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Authors: Duncan Falconer

Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Thrillers, #Suspense

Undersea Prison (9 page)

BOOK: Undersea Prison
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‘Ample. Ample.’
Both men sat down in comfortable antique armchairs, with a dainty coffee table between them. The aide arrived carrying a tray, a jug of ice water and two glasses balanced on it. He placed it on the coffee table and headed back towards the door.
‘Hold all my calls,’ Ogden called out.
‘Yes, sir,’ the aide replied before closing the door behind him.
‘So.What’s on your mind?’ Ogden asked, sitting back and shifting his bulk to get comfortable.
‘The subject is Styx.’
Ogden nodded. ‘OK.’
‘You have three British subjects incarcerated in it.’
‘Now, Barty.You know that’s not a subject that right now you and I—’
‘No, no, no,’ Sir Bartholomew interrupted, smiling and gesturing dismissively. ‘Allow me to start again,’ he said, adopting a more appropriate expression. His smile disappeared. ‘There are problems involving the prison.’
‘Show me a prison that doesn’t have problems.’
‘Styx is not your usual prison and neither are its current problems. I’ve heard them described by some as merely problematic for your administration, downright serious by others.’
‘Barty, we’ve known each other many years.We have what I think is more than just a solid working relationship. You can be direct with me. But even as an old friend I’m not about to fill in any of the blanks for you.’
‘I wouldn’t play that game with you, Frank. To be honest, when I read the request from London I was unsure quite how to approach it. Still am, in fact.’
‘I’m all ears,’ Ogden said, making a point of checking his watch.
‘OK. Well, I’ll tell you how we see it and you can ignore me entirely if we’re way off the mark and I won’t be offended . . . The problems associated with Styx are heating up and when they boil over they’re going to cause a substantial mess. Your administration succeeded in taking a lot of the heat out of the volatile issue of political prisoners and foreign terrorists imprisoned without charge with the proposed closing down of Guantánamo. Even if you’re now in the process of hiding them all under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico instead. But that’s all about to erupt like a volcano. I’m talking, of course, about the corruption within the Felix Corp prison management - the funnelling of money to private bank accounts, undeclared revenue from a mine which utilises inmates as slave labour, that sort of thing. Even more damaging are the Agency’s questionable interrogation techniques - with the cooperation of the civilian prison staff, no less. It indicates a most unhealthy, possibly criminal relationship between the CIA and the Felix Corp while at the same time implicating certain members of Congress. One can only imagine what a congressional examination of that relationship would reveal. The leaks have already started . . . Now, of course I’m not here to tell you what you already know . . .’
‘You’re here to help?’
‘What else are friends for?’ Sir Bartholomew said, his smile back on his face.
Ogden’s suspicions increased.
‘Shall I continue?’ Sir Bartholomew asked, unsure if he might have gone too far too soon. Personally, he would have preferred more time to prepare the field before setting out his troops. But London had insisted that he should make his way to the proposal as soon as possible. That meant by the end of this meeting.
‘I’ve got a few more minutes.’
‘You’d like to shut down Styx but you might run into some obstacles. If you try and point accusatory fingers the resultant inevitable mud-slinging could leave you as dirty as anyone else.’
Ogden stared at Sir Bartholomew, remaining poker-faced, waiting for him to get to his point.
‘What if we could provide you with a good enough reason to shut the place down?’ Sir Bartholomew asked.
The VP’s expression did not change. As he saw it, he had two options at that stage. The first was to end the meeting politely there and then. The other was to acknowledge the existence of the problems and hear out the offer.The Brits didn’t usually go to these lengths without being sure of their position and the ambassador did appear confident that he had something of value to offer. It would be timely to present the President with a solution, if the Brits indeed had one. Then there was, of course, the reason why the Brits were doing it - the pay-off. All things considered, though, Ogden didn’t see a reason not to continue. Barty had not been far off the mark and the administration was prepared to pay a good price to see the back of this particular problem. ‘I’m listening,’ he said.
Sir Bartholomew smiled to himself. He was over the first hurdle. It would seem that the transcript he had received from London that morning was accurate.‘Time is a factor, of course,’ Sir Bartholomew added.
‘I’m interested to hear what you could do that we couldn’t,’ Ogden said.
‘If we were to be of reasonable help in this matter, could we expect our three British subjects to be released into our custody?’ The ambassador had to ask for a payment of some kind. Any demand could not be too greedy to risk scaring the VP off. But it had to be weighty enough to divert any suspicions.
Ogden knew Sir Bartholomew to be a shrewd old fox: after all, the Brit had been in the business twice as many years as himself. And the old boy was right about one thing. Time was indeed running out. ‘Let’s hear what you have to say first.’
‘The PM would also like to make the opening address at the summit meeting next week.’
Ogden sat back with a smile. ‘This had better be good,’ he said. Ogden knew the President could not care less who opened the summit. Who spoke first was more important to the Brits than it was to the Americans and was probably just part of a strategy aimed at one of the other summit members.The three Brit prisoners were not such an easy issue. But, even so, Barty’s price was paltry compared to the administration’s gains if there was any substance to this offer. Ogden remained suspicious, though.
Sir Bartholomew was about to speak when a gentle knock on the door stopped him. The door opened just enough for the aide to stick his head through. ‘Your meeting, sir.’
Ogden nodded to the aide who closed the door. His look conveyed to Sir Bartholomew that time was tight but he had the chair.
‘We propose an escape,’ Sir Bartholomew said.
‘What?’
‘An escape. Prove the prison is flawed and the President can immediately order a temporary closure to review security - which will, of course, become a permanent closure. Rather like Alcatraz.’
Ogden frowned.‘First of all that place is escape-proof. I’ve been through all the scenarios and, trust me, it doesn’t get any tighter than Styx. Therefore you would need help from the inside. We won’t get any cooperation from the Agency and we sure as hell can’t ask the Felix Corporation to leave a door open.’
‘Of course not. We understand that entirely.’
‘So how the hell are you going to do it?’
‘We’ll manage.’
‘You guys’ll
manage
?’ Ogden asked, unable to mask his cynicism.
‘Hear me out. First, let me stress that if anything should go wrong at any stage of this operation you’ll be protected from having any connection with it. I think that’s a most important point to bear in mind. Let me give you the opening scenario . . . The White House will commission a private British company to carry out a survey of the prison’s security.We will need a little help with aspects of the initial set-up phase but it’s very insignificant and in any case it would be an expected detail in setting up the evaluation. Then we get a man inside - and he escapes. If it looks like the game is up at any stage we say it’s just a part of the private security appraisal.’
‘You’re kinda missing one glaring point here, Barty. Styx actually
is
impossible to escape from. I’ve been down there. It makes Alcatraz look like a paper bag.’

