided they didn’t need him any more and finally gave up on them, they had decided to try and raise the cash from other sources as well as the Bratva, using front organisations. Solokhov was doubtful they’d succeed. He didn’t know how to work the system, didn’t have the same network of underworld contacts that Grishkov did. And the criminal outfits, who seemed to run everything these days and not only in Russia, wouldn’t fund him if they knew what he was really about because they thought he would restore the whole repressive apparatus of state control and regarded a climate of unrestrained capitalism as the one in which they could best flourish.
Returning to the airfield, Solokhov and his companion looked in on the gymnasium, where a group of men were performing physical training exercises. On the wall were propaganda posters from the Revolutionary era, including a number of Lenin. After a while the General and his second-in-command drifted off to the still at the back of the building, where the barman served them a glass of vodka each.
They sat down on a bench, just out of the barman’s earshot. “Have you liked what you have seen today?” Ostrosky asked.
“By and large,” grunted the General. There had been something listless about the way many of the men had performed their vartious activities; he had seen one or two mistakes he hadn’t liked. They both knew very well why it was happening.
“I’m willing to try it if you are, when the time comes,” Ostrosky said. “But that doesn’t mean I think it’ll succeed. No-one is going to send money to us. Our cause just isn’t popular. No-one wants to bring back what they were glad to get away from in 1989-91. They think it means stagnation, oppression. They don’t want a return to a Cold War when it looked at times like the world would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust.”
“That would never have happened,” growled Solokhov. “Not after Khrushchev.” That gentleman’s incredible folly in stationing nuclear missiles in Cuba, so close to American soil, had led to his replacement by a more oligarchic form of leadership which had tied itself in bureaucratic red tape in order to restrict its own capacity for bold initiatives which might prove dangerous. The result had been inefficiency, but at least it had preserved international peace. “Neither us nor, I suspect, the Americans would ever have let it. That we should all commit mutual suicide…” He wondered if he, Solokhov, would ever have invaded the West had he been in charge in Moscow. Well maybe, if it didn’t have nuclear weapons and if the cost of such an undertaking had not been prohibitive. But his main objective was for Russia to be strong and respected, and he saw the Communist system as the best way of achieiving it, not because of its crack-brained ideology but because of its totalitarian nature. Strong autocratic control was what was needed. It occurred to him that he had no idea how to deal with the faults in the system which Gorbachev had all too starkly exposed; he only knew he couldn’t stand the present democratic regime and the only other alternative was to bring back the Tsars, only the weakness and incompetence of Nicholas II had discredited the hereditary system permanently.
“You know,” said Ostrosky, “they say that nowadays it is organised crime that runs everything, not just in Russia but everywhere. There’s supposed to be some American Mafiosi at the heart of it and he’s even more powerful than Grishkov, all the governments do exactly what he tells them to.”
“Then that is a very sad state of affairs,” Grishkov told him. For a while he was gloomily silent. There was no doubt the world was changing, and he didn’t like what what it was changing into. Nothing but greed, materialism, lust for money and the power it conferred.
Who will there be to uphold the values of the Revolution after I am gone? he thought. In ten, twenty, thirty years’ time will our young people even understand what it was all about, let alone sympathise with those ideals? We could only do whatever was possible, in the present, to arrest the decline. Even if it turned out to be gloriously pointless.

As soon as Caroline got home from the police station – she felt she ought to be there while the new chain was fitted, although it shouldn’t strictly speaking be necessary - the two police officers who had been staying in the house until the job was done said their goodbyes and left. As they saw it there was no longer any need for them to be there, and besides they were urgently needed to help in a current criminal investigation. She knew the police were heavily overstretched these days, but it still seemed a far from satisfactory state of affairs.
The door had been taken off its hinges and left leaning against the wall. The man from the private security firm employed by the police to put in the new chain, which they’d said would be stronger than the previous one, was hard at work cutting away the old doorframe, which would have to be replaced, with a chisel and Stanley knife. A plastic sheet, now covered with wood shavings and sawdust, had been laid over the hall carpet. The new chain and slot, bright and shiny, sat in their box waiting to be fitted.
The man had an ID card clipped to the lapel of his overall. He turned to face her as she approached and smiled. Caroline smiled back. She was certain he was reliable and trustworthy; he must have been cleared by the police, all sorts of security checks carried out, before he could work for them. And employees of these security firms were very often ex-coppers themselves.
She surveyed the work. “That looks like it’s coming on well. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Ta, thanks very much, love,” he replied. “That’d be grand.”
She made two cups, one for herself, and after she’d handed the workman his went into the living room to do some paperwork she’d decided to take home with her. A section of the room, where there was a table and a couple of chairs, could be partitioned off to form a study, though on this occasion she left the folding doors drawn back in order to be accessible to the workman if he needed her. She’d told him where she’d be.
She felt soft fur brush against her ankles and looked down to see Jack. He tended to be nervous whenever there were strangers in the house, and hide himself away; now he’d heard her come in and gone to greet her. It always struck her as remarkable, and a little uncanny, how animals seemed to identify people by their footsteps, or by sensing their individual body language before they saw them.
“Hi, honey,” she said. “Come to help me do this report? All right then, let’s get started, shall we?”
Briefly the sound of the repairman at work ceased. She heard him go outside, presumably to fetch something from his van.
She took off her coat and hung it over the back of a chair, got out the papers from her briefcase and spread them out on the table. Jack jumped on the chair and then onto the table, scattering the papers. Wincing, she rearranged them. She sat down and so did Jack, right on top of a particularly important file. She decided she hadn’t the heart to move him until she needed it.
Most of the paperwork was returns from a questionnaire sent out to company employees in the UK asking them for suggestions as to how IPL could improve the conduct of its business and the leisure facilities, etcetera, it provided for them. Basically it was asking them if they were happy in their work. Her job was to analyse the findings and write a précis for Hennig and the Board of Management. She hoped nobody would take the opportunity to be too vitriolic about anything since then disciplinary action might have to be taken, which would seem unfair given that the workforce had been more or less invited to say what they thought. Unpleasant situations had been known to result from that kind of thing. She hoped the matter would be handled sensitively by those to whom the responsibility of dealing with it fell, or she might find herself acting as the final court of appeal, which only added to her workload and did little for her sweet temper, as colleagues and subordinates could readily testify.
While Jack made himself comfortable she read through the returns one by one, making notes, and occasionally pausing to take a sip of tea. From the hallway she could hear the sounds of the workman installing the new door frame, hammering in the nails that fixed it in place.
At length the hammering ceased. She presumed he’d finished putting in the frame and would now refit the door.
In the hallway the workman paused and glanced out through the doorway, to see the car which had pulled up to the kerb in front of the house. He gave a brief nod and the woman in the driving seat of the car took off her sunglasses, unfastened her seatbelt and climbed out. She was short, with dark hair and olive skin.
She approached the house slowly and hesitantly, all the time looking around her. An observer might well conclude she was simply uncertain if she’d come to the right place. They probably didn’t need to take such precautions, not now. But for her caution, cunning, stealth were all engrained habits of a lifetime. Besides, you never knew.
The woman stepped into the house, and the workman closed the door behind her. Just inside the threshold she kicked off her shoes, put down the bag she had been carrying and took from it a length of cord. The gun was in her pocket in case the target turned out to be facing her, and since they were unlikely to have one themselves they didn’t stand much of a chance. But she preferred the rope; it was cleaner.
The man nodded at the door of the front room, which stood ajar. The dark little woman slipped through it and for a moment paused in puzzlement. There seemed to be nobody in the room. Then she saw that it was in fact L-shaped, turning to the right at what appeared to be the end.
She padded over to where the short section began, and saw Caroline seated at the table, back to her, bent over the pile of papers. Good. The dark little woman’s small size, and the disparity in height between her and most of her victims, made it best to attempt to kill them while they were sitting down. And she was deeply engrossed in her work, which would make it harder for her to detect the dark little woman’s approach.
Slowly, silently, the dark little woman began to approach her, her small feet in their stockings making little sound, her eyes fixed unwaveringly on the back of Caroline's neck.
This method of killing suited Scarlione fine, because it left no bullet wounds – and no bullets, come to that – or residue from a gunshot, no clues which might lead the police to the perpetrator. Holding one end of the cord in each hand, she would raise it high above the victim’s head, then bring it down and pull it back. Death occurred in one of two ways; either the windpipe was severed or the sudden jerking back of the head broke the neck, cleanly and painlessly. It wasn’t her concern whether the victim felt anything or not. She was simply doing what she was paid to.
Just that swift sharp backward jerk, the chair serving as a fulcrum, and Caroline Kent’s neck would snap in an instant, consigning to everlasting oblivion. Salvatore Scarlione would have preferred something nastier and more protracted, but the dark little woman couldn’t be bothered. She could always say they had been surprised in the act and had to get things over with.
She took a couple more steps forward, raising the rope high above her head, tensed to loop it round her victim’s neck and pull. Barely a couple of feet now separated the two of them. Any moment now…
Out of the corner of her eye Caroline saw Jack lift his head, apparently looking at something behind her, and hiss.
His was a timid, gentle, affectionate personality. But like many animals, he knew a bad one when he saw one - and didn’t always need to see them at all, having senses additional to those most humans had to rely on.
Caroline shifted her chair round, curious to see what had rattled him. She saw the woman and stiffened. Jack jumped off the table and ran under the sideboard. The woman had dropped the rope, the advantage of surprise gone, and was already taking an automatic pistol from a pocket of her dress.
Speed was of the essence. Caroline reasoned the safety catch must be on and the woman would have to turn it, then aim the gun. She had to take advantage of that slight delay to overpower her opponent. She launched herself off the chair and the two of them collided.
When she had been sitting down the two of them were at the same level, but now Caroline straightened up and she became aware of the difference in height between the two of them. It was awkward because it meant she had to bend down to look at her antagonist and she was afraid of losing her balance as they stumbled about, Caroline gripping the woman by the wrists and trying to shake the gun out of her hand. Not only that, but although Caroline wasn’t a weakling, especially when her life was in danger, the woman was tremendously strong, a fierce little ball of energy fizzing with rage, and at any moment might break free.
Caroline decided on a change of tactics. Letting go of the woman, she jumped aside and shot out a leg, sweeping the other’s from under her. Caroline dived on top of her as she fell, bracing herself for the impact as the two of them hit the floor. The impact jarred the gun from the dark woman’s hand and Caroline snatched it up, jumping to her feet and backing away.
She heard running footsteps and retreated a little further, until her back was touching the wall. A man came into view, young, white and casually dressed, a pistol in his hand. Before he could properly aim it he saw Caroline’s gun, which was pointed straight at him, and hesitated.
The dark little woman swore softly beneath her breath. Had the target’s body not been hiding the cat from her view she would have used the gun instead. Animals were one of the most effective alarm systems in the world.
“Who was it who hired you to do this?” Caroline demanded. “Was it Scarlione? Salvatore Scarlione?”
“Since you ask, yes,” the small woman replied, after a moment. Her manner was calm and controlled. “Scarlione doesn’t like being made a fool of, you see.”
“That’s his problem,” Caroline said. “But here in Britain?”
“His arm has a long reach.”
“So it seems.”
“What’s your role in all this?” Caroline asked the man. “You’re English, aren’t you?”
“I work for a friend of Mr Scarlione’s,” he told her. She decided this probably meant Joe Hickman. After all he was supposed to be the most powerful crimelord in the country. Scarlione would work through him, not the smaller fry.
“That’s all you need to know,” he said.
“You know,” said the short woman, “I get the impression you’ve quite an affinity with guns. The way you handle them…”
Caroline wasn’t disposed to go into an explanation as to why that should be. She was trying to decide what to do next. Should she order the man to throw down his gun? If they were prepared to make a fight of it, that might not be a wise thing to do. It would only precipitate a struggle in which she could get shot.
“You can’t run from Salvatore Scarlione,” said the woman softly. “Not these days.”
“What do you mean by that?” Something about the words curdled Caroline’s blood.
The woman smiled. It was an enigmatic, and thoroughly chilling smile. “I’m just saying you won’t be able to run from him. Not for long. So you’d be well advised to get it over with. Scarlione doesn’t want to kill you anyway. He wants to humiliate you, to degrade you, to disfigure you, in order to satisfy his honour. But that option is better than death. I’d advise you to take it.”
“What if I don’t believe you?”
“That’s your problem.”
“Get out of here,” Caroline said. “Get out and don’t come back.” That might be the simplest way out.
The man looked afraid to turn his back. “She won’t kill,” the woman told him. The dark eyes had been sizing Caroline up. “Only if her life’s directly threatened. She’s got principles, you see; that’s how she’d describe it. One day they’re going to kill her. I only survived by – “
“Just get out of here,” repeated Caroline.
The woman bent to pick up the rope. There would be fingerprints on it. “Mind if I take this?”
“If you like.”
They turned away and stalked out of the room. Caroline waited, and after a short while heard a car door slam shut. The car drove off.
She called the police, explained what had happened and told them to come over as soon as possible. Venturing out cautiously into the hall, hoping none of her neighbours would happen to glance through the empty doorway and notice the gun in her hand, she saw no sign of the bogus repair man. For bogus he must have been, by her reckoning. She inspected the new door frame; the job had been crudely done and it didn’t look at all sound to her. But then the man must be a cowboy, even supposing he belonged to a registered security firm at all. Then she rang a builder she knew and trusted, who had done good work for her before, and asked if he could come over at short notice and fit a new door and chain. She didn’t trust the ones the bogus repair man had brought with him.
Jack was venturing out cautiously from beneath the sideboard. Caroline scooped him up and peppered the top of his head with kisses. “Ooh, Jacky, you saved my life bless you! Mwah mwah mwah mwah mwah.” Jack looked bemused.
Putting him down, she hovered indecisively for a moment, unsure what to do next, then slumped weakly into a chair as delayed shock suddenly overcame her.

Two men sat in a bar, a disreputable one in some people’s view, in downtown New Orleans comparing the latest news from each other’s lives.
“You’re still sore Scarlione took over your joint?” said one.
“You bet I am,” muttered the other, who owned a construction company and had been told by Scarlione’s men that he’d be propping up the foundations of his next major project if he didn’t let them have a share of the cash, in return for protecting him against bully boys from a rival firm which he doubted actually existed. Since the Mafia controlled everything anyway…Ah, shit, it was meant to be his thing, not theirs. He’d built it up from nothing…
“And you can’t do a damn thing about it? Know how you feel. He took over mine. If it’s any consolation, everyone’s got the same problem.”
“I was going to take all the cash from the company’s bank account and scoot, go somewhere he’d never find me. That’d teach him a lesson. But it wouldn’t work. You heard what happened to that British guy, the one who went to Spain. Scarlione fixed it for his pals to ice him. He gave false information when he applied for his passport, so they couldn’t have hacked into any computers and found him from the British authorities’ records. But they did find him.”
“Maybe. But look at Look at Luigi Beretta – he’s still alive and well so far as I can see. And if he had killed him Scarlione would have wanted everyone to know, just so’s they’d get the message. No, Beretta’s given him the slip right enough. I mean, Scarlione isn’t superhuman. You can get away from him if you’re lucky.”
The other seemed to be thinking about it.
“No,” he said firmly, shaking his head slowly. “I don’t wanna chance it. It’d be like playing cards with the devil. If you lose…no, I won’t take the risk. Maybe something went wrong somewhere, maybe Beretta was just…well it was you who used the word. Lucky. But I’m not going to chance it.”

Kingston police station
“Is there a witness who can confirm what you’re saying?” asked the senior CID man.
“No, because unfortunately my cat can’t speak. But do you doubt my word? Are you suggesting I could have imagined it, or made the whole thing up?”
“No, Miss Kent,” the policeman assured Caroline, shaking his head firmly. “Not at all. But we still don’t have any proof, and without it…”
“What happened just now was proof enough for me,” she said.
“I’d be happier if it was corroborated.” He fell silent, and for a little while tapped the edge of the desk with his pencil, chin in hand, until Caroline began to grow annoyed. “One moment,” he said at last. He picked up the phone and started to dial.
There followed a lengthy conversation between the senior CID officer and a Detective Inspector, Caroline then having to wait for some time while the Detective Inspector spoke to Special Branch, Special Branch to the Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Met, and the Deputy Assistant Commisioner for the Met to the senior CID officer. “It definitely looks like this character’s out to get her,” said the senior CID officer. “And I’ve a feeling she isn’t going to go away until we agree to lay on protection. I don’t want to have to arrest her.” He gave Caroline a good-natured smile. “Altogether, I think it’s the best course of action.” Finally he put down the phone. “Yes, he’s given the all-clear,” he told Caroline. “It’ll be until there no longer seems to be any danger. Meanwhile we’ll take the matter up again with the FBI, although I don’t think there’s enough evidence for them to convict Scarlione.” He was probably right there; there’d have to be a tape recording, at least, of the woman admitting that Scarlione had hired her to kill Caroline.
“If you’d wait here until all the necessary arrangements have been made, my officers will escort you home,” he said.
He sat back in his chair. “I can’t understand it. We’ve done business with that firm for years, I thought they were thoroughly reliable. You can rest assured there’ll be a full enquiry.”
“There certainly ought to be.” She tried to piece things together in her mind. “Apart from your two officers, and a few people at IPL all of whom I’d trust with my life, that workman was the only one who knew I was going to be there. Once I turned up and the officers left he rang Scarlione’s people on his mobile to say they could move in.” When she thought he’d gone out to his van he’d actually been making sure she couldn’t hear him call them.
And then a chilling thought froze her blood. It was the firm whose representative had opened the door of her house to Scarlione’s killers. But it was the police who had engaged the firm to do the repair in the first place.

“Does she bear a fucking charmed life or something?” snarled Salvatore Scarlione down the phone.
“Her luck won’t hold forever,” Joe Hickman said. “Law of probabilities.”
“Well, let’s have another go. This time I’m leaving it entirely up to you guys.” He had let Hickman’s man act as a backup as a sop to the ganglord. “I can’t chance giving it to Maria because Kent’s gonna be on the look-out for her.”
Fortunately, thought Scarlione, the dark little woman was sensible enough to understand that. He didn’t like to make her angry, because something about her scared him. Even though, of course, there wasn’t a lot she could do if she did get mad, not nowadays.
Hickman’s temper seemed to have improved on his being told that his gang was to carry out the hit. “All right,” he said briskly. “Can we screw her first? Bit of a waste otherwise.”
“I don’t care if you screw her first, as long as you kill her second. But I want to be there when she dies, I want to see the look on her face when she realises I’ve won. OK? ‘Course if you have to shoot her to stop her getting away, that’ll be just too bad. Especially for her.”

Hennig was in a meeting with one of the Board of Directors, and Caroline had to wait for over an hour before she could see him. She hovered outside his door until finally the director left and Hennig admitted her.
“Caroline,” he said expansively. “And what can I do for you, my dear?” He was evidently in a good mood. She hated to think what had been transacted between him and the director.
Still, it suited her purposes. “I wonder if I might have a month’s leave?” Normally one would have to clear this sort of thing with their immediate superior, or the head of personnel. Since she was the head of Personnel, she had to go to Hennig, and a lot depended on what frame of mind he chanced to be in.
He frowned. “That’d use up all your annual leave, at a guess.”
“Is that all right?” she asked.
“Well, it means you won’t be around, will you? And I might need you.”
“I’ve got several perfectly good deputies who can stand in for me.”
“Well, alright,” he shrugged. “I don’t suppose it matters that much to me. But I’m just puzzled as to why you should decide to do it.”
Yes, well don’t think I’m happy about it for one moment. She’d have to spend most of the time at home, apart from visits to the shops or the cinema, since she couldn’t very well expect her bodyguards to accompany her on sunny holidays to Ibiza or the Caribbean.
She decided she ought to tell him. “The fact is, I er…sit down.”
He returned to his chair. “I’m sitting.”
“The fact is I’ve got on the wrong side of some pretty nasty people.”
“You seem to have done that in Camaragua, as I recall. Who is it this time?”
“We’re talking Mafia.”
His eyes bulged incredulously. “What, here?”
“Here.” She decided to tell him the full story.
“You never told me before that the attack on you at the refinery was part of a Mafia vendetta,” he complained.
“They’d have gone for me anyway, to scare us off investigating the oil scam.”
“Maybe,” he conceded. “But I think the real reason why you didn’t tell me is because I’d be annoyed with you for getting yourself into trouble again. It’s an inconvenience to the company as much as anything else.”
Oh, I see, she nearly said. Just an “inconvenience”.
“I don’t appreciate dishonesty, Caroline,” he said severely.
“I’m sorry.”
“So you jolly well should be.” He went quiet, and Caroline realised that now he’d got over his initial grouch he was shaken by the revelation of how far the Mafia’s influence extended. “And now this. Jesus Christ. I can understand this happening in South America or the Balkans, but here…”
“Global village,” she observed solemnly.
“But death threats; actual…actual attacks…I don’t believe it.” He shook his head again.
“Maybe it was only a matter of time,” she said. “I’m not just talking about me and Scarlione.”
“All the same…” He sighed. “It happens to you, doesn’t it?”
She managed a bland smile.
“And you think a month might be enough for this Scarlione character to lose interest?”
“I hope so. We’ll…review the situation after then. Meanwhile, I can’t have the police following me about all the time, even when I’m at work, constantly patrolling the place to make sure Scarlione’s people can’t get in. It’d be a bit awkward. So I think taking time off would be the best option.”
“I suppose it would.” He didn’t want a bloody Mafia killing on IPL premises. “So yes, alright, you can have that leave, starting from tomorrow if you like.”
“Thanks. By the way, has there been any progress with the investigation into the adulteration scam?”
“Not really. They’ve arrested one or two people and then let them go for lack of evidence.”
“Do you think they’re trying the same thing at the Siberian refinery? The Russian Mafia, I mean.” Would the long hand of organised crime reach even to there, remote and inhospitable as it was? On the evidence of all that had happened to Caroline it was impossible to rule out.
“I bloody well hope not,” grumbled Hennig. “We can’t go on closing refineries until there isn’t a company left.”
Assuming they’ll actually let us do that, Caroline thought. “Well, I’d better be off now,” she smiled, and rose.
“Take care,” said Hennig. “Although I don’t suppose anything will happen with our wonderful police looking after you.”
After she had gone he helped himself to a whisky from his drinks cabinet. Thinking he needed it.
Once she’d finished at the office Caroline went home in a police car with two of the team who had been assigned to look after her and fed Jack. Then they drove to her parents’ house on the outskirts of Dorking. She’d rather not tell them but in the nature of the situation it wouldn’t prove possible to conceal it for very long.
Her father Edward, a big square-faced man in his fifties, yellow hair now whitening somewhat at the edges, opened the door to her. “Hello, love,” he said, pleasantly surprised. “How’s tricks? Come on in and I’ll make us all some tea.” His slightly guttural voice still held a trace of a Yorkshire accent, a relic from the days when his construction company had been based in Sheffield.
“I think that’d be a good idea,” she said. Edward glanced at her briefly, sensing some significance in the comment. He hadn’t noticed the police car parked a few yards down the road from the gate.
Her mother had been trying some DIY, repairing a broken chair on the table in the kitchen. She was an older version of Caroline except for her hair, as raven black as her daughter’s was golden blonde. She was slightly younger than her husband, and still strikingly attractive, though if you looked closer you could see wrinkles that hadn’t been there before an explosive device had gone off in the luggage compartment of a Jumbo Jet and Douglas had died. She busied herself with what she could to help get over her loss.
“Hello, dear,” said Margaret Kent, and went to kiss her. Like Caroline she spoke in the clear, precisely modulated tones of the Home Counties. “Just a social call? You should have let us know, we might have been out.”
“Well, not really a social call. Shall we go into the front room?”
Caroline sensed her mother stiffen. “Is anything wrong, darling?”
“I’ll explain in a moment.”
Margaret made the tea while Caroline and Edward sat down to chat somewhat uneasily about the usual mundane matters. She poured out three cups and went to join them.
She and Edward looked expectantly at Caroline, who could feel the tension building up in Margaret, charging the air with electricity. Edward sat leaning forward with his hands on his knees, in what was more a character trait than a sign of nerves. “All right, lass, what’s the trouble?”
“Well,” Caroline sighed, “it’s like this…”
As the essence of the situation became apparent Margaret drew in her breath sharply. She clapped a hand to her mouth, which had gone O-shaped. Edward frowned, the wrinkling of his brow making him seem a few years older than he was. “Are you quite sure it was them?”
“Coming after what happened in the States and in Russia one ...incident might possibly be coincidence, but two…” By now Margaret resembled the figure in Munch’s The Scream while Edward was gaping at her in sheer disbelief, which gradually changed to something like annoyance, mingled with a very real concern. “I hope you’re not going to make a habit of this,” he grunted. “Christ, first that drug baron fellow and now the bloody Mafia.”
With a certain business you don’t know about in the middle, Caroline thought. But she thought it best not to mention that just now, for her mother’s peace of mind.
“I knew they weren’t the sort you got into the habit of offending, but…” He closed his eyes. “Well bugger me backwards.”
“But you’re going to be safe now, dear?” Margaret said. “The police are looking after you?”
“They’re outside right now. Yes, I should think I’ll be OK.”
“But this man…this horrible man…are you sure it’s going to be all right, dear? I’ve heard some of these, these vendettas can last for years.”
“They’ll go on guarding me as long as it’s thought there’s any danger.”
“They didn’t do the witnesses in that Hickman case any good,” growled Edward.
“But all I did was insult Scarlione,” Caroline reminded him. “I guess that’s less of a concern to them than if I was a threat to some scam they were planning - the business in Russia is in the hands of the authorities there, now - or I “knew too much” as they say. They’ll give up eventually, you can bet. Scarlione’ll see it’s not worth going to so much trouble just because I put his nose out of joint.”
“You could identify the people they got to carry out the hit,” Edward pointed out.
“Oh, yes,” said Margaret fearfully.
“They’re probably on the wanted list already, and passed the point of no return long ago,” Caroline said, hoping this was true. Then again, it probably was. “I bet they’ve carried out so many other crimes that one more witness who can tell her tale in court won’t make much difference, even if they’ve never actually been convicted for anything before.”
“All the same it’s a little frightening, that you should have to do something like this,” Margaret said.
“I suppose it is,” said Caroline, aware that some people had had to be protected for years. “But I expect I’ll get used to it after a while.”
“If you hadn’t said what you did to him, lass, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place,” her father pointed out gently.
“I said it because he was being unfair to the poor girl,” Caroline replied, annoyed because she knew there were some people at IPL who thought she was a cold-hearted bitch who didn’t care about other people’s feelings at all.
“I’m sure you did, dear,” agreed Margaret. “You’re a kind, good-natured person and we’re very proud to have you as our daughter. But it was still a little…unwise.”
“Maybe it was,” said Caroline with ill grace. “But what’s done is done.”
“Yes, it’s done,” said Edward philosophically. “So we’re just going to have to sit it out. Meanwhile, why not ask your police friends out there if they’d like some tea, and then we’ll talk some more.”

Offices of the National Pioneer, Washington DC
Dan Felgate drained the last few dregs of coffee from the Styrofoam cup and hurled it across the room into the bin. “It’s a bum rap. I mean, there’s nothing much happening in the world at the moment…I’m reduced to writing articles about contaminated dog food.” For someone with an impressive record of scoops and exposures, which had seriously embarrassed officialdom if not got them to actually admit to malpractice, it was bit of a come-down.
Matt Helpmann, the colleague with whom he shared the office, looked up from his computer. “It can be like that sometimes. Every reporter knows that.”
Felgate seemed to have been thinking, trying to make up his mind about something. “I mean, there’s nothing much happening in the world except…”
“Except what?”
“Well, you think about it. The Mob acquittals and all that.”
“We know there’s something dodgy going on there,” said Helpmann. “We’ve already covered it in depth. I don’t see what – “
“It’s not just the Mob. People still don’t know the full extent of the problem, or why it’s come about in the first place. I’m gonna make sure they do know. If Josh is willing I’m gonna splash it all over the front page, make it really big.
“Rulings that don’t make sense…notorious criminals released or acquitted…police investigations suddenly suspended…a general increase in Mob and other criminal activity…people vanishing after unearthing discrepancies in the accounts of various companies, and the investigations into their disappearances blocked…Congresspeople suddenly changing sides on an issue…evidence that the street gangs are doing the Mafia’s bidding…”
“How do we know they are?”
“From what gets back to the criminologists when they start doing their research. The vibes being sent off. Look, Matt, you put two and two together. Not only Mob people are being acquitted. But most of the acquittals, when this thing first started, were of Mafiosi, and the companies which were getting all these contracts were suspected of being Mob fronts. It started with the Mafia, and then spread. The Mob are controlling everything, every business concern and centre of political influence in the country – overseas too by the look of it. They’re using something very special to make sure people dance to their tune and can’t do anything about them. There’s a rumour that top secret surveillance equipment has gone missing…and something else, something the Department of Defense was developing…”
“If the Mob control everything, they wouldn’t need to fix contracts. If every firm was - ”
“That’s just what I’m saying. Looks like they’re not doing that anymore, they don’t need to. They simply take a share of the cash for themselves. From every company, every concern that nets enough of a profit – though they can take over an ailing business and revive it as their thing - and a lot of the smaller ones too, if the street gangs are on their payroll.
“And for the last few months there’s been nothing. No cases bought against Mafiosi, no police raids. Why? because everyone knows there wouldn’t be much point.”
“If the FBI or CIA know how bad it is they’re not telling anyone. Because they don’t want to cause public unrest, don’t want to be forced by public opinion into a war with the Mob; and there’s something else, too, some other reason they’re not coming clean with us, probably to do with whatever the Mob are using to do all this.”
“If the Mob really are as powerful as you think, you’d better be careful what you do.”
“Listen, I’ve had threats from all sorts of people since I started in this business. We’d never have done half the good we have if I’d we’d let them scare us off. Now are you with me in this?”
Helpmann looked uneasy. “I…” Finally he shrugged and went back to his computer. “Sorry, Dan. It’s too hot. This isn’t like the old days. I’ve got a family to think about.”
Felgate stared at him for a while, then went off to see the paper’s editor. It took some persuasion but finally Josh Rutter was persuaded to publish the article. Felgate would start work on it the following morning.
But he never had time to file his story. That night two men broke into his house and shot him dead in front of his wife and children. They then wiped all the data from his computer and when they left took with them any written notes and tape recordings he had made in the course of his investigations. The stuff was duplicated at the Pioneer’s offices but soon disappeared from there too.
They left the family alone this time. They’d already done enough to make sure everyone got the point; and besides, you could have too much of a good thing.

Caroline was in her study, banging away at the keyboard of her computer. She had decided it was time to set down in writing, or rather word processing, her own account of the South American business while the details were still fresh in her mind. It would have to be an edited version of course, with no reference to the more incredible, if nonetheless real, things which had happened during that episode.
But she found she couldn’t concentrate on the task. There was too much on her mind right now. Deciding to wait until she could make a better job of it, she saved what she had written so far, closed down the computer and sat back to think.
She’d told the superintendent at Kingston that the tip-off was most likely to have come from within the police themselves, and of course he’d promised to “look into it.” She had also sought to impress upon him that if Mafia vendettas could extend to a country like Britain, and the target be someone who had merely put the big cheese’s nose out of joint – the oil scam wasn’t a factor now that she was no longer involved in the investigation – it was a symptom of something new and very dangerous. As a result he had also promised to draw the matter to the attention of the government. She had let him know she expected to see some results soon.
So far the press hadn’t managed to get wind of it, which of course was preferable since the thought of all the publicity made her nervous right now, police protection or not.
Police protection. She really was safe now, wasn’t she? Had to be. With two officers constantly in the house with her and their car parked very visibly outside it?
But the nagging fear which had begun once the delayed shock that prevented her from realising the full implications of the second attack on her was past had grown within the past few hours, grown and sprouted legs until it seemed like some huge spidery monster crawling over her flesh. If they could leak information to Scarlione’s agents then they could also…
Almost from when they’d got home from her parents’ the previous day the behaviour of the two police officers on this shift, PCs Helen Ronson and Gavin Simons, had been strange. Their conversation, whether with her or each other, had been subdued and consisted mainly of banalities. It, along with their expressions and body language, was flat, dull, lifeless. They just seemed to sit in the living room watching TV or just staring into space, occasionally getting up to go to the toilet or picking up a paperback book and flicking idly through it. Meals were taken in silence. To be honest, they hardly ever spoke to or acknowledged her presence at all, other than when absolutely necessary.
Something was very badly wrong but she couldn’t put her finger on what it might be.
And yet what could she do? Without the protection, Scarlione would certainly fall upon her and devour her like a hungry wolf. Various ideas chased themselves around the inside of her head but she wasn’t particularly enamoured by any of them.
She glanced out of the window, at the sunlight forming patterns on the leaves of the trees in her garden, and on the freshly mown grass. Though they were now into August the weather in the UK was better than it had been for much of June and July; unfortunately, she was unable to appreciate it. She was glad to have had a few weeks in the south of France with Julie before this business with Scarlione started. For once she hadn’t got on the wrong side of any bad guys; it had just been a good holiday. They’d lain in the sun and swum during the day and gone to discos in the evening; had water-skied around the bay, been over to Monte Carlo and had a little flutter at the casino…There would, she hoped, be other such times in her life. Certainly she didn’t want to spend it constantly under police guard, which as she knew from her time in Camaragua would soon become irksome and oppressive.
In the lounge PC Simons glanced briefly at his colleague, took out his mobile and dialled a number. When he had finished dialling he waited for a moment then turned the phone off. There was no need for him to actually speak to them because the mere fact of making the call would act as the signal.
“No, everything’s fine,” Caroline heard him say. “No suspicious characters prowling around. No, we’re well stocked up here, we don’t need anything.” She presumed he was speaking to his colleagues at the station. “Yeah, bye for now. We’ll call again tomorrow evening.”
Simons nodded to Ronson and slowly the two of them got up and left the room, their faces like stone.
In the study Caroline was still deep in thought, trying to come to a decision. Because right now she couldn’t, her mind started to wander.
She frowned. At once the whole house seemed to have gone deathly quiet. It was as if all of a sudden, the other people in it had vanished into thin air. Not that Ronson and Simons had been much company anyway but when someone else was present, in close proximity, you were usually aware of it and now there was nothing. Nothing at all. The sensation was like what you had when you were talking to someone over the phone and they suddenly fell silent.
She went into the lounge; no sign of them there. “Hello?” she called out. Jack appeared, wandering around mewing unhappily, but there was no answer from the two police.
She could sense they weren’t in the house. She heard an engine start up and from the direction of the sound realised it must be the police car. She turned so cold with horror that for a moment she actually thought she would freeze to death.
Think, Caroline.
For a moment she was going to run out and try to plead with them, shouting at them to explain what the hell they thought they were doing. But the reason they were doing it at all meant she’d be wasting her time and if her enemies were watching, it might be fatal. Something told her Salvatore Scarlione would be quite prepared to gun her down in a suburban street in Britain in broad daylight. Because it seemed everything was different now.
Her first thought was to try to escape through the garden; but the fence was too high for her to climb over and she’d probably be trapped. She ran to the window, pulled back the lace curtains and glanced out. As the police car turned into the main road from the drive and roared away, two men got out of a car parked on the far side of the road and started to cross it, moving purposefully towards the house.
Glancing through the doorway into the hall, she saw that the front door had been left wide open. On catching sight of her they might shoot through it. Fortunately they weren’t directly opposite the house, as they hadn’t been able to park in that position, another car being in the way. But in a moment they would be. She ran to the door, moving so fast they had no time to react to the blur of motion before she had slammed it shut.
She listened for a moment, and heard one of the men shout to the other. “Get round the back!” They didn’t know the fence was too high to jump over but she might have tried to sneak out the back door and then run round the side of the house to the drive, where her car was parked.
The first man seemed to be heading back towards the hoods’ own car, probably to fetch something with which to break in. If she ran out the front and jumped into her car, then drove away as fast as she could…but out there she’d be too exposed. He’d hear her, turn and shoot.
The alternative was a bit of a gamble and she felt sick at the thought of it failing to work, and sealing her fate. But there was no time to dither so she ran to the stairs, then up them to the bathroom.
She slammed the door shut, turning the key she kept in the lock on the inside for reasons of privacy in case she needed to use the loo and there was someone else in the house. It’d give her long enough to psych herself up at least.
If this doesn’t work…
Her mobile was downstairs in the living room. Not that calling the police would be of much help, it seemed.
God, she could still hardly believe it.
She considered climbing out the window and onto the roof. It might be possible, but she’d have to step up onto the flimsy plastic guttering that ran around the eaves and wasn’t sure it’d bear her weight. And she’d only be trapped up there, a sitting duck, perilously vulnerable to a shot fired from the ground. She could wave, call out, try to attract the attention of her neighbours.
And get them to do what? Call the police?
From the cupboard on the wall above the toilet she took a plastic bottle of bleach. Unscrewing the cap, she stood a few feet back and slightly to the side of the door, and waited.
From downstairs she heard a splintering crack as the front door was forced. Then the hitman running around in search of her, bounding up the stairs and searching each of the upper floor rooms until he finally realised what she’d done.
The door handle turned, met resistance. She heard the intruder move away from the door and then, muffled, a voice speaking into a mobile.
“I think she’s locked herself in the bathroom,” Gary Boaler told his colleague Jez McCulloch. “I’m gonna force the door. Go and stand underneath the window in case she tries to get out through there. We know which one it is.”
A moment later there was a crunching sound as the wood around the lock cracked and split, before starting to disintegrate. He must be using a jemmy or something. She stood with her legs apart, teeth gritted and the bottle of lavatory cleaner raised.
The lock gave way and fell out. The door flew open and Boaler stepped forward into the room, just as Caroline squeezed the plastic bottle with all her strength, squirting a jet of the stinging fluid right into his face; his eyes.
He screamed and dropped the gun he had been carrying. Immediately she snatched it up, levelled it at him and backed away. But he stumbled away from her, screaming and swearing, frantically pawing at his burning eyes in a bid to rub the bleach from them. She forced her way past him and ran down the stairs.
Waiting at the side of the house, his colleague heard a scream from the bathroom - a male scream – followed by sounds of rapid movement, running feet. Maybe she’d got the better of Boaler somehow and was now making a run for it. Whatever had happened, it seemed he needed help. McCulloch made for the front of the house, the sound of his own feet masking that of Caroline’s as she hurtled down the stairs.
Caroline knew that he’d have heard the scream and would go to assist his buddy, entering the house by the forced front door rather than lose time trying to break in through the back. In a moment or two if she didn’t move fast enough the two of them would be face to face. She presumed he had a gun as well, but guessed he’d rather not stand and fight unless he could be sure of shooting first. For her part she’d rather not take the risk.
She needed her car keys, which were on the table in the living room. She ran in, snatched them up, then ran to the wall and pressed herself against it, close enough to the door to make a quick exit but not close enough for McCulloch to see her when he came in through the front.
She heard him burst in and pound up the stairs to the bathroom. She waited a moment or two and then ran from the lounge, into the hall and out of the house through the shattered front door. At her car she pocketed the gun, whipped out the keys, opened the door and jumped into the driver’s seat.
There was no time to belt up. She inserted the keys in the fascia, twisted them, and the engine rumbled into life. Simultaneously her other hand pressed the button that wound down the window.
A brief glance was enough to establish that there was nothing coming down the road in her direction. Crouching down low over the wheel, she trod hard on the accelerator. “Out the way!” she shouted to anyone who might be walking along the pavement, the sound carrying through the open window.
The car shot forward, swung to the left and accelerated down the lane towards the main road, breaking the speed limit. She heard a bullet spang off the car’s bodywork, then another. Then she was out of range.
McCulloch put away his gun and looked round for Boaler to see him emerging from the house, the bleach now washed out. “Come on!” he shouted, and ran for their car. Eyes still smarting, Boaler hurried after him.
Caroline braked sharply as she came to the end of the lane. There were a couple of cars coming down the main road in her direction. She strapped herself and wound up the window while waiting for them to pass.
She heard a car coming down the lane behind her, going very fast, and guessed it was the hitmen. Panic almost overwhelmed her. Once they were close enough they could shoot at the tyres.
The road now clear, she turned to the right, heading west towards the outskirts of the London conurbation. McCulloch, driving the pursuing car, saw the lime green Peugeot disappear from sight.
At the junction with the main road they stopped. McCulloch had no intention of breaking his neck in an RTA. Glancing to the right he could see the Peugeot, not far away. But there were several cars going along the road at that moment, one a short distance behind the other, and right now they were too close; he and Boaler were stuck where they were for the moment.
The two cars went past and McCulloch turned into the main road. Because of the two vehicles now between them and it, which had been going in the same direction as the Peugeot, he couldn’t see the latter any more; not visually, anyway. He glanced at the constantly changing graphics on the screen built into the island where the gearstick was located, just below the dashboard. On it the Peugeot appeared as a moving point of light. He spoke into a mobile phone which doubled as a portable radio, since simply pressing a button was quicker than dialling a number. “Target proceeding west along London Road into centre of Kingston. You got her?”
The voice which crackled back was thickly accented. “Yes, we have her. We’re alerting all other operatives within the United Kingdom.”
“You do that. But I want this one if at all possible.” McCulloch ached to be among those who had the privilege of screwing Caroline before Scarlione got his hands on her.
She’d probably keep to the main roads for the moment, because it wouldn’t be possible to go so fast down suburban side streets. Where, McCulloch wondered, would she be heading for? What would he do in her situation?
She was travelling pretty fast but within the safety limit, though only just. She didn’t want to attract the attention of the police, which would do her no good at all.

Caroline glanced behind her and saw the other two cars between her and the Skoda which was carrying the hitmen. Good; if she had to stop at some traffic lights with her pursuers immediately behind her, she was finished. If she abandoned the car and tried to escape on foot they’d cut her down instantly. She could use the gun to warn them off, but if they decided to try and shoot first, before she could aim the weapon, or simply fired in panic…
She had to lose them.
All the time her mind was racing, trying to absorb the implications of her fears being confirmed. She had had police protection. Until someone arranged for it to be suddenly withdrawn while she wasn’t looking.
If they could do that…
Oh God. Oh God. It meant nowhere was safe, nowhere. These people could do whatever they liked.
What the hell was going on?
She was seized by a cold, giddy fear as the full extent of her danger hit her like a tidal wave, as she realised how sickeningly vulnerable she was. A light sweat broke out on her creeping flesh. It wasn’t possible. She must be dreaming it all. This couldn’t, just couldn’t, be happening in England. Her whole world had turned queasily upside-down. Wake up, Caroline, she thought. Please, someone, let this just be a bad dream.
Keep calm, she told herself. Keep calm and think.
She obviously couldn’t go back home. She’d have to hide. But where? Where? Where could she go to be safe from these characters?
If the police couldn’t protect her, who would? Who was to be trusted?
There were all kinds of possibilities. Chris, her family, the Major if he could be got hold of. But the awful thought occurred to her that if they knew where she lived they might also know where to find her friends, her family and anyone else she had regular contact with. They’d have researched her movements thoroughly. And if they didn’t know, she might be leading them to whoever she chose to seek protection from. That person or persons could get hurt, if not killed.
No way.
She wanted to drive until she had managed to work out some solution. Drive forever, running from the problem. But she knew that wasn’t possible.
She needed to be somewhere where she could think. And something told her she would be safer out in the country, where there weren’t so many people. Because some of those people could be out to kill her. Did that make sense? Was it that communications were better in a city, making it easier to find someone?
There could be a killer lurking round every street corner. Anyone out of the hundreds, thousands of people on the pavements could be watching her, following her, plotting her death. Or would she be easier to spot out in the wide open spaces? Did the city with all its millions of inhabitants and its mazes of streets and side-streets make a better place to bury yourself?
The countryside seemed calm, peaceful, relaxing, safe. And there were places there you could lose yourself, alright. But sometime she would need the resources of the city if she was to fight back against the enemy seeking to hunt her down.
Making up her mind, she decided to try and reach the M4. She could turn off it somewhere and head north, into the heart of the country. South of the Thames seemed too restricted an area, bordered on all sides by sea, and she couldn’t shake off the feeling they’d find her somehow before very long. She could try to get out of Britain but she’d left her passport at home; then there was the issue of how she was going to live until things finally settled down.
If they ever did.
There was the M1, but anywhere close to it seemed too built-up. She’d also have to get there via the M25, unless she wanted to go through London, and she didn’t fancy having to negotiate it with a pair of ruthless gangland hitmen on her tail, all the time trying to get close enough to take a pot shot at her. If they got snarled up in a traffic jam, would the two killers get out of their car, walk along to hers and open fire?
It occurred to her uneasily that she could get caught in a traffic jam anywhere, if the road was busy enough. Another reason why it was best to make for the country, where there would be less people.
She certainly wasn’t going to lead them to her parents’ house. When it didn’t look like she’d be safe anywhere, there was little point. At best she would be gunned down, or dragged off to some ghastly fate before their eyes, and at worst they’d be blown away too for good measure.
There was a crossroads a mile or so ahead, wasn’t there? Where you turned off to the right to go to Richmond, which was where she wanted to be. Richmond, then Kew, Brentford and the motorway. She looked back through her rearview mirror and saw the two cars still between her and Hickman’s men. A Nissan and a BMW.
She decided to chance it. She stopped at the traffic lights, and when they changed took the Richmond Road.
After a while she glanced behind her again, and saw that the Nissan and BMW had gone, turned off somewhere. There was nothing now between her and the hitmen, and although it might have been her fevered imagination she thought they were gaining on her.
Then a car turned into the road between the two vehicles; it was just far enough from the hitmen’s car to do this safely. She breathed a sigh of relief, while at the wheel of the pursuit car McCulloch scowled.
Another crossroads, another set of traffic lights, loomed up ahead. The red light was flashing and Caroline trod on the brakes, the other two cars stopping in succession.
McCulloch found himself torn by indecision. Should he get out, run to the target’s car, perhaps threaten to fire through the window before she could reach for her gun? Or knock out the tyres and see what happened then? Immobilising the car would make things difficult for her, mindful as he was that she had Boaler’s gun. He sat there trying to make his mind up.
The same thoughts had obviously occurred to his colleague. “Should we…” Boaler began, disturbing his concentration. McCulloch waved him curtly to silence.
Then the red light changed to orange, and McCulloch knew they’d lost their chance.
Orange turned to green and Caroline trod on the accelerator, at the same time swinging the wheel to the left. She drove on towards Richmond, still keeping just under the speed limit.
McCulloch and Boaler were still trying to decide their next move. They had orders not to kill Caroline if possible, but neither fancied a protracted chase all over the country. Shooting out just one tyre, should they get close enough, would force the car to stop without killing her. But then there was Boaler’s gun.
If she did get away on foot they could still track her. But how long before they were in a position to overpower the girl? It all depended where she went, and whether they got the chance to sneak up behind her and surprise her.
Caroline meanwhile continued to be terrified that she’d have to stop somewhere with only them behind her, and get shot or taken prisoner. She wanted to lose them before the next traffic lights.
Another glance through her rearview showed there were now several more cars between her and the hitmen, who she reckoned were about a hundred and fifty, maybe two hundred, yards away. To her right, between this main road and another, was a suburban district of Victorian terraced houses where the streets formed a tight, maze-like grid pattern.
Yes…there was a chance. She switched on her indicator lights and slowed down, forcing the cars behind to do the same. Then she turned off down the nearest of the side streets.
She took the next turning, and the next, and the next. All the time she had to drive slowly, and frequently stop, to avoid other cars whether moving or stationary. A couple of streets away Boaler and McCulloch were doing the same. They knew where she was, but were hamnpered like her by the need to drive carefully.
Glancing down a street to her left, Caroline saw that it was empty of moving vehicles, giving her a clear run back to the main road, to which it led directly. She stopped, executed a half-circle, then shot off down it. At the junction with the main road she looked around and behind but could see no sign of the hitmen’s Skoda. She’d gained herself a head start.
She felt a warm, invigorating surge of courage. Because whatever happened, she was going to give them a run for their money.
Once the main road was clear she trod on the gas and raced away.
A minute later the Skoda turned into the main road and set off in the direction she’d gone. McCulloch glanced at the screen. The blob of light was there all right, travelling steadily towards Richmond, but she was now some way ahead and there were too many vehicles in between. “Ah, fuck,” he spat.
“This is pissing me off,” Boaler said.
“Yeah, well you and me both. Still at least we know where she is. So let’s get after her. But I tell you, I’m really going to make the fucking bitch pay for this.”
Boaler’s mobile rang; it was Hickman. “How’s it going, boys?”
Boaler told him what had happened. “But she’s bound to stop eventually, I mean she’s gonna run out of petrol isn’t she? That might give us time to catch up.”
“There’s no point in stretching this out unnecessarily,” Hickman told him. “I’m gonna bring in Jay and Benny. They’re pretty close to where she is now and if they can slip in just behind her…”
“Aw no, Boss. It’s gotta be us. After all the hassle we’ve gone to…I want a share in all the fun once we’ve got her.”
“You can have it. We’ll make it a gang bang, shall we? As long as it doesn’t kill her; we don’t want to deny Mr Scarlione his pleasure, now do we?”
“The thing is, boss, we’ll have to be careful. She’s got Gaz’s gun.”
In his study Hickman frowned. This was a complication. “Just as long as she knows we’re not gonna ease the pressure,” he said. “I mean, this isn’t gonna go on for ever. Let’s see if we can get her holed up somewhere, then we’ll take it as it comes.” He decided it might be advisable to send reinforcements. Calling Jay and Benny, he outlined the situation and what he expected of them. “Pick up Jez and Darren first. But be quick about it.” He knew Scarlione would get impatient if things weren’t brought to a head pretty soon. And much as he disliked having to admit it, even to himself, Hickman couldn’t afford to get on the wrong side of him.
At Junction 2 Caroline joined the M4. Presumably she was not now in immediate danger. There still remained the problem of what to do in the long run; a decision couldn’t be postponed forever. She had needed to lose them before she could concentrate properly on the matter. But she also needed to find somewhere remote, a lonely spot where she could feel really safe.
She’d book a guest house, preferably in some isolated village, and there stay the night. While in bed, she would hopefully be able to think up some solution to her predicament. As long as she didn’t lose too much sleep doing so, because she had an idea she’d need it.
She continued to glance behind her every few minutes, but there was no sign of the Skoda.
She suddenly thought of Jack. Oh God, yes…..presumably he was safe, but someone would need to feed him and spend some time in the house so he wouldn’t feel neglected. Though she didn’t like using her mobile phone while driving, she called her next door neighbour, Julie, and asked her to do the honours, explaining she had been called away suddenly. When Julie asked if there was a problem Caroline just said it was an urgent conference in the North to which she had only just discovered she was supposed to be going. Julie readily accepted this, aware that the world of business could be a hectic one and wanting to do her best for a friend. Caroline guessed that Scarlione’s agents would not be returning to the house just yet, figuring that she wouldn’t. She hoped she was correct in that assumption, as otherwise she might be putting Julie in danger.
And she’d have to get that bloody door repaired again…
Once past Reading she turned off the motorway along a main road and soon was passing through the pleasant, gently rolling landscape of the Chilterns, in the approximate direction of Oxford. After a while she would start looking out for guest houses.
She still looked back through her rearview from time to time, more from what had become a kind of habit. Not long after she’d left the motorway, she became aware of a white Porsche some distance behind her.
And her mouth went dry, a cold dizziness almost making her lose control of the car. The Porsche had been there most of the time she was on the motorway, since shortly after she’d joined it, but she had thought nothing of the matter, assuming it was going to Reading, or Bristol, or Cardiff.
But now…
It could just be coincidence, of course.
What it was was a risk. One she didn’t want to take.
Up ahead a minor road led off to the right. She slowed, turned into it. She thought she heard a bullet ricochet off the bodywork again, though it could equally have been a stone or a loose chipping; then she was accelerating forward at top speed, making up for any time she might have lost by slowing down.
They couldn’t have tried anything on the motorway, for fear of causing a massive pile-up in which they might have been involved. Here they could more easily make her stop by shooting out one of her tyres, at reduced risk to themselves.
As soon as she felt safe to do so she reduced speed a little. She guessed the other car wouldn’t increase its own because you had to take care on these narrow country lanes; her pursuers would remain for a time at the same distance behind her.
For the next few minutes she kept to the network of minor roads that dissected the area, following the winding, twisting course of each. Slowing down whenever she had to get past another car or a tractor, or saw them coming towards her, and feeling comforted by the thought that the Porsche would be doing the same. She had a nasty moment when she took a turning and saw it coming down the road in front of her; with a screech of brakes she stopped, reversed and went back the way she’d come. But after that she didn’t see it for a while, and wondered if she’d shaken them off.
At the wheel of the Porsche Jamie Everett, at sixteen the youngest of Joe Hickman’s team of enforcers but already a seasoned gangster with one or two murders to his credit, scowled impatiently. “It’s like fucking Hampton Court maze,” he commented. Even the map on the screen of the device in front of him was no help. They knew where she was alright, but actually catching her was another matter entirely.
Eventually Caroline decided she’d had enough of negotiating this tortuous tangle of lanes. As soon as she came to a main road she turned into it, choosing at random to go right. She hadn’t the slightest idea where she was. It might help if she could consult her road atlas but she was afraid of what might happen if she stopped to do that. All she could do was keep going.

Thousands of miles away in a vast, gleaming, ultra-modern control room, a screen showed an image of a car hurtling along a country road in England.
A man sat hunched over the screen. He picked up the device on the console next to him, which looked rather like a radio telephone, and spoke into it. "Target heading north along B3457 in direction of town of Banbury.”
“Yeah, we see,” replied Jamie Everett. They’d be unlikely to lose her. But they still had to extricate themselves from this spaghetti junction of unclassified roads and he had half a mind to give it up. Only of course Salvatore Scarlione would never let them.
Caroline still had no idea where she was, but it was real countryside; open fields separated by hedgerows, little woods and dense thickets, tumbledown drystone walls, scattered cottages and farmhouses built from grey Cotswold stone. In other circumstances she might have appreciated it all a bit better.
How had they managed to find her again? That was what frightened her more than anything else.
They must have something, some fantastic gadget that enabled them to do it. They hadn’t just been persistent. She’d lost the Skoda, hadn’t she? There had been a noticeable - but short - interval between her shaking it off and the appearance of the Porsche, which might be significant.
Was it possible she could still be mistaken?
If they could pick up her trail whatever she did, there was no question of stopping at a guest house or hotel for the night. Or a layby, for that matter. Would it make any difference if she abandoned the car? Shouldn’t she do that now, when she seemed for the moment to have thrown them off again?
But they’d know what she’d done, and the countryside around her seemed too open right now. If they should reappear they’d spot her easily, go after her on foot and…
She remembered the gun, the thought giving her courage. Even so, she couldn’t run from them forever. They’d find a way of getting at her, somehow, sometime.
She decided that if the Porsche should reappear, it would prove her fears to be grounded. If she lost it again, she’d ditch the car at the first opportunity and hope that would throw them.
It occurred to her she ought to check the fuel gauge. It was almost empty. Was that a prompt from above; ditch the car? She’d have to anyway, before long, as soon as she could find a suitable spot.
But a little later a filling station came into view, and she decided on an impulse to stop and tank up. There was a queue before her; she pulled onto the forecourt of the serving station and took her place in it. Impatiently she waited for the two drivers before her to complete their business, nervous in case her pursuers should come along at any moment.
After what seemed an eternity the driver in front of her finished filling up and it was her turn. She opened the safety cap, inserted the nozzle of the hose in the tank and squeezed the trigger to start the petrol flowing.
The process seemed to take a long time.
She glanced down the road in the direction she’d come from.
Nothing there.
How many seconds, how many minutes was she losing? Five…ten…fifteen…
Come on, she muttered beneath her breath. Come on…
The indicator was a quarter full.
Half full.
She glanced down the road again.
And again.
And again.
A flash of white in the distance.
Oh God. Please, God…oh NO.
Was it the Porsche?
It came closer. Closer.
They sometimes drove past while you were filling up and pumped you full of bullets. It had happened, hadn’t it, in America and other places, in the past. Drive-by shootings.
But this wasn’t America. It was England. England.
She would wait until the car was almost level with her and then dive for cover beneath the Peugueot. Briefly she wondered what her fellow customers would make of her action, and giggled a little hysterically.
Three-quarters full.
It was white but not a Porsche. It was an Alfa Romeo. She relaxed, closing her eyes and breathing out slowly.
If it had been them, they could have blasted away and cut her down where she stood, leaving her lying dead in a slowly widening pool of her own blood.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped, giving a little shriek of fright.
“It’s full, love,” the man said. She looked at the indicator. “Oh, sorry,” she said nervously, and withdrew the hose. She closed the safety cap, went to pay the attendant, got into the car and drove off.
The signposts indicated she wasn’t far from Abingdon – that was to the south-west of Oxford, wasn’t it? Wherever she was, she’d been driving for much longer than she’d realised. Before too long she’d get tired, and lose the energy she might need later for running. And when it got dark she’d be unable to tell the colour or make of the car behind her. Another hour, she decided. Then if no Porsche, she’d start looking for a place to spend the night.
It was then that the Porsche reappeared. Her spirits plunged.
In her mind there could be no doubt about it now.
God, she would never be safe from these people, ever. She sobbed despairingly.
She couldn't go on running from them. Like a hunted, frightened animal.
And all this, she thought, because of one man's vicious, implacable hatred.
She felt herself start to panic.
What if she stopped somewhere only to be told they didn’t have any rooms free, and in the meantime her pursuers caught up with her? Could she say, “Look I’m sorry but it’s really urgent, the Mafia are after me you see. I’ll be happy to sleep in the garden shed if I have to.” They’d think she was crazy.
Because they didn’t yet know. Didn’t know what had happened, that a criminal organisation had suddenly acquired an omniscience that must give it total power over everything. Again she remembered that her pursuers would probably be able to find her anyway.
This gadget they must have, this magic whatever-it-was. It surely couldn’t see through walls, could it? If it could, then there was nowhere in the whole wide world she could hide. Nowhere. She had to assume the fear was misplaced, for the sake of her sanity.
She found her whole life flashing before her.
Again she took the next turning off she came to, spending as much time as possible driving around the spider’s web of lanes.

In the pursuing car Jamie Everett scowled. ”She’s giving us a run for our fucking money.” He felt both admiration and irritation.
“Look, there she is,” shouted Benny Mantell, spotting the Peugeot across the fields.
They changed direction.

Caroline noticed the light was starting to fade. If she turned off her lights they couldn’t…
But then she’d have an accident and maybe kill herself, wouldn’t she?
And if they couldn’t see her – though for all she knew, the darkness would make no difference to their apparent ability to find her wherever she was - she couldn’t see them.
She rejoined the main road, glancing to left and right as she came to the junction. No sign of the Porsche. Turning right, she remembered what she’d decided to do a while before and started looking for a place to stop.
On her left the drystone wall running along beside the road came to an end and was succeeded by a wood and wire fence that didn’t look too steady. Beyond the fence was a large field, overgrown, and ending on its northern side in a patch of dense woodland.
Seeing the road ahead was clear she swerved sharply, heading straight for a collapsed section of the fence.
As she had supposed the construction was too flimsy for the impact to do any serious damage. The Peugeot ploughed straight through it, knocking aside broken planks and strands of wire, and she drove on at top speed across the field towards the wood.
Peugeots were designed for roads, not fields. The uneven, slightly sloping ground slowed the car a little. It bumped and juddered along, Caroline shaking both from fear and from the vehicle’s violent shuddering.
She stopped the vehicle at the edge of the wood and jumped out.

