Andy mcNab
     Firewall [030-011-4.3]
     Category: fiction spies




     In his  third outing (following Remote  Control and  Crisis Four , Nick
Stone,  Andy McNab's series SAS  agent, is off the  Firm's  regular  payroll
owing to a major screw up in his last assignment that left his best friend's
family  slaughtered--except  for the one  child who  survived.  Little Kelly
needs  expensive treatment  for the post-traumatic stress that's  turned her
nearly  catatonic,  so Nick  takes on a freelance assignment  that gets  him
mixed up with Russian organized crime--in particular, with  an enigmatic mob
boss who  has designs on  some Finnish  cybertechnology. When  Nick realizes
it's not industrial  espionage that he's involved with but military secrets,
he's  caught  between  warring   factions  of  the  Russian  Mafia  and  the
Anglo-American alliance  of  intelligence agencies. The Westerners  will  do
anything to keep the Echelon program out of the hands of Valentin Lebed--the
Chechnyan Mafioso who makes Nick an offer he can't refuse--and the Maliskia,
a gang  of rival Russian criminals who want to derail Lebed's plans and take
over Echelon themselves. The action ranges from Helsinki to  St.  Petersburg
to  London,  the   weaponry  is  fully  detailed,  and   the  techniques  of
infiltration and retrieval carefully  outlined; McNab, a former SAS commando
who,  according  to  the  author's note  "is  still  wanted by a  number  of
terrorist  organizations  and  is therefore  forbidden to reveal his face or
current location," obviously remembers every ache,  pain, bruise, and injury
he  suffered in  his life  of derring-do,  since they're  all completely and
graphically described here, too.

     Also by Andy McNab
     Nmfiction
     Bravo Two Zero
     Immediate Action
     Fiction
     Remote Control Crisis Four
     FirewaLL by Andy McNab

     New York London Toronto Sydney Singapore
     This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are  products  of  the author's  imagination or  are used  fictitiously. Any
resemblance  to  actual  events or  locales  or  persons  living  or dead is
entirely coincidental.
     *
     POCKET BOOKS,  a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.  1230 Avenue of the
Americas, New York, NY 10020
     Copyright 2000 by Andy McNab
     Previously published in Great Britain in 2000 by Bantam Press
     All  rights  reserved, including the right  to  reproduce this  book or
portions thereof  in any form  whatsoever.  For  information address  Pocket
Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
     McNab, Andy.
     Firewall / Andy McNab.
     p. em.

     1.   Stone,  Nick  (Fictitious  character)--Fiction.   2.  Intelligence
officers--Fiction.  3.  British--Estonia--Fiction. 4.  Estonia--Fiction.  5.
Mafia--Fiction. I. Title.

     823'.914--dc21 2001021015
     First Pocket Books hardcover printing July 2001 10 987654321
     POCKET  BOOKS  and  colophon  are  registered  trademarks  of  Simon  &
Schuster, Inc.
     Designed byjaime Put&rti Printed in the U.S.A.




     Monday, December G, 1999



     The  Russians  were serious  players.  If things didn't go as  planned,
Sergei said,  I'd be  lucky  to  be shot  dead in the hotel  lobby. If  they
captured me, I'd be taken  to a remote  bit of wasteland and have my stomach
slit  open. They'd pull my intestines out and leave me to watch  them squirm
around on  my chest like  a  bucket of freshly  caught  eels  for the thirty
minutes it would take me to die. These things happen, he had explained, when
you mess with the main  men in  ROC (Russian Organized Crime). But  I didn't
have a choice; I desperately needed the cash.
     "What's it called again, Sergei?" I mimed the disembowelment
     Eyes  staring  straight  ahead,  he  gave  a  brief,  somber  smile and
muttered, "Viking's revenge."
     It was just before  seven p.m. and it had  already been  dark for three
and  a half hours. The air temperature had been well below freezing all day;
it hadn't snowed for a while, but  there was still a lot of the stuff about,
plowed to the sides of the roads.
     The two of us had been sitting very still for the best part of an hour.
Until I'd just spoken, our breathing was the only sign of movement.  We were
parked two  blocks  away from the Intercontinental Hotel,  using the shadows
between the streetlights to conceal our  presence in the dirty  black Nissan
4x4.  The rear seats were down flat to  make  it easier to hide  the  target
inside, complete with me
wrapped  round  him like  a wrestler to  keep him there.  The  4x4  was
sterile: no prints and completely empty apart from the trauma  pack lying on
the folded seats. Our boy had to be delivered across the border alive, and a
couple of liters of Ringer's solution might come in handy if this job turned
into  a gang fuck Right now, it certainly had all the ingredients  of one. I
found myself hoping it wouldn't be me needing the infusion.
     It had been a  while since I'd felt the need to pre canulate making  it
quicker for me to replace any fluid from gunshot wounds, but today had  just
that feel about it. I'd brought a catheter from  the U.K. and it was already
inserted into a vein under my left forearm, secured by tape and protected by
an Ace bandage. Anticoagulant was preloaded inside the catheter's needle and
chamber to  stop the blood that  filled it from clotting. Ringer's  solution
isn't as good as plasma to replace blood loss--it's only a saline mix--but I
didn't  want   anything   plasma-based.   Russian  quality  control   was  a
contradiction  in terms,  and money was what I wanted  to return to the U.K.
with, not HIV. I'd spent enough time in Africa not treating anyone's gunshot
wounds because of the risk of infection, and I wasn't about to let it happen
now.
     We  sat facing  Mannerheimintie,  600  feet  down  the  hill  from  our
position.  The boulevard was the  main  drag into  the  city center, just  a
fifteen minute walk away to the right. It carried a constant stream of slow,
obedient traffic each side of the  streetcar  lines.  Up here  it was like a
different world. Low-level apartment buildings hugged each side of the quiet
street and an inverted V of white Christmas  lights sparkled in almost every
window.
     People walked  past, straining under  the weight  of  their  purchases,
crammed  into  large  shopping bags with  pictures of holly and Santa.  They
didn't notice us as they  headed  home to their  smart apartments; they were
too  busy keeping their footing on the  icy  sidewalks and their heads  down
against the wind that howled and buffeted the 4x4.
     The engine had  been off all the time we'd been  here, and it was  like
sitting in a fridge. Our breath billowed like low cloud as we waited.
     I kept visualizing how, when, and where I was going to do my stuff, and
more importantly, what I was  going to do if things got fucked  up. Once the
target has been selected the basic sequence of
     a kidnapping is nearly  always the  same.  First  comes reconnaissance;
second,  abduction;  third, detention;  fourth,  negotiation; fifth,  ransom
payment; and finally, release--though sometimes  that doesn't happen. My job
was to plan and  implement the first three  phases; the rest of the task was
out of my hands.
     Three  members  of the loud-tie-and-suspenders brigade from  a  private
bank  had  approached  me  in  London.  They'd  been given  my  name  by  an
ex-Regiment SAS) mate who now worked for one  of the big security companies,
and who'd been nice  enough to recommend me when this  particular commission
had been declined.
     "Britain," they said  to me as we sat at a window table in the roof bar
of  the  Hilton,  looking down on to the gardens of Buckingham  Palace,  "is
facing  an  explosion  in  Russian   mafia-organized  crime.  London   is  a
money-laundering haven. The ROC are moving as much as 20 billion through the
City each year, and up to two hundred of their senior players either live in
Britain or visit regularly."
     The executives  went on to say they'd discovered that millions had been
channeled through Valentin  Lebed's accounts  at their  bank in  just  three
years. They didn't like that, and were none too keen  on the thought of  the
boys with the blue flashing lights paying him a visit and seeing the name on
all his paying-in slips. Their  solution was to have Val lifted and taken to
St. Petersburg, where,  I presumed, they  had  either  made  arrangements to
persuade  him to move  his account to a  different bank, or to channel  even
more through them to make the risk more acceptable. Whichever, I didn't give
a fuck so long as I got paid.
     I looked over at Sergei. His eyes glinted as  he  stared at the traffic
below us and his Adam's apple moved  as he swallowed.  There wasn't anything
left  to say;  we'd done enough talking during the two-week  buildup. It was
now time to do.
     The conference of European Council members was due to start in Helsinki
in  two days. Blue EU  flags already lined  the main roads, and  large black
convoys of Eurocrats  drove around with motorcycle outriders,  heading  from
premeeting  to  premeeting.  The police had set up diversions to control the
flow of traffic around the  city,  and orange reflective  cones and barriers
were  springing up everywhere. I'd already  had to change  our escape  route
twice because of it.
     Like  all the  high-class hotels,  the Intercontinental was housing the
exodus from Brussels. All the suits had been in the city since last
     week, wheeling and  dealing so that when the  heads  of state hit town,
all they'd have  to do was  politely  refuse Tony Blair's  invitation to eat
British  beef  at some dinner for the media,  then leave. All very good, but
for me  security around here was tighter than a duck's  ass-everything  from
sealed manholes to prevent bombs being planted to a heavy police presence on
the streets. They would  certainly have contingency plans for every possible
event, especially armed attack.
     Sergei had  a  folding-stock  AK--a  Russian  automatic,  7.62mm  short
assault rifle--under  his feet. His cropped, thinning brown hair was covered
by  a dark-blue woolen hat, and the old Soviet Army body armor he wore under
his  down jacket  made  him look like the  Michelin man.  If  Hollywood  was
looking for a Russian hardhead, Sergei would win the screen test every time.
Late forties, square jaw, high  cheekbones, and blue eyes  that didn't  just
pierce, they chopped you into tiny pieces. The only reason he would never be
a  leading man was his badly pockmarked  skin. Either he'd steered away from
the Clearasil  in his  youth or he'd  been burned;  I couldn't  tell, and  I
didn't want to ask. He was a hard, reliable man, and one I felt it was  okay
to do business with, but he wasn't going to be on my Christmas-card list.
     I had read about Sergei Lysenkov's freelance activities in Intelligence
Service reports. He had been a member of Spetznaz's Alpha Group, an elite of
special-forces officers  within the RGB, who used to  be  deployed  wherever
Moscow's power was under threat or  there  were wars of expansion. When hard
line heads of the KGB led  the 1991 coup in Moscow, they ordered Alpha Group
to kill  Yeltsin as he held out in  the Russian  White House, but Sergei and
his mates decided that  enough was enough and that the politicos were all as
bad  as each  other. They disobeyed the  order,  the coup  failed, and  when
Yeltsin  learned what had  nearly happened  he  took them  under his  direct
command, cutting their power by turning them into his own bodyguards. Sergei
decided  to  quit  and  make his  experience and knowledge available  to the
highest  bidder, and today  that was  me. It had  been  easy enough to  make
contact: I just went to  Moscow  and asked  a few security companies where I
could find him.
     I needed  Russians  on  the team because I needed to  know how Russians
think, how  Russians do. And when  I discovered that Valentin Lebed would be
in Helsinki for twenty-four hours of R and R, and not in his fortress in St.
Petersburg, Sergei was the only one
     who  could organize vehicles, weapons, and the bribing of border guards
in the time available.
     The people who'd  briefed  me on the job had done their homework  well.
Valentin Lebed, they were able to tell me, had been smart during the fall of
communism.  Unlike  some  of  his  gaucher  colleagues, he  didn't keep  the
designer labels on the sleeves of his new suit to show how much it had cost.
His rise was brutal and meteoric; within two years he was  one of the  dozen
heads  of the "mafiocracy" who had made  ROC  so powerful  around the world.
Lebed's firm  employed  only ex-KGB agents  overseas, using their skills and
experience to run international crime like a military operation.
     Coming  from dirt-poor  beginnings as a farmer's son in Chechnya,  he'd
fought against  the Russians in the mid-nineties  war. His  fame was  sealed
after rallying his men  by making them watch Braveheart time and time  again
as the Russians bombed them day  after day.  He  even  painted his face half
blue when  attacking. After  the  war  he'd  had  other ideas,  all of  them
involving U.S.  dollars, and the place he'd  chosen to realize them  was St.
Petersburg.
     Much  of  his money came from arms dealing, extortion,  and a string of
nightclubs he  owned in Moscow  and elsewhere,  which  served  as fronts for
prostitution  rackets.  Jewelery  businesses he  had "acquired"  in  Eastern
Europe were used as a front to fence icons stolen from churches and museums.
He also had bases in the United States, and was said to have brokered a deal
to dump hundreds of tons of American  toxic waste  on his motherland. In the
Far East,  he'd even  bought an  airline  just so  he  could ship out heroin
without  administrative  hassle. Within just a  few years,  according to the
guys  who'd  briefed me, such activities  were said to have netted him  more
than $200 million.
     Three blocks on the other side of the hotel, parked in a car that would
be abandoned once  this lift kicked off,  were two more of the six-man team.
Carpenter and Nightmare were armed  with 9mm  mini-Uzi machine  guns, a very
small  version of the Uzi 9mm, on harnesses under  their overcoats, the same
as the BGs (bodyguards)  we were going up against. They were  good, reliable
weapons, if  a  little  heavy for their size.  It was ironic, but Sergei had
obtained  the  team's  Uzis  and old Spanish, semiautomatic  suppressed  7mm
pistols from one of Valentin's own dealers.
     Carpenter and Nightmare weren't their real names, of course;
     Sergei--the only one  who spoke  English--had told me that was how they
translated,  and  that was  how  he  referred  to  them. Just as well,  as I
couldn't have pronounced them in Russian anyway.
     Nightmare was living up to his  name. He certainly  wasn't the sharpest
tool in Sergei's  shed.  Things  needed to  be demonstrated twenty or thirty
times before he got  the idea. There was a slight flatness to his face that,
together with his constantly shifting  eyes and the fact that he didn't seem
too good at keeping food in his mouth, made him look a bit scary.
     Carpenter had a heroin  habit that  Sergei assured me  would not affect
his performance, but it certainly had during  the buildup.  He had lips that
were  constantly  at work, as though he'd swallowed something and was trying
to recapture the taste. Sergei told him that if he screwed up  on the ground
he would personally kill him.
     Nightmare  was like a big brother to Carpenter and  protected  him when
Sergei gave him  a  hard  time for messing  up,  but  it  seemed to  me that
Nightmare would be lost without  him, that they  needed each  other.  Sergei
told me  they'd been friends since they were  teenagers. Nightmare's  family
had looked after Carpenter  when  his mother went  down for life for killing
her  husband.  She'd  discovered  he'd  raped  his  own   seventeen-year-old
daughter. As  if that  wasn't  enough, Sergei  was  his uncle,  his father's
brother.  It was  As  the World Turns, Russian style,  and the  only thing I
liked about it was  that it made my own  family  seem  normal. Carpenter and
Nightmare would be in the hotel with me  for  the lift; perhaps I could keep
some control over them if I had them with me.
     The  last two  on the team I'd  christened the James brothers  and they
were in a green Toyota 4x4. I wasn't so worried about them; unlike the other
two, they didn't have  to be told what  to do more  than twice. They had the
trigger on the  target's three black Mercedes, which were about a mile and a
half  away  from  the  hotel.  They  also  had  folding-stock   AKs  and  AP
(armor-piercing) rounds  in their  mags, and,  like Sergei, they wore enough
body armor to cripple a small horse.
     The  target  was  well protected  in the hotel  and  his vehicles  were
securely parked underground so that no device--explosive from his enemies or
listening  or surveillance from law enforcement--could be placed.  When they
finally  moved out to pick him up from the  hotel with the  rest of his BGs,
the Jameses would follow. Carpenter
     and Nightmare would then take up their positions  in the  hotel,  along
with me. Sergei, Jesse, and Frank would take on the vehicles.
     The Jameses were both ex-Alpha Group, too, but unlike Sergei they  were
far too good-looking to be straight. They'd been  together  since their time
as young conscripts in Afghanistan,  leaving after the  previous Chechen war
in the  mid-nineties, disillusioned with the  leadership  that had  let them
lose against the rebels. Both were  in  their mid-thirties,  with dyed blond
hair,  very  clean shaven  and  well groomed. If they'd  wanted a  change of
career they could have become  catalog  models.  They had  never been parted
during their military career. As far as I could make out, all they wanted to
do was kill Chechen rebels--and swap admiring glances.
     I knew I could trust Sergei, but I  still wondered about his  selection
procedure. He obviously wanted to keep most of the cash I'd promised him and
had decided not to bring the A team.
     It was the most unprofessional  job I'd ever been on, and I'd been on a
few.  Things had got so bad that  I'd even taken  to  sleeping  with my door
barred and my weapon ready. If the team wasn't complaining  to him about  my
planning, Sergei said,  they were moaning about who was earning what and how
they  might  get  ripped  off  when  it  came  to payday. Carpenter  was  so
homophobic he made Hitler look like a wet liberal, and it  had taken as much
effort keeping the two  pairs away from each other  as  it had preparing for
the job. I did my best to keep out of their way and  concentrated on dealing
exclusively with Sergei; he was the one I had to keep  happy, because he was
the only one who could help me get the target into Russia. But they'd got me
nervous;  people were going  to die today,  and I  didn't want to  be one of
them.
     I was with  a  scary crew, against a scary  target,  with the whole  of
Western Europe's  leadership due in town, bringing along enough security  to
take on  China. This wasn't a good day out  but, fuck  it, desperation makes
people do desperate things.
     I  blew  out  another  cloud  of breath. The  digital  display  on  the
dashboard told me another twenty minutes had passed--time for a radio check.
Reaching into my inside jacket pocket, I felt for the send button of my very
yellow Motorola handset,  the  sort that parents  use to keep tabs on  their
kids on the ski slopes or in  the shopping mall. All six of us had one, each
connected  to an  earpiece which  was  hooked  in place. With so many people
using headphones
     on their mobile  phones,  we wouldn't  be  conspicuous wandering around
with them in.
     I  pressed twice, the squelch sounding off in my ear, then checked with
Sergei.  He  nodded;  I  was  sending. Jesse  and  Frank  replied  with  two
squelches, then  Carpenter and Nightmare followed with three. If I'd hit the
send button and there was  nothing from the Jameses, Carpenter and Nightmare
would have waited thirty seconds and replied anyway. We would have no option
then  but to close in on  the  target and wait for the  Meres to arrive  not
good, as it exposed us three  in the hotel and messed up coordination. There
was  radio silence for two reasons. One, I  couldn't speak the language, and
two, EU land security would  be  listening in. With any  luck,  a few clicks
here and there wouldn't mean a thing. There were many other standby com ms I
could have used,  mobile phones for  instance, but everything had to be kept
pretty basic for Nightmare and Carpenter. Anything else to remember and they
would have blown up. The  old principle  of  planning keep it simple, stupid
rang true yet again.
     While Sergei  had gone for  the Michelin man look, I was  very much the
businessman: single-breasted suit,  jacket one size  up, dark-gray overcoat,
black  woolen  scarf and  thin  leather  gloves,  and  the stress to  match.
Nightmare and Carpenter were dressed in the same style. All three of us were
clean shaven, hair washed, and well groomed. Detail  counts; we had  to move
about the  hotel without anyone giving  us a second glance, looking as if we
were  part  of   the  all-expenses-paid,  outrageously   salaried   Brussels
freeloaders. Across my lap I even had today's edition of the Herald Tribune.
     My overcoat was doing a good job  of concealing the body armor under my
shirt.  Sergei's might be as thick as the paving slabs outside the  Kremlin,
but  mine consisted of just twelve paper-thin sheets of Kevlar not enough to
stop  one of Sergei's  AP  rounds, but  enough to see off the mini-Uzis that
might soon be trying to hose me down. There  was a pocket  in the body armor
for a ceramic  plate  to cover my chest  area, but  unlike Sergei I couldn't
wear one as it  was far too bulky. Carpenter had refused to  wear any at all
because it wasn't manly, and Nightmare had followed suit.  Fucking mad; if I
could have, I'd have covered myself  from head to toe in  the stuff. My feet
were  in all  sorts of  shit;  with nothing  on but thin socks and a pair of
lace-up shoes, they were as cold as bags of frozen peas. I could no
     longer  feel anything below  my ankles, and had  given  up moving  them
around to generate heat.
     I was carrying  a  South African  Z88, which looked like a 9mm Berreta,
the  sort of pistol Mel Gibson uses  in the  Lethal  Weapon  films. When the
world banned weapons exports to South Africa during apartheid, the boys just
set about making  their own gear and were now exporting more assault weapons
and helicopters than the

     I had three twenty-round extended mags, which meant an extra two inches
hanging out  of the pistol grip, looking as if it had partially  fallen out.
The  two  spares  went into my left-hand overcoat pocket.  If things went to
plan I wouldn't even be drawing down. The  lift should be--would  be--silent
and take less than a minute.
     The body  armor was the lightest I dared  wear, but even so it made  it
impossible to draw or sit down with a  pistol placed where I  would normally
have had it: center front, tucked down the  front of my jeans or pants in an
internal  holster. I wasn't feeling happy  about my new weapon position. Now
it  had to be on the right-hand side on my pants belt. I'd had to  spend the
last two weeks practicing and consciously reminding myself that the position
had  changed, otherwise I might go to  draw down on someone and find my hand
hitting Kevlar instead  of a pistol grip. That  was if  I  could  get  to it
through all the layers  of clothing. To be able to flick back the top layers
quickly, I'd taped together some outlets from the set in the car and carried
them  in the right-hand pockets of both my coat  and jacket. It was just one
more  thing  making me feel uneasy. My only  consolation was that this  time
tomorrow it would all be over: I'd get my money and never see these lunatics
again.
     There was rustling as Sergei unwrapped a chocolate  bar  and started to
throw  it down his  throat without  offering me any. Not that I wanted it; I
wasn't hungry, just worried. I sat there waiting, with the sound of Sergei's
teeth mashing and jaws clicking as the wind whistled around the wagon.
     I sat and thought  as he  sucked  his teeth clean. So far, Valentin had
evaded the authorities, mainly because he had learned  early on that  it was
good  to have friends in powerful places  and officials on the payroll.  Key
witnesses  were routinely murdered before  they  could testify  against him.
Just a few months  earlier, Sergei said, an American journalist who'd delved
a bit  too deeply into Val's business affairs  was forced  into hiding, with
his  family, after  a  phone call was  intercepted in which  Val  was  heard
putting out a  contract  of  $100,000, not just on  the reporter's life, but
also on those of his wife and child.
     It was for those who betrayed  his trust, however, that the worst  fate
was reserved. Two senior  managers who oversaw  his prostitution empire  had
been caught skimming a bit off the top at his  Moscow  brothels. Even though
they'd fought alongside him in  the Braveheart  days  and had been  faithful
lieutenants  ever since, Val had had them taken out and staked to the  earth
on waste ground  not far  from Red Square, where he'd personally  slit their
bellies, pulled out their intestines, and waited patiently for  them to die.
The "Viking's revenge" appeared to have done the trick: Ever since then, not
a single ruble had gone astray from any of his tills.
     I heard six quick squelches in my earpiece. The three pickup Meres were
mobile toward the hotel.
     I replied with two squelches, then heard another two from Nightmare and
Carpenter,  who should  now be getting out of their car and  heading for the
hotel. All six of us knew it was time to start performing.
     Sergei didn't say a  word,  just nodded. He might speak English, but it
had to  be squeezed out of  him. I nodded back, checking my weapon was still
in position.
     I got out of the  4x4 and left  Sergei staring downhill. Pulling  up my
coat collar to protect me from the wind, I headed in the opposite direction,
away  from  the main street. My route took me  up the hill  for one  hundred
feet, then a right turn to the next intersection.  That put  me on  the road
adjacent to the hotel and down to the main drag again.
     I  could see the  large  gray  concrete  hotel in  front  of me  on the
left-hand side of the  road.  Just short of  it was roadwork  surrounded  by
steel fencing; the cobblestones were up and the pipes were being repaired. I
didn't envy the poor bastards who had to finish the job in this weather.
     The  noise from  the main street grew louder as I walked  downhill. The
James brothers  would be  on  it  now,  following the  Meres. Nightmare  and
Carpenter should be walking into the hotel from the opposite side and Sergei
would be positioning himself so that he'd be able to move in on the Meres at
the front of the hotel.
     I crossed the  road, passing the hotel's  rear  service and parking lot
entrance. Two  white Hilux  delivery vans were parked up on the red asphalt.
There was  a glass door giving access to the hotel beyond the delivery bays,
but you could only get through it by buzzing reception, and I didn't want to
make myself  any more conspicuous than I had  to. Neither of the two loading
bays was open; it was  far  too  cold. I  continued downhill,  the hotel now
obscured by a line of high conifers.
     Valentin Lebed's  weakest  point would be  tonight, in Finland, in this
hotel, before he left for the theater.  He was on his  way  to see Romeo and
Juliet. The theater was only across the road, a few hundred feet away to the
left,  but it  was cold, he had always  been  a target for attack and he was
incredibly rich, so why walk?
     About  one hundred feet  short of the main road I hit the driveway from
the  Intercontinental's front entrance. It was a semicircle and  one way.  I
turned left; in front  of me, halfway down  the concrete and glass building,
was a large blue canopy  to protect guests from  the elements as they got in
and out of their cars. The ground  floor walls were  glass, through  which I
could  see  the  warm  and  cosy looking  interior.  Small  trees  lined the
driveway; they had lost their leaves and were now covered in white Christmas
lights.  The  snow made  them  look as if  they'd  been sprinkled with icing
sugar.  I carried on past the illuminated  reindeer that stood on  the  lawn
between the driveway and main drag, which was about one  hundred feet down a
gentle slope.
     The plan was simple. Nightmare and Carpenter were to kill the close BGs
that  were protecting the target as he came from the elevator, then cover me
as I took  the target toward the main doors. While this  was  happening, the
Jameses would have blocked off the rear  of the Meres with their 4x4, Sergei
would block the front with the Nissan and all three would be controlling the
other BGs and drivers with their AKs.
     Once outside, I'd head for the back of the Nissan, dragging the  target
with me.  We'd  both lie under a blanket,  with  my pistol  rammed down  his
throat  while  Sergei  drove to the DOP  (vehicle drop-off point), where the
target would be switched to the trunk of a changeover vehicle enroute to the
border. Meanwhile,  Jesse  and Frank would  be giving the area the good news
with CS gas before leaving in the Toyota, along with the other two, to their
DOP and
     changing  vehicles. We'd all RV  (rendezvous) near the  border and  get
into a truck that  was rigged up with hidden compartments while Sergei drove
us into Mother Russia.  Then it was  just a few hours to St.  Petersburg and
payday. Nice work if you can get it.
     I  walked  under the canopy and  through the  first  set  of  automatic
tinted-glass and brass-effect  doors. Once  past the second set I was in, my
face flushed from the downward blast of the heaters above the doorway.
     I knew the foyer area well. It had the air of an expensive, comfortable
club. I hadn't seen any of the rooms, but they must have been stunning.
     In front of me, about one hundred feet  away and behind a group of very
noisy  and  confused Japanese  tourists  surrounding a mountain of  matching
suitcases,  was the reception desk.  In the  far  right-hand  corner  was  a
hallway that  led  to  the  restaurant,  rest rooms,  and the  all-important
elevators.
     By  now Nightmare and Carpenter should  be at the  far end of the hall,
sitting  by  the restaurant entrance. From there they could keep  trigger on
the three elevator doors.
     Immediately to  my  right, behind  a dark  wood-paneled  wall, was  the
Baltic Bar.  To my left,  efficient-looking bellboys  were buzzing around  a
sprinkling of  sofas, chairs, and coffee tables. The lighting was subdued. I
wished I'd just dropped in for a drink.
     I headed for one of the sofas,  sitting  down so that  I was facing the
Japanese confusion  at reception to my half right, with  the hallway to  the
right  of that, and  the  brass-effect  elevator  doors  in  view. Like  me,
Nightmare and  Carpenter had placed themselves  out  of sight of  the  video
cameras that were covering the reception desk. I sat, spread out the Trib on
the coffee table, unbuttoned my  overcoat and waited for the convoy of Meres
to arrive.
     It was pointless worrying  about  anything now. There is only  so  much
training  and planning that can be  done.  I used to  get worried when  this
feeling came over me, but now I understood it. Basically,  I accepted that I
was going to die, and anything beyond that was a bonus.