We
don’t think Styx is impossible to escape from.’
‘Houdini’s dead, Barty, and “Beam me up, Scotty” - you know,
Star Trek
- is fiction.’
Sir Bartholomew’s smile was like that of a father to a naive son. The truth was that he had no idea what the operation entailed and, like Ogden, believed the prison to be as he described. But he was ostensibly a salesman and on a good day he could sell ice to an Eskimo. ‘This private company will be getting a little bit of help, of course.’
‘You mean your SIS will do the job.’
‘One of those organisations, I suppose.’
‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’
‘I’m well known for laughing at my own jokes,’ the ambassador said, no sign of a smile on his face now.
‘So how are you going to do it?’
‘The plans have not been finalised but I’m told the operations department is very pleased with what they’ve come up with.’
‘I sure would like to see those plans . . . Look, I’ll be honest, Barty. I can maybe buy someone getting in. I never saw a study on that because, well, who would want to? But getting out? No. Not without help.’
‘Of course you can see the plans.’
‘I would have to approve every phase.’
Sir Bartholomew sighed. ‘Planning by committee is a recipe for disaster.’
‘That’s non-negotiable, Barty.’
‘OK, but let these chaps get on with it. They
are
rather good at it, you know . . . And bear in mind that any interference by your chaps is tantamount to culpability. It would only compromise the authenticity of the independent survey.’
A frown wrinkled Ogden’s forehead as he searched for pitfalls. ‘How long before the plans are ready?’
‘I’m told the latter phases are complete. The initial phase requires some input from your chaps.’
Ogden got out of his chair and went to the window. ‘As I said, should anything go wrong at any stage . . .’ said Sir Bartholomew.
‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll be covered . . . You guys just love your secret-service missions, don’t you?’
‘And you don’t, I suppose?’
‘You really think you can get a man inside that place and then out without assistance from the prison?’
‘Me? No.’
Ogden looked back at Sir Bartholomew quizzically.
‘I’m with you,’ the ambassador said.‘I think it’s impossible. But someone clearly thinks it isn’t. Point is, you have nothing to lose by letting them have a go and quite a lot to gain if they should succeed - don’t you think?’
Ogden looked back out of the window. ‘Assuming the plan has some merit, which I doubt, how soon could this “independent survey” be ready to kick off?’
‘I’m told within a week - depending on your contribution. ’
‘Do you at least have something for me to look at?’
Sir Bartholomew got to his feet,walked over to Ogden’s’s desk, took an envelope from his inside breast pocket, opened it and removed several mugshots of a man. ‘They want you to find someone in your criminal system who looks like this man. Any level of criminal will do, even a parolee. You have an estimated one point two million white males at various stages of the judicial process in this country. I’m sure you can find someone who resembles this fellow closely enough. I’m told it doesn’t have to be a perfect match. Just close.’
The Vice-President took the mugshots. ‘Who’s this guy?’
‘One of our chaps, I assume . . . Well,’ Sir Bartholomew said, before placing the empty envelope on the coffee table beside the photographs. ‘I’d better be off.’ He held out his hand.
Ogden shook it as he looked into the old man’s eyes. He smiled thinly as he watched the ambassador leave and then he looked down at the photographs.
The aide stepped into the doorway.
Ogden looked at him thoughtfully. ‘Cancel the meeting. Call the President’s office. I need to see him.’
 