“She’s gone into that wood,” Everett observed. He called his boss and asked for instructions.
“Then get after her,” Hickman said practically.
Everett frowned. “The thing is, boss, that gun…”
“There’s four of you isn’t there?”
“Well, yeah, but…” Everett had never been in a situation like this before. Nor, in fact, had any of his more experienced colleagues. He was suddenly very frightened; it was an emotion he wasn’t accustomed to feel.
“But what?” demanded Hickman.
“Well if she panics and starts shooting; OK, she’s outnumbered. But any of us could be the one to cop it.” With all the benefits to them from Scarlione’s thing, they were on top of the world. Everett didn’t want to throw that all away in his case by being on the receiving end of a bullet.
“Listen, Scarlione will have our arses if we don’t deliver her to him like a fucking Christmas present, and soon. You fucking well do it, Jay, or I’ll kill you. That goes for anyone else who’s thinking of bottling out. And you won’t be able to run from me, will you? Remember what happened to Ronnie Bowker. So just do as you’re told.” Hickman cut him off.
Everett realised he was sweating.
The arsehole, he thought. He wouldn’t put himself in that kind of danger. But there wasn’t much Everett could do about it. He told the others where they stood, and to be careful if they wanted to maximise their chances of coming out of this without getting hurt. It might mean shooting Caroline before she shot one of them, perhaps abandoning the goal of taking her alive. If either Hickman or Scarlione felt cut up about that, too bad. He’d just have to risk their wrath.
He found his hatred and aggression transferring itself to Caroline; it had to go somewhere. She was the reason they were in this mess in the first place. Well she’d fucking well pay for it.
The hole in the fence came in sight and they slowed, pulling onto the grass verge. The four of them scrambled out and ran across the field in the direction of the abandoned Peugeot.
In the wood Caroline paused to listen. She heard the sound of a car engine, changing in pitch and then dying as the vehicle stopped. She ran on a little more, trying to bury herself as deep as possible in the heart of the wood.
“We gotta surround the place,” Everett shouted to his companions as they neared the edge of the wood. “Else she could double back to the car.”
“If we do that we spread ourselves out,” replied Jez. “She could slip past us and still double back to the car.”
And, thought Everett, it meant each of then would have to tackle Caroline on their own, in the first instance. They might get a chance to shoot her in the back, rather than challenge her and risk getting killed or wounded. But if anything went wrong…
This thing of Scarlione’s wasn’t so fantastic after all.
In the end he decided they’d go in after her, and stay together. If they did lose her again, and had to give up through sheer exhaustion, then at least they’d still be alive. Stuff Scarlione and his vendetta. But for the sake of their own skins they had to make the effort.
“As soon as you see her, any of you, start shooting like fuck,” Everett instructed his colleagues. “We’ll all do the same.” It was the only way he could think of of insuring himself against being shot by the target.
And bugger the consequences.

Sweating and cold herself, Caroline paused in the shadow of an immense oak tree and took stock of things. On past evidence, they must know where she was, mustn’t they?
Would they surround the wood or enter it in search of her? One thing was certain, she didn’t want to have to spend the night here if she could help it. At best she would be cold and uncomfortable, and probably get little sleep. She might even freeze to death, even though it was summer.
It would be dark before long. Would they give up then, wait until morning? And what could she do in the meantime?
What was there beyond the wood? She walked on, knowing it couldn’t go on forever and that she must come to the other end of it sooner or later.
She realised she couldn’t hear any birdsong, as if the violent activities of Man had frightened the animals away.
Eventually the trees started to thin out. She emerged from the wood into another scrubby field; in the distance were clustered a group of farm buildings, eighteenth-century stone cottages contrasting sharply with a row of modern metal grain silos. She looked all around her, and nestling at the edge of the wood about a hundred yards away her eye fell on the shape of a large barn, of corrugated iron sheeting presumably laid over a wood or steel frame, and standing on a base of concrete blocks. That would be a better place to spend the night. Unfortunately, they would know she’d gone there and she’d be trapped. They might not go in if they knew she had the gun, because she could stand to one side and shoot at anyone who entered, but she had to come out sometime.
She looked around desperately for anything which might provide a solution to her predicament.
Deciding she had nothing to lose, Caroline approached the barn. A heavy wooden door in the side of the structure stood ajar, the rusty iron padlock which hung from it creaking as it swung gently in the evening breeze. She slipped through the gap, pulled the door to and stood looking around the dim interior of the barn, squinting a little. There was just enough light coming through the windows for her to see properly.
She didn’t get the impression the building had been used much in recent years. Masses of farm machinery sat rusting in a corner under a tarpaulin, forming odd shapes in the gathering gloom. There was a worn-out David Brown tractor, a few cans of petrol. Hay was strewn about the floor or stacked in bales against one wall. Various odds and ends littered the place; some empty crates, a few lengths of grey-coloured sheeting, a couple of chairs, some tools, several boxes full of rubbish. Bricks had been stacked in four columns to support a slab of wood, forming a makeshift table on which lay a box of matches and a paraffin lamp. She guessed the barn must have been used at one time as a den by local youths, but it now seemed totally abandoned. It stank of decay and stale urine.
There was a second, larger door at the front of the building, allowing farm vehicles to enter or leave, but it was locked and the lock appeared to have rusted solid. In the centre of the floor was what looked like a trapdoor, and presumably led down to some kind of cellar.
They’d be bound to search the barn. How effectively could she hide, and for how long?
She surveyed the array of bric-a-brac before her, and the rudiments of a plan began to form in her mind.
Those piles of sheeting. That was asbestos, surely.
She tried the hatch in the floor and found it locked, but loose. The hinges shifted, creaking, as she jiggled it about.
Among the tools were a monkey wrench and a hammer. With a bit of heaving and straining she succeeded in wrenching the lock off so she could get the hatch open. She realised the cover would get in the way of what she wanted to do if it were in the raised position, and yet it would have to be. But the wood of the floor, though just sound enough to bear her weight, was old and rotten; she might as well take the cover off entirely. She worked at the hinges, and the hasps securing them down, with the claw of the hammer until the wood around them had been ripped away and she could lift the whole lot out. She looked down and saw the rungs of a rickety-looking wooden ladder, descending into what appeared to be cavernous blackness.
Best to make sure that the sheets of asbestos weren’t caught in anything and were easy to move. She tugged at the top one and it came free.
Next she shovelled the loose hay on the floor with her feet until it was piled against the door by which she’d entered the barn. For good measure she threw a couple of the bales on top of the pile. It wouldn’t be much of a barrier, she guessed, but that wasn’t its primary purpose.
She studied the cans of petrol – manufactured by her own company, she noted with pride – and hefted each container experimentally. She heard the liquid inside slosh about; yes, there seemed enough of it for her needs. She struggled to get the tops off.
What she planned to do was sickeningly dangerous – if it went wrong – but Scarlione probably planned to do something equally nasty to her if he caught her, so she didn’t have much to lose.
People were moving about outside; it sounded like a number of them, or she might not have heard the sounds.
So they did know.
Hurry, Caroline, she thought dizzily.
She had to assume for the sake of her peace of mind that whatever they were using to locate her couldn’t see through walls.
They were definitely making towards the barn.

Everett stopped them for a moment. “Right, we kick down the door and go in with all guns blazing. That’s the only way.”
Fear lent him aggression. A single ferocious fusillade offered the best chance of killing their victim, and of not being killed themselves.

Caroline wrestled with the top of the first can until she finally managed to twist it off. She sprinkled some of the petrol on the floor at the base of the far wall, on the wall itself – of wood beneath its metal sheathing – and on various nearby objects. She was about to turn her attention to the second can, then decided to leave it. From the noises outside it sounded as if the enemy were almost at the door.
She ran to the box of matches and struck one, then tossed it into the pile of hay blocking the door. The hay began to smoulder, but didn’t immediately catch fire. She threw another match, then another.
Everett and his companions stopped on seeing the smoke issuing from beneath the door, and retreated a few paces, exchanging uncertain glances.
The hay was old and rotten, which was why it didn’t burn easily. Instead it was just smoking, despite all Caroline’s efforts to encourage it. For a moment she regarded the pathetic wisps of vapour curling upwards, then ran to the second petrol can and wrestled with the lid, desperation lending her strength. It came off and she ran back to the heap of hay in front of the door, emptying the entire contents of the can over it.
Everett made up his mind. Moving to one side, he took hold of the edge of the door, gingerly, and flung it open. When no tongue of flame lashed out he stepped forward.
At that very moment Caroline tossed the lighted match onto the petrol-soaked hay. As Mantell made to follow Everett he heard a roar like an angry, hungry monster, followed by an almighty scream from his companion. A wall of flame appeared before them, blocking the doorway. Everett staggered back, the gun dropping from his hand.
The wave of searing heat forced the others to retreat. They saw that Everett had fallen to the ground and was rolling over and over shrieking like all the lost souls in hell. They couldn’t see his face because his hands were clasped tightly over it, but his flesh was red and raw and smoking, shit it was smoking. Mantell and Jez struggled to drag him away from the fire, handicapped by his thrashing and kicking convulsively.
In the barn the fire was starting to spread to other things. A tongue of flame leaped from the burning mass of hay and ignited one of the boxes of rubbish. It wouldn’t be long before it reached the petrol scattered on the other side of the barn.
Caroline had wanted to be an actress before going into business, and had performed with distinction in school plays and the like. Suppressing a shudder she tried to imagine what it was like to burn to death, or be in imminent danger of doing so, and let out a series of what she hoped were convincing screams. Then she grasped the sheet of asbestos with both hands and dragged it up to the opening in the floor. Turning, she descended the first few rungs of the ladder, reached up, took hold of the sheet again and tugged at it until it was right over the opening, blotting out all her light.
She began to descend the rest of the ladder, hoping it was strong enough to bear her weight. It swayed alarmingly and she caught her breath in fear. She paused in her climb, recovering her nerves, then resumed it. She was venturing into complete and utter darkness. She’d no idea how far down the ladder went and although it couldn’t be that far, she’d have preferred being able to see what was around her. She had a sudden vision of the heroine in that bleak and terrible ghost story The Tower – another Caroline, and blonde into the bargain – who finished the story climbing down a staircase which never seemed to end, the implication being that she was trapped forever at the mercy of malevolent forces beyond the power of humans to understand or control.
No way. This one was going to survive, understand? She had composed various endings of her own where the heroine survived to give the supernatural powers what for. Well, she was determined to pull through in real life except of course her enemies weren’t supernatural but ordinary humans, albeit particularly evil.
And omniscient, or so it seemed.
Five feet, she reckoned. Ten…her feet touched a solid floor and she let go of the ladder. She looked about her but could see nothing. Just impenetrable, terrifying blackness. A cobweb brushed her face and she flicked the sticky strands away with a cry of disgust. She did the same with the thing that next moment she felt scuttling down her cheek and dropping onto her shoulder.
She sat down at the base of the ladder and drew her knees up to her chin, hugging herself into a protective ball. The cellar was damp and stank of something like mouldering earth, the air close and stifling. She’d have to steady her nerves and try to breath shallowly. And not only were the spiders huge but she could hear little scuffling noises as rats darted about, fleeing perhaps from the inferno above. They were big ones.
A sudden childish fear gripped her, imagination filling the surrounding blackness with all manner of nightmarish horrors. She wished she’d taken the box of matches down with her; they might have given her some small light to see by. But then she had the idea that she might not want to see what was down here. Or there might be something flammable in the cellar, a pocket of gas perhaps, which she might ignite by striking a match.
It was hard to tell just what the smell was that filled the air. Of one thing she was sure, whatever was making it had been dead for years.

Maybe the girl had gone out the main door to the barn. Leaving Everett for the moment, they ran round to it, to find it closed and no sign of Caroline. They listened for sounds of disturbed vegetation, in case she’d gone back into the wood, but couldn’t hear any. Then again she’d be careful not to make too much of a noise. Mantell made a call on his radio. “Where is she now?”
“She hasn’t left the barn,” the accented voice replied.
Smoke was now pouring from under the door and coming through the walls. They turned away, coughing and spluttering.
In the barn, the rest of the petrol suddenly ignited. In seconds the interior of the building was a solid mass of roaring flame, devouring everything combustible, including the residual petrol in the tank of the tractor. They could feel the heat through the walls. They ran back to where Everett was still rolling about on the ground and screaming. As they studied him in horrified fascination his convulsions ceased, the screams giving way to a soft moaning. Mantell guessed delayed shock was starting to take effect.
Everett’s face was so disfigured as to be almost unrecognisable, half his hair burnt away, most of the skin gone to expose raw, glistening flesh. His head looked like a smooth, shiny pink egg. Contemplating it, each man felt he wanted to puke.
They looked back at the barn. Smoke was coming from it in greater and greater quantities. One by one the windows shattered, and through the openings they saw the yellow flames leaping and dancing like mischievous fire sprites. The gobbling roar of the blaze was terrifying to listen to. Jesus, thought Mantell. What’s the stupid bitch gone and done?
He heard something give way inside the building and fall with a crash.
Clearly it would be highly dangerous, if not suicidal, to enter it now. They could wait to see if she came out, but Mantell didn’t think it likely she would. She had trapped herself in there, with the fire. Meanwhile, the blaze might attract attention even though, from what he could see, the barn was a long way from any other building. Any trouble with the police could of course be sorted out pretty quickly but it would still be a nuisance. And Everett needed to be got to hospital. (Any problems arising from that could be taken care of as well).
Leave it.
He concentrated his attention on Everett. “Are you alright? Can you hear me, mate?” His friend’s eyes stared fixedly, blankly, at him from the ruin of a face.
“Can you walk?” He tried to lift Everett into a standing position, but as soon as he let go the youth collapsed heavily. He shouted for help and he and Darren raised Everett to his feet again, this time keeping him supported between the two of them and walking him along. He took each step slowly and hestitantly.
Behind them the barn continued to burn. The wooden main framing was already a heap of ashes. Now the metal outer cladding was buckling, twisting, blackening from the intense heat. Slowly it folded inwards, crumpling like a concertina, the walls collapsing on top of one another into a pile of blazing scrap and bringing the roof down in a shower of sparks.

The technician studied the image on the screen before him, which showed the burnt-out barn in the wood. He touched a series of controls. The image changed, and changed again. And again. Showing the barn from all possible angles.
It was a wreck, a total wreck.
He waited until, by his reckoning, they would all be back in the car, taking Everett to hospital. Then he called Mantell. “What do you think happened?”
“She started a fire to keep us out, and it got out of hand. Burnt the whole place down with her inside.”
“Is she dead, do you reckon?”
“I think I heard a scream, I can’t be sure. I was busy seeing to my mate. But she can’t have got out of that, no way. She’s toast, I tell you.”
”And how is your friend?”
“He’s pretty bad. Look, we can’t hang about the place, we’ve got to get him seen to.”
“OK. We’ll keep watching the barn. I’ll let Scarlione know about this. Let us know if you have any problems at the hospital.”
The technician continued to stare at the screen. The mound of burning debris hid whatever was beneath it from view. Argus might have detected the heat signature from anyone still alive under all that wreckage, but that signature would be masked by the greater heat from the fire, which would take a while to die down, the debris remaining hot for some time after that. And meanwhile the device might be needed for other things.
A scream…
After a while the technician began to get bored.
In any case, no-one could have survived that inferno, he told himself. The heat trace showed just how intense it had been. He delayed over the matter for some minutes, then picked up an internal phone and called the director of the establishment where he worked.

Salvatore Scarlione was by his swimming pool, lounging in a reclining chair, surrounded by beautiful women none of whom was wearing very much. Earlier one of him, at his request, had smeared him with suntan oil. He had contemplated getting her to do other favours for him as well, but the heat was making him drowsy and he decided in the end he couldn’t be bothered.
On the little table beside him his cellphone began to ring, startling him from his doze, and one of the women handed it to him.
He listened first with keen interest, then a slight frown. Finally he relaxed, sitting back with a broad beaming grin. “So the bitch got burnt to a crisp. Well, I’m not complaining. It’s just what she deserved. I’m sorry I wasn’t there personally to light the fire, but I guess you can’t have everything.”
“Not quite how I anticipated things turning out,” said Hickman. “Still, I’m glad we could be of assistance. I, er, think we ought to get a bonus for this, don’t you? Payment for services rendered.”
Scarlione scowled. In his view Hickman’s men had blundered, or Caroline would still be alive. But he needed to keep the component parts of his gestalt happy. “Fair enough, Joe. I’ll increase your share of the cash by a few thousand, though it’ll be for next month only. That OK?”
“I guess so.”
“Everything OK on your patch?”
“I guess so.”
“Great. See you, then.”
I suppose I got what I wanted, all things considered, Scarlione reflected. He looked across to where Vito was racing his girlfriend Francesca (“Frankie”), soon to be his wife and mother of the next generation of the dynasty, from one end of the pool to the other. Vito won, but Frankie wasn’t far behind. She was a strong, healthy girl, who’d bear Scarlione many fine grandchildren.
He thought for a moment of his own wife, and while the thought lingered his face was sombre. Alessandra had killed herself because she did not like the kind of life he lived, the whole La Cosa Nostra set-up, yet felt herself inevitably drawn into it, forced to say or do nothing while, she knew, people were murdered and crippled and intimidated to keep it in being.
But then she should have known what she was letting herself in for.
Vito clambered from the pool, water streaming down his muscular frame, grinning with pleasure at his bride-to-be as she came to join him. The two of them started to towel themselves down.
Once dry they headed for the pavilion to change. Scarlione waited for them to emerge, then called out to his son. Vito hurried over.
“A word in private.” He shouted across to the girl. “Company business, Frankie, you understand?” Frankie nodded. She knew that engagement and marriage to Vito meant accepting his father’s word was law, even if she wasn’t entirely happy with that. For his part, Scarlione made it a cardinal rule within his organisation that women shouldn’t be privy to important and confidential matters. From time to time there were exceptions, who’d proved quite effective at carrying out hits and could therefore by his reckoning be trusted with other matters too, but he preferred to keep them out of it if at all possible. They too might let their hearts rule their heads, develop obsessions which got in the way of the proper conduct of business.
Frankie went on into the house. “What is it, Dad?” Vito asked.
Scarlione lowered his voice, from instinct rather than because he was afraid the broads would tell anyone outside his retinue what passed between them. Whatever their failings in the brain department they were smart enough to know what would happen if they sang; supposing they could do any damage if they did. He told Vito what had happened at the barn. “Looks like she’s out of our hair at last. But we gotta make it clear to everyone it was us who killed her otherwise the point’s lost, you understand?”
“But we did kill her. Indirectly, I mean. She wouldn’t have been in that barn if we hadn’t been chasing her.”
“No, but it’s not good enough. I don’t want it to seem like an accident, I want to ram it into everybody’s head that she died because she bad-mouthed me. You can find the right take on it. Tell a barefaced lie if you must. Apart from our own people no-one’s gonna know it isn’t true, and if they did know they’d be too Goddamn scared to contradict us. How about we dumped her in there, alive, and then torched the place?”
Vito nodded. “Uh-huh, if that’s what you want.”
“It sounds good, don’t you think? It’s what I’d have done. So go and see to it when you’ve got a moment. As soon as the body’s found.”
“I’ll see to it, Dad.” With a respectful nod Vito went off.
Scarlione stretched himself out again. Yes, it was a bummer he hadn’t been in at the kill, but it wouldn’t have been a very pleasant form of death, even if she’d probably have passed out from the smoke before the flames got to her. The main thing was, he’d shown that he couldn’t be made fun of. He was the tops after all. And it was precisely with the help of his new toy that he’d done it. The thing worked, alright.
He let out a whoop of sheer joy. The girls looked round, startled at first, then went on with their swimming and sunbathing, leaving Salvatore Scarlione to reflect on just how fucking glorious life was just now.

Stan Hodgson was out on his tractor, ploughing, and as he did so savouring the fresh, invigorating morning air. It made him feel a lot younger than his fifty-five and a half years. He could retire and hand over the running of the farm entirely to his two sons, but feared that if he did he’d pretty soon go to seed. Stan enjoyed the life of a farmer; the outdoor life, that kept you fit and healthy. There were downsides to it, like getting up early to milk the cows, but he could leave that sort of thing to the boys. With them to help him there was no reason why he shouldn’t carry on for a few more years yet; he wouldn’t retire until he got too old to do the heavy work.
Job wasn’t paying as well as it used to, though. There was a time when farmers had been perceived, not without justification, as fabulously wealthy and politically powerful. They could turf people off their land without any repercussions, and he’d known people who’d deliberately burnt down buildings on their farms and then claimed on the insurance. Of course plenty of rumours went about, but it could never be proved in court, not least because you could usually afford the services of a good solicitor.
The view had been that if you got on the wrong side of a farmer, you’d had it. Now things had changed and people no longer respected farmers or indeed the countryside as a whole. Bloody Labour government and the politically correct liberals who ran things saw rural England as being full of reactionary, Tory-voting bigots, irrelevant to modern society except in a negative way, who did ideologically unsound things like hunt foxes for example. So the money for improvements was drying up, schools were closing and people were moving to the towns. There wouldn’t be a lot of the countryside left soon, if people weren’t careful. Despite the fucking Green Belt, which was supposed to protect it, anyone with half a brain could see the villages were getting bigger, becoming towns, joining up. Destroying the way of life Stan had known since he was a child, and didn’t want to exchange for any other.
Of course farming would still continue in one form or other. You
couldn’t eat the products of industry, dishwashers and machine tools and motor cars and silicon chips. In fact agriculture was still the most important profession of all because you still needed bread and without it no-one would be alive to make computers, satellites, televisions or mobile phones. Even today.
That was something people would do well to bear in mind.
It meant Stan Hodgson could still feel important. From the cabin of the tractor he surveyed his domain with pride, looking round the impressive sweep of the field, the view taking in the arable land over to the west where his sheep and cattle were grazing, the house and yard, and then the ancient wood bordering the property which had changed little in a thousand years, with the barn at its edge that he could never decide whether or not to demolish.
He squinted, frowning. There seemed to be something odd about the building. Its collapsed state penetrated to his consciousness. His frown grew deeper; although derelict, it was too sturdy a structure to be blown over and in any case there had been no strong winds during the night. It suddenly hit him that it had been burnt down. He was about to pass by the matter, after all the barn had proved surplus to requirements and he hadn’t had much use for it these last few years, when anger suddenly flared up in him that yobs had been trespassing on his property, setting fire to things. He assumed it was yobs, anyway. And next time they might destroy something rather more valuable.
He stopped the tractor, got down from it and tramped over in his wellies to take a closer look. The acrid, unnatural smell of burnt metal made him wince. Little flakes of ash, carried from the fire on the wind, were scattered everywhere. He scanned the wreckage for clues, noting where it was heaped around the burnt-out skeleton of the tractor, which had prevented the roof falling quite flat.
He froze. Had he heard something just then: a muffled human voice, calling out from somewhere close by, or was it birdsong? He listened.
There it was again. And no mistake this time, it was definitely human. Help, help.
He realised with a shock it was coming from underneath the ruins of the barn. A cellar…wasn’t there a cellar? That was the only place they could be.
“Hello?” he shouted. The voice shouted back, encouraged. He strained to make out what it was saying. “Help! Help! Get me out of here!”
“Hold on!” he yelled, and ran back to the farm. He fetched his sons, James and Robert, who had been mucking out the cowsheds, and the three of them began trying to shift the wreckage. It was a long, hard, laborious job but Hodgson was fit and strong from his many years working on the farm and James and Robert were two brawny young men in the prime of their lives. Fortunately they had a tractor fitted with a shovel which James used to push aside the heavier items. After about an hour’s toil they had cleared away the warped sheets of metal, the charred pieces of timber and other debris from around the trapdoor that led down to the cellar.
There seemed to be some asbestos sheeting covering it. Hodgson had hidden the stuff away in the barn because he knew he wasn’t supposed to have it. Robert pulled the sheet away and they stood looking down into the darkness of the cellar.
What sleep Caroline had managed to get had been short and fitful and she had eventually lost track of time. After a while, assuming the hitmen would have gone by then, she had begun calling for help. Farmers had to get up early to milk their cows, didn’t they? She had to presume the fire had been noticed and that sooner or later someone would investigate. If they didn’t, she might be stuck down here until she starved to death. The air quality wasn’t doing her much good either.
Her heart had leaped with sheer relief when someone had called back. Now daylight was flooding into the cellar, revealing that it held nothing more threatening than a lot of crates which had formerly contained apples, long gone mouldy and rotten, and covered with cobwebs.
Dirty and smelling of damp, stale earth she scrambled up the ladder and into the open, breathing in great lungfuls of the cool air. At first she was so relieved at her deliverance she didn’t notice the farmer and his sons, three burly figures in denims, staring at her in amazement. She could guess what they were thinking. A girl?
“You alright now?” Hodgson asked gruffly. His Midlands accent was in the process of turning into a London one.
She nodded. “Yes, I think so. Thankyou for letting me out.”
And posh as well, Hodgson thought. What the hell is going on here? “Anyone else in there?”
“No.” Hodgson told James to go down and take a look, saying it was best to make sure. Although puzzled, apart from anything else, as to why someone like Caroline should turn up in the cellar of a burnt-out barn deep in the countryside he was also a little suspicious. “I think perhaps you owe me an explanation or two,” he told her. Pretty as you are, he thought.
She eyed the younger man, noting that he was pretty powerfully built, like his brother. No doubt both had grips of steel. If either managed to grab hold of her, she might have problems getting away.
“My – my car broke down,” she told them. “I thought I’d walk to the nearest village and find a phone box. Then…then they attacked me.” She tried to sound shocked and fearful at the memory; after all she’d been through during the last few hours, it wasn’t that difficult.
“Who attacked you?”
“Two – two men.” She swayed slightly, one hand going to her forehead. “I – I hid in the barn. While I was there I must have knocked over something…I can’t remember. Sorry about your barn.”
James emerged from the cellar. “It’s empty.”
“Why didn’t you ring from your car?” asked Robert. “Call the AA or something?”
“I left my mobile at home. Silly of me.”
“Alright,” Hodgson grunted. “You’d better come back to the house with us, have a lie down. Then I suppose we’d better call the police.”
They started to walk towards the farmhouse. Suddenly Caroline broke away from them and ran off into the wood. Hodgson gave a shout and dashed after her, James and Robert following. Caroline weaved in and out of the trees, several times stumbling over a root and falling, which slowed her down. James caught up with her and grabbed her by the wrist. “Let go of me!” she shouted, struggling fiercely. “Let me go!” She managed to twist round and bite him, sinking her teeth into his fingers. He yelled in pain and released her. She disappeared into the trees again, just as Robert and Stan came running up. Cursing and swearing, James stumbled after her, but his father stopped him. “All right, leave her! Let her go if she wants to.”
He stared after Caroline, scratching his head in utter bewilderment. “Can’t make bloody head or tail of it, I’m sure.”
James was wincing and waving his bleeding hand about, cursing from both pain and rage. He’d felt that. She’d drawn blood, too. He was reminded of a vixen, vicious when cornered.
“You sure we shouldn’t – “ began Robert.
“Positive,” grunted Stan. “I haven’t the slightest idea what this is all about, but I don’t think it’s anything we need worry over. She hasn’t done any real harm, apart from burn down an old barn that wasn’t no use to us any more. There’s no point in involving the police.” If he did, they might find out about the asbestos.
Yes; overall, it was better this way. The three of them returned to the farm, James to see to his injured hand, Robert to the pigs and Stan to his ploughing, and forgot about the whole thing.

“Any idea where Caroline is?” asked Emma Brangwyn, deputy head of Accounts.
The others in the staff common room at IPL looked at each other, nonplussed. “I thought she’d taken the month off,” said Chris.
He had been both saddened and worried when Caroline told him. He knew he’d miss her after a while, her faults notwithstanding. And the second attempt on her life – if that was what it’d been - which both proved that Scarlione was still on her case and necessitated long-term police protection, did nothing to quell his fears either for her or the world in general.
“Rang her last night and couldn’t get hold of her,” said Emma, who did keep-fit classes with Caroline once a week. “I know she was in some trouble and we’d have to have gone under police escort – it still seems weird to me somehow – but it’s not like her to miss a session. She’d have let me know if she couldn’t come for some reason.”
Chris stiffened. “You couldn’t get hold of her?”
“No. I tried several times and there was no reply.”
“Hmmm,” said Chris uneasily. He presumed that if Caroline had been on the bog or whatever one of the police stationed in her house to look after her would have answered the phone. They’d have been anxious to give the impression someone was with her at all times.
He returned to his office, where he busied himself with various odd tasks, without much enthusiasm, until someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” he said, as cheerfully as his fears for Caroline would allow.
As it happened it was Caroline who entered. He was so relieved he almost kissed her. “Where’ve you been?” he enquired. “We were getting a bit worried about you.” He could see lines of strain in her face.
Caroline had stopped at a service station on the way down for a wash-and-brush-up, and had managed to snatch a few hours’ much-needed sleep, but it was clear to him that something traumatic had happened. She fell into a chair, taking a couple of deep breaths. “You will not believe what has just happened to me.”
“Try me. But I thought the police were – “
When she’d finished her story he could only gape at her across the desk in amazement and dismay. “You’re joking,” he whispered, because he wanted so much to believe she was.
“No, I’m not. Scarlione got the police protection withdrawn somehow.” She gripped the arms of the chair tightly. “You know what this means, Chris?” He could sense the fear emanating from her, and something of it communicated itself to him. He shifted his chair back.
“I sure do know,” he answered, his face tight. “You can’t go to the cops again because someone will find out you’re still alive.”
“That’s right. I must have shaken them off for now or they’d have followed me back here, and as far as I can tell no-one did. But if they can pull strings to get protection withdrawn from me, they must have…I don’t know, informants, people placed high up in the police...”
“Do you want a cup of tea?” he asked. Come to think of it he could do with one himself.
“That’d be nice.”
They sat and talked about it. “How far up do you think it goes? To Scotland Yard?”
“There’s no telling how far up it goes,” Caroline said despairingly.
“But if they think you’re dead, you should be alright,” Chris pointed out.
“Not necessarily. It’ll probably come out, if it hasn’t already, that something happened that shouldn’t have. Someone will get a bollocking. But there’s no telling who else has been compromised. If someone hasn’t, and visits me to apologise, it could get back to the…the wrong people and they’ll know I’m still around.”
“What if you were to disappear for a while? I mean, it’s the only solution. Was that what you were planning to do?”
“If I’d been burnt to ashes in an abandoned barn right out in the sticks, that’s exactly what I would do. It depends what that farmer tells the police. I’ve a suspicion he’ll keep quiet, because of the asbestos.”
“But you’re going to lie low for a bit?”
“As I was meaning to do anyway. For more than a month, if possible. I think it’d be best. By the time I resurface Scarlione will hopefully have forgotten about me.”
“It doesn’t seem he’s the kind of guy who ever forgets an insult.”
“Meanwhile, I just don’t trust the authorities,” she went on. “It seems things are happening that never happened before. There’s no way of knowing who’s clean now.”
“Will things be any different when you come out of hiding?”
“I don’t know. Maybe someone’ll realise what’s going on and try and do something about it.”
“If they’re not different, you could still be in trouble. If you go back to your normal life, to your job, all your usual hobbies, there’s always the chance that sooner or later Scarlione’s people will notice something. It all depends how long he’s prepared to keep this up for, and as I said…” But they’d just have to take the risk, unless Caroline’s “disappearance” was going to be permanent. One thing was certain, there was a limit to how long she could vanish for if she wanted to keep her job.
“Hennig will need to know, of course,” she added, not relishing the prospect.
“Fuck Hennig,” said Chris. “The real question is, where will you go?”
“There’s my parents, and other relatives. But I don’t want to drag them into this.”
“What about your aunt and her family in Australia?”
“How do we know Scarlione’s influence doesn’t reach even to there?”
“We don’t,” he conceded. “But you could still go there. You’d be in disguise or something.”
“Oh would I?” she muttered. “How exciting.”
“It would just make it a bit easier to hide from him, being so far away.” Caroline thought he was probably right, but she didn’t feel like abandoning her home country, to which she was extremely attached, because of the likes of Scarlione. “Hmm, maybe,” she said.
“You could forge your passport, give yourself a new identity; there’s a lot of that goes on.” He was quite serious. Then he smiled: “You could do it like that MP who did a vanishing trick back in the seventies. Leave your clothes on a beach and…”
“I don’t think we need to go that far,” she told him. “What we’ll do is…”
“You wouldn’t have to be completely naked,” he assured her. “Unless of course it was a nudist beach.”
“Of course. Now if we can be serious for a moment, what I was going to say was that I need to find somewhere to rent, a long way from where I usually hang out.” There was another possible solution: contacts her friends, family and colleagues didn't know about, who would probably be able to look after her better than anyone else could. But they were part of the establishment and perhaps they, too, had been compromised, in which case the thought of putting herself under their protection sent a shiver down her spine.
“Can I stay with you for the moment?” she asked hesitantly, not wanting to impose herself on him.
“Sure,” he replied without hesitation. People would gossip, but as far as he was concerned they could go screw themselves. “I'll make up the spare bed."
He came to a decision. “I’ll take the time off as well. I’d feel happier if I was there to look after you.”
“Bless you,” she smiled, for once not resenting the suggestion that she needed to be “looked after.”
They sipped their tea in silence for a while. “Well, it’s a flipping weird business, that’s for sure,” Chris sighed.
"It's spooky," Caroline shuddered. "God knows how they do it. How they can tell where you are. I just get this idea that they can see everything..know everything.”
She realised she still had the gun she had taken from one of the hitmen. Be as well to carry it around with her all the time, in her handbag, as long as she was careful no-one saw it and she didn’t go anywhere that had a metal detector.
“Yeah, just how were they able to keep track of you so easily? Find you again so quickly? I don’t get it.”
She thought for a moment, trying to answer the question, to find an explanation for the mystery. An idea occurred to her - and to Chris - but both dismissed it almost immediately. It was impossible, just impossible. There had to be some other explanation.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said at last. “That’s what’s so scary.”
"With Viellar you had a chance. He couldn't see where you were, not all the time. But now...fortunately, you seem to have fooled them for the moment.”
She put down her empty cup. "Yep. Obviously, they have to be looking for you to know what you’re doing, and they won’t if they think you’ve snuffed it. But once they get a fix on you, they seem to have exceptionally good eyesight."
"Hey, shall we give you a mock funeral?” Chris said suddenly. “That’d really bamboozle them. Everyone would be crying their eyes out – “ He actually seemed doubtful on that point, and Caroline’s eyes narrowed slightly. “They ought to be anyway,” he said hurriedly.
“We’d need a body,” she pointed out. “Or a conspiracy. Both, in fact. And if anyone found out there’d been some deception, and the Mob got to know, well then it’d be obvious I was still alive. Secondly, we could only do it with the authorities' permission. I can't see them agreeing, even supposing they haven’t been got at.”
Because that would be tantamount to an admission. An admission that there was a new power in the world, which had as much if not more ability to influence events and affect people's lives than the legitimate authorities; so much, in fact, that the usual procedures would have to be suspended in order to fight it. A new order, which presented a challenge to conventional authority that it did not know how to meet. At best, we were fighting a war. At worst, the bad guys had already won it.
Their ego, their peace of mind, would not permit them to accept what had happened, at least not publicly. The revelation would be frightening and dangerous. It could cause panic and unrest. Disillusion with a world that people already thought of as being ridden with crime would destroy the morale of society, eating away at its moral and spiritual fabric.
“What about your cat?” Chris asked, interrupting Caroline’s thoughts.
“Julie’s feeding him.” She no longer had a conscience about that.
Hickman’s thugs would leave the house alone now that its owner was dead, or thought to be.
"The first thing to do is clear it with Hennig. We must make sure your job's safe. It won’t be if you go AWOL again.”
“I know. Well I’d better go and get it over with, hadn’t I? See you later.”
“Didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” said Hennig when she appeared in his office. “Nothing wrong I hope?”
She stood before him with her hands clasped behind her back, like a little girl about to beg a favour or confess to some wrong. “Er, I might have to be away for more than a month actually. I was wondering in fact if I could finish that career break I took last year.” She’d never completed it because the reason she’d wanted it in the first place, namely to hunt down the terrorists who’d murdered her brother, no longer applied. She’d found the man most responsible and made sure he wouldn’t go blowing up airliners ever again. “That’d be another six months.”
“I can count. So, basically you’re telling me you want a year off.” He looked at her curiously. “Is anything wrong?”
“If I could explain,” she said. His reaction afterwards was to close his eyes, sink as far down in his seat as possible, and not to say anything for a moment or two. “And…and all this is true, what you’re telling me? You didn’t dream it?”
“I assure you I didn’t. They’ve got some kind of influence over the police and they seem to know where you are, what you’re doing, all the time. Where you’re hiding. Almost like they’re omniscient.
“It basically means the normal authorities aren’t to be trusted. I’m going to have to disappear for a bit, until I can be sure Scarlione’s given up the chase. We’ll review the situation when the year’s up.”
“Oh, will we,” Hennig said flatly. “Jolly good.”
She told him about the arrangement she’d come to with Chris. “Great. So I’ll lose both of you. Well as long as he understands that the longer he’s out of it, the harder it’ll be to get back into it. You know what I mean by that.”
He rubbed his forehead wearily. “I just don’t know what to make of it all. Are you in any danger at the moment?”
“Maybe not.” She described what had happened after she’d fled the house.
“I see,” he murmured. “So when’s the next thrilling instalment going to be, then?”
“It won’t be, if I don’t look out for myself. So I’m going to give it as long as possible and hope that by the time Scarlione realises I’m still in circulation, which may be a while, he’ll have calmed down a bit. Maybe he’ll decide he’s won by forcing me to disappear for a time, which of course is going to be a bit inconvenient for me.”
It’s certainly inconvenient for me, thought Hennig. For a while he said nothing. She waited anxiously for him to speak, feeling all knotted up inside.
Eventually he did. “You know why you’re tolerated here, Caroline?”
“”Tolerated?” I’m sure you can have greater confidence in my abilities than that, Marcus.” A touch of frost had crept into her voice.
“It’s not your abilities that are in question. Because you’re damn good at your job, when that is you’re here to do it. I’m not entirely sure what you were really doing on your first career break,” he said darkly.
“That was because of Douglas dying and me needing to spend some time with my parents to help them get over it. I cut it short, if you remember, once it seemed they had.”
“I can't say I'm pleased about this, Caroline," he muttered. She continued to look impassively dignified.
He shook his head slowly. “You take the biscuit. But if your life’s genuinely in danger, I suppose I’d be failing in my moral duty if I didn’t agree to your request. Alright, you can have that time off. Iain Jardine will be Acting Head of PPR until further notice, and I’ve no doubt they can find someone else to be IOM (2) for a while.”
"Thankyou, Marcus," she simpered.
Hennig grunted. “I’m glad you’re happy about it, Caroline, because I’m not.”
"Well, if that's all," she said politely.
"Yes, that's all. Er...good luck."
She left him staring fixedly into the ether, rigid with suppressed anger. Not a good sign, she thought.
“Damn that woman,” Hennig shouted once he was certain she couldn’t hear him. Most of the time she was in his hair, though no doubt she had similar feelings towards him. Now whenever he might want her, she wouldn’t be there.
Yet, as always, mixed in with the by now familiar feeling of frustration was something not unlike admiration. However inconvenient her scrapes might be for the company he just couldn’t bring himself to sack her. Oh, Caroline, what AM I going to about you?
“Your memoirs will be a best seller one day,” Edward Kent told his daughter once they’d finally assimilated the news. Caroline, who wasn’t without literary ability, smiled at the thought. “Assuming anyone believes them,” he added.
He was torn between annoyance at the situation she had got herself into and admiration at the way she’d outwitted her pursuers at the barn. For her part Margaret had gone into shock for a time and had to be revived with smelling salts.
“The police protection withdrawn,” she whispered. “I can’t believe it.”
“You’d better, Mum,” said Caroline quietly.
“But darling, if they can get round police protection then no-one’s safe. No-one at all, anywhere.”
“I know,” she said. “What’s to be done about it I’ve no idea.”
“Are you safe?” Edward asked.
“I’ll be OK as long as they think I’ve cashed in my chips. It’s just a question of keeping out of sight for a while. In the long run…well, I don’t know. We’ll just have to take things as they come.”
“Well if it’s the only way,” Margaret said.
“Just how are you intending to “keep out of sight for a while”?” her father enquired.
“I’m going to have to find somewhere else to live. No reason why I shouldn’t, a lot of people have second homes. But it’d better be rented accommodation, to keep costs down.”
“You’ll still need money.”
“I’ve got enough for the moment. On top of my savings IPL are continuing to pay my salary. But I take it I can ask you for help if I need it?”
“Of course, dear,” Margaret said, taking Caroline’s hands in hers. “You’re our own flesh and blood. We’ll do all we can for you.”
“I’m staying at Chris’ for the moment.” Edward raised his eyebrows.
“There’s nothing going on between us, honestly. He’s just helping out a friend in need. That’s all we are – friends.”
“It wouldn’t bother me if it was something more than that,” said Edward. “’Bout time you had a fella again. You’re not going to turn out to be one of these girls who doesn’t get married until they’re forty-something and then can’t have a kid, are you?” The thought of grandchildren, which obviously Douglas was not now going to produce, had always appealed to them, and even with modern medical technology the probability that a child would be born with Downs’ Syndrome, or some fatal disease, was still higher for a mother entering middle age.
Caroline was well aware of the issue. They all knew of women who’d left it too late and then run into problems, or probably would if they ever did decide to reproduce. A couple of well-known celebrities sprang to mind. “Well I’m sure something will have happened by then,” she said confidently.
“Hope so. Still, if you’re happy the way you are…that’s all we ever wanted for you, that you should be happy.”
“I’m only twenty-eight,” she reminded him. “There’s still plenty of time. And you don’t have to be married to have a child.”
“Not these days,” muttered Edward, darkly. He was a little old-fashioned, perhaps, in such matters.
“I think I’d like to do things in the traditional fashion, though. But right now, bearing in mind my situation, if I did get seriously involved with anyone I’d be putting them in danger.
“So. I’ll let you know once I find a place. But for the time being it’s better if you have as little contact with me as possible, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Oh dear,” said Margaret. “I don’t like it. It feels like we’re losing you.”
“Not altogether. Or forever. There shouldn’t be any danger if I just pop in from time to time.” She heard a car pull up outside the house. “Oh, that must be Chris.” She peered out the window and saw him alight from the vehicle.
“Has he got time for a cup of tea?” Edward still seemed determined to groom him as a future husband for Caroline.
“Oh yes, he must come in for some tea,” said Margaret, who shared this aim.
“Actually I want to do one or two things at home, like see to Jack, let him know I’m alright. Some other time.” She got to her feet.
Before leaving she turned to look them both in the eye. “You do realise that…I mean, I’m his boss. It wouldn’t be right. Unless you think we should be having an affair!”
“But if say he left, or moved to a different department…”
Caroline still felt there was a certain social gulf between her and Chris, even though nowadays such things didn’t matter as much as they used to. “Believe me, some relationships are best left at friendship. It can be just as rewarding.”
Chris rang the bell.
Edward’s face lit up and he drew her to him in an affectionate bearhug. “Well, take care of yourself, lass. We’ll see you…whenever.” As usual, Margaret’s farewell was considerably more demonstrative.
"Well, that's that over with," Caroline sighed once she and Chris were in the car.
"How did they take it?"
She described their reaction. “Could have been worse, I guess. But you can tell they’re pretty shaken up by the whole thing.”
“I hope you are all right,” Chris said. “I’m still not convinced Scarlione wouldn’t go after you, even after a year. And…well, your Mum and Dad will be pretty pissed off if they lose their other child as well.”
She wasn’t in the mood to be lectured on her family responsibilities. “I’m not entirely pleased about it myself, you know,” she snapped.
“Hey, I don’t want a crotchety house guest,” he told her.
“It won’t be for long,” she said, implying that in the meantime he could jolly well put up with the crotchetiness. “I’m going to find some place of my own, remember? As for what happens in the long run, I’m not going to throw myself under a train to solve the problem, much as Scarlione would like that. Nor can I run from them forever. We’ve no choice but to go through with this.”
Chris started the car and drove north towards Leatherhead, Epsom, Ewell, Surbiton and Kingston. “Now then, where exactly am I going to live?” Caroline said once they were on the main road. “Not too far away, I don’t think. I’ll want to be able to get in touch with the folks fairly easily if I need to.”
Chris thought. “You’re looking at somewhere the other side of London…fairly quiet area, not too expensive.”
“Are you going to change your name? And how about that disguise?”
“The name maybe. I don’t think a disguise will be necessary, not if they’re off the trail.” Hence it held no attraction for her. She knew how to do it, as she knew how to create a false identity for herself, because of her MI6 training, but as any old hand would have agreed such deceptions became harder to sustain with time. You forgot your assumed name, or to apply your hair dye and people started to wonder. From being easy to carry on, even fun at times, it soon became a pain in the butt. A true agent would have put up with it. But then in many ways Caroline wasn’t a true agent.
“They might find out by chance,” Chris said. “Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?”
“It’d be too dangerous if I let something slip.” She asked him what exactly he’d had in mind.
“Dyeing your hair would be a start. You’re much too noticeable as you are.” People shouted out “blondie!” in the street when Caroline walked by, and often could tell who she was from her hair, without having seen the face it framed. If an inhabitant of her neighbourhood who glimpsed her regularly on her outings to the shops – she never used the car for short trips, considering it lazy and environmentally polluting - spoke of “the blonde girl” others would automatically knew who was meant even if she was only familiar to them by sight; and that in a culture which wasn’t short of blonde girls, even if the colour so often came out of a bottle. Nor was it the hair alone. Although there were any number of attractive blondes in circulation, few if truth be told were so drop-dead gorgeous as she. If the wrong person did chance to come across her their eyes might linger a little too long, causing something to click within their brain.
“You’d still look fantastic,” he told her truthfully. Nonetheless she didn’t look particularly enthusiastic at the thought, as the wrinkling of her nose strongly suggested. The luxuriant mane of golden hair was her trademark, and she wouldn’t feel quite herself without it.
She shook her head. “I just don’t see the need.”
"Look, Caz, it's for the best. Better to be a live brunette than a dead blonde.”
Undoubtedly, she thought. Well, just about. “But you don’t understand, Chris. I wouldn’t feel so good as a brunette. I wasn’t meant to be one.” Blondeness was a state of mind as well as a physical characteristic. There was a certain kind of personality, a certain identity, that went with it. She was blonde on the inside as well as out and knew she would continue to be long after the natural colour had faded. But the blondeness needed an outward expression and yes, she did feel better, happier, when it had one.
"You'd still be you," Chris told her.
“No I wouldn’t.”
“I think you’re being very stupid,” he snapped.
“If we were at work I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of cheek.”
“Yeah, well we’re not at work, are we? I’m speaking as a friend.”
“Yes, of course,” she murmured, a little ashamed of herself.
They drove on through the suburbs.
"No, no, no," she insisted, after Chris had tried several times to broach the subject again. "For the last time, no. I'm sorry. I'm staying as I am and that's that." Her tone made it clear she didn't want to discuss the matter further.
“Why should you need to make such a bloody fuss about it? You’re more than just a hair colour.”
“True,” she said proudly. “But I’m not going to change the way I look, become something I’m not, because of them.”
Ah, thought Chris. Now we come to the real heart of the matter. “All right,” he sighed. “On your own head be it. So to speak.”
He made a more or less joking reference to plastic surgery. “You can rule that out right away,” was her response. No human surgeon could possibly improve on the way nature had sculpted her finely crafted cheekbones.
He gave a wry smile. "A lot of these beautiful women are surgically manufactured anyway."
"Well, I ain't," she said huffily.
She fell silent and Chris, recognising that she was in one of her moods, left her alone for a bit. She was well aware that refusing to change her appearance risked destroying the whole point of the deception. It wasn’t being very professional of her, she reflected, thinking of her past career with the Service. But she was out of all that now. She’d only joined them because she thought it might help her to learn the skills she would need to track down Douglas’ murderers and once that purpose had been accomplished she’d turned her back on the pressures and dangers of being a secret agent and gone back to leading a normal life, not that her current mode of existence could be called in any way normal.
And Scarlione still didn’t know she wasn’t dead.
They arrived at her house to find that Julie had been and fed Jack. The little cat came running to greet her, tail in the air, and they had a cuddle. He looked well, though still seeming a little unsettled by the disruption to the usual order of things.
I’ll have to let Julie know she’s got to house-sit until further notice, Caroline thought. Hope she doesn’t mind. It’ll be a bit of a chore, but Mum and Dad can do a bit of work around the place, share the responsibility for its upkeep with her. Until further notice.
Chris saw her look around nervously as if expecting some armed hoodlum to appear at any moment out of the shadows in the corner. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, let’s get your things together.”
They collected up toilet articles, clothes, her handbag and mobile phone, her TV and radio and a few miscellanous personal possessions and loaded them into Chris’ car (the Peugeot was to stay there, Caroline being afraid to use the vehicle in case anyone recognised it). She took one last wistful look round the house, wondering when she’d next set eyes on it again, then kissed Jack goodbye. The cat sat on the drive and gazed after them as they drove off, looking sad and lost.
“Where to now?” Chris asked. “My place?”
“I want to take some cash out the bank first.”
She withdrew a thousand pounds, enough to start her up in her new accommodation, and see her through the first few weeks. Then they drove to Chris’ house where, as proposed, she was set up in the spare bedroom. The following day they would start looking for somewhere more convenient.

“No. I’m sorry, Yuri, I – “
“You should really call me Sir.” If they were going to stick to the ranking system, as if it was a proper army, they ought to be consistent about it. Though Solokhov was only pulling rank because he was angry.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t think what we are doing…that is…”
“Go on.”
“I don’t think there is any justification for it any more. Especially when our chances of success are so slim.”
“But you wouldn’t tell anyone? Tell the authorities about – “
“No, I promise.” Gerov was loyal to that extent, at least. It made it all the more a pity he wasn’t going to see it through to the end.
“All right,” Solokhov sighed, and slammed down the phone disgustedly.
Gerov wasn’t the first these last few weeks to pack it in. Always the reasons were the same. Not enough equipment, not enough money (screw Grishkov). Give Putin a chance. The two considerations blended together in their minds; there wasn’t any justification for a venture which might only land them in prison when for all they knew Putin might be successful in turning things round.
What point was there in going on?
None whatsoever.
He wouldn’t be the one to put the seal on it. If they wanted to pull out it was for them to say so. Best to wait and see if anything happened to bring about an increase in support for his cause rather than dismantle all he’d built up, inadequate though it was.
But he knew in his heart it was over. He went to the wardrobe, took out his old uniform and examined it sadly. He got out his old photographs of himself and his unit and pored over them for ages, feeling the tears come to his eyes. Then he put the album down, crossed to the drinks cabinet, and spent the rest of the evening drowning his sorrows in vodka.

That night at Chris’ house, Caroline got out a street atlas of London and after studying it for a while drew a ring around one of the northern suburbs. She had no particular reason for choosing the area other than that it was a fair distance from Kingston and therefore, on the whole, a safer bet.
By now supper was ready; Chris had ordered pizzas for them both. Later they went out to a pub, where they spent some time drinking and chatting before returning to the house and watching television until deciding it was time to turn in.
But first Caroline spent a while on Chris’ computer, looking up on the Internet how to forge passports (should it be necessary), bank statements, birth certificates and other vital documents. In fact she already knew, but she didn’t want Chris to attribute the knowledge to past membership of the intelligence services. He remained ignorant of what she’d really been up to during her “career break” and for the moment she wished him to remain so.
They’d approached her after the Viellar business, having got wind of what had happened and decided that her services to the company on that occasion suggested she might be useful in intelligence work. She’d turned their offer of employment down and then thought again after Douglas had been killed. Most of what was supposed to have been compassionate leave, followed by a career break while she took stock of things and helped her parents get over the shock, had been spent in training and once she had used the knowledge gained to track down and deal with the terrorists she promptly resigned and went back to her normal life. In so far as anyone ever resigned from the Service.
The information, of course, was on the Net either to warn people or to assist those who might be writing crime novels or the like. And not to help anyone who might actually be thinking of breaking the law, ostensibly anyhow. She consoled herself with the thought that she was doing it solely for her own protection; in this case no-one else need suffer in any way, need be defrauded or fall victim to the consequences of someone doing a job they weren’t qualified for. She’d rather not run the kind of scam which would have that effect, even if it did help to save her life.
The next few days were spent putting into practice what she’d learned; it proved as easy as Chris had suggested. Then one morning they drove to the area Caroline had marked on the atlas and toured the district for a while. It was a fairly typical London suburb, the houses mostly Victorian or 1930s. They were in good enough condition but shabby-looking, and there was too much litter lying about for Caroline’s liking. Chris could see her retrousse nose retrousse-ing even further at the sight of it all. But that did have its advantages. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect someone like her to hang out.
There were some good shops in the high street, and a few acres of parkland where you might take a stroll in relative peace and quiet.
They stopped off at a newsagents’ to buy a paper, before lunching at a café where Caroline looked through the “Property” pages of the classified section over a cheeseburger. She selected a house from those currently being let and after finishing their meal they checked it out. It was one of a row of tenements dating back to the late nineteenth century, and located in a broad tree-lined avenue in one of the nicer parts of the district. Altogether it looked respectable enough, and so she went to the estate agents, who had an office in the high street, and told them she was interested in a property they were currently advertising. In the end the lengths she had gone to proved unnecessary; all they asked for was an initial deposit of £50 and details of where she could currently be contacted. She wasn’t entirely surprised. They didn’t ask for any personal details or checkable references, which if nothing else made the whole process quicker and simpler.
She gave her name as Ruth Medford, and her address as Chris’. She also put on a London accent in case they wondered what someone as posh as her was doing renting a house in a relatively lowbrow part of town. Not that she need have bothered; the only thing they were concerned about was that she paid her rent on time. Afterwards she went with the estate agent to look round the house. It seemed comfortable and spacious enough, the only drawback being those steep stairs houses of that era all seemed to have, which you always felt you were likely to break your neck coming down. The furniture, slightly moth-eaten but serviceable, came with the property. She checked the gas, water, electricity and telephone to make sure they worked properly.
Possession could be had more or less immediately. They handed over the keys later that day, and the following morning she and Chris drove to the house with her belongings. Having finished unpacking, she stood in the middle of the living room and looked around her. Could be worse, she decided.
“Well, if you’re fully installed in here, I’ll say goodbye for the time being,” Chris said. “I’ll give you a ring before long to see how you’re getting on.”
“I’d like that. Well, thanks for everything.”
“If ever you need the car – “
“I’ll bear the offer in mind. I suppose I could rent one…might be better getting around on public transport, though.” It would help to cut costs, as well as be setting a good example from an environmental point of view.
She saw him out, standing on the doorstep gazing after the car as it disappeared from sight down the street. She stood there for a while after it had gone, the sound of children’s laughter as they played carrying to her ears on the gentle summer breeze. She felt sad and confused, uprooted from her normal life in a way she could never have expected. She hoped Jack wouldn’t pine for her. But if it came to the worst, he might be happier staying with her parents; he knew them well enough, quite liking their company when they came to visit, and there’d be that big garden for him to play in.
Besides, all this wouldn’t be forever…would it?

Salvatore Scarlione was frowning.
He had checked the British news, both papers and TV, for any report of Caroline Kent’s death, keen to gloat over it. To his annoyance there had been nothing. Nor was there any record of her passing in the National Archives at Kew. Scarlione was becoming increasingly annoyed; he needed the proof, for Chrissake, to help demonstrate what happened to those who showed him disrespect in public.
It was still possible the body hadn’t been found yet. “That barn was in a pretty out-of-the-way place,” said Vito. “The farmer may not have been too bothered about it. Chances are he’s glad to be rid of a pile of shit he didn’t have any use for. So he won’t have reported it to anyone.” Certainly there’d been nothing anywhere about the fire.
Could be Vito was right. But Scarlione reckoned that by now Caroline would have seemed to have disappeared, at least, and that disappearance be causing alarm bells among her relatives, her friends, her boss, her co-workers. There should be something in the media about it. “Concern is growing over the safety of a young businesswoman who has not been seen since last Thursday. The family of Caroline Kent, 28, from Kingston-on-Thames say it’s unusual for her to have gone away without first informing anyone…” That sort of thing. But there wasn’t.
“We could check again for a heat trace,” Vito said. “The fire must have burnt itself out by now.”
It only occurred to Scarlione now that Caroline’s demise seemed to be in doubt. “A cellar…there could have been a cellar underneath the barn.”
“If she’s still there, she’s probably dead by now.”
“If she is still there, alive, she can go on fucking well starving for all I care.”
“Someone might find her. You never know. And if she’s gone? there?”
“Have them look for the heat trace. There’ll still be one even if she’s in a bad way.”
Vito made the call, and a few minutes later Scarlione’s cellphone rang. “There’s no trace, nothing. Which means she’s dead, unless she managed to get out of that cellar somehow. But the wreckage looks like it’s been shifted. And her car’s gone from where it was, although someone else could have moved it.”
Scarlione breathed in hard. This didn’t look good. “You think there definitely is a cellar?” he asked.
“Seems to be some kind of trapdoor leading underground. But what’s down there I can’t tell.” Scarlione cut him off.
“Want me to get Hickman and his people to go back and take a proper look?” Vito offered.
“Let me think.” They could do, but was there any need? There was one other line of enquiry that might confirm whether Caroline Kent had somehow survived the blaze at the barn. It centred on something which, if people did not do it, tended to start everyone worrying that they weren’t still around. “Have her bank account checked,” he ordered. “I wanna know if any money’s been taken out of it. Whatever you find, keep an eye on that account and let Hickman know the moment she makes a withdrawal. And log where it was done, then we might just be able to catch her.”

In truth Mitch Wakelin was as much a criminal, in principle, as Salvatore Scarlione. He’d hired the heavy mob to damage rivals’ property, if only in retaliation for what they’d done to him, and things went on at some of his establishments which weren’t supposed to, as they did at Ivan Grishkov’s dacha. But Wakelin wasn’t a coward. He’d always fought his corner and wasn’t very pleased when they set up the protection racket, two men forcing their way into his office and beating him up when he told them he was unimpressed with their proposal and they should move their asses PDQ before he called the cops. They also threatened to knife his girlfriend.
But he wasn’t a coward. So he sent his girl to stay with her sister’s in Seattle, and the next morning went to the police. The incident when they broke into his office had been caught on CCTV and with that and other evidence there was enough of a case to arrest the two “made men” and the Mob kingpin, a member of the West Coast Valletta family, who had given them their orders.
The Attorney General was ecstatic when he heard. Fortuna Casinos was a national chain, which was why the case when it came to court would be dealt with on a Federal level and thus be more high-profile, which was what the “Untouchables” wanted. The Attorney General took charge of the case, which the Chief Justice said he would hear personally if it went to the Supreme Court.
Only things never got that far. Two days before the hearing was due to begin, Wakelin’s girlfriend’s sister’s house mysteriously burnt down with the two women and the sister’s family inside it. All were killed. This was a dumb move because after that Wakelin felt he had nothing to lose and was merely reinforced in his determination to testify.
At the precise moment that the trial began a massive explosion destroyed the Attorney General’s house, blowing his wife and two children to pieces. When the Attorney General was told the news the proceedings had to be suspended. A car was arranged to take him off to an FBI safe house but as soon as the driver turned the key in the ignition the car became an enormous fireball, which engulfed several passers-by as well as the vehicle’s occupants. By the following morning Wakelin was also dead.
The killing of some who were not connected with the case except by happening to be married to those who were, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, might have turned public opinion against those responsible for all this. But in the end, partly through fear of the Syndicate’s power and partly because the matter didn’t affect the vast majority of people personally, it didn’t.

