Authors: Alan McDermott
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #War & Military, #Genre Fiction, #War, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Vigilante Justice, #Military, #Spies & Politics, #Conspiracies, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers
ALSO BY ALAN M
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Alan McDermott
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
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Cover design by bürosüd
For my family
15 January 2016
Nikolai tried to spit the blood from his mouth, but the damage they’d done to his lips made it impossible. The best he could do was let it dribble down his chin and onto his chest, where it slowly made its way between his man breasts before coming to rest on the top of his distended beer belly.
The last thing he remembered was walking to the bar to meet his handler when the lights went out, and he’d woken to find himself being pummelled by giant fists. The initial onslaught had lasted only a few minutes before he was left alone, not a single word having been spoken.
They’d obviously learned about his new allegiance, but how they could have done so eluded him. He wasn’t stupid enough to have mentioned it to anyone, and he hadn’t seen any sign in recent days to suggest he’d been followed.
He heard faint voices coming from outside the door and knew his captors would be back soon. His heavily bruised eyes darted around the dimly lit room, looking for a way to escape, but all he saw was solid brickwork and the steel door. No windows, no attic access, not even an air duct to crawl through. Even if he’d spotted a way out, the handcuffs and chains securing him to the chair would have made it irrelevant.
Nikolai closed his eyes and prayed that it was all a dream, that he wasn’t being tortured but instead back in Soho enjoying the companionship of one of the ladies in his boss’s stable – the young Lithuanian with the long, dark hair and breasts that defied gravity . . .
The heavy bolt on the door squealed as it was pulled aside, and the Beriya brothers once again entered the tiny room.
Aslan and Beslan, twins from Grozny. He’d known them for some time but never imagined that he would be on the receiving end of their brutality.
The brothers stood aside and made room for a third visitor, who, while not a small man, was dwarfed by the Beriyas.
Alexi Bessonov walked into the room and looked Nikolai in the eye.
‘Nikki, Nikki, Nikki. Whatever am I to do with you?’
‘I swear, I don’t know what any of this is about!’
Denial was his natural reaction in a situation that didn’t warrant honesty.
Bessonov rubbed his closely shaven head, the stubble rasping audibly. ‘Please, don’t insult me.’ He took a handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped a foldaway chair before sitting on it, not wanting to get a stain on his expensive Savile Row suit.
‘How long have we known each other?’
‘Twenty years,’ Nikolai said.
Bessonov’s head bobbed. ‘Twenty long years. In that time, I’d say I’ve been more than generous.’
‘I know.’ Nikolai began weeping. ‘And I’m truly grateful. I just don’t understand what you think I’ve done wrong.’
Bessonov remained passive, checking his fingernails for signs of dirt, and Nikolai couldn’t tell if his boss was bored, happy or bordering on fury. Bessonov never gave anything away, and few people had ever seen him lose his temper, which made him entirely unpredictable.
‘I wish we didn’t have to play these games, but if you insist on dragging this out . . .’
Bessonov gestured with his hand and the two men left the room. They returned a couple of minutes later, dragging a body with them. They dropped the corpse on the floor and Aslan turned it over so that the face was visible.
Nikolai instantly recognised the man, despite the terrible injuries he’d suffered.
‘You know him?’
Nikolai swallowed a mouthful of blood and saliva, then shook his head.
‘Interesting, because this man said he knew you. With a little encouragement from Aslan and Beslan, he even told us about your recent meetings.’
Staring at the body on the floor, at the man who’d made him betray his boss in exchange for the paltry sum of five thousand pounds, Nikolai knew his time on the planet was close to an end. It was only a matter of how he would spend his last few hours.
‘Alexi, I’m sorry—’
Bessonov simply shook his head, a look of genuine disappointment on his thin, Slavic face. ‘Tell me what you shared with him and I’ll make this quick.’
Nikolai broke down completely. ‘I beg of you, please—’
Bessonov rose and straightened out his suit. ‘Have it your way.’ He turned to Aslan. ‘Take your time, and don’t waste a bullet on him.’
The screams for mercy went unheard as Bessonov left the room and closed the door, leaving Nikolai with only the grinning Beriya twins for company in his final, agonising hours.
18 January 2016
Andrew Harvey was shaken from a dream by his alarm clock, and he quickly silenced it before it disturbed his girlfriend’s slumber. Sarah Thompson mumbled something in her dream, and he gently brushed the long blonde hair from her face and gave her a tender kiss before rising to complete his morning ritual.
He stood in front of the bathroom mirror and took in his reflection. For someone in his mid-forties, he thought he looked surprisingly good, and he attributed the improvement to Sarah. Since she’d moved in with him twelve months earlier, he’d taken on a new lease of life. It had felt strange at first, sharing a house with someone else after years living the bachelor life, but his single days now seemed a distant memory.
He applied shaving foam and scraped away two days’ worth of stubble, then hit the shower, letting the hot water flow over his body. As he washed his stomach he sensed he’d lost an inch from what was an already trim waist; he put that down to the nightly exercise they’d been enjoying.