     The Japanese weren't at all  happy,  and they didn't care who  knew it.
There must have been  about twenty  of them,  all with  video  cameras round
their necks.
     Three  minutes  later the  headlights  of  the three  Meres  raked  the
ground-floor windows. Jesse and Frank should  have  pulled up  just short of
the semicircular  driveway  where  they'd be standing  by. Sergei  would  be
waiting to block their front.
     I  waited for the inside set of sliding doors to open, keeping  my head
down, concentrating hard on my newspaper.
     In came the BGs. Two pairs of shiny Italian  shoes and expensive  black
cashmere overcoats over black pants.
     You  always  avoid  eye contact, because they'll be looking for  it. If
your eyes  lock  you're fucked; they'll know you aren't there to  talk about
the beef ban.
     I watched the two sets of heels make their way over to the far right of
the foyer. They  paused by the brass elevator doors, now and  again shielded
by the Japanese as they went in pursuit of one very hassled hotel rep.
     The middle door slid  open with a gentle  ping. The shoes  went in, and
two  more  sets  of shoes  were  refused entry.  The doors  closed  and  the
indicator light stopped at the Ambassador Suite.  They were going to meet up
with the other  two BGs who were already with Valentin, their principal,  my
target. My money.
     I got up, folding the  Trib into my  coat  pocket,  and started to walk
toward the main doors. As I moved past them, toward the
     leather-boothed, dark-wood  Baltic Bar,  I could  see three  very clean
black Meres on the  other side of the glass, exhaust fumes condensing in the
cold air, each with a driver waiting patiently at the wheel.
     The bar was half  full and not very smoky, considering  the  number  of
cigarettes I could  see on the go. There were  quite a few laptops open, and
there was a general  hubbub as suits talked  shop over a beer or into  their
cell phones.
     Unbuttoning my suit jacket as  I walked, but keeping my overcoat  on to
conceal  the  body  armor,  I  made   my  way   around  tables  and  leather
chesterfields toward the far door.
     I  seated  myself where I  could see down  the  corridor  to  the three
elevator doors, set  back slightly in the right-hand wall. Beyond them,  and
just  out  of  sight, were  the reception and foyer. At the other end of the
hallway, Carpenter and Nightmare should be in position in the coffee area of
the restaurant, with a clear view all the way  down  to the foyer. Under the
table I pulled at my right glove and eased my  index finger through the  cut
in the leather.
     Five  long minutes went by  as elevators came and  went,  but Val still
hadn't  made an appearance. Two middle-aged couples emerged  from the center
lift, dressed in furs  and  dinner  jackets, looking as if  they, too,  were
going to the theater. It was now that I started  to worry. The calm was over
and the  storm was about to  begin. My heart was pumping big  time. My  body
armor was wet with sweat and my shirt collar was soaking it up from the back
of my  neck. Any minute now someone was going to ask me if  I was ill, I was
sure of it.  Mentally  I was  still the  same,  but my  body was  telling me
something different.
     About  twenty  seconds  later there was another  pmg. The two pairs  of
expensive Italian shoes emerged from  the right-hand elevator and stopped in
the corridor for a second or two, each pair facing in a different direction.
The overcoat of the BG facing toward me swirled open as he turned, then both
moved toward the foyer, disappearing from view as quickly as they'd arrived.
I  knew their jackets and overcoats would be like mine, open to access their
weapons.
     I moved my hand into my inside  jacket pocket and gave the Motorola six
clicks on the send button, hearing the squelch in my earpiece each time. Val
would be down any minute now.
     Sergei,  Jesse, and Frank would now know  that the  target and BGs were
heading toward them. The two pairs  of shoes were going to secure the foyer,
probably by the main doors. It wouldn't be long
     now before  everything kicked  off and  the Japanese  would really have
something to complain about.
     Whatever these two BGs did, we had them covered. If they stayed inside,
it was Nightmare's  and  Carpenter's job to take them  on once they'd sorted
out the BGs immediately around Val. Outside, it was down to the other three.
     We  all  waited,  and  I  sweated  as people  around  me  laughed,  hit
keyboards, and talked between mouthfuls of alcohol.
     There was a  ping from  the  far-right elevator.  Another two pairs  of
black  patent-leather shoes,  dress-suit trousers complete  with silk stripe
under  black overcoats.  They stepped out on  either  side of  a  light-gray
cashmere  coat and the  smartest pants of  all, followed by a pair  of  very
long, slim, well-toned, black-stockinged calves topped off with  the world's
most  luxurious  mink. Val's woman,  keeping  him warm on those  long lonely
nights away from his family.
     I  had to be careful. There  was always the  possibility of someone you
overlook during  surveillance--the one who looks like  the brother-in-law or
secretary. Then, when you hit the  target,  they  can  prove  very dangerous
indeed. But not this one; she was definitely not part of the BG setup.
     They had turned  right out of the elevator without  hesitating. I stood
up slowly, waiting for my cue.
     I caught Carpenter's scary, dancing eye as he and Nightmare crossed the
doorway, moving right to left, matching the purposeful strides of the BGs.
     We'd  rehearsed what was supposed to  happen next so many times. It had
to work; there was no stopping this now.
     I turned  left  out of  the  door  and fell in behind them as they drew
their suppressed weapons.
     About  fifteen feet ahead of us,  the backs  and very wide shoulders of
the  BG   pair  flanked  Val  and  the  woman  as   they  moved  toward  the
Japanese-filled foyer.  We needed to close in on  them fast, while they were
still in  the confines of  the  hallway. Once out  in  the foyer the rest of
Val's team would be able  to see what was  about to happen  before  the 4x4s
could get into position.
     Ten more feet before we  were on  top of them. There  was  another pmg,
then  a bright  light  from an elevator interior  as the doors  opened and a
middle-aged couple began to step out between us and the target.
     I moved to push them back.  This was a contingency I had rehearsed with
them many times. As I did so, Carpenter's right hand came up. Without taking
his eyes off  Val, he fired three  or four suppressed rounds into the couple
as  he  passed.  I could hear the top slide  on  his weapon working back and
forth inches  from my  face  and  the dull thud of  the rounds  exiting  the
barrel. Shit,  her scream had turned the job noisy and we hadn't  even taken
out the BGs.
     The couple fell back  into  the  elevator, the  woman  taking  all  the
rounds,  her white silk blouse  red  with  blood. Fuck  this  guy;  slotting
players was one thing, but real people meant big trouble.
     The  two  BGs  turned  and  started  to draw  down their  weapons,  but
Carpenter and Nightmare had closed  the gap and gave them both two rounds in
the head from less than a foot away. They dropped without a sound.
     Nobody  in the  vicinity had noticed anything  yet--they were  too busy
doing their own stuff--but they soon would.
     As  the BGs  dropped,  Carpenter should have moved on, but he continued
firing down at the bodies. The BGs were dead. He was wasting time.
     Behind me, the man in the  elevator cried out as  he cradled his  dying
wife.
     I saw Carpenter's glazed eyes.  He  was high on whatever it was that he
used to get through the long winters. Sergei  would  be busy tonight  if  we
stayed alive and he stuck  to his  promise.  Fuck it,  I'd kill this  maniac
myself before this got out of control.
     Keeping my eyes fixed on Carpenter's head as he fired yet another round
into the BG, I shoved my  right  hand between my jacket and shirt, toward my
88,  my left palm  pointing toward  him, arm bent and ready  to  receive the
weapon that would soon be  in my grip The screams from the elevator were now
muffled.  I  wasn't  aware of anything  else  as  I concentrated  solely  on
Carpenter's head as he turned to fire into the other body on the floor.
     My fingers scraped against the body armor as  I leaned forward slightly
from the hip  and pushed my coat and jacket back as aggressively as I could.
The weight of the metal outlets helped me to expose my weapon for the second
I needed. Pushing the web of my right hand firmly down into the 88's  pistol
grip, I closed my lower three fingers  and  thumb  around  it  as  firmly as
possible.
     Drawing the weapon, I started to insert my glove-free index finger into
the trigger guard, making sure  I could feel the steel of the trigger on the
first  pad.  I  pulled down on the safety catch  with my thumb  just  before
Carpenter fired his next round.
     There was  the glint of brass as  the working  parts ejected  the spent
casing between  us. As he tried  to  fire  again, I  could see the top slide
being held back by the locking lever. He had run out of rounds.
     Jamming the 88 into my left hand,  I punched  forward  and  raised  the
weapon up, in between my focus on  his  head,  waiting for  that  nanosecond
before the 88 came into view and I acquired the sight picture.
     Real life burst into my eardrums once again. It was Nightmare, shouting
into  his Motorola  at  the  4x4s  to  move in on the Meres  as  he  gripped
Carpenter's arm, dragging him toward the foyer.
     I was now no more than  two steps from Val. He was still looking at the
bodies  on the floor,  taking  in what  he had just seen over  the last  ten
seconds.
     He went into  survival mode, spinning round and looking back toward the
restaurant, thinking  that he could  make  his escape. We had eye-to-eye. He
knew I was coming for him, and he knew it was too late to do much about it.
     Everything went  into slow motion as I focused completely  on his neck.
It  was pointless paying  attention  to anything else  around me. There  was
fuck-all I could do about it.
     I was  now only one step away. He  was expecting to get  shot and stood
there waiting, accepting. There was nothing he could do. He must  have known
this  would happen one day. I put the crook of my left arm around his  neck,
still moving forward  so it  jammed tight  against  his throat. He staggered
backward as I took another  step, forcing his face upward. I heard him  gag.
He was only five foot seven, so quite easy to get a  grip of. If it had been
his companion, I might have had to get on the balls of my feet. The woman in
the mink didn't react at  all. I expected her to scream, but she  just stood
off to one side, back to the wall, and watched.
     With the pistol  in my right hand and still  moving,  I pushed my right
arm behind his neck to complete the head lock, like a wrestler trying to get
a better hold of his opponent. At once he started fighting for oxygen; there
was no way he wasn't coming with me. There
     was no  need  to check him for weapons.  He didn't need one tonight; he
was a businessman on his way to the theater.
     I continued on toward the foyer. Val didn't like what  I  was  doing to
him, his back arched to try to take the weight of his body off his neck.
     I was in a semi crouched position, so I could carry his weight. I could
feel  the  body  armor  he  was  wearing,  disguised  as  an  undershirt.  I
concentrated on looking where we were going, toward the Russians shouting in
the foyer and the suddenly silent Japanese. Nothing else mattered.
     Four or five more seconds had elapsed and  the  people inside the hotel
could not only see what had happened, but had had time for it to sink in. It
takes a while for a brain not used to processing this sort of information to
say, Yep, that's right, there are two dead men on the  floor and others with
submachine guns shouting and running around the foyer. Then, once one person
starts becoming hysterical, they all do.
     I turned into the foyer, heading for the exit. Nightmare came into view
by the main doors, doing his stuff to one of the BGs, shouting and screaming
in Russian and kicking his hands away from his body.
     I was sixty-odd feet away from them.
     The  Japanese followed everyone  else's  example, running for cover and
hiding  behind  the  sofas, dragging  their loved ones with  them.  That was
great: The more they panicked the less they saw.
     A two-tone alarm started to  drown out the screams and  I moved as fast
as I could.
     Nightmare was there, checking  my back as  he covered the  BG. Gripping
tight, I pulled Val along. He snorted like a horse, fighting for breath.
     Through  the windows, the blaze of headlights from the three Meres  lit
Sergei's 4x4, which  had  the tailgate open, waiting for me  and Val. Beyond
the Meres' roofs, I could see Jesse and Frank, AK  butts unfolded and in the
shoulder, muzzles  pointing at  the ground.  Val's three drivers had already
been dragged out of their seats and were face down on the pavement.
     Carpenter was  to  the left  of the convoy.  He,  too,  had  his weapon
pointing  down.  He must have been  covering  the other BG.  All three  were
blowing out steam like kettles.
     Sergei would be in the wagon, waiting for me to get out of this lunatic
asylum.
     With thirty feet to go, World War Three broke out. I  heard a series of
short  bursts from a 9mm, the  muzzle flashes bouncing off  the windows like
flashbulbs. It was Carpenter, giving the BG the best part of a mag. Then the
shots  were  drowned  out  by the  screaming in  the foyer. It was like  the
sinking of the Titanic.
     I couldn't believe it. More muzzle flashes lit up the darkness outside,
the heavier  7.62 reports from Jesse and Frank echoing through the building.
The drivers  must have gone  for  their  weapons,  thinking they were  next.
Nightmare was frozen to the  spot, shaking with fear  as he  stood over  the
last BG. He stared at me, waiting for direction.
     I flicked a look at the BG. His eyes were switched on and waiting for a
chance  to get  away  from this  gang  fuck There was nothing I could do for
Nightmare, who was starting to stress big time. He would have to sort it out
himself.
     There  was no way  I was going out the front  door with  a firefight in
progress,  especially as I  didn't know the  result. Turning back toward the
hallway, I moved Val as quickly as I could, nearly falling over the  doorman
and a bellboy, who were  down on the floor  in the open, too paralyzed  with
fear to move.
     I got back to the corner of the hallway. The man was still sobbing over
his wife in the elevator.  Her legs, in flesh-colored stockings and sensible
shoes, protruded into the hallway as the  doors  opened  and closed  against
them.
     The woman was still there, well in control of  herself. She just stood,
watching, not even bothering to wipe the dropped BG's blood and membrane off
her face.
     There was more  hysteria as rounds  starred the safety glass around the
entrance. The BG had obviously seized his chance and got to his feet, firing
as he went for freedom. Nightmare took the burst into his  unprotected trunk
and crumpled on top of  two Japanese tourists, who stayed  where they  were,
too shocked to move.
     The BG  started toward me,  mini-Uzi in  his right hand, its strap over
his shoulder.
     What was he going to do? He couldn't open up on me  without hitting his
boss.
     Turning  Val round  to  face his BG and  protect me, I  lifted my 88. I
wasn't going to do much against his body armor, even if I could hit a moving
target at  fifty feet one-handed with a pistol. I  had to wait until he  was
nearer.
     I fired at him from about thirty feet, and kept on firing, aiming below
center mass. It was pointless aiming at his head at that range.
     I'd emptied at  least half of the twenty-round mag, not knowing whether
it was going to drop him or not,  when I heard him  scream and he went down,
his legs buckling. I didn't care where I'd hit him, just that I had.
     Dragging Val, I passed the reception, trying to avoid the video camera,
and headed toward the store. I was going  it alone now, leaving the  contact
outside to sort itself out.
     The Money was wrapped in  my arms  and I wasn't about to give  it up. I
turned right down a wide hallway,  heading for the rear parking lot  door. I
knew where I needed to go; time in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.
     Passing the conference  rooms and business center, I  pulled Val  along
the thick pile carpet, both  of us finding it  difficult to breathe. Me from
fear and physical exertion, him from strangulation.
     It wasn't worth checking behind me. I'd soon know if there was a drama:
I'd get shot at.
     People cowered in doorways as they saw us coming. That suited me fine.
     Reaching the  end of the  hall, I climbed four steps, then turned  left
and climbed  ten more. The inner  parking  lot door  was held open by a fire
extinguisher. I hit the crossbar of the  second  and burst out  onto the red
asphalt at the rear of the building. The cold took my breath away.
     I could hear the  odd shout from one or two locals crazy enough to come
out of their apartments to see what all the fuss was about.
     My breath was like a racehorse's on a winter gallop. I  could hear  Val
moan. His nostrils were working overtime.
     There was  a  stretch  of fifty feet or so to  the road.  All around me
steam escaped from pipes and ventilation shafts,  and generators hummed like
ships'  engines.  If I  got  one  of the  service  vehicles, I'd turn  left,
downhill to the main street, where the drone of traffic was coming from.
     After about thirty feet I could see the parking lot and loading
     bays.  The only vehicle in  sight was a small Hilux van. Fuck  it, that
would have to do.
     With the security lights exposing me to the spectators at their windows
in the apartments across the street, I tried the door. It was locked.
     There  were no passing  vehicles to lift; the construction just  up the
hill had seen to that. There was no choice  but  to drag Val up the concrete
stairs and onto the loading bay.
     Inside  was what looked like a rental  car office, with a desk,  phone,
and paperwork in piles.  A  woman in  her  mid-twenties was standing talking
hysterically in Finnish  on the phone, her left hand waving in the air as if
beating off  a swarm of  wasps. At  first  she didn't recognize what was  in
front of her, until I shouted and pointed the 88.
     "The keys! Give me the vehicle keys. Now!"
     She knew what I was saying. She dropped the phone,  the other end still
talking, and pointed at  the  desk.  I  grabbed  them and ran back down  the
stairs to the van, Val clenching his teeth as he took the pain in his neck.
     I still didn't bother  checking around me.  I knew I was being watched,
and worrying about it  wasn't going to make it stop. By now the woman in the
rental car office would be back on the phone telling the world anyway.
     I ripped off the cardboard that was keeping the windshield ice-free and
opened the passenger  door using  my left hand. My right was on  the weapon,
and I needed to  keep the exposed trigger  finger from making any contact. I
might need to move my ass, but not at the expense of leaving prints.
     "Get in, get in!"
     He might not speak English, but with my pistol stuck into his neck, Val
got the drift.
     Once I'd finished kicking him in, I climbed over on top of him, keeping
the barrel of the pistol into his neck as I moved into the driver's seat and
put the key in the ignition. Firing the engine, I threw it into gear.
     The  tires pounded the cobblestones  as  I  drove downhill  to the main
street, the defroster on full.
     I could  see the streetlights ahead, with  the traffic  cutting  across
from both directions. I got level with the hotel drive. The Nissan was
     missing. Maybe Sergei had  got  away. All the other vehicles were still
there.
     Christmas lights  had fallen off the trees and lay across the pavement,
among the scattering of empty  brass cases.  Bodies were strewn all over the
ground. I couldn't  tell who was  who from this distance, though one of them
had  to  be  Jesse or Frank  because  the whole  area was covered by  a thin
blanket of mist: one of their  CS canisters must have got hit and was  still
spewing its contents into the wind.
     One of the drivers  had nearly got away. His suited body was slumped by
one of the small decorative trees just before the exit. Steam  rose from the
blood  oozing  from his gunshot  wounds.  It looked as if their armor wasn't
designed to take AP rounds either.
     I passed by, suddenly thinking about the  couple in the elevator. Then,
stopping at the junction with the main drag, I focused on what to do next. I
turned right and merged with the traffic.