Scarlione was sitting in an armchair in the living room of his house, sipping from a glass of Chianti, the soft melodious strains of Chopin issuing from the DVD player on the side. At times like this classical music soothed his frayed nerves and helped him to think.
It wasn’t that Caroline’s constant evasion of her just punishment was having a bad effect on discipline within his organisation. These days no-one even dared think of lipping him, or failing to do what they had been told. It was something more than that. He wanted people to obey him out of respect, not just through fear. With fear you’d no way of knowing what they really thought of you. But respect made him feel that much more secure.
“Come in,” he muttered at Vito’s knock.
“Pop, listen. Caroline Kent withdrew £1,000 from her account at Barclays Bank, High Street, Kingston-on-Thames, England, last Friday; the day after the fire.”
Scarlione jerked forward sharply in his seat. “WHAT?” The word came out as a strangled gasp. It was followed by a series of incoherent noises, which sounded rather as if someone was choking him to death. “Uh, you alright Dad?” asked Vito nervously.
Scarlione’s fists clenched. “So she’s alive? That shouldn’t have happened, Vito. It don’t make sense. You hear me? It – “
“Cool it, Dad. Maybe someone stole her bank card and they’re using it.”
“Bit of a fucking coincidence. Let me know as soon as she uses it again. And have them check out her house, in case she’s back there.” Vito called Joe Hickman in England.
“You want us to trash the place? Kill that cat of hers?” asked the ganglord.
“No, there’s no need. We want her to think it’s safe to come home. Then we’ll know where to find her. Trash the place and you scare her off. See if you can have a word with her momma and poppa instead.”
“You mean, snatch them?”
“No, it’s her our quarrel’s with not them. Maybe we could do that later. Meantime I just want you to use a bit of cunning, yeah?”

The Chief Justice was almost in tears. ”I just can’t believe it. Bob Schweitzer…his entire family dead…and the people protecting them…how the hell did the Mob get past security? And Wakelin…you say he was killed by one of the team protecting him? The man just turned on him suddenly and…shot him?”
“He said the Mob had made him do it. I don’t think there’s any point in charging him.”
“Are you going to carry on with this? They haven’t targeted you yet.” But Winston Caulfield knew it was only a matter of time.
If the Mob could hear everything people were saying, they’d hear him say he wasn’t going to do it. “There’s nothing we can do. Not until some lead turns up, and so far it hasn’t. How about you?”
“We were hard put to find a stenographer. Or any other staff who weren’t too scared to do their job.” The Chief Justice sat moping for a beat or two more, then said the four words which saved his life. “What do you think?”

Sitting in the car with the radio on, the men had been watching the house for several hours now. They were starting to get bored. It was getting late and there was still no sign of Caroline. Their colleagues who had been posted to watch IPL HQ had so far failed to sight her leaving the place. So where was she?
“Could be working late at the office.”
“Yeah, maybe.”
Someone entered their line of vision and walked up to the house; a quite attractive blonde. The men stiffened, then saw it wasn’t Caroline. They watched the girl go up to the front door and unlock it. She went in, and after about an hour came out again, going towards the house next door.
It was clear what had happened. She’d gone away, and got someone to look after her place for her. She was lying low.
Hickman’s men were back the next day, and the day after, taking it in turns to keep watch and always parking the car in a slightly different place, but still there was no sign of their quarry. Hickman wondered if they should approach the other girl and try and find out something from her, like where Caroline was, how long before she was likely to return. But it seemed to make better sense to approach her parents, who were even more likely to know her current movements, her plans for the immediate future. They’d have to handle it carefully, of course. They might be able to act so much of the time with impunity these days, but as Salvatore Scarlione would surely have agreed, it was always better to avoid unnecessary mess.

Caroline’s aim was to stay in as much as possible, watching TV or reading or busying herself with housework, making improvements to the place where it didn’t breach the terms of the contract. She took the opportunity to work on various new schemes she’d thought up for improving the way the company did its work, hoping she’d actually get the chance to implement them some day. She would only go out to the shops, library, park or cinema if it was absolutely necessary or she really couldn’t stand being cooped up indoors any longer. There were occasional trips into London, to buy something from the shops in Oxford Street, see a film or attend some cultural event like a classical concert. Altogether she tried to be as occupied as possible. Chris visited from time to time, giving her someone to talk to and do things with, which helped to prevent her getting bored. He was here now; they were sitting on the bed in her room looking at an album of photographs he had taken at recent IPL social events, laughing from time to time at those who had had perhaps a bit too much to drink and were being silly. Having just had a shower Caroline was wrapped up to her cleavage in a towel, her still wet hair hanging down.
The phone rang in the living room and Chris went to answer it. “It’s your Mum,” he shouted up to her.
She trotted down to take the call. “Hi, Mum,” she said heartily. “What’s new?”
Margaret sounded anxious, though that wasn’t altogether unusual. “Darling, something’s happened which we thought you ought to know about.”
Caroline stiffened. “What is it?”
“A man’s just been to see us asking after you. He said he’d been to Stannington and was trying to arrange a reunion of all the people who’d been in your year. We didn’t think there could be anything funny about it, but…” After all that had happened, they weren’t taking any chances.
Something about it immediately seemed odd. “Why didn’t he call on me rather than go to you? How did he know where you live, anyway?”
“Apparently they’ve lost your address. Their computers got wiped somehow or other, and they didn’t have a written list of everyone’s details. He said he went through the telephone book, picked out people with our surname and decided to take a chance.” Caroline herself was ex-directory, in order to avoid clingy ex-lovers and other nuisance callers.
Well, it was possible, she thought. “What did he look like?”
“Oh, youngish, average height, browny-coloured hair. And he had a London accent. That’s about all you could say about him really.” One among millions, in other words.
“And what did you actually tell him?”
“We said we’d let you know he’d called. He just wanted you to ring the school if you were interested. We could have given him your address but, I mean, you don’t know who he might have been, and what with you wanting to keep out of sight for the time being…”
“He said he was trying to organise a reunion? Not the school itself?”
“That was the impression he gave me.”
Because if he’d said it was the school, and Caroline or her parents had checked with them… “Did he say anything else, this man?”
“Just that he’d hoped he might have got lucky and found you here, so he could let you know in person. That was all. He seemed a nice sort of chap, but of course…he left a number and an address, for what it’s worth.”
It was perfectly feasible, thought Caroline, that someone from her schooldays, who had never quite managed to get her into bed, was hoping to make up the deficiency (they’d be lucky). It was the height of sadness, of course. But it could be something far worse. Certainly unofficial reunions went on all the time, although these days the school tended to organise them itself. But…
It seemed too much of a coincidence for her liking.
Could they have found out she’d survived the fire at the barn?
“Listen, Mum,” she said. “There may be nothing in it at all. Or it might be someone in the pay of the Mafia. Now they don’t know where I am, but it looks like they know where you are – assuming it was one of them who called on you, and I don’t want to take risks. God knows how.” And they also knew which school she’d been to. “But it’s always possible they’ll try and force you to tell them where I’m living now.”
Margaret almost dropped the phone in fright. “Oh my goodness – yes, they might! Oh God, what are we going to do?”
“Look, what I suggest is this. Go down to Devon for a few weeks until all this has blown over. Oh, and can you take Jack with you? He probably won’t like it, but I guess it’s safest.”
“Why do we need to – oh, I see. They wouldn’t have called us if they didn’t think you might still be alive.”
“Exactly. And if I was, it’d be worth getting back at me by killing my cat or smashing up the house. Or doing something nasty to you. So if you would take him; and don’t leave any clues to where you’ve gone, or where I’ve gone for that matter. Don’t try and contact me either, they must be hoping you’ll lead them to me. I’ll get in touch when I think it’s safe.”
“One moment, dear.” She heard Margaret say something to Edward. A conversation followed between the two of them.
Caroline had a sudden very nasty thought. If the Mafia were so far advanced that they had some kind of amazing gadget which could see where you were all the time, it certainly wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that they were tapping phones. In which case she’d just told them that…
“Mum! Dad!” she shouted into the receiver. “Get out of there now!”
Next moment her father was on the line. “What’s up, love?”
Caroline was in a panic. On past evidence they’d be able to locate her parents whatever happened and she couldn’t, off the top of her head, think up some clever scheme which would fool them, such as had worked at the barn. “I’ve just realised, they could be bugging your phone! Get out of there fast!” Assuming it wasn’t too late already. The wonder gadget was probably watching the house. And they knew where she was now, if they could trace where the call had come from. But they couldn’t just sit here and wait for Joe Hickman and Co. to come calling. “They’ll know you’re going to Devon, but you might shake them off if you get moving now! Don’t waste any time!”
“All right, sweetheart, alright.” He turned and shouted to his wife. “Maggie, we’re leaving now. This minute. Tell you why later, just get some stuff together and meet me outside in – five minutes. At the most.”
He returned to Caroline. “Got the message. What are you going to do?”
“I’ll just have to move again. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright. But you mustn’t ever ring me, understand? By landline or mobile. Not for the moment. ‘Bye now. All my love, OK?”
Caroline collapsed shaking into a chair. “Oh God, I don’t think I can stand this.”
Chris knelt down beside her, clasping her hand. “Caz, we’d better be going. They know where we are from the call but they’ve still got to get here. That gives us some time.”
She nodded. Concerning her parents, there was one thing that gave
her hope. Maybe if the Mafia had been hoping she’d respond to the fake school reunion invitation, it wouldn’t have been thought necessary to maintain surveillance on them. Maybe.

Joe Hickman and a few of his principal associates were gathered in the living room of the house on the marshes, drinking cans of beer. “Good idea of yours, that story about the school reunion,” Hickman told Vidler. “So how did they seem?”
“Not like anything bad had happened to her. They’d have had plenty of time to get worried. They just said she was away. ‘Course, I couldn’t ask too many questions or they’d have got suspicious.”
“You reckon she’ll bite?” asked Boaler.
“Dunno, but I thought it was worth a try.”
“We’ll know if they call her soon enough,” said Hickman. “I still think we should have had Argus watch the parents’ house, though.”
“Scarlione’s using it for something else at the moment.” Although it had to be a gradual process, Scarlione was always extending the Syndicate’s power into new areas, parts of the world that weren’t subject to his influence but which might be a profitable investment in years to come. And even now, there were still a few people who didn’t do what they were told.
“Shouldn’t we tell him – “
“He won’t put revenge before Syndicate business, however much he hates her guts. Anyway, there’s no need. Like I said, we’ll know if – “
Jonty Slade suddenly burst in. “We’ve found her! They rang her to tell her about the fake reunion. She’s in Enfield.”
“You got the details?” Jonty handed Hickman the flimsy with the address scribbled on it. “But we’ve got to move fast,” he said. “She realised we were on to her and she’s getting out.”
Hickman stiffened. “In the car, all of you! Well don’t just fucking stand there, get your arses in gear for God’s sake!”
“What about her folks?” asked McCulloch.
“Leave them for the moment. It’s her we’re interested in. Jake, pull the surveillance off Kent’s place in Kingston. We don’t need to bother about it any more.”

They each crammed as much in the way of clothing as they could into a suitcase, forgetting about toilet articles and so on, which could be bought from a shop if need be. The other priority was to get rid of anything which might give some clue to where they were going, or take it with them.
Edward frantically tried to think. The cottage in Devon was rented from an agency and there was correspondence, bills, etcetera connected with it in a file somewhere. The paperwork would have the address on it. He rooted about in a bureau and found the file. They also took his Filofax and their holiday snaps album which would have photos of the cottage in it.
That seemed to him to be it. They made sure the place was locked up and everything turned off. Edward wondered if they should call one of their neighbours and ask them to look after the house while they were away, but he was afraid that person could be in danger from the Mafia, who would try to extract information from them. Christ, he thought. The place will just have to be allowed to fall into rack and ruin.
That they should have to do this…the whole world was being turned upside-down.
They loaded everything into their Toyota motor caravan, then got in and drove to Caroline’s house to pick up Jack, whom they found curled up on the sofa on the front room. Margaret picked him up and cradled him in her arms, crooning to him. She put him in the box Caroline used for carrying him around on visits to the vet’s and took him out to the Toyota. Edward left a note for Julie to tell her not to bother about the house for the time being. A couple of minutes later they were on the road again.
Margaret opened the box and let Jack run around for a bit. At first he was frightened and wandered around mewing, sweating from his paws. Margaret lifted him and put him on her lap, stroking him and whispering words of reassurance. She could feel his heart pounding furiously. But cats always appreciate being given attention and affection, and after a while he settled down and began purring contentedly. Later he jumped off and set about exploring his roomy house on wheels, and all its little corners and cubby-holes, with wide-eyed fascination.
They were now on the M3 heading out into the West Country, and Margaret somehow felt herself able to think more clearly. “Are you sure we’re safe?” she asked. “If they’re able to find people so easily, and we can’t go to the police after what happened to Caroline.”
“It’s her they’re after, not us.”
“But if they can’t find her, they may come looking for us instead. Don’t they always target members of the family in these Mafia feuds?”
“We’ll just have to hope they can’t find her,” Edward said. “It depends how this thing works. Looks like it can definitely keep track of someone once it’s got a fix on them - let’s assume for the sake of our peace of mind they haven’t got one on us. But as for finding you in the first place…well they can’t be omniscient, can they? We’ll just have to be on our guard. Meanwhile Devon will be a nice place to go while we think about what to do next. It’ll be an excuse for a break; I suppose as head of the company I can go on holiday for as long as I like. Shareholders will get restless after a while, though.”
“I quite like the idea,” Margaret said.
“You don’t have to work,” he grumbled. Margaret made enough money from selling her poetry and artwork, on top of her husband’s earnings which went into their joint bank account.
“So are you going to tell them you won’t be coming in for a while? How are you going to it? If you ring them the Mafia people might know where we are.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve thought of that,” Edward said.

Hurriedly Caroline and Chris got everything together, cramming all items lighter than the TV into a couple of suitcases, and carried it out to the car. They put one suitcase in the boot and dumped the other on the back seat. Chris jumped into the driver’s seat, Caroline scrambling in beside him, and started the engine. They turned into the street and drove down it towards the main road, joining the latter and racing off along it just as the car containing Hickman’s men entered the street at its other end.
Thankfully Caroline and Chris were unaware of what a narrow escape they’d had. Their peace of mind didn’t last long. Suddenly Caroline let out a wail of despair. “Oh no!” She slumped in her seat, eyes closed.
“What’s the matter?” Chris asked, feeling himself tauten.
“If they knew where I was they could get their…thing to track us from the house, couldn’t they?”
Chris forced himself to keep calm. “I suppose they could. But are you absolutely sure they’re tapping phones?”
“I can’t be sure. But it’s very likely, don’t you think? Oh shit, what are we going to do? We won’t be able to fool them a second time.”
MI6, thought Caroline. They had to go to MI6, there was no choice now.
No, it was too risky.
“Sanctuary? A church?” Chris suggested.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think a bunch of hardened criminals would let respect for religion deter them.”
“Leave the country?”
“If they’re following us, they’ll know where we’ve gone and make sure someone’s waiting for us at the other end. If all this can happen in England it can happen anywhere.”
She decided there was as much risk whatever option they chose. “Alright. Let’s go to Heathrow and book the first flight to Australia. We’ve got the documents, real or forged. Once we’re there we’ll find somewhere to live and then take things as they come. If it doesn’t look like Scarlione’s on to us we’ll make contact with my relatives and see if they can help.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m happy about it…oh, I don’t know.” Treat it as an exciting adventure, Chris thought. That’s the only way of coping.
Previously they hadn’t been going in any particular direction, but now he set course for the M25, which would be the quickest way to get to the airport. They felt themselves relax now they’d identified what seemed the best way out of their predicament.
But soon Caroline started to worry again. What if Scarlione found out what plane they were on and put a bomb on it? Could she jeapordise the lives of hundreds of other people as well as her own?
Would he do that anyway? No, there was no need; he’d just pick them up at the other end, like she’d said.
In reflective mood, they said nothing for a while, until Chris asked Caroline how she thought Scarlione had worked out she wasn’t dead. “He must have got suspicious when my body wasn’t found. So he started monitoring my phone calls.”
“You think he put a tap on your parents’ phone?”
“He might have done. I don’t know if any bogus repair men have called at their place recently and I can’t ring them to ask because of what might happen. But there are other ways of monitoring a phone call.”
“Is there any other way he could have done it? I mean, we’d better plan for all contingencies. What he’s done once he can do again. And there’s more than one way of finding a missing person if you’re a detective, say.”
Caroline thought for a moment, then went pale. “Oh God…computers!”
“What about them? Oh, I see.”
“So many things nowadays are recorded on computer - like cash withdrawals. They’ve been doing a bit of hacking. They knew when I took that money out of the bank and it’s probably how they traced my next-of-kin. I’d say they’d certainly have the ability, going by what we know about their technology. You know what this means, don’t you?”
“When we book the flight it’ll be entered on computer.”
“Again, I can’t be sure that they’d know. But there’d better be a change of plan.” She gave him the directions to MI6.
“MI6? You think they might be able to help?”
“It’s an idea.” She wondered if she ought to tell him about her past connections with the organisation. And decided not to for the moment.
Chris frowned. “You meant MI5, surely? MI6 are the foreign intelligence service.”
For a moment Caroline thought she’d given herself away. She kept her cool. “Well, this business started in America. And what about what happened to me in Russia?”
“I guess so.”
Again, silence fell. Caroline suddenly realised she ought to warn her parents that the Mafia could be watching their bank accounts too. The trouble was, if she did the letter or phone call or e-mail might be intercepted and then…catch-22.
She glanced out the rear window, wondering morbidly how far behind them Hickman’s heavies were. She looked again a little later, and then at intervals of a few minutes.
After a while a feeling of puzzlement, mixed with relief, began to creep in. There were plenty of cars behind them but none seemed to be making the effort to stay in sight of them. No particular car was always there, whenever she looked.
It began to dawn on her that they weren’t being followed.
“Chris,” she said quietly. “I’m not sure, but I think they’ve lost us.” Scarlione’s wondrous gadget could have blown a fuse or something, surely? Nothing was infallible.
“You think?”
“Drive around for a bit. Out of the city and into the countryside.” Where the traffic was less dense it would be easier to tell whether any one vehicle was or wasn’t following them. In a moment they’d lose that advantage.
Chris got the idea. “Here we go.”
They drove north-east out of the conurbation and toured the leafy lanes of rural Essex until they had to stop for petrol. Then they drove around a little more, at one point deciding to take the risk and lunching on tea and scones at a café in a picture-book village near Saffron Walden. At no time did it seem anyone was on their tail.
“You know,” said Caroline as they set off again, “on a lovely day like this…wouldn’t it be nice to go on driving and never stop…drive for ever and ever, off into the sunset.”
“How romantic.”
“You’ll be lucky.”
They seemed to have explored the greater part of East Anglia before sheer fatigue forced them to call it a day, literally. The shadows were drawing in when they checked into a bed-and-breakfast on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, taking separate rooms. Caroline didn’t feel safe returning to the house in Enfield, or Chris to Twickenham, just yet.
They met up in Caroline’s room after supper. “You realise,” Barrett said, “that they could just have been unavailable to do the job? Their box of tricks could still know where we are.”
“I’m prepared to take the risk. If we go to MI6 and they’ve been compromised, we’re sealing our fate.”
“What are we going to do tomorrow?”
“Find somewhere else for me to live – preferably in London, since although I quite like this part of the country I think I’d feel a bit cut off. And I think you’d better stay with me for the time being. The Mafia might well decide to check out all my friends and work colleagues to find out where I could have gone.”
“I’ll have to tell my Mum and Dad what’s going on. God knows what they’ll make of it.”
“Ring them from as far away from here as possible. Then get as far from there as you can.”
Chris thought of something. “We’ll have to return the keys to the Enfield house, too.”
“I left them behind,” said Caroline grimly. “Speed was of the essence, after all. Oh dear, I don’t think the letting agency will be very pleased. Especially when I probably owe them some money for cancelling the tenancy, which is effectively what I’ve done, on top of that week’s rent. They’ll be even less pleased when they find “Ruth Medford” doesn’t exist.”
She collapsed flat out on the bed, feeling the strain of all these constant uprootings and deceptions. “Ooh, I’m worn out.”
She opened her eyes. “You don’t mind it, do you?” she asked anxiously. “Using up all your annual leave and that? I mean I’m sure it must be a nuisance but – “
Chris merely smiled blandly. “Anything for you, Caroline.”

The day after he, Margaret and Jack had arrived in Devon Edward Kent took the train to Exeter, and from there to Bristol, where he caught a third train to Carlisle. There he wrote and posted a letter to the assistant director of Kent Construction Limited advising him that he would be taking an extended holiday to look after his wife, whose health had taken a turn for the worse, and couldn’t say when he’d be back. He then got as far away from Carlisle as possible.

Scarlione had turned off Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony: soft and soothing as this particular movement was, it was nonetheless disturbing him from thinking.
He glanced up sharply at the knock on the door. “Come in,” he called, eagerly. Would this be the news he was so keenly awaiting?
“Sorry, Dad,” said Vito. “Hickman’s boys were too late. They’d gone.”
“Didn’t they check out the parents?”
“They’d gone too. Somewhere in Devon – that’s an English county - according to what they said on the phone.”
“Then see if Hickman can find out where exactly in this English county they are. She may not have told them where she was going, but even if she didn’t we can still carve them up, which will teach the Kent-bitch a lesson or two. Have them search her house, and the parents’ house in – Dorking, or wherever it is, for clues.
Is Argus free now?”
“Yeah, it’s free,” nodded Vito. “I think the Chinese got the message.”
“Then put it on standby.”
“Will do. Pity we lost them; do you think it’d be easier if it worked by, uh, pattern recognition? I’m sure it could learn to tell one individual face from another. I mean, not just the type of face.”
“It’s not always going to be able to see someone’s face. Besides, it’d have to scan the whole world, and that’d take too long.” Vito nodded; the energy required and the complexity of the technology were mind-blowing to contemplate. “It’s something they’re working on, but it could be a while, decades maybe, before it’s possible. Until then we need to know which part of the world it’s got to be searching.”
“I’ll tell everyone to keep checking the computers for any trace of her, any clue to what she’s doing.”
Scarlione nodded. “Thanks, Son.”
Vito stole a glance at the pictures his father had been drawing on the sheet of paper on the desk. They depicted a blonde woman lying dismembered in a pool of blood or in the process of having her head cut off. Also prominently displayed to view were a series of detailed diagrams each showing Caroline being crushed, ground, shredded, minced, flattened, pulverised, incinerated or sawn in half by some elaborate Archie Bunker-style piece of machinery.
Vito felt slightly sick. “Uh, Dad,” he coughed. “Do you really think…I mean, is it necessary to go to such…uh, such lengths to pay her back? Aren’t you getting a little…”
Scarlione turned and look at him hard. “You don’t get it, do you Vito.” He looked both angry and melancholic at the same time. “I can have the world dance to my tune. I can make as much money as I like. I can tell governments what to do, even if it has to be from behind the scenes. I’ve got more power than anyone else has ever had in the history of the entire planet. I can know where someone is and what they’re doing any time of the day. I seem to everybody to be omniscient. Yet I can’t find one girl, one blonde whose clock I ought to be able to clean without any trouble. What’s it matter if I can’t do that?”
“If any of the guys are laughing about it it has to be behind their backs.”
“They shouldn’t be doing it at all. It’s been eating into discipline, I’m sure of that. There’s still been a few assholes whose legs we’ve had to break, despite Argus.”
“You think it was because of the girl? We can’t be sure of that.”
“I’m sure,” grunted Scarlione.
“I’ve been spreading the word that she’s disappeared. That’s good enough, surely? The message is sinking in that if you talk out of turn to Salvatore Scarlione there’s gonna be consequences. Having to be on the run’s bound to be screwing her up; it would me.”
“Hmmmmm,” murmured his father absently. He started doodling on a piece of blotting paper, tracing a series of concentric circles which after a while degenerated into a spaghetti tangle. Deciding he’d better get on with what he’d been told to do, Vito left him to it.

For Caroline and Chris the next few days were spent commuting between the B and B and a district of south-east London, using up more money than they would have preferred, while Caroline found a new home and made up the set of documents which could create for her another false identity; this time she called herself Melanie Barnett and affected a Yorkshire brogue like the one her father had once had. At one point Chris suggested to her – only half-seriously – that she take on the identity of an existing person, which also was not too difficult if you knew how, and a lot simpler. She soon dismissed it. That could prove embarrassing, annoying and even harmful to the person she pretended to be and she wasn’t going to besmirch her reputation and compromise her dignity by indulging in such a practice, even though it might help keep her alive.
Meanwhile, a thorough search of Caroline’s parents’ house in Dorking had revealed no clues as to where in Devon they might be found. But presumably, they had a second home there or were staying with relatives. Jonty Slade had little option but to carry out an extensive, time-consuming trawl through estate agents’ records, using the Syndicate’s software for the purpose. To his frustration, the software was so designed that his role was confined to pressing just one or two buttons; the Syndicate did the rest, at whatever secret base they were running all this from, and hard as he tried he couldn’t work out how their hacking techniques functioned. But bearing in mind the kind of people they were, perhaps that was for the best.
Nonetheless it riled him, and his feelings weren’t appeased by the knowledge that the search could take days, weeks even. It didn’t help that in a few cases the estate agent’s computer had gone down, as computers did from time to time.

No further attempts having been made to follow them about, or still worse harm them, Caroline and Chris felt confirmed in their supposition that they were safe for the time being. But there were other considerations weighing on their minds than immediate physical survival.
One morning, when they were having breakfast at Caroline’s new house, Chris noticed his companion was looking anxious. Not suprising in the circumstances, but he thought he’d better make some effort to cheer her up. “What’s on your mind?”
“I was thinking money.”
“I can help you out, you know that.”
“They may be staking you out in the hope you’ll lead them to me. Which means they’ll be monitoring your bank account as well.”
“Oh shit,” Chris said, then brightened. “Well, as long as IPL are happy to go on paying our salaries – “
“Only we can’t withdraw the money, can we? It’s going straight into our accounts.”
“We could ask them to send it by post.”
“How do we know someone isn’t opening all mail going to IPL?” It seemed too big an operation. But she felt she couldn’t rule out anything just now. “Any contact, of whatever sort, with someone who might conceivably be willing to send us money runs the risk that we could be traced. We’ve got to find some other source of cash.”
A thought made Chris smile, despite everything. “If we ever do get back to living a normal life, just think of all the money that’ll have piled up in our accounts by then. We’ll be millionaires!”
The thought wasn’t unpleasing to Caroline either, but her next words put a dampener on things. “Sooner or later, probably sooner, someone on the Board of Directors is going to ask questions about it. And even if they’re willing to go on doing it in my case, you’re less important in the scheme of things than I am, as they see it. Thirdly, I’ve a feeling most of it would have to go towards unpaid bills.” That was another hassle.
“Anyway, what are we going to do about the problem?” he asked. “The money we’ve got at the moment won’t last forever. Hey, why don’t you close your bank account and open a new one, under a false name?”
“(A), I’d still have to tell IPL about the change. (B), they won’t be happy about paying money into a false bank account. (C), if the Mafia realised my old account hadn’t been used for a while they’d guess what I’d done, check all new accounts that had been set up within a certain time period, and take it from there. Scarlione’s persistent enough to do that, the bastard. It’d take a while but sooner or later they’d find us.”
“Maybe the Major will lend a hand. He’s in the SAS, for fuck’s sake. SAS people don’t make a habit of going round telling the world what they do for a living. It’d be kept top secret…I mean, the Mafia just can’t touch people like that, however ruthless and powerful they are.”
“After everything that’s happened, I’m prepared to believe anything’s possible,” she said. “Aren’t you?”
“I take your point. Well, whatever happens you’ve still got me. I stood by you in Camaragua, I’ll stand by you now. I can’t leave you to face this on your own.”
She smiled, touched as always by his loyalty. Which, deep down, she didn’t feel she deserved.
Her gloom returned. “Shit,” she said quietly. “Shit. What the hell are we going to do?”
She felt completely and utterly cornered, left with no way to turn. She needed to live, to keep body and soul together, but she wouldn’t do that if the Mob found out where she was. A surge of despair, a sense of utter helplessness, swept over her.
Her eyes as they stared down at the table were hollow, haunted. Chris hated to see her like this and his heart gave a lurch. She looked up, gazing at him in appeal. Could he think of a way out? Well no, actually he couldn’t.
Then suddenly his face changed, the frown on it melting into a smile. A rather mischievous smile, though his manner when he spoke was hesitant. “There is one way,” he coughed, “that a pretty girl like you, smashing legs, fabulous body, could make a lot of money in a fairly short time, without having to put any of it in the bank. Or letting anyone know you’d even got it – not officially, anyway.”
She stared at him. “Are you saying I…” Suspicion hardened into certainty. “You are.”
She wrinkled her nose sourly, drawing back a little. “The very idea.”
“I don’t see,” he said gently, “that you’ve got a great deal of choice.”
Caroline thought about this. Surely he couldn’t be serious. Would she really have to…could she, when all was said and done?
With a sense of shock, it finally dawned on her that he was right. No, she didn’t have a great deal of choice. She had no choice at all.
Her heart sank. Shit, she thought again.
“I can understand,” he said, “why you aren’t too happy about it.”
She gave him a dirty look. “Would you be?”
“I don’t know what it would be like for a man.”
“You don’t know what it would be like for a woman.” She fell silent, meditating on the whole awful prospect. She felt like crying. There couldn’t be anything worse than making a financial commodity of your very body, for the purpose of someone else’s sexual gratification. But if the alternative was death, or probable death, you had a certain excuse. Only the argument that something was morally defensible didn’t necessarily make it any more appealing.
Chris stood waiting patiently for her to make her mind up. She rested her chin between thumb and forefinger.
Hmmm, she mused. Her initial hostility to the idea had been replaced by a certain thoughtfulness. If she really had no choice in the matter then she might as well make the best of the whole rotten, sordid, repulsive business. Which meant learning to enjoy it, as far as that was possible. And if you could, it wouldn’t in the circumstances be the worst case scenario.
As for other people’s sensibilities…the area was slightly seedy, even if that seediness was of a fairly genteel sort. Yes, she might be able to get away with it. At least, if they guessed what she was doing, people would let her get on with it, while muttering in disapproval to themselves or their friends behind the scenes.
“It’s better than being dead, isn’t it?” Chris said, echoing her own thoughts.
“And if a condom splits on me?”
“You wouldn’t necessarily catch anything, and if you did it might not be fatal. I know there’s a risk, but I’d say it was less than the chance of Scarlione’s crowd bumping you off if they happen to find out where you are.”
“I mean, I couldn’t possibly have a proper job…” She had considered the matter before. She'd need checkable references, from someone not a family member, and those who knew her would wonder why she was exchanging a cushy job at a leading multinational firm for something less high profile (because it’d have to be). And any record of her employment, any at all, could be used to locate her.
"I could always sit outside Waterloo station and beg instead," she suggested drily. She put on a whiny Cockney accent. "'Scuse me, can you spare us some change please, Guv'nor.’ Could always live in a box under the arches..."
“You wouldn’t earn anywhere near as much. These prozzies, if someone wasn’t creaming off a fair bit of the money they’d be riding around in Jaguars and dining at the Ritz every night. Some of them are. And begging’s a high risk occupation.”
“So’s prostitution.”
“I wouldn’t be far away.” He brightened enthusiastically. “Hey, I could be your pimp. I promise I wouldn’t overcharge you." “Thankyou, Chris.”
He saw that she still didn’t look particularly excited by the prospect. “Let’s be frank about it, you’ve got the sort of looks a bloke would sell his mother for. All the punters will be making a bee-line for you. You’d be coining it in.”
“What a consolation.”
“You might even earn more than you do at the company.”
That’s quite possible, she thought sourly.
“You’d just have to be careful how you spent it, that’s all; might attract too much attention to yourself otherwise. And you'd be performing a valuable service. If it weren't for prostitutes there'd be a lot more rapes and that sort of thing going on.”
He might be right there, though it was still a far from ideal situation when her body was being used to satisfy the lustful desires of…She’d never admit it, but she wished now she hadn’t been so bold as to tell Salvatore Scarlione exactly what she thought of him.
"We're not talking about leaning against a lamppost in Southampton or sitting on a wall in Streatham,” he went on. “Wandering the streets in high heels and fishnet tights while you wait for the next poor sex-starved bastard to come along. You're good for more than that. This will be high class stuff."
"I'm not doing it," she said firmly, making a sudden impulsive decision.
"Oh, all right then. If you want to starve that's quite alright by me, it's your choice."
“Oh hell, yes I am going to do it,” she sighed. “All right. Let’s think about how we’re going to do this. There are a few things we’re going to have to get sorted out.”
“You can operate from here. The area’s not quite posh enough for anyone to seriously object. Now let’s see, what are you going to call yourself? You can’t use your real name. What about something classy like….ike Rochelle.” He pronounced it with a sexy French accent.
“Maybe. Or - Sabrina?”
“Sounds OK to me. Now we need to decide what you will do and what you won't."
"I'm not doing anything grubby," she said firmly. "Anything know..."
"You'll lose half your customers if you don’t," said Chris.
"Oh, all right," she sighed.
"But it's best you don't agree to be tied up, because someone might take advantage of you. We all know there are serial killers who deliberately prey on prostitutes.” That, Caroline reminded him, was another reason why it was a high-risk occupation. She pushed the thought to one side.
Despite the need for her to swallow her pride – she hoped it was the only thing she’d be swallowing - she also ruled out sodomy. “Ah, but what if he offers you a really high price?" said Chris.
"Not for any price," she told him firmly.
"Sure. It's a...I won't say "pain in the arse.""
"I've heard there are lots of clever ways you can do it so it doesn't hurt. There’s an art to sex, you see. There’s this ancient Greek book of – “
"Chris, do you mind if we drop the subject?"
“OK.” The wicked grin returned to his face again. "If he sucks your tits while the two of you are doing the business, does that count as an extra?"
“Do you have to be so vulgar?”
“I mean, you could always bargain with them…”
“Let’s say it’s included in the price.” If she was going to debase herself by selling her body she might at least make a decent profit out of it. But it seemed sordid to haggle over something like that.
“And will you do women as well? Some pros aren’t averse to it.”
Caroline considered this briefly, but only briefly. Though she accepted not all the people who took a different view were bigots, she had no objection to physical sex in any form, despite her professed distaste for what was “grubby”, provided there was consent between the partners (though it was debatable, she mused, whether prostitution was “consensual” when someone might be forced into it by another human being’s evil, and otherwise would have had no truck with the business). And she’d never actually tried the kind of activity Chris was talking about, for money or otherwise, so who was she to condemn? All the same it held no particular attraction for her and she had no idea what the effect might be on her personal relationships should she find herself developing a taste for it. “Let’s just keep things simple, shall we?” she said. “Although I suspect the thought of it might appeal to you.” She knew perfectly heterosexual men seemed to find the idea of two women together pleasantly kinky.
“I wouldn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to,” he said, serious for a moment. “OK. Now how much are you going to charge? You don't want to price yourself out of the market. You could do discounts for the unemployed, or disabled, or OAPs.”
“No OAPs,” she said firmly. The idea somehow seemed revolting. “Disabled, maybe. Unemployed…”
“They’d have to produce proof of benefit.”
“Which means it’d have to be ruled out, because their name and maybe other personal details would be on it and they’d be terrified I was going to blackmail them.” She wouldn’t have done that in any circumstances except the most desperate, and maybe not even then, but they weren’t to know that. “In any case, Chris, I doubt if any prostitute is quite so generous nowadays.” She pursed her lips in thought. “So what’s it going to be?”
“I’ve heard forty’s a standard price.”
She looked searchingly at him. “You’ve done it yourself, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I worked as a rent boy down in Brighton for a while back in - ”
“No, I mean as a client.”
“Once,” he admitted sheepishly, going just a little bit red. “With a crowd of the lads, in Amsterdam. We’d been on a tour and well, you know what rugby players are like.” He took on a defensive tone. “If you were to lock up every man who’s been with a prostitute half the male population would be in chokey.”
“I reckon that’d be quite a good idea,” she suggested. “Then us girls would find it easier to run the world in a sensible fashion.”
“If it’s any consolation,” he said, “I didn’t feel particularly wonderful afterwards.”
“That’s nothing to how I’m going to feel.” She smacked her lips. “Forty it is then.”
“Plus extras.”
Caroline gritted her teeth, and started to go through a variety of extraordinary facial contortions. “Ten pounds added for…” She coughed. “And twenty for…for you know…”
“Just for “you know”, or for “you know” plus…” He coughed.
“For both,” she decided. “Now how am I going to actually write all this down?”
“Easy,” said Chris, and sat down, taking up a pen and scribbling on the piece of foolscap she had set aside for the purpose. "Hi! I'm Caroline; 27, blonde, and gasping for it. Why not take advantage of my special offer? My body can be yours for just £10, £20 if extras included. Let me entertain you any way you want. I do girl on girl, golden shower, S & M, threesomes, bestiality. My speciality is to be taken roughly from behind while covered in peanut butter. Ring me NOW for a good time on - "
Caroline sighed disgustedly. ”I think I'd better do it myself," she decided, and turned over the sheet of paper. After some thought she arrived at what seemed an acceptable formula.
Young, attractive blonde offers sensual, intimate, body-to-body massage in pleasant surroundings just ten minutes’ walk from X station. Discretion assured.
Call (number) for the time of your life.
10am – 8pm Mon – Sat
She allowed herself one day off. So I bloody well should, she thought. And some residual religious conscience inhibited her from performing such an activity on the Lord’s day.
She wondered if she ought to draw a little picture, meant to represent herself, of a well-endowed young female in a bikini or low-cut dress, then decided her artistic skills weren’t up to it. God knew what Chris would do. “I think that should be enough,” she said firmly.
He inspected the blurb. “It doesn’t give your age or your bra size. What you’ve got to do is sell yourself, give ‘em a hook, something that’s gonna make them want you and not any other girl.”
“I’m not doing this for love, you know,” she snapped.
“I don’t think love comes into it,” Chris said quietly. She thought about that. There were varying reasons why a woman might want to be a prostitute. Hard practical necessity, as in her case. For kicks, which of course was stupid. Because you’d been abused as a child and lost so much of your self-esteem you felt the need to degrade yourself; that was tragic, at best. But love…
The advice most decent women gave to sex-starved men was to get off their backsides and find a girlfriend. Even if they forgave his paying for the pleasure of intercourse, they never encouraged it, certainly not by offering their own bodies. No, Chris was right. Love didn’t come into it at all.

Margaret Kent sat on the patio in the back garden of Hawthorn Cottage, Little Totterton, Devon, sipping from a cup of camomile tea and gazing through a break in the bushes that fringed the garden at the sea glimmering in the distance. In all other directions rolling fields stretched impressively away to the horizon. The house itself was of grey stone blocks with a slate roof. The garden, a riot of colour and of straggling shoots, always seemed to have a delightfully ramshackle appearance, despite their best efforts to keep it tidy. Nearby Jack was sprawled on his back, sunning himself, eyes closed and an expression of beatific bliss on his face. Having spent the last couple of days nervously exploring his new home, he was now beginning to settle in. A large bumblebee buzzed near him, and he made a couple of ineffectual swipes at it with his paw before returning to his leisure.
Edward appeared, having returned from his outing to the shops. “Wotcher.” He noted his wife’s anxious expression, took a chair and sat down beside her. “What’s up, love?” he asked gently. “Oh, I see. You’re still not convinced they won’t find us, are you?” No sooner had they established themselves at the cottage than she had started worrying about it.
“Are you?” she challenged. “We don’t know exactly what these people can do. How can we be sure they won’t be able to trace us here, if they can do so much else?”
She was quite right; they didn’t. Edward saw the lines of worry on her face. Living here with her was going to be hell unless her fears were calmed somehow. “So what are you suggesting we do? Go on the road?”
“I think we might have to,” she said. He could see she wasn’t entirely happy about the prospect. Nor was he, for that matter. Although it might be fun for a time…
“Perhaps we should leave the country?”
“If they’ve some wonder device that can locate anyone, it’d be watching the harbours and airports, wouldn’t it?”
He thought about it for a while, letting the peace and quiet of the garden relax him and make the decision easier. She was his wife and he owed it to her to set her mind at rest. They had been careful not to use their mobile phones, always leaving them switched off. But if Scarlione’s agents knew they were in Devon could they work from there and narrow it down somehow?
Staying with friends was out of the question because if the Mafia did work out where they were those friends could be in danger as well as themselves. And judging by all that Caroline had said going to the authorities would be fatal. By his reckoning the only sure way to avoid anyone getting killed was to stay on the move.
“Well, alright then,” he sighed. Margaret nodded in acknowledgement, the tension leaving her for the moment. “We’ll just have to find some convenient field or layby to stop each night.”
“The Romany life!” exclaimed Margaret with a smile.
“I’m glad you’re happy about it, darling, because I’m not. However, let’s make the most of it. We’ll need money, of course.
“What about Jack? I think he’s decided he likes it here. He won’t be happy about another upheaval, not so soon.”
“He’s got no choice,” said Edward bluntly.
“I’m not sure we could take him with us anyway. If he wandered off and got lost…”
“He’ll probably just stay in the car all the time. He’s not the adventurous sort.”
“I don’t think he’d be happy in a cattery somehow,” Margaret said anxiously.
“Look, why don’t we give him to Tom and Elaine Scanlon?” The couple were former neighbours of theirs, with whom they still kept in touch. “They’re in St Ives and that’s not too far from here. They’re both animal lovers, with young children who’d love a pet.”
They agreed it was the best thing. “Alright, so that’s settled,” Edward declared. “Now we’re going to need money. Let’s hope we’re not moving around so much we’re using it all up on petrol. If we do…well we’ll worry about that when it happens.”
“Maybe by the time it does run out things will have changed. They won’t be after Caroline any more.”
“Let’s hope you’re right,” Edward muttered.
Margaret stiffened as another worrying thought occurred to her. “We know it’s possible to monitor someone’s account to tell where they are. If we keep on making visits to the bank…”
Edward considered this problem. “Why don’t we draw all of it out in one go?”
“I think it would be dangerous to do that. What if something happened to it?”
“Let’s just take money out whenever we need it, and then get as far away from where we withdrew it as possible,” he decided. “Hopefully that’ll do the trick.”

New Scotland Yard
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner was meeting with the Home Secretary to review the situation regarding the Syndicate and to see if any solution to the problem had yet emerged. They couldn’t investigate too closely, but it was obvious the Hickman gang was tightening its grip on all manner of businesses throughout the country and probably overseas. At least it didn’t need to kill people that much, apart from the settling of old gangland scores, because out of fear they generally did what it ordered. In a way, it made the police’s job easier.
“There’s no need to say it, the whole situation’s absolute shit,” Ransley sighed. “And there’s been no sign of any breakthrough?”
“No. The thing is, whatever we do they‘ll get to hear of it somehow. How do I know I can trust you?” the Home Secretary added, only half in jest.
“You don’t, I suppose. But if we can’t do anything about them it isn’t going to matter.”
“The thing is, do we give up on fighting crime altogether? Is that what they’re asking us to do? How do we know when a particular outfit’s controlled by them and when it isn’t?”
“Are we sure who “they” actually are?”
“The rumours are it’s international, with the Mafia at the heart of it. Of course everyone’s acting as if nothing’s changed, or as if it doesn’t bother them. The ones who it doesn’t directly affect, anyway.
“Some operations work on a small scale, even if organised, and are thus not so easily detectable. I doubt if it’s possible for Hickman, and ultimately the Mafia, to control every criminal operation going on everywhere, even with the advantages they seem to have. Knowing where something is and having the resources to control it all is another. And they wouldn’t necessarily be interested in everything. They may feel they’re doing alright as it is.”
“But we still wouldn’t know.”
The Home Secretary took a decision. “We’ll continue doing whatever they haven’t specifically warned us not to. We’ll have to leave Hickman and his friends alone since it’s through them that the Mafia are operating. Otherwise all criminal investigations will continue until further notice. The same applies to minor offences, routine duties such as traffic policing, dealing with public disturbances, neighbourhood watch, any community improvement schemes in which the police can usefully be involved. We’ll go on trying to make society a better place.” He sighed wistfully. “And just hope that someday, something will come up.”

Following her planning meeting with Chris Caroline toured the house trying to identify the best place to take her clients. She decided on the spare bedroom at the back of the building, on the upper floor; it was a little cramped, but there was room enough to do the business comfortably and she supposed that was all her customers cared about. The bed was big enough for two and there was a chest of drawers where she could keep certain essential items, along with a chair on which clothes might be hung. With the back garden and another row of houses in between, nothing that went on in the room could be seen from the street (she always felt that drawing your curtains during the daytime made you look suspicious), and the light worked well enough for you to see what you were doing at night.
The following morning she took the car to the shops and bought herself a pack of index cards. She also bought fifty packets of condoms, some boxes of tissues, and various creams and lotions. All the time she was at the chemists’ buying the condoms and the other items, she thought she could feel people’s eyes on her as they put two and two together. She might of course have been imagining it. But everyone looked so solemn and impassive; including, she knew, herself. In order to make it less obvious she didn’t buy all the things she needed from the same shop – there was Tesco’s, for one – but it was altogether too large a purchase to entirely mask what she intended from a discerning eye. And on the occasions when she had to ask for condoms over the counter she felt embarrassed to do so. Oh for goodness’ sake, girl, she told herself. How would any self-respecting prostitute – that effectively was what she’d be, a prostitute – ever get on in their business with such qualms about it?
You’re not cut out for this, are you?
She should have had Chris buy the rubbers. Then he could flatter his ego by letting everyone think he was a super-stud.
God, if someone I know happens to bump into me; again she wondered if she should have taken Chris’ advice to change her appearance. But it was enough being forced to run from her home, her job, her friends and family, and engage in practices she found degrading. On top of that, to have to hide her true appearance, and in so doing feel unfulfilled and unhappy was asking too much. There were sound business reasons against it, too. It was as a blonde that she was marketing herself, so a blonde she should remain.
There was another reason. Despite popular conceptions not all gentlemen preferred blondes. Some men’s taste would be for brunettes - supposedly deeper, more sophisticated, more mysterious and enticing - and if they could tell from her complexion that her dark hair was fake they might be left feeling pretty disappointed. Men made a fuss about things like that.
Too bad, she thought. It’s for my benefit, not theirs.
She’d never have done it in any case. But was something cold and harsh and mercenary creeping into her already?
She had reconnoitred the area the previous day and found plenty of newsagents with cards in their windows advertising what were clearly massage parlours, whether run by just one person or a team it was impossible to tell from the blurb. Sometimes the wording was quite explicit. The newsagents didn’t seem to mind, to raise any moral objection, or they obviously wouldn’t allow it.
She could have hers done professionally, but she was embarrassed to go to a printers’ when they’d know very well what it was she was advertising, unless it was a shady one where they wouldn’t care anyway, and she had no wish to have dealings with such people. Again she thought, you may have no choice but to swim in a toilet bowl but if you do, you must expect at some stage to encounter a bunch of shits.
Fifty packets of condoms; that should be about right. She had no idea how many customers someone in this line of business had during the course of a day. Was the world really full of randy males who couldn’t get it up any other how? In any case it was best to be well-stocked up, to avoid embarrassment.
She chose what seemed to be the thickest ones, preferring not to trust those which were advertised as thin, and therefore sensitive, but strong enough to protect against nasty diseases. If that resulted in any reduction of pleasure for her customers, it was just too bad. They shouldn’t complain if the sex wasn’t to their satisfaction because, after all, the sad bastards were probably lucky to get any.
Face it, Caz. This is going to turn you into a hard tart. Was it, though? She hadn’t met that many prostitutes in her time, but from what she knew it seemed not all of them were nasty. She supposed if your motive was to keep body and soul together, and not pure greed or spite, then it affected the way you did it. But was anyone really that desperate, in a modern western nation like twenty-first century Britain?
I really don’t understand how the other half lives; the pressures they face, the choices they have to make.
She thought about of the reasons why she was doing it, and the effect it would have on her. She wasn't sure that the necessity of it removed any of the indignity. The lack of choice in the matter merely made it a different kind of debasement. But she had resolved that if she had to do it, she might as well enjoy it, and there must have been plenty of other toms, at some time or other, who had made that decision. Though how could you really “enjoy” being a prostitute? Her over-arching fear was that any kick she got out of it would pretty soon wear off, and then…It wouldn’t be quite so bad, she decided, if she got a young man on his rites of passage or some sad bastard who couldn’t form relationships, yet had the same natural desires as anyone else, and was otherwise a decent person. Then she could like them, or at least feel sorry for them, and feel she was doing something valuable. But for every one of these, there would be at least one other whose motives were less forgivable. Hard characters who did it simply because they could, a principle they probably applied to every other aspect of their behaviour, and whom she could only be repelled by. And married men who really ought to be making a better effort to relate to their wives instead of cheating them in order to live a sordid secret life. If they ever discovered the truth those wives would feel cheapened and degraded by being, without their consent, part of what was effectively a three-way relationship one of whose elements involved cold, loveless, rubber-insulated sex offered in return for money.
The thought of having to be nice to such people, certainly of any intimate sexual contact with them, filled her with a violent revulsion. And in such circumstances anything which went beyond “straight” sex seemed especially sordid and disgusting. Otherwise, perhaps it might not be. And men like those things, don’t they? Women are often less enthusiastic. That’s why many blokes go to whores for them and have straight sex at home with their wives. Is that so bad an arrangement, if we’re talking something deeply rooted in the male character? Better than the husband forcing it on the wife against her will.
And if you help by what you’re doing to prevent your fellow women from being raped, probably by one of these nasty characters you’re so desperate to avoid…maybe that made sense, maybe not. She found she couldn’t decide.
She still could not believe she was going to have to…often her head would swim with the unreality of it.
Let’s just see what it’s like in the long run, she decided, and drove home.
Once there, she put the condoms and other accessories in or on top of the chest of drawers in the spare bedroom, wrote out the advert on a few of the index cards, then treated herself and Chris to a cup of tea before she did the rounds, placing a card in the window of each of the newsagents within a two-mile radius for between £2 and £5. There were quite a lot of them and she decided she had no need to look further afield for her clientele. Chris had already phoned and put an advert in the “Personal Services” section of the three main local papers, which more or less reproduced what was on the cards.
The cost was exorbitant but hopefully she would soon be earning enough to absorb expenses like that comfortably. The advert would run from the following Monday and last seven days, like the cards, before it needed to be renewed.
Once the business took off she would get Hennig to stop the payments to her account, if she could find some safe way of making contact with him, or at least not make use of the money for the time being. Drawing on it while at the same time making a packet from prostitution would be moonlighting, if not something even worse.
Over breakfast she had spent some time working out what her spiel should be, and discussing certain matters with Chris. If she got a call she would check to see if she was free at the time suggested by the customer, and if not would ask if they would like to come later or the following day. She’d give directions to the house and also state the costs for the various services being offered, which were non-negotiable. This was designed to avoid any embarrassment or aggro in the event of someone arriving in the expectation of being serviced and then discovering they hadn’t enough money or the price was too high for their liking. Although she vowed she would make an exception for her awkward and inexperienced teenage nerd if, say, he had left his cash at home. Or for someone who found he couldn’t get it up; those sort deserved it.
Her background in PR meant she would have no problem being nice and friendly with them, while she had enough sexual experience for the act itself to cause no problems. She would try and make the pleasure last, all the while shutting her eyes and thinking of England. Give them a good time and maybe they’d…come again.
She needn’t ask for their names.
There had been some discussion as to whether Chris should be the one to greet the clients when they arrived and show them in. They had eventually resolved against this on the grounds that folk might be put off if there seemed to be a burly male hanging about who might beat them up and take the money off them before they got past the bedroom door. “Just stay downstairs,” she told him. “As long as you’re within earshot. I’ll shout if there’s any trouble.”
Returning to the house, she looked at her watch and saw it was time for lunch. They had some sandwiches and soft drinks, after which Caroline watched the local and national news while she waited for her food to go down. Then she went to the kitchen, made herself some tea, returned to the living room, sat down and waited.
Nervously she ran through her spiel again in her mind. “Hi, I’m Sabrina. Do come in. Would you like to go upstairs? I’ll be with you in a moment.” And from time to time put in some comment about the weather, or the state of the trains, or a current topical issue.
“Right, if I could take some money off you…that’s splendid. Now if you’d like to take your clothes off and lie down on the bed?”
What would the first one be like? The teenage nerd – though he needn’t be a teenager – the smartly-dressed middle aged bank manager, probably married with two kids, or the rough yobby type? What if it was somebody famous? Best to say nothing. You never know, they might decide to bump her off to ensure her silence. And the consequences if someone at some point recognised her; oh well, she’d worry about that in due course.
She couldn’t help being amused at the thought of a customer turning out to be someone she knew – Hennig, for example.
She waited until six o’clock and then set about making supper. After supper she sat down and waited again until eight. The phone rang once before then but it was a double-glazing salesman, probably dodgy, who she sent packing. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that no-one had come. Why hadn’t they come? She supposed it was early days yet. It might take a while before the punters noticed there was a new girl on the block and decided to try her out.
So she wasn’t too miffed when no-one rang the next day either. Or the next. But when the whole of the fourth day had passed without any calls from prospective customers, Caroline running to the phone and snatching it up eagerly only to find herself talking to some cold-calling telephone salesperson or someone who’d got the wrong number, she did start to feel a little cheesed-off. She was reluctant to go out in case a client called and she couldn’t let Chris answer the phone in case the sound of a male voice sent alarm bells ringing in the punter’s head. And while she was in there wasn’t much to do except read cheap paperback novels, watch TV or simply sit and do nothing.
“This is getting me down a bit,” she said, depositing herself in a chair with a vexed sigh.
“You’re sure you put the cards in all the newsagents?”
“There’s still the advert in the papers. That’ll bring in a few.” But at the end of the second week, when it was clear neither the cards nor the newapaper adverts were bringing results, they wondered if a rethink might be in order.
But for the time being she continued to wait. Maybe in this job you didn’t get customers every day, or even every week. She did think about redesigning the card, but if men were that desperate for it then the present format should be quite adequate. One thing was clear to her mind, if you had to much longer than this for any business then it wasn’t bloody worth it.
One morning, halfway through the third week, Chris came back from a visit to the shops. ”I think I’ve found the reason why we’re not getting any calls.” He slapped the local paper down on the table, open at the classified ads. “Ring one of those numbers,” he told her, stabbing with his finger at the Personal Services column.
Caroline rang Aisha, oriental beauty, who offered a relaxing unhurried massage, all services, no withheld numbers. She waited a moment, then there was a click and a recorded voice spoke. “This number has been blocked as part of measures to curb the trafficking of women into the United Kingdom for immoral purposes. The sex industry is responsible for the exploitation of thousands of women in this country and overseas every year. By paying for services of a sexual nature, you are encouraging and participating in this trade.” Another click, followed by a monotonous burring sound.
“It’s some new government initiative,” Chris said. “They’re blocking calls to all the knocking shops and massage parlours. It’s because of all the girls from Eastern Europe and Asia who are being trafficked in to work as prossies. I’ll bet the papers and the newsagents are being asked not to show adverts for our kind of business.”
Replacing the receiver, Caroline threw herself back in her chair. “Bugger.”
“You don’t suppose we’ll be raided by the police, do you?” Chris asked.
“Hope not,” she said gloomily. A visit from the police was the last thing she wanted, for very good reasons. “I’ll have to go round and ask the newsagents to take the cards down, if they’re still there.”
“They’re not actually.”
“And we won’t renew the advert in the papers.” Her head sank into her hands. “Oh, what the hell are we going to do?”
“Well,” began Chris, “if we’re serious about earning money this way – from your natural assets, I mean - it looks to me as if we’re going to have to try a slightly different approach.”

Salvatore Scarlione was in his study, contemplating his affairs, with Grieg on the DVD player and the sound of birdsong reaching his ears through the slightly open window, which permitted a gentle summer breeze into the room. Again there came a knock on the door, no doubt Vito wishing to alert him to the latest developments in the Caroline Kent saga. Scarlione shouted to him to enter.
“Just heard from Hickman, Dad. There’s about two dozen places in Devon owned by people called Kent, but we’ve checked their personal details and none of them fit. We tried letting agencies as well, no luck there either. And if they’re staying with someone as guests it’s going to be even harder to trace them. But we did think it might be, like, a holiday home. There are specialist companies which let those places and we’re starting to check them out.”
“Forget it,” said Scarlione.
“Uh?” Then Vito’s puzzlement turned to relief. “You’re calling off the search?”
“Yeah, I’m calling it off,” Scarlione sighed. He seemed more relaxed now. “I’m not gonna bother about the girl from now on. You’re right, we’ve probably made our point. If we do happen to come across her, then maybe. Otherwise leave it.”
“I think you’re making the right decision, Dad.”
“I’ve got enough sense to know when there’s no point in taking something any further. Besides I don’t see why I should get mad over a tramp like that. So that’s the end of it. Let’s just get on with running the joint efficiently, shall we?”
“Sure thing, Dad,” Vito grinned. He gave a thumbs-up and left.
Scarlione stayed at his desk a while longer. A part of him regretted not being able to find Caroline Kent and make her pay for her insolence. But the vendetta was a waste of resources, especially ; and if Vito had been right about everyone having got the message that things wouldn’t be the same for you once you “dissed” him, as their Yardie friends would put it. Arguably, it was his very obsessiveness about the thing that was making him look ridiculous in the eyes of the Syndicate. Well, he could stand an insult.
He got out some papers and started to sketch out the agenda for the next meeting of the Syndicate, putting Caroline out of his mind altogether.

