Table of Contents
ALSO BY ANTHONY HOROWITZ
THE ALEX RIDER NOVELS:
THE DIAMOND BROTHERS MYSTERIES:
The Falcon’s Malteser
Public Enemy Number Two
Three of Diamonds
South by Southeast
More Horowitz Horror
The Devil and His Boy
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Copyright © 2011 by Anthony Horowitz.
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Philomel Books, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Published in Great Britain by Walker Books, Ltd., London. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-47629-1
Dedicated to every reader who set out
on this journey with me and who has now
come to its end.
THE MAN IN THE BLACK CASHMERE coat climbed down the steps of his private, six-seater Learjet 40 and stood for a moment, his breath frosting in the chill morning air. He glanced across the tarmac as a refueling truck rumbled past. In the distance, two men in yellow were standing, talking, in front of a hangar. Otherwise, he seemed to be alone. Ahead of him, a sign read Welcome to London’s City Airport, and beneath it an open door beckoned, leading to immigration. He headed for it, completely unaware that he was being watched every step of the way.
The man was in his fifties, bald and expressionless. Inside the terminal, he gave his passport to the official and watched with blank eyes as it was examined and handed back, then continued on his way. He had no luggage. There was a black limousine waiting for him outside with a gray-suited chauffeur behind the wheel. The man offered no greeting as he got in nor did he speak as they set off, following the curve of the River Thames up toward Canning Town and on toward the center of London itself.
His name was Zeljan Kurst and he was wanted by the police in seventeen different countries. He was the chief executive of the international criminal organization known as Scorpia, and as far as it was known, he had never actually been seen on the streets of London. However, MI6 had been tipped off that he was coming. They had been waiting for him to land. The passport official was one of their agents. They were following him now.
“Heading west on the A13 Commercial Road toward Whitechapel. Car three, take over at the next intersection.”
“Car three moving into position.”
“Okay. Dropping back.”
The disembodied voices bounced across the airwaves on a channel so secret that anyone trying to tune in without the necessary filters would have heard only the hiss of static. It would have been easier to have arrested Kurst at the airport. He could have been made to disappear in five seconds, bundled out in a crate and never seen again. But it had been decided, at the very highest level, to follow him and see where he went. For the head of Scorpia to be in England at all was remarkable. For him to be on his own, and on his way to a meeting, was beyond belief.
Zeljan Kurst was not aware that he was surrounded. He had no idea that his flight plan had been leaked by one of his own people in return for a complete change of identity and a new life in Panama. But even so, he was uneasy. Everything had told him that he shouldn’t be here. When the invitation had first arrived on his desk, delivered by a series of middlemen and traveling halfway around the world and back again, he had thought about refusing. He was not an errand boy. He couldn’t be summoned like a waiter in a restaurant. But then he had reconsidered.
When the fourth-richest man in the world asks you to meet him, and pays you one million dollars just to turn up, it might be worth it to hear what he has to say.
“We’re on High Holborn. Car four moving to intercept.”
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. He’s turning off.”
The limousine had crossed the main road and entered a narrow street full of old-fashioned shops and cafés. The move had taken the MI6 men by surprise, and for a moment there was panic as they struggled to catch up. Two of their cars swerved across the traffic—to a blast of horns—and plunged in after it. They were just in time to see the limousine stop and Zeljan Kurst get out.
“Car four, where are you?” The voice was suddenly urgent. “Where is the target?”
A pause. Then—“He’s entering the British Museum.”
It was true. Kurst had passed through the gates and was crossing the open area in front of the famous building that rose up ahead of him, its huge pillars stretching from one side to the other. He was carrying an ebony walking stick that measured out his progress, rapping against the concrete. The MI6 men were already piling out of their own cars, but they were too late. Even as they watched from the other side of the gates, Kurst disappeared into the building, and they knew that if they didn’t act swiftly, they would lose him for good. There was more than one way out. It was unlikely that the Scorpia man would have traveled all the way to England just to look at an exhibit. He might have gone inside deliberately to lose them.
“He’s inside the museum. Cars one, two, and three, surround the building. Watch all possible exits. We need immediate backup.”
Someone had taken charge. But whoever it was, his voice sounded high-pitched and uncertain. It was eleven o’clock on a bright February morning. The museum would be crowded with tourists and schoolchildren. If there was going to be any action, if they were going to arrest Zeljan Kurst, this was the last place they would have wanted to do it.
In fact, Kurst was still unaware of his pursuers as he crossed the Great Court, a gleaming white space with a spectacular glass roof sweeping in a huge curve overhead. He skirted around the gift shops and information booths, making for the first galleries. As he went, he noticed a Japanese couple, tiny and almost identical, taking photographs of each other against a twisting staircase. A bearded student with a backpack stood next to the postcards, pulling them out one at a time and studying them as if trying to find hidden codes. Tap, tap, tap. The end of the walking stick beat out its rhythm as he continued on his way. He knew exactly where he was going and would arrive at the exact minute that had been agreed upon.
Zeljan Kurst was a large man with heavy, broad shoulders that formed a straight line on either side of an unnaturally thick neck. He was bald by choice. His head had been shaved and there was a dark gray shadow beneath the skin. His eyes, a muddy brown, showed little intelligence, and he had the thick lips and small, squashed nose of a wrestler, or perhaps a bouncer at a shady nightclub. Many people had underestimated him and occasionally Kurst had found it necessary to correct them. This usually involved killing them. He walked past the statue of a naked, crouching goddess. An elderly woman with a deerstalker hat, sitting on a stool with brushes and oil paints, was making a bad copy of it on a large white canvas. Ahead of Kurst were two stone animals—strangely shaped lions—and to one side an entire temple, more than two thousand years old, brought from southwest Turkey and reconstructed piece by piece. He barely glanced at them. He didn’t like museums, although his house was furnished with rare objects that had been stolen from several of them. But that was the point. Why should something that might be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars be left to molder in a dark room, stared at by idiot members of the general public who had little or no idea of its true value? Kurst had a simple rule of life. To enjoy something fully, you had to own it. And if you couldn’t buy it, then you would have to steal it.
Ahead of him, two modern glass doors led into a final gallery. He watched as a tall, well-built black man carrying a notebook and pen walked through, then went in himself. The gallery was huge, stretching out in both directions, like an airport runway. Although there were more than a hundred people there, it wasn’t even half full. Everything was gray: the walls, the floor, the very air. But spotlights shining down from the ceiling, ten times higher than the visitors who stood beneath it, picked out the treasures that the room contained and these shone, soft and gold.