He finished his shower and combed his short, dark hair into a rough side parting. By the time he made it back to the bedroom he found the bed empty and the smell of coffee drifting up the stairs. He followed his nose down to the kitchen, where he found Sarah at the sink looking stunning in nothing more than a white towelling robe and a smile. He kissed her on the cheek and sat down to a plate of bacon and eggs with French toast.
‘Can’t think of a better way to start a Monday morning,’ he said as Sarah took a seat opposite him.
Her breakfast consisted of bran flakes with banana, accompanied by fresh orange juice. ‘Enjoy it while it lasts,’ she said. ‘Once we hit the office, it’s back to reality.’
Even the thought of a twelve-hour stint at Thames House couldn’t change his mood. The Brigandicuum surveillance system, which had only ever been online for a few short days, had caused a political storm that resulted in the prime minister stepping down and the home secretary being jailed, pending trial. The system had been taken offline, much to the consternation of the Americans, who’d invested several years and billions of dollars getting it up and running, but the data it had collected during that period was still being analysed. So far, it had drawn their attention to over two thousand possible terror suspects, with more being added to the pile daily.
Brigandicuum had been the intelligence community’s greatest asset, able to alert the security services whenever anyone typed a predefined word or phrase into their device. It had also been capable of recognising voice and image data, all of which triggered downloads of the information from the suspect’s device.
The material gathered during its brief existence represented more than three hundred million terabytes of data, and sifting through it to sort the innocent from the potentially deadly was a time-consuming challenge. With Brigandicuum offline, analysts could no longer download the entire contents of a suspect device to see the context in which the keyword had been written. Now they had to decide from a few lines of text whether its author was a potential terrorist planning an attack, a journalist in the process of creating their next story or simply a student working on their thesis.
Despite the large number of false alarms he’d come across, Harvey actually looked forward to getting to work in the mornings and sifting through the mounting pile in his inbox.
‘Sorry if I woke you this morning,’ he said. ‘I was going to give you a shout at seven.’
‘I had to get up anyway.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘My interview isn’t until ten, but I need to get in early and check for updates on my latest case.’
Sarah’s request to be transferred from her current role at MI6 to join him at MI5 would be discussed with the heads of department this morning, and he hoped it would be approved. His own boss, Veronica Ellis, would be involved in the decision-making process, so he knew Sarah would have at least one friendly face on the panel.
Harvey dropped Sarah off at Vauxhall Bridge and drove across the river to the car park underneath Thames House. He got into his office at a quarter to nine and found Hamad Farsi already deep in conversation on the phone.
‘Ellis wants to see you,’ Farsi mouthed, pointing towards the boss’s office.
Harvey dumped his briefcase on his desk and knocked on Ellis’s door. He could see through the tinted glass that she was on the phone, but she waved him in and motioned to the chair facing her desk.
‘Okay,’ she said into her phone. ‘I’ll be down in the next few minutes.’ She put the telephone down and looked at Harvey. ‘Do you know Jason Willard?’
‘Works the Russia desk,’ Harvey said.
‘He used to. The police pulled his body from the Thames minutes ago. I want you on the scene.’
‘Of course,’ Harvey said, shocked at the news. It wasn’t often that the security services lost one of their own, especially on home soil. ‘Do we know what he was working on?’
‘Willard’s last log entry said he was going to meet an informant on Friday afternoon, but it looks like someone had other ideas.’ Ellis told him where the discovery of the body had taken place, and Harvey took that as his cue to leave.
He stopped briefly at Farsi’s desk to explain that he wouldn’t be around for a couple of hours, then headed out of the building and across the road to the embankment. He’d considered taking the car, but knew it would be quicker to walk than battle his way through the rush-hour traffic.
Twenty minutes later, he saw the ambulance and police cars parked at the side of the road, and when he peered over the wall he saw four men in an inflatable, two of whom were dressed in scuba gear. The small craft bobbed in the wake of a water taxi that chugged by, a few of the passengers on board watching the unfolding drama. Given the time of year, Harvey didn’t envy the divers’ job of spending hours in the freezing Thames.
Harvey sought out the senior officer and introduced himself. ‘What do we have?’
‘Two males, and the divers are searching for others.’
‘Two?’ Harvey asked. ‘I was only told about one.’
‘We only found the second one a few minutes ago. It looks like they were both weighed down, but the first one slipped his ropes.’
‘Any idea how long they’ve been in the water?’
Harvey knew it must have been some time after Willard had last made an entry in his activity log on Friday morning, but if he could narrow it down from three days to within a couple of hours it would make tracing the killers easier.
‘Best I can offer at the moment is a couple of days,’ the policeman said. ‘We’ll know more after the autopsy.’
‘What about a cause of death?’
‘Both had severe facial injuries, but we don’t yet know if they were dead before they went into the water.’
The officer took Harvey to see the bodies, and when he pulled back the first sheet, Harvey saw why cause of death was hard to establish. Willard’s face looked like a giant blueberry, swollen and covered with bruising. The time spent in the water hadn’t been kind to him either.