“I am not doing it,” Caroline hissed. “And that’s final.”
“You’ll soon change your mind.” And she knew she would.
“It’s more honest,” Chris said, “if you think about it.”
“It’s also more dangerous, I shouldn’t wonder.” But…
She flicked through the Yellow Pages until she found the columns she wanted, and made a note of the addresses. She drove round first to the novelty shop, and then to Ann Summers in the high street. The good thing about either was that this time nobody would disapprove, well not really.
She bought a pair of fishnet tights, a pair of cutaway jeans which would only just cover her backside, red high-heeled shoes, short black leather skirt, and a skimpy white T-shirt. In her bedroom she stripped down to knickers and bra and then put on her “working clothes” over them, for now choosing the skirt over the hot pants. There was a full-length mirror on the wall and she stood and regarded herself in it, at first without enthusiasm.
Then she found herself warming to the part. She struck a seductive pose, standing with arms folded and one leg slightly forward of the other, the knee bent, and put on a Cockney accent. "'Ere, love, are you lookin'?" She giggled wickedly.
She went downstairs. ”What do you reckon?” she asked.
“Phwoar!” Chris said. “How much, darling?”
“You’ll be lucky,” she said.
She buckled on a pair of jeans over the black leather skirt; for her to be seen leaving the house in her present attire would make it just a little too obvious. “Well, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t get started. I’ll give you a call on the mobile if I run into any trouble.”
“Take care,” he said, genuinely concerned. He touched her gently on the cheek.
She returned the compliment. “Dear Chris, you’re ever so sweet. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright.”
“It’s a rough world you’re stepping into.”
"I know. Ah well, here goes." She slung the strap of her handbag over her shoulder and strode briskly out the door.
She took the car and drove four miles to a part of the borough which wasn’t so salubrious as the rest. The sprawling estate of 1930s and a few older houses had definitely gone to seed. A lot of the cars you saw parked about had clearly been abandoned, and some had their windows smashed in. There was a lot of litter lying around, as well as discarded builders’ tackle. The state of the houses depended on the initiative and sense of pride of the individuals who lived in them; some were well-kept and nicely painted, others tatty and probably structurally unsound. A few were empty, as the overgrown garden paths and boarded-up windows testified. Through the gap between two of them, where a by-road led off the main street, was visible a patch of wasteland where a group of youths were desultorily kicking a ball about.
Earlier they had done a recce of the area before to see if there was anywhere you might get away with the more open style of business they had in mind. Chris had heard one or two rumours about it which he thought were worth checking out. When they spotted a girl obviously touting for custom they knew they were in luck.
She drove to where there were four abandoned houses in a row and parked the car. Since no one lived in the buildings, they would serve as a suitable place to take your clients, where you could get on with the job undisturbed. She selected one to use as her base, and rigged up a kind of bed in the downstairs living room using an old mattress and blankets she found. Entry to the premises presented no problem as no-one had bothered to lock the doors when they left. One window was broken but they hadn’t got round to boarding it up yet, assuming anyone cared, so there would be enough light to see by. The curtains were still in place and could be drawn to screen what went on in the room from peeping toms or the “moral majority”.
It would be much more convenient if she could actually buy or rent a house on the estate, but the idea didn’t appeal to her. It was the sort of area where you lived in constant danger of being mugged or murdered, which was why she carried a flicknife in her coat pocket; she hoped she’d never have to use it. She suspected that many, if not most, street pros did not work the actual areas where they lived, which was a wise precaution to take.
She removed her shoes, then her jeans, before putting the shoes back on and stepping out into the street. Her bag contained enough condoms to hopefully last her the whole day, depending on how many customers she got.
It was a bright, sunny day, slightly chilly but not uncomfortably so. There didn’t seem to be many people about. She trotted a short distance down the road in her high heels and sat herself on the low brick wall which ran along the pavement in front of the houses.
She waited, her heart pounding, trying to banish the visions of being beaten up or murdered from her mind. It would be a rough business whatever happened. If it was more honest, it was also undoubtedly more sordid. In its disguised – thinly or otherwise – form, presented as “massage” and with all the trappings of customer service, it was still to say the least questionable, you were undoubtedly what was termed a “call girl”, but there didn’t seem quite the same element of…what? Unpleasantness? Threat? Vulnerability?
I will kill Scarlione for this, she thought. A sudden surge of anger, along with distress, brought her almost to tears. Then she decided that making the best of it was a way of thumbing her nose at the Mafia, and cheered up somewhat. Most of the custom around here would probably be hard cases, but she’d teach them a lesson or two if they tried anything.
Time passed. The worst thing about street prostitution, she decided, was having nothing to do between clients. The long, gruelling waits out in the cold which crushed the soul. At least at home you could read, watch TV, or busy yourself with housework between calls.
Come on, she muttered through gritted teeth.
She heard footsteps and stiffened. Turning, she saw the man coming along the pavement towards her. She waited until he drew level.
"Hello!" she said cheerfully. The man jumped, and hurried on with a brief nervous sideways glance at her. She stared after him, feeling despite herself a little indignant at the rejection. Sighing, she resumed her vigil, telling herself she was bound to get some custom eventually. No-one could accuse her of not selling herself now.
She found herself daydreaming, filling her head with a jumbled miscellany of thoughts. The only way of coping with the boredom was to lose oneself in them.
Suddenly a shadow fell over her and a harsh, grating voice startled her from her reverie. "Oy, what's your fucking game then?"
She looked up. There were four or five of them, all dressed similarly to herself. They looked as if they meant business, as well as sounded it; their faces might have been carved from granite. One, fairly stockily built, had a tattoo on her forearm. The thick smell of cigarette smoke filled Caroline’s nostrils and made her cough.
She tried to keep her cool. “What’s my game? Well," she said, looking down pointedly at her clothes, "same as yours, I should think."
"Who said you could come on our patch?" She could feel their eyes on her, burning with hatred.
"I didn't know it was your patch," she protested. "What, is there meant to be a sign up somewhere? Anyway, I’m sure there’s enough space for everyone.”
Her accent registered with them. “Oh, a posh one, are we?” sneered the prostitute with the tattoo. “A posh whore.”
"I have to make a living same as you,” Caroline protested. “Fell on hard times, didn’t I? It happens to “posh” people as well, I’ll have you know.”
“Ew, does it,” another woman said, mimicking her cut-glass stockbroker-belt tones. “Ew dear.” The speaker reverted to Cockney. “What a shame,” she sneered. “Well that’s just too bad. You think we could give a fucking toss? You find your own place, Lady frigging Muck. You should have stayed in your titty-fucking stately home. Too rough for your sort here, know what I mean? I dunno what your game is but you’d better clear off before you get hurt, you fucking rich slag.”
“Slag?” Caroline shouted. “And what the hell are you then?” She saw the prostitute’s eyes flash with rage, her mouth twisting in a vicious animal snarl. The woman screamed an obscenity and lunged at her, knocking her backwards off the wall. The others immediately joined in and Caroline felt herself being grabbed by the legs and pulled forward, over the wall and onto the pavement. She kicked and screamed but their combined strength was too much for her. Her backside hit the paving with a thud and then they were kicking her as if she was a football, one of them, at a guess the girl with the tattoo, putting almost as much strength into it as a man would. Caroline screamed louder, afraid she was going to be seriously hurt.
Mercifully the kicking ceased, but then she was yanked savagely to her feet and her arm twisted painfully behind her back. Her captor squeezed the arm until she thought the bones would crack. “Ow!” she yelled, panicking. “Get off me! Get – “
“Oy, what do you think you’re doing? Leave her alone!”
Caroline was aware of the woman letting her go, then moving away from her. A voice was shouting angrily, “What the hell’s got into you girls? What were you trying to do, cripple her?”
“She’s queering our pitch! She’s taking away our business!” someone protested.
“Just piss off, the lot of you. I’ll sort this out. You OK now, love?” This last was said with motherly concern.
Caroline saw before her an older prostitute who looked about fifty-five. She was stockily built and buxom with reddish hair and still looked quite handsome, pretty even. Her coat was unbuttoned to reveal a halter top which left exposed a not inconsiderable amount of cleavage. Her skin, remarkably smooth and unblemished apart from the odd mole, matched her hair but with a pinkish tinge, like lilac.
“You OK?” the older woman repeated. Her manner definitely wasn’t unfriendly. Caroline clutched at the pit of her stomach, which was aching sorely, and staggered a little. She suddenly found herself short of breath.
“Come and sit down,” the woman urged her. Shakily Caroline plonked herself on the wall, her rescuer sitting beside her, and inhaled deeply. After a moment she decided she was more or less recovered.
“Thankyou,” she said with feeling. “What were they so mad about?”
“Like they said, they thought you was queering their pitch. Our pitch.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I think you and I ought to have a little chat about things. My name’s Glyn, OK?”
“Hi, Glyn,” Caroline said. “I’m Sabrina.”
“Lovely name. Not your real one though, I guess,” grinned Glyn slyly.
“And yours?”
“Short for Glynis. Not much of a disguise, but to tell you the truth I’m past caring.” She regarded Caroline in puzzlement. “What I can’t understand is what a nice girl like you’s doing on the game. Why – have you – “
“Oh, I couldn’t begin to tell you,” Caroline sighed. “And I’d rather not, to be honest.”
“That’s OK.”
“Let’s just say I’m on the run. I haven’t done anything wrong, you understand,” Caroline added hastily.
“Your bloke beat you up? Suppose it can happen with posh people too.”
“It wasn’t that. I…I don’t want to say, really.”
Glyn dropped the subject. “Alright. But let me say this, love, it wouldn’t matter if you had done something wrong. Depends what it was, I suppose. You see, some of the girls…I don’t ask what they’ve been up to in the past, in case I decided I ought to tell someone. I don’t like sneaking on people, but I might have to. And when you’re a…well, a family in a way, it don’t do to sneak. We all know each other and we all back each other up when there’s trouble.” She smiled. “And we don’t ask questions when the subject’s too painful to talk about, so you needn’t worry about me poking my nose into your business.”
She became serious. “The thing is, love…” She sighed. “They don't like you because...well the thing is, a girl with your looks is going to grab all the customers, isn’t she?” Wouldn’t surprise me, Caroline thought sniffily. She could understand why the other prostitutes were jealous of her, given that most of them under their make-up were hideously ugly.
“You'll do the rest of us out of a living. I don't mean to be nasty, but you can understand how they feel. You'd be well advised to keep out of it; find somewhere else. Otherwise…well, I don’t like it but I might not be able to stop them.” She was clearly uncomfortable. “And I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“There aren’t many other places,” Caroline said. “Most of it’s behind closed doors now, isn’t it?”
“That’s true. Thought of going into that line of business myself, but I’m not really the type. Besides, it’s too late to learn all those customer relations skills you’ve got to have. Some of the girls who work in these massage parlours – brothels, to tell the truth – have been trolley dollies on the planes, that sort of thing. That’s where they learn their patter.” Glyn sighed, almost regretfully. “The number of girls working the streets around here has gone down by half the last few years. And it’s happening everywhere. The local people don’t like to put up with it quite so much, not the way they used to. The Asians are down on it especially, at least the older ones are. It’s also getting more and more nasty, same as everything else. Safer indoors, on the whole. And nobody can tell what’s happening from outside, so you can set up in a posh area where people don’t beat each other up so much. Can’t see why you didn’t try that, you’re just the type for it.”
More suited to it than to the rough end of the trade, certainly. “I did,” Caroline muttered. “But they’ve put the kybosh on that now.”
“Won’t last. But what are you going to do in the meantime, love? I know it’s hard, but you’d be well advised to do what I say and get out while you’re in one piece. Some of the girls can be pretty vicious.”
Caroline said nothing. They sat in silence for a while, Glyn waiting patiently for her to make her decision.
Then in a sudden bright flash of inspiration an idea came to her. “Hey, I’ve just thought of something. Why don’t we have a rota system?”
“You mean, take it in turns; each girl does the whole area, but not on the same day?”
“It could be just one girl, or it could be two. If it’s two, they could take different streets, as long as their patches were far enough apart for one not to be taking custom from the other. What I suggest we do is share the takings, have a common fund we could all draw upon when we need to. Form a collective, in other words. It’s been done before.
“If you’re worried about me cornering the market, I don’t have to be on the game every day. It’s not necessary for each girl to be doing it all through the week. As long as we each have enough to meet our needs. But we’ll have to get together at least once a week to decide who’s working which part of the estate.”
Glyn thought it over, then nodded slowly, her expression one of admiration. “You know, love, that’s not a bad idea. I’ll talk to the girls, see what they think.”
“I could do the accounts,” Caroline offered. “Someone else could handle the filing. And there’d have to be a secretary. And an Honorary President…” She was getting into the spirit of things. "I could handle Public Relations, or Personnel...oh, one other thing.”
“What’s that, love?”
“Do any of the girls spend their money on drugs?” She recalled the thin, emaciated look a couple of them had had; their pale, gaunt faces and hollow eyes. “I…I wouldn’t be happy about doing it if they were.” Only she might not have much choice.
“Well, I’ve never asked,” Glyn said. “Not that it isn’t bleeding obvious. But they’re addicted to it, you see, the drugs that is. They wouldn’t be on the game if it wasn’t to pay for the stuff.”
“Well if they clear out there’d be more money for the rest of us,” Caroline pointed out.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Glyn promised, more than a little doubtfully. “But they won’t take kindly to being given the push, especially at an outsider’s say-so. And the drugs make them pretty mad at times. And strong.”
At least Caroline’s conscience was appeased.
That evening a meeting was held at Glyn’s house to discuss Caroline’s proposal, and a rota system was drawn up on the lines she had suggested. There was no need to adopt a formal structure, since everyone knew each other well enough to work together effectively. Because everyone trusted her it was agreed Glyn should be responsible for custody of the finances, with assistance from Caroline. Now that the latter had been vouched for by the matriarch she was accepted by the others, though she sensed there remained an underlying vestige of suspicion which wouldn’t go away in a hurry. And it was agreed to hold regular meetings to discuss the allocation of “patches”, since from time to time people might be ill – not with anything too nasty, Caroline hoped – or otherwise unavailable. A record would be kept of how much each girl had earned, the total profits and how they had been apportioned. Glyn would adjudicate any disputes which arose from one of the girls straying into another’s territory, or being accused of doing so; it was expected the position she enjoyed within the group would ensure her decision was accepted.
Their ages ranged from sixteen to sixty, but most of the women were in their twenties or thirties. She found herself becoming friendly with one or two of them, who hadn’t been among the group threatening her when she first appeared on the scene. They weren’t bad sorts, once you got to know them and understand their problems. The others kept their distance, as she did from them. They had gone for her that first day because, apart from anything else, they weren’t nice people.
By Thursday the new organisation was up and running. Caroline and Glyn stood in the street looking on with a certain proprietary pride and satisfaction as cars drove up, parked, and the women got out to go to their respective patches. Two of them succeeded in picking up clients on the way; the third showed no objection, knowing that after servicing their punters they would go on to their designated areas and remain there for the rest of the day.
“Well, it all seems to be working OK,” said Caroline.
“Thanks to you. We ought to strike a special medal. And maybe you’d fancy being our President when I get too old for this sort of thing; President of the National Union of Prostitutes.”
Caroline glanced at her; Glyn’s mock-serious expression melted away and she giggled impishly.
“Maybe,” Caroline said.
They stood chatting for a bit, Glyn occasionally taking a puff from her cigarette. "The trick you see, love, is to swaller it quickly,” Glyn said. “That way you won't choke. And of course they likes it that way."
"I see," said Caroline dubiously. “Er – forgive me, but isn’t that dangerous without a condom?”
“It’s up to you whether you take the risk. I don’t, meself. Of course, they’ve got the idea it’s less dangerous without one than the straight stuff – I don’t know about that - and so they don’t see why they should spoil their fun by wearing the things. But I always come stacked to the brim with rubbers and if they don’t like it, that’s tough. I’ll give ‘em a fight over it if they want one.” Caroline sensed she was more than capable of it, despite the golden heart that beat within her ample bosom. “But some girls will chance it for extra cash. Danger money, you might say.”
Yes, quite, Caroline thought.
“Have you ever – “ she began. “Oh no, I shouldn’t really be asking.”
“You posh types! Go ahead, love, we’re all friends here. After all I’ve seen in my time there isn’t much that’s likely to shock me.”
“Have you ever done it with another woman?”
“Once. And only because business hadn’t been good for a while; it has its ups and downs, like any other…job. I didn’t get much out of it. I don’t mind it really, but it’s not the sort of thing I’d do as a rule, if that makes everything quite clear.”
“Do you get less customers than the others because…”
“Because of my age? Not really. There’s enough sad blokes desperate enough to have it off with an old tart like me. And some men actually prefer older women. We’re more experienced, after all.”
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Caroline said. They had agreed to divide up the area between them.
“Ta-ta, dear. Take care, won’t you.”
The next morning she parked the car outside “her” house, went in and changed for what would be her first actual session on the game under the new system. This time she had permed her hair and wore a waist-length windcheater, hot pants, flesh-coloured stockings and white plastic shoes. She took up position on the wall, stuck her hands in the pockets of her windcheater and bided her time, again in that mood half of nervousness, half of hopeful expectation. This time, maybe she’d get lucky. I’ve got to, she thought fiercely.
A few minutes later she heard the footsteps approach her and glanced round. Seeing the man coming along the pavement, she kept her gaze focused on him, to signify that she was prepared to supply if the demand was strong enough.
She realised there was another man not far behind him…and another. And another. And another.
There must have been about a dozen of them. I knew this would happen, she thought with an inward sigh. Still, business was business.
The first man halted on reaching her and said, “You in the trade, love?”
What’s it look like? Caroline thought. She nodded and smiled affably. “Thirty pounds, forty if you want extras. OK, honey?”
She turned and led him down the road to the house. The rest of them could wait.
She pushed open the door and went in. She was about to show him into the living room when she felt him pull her arms behind her back and snap something cold and metallic around her wrists. He moved so fast she was startled more than anything else. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” she yelled.
“I’m a police officer,” he said, bundling her towards the door. “”Honey”. And you’re under arrest for soliciting.”
From outside she could hear the strident wail of police sirens.
“You do not have to say anything but…” Et cetera, et cetera.
Still protesting, she was hustled from the building to see a police car and van screech to a halt beside the kerb, causing the punters queuing up at her door to scatter and take themselves off as fast as they could. But the police weren’t interested in them. Caroline was thrust into the back of the van where she saw Glyn sitting against the wall, handcuffed like herself. ”So they got you too,” was all there was to say.
All over the area, meanwhile, dozens of other prostitutes were being handcuffed and herded into the police vans; in the main street a police inspector was being interviewed by a reporter from London Television. “Well I think Operation Clean-Up has been a great success," he said.
The van with Caroline and Glyn in it drove to the police station, where they were taken out and escorted through the rear door of the building and down a corridor to a waiting area which held a number of chairs. The handcuffs were removed and they were invited to sit down.
A policeman clerk sat at a desk filling in forms. The room was full of prostitutes, most from Glyn’s and Caroline’s oufit, and all contemplating the wall with sour or solemn faces. Glyn looked round at them, smiling sympathetically at those whose eyes she caught.
A Custody Officer had a preliminary interview with each of the arrestees at which they were asked if they had any special medical needs. Caroline said no. She was searched and anything she was carrying which might be used to harm her or another person was confiscated. Then they were taken back to the waiting room, and sat down again. Glyn saw Caroline’s expression and squeezed her hand in an attempt at reassurance. “You look like fucking death warmed up. Don’t worry, dear, it’ll be alright.”
“Aren’t you worried?” Caroline said, a little tersely.
Glyn lowered her voice. “Not in the least, dear. Been up in court for this loads of times, I have.” She suddenly remembered what Caroline had said to her when they first met. “Oh, of course, you don’t want – “
“No, I don’t,” Caroline said, her voice dull. For a while neither of them spoke.
Then Caroline realised there were a few questions she’d never got round to asking Glyn. “You never did tell me why you went on the game in the first place.”
With a wistful sigh Glyn cast her mind back through the years. “I used to work in a factory just down the road from where I live, until it closed a few years back. There were hundreds of us made redundant. Well, the truth is no-one’s interested in you once you’re over a certain age, despite all these grand plans the government keeps coming out with to get you back to work. I tell you, it’s the bosses’ backsides they should be kicking, not ours. I can’t count the number of training schemes they’ve put me on, but still nobody’s interested. I gave up in the end. Meanwhile, my daughter’s marriage broke down, bastard upped and left her for another woman, and she had to bring up my two grandchildren all on her own – couldn’t cope. She needed money, more than the government were prepared to give her. Then there’s her older boy, my grandson. He’s quite bright and he’s probably got a good future ahead of him, but he won’t be able to make it through college now that the students have to earn their own keep, and his mum can’t help. Not unless she gets a bit of a hand. So…”
What, Caroline wondered, would happen to Glyn, and to her daughter and grandsons, when age finally caught up with her and she was no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, desirable? Not for the first time she suddenly felt guilty that she earned such a good salary, relatively speaking, and enjoyed a high standard of living. Or at least she had done, before…
The thought reminded her that she had problems of her own.
They seemed to be taking a long time to get round to interviewing their prisoners. Overstretched, probably. Caroline and Glyn started to make small talk again.
"So you won't sleep with married men?" Glyn snorted. "I'm telling you, love, you'll be doing yourself out of business. And another tip – never let them tie you up. I’ll do kinky stuff for the sake of the grandkids, but there’s got to be a limit. Once you’re tied up they can do what they like to you.” Chris had been right, Caroline thought. “I’ve heard of girls who were murdered that way. Knew one or two of them, in fact.”
Glyn sat gazing at the wall again, and for a few moments saying nothing. She was losing herself in her memories. “Yeah, it was nice working at that factory. Nice people…”
Caroline found herself left to her own thoughts. And she had plenty on her mind at that moment. She had no idea how long they’d hold her for, whether she’d be let off with a caution or be clapped in prison for a while. But before they decided what to do with her they’d interview her, make enquiries, maybe find out her real name. What if, sooner or later, the news found its way to Scarlione’s spies within the Force, by one means or another? Once it did…the chilling thought came to mind that she might be visited in prison by some do-gooder who ostensibly intended to reform her, but in fact had a far more sinister purpose in mind.
Because she couldn’t afford to trust them, she couldn’t tell them the real reason why she had taken the step of becoming a prostitute. And even if they didn’t, they might put her on some compulsory rehabilitation scheme, which entailed the possibility of some well-meaning social worker asking too many questions.
There was only one way out that she could see. It might itself be just as dangerous, for all she knew, but it was worth the risk. After all the game was up, in a manner of speaking.
She was called for interview. “Good luck,” whispered Glyn, clasping her fingers and squeezing them. “And you,” Caroline smiled, squeezing back.
There were two of them, a man and a woman. The woman looked friendly and understanding, the man rather less so, although she knew men weren’t too good at this sort of thing anyway. She sat down opposite them. She was told why she was being interviewed and the nature of the offence. The man informed her that she had the right to a solicitor, to see the record of the interview and to remain silent throughout it although her failure to co-operate might be held against her. “Wouldn’t have thought a girl like you needed to do this sort of thing,” he commented suspiciously. He switched on the tape recorder. “Name?”
Caroline braced herself, taking a deep breath and sitting up straight. “My name is Caroline Kent and I’d like to speak to a member of the security services. Preferably Rachel Savident at MI6, if that’s possible.”

The two of them sat and stared at her in astonishment. Then the man asked, “are you one of their agents?”
“Yes,” said Caroline, thinking this would speed things up a little. “I’ve been working undercover.”
“As a prostitute,” he observed.
“Well, yes.”
“I thought MI6 mainly worked overseas. Their concern is with external security. You mean MI5, surely.” He was by now somewhat confused. He was inclined to doubt her story, but she seemed to know the name of one of their employees, a detail she must know could easily be checked.
“Just let me speak to Rachel. She’ll sort everything out.”
The man sighed, clearly put out at what he considered an unnecessary complication. “Alright. We’ll give them a call and attempt to establish whether they do have such a person working there.”
He spoke into the tape recorder. “Interview suspended.”
“Please do it as quickly as possible,” Caroline urged. “I have important information to pass on.”
He gave her a look and reached for a mobile phone. It took several minutes for the operator to put him through to the MI6 switchboard, and several more for the call to be cleared through security and relayed to Rachel. Throughout Caroline sat in deadpan silence.
“Yes, that’s right,” she heard the man say. “Caroline Kent, she says her name is. I don’t know what to make of it but I thought you could vouch for her. Yes, blonde, white, twenties, blue eyes, tallish. No, she’s not saying what it’s about. Classified information, I imagine. Seems to think it’s urgent. Oh, I see. it’s like that is it? Yes…yes, well, the sooner you can take her off our hands the better. What? Oh, right…” He handed the phone to Caroline. “Your friend wants a few words with you.”
“Rachel, how fantastic,” said Caroline. “Are you OK?”
“Fine, apart from being a bit taken aback to hear what you’ve been up to. I’ll look forward to your explanation!”
“I haven’t been doing anything wrong. Well, legally I have but…” “OK, we’ll sort it all out when I see you. Just don’t worry. Now if you can hand me back to the police?”
“Yes, that was her voice,” Rachel told the man. “I don’t understand what’s going on either, but I can assure you she’s genuine. She’s helped us quite a bit in the past. Look, I’d better be getting over to you.”
“Your friend’s on her way,” the policeman told Caroline. “In the meantime, you’d better remain here in this room. My colleague will accompany you if you should need the toilet.”
“I’m not a terrorist,” she said, trying to sound good-humoured. Giving her a brief glance, he busied himself writing something in a notebook. She thought she knew why he was being so bolshy. Fancied her, probably, and was trying not to show it, or resented the fact that he’d be unlikely ever to possess the object of his desire. Blokes either reacted that way to Caroline or fell over backwards trying to please her.
Probably married with two kids, she thought. Men; personally she felt sorry for them.
The three of them sat and looked at one another, making the occasional casual remark, until someone knocked on the door and the woman officer went to admit Rachel Savident. Caroline slumped in her chair in relief on seeing Rachel, who gave her a pleasant smile before turning to the two officers. “Thankyou for calling me. I, er, think the two of us had better be alone for a while. We have things to discuss in confidence.”
The male officer hesitated. “I have a letter here from the Director of SIS to back me up.” Rachel held it out for his inspection. He studied it carefully, then gave a curt nod. “All right then, we’ll leave you to it,” he said flatly. “Just bang on the door when you’re finished.”
They left, and Rachel sat down beside Caroline. “Do they pay you that badly at IPL?” she joked.
“I never actually got to…do anything,” Caroline said crossly. “And I had my reasons.” In a low voice, just in case anyone was eavesdropping, she told Rachel everything that had happened from the incident with Scarlione in America right up to the present.
“These things happen to you, don’t they,” Rachel said afterwards. “Caroline, any time you’re in this kind of trouble you can always come to us, you know. There’s no need for you to go to ground as a…”
“Trollop,” said Caroline ruefully.
“You’re not that. As I was saying, if ever you find yourself in danger from anyone get in touch with me straight away. Don’t lose any time over it.” What Rachel was saying was that she was a friend.
“Thanks,” Caroline said. “I’ll remember that. I thought of going to you before, once I knew the police weren’t to be trusted. But how was I to know you hadn’t been infiltrated?”
Rachel looked round the room and then at the floor, wrapped in thought. She frowned. “Well,” she said slowly, “I’ve no reason to think there’s anything…”
Caroline felt a sudden chill.
“Rachel, you’ve got to get me out of here as soon as possible,” she said. “I guess I’ll be as safe at Six as anywhere else, more so hopefully. But I won’t be happy until I get there.”
Rachel nodded. “We’ll try and fix up a safe house for you.” She banged on the door, which was opened by the female officer. “We’re leaving now,” she told the woman. “I’ll be responsible for her.” She gave the two officers a questioning look, inviting them to raise an objection if they wished. “My superiors will sort out any issues that may arise.”
Neither of them seemed disposed to give trouble, so Rachel and Caroline smiled and left. The male officer stood looking after them for a few moments as they disappeared down the corridor.
“Not bad-looking for all that,” he remarked. “Both of them.”
“I didn’t really notice,” said the woman.

Another meeting of the heads of the Syndicate was under way, this time at a hotel in Madrid, in a luxuriously appointed room set aside for business conferences, which, in the attendees’ view in any case, was effectively what this was.
There was a new addition to the line-up: Joe Hickman, who Scarlione had given a seat on the Council as a sop. He seemed ill at ease, eyeing his companions shiftily, though feeling a little more comfortable with Jake Vidler at his side. As before Vito and Tony D’Enrico accompanied Scarlione. Business was dispensed with fairly quickly; everyone seemed happy with their share of the dough, and there still seemed no threat to their enterprise from the authorities or the public.
“Right,” said Scarlione briskly once all these matters had been dealt with. ”Anything else we feel we need to discuss?”
“Your dispute with the Caroline Kent woman,” said the Yakuza. “I feel it represents a misuse of our resources. With respect.” There were a few nods of agreement around the table, although most people said nothing.
With respect, thought Scarlione. Yeah, quite. “Huh. Well you needn’t worry,” he told the Japanese. “I’ve decided to let that go. I think we should concentrate on more important things.”
He drew himself up. “Y’see, what I’m thinking…I mean, what’s all this for? Everything we’ve done? We set this thing up because we knew we’d make a better job of running the world. And I like to think we have done.” Lots of nods from the meeting.
“But if we really want to make an impact, if we really wanna be remembered as the guys who sorted out the planet’s troubles, we need to do something different. In addition to what we’ve been doing this last year or so, I think we should kind of branch out, y’know? The power we’ve got ain’t no good unless we make as much use of it as possible.”
“But everybody does know we’re running everything,” said Joe Hickman. “If it’s recognition you’re after…we may not rule in name, but that’s never bothered me. Just as long as we’ve got the influence. It’s real power that interests me, and always has been.” The power was valued for its own sake and because it could be used to extort money. “People have sussed that we’re the ones in charge, alright, even if it’s not something they’re brave enough to say in public. Or admit to at all, even to themselves.”
“Sure,” Scarlione nodded. “I agree with everything you’re saying. What I’m planning isn’t the kind of thing I’d want to make public either. We can’t do, for reasons which you’ll understand in due course. But maybe someday someone’ll write the history of our little undertaking, and they’ll see we achieved more than hundreds of politicians have done in as many years. I think I’d like to be remembered even if it wasn’t in my own lifetime. We’ve always worked from behind the scenes and that’s how it’s gonna stay. We’d just be taking things in a slightly different direction.
“We gotta think big. We gotta have ambitions for ourselves or we’ll stagnate. The way to look at it is this. I’m not saying what we’ve done isn’t important, that it ain’t a great achievement. It is. But there’s, like, issues which overshadow it…issues compared to which it doesn’t matter much. Issues which could destroy the entire planet and everyone on it. And then where would we be? Where would all we’ve built up have got us?”
“What kind of issues did you have in mind?” asked Ivan Grishkov. “Global warming? That could mess everything up if it gets out of hand. Are you suggesting we all become environmental activists?”
“Not necessarily. I don’t understand the science of the thing, for a start. And there’s quite a few who think it’s all scaremongering. Maybe we might get involved with it at a later date; it’s something to think about. But there are other problems which could cause just as much damage. Ones which kill people, or screw up their lives, and stop us all from being happy bunnies. I want us to get the credit for solving them.
“I’m talking major league politics. International politics.”
“Whatever you’ve got in mind, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pull off,” Hickman said. “Not if we virtually run everything. Should it?”
“We control the West and the developed nations of the Third World.” Scarlione reflected that the latter term, which was supposed to mean those nations not aligned with one side or other in the East-West divide, was surely obsolete now with the end of the Cold War. “Outside the West it’s different. Different cultures, y’know what I mean? Ones where our set-up wouldn’t work, maybe wouldn’t have got started in the first place. But I’m sure it’s possible to do business with them, nonetheless. Make deals.”
“So in the field of international politics, which issue do you propose we should concern ourselves with most?” asked Kuan Ho. “Well, the problem with this Goddamn post-Cold War era is that nobody’s sure what the real threat is. We’ll assume Ivan’s people aren’t going to cause any trouble for the foreseeable future.” Scarlione flashed Grishkov a friendly smile. “Or Iraq, what with the way Saddam got his ass burnt in 1991 and the air strikes since. They say he’s still got weapons of mass destruction but I don’t believe that, because he didn’t use them in ’91 and I doubt he could have been smuggling them in in a big way since without the Americans noticing.
“’But there’s always been trouble spots. Two you keep thinking of are Northern Ireland and the Goddamn Middle East.”
“Ireland is a dead issue now, more or less,” said Vito. “What with the Good Friday agreement. There are one or two splinter groups occasionally causing trouble. But mostly they seem to have given up trying to kill each other or the British, for the moment.”
His father nodded. “But the Middle East is different, and it has an international dimension which Ireland never really had. If it flares up bigtime the whole world could be drawn in, because the West would be expected to take sides. If she supported Israel the Arabs would get mad with her; there’d be terrorist bombs going off all over the place. And if she didn’t support Israel, the Izzies would make damn sure she did, somehow or other; you know how powerful the Jews in America are, and I’m convinced Mossad would pull off some clever stunt to keep her in line. ‘Cause they are clever, the Jews, you gotta hand it to them, and they always put themselves first and don’t give a shit what happens to anyone else, at least Israel doesn’t. After Hitler and all that, they’ve got too much to lose by bending even a fraction, way they see it. They’re surrounded by people who don’t like them because of what happened in 1948 and would cheerfully wipe them off the map given a chance.”
“It’s more than just a matter of Israel,” said the Frenchman. “Islamic extremism objects to any involvement by the West in Middle Eastern or Asian affairs; indeed, to Western culture itself.”
“Yeah, but a big part of that’s because of Israel and the way the West supports her. If you could sort out that whole issue somehow, they might stop and think a little, crazy though they are. There’d be one less reason for them to hate the West.”
“And how are you proposing that we “sort it out?” asked Joe Hickman.
“Well, I been thinking. You know what the problem is? It’s that Israel is too strong. She thinks because she’s surrounded by countries that aren’t too keen on her she’s weak, when the fact is that thanks to America she can do whatever she frigging well likes, including massacring innocent Palestinians and getting everyone mad. For example, she’s the only country in the whole of the Middle East that’s allowed to have nuclear weapons. She doesn’t say she’s got them but everyone knows she has. One thing’s a cert, if any of the other countries in that part of the world, like Iran or Iraq or Syria, tried to get hold of some and the Americans found out, the CIA would stop it. They’re best buddies with the Jews. Now people in the Arab and Muslim world don’t like that, they think it’s unfair, just as lots of people don’t like the way Israel treats the Palestinians and the things she’s done in Lebanon. And because she calls all the shots there ain’t a fuck they can do about it. With all the money and hardware America gives her she’s got the strongest army in the region and if it really came to the crunch, if her conventional forces stopped being a deterrent, she’d simply nuke her enemies and fuck the consequences, which she’d consider justified in the last resort.”
Scarlione leaned back. “So what we need, guys, is an equaliser. A way of giving our friends in Jerusalem something to think about; show them they can’t have it all their own way. They might then be a little more inclined to make concessions. And that’ll be for everyone’s benefit.
“If an Arab country was given nuclear weapons, it’d force both sides, Israel on one and the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world on the other, back to the negotiating table by making them see they gotta sort out their differences once and for all ‘cause there’s just too much at stake. This time there’ll be no stalling. They’ll find it easier to agree to an independent Palestinian state and an end to new Jewish settlement combined with guarantees of Israel’s security, which of course is the only way to go about the business. They won’t let East Jerusalem, which is a particular hassle, be a stumbling block, which it has been in the past, by pushing for progress on it at too early a stage. They’ll bring in the UN to help keep the peace while the agreement was being implemented, which would be better ‘cause the UN are less likely to go crashing around destroying whole villages and killing innocent women and kids, and they’d know they’d have to do the job properly or Israel would tear up the whole thing with God knows what result.
“So,” Scarlione said briskly, “what do you think, fellas?”
Some people looked interested, some shrugged indifferently. Only one or two seemed unhappy with his proposal. Most of those present, sensed Vito Scarlione, took the view that business was business. After all, a good number of them had dealt in arms before, the weapons often going to people like Saddam Hussein who one would have thought was highly dangerous to world peace, whether because of what he did or because of what people thought he wanted to do.
Kuan Ho seemed to consider very carefully, his eyes half shut, like an Oriental sage meditating. “I must say,” he said, “that I am not unattracted by the proposal. Who are you proposing the weapons should go to? Iraq?”
Scarlione shook his head emphatically. “No, not Iraq. Saddam’s too dangerous. He was stupid enough to invade Kuwait and not think the West would do anything, so there’s no telling what’d happen if he had the bomb. Maybe not even he would be crazy enough to use it in anger, but I don’t want to take the risk. Even if he was only meaning to frighten people, they might panic if they knew he’d got them, and there’d be a world war anyway. No, I’m gonna give the weapons to Syria. The Syrians may harbour Palestinian terrorists but they’re pretty smart, they know just how far they can go. They wouldn’t say to Israel “do this or we nuke you,” which would probably cause her to let fly with everything she’s got because she doesn’t like being pushed around.”
“Then, er, if you don’t mind me asking, what would be the point of giving Syria the weapons?” ventured Vito. “If she isn’t going to use them to force concessions from Israel?”
“There doesn’t need to be a direct threat. Just knowing she’s got them will give the Izzies a kick in the pants. They won’t like it, of course. They’ll say Syria’s being irresponsible, that she’s upsetting the balance of power in the region – as if only Israel having nukes in the whole of the Middle East is “balance” – and they’ll warn her what’ll happen if she uses the missiles against them. But although they may be fucking paranoid even the Israelis won’t start a nuclear war in the region unless they’re attacked first. The Syrians, well the same applies. Neither side wants to commit suicide. So what we’re doing won’t cause World War Three, it’ll create a proper balance of power in the Middle East and with it, a whole new climate. The psychological barrier will be overcome. No-one’s likely to use the missiles in anger, but at the same time the thought they might, because you could never be one hundred per cent sure they wouldn’t, will make it all the more important to defuse tensions. And if that means creating an independent Palestinian state, then there’ll be an independent Palestinian state. Which would reduce tension even more, by giving the Palestinians what they want.”
A dozen heads nodded in approval. It looked like the waverers had been won over. After all, thought Vito, you had to admit there was a lot of sense in what his father was saying.
“The Syrians will probably say they acquired the weapons because they thought it was unfair no Arab power could have nukes, but Israel could, and to protect themselves against aggressive action against Israel – a reasonable enough thing to want to do, given what Israel’s capable of if she thinks her interests justify it, and if you don’t agree just look at Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Israelis will have to be honest about their own nuclear weapons, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Altogether…”
“You have convinced me,” said Kuan Ho. “But where are we going to obtain the weapons? And how are we going to deliver them to Syria?”
“I’ve a hunch there’s several people around this table who’d know how to get hold of them,” Scarlione smiled. Grishkov, the Kazakh and the Ukrainian all reacted to this. “There’s a lot of nuclear hardware lying around in eastern Europe and central Asia, left over from the old Soviet Union. None of it officially accounted for. Quite a trade goes on in those things, so I hear.” And ultimately, it was Scarlione who now controlled that trade.
The Ukrainian spoke. “I imagine Syria will require at least half a dozen missiles, the warheads to go in them, plus a device which can be exploded in some remote location and which will prove to the world, when it is tested, that Syria has weapons of mass destruction.”
“Would this device cause much in the way of radioactive fallout?” Vito asked. Better test it in a desert than anywhere else, but the Fertile Crescent was a relatively small area, in which you didn’t want to explode a nuclear bomb if you could help it because the effects on a relatively tightly concentrated population would be so much more appalling (one reason why the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction might work even better here than it had in the Cold War).
“It doesn’t have to to prove its point,” the Ukrainian replied. “Even if there was a low level of radiation, the mere fact that it had been exploded at all would be enough to show the world that Syria had joined the “nuclear club.”
“There will need to be a certain quantity of uranium or plutonium
among the shipment. Nuclear triggers to arm the warheads. Apart from that, and the devices themselves, I think Syria has the technology, the resources and certainly the knowhow to build a nuclear strike force. It will be small to start with and I cannot say whether the opportunity would exist to add to it as time went on. But all she really needs is one workable nuclear missile to make the Israelis think again.”
“Can you see to it?” Scarlione asked.
“Yes, I will see to it. I may need the help of our Russian friends, which I trust will be forthcoming.” Ivan Grishkov nodded. Any past or present political differences between Russia and Ukraine were gloriously irrelevant to his modus vivendi. To him, what some people called “crime” and business were the same thing. And business should know no frontiers.
“Great. I’ll see you afterwards and we’ll talk some more.” Scarlione raised his voice. “Guys, I wanna pull out all the stops on this one. We need to use all our contacts. I take it I can call on the help of any one of you, if it turns out I need it, to pull this off.”
Again they all nodded.
“I’m convinced the consequences will be good. The only problem would be with doing it in the first place. If this is to be a fait accompli, and it must if it’s going to work, then it’s absolutely vital the Israelis, or the Americans, don’t get to hear about it. If anyone here goes squealing to them about it, well I have to say I won’t be very pleased.” At the very least they might find the use of Argus denied to them. Or worse. “In fact I don’t want anyone to know outside this organisation. Anyone at all. Got that?”
The two dozen heads nodded.
“What about our Israeli representative?” the Yakuza asked, nodding at the one empty chair in the room.
“I made sure he was absent doing something important for me. He’s not to know about this either. Just in case, y’know.”
“It’s a pity,” Scarlione said to Vito as the meeting broke up, “that we can’t control the Israeli government. The Izzies have always been among those people who’ll never let anyone else tell them what to do, whatever happens. But we can present them with, like I said, a fait accompli.”
“I don’t like it somehow,” muttered Vito into his father’s ear. “I…I just feel uncomfortable about it all. Just have this feeling it’s taking too much of a risk.”
“Sooner or later the Arab-Israeli thing will probably blow up anyway, and take a good part of the world with it. So we might as well get on with this, Vito, and forget our worries.”
“I hope “blow” and “up” don’t turn out to be the operative words.”
“You think I don’t understand how you feel? I’ve made a calculation. Chosen what I think is the lesser of the evils. I’ve not the slightest doubt what I’m doing is right.”
“You realise we need to make contact with Damascus before we go much further, to see if they’re happy to go along with it?”
“Oh, they’ll bite alright. You can bet on it. We’ll have to agree a reasonable price for the hardware, of course. Fact is, I’m so keen to make this a success that I’d be happy to offer it for free.” He grinned slyly. “We won’t tell tham that, of course.”