     Flashing blue lights raced toward me as I headed  in the  direction  of
the city center, nearly blinding me as they screamed past.
     At the second option I turned right, up the road where Sergei and I had
waited  in the Nissan. The 88 was in my right hand,  still rammed into Val's
neck, forcing me to change  gear with my left and hold the wheel in position
with my knees.
     The target was amazingly  compliant; in fact, unless  I was reading  it
wrong, his  body language seemed to be saying,  No sweat, I'll just wait and
see what happens next.
     The  DOP was about  ten minutes away and  should have marked the end of
Phase One and the beginning of Phase Two--the change of vehicles and move to
the truck service station, from where we would all RV before moving over the
border into Russia.
     Plan B was in  action now. In the event of a  gang fuck we'd  each make
our own way  back to the  lakeside house where  we'd been based for the last
two weeks, and wait for twenty-four hours.
     I was feeling very vulnerable and exposed without Sergei. I might  have
the Money curled up in the foot well but without help there was no way I was
going  to get it over the border. Sergei was the only one squared away  with
the world's most corrupt border guards,  and he had been too  switched on to
tell anyone else how it was organized. I just knew that  we were  going in a
truck  adapted  to  conceal  us  all  under  the  floor  like   Us  (illegal
immigrants), which Sergei would  drive. That was his  insurance  policy, and
the reason I'd given him the least dangerous job on the operation.
     The road started to bend right, heading out of the city. I had traveled
this route to  the DOP, both physically and  in my head, dozens of times. It
went  through residential areas  with snow piled  neatly at the sides of the
wet roads, street  lighting  and  Christmas decorations  reflecting off  the
gleaming cobblestones. From all around me came the  sound of sirens, jolting
me out of my pissed off-with-all-Russians mode. Blue lights flashed across a
junction ahead  of  me. I took the next right; anything to get  off the road
and out of sight.
     I'd turned into a driveway leading to the  rear  of an apartment block.
There was no lighting back there as I drove over to the far side and stopped
under a  covered parking  space. Keeping the engine running, I sat  with the
weapon  stuck in Val's neck as sirens screamed from all sides.  Now what? No
way was I  going on foot. If spotted,  the only way to  escape would  be  to
leave him. That wasn't an option; the Money stayed with me.
     Fuck it, there was nothing I could  do but tough  it  out. The longer I
stayed there the more police would be  in the area looking for the van. What
was more, they'd have time to cordon off the city before we got out.
     I needed to get to the DOP as soon as possible and detach  myself  from
the hotel road show. Back  on the road I put my foot down. It was risky, but
sometimes it's best not to think too much.
     Four more  minutes and I was  level with the  chain-link fence  of  the
parking lot. Over to my right, toward the hotel, a low-flying helicopter lit
up  the sky  with its Nightsun. The beam bounced  around, searching the park
and   frozen  lake   on  the  other   side  of   the  main  drag  from   the
Intercontinental.  Their reaction time  had been  excellent, which pissed me
off even more.  If it  wasn't for them being on heightened alert because  of
the EU conference, they'd have taken a lot longer to get their act together.
     I moved toward  the parking lot  entrance. The streetlights illuminated
the  edge  of  the compound, so I could peer  through  the  fence  into  the
semidarkness beyond, looking for  anything unusual. Parking  lots are always
the best place to lose a car; the downsides are that they're often monitored
by  video cameras and there's a strong chance of finding  some attendent  at
the gate to take your cash. This one was free--no cameras, no staff, and not
lit up--which was  why Sergei and I had decided to use it.  The  other  four
were using a park
     firewall 25
     and ride  about  seven  minutes  away.  At  the  moment,  however,  the
slightest suspicious sign,  like cars  with  no  lights but engines running,
would be enough to keep me driving past.
     Carrying  on  to  the  intersection,  I turned left, crossing streetcar
lines, and drove toward the  entrance. People had stopped on  the street and
store owners  were standing in their doorways, looking up at  the  heli with
its light and noise, talking excitedly to each other.
     I  kept  my eyes  on the parking  lot. It looked less than  half  full;
shoppers  would have  quit  for the  day, any vehicles that  were  left were
probably there to stay.
     I indicated left, relieving  Val's neck of my 88 as I needed both hands
to maneuver the Hilux across  the  road and into  a  parking space.  I  felt
exposed, waiting for  a gap in the traffic, yet resisted  the temptation  to
jump across and risk hitting an oncoming car.
     A gap appeared, after a while, and as I drove under a height bar it was
as if I'd entered a new world, dark and safe.
     Driving a circuit to check the area,  I ensured that the passenger side
of the  Hilux  would face  the  row  of vehicles where  the Volvo  sedan was
parked. Valentin had all but disappeared into the shadow of the foot well
     The heli was quartering  the  night sky,  raking  the  ground  with its
Nightsun.
     The dark-blue  Volvo sedan was parked with  the trunk  sticking  out. I
stopped, making a T of the car and the Hilux. The only sounds were the van's
engine ticking over and the heater on full blast. Val's shoes scraped across
the  ribbing of the  rubber matting as  he shifted position.  It was  almost
peaceful until more sirens erupted.
     Way  over on the other side of the  parking lot, an interior light came
on as somebody got into his car. The engine didn't start up; he was probably
sitting in the driver's seat, watching the heli. I waited.
     Now that my ears had  adjusted to the  new, safer environment,  I could
make out the metallic  rumble of a  streetcar fading toward the city center.
Police sirens wailed in the distance as the Nightsun continued to scour  the
lake and park.
     The  sirens got nearer. I sat, waited, and watched,  trying to work out
where they were.  Three  or  four police cars  were  following the streetcar
lines along the fence, their flashing lights throwing bursts of color across
the roofs of the parked cars.
     Seconds later, two more appeared.
     I looked down at  Val. I could  make out  his face  in the  glow of the
dashboard. His eyes showed no fear. He was switched on enough to accept that
overreaction at this  stage could result  in  him being  killed,  or perhaps
worse, seriously injured. He couldn't take that chance. From the moment he'd
realized he wasn't going to die and that  capture was inevitable, he  hadn't
panicked.  He  had to  assume  that  I  would  be  stressing,  and  that any
unexpected move on  his  part might  provoke  a reaction  from  me, and  the
chances  were  it  would  be  a bad  one.  The  less  he  resisted, the less
punishment  he was  going to get, and the more time  he'd  have to watch and
wait for an opportunity to escape.
     I pressed the release catch on the pistol grip with  my right thumb and
caught  the  magazine in my left hand as it slid from  the grip. Inserting a
full twenty-round mag in its place, I heard the click as it locked home, and
pulled on the bottom to check it was going to stay put. I put the half-empty
mag in  my right pocket, along with the taped outlets. I didn't want to risk
slapping  a half-empty one  back  in if I was in  the shit and had to change
mags in a hurry.
     Another three or four police cars crossed the entrance, lights flashing
and  sirens blasting. The Nightsun was now  roaming  around  in quick, jerky
movements. The heli-watcher in the parking lot had seen enough and drove out
toward the road.
     The warning buzzer sounded as  I took the keys out of the  ignition. My
lights  were still on. I looked down at Val. "Stay." I sounded as if  I  was
talking to a dog.
     I got out of the Hilux and could hear the thud  thud thud of the helo's
rotor blades as it hovered in the distance. All their attention was still in
the immediate vicinity of the hotel, but I knew it wouldn't last.
     The cold  air  scoured my face as I walked around the front of the van,
cutting through the headlights, keeping my eyes on the cab, the  weapon down
by my side.
     More flashing lights and sirens headed up the street. This time some of
the police  cars started  to peel  off. One  came down  the road I'd made my
approach on, brilliant blue strobes bouncing off me  and the vehicles around
me for a few seconds as it passed.
     My  attention  was focused on the  main entrance. Would the next set of
lights come into the parking lot? I knew there was nothing I
     could  do about it but  watch and wait, but that didn't stop  my  heart
rate shifting up a gear or two.
     Seconds  later the darkness returned.  Only the sirens were left, dying
in the distance. The heli noise throbbed back into earshot.
     I  felt under  the rear  right-hand  wheel  arch of the  Volvo with  my
fingers  and retrieved the magnetic box that held the key. I  hit the  alarm
and  there was a comforting whoop as the doors unlocked. I  inserted the key
in the trunk lock and pulled it open.
     Jesse and Frank had glued  thick sponge all round the framework of  the
luggage area, mainly so the target didn't injure himself, but also to subdue
any noise if he felt like having a kick and scream while we were in transit.
As an extra precaution, the  light units had been taped down  on the inside.
The last thing we needed was for Val to pull one off, stick his hand through
as we waited at a  set of lights and wave  to a  family on their way to give
granny her Christmas presents.
     They'd also lined the  floor with a  thick four-seasons comforter, with
another on top,  ready to stop him from dying of hypothermia. Sitting on top
was an orange plastic  ball  about the size of an egg,  a roll of black duct
tape and several sets of plasticuffs.
     I opened the passenger door and Val looked up at me, then across at the
trunk and  its contents. I didn't have a  clue what would happen to him once
we hit  St. Petersburg, and I didn't care. All I was concerned about was the
$500,000 on offer, or what was left of it after Sergei got his $200,000.
     Scanning  the area once more, I brought  the  88 up, angled my wrist at
ninety degrees and  rammed  the  weapon into the space above his bulletproof
vest, then yanked it back into its normal position so the muzzle was twisted
in  his shirt. I  didn't need to  force his head  downward: He wanted to see
what was happening  as I placed my  right index finger back on the  trigger.
Tilting the weapon up so the  grip was near his face, I  made sure he saw me
remove the safety catch with my thumb and heard the click.
     I didn't need to explain the facts of life to him. After all, he hadn't
got where he was today by helping old ladies across the road. As  far as Val
was  concerned, this was just another day in  paradise. He wasn't  about  to
fuck about now.
     With my free hand I reached under his vest. "Up, up, up."
     There was  no argument. His knees  came out of  the foot  well  and  he
staggered onto the pavement.
     I turned him round so the backs of his thighs were against the trunk of
the Volvo and leaned forward  onto him as more sirens wailed in the distance
and  the heli fought to keep position against the wind. He got  the idea and
maneuvered himself  in, keeping  his  eyes fixed on mine.  Still no fear  in
them, though; the look was more analytical now, as if he was conducting some
sort of character  assessment, trying  to  figure me  out.  He  was in total
control of himself. It was not the reaction you'd expect from the  victim of
a lift, and I found it unnerving.
     He ended  up  on his back  in the  trunk, knees up and hands across his
stomach. Swapping over hands  on the 88,  I  got hold of the orange  plastic
ball and stuffed it into his mouth. Still there was no resistance, just some
snorting through his nose as I rammed the ball home.
     Jesse and Frank had folded over the last four inches of the roll on the
electrical tape so I could do the next bit with just one hand. I taped round
his mouth and  chin, then carried on up around  his ears  and eyes,  leaving
just his nose uncovered.
     More sirens  and lights, this time moving along the side road, the same
way  I had come. It  wouldn't be long now  before they started to  check the
parking lots.
     I  heard the  helo's engine  change pitch.  It  was moving  again,  its
Nightsun now at forty-five  degrees,  illuminating everything  in  its path,
working its way toward me.
     Slamming the  trunk shut on Val,  I jumped back into  the Hilux as  the
noise increased and the beam got  brighter. There  is  no hiding place  from
those beams  once they spot  you. If they did,  I'd change my mind about the
$500,000 and just  make  a run  for it on foot. I had my escape route worked
out:  straight  over the  fence and  into  the maze of  apartment  buildings
opposite.
     I  sat and waited;  there was nothing else I  could do. The car and van
took  a direct hit and it  felt like a scene  from Close  Encounters as both
vehicles  were  flooded with light. A  second  or  two later the engine note
changed and the heli lurched in the direction of the main route out of town.
The shadows returned as it moved away across the sky.
     I drove the van into an empty space, got out and  went to check on Val.
He  was breathing heavily.  I  watched him  and waited. He  might have sinus
problems, a blocked nose, the flu. I didn't want
     him to die; I only got paid for meat on the hoof.  He snorted loudly to
clear his nose.
     Headlights  veered toward me, but I hadn't heard a  car  door slam.  It
wasn't somebody from the parking lot. I  leaned over Val to make it  look as
if I was sorting out my packages. Our faces were close to one  another and I
felt his breathing  against my  cheek.  It  was the first time  I'd actually
smelled him.  After  my  little  stay  with Carpenter and  Nightmare, I  was
expecting a combination of strong cigarettes, homemade alcohol,  and armpit.
What I got was duct tape with a hint of cologne.
     The problem had gone. Either the vehicle had  found  a parking space or
left the area, I didn't give a shit which. I stood up slowly and  had a look
around,  then rammed the pistol into his neck. With my other hand I got hold
of his shoulder and started to pull.
     He got  the drift. I wanted him on his front. The  car rocked  slightly
with his exertions, but it didn't matter, there was nobody around to notice.
     Once he  was on  his stomach, I got  hold  of one of  the  plasticuffs,
looped it round his wrists and pulled it tight.
     Then  I wrapped the second comforter around  him, still making sure  he
had room to breathe.
     The Volvo started on the first  time. I headed left, out onto the road,
away from the hotel. I only hoped that Sergei was doing the same.
     I  headed  east  out of  Helsinki, toward  the  highway. The RV was  at
Vaalimaa, over one hundred miles away.
     I hit the  seek button on the radio and turned  up the  volume to drown
out the noise of the heater. I drove, thinking about everything and nothing.
Twice I saw the flashing lights of a heli.
     Eventually I  passed  the Vaalimaa service station. This  was truckers'
heaven,  the  final stop before Russia.  They used it as a meeting point  so
that  they could move on in convoy. Hijacking was rife in the Motherland. In
among them, somewhere, was  our vehicle, with welded compartments for us all
to play Us.
     Vaalimaa was just  a few miles from Sergei's tame checkpoint. Six miles
north of the town was the lakeside house.
     I turned off the radio  and reached into the glove  compartment for the
digital  scanner, which  Sergei had tuned  into the  police channel.  It was
about the size of a cell phone. The plan had been to use it from the time we
exited Helsinki. That was another reason I needed Sergei: He spoke Finnish.
     I tried to make sense of the  squelchy radio traffic, but didn't have a
clue what I  was  listening  to. What  I was hoping not to hear was, "Volvo,
Volvo, Volvo," because  then it would be odds on that I had a one-way ticket
to havoc.
     I checked every turnout and minor gravel road for any hint of activity.
There was nothing.
     My lights  hit the marker I was looking for, Mailbox 183, a red plastic
pedal bin on a white pole. I turned right,  onto a deeply rutted  track that
led into the forest.
     It was only a few hours since we'd last driven up it. About thirty feet
in, a  white-painted chain,  suspended between two  poles, barred  the  way.
Attached  to  it was a  wooden sign saying,  in Finnish, Fuck  Off,  Private
Property.
     I  left the  engine running and got out  of  the  car, checking  in the
headlights for recent sign of another vehicle.  The compacted ice was giving
very little away.
     I looked carefully at the point where the  last link  of  the chain was
looped over a hook screwed into  the right-hand pole, but could see  nothing
in the shadow cast by the Volvo's headlights. I took the weight of the chain
so the first links came loose and pulled gently. I  could feel the  pressure
of  the cotton  that still fastened it to the  hook,  and  then  the  sudden
pressure release  as it  broke. No one had been through  here who  shouldn't
have.
     I drove over the  chain, then jumped out and replaced  it. To the side,
under  a pile of  stones, the reel of cotton thread was just where I'd  left
it. I  tied the first link to the hook again, replaced the reel and got back
in the car.
     The  pines  were so  tall  and close  to the  track it was like driving
through  a tunnel.  After a  thousand  feet the  trees  retreated, leaving a
stretch of  open ground about the  size of four football fields. I knew that
in the  summer it  was all grass  and  tree stumps because there were framed
pictures  of  it  in  the  house,  but  now  everything  was  covered  by  a
three-foot-deep blanket of snow.
     The driveway dipped slightly and the two-story house was caught
     in the  beam  of my  headlights. There  were no  lights  on inside,  no
vehicles outside.
     The  driveway led to a wooden garage with  enough room for  three cars.
Both  buildings were  made of timber and  painted dark red with white window
frames,  and wouldn't have  looked out of place in the Yukon during the Gold
Rush.
     I  drove into the garage. A huge stack  of firewood filled the whole of
the back wall. A door on the far left led to the other side of the house and
the lake.
     I killed  the engine, and for  the first time in hours there was almost
total  silence. No  gunfire,  shouts,  sirens, helos,  or car  heaters, just
low-volume hiss and  mush as Finnish police talked  Finnish police  stuff on
the scanner. I didn't really want to move.
     The entrance was in the gable end of the main building, and the key was
hidden in  the log  pile--very  original.  I  went  inside  and was  hit  by
wonderful warmth. The heaters worked off the electrical supply and we'd left
them all  on.  The labor-intensive wood  fire was for vacationers;  besides,
chimney smoke would have  advertised our presence. I threw  the light switch
and went back to the car for Valentin.
     The ComfortEr had kept him alive. but only just. After two hours in the
trunk he was shaking with the cold.
     "Right, come on, up, up." I moved his  legs over the ledge  and  pulled
him out by his body armor. He  couldn't  do much with his hands  behind  his
back, but  he seemed to be concentrating most on not having the ball fall to
the back of his mouth and choke him. Fair one; that was why I'd used it.
     I guided him inside as  his  legs started to come back to life  and sat
him  on  an  old  green velour  sofa  next to  a  radiator.  The  decor  was
functional, just bare wooden floors  and  walls, and the downstairs was  one
very large open space. A stone fireplace stood opposite  the door, and three
wooden pillars,  each about a foot in diameter and evenly  spaced, helped to
support the  floor  above. Most of the  furniture, apart from the  sofa, was
chunky pine, and the place smelled like a timber yard.
     I pulled hard on the duct tape around Valentin's face. He winced as the
adhesive took neck and eyebrow hair with it. His skin was cold, the color of
a dead cod.
     He  spat out the ball, coughing and spluttering. I was the typical Brit
abroad:  When  in doubt, just  keep to your  own  language and shout.  "Stay
there." I  pointed at the radiator,  not  that  he  would  be going anywhere
plasticuffed up. "You'll be warm in a minute."
     He looked up and nodded. A gust  of wind  whistled under  the eaves.  I
expected Vincent Price to turn up any minute.
     I went back to the car and retrieved the scanner, putting it on
     the kitchen table. Every  fifteen seconds or  so there was some traffic
on the net, but  no detectable  note of urgency, as there would be  if  they
were  sending  in   the  helicopters.  There  wasn't  any  slow,  deliberate
whispering, either,  so hopefully  they weren't trying to  sneak  up on  me.
Maybe, who knew?
     Next priority was  to make coffee. The kitchen counter stretched  along
the wall behind me. I went over and checked  the kettle for  water. Standing
waiting for it to boil, I watched Val shivering. He was sitting close enough
to  the  heater to make it pregnant.  He'd had  a  hard life, judging by the
lines on his face. But he still had his Slavic good looks: wide  cheekbones,
green  eyes and  dark-brown  hair, the  gray at the  temples making him look
pretty dignified for a hood.
     I had  to hand it  to him, the boy had done well: Meres, BGs,  the best
hotels, and a great-looking mistress. I was  jealous: My future was  looking
the same as my past.
     The water boiled as I opened a  package  of crackers  that was  on  the
counter.  I  munched  on one and emptied the kettle onto  ground beans  in a
coffeemaker.
     Val  had  his knees  up  and  was  trying to use his  body to flick his
overcoat  around him. His face was starting to regain its color and his eyes
followed my every move.
     The team's  kit had been piled into bags to the  left of the main door.
Sergei  and I had  planned to  return here after delivering the Money to St.
Petersburg--me  to drive to Sweden and  then, via ferry,  to Germany; him to
clean up  this place. I  picked up a canvas duffel bag and threw  it on  the
table. Holstering the pistol,  I fished inside for more plasticuffs, putting
three interlocking strips together  to make one long one.  Moving around the
table, I  gripped  Val's shoulders, then dragged him over toward the central
pillar and pushed him down on his ass against  it.  I plasticuffed his upper
right arm  to the support, then, with the Leatherman,  I  cut  the  original
plasticuffs so that his left arm  was free.  He wasn't going anywhere unless
he did a Samson and took the pillar with him.
     Returning to the  other side of the table, I pushed the plunger down on
the  coffeemaker and filled two  big mugs  with  steaming coffee. I  threw a
handful  of sugar  lumps into  each and  gave them a  stir  with my knife. I
didn't  know how he  took his, but  I  doubted he was going  to  complain. I
didn't normally take sugar myself, but today was an exception.
     I walked over to him and  put his mug  on the floor. He gave me a brisk
nod of thanks. I  couldn't  tell  him,  but I  knew  what  it  felt  like to
entertain all  three  of Mr.  and Mrs. Death's  little boys--wet,  cold, and
hunger--and wouldn't wish them on anyone. Anyway, it was my  job to keep him
alive, not add to his misery.
     The scanner was  still giving the odd burst  as  I settled  down at the
table facing Val. I took a couple of sips and then it was time to get out of
my costume. I felt uncomfortable  in it, and if  I  had to start performing,
the last  thing  I wanted  to be wearing was  a suit and a  pair  of lace-up
shoes. Lugging my duffel bag over to the table, I dug  out jeans, Timberland
boots, T-shirt, sweatshirt, and a green Helly Hansen fleece.
     The Chechen watched me intently as he drank coffee and I got changed. I
got the sense he was enjoying my failure to interpret the scanner traffic.
     I felt much more my old self as I tucked my weapon into the front of my
jeans.
     I went back to my coffee. Valentin had finished his  and the empty  mug
was at  his feet. I  brought  him the coffee pot and package of crackers. He
nodded as I poured new cups for both of us.
     I sat at the table and ate the last of the bananas Jesse and Frank  had
left  behind.  The  scanner  continued to crackle away, and in the  silences
between  bursts  from  the  operating  stations, all I  could hear  was  the
crunching of crackers.
     I couldn't stop thinking about Sergei. What  if  he didn't turn  up?  I
hadn't  worked that one out yet. I  hadn't even wanted him  to  come on  the
lift. It would have been better if he'd just stayed with the truck; we'd all
have RV'd with him, then been chauffeured across the border, but he insisted
on  being  there in case there was any shady  dealing. I would probably have
done the same myself. But now what?
     I had another thought. What would  happen if  one  of Sergei's boys was
still alive? It probably wouldn't take too long for the police to get him to
talk.  I stopped munching and put down my mug. Shit, we  had  to get  out of
here.
     Getting to my feet, I grabbed Carpenter's and Nightmare's bags and took
a red ski jacket and  bottoms  from mine.  I put the  88 and the mags in the
front pockets and threw Carpenter's cold-weather gear to Val. Carpenter  was
a big boy, so the fit wasn't going to be a problem.
     Leaving him to figure out how he was  going to put it  on  with his arm
still  secured, I ran  upstairs to get  two  double  comforters.  Once  back
downstairs  I  pulled  my  weapon,  cut  him  free,  and  stepped back. "Get
dressed!" I shouted, miming putting on a jacket.
     He got the hint and started removing his overcoat and tuxedo. I watched
him,  ready to  react to any wrong move. Everything he was wearing stank  of
money. His  shoes were so smart I looked at the label. English, Patrick Cox.
A few pairs of those would have paid for my roof repair.
     I let  him  keep his  wallet, having checked through  it and  seen  old
pictures  of children  dressed  in  snowsuits.  I'd always  avoided  getting
lumbered with stuff like  that myself, but understood that these things were
important to people.
     Val was soon dressed in a pair of yellow snow pants a green ski jacket,
an orange ski hat with big dangling pom-poms, gloves, a scarf, and a pair of
cold-weather  boots--all of which must have been  at  least  three sizes too
big. He looked ready for a stint as a children's entertainer.
     I pointed the pistol  up  and back  toward  the pillar.  He  went  over
obediently.  I showed him that I wanted him to  hug it, an arm  either side.
Then  it  was  just  a  matter  of making  up  another  set  of  extra  long
plasticuffs, doing up two ratchets  so it was like a  lasso, looping it over
his wrists and pulling tight.
     I left him to adjust himself  as I took my flashlight and went  outside
into the garage for a couple of shovels, one a big trough-type one, used for
clearing pathways of  snow, the other  a normal building-site job. I  dumped
them on the table and the flashlight went into my snow pants pocket.
     Val  was trying to work out what I was up  to. He was  looking at me in
the same way as his  woman had done in  the hotel, as if there was no danger
and nothing was happening that might affect him. He appeared to think he was
just a neutral observer.
     I started ransacking the cupboards, looking  for thermoses and  food. I
was out of  luck.  It  looked  as if we'd both  had  our last  hot drink and
cracker for a while.
     I picked up my mug and downed  the last of the  coffee as I walked over
to him. I put his mug in his hand  and indicated that he should do the same.
He was  soon busy  maneuvering his head  around the post to  meet his  hands
while I took candles and matches
     from the cupboard under the  sink and threw them into one of the  bags.
Once I'd stuffed the comforters on top and  done up the zip, I cut him free,
motioning  him to put the bag on his back. He knew what I meant and used the
two handles as if they were straps on a knapsack.
     I put on my black woolen hat and ski gloves, then picked up the shovels
from the table and used them to guide him out of the door. I  walked behind,
hitting the light switch. I left the scanner on the table. It would give our
position away to use it out there.
     I held him as I got the keys from the Volvo.  It was my  only transport
out of here and  I wanted to make  sure it stayed that way. Once through the
garage  door  we  followed  the  well-worn  track  in the  snow  toward  the
lakeshore. It  was pitch-black out here and bitterly cold. The wind was much
stronger now, swirling snow stung my  cheeks as we moved forward.  The helis
wouldn't be up around here in this wind.