The second cadaver, which Harvey assumed was that of the informant Willard had been planning to meet, looked much the same, but it was also missing its ears.
‘Any ID on this one?’
‘Nothing in his pockets,’ the policeman said. ‘We’re going to have to wait for a DNA match.’
‘Wouldn’t fingerprints be quicker?’
The policeman pulled the sheet aside to show the dead man’s hands, and Harvey saw why that wasn’t an option. Every digit had been removed, and the surgery didn’t look too sophisticated. It looked as if each finger had been pulled off at the knuckle, rather than sliced with a sharp instrument.
Harvey used his phone to photograph the unidentified corpse, then forwarded the pictures to the office with a message asking Hamad Farsi to make a start on the identification process. He thanked the cop and began the walk back to the office. There wasn’t much more to gain from being at the scene, and he was keen to find out exactly what Willard had been up to on Friday. On the way, he stopped at a deli and picked up a sandwich for his lunch, knowing it was unlikely he’d be able to get out later.
When he arrived back at Thames House, he updated Veronica Ellis on developments.
‘Whoever did this was clearly trying to extract information,’ he said. ‘At least from the second man. They made a real mess of his body.’
Veronica Ellis pushed a few errant strands of platinum hair behind her ear and turned her computer screen so that Harvey could see the image she’d been looking at.
‘Is that him?’
‘It could be,’ Harvey said. He dug out his phone and compared the photo on Ellis’s monitor with the one he’d taken. ‘Yes, I’d say that was him. At least the physique’s the same. We’ll obviously need confirmation, though.’
‘For now, we go on that assumption. His name is Nikolai Sereyev, and he was a mid-level player in Alexi Bessonov’s organisation.’
‘I’ve heard of Bessonov,’ Harvey said. ‘Nasty piece of work.’
‘And then some. I’ve just been looking through his file, and it makes scary reading.’
‘Any particular reason he’s still walking the streets?’ Harvey asked.
Ellis stood and straightened her pencil skirt. ‘You’ll see the ins and outs for yourself when I send you the case details,’ she said. ‘For now, just know that he’s got friends in high places and he’s very careful about how he conducts his activities.’
‘You want me to work this?’ Harvey asked.
‘The Russia desk was already under-resourced, but with Willard gone, they’ll need your help. He was their only experienced field operative.’
‘No problem. I’m guessing this takes priority over everything else I’m working on.’
Ellis nodded. ‘The police have been told to keep Jason’s name out of the papers, but you know how these things tend to leak after a while. I’d like to have it wrapped up before that happens.’
Harvey promised to get on it, and by the time he returned to his desk, the case notes for Nikolai Sereyev were waiting for him. Before he could make a start, though, he knew he’d have to hand over his current assignment to his colleague.
He looked over his monitor at Farsi and gave him the bad news, apologising for adding to his workload. ‘I wish I could just leave it until I wrap this up, but it relates to a bomb threat.’
‘Don’t be. The police have already been round to visit him and found nothing incriminating. At the moment we’re just monitoring his activities, but he appears to be clean.’
The smile disappeared from Farsi’s face. ‘Sounds like more wasted hours. When are the analysts going to give us something to get our teeth into?’
Harvey tut-tutted his friend. ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ He walked around and put the Notley file on Farsi’s desk. ‘These are the most recent notes from the Met. They’ll need to be added to his record.’
Farsi looked at the name and case number on the file and navigated to the electronic version. The face that appeared was unremarkable. Brown hair combed backwards, spectacles, green eyes, no scars. He read through the initial data that had been downloaded by Brigandicuum and the subsequent action taken.
‘It says the police found nothing on his computer. Are they sure they got the right one?’
‘They double-checked that,’ Harvey said. ‘Brigandicuum had downloaded the network card’s global unique identifier, and the police’s technical forensics team confirmed that they had the right machine. They just couldn’t find the data that was supposed to have been on it.’
‘A new hard drive?’ Farsi suggested.
‘It could be,’ Harvey admitted, ‘or perhaps he used a program to destroy any incriminating data before his computer was seized. I ran it past Gerald and he said both were possible explanations.’
When it came to anything electronic, there wasn’t much that MI5’s resident technician Gerald Small didn’t know.
‘What did a background check reveal? Anything to suggest a motive?’
‘Nothing,’ Harvey said. ‘Notley looks to be squeaky clean, but we can’t take any chances given the supposed threat.’
‘So what was your next step going to be?’ Farsi asked.
‘We’ve got taps on his phone and all data streamed through his Internet service provider is being channelled to us. So far there’s been nothing unusual. All we can do now is assign a resource to him and see where he goes.’
‘I’ll get on it,’ Farsi promised.
Harvey returned to his desk and found an internal message from Ellis. It contained a link to the file Willard had been working on, and he opened it to see the now familiar face of Nikolai Sereyev.
Harvey raised his arms and stretched, then leaned over his keyboard.
‘Let’s see what you’ve been up to.’