Caroline and Rachel were driving to MI6 in Rachel’s car. “Chris will have to be told,” Caroline said. “As far as he knows I’m still walking the streets. And he’d probably need to go to a safe house too, in case the Mafia know about him and they’re on his tail.”
“As long as he doesn’t know about your wider connections with us.”
“I don’t think he’d tell.”
“You’re certain of that?”
“He’ll figure it out anyway given time. But I’d trust him with my life. I do believe he’d die for me, bless him.” She smiled affectionately.
“So he’d be willing to sign the OSA?”
“I should think so.”
“Well, on his head be it, and yours, if anything goes wrong.”
“I’m quite prepared to accept the responsibility.”
“OK, then. I’ll see to it.” Rachel made a call on her mobile.
Caroline watched the traffic flash by until they arrived at Vauxhall Bridge House. Rachel showed her pass to the security guard, who opened the gates for them. They drove down the ramp into the underground car park beneath the building, then took the lift up to the third floor, where Rachel’s office was. Rachel gestured to Caroline to take a seat, then checked the room for bugs and phone taps, while Caroline gazed round it, thinking that the last time she was here it had been for her debriefing following the Kassabi affair, at which it was agreed she should resign from the intelligence services at once and not say anything to anyone about what had happened, ever, on pain of…repercussions.
Rachel settled herself behind her desk. “First of all, well done for the way you shook them off. Are you sure you don’t want to rejoin the Service?”
“Positive,” Caroline said, in the tone of voice that made clear she wasn’t to be moved. “I know I don’t lie down and die when the going’s tough, but I wouldn’t want to do that sort of thing all the time.”
“I wish it was that exciting,” Rachel commented. “Anyhow. What you’ve been telling us about your experiences over the last few weeks makes sense.” Back at the police station, Rachel had listened to Caroline’s story with a keen interest that seemed significant. "A lot of funny things have been happening lately. You remember these, don't you?" Rachel opened a drawer, took out a small plastic case and produced from it a strip of card, rather like a bank cashcard. There was no legend on it but rather a series of indentations which could have been some coded message, and in fact were.
Caroline smiled. "I certainly do."
"The Americans have come up with a more advanced version of it, in the form of a disc. Not only does it allow you to tap into more or less any computer in the world, it can also wipe what’s on it – permanently - or plant files in order to incriminate the owner. And it can protect its user’s own computer against any hacking measure developed until now.”
Caroline whistled. “Jesus…nobody’s going to be safe with something like that kicking around.”
“Hopefully, the Americans will use it wisely,” Rachel said. Caroline registered the note of doubt in her voice and smiled sardonically.
She passed over the issue of whether the FBI and CIA had intended to share the technology with their allies at some point. ””Would have”?”
“I’m not sure they were keen on letting anyone else know they’d got it,” said Rachel, answering Caroline’s unspoken question. “But they ended up having no choice.”
"Are you saying someone’s got hold of one who isn’t meant to have done?” Caroline found the thought made her stomach turn over.
"Yes," said Rachel. "I'm afraid they have."
"They must have checked my bank account that way. Does it look like it was Scarlione’s people who stole it?”
“From what they’re able to do, yes. How it could have happened, well that’s something they’re still looking into.
“There's absolutely no defence against the device. They took the only one of it that’s currently in existence, and the hard copies of all the plans. The blueprints on computer they wiped using the device itself. Meanwhile Scarlione’s probably got people working for him who have made it even more effective at doing its job, as well as more resistant to hackers and viruses. I imagine he’s cloned the disc, though there won’t be that many copies of it in existence in case one falls into the hands of the authorities. And he’s probably built something new in somewhere so that although he can use the device against others, they can’t use it against him. It’s not a two-way process.”
“Why didn’t the Americans build a safeguard into the hacking software so it couldn’t be used against its designers? I mean, Scarlione might need to do that at some time.”
“They did build in a safeguard. But the plans would tell you how that firewall worked and might also help you to get round it.
“It’s a kind of war we’re fighting against organised crime, and was before this happened. One that makes use of technology, as does war with tanks, planes, battleships – or computers, for that matter. Each side is constantly trying to stay ahead of the other or at least make it a level playing field. It’s a continuous, ongoing process where, on the technical side, new developments and counter-developments are taking place all the time. Of course both we and the Americans are constantly working to improve our surveillance and anti-surveillance technology so we might be alright. We’ve already developed a new firewall but there’s no telling at present how effective it is. Sooner or later we’ll definitely come up with something which neutralises the device Scarlione stole, unless of course that gets stolen itself. But until then our enemies will have a crucial asset. And what if Scarlione invents or gets hold of something that neutralises the neutraliser?
“As for the world at large…well for security reasons you can’t let everyone else have the software even if it’s to counter the threat from Scarlione. I don’t like to think what the consequences would be. That’s why they’re helpless against him. He can hack into, delete, corrupt or restore any file on computer, anywhere in the world, while his own IT is impregnable.
“For the foreseeable future, Scarlione and Co will be able to do anything they like, within reason. It was obvious from the kind of things that were happening, from what the Mafia, and the organisations under their control, knew about people that Scarlione had got hold of the device and was using it. To obtain information that might be useful to him, as well as compromise, discredit, or kill others when he wanted to. Find out personal details such as addresses, next-of-kin, the state of the victim’s finances, plus things that could be personally embarrassing if they were disclosed – including how much cash you’ve got in the bank, if you hadn’t been particularly prudent with your money, or any past criminal conviction. All records held by social services, health authorities – private or public – police and the courts. Info on past convictions, embarrassing medical conditions and sexual proclivities. The data could relate either to the target or someone close to them.
“The sum total of it all is that they can put pressure on anyone who they want to do something for them, either directly or though a loved one. They know everything about you; what your job is in the place where you work, which could be useful when they need you to do them a favour by, for example, destroying criminal files you may have access to. What your position is in your country’s government, the stand you’re likely to take on a particular issue if you’re an MP. And where you and your relatives live.
“Where they can’t bribe they will blackmail and threaten. You may be exposed as a homosexual – something which a lot of people wouldn’t relish happening to them, despite the fact that under political correctness we’re supposed to regard homosexuality as normal and natural. Some wives would be upset if they found out, and you can still be subject to gay-bashing from the sort who are too bigoted and ignorant anyway to be told they shouldn’t do it.
“Or they might rake up something you’ve done in your past – you were caught kerb-crawling, you killed a young mother and her two children by driving when you’d had one pint too many, or you looked up a pornographic website.
"Scarlione knows where everyone and everything is; usually, anyway. And what they're doing. So that makes it easier for him to kill, kidnap or manipulate whoever he wants. If he can't get at someone because they're too well protected, he nobbles the people doing the protecting, by kidnapping someone dear to them and threatening their life. And believe me, he’d know where to find them. If any of his people, whether they’re Mafia or from one of the other criminal groups, is ever caught in the act and arrested he can arrange for them to be released using the same sort of methods.
“The only sure way to avoid it in future is for everyone to have more or less permanent, round-the-clock, police protection - including the protectors themselves, and their families. The whole business soon becomes too bothersome, too complicated, and too expensive. The police are having to protect so many people that their resources are severely stretched. Here in Britain, of course, it’s worse because they’re suffering from lack of manpower and resources as it is.
“It's a very clever, well thought-out, and effective strategy. It’s created a climate of suspicion and fear. The whole thing snowballs until everyone's totally demoralised and willing to give Scarlione whatever he wants.
”And is this happening everywhere?”
“They use the same methods wherever they go. They’re active mainly in the northern hemisphere because that’s more developed; There are more possibilities for crime, as there are with everything else. But the syndicate appear to be increasing their influence in Brazil, India, China, Japanand Australia. Sub-Saharan Africa, apart from Nigeria and South Africa, is mostly ruled out because it’s still in many ways undeveloped. The Middle East is difficult for Scarlione to break into for cultural reasons. But everywhere else…of course as the global village gets bigger, and more places become part of the international trade network, the thing spreads even further. Like the tentacles of an octopus, you might say.”
“Of course, we can’t just stop using computers,” said Caroline. “Everything would just collapse.”
"Well I could qualify that actually. Computers aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”
“That’s true,” Caroline sighed, thinking of times when the ones she used, at home and in the office, had suddenly started doing strange things, completely throwing her, and she’d needed to call in an expert to sort the problem out. She was computer literate like nearly everyone else these days, but none of your training in information technology could prepare you for these unexpected glitches which foxed even the professionals sometimes. It had always been that way with man-made things, probably from the earliest times.
“As a means of storing information they’re actually very inefficient in some ways. They’re vulnerable to viruses and power cuts, whereas a hard copy if it’s kept in the right conditions will always be safe. But having access to the information, whether or not it needs to be permanently preserved, is a different matter. That access has to be quick and easy to run in a complex society like ours, with so many people who need to be provided for as customers, social security claimants, medical patients, victims of crime, you name it. So…” She let Caroline finish.
“So you need computers.”
“Yes. Scarlione’s got us right where he wants us. Of course, they don’t control everything. But he seems to have other high-tech gear as well, less revolutionary but equally useful to him. Listening gear, which allows his people to monitor any telephone conversation, whether on a mobile or a landline, within a certain area. We’ve used it ourselves, many times in the past. I suspect someone in one of the national intelligence services gave it to him.” Again Rachel shifted uneasily. “Of course we’ve a system for recording issue of surveillance and other equipment, plus its return when an agent leaves our employment. But that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t be using it clandestinely in their spare time.
“Nowadays,” Rachel went on, “if you’ve the right hardware, you can tell not only when someone, anyone, makes a phone call but who it was too, and the content. The same with e-mails.
“Scarlione could have got hold of some of the equipment from a private company, whether Mafia-owned or operating legitimately. What’s more, some clever person has found a way to prevent his own communications being tapped into; the FBI have been trying to bug his phones for a while without any success. One undercover agent went into a meeting with three Mafiosas wired for sound, but only ended up cut into little pieces at a meat factory. Scarlione’s also using bugs, I would imagine, whenever he gets the opportunity to plant them.
“At a guess the surveillance gear is carried around the world by individuals, but all the information from it and from all Scarlione’s other means of intelligence gathering is relayed to a central point where it’s processed and then relayed again to Scarlione. Of course if one of his agents was captured and the equipment fell into our hands we could use it against him, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Either there’s something built in somewhere which prevents it being a two-way process, or governments and their spies are afraid of doing anything which could provoke a violent reaction from Scarlione.
“Scarlione gives the equipment to the organisations working for him but his own copies of it are protected against monitoring, so he can spy on his allies but they can’t spy on him.
“A lot of the time he wouldn’t need to plant a bug; he’s probably got equipment similar to and even more efficient than the Americans’ listening station at Fort Meade – which doesn’t seem able to spy on the Syndicate itself.
“Thirdly, there’s this…this other thing. This…device, I presume it must be that, which seems to give them the power of omniscience. The thing they used to follow you all the way to that barn.”
Again Caroline shivered at the thought. “You’ve no idea what it might be yet?”
“We’ve been working on that one, but with no joy. The only possibilities that spring to mind are beyond the Mafia’s technical ability to acquire. Of course they’ve probably got the money, but I’m not sure they’d have the resources or the expertise. Even if this thing wasn’t even more revolutionary than the hacking disc. “They may have used it to acquire some of the information they need as an alternative to hacking into Cyberspace or tapping phones. As I said, not everything that happens is necessarily recorded. It certainly comes in useful in tracking a target’s movements once their whereabouts are known. In many ways, this is what’s most frightening about the whole business.”
“You’re telling me.”
“It seems as if Scarlione has a panopticon.”
“A panopticon?”
“It means a point from which you can see everything. I suppose the term could apply equally well to an object or device which had that effect. You won’t find it in every dictionary, but semantically there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Literally everything?”
“You mean could the device itself do that? Actually I doubt if anything could, except God.” Which is what the Mafia have become, Caroline reflected. “But it must see anything within a certain range, at least. There’s something odd about it, though. We’ve been keeping an eye on events and drawing up a dossier on as many cases as possible where Scarlione or his associates seem to have targeted someone, either because they wanted to kill that person or they needed to pressurise them into performing some service. The data isn’t entirely reliable, because we could have been mistaken in attributing it to them. But I’m convinced that most of the time it is.
“What’s interesting is what you don’t see. In some cases the people you’d expect to be targeted weren’t, haven’t been yet – at least there’s no evidence of their having died or disappeared - or were found only after some time had passed. Some were threatened but we managed to get them to one of our safe houses in time. That may be why Scarlione hasn’t yet succeeded in killing you.
“We can’t say how many hits were due to this…panopticon or to electronic surveillance in the form we understand it; perhaps in a few instances a combination of different methods was used. But it’s as if the panopticon wasn’t always effective, or available. “There seem to be…irregularities. A pattern to events, but a random one if you see what I mean. For roughly half the time, Scarlione’s people are to be able to move in on their target almost at once; the rest, they have to rely on more conventional means which takes longer. They get what they want in the end, because the panopticon will do the trick if nothing else does. But there’s still these gaps that need accounting for.”
“Does it give us an advantage?”
“Not really, because they’re proving so successful overall at enforcing their power. But the panopticon, the electronic surveillance, the computer hacking technology; together, they explain what’s happened. They’re the only possible explanation why Scarlione has become so powerful, why he’s able to know what the police and rival criminals are doing in whichever country his organisations are operating, and stop them. He realised that by using them together, and generally being even more ruthless and vicious than organised crime has been in the past, he was on to a winner.
“In some ways the Panopticon is only a last resort – normally the other methods of detection and surveillance would have worked. It can normally only track people when the Mafia are already on their tail. But it’s still vital.
“Some people choose to disappear completely, rather than trust the police to protect them; it’s quite possible if you know how. They can forge documents, give themselves false identities. But even if he couldn’t detect the forgery itself, and be led to the target that way, if he was already tracking them using the Panopticon Scarlione could find them.
“It’s all part of a strategy. A strategy for control of the world, no less. All the evidence, from what the national police forces report…things they’re no longer able to do effectively, things their undercover people have found out, things they’ve learned from asking about on the street…all the evidence, even when it’s only hearsay and rumour, points to an international criminal Syndicate with Scarlione at the centre of the web, ultimately controlling everything. Maybe not everything, it’s hard to say just how much is Mafia-run - indirectly or otherwise - and what isn’t, but this Syndicate’s influence goes way beyond anything we’ve encountered in the past.
“It involves just about every criminal concern in existence. It’s something that’s emerged in just the last year or so, an alliance of all the major national crime organisations with the US-Italian Mafia, and in particular the Scarlione family, pulling the strings. It knows no borders; it’s a multinational state more powerful than the EU or the UN. And very wealthy; the sum total of all that wealth can’t be estimated but it must run into many billions. The money comes from the wide range of crimes the Mob and their subsidiaries are involved in; drugs, money-laundering, sex trafficking, all manner of financial scams…though much of the time they don’t need to operate a scam as such, they just cream off however much of the profits of a particular business as they like and no-one can do anything. After all, they own it. Scarlione takes a certain percentage when he wants to, leaving enough to keep the subordinate gangs reasonably happy. And he’s getting even more out of the businesses that were controlled by the Mafia in the first place, because of his increased power. He acts as underworld arbitrator, ruling through fear or charisma. And where there’s a service being provided for the public, meaning utilities such as refuse disposal for example, that service is often of a very high standard, so that people don’t complain. Scarlione can get his stooges to work hard through fear or incentives. But where you’re talking something that people have to pay for, and pay for directly, the customer often loses out, forced to buy shoddy goods at high prices.
“Scarlione uses all his amazing gadgets to make the subject peoples of his empire - the Triads, the Russian Mafiya, the Yardies, the South American drug barons, and many others – dance to his tune. And because there’s so much money to go round he can keep them all happy by sharing it out, though I expect the largest share goes to the Scarliones. It must meet regularly to assess how things are going, settle disputes among its members, consider new projects. There’ll be enforcers, people from the US organisation who maintain contact with the leaders of the other groups, who go around making sure no-one forgets Scarlione’s ultimately the one in charge and that they abide by his decisions, where those conflict with the wishes of the subordinate crime leader. There’s a chain of command going right down from Scarlione himself to the lowliest foot soldier in each of the subsidiaries. He must let his allies have use of the technology whenever they request it, and he sees fit, his technocrats always making sure of course that it can’t be employed against him. I imagine the Panopticon is under the strict control of someone he trusts, who operates it on the other organisations’ behalf.
“The Syndicate operates as the Mafia, and its other constituent groups, did in the past, through bribery, graft, corruption, extortion, blackmail, theft, fraud, intimidation, protection, kidnapping, murder. But now, thanks to the technology at its disposal, it’s able to practice those activities on a much bigger scale. In every nation where it’s become established, and that means every developed nation, it takes over businesses and then forces their rivals to the wall by intimidation and sharp practices. It launders the money it earns to make it look respectable, though it’s getting so impregnable it soon won’t need to do that. It appears able to buy the support of the legal sector, threatening those who can’t be bribed, judging by the number of criminal convictions, whether for corruption or physical violence, that have been crushed. We suspect, although we can’t prove anything, that it can influence policy decisions by government.
“They can affect the outcome of a debate that's likely to be close, by targeting just a few key people. But it doesn't need to be just a few. Do you know the number of MPs, or people in high places generally, who are gay, bisexual, or have committed some sort of heterosexual misdemeanour? It's a heck of a lot bigger than anyone suspects.
“I think they managed to get the bill legalising cannabis passed. They've also managed to screw up legislation aimed at cracking down on crime and giving the police greater powers. There have been a lot of decisions taken, not just here but everywhere else, which don’t make sense unless someone with illicit interests in the matter has been working things in their favour.
“Essentially they favour the growth of big business: Mafia-controlled business. They want no restrictions whatsoever on private enterprise. We think they’re pushing for the wholesale privatisation of health and education everywhere because if those services are privatised, it’s easier to make money out of them once you’ve taken them over.
“Now you could argue as to how harmful all this actually is. What damage it’s doing to the ordinary person, who may not even know it’s going on, and believe with some justification that politics and finance are getting more corrupt anyway, is a matter of opinion. But behind the scenes people are being killed. Not everyone likes to put up with it. Those who don’t are bullied, threatened, or worse. Investigative journalists have been murdered so that the public are prevented from seeing just how big the scale of it is. It’s not good.”
“Too right it’s not,” Caroline agreed. “It’s funny, I can’t say why it’s wrong exactly. I just know that it is.”
“The trouble is, there’s not much you can do about it when it’s effectively become the government. Fortunately, it only intervenes politically in matters which concern its own profits. But that’s enough to do incalculable damage.
“The two areas they have not yet managed to penetrate, so far as we know, are the security services and the armed forces. The culture prevalent within those professions makes infiltration difficult. I think they’re still a little in awe of them because of the power one has, and the ethos that surrounds the other.”
That should save the Major from victimisation by Scarlione, Caroline thought.
“And the security services have sometimes, I will admit, been a law unto themselves.” Rachel smiled thinly. “I won’t comment on that just now. But it maybe scares Scarlione into leaving us alone for the moment. And another thing, we’re not privatised, nor are the armed forces.”
“I expect they’ll get round to that sooner or later, Scarlione or no Scarlione,” muttered Caroline. It was all Margaret Thatcher’s fault, however much Caroline had admired her.
Rachel decided to cross that bridge when they came to it. “Soldiers, of course, and sailors and air force personnel, take their orders from the government, so if our Syndicate has control over politicians it’ll control the armed forces as well, presumably. Directly trying to infiltrate them might be too hot even for Scarlione, but he doesn’t need to. Besides which, this isn’t a war in the military sense. It’s nothing to do with anyone’s army or navy or air force. It’s not the job of those organisations to combat crime, however endemic, however big the scale on which it takes place, as opposed to aggression by another military power, whether foreign or domestic.”
“So that just leaves the spies,” Caroline said. “People like yourselves.”
Rachel opened her mouth to say something, then shut it. When she did speak her manner was defensive. “As you know the security services, of the West anyway, have been in a state of flux following the end of the Cold War. We’re still not quite sure where, in particular, we should target our efforts.”
The look in Caroline’s eyes was familiar to her. It made her shift uncomfortably. “You’re making excuses, aren’t you,” said her friend. “You’ve been studying the way the syndicate operates, analysing it. As much to appease your conscience as for any other reason, because at least it’s doing something, and there has to be an analysis before you can deal with the problem properly. But you’re afraid to go further because it might only succeed in concentrating Scarlione’s attention on you. You’re afraid of his power and that he’ll nobble you like he’s nobbled everyone else.”
“Well it’s something to be considered, especially when they’ve got a weapon that no intelligence service in the world has, this Panopticon. I don’t know if Scarlione has any interest in such issues, but someone will still have to deal with IRA splinter groups, Islamic terrorists, Russia if an aggressive nationalist faction takes control there. It could cause a lot of problems if we brought him down on us like a ton of bricks. Better to play safe and let him think we wouldn’t concern ourselves with what you might call civil crime.”
“You said you’d managed to get some of Scarlione’s victims to your safe houses. Wouldn’t that have rattled his cage a bit?”
“Well, there’s really only one safe house for people the Syndicate are chasing.” Rachel’s manner was slightly apologetic here, for reasons Caroline later understood. “But he doesn’t seem to have taken any action against us because of it, fortunately. Maybe it’s because he sees us as too hot property, like I said.”
“Then you have to take advantage of that.”
“It involves too much of a risk. We can protect people from Scarlione; sometimes they come to us themselves, sometimes they’re passed on to us by the police. But we can’t do much more than that.”
“What about an inside job to find out what the Panopticon is, and where it is? Has anyone tried to do that, apart from the Americans?”
“There’s a fear that somehow, inevitably, any undercover agent would be found out. What happened to the FBI man didn’t help. But we did have agents working within various branches of the Syndicate to see if they could learn anything of value. They got out because they had a feeling it was on to them, somehow or other.”
“And did they? Learn anything of value?”
“No joy. The secret is just too well-guarded; probably only a tiny handful of people around Scarlione know it. And we’re not going to try it again because it comes into the category of espionage and is just the thing that’s likely to bring down Scarlione’s wrath upon us. What happened frightened the top people off the whole idea. Nor has anyone come forward from the Syndicate offering to spy for us. They’re too afraid of being found out.”
“But you have been working against them. On your own or with other intelligence services?”
“There’s been a degree of international co-operation – that’s what I meant by “we”. A debate had been going on for some time among the world’s security services whether we should turn our attention to organised crime. Now that we have, we find we can’t touch it.” Rachel sighed. “We couldn’t get any convictions, and our electronic surveillance might be detected. The trouble is, you never know who's in their pay. It's hard to move against them because whatever you're doing could well be sabotaged. And if we targeted people who were known or suspected to be part of the Syndicate there’d be sure to be retaliation.” By “targeted” Rachel meant either arrested or assassinated.
“But we are getting together on a regular basis to discuss ways of dealing with the problem, even if none’s come to mind yet, and to organise protection for Scarlione’s victims where possible. Ourselves, the Europeans, the Russian SVR and FSB, the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians, the Aussies, and a few others.
“There are elements in all the major developed nations, their governments and intelligence services, who have twigged to what’s going on and don’t like it. But that doesn’t necessarily include the top people, the Presidents and Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State. It’s mainly spies – people like us – plus one or two senior politicians who are considered trustworthy. We’ve been working together on an informal basis, meeting occasionally to compare notes and discuss new developments.
“Where are the Americans in all this?”
“They’re insisting on doing their own thing – even though so far, they haven’t had much luck. That could mean they’re compromised, although in that case they’d be working with us to find out how much we knew. There’s a more likely reason – after all, it’s their technology Scarlione is using and they don’t want us to get hold of it either.”
“Do you suppose they built the Panopticon?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re the only people with the scientific knowhow, the money and the resources to do it.”
“I still don’t see why they didn’t arrest him before all this happened. They should be able to find something, surely. I mean, they got Al Capone for tax evasion.”
“That begs the question,” Rachel said. “It had to be something legal, bureaucratic, technical. And Scarlione knew how to work the system. He has all sorts of clever lawyers working for him who can advise him how to stay out of trouble. They know how to exploit technicalities in a country where the nature of the legal system makes that easy anyway. One of the drawbacks of having a written constitution, although I’m sure they wouldn’t exchange it for anything else. And of course too many powerful people are protecting him.”
Just then Chris Barrett was shown in. He looked awed, as if not entirely believing what was happening, but showed no fear or anxiety; when you’ve been threatened by South American drug traffickers for example you shouldn’t have much to fear from your own intelligence services, surely.
Two men had come round to the house and without saying specifically who they were, in terms of the job they did, nonetheless succeeded in making it perfectly clear. They explained that his colleague Miss Caroline Kent had come across information which was considered of value to the security services, who were currently questioning her, and that although she was in no danger, if he wished to more fully understand what was going on he should contact MI6 at Vauxhall House. They invited him to ring the operator and ask for the number of the security services, who he could then call to confirm that the men were what they claimed to be. He did, and everything seemed to be in order, so after getting him to sign the Official Secrets Act his visitors, one with a London accent and one with a posh one, and both smartly turned out, escorted him straight to MI6, saying very little on the way.
Chris hadn’t had that much to say either. All the time his mind was reeling from this new and entirely unexpected development. How had Caroline come by this information MI6 were talking about? And when? It had happened so suddenly. He decided she must have decided to place herself under their protection; you were allowed to contact them if you discovered something you thought they ought to know about. There had to be some connection with the Scarlione business, otherwise it was too much of a coincidence. She wanted to see if they were able to help where no-one else could. After all, it had turned out to be an international matter.
Introducing herself as Claire Galbraith – despite Caroline’s assurances, she wasn’t quite ready to trust him yet – Rachel invited Chris to sit down. He did so, smiling nervously as he registered the fact she wasn’t a bad looker. She told him what she had just told Caroline. It all seemed so surreal, somehow. Here they were sitting in an office in MI6 HQ discussing a murky international conspiracy, with Caroline dressed like a…well, a rostitute.
For her part Caroline was looking at Chris all the time Rachel was speaking, trying to read his thoughts from his face. Had they told him the full truth? Did he know now what she was, or at any rate had been?
Rachel turned back to her. "I think from now it's better we look after you. We’ll have you installed in one of our safe houses until such time as Scarlione’s forgotten about you. Chris too.”
“I thought you said there was only one safe house?”
“Ah, but Scarlione doesn’t know where you are at the moment, does he? As far as we know. But we can’t assume he never will, so…”
Caroline had the feeling she wouldn’t like what was coming, but she pushed it to one side for now. “Forgive me for saying this, but how can I be sure you lot haven't been compromised like everyone else? I mean, even you personally..."
"That's right," Rachel said grimly. "You can't. Hopefully, because of our expertise in such matters, we’d know when someone was trying to listen in on phone calls, hack into our computers or had put a bug in. Normally – with Scarlione you can’t be sure right now. But as long as we don’t seem a threat to him he’s not likely to be one to us. With one exception no kidnappings or murders of intelligence personnel, where they’ve happened, have been attributable with certainty to the Syndicate so it would seem that generally, Scarlione either doesn’t know about what we have done to combat him, or isn’t bothered by it.
“But if someone working here was in with them, then depending what that person did, what position they occupied in the hierarchy, they’d just have to have access to the right information, and make personal contact with their associates in the Syndicate. You wouldn’t need state-of-the-art electronics to pull it off. Service people know how to detect wiretaps, bugs and all that. But that’s not much use if the person looking for them has been compromised.
“All I can say is it doesn’t look as if anyone here, or at MI5, or among the foreign outfits has been compromised. But you're going to have to trust someone sometime, Caroline. You can't keep on running forever."
“She’s right,” murmured Chris.
Caroline wasn’t quite reassured. “Even if I’m safe from Scarlione….I wouldn’t feel secure living in a world where the Mafia controlled everything.” She lowered her voice. “If it’s…as you say…with them seeing so much, knowing so much, I feel they’ll always be aware of me. And that will remind Salvatore Scarlione of how I showed him up. He’ll always be seeking to avenge that insult. I…I feel now as if I’ll have to hide away forever. But I can’t.
“Rachel, we’ve got to fight back. We’ve got to take it to the enemy. That could be the only way of solving the problem.”
She said we’ve got to fight back, Chris thought. In fact the way the two women were talking, making it clear they already knew each other, and quite intimately it seemed.
“But you’ll have to go on the offensive sooner or later,” he said.
“At the moment I don’t see how it can be done,” Rachel sighed. “All we can do is protect you and, well, I don’t want to cause alarm but the safe house isn’t always a foolproof means of doing that. In the last few months we’ve given sanctuary to a number of people, in different countries, who felt the syndicate were after them and either couldn’t get police protection or who had had it withdrawn without explanation. Two have been murdered, gunned down, one in Canada and the other in Italy; in the Canadian incident the target’s minder was also killed. Both incidents happened in broad daylight, when they had the minders with them; of course it was difficult for our people to shoot back without blowing their cover. They’d gone out because it isn’t humanly possible to stay shut away inside 24/7, you need to get some fresh air and see the outside world from time to time. The thing is, we can’t be sure if someone had found out the location of the safe houses and waited until the targets left them, or had been following the targets anyway and happened to get lucky. One thing I can say, the targets had changed their appearance.”
“If the Mafia had staked out the safe houses, wouldn’t you guys have got wise to it pretty soon?” Chris interjected. “You’re trained to watch out for that sort of thing, aren’t you?”
“But if the security services have been penetrated, or are penetrated at some point in the future – which may well happen if we decide to take on the Mafia and they retaliate - it might be learned where the safe houses are and who’s hidden away there. We have, however, managed to hit on a solution. I’m not sure whether you’ll like it, though.”
“Fire away,” said Caroline flatly.
“If Scarlione’s targets are to be safe, the best thing to do is to move them to somewhere within the northern hemisphere, not entirely cut off from what we call “civilisation”, so that life won’t be so harsh as to be unbearable and we can call on the resources we’ll need if something goes wrong, but far enough from it to make it unlikely Scarlione’ll bother going after them.”
“Aren’t there any civilised places in the southern hemisphere?” said Chris.
“Plenty, I’m sure. But there the locations would be even more remote and conditions might potentially be too hazardous, particularly in the event of an emergency. We could choose the jungles of South America or the Congo, the Australian desert, or a remote Pacific island. But there are all sorts of problems involved. Communications could be difficult. In certain parts of the world, the attitude of the authorities and political instability would be a factor. In a desert you might be too conspicuous. On an island there arent’t many places to run if the Mafia should track you down there. You see what I’m getting at?”
“All right,” said Caroline. “Where exactly did you have in mind?”
“I was thinking of certain parts of Russia. A country that’s in some ways still in the process of developing, opening up, but increasingly a part of the West. A big country, with a lot of open space where communications can still be a problem and even where they’re not, it still takes a long time to get from A to B.”
“Which parts of Russia exactly?” pressed Caroline.
Rachel bit her lip. ”Er, one part actually. Siberia.”
Caroline froze in horror. “Siberia?!” exclaimed she and Chris together.
“That’s right. It doesn’t seem particularly enticing, I know.”
“Siberia,” repeated Caroline. “Isn’t that where people got exiled to in the Soviet era?”
“I believe so,” Rachel smiled. “It’s not quite so much the wilderness it used to be, these days. There are road and rail connections to the big Russian cities. That’s one reason why we chose it.”
“We opened a refinery there, didn’t we?” Chris reminded Caroline.
“Yes, and we aren’t the only company to have done it,” she admitted. “But Siberia, for God’s sake.” It occurred to her that it was a kind of exile that she was going into. An exile from normal life in the West to a bleak, unattractive environment where there wouldn’t be an awful lot to do much of the time. The thought of her having to adopt so desolate an existence would certainly appeal to Salvatore Scarlione. Bastard.
“We arranged with the head of the Russian FSB, plus a few people in the government we felt we could trust – who didn’t tell their colleagues about it – to use an abandoned research station for the purpose. It’s in the northern part of the territory, really remote; the nearest settlement is about a hundred miles away. There are helicopters which ferry supplies in once a week. There are about seventy people there. It’s not the Ritz, but the facilities there are pretty good, enough to live quite comfortably. It’s staffed by his people.
“If Scarlione knows about it, and as far as we can tell he doesn’t, he obviously isn’t bothered. It’s maybe a bit too far out of his way. Perhaps he thinks he’s won by forcing the targets into…well, you said exile.”
“That’s exactly what it feels like,” Caroline muttered. “It does seem to be going a bit too far. In more ways than one.”
“It may not be forever. You might be right in thinking Scarlione will eventually forget about you. Until then it’s safer for you to stay in Siberia.
“No governments apart from the Russian have been brought into the plan. All the leading world powers know there's something new and very scary going on. But who’s actually a part of the conspiracy is impossible to tell, one reason governments aren’t doing much about the Syndicate at the moment. So we’ve preferred to keep the politicos out of the loop.”
“Are you sure the Russkies’ chief spook is to be trusted?”
“I think so. He’s an ex-KGB man and doesn’t like to be told what to do by anyone other than his political leaders, and he’s wary of obeying them where he thinks they’ve been compromised.
“He’s not at all happy with what’s been going on. Sure, he’s a hard man who’ll torture and kill if it’s for his country’s sake – you know what the Russians are like. But he’s also a patriot, a genuine patriot, and he doesn’t like to see the motherland brought down low by being made a slave to Scarlione’s lot. He did work with the Mafiya for a while in the Soviet period, but it was for the KGB’s own reasons and on their own terms.”
“Mostly it’s a security service thing. We arrange for people to disappear, smuggling them out safely to the Siberian base, without any involvement on the part of their governments. Their families too if it’s thought necessary. Not everyone’s taken advantage of the offer, I’ll admit.”
Caroline wasn’t surprised, and said so.
“It’s your choice, Caroline. But there are plenty of arguments in favour of it. I just don’t think Scarlione will bother sending a hit team out that far. The idea seems odd somehow. I’d say it’s your best guarantee of staying alive and well until we can sort things out more permanently.”
“How do we get there?” she asked.
“Train or plane. There’s a direct rail service from Paris to Moscow – from where we can fly to Siberia - via Berlin; it isn’t used much at the moment, but if we fix it so we’ve got the right papers they’ll lay one on for us. It would just be a matter of taking the Eurostar for the journey to Paris. Flying would be quicker, of course; London to Sheremetyevo. You can’t just hop on and off a plane, you have to book a seat first, but we can fix you up with a false identity, including passport, easily enough so it won’t matter that your details will be recorded on computer.”
“But what if the syndicate did find out I was intending to travel on a certain flight, and put a bomb on the plane?” Caroline had no wish to share the fate of her brother.
“If you’re worried about that we could always work it so you get a seat at the last moment. Then they wouldn’t know about until it was too late.”
Caroline wondered if she wasn’t panicking too much. Scarlione wasn’t omnipotent for God’s sake, whatever he was. Or some sort of long-range telepath. She briefly wondered whether the Panopticon could read minds and that was how it tracked people. Then she told herself she was being silly.
But you never knew what he was able, and planning, to do at any given moment in time. That was how his system of terror worked and he knew it.
“Would Scarlione really go to those lengths, killing hundreds of people, just to get at one person, out of revenge?” Chris asked.
“With the power he’s got, he probably thinks he can do whatever he likes,” Rachel told him. “He doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process.”
Caroline brightened. “They’d expect me to fly, wouldn’t they, these days. So I’ll go the old-fashioned way.” Besides the whole idea of going by rail appealed to her. It seemed somehow much more leisurely, civilised, romantic. You saw a lot more from trains, which was why she’d always liked them as a child. With an airliner all you got was sky and clouds.
And more practically, although terrorists or criminals could bomb trains there was more chance of surviving a train crash than the explosion of an aircraft thousands of feet above the ground.
“It’s probably the best thing,” said Rachel. “You’ll be travelling with a team of Service bodyguards, myself included. Only a select few here know about the Siberian retreat – the Director and Assistant Director, and myself because I’m on the team working on the Syndicate business, so it’s less likely security will be compromised.”
Caroline asked what they should do if things did get hairy, how they’d explain it to the authorities of whatever country they happen to be in. “We’ll just have to hope they don’t get hairy. If we do have to cause a scene, we’ve contacts in the security services of all the countries we’ll be passing through. With any luck they should be able to bail us out before Scarlione’s people get to know. But nothing’s gone wrong yet.”
“One other thing we ought to get settled,” Chris said. “Am I going on this little jaunt?”
For a moment Rachel thought he was proposing to share Caroline’s exile. “You mean – “
“I think I’d like to see you safely there,” Chris said, looking at Caroline. “That’s all.”
Rachel looked uncertain. "There’s really no need,” she insisted. “I’ll be there, and several of our best people. She’ll be as safe as anyone could be in the circumstances.”
"We stick together," said Chris firmly. If Caroline was going into what they knew would be a bleak and probably depressing exile, he ought at least to accompany her on the way. It felt a little callous somehow not to do that. He glanced at her, caught her eye, and she nodded. She’d be happy enough with just Rachel, out of all the people she knew, going with her but she’d feel even happier with Chris there too.
“All right,” Rachel nodded. "But if there is any trouble, I'd rather you kept in the background as much as possible. It's really a job for trained agents. If you’re concerned for Caroline’s safety, the best thing to do is leave it to the experts. You might be endangering her life otherwise.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Chris vowed.
“OK then. We’d better put you up in one of the London safe houses while I get your travel arrangements sorted. It’ll just be for one night.”
“I’m worried about my family,” said Caroline. “Do you think they might be in danger from Scarlione?”
“It’s always possible. If they're finding it hard to get you, they could try to hit your loved ones instead. It'd certainly be a way of teaching you a lesson, one more effective in some respects than killing you."
”Should they go to Siberia with me as well?”
“That might not be a bad idea. What’s the address? I don’t want to ring them in case the Syndicate pick up the call.”
Caroline gave her the address of the cottage in Devon. Rachel rang MI5, to whom the job of protecting Edward and Margaret would fall, and passed it on to them. She explained the situation, urging that they got over to the cottage as soon as possible in case Scarlione’s organisation had picked up the call.
“Well, I’m glad that’s seen to,” sighed Caroline, sinking deeper into her chair. She frowned. “I suppose I’d better explain things to my boss. Do you suppose it would be OK if I went over there in person?”
“It’d be safer than phoning him. The syndicate might be listening. But although Scarlione’s probably guessed you’re still alive he doesn’t know where you are.”
“Then in that case,” Caroline said, psyching herself up with a deep breath, “I’d better get it over with.”
Suddenly the hassle of it all got to her. If there was the slightest possibility she could be spared this stress…she had a thought. “Look, Rachel, maybe the answer to all this is to tell the ordinary people what’s going on and get them on your side. Then you might be starting something Scarlione wouldn’t be able to stop.”
“Maybe,” said Rachel, obviously not indifferent to the appeal of such a course, and obviously having thought about it before. “But a lot of them might cynically observe that criminals run the world anyway. And most would be scared to take a stand in case they ended up at the bottom of the river wearing concrete shoes, or something. There’d be exceptions of course…”
“But there’d be too few sticking their necks out to do any more than get their heads cut off,” finished Chris.
Caroline found herself nodding slowly. “The sad fact is, you’re probably right.”

It was clear now that Caroline’s “disappearance” was going to last a lot longer than originally intended. It was vital to let Hennig know. Rachel lent her a car from the pool and she drove to IPL – once they’d fitted her out with a new set of clothes, of course, although if she had turned up there in such gear the men at any rate wouldn’t be shocked so much as wolf-whistling her and shouting out “how much?”
She reflected on her brief career as a prostitute. It had been an eye-opener, certainly. There was no telling what it would have been like if she’d actually had the opportunity to pursue it in the long run. But something told her it wouldn’t have been long before the pimps muscled in. And if they’d had links to Scarlione, he would have known where she was.
Rachel rang to arrange a new set of clothes for her. They seemed to be able to lay their hands on such things pretty quickly. While waiting for the togs to arrive they sat and chatted, mostly about the news, weather, etcetera etcetera. It was obvious that Rachel and Caroline were deliberately avoiding talking shop in Chris’ presence, which made him feel frozen out. He guessed there were some things she’d never be able to tell him, not in this world anyway.
The phone rang and Rachel answered it. It was MI5 to say that they had called the cottage in Devon and got no answer. “They’re probably out,” Rachel said. “A couple of agents are on their way over there.”
While Caroline changed into jeans and trainers Rachel sat him in a small, sparsely furnished room down the corridor which was obviously set aside for visitors who weren’t part of the loop. Idly he leafed through one of the stack of magazines on the coffee table.
Are things ever going to get back to normal, he wondered. If you knew someone like Otto Viellar was out to, well, take over the world – that was what it had amounted to - you could try to stop them, and hopefully succeed, as he and Caroline had done. But Scarlione was different. He’d had a head start, his organisation gradually building itself up, growing and spreading and reproducing itself without people being fully aware of it. The world already had been taken over and the monster had sunk its claws so deep into everything it was impossible to dislodge them. Or so it looked. The beast had equipped itself with the gift of omniscience, omnipotence, so that what it had done could not be reversed.
“Ah, Caroline,” said Hennig on admitting her to his office. “How absolutely splendid. What can I do for you this time? Your wish is my command.”
Oh no, she muttered underneath her breath, noting the sarcasm. He obviously wasn’t feeling well-disposed towards her at all.
“Sorry? Did I miss something there?”
“Er – no, I don’t think so. Um, Marcus…well this is a bit awkward, actually.”
“Then you might as well come out with it straight and not keep me on tenterhooks. Now what’s happened, for goodness’ sake?”
“Well…” There was both an apology and an appeal in her voice. “I…might need to be away for more than a month, actually.”
“Why’s that?”
“I couldn’t begin to tell you.”
“Well I should think I ought to know, don’t you?”
“It’s just that…I’ve been thinking. Salvatore Scarlione…from what I’ve heard, he’s not the sort who gives in over something like this. He’ll go on hunting me for the rest of my life. I’ve spoken to an expert on these things and they agree with me.” She tried to sound as anxious and frightened as possible.
"All right, all right. I’ve an idea it’s simplest not to try and argue the toss. But you'll appreciate that whilst someone else can do the troubleshooting post, I can't have an absentee Head of Personnel. I can keep your place warm for you for six months at the most; after that Iain Jardine can have it. And you, sweetheart, will have to start looking for another job. OK?"
“Fair enough,” she said.
“You can sound less bolshy about it, I’m doing you a favour. There’s a lot of people wouldn’t stand being mucked about like this, they’d have shown you the door long ago. So you should be grateful. What you did in Camaragua doesn’t entitle you to take liberties.”
“Well I’ll let you know as soon as I’m ready to go back,” she said crisply. “That’s all, goodbye.”
You won’t kick me out until you’ve no choice, she thought, because at heart I think you’re still hoping against hope that I’ll somehow consent to let you screw me. Just as well you couldn’t have seen me a while earlier.
“You want to be careful, Caz,” Chris urged when she told him what had transpired at the meeting.
“I’ll be OK if we can manage to sort everything out in the next six months,” she insisted. “After that I suppose he’ll have to sack me. They’ll make him do it.” She yawned and stretched, suddenly tired out by all the stress of the past few days. “God, I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest.”
“I’ll drive you over to the safe house now,” Rachel said. “Oh, I think it might be best to make one or two changes to your appearance, just in case you’re recognised at any time.”
“Like what?” Caroline asked suspiciously.
“If you don’t want to dye your hair you can always wear a wig. You might also pad your cheeks out and change the colour of your eyes.”
Caroline supposed she could stand that. A plumper-looking face could still be attractive, though in a different sort of way. “Alright. Erm, one thing. It means asking a favour of you, if that’s OK.”
“There’s a woman called Glyn…a prostitute. She…well I know where she lives, if you can keep it a secret – stupid question, it’s what you’re in business for, I know. But as long as no-one thinks there’s any connection between the two of us, it’s unlikely the Mafia will be interested in her.”
“What exactly do you want us to do?”
“She has to go on the game to raise enough money to see her grandkids through college. Is there anything you can do for her? And the other girls too? I mean…”
“I’m not sure. It’s really a job for the social services, not us. And it might be difficult to pull off without giving away too much. However, if it turns out there is some way we could help then we will.”
“Thankyou,” Caroline said.
On the way to the safe house the three of them discussed further arrangements for the journey to Russia. “Do I get to wear a disguise too?” asked Chris.
“There are one or two things you could do. But it’s up to you. Have you been personally targeted yourself?”
“No. I think Scarlione’s probably forgotten about me. It’s mainly Caz he’s got a thing against. If one of them happened to set eyes on me it might jog their memory, I suppose.”
“You might consider colouring your hair blond. It’s surprising what a difference that makes. If they remember you with dark hair, then that’s what they’ll expect to see. The more so since men don’t do it quite so much.” Just that one physical change would throw them right off the scent.
The safe house was a nondescript thirties semi-detached in a nondescript street in Wimbledon. There Rachel introduced them to the two male and one female agents whose job it was to man the establishment. They seemed friendly enough, and any wariness, any reserve which you did detect in their manner was probably professional. But although Rachel had assured her they were to be trusted, there remained a lingering doubt in Caroline’s mind which she just couldn’t shake off. You might know someone well enough to think they were alright, but was there nothing, nothing, a man or woman would not do if their families, if not their own lives, had been threatened? And how did you know these three hadn’t been?
Rachel said goodbye to them and that she’d see them in the morning. They settled down to spend the rest of the day reading, watching television or simply talking to each other or to their bodyguards. From time to time one of the agents would go out shopping for food and other essentials, a task which the three took it in turns to perform, but there were always two of them in the house at any given time, one stationed in an upstairs bedroom keeping a watchful eye on the street below. At night one of the agents slept in a bedroom on the top floor, the other downstairs on the sofa.
An agent took a call from MI5 – they had to take some degree of risk with the phones or things would become impossible - and reported the essence of it to Caroline. “We can’t find your mother and father. They weren’t at the cottage and they left no forwarding address with any of the neighbours.”
“Oh,” said Caroline, going cold. “Do you think…”
“There were no signs of a struggle or of the place being broken into. We just don’t know where they are, that’s all. A neighbour saw them drive off in their motor caravan yesterday afternoon. Five staked out the cottage but they didn’t come back. We checked with the firm they rented the place from, and it seems they’d returned the keys. The lettings agency assumed they’d gone back home to Dorking, but they’re not there either. There’s nothing written down anywhere to say where they might have gone. Tell you one thing, the house in Dorking had been broken into, and things disturbed.”
Meaning Scarlione’s people were after them, all right.
“They wouldn’t have gone back there,” Caroline said. “Looks like they’ve panicked and gone on the road. After everything I told them they were scared Scarlione would find them.”
At least she hoped that was it.
And Jack…they must have taken them with him. They wouldn’t have left him, would they? How would he adjust to life on the move?
“We’ll find them,” said the agent. “Don’t you worry. What about people they know, and might call upon?” Caroline gave them a list, along with any other information that might help to locate her parents, and that they couldn’t have found out by their own efforts. Meanwhile she only hoped that Edward and Margaret had given Scarlione the slip by their action.
Although they must never go out unaccompanied, within the house they were allowed to move around much as they pleased. After supper on the first day, Caroline excused herself and went to her room. There she sat on the bed with her knees drawn up, hugging them to her body, her thoughts as bleak as the desolate landscape which awaited her in Siberia.
Someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” she answered flatly.
Chris Barrett entered, looked round the room anxiously wondering if it was wired for sound, then decided he’d much rather be bugged by his own side than the enemy’s. He’d signed the declaration, after all.
“Er, Caroline,” he began.
“Yes?” she replied. Oh God, here it comes.
“May I – “ he gestured towards a chair. She nodded curtly.
He pulled it up and sat down. “I’ve been noticing one or two things and…you know these guys, don’t you? These MI6 people.”
“Well, how do you know them?”
She sighed. “How do you think?”
“Don’t tell me you’re a spook in your spare time.”
“I don’t spend my spare time going around putting myself in potentially dangerous situations,” she said, ignoring the choking noise he made by way of response. “But yes…” Oh what the hell. “Yes, I did work for them for a while.”
“Was it during your…career break?”
“Only time it could have been, I guess.”
“So what sort of things did you get up to?” He grinned. “Jumping out of planes, escaping from sinking submarines and exploding space stations?” He checked himself, realising she wasn’t in the mood.
“I got all the gen on what a…secret agent does. But I decided it wasn’t for me so I got out.” You don’t know the half of it, she thought.
Chris found his head was swimming. But something told him he ought not really to be surprised. Nonetheless he felt he should say something. “Shit, what else is there I don’t know about you?”
“Well, I’m not having a lesbian affair with anyone. And I’m not a secret Islamic terrorist or a shape-shifting Martian spy. That’s all you need to know.” Her left eyelid twitched in what was almost a wink but not quite. “Everyone should have their secrets.”
He tutted. “And you a public school girl.”
“Everyone has a distorted view of what does and doesn’t go on in those places,” she complained. “We’re as human as everyone else.”
He knew she had done some pretty outrageous things in her time, especially when she’d had too much to drink. But she could retort with justification that it wasn’t any worse than what some of his mates got up to on a boys’ night out.
“Ah well,” he finished, “I suppose that’s about all I’m ever going to find out.”
“You’re right there, mate.”
She sank deep into gloom again. “Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“You’re not, are you?”
Her voice rose several decibels. “Well how would you feel if you had to…it still seems incredible this is really happening.”
“It feels incredible to me too. But I’m sure it won’t be forever.”
“Nothing lasts forever,” she said reflectively. “Eventually we die, and that I suppose is the end of it, although no-one really knows for sure.”

His name was Clive Namier, and he was Senior Case Officer (2), several ranks below Derek Winlett and Sophie Cameron-Davies but equal in rank to Rachel Savident, and with special responsibility with her, at their level of the hierarchy, for the European sector, apart from controlling particular agents; but that had no particular connection to what he did when he got home the evening of the day Caroline and Chris had gone to the safe house. He fitted the scrambler to his phone so the call couldn’t be monitored by his colleagues, just in case they were listening, and rang Salvatore Scarlione in America.
Scarlione appreciated having someone on the inside in at least one of the major intelligence services. He had not approached them of his own accord because he still preferred to handle them with care. As it happened, Namier had approached him.
“You know you told us all to look out for this Caroline Kent woman?” said the Englishman.
He heard the sharp intake of breath. “Uh? You’ve found her?”
“I think she was here earlier. Dressed as a prostitute, would you believe.”
“A prostitute?” Scarlione erupted in helpless laughter. It seemed a long time before he could finally speak. “What a bum rap for her! Hah! Told you that was what she was, a Goddamn fucking whore.”
“There may be a more sinister reason, actually. Suppose she’s with us – MI6, I mean? She could have been working undercover. Anyway, I thought you ought to know.” Namier didn’t like the idea of helping Scarlione to kill Caroline but he suspected that if he didn’t tell him he’d seen her, there’d be trouble later.
“All spooks work undercover by definition,” said Scarlione. In truth, he somehow did not like the idea of Caroline Kent being connected with the security services, when she obviously wanted him off her back. “You sure it was her?”
“The face was familiar. Come to think of it, I may have seen her round the place once or twice before. I’m not quite certain.”
“So what do you think she was doing? Reporting back to her bosses?”
“Perhaps. I only caught glimpses of her, once in the corridor and once coming out of the office of one of our senior agents.”
“You didn’t think to call us before?”
“I didn’t get the chance. You’re forgetting I’m supposed to be an employee of MI6 most of the time. I was doing something I couldn’t get out of. There are meetings, paperwork to attend to, jobs people expect you to have done by a certain deadline. I couldn’t ring you either. Suppose someone had caught me with the scrambler and realised where it came from?”
“Fuck,” he heard Scarlione mutter. “Listen, Clive, can you find out a little more? Is there any – any connection, you know what I mean.”
“With your little vendetta against her? You think she went to us for help?”
“I’m thinking this might not be good news. If you’ve seen her around the place before, it means she’s got connections with your outfit. And she knows. She knows what we can do, how easily we can track people down.”
“But most people in authority would know, by now.”
Scarlione wasn’t comforted. The fear the security services of one or more of the world’s most influential nations might seek to bring down the empire he had been building had always been lurking at the back of his mind, which was why he had decided to take out some insurance. If one of their own members had been threatened by him, it might be an incentive to take on an active role in opposing him. Caroline Kent would certainly see it that way.
Should he try and probe further, using Namier, and discover some way of compromising the top people within MI6? Make more spies for himself within the organisation? Maybe.
“I’d like you to do a bit of snooping around,” he said. “Meanwhile, that’s all you can tell me?”
“The office she was in belongs to Rachel Savident, one of our case officers, and it was Savident she was with in the corridor. I’ll take it from there.”
Surely she couldn’t be a spook, Namier thought; spooks had to be pretty smart, keeping a low profile and not getting into arguments with people, and she had showed in his view an astonishing lack of common sense by openly trading insults with Scarlione. But she could have gone to Vauxhall House for protection. To the Syndicate’s knowledge, no-one had done that sort of thing before. So they had no idea what the consequences would be.
“I want to know just what she is,” Scarlione told him, his voice hardening. “And whether the spooks are planning anything against me. It’s really important.”
“I’ll do my best. Of course it might be difficult…”
“Sure, Clive. Like you said, you’ll do your best.”
“If your people can hack into our computers that might give us the answers we need.” Scarlione could have done that before only he’d felt no need to, with no evidence the intelligence services were planning to move against them. Let them stick to their cloak-and-dagger stuff, while he got on with his own business. Though it could of course be that knowing how he operated, they were careful what they put on computer.
“Believe it or not, the system’s down,” Scarlione said. It was funny when you thought about it, but of course nothing was infallible. “Should be back on line soon, but I’d rather know as much as possible as soon as possible. ‘Sides Savident could have written some things down, which means hacking won’t be any use to us. So go for it, Clive.”
Scarlione called Hickman and explained the latest developments. ”I think we might as well get the parents too, since we’re going to have to go after her anyway. Think we’ll keep them alive for the moment. Might be useful as leverage to get her to talk, but kill them if you have to. OK? ”
The agents who Rachel had picked to go on the mission were summoned to a briefing at her office. One of them was Bob Deller.
She explained where they were going and why. Bob’s eyebrows lifted. “I got the impression you didn’t think it was a good idea to – “ he began after the other agents had left.
Rachel looked as if she didn’t know what he meant. “It’s an assignment like any other,” she told him.
“Oh, I see,” he muttered, looking at her strangely. “Well I’ll, er, see you at the Wimbledon house tomorrow.”
“Uh-huh,” she grunted. Her manner seemed to change for a moment. “I don’t think there’s any particular danger, so long as no-one outside the Service knows our movements.” That had been clear from what she’d already told him and briefly he had the impression she was saying it largely for her own benefit. He nodded to her and went off, still puzzled.
The following morning the party left the safe house. Caroline was wearing glasses and a dark wig while Chris had taken Rachel’s advice to blond his hair. It doesn’t really suit me, he thought. Caroline, he had little doubt, was similarly disenchanted with her own appearance; in fact the sour expression on her face tended to confirm it. But then that might be attributed to her feelings at having to go into effective exile.
She paused briefly to look round at the ordinary British suburban street, with its rows of Victorian terraced houses, basking in warm sunshine, and wondered how long it would be before she saw such a scene again, if she ever did. Then she got into the car with the others.
There was one piece of good news. One of Edward’s old friends from college reported that Jack had been left with him and his wife and was safe. But where Edward and Margaret were they had no idea; the couple had simply said they were going away to the country for a few days, the doctor having decided Margaret needed it, and had decided to transfer the cat, who they had been looking after while Caroline was herself away, to their care.
“There’s one way we may be able to trace them. Like Scarlione we, that is the security services, have equipment for monitoring a person’s use of the electronic banking system. Presumably they’ll need to take out money from time to time and as soon as one or the other of them does, we’ll know where they are. They did make one big withdrawal earlier, but my guess is it won’t be the only one. But Five will have to move fast in order to catch them. They’ve got agents stationed at various places around the country. Meanwhile we can’t involve the police, of course, so there’s no question of putting out a Missing Persons appeal.”
They drove to Waterloo station and from there caught the Eurostar to Paris, sitting in silence throughout most of the journey, apart from Chris who made a few attempts at small talk, to which Rachel and her fellow agents responded but not Caroline. The latter sat in silence during the journey through the Kentish countryside, watching the oast houses, hop fields and apple orchards flash by until the train plunged into the darkness of the Channel Tunnel.
Caroline’s passport, which was in the name of Alison Bateman, would be checked on their entering Poland and Russia (the other countries they would have to pass through were signatories to the 1985 Schengen agreement, which had relaxed border controls within the EU). The photograph showed her as she was now, with padded cheeks, dark hair and brown eyes, but still managing to look pretty. The information was of course being logged on computer, but since it referred to a totally fictitious person, who nobody had reason to suspect was such and whose credentials appeared all in order, there was little chance of it being any use to the Mafia. The purpose of her journey was tourism.
Rachel was travelling as Claire Galbraith (she had thought it was time to ditch her usual alias of Emma Finch; no agent used the same one for too long if they were sensible).
They arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris about lunchtime. They would spend the rest of the day in the city while their papers were sorted out, and leave for Berlin the following morning. Rachel had been making all the bookings, and collecting all the forms, in person rather than ring anyone up, just to be on the safe side.
Caroline looked around at the people thronging the station foyer. How much did they suspect of what was going on? Nothing at all? And if they didn’t know everything was now being run by the Mafia, more or less, did it matter therefore if it was?
A good question.
They must guess, surely. Claims could always be denied but that hadn’t stopped rumours circulating, articles in newspapers and magazines and programmes on TV. It had been impossible to prevent all evidence from leaking out. But then there were people who didn’t read newspapers, other than the tabloids, or watch any television apart from their favourite soap operas. How much were they to know, or to care?
She voiced her thoughts to Rachel at the hotel later that evening. “They won’t be bothered unless it affects them personally. Most people, it probably won’t. It might depend where you are, but in the poorer countries – the rich ones too, quite possibly – the ordinary folk might even be glad of it. Because they don't have any elections to win – not openly - or ideological axes to grind, the Mafia can act in what really is the common good, the interests of society as a whole. The evidence suggests some of them do have opinions, quite informed and intelligent opinions, on social and political issues. After all, a lot of them are Yale- and Harvard- educated.”
"They'd probably make a better job of it than our normal politicians," muttered Caroline.
"That's just it," said Rachel. "That's just the sentiment they're trading on. You can’t blame the people for being sold on it. As long as they can be made to seem, on average, far better than conventional law-abiding politicians the public will tolerate them. That's how the drug barons in South America managed to win and retain public support despite doing nasty things to innocent women and children. From time to time they shoot dead someone's daughter or carve their wife into little bits, just because that someone said something they didn't like, and public opinion goes against them, but it dies away once it’s learned that the local drug baron or Mob bigwig has paid for a new school or something. After all, as long as they've got a decent roof over their heads and can afford to provide for their children's future, the average citizen isn't much bothered about anything else."
“Hmmm,” said Caroline, feeling uneasy thoughts creeping in. If she hadn’t been so stupid as to put Scarlione’s nose out of joint, would it ever have affected her personally? Was the fact that she herself had been victimised the only reason why she was trying to bring them down, in so far as anyone was doing that right now? And was that right, considering that in many ways they might be doing things better? Might they just be stirring up trouble?
Then she remembered the oil. The adulterated oil.
“They’ll get things wrong, of course, make mistakes. But there’ve always been badly run schools or businesses, bad politicians. And I don’t suppose they’ll ever manage to infiltrate absolutely everywhere. Whatever goes wrong won’t necessarily be blamed on the Mafia, nor should it be.”
“Oh, by the way,” Rachel added, “how are you...I mean, about..."
“About Douglas?” Caroline was a bit tired by now of people trying to offer her consolation. “Oh, learning to live with it I suppose. But I don’t want to talk about it right now. I mean, on top of….well, you know…”

As it happened, the surveillance and anti-surveillance technology used by the world’s security services was still equal to Scarlione’s – after all, they had developed the equipment in the first place and knew how to improve on it. They were keeping on an even footing in the intelligence war with the Syndicate, in so far as there was one. But they didn’t know that, so they had to be cautious.
But unfortunately, from Clive Namier’s point of view, it would still be difficult to monitor any telephone or other conversations taking place within the MI6 building. He could remove the scramblers from the phones in certain people’s offices, but this risked drawing attention to himself besides which the anti-surveillance devices were always checked to make sure they were working. He would need to use other means to find what he wanted.
“Rachel about?” he asked casually, sauntering into the senior staff common room at Vauxhall House with his hands in his pockets.
“Off on a case,” replied a colleague. “Out of the country for a few days. Did you want to see her?”
“Nothing terribly important,” Namier shrugged. “Just asked, that’s all. Where’s she gone?”
“Didn’t say.” Which meant she had preferred to keep her destination a secret. She’d have accorded it a category one classification, so the only people who’d know it apart from herself would be the Director and his deputy. Did it prove she was planning some operation against the Syndicate, and was afraid they had compromised someone here? Like me, he thought with a faint smile.
It wouldn’t be within his rights to go and ask Winlett and Cameron-Davies where Rachel was. He could say he’d just found out something important to do with one of the ongoing cases she’d been working on, which she ought to know about immediately. But although they might put her through to him they wouldn’t necessarily tell him where she was. In any case he might not have to go through the bother of thinking up a cover story that made sense, not yet anyway. He knew Rachel’s job often took her out of the country, and he’d wanted to establish whether he was likely to be surprised by her in the act of searching her office. He’d prefer to have peace of mind while doing it. And with any luck, he might find enough clues there to provide the answers Scarlione needed.

Caroline gazed wistfully through the window of her hotel room at the Paris skyline, the Eiffel tower visible in the distance above the panorama of rooftops, garrets, TV aerials and satellite dishes. Paris was one of her favourite cities.
It wasn’t the kind of place where you wanted to be shut up in a box. She needed to spend some time enjoying herself before she disappeared into her bleak Siberian exile, and this was just the place to do it. Rachel said they could go out to the Moulin Rouge in the evening, if she wanted, but that by itself wouldn’t be enough.
What the hell. There was no evidence the Syndicate, as Rachel had called them, knew where she was right now. And her bodyguards were expecting her to stay safely in her room, afraid of exposing herself to the slightest danger. She listened, but could hear no sound from the rooms on either side of her, which were occupied by Rachel and Bob Deller. Each was having a lie down, reading a book, or simply not doing anything much. And if they weren’t particularly busy, and therefore alert, just then they’d be less likely to hear what anyone else did. Provided she didn’t make too much noise.
After hesitating for a moment, she removed her wig, cheek pads and contact lenses. She made sure her wallet and camera were in her handbag. Then very slowly she got up, went to the door, opened it a fraction and peeked out, glancing both ways. None of her guardians was in sight and the doors of the nearest rooms were shut. She pinned the note she had written earlier, telling Rachel she had gone out of her own accord and was in no danger, see you tonight, to the door and crept away down the corridor to the lift.
Downstairs she handed her key for safe keeping to the receptionist and strolled out into the bright sunshine, breathing in the fresh, bracing Parisian air. She caught a taxi into the city centre where she looked round Notre Dame, the Loire and Les Invalides, had a bottle of wine and a baguette at an open-air café, went into Maxims and ordered a three-course meal, took a stroll along the Champs d’Elysees.
She should at least have gone out in her disguise, but she had wanted to enjoy Paris as herself. There seemed little point in it otherwise.
She stood and looked up at the Eiffel Tower in awe. For its time it had been a remarkable achievement, anticipating the giant skyscrapers of the twentieth century. She climbed it very slowly, a few steps at a time – she had always been afraid of using the lifts here in case anything should go wrong and she plunged earthward to annihilation - leaving her feeling even more triumphant and elated when she finally reached the top. She went right to the edge of the viewing platform and spread her arms wide, rejoicing in the panorama before her, feeling queen of all she surveyed.
For the journey down she decided to chance the lifts. She made her way back to the hotel, filled with excited anticipation of the fun to be had tonight. At one point her route took her along the Rue du Faubourg St Honore.
Among the crowds on the pavements was a man named Armand Herlant. As Caroline came into his line of vision, not quite meeting his eye, he paused. Something about her made him frown. There were hundreds of pretty blondes in circulation, of course, but this woman’s face was familiar. It was an English kind of face, yet the impression she gave was of grace, style, elegance. She was chic, m more so than he usually associated with Englishwomen.
This was the girl Scarlione had told everyone to watch out for. He noted there was a spring in her step and her eyes were alight with pleasure, with joie de vivre.
He could follow her, find out where she was staying and then report back to the Syndicate. What would they ask him to do then?
He knew why Scarlione wanted her dead. The thing was, it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Investigative journalists could say what they liked but they weren’t much of a threat to the Syndicate; what counted in the end was the willingness of the authorities to take action against it, and they were too scared, or too impotent – though it might amount to the same thing - to do that.
If the girl knew something which could shatter the Syndicate’s power, like the location of Argus, she obviously hadn’t shared it with anyone because that power was still intact. And there didn’t seem much point in not doing anything with the knowledge. So on the whole, Armand Herlant wasn’t convinced.
The rumour was she’d said something about him which he hadn’t taken kindly to. Well, it was understandable he should want to preserve his dignity, and therefore his standing, but…
He didn’t have to tell Scarlione he’d seen her at all. As for Argus, so far as he knew it wasn’t operating in this area and since Scarlione hadn’t known where she was in the first place he wouldn’t have instructed it to.
Maybe underneath that beautiful, cute exterior she’s hard. But then so are we, Herlant thought.
He stopped to study the woman more closely as she strode past with a bouncing gait, full of the energy and high spirits of youth, the blonde hair – natural blonde hair, somehow he was sure of it – cascading about her shoulders. He took in her whole poise, the aura of glamour she radiated, and turned to spit into the gutter. Ah, to kill a girl like that…no way. It was…it was unnatural. Especially for a Frenchman.

Clive Namier was still in his office at half-past six that evening. Asked by someone if he was working late, he replied in the affirmative. He waited until everyone in the building had gone home, except for the night shift – the security guards and the girls who manned the switchboard – then left the room and made his way down the corridor to the door, numbered 31, which bore the legend “R. Savident, Senior Case Officer (1)”.
Of course it was locked, but that presented no obstacle. Rachel used a swipecard to get in and out of her office, which wasn’t meant to leave her possession. There was however a master card which would override all the others and Namier as an SCO was one of those at Vauxhall Bridge authorised to possess a copy.
Once inside he turned on the lights, locked the door, then went straight to Rachel’s computer. He plugged it in and switched it on, then, taking the modem from his pocket, plugged the wire from it into the socket at the back of the machine. Finally he inserted a special card in the slot in the modem, allowing him to override Rachel’s password.
Some of the information he sought he could get quite easily from his own computer, but he was in her office so he might as well use hers. The card, normally used on operations overseas and not against other MI6 personnel, would prevent his unauthorised use of the machine from being traced.
After a brief delay the screen flickered into life and a list of options appeared on it. He sat at the keyboard and began typing, first using the cursor to select the option he wanted from the menu on the screen, double-clicking on it with the mouse. A list of sub-options came up. Again he moved the mouse until the cursor was resting on the one he wanted, and clicked.
Namier was presented with an alphabetical list of all those agents who were officially on MI6’s payroll (in so far as the Service ever listed anything “officially” other than its address and the names of its Director and Assistant Director). He scrolled down it but could find no mention of a Caroline Kent anywhere. This made him sit back and think a bit.
In addition to its “official” personnel the Service employed a second category of agent, those who from time to time might offer, or at least agree, to undertake a particular assignment for it where no-one else was available or suitable. They might be former agents, or they might be patriotic individuals who had been recruited on an unofficial, ad hoc basis, perhaps after having approached the Service with useful information that helped it do its job. They might or might not expect payment, though it sometimes made them a nuisance if they did.
He returned to the list of sub-options and clicked on “Category 2: Irregular.”
He scrolled down the names and this time got lucky. KENT, Caroline Angela Mary. A red flashing icon beside the name indicated that the agent was considered to be particularly at risk and had most likely been moved to a safe house. It might mean, though not necessarily, that their cover had been blown.
He clicked on the entry and the screen changed to show a full personal profile of Caroline, with photograph. It gave all her details – age, gender, height, weight, hair and eye colour, any distinguishing physical features, occupation, private address, politics, religion etcetera – and stated she had spent a brief period with the Service as a regular agent but resigned before properly completing her training, explaining why he hadn’t seen her about Vauxhall House more often. There was further information, including cross-references to a couple of files, but he wasn’t bothered about it; he’d more or less got what he wanted. The other files were entitled “Viellar” and “Hartsbury Air Disaster” – nothing to do with Scarlione and the Syndicate, by the look of it.
Curious, he thought. It’s no wonder you didn’t last long with us, if you’re daft enough to make an enemy of Salvatore Scarlione, and yet they obviously see some value in you – or you’d be listed as “retired” rather than Serving or Irregular. There must be more to you than meets the eye.
So Caroline Kent was “one of us” – after a fashion. And after meeting with her, Rachel Savident had gone on a mission abroad. That could be significant. He’d look up the list of safe houses later to find out which one Caroline was in, although staking it out could be a bit difficult. But it could wait until later. Even more important was to find out where Rachel had gone and what she was doing. He checked her e-mails but got no joy. Abandoning the computer for a moment, he rooted through the contents of her wastepaper basket, due to be collected first thing in the morning and disposed of in the furnace in the basement. Nothing. He used his picklock to open her desk drawers, in which she invariably locked everything away at the end of the working day. Still nothing.
He stood thinking and scratching his chin with his forefinger, trying to work out his next move. The sound of footsteps in the corridor made him pause and glance uneasily towards the door, but they went straight past to die gradually away down the passage, and Namier relaxed. Probably just one of the guards.
It wasn’t their business in any case to ask what one senior official was doing in another’s office. They knew he or she might need to be to gain swift access to important files, so wouldn’t concern themselves unduly with the matter.
Returning to the task in hand, Namier realised he was left with only one option. It was possible Rachel had looked up the travel details for where she was going on the Internet. The card would allow him to see what websites she had consulted over the last couple of days. The facility came in useful on those occasions when the Service needed to blackmail someone by threatening to expose their interest in child pornography or extremist politics.
At once he struck lucky. The very first site gave details of the train service from Paris to Moscow via Berlin. He printed it off in case he needed to refer to it later, folded it and put it in his pocket. Then he left, making sure to close down and lock everything up after him.
Once home he rang Salvatore Scarlione. ”Guess what I found. Looks like Wonder Girl is an agent of ours, though it seems she tends to call us rather than the other way round. And Rachel Savident has just gone on a little trip to Moscow, by the look of it. Or perhaps Berlin.”
The line seemed to go dead. “Are you still there?” he asked after a moment.
He thought he heard Scarlione murmur “Moscow”. Then the American spoke. “This Savident broad, what does she look like?”
“Not bad, actually. Dark-haired, early thirties, average height; I’ll e-mail a photo of her from our files. But if it’s Kent you’re most interested in, bear in mind that if she’s an agent she could have gone with Savident.”
“So they’re flying to…to Moscow or Berlin…”
“Taking the train by the look of it. It stops at Berlin. Which of the two they’re intending to visit I don’t know. They’re stopping over in Paris tonight, and I imagine leaving first thing tomorrow morning, or the day after if it takes a while to sort out the paperwork. I made a note of the times.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll look it up ourselves on the Web. OK, you done good Clive. Just keep me informed, yeah? ‘Bye now.”
He heard Scarlione replace the receiver, breaking the connection, and sat back thoughtfully. It didn’t really bother him much, but when he had told the Don Rachel’s possible destination he thought he had heard Scarlione murmur “Moscow”; as if it was especially worrying to him that she might be making for that particular place, and especially important she be stopped from doing so.

The Ukrainian thought it best to use a middleman for his approach to the Syrian government. One was ready to hand; an international arms dealer named Ahmed Makhtiar who, being himself Syrian, could be considered an ideal choice. Makhtiar, a devout Muslim, saw no contradiction between his religious beliefs and the chain of brothels, drug factories and other illicit concerns over which he presided. After all, the money went towards buying weapons for Hizbollah, Hamas and al-Qaeda to use in their struggle against Israel and the West – against the enemies of Allah. He did not take his own drugs or make use of the facilities on offer at the brothels. The organisations with which he did business understood what he was doing and did not object to the source of his wealth as long as it could be used to purchase guns, rocket launchers and bomb-making material with the ultimate aim of driving all “foreigners”, meaning Westerners, out of the Muslim world, allowing it to be a power in its own right, and destroying the state of Israel which apart from having displaced and oppressed its fellow Arabs by the fact of its coming into existence was also the West’s eyes and ears in the region. In their’s and Makhtiar’s interpretation of the Koran, it was acceptable in defence of the one true faith to arrange or participate in activities which would normally be considered unIslamic and immoral. As Makhtiar himself saw it, he was using Western decadence against itself.
Makhtiar had so far managed to avoid furnishing his enemies with conclusive proof that he supplied terrorist groups, or he would probably by now have been assassinated by Mossad or the CIA. He was scrupulously careful not to get his hands dirty, though it may have helped that he rarely spent much time in any one country and enjoyed the citizenship of about half a dozen, which would have made extraditing him a complex, lengthy and troublesome business. On the face of it, he ran a company supplying halal meat to Muslims worldwide (which in fact it did). No-one could prove he was anything else. The Syndicate for their part had preferred to leave him alone, because although his businesses were international in scope he was ultimately rooted in a culture they little understood and deemed it politic not to offend, even if most Muslims, who of course were decent and law-abiding, would consider his interpretation of Islam to be alien to them. But although they might not have gobbled him up for themselves, that didn’t preclude their doing business with him.
The Ukrainian knew Makhtiar from having been involved in the international arms trade, along with the other activities in which the Syrian specialised, himself, though he had stopped using him as a go-between for weapons sales after becoming uneasy at the kind of people he, Makhtiar, was supplying. Of course Scarlione’s initiative would have the effect of engendering peace, not conflict and killing, and in doing so take much of the wind out of the extremists’ sails. There would still be fanatics who wanted to destroy Israel, whatever happened; but there were always fanatics.
The Ukrainian rang Makhtiar at his company’s London headquarters and asked for a meeting as he had something to discuss which would be of mutual benefit to them. A time and a place were arranged and the Ukrainian flew into Heathrow the next day.
The two men had lunch outside a café on the Edgware Road, all along which elderly and middle-aged Arabs could be seen sitting smoking their hookahs and watching the world go by. Then they repaired to Makhtiar’s well-appointed flat in Hampstead for tea, and finally got down to business.
“Now, you said you had something of importance to discuss with me,” Makhtiar opened.
“Yes. You will have heard the rumours about the organisation called the Syndicate?”
Makhtiar nodded slowly. He had, and felt it confirmed his view of the West’s decadence. It was not surprising if criminals were now running everything there. Still, if they could be useful to him in some way…
“I am myself connected with them. They have recently, it seems, begun to extend their activities to geopolitical matters. I believe they know what they are doing and that any arrangement they make with you will be advantageous to both sides. Now, how long ago was it that you last had any contact with the Syrian government?”
“Quite some time,” Makhtiar replied, frowning as he tried to remember the approximate date. “Nowadays of course they are trying to appear respectable in the eyes of the West. They’re wary of Saddam Hussein and make common cause with it against him.” Which meant being committed to a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute. “They don’t want to have too much to do with someone like myself in case it is discovered and has geopolitical ramifications.”
“If you were to attempt to reopen channels of communication with them, do you think there would be a positive response?”
At once a barrier came down. Makhtiar waved his hand dismissively. “I can tell you at once, they would draw back as if I was contaminated with some disease. I have already stated the reason why.”
“But they would remember you?”
“I imagine so. But I tell you, my friend, it wouldn’t work. Too much has changed in the last few years. What exactly is it you are suggesting I talk to them about?”
“The Syndicate has a proposal to make. There would have to be some financial benefit to ourselves. But the advantages to Syria, to the Arab world in general, indeed to the whole world should be even greater. Let me explain.”
As the Ukrainian outlined Scarlione’s plan Makhtiar’s eyes widened. His jaw slackened, his mouth gaping open, and his expression grew more and more incredulous. After the Ukrainian had finished there was complete silence for a moment or two. Then Makhtiar’s face changed as he contemplated what his companion had said, the incredulous look giving way to something more thoughtful.
“Well…” he murmured. “I…I suppose if Israel and the Americans could be prevented from finding out until the equipment was fully operational…”
“That’s what we were thinking.”
“You know where to obtain the materials?”
“Yes, we’ve done some research. With our expanded network of contacts it should be possible to get everything together in a fairly short time. That’ll reduce the likelihood of anyone chancing to find out what we’re doing. The plan has a greater chance of succeeding than similar initiatives which have been attempted in the past. But we’d need to know what precisely the Syrian government’s requirements are. I have some idea, but it would need to come from their own mouths.”
It was clear Makhtiar was far from decided on the matter, despite the alteration in his mood. He still felt there was too much risk involved. “Shall I leave you time to think about it?”
Makhtiar might have reservations, but a part of him thought the plan seemed too exciting, too full of possibilities, to just abandon like that. He felt he would be grateful if the responsibility for making the decision was shifted to someone else. “Let me get in touch with the Syrians and see what they think. It obviously cannot proceed without their agreement. Then if they are willing, I think we can go ahead.”
“That seems reasonable,” nodded the Ukrainian. “If they turn our offer down, do you think they will then report your approach to the Israelis?”
“I don’t think they will do that.” Syria might no longer sponsor Palestinian terrorism but there remained plenty of suspicion between them and the country which, until recently, they could barely bring themselves to mention by name. “All the same, I will make sure no-one knows your Syndicate were involved. That’s the whole point of a middleman.”
The Ukrainian left Makhtiar to make the call. As he drove to the airport he reflected on how the meeting had gone and wondered what the outcome of it would be. He himself had no reservations about the business and in fact was warming more and more to Scarlione’s scheme as time passed. In his view, the more nuclear weapons there were floating around the more people would be careful not to let geopolitical disputes get out of hand, because the consequences if they did would be so much worse. Which had been Scarlione’s thinking entirely; and besides, business was business.
Again he felt himself energised by Scarlione’s vision and boldness. The man’s courage and determination was making possible things which no-one, including the Ukrainian, had had the guts to attempt before. What was happening was nothing less than a reshaping of the entire world, and immeasurably for the better. There could be no doubt about that.