     A small  Wooden  hut  housing the  wood-burning sauna  stood about  one
hundred feet away along  the frozen lakeshore. Beyond it was a wooden jetty,
which stood about three feet above the ice.
     The Chechen  was  still ahead of  me,  leaning  into  the wind and half
turning from the waist to protect his face from the driving snow. He stopped
when  he  got  to the  sauna, perhaps  expecting  me  to motion him  inside.
Instead, I sent him round to the right. He obediently stepped out a few feet
or so along the jetty.
     "Whoa. Stop there," I shouted. "Stop, stop, stop."
     He turned round, and  I pointed with my pistol down at the frozen lake.
He looked at me quizzically.
     "Down there. On the ice, on the ice."
     Very slowly,  he  got  down  and sat  in the  snow,  then  rolled over,
tentatively prodding  the ice to make  sure it would take his weight. I knew
it would. I'd been messing about on it for the last two weeks.
     Once he was  standing I  got him to move out of reach while I clambered
down, in case he decided he'd  had enough of  this  game and wanted to  play
stealing cars and driving home.
     Prodding him along the ice with the shovels I paralleled the lakeshore.
By taking this route we wouldn't leave any sign from the house, but it meant
we were  more exposed to  the wind. It was  just a matter of leaning into it
until we'd covered the five hundred feet to  the  treeline. Once  there,  we
carried on for a bit before I gave him another shout.
     He turned again, awaiting new instructions, his head tilted
     against the wind screaming  across the lake.  I could  hear his labored
breathing and just make out the shape of his face as I pointed at the  trees
to our right. He turned toward them and started to move as the wind buffeted
the backs of our jackets.
     The snow was no problem at first, no more than about two feet deep, but
soon it was up to our waists. He did all the work plowing through it; I just
followed in his  wake  as his  boots crunched down until  they met compacted
surface, lifted up and did the same thing all over again.
     We  moved another hundred and fifty feet  about thirty feet inside  the
treeline and that was enough. We were in direct line of sight of the house.
     Having  spent  my  childhood  in  South  London  projects,  to  me  the
countryside had always been just a green place  full of animals that  hadn't
yet been frozen or cooked. I hadn't been into all the  trapping stuff I  was
taught  while in the Regiment.  In fact, I'd forgotten most of it. I'd never
felt  the  need to run around  in a hat made out of freshly  skinned rabbit.
Building shelters, however, was a skill I did keep tucked  away somewhere in
the back of my head. I vaguely remembered that there would be spaces beneath
the spreading boughs of the evergreens at snow level.
     Finding what seemed the biggest tree in the  forest, I rammed the large
shovel into  the  snow just short of  where the lowest branches disappeared.
Moving back out of the way so he couldn't hit me with it, I motioned for Val
to take off the bag. No problem  from him on  that one. Then  I gave him the
other spade.
     Val didn't need any  further encouragement. The wind was blowing  hard,
flattening my jacket against my body,  and if we were to stay alive out here
we had to get out  of it soon. The  ambient temperature was low enough as it
was, but the effect of wind chill took it well below freezing. He might have
been  wearing  a dinner jacket  earlier  on and heading  for a night at  the
theater, but he was obviously  no stranger to physical labor. You can always
tell whether someone's used to a shovel.
     He worked efficiently, not tearing the ass out of it, obviously knowing
better than to let  himself break out in a sweat  and have it freeze  on him
later.  After a while he stopped digging, got on his  knees  and  started to
scoop  out snow with  his gloved hands; then he disappeared into the cave. A
few minutes later, he turned and stuck
     his head out. I thought I could just about make out the hint of a proud
smile from under his hat.
     I  waved him back inside, throwing the bag in with him. Before I joined
him I pulled  back  the index  Finger  of  my  right-hand glove,  pushing my
trigger finger through the slit. I'd prepared this one just like the leather
pair for the buildup.
     I  followed  him head first,  with  the  88 up, hitting  the flashlight
button once in cover.  The shelter could  have taken three  people kneeling;
once in, I slid round and landed up on my ass with  the pistol in the aim. I
put the flashlight in my mouth.
     For him,  it was bondage time again.  Pulling a set of plasticuffs from
my pocket,  I stuck the pistol into his neck, twisting it into his skin this
time. I plasticuffed his left hand to the branch above him.  Snow fell on us
as I ratcheted the plastic tight We both shook our heads, trying  to  get it
off our  faces.  With his  arm  now  strapped above  his head, Val sat there
looking like a gibbon as I got out a candle and matches. The candle provided
more light than it  would normally have, thanks to  the reflection  from the
brilliant  white  walls. I crawled  back to the entry point,  pulled  in the
shovels  and  used  one to  pile snow across the gap. It would keep  out the
wind.
     It was  time to  get everything else sorted.  I emptied the contents of
the bag and started to spread out the comforters on the ground. Contact with
the snow  would conduct  heat away from our bodies about twenty times faster
than if we sat on the bedding.
     Next, I smoothed out the sides of our hole  with a gloved hand so that,
as heat rose, the melting snow didn't form drip  points and fall on us  like
rain. That done, I dug a small channel around  the edge so that whatever did
start to melt would run  down the sides  and refreeze  there.  In situations
like this,  five  percent extra effort always  leads to  fifty  percent more
comfort.
     The  wind  was  no longer the prominent  noise.  The rustling of  nylon
clothing and both of us sniffing or coughing had taken over.
     The cave was beginning to look like a steam room as our  breath hung in
clouds in the confined space. Using the grip end of a  shovel, I dug a small
tunnel.  I  needed to be able to see out  toward the  house,  and  we needed
ventilation.  The candlelight wouldn't be seen directly from the house as it
was  low down and in an alcove;  I just had  to hope the ambient glow wasn't
bright enough to be seen
     either, because there was no way we could do without it. Even the small
amount of heat  from a  candle  flame  can help  bring the temperature up to
freezing point.
     On my knees, I looked toward the house--well,  it was out  there in the
darkness somewhere. Even with this amount of clothing on and some insulation
beneath me, my body was still cold  because we weren't moving.  I readjusted
my  position  so that I was comfortable  and  could still  see  outside. Val
continued to study me.
     At least two very cold, boring hours must have passed with me listening
to the wind and Val constantly fidgeting to get  feeling back  into his arm,
when all of a sudden he said, "The Maliskia must  have offered you  quite  a
sizable amount of money to keep me alive. I am obviously more of a threat to
them than I thought."
     I spun round in amazement.
     It was  a  very  confident, clear voice. He  was smiling.  He obviously
liked my reaction.  "Now that you are  alone, I  should  imagine  it will be
quite difficult to get me out of the country, to wherever it is the Maliskia
want you to take me." He paused. "St. Petersburg, perhaps?"
     I stayed silent. He was right: I was in the shit.
     "You have a name, I presume?"
     I shrugged. "It's Nick."
     "Ah, Nicholas. You're British?"
     "Yeah, that's right." I turned back to the house.
     "Tell me, Nicholas, what  did the Maliskia offer you? One million U.S.?
Let me tell you, I am worth considerably more than that to them. What is one
million? It wouldn't even buy a  decent apartment in London. I  know, I have
three."
     I carried on looking out  of the hole. "I  don't know  who or what  the
Maliskia are; they sound Russian, but I was employed in London."
     He laughed. "London, New  York, it  doesn't matter. It was  them.  They
would very much like to have a meeting with me."
     "Who are they?"
     "The  same as me, but infinitely more  dangerous, I can assure you." He
got up onto his knees and a small shower of ice fell as the branch moved.
     I  couldn't imagine anyone being more dangerous. Russian  Organizatsiya
(ROC) were spreading their operations around the  world, growing faster than
any  crime  organization in  the  history of  mankind.  From prostitution to
blackmail,  bombing  hotels  to  buying Russian  Navy  submarines to smuggle
drugs, all the different gangs and  splinter groups were infiltrating nearly
every country to the tune of  billions of dollars.  These people were making
so much money  it made Gates and Turner look like  welfare  cases. With that
much  money  and  power  at  stake, I  was  sure  there  would  be  the  odd
disagreement between different groups.
     There  was silence for a while as I kept  a trigger on  the house, then
Val  spoke  again. "Nick, I have a proposition that  I think will  appeal to
you."

     I didn't respond, just kept my eyes on the house.
     "It's a very simple  proposition:  Release me,  and I  will reward  you
handsomely. I have no idea  what your plan is now. Mine, however, is to stay
alive and at liberty. I am willing to pay you for that."
     I  turned  to  look at him.  "How?  There's nothing in your wallet  but
photographs."
     He tutted, a father addressing a wayward son. "Nick,  correct me if I'm
wrong, but  now that your plan  has failed, I imagine you would like to  get
away from this country as  quickly as you can.  Release me, return to London
and then I  will get you the  money. One of my  apartments is in the name of
Mr. P. P. Smith." He smiled; the name seemed to  amuse him.  "The address is
3A Palace Gardens, Kensington. Would you like me to repeat that?"
     "No, I've got it."
     I knew the area. It fitted the bill. It was full of Russians and Arabs,
people with so much money they owned apartments worth millions and only used
them once in a blue moon.
     "Let's say that in  two days'  time, and for the  next seven days after
that, from  noon  till four p.m." there will be somebody at that address. Go
there and you will receive one hundred thousand dollars

     A drop of melted ice hit me on the cheek. I took a handful of snow from
the tunnel and ran it over the drip point,  my mood as black  as the night I
was  staring into.  What the fuck was I doing freezing  in this snow hole? I
had  half  a million  dollars sitting here with me, from doing something the
Firm (Secret Intelligence
     Service/ SIS would have paid  me a  couple of hundred a  day for. But I
couldn't get at it. My only hope of ever seeing it was Sergei, and fuck knew
where he was.
     Val knew when to  talk and when to shut up and let people think, I went
back  to watching the house for  another hour  or so, getting even more cold
and miserable.
     I  was  slowly  convincing  myself  that,  if  Sergei  didn't  make  an
appearance, I should take my chances with Val in London. Why not? It  wasn't
as if I had anything to lose, and I was desperate for the paycheck.
     I could only hear the faint noise of the engine at first. It was tucked
into the  trees somewhere on the track  and fighting  to  be heard above the
wind.  Then headlights  appeared  out  of the treeline, heading  toward  the
house. The noise got louder as it moved along the track. It was a 4x4 in low
ratio. Sergei?  It  was  impossible to tell  if  it was the Nissan from this
distance.
     Val  had  also heard  it, and was  keeping  still  so his jacket didn't
rustle and drown out the noise.
     I  watched the  headlights briefly  illuminate the front of  the  house
before turning into the garage and cutting out.
     I heard  just one door  slam  and my eyes moved to  the  windows. I saw
nothing.
     I slid over to Val. Passively, he  let me  check his plasticuffs.  They
were secure; he wasn't going anywhere unless  he happened to have a chainsaw
hidden  inside his coat.  All  the same, I  wished I'd  brought some tape to
cover his mouth in case he decided to shout for help. It wasn't until I blew
out the candle, so  he couldn't use it to burn the cuffs off, and started to
push my way out of the snow, that he sparked up. "Nick?"
     I stopped but didn't turn. "What?"
     "Think  about what I have said as you go to meet your friends. My offer
is infinitely more profitable for you, and, may I say, safer."
     "We'll  see."  I  pushed  myself out into  the wind and was  very  much
thinking about it, glad that Val wasn't  going  to scream and shout  out. He
knew what was happening. If it was Sergei at the house, Val could forget his
offer. By the morning we would  be in St.  Petersburg and I'd have my  money
and be on my way back to London.
     As  I retraced my  route the wind was blowing head  on, making  my eyes
stream. I could feel my tears turn to ice. I  listened to the trees creak in
the gale. Snow, whipped  into a frenzy,  attacked the exposed skin around my
neck and face as I tried to focus on the house and surrounding area.
     Kicking on about sixty  feet, I checked the house  again.  The upstairs
lights were on now, but there was still no  movement inside. Moving off once
more,  I tried not to get too  euphoric  about  the prospect of Sergei being
there, but the feeling that this job  could soon  be over made the wind seem
marginally less powerful.
     Once  below the sauna, on the lake, I pulled my trigger finger from its
glove and  pulled out the 88. It was far too dark to see with the naked eye,
so I  checked chamber  with  my  exposed finger and ensured the  mag  was on
tight,  then  climbed up onto the  bank and moved forward in  a semi  crouch
until I got to the garage entrance.
     I was eager to make contact with Sergei, but had to take things slowly.
Only when I actually saw him would I feel safe.
     I  stood and listened at  the  garage door, not  hearing anything apart
from the sound of the wind bouncing it backward against the lock.
     Keeping to  the right  of the frame, I pulled the metal handle down and
the wind did the  rest,  forcing it  inward. Fortunately, the bottom scraped
along the ground, preventing it from crashing into the woodpile.
     On my hands and knees  in the snow, I eased my head round the bottom of
the door frame.
     The Nissan  was parked the other side of the Volvo, the  light from the
ground-floor window reflecting off its roof. Things were looking up, but I'd
have to wait a while before jumping with joy.
     I moved  into  the garage and checked  that no one  was  still  in  the
Nissan. Then I pushed the door to, feeling warmer out of the wind.
     The entrance to the house was closed, but the warm glow from the window
was enough for me to be seen if anyone came out of it.
     I moved to the right of  the frame, pushing my ear against the door.  I
couldn't hear a thing. I moved to the other side of the Nissan and looked in
through the window. There was no need to  get right  up  to the glass to see
in; it's always best to stay back and use the available cover.
     My heart sank. Carpenter.  Still dressed in his suit, but now without a
tie or overcoat, he was taking  pills from a small tin  and swallowing them,
shaking his  head  violently to  force them down. His mini-Uzi was  exposed,
rigged up over his jacket and dangling under his right arm, with the harness
strap bunching up the material where it crossed his back.
     He  moved about the  room  with no apparent  purpose,  sometimes out of
view. Then I saw he had Val's duct tape and ball  gag wrapped in his massive
hand. He brought them  up to  his face for  a  moment, and, realizing  their
significance, hurled them to the ground. Then he started lifting chairs  and
smashing them against the walls, kicking our overcoats about the room like a
two-year-old in a tantrum.
     It  wasn't  hard  to work out what  was going  through  his mind.  He'd
decided that I had left  with Val for the border,  leaving him in the lurch.
Fair one; I'd think the same. No wonder he was chucking his  toys out of the
stroller.
     The table followed the chairs as the combination of narcotics and  rage
started to fuck with his  head. There was  no reason to consider my options;
he had just  made  up my mind for me. Moving back  to the outer door, I left
him to it.
     Checking back every  thirty feet as  I crossed  the  frozen lake, after
several minutes  I  saw headlights  in  the darkness,  heading away from the
house and back toward  the  treeline. What the fuck was Carpenter up  to? He
probably didn't even know himself.
     With legs apart and slightly bent to keep myself stable in the gusts, I
stood  and watched until the lights disappeared  into the night. It was very
tempting to go back and  wait in the house,  but Carpenter might  return and
complicate matters, and anyway, there was still the police to worry about.
     Turning parallel to the shore, I carried on toward the snow hole.
     Once  in the treeline I could see the  whole of the  side of the house.
Carpenter had left the lights  on, but through the downstairs windows things
didn't  look  right.  It  took me  a second or  two  to  work  out what  was
happening.
     Not bothering about  leaving sign, I moved as  fast  as I  could  in  a
direct line toward the building, stumbling  over in snow that sometimes came
up to my  chest. I  was trying so hard to get  there quickly that  it didn't
feel as if I  was  making any progress.  It  felt like one of  the recurring
dreams I'd had  as a kid--running  to someone, but never as fast as I needed
to.
     As I got closer I could see flames flickering in the room and
     smoke  spewing  out through a broken pane. A thick  layer was gathering
two or three feet deep on the  ceiling and looking for more places to escape
from. Fuck the house, it was the Volvo I was worried about.
     By the time I reached the garage I could  already hear the crackling of
badly seasoned wood and the screams from the smoke alarms going ape shit The
door to the house was open. Smoke was pouring out from the top of the frame.
Either Carpenter had been switched on enough to know that he had to feed the
fire with oxygen, or he just didn't give a shit. It didn't matter which, the
fact was that it had taken hold big time.
     I reached the car, the heat searing my back even through my ski jacket.
The inside of the house was a furnace.
     As I put the key in the lock there  was  a  sound  like shotgun  rounds
being fired. Spray cans of something were exploding in the heat.
     I  reversed slowly out  of  the  garage.  It would have  been pointless
screaming out like a loony, only to get stuck in the snow. I  just wanted to
get clear enough so the Volvo wasn't incinerated. After a three-point turn I
drove  150 feet up the track and  killed  the  engine. Jumping out  with the
keys, I stumbled back into the cover  of  the treeline, feeling as if  I was
back in that dream again.
     By the time I neared the hide I could  make out my shadow quite clearly
against the snow. The flames were well and truly taking over from the smoke.
     Sliding  into  the  snow hole, I pulled out my Leatherman, felt for the
plasticuffs and started to cut Val free, letting him sort himself  out as  I
scrambled out again into the wind.  He soon followed  and we both stared  at
the burning building. Bizarrely, he started to try and comfort me. "It's all
right,  I knew you weren't  abandoning  me. I am worth too much to  you, no?
Particularly now. May I suggest that we leave here, and as soon as possible.
Like you, I  do  not want to  encounter the  authorities.  It would be  most
inconvenient." What was it with this guy? Did his  pulse rate  ever go above
ten beats per minute?
     He  knew that  whatever  had happened out here it  had stopped me  from
meeting up with any of  the team; he didn't have to convince me any more  to
let him go. He knew it was my only sensible option now.
     The  Volvo  could  easily be seen in the flames. They hadn't penetrated
the walls yet, but they were licking out hungrily from the windows.
     I stopped him short of the car, handed him my Leatherman and carried on
to open the  trunk, shouting  at him to cut the cord in his jacket. Even  at
this distance, I felt the heat on my face.
     He  looked about him, found  the nylon  cord that could be  adjusted to
tighten around his waist, and began  cutting. There were loud cracks  as the
frame of the house was attacked by the flames.
     Val looked at the fire as he heard the trunk open.  "Please, Nick, this
time inside the car. It's  very cold in there." It was a request rather than
a demand. "And,  of  course, I'd  prefer  your  company to that of the spare
tire."
     Responding to my nod, he settled in the Volvo's  rear  foot well giving
me back the  Leatherman  and offering his hands. I tied them around the base
of the emergency brake with the cord, where I could see them.
     We drove out, leaving the fire to do what it had to do. Maybe it wasn't
such a bad thing; at least there wouldn't be any evidence of  me ever having
been there.
     There was no  sign of Carpenter or anyone else as we bumped  our way up
to the chain gate. I left it on the ground where I found it, as a warning to
Sergei. There  was  still a  chance  that  he'd got  away.  There'd been two
Hiluxes in the  hotel parking lot;  maybe he'd swiped  the other one. It was
too late now to  hope  that  he might get us  over the  border, but I  still
didn't  want him to get caught. He was a good guy, but  fuck it, I was on  a
new phase now, and one that had nothing to do with any of them.
     I had lost, I had to accept it. Now I had to take my chances with Val.
     "I'll drop you  off  at a train station,"  I said  as we  headed toward
Vaalimaa. "You can deal from there."
     "Of course. My people will extricate  me quite swiftly." There  was  no
emotion in his  voice. He  sounded like a Russian version of  Jeeves. "May I
give you some advice?"
     "Why not?"
     My eyes were fixed on the road, heading for the highway past  the town,
seeing nothing but piled-up snow on either side of me. The wind buffeted the
side of the car enough for me to have to keep adjusting the steering. It was
like having a heavy arctic drive past on a highway.
     "You will obviously want to leave the country quickly, Nick. May I
     suggest  Estonia?  From there  you can get  a flight  to  Europe fairly
easily, or  even a  ferry to Germany. After what has happened at  the hotel,
only a fool would  try to leave Helsinki by  air, or  cross into Sweden."  I
didn't reply, just stared at the snow in the headlights.
     Just  over  two hours  later  we were approaching Puistola, one of  the
Helsinki  suburbs. Not  that  I could see any of  it: first light wasn't for
another four  hours. People  would  soon be  waking  up to their cheese  and
meatballs and listening to  the radio accounts of  last night's gunfight  at
the O.K. Corral.
     I  looked for signs  to the train  station. The  morning rush  hour, if
there was one, would start in an hour or two.
     Pulling into the parking lot, I cut Val free of the emergency brake. He
knew to stay still and wait for me to tell him when to move. He was so close
to freedom, why jeopardize things now?
     I got out and  stood away  from the car, my  pistol in the pocket of my
down jacket. He crawled out and we both stood in a line of frozen-over cars,
in the dark, as  he sorted  himself out, tucking in  his clothes and running
his  hands  through his  hair. Still looking ridiculous in  Carpenter's snow
pants  and  ski  jacket, he clapped  his gloved  hands together  to get some
circulation going, eventually  extending one of them to me. The only shaking
I did was with  my head; he understood why and nodded. "Nick, thank you. You
will receive your reward for releasing me. P. P. Smith. Remember the rest?"
     Of course I  did.  My  eyes were fixed on his. I considered telling him
that if he was  lying to me,  I'd find him and kill  him, but  it would have
been a bit like telling Genghis Khan to watch himself.
     He  smiled. He'd read my mind again. "Don't  worry, you will see that I
am a man of my word." He turned and walked toward the station.
     I  watched him  crunch along in  the  snow, breath trailing behind him.
After about a dozen or  so  paces  he stopped  and turned. "Nick, a request.
Please do not bring a cell phone or pager  with you  to  Kensington,  or any
other electronic  device.  It's not the way  we conduct business.  Again,  I
thank you. I promise that you won't regret any of this."
     I made sure that he was out of the way, then got back into the car.

     Norfolk ENGLAND Friday, December 10,1999
     The bedside clock burst  into wake-up mode dead on seven, sounding more
like  a  burglar  alarm. As I rolled over it took me three attempts before I
managed to hit the off button with my hand still inside the sleeping bag.
     The instant I  poked my  head out I  could tell  the boiler had stopped
working again. My house was a bit warmer than a  Finnish snow hole, but  not
much. It was yet another thing I needed  to straighten out,  along with some
bedding and a bed frame to go with the mattress I was lying on.
     I  slept in  a  pair  of  Ronhill  running bottoms and sweatshirt. This
wasn't the first time the boiler had broken down. I wrapped the unzipped bag
around me and pushed my feet into my sneakers with the heels squashed down.
     I headed  downstairs, the bag dragging along the floor. I'd  spent most
of my life being wet, cold, and hungry for  a living, so I hated doing it on
my  own  time. This was  the  first place I'd ever owned, and  in winter the
mornings felt much the same to me as waking up in the brush in South Armagh.
It wasn't supposed to work like that.
     The place was in the same state  as I'd left it before I went away just
over two weeks ago,  to RV with  Sergei  at the lake house, except  that the
tarp had blown off the hole in the  roof, and  the "For Sale" sign had  been
flattened by the wind. If it had stayed there any longer it
     would have taken root anyway. There wasn't enough time  to sort any  of
that out today.  I had three vitally important  meetings in London  in a few
hours' time, and they wouldn't wait for the boiler man.
     The  trip back to the U.K. had taken three days. I'd decided to find my
own way rather than take Val's advice to get out of Finland via Estonia.  It
wasn't as if we were sharing toothbrushes or anything,  so  I wasn't in  the
mood to trust everything he had to say. I drove to Kristians and in southern
Norway, and  from there  I  took  the  ferry to  Newcastle.  It was  full of
Norwegian  students. While  they got loaded I watched Sky News on  the snowy
screens. There  was footage of the  Intercontinental, with police apparently
doing a search for forensic  evidence, then came pictures of the dead, among
them  Sergei.  A  Finnish  government  spokeswoman gave a  news  conference,
declaring that  it  was  the  worst incident  of its type  their country had
witnessed  since  the 1950s, but declining to confirm whether  it was a  ROC
shooting, and stressing there was  no connection  with,  or risk to,  the EU
conference.  As far as they  were concerned, this was an unrelated matter. I
made my way down the  bare wooden staircase, trying not to snag the sleeping
bag  on the gripper tack strip that had been left behind when I'd  ripped up
the carpet.
     The  house was a disaster zone. It had  been ever since  I'd  bought it
after bringing Kelly back from the States in '97.  In theory it was idyllic,
up on the Norfolk coast  in the middle of nowhere. There was a small  corner
store, and three  fishing boats worked out of the tiny harbor. The highlight
of the day was when the local senior citizens took the free bus to the super
store eight miles away to do their big shop.
     The real estate agent must have rubbed his hands when he saw me coming.
A  1930s,  three-bed roomed mess of stone, just  six hundred  feet from  the
windy beach, it had been  empty for several years after the  previous owners
had  died,  probably  of  hypothermia.  The details  said,  "Some renovation
required, but with magnificent potential." In  other words, a  shit  load of
work was  needed. My  plan was to gut  the place and rebuild it. The ripping
out was okay; in  fact, I'd enjoyed  it. But  after a succession of builders
had sucked  through their teeth when giving me their quotes, and I'd  gotten
pissed off with them and  decided to do it myself, I'd lost interest. So now
the  house  was all  bare boards, studwork, and entrails  of wiring  that  I
didn't understand sticking out of the walls.
     Now that I was  responsible for Kelly,  it had seemed the right time to
fulfill the fantasy of  having a real home. But no  sooner  had  I exchanged
contracts than it had started to make me feel confined.
     I'd called the place in Hampstead, where she was being looked after, as
soon as I'd got back last night. They said she was much the same as when I'd
last seen her. I  was glad she was sleeping; it meant I didn't have to speak
to her. I did want to, but just never knew what the fuck to say. I'd gone to
see  her the day before leaving  for  Finland. She'd seemed  all  right, not
crying or anything, just quiet and strangely helpless.
     The kitchen  was in just as bad a  state as the rest of  the place. I'd
kept the old, yellow Formica counter, circa 1962. They'd do for  now. I  put
the kettle on the burner, readjusting the  sleeping bag around my shoulders,
and went  out into the porch to check for mail. It hadn't been stacked up on
the kitchen counter  as  I'd  expected. I also wondered  why the tarp hadn't
been replaced in my absence.
     I hadn't got a mailbox yet, but a blue trash can did just as well. Very
Finnish, I thought. There were four  envelopes--three  bills and a card. The
handwriting told me who the  card was from, and I knew before I read it that
I was about to get fucked off.
     Caroline had started coming here to look in on things now and again, to
collect the  mail  and check  the  walls hadn't  collapsed while I  was away
working as a traveling salesman.  She was in  her thirties and lived  in the
village. Her  husband no  longer lived  with her--it seemed he took too much
whiskey with his soda. Things were  going great between us; she was kind and
attractive, and whenever I  was  here we would link up for  an  afternoon or
two.  But  a couple of  months earlier she had  started  to  want  more of a
relationship than I felt able to offer.
     I  opened the card. I was right: no more visits or  mail collection. It
was  a shame; I  liked her a lot,  but it was  probably for the best. Things
were getting complicated. A gunshot  wound in the  stomach,  a reconstructed
earlobe, and  dog-tooth scars along  a forearm are hard to explain, whatever
you're trying to sell.
     Making a lumpy coffee with powdered  milk, I went upstairs  to  Kelly's
room. I  hesitated before I opened the  door, and it wasn't  because of  the
hole  in  the roof tiles.  There  were  things  in there that  I'd  done for
her--not as much as I'd have liked, but they had a habit of reminding me how
our lives should have been.
     I turned the handle. There had probably been more  wind than rain in my
absence, as  the stain on  the ceiling wasn't wet. The blue  two-man tent in
the middle  of the floor was  still  holding  out.  I'd  put  nails  in  the
floorboards  instead of  tent  pegs  and they  were rusty now, but  I  still
couldn't bring myself to take it down.
     On the mantel were two photos in cheap wooden picture frames, which I'd
promised to bring down to her on  my next visit. One  was  of her  with  her
family--her  parents Kev, Marsha;  and  her  sister Aida-all smiles around a
smoking barbecue.  It was  taken about a month before I'd  found them  hosed
down in their home in the spring of '97. I  bet she  missed this picture; it
was the only decent one she had.
     The other was of Josh and his kids. This was a recent one, as Josh  was
carrying a  face  scar that  any neo-Nazi would be proud of. It  was of  the
family  standing  outside  the  Special  Operations  Training Section of the
American Secret Service at Laurel, Maryland. Josh's  dark-pink gunshot wound
ran all the way  up the  right-hand  side of  his  cheek to his ear, like  a
clown's  smile. I hadn't had any contact with him since my stupidity got his
face rearranged in June '98.
     He and I still administered what was left of Kelly's trust fund, though
as her  legal guardian,  I'd found myself  shouldering more and more of  the
financial  responsibility.  Josh was aware of her problem,  but it  was just
done via letters now.  He was the  last real friend I had, and I  hoped that
maybe  one day  he  would forgive  me for  nearly getting him  and his  kids
killed. It was too  early to go  in and apologize--at least that was what  I
told myself. But  I  had  woken up late at night more than once, knowing the
real reason:  I  just couldn't  face all that sorrow and guilt stuff  at the
same time. I wanted to, I just wasn't any good at it.
     As I picked up Kelly's photos, I realized why I didn't have any myself.
They just made me think about the people in them.
     I cut away from  all that, promising myself that reestablishing contact
with Josh would be one of the first things I got done next year.
     I went into  the bathroom opposite, and ran the buttercup-colored bath.
I  had a  bit of a soft spot for the foam tiles,  now light  brown with age,
that lined the ceiling. I remembered my stepdad putting some up when I was a
kid. "These'll keep the heat in," he'd said,  then his  hand slipped and his
thumb left a dent. Every Sunday night, when I had a  bath, I  threw the soap
at the ceiling to add to the pattern.
     Returning to my bedroom, I put Kelly's photos on the mattress
     to make sure  I didn't forget them. I finished my coffee, then dug into
one of the cardboard boxes, looking for my leather pants.
     I checked the bath and  it was time to jump in, after hitting the small
radio on the floor, which was permanently tuned to Radio 4. The shooting was
still  high on the agenda. An "expert" on ROC declared  to listeners of  the
morning program that it had all the hallmarks of an inter faction  shooting.
He went on to say that he had known this was going to happen and, of course,
he  knew  the  group responsible. He could not,  however,  name them. He had
their trust. The interviewer sounded as unimpressed as I was.
     I lay  in the bath and glanced at Baby G. Another ten minutes and I had
to get moving.
     The  order  of the day was  first, the doctor's office at 11:30 to talk
about Kelly's progress,  then  lie to the clinic's accounts department about
why I  couldn't  pay  the new  invoice just  yet.  I didn't think they would
completely understand  if I  told them everything would have been fine if  a
mad Russian called Carpenter hadn't fucked up my cash flow.
     My next visit would  be to Colonel Lynn at  the Firm. I  wasn't looking
forward to that conversation, either. I hated having to plead.
     The  third  stop  on  my  agenda  was  Apartment 3A  Palace  Gardens in
Kensington.  What the hell, I  was  desperate.  I  didn't see  the  Maliskia
solving my financial problems.
     My  foray  into  the freelance market had only  reinforced my reluctant
dependence  on the Firm.  I had  been weapons-free from the Firm  since  the
fuckup in Washington with  Josh eighteen months before.  Lynn  was right, of
course, when he'd said  I should  feel lucky that I wasn't locked up in some
American jail. As for the Brits, I reckoned they were still trying to decide
what to do with me give me a knighthood or make me disappear. At least I was
getting paid two  grand a month in cash while they scratched their heads. It
was enough to cover Kelly's treatment for about seventy-two hours.
     Lynn made it clear that in no way did the retainer  mean  any change in
my status; he didn't say it in  so many  words, but I knew from the  look in
his eyes that I was still lowlife, a K spy, a deniable operator carrying out
shit jobs that no one else wanted to do. Nothing would change unless I could
get  Lynn to put my name forward for  permanent cadre, and time was  running
out. He  was  taking early retirement to his mushroom farm in Wales when  he
finished running the desk in
     February. I  didn't  have a  clue who was  taking over. Contacting  the
message service last night, I'd heard Lynn would see me at 1:30.
     If  I  ever got back into the boys' club, pay would be increased to 290
pounds a day for ops, 190 pounds for training, but in the meantime  I was in
the  shit.  The  chances of selling this house were zero; it was in  a worse
state than when I'd moved in.  I'd bought it for  cash, but I couldn't get a
loan against  it because I couldn't  prove my income. Since leaving the army
it had been cash in envelopes, rather than a regular paycheck.
     Getting out of the warm  bath into the  cold  bathroom, I dried  myself
quickly and got into my leathers.
     From inside the paneling that contained the cistern I retrieved my  9mm
HK Universal  Self-Loading  Pistol  (Heckler &  Koch  universal self-loading
pistol), a  chunky, square-edged semiautomatic  9mm, and two  thirteen-round
mags. Its holster was  my usual one, which could be shoved down the front of
my jeans or leathers.
     Sitting on the toilet lid, I bit open the plastic bag protecting it and
loaded  the loose rounds. I  always eased the mag's springs when  the weapon
wasn't needed. Most stoppages occur because of  a misfeed from the magazine,
either because the  mag's  not fully home in the pistol grip  or because the
mag spring has  been under tension for so  long that it doesn't do  its  job
when required. When the first round  is  fired it might not push the next up
into the breech.
     I  loaded the  weapon, inserting a mag into the pistol grip and ensured
it was fully home. To make the weapon ready, I pulled back  on the top slide
with my forefinger and  thumb  and let  go. The working parts moved  forward
under their own steam and rammed the  top round of the mag into the chamber.
I  had  three  Universal  Self Loading  Pistols in  the  house,  two  hidden
downstairs when I was here, and one under my bed--a little trick I'd learned
from Kelly's dad years ago.
     I checked chamber by pushing back slightly on the top slide and put the
weapon  and spare mag in my pocket, slung  the backpack over my shoulder and
locked up the house.
     Waiting for me outside was the bike of my dreams, a red Ducati 966 that
I'd treated myself to at the same time as the house. It lived in the garage,
another  stone  marvel  of 1930s  architecture, and there were  times when I
reckoned the sound of its engine bursting into life  was the only thing that
kept me from total despair.