Sumners was seated behind the desk in his small sterile office, reading a file on his computer monitor when there was a knock on his door. ‘Come in,’ he called out without looking up.
The door opened and John Stratton walked in. He was wearing a worn leather jacket and his hands were plunged deep in its cracked pockets. His hair was tousled and his face was covered in a dark stubble. His clear green eyes betrayed a cold contempt for the man in front of him.
Sumners looked up and his expression immediately darkened. The two men held each other’s gaze for a moment, Stratton winning the competition easily. ‘Would you mind shutting the door, please,’ Sumners said, going back to his monitor and hitting several keys.
Stratton casually pushed the door closed and looked around the room, his gaze resting on the single pleasant aspect of it: a small window with broad horizontal plastic shutters that partially concealed a splendid view of the Thames. The bottom of the window was too high for Sumners to see the river from where he sat. The half-closed shutters pulled down on one side at a careless angle suggested the civil servant was hardly interested.
The only wall decoration was a world map and a picture of the Queen. There were no family photographs on the desk. Stratton knew Sumners had a wife, or at least had had one a year ago. He was the selfish, callous, pompous type who didn’t bother with such trivial mementoes.
Sumners completed his typing and did his best to force a smile as he leaned back, determined to remain superior. ‘I see you’re still using the same tailor.’
Stratton studied the man he had grown to despise over the years, dismissing a curiosity he’d had before entering the room about whether Sumners had changed even remotely for the better since they’d last met. In Stratton’s early days as a member of the operations section he’d seen Sumners fairly regularly, as often as one would expect to see one’s SIS taskmaster in this business. That was about a dozen times a year in his case, which was more than most. But then, Stratton was used more than most in those days.
The last time he’d seen Sumners had been over a year ago during a mission neither man would ever forget. Sumners had been long overdue for a shot at the next rung up the ladder and his boss, unwisely in Stratton’s opinion, had bumped him up to operational commander. But things did not go well, to put it mildly, and within a few days he’d been relieved of his position. The significant rift that immediately developed between the two men was due to the fact that Stratton had played a pivotal role in that demotion. As far as Stratton was concerned Sumners had deserved it. He had been exposed as inadequate when the going got tough.
BOOK: Undersea Prison
9.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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