IPL research laboratories, Southampton
Reg Broadhead poured the sample of partly refined oil from the phial into the test tube, and held it up to the light.
He couldn’t be sure at first. But slowly, the black line on the test tube was changing colour. He waited until the transformation was complete, then put the sample in the analyser.
The sensor illuminated, the needle rose up the gauge. As before Broadhead studied the figures on the LCD, noting down his findings on a checklist.
He stoppered the tube and placed it in a rack along with several others, his lips tight. Then he sat down to write his report. It wouldn’t make pleasant reading for the IPL management.
His findings confirmed what they’d suspected. The oil from the Siberian refinery was adulterated too. And that had implications which chilled him to the bone.

“You say you have done business with us in the past, Mr Makhtiar?” It was obvious the official regarded Makhtiar as suspicious, probably mixed up in something untoward, and a figure from a past which pragmatism dictated they turn their back on.
“That’s correct. I was known to the former President. He is no longer with us, sadly, and cannot vouch for me. But someone connected with the previous administration should be able to confirm my identity and that my credentials are sound. Of course, I understand that much has changed since I last had any contact with you.”
“Do you have a number I can call you on?” The man had clearly decided it was safer to consult with higher authority before giving him the brush-off.
“Yes of course.” Makhtiar gave it to him.
“You will be hearing from us in due course.” The man seemed about to put the phone down.
“Thankyou very much. Insh’Allah.”
“Insh’Allah.” The line went dead.
Not very encouraging, somehow, but it was a start. In the living room of his house in a wealthy suburb of Paris, Ahmed Makhtiar waited for them to get back to him, his heart beating out a tattoo.
The phone rang and it leapt. “Hello?”
It was the official. “Hello. Could you tell us exactly what it is you wished to speak to us about?” Still that tone of voice which reflected disinterest at best, suspicion at worst.
“I have a proposal which I am sure will be of great interest to the President once he hears of it. I believe I can supply you with certain…materials your possession of which will radically alter the political situation in your part of the world, and for the best. I am convinced it will be for the best.”
“What materials are you talking about?”
“Within a short time I should be able to deliver you a nuclear bomb. Or to be precise six nuclear missiles, complete with warheads, and a small, relatively low yield atomic device which could be detonated in a safe location as a way of demonstrating your new power.”
He heard the official draw in his breath.
“You should have it within a few days. Let us say a week at the most, barring unexpected problems. I know where these things are to be found and how to get them to you. A route and a timetable have already been worked out. In case you are wondering who I am working for in this matter, it is the organisation known as the Syndicate which has become very influential in the West of late. You may have heard of it. It is acting of course partly from economic motives, although its leadership also believes the implications of this initiative may be beneficial to the cause of peace in the Middle East.”
Again they had to wait while the official absorbed all this. “I see,” he said eventually. “Well, obviously this matter will have to be considered very carefully. I will draw it to the attention of the Minister and of the President. If they wish to take up your offer, I or one of my colleagues will contact you accordingly.”
“Thankyou. I would appreciate that.”
“Goodbye,” said the official, with rather more respect in his tone than there’d been the first time.

Before Salvatore Scarlione in his study sat six people. One of them was a short woman with olive skin, dark hair and very penetrating black eyes. The other three were all members of the Scarlione crime “family”; their names were Parkes, Caccia, Snyder, Krupke and Visconti. Scarlione had considered using local people for the hit, but in the end decided it was better to rely on those he knew and trusted; especially when there were even more important considerations at stake than avenging an insult. As soon as he had established they would each be available to take part in the operation he had summoned them to the house for their briefing.
”Now,” he was saying. “We know the times of the trains, but we don’t know which one they’re planning to catch, so it may well be too late to get to Paris and do the job before they get on it. But if you catch the first available plane to Berlin you might get there before they do. Your paperwork’s being taken care of. Once you are there, wait till the next train comes in and join it. It will probably be the one they’re on as trains to Moscow from western Europe are still rare. Obviously if you see either of them leave the train, let our local agents know, then follow them. If they don’t seem to be on the train, then get off at Moscow and wait for them there, or leave it to our people in Russia.”
“Could they be at Moscow already?” asked Visconti.
“I don’t think they’ll have had enough time. Anyway, we’ll be watching all three stations – in case they’ve delayed boarding at Paris for any reason - so we should spot them some point along the line, so to speak.” In truth Scarlione wasn’t quite sure of that. It was quite likely their targets were travelling under false names, with fake passports, and possibly disguised as well. Even by putting his people on the train and posting them at each of the three stations he couldn’t guarantee being able to find them. He’d just have to hope he got lucky, or that if he didn’t it wouldn’t matter. But on the whole, it was preferable neither Kent nor Savident reached Moscow.
“I don’t know what they mean to do there, but I want them taken care of before that train arrives in Moscow.” It occurred to him he ought to give a reason why. “I think they’re planning on getting together with the Russki spooks and hatching some scheme against us.” He’d already realised that might be the actual truth of the matter; if so, it was still worth doing something to stop it. And if at the same time he could settle his score with the Kent-bitch then so much the better. “We could try to hit her once they’ve left the train but it’ll be a lot easier on it. The drill’s same as always: probably nothing to worry about if you do get caught but I want it quick and clean and I don’t want anyone to know about it, ‘cept of course you and the targets. Not for a while anyway. Throw the bodies from the train. Oh, and there could be other spooks on the train beside those two women. So be careful.”
“But it’s a wet job, not a snatch?” asked the dark little woman.
“Be hard to smuggle them off the train.” If it proved possible to take them alive, then they would. It would be as well to find out how much they knew. But there was always the chance of something going wrong. The sooner they were taken care of, the better. If MI6 sent any more agents to Russia Namier would warn him, and if the deaths or disappearance of Caroline Kent and Rachel Savident did not deter them they would suffer the same fate.
“Deal with Kent first.” His pride would be avenged, whatever else happened. “Then the others. If you can, force Savident to tell you what the spooks have got on us before you ice her. Then – ice her.”

Office of the President, Government Buildings, Damascus
The President felt he couldn’t take a decision on such an important matter without first consulting his colleagues, and so he called a cabinet meeting to discuss it. Things seemed to have reached an impasse, with everyone gazing moodily into space while they attempted to decide where they stood. What to do with the wonderful but terrifying gift Salvatore Scarlione was offering them. Out of the corner of his eye the Defence Minister studied the President while he sat trying to make his mind up, thinking that the man was still very much an unknown quantity. This mild-mannered doctor, tall and gangly with a distinctive, even comical appearance, seemed too nice to be the leader of a country which had not scrupled in the past to use violence against its enemies and shelter those who had carried out brutal terrorist acts against innocent people. His instinct was surely to save lives, not destroy them. He was only president because his father had been. And in the minister’s eyes, he lacked the ruthlessness to do the job properly. Yet he nonetheless sensed there might be an edge of steel in there somewhere.
The President was weighing the arguments for and against very carefully. For Syria to have the bomb…if the long-term reaction proved negative, it could deal the peace process a fatal blow. On the other hand, the peace process wasn’t really going anywhere anyway. The Israelis were stalling on the issues of Jewish settlement, the status of East Jerusalem and the Right to Return. The Palestinians for their part had been rash to make the particularly problematical issue of East Jerusalem, which they wanted to be the capital of a independent Palestinian state but which was unfortunately slap bang in the middle of Israeli territory, a stumbling block by insisting on progress there before other issues had been settled and a track record created of concord and compromise. Much as he acknowledged the wrong that had been committed against fellow Arabs, he considered the Palestinians stupid, hot-headed and brutal. They didn’t always know what was best for them. He often wondered if it wasn’t better to have nothing to do with them, just stand aside from the issue and, if necessary, leave both sides to slaughter one another.
But there were elements in his country that would insist on some kind of involvement, and he didn’t feel he could afford to ignore them. At the end of the scale there were the Islamic terrorists; if they should start carrying out operations against Israel from within his territory, and it proved difficult to control them, Israel would launch air strikes, maybe a ground assault, against their strongholds and innocent Syrians would be killed. There would be an international incident which would destabilise Middle Eastern politics and maybe lead to the extremists coming to power in Damascus. One thing was certain, in the event of such an attack there’d be little Syria could do against the strongest army in the Middle East, constantly fuelled by American money and materiel. He thought of the war of 1973 when Israel, advancing on Damascus, would actually have overrun his country if it and the Egyptians had not capitulated.
On the other hand, a nuclear-armed Syria might actually benefit the cause of peace, and if it did he would gain the credit for that. His initiative would be seen as a bold decisive move which had broken the deadlock and forged a brave new world.
The president tried to gauge the mood of the meeting. About half the cabinet seemed to be in favour, and the rest undecided apart from two who were definitely against. Suddenly the Foreign Minister broke the silence. “We need to arrive at some estimate as to the actual effect of it being known we had a nuclear capability,” he said in an attempt to move things along.
“At first Israel would complain,” said the Finance Minister. “She would say we had acted against the spirit of the peace process. We would be described as having committed an “aggressive act”. The Americans would condemn our action, probably the British too. The Europeans? Well, the Germans feel honour bound to support the Israelis in everything because of certain…past events. The French are likely to be more sympathetic to us. Also the Russians and the Chinese both of whom have traditionally tended to support us against Israel.
“Eventually things would calm down. Once it was realised nothing could be done without our retaliating, people would be more willing to engage with us on building a truly fair, and secure, peace settlement in the region. After all, just one missile on Tel Aviv…”
“I don’t see how we could possibly use the weapons in anger,” said the President. “After all, we inhabit but a small part of the world. Even if it was the Israelis who were wiped out and not us, the radioactive fall-out could eventually kill most of our population and make the region uninhabitable for thousands of years.”
“You have to understand how the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction works. Everyone knows that both sides have too much to lose by using their nuclear arsenal, yet the fear that somehow they will persists. Even the slightest possibility of such an eventuality motivates people to work to eliminate the causes of the tensions that might one day bring it about. So the weapons never are used. It is a highly effective strategy, absurd as it might seem. I see no reason why MAD should not work here as it did in the Cold War. Eventually there was peace between the United States and the Soviet Union. So too can there be peace here in the Fertile Crescent, if we are bold enough to seize the opportunity we have been presented with.”
“Are we expecting this to bring immediate results? Do you think there will be rapid progress towards a free Palestine?”
“Not necessarily. Israel will resent our acquiring a nuclear capability in order, as she sees it, to intimidate us into making concessions. And we cannot say, “do this or we will bomb you,” for that would be merely to invite the annihilation of both sides. She will not concede away her own security because if she does that she might as well annihilate herself, and us, in one almighty nuclear conflagration. It’s what they call the Samson Option. But she won’t take that step unless there really is no alternative. Initially the real benefits, the real change in the situation, will be psychological. But in time they will result in material gains. I think there will be a permanent freeze on new Jewish settlement in Palestinian areas; that is one area where they could compromise without endangering or seeming to endanger their own security. We may get the Golan Heights back. East Jerusalem…well, it’s a tricky one, but with the threat of MAD hanging over everyone’s heads it’ll be a lot easier to come to a solution which somehow allows the district to be capital of an independent Palestine without compromising Israel’s integrity and security, her ability to defend herself. There could be UN involvement, some kind of international status…”
“Of course I would much rather see the Zionist entity destroyed altogether,” the President declared for the benefit of the die-hards present. “But I fear that is not possible. Also I suspect the exiled Palestinians in Jordan and elsewhere may have to give up the right of return, painful as that will be for them and for us. But basically I agree with what you are saying. I do not believe there would be a nuclear holocaust, and the equalisation of the odds will also prevent a conventional war ever breaking out in the region. Israel would never invade us for fear of the conflict escalating into a nuclear one, and for the same reason the extremists within our borders would not countenance actions likely to provoke the invasion in the first place. There would be lasting peace, until the passage of time produced some permanent solution to the region’s problems, one acceptable to all parties.”
For the next minute or two they assessed the pros and cons, weighing the possible benefits of the plan against the dangers. “It is of course vital that absolute secrecy is maintained until the moment the missiles are in place,” said the Interior Minister. “If it was discovered that we had secretly been trying to acquire nuclear weapons, we would appear deceitful and untrustworthy in the eyes of the world. What chance of peace then? And Israel would bomb the sites from which we intended to deploy them.”
“The Syndicate is known to do things effectively,” the President said. “I think we can have every confidence in their abilities; if they can’t bring it off, no-one could.”
“Have we identified a site from which the missiles can be deployed?”
“Yes,” said the Minister of Defence. “The army base at al-Hamariyah has the best facilities. As soon as they arrive they will be transferred to one of the buildings there.”
“And how will they be transported? Where are they going to come from in the first place, anyway?”
“From the Ukraine, which was left with a certain portion of the Russian nuclear arsenal when the Soviet Union broke up. Not all of it was ever accounted for. The items will be flown in from Kiev, passing over the Black Sea and central Turkey. Poorly paid customs officials will look the other way if paid sufficiently for their troubles. On the face of it the plane will be carrying components for machinery to be used in a hydroelectric scheme. Officially its destination will be a civilian airfield on the outskirts of Damascus; in fact it will fly straight to al-Hamiriyah and there unload its cargo.”
“Is there not still a danger American spy satellites will see what is happening?”
“The Americans are not paying too much attention to us at the moment. We’re supposed to be their allies.”
“And how exactly would the missiles be deployed, in the hopefully unlikely event of our having to use them?”
“Makhtiar tells us the missiles can be launched from a truck or from a simple wheeled platform. That minimises the possibility of Israel’s own missiles, or her conventional weapons, taking out the launch sites before they could be fired.”
The President nodded his satisfaction at what he had heard. Then he turned to nuclear physicist Dr Abuhamid al-Mansouri, who as an expert had been specially invited to attend the meeting, and who had kept silent while purely political matters were discussed.
“I agree with the estimate of Makhtiar and the Syndicate,” said al-Mansouri. “All we need to start with are six missiles, the warheads to go in them, the nuclear triggers, and the right amount of weapons-grade uranium. Other equipment we can provide ourselves. In the long term, however, we will need some means of replenishing the nuclear fuel when it becomes exhausted. Building a full-scale breeder reactor is fraught with problems because someone would be bound to notice. I have discussed the possibility with Makhtiar and he is certain he can supply us with the parts, or we could manufacture them ourselves. The real problem is one of keeping it concealed from the world. And if it was not concealed the Israelis would bomb it as they did Iraq’s in 1981. Perhaps if the equipment was smuggled in a piece at a time, and put together underground…”
”Perhaps,” said the President. “But hopefully, by the time the nuclear material has become depleted a stable and lasting settlement will have been achieved. And if it is achieved, people will regard our nuclear capability as a positive thing and see no objection to our continuing to service it.”
He appeared suddenly uncertain. “Do I take it we have decided we are in agreement with the plan? Shall I take a vote?”
This proposal was accepted. Everyone signified their assent to Salvatore Scarlione’s grand plan for world peace, with one abstention. “But I presume the Syndicate are asking for payment for all this,” said the Finance Minister.
“One million pounds. Given the expense of modern nuclear technology it is a very generous sum for such a prize as this. I don’t think they’re only concerned with the money, they want to gain the credit for having sorted out the world’s problems. Let them if they wish to, what matters is that we are agreed it is a profitable investment for us.”
“You will no doubt wish to inspect the goods at close quarters before making a purchase,” the President said, addressing Dr al-Mansouri.
“That would be wise. I will also examine them when they arrive at al-Hamariyah, to check they have sustained no damage during storage or shipment.”
With that the meeting broke up.

It was a former research station, a collection of faceless flat-roofed concrete blocks, surrounded by an electrified perimeter fence beyond which, on all sides, was the forest, the only place where one could go to commune with nature and that was not recommended unless under escort due to the dangers of getting lost, which had happened on a number of occasions. The grounds were an asphalt compound surrounded by a high chainlink fence and patrolled by armed guards. There were CCTV cameras everywhere, and satellite dishes and aerials on the roofs of the various buildings. An airfield stood a short distance away.
As well as the guards the installation had permanent medical and domestic staff. The shifts were changed every few months, which could be an upheaval for the inmates since they had got used to the same people, the same faces.
There was a common room, dining area, games room, cinema, library, sickbay, gym, squash court, swimming pool, solarium, Jacuzzi and sauna. The living units each had their own TV, video recorder, CD/DVD player and hi-fi. The inmates were allowed to keep pets, which served as a distraction and a source of companionship. They read, played games, organised quizzes, painted, formed discussion groups. Plays could be performed and there was a craft workshop.
Meals could be taken communally or in one’s room, though those who took the latter option were generally seen as unsociable and a barrier grew up between then and the other inmates, which didn’t improve matters within a restricted environment where tensions could easily mount.
Anyone observing them as they ate together would have found them an eclectic bunch. They were a mixture of races, nationalities, colours, cultures and physical types. A bespectacled scholarly-looking man who looked like a University professor; a nondescript, paunchy, balding, middle-aged one who could have been a banker or company director; a glamorous blonde not unlike Caroline Kent in appearance; a burly tough-seeming character who you wouldn’t have thought should have anything to fear from the likes of Scarlione; and many others. All of them had one thing in common; they had got on the wrong side of the Syndicate, or decided to take up the cudgels against it and suffered as a consequence. Some were journalists, lawyers, politicians, police officers. One or two gave the impression of being criminals themselves, and probably were.
Their existence here was not unpleasant. The dangers of being more or less permanently cooped up in a restricted environment were obvious and meant every care had to be taken to make their time as enjoyable and interesting, with plenty to occupy their minds, as possible. Everything they needed could be obtained without much difficulty, being flown in from Moscow or anywhere else in the world it might be found. If someone wanted a book, CD or DVD that wasn’t in the place’s extensive library there was usually no problem in meeting that request.
It all helped to make it bearable. But some people did get stir crazy and caused trouble; several had had to be permanently locked up or were kept in the medical wing under sedation. One man had gone off into the forest and not come back.
But at least they were alive. And some were of that temperament which doesn’t mind isolation from the world at large. It was a good place to write a book, as several of the inmates were doing, although even if Scarlione should be toppled from his pedestal there was some doubt as to whether they’d ever be able to publish.
Some had found God, or Buddha or Mohammed; one of the converts practised his religion in an ascetic manner, rarely leaving his room and spending most of his days in meditation.
Any disputes which did arise were adjudicated by the management, usually successfully. For they didn’t always get on; nonetheless friendships had formed among them, in some cases blossoming into something more, and providing a source of strength and comfort in an often monotonous and depressing situation. There was at least one homosexual relationship. A priest had offered to share the inmates’ exile, and performed marriage ceremonies whenever required as well as giving spiritual advice to those of any religious persuasion, or none, who asked for it. There were also secular counsellors. And although it wasn’t a very salubrious business, prostitutes were flown in regularly for those whose natural desires required gratification and couldn’t, at the moment, be consummated any other way.
A lot had their husbands and wives with them, which of course made things a lot more bearable (in theory at least) and avoided some of the problems which might otherwise arise in interpersonal relationships. If possible the whole extended family was brought in.
To their friends and colleagues, it looked as if all these people had disappeared, the rumour being that the Syndicate had killed them and disposed of the bodies one way or another. There would be joy when they eventually reappeared, but there didn’t seem any prospect of that at the present time.
As the number of inmates grew it would become necessary to build a second safe house somewhere, or enlarge the existing one. The security services were sure that could be done, but in any case space wasn’t the problem.
Despite all their creature comforts, the inmates wanted out. After a while, they knew the strain of incarceration here, with only a cold and inhospitable wilderness outside, would begin to tell. They faced either being imprisoned here perhaps for the rest of their lives, or being released back into a world where, unless perhaps they assumed an identity which wasn’t them and would prove as oppressive and restricting as their current existence, they would be in constant fear of Scarlione’s revenge. They were trapped between the whirlpool and the monster, to borrow an image from Greek mythology, and which of the two eventually claimed them Scarlione probably didn’t care.

The Scanlons had been bemused, only half understanding their explanation, but had accepted Jack nonetheless. Certainly the children had no regrets, being delighted with their new pet. Margaret reflected that if Jack was ever able to go back to Caroline, it would break their hearts.
From St Ives they had gone on to the resort which they’d often frequented when courting, and where they had spent their honeymoon. It had gone downhill since then, Edward noted sadly. The building of new road links to London in the 1970s had brought in plenty of the wrong sort of people. There were too many yobs, loud and vulgar young men full of testosterone who lived only to trawl the pubs and nightclubs, plus the occasional strip show and massage parlour, and who often behaved antisocially. Generally the place was too crowded for you to be really relaxed, except maybe on the beach itself, and there Margaret had always preferred the little one on the eastern outskirts of the town where, fortunately, not many others seemed to go. But it was towards the end of the tourist season now and there weren’t so many people about, which made for a bit of peace and quiet.
They stopped at a little café on the promenade and ordered tea and scones. Selecting a table on the patio outside, they sat down to eat their meal. When they’d finished they just listened for a while to the cries of seagulls and the roar of the surf, finding the latter pleasantly soothing at a distance.
“Do you remember when we first came here?” Margaret smiled.
“Too right I do,” Edward grinned. “We had a good dirty weekend!”
They reflected on what social mores had been like in the 1960s and early 70s. A lot of conventions had been shattered during those years. But that had itself been a very different world from today’s, and things had not necessarily changed for the better.
They talked some more, remembering those days, until Edward suggested they go on the beach. It was still warm enough.
“I didn’t pack our costumes,” Margaret said.
“We could buy some. Wear a two-piece.”
“I don’t feel comfortable in one any more,” she objected.
“It would re-kindle my passion,” he insisted.
“Does it need rekindling?”
“Of course not,” he grinned, patting her hand. “But you needn’t be ashamed of your body. You’ve taken better care of it than a lot of younger women. Either they overdo the slimming thing or they’re emaciated from drug abuse.”
“I have to admit you’re probably right. So, you want a night of passion with me, do you?”
“Gasping for it.” They talked quietly in case anyone chanced to overhear such private matters being discussed. But there was nothing odd or improper about Edward’s suggestion. For they did still make love from time to time; it was easier to get away with, of course, now they had no children at home.
“Trouble is, we don’t have any condoms,” Edward remembered ruefully. “Forgot to bring them.”
“I don’t think either of us has been sleeping around that much.”
“Pills, then.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m not going to get pregnant, not at my age.”
“It’s been known. And there are dangers in having a baby so late in life. It’s unfair, really. I could still be a father, if I wanted to, but you couldn’t be a mother. Not easily.”
“Get a divorce if you want,” she said jokingly. Her expression changed. “Were you thinking of replacing Douglas?”
From his his hesitant manner, Margaret knew that that was precisely what he had been thinking. “Over-compensation…it’s not a good thing.”
“I’m sorry?”
“You think there are things you should or shouldn’t have said when he was alive and you want to make up for it. You want to get it right this time. It can become an obsession.” Edward thought that Margaret would make quite a good shrink, if only she’d apply her principles to herself.
He shifted. “I suppose it might be alright,” he mused. “If you were in good physical condition, which you are. On my part…well, I’m sure the life’s still in me.”
“Now you know I didn’t mean that,” she chided. “Although you’re right. I’m sure we’re both in good shape; nowadays people age a lot better. We can look forward to an active and healthy old age.” “All very well. But I’m not sure I want to spend it on the run from Mr Salvatore bloody Scarlione.”
“We’ll keep it going for as long as possible. Won’t we?”
“Too right,” Edward grunted. Just as he hadn’t given into the thugs who’d tried to force his construction company out of business not long after he’d first set it up, he wasn’t going to give in to Scarlione.
“And darling – despite everything, if there was anyone I wanted to share this…this exile with, it would be you.” She laid her hand on his and their fingers entwined. They said nothing for a minute or two, gazing into each other’s eyes like young lovers. Just as they had done here before, for all they knew in this very same spot – they couldn’t quite be sure - all those years ago.
Margaret broke the silence. “No; Caroline’s all we’ve got left, in the way of children I mean.”
“Mmm,” nodded Edward. A sudden thought seemed to strike him. “Although I was thinking…”
“And we must value her,” Margaret went on. “Though I’m sure we do. We can only hope she comes through it all unharmed.
“Yes,” she went on philosophically, returning to an earlier theme, “we should have many more years of health left to us. Let’s spend them enjoying life to the full, and being grateful with what we’ve got. Not trying to resurrect the past…because it wouldn’t be Douglas, it would be a different individual, even if it had the same parents. To fulfil an…obsession when it might only cause more grief and pain.” He knew she was referring again to the dangers of middle-aged mothers, the fact that their children were more likely to die at an early age, be mentally handicapped or suffer from some lasting disability.
”I mean, I’m sorry, darling. You know I feel the pain of it as much as you do. And I don’t mean to lecture. But quite frankly…it would be unfair on the child to take the risk, wouldn’t it?”
It was a moment or two before Edward answered. “Yes,” he nodded, finally coming to a decision. “Yes, it would be.”
The sun was lower now in the sky, and a slight chill, the first faint sign of autumn, was creeping in. People were packing up their things and leaving the beach; it was too late to go for a swim now. The last customers left, they watched the sun gradually sink into the English Channel, staining it red, until it was time to pay the bill and depart, back to their life on the road.

As Caroline had expected Rachel hadn’t been too pleased when she disappeared halfway through the previous day, necessitating an extensive search of the hotel and much of the city until she turned up cheerfully just in time for supper. Sorry, Rache, but that’s tough. I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to do this sort of thing again. And it had been fantastic. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the whole atmosphere of gaiety and abandon, had been intoxicating. The museums and art galleries, where it was cool and quiet and relaxing, had taken her back to an earlier age which somehow seemed more civilised. The food…well, although the English, with their celebrity chefs who had popularised the science (and art) of gastronomy, were catching up the French undoubtedly knew how to cook. Then, Rachel worn out trying to keep up with her, she had danced the night away at the Moulin Rouge, where Chris had been conspicuous by his absence. He later regretted that he’d missed the moment when she suddenly whipped off her disguise and took to the floor, stupid as she had been to compromise security.
“I know where you were,” she said darkly. “At the Folies Bergeres, weren’t you?”
“I’d hardly expect you to have gone there,” he retorted.
“Fair enough. And they didn’t mind?”
“Both blokes. They wouldn’t have.”
At least I don’t drag my bodyguards all over the place, thought Chris. Women!
Caroline had returned to the hotel tired but happy just after one o’clock in the morning and immediately collapsed into bed. They had arrived at the station just in time to catch their train to Berlin. Now Caroline and Chris were chatting over coffee in the latter’s cabin, with Caroline once again wearing her disguise.
“The trouble is with these French girls, they’ve all got small tits,” Chris offered.
“Have they,” she said flatly. She realised he was being crude in order to hide his concern for her. “Don’t worry about me,” she urged him, not for the first time. She genuinely didn’t want him to do that, not if the situation couldn’t be helped.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “It just seems such a rotten thing to happen to someone.”
“I’ll survive. For one thing my parents will be there – if we can manage to find them. There’ll be all sorts of other people in the same situation, which I guess will make it easier.”
“That’s what you’ve got to remember.”
“And there’ll be plenty to do, so I understand.”
“So what exactly did you do when you were with MI6?” Chris asked again, trying to take her mind off things.
“I told you, I’m not really really allowed to say.”
“There’s not much else to talk about.”
“I signed the Official Secrets Act. Does that cover it?”
That was a moot point, she reflected. It could be argued that it did, yet there was still the principle of “need to know”. “Well, I did most of the training.”
“But you didn’t complete it?”
“Told you, I decided it wasn’t for me.”
“Was this before you joined IPL? No, don’t tell me, it was during your “career break”.” He stiffened slightly. “That was just after Douglas got killed. Was it – “
“Because of that? Well, yes actually. I thought I could help to prevent that kind of thing happening again.”
“But you changed your mind.” It was unusual, he thought, for Caroline to give up on something once she’d set her mind to it. But she’d said she’d decided it wasn’t for her. Maybe on this occasion bearing the burden of secrecy, which would have got heavier the more she did in MI6’s service, on top of hardly having the consolation of her achievements in the job being publicly recognised had simply proved too much for her.
“Mmmm,” she replied. She was clearly thinking deeply about something, following a train of thought his question had set in motion. And it didn’t seem she was too keen on sharing it with anyone.
He leaned forward. “Something’s on your mind, isn’t it?”
“Is it?”
“Don’t think I can’t tell. Look, you can confide in me. I’m a friend, aren’t I? If it’s something you’d rather wasn’t in general circulation, I’m not going to shout it all over IPL. Or anywhere else for that matter.
“You’re not a bad person. What’ve you done that’s so terrible you can’t tell anyone? If it’s just your pride, drop it. It’s not worth getting screwed up over it.”
“I don’t want people to know,” she said fearfully. He had a sense of her withdrawing into herself, like a teenager or little girl following an unpleasant experience they couldn’t cope with.
He leaned a little closer. “One thing I’m certain of, if it’s something…bad, you wouldn’t have done it on purpose. Not unless you thought you had a good reason. I know you, Caroline.“
She managed a smile, and seemed to brighten up a little, her spirits lifted by his words.
“If not me, tell a priest or someone.”
She breathed in deeply, her face tightening as she braced herself to say it. “The fact is…the fact is I killed somebody.”
He felt a brief shock, followed by a slight chilling. “Get away from me, you murderer,” he said jokily, drawing back; thinking it would help put her at ease if he made light of it.
“That is not funny.”
He cursed himself for a fool, regretting the words. “Sorry.”
“You’re welcome.”
“All right, so you killed somebody. Was it on purpose? It’s best to be frank about it.”
“Well, no it wasn’t on purpose, not really. At least it was, but…”
“You ought to be able to tell, surely.”
She turned and looked him full in the face with those rather unnerving blue eyes. “No. It’s not always like that, Chris. Not all the time. It’s not like that.”
He pondered this. “Alright, I think I know what you mean. You’re saying it happened so quickly it left you confused about just what your motives had been. Well, I guess…I guess that happens. Why did you do it, anyway? Who was he – or she?”
“He was an Arab terrorist called Omar al-Kassabi. You might have heard of him.”
“The one who did the Hartsbury bombing?” In which Caroline’s brother had died. “You mean…” He hardly dared to…it was too astonishing to think about…surely not…
“Yes. I killed him because he killed Douglas. That’s about it.”
“Christ, we all knew someone had shot him, but…Jesus, Caz, you’re incredible, you really are.”
“If you want to avoid me as a homicidal maniac, I can quite understand.”
“I was only – “
“It’s no joke. I’m glad the bastard’s dead, of course, but…the fact is I took a life.”
“But not on purpose.”
“Well, not really. When I worked out it was him, and he was right there in front of me and I had a gun, I couldn’t really help myself.”
“There you are then. A lot of people in that position would have done it deliberately. Let alone from having lost their cool.” “But if he…if there is a Hell, then most probably he’s gone there – and I was responsible.” She was having one of her periodic guilt excursions about religion. “How can you live with something like that on your conscience?”
“I don’t think most people would feel any regret on that score either,” he said grimly. “Look, it’s done. There’s no point wallowing in misery.”
“It’s so easy to say that.” Then he saw a smile creep slowly over her face.
Caroline was thinking that she didn’t know the state of mind of a soul in Hell, and didn’t want to, but if people there were not so maddened by pain and anguish as to be unable to think clearly, and they could see what was going on in the earthly world, Kassabi would find the thought of her screwing herself up over the business amusing and feel that it served her right for killing him. That clinched it as far as she was concerned.
“You see, I told you it was better to put it behind you,” he smiled. “Blimey, so you were the one behind all that? Perhaps you’d care to tell me the secret. Just how do you do it?”
“Just a little…dedication,” she replied, singing it like the theme tune from that programme with the late Roy Castle. “That’s all you need.”
“No, I’m not ashamed of what I did,” she declared robustly. “All the same, I’d be grateful if you kept it to yourself.” She wondered what the reaction would be at IPL if they learned what she’d done. Though maybe it would scare Hennig into awarding her a pay rise.
“I’ve said you can be sure of that.”
“So are you satisfied I’m not a dangerous psychopath?”
“More or less. All the same, I think I’ll be careful not to get on the wrong side of you from now on.”
“Very wise. But then you know me well enough by now not to do that.” He gave her a thumbs-up.
It was true. And it also occurred to Chris that you shouldn’t be alienated from someone you knew because they’d done something that had shocked you. It had to be accepted that everyone kept secrets, for their own, often understandable reasons, and had a right to. To be shocked meant you either didn’t know the person as well as you liked to claim, or you weren’t making sufficient allowances. The former could sometimes indicate a lack of true friendship; the latter definitely did.
He remembered what he’d been meaning to ask before. “Are you going to tell your folks about being with the spooks? They don’t know, do they?”
“No, and it’s better if things stay that way.” Her father would be sensible enough to keep the secret, but she had nightmare visions of her mother gossiping it all over the place. The thought made her shudder.
The journey to Berlin, and the subsequent stopover there, took up most of the day. For a few hours they toured the city shopping and sightseeing; this time Caroline kept her disguise on. They had an evening meal at a restaurant, then returned to the station to catch the night train to Moscow.
Among those also boarding the train were six people who seemed to be together; five ordinary-looking, youngish men in casual clothes, and a woman in her thirties with glasses and blonde hair, which an observer might have noticed was cut quite short, like the rest of her.

After finishing his phone call to Scarlione, to whom he had been reporting on the state of things, the Ukrainian went through the connecting door between his little office and the warehouse beyond. Two crates were positioned against one wall; he removed the lids to inspect the contents. In the first crate were the kilotrons, the dumbell-shaped “nuclear triggers” which would arm the missiles; in the second, coils of wiring and other assorted equipment; and in the third a sphere consisting of several layers of thick metal shielding and with a metal frame constructed about it. It was only partially assembled, lacking the uranium core which his contacts would shortly supply him with. The device would in the first instance be detonated by conventional explosive, which would initiate the nuclear reaction.
Having completed his inspection, he passed through a further door into the hangar where, lying side by side on a wheeled pallet, were six bullet-nosed white cylinders about thirty feet long; Scud intercontinental ballistic missiles, each with a 200-kiloton warhead and designed to be launched from some suitable land vehicle. They were short-range, all that was needed in this case. Not capable of reaching London or New York, only neither happened to be their target. Nor would Jerusalem or Tel Aviv be, if the Israelis were sensible. He was convinced they would be, once they realised things had changed, and changed forever.
As far as the hardware was concerned, all he needed now was the uranium, which should arrive within a couple of days. In the meantime he would set about ensuring the co-operation of the customs officials who between them would each be required to inspect and approve the shipment; some of them he knew, while with others it might be a case of doing a little research. In fact he had already started on this, with the help of his own associates and members of the Syndicate, and one or two promising subjects had been located. He would need to make a choice. Once he found the right man, it would simply be a case of thrusting wads of banknotes in their faces and explaining what was required of them. Everything was a matter of money these days.

Caroline and her companions – Rachel, Chris, Bob and the other two MI6 agents, Travis and Maynard - were in the dining car of the Berlin-Moscow express enjoying, if that was the right word, the food and the wine. They spoke little. From time to time their gaze would travel round the saloon and the other people sitting there, as would their fellow passengers’; occasionally eye contact would be made, and a friendly smile flash briefly on each person’s face before the gaze moved on. It happened between Chris and the short woman sitting with four male companions a few tables away. He assumed that like most people on the train, they were tourists who had managed to get special permission for their journey.
It wasn’t a warm smile on the short woman’s part. But then such expressions were in any case primarily a social nicety designed to avoid unease or embarrassment. Each of the groups sitting at table around the room probably did not know the members of the others, and probably never would. Yet all of them were part of a much larger entity, called society, which considered itself bound by certain rules and obligations, if only for convenience’s sake.
Time passed. They felt the gentle swaying of the train, listened to the clinking of glasses and low collective murmur of the people in the bar.
After a while Caroline yawned. “I think I’ll turn in,” she said, and rose. The others followed suit, and they all headed for the door.
The short woman saw them leaving and got up. She followed them through the door and down the corridor. As together they blocked most of the width of the passage no-one would have wondered why she was walking slowly, always keeping a certain distance behind them.
Several coaches down the train the group stopped moving, each person halting by the door of one of the cabins and fumbling in their pocket for the key.
Caroline Kent was hidden from the short woman’s view by one of the agents, and the short woman was afraid she might not see which cabin the girl went in. She muttered an apology and gathered speed, brushing past the group. As she did so she glanced briefly to her right.
All they had to do now was wait until everyone apart from themselves had gone to sleep, and then she would make her move. She made her way back along the corridor, to rejoin her colleagues in the bar.
Caroline was lying on her bed propped up by her elbows, chin in hands. This retreat in Siberia could be made the base for an operation against the Syndicate, she thought. But if any communications between it and the outside world were intercepted by them their attention would be drawn to it, which was just what nobody wanted.
She tried to imagine what it would be like to live there, so that the experience would be more bearable. It didn’t do much good. I’d die, she thought miserably. She was the kind of person who liked to get out a lot. Were occasional trips to one of the big cities permissible? Probably not. In any case she’d always thought of the Russians as not being big on fun, though rumour had it they were getting better.
Again she wondered what was happening to her parents. And Jack. Oh, how was all this going to end? Assuming it ever did?
Someone knocked on the door of the cabin, and she heard them whisper through it urgently. She scrambled over. “Who’s that?”
“It’s me,” said Rachel. Caroline let her in.
“Anything wrong?” she asked. Rachel took a seat. “It may be nothing, but it’s been nagging at me for a while now. When we were in the bar there was that short woman with the peroxide hair sitting a couple of tables away.”
“A short woman. Like the one you said tried to garrotte you at your house. The one who works for Salvatore Scarlione.” Earlier, Rachel had said she knew who the woman was, through one of her CIA contacts. She had been born Maria Feretti in Naples forty years before, although during her criminal career she had used a variety of false names and was currently believed to be calling herself Leoni Schriver.
Caroline went pale. “You don’t think that was her? Oh crumbs.”
“It might not have been. But a short woman with a peroxide.” It was a secret agent’s job to be observant, and so notice such things. You never knew what might turn out to be significant. “The dye might have been because she was trying to disguise herself. If so her cheeks are probably padded and she’s wearing contact lenses as well as glasses, to prevent her being recognised by her eyes. It also seemed she didn’t talk much, perhaps because her New York accent would give her away. I thought we should all be on our guard, just in case.”
“I’ll be careful. Want a drink?” Caroline crossed to the minibar in the corner. She poured them both a glass of Aste Spumante.
Rachel sat on the edge of the bed and she on the chair. “It’s a sad case,” Rachel said, speaking of Maria Feretti. “Her father abused her, in every sense, when she was a child, right the way through to her mid-teens. That’s probably why she’s turned into someone with no regard for human life.”
“Why didn’t she run away? It’s what I would have done.”
“He was still her Dad, I suppose. Conflicting emotions. There’s a strange attraction between some women and the men who mistreat them, whether it’s a father, husband, boyfriend…”
“So she insists on remaining in a situation which is going to poison her against the world,” said Caroline slowly, “because she can’t be bothered to make her mind up. Because she hasn’t got the will to break free. People like her aren’t tough, they’re weak. And they do such damage.”
“Anyway, poppa got into a fight in a bar one night and was fatally stabbed. Maria was left to bring up herself and her younger sister in the back streets of Naples, begging, stealing, and for all I know selling her body. It wasn’t long before she got recruited by organised crime. Since then she’s worked for one Mafia outfit after another, starting with the Camorra, which is the Neapolitan branch of the organisation – not that it was an organisation, in the sense of a single entity, at that time. Now all the Mafia groups have been absorbed into the Syndicate and Salvatore Scarlione is her employer. Though I suspect she’d probably been working for him before.
“She’s a professional killer, and she uses whatever weapon she thinks is best in the circumstances. She’ll shoot you, knife you…or garotte you, usually with a wire, or a rope, looped around the neck. If you do it the right way….” Rachel shuddered. “All over in a second. The neck broken, just like that. You wouldn’t know what had happened to you. She’d creep up on you unseen and….she probably bumped off a lot of her clients, until the Camorra told her it was bad for business.”
“I’m certain that’s what she meant to do to me.” Rachel’s story didn’t do much for Caroline’s peace of mind. “Now whenever I see a short woman…to be honest I did wonder before about the one in the bar. But I thought I was just being jumpy.”
“You may not have been,” said Rachel. “So look out for yourself. Use the bleeper if you need to. Try to keep awake if you can. We’re on hand if things do get nasty, you know that.”
Hopefully that should be sufficient. The best way of making sure Caroline was adequately protected would be for them all to stand guard in the corridor until the train arrived in Moscow. But that risked attracting unwelcome attention, apart from the difficulties of staying awake.
“Goodnight,” smiled Rachel, finishing her drink. She left Caroline to her own devices.
Caroline sat listening to the comfortingly monotonous rumbling of the train. Night had fallen, and through the window she could see the twinkling lights that now studded the great dark plain that was East Germany and Poland. They had in fact crossed the border into the latter some time before; all passports and other documents had been found to be in order, which she hoped meant they wouldn’t have any trouble when they got to Moscow.
She got up and closed the curtain. She decided to try and stay up as long as possible, as Rachel had advised, and leave the light on. She took a few tablets; as a supplement, taken in the right amount, they didn’t do much harm and probably a lot of good. Then she sat at the dressing table, on which lay her gun, opened a paperback book and started to read. The book was Bridget Jones’ Diary.
She found she could identify with the heroine. God, I hope I don’t end up like that, she thought, thinking back to the conversation she’d had with her parents about marriage and lifestyle choices.
She could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall with perfect clarity, despite the noise of the train. Glancing at it, she saw it was nearly midnight.
Outside in the corridor Maria Feretti and her colleagues stood waiting, between them covering Caroline’s door and the two on either side of it, which they guessed were occupied by her friends. Through the keyhole Feretti could see that Caroline’s light was on. They were waiting for it to go out.
A passenger, a hippyish-looking young man in T-shirt and jeans, came along, saw their guns and stiffened in alarm. “Interpol,” said Feretti, showing her fake ID. “Go to your room and stay there.” She said the same to anyone else who chanced to come along.
In the room on the right of Caroline’s, Rachel too was still awake, and struggling to stay so despite the tablets. The bleeper would probably wake her, but that assumed Caroline herself hadn’t fallen asleep. To succumb to tiredness might be fatal.
Meanwhile Feretti glanced again at her watch.
They could go in and do the job now. But if their target was a spook she might well have a gun with her. Best to wait until she was asleep.
An hour went by. A man in a business suit came along the passage, stumbling a little from the movement of the train, and Feretti thrust the ID card at him. He shrugged and continued on his way. A little later they heard a cabin door slam in the next coach. Thank goodness for that.
Why didn’t the bitch go to sleep? She might just have left the lights on, of course, to deter an intruder. Feretti listened for some sound of movement from within the room and thought she heard a soft scuffling – someone turning the pages of a paperback? – but couldn’t be sure.
Another business type staggered into view, lurching from more than just the train. They guessed he’d been one of the last people to leave the bar, and by the look of him had had too much to drink there. He didn’t notice the guns. But he noticed them, and grinning inanely began slapping Parkes heartily on the chest, talking in slurred, barely coherent German. It seemed he wanted a cigarette, or maybe some money for a drink, even though the bar would now be closed. Angrily Parkes thrust him away but he returned to the attack, sounding hurt and indignant. Parkes was his friend and he could not believe the man could have done such a thing to him.
Feretti glanced at the others, met their eyes and nodded. She moved down the corridor, her colleagues following, until she came to an outside door, and standing with her body well clear of it reached out and pulled the handle. It swung open and cold night air rushed into the coach.
As they had expected the drunk had followed them. Snyder and Krupke took hold of him between them, turned him to face the open door, and bundled him forward. He protested only feebly, not really aware what was happening. He made no sound as they thrust him out into the night. The door banged in the wind for a moment before being blown to. Feretti made sure it was properly shut and they took up their positions again.
In her cabin Rachel could feel the tiredness pressing down on her like a heavy weight, closing her eyes and dulling her mind. It was
no good.
It occurred to Feretti that if Caroline did go to sleep, it would be with the gun beside her. Of course, she might not wake up. Not in this world, anyway.
Another hour passed.
They began to fidget anxiously, impatiently. So far three attempts to kill Caroline Kent had failed. Scarlione wouldn’t tolerate a fourth failure. It meant they had nothing to lose.
If they stayed up waiting for their opportunity much longer, they’d fall asleep and maybe lose it, Caroline and her buddies stepping over their slumbering bodies to safety, or be too tired to do the job.
No, any risks would just have to be taken. Of course they’d still rather not get killed if it could be avoided.
In her room Caroline finally put away her paperback, yawned, and went to her suitcase to unpack her nightclothes. She’d put up a valiant fight but there was nothing more she could do. Oblivion beckoned most enticingly.
As she knelt to undo the catch of the suitcase she heard a faint scraping, followed by a “chink” sound, and traced it to its source.
The lock. Someone was trying to pick the lock.
She crossed to the wall and pushed the passenger alarm button, keen to muck things up as much as possible for the opposition. Nothing happened.
They’d cut the wiring.
She took the bleeper Rachel had given her from her pocket and pressed the button.
Next door, Rachel was startled awake by the strident alarm signal. Her brain still befuddled, she sat up blinking rapidly, struggling to focus. Deller and the other agents likewise, in their respective rooms.
Chris Barrett, who hadn’t been quite asleep anyway, wondered for a moment what he should do. His urge was to go to Caroline’s assistance but commonsense told him to leave it to the professionals. He just hoped they’d get it right.

Caroline took her gun from underneath her pillow and stepped to one side of the door, waiting. There was a final click and the door sprang open, concealing her from the view of someone entering the room. She heard soft footsteps on the carpet; it sounded like just one person, of short stature and probably a woman. Maria Feretti.
“Don’t move!” Caroline shouted, stepping sideways into the centre of the room, her gun swinging up to cover the intruder. Feretti, who had been looking straight ahead, froze. Outside in the corridor Snyder, watching Rachel’s door, and Parkes, waiting outside Caroline’s as backup to Feretti, froze too. Both had been close enough to hear the command and tell it wasn’t Feretti who had issued it.
Caroline was young and could think fast; though she only had a split second to do so she notice that the gun in Feretti’s hand wasn’t pointed quite squarely at her. She had moved quickly enough to surprise the woman. For an awful moment she wondered if she should shoot now before Feretti did. Then the small woman’s hand moved so that the gun was pointing at the floor. But she didn’t let go of it.
“Let’s get it over with, Miss Kent,” said Feretti. “Scarlione will kill me if I don’t get this right, so I’ve nothing to lose. There are men outside in the corridor with guns, four men; you can’t deal with all of them, and you can’t stay in here forever. You haven’t a hope.”
“Drop the gun and kick it towards me.”
Feretti obeyed. “If you like. As I said, you haven’t a hope.”

Bob Deller flung open the door and hurled himself into the corridor in a low dive, colliding with Visconti who had been standing outside and knocking him over. Bob scrambled to his knees, saw in an instant – as he had been trained to do – that the man had a gun, and wasn’t one of his friends, and fired point blank at his chest as he struggled to his feet. As he did so agent Travis came out of his room in the same manner, knocking down Krupke who was about to fire at Bob. Rolling over onto his back, Travis fired up at Krupke as he rose, hurling the man back against the panelling on the wall.
Then Caccia shot Travis. Snyder and Parkes turned from their posts to join the fight.
Keeping her eyes on Feretti Caroline picked up the gun and tossed it behind her, into a corner.
“All this is stupid,” Feretti said. “Like I told you, we only want to carve you up a little, and do one or two other things which I’m afraid you won’t like, but it’s better than being d– “
“Then why were you about to garrotte me when we last met?”
“To knock you out. It doesn’t have to be fatal, you can just choke someone so they pass out. You see, Caroline, it’s an art – “
Then they heard the sounds from the corridor. Just for a second Caroline was distracted, glancing in the direction they had come from, and Feretti hurled herself forward. She seized Caroline by the wrists and tried to spread her arms wide so that she, Feretti, wouldn’t be hit if the gun went off accidentally, or on purpose for that matter. She shouted to her accomplice outside, but he was otherwise engaged.
Rachel Savident burst from her room, gun in hand, saw Snyder as he turned to face her and shot him down. She glanced down the corridor and saw Bob Deller, springing to his feet, aim at Parkes. She threw herself down, aware the bullet might pass through its target and into her.
In Caroline’s room the two women stumbled about knocking into things, Caroline trying to break free of Feretti’s grip, the short woman seeking to throw her down – and she might well succeed, such was her astonishing strength. Again Caroline found herself looking down at her smaller attacker, because you never took your eyes off your adversary’s. And again she found it hard to do that and keep her balance at the same time. She lurched, lost her footing and fell, her weight dragging Feretti down with her, the impact as they hit the floor breaking her grip on the American woman. Her gun skidded a short distance across the floor.
As she scrambled over to it Feretti, righting herself, whipped the length of cord from her pocket and ran to stand behind her as she straightened up with the gun in her hand. Rachel burst in just as Feretti looped the cord high in the air above Caroline’s head and brought it down.
Rachel’s pistol fired, and Feretti staggered, shot clean through the side. The cord slipped from her fingers and Caroline turned to see her crumple to the floor, blood jetting from the wound to splash on the carpet at Rachel’s feet.
God, thought Rachel with a shiver. An instant later and…
Caroline looked down at Feretti dispassionately. “Evil bitch.”
The woman was still alive, her mouth working like a stranded fish’s and thick gurgling sounds coming from her throat. The bullet must have done quite a bit of damage, probably gone though vital organs. Her eyes gazed up at them in mute appeal, at least that was how it seemed.
“Die, bitch,” said Caroline.
Rachel knelt down and pressed the muzzle of her pistol to Feretti’s head. “Probably the best way out.”
Caroline looked away. Rachel closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. Feretti twitched once and died, a little fountain of blood spurting from her forehead. Rachel stayed kneeling beside her for a moment or two, silent. It wasn’t something she particularly liked to do, killing another woman.
She stepped into the corridor, Caroline following, and they surveyed the scene. Bob had shot Parkes, who had been distracted when Maynard, waking a little later than everyone else, appeared on the scene. Five Mafiosi and one MI6 man dead, and a lot of blood everywhere. Rachel went to Travis’s body, bent and closed his eyes.
“Good job you were using silencers,” said Caroline. “I don’t think anyone heard anything. Either they were all peacefully tucked up in bed or they just thought someone was getting a bit rowdy. What are we going to do about all this mess, though?”
“And how did they find us?” Rachel said. The same worrying thought was in both women’s minds. The most likely explanation was that someone at MI6 had tipped the Syndicate off.
Chris Barrett’s door opened a fraction. “Can I come out now?”
“If you like,” said Rachel. “But I should warn you, it’s not a pretty sight.”
Chris stepped out into the corridor and took in the heap of bodies. “Seen worse in South America,” he commented. “Heads, arms and legs flying everywhere…”
Caroline winced. “Chris, please.”
“You saw it too.”
“Yes, and I don’t want to be reminded of it.”
She indicated Travis’s body. “What are we going to do with him?” she whispered.
“Hide him somewhere. By the time he’s found we should be in Moscow. The Russians will take care of it somehow.” Rachel surveyed the blood which had spattered onto the floor and the panelling on the walls. They’d have to find some flannels and cleaning fluid and get rid of it. Hopefully they could get on with the job undisturbed.
First, Bob opened one of the outside doors and they heaved the bodies of the dead Mafiosi through it, hurling them out into the night. Feretti’s was the last to go. Looking down at her as she disappeared from sight, Caroline reflected that death had been far too good for her. Although prison was so cushy these days it was probably less of a punishment. Besides, if it was anything to go by, the expression on the woman’s face didn’t look like that of someone at peace.


Entering the study, Vito stopped dead, his jaw dropping. His father was wearing the costume of a Chicago mobster of the 1920s or 30s; pin-stripe suit and trousers, spats and a red carnation in his buttonhole.
Don’t you think you’re making it a bit obvious, he thought. “Uh – you’re not gonna go about like that in public, are you Dad?”
Scarlione frowned, as if he himself wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Otherwise he ignored Vito’s question. “No word from them?” he asked.
Vito shook his head. “I tried calling Maria’s mobile, but there’s no answer.”
“Something’s gone wrong,” Scarlione scowled. “That train must have reached Moscow by now. She’s got away again. Hah, she's wriggling around like a gotta hand it to her."
“Do you really think she’s a spook?” Vito asked.
“No, she’s not a spook. Leastways, she may have been one once. She’s in with them somehow, anyway. But I can’t figure out the way she lipped me; that wasn’t smart, and spooks have to be smart. I don’t know what she is exactly. But she showed me up in public and now she’s working with them against me. She’s got to pay for it, period.”
“If there was a shoot-out or something, maybe Kent got killed as well,” suggested Vito in an attempt to please him. “We’ll find out what happened eventually.”
“You told our people in Moscow to look out for her and her buddies?”
“Yep. I made sure they knew to take them alive if possible. But what happens if she slips through our fingers again?”
“It’s not just her I’m worried about now. But I’ll get her one way or another, you understand Vito?” He banged his fist on the desk, suddenly overcome by rage. “I’ll get her and when I do I’ll have her begging for mercy, doing whatever I want her to, before I kill her. I’ll…”

At about noon the train pulled into Belorussia station in Moscow, and Caroline and her friends alighted. As they came through the ticket barrier into the station’s main foyer, and were met by two Russian secret service men, one of the dozens of people there retired into a quiet corner, got out his mobile and made a call. Those who happened to notice him doing so supposed he wanted to discuss some private matter with someone and was making sure he couldn’t be overheard. They would have been quite correct, although the nature of the business, had they known it, might have caused them some alarm. “No, they’re not making for the Metro,” he reported. Each of Moscow’s nine mainline stations had an accompanying underground station and if the group had taken the Metro it would have been a lot harder for the man’s friends to make their move; they didn’t know what station Caroline and friends were planning to get off at, and to attempt the hit on the train would have been messier – if only relatively - than their preferred method. “They probably think they’re safer in a car. Anyway, it looks like we’ll be able to do it.”
The Russians had greeted the British party without smiling, confining themselves to brief nods of acknowledgement. This lack of overt warmth had always annoyed Caroline, although she understood Russians, like Germans, were a good deal friendlier when they relaxed. They followed the FSB men out onto the station forecourt. The day was sunny, but the sunlight had a cold quality about it which spoke of autumn. Their hosts steered them towards a car which had just parked on the forecourt with two men inside. Presumably it was to take them to the safe house where they would rest for a few hours before driving to the airfield where a plane stood waiting to fly them to the retreat in Siberia.
They were about halfway to the car when one of the other vehicles on the forecourt, parked about fifty yards from where they stood, exploded in a ball of fire, the force of the blast knocking them off their feet. For a few moments they were sprawled helplessly on the ground, briefly deafened. Around them others were doing the same, or lurching about dazedly in their shock and disorientation, some covered in blood. The four or five people who had been nearest to the car when the bomb went off were killed outright, dismembered by the force of the blast.
Initially no-one realised what had actually happened. Before anybody could recover their wits enough to call the police, four men jumped out of a car which had been waiting on the corner where the forecourt opened into the street and ran towards Caroline’s party. One of them yanked Caroline to her feet and bundled her towards the car, while another saw to Rachel.
Bob Deller was the first to regain full consciousness. He sprang to his feet, looked around wildly and saw Rachel struggling in her captor’s grip. Seeing she was about to break free, another hood went to help subdue her. Deller rushed forward, cannoning into the two of them, and pulled Rachel from the Russian’s grasp, with enough force that when he let go of her she was sent staggering. He whipped out his gun and shot one of the Russians point-blank in the chest as they turned to deal with him. Before he could take care of the other, the Russian had his pistol out and his finger was tightening on the trigger.
Not realising in the heat of the moment who he was, Rachel saw Bob fall, a thin stream of blood jetting from his chest. Then the two secret service men were on the scene, one of them shooting the third hood down before he could turn his attention to her.
Maynard scrambled upright only to be immediately shot dead by the fourth Russian. Raising his head, Chris Barrett saw him die and immediately slumped down again, lying as still as possible. The Russian turned towards Chris and hesitated, wondering whether it wasn’t better to be safe than sorry.
To her horror Rachel could see no sign of Caroline. Then she noticed the car racing away from the scene of the bombing, already vanishing from view as it turned into the main street, and it clicked. She shot at the tyres but missed, and then the vehicle was gone.
The FSB men saw the fourth mobster raise his gun to shoot Chris, who was apparently still unconscious, and both fired instantly. Their bullet took the man squarely in the back and he crumpled without a sound.
In the kidnap car, Caroline was struggling furiously between two of her captors, trying to break free so she could clamber over them and reach the door handle. She knew they would put a gun to her head and threaten to shoot her unless she behaved. Her one chance was to play the wild card, let them think she was so hysterical with fear she hadn’t heard them. Hopefully they’d then think there was no point in killing her.
A sharp blow across the back of her head from a gun butt settled the issue.
Sick with dismay, Rachel stared helplessly after the car until she remembered the others and went to see to them. By now sirens could be heard in the distance, signifying rescue services and police. Apart from the injured still lying where they had fallen, most other people seemed to have hidden when the gunfire had started, behind cars or in one or other of the shops along the station frontage. With a chill she realised the FSB men were the only ones in view still standing.
Bob. What had happened to Bob?
She saw him lying face down in a spreading pool of his own blood and gasped in horror, running to him. She heaved the body over, and saw from the sightless eyes staring up at her he was beyond aid.
She couldn’t have helped herself. “Bob! Oh no! Oh…”
One of the FSB men grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away. “Come on, we’d better be out of here.” Or they might be expected to answer awkward questions from the police, and the wrong people might get to know about their plans.
Still not fully comprehending what had happened, she let herself be bundled towards the secret service car. Meanwhile Chris Barrett felt himself shaken roughly by the shoulder; he wondered if he should still try to play dead, but decided it was probably a rescuer or they’d have just shot him. And he’d have to get up eventually. He rose to find himself confronted by the other FSB man, who jerked an elbow roughly towards the car. “Move. We don’t want to be here when the police come.”
They scrambled in. Taking stock of things, Chris noticed that something, or rather someone, appeared to be missing.
“Caroline,” he asked, almost stupidly; “where’s Caroline?”