     The London traffic was  chaos. There were plenty of shopping  days left
till Christmas, but you wouldn't have thought so from the number of cars.
     As  I rode  down from Norfolk it had been cold, overcast, and dull, but
at least it was dry. Compared with Finland it was almost tropical.  I got to
Marble Arch in just under  three hours,  but progress  was going to  be slow
going from now on.  Weaving my way around stationary vehicles, I looked down
Oxford  Street,  where  the decorations blazed  and twinkled.  The season of
goodwill  was everywhere, it seemed, except  behind the  steering wheels  of
gridlocked vehicles and inside my head.
     I  was dreading this. The house I  called in  Hampstead last  night was
staffed  by  two  nurses who,  under  the psychiatrist's  supervision,  were
looking  after Kelly  twenty-four hours a  day. They took her to a clinic in
Chelsea several  times a week, where  Dr.  Hughes had  her consulting rooms.
Kelly's  round-the-clock  attention was costing me  just  over  four grand a
week. Most of the 300,000 I'd stolen from the drug cartels in  '97, together
with her trust fund, had been spent on her education, the house, and now her
treatment. There was nothing left.
     It had all  started about nine months ago. Her  grades since coming  to
England  had been  poor;  she was  an intelligent nine-year-old, but she was
like  a  big bucket  with  holes in it--everything was going in, but then it
just dripped out again. Apart from that, she'd shown no visible aftereffects
from the trauma. She was slightly nervous
     around  adults,  but  okay with her own age  group.  Then, at  boarding
school,  she'd started  to complain  about  pains, but  could never be  more
specific or explain  exactly where they  were. After several  false  alarms,
including the school nurse wondering if she was starting her periods  early,
her  teachers concluded that she was just attention seeking.  Then it slowly
got  worse; Kelly  gradually withdrew from  her  friends,  her teachers, her
grandparents, and me. She wouldn't  talk or play any more; she just  watched
TV, sat in  a sulk, or  sobbed. I didn't pay that much attention at first; I
was  worried about the  future and was too busy feeling pissed at not having
worked  since the previous summer while  I  waited for Lynn  to make up  his
mind.
     My usual response  to her sobbing  bouts  had been to go  and  get  ice
cream. I knew this wasn't the  answer, but I didn't know what was. It got to
the point where I even started  to get annoyed with her for not appreciating
my efforts. What an asshole I felt now.
     About five  months ago  she'd been with me in Norfolk for  the weekend.
She was distant and detached, and nothing I did seemed to engage her. I felt
like  a  school kid jumping around  a  fight  in the  playground, not really
knowing what to do: join  in, stop  it, or just run away. I tried playing at
camping with  her, putting  up the tent in her  bedroom. That night she woke
with  terrible nightmares.  Her screaming lasted all night. I  tried to calm
her, but  she just lashed out at me as if  she was having  a fit.  The  next
morning,  I  made  a  few  phone calls and found out there  was a  six-month
waiting list for a  public hospital appointment, and  even then I'd be lucky
if it helped. I made more calls and  later the same day  took her to see Dr.
Hughes,  a  London  psychiatrist  who specialized  in  child  trauma and who
accepted private patients.
     Kelly was admitted to the  clinic  at once for a  temporary assessment,
and I'd  had to leave her there to go on my first St.  Petersburg recce, and
to recruit Sergei.  I wanted to believe  that everything would be fine soon,
but knew deep down that it  wouldn't, not  for a long  time.  My worst fears
were confirmed when the doctor told me that besides regular treatment at the
clinic, she'd need the sort of constant care that only the unit in Hampstead
could provide.
     I'd been to visit her  there a total of four times now. We usually just
sat together and  watched TV for  the afternoon. I wanted to cuddle her, but
didn't know how. All my attempts at displaying affection
     seemed awkward and forced, and in the end I left feeling more fucked up
than she was.
     I swung right into Hyde Park.  The mounted soldiers were out exercising
their  horses before perching on them  for  hours outside some  building  or
other for the tourists. I rode  past the memorial stone to the ones who were
blown up by PIRA in 1982 while doing the same thing.
     I had some understanding of Kelly's condition, but only some. I'd known
men who'd suffered with PTSD  (posttraumatic stress disorder) but  they were
big boys  who'd been to  war. I wanted to  know  more  about  its effects on
children. Hughes told me it was natural for a child to go through a grieving
process  after  a  loss; but sometimes, after a sudden traumatic  event, the
feelings  can surface weeks,  months,  or  even years  later.  This  delayed
reaction  is PTSD, and the  symptoms are similar  to those  associated  with
depression  and  anxiety:  emotional  numbness;  feelings  of  helplessness,
hopelessness  and  despair;  and   reliving   the  traumatic  experience  in
nightmares.  It rang  so  true; I  couldn't remember the last time  I'd seen
Kelly smile, let alone heard her laugh.
     "The  symptoms vary  in  intensity  from  case  to  case,"  Hughes  had
explained, "but can  last for years if untreated. They certainly won't  just
go away on their own."
     I'd felt almost physically sick when I  realized that if only I'd acted
sooner,  Kelly  might have been  on  the mend by now.  It  must be how  real
fathers feel,  and  it was  probably  the  first  time  in my life that  I'd
experienced such emotions.
     The road through the  park ended and  I was  forced back onto  the main
drag.  Traffic was virtually at a  standstill.  Delivery vans  were stopping
exactly where they wanted and hitting their  flashers. Motorcycle messengers
screamed through impossible gaps,  taking bigger chances than I was prepared
to.  I slowly  worked  my  way in  and  out of it  all, heading  down toward
Chelsea.
     Things were just as bad on the sidewalk. Shoppers  loaded with shopping
bags collided with  each other and caused jams at store entrances. And as if
things weren't  bad enough,  I didn't have a  clue what I was going  to  get
Kelly for  Christmas.  I  passed a phone shop and thought of getting  her  a
cell, but fuck it, I wasn't even any good at talking to her face to face. At
a clothes shop I thought of  getting her a couple of new outfits, but  maybe
she'd think I didn't think she
     was capable of choosing her own.  In the  end  I gave up. Whatever  she
said she wanted, she could have. That was if the clinic left me any money to
pay for it with.
     I eventually got to where I wanted to be and parked. "The Moorings" was
a large town house in a  leafy square, with clean bricks, recent re pointing
and lots of gleaming fresh paint. Everything about it said it specialized in
the disorders of the rich.
     The  receptionist pointed me to the waiting room, a  place  I was  very
familiar with by now, and I settled down  with  a magazine about the sort of
wonderful  country houses that mine would never be. I was  reading about the
pros  and  cons  of  conventional  compared  with under  floor heating,  and
thinking that it must  be  rather nice  to have any  sort at  all, when  the
receptionist appeared and ushered me into the consulting room.
     Dr.  Hughes  looked as striking as  ever.  She was in her  mid  to late
fifties, and looked like she and her consulting rooms could have featured in
Lifestyles of  the Rich and Famous. She had the  kind of  big gray hair that
made her look more like an American anchorwoman than a shrink. My overriding
impression was that she appeared incredibly pleased with herself most of the
time, especially  when  explaining  to me, over the  top of her gold-rimmed,
half-moon glasses that no, sorry,  Mr. Stone,  it was impossible to  be more
definite about timetables.
     I declined the coffee she offered. There was always too much time  lost
sitting around while waiting for it, and in this place time was money.
     Sitting down on the chair facing her desk,  I placed the backpack at my
feet. "She hasn't got worse, has she?"
     The  doctor  shook   her  unusually   large  head,  but  didn't  answer
immediately.
     "If it's about the money, I--"
     She lifted her  hand and  gave me a patient, patronizing  look. "Not my
department, Mr.  Stone. I'm sure the people downstairs have everything under
control."
     They  certainly did. And  my  problem was that supermodels and football
players  might  be able to afford  four grand a week, but soon I wouldn't be
able to.
     The doctor looked at me over the  top of her glasses. "I  wanted to see
you, Mr. Stone, because I need to discuss Kelly's prognosis.
     She  is still really quite subdued, and we aren't achieving any sort of
progress toward her cure. You will remember I spoke to you a while ago about
a  spectrum  of behavior,  with complete inertia  at  one  extreme and manic
activity at the other?"
     "You said that  both  ends  of the  spectrum were equally bad,  because
either way the  person  is unreachable.  The good ground is anywhere in  the
middle."
     The doctor gave a brief smile, pleased  and perhaps surprised that  I'd
been  paving attention all those weeks ago.  "It was our aim, you will  also
remember, to  achieve at least some movement  away from the  inertia! state.
Our best hope  was to get her into the central area of the spectrum, not too
low or too high, able to interact and make relationships, adapt and change."
She picked up a pen and scribbled a note to herself on a yellow Post-it pad.
"I'm  afraid  to  say,  however,  that  Kelly  is  still  very  passive  and
preoccupied.  Stuck, if you like, or cocooned; either unable or unwilling to
relate."
     She peered over her glasses again, as if to  underline  the seriousness
of what  she was saying. "Young children are  deeply affected  by witnessing
violence,  Mr. Stone, particularly  when the  victims of  that violence  are
family members. Kelly's grandmother  has been describing to me her  previous
cheerfulness and energy."
     "She used to be such fun to be with,"  I said. "She never  laughs at my
jokes now." I paused. "Maybe they're just not very good."
     The  doctor looked a little disappointed at my remark.  "I'm afraid her
current behavior  is  such a  contrast to how  she  was previously  that  it
indicates to me that the  road to recovery is going to be even longer than I
at first thought."
     Which  meant even  more expensive. I  was  ashamed at  even having  the
thought, but there was no getting away from it.
     "What sort of time scale are we looking at?"
     She pursed her lips  and shook her head slowly.  "It's still impossible
to answer  that question, Mr. Stone. What we're trying to repair here is not
something as simple as a fractured limb. I appreciate that you would like me
to  give you some sort of schedule, but I can't.  The course of the disorder
is quite variable. With adequate  treatment,  about  a third of  people with
PTSD  will  recover  within a  few months.  Some of  these  have no  further
problems.  Many  take  longer, sometimes  a  year  or more.  Others, despite
treatment, continue  to have mild to moderate symptoms for  a more prolonged
period of
     time.  I'm afraid  that  you really  must prepare yourself for  a  long
haul."
     "Is there nothing I can do to help?"
     For  the  second  time,  Dr.  Hughes  smiled briefly. It was fleetingly
triumphant rather than warm, and I got the feeling I'd fallen into some kind
of trap.
     "Well," she  said, "I  did ask  you  here today for  a specific reason.
Kelly is here, in one of the rooms."
     I started getting up. "Can I see her?"
     She, too,  stood up. "Yes, of course. That is the object. But I have to
say, Mr. Stone, that I'd rather she didn't see you."
     "I'm sorry? I "
     The doctor  cut in. "There's something I'd like you to see first."  She
opened a drawer in  her desk, pulled out several  sheets of paper and pushed
them across the  desk. I wasn't prepared  for the  shock  they gave me.  The
pictures Kelly had drawn  of her  dead family looked very different from the
happy smiling photograph I had in my backpack.
     The  one of her mother  showed  her kneeling by  the bed, her  top half
spreadeagled on the mattress, the bedcover colored in red.
     In another,  her  five-year-old  sister,  Aida, was lying on the  floor
between the bath and the toilet, her head nearly severed from her shoulders.
The nice  blue dress she'd been wearing that  day was  spattered chaotically
with red crayon.
     Kev, her father and my best friend, was lying  on his side on the floor
of the den, his head pulped by the baseball bat that lay next to him.
     I looked at the doctor. "They're the positions I found them in that day
exactly ... I hadn't realized ..."
     I'd found her in her  "hidey-hole," the place where Kev wanted the kids
to run to if there was ever a drama. She'd never said a word to me about it,
and I'd never thought that she might have  witnessed the carnage.  It was as
though the events were recorded in her memory with the clarity of a camera.
     Hughes looked over her glasses. "Kelly has even remembered the color of
the comforter on her  bed that day, and what was playing on the radio as she
helped set the table in the kitchen. She has talked to  me about how the sun
was shining through the window and reflecting on the silverware. She recalls
that Aida had lost a hair
     band just before the  men  came.  She's now  just replaying the  events
immediately preceding the  killings, in  an  effort,  I suggest, to  achieve
another outcome."
     I  was relieved that her  flashbacks didn't go any  further, but if the
treatment  worked  she would  surely  begin  to  recount  what  had occurred
afterward. When  it did,  I would have to involve the Firm to sort  out  any
"security implications"  that might arise; but for now, they didn't  need to
know that she was ill.
     The psychiatrist interrupted my thoughts.  "Come with me, if you  will,
Mr.  Stone. I'd like you to see  her and explain a little more  about what I
hope we can achieve."
     She led me a short way  down the hall. I couldn't make sense of any  of
this. Why wasn't  Kelly allowed to  see me?  We turned left  and walked on a
while, stopping outside  a door  that had a curtain across a small  pane  of
glass. She poked it very slightly aside with  a finger and  looked  through,
then moved back and motioned for me to do the same.
     I looked through the glass and wished I  hadn't. The images of  Kelly I
kept in my memory were carefully selected shots from before she got sick, of
a little girl quivering with excitement at her birthday party on the replica
of the Golden Hind, or shrieking with delight when I finally kept my promise
to take her to the Tower of London and she got to  see the Crown Jewels. The
real-life Kelly, however, was  sitting on a chair next to a nurse. The nurse
seemed to be chatting  away,  all  smiles. Kelly, however, wasn't  replying,
wasn't  moving. Hands folded  politely  in her lap,  she was staring  at the
window opposite her,  her head cocked to one  side, as if  she was trying to
work something out.  There was something deeply  scary about  how still  she
was. The nurse wasn't moving much, either, but Kelly's was an unnatural kind
of stillness. It was like looking at a  frozen  image, an oil  painting of a
young girl in  an armchair, next to  a  film  of a  nurse who happened to be
sitting still, but who would move again in a second or two.
     I'd seen it before. It  was four years ago, but it could have been four
minutes.
     I was on my hands and knees in her family's garage, talking gently as I
moved  boxes and  squeezed through the gap,  inching  toward the  back wall,
trying to push the images of the carnage next door behind me.
     Then there she was, facing me, eyes wide with terror, sitting curled up
in  a fetal  position, rocking her body backward  and forward,  holding  her
hands over her ears.
     "Hello, Kelly," I'd said very softly.
     She  must have recognized me--she'd known me for years--but she  hadn't
replied.  She'd just carried on rocking, staring at me  with  wide,  scared,
dark eyes. I'd crawled right into the cave until I was curled up beside her.
Her  eyes were red and swollen. She'd been crying and strands of light brown
hair were stuck to her face. I tried to move it away from her mouth.
     I got hold of her rigid hand and guided her gently out into the garage.
Then I picked her up in my arms and held her tight as I carried her into the
kitchen.  She was trembling so much I couldn't tell if her head was  nodding
or shaking. A few minutes later, when we drove away from the house, she  was
almost rigid with shock. And that was it, that was the stillness I saw now.
     The doctor's mouth came up close to my  ear. "Kelly has been forced  to
learn  early  lessons  about  loss   and  death,  Mr.   Stone.  How  does  a
seven-year-old, as she was  then, understand  murder? A  child who witnesses
violence has been  shown  that the world  is  a dangerous and  unpredictable
place. She has told  me that she doesn't think she'll ever feel safe outside
again. It's nobody's fault, but her experience has made her think the adults
in her life are unable  to protect her.  She  believes  she must take on the
responsibility herself--a prospect that causes her great anxiety."
     I looked at the frozen girl once more. "Is there nothing I can do?"
     The doctor nodded slowly as she replaced the curtain and turned to head
back up  the hallway. As we walked  she  said, "In time, we need to help her
gently examine and review  the  traumatic  events  that happened to her, and
learn  to  conquer  her feelings  of anxiety. Her treatment  will eventually
involve  what are best described as  "talking therapies,"  by herself or  in
groups, but she's not really ready for that yet. I  will need to keep her on
antidepressant  medication and  mild  tranquilizers for a while yet, to help
lessen some of the more painful symptoms.
     "The aim eventually will be to help Kelly remember the traumatic events
safely, and  to  address  her  family  life, peer relationships,  and school
performance. Generally we need to help her deal with
     all  the emotions she's having trouble making sense  of at  the moment:
grief, guilt, anger, depression, anxiety. You  notice, Mr. Stone, I'm saying
'we'."
     We had reached her room  and went back inside. I sat down again and she
went to the other side of her desk.
     "Parents are usually the most important emotional  protectors for their
children,  Mr. Stone.  They  can  do a  much  better  job of psychologically
reassuring their  children  than professionals can.  They can help them talk
about their fears, reassure them that  Mummy and  Daddy  will do whatever is
possible to protect them, and stay close. Sadly that's not a possibility for
Kelly, of course, but  she  still  needs a  responsible  adult  whom she can
depend upon."
     I was beginning to understand. "Her grandmother, you mean?"
     I could have sworn I saw her shudder.
     "Not quite what I had in mind. You see, a  major  factor in any child's
recovery   from  PTSD  is  that  the  prime  caregiver  must  communicate  a
willingness  to talk about the  violence and  be  a  nonjudgmental listener.
Children need to know that  it's  permissible  to talk about violence. Kelly
needs permission, if you like, to talk about what happened to her. Sometimes
caregivers may  subtly discourage  children from talking about  violence  in
their lives for whatever reason, and this, I sense, is the case with Kelly's
grandparents.
     "I think her grandmother feels hurt and discouraged that Kelly has lost
interest  in family activities  and is  easily angered and so detached.  She
finds it  very upsetting to hear  the details--maybe because she believes it
will be  less  upsetting for  Kelly  if she doesn't  talk about  it. On  the
contrary, children often feel relieved and unburdened by sharing information
with trusted adults. It  also may be  useful therapeutically for children to
review events and air their  fears by retelling the story. I don't mean that
we should coerce Kelly into talking about what happened, but reassurance and
validation once  she has volunteered  it will  be  immensely helpful to  her
recovery."
     She  was beginning to lose me in  all her psychobabble. I couldn't  see
what I had to do with all this.
     As if she'd read my mind, Dr. Hughes pursed her  lips again and did her
trick with  the half-moon glasses. "What it all boils down to, Mr. Stone, is
that  Kelly  is  going  to need  a trusted  adult  alongside  her during the
recovery process, and in my view the ideal person to do that is you."
     She paused to let the implications of what she was saying sink in.
     "You see, she trusts you; she speaks of you with the  utmost affection,
seeing you as the nearest thing she has now to a father. What she needs, far
more than  just the attention  and  therapy we professionals can provide, is
your acceptance of,  and commitment  to,  that  fact." She added  pointedly,
"Would you have difficulties with that, Mr. Stone?"
     "My employers might. I need "
     She  held  up her  hand.  "You have seen the cocoon in  which Kelly has
placed herself. There  is  no formula  that guarantees breaking through when
someone is out of reach. But whatever the cause is, a form  of loving has to
be there in  the solution. What Kelly needs is a prince on a white  horse to
come and free her from the dragon. It is my view that she's decided  not  to
come  out  until you  are an  integral part of  her life again. I'm sorry to
burden you with this responsibility, Mr. Stone, but Kelly is my patient, and
it's her best interests that I must have at heart. For that reason, I didn't
want her to see  you today; I don't want her to build up hopes only  to have
them dashed. Please go away and think  about  it, but believe me, the sooner
you are able to commit, the sooner Kelly's condition will start  to improve.
Until then, any sort of cure is on hold."
     I reached  into my backpack and  pulled out  the framed photographs. It
was the  only thing I  could think  of.  "I  brought these for  her. They're
pictures of her family. Maybe they'll be some help."
     The doctor took them from me, still waiting for an answer. When she saw
she wasn't going to get one not today, anyway she nodded  quietly to herself
and ushered me gently, but firmly, toward the door. "I'll be seeing her this
afternoon. I'll telephone you later; I have the number. And  now, I believe,
you have an appointment with the people downstairs?"

