Table of Contents
ALSO BY JACK HIGGINS
The Killing Ground
Keys of Hell
Edge of Danger
Day of Reckoning
Pay the Devil
The White House Connection
Flight of Eagles
The President’s Daughter
Year of the Tiger
Drink with the Devil
Angel of Death
On Dangerous Ground
Eye of the Storm
The Eagle Has Flown
Memories of a Dance-Hall Romeo
A Season in Hell
Night of the Fox
Touch the Devil
Day of Judgement
The Last Place God Made
A Prayer for the Dying
The Eagle Has Landed
The Run to Morning
To Catch a King
The Valhalla Exchange
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Copyright © 2009 by Harry Patterson
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Higgins, Jack, date.
A darker place / Jack Higgins.
eISBN : 978-0-399-15550-5
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Once again, for Denise
and Brewer Street
Avoid looking into an open grave. You may see yourself there.
resh from the shower, Monica Starling sat at the dressing table in her suite in the Pierre and applied her makeup carefully. She’d dried and arranged her streaked blond hair in her favorite style as she always did, and now sat back and gave herself the once-over. Not bad for forty, and she didn’t look that ancient, even she had to admit that. She smiled, remembering the remark Sean Dillon had made on the first occasion they had met: “Lady Starling, as Jane Austen would have Darcy say, it’s always a pleasure to meet a truly handsome woman.”
The rogue, she thought, wondering what he was up to, this ex-enforcer with the Provisional IRA and now an operative in what everyone referred to as the “Prime Minister’s private army.” He was a thoroughly dangerous man, and yet he was her lover. Look at you, Monica, she thought, shaking her head—a Cambridge don with three doctorates, falling for a man like that. Yet there it was.
She put on a snow-white blouse, beautifully cut in fine Egyptian cotton, and buttoned it carefully. Next came a trouser suit as black as night, one of Valentino’s masterpieces. Simple diamond studs for the ears. Manolo Blahnik shoes, and she was finished.
“Yes, excellent, girl,” she said. “Full marks.”
She smiled, thinking of her escort, dear, sweet old George Dunkley, professor emeritus at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in European literature, bless his cotton socks and all seventy years of him, and thrilled out of his mind to be here tonight. Not that she wasn’t a little thrilled herself. When she’d accepted the United Nations’ invitation to this international scholars’ weekend, she’d had no idea who the guest of honor would turn out to be.
Alexander Kurbsky—the greatest novelist of his generation, as far as she was concerned.
On the Death of Men
—astonishing achievements, born out of his experiences as a paratrooper in Afghanistan and then the years of hell during the first and second Chechen wars. And he was still only in his late thirties. Hardly anyone outside Russia had actually met him since the publication of those books, the government kept him on such a short leash, and yet here he was, in New York. It was going to be quite an evening.
She turned from the mirror, and the phone rang.
Dillon said, “I thought I’d catch you.”
“What time is it there?”
“Just after midnight. Looking forward to meeting Kurbsky?”
“I must admit I am. I’ve never seen George so excited.”
“For good reason. Kurbsky’s an interesting guy in lots of ways. His father was KGB, you know. When his mother died giving birth to his sister, an aunt raised them both for several years, and then one day Kurbsky just up and ran away to London. The aunt was living there by then, and he stayed with her, studied at the London School of Economics for two years, and then—gone again. Went back, joined the paratroops, and the rest is history or myth, call it what you like.”
“I know all that, Sean, it’s in his publisher’s handout. Still, it should be quite an evening.”
“I imagine so. How do you look?”
“That’s my girl. Slay the people. I’ll go now.”
“Love you,” she said, but he was gone. Men, she thought wryly, they’re from a different planet, and she got her purse and went to do battle.
IN A ROOM on the floor below, Alexander Kurbsky examined himself in the mirror and ran a comb through his shoulder-length dark hair, the tangled beard suggesting a medieval bravo, a roisterer promising a kiss for a woman and a blow for a man. It was his personal statement, a turning against any kind of control after his years in the army. He was a shade under five ten, much of his face covered by the beard, and his eyes were gray, like water over stone.
He was dressed totally in black: a kind of jersey with a collar fastened by a single button at the neck, black jacket and trousers, obviously Brioni. Even his pocket handkerchief was black.
His mobile phone, encrypted, buzzed. Bounine said, “Turn left out of the entrance, fifty meters, and I’m waiting. Black Volvo.”
Kurbsky didn’t reply, simply switched off, went out, found the nearest elevator, and descended. He went out of the entrance of the hotel, ignoring the staff on duty, walked his fifty meters, found the Volvo, and got in.
“How far?” he asked.
Bounine glanced briefly at him and smiled through gold-rimmed glasses. He had thinning hair, and the look of somebody’s favorite uncle about him, except that he was GRU.
“Fifteen minutes. I’ve checked it.”
“Let’s get on with it, then.”
Kurbsky leaned back and closed his eyes.
IGOR VRONSKY WAS thirty-five and looked ten years older, but that was his drug habit. His hair was black and a little too long, verging on the unkempt. The skin was stretched too tightly across a narrow face with pointed chin. A paisley neckerchief at his throat and a midnight-blue velvet jacket combined, by intention, to give him a theatrical look. His notoriety in Moscow these days didn’t worry him. The government loathed him for his book on Putin’s time in the KGB, but this was America, he had a new job writing for
The New York Times
, and they couldn’t touch him. The book had brought him fame, money, women—to hell with Moscow.
He smiled at himself in the bathroom mirror, then leaned down to inhale the first of two lines of cocaine that waited. It was good stuff, absolutely, and he followed it with the second line. He was dizzy for a moment, then slightly chilled in the brain and suddenly very sharp and ready for the great Alexander Kurbsky.
There was an old Russian saying: There is room for only one cock on any dunghill. He had no illusions that Kurbsky would be the star attraction at this soiree, but it might be amusing to knock him off his pedestal. He moved into the untidy living room of the small fifth-floor apartment, found a raincoat, and let himself out.
“HE NEVER BOOKS a cab,” Bounine had said. “It’s only a step into Columbus Avenue, where he can have them by the dozen.”
So Kurbsky waited in the shadows for Vronsky to emerge, stand for a moment under the light of the doorway to his apartment building, then advance to the left, pulling up his collar against the rain. As he passed, Kurbsky reached out and pulled him close with considerable strength, his left arm sliding around the neck in a choke hold, the blade of his bone-handled gutting knife springing into action at the touch of the button. Vronsky was aware of the needle point nudging in through his clothing, the hand now clamped over his mouth, the blade seeming to know exactly what it was doing as it probed for the heart.