“I told you I’d be working late,” said Marcus Hennig crossly. “I told you when you rang before.” But you still don’t believe me, do you. “Company business. What’s that? I see…so the term covers a multitude of sins, does it? What do you mean, anyway? Oh, never mind. No, I can’t tell you what it was about, it’s confidential. I should be able to trust my wife to keep a secret? Well, maybe, but…look, I’m never going to get home at this rate if I’ve got to
spend my time arguing with you on the phone. So I’ll sign off now, that is if I have your permission to do so. Don’t worry about the dinner going cold, I’ll make myself a snack. See you later.”
He put down the phone with a drawn-out sigh. In fact, on this occasion he had been telling his wife the truth, and nothing but the truth. He’d been at a meeting of the Board of Management trying to resolve the thorny problem of the Caucasian and Siberian refineries. So far attempts to deal with the scam through the local and national authorities in Russia had failed; the fatal accidents were continuing, demonstrating the ineffectiveness, or the complicity, of the local police. It was actually unlikely there’d be an international scandal if the Mafia, who were behind the scam, wielded the kind of influence that could hamper any investigation anyway; but to Hennig that wasn’t the point.
It occurred to him that having more or less absolute power ought to mean the Mafia/Mafiya needn’t bother about the scam, they could just take however much money they wanted from anyone whenever they chose. But it could be they were just being lazy, or they were afraid of pushing the legitimate authorities in Russia too far.
Another troubleshooter had been sent to the Siberian refinery but really only for the sake of appearances. They couldn’t do much more than potter around the place looking busy, certainly couldn’t keep hanging about it forever, and as soon as they were gone the trouble would start all over again.
They really ought to close the plants, but weren’t quite sure they could. Would the Mafiya just think up some new scam somewhere else, as they had done in the past, or would they assert their new-found power and say no, we do not have to move house for anyone, if we find it inconvenient. If they took that line there could be trouble, maybe physical danger, for IPL personnel including the management here in London.
Being forced daily to churn out a product which was killing people – leaving out the argument that it did anyway – while having to word the firm’s publicity to emphasise how wonderful and reliable it was, he found degrading and depressing. It crushed his soul. Yet the alternative was for IPL to lose out in one of the most important oil-producing regions of the world.
For him it had all served to highlight the stress of his job, and not for the first time he wondered why exactly he did it. Well the salary, and the high standard of living it bought him, was one reason. But the salary on its own couldn’t be enough to make it bearable. In his view all the perks and the junkets that were a big boss’s privilege, and of which many people including, he knew, Caroline Kent disapproved were essential compensation for the stress. Especially when you had to go home each night it to a nagging wife who always suspected you of telling one of those..well, those “working late at the office” kind of lies.
Sometimes her suspicions were justified, but he still resented her tendency to interfere. Like too many of her sex she completely failed to understand that men would be men.
He found his thoughts turning, as they often did for one reason or another, to Caroline. He had long ago abandoned any thought of trying to get her into bed, having made an attempt at a pass which had merely left him feeling embarrassed as well as, if he were honest enough to admit it, dirty. Nonetheless, he supposed rather guiltily that if she hadn’t been blonde and attractive he wouldn’t be so tolerant of her frequent absences, which usually arose because she couldn’t leave well alone and had got herself involved in something lurid. And all her other faults.
Yet somehow the place wasn’t the same without her. It lacked life, bustle, colour, soul. It wasn’t just that she provided a touch of glamour. She was actually some use, sorting out strikes and other difficulties which would otherwise have halted production or damaged the company’s image and led to a reduction in profits. That only made the situation more frustrating because he always felt he was being expected to take the rough with the smooth, more than with any other employee. Blondes, even clever ones…why did they always throw you into such confusion?
But of course it might be that he’d never see her again, which would solve the problem, though not quite in the way he’d prefer. Permanently on the run fromn the Mafia…
Where his own future was concerned, he would continue to do this job and enjoy all the privileges that went with it until he could retire on his comfortable salary, which he would forsake if he jacked it all in now. We naturally wanted the best for ourselves.
He spent a few more minutes reflecting then went home, to a wife whose blonde hair was dyed, not natural, whose strong friendship with Caroline he’d always resented, and who didn’t understand the pressures he had to work under. But who was somehow a reassuring presence in a world going increasingly mad.

Caroline had known, of course, that Salvatore Scarlione intended to kill her, sooner or later, most probably in a prolonged and messy fashion. But when the blow had fallen on her head she had been thinking mostly about trying to escape, rather than worrying about what would happen if she didn’t, and in any case it had driven all conscious thought, whether about escape or anything else, from her mind. So when she seemed to hear faint voices talking in an incomprehensible language, and seeming to come from a very long way away, which might explain why she couldn’t make out what they were saying, her first reaction was neither to feel joy at still being alive – for obviously she was, if she could hear the voices – nor fear at what might now happen, but simply to register the fact of her continued existence.
Then, gradually, memory started to return, simultaneous with her vision becoming clearer and the guttural voices more distinct, although she still couldn’t place the language unless it was English heard by a brain not yet fully in gear after the shock of the blow to her skull. She gasped in horror, and struggled to rise – she seemed to be lying on her back on a flat surface, blinking up at a patch of bare white ceiling – but her limbs felt stiff and awkward, as if all the feeling in them had gone. She couldn’t budge them an inch and in fact had the disquieting sensation that they weren’t even there any more.
For a moment she wondered if she was in some kind of afterlife where, for all she knew, people didn’t have legs – a thought she found somehow disturbing. Then she discovered that with an effort she could move them, even sit up. Now she fully took in the room in which she found herself, and the four other people, three men and one woman, in it and realised she was still very much restrained by the surly bonds of earth.
Cold fear seized her. In a bid to comfort herself she vowed that whatever unpleasant demise might be planned for her, she wouldn’t go quietly. She would die telling Scarlione precisely what she thought of him.
Catching her breath, she struggled to lift herself off the bed on which they had placed her, swinging her legs to the floor. Slowly, wincing from the pain of the effort, she rose to a standing position.
She felt the eight pairs of eyes on her, then one of the men moved forward to block her path to the door. “I’m afraid you aren’t going anywhere just yet, Miss Kent,” he smiled. He spoke English but with a thick Russian accent.
“Fuck…you,” she gasped. She tried to dodge round him, lost her balance and collapsed.
Easing him aside, the woman took hold of her and with surprising gentleness, combined with considerable strength, picked her up before replacing her on the bed, arranging her limbs so as to make her comfortable. “Just lie there, then everything will be alright. Don’t excite yourself. You’re still too weak, and we can always give you another injection before you have fully recovered. It’s not worth trying to escape, especially when you will be in no danger provided you are prepared to co-operate with us.”
Caroline started at her words. It sounded hopeful. But if these weren’t Scarlione’s people, who were they?
She gazed up at the woman, who was stockily built, rather shapeless, with not much of a figure, and sharp, elfin features which were too harsh to be attractive in even a rough kind of way.
Her red hair, real red hair Caroline thought, was cut very short, emphasising that almost masculine harshness which made her look every bit as tough as the men.
One of her companions was big and muscular, with a thick rather fierce-looking moustache and close-cropped brown-blond hair, another tall rather than large with a thin, pale, cadaverous face. The third man was shortish and squat with a round, football-like head and neatly combed dark hair. All three wore suits and ties, the former slightly rumpled as if they were not concerned to be excessively vain about their appearance.
The room had bare brick walls and was devoid of furniture except for a table and several chairs. No unshaded lightbulb? I’m disappointed.
She glanced down at her wrist and saw the small puncture mark in the skin where the needle had sunk in.
“How do you feel now?” asked the big man.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache. Apart from that I guess I’m alright.”
“Good. You know, a lot of care is needed when coshing a woman; the force of the blow must be quite carefully calculated. It must be such as to knock her out without doing permanent damage. Her skull is smaller, thinner, more fragile than is a man’s.”
“And the brain inside it a good deal better,” she said.
“Not as large. It is an established scientific fact.”
“It’s quality that matters.”
He clapped his hands. “You know, I like you, Miss Kent. Foolish as it was for you to insult a man like Salvatore Scarlione, I can’t but think it would be the greatest crime imaginable to rob the world of such a beautiful and spirited creature as yourself.”
“He’s got no taste, that’s what.”
“Indeed.” The tone of the Russian’s voice changed. “What happened to his people on the train?”
“All dead,” she said.
The Russian relaxed visibly. She studied the group with interest, again wondering exactly what was going on here. Something about the third man made her squint curiously at him. “You were one of the bunch at the refinery. You were going to carve me up.”
The blondish man smiled. “But they didn’t, did they?”
“They as good as said they’d do it unless I…co-operated.” “Regarding your current situation, we believe our motives to be sound. In our calling there is not much room for sentiment. But although it would be extremely distasteful, I assure you, for us to have to do such a thing I imagine it would be even more so for yourself. So if you have your own best interests at heart, you would do well to listen to what we have to say and consider carefully the proposal we are about to make.”
“Fire away then,” she said, crossing her arms comfortably behind her head.
“We are, as you have probably guessed, members of the Russian Mafia. And a part of Salvatore Scarlione’s organisation, his…Syndicate. He engaged us to teach you a little lesson. We were aware that you had insulted him publicly and that he wanted you kidnapped, so that he could kill you in order to avenge the insult. Boris here told me what you said to him.” Here the blondish man, who seemed to be the one in charge, chuckled heartily. Again Caroline had the impression he was by no means mortified at any embarrassment or misfortune which might occur to Salvatore Scarlione.
“You are either very brave or very stupid,” he told her. Caroline was about to say she didn’t know who Scarlione was when she had first given him the benefit of her opinions towards him, but pride got the better of her.
“But now, it seems, matters have taken a very interesting turn. It appears you are connected with the British Secret Intelligence Service. And you have travelled to Moscow in the company of several of their agents, including a Senior Case Officer.”
“So Scarlione knew I was with the Service?” Caroline asked uneasily. Proof there was a Mafia mole in MI6 wasn’t the sort of thing to make her feel comfortable right now.
”La Cosa Nostra, as they call themselves, have spies everywhere. It was an insurance policy taken out in case the national intelligence services should decide to start working against us. It hasn’t proved easy to infiltrate them, and the whole operation has had to be carried out with great care. But in every walk of life there are those who may be bought or compromised.
“Scarlione was concerned when he realised your people might be taking an interest in the Syndicate. Although he probably does not have much to worry about, he would rather any such potential threat was crushed at the outset. Tell me, did you go to your former employers for protection against him?”
“I had no choice.”
“But are they targeting us? Targeting what they would call “organised crime”?”
Why, what else is it, Caroline thought. “I don’t know. They’re against Scarlione, certainly, and everything he’s doing; otherwise I don’t think they’re quite sure whether to spend their time, or part of it anyway, going after people like you. Put it down to post-modernism.”
“Perhaps in the post-modern world rule by those who have until know been called “criminals” is the solution to all the disorder and confusion,” the Russian suggested. “To all the angst. However… I said Scarlione probably did not have to worry about the opposition of the intelligence services. That’s because in addition to his ability to read electronically stored information in whatever form, and intercept telephone communications, wherever in the world his agents might be he has a device – it would have to be something technological, mechanical – by which he can follow a person’s movements, regardless of where they are, and so find out things about them, or locate them so they may be hunted down and kidnapped or killed. There is nowhere for his victims to run, unless they wish to remain virtual prisoners, and then they are only safe if they are well-guarded – and the guards may be compromised, as you have now found out.”
“I know about this wonder gadget of his,” she said. “Everyone knows he’s got one, but not what it is yet.”
“We believe we know where it is kept. Roughly speaking, that is. And in the same place I expect one will find the computers by which he hacks into other computers, since it is possible – as well as safer – to do it from a single, secret location. But we do not know where that location is. And we need to find out, because, Miss Kent, we intend to destroy it.
“These devices are not the only source of Scarlione’s power. That power rests as much on fear, money acquired by fear, and a knowledge of and ability to exploit modern electronic science. But Scarlione has too much of it and that makes him dangerous. It is wrong for so much power to be concentrated in the hands of one man, which it effectively is. It is the advantage the device gives him which above all else makes him seem omnipotent, omnipresent, both to himself and to others. And gives him the ability to bind everyone in the world through terror, so that they will do his will. Destroy it, and his other assets will be of little use to him. His empire will crumble.”
Caroline pondered his words for a moment. It was unlikely he was motivated even partly by a concern for liberty, or for law and order. Yes, she thought, his empire will crumble…while yours grows stronger. And maybe the Mafiya didn’t really want to destroy the device at all. They wanted it for themselves.
She looked at the hard faces before her and decided it would be unwise to voice her doubts.
“Since you are not unintelligent,” went on Ivan Grishkov, “you are probably sceptical as to whether our motives are wholly altruistic. To be honest they are not. Scarlione’s enterprise is a threat to our interests, our plans for expansion. Not every member of the Syndicate is happy to be in it. We agreed to join only because we had for the mnoment no option.
“We are not the only ones who would prefer the national organisations to have some kind of autonomy. But we have the most cause to be disenchanted with the current state of things. Before Scarlione and his device we were on the point of overtaking the US-Italian Mafia as the most powerful organisation of its kind in the world. We had no cause to complain. Now Scarlione says we must dance to his tune or else. And most of our members go along with it because they saw which way the wind was blowing. Every organisation of human beings has its factions, and in ours some are prepared to support Scarlione, accept his leadership, while others are not. The former element must be allowed to go on supporting him, as otherwise we – that is, I and my most loyal associates – would draw attention to our discontent. But we agreed some time ago that we were not happy with the new order and would seek to overturn it as soon as the opportunity came along.
“The trouble is, with the power Scarlione has, the ability to strike wherever the target is, it will be difficult to move against him. We think there are periods during which he is able to do it and periods when he can’t.”
“That’s what we found,” Caroline nodded.
“We don’t know why that is. I did attempt to ask Scarlione once but he merely replied it wasn’t possible to do everything, not at the same time. Of course that is true. But he simply couldn’t have explained it without revealing what the secret of his power was. So…
“Fallible though it seems it is, no-one can ever be sure when the device will be used against them, and render them vulnerable. Fortunately, we have an advantage over Scarlione. It was taking a chance, as he probably has the leaders of all the national groupings under some form of surveillance, but one way or another, over time, by suddenly changing plans so that Scarlione couldn’t monitor us all the time, and managing to make it look convincing, and choosing the right meeting place, we managed to indicate to each other our willingness to resist. I knew I would find plenty of support, such was the anger of many of our people that we should have been cheated of the the prize which seemed to be just within our grasp; and who would be most loyal to me. So Scarlione does not yet know that we are working against him – if he did, he would have taken action against us by now. And he will not use the device against those he does not suspect.”
“So how are you going to find it?” Caroline asked. “You said you already knew where it was, sort of.”
“Yes…sort of.”
“Where, then?”
“We believe it is here in Russia,” Grishkov told her. “Somewhere in this country…Siberia, to be exact.”

Caroline sat up sharply, gaping at the Russian in sheer astonishment. “Siberia?”
“You did not know? Clearly Scarlione thought it might be the reason why you and your friends were making for this part of the world. That must have been what worried him most of all.”
“No, I didn’t know,” she answered, still gobsmacked. “No, we hadn’t the faintest idea. We came here because – “ the full irony of it hit her and she burst out laughing, shaking in fits of helpless mirth. “Siberia! I don’t believe it! Siberia! Oh my God!”
They waited with bemused patience until she finally recovered. Grishkov’s face twitched quizzically. “Would you care to tell us, Miss Kent, why you find it so amusing?”
She was about to do so, then changed her mind. It didn’t seem healthy for them to know about the safe house for those Scarlione had victimised. Especially if they were bent on acquiring his device for themselves, and she was certain that was the case.
“Is this something you would much rather we did not know?” Grishkov’s inflection was polite, but with the merest undertone of menace in it, enough to get across to her that they certainly wanted to know, which she would do well to bear in mind.
She stared back at them.
“If you are not intending to answer my original question,” Grishkov went on in the same courteous vein, “then I regret I must punish you.” Now his voice hardened to cold steel, and the grey eyes with it. “I should imagine a heated metal skewer, inserted in the most intimate and vulnerable part of a woman’s anatomy, would do the job most effectively. Assuming it did not kill you, you would be left with severe, possibly permanent, internal injuries and would be unable ever to bear children; I don’t know if it is your wish to do so at some point. That would be very much a pity, for it would be interesting to see what your children turned out to be like.”
Caroline’s eyes went to the red-haired woman. “And would you just stand by and watch?”
“You are assuming that because I am a woman I would protest at such practices.” The redhead’s voice was completely flat and toneless. “In fact I would be quite prepared to do it myself. Let me tell you I have killed children before. That is surely the most terrible and monstrous crime a woman could commit, but I did it.”
Caroline spat at her.
None of the Russians was particularly moved, in one way or another, by the gesture. “I told you there was no room for sentiment in our profession, Miss Kent,” Grishkov said. “The victims were the sons and daughters of comrades who had chosen to betray us to rival concerns, or to the police. The offenders died along with them. We have found the most effective way of ensuring loyalty among the members of our organisation is to target not only the offender themselves, but their families too. We find it a very effective deterrent against future acts of treachery. Even if they are brave enough to put their own lives at risk, their virtue prevents them from involving others in the consequences of their actions.”
He addressed the red-haired woman. “We’re wasting time. Fetch the equipment.”
“All right, all right,” Caroline shouted. “There’s a sort of safe house in Siberia, where people from lots of different countries, who’ve all been targeted by Scarlione for one reason or another, are being taken by the security services. All the European ones are involved, and your FSB.” She didn’t know whether she should classify Russia as part of Europe these days; even in the past it had been a bone of contention. “The Chinese too. The Americans don’t seem to be interested much.” She told them why that might be the case. Anyway, we thought it would be the best place to put everyone, all in all.”
“I think I get the picture.” Grishkov seemed familiar with Anglo-Saxon expressions, and Caroline wondered if he’d spent some time in Britain or America, perhaps at an English public school where many wealthy Russians sent their kids nowadays. No, he wasn’t quite the right age for that. Perhaps it simply reflected an international outlook.
“Do you know the precise location?” he asked.
“No.” They’d no reason to suppose she wasn’t telling the truth. “For security reasons, no-one’s told until they actually get there.”
“And you yourself were being conveyed to this safe house?”
She nodded. “I was planning to stay there till Scarlione had forgotten about me, or we’d found some way of bringing him down.”
The irony of it still tickled her. Now you thought about it, though, it made sense that Scarlione should locate his amazing gadget in Siberia. He’d need somewhere within the developed northern hemisphere, where most of the action was going on, so that it wouldn’t be too difficult to service and gain access to. But which was also remote enough to keep it from prying eyes.
Grishkov considered the information. “Thankyou for being so co-operative, Miss Kent,” he said at length. “But the matter is not our primary concern just now.” He sat down, prompting his two companions to do the same, rested his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers. “As I said, I have a proposition to make to you. As a businesswoman you will surely want to hear what I have to say, and consider the advantages in it to yourself.”
“I’m not a businesswoman,” she said. “I’m an executive and an administrator. That’s something entirely different. But do go on.”
“We concluded Scarlione’s installation was in Siberia from little fragments of gossip we had picked up, comments we’d overheard, our knowledge of the movements of Scarlione’s agents within this part of the world. The location makes sense, looked at from the point of view of security.
“Salvatore Scarlione is very keen to get his hands on you. Apart from the question of revenge, he wants to find out how much you and others in MI6 know about his operations. We intend to deliver you to his people in Russia, meaning those who run his Siberian base – whether they are Russians themselves I don’t know, I have an idea some are not - as if we had carried out his instructions to kidnap you. We will arrange for you to be “caught” as near to the installation as possible – as near as we have been able to estimate its location. Obviously you were trying to find it, having decided to take the fight to the enemy, only we spotted you and followed you. You will most likely be taken to the installation, since it is not thought you will ever leave it alive and there will therefore seem to be no security risk. We will then be able to locate it using the homing device you will have hidden on you.”
Caroline stared at him. “No,” she said, shrinking back. “I won’t do it. He’ll kill me.”
“Not straight away. I know Scarlione, he’ll want the pleasure of doing it personally. And although he could try to have you shipped to the States, it’s easier for his friends at the installation to keep hold of you until he can get over there. There’s less opportunity for you to be discovered and rescued. So we will have time to locate the place, find out what Scarlione is doing there and also organise some kind of help for you.”
“What if something goes wrong?”
Grishkov leaned forward, his face expressionless. “It’s like this, my pretty one. If we go ahead with the plan, maybe it’ll work, and you will live. If you don’t go ahead with it, you’ll die; I have already explained how.”
It didn’t take long for Caroline to make her mind up. “Don’t have any choice, do I,” she said sulkily.
“Indeed you don’t.”
“Once you’ve found the place, how are you going to get in there to – “ She nearly said steal. “To destroy the device?”
“Well, if this plan is to succeed it will need the co-operation of your friends in MI6. For one, they have the necessary equipment; we do not. That is to say, we have plenty of experience in breaking and entering, that sort of thing, but they are the real masters. They’ve spent a lot of time bugging political activists who they think are a danger to national security.”
“That’s MI5.”
“The principle is much the same.”
“I’m sure there must be a better way,” she said crossly. “Why don’t you force one of the people in your outfit who know to tell you where the device is? That’d be much simpler, surely.”
“We’re not stupid, Miss Kent. I don’t think anyone in my outfit does know. If Scarlione trusted us at all with the knowledge he would surely have told me, its head, yet he did not. I think the location is known only to a small number of people within the American Mafia, plus others who I suspect have no allegiance to any of the traditional national organisations.”
“And you’re sure Scarlione doesn’t know what you’re up to?”
“I picked to take part in the kidnap only those who I knew shared my aim of toppling him from his pedestal.”
“You let off that bomb as a diversion, didn’t you? Did it kill anyone?”
Grishkov shrugged. “I didn’t stay to see.”
A thought struck her. “Does Scarlione know what happened at the station – that you’ve already got me? If he was watching with his whatever-it-is…I mean, if he does know it’ll look a bit odd when I turn up hundreds of miles away in Siberia, won’t it?”
“You were in disguise. The wonder device would have seen a brown-eyed woman with dark hair and plump features, not a golden angel with blue eyes who would stand a chance of winning Miss World – you ought to go in for that incidentally, without your disguise of course.” By the look of her the thought pleased Caroline.
She suddenly realised that Maria Feretti had recognised her on the train regardless of the disguise. She was puzzled for a moment, then the penny dropped. They hadn’t recognised her, they had recognised Rachel.
The mole at MI6. “But Scarlione’s people on the train; they must have known it was me.”
“They thought it was you because you were with Rachel Savident and that inclined them to detect similarities between your face and that of the undisguised Caroline Kent. They could have been mistaken. How could they be entirely sure? And they are not alive to contradict anyone who says you aren’t her. What exactly did happen on the train, may I ask?”
Caroline told the full story. “Then it seems we’re safe. The woman Feretti couldn’t be quite certain it was you until she entered your cabin and you challenged her. Afterwards she did not have the opportunity to communicate her knowledge to anyone. But could they not have bugged your cabins?”
“We didn’t find any listening devices on them.”
Grishkov smiled, a glint in his eye. “I would much prefer to assume there are no complications and we can continue with the plan, wouldn’t you? It makes life much more interesting.”
“You’re not afraid of the risks?”
“Only up to a point. Life is full of risks. It’s a harsh and bitter struggle for survival, whether one lives under the Tsars, the Communists or parliamentary democracy.”
“I sometimes think you Russians have a very cheap attitude to things.”
Grishkov didn’t reply to this assertion because at that moment his mobile phone rang. Caroline could just make out the conversation that followed.
“Has she sung yet?” demanded Salvatore Scarlione. He knew they’d got Caroline; he had been watching, of course.
Grishkov kept his cool. He’d obviously prepared his response to an eventuality such as this. “It’s not her. That black hair was real.”
“Maria seemed quite sure about it.”
“Well she got it wrong. It wasn’t her, I tell you.”
“Who was the girl, then?”
“One of their agents. Partly there to act as a decoy to lead us away from Kent. We killed her.”
“What did she say before she died?”
“There’s a kind of safe house in Siberia, for people who the Syndicate has targeted. Her and Savident were on their way to interview one of the people there. The security services have decided to go for us and they wanted to know if this person had any information that could come in useful.”
Hearing this, Caroline started. She knew the Russian had to have a cover story that made sense. But it wasn’t something she wanted Scarlione to know. Her hosts didn’t care, of course, as long it was they who would be calling the shots in the future.
“Did she know where this - safe house was?” Scarlione asked Grishkov.
“No, she didn’t, not exactly. Savident had all the details.”
“And she got away.” Scarlione’s voice was cold with suppressed fury.
“We managed to followed them to a place on the edge of Moscow. Another safe house. Looks like they’re in with our spooks. I guess the place’ll be well-guarded, but if you think we ought to raid it…” So as to avoid Scarlione getting suspicious, Grishkov had to show willing.
“I wanna know where that main safe house is,” Scarlione snapped. He wasn’t happy about it being so close to his own secret base. Besides, she would be there.
“In a raid our people might get killed. There’s a better way. Let’s pretend we’ve still got the other woman prisoner, and try and make a deal for her release. An exchange, maybe. At the very least Savident tells us where the safe house is, with us making clear at the beginning that if the information turns out to be false her friend will be kissing this mortal coil goodbye.”
“Sounds a good idea. I want to know how they’re planning to bring us down. And Savident’s friend didn’t give you any more clues?”
“They’re trying to find out how it is we can locate people so quickly. Other than that, they haven’t any idea what to do. This is something new to them, after all.” True enough, Caroline thought. “Up until now they were preoccupied in dealing with our spies, or with terrorists – Irish or Middle Eastern ones.”
Scarlione gave the matter a moment or two’s thought. “I don’t think they’ll be much of a threat. They won’t find out how we’re doing it and they won’t be able to smash our little set-up any other way. But we need to talk to Savident about that safe house. And about what Kent’s up to right now.”
“The decoy was just so she could get to the safe house, ah, safely.” Grishkov laughed at the joke, such as it was.
“Very good, Ivan. Right, I’ll fix it for you to…get in touch with them. You’ll call me when it’s done?”
“We will. Das vdanya.”
“Das vdanya, Ivan.”
Grishov put down the phone. “Are you going to do it?” Caroline asked. “Rachel’s not going to walk straight into a trap. She’s got more common sense than that.”
“She will not be walking into a trap. We are not particularly interested in the safe house.” Not at the moment, anyway, Grishkov thought. If the safe house was a threat to Scarlione because it was too close to where his installation was, it was a threat to him too, for the same reason. “Or aim is to find out where the device, and Scarlione’s master computer, are and neutralise them, as well as destroy any plans that may exist, which would seem to be a wise precaution. As I have said, for that we will need your friends’ assistance. But we’ll have to do it fairly quickly, or Scarlione will wonder why there has been no progress in carrying out his orders.”
It occurred to Caroline that if the Russians did manage to steal the device they’d have to find somewhere safe and remote to keep it, in order to prevent Scarlione grabbing it back, or a third party getting hold of it. She guessed Grishkov would attend to the matter in due course. It also occurred to her that once she and her friends had outlived their usefulness to his organisation, they might be for the high jump. Another misgiving that was better not voiced. Not yet anyway.
By now the drug had entirely worn off. She got to her feet, to stand regarding them uncertainly. “I think you had better remain our guest for the moment,” Grishkov said. “It’s unlikely Scarlione will be watching this building. But you are a very important asset to us right now and we don’t want to lose you.”
“I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“You are entirely in our hands, Miss Kent. From now on we decide what happens to you. You’d do well to remember that.”
“That’s why I said it.”
He clapped her rather heavily on the shoulder. “Cheer up, tovarisch. Don’t look so unhappy. You’ll be quite alright, I promise you. And remember, it’s a good deal better than the alternative isn’t it?”
“Suppose so,” she sighed. She sat down on the bed again, then stretched out luxuriously, arms crossed behind her head as before, closing her eyes blissfully. “I think I’d like something to eat, if you don’t mind. I’m awfully hungry. Would you see to that, please? And something to read, preferably in English. Much obliged.”
The three of them stared hard at her, Grishov’s heavy features as dark as thunder. Then, without knowing why, he turned to the red-haired woman and issued a set of instructions curtly in Russian. The three of them left the room, locking the door behind them; Grishkov somehow feeling not quite as confident and assured as usual.

Salvatore Scarlione sat by his pool, thinking.
He wasn’t happy about the existence of the Siberian retreat. He didn’t know its exact location yet but a secret service base relatively close to the complex from which Argus was controlled…they didn’t necessarily know, of course. It made sense from their point of view to put the retreat somewhere like Siberia; that was all. He was inclined to just let it be. Exile, in effect, to a shithole like that was a just punishment as far as he was concerned for stepping out of line and lipping him.
Fuck knew where Caroline Kent was right now; at the retreat, or closeted somewhere with her spook buddies hatching some scheme to bring him down? What really mattered, apart from taking out the Siberian safe house if possible, was that her buddies weren’t in Russia to look for Argus. None of those they’d targeted over the past few months, and were now at the retreat, would know where it was. They were people who had got stupid ideas and insulted him, or wouldn’t let him take over their outfit. But they didn’t know about Argus.
The spooks could have worked out, of course, that whatever he was using to spy on his enemies must be kept somewhere that was remote but not entirely inaccessible from the developed world. Though that might not, at the moment, be its purpose the “safe house” could certainly serve as a base for looking for it.
He just wasn’t happy. The more he could find out about what the security services’ plans were, the better.

The décor in the living room of the Moscow safe house didn’t do much for Chris Barrett’s state of mind. The furniture was basic and the colours dull. The only ornamentation was an icon on the wall, probably fake. On a shelf sat one of those wooden dolls which had a succession of increasingly smaller ones inside it.
He was eating his lunch without relish. It consisted of a sort of fish pie, a hunk of bread that tasted like it was made of plastic, and a viscous red stuff you were supposed to drink but which was more like a sauce in consistency. He hadn’t much time for Russian food. But then he hadn’t time for anything much at the moment. To be fair the meal had been thrown together in rather a hurry. He was sure that in other circumstances the Russians could have cooked up something much better for their guests, probably with caviar figuring in it somewhere. As it was, this rubbish did nothing to uplift his spirits.
When he’d finished it he took down the wooden doll from its shelf and listlessly proceeded to take the thing apart until he got to the smallest one, then reassemble it, then take it apart again. He seemed to do so for ages, before Rachel came in and sat down opposite him. She looked pale and drawn and had obviously been crying. Because “spooks” did cry.
“Nothing,” she reported. “Nothing at all, I’m afraid. No leads. They’re still looking.”
Chris grunted.
“Well,” she said quietly, “you’re welcome to stay on here a few more days, in case anything turns up. But I…I’d rather you didn’t, actually.”
“Oh? And why’s that?” he asked aggressively.
“It…sort of complicates matters a bit.”
“I wouldn’t have thought it mattered now,” he said.
“I don’t mean to be unkind. But we generally don’t like involving non-service personnel in our assignments if we can help it. We’ve got to look after you and also make sure you don’t by some chance find out anything you shouldn’t.”
He stared down hard at the doll, which made no comment. “We failed to protect her."
Rachel managed a watery smile. "Call it bad luck. You can never guard against it, not entirely. Not on any mission. As all the old hands will tell you.”
“Huh,” he replied.
He tried to remember that she had her own personal loss to cope with.“Look, I’m sorry about that Bob bloke.”
Feebly Rachel smiled her thanks. “Like I said, you can’t always guard against it.” She sighed. “They’re making the arrangements right now to fly his body back home. Steve’s and Jason’s too. I don’t know what they told the police but it seems to have done the trick.”
For the first time her own sadness registered with him. “Are you…I mean, that bloke…was he…I mean, I sort of got the impression that…” It came out in the body language, the facial expressions, the way you spoke to one another, no matter how hard you tried to hide it. As Rachel had been trying to do throughout the journey from London.
“We were…colleagues.” The strain in her voice as she struggled to prevent it from breaking couldn’t be disguised.
And she felt particularly guilty about it because…
Chris transferred his gaze to the icon on the wall. He found himself lost in memories. "She was a pain in the arse at times.” Rachel made no comment. “But she was just…I dunno. So…so alive. Faults and all.”
He swallowed. “I mean, she must be dead now; mustn’t she? They wanted Caroline so they could kill her. And they got her.”
“They might have kept here alive in the hope of finding out what we were doing here.”
“They’d have tortured it out of her,” he said miserably. That thought was upsetting enough. He spread his arms. "What do I say to her bloody parents? They’d say I didn’t…that I failed to…protect her…”
“That was our job,” Rachel reminded him. “It was us who failed. And I’m very sorry about that.”
“All right,” he said at length. “So what do we do now then? I don't want to leave here until I know for sure. That she's dead. Until I see her body I won't accept it. Understand?”
“We may never know. I suppose…I suppose it depends what they did to her.” She winced at the thought. “Although Scarlione would want to advertise the fact that she’d paid the penalty for insulting him. They’d have left her body somewhere we could find it, fairly recognisable.”
Chris allowed himself a tiny scrap of hope. “If it hasn’t turned up yet, does that mean she’s still alive?”
“Maybe. Look, it’s up to you what you do; I could arrange for you to stay at the Embassy if the food here isn’t to your liking. That would be better. Of course I’ll let you know as soon as there are any developments.”
“You’ll be staying on here then?”
“For the moment. We’re still trying to decide if we should make a concerted attempt to overthrow the Syndicate. We could set up our own secret base somewhere where we’d try to work out a way of countering its technology. The problem would be making sure the wrong people didn’t find out about it.”
“It’s what Caroline would have wanted. She never liked seeing the bad guys get away with it.”
“We already know who the top people in the Russian Mafia are, here and in the world at large. How they operate. Details of their private lives…the information will be vital if we ever decide to make international organised crime our target. The trouble is, to take them on means to take on the Syndicate and its secret weapon. At the moment I don’t see how….oh excuse me.” Rachel’s mobile was ringing.
It was Clive Namier. “Clive? How did you know where I was?” she asked.
“I don’t know where you are, I didn’t need to; I just rang your mobile number. Listen, we’ve just had an international call; neither Derek nor Sophie was here but I was Duty Officer so I took it. Russian accent. They just said you were to ring a certain number within the next twenty-four hours or “your fellow agent” was dead. That was all.”
Rachel’s heart skipped a beat. “Fellow agent”…that must mean Caroline. “Go on,” she urged.
“We had the call checked out and it was a Moscow number. You’ll probably find it’s a public phone box. Anyway I thought you ought to be told right away. I guessed no-one was supposed to know anything about your current mission, so it’s a bit worrying. I’m thinking there could be a mole somewhere.”
“I’d already guessed that,” she sighed.
Shit, it meant her cover was bust. Scarlione’s lot knew her name and the position she occupied at MI6. Everything depended now on what use they made of the knowledge in the future. “You realise the implications of this? I could be finished with the Service!” Anger made her raise her voice, even though she knew it wasn’t his fault.
“I’m sorry, Rachel.”
“OK, well first things first. Let’s have that number.” She scribbled it down. “We’ll have to do something about that mole, obviously.”
“Leave that to me. I’ll make sure Sophie and Nigel are told as soon as possible.”
“Right.” Cutting him off rather abruptly, she dialled the number. A male voice answered her, speaking in Russian. “Hello, I was asked to ring you,” she began in the same language. “I’m Rachel Savident.”
He switched to English. “Thankyou for responding so promptly to our message, Ms Savident. May I ask, is anyone monitoring this call? They had better not be.” Rachel could guess what would happen to Caroline if it was thought they were. “One moment,” she said, and disconnected the tap from the phone. “It’s alright now.”
“Thankyou, Ms Savident. Yes, we have your friend and colleague Miss Caroline Kent and would like to discuss arrangements for her safe return.”
“Are you Mafia?”
“We are Mafiya,” he corrected. “And as I say, we are prepared to discuss the method and purpose of returning Ms Kent to you safe and sound. But it is the kind of thing that is best done face-to-face. Are you willing to comply?”
“You want us to meet? Where?”
“On the Moskvoretsky Bridge, at midnight tonight. There will not be many people about at that time so we should be able to find each other quite easily. Do you know how to get there?”
“I think so. It’s quite near the Kremlin, isn’t it?”
“Consult a street map of the city to be sure. We do not want any mistakes. If you fail to keep the appointment there will be no deal.”
Rachel jotted down the details. “OK. I’m prepared to do it on condition that I’m not alone. I’ll be bringing four FSB men with me, and we’ll all be armed. I expect you will be too, and I understand that. But I’m not going there without protection.”
“Very good. Just be advised that if there is any treachery, Caroline will be killed. I trust I have made myself quite clear.”
“I trust you have. May I speak to her to confirm that she’s still alive?”
“Later. In the meantime you must not report this conversation to your superiors. OK? And I will need a number on which I can contact you directly while you are in Russia. It’s so much quicker than having to go through your headquarters in London.”
Rachel gave him her mobile number. “Thankyou,” he said politely. “I look forward to speaking with you again soon.” He cut her off.
Chris was hovering eagerly beside her. “How much of that did you get?” she asked.
“You’re going to meet with them? Tonight?”
“Yes, tonight. It should be interesting to know what exactly they’re demanding in return.”
“But I thought Scarlione wanted her dead. Something about this doesn’t feel right. You sure it’s not just a ruse to get hold of you?”
“You heard me say I wasn’t going without protection. And they seemed to accept that. It’s what makes this so intriguing.” Rachel compressed her lips thoughtfully. “You know, it occurs to me we can’t be entirely sure Scarlione would have killed her, rather than leave her permanently crippled or scarred. He may have done that already, and be thinking we should be grateful to have her back at all.”
“He wouldn’t want to do it by halves. Not now he’s gone to so much bother chasing her all over England and most of Europe.”
“They’re obviously serious about making a deal or they wouldn’t have agreed to let the others be there, with guns. And there’s no deal without a live Caroline.”
“Maybe they want your lot to leave them alone and not investigate them.”
“They couldn’t guarantee we would, once Caroline was back safe and sound. Not unless they’re planning to keep hold of her permanently. Which is why I think it’s more than that. Much more…” Her eyes lit up. “Chris, I think we’re onto something here.”

Edward and Margaret knew that if they went to an ordinary camp site, where they would have to book in and their details be logged on computer, Caroline’s enemies could trace them. Bed and breakfasts might also insist on recording the payment electronically. So they would have to stop each night – never spending more than one in the same place - in a layby or field.
Right now they were somewhere near Glastonbury in Somerset. The landscape was one of rolling fields and hedgerows, with the Tor visible in the distance, a landmark for miles around. They were on a minor road, some distance from any major thoroughfare, with woods on either side of it.
They passed a track, wide enough to take the camper, which led through the trees to a kind of clearing. “Let’s stop there,” Edward suggested, as dusk was starting to creep in. It would be much nicer than by a busy main road where the sound of traffic might keep them awake. Here they’d get some peace and quiet.
“Won’t it be private?”
“I don’t see a sign.”
At the first opportunity they stopped, turned and drove back to where they’d seen the track, then along it to the clearing, coming to a rather bumpy halt.
They sat up watching television, reading or just talking until about ten, then went to bed. They awoke to the sweet sound of songbirds, the raucous call of a crow. Edward drew back the sliding door in the side of the vehicle and they stepped out. It was a lovely morning, bright and clear with brilliant sunbeams slanting through the trees and the air relatively pure and fresh.
“Oh, how nice!” Margaret exclaimed.
“Let’s eat outside.” They set up a table and some folding chairs and tucked into a breakfast of Weetabix, toasted bacon sandwiches and tea. They were halfway through the sandwiches when they heard leaves crunch under a heavy footfall and turned. Edward started as he found himself staring down the twin barrels of a shotgun, held by a burly red-faced man, middle-aged and balding, in jeans and check shirt. His weatherbeaten features were twisted in a suspicious scowl.
He still had a fairly thick West Country accent. “Wot you doin’ on moy laand?” he growled. “Fuckin’ pikeys.”
“We’re not gypsies,” Edward said. “And we didn’t know this was your land.”
The man stared at them, anger turning to something like puzzlement. No, they weren’t gypsies, least they didn’t look like them. They talked too posh, for one. Still, they had trespassed on his property. “Didn’t you see the fuckin’ sign? You blind or summin’?”
Edward stiffened, his eyes narrowing slightly. “We didn’t see a sign,” he told the farmer. “If we had we’d have stayed away – alright? You should put one up if you don’t want people to come on your land.”
Realisation dawned. “Bloody gippos knocked it down,” he muttered. It seemed the farmer had been having quite a bit of trouble with them lately.
“I’ll help you put it back up if you like,” offered Edward. “Then we’ll be off.”
“Wot you doin’ here in the first place?” demanded the farmer.
“We were coming back late from a party and realised we were almost out of petrol, so we decided to stop here for the night.” Margaret nodded.
“There’s a service station just up the road, in the village,” said the farmer darkly.
“Oh, well, we didn’t know that,” Edward said. “We came from the other direction.”
The farmer gestured abruptly in the direction of the road. “I want you out of here in half an hour,” he grunted. “Else I’m calling the police, understand?”
“Perfectly,” nodded Edward, his face solemn.
Laybys from now on, he decided.
They finished their breakfast, the farmer watching them all the time, then put everything back into the camper and drove off. The farmer stared after them. Maybe their story was true, but something about the business seemed odd to him. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but…he considered whether it was worth telling the police. Was there enough evidence they were actually up to anything?
In the end he decided it wasn’t worth the bother, and stumped off to see to that notice. No, he’d far better things to do.

“No good,” Grishkov told Salvatore Scarlione. “Savident wouldn’t bite.”
“She was ready to risk the woman’s life?”
“She thought she – smelt a rat, as the English expression goes. She was convinced it was a trick and that our intention was to kidnap her.”
“Couldn’t you have said we’d blow her cover?”
It was a possibility that hadn’t occurred to Grishkov before, and for a moment he panicked. He tried to think how Rachel Savident would have responded in such a situation. “Sorry, something distracted me,” he said, in case Scarlione had noticed the hesitation. “She still wouldn’t do it. She put what she considered to be the public interest before her career.”
“Hah,” Scarlione sneered. “Very noble of her.” He went silent, trying to decide what they should do now. “Do we blow her cover?” asked Grishkov.
“Not yet. If we start doing that to their agents we threaten their very survival. We force them into a corner. Fuck knows what they’d do. No, we don’t do anything like that, not yet. I want you to keep looking out for the Kent bitch and also for Savident. If you can, try and grab her before she leaves the country. It’ll be tricky because we haven’t got anyone in the FSB at the moment, but do your best. Meantime I don’t suppose there’s any need to panic, as long as our secret’s safe.”
Your secret, you mean, Grishkov thought. You have not cared to let us into it. “Of course we will do our best. Was that all?”
“That was all.” Scarlione cut him off.
He dialled Rachel’s mobile, and turned to where Caroline Kent was standing between two of his colleagues, waiting. He handed the phone to her.
Caroline heard Rachel answer. “Hi, it’s me,” she said shakily.
“Caroline, are you alright?”
“Yes, I guess so. But I think they’re serious about killing me if you don’t do what they say. I think we ought to go along with it.”
“Do we know what “it” is yet?”
“They’d rather not discuss it until the meeting tonight. We’d better honour that.”
“Are they treating you well?”
“Yes.” They kept her locked up in one small room most of the time, but to offset that the food was at least adequate and she was allowed to watch television and listen to the BBC on the radio. Their behaviour towards her was studiedly polite, with just the faintest trace of sarcasm. They seemed amused by her imperiousness rather than annoyed. This disappointed her but was probably for the best.
“Well, we’ll just have to see what happens tonight,” said Rachel philosophically. “Just don’t worry, OK?”
“OK. I guess you know what you’re doing.”
“We’ll take things as they come; it’s the only way.”
“Is there any news of my parents?”
“No. But as far as we know they’re both alive and well.”
“Oh, well that’s something.”
Grishkov took the phone from her. “Well, Ms Savident, are you satisfied?” he asked Rachel.
“I think so. Tonight on the Moskyoretsky Bridge, then.”
“As arranged. Goodbye for now.”
Rachel told Chris about the call. He wanted to be there himself but she had no choice other than to forbid it. He could all too easily say the wrong thing and land Caroline in the shit. Beneath their granite-faced impassivity, Russians were a temperamental people.

Salvatore Scarlione, his son Vito, the Ukrainian and Ahmed Makhtiar stood looking on patiently as Dr Abuhamid al-Mansouri, assisted by a team of technicians, carefully took apart the nuclear device and reassembled it, all the time checking to make sure every component was there and in perfect condition. In the hangar another team of technicians and engineers was inspecting the missiles. The kilotrons had already been examined to the Syrians’ satisfaction. Scarlione was there because he felt he ought to be. The whole project was his idea and he wanted to see it through to fruition, but he understood little of the technological aspect and mostly wandered around with his hands in his pockets, trying to gauge everyone’s mood and whether they were altogether happy with what they’d found; after a while he sensed he was distracting them and just stood back against the wall, waiting.
Eventually al-Mansouri straightened up, his task accomplished, and exchanged glances with each of the technicians, who nodded. “It’s all there,” he announced with a smile.
An engineer came in from the hangar and confirmed that the missiles and their warheads were free of any defect, with all components present and in perfect working order.
Al-Mansouri nodded his appreciation to Makhtiar. “You have done my country a great service.” He smiled at the others in the room. “You too.”
“Well, I was pleased to be of assistance,” said Scarlione. “Maybe we’ll do business again in the future.”
Al-Mansouri wondered if he should check the equipment again once it had arrived on Syrian soil, but decided not to. He wanted it fully operational and ready to use in the shortest possible time, to minimise the likelihood of Israel finding out what they were planning while there was still something she could do to stop it.
“So how soon can my clients expect to take delivery?” Makhtiar asked the Ukrainian.
The Ukrainian frowned. “It seems there’s been a hold-up somewhere, some bureaucratic hitch. We have to maintain the pretence that this is all legal, and that means a great deal of paperwork, some of which those idiots in Kiev have lost; I don’t think they’re fully computerised yet. And there seems to be some legal uncertainty as to whether what we are supposed to be sending to Syria is covered by our export regulations. I expect it will be resolved within the week. I will of course keep you all informed.”
Scarlione came up to them. “I could get my boys in your part of the world to persuade the customs people they could afford to cut a corner or two. But it’s always better if it looks legit. Well, if a week goes by and there’s still this log-jam we’ll kick a few asses. Until then we’ll leave it, OK?”
With that Scarlione and his entourage departed, taking with them a large crate stacked full of banknotes. With deals like this Scarlione always preferred to be paid in cash, in case some software glitch screwed things up. For all the incalculable benefit computers had been to him in establishing his dominance over the world, he never entirely trusted them.
On his way back to Damascus Abuhamid al-Mansouri found himself reflecting again on the reasons why he had involved himself in the matter. Like his government, he was practical enough to realise that a two-state solution to the problem, rather than the utter destruction of the state of Israel, was the best approach. There had been a time when he had not held this view, desiring the removal from the map of what many Syrians had until recently been unable to bring themselves to mention by name. He had been quite prepared to let ordinary Israelis and westerners suffer for the sake of that cause, because he believed it to be right. Sacrificing them was an unfortunate necessity. Otherwise, he didn’t particularly hate them; in the case of the Israelis he was rather surprised to find himself thinking this, but he did. And if a free and independent Palestine could come about, if he Palestinians were happy with their situation, there wouldn’t be any point in everyone fighting and killing each other. The issue would be prevented from ever flaring up again. Like most people on the planet, he wanted a peaceful world where everyone could live together amicably, meeting their legitimate aspirations and preserving their freedom and security without cost to anyone else. So what he was doing was good, it had to be; and in any case they taken it much too far to possibly back out now.

The Embassy car drove on through the streets of Moscow towards the river. Lights were still on in cafes, restaurants and bars but people were starting to drift home now as midnight approached. In the car with Rachel were two FSB and two MI6 men. She had been silent most of the journey, thinking about the meeting ahead with some trepidation. It was never easy to deal with Russians, even if they weren’t ruthless hardened criminals. She didn’t see why they had to be so damn surly and hard, when all she and many others wanted to do was extend the hand of friendship and welcome them fully into the global community after the divisions of the Soviet years. They were to her mind a strange people, still caught somewhere between Europe and Asia. Most of them looked Caucasian, more or less, yet they had a slab-faced inscrutability about them more reminiscent of the Oriental than the westerner. Often their mixed ancestry was reflected in their physical appearance, as well as their outlook. Some looked quite Anglo-Saxon, some would have passed for Asiatics, and some were in between; every now and then you might pass, for example, a girl with the yellow hair and blue eyes of the Viking and the flat, broad cheekbones of the Mongol or Tartar. Even after the dissolution of the USSR they remained a conglomeration of different races and nationalities; yet most seemed to have certain characteristics in common, including this unwillingness to openly display emotion, which made them seem harsher than they probably were and was a quality they shared with the Germans, despite having been at times vicious enemies of the latter, most notably in World War Two.
Germany and Russia were more alike than they might seem. Both were powerful nations which in the past had contested for the domination of Europe and determined the course its history would take. Both were ruled for a time by totalitarian dictatorships. It was a moot point which country's history had been the saddest and most brutal. Germany had known the privations of two World Wars, and the stigma they, and the Holocaust, had brought it; Russia a grinding poverty and oppressive authoritiarianism that seemed inescapable.
Perhaps it was because there were so many people in Russia that life seemed so cheap there; that Stalin had had such a mercenary and callous attitude to the human condition. The problem had been that people had never had a chance to see capitalist democracy at its best, because of the misrule and inefficiency of the Tsars, and so when the Tsarist system collapsed under the strain of the First World War it was replaced instead by something almost as brutal and unpleasant as what had gone before. It seemed to her that Russia was a nation which had never really managed to get it together, despite going through considerable hardship and misery in her efforts to achieve prosperity. At least Germany since World War Two had been enjoying material wealth of a sort unparalleled in its history, along with a functional democracy.
During the twentieth century Russia had gone through three different kinds of regime, all of which had been discredited. Most people didn't want the Tsars back, because they were associated with political repression and poverty. Communism had fallen because it was identified with political repression and economic stagnation. And capitalist democracy didn't seem to be working either much of the time. Nothing seemed to offer any bright prospect for the future, any hope of improvement.
Turning a corner onto the road that led alongside the river, they slowed, pulled into the kerb and stopped. The four of them got out and stood looking across at the other bank. Rachel wore a fur hat and all of them had overcoats and scarves, their collars turned up against the cold. Fits the image, each thought with a dry inward laugh.
Moonlight glimmered off the surface of the river, a dark sheet of water which they sensed must hold many secrets, but was disclosing none of them.
Rachel thought she could see a group of figures standing together on the bridge, towards the other end. But they were just a vague indistinct mass, barely separate from the surrounding darkness, which could have been something else entirely, perhaps part of the structure of the bridge, supposing it had been there at all.
In the glow from a streetlamp, she glanced at her watch. Two minutes to midnight.
Thoughts came to her of hurried and furtive liaisons at times and in places like this; meetings where prisoners were exchanged, documents handed over, information imparted, agreements reached, perhaps with unseen watchers noting everything; noting who was the traitor, or their controller. So that rival systems of thought could be defended against each other, or at least a precarious balance maintained between them. Though was it not really about ideology but rather some elaborate charade, and for whose benefit?
The Cold War. It had been all but over when she had joined the Service. But by then it had spawned countless spy thrillers; countless novels, films and TV series, all contributing, whether or not intentionally, to the aura of mystery and romance which somehow surrounded it. She could understand why some people in the Service, like Derek Winlett, felt a wistful nostalgia for those days. It was an old familiar game they knew how to play. Despite that familiarity it could sometimes be exciting, boosting the adrenalin because you never knew what the outcome of all the espionage and diplomatic manouevring would be. It was also necessary, for on it appeared to depend the fragile balance of power which kept one side from feeling too threatened by the other, and unleashing all the horrors of nuclear war.
God, it must have been frightening at times. The worst thing would have been Cuba in 1962; it had seemed as if the world was but a hairsbreadth from atomic annihilation. And even when the ice seemed to have thawed a little there was the constant awareness, lurking at the back of your mind, of the vast nuclear arsenals both sides possessed, their power to bring about the end of the world if tension escalated to the point where they felt they had nothing to lose by pressing the red button. And it need not even have been deliberate. There’d always been the dangers of an accident, a false alarm, misidentification of a trace on a radar screen which might be no more than a flock of geese, bringing about Armageddon.
Would the Russians really have invaded western Europe, had there been no nuclear standoff or the combatants decided they could take the risk? If one side knew it was being nuked would it send the other up in smoke to avenge itself? What if there had been a global nuclear holocaust, how many people would have survived and what would the long-term consequences have been for humanity?
Had the western way of life really been better than Marxism as applied in the Soviet Union, with total state control? Well yes, it had been, but how much better? And now that the nuclear-armed East-West divide was a thing of the past, was the world really a safer place?
Apart from the occasional sound of a car engine in the streets behind them, the silence was total. A chilly gust of wind blew along the bridge towards them, moaning like the souls of all those who had died in the Lubianka, or perhaps ended up in the river below, disappearing without physical trace to leave behind just a statistic.
On an impulse Rachel started to walk forward, the others automatically moving with her, their footsteps ringing out hollowly on the surface of the road.
They kept on walking until suddenly Rachel halted, peering ahead into the darkness.
Into the pool of light from one of the lamps on the bridge, about halfway along it, a hundred yards or so from where she stood, had stepped a figure. Another appeared beside it, and another. Four of them in all, she thought, equalling their own numbers. The Russians stayed where they were, waiting for Rachel’s party to come to them.
She started walking again, stopping when she was a couple of feet from the nearest man. The four FSB men came up behind her. For a moment the two groups eyed each other without expression. Hands remained thrust deep into the pockets of overcoats, and not just from the cold. They were keeping a tight hold on gun butts.
In the lamplight Rachel was sure she recognised the big guy who stood a little forward of the others, marking himself out as their leader. Ivan Grishkov, the number one kingpin within the Russian Mafia. His face had featured in scores of TV documentaries, news reports and magazine articles. For him to be personally involved in the negotiations made it clear he must consider the matter to be of paramount importance to the organisation he headed.
There was an awkward silence while his eyes moved up and down over her face, appraising her. She let him do so, as otherwise it would introduce a tension into the atmosphere, an edge, which could cause problems.
“Good evening, Miss Savident,” he smiled. The moonlight glinted off his teeth as if they were made of metal. “Do you mind if I smoke?” He made no attempt to acknowledge her companions.
“Not particularly,” she shrugged. “We’re not here to discuss personal hygiene. I see you recognise me,” she added.
“Salvatore Scarlione is well informed.”
“So it would seem,” she agreed. She sensed the FSB men stiffen, keyed up to draw their guns at the first sign of treachery. But it was a packet of cigarettes and a lighter Grishov took from his pocket. He offered one of the cigarettes to Rachel. “No thankyou,” she smiled. “Well, as you can see we kept the appointment.”
“I have two perfectly good eyes in my head, Miss Savident.” Taking a drag, he turned away and blew a thin stream of vapour out into the cold night air. “Thankyou for being so prompt. Now let me tell you our proposal.”
She listened keenly, her excitement growing, while he explained about Scarlione’s secret installation and what it would mean to him to destroy the Syndicate’s power. Then he outlined the plan he had for breaking into the place, and her expression changed, conveying uncertainty. She finished assimilating his words. “How do we know this isn’t some kind of trick?”
“For whose benefit? Scarlione’s?”
“And with what aim in mind?”
“To kidnap me, perhaps. And my friends here as well. To find out what the intentions of the security services are towards Scarlione.”
“You’ve no way of knowing. But something tells me you may be prepared to give us a chance. At any rate that you’re not sure you ought to dismiss our proposal out of hand.”
Indeed Rachel wasn’t. Caroline had told her how the Russians Scarlione had hired to carve her up at the refinery had delighted in the story of how she’d humiliated him in America. It was quite likely that an organisation like the Russian Mafia would resent having to play second fiddle to anyone. She shifted a little, biting her lip. “I can see certain flaws in it…”
“You will do it because we have your friend. She is our hostage for your compliance. Refuse to co-operate and we might just give Scarlione what he wants. Or at the very least…some might wonder how any normal red-blooded man could kill such a beautiful woman. Well, there is an alternative. You have heard of sex trafficking, I take it.”
Rachel’s face twitched in disgust.
“There is one thing I wish to be honest about. Once Scarlione has your friend we will have nothing to bargain with you over. I must therefore ask you, or one of your colleagues, to surrender themselves to us as a hostage. This will happen just before Scarlione’s people arrive to take away your friend.”
Rachel didn’t like the sound of this at all. The hostage would be someone who knew the identities of those who’d got together to set up and run the safe house and concert some kind of resistance to the Syndicate. The Russians were thinking of the time when, hopefully, they would have stepped into Scarlione’s shoes.
“Furthermore, I would imagine the installation is very well guarded. We will require the participation of people with experience in espionage, maybe even military assistance. It’s important they do not take advantage of the situation to seize the devices for their home country. A hostage will help them to think again before doing so.”
For a long time neither of them spoke. Grishkov tossed his spent cigarette over the parapet of the bridge and lit another. Occasionally a car went past in one direction or the other, but so far as they could tell no-one reacted on seeing the group clustered there on the pavement. Probably they thought it was safer not to ask questions.
Grishkov took another drag. “Come, Miss Savident – may I call you Rachel? We both have a vested interest in toppling Scarlione from his pedestal. And no-one, no-one, can possibly be trusted with the kind of power he enjoys. This is the best chance I can think of to discover the secret of that power and neutralise it.”
He was right there. But Rachel still wasn’t happy. She doubted Grishkov’s protestations of altruism and if things didn’t work out the way she wanted them to the Russians could be left in control of the device with as much power to run the world according to one’s wishes as Scarlione had – with Caroline being killed into the bargain. But then, maybe that wouldn’t happen. Maybe they’d find a way to rescue Caroline and outwit both Scarlione and his treacherous allies.
In general terms, the strategy made sense. At worst, agreeing to Grishkov’s plan would make no difference to the situation. At best, it could achieve a lot of good.
“So are you convinced of our good faith?” she heard him say. No, she thought, not altogether. “I need to know. I do not wish to stand here discussing the matter forever.”
“I’ll need to confirm this with my superiors,” said Rachel slowly.
“As I am well aware, Rachel. Let us hope they see reason. If they don’t the lovely Caroline might just end up at the bottom of the river wearing cement shoes.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“As regards the equipment we need, I think they will be amenable.” He must be talking about lock-picking devices and the like. “Secret services are often laws unto themselves – they cannot be bought like politicians can. Not normally anyway,” he added. “Obviously you will know now that Scarlione has an agent in MI6.” And probably the other intelligence services as well, Rachel reflected. It wouldn’t have been long before they’d found out about the Siberian safe house anyway, depending on how highly placed the mole was and what information he or she had access to.
“Special Forces soldiers often use much the same gear when they break into somewhere,” Rachel said. “Or something more drastic. They might be the answer. Our SAS would be the best, though I say so myself. Normally of course we’d have to ask the government for permission to use them. But in case it’s been too deeply infiltrated by the Syndicate, it might be better to approach the Army direct.”
“You’d better not make any mistakes,” said Grishkov ominously. “We won’t.”
“I expect my superiors will insist the homing device is of our design and manufacture. I should tell you we’d probably be able to track it anyway.”
“And I insist that your representative remains in our hands until we have established the location of Scarlione’s installation and destroyed his..panopticon. The party that is to actually infiltrate the installation will consist of ten of our members, and ten of your own people. The numbers must be equal, anyway. Both sides will be armed.
“The homing device will be subcutaneously implanted in Miss Kent with your people and ours looking on. We will then proceed to the location where we will ”discover” her, and once there notify Scarlione. He will then no doubt send some of his inner circle to pick her up and take her to the installation. Two of our people will be present to hand her over to his representatives. The rest along with yourselves will be safely out of sight.
“So, do you agree with that plan?”
“It sounds good. But as I said, there are flaws. What if they don’t take her to Scarlione’s secret base but somewhere else instead?”
“Then you can still trace her with the homing signal and rescue her. You can, understand. Scarlione mustn’t suspect we are not so happy to jump to his commands as he likes to think.”
“But she wouldn’t have gone out there on her own, particularly if Scarlione’s people had been asked to look out for her – as I expect they have.”
“Scarlione already thinks she is stupid, or at any rate foolish, to do something like that. After all she shouldn’t really have insulted him the way she did. I think he regards her as an irresponsible adventuress, someone who likes to play at being a secret agent. Which is how she’s got herself into trouble and needs you to look after her, only she keeps giving you “the slip” and going off on her own. She’s spying on his base as revenge.”
“Caroline plays the game only as far as she wants to,” Rachel said. She looked hard at Grishkov. “I hold you responsible for her safety. And if any harm comes to the hostage, you may well find us on your back.”
“I feel obliged to warn you that the converse also applies. If there is treachery at any point on the journey to the rendezvous point with Scarlione’s people, Miss Kent dies. At the very least, there will be a rather messy gunfight. After the rendezvous has been effected, the hostage will pay the price if you double-cross us.
“So,” he said heartily, “I will leave you to contact your superiors. Let me know as soon as you have secured their agreement, and we will arrange another meeting. I would only stress that they cannot delay too long over making their minds up, or Scarlione will become suspicious.”
Grishkov nodded briefly to her and turned away, he and his associates disappearing back into the shadows. “Well,” sighed Rachel, “we’d better get back to the safe house. We’ll need as much sleep as possible.” There was a lot of work to do tomorrow.
From across the river they heard a car start, then drive off into the night. Rachel nodded to her companions and they started to walk back to their own vehicle, leaving behind them the river, always there, and its secrets.