     I was feeling pretty depressed as I headed east along the northern side
of  the Thames, toward the city center. Not  just for Kelly,  but  for me. I
forced myself to admit it: I  hated the  responsibility. And yet I had those
promises to Kevin to live up to.
     I had enough problems  looking after myself, without doctors telling me
what  I should be doing  for other people. Being  in charge of others in the
field was  fine. Having a man down in a contact was straightforward compared
to  this. You just got in there, dragged him out of  the shit and plugged up
his holes. Sometimes he lived, sometimes not. It was something I didn't have
to think about. The man down always  knew that  someone  would be coming for
him;  it  helped him  stay alive.  But this was  different. Kelly was my man
down,  but it wasn't just a question  of plugging  up holes; she didn't know
whether help was on the way or not. Nor did I. I knew there was one  thing I
could do: make  money to pay for  her  treatment.  I'd be there for her, but
later.  Right now, I needed to keep busy and produce  money.  It  had always
been "later" for Kelly, whether it was a phone call or a birthday treat, but
that was going to change. It had to.
     Working my way  through the traffic, I eventually got onto the approach
road to Vauxhall Bridge. As I crossed to the  southern side, I  looked up at
Vauxhall Cross, home of SIS. A beige-and-black pyramid with the top cut off,
flanked by large towers on either side, it needed just a few swirls of  neon
to look totally at home in Las Vegas.
     Directly opposite Vauxhall Cross, over the road and about one
     hundred yards away, was an elevated section of railway that led  off to
Waterloo  Station. Most of the arches  beneath had been converted into shops
or  warehouses.  Passing  the  SIS  building,  I  negotiated  the   five-way
intersection and bumped the sidewalk, parking  by two arches which  had been
knocked  through to  make a massive motorcycle  shop--the  one I'd bought my
Ducati  from. I  wasn't  going in  today; it was just an easy place to park.
Checking my  saddle  was secure so  that no  one could  steal  my  Universal
Self-Loading Pistol, I put my  helmet in the backpack,  crossed  a couple of
feeder roads and took the metal footbridge over the intersection, eventually
entering  the building via  a  single  metal door  that  funneled  me toward
reception.
     The interior of the Firm looked  much the same as  any hightech  office
block: clean,  sleek, and with  an efficient  corporate feel  about it, with
people  swiping  their  identity  cards through  electronic  readers  to get
access. I  headed for  the main  reception desk, where  two women sat behind
thick bulletproof glass.
     "I'm here to see Mr. Lynn."
     "Can you fill this in please?" The older one passed a ledger  through a
slot under the glass.
     As I signed my name in two boxes she picked up  a telephone. "Who shall
I say is here?"
     "My name is Nick." I hadn't even  had any cover documentation from them
since  my fuckup in Washington, just my own cover which I hoped they'd never
know about. I'd  organized it  in case it was time to disappear, a feeling I
had at least once a month.
     The ledger held tear-off  labels. One half was torn away  and put  in a
plastic  sleeve,  which I  would have to  pin  on. Mine  was  blue and said,
"Escorted Everywhere."
     The  woman got off  the phone  and  pointed to  a  row  of soft chairs.
"Someone will be with you soon."
     I  sat  and waited  with my nice new badge on,  watching suited men and
women come and go. Dress-down Friday hadn't reached this far upriver yet. It
wasn't often that people like me got to come here; my last visit had been in
'97. I'd hated it that time, too. They managed to  make you  feel that, as a
K,  you weren't very welcome,  turning up  and spoiling the smart  corporate
image of the place.
     After about  ten minutes of feeling  as if  I was  waiting  outside the
headmaster's study, an old Asian  guy in a natty  blue pinstripe suit pushed
his way through the barrier.
     "Nick?"
     I nodded and got to my feet.
     He half-smiled. "If you'd like to follow me." A swipe  of the card that
hung round his neck got  him back  through  the barrier;  I  had to pass the
metal detector before we met on the other side and walked to the elevators.
     "We're going to the fifth floor."
     I nodded and let the silence hang  as we rode the elevator, not wanting
to let him know that I knew. It saved on small talk.
     Once on the fifth I followed  him. There was little  noise coming  from
any of the offices along the hallway, just the hum  of air conditioning  and
the creak of my feathers.
     At  the far  end we turned  left,  passing Lynn's old  office.  Someone
called  Turnbull had it  now. Two doors down I  saw  Lynn's name on the door
plate.  My  escort knocked and was met by the characteristically  crisp  and
immediate call of  "Come!"  He ushered me past  and I heard  the  door close
gently behind me. Lynn's bald crown faced me as he wrote at his desk.
     He might have a new office, but it was quite clear he was a creature of
habit.  The  interior was  exactly  the same as his last;  exactly  the same
furniture  and  plain, functional, impersonal ambience. The only  thing that
showed he  wasn't  a  mannequin planted  here for decoration was  the framed
photograph of a  group, which I presumed were his much younger wife and  two
children, sitting  on a stretch of grass with the family Labrador. Two rolls
of Christmas wrapping paper leaning against the wall  behind him showed that
he did have a life.
     Mounted on a  wall  bracket above me to the right was a TV, the  screen
showing CNN  world  news headlines.  The  only thing I  couldn't see was the
obligatory officer's  squash  racket and winter coat  on a  stand. They were
probably behind me.
     I stood and  waited for him to finish. Normally I  would just  have sat
down and made myself at home, but today was different. There was what people
like him tend to call an atmosphere, and I didn't want to annoy him any more
than  I  needed to. We'd  parted on less than good terms the last  time we'd
met.
     His fountain pen sounded unnaturally loud on the  paper.  My eyes moved
to  the window behind him, and  I gazed over the Thames at the new apartment
building being finished off on the north side of the bridge.
     "Take a seat. I'll be with you very soon."
     I did, on the same wooden chair I'd sat on three years ago, my leathers
drowning the scratch of his writing as I bent down and placed my backpack on
the floor. It was becoming increasingly obvious that this was going to be  a
short meeting, an interview  without  coffee, otherwise the  Asian guy would
have asked me if I took milk or cream before I'd gone in.
     I hadn't seen Lynn since the debrief after Washington in '98. Like  his
furniture, he hadn't changed. Nor  had his clothes: the same mustard-colored
corduroy trousers, sports  jacket with well worn leather elbows, and flannel
shirt. With his shiny dome still  facing me, I could see that he hadn't lost
any more hair,  which I was sure Mrs. Lynn was very happy  about. He  really
didn't have the ears to be a complete baldilocks.
     He finished writing and put aside what I could now see was a typed page
of  legal paper that looked as if a teacher had marked it. Looking up with a
half-amused smile  at  my  outfit, he  brought  his hands  together,  thumbs
touching  as he rested them on  top of  the  desk.  Since  Washington,  he'd
treated me  as  if  he was a  bank manager and  I  was asking  for a  bigger
overdraft, trying hard to be  nice, but  at the same time looking down on me
with disdain. That, I didn't mind, as long as he didn't expect me to look up
to him with reverence.
     "Wot  can I do  fer  yer, Nick?"  He was  ribbing my  accent, but  in a
sarcastic, not jovial  way.  He really didn't like me.  My Washington fuckup
had put the seal on that.
     I  bit my lip. I  had to be nice to him. He was the ticket to the money
Kelly  needed,  and even though I  had  the sinking  feeling that my be-nice
routine wasn't going to work, I had to give it my best shot.
     "I really would like to know if I am ever going to get PC," I said.
     He settled  back into his leather swivel  chair  and produced the other
half  of  his smile. "You know, you are very lucky still  to be at  liberty,
Nick. You already have a lot to be thankful  for, and  do bear in mind, your
freedom is still not guaranteed."
     He was right, of course. I owed the Firm for the fact that I wasn't  in
some U.S. state penitentiary with a cellmate  called Big Bubba who wanted to
be my special friend. Even if it was more to do  with saving themselves even
more embarrassment than protecting me.
     "I do understand that, and I'm really grateful for all that you've done
for me, Mr. Lynn. But I really need to know."
     Leaning forward,  he  studied the  expression on my  face. It must have
been  the "Mr.  Lynn"  bit that  made  him  suspicious.  He could  smell  my
desperation.
     "After your  total lack of judgment, do you really  think you'd ever be
considered  for  permanent  cadre?" His face flushed. He was  angry.  "Think
yourself lucky you're  still  on  a retainer. Do you really  think  that you
would be considered for  work after you" his right index finger  started  to
endorse the  facts as he poked it at  me,  his  voice  getting  louder "one,
disobey my direct order to kill that damned woman; two, actually believe her
preposterous story and assist  her assassination attempt in the White House.
God, man, your judgment was no better than a love struck schoolboy's. Do you
really think a  woman like that  would be  interested in  you?"  He couldn't
contain himself. It was as  if I'd touched a raw nerve. "And to  cap it all,
you used  a member of the American Secret Service to get you in  there  .. .
who then gets shot! Do  you realize the havoc you've caused, not only in the
U.S. but  here?  Careers have been ruined  because of you. The answer is no.
Not now, not ever."
     Then  I  realized.  This  wasn't just  about me,  and it  wasn't  early
retirement at  the  end of his tour next year to  spend more  time  with his
mushrooms; he had been canned. He'd been running  the Ks  at the time of the
Sarah  debacle, and someone  had  had  to pay.  People  like Lynn  could  be
replaced;  people like  me  were  more  difficult  to blow out, if  only for
financial  reasons.  The  government  had  invested several  million  in  my
training as  a Special Air Service soldier. They wanted to get their money's
worth out of me. It must have  killed  him to know that I  was the one who'd
fucked  up, but he was  the one to carry  the blame probably as  part of the
deal to appease the Americans. He sat back  into his chair, realizing he had
lost his usual control.
     "If not PC, when will I work?"
     He had  gained a  little more  composure.  "Nothing is  going to happen
until the new  department head takes over. He  will decide what  to do  with
you."
     It was  time for  me to lose all pride. "Look,  Mr. Lynn, I really need
the money. Any shit job will do. Send me anywhere. Anything you've got."
     "That child you look after. Is she still in care?"
     Shit, I hated it  when they knew these things. It was pointless  lying;
he probably even knew down to the last penny how much money I needed.
     I nodded. "It's the clinic costs. She'll be there for a long time."
     I looked at his family  portrait, then  back at him. He had kids;  he'd
understand.
     He didn't  even pause. "No. Now go. Remember, you are still being  paid
and you will conduct yourself accordingly."
     He pressed  his buzzer and the Asian guy came to  collect me so fast he
must have been listening through  the keyhole.  At least  I got  to see  the
squash racket on the way out. It was leaning against the wall by the door.
     Taking  a  breath,  I  nearly turned  back  to  tell  him  to  ram  his
patronizing, hate-filled words up his ass. I had nothing to lose; what could
he  do to me now? Then I thought better of letting my mouth react  to what I
was thinking. This would be the last time I ever saw him, and I  was sure it
was the last time he ever wanted to see me. Once he'd gone it would be a new
department  head and maybe a new chance. Why burn my bridges? I'd get my own
back later. I'd jump all over his mushrooms.
     I was still feeling  philosophical about  the meeting at 3A. If Val had
been feeding me  a crock of shit, well, there you go, at least I was  on  my
turf rather than his. That was the way I wanted it to stay, so I'd tucked my
Universal Self-Loading  Pistol into my leathers before I left the bike shop,
just in case.
     All the  same, I knew I'd  be really  pissed if no  one was at the flat
with a little something for me, as long as it was  wrapped in a big envelope
and not a full metal jacket. I'd soon be finding out.
     The traffic in Kensington was at a standstill. At one set of lights the
bike got wedged between a black cab and a woman  in  a Mere with very  dyed,
long blond hair, held  off her face by Chanel sunglasses, even though it was
the  middle of winter. She tried  to look casual as she chatted on  her cell
phone. The cabbie looked over at me and couldn't help himself from laughing.
     Palace  Gardens stretches the  whole  length of  Hyde Park's west side,
from Kensington in the south to Netting Hill Gate in the north. I rode up to
the  iron gates  and the wooden gatehouse  positioned  between them. Sitting
inside was a bald man in his fifties, wearing a white shirt, black tie,  and
blue nylon jacket.
     Beyond  him lay a wide  tree-lined road  and pavements of  clean  beige
gravel. The large mansion houses were mostly embassies and their residences.
Flags fluttered and brass plates gleamed. The sale  price of even one of the
staff apartments  would probably clear my  debts at the clinic, pay  Kelly's
education right through to doctorate level, and  still leave enough to put a
new roof over most of Norfolk.
     The gate man looked me up and down  as if I was something  one  of  the
posh embassy dogs had left  coiled on the curb. He didn't get up, just stuck
his head out of the window. "Yes?"
     "Number 3A, mate. Pickup." I  pointed  to the now empty backpack  on my
back. I  really  hadn't planned to be a messenger today,  but  it seemed the
easiest thing to do.  At least I looked  the part, with the leathers  and my
South London accent turned up a notch or two.
     He pointed  up the road. "Hundred yards up  on the  left. Don't park in
front  of the building. Put your machine over  there."  He indicated to  the
opposite side of the road.
     I let in the clutch and waited for the  steel barriers  blocking my way
to  disappear  into the road. The  Israeli embassy loomed  up on my  left. A
dark-skinned guard in plain clothes stood outside  on the pavement.  He must
have been feeling quite cold, as his  coat and suit jacket  were unbuttoned.
If anyone attacked the place  he had to be  able to reach his weapon and gun
them down before the uniformed British policeman on the opposite side of the
road got a chance to step in and make a simple arrest instead.
     About  two hundred feet past them  both  I  parked in the line of  cars
opposite the apartment building. Walking across the  road toward  its  grand
gates, I started removing my gloves and unbuckling my helmet, then I hit the
bell and explained  to  a  voice where I wanted to go. The  side gate opened
with a whirr and a click and I walked through and down the drive.
     The building was bigger than most  of those around it and set back from
the road. It was made of red brick and concrete and was decades younger than
its neighbors,  with manicured gardens  on  each side of the drive that  led
downhill to a turning circle with an ornate fountain at its center.
     Pulling  off  the ski  mask that kept the cold off my  face,  I  walked
through  the  main doors into a  glittering  dark marble and glass reception
area. The doorman, another king sitting on his throne, seemed to view me the
same way as his mate down the road. "Delivery, is it?"
     Nobody calls you sir when you're in bike leathers.
     It was  time to play  messenger boy  again. "Nah,  pick-up P. P. Smith,
mate."
     He picked up the internal telephone and dialed, his voice changing into
Mr. Nice Guy the moment he got a reply. "Hello,
     reception here, you have  a messenger for a collection.  Do you want me
to send him up? Certainly. Goodbye." The phone went down and he turned surly
again as he pointed to the elevator. "Third floor, fourth door on the left."
     As the  elevator doors closed behind me  I had a quick  check round for
closed-circuit  cameras, then  pulled out my Universal Self  Loading Pistol.
Checking  chamber, I hit the button for  the third floor. I never knew why I
checked chamber so much. Maybe it just made me feel more in control.
     As  the elevator kicked in  with  a slight  jerk  and took me upward, I
folded the  ski mask over the  Universal Self-Loading Pistol and  placed it,
and  my right hand, in the helmet. If there was a drama, I  could just  drop
the helmet and react.
     The elevator slowed. Placing my thumb on the safety catch, I was ready.
     The door slid open with an up market ding, but I  stood my ground for a
few seconds, listening, helmet still in my left hand so I could draw with my
right.
     The  temperature changed as  I  stepped  into the hallway and the doors
closed behind  me. It was hot, but the  decor was cold: white  walls,  cream
carpet, and very brightly lit.
     I followed the carpet, looking for the fourth  door on the left. It was
so quiet that all I could hear as I moved was the creaking of my leathers.
     The  door didn't  have a  bell,  knocker,  or even  a  number. Using my
knuckles against the heavy wood, I stood off to the side, my right hand back
on the pistol grip, thumb easing off the safety catch.
     I  hated  this bit. It wasn't  as if I was  expecting  trouble;  it was
highly unlikely  to happen here, given all the security I'd had to pass. But
still, I  hated  knocking on doors and  not knowing who or  what was  on the
other side.
     Footsteps echoed on  a  hard floor  and  locks  were  undone.  The door
started to open,  only to be stopped  by a security chain. A face, or rather
half a face, moved into the three- or four-inch gap. It was enough for me to
recognize its  owner at  once. I was pleasantly surprised. It would  be much
friendlier dealing with her than some square head
     Looking almost innocent, Val's woman from  Helsinki was showing me just
one very light-blue eye and some dark-blond hair. It
     probably got lighter in the summer, when the sun got to work on it. The
only other  thing I could  see  through  the  gap  was  her dark-blue woolen
turtleneck.
     She looked at me without any expression, waiting for me to speak.
     "My name is Nick. You have something for me."
     "Yes, I've been expecting you." She didn't bat an eye. "Have you a cell
phone or pager with you?"
     I nodded. "Yeah,  I've got a phone." Fuck  what  Valentin  had said.  I
needed one with me for when the clinic called later.
     "Could I ask you to turn it off, please?"
     "It is." It was pointless wasting the battery while sitting on a bike.
     Tilting the helmet slightly so the pistol wouldn't  fall out, I reached
into my right-hand pocket and pulled out the phone, showing her the display.
     She gave a very courteous "Thank you," then the door closed and I heard
the chain  being undone. The door reopened  fully, but  instead of  standing
there and ushering me in, she turned and started to walk back into the flat.
"Close the door behind you, would you please, Nick?"
     As I stepped  over the  threshold  I smelled floor wax.  I followed her
down the hallway, taking in the apartment's layout. A  couple  of doors  led
off  either  side,  and  one at the far end  was partly open. The  floor was
plain,  light  wood,  the  walls  and  doors  gleaming  white. There  was no
furniture or pictures, not even a coat hook.
     I switched  my attention  to  Val's woman. I'd thought it was her  high
heels that  had made her look so tall  in Finland, but I could  see now that
her legs did that all on their own. She was maybe just over six feet tall in
her square-toed cowboy boots, which made a slow  rhythmic clack as her heels
hit  the  floor. She walked like a super model on  a catwalk. Her  legs were
sheathed in  a pair of  Armani jeans, the logo on the back pocket  moving up
and down in time with her heels. I couldn't keep my eyes off it.
     Slipping the  pistol into  my right-hand pocket, I moved the phone into
my left, all  the  time  looking at her and thinking that  Armani  should be
paving her for this. I was almost tempted to buy myself a pair.
     One  door  to the  right was  partly open, and  I  glanced through. The
kitchen  was  just  as  sterile  as  the  hallway: stark  white  stools at a
breakfast bar, no kettle, no letters on the side. Nobody lived here.
     I walked into the living  room where she now stood, a large white space
with three unmatching  dining-room chairs  at  its center.  Muslin  curtains
covered the windows, making the light dull and hazy.
     The only other objects  in the room were  four very large Harrods bags,
which looked as if they were about to split at the seams, and a Borders bag,
the telltale shapes of books pushing at its sides.
     I moved  to the far corner of  the  room and  leaned against the  wall.
Through  the double glazing of  the large  picture  windows I could hear the
faint murmur of traffic.
     She bent over one of the shopping bags and pulled out a buff envelope.
     "My name  is Liv. Valentin sends his regards," she said  as she brought
it over to me. "And, of course,  his gratitude. This is for you. One hundred
thousand U.S. dollars."
     Wonderful.  That  was  the slate clean at the clinic, and  another four
months' treatment in the bank.
     She extended a perfectly manicured hand that showed she was no longer a
teenager. The  skin on her face was crystal clear and had no need of makeup.
I  reckoned she  was  in her  early  thirties. Her hair was shoulder length,
parted over her left eye, and tucked back behind her ear.
     If she was wearing nail polish today, it was  clear. She wore no rings,
no bracelets, earrings, or necklaces.  The  only  jewelry I could see  was a
discreet  gold tank watch with a black leather strap. But  then, she  needed
adorning like the Venus de Milo needed a velvet choker and diamond tiara.  I
was beginning to see why Val might prefer Finland to Russia.
     I wasn't  going to open  the envelope there and then. I didn't  want to
look  desperate and  untrusting. I was both, but  I didn't want her  to know
that.
     I hadn't had the time to take much notice of her before. The first time
I was  aware  of her was the day that Val arrived  in  Finland,  three  days
before the lift. are  about planning, not admiring the view.  But I did now.
I'd never seen a woman with such a perfectly symmetrical face--a strong jaw,
full  lips, and  eyes that  felt  as if  they knew  everything  but revealed
nothing. Her statuesque body looked like it had  been shaped by  canoeing or
rock climbing rather than jumping up and down to music in a gym.
     The feel of the bundles  in the envelope, even through  the bubble-wrap
lining, brought  me  back to the  real world. I  put  my helmet at my  feet,
unzipped my jacket and slipped the envelope inside.
     She turned and went to sit on one of the chairs beside her purchases. I
took up my position against  the  wall. She invited  me  to take one  of the
seats with a wave of  her hand, but I declined, preferring to stand  and  be
able to  react if Liv had a few of her  squareheaded friends around and this
encounter turned out to be not entirely friendly.
     I was starting to get jealous of  Val. Money and  power  always attract
beautiful women. My mailbox full of late  notices never  had quite  the same
effect,
     Liv sat there looking at me in the way that Mr. Spock did on the bridge
of the USS Enterprise when he thought things were illogical. It was the same
look  she'd given  me at the hotel, penetrating and searching, as if she was
staring  right into  my head, but somehow managing  to give nothing back. It
made me uncomfortable and I stooped to pick up my helmet before leaving.
     She sat back and crossed her long legs.
     "Nick, I have a proposition for you, from Valentin."
     I left the helmet where it was, but  said nothing. I'd learned the hard
way that it's worth remembering we have two ears and just one mouth.
     Her gaze remained cool. "Are you interested?"
     I certainly was. "In principle." I didn't want to spend all day beating
about the  bush,  and she didn't look or sound like the sort of person who'd
do that anyway. So let's just get on with it. "What does he want from me?"
     "It's a simple task,  but one that needs to  be  handled delicately. He
needs someone--and he  wants it to be you--to assist another person to enter
a house  in  Finland.  The other person is a cryptographer-a  highly skilled
hacker, if you like. Inside the house are computers which this  other person
will use his  skills to  access and then download the contents onto a laptop
for  removal.  The  contents, before  you ask, are  merely some  competitive
intelligence which Valentin is keen to have in his possession."
     She uncrossed her legs and pulled open one of her bags.
     "You mean industrial espionage?"
     "That's not entirely correct, Nick. More commercial than indus
     trial. Valentin  is  asking  you to assist in  the procurement of  this
data, but without the house  owners knowing that you have done  so.  We want
them to think they are the only ones with this information."
     "It's as straightforward as that?"
     "There are  some minor complications which  we  will discuss if you are
interested."
     I was, but minor complications  don't exist. They always turn out to be
major. "How much?"
     I had  to wait for an  answer while she fished a cream-colored cashmere
sweater out of the Harrods  bag with a rustle of  tissue paper. Sitting back
in the chair, she laid it across her thighs,  tucked her hair behind her ear
again and looked directly at me.
     "Valentin is offering you one point  seven million dollars--if  you are
successful, of  course."  She put  up  a hand.  "Nonnegotiable.  That is his
offer, more than a million pounds. He  wanted you to have a round  figure in
your own currency. You're a lucky man, Nick; he likes you."
     So far  it  sounded  like  a  dream  come true. That alone made me feel
suspicious, but  fuck it, we were  just  at the talking stage. "Valentin  is
powerful enough just to take what he wants by force. Why does he need me?"
     She expertly removed the tags from the sweater, dropping them back into
the bag. "This is a job that requires finesse, not muscle. As I said, no one
must  know  that  Valentin  has this material. In any event, he would prefer
this was  accomplished  outside his normal channels. It's a delicate matter,
and it was obvious in Helsinki that you have a certain skill in this area."
     That was all very nice,  but it was question  time. "What exactly is it
I'm trying to lay my hands on?"
     She  put  on the sweater, her eyes not leaving mine, still measuring me
up, I was sure of it. "That, Nick, you  don't need to  know. We just need to
be there before the Maliskia."
     I had to cut in. "You mean steal it before the Maliskia?"
     She smiled. "Not  'steal," copy. Download  it.  Your task is to get our
man  in and out without anyone knowing it has happened. Those are the terms,
if you wish me to continue."
     "I   get   it,"  I   said.  "Maliskia  must   be  Russian   for  'minor
complications." "
     She smiled again, her lips parting slightly to show perfect white
     teeth.  "The West call us the Russian Mafia,  or simply ROC,  as if  we
were  one big  group. We're not.  We are many groups. The  Maliskia  are one
faction, and Valentin's only  real  competitor. Whatever you may think about
him, he is a man with vision. The Maliskia are not; they are just gangsters.
It  is  very important that  they never have access to this information.  It
would  be a disaster for all of us, West  as well as  East. That is all I am
prepared to say on the matter. Now, do you wish me to continue?"
     Of course I did. It's  always good to know  something  about who you're
racing  against. Not  that she'd told  me anything  Val  hadn't. I  listened
intently as she explained that the target house was  still in the process of
being prepared to use the "competitive intelligence" Val wanted. It wouldn't
be online for  another six or seven days, and  only then would I  be able to
get their  man in to copy whatever it was. The problem was  that once it was
online the Maliskia were likely to trace its location very quickly.
     "That's the race, Nick. I emphasize again, we must get it  first and no
one must know that we've got it."
     It sounded okay to me. I'd spent years doing this kind of thing for far
less  than $1.7  million.  Maybe  this was my chance to sort out my life and
Kelly's once and for  all.  One  big fuck-off finger to everyone, especially
Lynn. The meeting with him had really pissed me off. He knew the  reason I'd
been  spared and he hadn't  was that  I  was  more  useful to the Firm as an
operator on the ground, whereas Lynn was just another paper-pusher. And ever
since Washington, the Firm knew  they had  me by the balls, and  I hated  it
when people had me by the balls.
     "I'm concerned about going back to Finland," I said. "I don't think I'm
very popular there."
     She smiled patiently. "They aren't looking for you, Nick. As far as the
Finnish  police  are concerned  it was a purely Russian event.  Valentin has
already  made  a statement to  that  effect to the authorities. Don't worry,
it's  not an issue. If it  was, Valentin wouldn't  have risked offering  you
this task."
     She gave me time to consider what she had  said as she picked fluff off
her  new  sweater.  "They  weren't  your friends,  I  hope?" She looked  up.
"Perhaps the choice of team was not one of your best decisions?"
     I smiled and shrugged. I had no defense.
     "I thought not."  She  twisted her forefinger  and thumb to release the
fluff onto the floor.
     For  the  next few minutes  I  asked  questions and she failed  to give
adequate answers. The objective, she said, was simple enough, but it  didn't
sound low risk to me. There were far too many questions left unanswered: How
many people  were in the house? What de fences did they have? Where the fuck
was it? I wasn't even allowed to know who I was taking in. I would find  out
only  when  I signed  on  the dotted line. On the  other hand, $1.7  million
versus  290 pounds a day wasn't  the  kind of discrepancy I  could afford to
live with.
     She held out  a piece of folded paper. I walked the five paces and took
it.
     "These  are the contact details of the man you will be taking with you,
assuming  you can persuade him. If you can, the fee goes  up to two  million
dollars, to cover  his cut.  Now,  one  other  minor  complication:  Neither
Valentin nor I can risk being associated  with this task, so you will be the
contact point. It's up to you to convince him to do it."
     I  turned  back to my  helmet,  reading an address and  phone number in
Netting Hill.
     Liv said, "His name is Tom Mancini. I believe you know him."
     I turned to face her. The name did ring a bell, but that didn't concern
me. What did was that she knew about me, that she knew things about my past.
     My concern must have been plain to see.  She smiled again and shook her
head very slightly. "Naturally Valentin has gone to the  trouble of learning
a lot about you these last few days.  Do  you think  he would employ someone
for such a task otherwise?"
     "What does he know?"
     "Enough, I'm sure. Also enough about Tom. Valentin is sure you are both
the  right people  for  this.  Now, Nick, as you will  appreciate, there  is
little time. You need to be in  Helsinki by Sunday. All I  will require  are
your travel details. Everything else will be looked after."
     She  gave  me the contact details. They were very basic,  if not a  bit
over  the top, but easy  to understand, which  was good, because my head was
spinning around with 1.7 million other things at the time.
     She stood up.  Our meeting was  obviously over. "Thank you  for coming,
Nick."
     I shook her hand, which felt warm and firm. I looked her in the
     eye, probably for a fraction of a second too long, then bent to pick up
my helmet.
     She followed  me to the front door. As I  reached  for  the handle  she
said, "One last thing, Nick."
     I turned to face her; she was so close I could smell her perfume.
     "Please do not  turn  your cell phone  on until you  are far  away from
here. Goodbye, Nick."
     I nodded  and  the door closed. I heard the locks  and chain  being put
back into position.
     Going down in the elevator I  resisted the urge to dance  a jig or jump
up and click my heels.  I had never been one to embrace good fortune blindly
I'd never had that much of it to embrace,  really but Valentin's proposition
sounded  rather  good,  and  what  few  doubts I had  were dispelled by  the
envelope inside my jacket as long as it didn't go bang on the way home.
     The elevator  slowed and  the  doors  opened  on the ground  floor. The
doorman was frowning at me as he tried to work out why I'd been up  there so
long. I pulled the ski mask from under my helmet and nodded to him. "She was
wonderful," I  said.  By the  time the sliding doors opened and I was facing
the security cameras, the mask was over my head again.
     Walking up the  driveway  I started to pull out the chin  strap on both
sides of the  helmet  with my thumbs and forefingers. I'd just got past  the
gate and onto the sidewalk when  I heard the noise of an approaching car. As
I played with the straps I looked up and to the left to check it was okay to
cross.
     A  Peugeot 206  was screaming toward  me at the  speed of sound. It was
dark maroon and dirty from the last couple of weeks of slush and road  salt.
Behind the  wheel  was  a white-knuckled woman  in her early thirties with a
chin-length  bob.  I waited for her to  pass,  but as soon as she was  about
thirty feet away she slowed to a more controlled pace.
     I checked to my right. The Israeli security guy about two  hundred feet
away wasn't fussed about it, nor the uniformed officer, who was looking very
bored and cold on the opposite side of road.
     I watched her get down to the  barrier, indicating  left, then join the
stream of traffic. I  spotted  the license plate. It was a '96 registration,
but there  was something  else that was much more interesting  no sticker on
the back window telling me how wonderful the dealership was. I suddenly felt
I knew what she was about. Just as quickly, I  threw the idea aside. Shit, I
was getting as paranoid about surveillance as Val and  Liv  were  about cell
phones.
     Pulling my helmet on, I put the key into Ducati's ignition and was just
starting to put  my gloves on  when I spotted another vehicle about forty or
fifty  yards further  up  the  road a midnight-blue  Golf GTi in a  line  of
vehicles, two up, both sitting back in their seats with
     no conversation or movement. The side windows  were steamed up  but the
windshield had a direct view of  the gates to the apartment building. I took
a mental  note of  their registration. Not  that it mattered. Well, that was
what I  tried to tell myself, anyway. PI 16 something, that was all I needed
to know.
     I decided that if I didn't stop being paranoid I'd end up in the clinic
with  Kelly  and  began to give myself a mental slapping. Then I remembered:
Paranoia keeps people like me alive.
     I had one more look around, my helmet  down  as if I was checking  over
the machine. I couldn't  see anything  else that  made me feel uneasy,  so I
straddled the bike and pushed it off its stand.
     Turning  the  engine over, I pushed down the gear selector with my left
foot, got  into first,  revved it up  a little, turned left  and made my way
down  toward the main gates. If  the  Golf was a trigger,  the team that was
about to follow me would have just received a point by-point, stage-by-stage
description  of exactly what I  was doing over the net. They needed a visual
picture  of what I looked like, what the bike looked like, its registration,
and what I was doing. "That's  helmet on, that's gloves on .. . not aware ..
.  now complete (on  the bike).  Keys turned, engine on, stand by, stand by.
Mobile toward Kensington exit... approaching. No intention (no indicators on
to show which way the vehicle is going) ..."
     Everybody had  to  know exactly what I was doing and where I was to the
nearest thirty feet  so  they could put good covert surveillance on me. It's
not  like  Miami Vice, where the good guys are sitting there with hand mikes
at their mouths and a big antenna stuck on the roof. All the antennas  on E4
vehicles are internal, and you never see any mikes. All  you've got to do is
hit  a press el a  little switch placed wherever you want. My preference had
always been to have it fixed internally in the gear shift. That way you  can
just talk, making it look as if you're having fun, or having an argument. It
doesn't really matter as long as you're giving the  details. Which, if I was
getting triggered away from here, these two would now be doing.
     What made me still feel edgy was that the two  cars were ideal for city
surveillance. Both  were very common models  in dark, nondescript colors and
they were compact, so they could zip  in and out of traffic and were easy to
park, or  even abandon, if the target went foxtrot  (on  foot). Not all cars
have the retailer's sticker in the back
     window;  it's  just that surveillance cars would tend not to have  them
because they could become a VDM (visual distinguishing mark).
     If  they were  a  surveillance  team  they  would  have  to  be E4, the
government's surveillance group that  keeps tabs  on everybody in  the  U.K.
from terrorists to shady politicians. No one else would be able to stake out
anything along this road. There was more security here than at Alcatraz. But
why me?  It  didn't make sense.  All I'd  done  was  go  into  an  apartment
building.
     I got to the barrier and the guard looked out of his shed  and into the
cold, trying  to work  out if I was  that  guy who said he was the messenger
half an hour ago.
     I  turned  right  and  merged  with  the  traffic,  which  was still  a
nightmare. I  headed the opposite way from the  Peugeot, and tried  to be as
casual as possible. I wasn't going to scoot away like a scalded cat and show
that I was aware, but I'd check to see if I was a target.
     It was starting to get  dark now as I  checked my  mirror, expecting  a
surveillance bike to be up my ass in no time at all.
     Either the Peugeot driver was a  loony and couldn't drive the thing, or
she  was a  new or  very useless member  of  E4.  Val would have fitted very
nicely into  their portfolio, as would quite a few  of the residents in this
area. I could just be a new face that needed a  picture for the surveillance
log and general buildup of intelligence on the building.
     If I was right, she  was trying to make a photo- or video-run on me and
had fucked up the timing. It's very hard to make these runs as you only have
one  chance and the pressure is  always  on, but  this  one  was  especially
incompetent.
     The car  could  be rigged  with  both video  and stills cameras, hidden
behind the radiator grill or  part of the headlight setup, or little bits of
the body work cut  out in  the rear so there was just  enough  light for the
lens. The  cameras  are activated electronically by the driver as they  pass
the  target.  The camera takes the whole reel of film at a very fast shutter
speed. That's why the timing's so important: hit the button too soon and the
film  could  be finished by the  time  you're on  top of the  target, or the
target might  have  walked  behind  a  parked  car  as  you begin  your run,
producing nothing  more for your  efforts  than a  nice  picture of  a  Ford
Fiesta, and a hard time from your bosses at the debriefing.
     The video camera is a much safer option, but all it takes on the
     move is a  few bumpy seconds  of the  target walking. This time around,
all they would have was a visual of a biker with a ski mask on. That made me
feel  a lot better. I had no idea where those  pictures would turn up, but I
knew Lynn wouldn't be in the best of moods if they found their way to him.
     I looked  down at my mirror. Right  on  cue  I saw the reflection of  a
bike's headlight. It wasn't  necessarily a surveillance operator, but I  had
ways of checking.
     I  was  riding like one of those forty-something losers. The family are
all  grown  up,  the  house  is  virtually  paid  for, so now  they want the
motorbike their  mom would never let them have.  It tends to be the biggest,
fattest touring bike their platinum  Amex card can handle, and they ride  to
and from  work  without ever  getting  within spitting distance of  a  speed
limit. Except  I wasn't scared to  open up the throttle. I wanted to  see if
the single light behind me would do the same.
     It didn't.
     He shot past me at speed on  an eight-year-old greasy Honda 500 with  a
battered old  blue plastic box on the  back  held  down by  bun gees He  was
wearing well-used leathers and  Wellington boots, and turned  to look at  me
through his visor, all beard and disgust. I knew just how he felt.
     There were other bikes behind me,  weaving in and out of the traffic. I
moved into the middle of the  road and twisted the throttle to jump a couple
of cars,  then swung back into the stream,  crawling along behind  a rusting
van.  I let a  few more  bikes and mopeds pass me, and  even a bicycle,  and
after a  couple  more sets of lights it was  obvious I had  another  weekend
rider behind me, about two cars back.
     I turned left at the next intersection, and he followed me.
     Looking  for  a natural stop, I  pulled in at a newsstand.  Resting the
bike on its side stand, I  went through the charade of undoing my helmet and
gloves,  as an Yamaha VFR came past, probably waffling  on  the net, telling
everybody where I was.  "Stop! Stop! Stop! Charlie one  (the bike) static on
the left. At the newsstand, Bravo one (me) still complete (on the bike)."
     I took the helmet off but kept the mask on once he'd gone, then got off
the bike and walked into the shop.  I couldn't just ride straight off again,
because that would show I was aware.
     The  young woman  behind  the counter looked alarmed  because  I hadn't
taken my  mask off. There was a sign politely asking me to do  just that. If
she'd asked I would have told her no--in my tear-the-ass out  of  it cockney
accent--and to fuck  off  because I was cold. I didn't want the team to come
and requisition the security video tape  with yours  truly on it. She wasn't
going to  argue; why should she care if I was  there  to steal the money? It
could be dangerous for her.
     I went back to the bike clutching a copy of the evening newspaper. If I
was right, there'd probably  be a bike at either end of the road by now. The
net would be in chaos as cars hit their  horns at  the  dickhead drivers who
had suddenly decided to throw up (turn 180) in the traffic, all out of sight
to  me, trying to  get  in position  for  the stakeout. A  static short-term
target  is always a  dangerous time for a surveillance team. Everyone has to
get in  position,  so that next time the target  goes mobile they've covered
every possible  option.  That way, the target moves to the team,  instead of
the  team  crowding  the target. But where  was  the trigger?  I couldn't be
bothered to look; I'd find out soon enough.
     I pushed the Ducati down into  first gear  and carried  on  in the same
direction I'd been heading before, towards  South Kensington subway station,
about half a  mile  away. Parking up  in the bike row  on the  north side, I
walked into  the  packed station, looking as  though  I  was  unbuckling  my
helmet, though I didn't.  Instead, I walked straight through and crossed the
road, still  with my helmet on. The south side  of the station had a  large,
busy, and very confusing intersection, with  a big triangular island housing
a flower stall.  Their propane gas heaters  not only blasted out heat  as  I
went by,  but  also a very  comforting  bright  red light  in the  gathering
darkness.
     I  moved   with  a  crowd  of  pedestrians  to  the  far  side  of  the
intersection, past a row of shops along the Old Brompton Road.
     About fifty yards further along, I  went into the  pub  on  the corner,
took  off my helmet and  mask, and settled on a bar stool just back from the
window.
     The pub  was  packed with  shoppers wanting to get out  of the cold and
office workers having a drink with friends.
     I saw the Golf within minutes, but without the passenger. He or she was
probably foxtrot, scurrying around in the subway station looking for me.
     Then I  saw the VFR and its black-leather-clad  rider.  They would have
found the Ducati now, and the whole team maybe four cars and two bikes would
be bomb-bursting about,  fighting  the  traffic, calling in the areas they'd
covered so their control could try and direct them elsewhere in some kind of
coherent pattern. I almost felt sorry for them. They'd lost their target and
they were in the shit. I'd been there a thousand times myself.

     I sat  and watched as the Golf, with a  dark-haired  male at the wheel,
came  back round  the  one-way  circuit  and  pulled in to  pick up a short,
brown-haired  woman. They  were off again before her door was  even  closed.
They'd done all they  could; now  it was a question of waiting to see if the
target returned to his bike.
     It wouldn't have been  a big deal  to  them when  I  became temporarily
unsighted. This always happens for short periods. But the  fact  that it had
happened at the subway station was  a  big  problem for  them.  Once  they'd
failed to pick me up again, their next move  would be to stake out the bike.
Then some  of the team would have checked out known target locations.  There
were only two: one was the apartment block, and  they would be checking with
the porter which  apartment I'd gone to, for sure. The other was the address
where the bike  was registered--a PO box just a few shops down from where it
was parked. It was an office suppliers, and instead of having a box number I
had a suite number, because I  wanted  to make  it  sound  like an expensive
apartment block. No doubt that was what the woman was checking out.
     Nick Davidson  was the registered owner of the bike  and  Suite 26  was
where  he supposedly lived. The  real Davidson  was going  to be  incredibly
pissed if he ever came back from  Australia, because I'd taken over his life
in the U.K. He  was going to get  a hard time from customs, immigration, and
Special Branch (serious crime and antiterrorist division) if he ever stepped
off a plane now that this had happened. He'd be listed.
     It  also meant that having Nick Davidson as my  safety-blanket cover ID
was now history, and that pissed  me off. It had taken painstaking months to
get  a  social security number, passport,  bank account, all the things that
bring  a character to life, and now I had to lose him. Worse still, I'd have
to lose the bike.  There'd certainly  be a  trigger on it for  the  next few
hours, depending  on how important they thought I was.  An electronic device
might  even be attached to it.  The only thing  that cheered me  up  was the
thought of what would happen to the  person who'd  eventually steal it after
seeing it  standing there for a few  days.  They wouldn't  know what had hit
them when the E4 team closed in.
     I'd  nursed a  Coke  while  keeping  watch through  the large Victorian
windows. My glass  was  nearly empty, and if I didn't want  to  look out  of
place I'd need to get a refill. Fighting my way to the bar, I ordered a pint
of orange juice and lemonade, and  went and sat  in the corner. No  need  to
look outside now. I knew a team was on me. I just had to sit it out, keeping
my eyes on  the doors  in case they  started  to  check out the pubs. In  an
hour's time it would be the end of the working day. I'd wait  until then and
lose myself in the darkness and commuter traffic.
     As  I  sipped  my  drink,  I  thought about  Tom  Mancini. His name was
certainly familiar. One of my first jobs as a K in '93 had been to drive him
from North Yorkshire,  where he worked, down  to a Royal Navy  facility near
Gosport,  Hampshire. I was told to scare  him  so much  that he'd beg to  be
handed  over  to  the  Firm's people, who I was delivering him to. It didn't
take that much, just a few slaps, a stern face and me telling him that if he
fucked me about the only thing left ticking on his body would be his watch.
     Once we'd got him down in one of the "forts"  built along the coast, he
wasn't even given time to  clean himself up before  the Firm's interrogation
team explained the facts of life.
     A  technician  at  Menwith Hill listening station,  he'd been  detected
trying  to  obtain  classified  information.  I  wasn't  allowed  in on  the
interrogation,  but I  knew they told him Special  Branch would be arresting
him  the next  day for  offenses  against  the  Official Secrets  Act.  They
couldn't stop that. However, if he didn't get smart, that  would be just the
start of his problems.
     He would shut up  in court about what he'd really been tampering  with.
Whatever that was, it seemed the Firm didn't want anyone
     to know about it, even  Special Branch, for the  charge would be for  a
lesser  offence. He would tell them who  he was getting the information for,
and,  of  course,  he'd  have no recollection of this "meeting"  ever taking
place. He'd serve  a short sentence and that would be the end  of it. If  he
ever uttered a word to anyone about the deal, however, someone like me would
come and pay him a visit.
     Tom had been fucking about with the big boys. I knew that R.A.F Menwith
Hill,  on  the moors  near  Harrogate  in Yorkshire, was one of  the largest
intelligence-gathering  stations  on  earth. Its  massive  golf  ball-shaped
"radomes"  monitored Europe's and Russia's  airwaves. It might  be a British
base, but in reality it was  a  little piece  of the U.S.A. on British soil,
run by their all-powerful NSA (National Security  Agency). It was  manned by
about 1,400 American  engineers, physicists, mathematicians, linguists,  and
computer scientists. The  staff was  complemented by 300 Brits, which  meant
that there were as many people working at Menwith Hill as there were for the
Firm.
     Menwith   Hill   operated   in  close   tandem  with  GCHQ  (Government
Communications Headquarters) at Cheltenham, gathering electronic information
from as far  afield as eastern Russia. GCHQ did not, however, have automatic
access to  the intelligence gathered at Menwith  Hill. All information  went
directly to  the  NSA  at  Fort Meade  in Maryland. From there,  information
collected  on  terrorism that  might,  for  example,  affect the  U.K."  was
redistributed to the  security  service, Special  Branch or  Scotland  Yard.
Britain's contract with the U.S. is that we can  only  buy  American nuclear
weapons on the condition that bases like Menwith are allowed  to  operate on
British soil,  and  that  the U.S. has  access to  all British  intelligence
operations. Sad but  true: They are big brother. Britain is just  one of the
little runt siblings.
     From what I could remember, Tom was full of shit. He came on all  brash
and confident like a Jack  the Lad cockney trader, which was rather strange,
because he came from Milton Keynes  and was about as boring as his zip code.
By the  end of the  drive  south, however, he  had been like a small  child,
curled up on the back seat.
     It worried  me  yhat  Val knew I  had  met Tom,  that he had  access to
details  about  a twenty-four-hour  period  of  my life  that  I'd  all  but
forgotten about, but I was in it for the money, nothing  else, and so I  cut
that thought away, just in case it made me change my mind.
     I finished my drink, picked up my helmet and headed for the  rest room.
Placing the  helmet on the tank in a stall, I sat  down on the lid, unzipped
my jacket, and pulled out the envelope.
     After an afternoon of people  missing  the bowl and  flicking cigarette
butts in  the  urinals, the  place stank.  I inspected the nylon-fiber type,
bubble-wrap envelope. Then, resting  it on my knees and  using both hands, I
pressed down and started  to run my palms  over it, fingertips moving up and
down the contours  of the contents. I turned  it over and checked  the other
side.
     I couldn't feel any sort of wiring, or anything more solid than what  I
hoped was the cash, but then again, that didn't mean  a thing.  A wafer-thin
battery  from  a Polaroid film  tucked between the  bundles  would kick  out
enough power to initiate a letter bomb. It might be Val's special little way
of saying thank you.
     I picked it  up and  put the fold to my nose. If  it was a device,  and
they'd used any  exotic or older-style explosives,  I might be able to smell
them. Sometimes  it's  marzipan,  sometimes  linseed oil.  I  was  expecting
something more sophisticated, but these things have to be tested for.
     All I could smell was  the urinals. The bar noise rose  and fell as the
outer door opened and closed. I carried on inspecting the envelope.
     I  decided to go  ahead and  open it. It felt like  money, weighed like
money. If  I was wrong, the whole pub  would know about it soon and a pissed
off insurance company would be shelling out for a refit.
     I  opened  the  knife blade of  my Leatherman  and gently  cut down the
center of the envelope, checking inside every inch  or so for  wires. It was
looking  promising. I started to  see green U.S. bank notes. Each  bundle of
used hundred-dollar bills that I carefully pulled out was banded and told me
the  bundle  contained $10,000; there were ten of  them.  I was a very happy
camper indeed. Val  had  put  his money where  his  mouth was. I didn't just
respect  him now, I liked the man. Not enough to introduce him to  my sister
yet, but then again, I didn't have a sister.
     Someone else entered and tried the  toilet door. I  grunted,  making it
sound like I was having a big-boy dump. He checked the next one, and I heard
the sound of jeans coming down and him getting on with the business.
     I smiled as  I  started to  stuff  the money into my leathers,  feeling
quite pleased with myself as my next-door neighbor farted for England.
     Staying  in the pub for  another  half-hour, drinking more orange juice
and lemonade and reading the newspaper for the third time, I wondered if the
team had been called off yet. Nine out of ten times it boils down to  money.
They were probably  hoping to earn a little Christmas bonus  out of  me.  E4
operators get treated as badly as nurses;  they work their butts off and are
expected to carry on regardless.
     By now they'd know the address was a PO box arrangement, and that would
have set their  alarm bells ringing.  They'd probably  plan  to  go into the
office tomorrow, open up  my box and see what was in there. They'd  even put
me on their  own special mailing list;  as mail  addressed to  Suite 26 came
through the Royal Mail's sorting system, it would be sidetracked for a while
so that prying eyes could have a little look-see. All they would find was my
Visa bill. Well, Davidson's bill. Perhaps they'd be nice enough to pay it. I
certainly wouldn't bother anymore.
     By tomorrow,  if they decided to dig deeper,  they'd also know that Mr.
Davidson  had  been  to Norway  recently, returning by the same  route  he'd
traveled all those weeks ago. What would they make  of that? I doubted  that
their conclusion would be a skiing trip after  Davidson had been seen coming
out of the targeted apartment block where  one of the  owners was a  Russian
who'd got hit just days ago,  in a country  a mere  day trip away from where
Davidson  had disembarked.  Fuck it, it was too late to worry about all that
now. As long as they didn't have a photograph of me, I'd be okay.
     I  sat there with  another  Coke and a packet of  peanuts.  Thirty five
minutes on, I finally decided to  make a move.  The rush-hour traffic on all
sides of the  triangle  was moving at about three feet a minute, a confusion
of headlights  and exhaust fumes. Every fourth car had  its indicator lights
flashing, thinking the other lane was quicker. The pedestrian  traffic, too,
was much heavier, and moved quicker than the vehicles. Everybody was huddled
over, fighting the cold and just wanting to get home.
     Leaving the helmet under  the  table, I  exited through a door that led
out onto a different road. The motorbike helmet was a
     VDM. So were my leathers, but I  could hardly discard them. All I could
do was cut down on the things that would trigger me.
     The priority was to get a  hotel  for the night, before I contacted Tom
in the morning. I also needed clothing: Without  a bike, there  was no way I
could walk around looking like Judge Dredd.
     If you  want late-night shops, it has to be the  West  End. I grabbed a
taxi to Piccadilly Circus, and changed $1,000 at various currency exchanges,
throwing in a couple of hundred at a time.
     The  shopping frenzy  was  another short  cab ride away, in Selfridges,
where I  bought clothes, washing and shaving kit,  and a  nice little duffle
bag for my new-found wealth.
     Then  I  booked  myself into the Selfridges  Hotel using my  Nick Stone
credit card. To have  used Davidson's would have invited a knock on the door
within hours.
     After  a bath  and a change of  clothes  all  very  predictable, jeans,
Timberland boots,  blue  sweatshirt, and  a dark-blue  nylon  down jacket  I
called room service for a club sandwich and coffee.