By now Jonty Slade had found the house in Devon which Edward and Margaret Kent rented as a holiday home. Only trouble was, the tenancy was currently listed as “not active”, which meant that the couple were not in residence. Jonty rang Joe Hickman with what he’d found. They could only presume that the Kents had gone back to the house in Dorking, so Hickman told Jake Vidler to check it out.
They cased the joint, but when Edward and Margaret didn’t come home that evening Vidler got suspicious. The following morning they came back and searched the house again for clues. Close friends, with whom they might be staying, would be listed in an address book but none was found; obviously the Kents had taken it with them as a precautionary measure. They’d just have to keep watching the banks, and hope that when the time came they could move fast enough.

Bearing the mole very much in mind, Rachel decided to tell only the most senior personnel within MI6 about Grishkov’s proposal. That meant Sophie Cameron-Davies, and Winlett to whom she would pass the information on. She was working on the principle that none of them was likely to be the traitor. Or, if they weren’t trustworthy then nobody was which meant she didn’t have an awful lot to lose by taking the risk.
She rang Vauxhall Bridge House and asked to speak directly to Cameron-Davies. “I told him I’d have to clear it with the top people first. I know it could be dangerous but if it works out, we won’t have to spend too much of our time worrying about whether or not we should concern ourselves with organised crime.”
“That’s still an issue, whatever happens,” Cameron-Davies told her. “All right, Miss Savident. I suppose you did the right thing. I’ll raise the matter with the Director at the first opportunity.”
“What about the security leak? I mean, it’s obvious there must have been one. I expect Clive Namier’s already told you about it.”
“Yes, in fact he has. Clearly there will have to be a full enquiry.”
Cameron-Davies rang Winlett’s office. He was in a meeting but his Secretary said she would let him know Cameron-Davies wanted to speak to him urgently. He rang her about half-an-hour later. Once she had explained what it was about Winlett immediately called a meeting with her and Connor Meredith, the Senior Executive Officer.
“Well, quite apart from the girl’s safety, nuisance though it looks like she’s turning out to be, we can’t guarantee an opportunity like this will come up again,” he observed.
“So you’re prepared to go along with it then, Director?” said Cameron-Davies. She invariably called Winlett “Director”.
“I think we’ve got to.”
“And you’re agreed we should approach the Army direct?” asked Meredith.
“Yes, I am. I mean, they know what’s been going on as much as anyone else. And they’re professional brothers to us, in a way. They carry out covert operations, they do a certain amount of undercover work…in fact there don’t need to be any actual Service people on the operation, which is how I’d prefer it. I’d rather it was done entirely by Army Special Forces than risk any of our people getting killed.” It would, he thought, be a rather strange alliance; a crack military unit working with an organisation of professional criminals. But strange alliances weren’t unknown in the intelligence profession.
“Who will the hostage be?” It wasn’t a role any of them would have liked to take on, that was for sure.
“I think they’ll insist on Rachel. She’s the most senior out of those of our people who are already on the spot. It could be someone from the FSB but I don’t think it’s fair we should ask them to make that sacrifice.”
“Obviously it’ll have to be with Rachel’s agreement,” said Cameron-Davies.
“She’ll do it for the girl’s sake. They’ve become quite close these last few days.”
“I can’t say I’m happy about having to work with the likes of Grishkov,” Winlett sighed. “And Rachel’s right, he probably wants the technology for himself. We’ve got to be alert for any attempt to double-cross us. I’d rather it was down to the military than us.”
They now turned their attention to the other pressing concern of the moment. “What about the mole?” asked Cameron-Davies.
“We’ll just have to hold an enquiry,” Winlett sighed. “Interview all the people who’d have known about Caroline being here, and Rachel’s travel plans. That’ll be down to you, Sophie.” Inwardly Winlett shuddered. He pitied the guilty – or the innocent, for that matter – who found themselves under interrogation by those gimlet eyes. However…
“I’ve never been more concerned for the success of a mission,” he said. “Such a lot depends on this one coming off. If it doesn’t, we’ll simply have brought the Syndicate’s wrath down upon us. And then God knows what’ll happen.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Rachel, “I do understand. You can tell them I’ll do it.”
“Thankyou, Rachel. I appreciate the risk you’re taking. I assure you we’ll do everything we can to get you out of it alright.”
“I know you will, Sir.”
“Meanwhile, you’re in regular communication with Grishkov’s people?”
“Of course, Sir.”
“We’ll let you know as soon as we’ve fixed things up with the Army. I sure hope they don’t refuse to do it without first telling the politicians. That could cause all sorts of problems.”
“And also, Sir, I don’t think somehow Grishkov’s people will be very happy about working with the military. I’ve a feeling they’ll be a bit wary of them.”
“Tell them it’s essential for the success of the operation. If they’re serious about bursting Scarlione’s bubble they’ll have to put up with it.”
“And is the operation going to be a joint effort between us and the Russians?”
“I’ve already had a word with Serebriakov.” Andrei Serebriakov was head of the FSB. “There’s nothing in particular he can put his finger on, but he’s a feeling the Ministry of Defence in Moscow, perhaps the Army itelf, has been compromised. Infiltrated by the Syndicate. I mean, corruption’s so widespread in I’d rather not take the risk.”
“Fair enough, Sir. Is there any news on the investigation into the leak, by the way?”
“Still in progress. We haven’t turned up anything so far, although of course it could be a bugging device, which by now could have been removed, that’s to blame rather than a person. It all depends who put that bug in, and how. We’ve carried out a sweep but haven’t found anything. Of course, it doesn’t have to have been anything physically within the building, especially with the latest advances in the technology. If the mole is using the stuff Scarlione nicked from the Americans, well you can see the problem. But we’re doing our best to deal with it.” With that Winlett rang off, and Rachel sat down.
“You’re going to do it then?” said Chris. “Give yourself up to them as a hostage?”
“It’s my job sometimes to take risks,” she replied.
“Does it have to be you?” Somehow he didn’t relish the idea of it.
“I’m the obvious choice. I don’t think they’d accept anyone else. I suspect it’s because I’ve got things they want – knowledge, mainly.”
“I’m very sorry about it. I certainly don’t envy you.”
“Nothing you can do about it. So, what do you think about the whole scheme?”
“I’d say if it’s our best chance of getting her back, it’s worth taking. But I think I’d like to be there for her, if they’ll allow it. I’d just feel happier that way.”
“I understand. But I’m not sure they will allow it. We’ll have to see.”
“And you don’t think this is just a ruse by Scarlione?”
“No. I don’t. The Russian Mafia was emerging as the second most powerful criminal organisation in the world, in fact was well on its way to replacing the US one and becoming the most powerful criminal organisation, when Scarlione scuppered things by finding something that gave the Cosa Nostra a new lease of life. As Grishkov and his friends see it, he’s ruined everything. They’re pretty cut up about it.
“And they’re not people to trifle with,” she observed, wondering morbidly what things would be like for her over the next few days. “Which means that if this operation should go wrong, we could be exchanging the frying pan for the fire. Or the fire for another fire. The semantics don’t really matter.”

Headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Northwood, Middlesex
A bemused smile crossed the face of General Straker, commanding officer of the Special Air Service. “It’s the weirdest situation I’ve ever had to deal with, in over thirty years in the forces.”
“It took a lot to convince me it was really happening,” Sir Donald le Chevallier, the new chief of the Army General Staff, told him. “But what do you think of the idea? I mean, we do know what we’re doing, don’t we?”
“I don’t like the idea of acting without authorisation from the government,” Straker frowned. “But on the other hand, a lot of very peculiar things have been happening lately. Yes, I’m willing to go along with it.” Normally the Army kept out of domestic politics. But if the politicians were compromised to the extent Winlett had been describing, he reckoned it might as well take a hand. “One thing bothers me slightly, is it possible we could have been infiltrated ourselves?”
“There appears to have been a leak to Scarlione’s people from someone in our organisation,” Winlett told him, somewhat to his disquiet. “That’s why knowledge of the plan is being more or less confined to us three and my two immediate subordinates, along with Rachel Savident and a select few in the FSB. And Grishkov’s people, of course.”
What Straker had actually been asking was whether it was likely the Army could be infiltrated. He was already beginning to regret the thought. It just didn’t seem possible, somehow. The whole idea…the ethos permeating the institution meant its members weren’t people you could bully and intimidate into doing your will. Soldiers often weren’t very nice, it was true. They were coarsened, sometimes brutalised, by their profession; but most were still at least partly motivated by a sense of honour, a genuine patriotism, a love of country and a belief in justice, freedom, international security. People who were prepared to risk their lives in those causes couldn’t easily be persuaded to work for a criminal organisation involved in all kinds of unsavoury activities; even if, as he had heard, it was supposed to have its own code of honour.
No, it was impossible. The thought was amusing, even. At the very least, people in the Forces would be uncertain how to respond to such a situation. Although if a soldier could fight purely for profit, as some did, or honestly believe the planet was better off being run by the likes of Salvatore Scarlione, vile though he might be, perhaps it wasn’t too hard to imagine them being ensnared in this Syndicate’s net. And the Syndicate wouldn’t have to infiltrate the armed forces directly, it could concentrate its attention instead on the governments who told them what to do. Winlett had already said he thought it was determining official policy. What mattered, though, was whether Straker could bring himself to put up with such a situation.
And he couldn’t. Fighting and dying for a bunch of criminals… “All right, gentlemen, I’m game,” he announced.
“Good,” said Winlett. “Now I want to make sure you appreciate the dangers to Rachel Savident if we should fall out with our Russian Mafia friends.”
“I’m sure you appreciate, Sir Derek, that the welfare of hostages has always been one of the primary reasons for the SAS’ existence.”
“Of course. And Caroline Kent’s safety will also be a prime concern of the mission,” Winlett went on.
“So the idea, I take it, is to seize the installation, destroy the various devices and the plans for same, rescue Miss Kent and return to base?”
“You’ve got it,” le Chevallier said. “We’ll send a message to all national governments telling them the source of Scarlione’s power has been destroyed and they needn’t be afraid of him. They can go on the offensive against the Syndicate.”
”We’re definitely not going to keep the plans?”
”I’ve no doubt the government would like to get their hands on them…” It was clear Winlett had been doing a fair amount of soul-searching on the issue. “But General le Chevallier and I are both agreed…I mean, when you look at all the trouble Scarlione’s caused with the thing, it doesn’t seem like a good idea.”
“If we’re happy about the aims of the mission,” said Straker, “let’s turn to the operational practicalities. I should say first of all that I’m not happy about working with Grishkov’s mob. I mean…well, you can see why I’m not. And apart from the ethical considerations they’re not trained soldiers. The fact that they can shoot a gun when it’s necessary to enforce discipline within the criminal underworld, or to terrify some poor bugger into letting them take over his business, is neither here nor there.“
“So you’ll have to carry them,” said le Chevallier. “Which I know you don’t like, but look at it this way; if any of them do get killed it’ll make your job a lot easier. I think they mean to leave most of the shooting to you. The main worry is that they might try to sneak off with Scarlione’s gadget; you’ll just have to make sure they don’t.”
“I understand Chris Barrett wants to go on the mission,” said Straker.
“Well he’s signed the OSA. And according to your Major Hartman, who was in that South American business with them, he’s got plenty of common sense, takes good advice and learns fast. Might have made a good soldier. He’ll be careful not to get in the way. Besides, he cares about the girl, might make a fuss if he’s not there to help see she’s alright. By the way; speaking of Major Hartman, what’s he doing right now?”

The Major just then was trailing a gentleman called Padraig O’Donoghue. It sometimes came about, when they hadn’t a good deal else to do, that members of the SAS assisted the intelligence services in carrying out undercover operations, usually on British soil, against enemies of the state. This particular operation had been commissioned by MI5 against the Popular IRA, a splinter group from the Provisional IRA which opposed the Northern Ireland peace process and was prepared to kill in order to derail it. They had been responsible for at least one bombing in Ulster, which had killed two dozen people in the main street of a busy market town, and one attempted bombing on the British mainland. In the latter case the bomb, left in a refuse bin outside a big London department store, had failed to go off properly, but if it hadn’t as many as a hundred could have been left dead or seriously injured. The government obviously didn’t want too many such atrocities taking place, whatever their effect might be on the political situation in Ulster itself, and although these had proved to be isolated incidents had thought it best to carry out surveillance on suspected members of the organisation both in the province (where it had to be extremely careful not to upset things by interfering too much with civil liberties or fingering the wrong people) and on the mainland.
The Popular IRA – so called because they liked to think all decent sensible Irish people shared their view of things, at heart – were thought to have a cell in London which was tightly knit and well-organised, and hid itself deeply within the capital’s large and vibrant Hibernian community. In recent months several former IRA terrorists, freed under the Good Friday agreement, plus a number of people known to be vehement Republicans and opposed to the peace process, had flown regularly between London, Belfast and Dublin to meet each other, in a sudden surge of activity which was itself suspicious, suggesting something big and probably nasty was around the corner. MI5 and Special Branch had had their eye on this element for a while, but now decided to step up the surveillance, thinking that they might have found the personnel of a group which until now had been just a name, painted as a slogan on the walls of houses in deprived areas of Belfast and given in the telephone call claiming responsibility for the Ballykeggan bombing.
Yesterday morning Padraig O’Donoghue, thought to be the leader of the group, an unemployed electrician with joint British and Irish ancestry and relatives in Ulster, had flown from Dublin’s Shannon Airport to Heathrow where he had been met by a suspected terrorist named Rory Keenan. O’Donoghue, a university graduate, had a long history of involvement in Republican politics and had twice been convicted of incitement to violence during “troops out” protests in the 1970s and 80s. There seemed to be plenty of traffic to and from the terraced house which he rented in Ealing, most of it people of similar opinions and national affiliations to himself. Enough to identify him as the key man in whatever was being planned here.
But they needed more information. O’Donoghue’s phone was being tapped and his house had been bugged by a “plumber” who was not what he said he was, but all Five had got were references to meetings, and dates and venues of meetings, whose subject was never mentioned. This circumspection was itself a vital clue, but because it was negative evidence it wouldn’t be enough for the case to stand up in court. Individuals were mentioned, and they had also been photographed entering and leaving O’Donoghue’s home on numerous occasions. They were exactly the kind of people Five had expected to see there. And they didn’t spend an awful lot of time at the house, as if they were afraid that while they were there they might say something they didn’t want the security services to hear. But what was really wanted was actual proof that O’Donoghue and his friends were planning a terrorist atrocity on British soil. So far there was none.
The next stage was to monitor O’Donoghue’s movements whenever he left the house, to build up a picture of his daily routine, and in particular check out any pubs he might visit. General Straker had decided that the SAS should be in on it, because they needed to keep their hand in where uncover work was concerned. They never knew when they might be called upon to do it again. And so at the same time O’Donoghue, alone, left his house on foot that afternoon for a destination known only to himself a stockily built man in a windcheater emerged from the rented bedsit across the road, from which the undercover unit had been keeping the house under observation, and set off down the road after him.
Now the Major was feeling rather self-conscious. He’d done a little undercover work in Ulster but that was ages ago now, or at least it seemed like it, towards the end of the Troubles. He was more at home on the battlefield, or storming some enemy base in a remote location, than doing this sort of thing. His clipped English Home Counties accent was sure to make O’Donoghue suspicious. Better if it was Dan Riordan because he had a better pedigree as an Irishman and still spoke with a slight, soft southern brogue, though he considered himself English more than anything else.
The hatred Irish Republicans felt towards the SAS, because of its involvement against the nationalists in Northern Ireland, had always seemed to the Major misplaced, as well as repellent. If your eye were to scroll down a list of all its serving members – supposing you could get hold of one – you’d encounter a fair number of Irish names. It was even more so, of course, with the mainstream Army. Perhaps the likes of Padraig O’Donoghue felt that to nail your colours to the mast of the historic enemy and oppressor was conduct unbecoming a true son or daughter of Erin.
Anyhow, Riordan had lost him, through no fault of his own – such things happened in a crowded high street during lunch hour. And since Hartman had been in the area, and no-one from the security services was in place at that moment, he had volunteered to do it. He was now regretting that decision, wondering uneasily whether it might not result in disaster. He’d done it partly because, like most members of the British Army, he had only the utmost contempt for the IRA, in whatever form they existed, and took the view that anything which messed up their plans was an incalculable blessing.
He didn’t feel he would ever understand the Irish. Some of them were sweet, lovely people, friendly and welcoming, outstanding at music and having a good time; others not. There seemed to be a uniquely irrational, aggressive, spiteful, childish character to militant Irish nationalism. The Major thought of the Fenian who had held a gun to a fellow traveller in a railway carriage back in the last century but one and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t say that a united Ireland was a good thing, and of Ross McWhirter who the Provos had assassinated after he had offered a reward for the capture of IRA terrorists – expressing a sentiment a good many people would have applauded. And much else. Such people responded with vicious brutality, albeit sometimes planned, to anything they didn’t like, anything that put their nose out of joint.
Of all terrorist movements, they were the one he had least sympathy for. You could understand why the PLO and similar organisations objected to the treatment of the Palestinians by the state of Israel and felt, because of the power which America had given the latter to oppress, that terrorism was the only means available to them to fight back – even if their aim was to destroy the Jewish state altogether, which the Major didn’t actually agree with, rather than simply to secure a better deal for their fellow Arabs and Muslims. You could understand why the ANC – who perhaps had the best excuse of all – had sometimes used terror to try and bring down the apartheid regime, when that regime was not supported by the majority of the population and denied it its civil rights in a way particularly galling when, after all, it had been there first. But he couldn’t understand the IRA at all. Not when the majority of the population of Ulster didn’t want to be part of the Republic, because they didn’t consider themselves to be Irish – and why should they be told that they were, when WASPs were castigated for the same offence of imposing an identity upon people? (The Major had once been told to “speak for himself” by someone of Irish ancestry when describing the inhabitants of England as “Anglo-Saxons”). And when the citizens of Eire, though they might not like the situation, couldn’t be said to be suffering physically or mentally to any serious extent because of it. The idea of “British oppression of the people of Ireland” was absurd. It could be said that regions of Belfast and elsewhere in Ulster suffered material deprivation because of the effects of terrorism, but if the IRA and the Loyalists (who could be equally nasty) hadn’t insisted on fighting each other there would have been fewer barriers to economic prosperity.
The Nationalists had stuck for so long to a policy that was unjust and irrational, in his opinion, and decided it was justified whenever the British or the security forces in Ulster really did do something bad like get trigger-happy and shoot the wrong people. Perhaps it was easier to understand when you considered that their thinking had a strong Marxist element in it – because Marxism was equally irrational in a lot of its thinking, and equally aggressive towards those who didn’t share its aims or disagreed with them, as Hartman knew from certain Militant Tendency types he’d chanced to bump into in his time. You needed political totalitarianism to enforce it, as the lessons of the twentieth century demonstrated, and in economic terms it brought only stagnation and misery to most of the population, despite spectacular achievements in technology.
The Marxism apart, he supposed it was still a debatable issue; though he thought they were misguided he never thought people were wicked or stupid merely for taking the Nationalist view. Sadly some Nationalists weren’t anywhere near as magnanimous.
Unfortunately, from the late sixties when the Troubles started the whole thing had got mixed up with the civil rights issue, which was fatal. Perhaps if the government of Northern Ireland had acted sooner to deal with undoubted discrimination against the Catholic population that wouldn’t have happened. Anyhow they hadn’t, and there had followed thirty years more or less of bloodshed and hatred, frequently spilling over onto the mainland. The horror had finally come to an end because people had got tired of all the fighting and killing, the wearying struggle in which neither side, in military terms, could score a conclusive victory.
The Major saw Riordan, who was still looking for O’Donoghue, on the other side of the road but didn’t acknowledge him, even though their eyes met for a brief moment. It was best that no-one, particularly their quarry if he happened to be watching, knew they were acquainted in any way. He carried on walking, in the opposite direction to that Riordan was going.
He saw Riordan turn left down a sidestreet.
On he went, down the high street towards where the shops began to thin out and give way to housing and parkland.
And then suddenly he saw O’Donoghue coming towards him. A thickset man of average height, in his early forties, with a scruffy beard and receding neutral-coloured hair. He wore a denim jacket and cords. As Riordan had commented, he looked gloomy and preoccupied, suggesting there had been some setback to his plans. Maybe the equipment he needed for his next atrocity had been delayed, or his associates were getting cold feet about the whole thing and pulling out.
The Major let O’Donoghue pass him, then walked on a few paces before abruptly stopping, as if struck by a sudden thought. He turned and set off after O’Donoghue, hoping it had looked merely as if he had changed his mind about where he wanted to go, as a chap was entitled to do. It was always possible someone might realise O’Donoghue was being followed and warn him, in case anybody intended to do him harm.
Now he could no longer see O’Donoghue’s face, the Major worried for a moment he might have lost him. Then he recognised the jacket and cords. He trailed the Irishman down the street to a crossroads where O’Donoghue turned right, along a road where shops gave way after a while to Victorian terraced housing. There were less people here, and the Major felt suddenly uncomfortable in case O’Donoghue should sense his presence, suspect he was being tagged and turn and confront him.
As they neared the end of the road the Major saw that there was a pub on the corner. An Irish pub, with banners draped across its front, bearing four-leafed clovers, proclaiming that genuine Irish beer was to be had there. He saw O’Donoghue turn the corner and disappear behind the building. When the Major arrived on the corner, glancing in all directions, O’Donoghue was nowhere to be seen. He must be inside, Hartman thought. Hmm…it wasn’t what they’d have preferred. Still it might be a valuable chance to get him to open up.
He hesitated a moment, then pushed open the door and went in, a bell jangling as he did so. The room was fairly crowded and ringing to animated conversation, with a warm and friendly atmosphere. A juke box in the corner played a jazzed-up Irish folk song, and a group of men were clustered round a dartboard.
The Major bought himself a pint of Guinness, then stood looking around for a place to sit, as one would. He saw O’Donoghue in the corner, at a table by himself, sipping indifferently at his beer and looking miserable.
He went and sat opposite the Irishman. There were three other, empty chairs at the table but he might have wanted to avoid seeming unsociable. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.
O’Donoghue’s expression was non-committal. He gave a brief jerk of the head, which the Major took to mean it was alright if that was what he wanted.
“Thanks.” Hartman took a sip of his Guinness. “First time I’ve been inside one of these places,” he smiled.
“Oh yeah?”
“Thought I’d pop in and see what it was like..besides, I was gasping for a drink. Thirsty work in my profession.”
“Oh?” said O’Donoghue, now showing mild interest in what the Major had to say.
“I’m an architect. I have to spend a lot of time in buildings when they’re under construction, and the sawdust gets stuck in your throat. God…”
There followed some small talk. After a while, perhaps because of the drink, O’Donoghue seemed to lighten up and become more animated.
“Shall I get you another drink?” the Major offered, seeing that O’Donoghue’s glass was almost empty.
“That’s decent of you.”
It would be handy if he could get O’Donoghue a little pissed; in vino veritas, etc. But if he kept up with him he risked becoming smashed himself, which would hardly assist him in doing his job properly. So he managed to take a long time to down his own glass, while replenishing O’Donoghue’s drink whenever he was about to run out.
He managed to steer the conversation gradually towards politics. “You’re Irish, aren’t you? Silly question really.” O’Donoghue’s accent was fairly strong.
“Aye, I’m Irish.”
“North or South?”
“I’m from Belfast originally.”
“I did some work there once for their Commission on Historic Monuments. It was during the Troubles, as they call it…I’m glad that’s all over now.”
O’Donoghue made a grunting noise.
“Can’t understand it, why people can’t just live together.”
“Tell me, as an Irishman what do you think about it?”
“The Troubles?” O’Donoghue hesitated for a moment, as if uncertain what he should say or whether he should say anything at all. “You know what I think the problem was? Too many top people in the British establishment with interests in the north. Family connections. Know what I mean?”
“Maybe that was the case at one time. But I thought that had ceased to be a factor after a while. Didn’t Major say openly Britain should have “no selfish or sectional interest” in Northern Ireland?” He couldn’t remember what the exact words had been. “It was something like that anyway.”
O’Donoghue waved this away. “Ah, if they’d only let us have the whole of Ireland when they should have done, the stupid bastards could have saved a whole heap of trouble,” he said scornfully.
Now would come the the moment of truth, thought the Major. It was when you put to a hardened zealot for a particular political or other cause the most reasonable argument against it that they very often became most aggressive in its defence. Because they needed from sentiment and an emotional inability to forget, certainly to forgive, past injustices to hang on to it whatever reason suggested, and were uneasy and frightened at the thought of themselves or anyone else being persuaded to abandon it. It was the reasoned arguments that presented the most serious threat to the psychological barrier they sought to construct around themselves.
The Major braced himself. “You know,” he said, “surely there’s one thing we haven’t properly thought about in all this. You think if Ulster were made to become part of the Republic, when she doesn’t really want to, you’d have a “united Ireland”. Surely it would be a dis-united Ireland. You’d be bringing in more people who weren’t happy with the new scheme of things than were. They wouldn’t like it; they might even start chucking bombs about like the Provos, only they’d be attacking places and people in the Republic. The last thing we want to see is that lovely country – and it is lovely, I’ve been there once or twice and I know – being spoilt by all the hatred and killing we’ve seen in the north.” He was saying what he really felt here. “And you couldn’t cope with it, believe me. You’re not past masters at dealing with – let’s call them guerrilla movements, insurrectionist movements. We are, so leave it to us. Sure, if we have that knowledge and experience it’s because we were a colonial power, and nowadays colonialism’s discredited. But you have to admit what I’m saying is true. I’m not saying the Unionists would be right to take up arms…” He didn’t feel he wanted to be drawn into that kind of controversy at the moment. “But some probably would, going by what happened in Ulster. And even if they didn’t, they’d be sullen, resentful, angry, unco-operative. They’d cause trouble, one way or another. We can’t be sure it’d turn out like that but wouldn’t it be better not to take the risk? It means the whole idea of one Ireland is a non-starter, I’m afraid.”
That’s enough for the time being, the Major decided, and sat back.
He saw that O’Donoghue was staring hard at him through narrowed eyes. The Irishman’s glass crashed down on the table. His lips drew back from his teeth in something like a snarl. “Oh, so you think that, do you?” The tone of voice was soft, cold, and full of menace and hatred. It rose with a suddenness that would have been utterly shocking if you hadn’t been prepared for the outburst. “Well you’re a lousy stinking worthless fucking little piece of shit, you understand? Got that?” Immediately everything else in the bar went quiet, several people actually cringing back in terror at the sheer venom of O’Donoghue’s attack, the intensity of his rage.
It was like he was possessed by the devil. His forefinger jabbed savagely at the Major in time with the staccato verbal onslaught, and there was a light – a cold, evil light - flashing in his eyes which even Hartman, who of course was no wimp, found chilled him to the bone. Jesus, now I know where the snakes went when old Patrick kicked them out of the place. If I didn’t before.
O’Donoghue’s voice as he bellowed out every conceivable obscenity in the English – and for all the Major knew Gaelic, although the words had become an incoherent babble so it was impossible to tell - language was so loud it actually hurt your eardrums. Amid all the frenzied abuse, and declarations that the Major was a lackey of the imperialist British establishment who deserved to be tarred, feathered and shot, you could pick out one item of interest. The Major was sure he heard O’Donoghue say “We’ll kill you, you bastards, just you wait and see. We’ll fucking well kill you.” Now who did he mean by “we?”
It seemed the vileness would go on forever. Then a stockily built young man, evidently the landlord, came striding up to O’Donoghue, grabbing him by the shoulder and wagging an admonitory finger in his face. “All right, that’s enough now! We don’t want any of that in here.”
By raising his voice a few decibels he managed to attract the other’s attention. Eyes locked with O’Donoghue’s, he jabbed with his thumb in the general direction of the door. “Out. Sorry, pal.”
O’Donoghue stomped off, muttering imprecations, the door slamming behind him with a force that rattled the glasses. “Sorry about that,” the landlord said to Hartman. “You OK?” The Major had been trying to look alarmed while carefully listening to what O’Donoghue was saying in the hope of learning something.
“Yeah, I’m fine thanks.”
“What happened?”
“We were talking about the Troubles,” explained the Major. He smiled ruefully. “Sometimes maybe it’s a subject best left alone.”
The landlord smiled back. “You might be right there,” he agreed, though something told the Major he wasn’t averse to the idea of a sensible frank discussion of such topics. “Well, as far as I’m concerned you’re welcome to stay. Have another drink on me.”
The Major didn’t feel he could refuse the offer. He excused himself briefly while he went to the lavatory. Once there, and making sure he was unobserved, he called Riordan on his mobile, explaining what had happened. “If you move fast enough you may be able to pick him up. But it can’t be me, not now. I’d better be getting back to base.”
He returned to the bar to find his drink waiting for him on the table. Over it he reflected on how the conversation with O’Donoghue had gone. He wouldn’t have put it past the man to be lurking outside waiting to set on him once he came through the door. But maybe by the time he’d finished his glass the terrorist – if O’Donoghue was that – would be gone.
He was joined by several other drinkers with whom he made friendly conversation, until deciding it was time to make his way back to SAS HQ at Hereford for debriefing by Straker. Downing the rest of the Guinness in one gulp, he made his excuses and left.
Outside there was no O’Donoghue. It being safer not to return to the house, in case O’Donoghue was about and saw him go in, he found the nearest Underground station and bought a ticket to Paddington, where he caught the train to Hereford. All throughout the journey there he thought back over thirty years of hatred, bigotry and suffering: of children maimed and screaming, of bombs ripping through shopping centres, of families torn apart by the carnage of Bloody Sunday, of an innocent woman kidnapped and murdered because she had shown compassion to an injured British soldier, of an English girl shrinking away in terror whenever she heard an Irish accent, and shuddered.

Salvatore and Vito Scarlione and Tony D’Enrico were all enjoying a drink together in the private bar at Scarlione’s house. They had been taking stock of things. “How’s the Syrian job going?” Scarlione Senior asked D’Enrico.
“OK as far as I know. I thought I could leave most of it to the Ukrainian and his towelhead friends. But there’s still that hold-up over the legal technicalities.”
“We’ll give it a couple more days.”
“And you still think it’s going to work, Dad?” asked Vito.
“Sure it’ll work.”
Vito tried not to let any misgivings show. Altogether his feelings were mixed. The Israelis would never allow the scheme to succeed if they did find out it was in the making and as for what they might do, in the worst case scenario, if they woke up one morning and it was accomplished fact…nonetheless, he couldn’t in all honesty put his hand on his heart and say his father was wrong.

“I’m afraid I blew it, Sir,” said the Major ruefully.
But General Straker merely smiled. “Not really. It was probably the only way to find anything out. The quickest anyhow. It’s been cocked up before, by professionals, so you’ve no need to chastise yourself.”
“All the same, I think it’s best left to the spooks. At least I personally aren’t really cut out for undercover work, to be honest.
“We lost him, anyway. But we’re maintaining surveillance on him and as long as he doesn’t think the business in the pub was an attempt to draw him out, I don’t see why we shouldn’t eventually learn something of interest.”
Would it be in time to prevent another bombing, wondered the Major. No-one was infallible, and if O’Donoghue and his friends were clever enough it was always possible they could find some way to get the equipment through, plant it without anyone knowing, and when the time was right set it off. Assuming none of them was going to chicken out.
“So you can’t be sure you heard him say it?” Straker asked again. “I mean, he was drunk…”
“That might have had something to do with it. But what I experienced back there was anger, sheer anger. Unfortunately it isn’t enough to justify an arrest. The fact that he flared up nastily when I pointed out the flaws in his political philosophy doesn’t make him different from a lot of other Irish nationalists I’ve known. I think there was probably something on his mind, too, though I’ve no idea what it was.”
“Well, you can have a break from shadowing suspicious Irishmen for the time being. Something’s come up which is rather more up your street.”
The Major perked up. “What’s that, Sir?”
“Your friend Miss Kent has landed herself in trouble again,” said Straker. “I hope she isn’t going to make a habit of it.”
“I did sort of warn her about that when we were in South America,” said Hartman. “What’s she gone and done now?”
“It’s rather a long story,” Straker sighed. “I’ll begin at the beginning. It all started when she was in the States and took it upon herself to upset the local Mafia big shot…”
“I know all about that,” the Major sighed. “I was there.” He described the incident in full. ”So what happened after that?”
Straker told him, among other things explaining how the Syndicate, with the US Mafia at its head, had extended its control to just about every aspect of human life in the developed world. Hartman could barely credit it. “I knew there were rumours,” he said slowly. “I knew that Hickman was a particularly nasty character, and good at wriggling out of things. But…blimey. If it was anyone other than you telling me this, Sir, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Next Straker described the deal which had been reached with Grishkov. “I suppose if it hadn’t been for her this opportunity wouldn’t come up. In all fairness, she deserves a medal.”
“Would she live to claim it.” Hartman felt a glow of admiration, even love, for Caroline. It was followed by a sharp pang of concern. As far as he knew he hadn’t let those feelings show and he decided it was better that they stayed suppressed. He didn’t want Straker to know he might be emotionally involved. And then there was Gillian.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Straker. “About taking this on? Because we’re doing it without official authorisation – if anyone asks I’ll have to say you’re on a training exercise, or still working undercover. For that reason apart from anything else, the mission can only be carried out by volunteers. I’m not happy about involving SAS personnel in what could technically be regarded as a treasonable act. I’m asking you to lead the mission because you’re the best we’ve got. And I suppose if you got little Caroline out of trouble before, you can do it again.”
“Well if the politicians won’t do it, someone’s got to. And if no-one ever finds out, I can’t see what damage it’ll do.”
“It’ll do a lot of damage if it doesn’t work out. But I guess there’s no need to stress to you how vital the mission is. It means the world will be saved from having to kow-tow to a lot of filthy, sordid, vicious criminals. Now what are your thoughts about working with Grishkov’s lot?”
“I’ll make damn sure they do what I tell them to,” the Major snorted. “In fact they probably will. It’s a kind of situation they’ll be relatively unfamiliar with and they’ll prefer to leave it to me to make the decisions.”
“They wouldn’t be taking part in the mission in the first place unless it was to try and steal Scarlione’s box of tricks, given the chance. Watch them, Mike. Watch them all the time, like they’ll be watching you. And don’t underestimate them.”
“I won’t, Sir. Meanwhile the actual mechanics of the operation don’t bother me much. I guess Ops will be sorting it out in due course.”
“Who do you think will be willing to go with you?”
“I think most of my squad will follow me. Bob Moretti is out of it for the moment, after he knackered his leg on that last job.” The Major reflected with grim amusement that if the accident had happened during the selection procedure for the Regiment, Moretti would never have been allowed to join it. “Steve Ferris will do it, I’m sure. I’d suggest Dan stays on O’Donoghue’s case for the moment; he can do a Paddy accent better than I can. Other than that…well, we’ll see.”
“OK, Major. I want you to get them together and explain what’s happening. I’ll speak to them myself if you don’t think it’s had the desired effect. You won’t have long before the mission, so spend as much time as you can rehearsing what you’re going to do, and getting yourselves into trim. But make sure you get plenty of rest. Ops will contact you as soon as they’ve worked out what equipment you’ll need. All right, dismissed.”

“Yes, they’ll do it,” Rachel told Grishkov. “And they won’t tell any of the national governments.”
“It would be most unwise. If Scarlione should get to hear of our plan…well, I think we can rely on your SAS to be ready to move when the time comes. So I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t get going.”
“Just a moment,” said Rachel.
“What, is there a problem?” queried Grishkov, his tone silkily polite.
“You’re all going to be flown to the…combat zone, of course. It’d take too long to try and get there on foot. If there’s no suitable landing ground anywhere in the area, the plan is to parachute in. If you’re going to go on this mission you’ll need some training in how to do that sort of thing. Unless you’ve already had some, that is.”
Everything went suddenly quiet. At any rate, Rachel could hear the sound of Grishkov’s breathing, but little else. She was about to ask politely if anything was wrong when he spoke. “Are you trying to make things difficult?”
“No, not at all. The Army people know what they’re talking about. It may not come to it, but if it does, you risk breaking your necks if you do it without training.” It would of course remove one major complication if they did, but she didn’t say so.
“I don’t think there’s time for it.” The pang of fear, of unease, in his voice was unmistakeable.
“There’s even less time to go all the way on foot.” Rachel was suddenly afraid he would call the whole thing off. Again she thought that if Grishkov and his thugs did get killed it would leave her side free to carry out their mission without any danger of the device falling into the hands of someone no less nasty than Scarlione. Why not make things easier for yourself? Then it occurred to her she didn’t know what the consequences for the mission might be if it happened during the training, before they’d had a chance to embark on the mission proper. Would another Mafiya don simply step into Grishkov’s shoes? What if they died on the actual drop? What if, God forbid, Grishkov’s colleagues back in Moscow decided their deaths had been engineered so that the Mafiya didn’t get their hands on the device? Her own life would be forfeit then. As it would if they survived the drop but got killed subsequently, though she didn’t dwell on that, being worried enough as it was.
“There’ll have to be some basic instruction, at least,” she said.
“Confined to the classroom, let’s say, if you prefer. You won’t have to do any actual parachuting until the mission itself.” And if anything does go wrong it’ll be your bloody fault, alright? This was the compromise Winlett and le Chevallier had decided earlier to adopt if needs be. They too were very conscious of the time factor. For one thing, how many tries would it take before Hartman was satisfied they’d got it right?
Again Grishkov had fallen silent. He was even more terrified of doing the jump without practice. However, if you thought about it parachute training, by its nature, might be no less dangerous than what you were being trained for. Could even be more so, by the very fact of your inexperience. On the other hand any practice you did get made you less likely to get it wrong on the day.
He didn’t want to do it all. And yet the military must be right in saying they might need to go in that way. They couldn’t be just trying to put him off so it would only be the SAS who entered the actual complex. He was hardly in a position to second-guess them. He wasn’t a soldier, was he?
And he was Ivan Grishkov. Not a man who, in his position, could afford to show fear, whoever was watching. Who liked to admit to feeling it in the first place. Or who couldn’t be his own boss, but rather an instrument for the convenience of Salvatore Scarlione.
There wouldn’t really be enough time for a proper training session anyway.
Did he and the others really need to go on the mission if their colleagues would be holding Rachel as insurance against treachery? Was the risk to his life, either from the parachute jump or from the SAS if Grishkov and his men had to get tough with them, justified? The idea was that Rachel would be killed if they failed to return alive and well from the mission, or if the SAS did a runner with the technology. The problem was, he couldn’t be sure her superiors wouldn’t ruthlessly decide to throw away her life for the sake of possessing Scarlione’s secret.
“All right,” he said curtly. “We will take the risk.”
“And you realise you’ll have to obey their instructions at all times?”
“I realise.”
“They won’t try to double-cross you while I’m in your hands,” she assured him, knowing very well what he was thinking.
“They’d better not. So, when do we get to meet your SAS friends for our basic introduction to the delights of parachuting?”
“It’s all set up. They’ll be in Russia early the day after tomorrow. Where would you prefer the instruction to take place? If it’s just a matter of setting up a whiteboard or a projector, it could be done almost anywhere.”
“I would prefer it to take place somewhere other than here. We generally don’t like people to know where we live. I am sure your friends in the FSB can find some suitable venue for us, one of their training centres perhaps. It needn’t be for long, if we’re only going to be taught the basics. A single session should be sufficient.” For her own sake, Rachel hoped he was right.
“And in case anything happens there that shouldn’t, I think it is best you surrender yourself into our hands immediately.”
“Very well, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It is. Oh, I should have asked: your superiors have arranged matters with the Russian authorities?”
“In so far as that’s possible. There are a few people in the Army - not the Ministry of Defence – the FSB reckons can be trusted. One way or another it should be possible to get hold of the equipment we need, and the transport. If we can’t smuggle it in the Army will let us have it once we’re in the country.”
Grishkov nodded in approval. “So everything is arranged.” Even so, there was a hint of unease in his manner Rachel couldn’t help noticing. In what was essentially a military operation, planning what you were going to do thoroughly was one thing; coming out of it alive, quite another.

Meanwhile the Syndicate was continuing to watch out for Edward and Margaret Kent. The other day Margaret had withdrawn a sum of money from the bank by cashcard, but although it had been possible almost immediately to identify the branch where it had been done, they hadn’t been able to get there in time. Their targets were always careful not to hang around for too long in the vicinity of the bank. Argus could do plenty of clever things but it couldn’t read minds, and so it didn’t know where it should be looking. And without knowing in advance where the withdrawal would be made, they couldn’t guarantee being able to catch them.
For the same reason, MI5 had so far failed to locate them either.

Salvatore and Vito Scarlione were making their way along a busy New York thoroughfare to a restaurant Scarlione often patronised, having been in the city to discuss a business deal with one of the Don’s associates.
Evidently distracted by something, a man failed to see where he was going and stumbled into them, treading hard on Scarlione’s foot.
“Hey, watch where you’re fucking going,” shouted Scarlione. “You asshole.”
“Sorry,” said the man sincerely. “But there’s no need to talk like that.”
Scarlione froze.
The man had already walked on. Scarlione started after him, walking with brisk purposeful strides like a marching soldier. Vito swallowed. The crowds around them were so tightly packed that a confrontation would be messy.
Scarlione saw the man get into a car and start the engine. He scrabbled in his pockets, took out a piece of notepaper and a pen and wrote down the vehicle’s registration number.
He thrust the scrap of paper at Vito. “Tell the boys to find out from the number who the shithead is and ice him.”
Vito sighed. “Dad, is there really any need to – “
Scarlione grabbed the flimsy back. “If you won’t do it then I’ll do it myself.”
“You’d better be careful, Dad,” Vito said anxiously. “The car could be registered in his wife’s name, say. Or he could just have borrowed it from a friend - ”
Scarlione glared at him. “Does that mean you’re not going to do it?”
Suppressing a weary sigh, Vito took the bit of paper back again. “I’ve no doubt you’ll see the job’s done properly, Vito,” his father snapped. “But get this. A guy who rules the world, more or less, can’t just sit and take it on the chin from any old Joe Public, can he?”
“No, Dad,” said Vito obediently. Because he couldn’t say with certainty that once he was in his father’s position, he wouldn’t think the same.

There was one thing the Major had to do before he left for Russia. He just about had time for it. He caught the fast train to Paddington and then the tube to Chelsea, where Gillian’s flat was.
On seeing him through the peephole in the door she broke into a smile and hastened to admit him.
“Oh, hi Mike!” she shouted and kissed him. “Come on in. Shame I haven’t seen much of you lately.”
“Been doing hush-hush work. In fact, I’m off on another mission in just an hour or two’s time.”
“It’s your job. All the same, take care.”
“I will.” He shifted awkwardly, his manner hesitant, clearly embarrassed about something. You wouldn’t have thought he was a tough SAS soldier. “I, er…I’ve got something for you,” he said finally.
Gently taking his hand in hers, he slipped the ring onto her finger, and kissed it. She did a double take, as if she couldn’t quite believe this was really happening, but there was only genuine delight in her expression, her eyes. ”Oh, how wonderful! I-I-I-I-I…” She threw her arms around him and hugged him to her. ”Oh yeah! I-I’ll marry you, honey! Of course I will! Oh wow…oh great…oh, how fantastic! Oh, sweetheart…” She realised she was being over-effusive; a little too American, she thought with a grin.
It seemed ages before they finally disentangled themselves from each other. Gently the Major touched her cheek, then her hair. “Listen, I’ve got to go now.” He moved to the door. “I only wish I could stay a bit longer. But when I get back we’ll have a big party, yeah? Everyone invited. In the meantime I don’t mind if you tell your folks, but make sure they don’t tell mine, OK? My mother still thinks we’re just good friends and I want it to be a surprise for her.”
She opened the door for him. “Sure. But I’ll tell my folks alright. I’ve got a few days’ leave and I’m flying to the States tomorrow to go see them. A wonderful present to bring back from England.”
“Quite. I’ll give you a call as soon as I get back. Of course with these things you never know when that’ll be. But I’ll take care, like you said.” He kissed her once again, then raised his hand in salute. “’Bye, Gill. Until then.”
He flashed her a smile full of love, and went. She gazed after him for a long time before going back in. “Yes,” she thought. “Until then. I’ll be waiting.”

Caroline Kent lay on a white sheet spread out on a table with the sleeve of her blouse rolled up, the lights in the room turned on full. Rachel Savident, the head of the FSB and two other intelligence personnel, one Russian and one from MI6, looked on as a doctor made an incision with his scalpel in the underside of her forearm, just below where she normally wore her wristwatch. A trickle of blood ran out onto the sheet. Caroline winced slightly, but otherwise showed no sign of discomfort. They’d told her the surgery should be fairly painless, but asked her nonetheless if she wanted to be anaesthetised. She’d refused, keen to show that she could stand any discomfort she did experience.
The doctor – presumably on the Mafiya’s payroll, though Rachel had no idea whether he worked for them on a regular basis - held the edges of the incision apart with the scalpel and carefully inserted the tiny, wafer-thin microchip. He withdrew the scalpel, letting the wound close up, sucking in the miniature transmitter and holding it in place. Then he stitched up the scar, which was less than half an inch long, and could easily be attributed to some accident. Earlier he had told them that once the stitches were removed there was no reason why it shouldn’t soon heal and fade. He wiped away the blood from her arm with a tissue.
He had assured Caroline there should be no danger to her health from the presence of the chip. The chances of it malfunctioning in reaction to a radiation source, for example, were minimal. Obviously any hazards there might be would increase the longer the transmitter remained within her body but it would be removed as soon as it was no longer needed.
The transmitter had been provided by the Mafiya themselves – God knew where they’d got it from - though a British scientist had dismantled and then reassembled it, in the presence of Mafiya and secret service people, in order to confirm to both sides that it would do what it was supposed to. The scientist hadn’t been told what it was all about and knew better than to ask. Not that there was really any need for all these precautions, Rachel thought. There was little doubt the Mafiya genuinely did want to put a stop to Scarlione’s game; you usually knew when Russians were sincere in their likes or dislikes. They kept their emotions under control, but at the same time didn’t mince their words.
“It’s done,” the doctor said. Caroline sat up, rolled down her sleeve and put the wristwatch back on.
“It’s time to go now, Miss Kent,” said the cadaverous-looking, bespectacled man who seemed to be in charge of everything under Grishkov.
Caroline swallowed. Weakly, she stood and turned to Rachel. “Well, goodbye. See you before too long, I hope.”
Rachel patted her on the arm. “Good luck.”
“And you.”
“It’ll be alright, I expect. For both of us.”
“Let’s hope so.”
Dubienkin and three other Mafiya men escorted Caroline from the room. Then the British and Russian secret agents left too, apart of course from Rachel. Each gave her a brief nod as they went; the faces of her British colleagues showed concern, distress even, that she should find herself in such a situation. She was sure the FSB men felt the same, although they were harder to read; after all, they weren’t bad people.
She sat down. For a moment there was a noncommittal silence.
“So, Miss Savident, you are to be our guest for the next few days,” said one of the remaining Mafiya people. “I hope you like Russian food. We can lay our hands on the best of it.” I bet you can, she thought.
“Rest assured you will be well treated,” said the red-haired woman. “Only if there is any treachery on the part of your colleagues will you be harmed.”
And what happens after Scarlione is dealt with? Rachel thought. Are you just going to let me go? Perhaps they would. But there were one or two things which inclined her to doubt it.

Guard duty was part of Bob Neumann’s job, so he had to find some other way of spending a living rather than complain if he found it boring. But boring it was, most of the time.
It did enliven things whenever some crank came along and started causing trouble. Everyone knew what the place was, even though the government didn’t go to great lengths to advertise it, and it seemed to attract all manner of geeks – though to be fair, a lot of them weren’t really that. Taking care to keep their distance, they just stood or sat in their cars and stared at the building, even though it was pretty unpossessing to look at, for a few seconds before driving off. Just to do that gave conspiracy theory enthusiasts – nerds, in his opinion – a sort of thrill but most people were probably just curious which was understandable enough. They wanted simply to be able to tell their friends/children/grandchildren proudly that they’d seen the headquarters of the CIA; and Neumann guessed he’d be the same.
This car, however, slowed and then turned into the driveway as if intending to go right up to the gates. The guards stiffened, instantly on alert, and focused their gaze on the vehicle as it approached, the driver cutting his speed as he drew near. Both were keyed up to whip their pistols from their holsters the instant there was a hint of trouble, and fire.
The car stopped and the driver wound down the window. He seemed to be the vehicle’s only occupant. He leaned out to speak to Neumann, a silver-haired man in his fifties with a tanned, handsome, still youthful face.
While the other guard, Brzezinsky, remained at his post Neumann took a few steps forward. “You have business here, Sir?”
“I want to speak to the Director. It’s urgent.”
Neumann studied the man carefully. A lot of screwballs came along wanting to see the Director, claiming they had evidence of a plot by aliens to kill the President or something on those lines. Needless to say such people were given short shrift. He was trained to deal with them, of course. But often you couldn’t be sure, not on first impressions, whether they were kooks or something which demanded to be taken a little more seriously.
“I don’t know if it’ll be possible to see the Director himself, Sir,” Bob told the man politely. “He’s usually very busy. I – “
“Then someone fairly important. Anyone. It’s urgent, I tell you.”
“May I ask who you are, Sir? Do you have a pass?”
“My name’s Tony D’Enrico. I’m…I’m an enforcer for…for the Mafia. No, I don’t have a pass. But that doesn’t matter, I need to see someone in authority here, and fast. I believe there’s a threat to international security. We, we could be looking at a Goddamn nuclear war.” A note of panic, fear that he wasn’t going to be believed, had entered the man’s voice. Neumann frowned. The vibes…despite the enormity of the claim, something told him this guy wasn’t making it up.
“Hold on a minute.” Neumann made a call on his cellphone. “Gate here. Is the Director available? Something’s come up which I think he ought to be told about. There’s a guy here who says he’s from the Mob – “
“If he wants to mouth on his friends, then I’d say he needs the FBI,” replied the chief security guard. But as he spoke he knew he didn’t sound so sure of himself. The rumours there’d been about how far the Mafia’s influence now extended…“What’s his problem?”
“He’s talking about a nuclear war, and I think he’s serious. I guess he can’t tell the whole story until he’s inside with the Director.”
“Let me check,” grunted the chief security guard, and rung off.
“It’s being seen to, Sir,” Neumann told D’Enrico. “My colleague won’t be long. He’s just going to see if the Director’s free.”
It sounded from Neumann’s tone as if he was being given a chance, and D’Enrico slumped in his seat with a sigh of relief. He waited, and while he waited thought. Could I be wrong about this? Could it actually be a good thing if Syria has those missiles? And do the Mob already know I’m here? They can’t, I’m trusted too much within the organisation. They wouldn’t have been following me around. All the same, it was probably safer to come here in person rather than phone.
If these guys take what I tell them seriously, then Scarlione’s people will know, and pretty soon. I’m maybe signing my death warrant here.
Cold sweat was breaking out on his forehead.
But…what would the total geopolitical consequences be if…if he was going to end up dead anyway, or might do, then there was surely a rationale for what he was doing.
Could he back out of this now? What would the result be if he did?
He heard the other guard’s cellphone ring, saw the man answer it. “OK, thanks. I’ll let him know.”
”The Director’s in a meeting at the moment, but his deputy will see you,” said Brzezinsky. “Drive on into the parking lot. You’ll need to report to Security first, it’s straight ahead.”
D’Enrico thanked him and waited while he raised the barrier. He drove through as instructed, all the time conscious of the pole-mounted CCTV cameras watching his every move. He parked the car, got out, looked round and saw in front of him the faceless building he guessed must be Security. A guard met him at the entrance and escorted him inside. He went through a metal detector and was then subjected to a rather humiliating strip search so they could be absolutely sure he wasn’t carrying any offensive weapons or explosive devices on his person. All the time he was thinking, he’s only agreed to see me. What if he doesn’t swallow it? We could all be blown up for Chrissakes, we…
A sharp-featured, bespectacled man with a shock of hair greying slightly at the edges appeared from one of the lifts and came towards him. “Mr D’Enrico? I’m Patrick Lerpiniere.” He sounded puzzled, but interested. “I gather you, er, have something of importance you want to tell us.”
“You’re the Assistant Director?”
“That’s right. Come this way.” They moved off, an armed guard falling into step beside him.
Lerpiniere regarded him warily all the time they were in the lift, forcing him to avert his gaze. The doors opened and the CIA man led him down a carpeted corridor, its walls faced in varnished pine and decorated with framed photos of former Directors of the Agency. At the door of his office Lerpiniere told the guard to wait outside and they went in. Lerpiniere gestured to D’Enrico to take a seat. “Coffee?”
“Uh, no thanks.” D’Enrico just wanted to get on with it.
Lerpiniere sat down at his desk, fingers entwining. “There’s something rather bizarre about this, you have to admit. A Mob enforcer coming to see the CIA about a geopolitical matter… although perhaps it’s not so surprising given the rumours that have been circulating. Purely domestic affairs are of course the, uh, preserve of our sister agency the FBI….” He was stalling because he knew the risks involved in taking on an enlarged and more powerful Mafia. “But if you do happen to have come across something that really does affect the interests of the United States, and the world, in an adverse way…”
For his part Lerpiniere was wondering if this could be the break his colleagues at the Bureau had been waiting for, if D’Enrico knew the secret of Scarlione’s power and where it was located. But if that had been it, the Mafiosi would have gone to Quantico, not Langley.
D’Enrico gathered his thoughts. “I…I guess you could call me Salvatore Scarlione’s enforcer on his home territory, as well as one of his oldest friends. That makes me, I guess, a pretty important person in his set-up. I’m privy to a lot of the Syndicate’s secrets.” He was rambling, because he was risking his life to prevent what might actually turn out to be a good thing and didn’t know if what he was doing was entirely wise.
He got to the point. Took the plunge. “Scarlione, he…he’s gone crazy. He’s going too far…sticking his fingers into things that are much too big for him. Do you know what he’s doing?”
“You tell me,” said Lerpiniere patiently.
“He’s started selling Goddamn nukes to the Syrians. Says it’s important to have a proper balance of power in the Middle East. Shit, if it goes wrong…you know what’ll happen. You’ve got to stop him.”
An electric shock seemed to travel through Lerpiniere. He sat up straight as a ramrod, his jaw dropping. All the man’s inhuman composure evaporated at once. “WHAT?” he gasped. “What did you say? Is…is this true? You, you’re quite certain…”
“I’m certain. Or I wouldn’t have come to see you. You’ve got to do something and you’ve got to do it fast.”
His face taut, Lerpiniere leaned forward and pressed an Intercom. “Aaron, I’ve just been told something that affects your brief. I think you’d better hear it.”
They waited while Aaron Sternhold, head of the Agency’s Middle Eastern department, went to join them. Briefly Lerpiniere explained who D’Enrico was and why he had come to see them. “We’re talking nukes to Syria, courtesy of the Mob.” The shock in Sternhold’s face mirrored that in Lerpiniere’s own. It wasn’t because Sternhold was half Jewish; he regarded having to support a policy of “Israel right or wrong” as a pain in the butt as much as Lerpiniere, privately, did. It was for everyone’s sake that he feared the consequences of Scarlione’s action.
Sternhold took a seat and shifted it to face D’Enrico. “Do you know where Scarlione obtained this nuclear material from?”
“From the Ukraine, or somewhere in that part of the world, through a local arms dealer. I don’t know his name but he’s on the council of the Syndicate. I was at the meeting where it was arranged…”
“Have the Syrians already taken delivery of the material?”
“Not yet, I don’t think. Shipment’s due to take place in the next couple of days. But apparently there’s some hold up, some bureaucr