     Saturday, December II, 1999
     I woke up  and looked at  Baby G.  It was  just after eight, time for a
quick couple of laps round the bath before getting dressed.
     Looking like a kid in his shiny new  Christmas Day clothes, I  left the
jacket with my leathers  and went down  to breakfast, taking the  money  bag
with me.  There was $25,000  left after  a very grateful clinic had received
not only what  was owing  to them,  but also a huge stash  on  account. It's
strange  how finance  directors  will  come  in  of an evening to  collect a
payment, even brew coffee and pour it.
     The  newspapers  were  full  of  doom and gloom,  and  as  I  downed my
breakfast, listening to the Americans or Israelis talking about the shopping
they  were going to be doing before they went back  home, I  felt good about
fulfilling  my  responsibilities  to Kelly, even  though  I knew I should be
doing a lot more than just paying out money.
     Back in my room, I  settled on  the  bed  and called  the number on the
paper that Liv had given me.
     A young woman answered. Her "hello" sounded as friendly as if I was the
fourth wrong number in a row.
     "Oh, hi. Is Tom there?"
     "No, he's not," she snapped. "He'll be in Coins. Who are you?"
     It sounded as if all was not well in the Mancini household.
     "Just a friend. Coins, did you say?"
     "Yes."
     "What is that, a shop or--"
     "It's the cafe, off Ledbury Road."
     I was obviously stupid for not knowing. "Thanks a--"
     The phone slammed down.
     Information told me that Coins was on Talbot  Road, Netting Hill. I put
my squeakily clean blue  down jacket  on, picked up my bag and jumped into a
taxi to join Tom for a coffee, borrowing the cabbie's map on the way to work
out exactly where he lived. The sky might be full of  dark clouds, but I was
still feeling good.
     I  didn't know Notting  Hill at  all, just that it had  a carnival each
year and that  there'd been a bit of a frenzy about  Julia Roberts coming to
stay. During  the film's hype, I'd read  all this stuff  in the papers about
the village atmosphere and  how wonderful it was to live there. I didn't see
much evidence of a village, just expensive clothes stores, the sort with one
pair  of shoes  in the  window surrounded  by  spotlights, and a few antique
shops.
     We turned corners and drove  past  stucco-fronted houses, mostly cut up
into  apartments and very run-down, with chunks of  plaster  falling off the
brickwork.
     The  cab  stopped  at an intersection and the  dividing window  opened.
"It's a one way, mate. I'll drop you off here if that's all right. It's just
down there on the left."
     I  could  see the  large awning sticking  out  over  the sidewalk, with
plastic  side panels keeping the elements off  the  brave ones who wanted to
sip their cappuccinos outside.
     I paid him and took a walk. Coins turned out to be double fronted, with
a few  empty tables outside. The large windows on each side of the door were
steamed up from cooking and people. As I  went in,  it was obvious from  the
rough wooden floors  and plain laminated plywood that the cafe was trying to
look down to earth and no nonsense. The kitchen was open plan and the smells
were very tempting, even with half a pound of bacon  and eggs still weighing
me down.
     There was  no sign of Tom, so I took a  seat  in the far  corner. There
were  magazines  lying around  on  the  table tops designer  pictures on the
walls, and fliers for a shit load  of artistic events.  The menu was a sheet
of  legal   paper  in  a  plastic  folder,  offering  everything  from  neat
cholesterol to  vegetarian sausages and  salads. The prices certainly didn't
match the decor; someone was making a down-to-earth, no-nonsense fortune.
     The  clientele seemed to  average late twenties, early thirties, trying
so hard to look individual that they all looked like clones. Everyone was in
baggy cargo pants and sleeveless down vests, and must have taken ages to get
their hair looking like they'd just got out of bed. Quite a few were wearing
thick-framed rectangular glasses, more to be seen in than to see through.
     "Hi, sweetie,  what can I get you?"  An American  female voice  floated
down to me as I studied the menu.
     Glancing up, I asked for a latte and toast.
     "Sure,  sweetie."  She  turned and presented  the world's  second  most
perfect  rear, covered in  tight black nylon  flares.  As  she walked away I
couldn't help staring at it, and was pleased to catch others doing the same.
She must bring in a lot of custom; no wonder Tom came here.
     There was nothing else  to  do  but sit and  listen to  other  people's
conversations. It seemed that everybody was either just about to get a movie
on  just about to be in a  play, but it  just hadn't  quite happened yet and
everybody had a fantastic script that was being read  by a marvelous man who
used  to share an  apartment with  Anthony  Minghella. The  only time people
stopped  talking was when  their cell phones rang, only to talk even  louder
than before. "Jambo, dude! How's it going, man?"
     Rear  of the Year came  back. "Here  you are, sweetie." She  gave me my
glass of latte, which burned  my fingers as  I watched her walk  back to the
kitchen.
     I picked up a newspaper, which a girl sitting on the table next to mine
handed over as she  left.  We  smiled at  each other, knowing  we were  both
thinking the same thing about our American friend.
     Looking down at the front page, I waited for my toast, and Tom.
     Half an hour later the toast was finished and I was on my second latte.
Clones came and went, air-kissing as they met and being very  important with
each other.  Then, at last, Tom entered. At least I thought he was  Tom. His
greasy hair was now ponytailed just past his shoulders, making him look like
a member of  a  Los  Angeles garage band. His cheeks  were more hamster like
than I  remembered;  maybe  the  extra  pounds he'd put  on had changed  the
contours of his face.
     The  clothes looked as if they'd  come from the same  store as everyone
else's here--canvas daps, brown cargos, and  a faded green sweatshirt with a
T-shirt  that had started off  white, then gone a few rounds with  something
blue. He must have been freezing.
     Settling his chubby ass on a tall stool along the breakfast  bar facing
the  window,  he pulled  a  magazine  out  from  under his arm some kind  of
palm-top computer and games monthly. At least he looked the part.
     A small Puerto  Rican-looking woman took his order.  I decided  to wait
until he'd finished eating, then do my, "Hello, Tom. Well well, fancy seeing
you here" bit, but my plan got cut short  as he suddenly stood up and turned
toward the door. Along with a very pissed-off waitress,  I watched him cross
the road and run up a side street, losing him in the moisture on the windows
and the shadow of the awning.
     He must have seen me.
     I got up  and paid my money to  Rear of  the Year, getting an extra big
and friendly, "Bye, sweetie," when she saw the size  of  the tip I'd left on
my saucer.
     Tom had run toward home,  so I  headed in the  direction of All  Saints
Road,  past reggae-music  stores  and plumbers' shops. His  address  was  an
apartment in a yellow-painted,  stucco-fronted building just off All Saints.
Going by the array of  bell  pushes at the front door, it  looked like there
were eight  apartments in the building,  which meant each one must have been
the  size  of a broom closet. Most houses in  the  street had been converted
into  flats and were  painted black,  green,  or yellow,  with grimy windows
covered by dirty old netting, which  drooped in the middle. I bet this  road
wasn't in the movie.
     I went to press the button for his apartment number four but the wiring
hanging out of  the intercom was rusted and frayed. Some names  were slotted
into the recesses on torn pieces of paper, but  half of them, like apartment
four, didn't even have that.
     As  I rang  the bell,  I could hear the  slight  buzz  of  an  electric
current. Chances  were the thing  did work.  I waited, stamping my  feet and
digging my hands into my jacket, but there was no answer. I wasn't expecting
one from the intercom, but thought there might  have been a shout, or a face
at a window. Eventually a curtain twitched on the third floor.
     I rang again. Nothing.
     It was turning out to be more amusing than frustrating. Tom just wasn't
cut out for this sort  of  thing. If you want to do a runner, you don't head
straight home. E4 would have had no trouble pinning
     him down. I found myself smiling as I thought of him up  there,  hoping
I'd just go away and that everything would be all right.
     Looking up  again  at  the  dirty window, I  made sure that whoever was
watching would  hear me clunking  down the steps, really tearing the ass out
of it so they'd know I'd given up.
     Walking back the way I'd come, I hung  around at  the junction with All
Saints, knowing that he'd leave sooner or later. It  was the wrong thing  to
do, so he was bound  to  do  it. He might have  the skill to hack  into  and
download whatever it was in this Finnish house,  but when it came to  common
sense, he had trouble inserting the disk, let alone playing the game.
     Loitering in the doorway of a run-down shop, I was facing a massive pop
art  mural  that covered the whole  gable end  of a  building. Reggae  music
blared from a shop as two  teenagers came out and danced their way along the
road, sharing a cigarette. My own breath was doing a good imitation of smoke
in the cold air.
     I wasn't too  sure that I'd be  able to see  Tom if he tried to give me
the  slip over  the back of the house, but he was  on the third floor, so it
would be quite difficult for him.  From  what I'd seen  of him, even if he'd
been on the first floor it would have been a bit of a challenge.
     I must have looked like the local  loony to the  kids, grinning broadly
as  I  thought  about him  trying to get  himself  over a six-foot  wall.  I
wouldn't want Mancini as a wing man.
     Sure enough, twenty cold boring minutes later, out he came. Still  with
no coat on, hands tucked  under  his armpits, not exactly running but moving
quickly. I didn't even have to follow him. He was coming toward me, probably
on his way to screw up even more by going straight back to the cafe.
     I stepped out in front of him and his look of horror said it all.
     "Hello, Tom."
     At first he didn't move, he just  stood there, rooted to the spot, then
he half turned away, screwing up his face and looking  down at the sidewalk,
like a dog  that thinks  it's  going to get hit. "Please  don't  hurt me.  I
didn't say nothing to no one. On my life. Promise."
     "It's all right, Tom," I said. "I have nothing to  do with those people
now. That's not why I'm here."

     "Tell  you what, I said,  "let's go back  to your  apartment,  get  the
kettle on and have a chat." I was trying to sound nice, but he knew I wasn't
offering him a choice.
     I put  an  arm around his  shoulder  and he  stiffened. "Come on, mate,
let's have some tea  and I'll tell you what this is all about. It's too cold
out here."
     Being only about five foot  five, he was  easy to get  my arm around. I
could feel the softness of his body. He hadn't shaved for a few days and the
result wasn't bristle but the sort of thing you could fill a comforter with.
     I started to make  small talk as we walked, trying to make him  feel at
ease. Also, this meeting needed to look a bit more normal to any third party
nosing out of their window.  "How long have you been living round here then,
Tom?"
     He  kept  his head down, studying the concrete slabs. As we passed  the
multicolored houses, I noticed he was shaking.
     "About a  year, I suppose." "Hey, I called  your apartment earlier  on,
and a woman answered. She your girlfriend?"
     "Janice? Yeah." There  was a gap of  a second or  two before he stopped
walking and looked up at me. "Look, man, I have never, ever said  nothing to
no one about any of  that stuff. Not a word, I swear on  my mother's life. I
haven't even told them I--"
     "Tom, all  I want to do is talk.  I've got a proposition for you. Let's
just sit down, have cup of tea and a chat."
     He nodded as I got us both walking again.
     "I think you'll like what you hear. Come on, get the kettle on."
     We got to the house and walked up the four or five  stone steps to  the
door. Tom fumbled for his key which was tied to an old bit of nylon  string,
his hand shaking as he tried to get it into the keyhole. He still thought he
was going to  get hammered.  I decided to let him think it;  maybe it  would
lighten him  up when  he  finally  realized I wasn't  here  to  put  him  in
hospital.
     It was just as  cold in the hallway as it was outside.  The threadbare,
dirty  carpet matched  the damp,  peeling  walls.  An old-fashioned stroller
blocked the hall, and I could hear what sounded like its passenger screaming
in the flat to the  left,  trying to make more noise than  the  TV talk show
sharing his room. Breathing in to pass the stroller and get to the stairs, I
felt quite cheerful. Even my house smelled better than this.
     Heat  rises, but not in this place. Number 4 had its own small landing,
with  paint peeling off the  door and banisters.  He managed to  get the key
straight in the lock and the door opened into what I supposed was the living
room. Dirty-gray net curtains  made  the  dirty-gray light from outside even
gloomier.
     Ikea's  flat pack division had done well  out of  Tom. Shiny waxed pine
shone  everywhere in  the small room; even the two-seater  sofa  had  wooden
arms. The rest of the place  was in a bad way--more damp walls, worn carpet,
and  cold. The  fireplace was boarded  up  and a gas  fire was stuck in  its
place, just dying to be turned on. I could still see my breath.
     A  ten-year-old  wood-veneer TV stood  on  a  waxed pine stand  in  the
corner, with a VCR underneath, the timer flashing all the zeros, and a dozen
or so videos stacked next  to it on the floor.  To  the  right of that was a
Sorry  Play  Station with a  stack  of games scattered  around  it, and  the
world's oldest PC. The buff-colored plastic was dark and dirty and the vents
at the back were so black it looked like it ran on diesel.  Its keyboard was
really worn; I could only just make out the  instructions on  the keys.  Not
the  best of equipment  for such a high-tech guy, but very good news for me.
It would  have  been harder to get him  to  come along if  he  was making  a
fortune and living in a penthouse. The need for money makes people do things
they would never normally dream of. I was a bit of an expert on that front.
     We both  stood there and I could  feel his  embarrassment.  I broke the
silence. "Put the kettle on, mate, and I'll get the fire going, eh?"
     He  walked  into  a tiny kitchen off  the main  room and I heard  coins
getting fed  into a meter and the knob turning to give us some gas. I  heard
the tap filling up the  kettle as  I threw my money on the sofa and tried to
light the  fire,  clicking the  pilot light  several  times before  the  gas
ignited with a whoomph.
     Opposite was another door  that was open about  six inches. Ikea hadn't
got round to the bedroom. A mattress lay on the  floor, the comforter pulled
aside,  dangerously  close  to  a  portable kerosene  heater. The only other
furniture seemed to be a digital  alarm  clock lying on  the floor. It  felt
just like home.
     There was no telling where the bathroom was, but I reckoned it would be
on the other side of the kitchen somewhere; in fact, it was probably part of
the kitchen. I stayed down with the fire for a while to warm up.
     "So what are you  doing with yourself now, Tom? Still  in the  computer
business?"
     At  last there was a spark of life from him.  He hadn't been filled in,
and I  was taking an  interest in his subject. He stuck his chubby head into
the living room; I'd  forgotten  how  it jutted backward and forward like  a
cockerel's.
     "Yeah,  I've  got  a  few  irons in the fire, know what I  mean? Games,
that's  where the money is,  mate. I've got a few movers and  shakers in the
business desperate for my ideas. Know what I mean, desperate."
     I was still  kneeling  down,  rubbing  my  hands by the flames. "That's
really good to hear, Tom."
     "Yeah, things are sweet. This is  just temporary, while I decide who to
sell  my idea to. Then it's party time.  Look for  a house to  buy  cash, of
course then start my own show. Know what I mean?"
     I nodded, knowing exactly  what he meant. He had no money,  no job, and
was still full of bullshit. He was going to  like  what I was about  to tell
him.
     His head disappeared  back  into the kitchen  and things started  to be
washed up. Standing up  to go over to  the sofa, I saw a pile of plain white
cards  on the mantel. The  top two  had lipstick  kisses  and a  handwritten
message on it: "I hope  you  like my dirty  panties. Love, Juicy Lucy xx." I
picked one up. At least the lipstick was genuine.
     I raised my voice as I walked over to the sofa. "How long have you been
with Janice?"
     "She sort of moved in a couple of months ago."
     "What does she do?"
     "Just part-time  at the  supermarket; bits and pieces,  you  know."  He
stuck his head around the door again. "Sugar?"
     "No, just some milk will be fine."
     He came in with two mugs and put them on the not-so-new carpet. Sitting
on the floor by the fire, facing toward me on the sofa, he passed mine over.
His, I noticed, was without milk.
     I saw him clock  the  open bedroom door and worry whether I'd seen what
lay beyond it. We both picked up our tea at the same time.
     "Don't worry about it, mate. I spent my childhood living in places like
this. Maybe I can help you find somewhere better. Until the game thing kicks
in."
     He tried to  sip his tea  as his eyes  flicked toward the Mickey  Mouse
alarm on top of the fire.
     Time  to get down to  business.  "By the looks of it, things ain't that
good, are they? You on the dole?"
     Jack the Lad came back  with a grin.  "Yeah, who  ain't?  I  mean, free
money, madness not to. Am I right or what?"
     He went back to concentrating on his tea.
     "Tom, I think  I can help. I've been offered a job that  would earn you
enough to buy an apartment and pay any debts outright."
     He didn't trust me: understandable, it  wasn't as  if he knew me as Mr.
Nice Guy. His eyes were still checking Mickey Mouse now and again.
     "How much?" He tried to  make it sound casual, but didn't quite pull it
off.
     I avoided burning my lips on my tea and took a sip. It was horrible. It
should  have been in a scent bottle,  not a mug. "I don't  exactly know yet,
but I reckon  your share would be  at least one hundred and  thirty thousand
cash. That's the minimum. All  I need is  a week of your time; two  weeks at
the most."
     I didn't have a clue how long the job was going to take, but once I got
him to Finland,  what could he do  if it took longer? Getting him there  was
priority number one at the moment.
     "Is it legal? I ain't doing anything shady, mate. I don't want any
     more trouble. I'm not getting locked up again, know what I mean?"
     My tea went  back  on the carpet.  It was shit anyway.  "Look, first of
all,  my  name is  Nick.  And  no, it's not illegal.  I don't  want to go to
prison, either.  It's just that I've  been given this opportunity and I need
someone brilliant  with computers. I thought of you. Why not? I'd rather you
had the money  than anyone else. You even  get a free trip to Finland out of
it."
     "Finland?" Jack the Lad was  returning  once again, head jutting. "Hey,
everyone  is online up  there. It's  the cold, know what  I  mean, Nick. Too
cold, like. Nothing else to do." He laughed.
     I laughed along with him as his eyes moved over to Mickey  again. "Tom,
do you need to be somewhere else?"
     "Nah, it's just that  Janice  is home soon and the fact  is, well,  she
don't know nothing--you know, my old work, getting put behind bars, all that
stuff.  I haven't really got round to telling  her. I'm  just  a bit worried
that, you know, if she came in and you said something"
     "Hey, no  problems.  I'll keep  quiet. Tell you what, when she comes in
I'll  just  say  that I've got  a small computer firm and I'm offering you a
couple of  weeks'  work up in Scotland, testing systems. How's that  sound?"
"Nice one, but what's the form, you know, what are you after in Finland?"
     "It's  very,  very  simple. All we need is to access a  system and then
download some stuff. Until we get there I don't know what, how, and when."
     He immediately looked  worried. I had to get in there straight  away. I
needed some  lies. "It's not what  you're  thinking.  It is legitimate.  All
we're going to do  is  find out about  some new  photocopier technology. And
we've  got to  do it in a totally  legal way, otherwise the money men  don't
want to know." I couldn't think  of anything more boring and  nonthreatening
than a  photocopier  and I  waited for  a bolt  of something to  come at  me
through the window.
     God  must  have  been asleep  or had  all his  lightning  still  in the
freezer. I carried on  before  Tom had  a chance  to think about it  and ask
questions.
     "I can get us into the place," I went on, "but I need someone who knows
what the fuck they're looking at once we're in front of
     one of those things."  I pointed at the heap of crap in the corner that
was trying to look like a computer. He didn't say anything but looked at his
greasy monitor screen, maybe  thinking  of the  candy colored Power  Mac and
matching iMac laptop he could buy with his cut.
     "Everything will be laid on when we get there, Tom. They know where the
place is,  all  you've got to do is access and download it. Not steal, mind,
just copy. Easy money."
     I braced myself in case  God had stirred in time to hear that last bit.
Tom fidgeted on the carpet,  so I kept going for  it  before God woke  up or
Janice got home. "You know as much as me  now, mate.  I am going half on the
money  with you. One hundred and thirty grand, maybe more if we get the  job
done quickly.  That's  a  shit  load  of  cash, Tom."  I paused  to let  him
visualize a wheelbarrow full of banknotes.
     Fifteen seconds was enough. "Chance of a lifetime, Tom." I sounded like
a double-glazing salesman. "If you don't take it, someone else will."
     I settled back on the sofa to signal that the pitch was over.  The next
stage would  be  a shedful of intimidation to  make him come with  me if the
soft-soaping failed.
     "You  absolutely sure it's  safe, Nick? I mean, locked up. I don't want
that again.  Things are  sweet here, know what I mean? I'm  gonna be earning
big bucks soon."
     Explaining to him that I  knew  he was bullshitting  would have to wait
until I read him his horoscope. "Look, mate, even if it was illegal, there's
no such thing as prison when it comes to these jobs. Think about it, if they
discover that  you've  found  out about  their  dinky photocopier, are  they
really  going  to  go  to  the  police?  Are  they  fuck.  Think  about  the
shareholders, think about  the  bad  publicity. It doesn't  work like  that,
mate.  Trust  me.  What  happened  to you before  was  different.  That  was
government business." I couldn't help my curiosity. "By the way, what was it
they caught you doing up at Menwith?"
     He started to get edgy. "No, mate, I ain't saying nothing. I've done my
time and don't  say nothing  to nobody. I never  want  to go back."  He  was
starting to sound like an old record.
     He was in a dilemma.  I knew he wanted the money, but he was struggling
to make a decision. Time for a new tack. "I tell you what,
     why don't you just come with me anyway, have a  look, and if  you don't
like it, you  can come back. I'm not trying to  fuck up your life, mate. I'm
just trying to do us both a favor."
     He was shifting from one  buttock to another. "I dunno. Janice wouldn't
like it,"
     I moved forward once  again on the  sofa so my ass was on the edge, and
went conspiratorial. "Janice doesn't need to  know. Just say you're going to
Scotland. Easy." The hiss of the gas fire  could  be heard  clearly above my
whisper. I decided I'd give him a bit  more incentive. "Where's your toilet,
Tom?"
     "Through the kitchen; you'll see the door."
     I stood up and took  my  bag with me. "Nothing personal," I said. "Work
stuff, you know."
     He nodded and I didn't  really know  if he understood or not, because I
didn't.
     I went into the toilet.  I'd been  right, the bathroom was  part of the
kitchen,  partitioned  off by  a  bit of  plasterboard so the landlord could
claim more  rooms and charge more for people to  live here. I sat on the pot
and counted out six grand from  the dollars.  I  was about to shove it in my
pocket when I decided to calm  down a bit and put two grand back in the bag.
Pulling the flush, I came out talking.
     "All I  know is that it's  an easy  job. But  I need you,  Tom,  and if
you're honest, you need the money as much as I do. Look, this is what I want
to do for you."
     Reaching  into my  pocket, I pulled out the four grand,  making sure  I
rolled it with my other hand to make it look and sound extra attractive.
     He tried  hard to  stop himself looking at  it. Even this amount  could
probably change his life.
     "This is  how I'm getting paid, U.S. dollars.  Here's  four grand. Take
it; it's a gift. Pay your bills, whatever you want. What more can I say? I'm
going to go and do the job anyway. If you're coming with me, though,  I need
to know today. I can't fuck about."
     If he didn't give me a yes by  this evening it would be horoscope time.
He'd still get paid; he just wouldn't enjoy the work so much.
     He fingered the money  and had to split it in half  to get it into  his
jean pockets. He tried to put a serious business expression on  his face. It
wasn't working. "Nice one. Thanks, Nick, thanks a lot."
     Whatever happened he could  have the  money.  It made me feel good, and
with everything else going down the  tubes in my life, I  needed that. But I
needed to make sure he didn't fuck  up with it and let it be  traced back to
me. "Don't  go to the bank  to change it  or make  a  deposit, they'll think
you're a drug dealer. Especially with an address round here."
     His smile broadened.
     "Take it to a few currency exchanges. The rates will be shit, but there
you go. Have a nice  day  out. Hire a  taxi; you can afford it.  Just  don't
change any  more  than three hundred dollars at  a time. Oh, and for  fuck's
sake buy yourself a warm coat."
     He looked up and the grin turned into a laugh  as  he did his  cockerel
impression.  It stopped just as quickly at the sound of a key going into the
door lock.
     "Shit, it's Janice. Don't say jack. Promise me, Nick."
     He stood up and made sure his sweatshirt was covering the two bulges in
his cargos. I joined him and we waited in front of  the fire as if the Queen
was about to visit.
     She opened the door, felt the heat and looked straight at Tom, ignoring
me  completely.  "Have  you  picked  up the laundry?"  Heading  towards  the
kitchen, she started throwing off her brown coat.
     Tom grimaced an apology at me as  he replied,  "Oh, er  nah, it  wasn't
ready, the driers were broken. I'm going to pick it up in a minute.  This is
Nick. He's the one that called, you know, this morning."
     She  threw her coat onto the  arm of the sofa, looking at  me. I gave a
smile and said, "Hello, nice to meet you."
     "Hello,"  she grunted, "you  found him then?" and disappeared  into the
kitchen.
     Janice was mid-twenties, not unattractive, not attractive, just sort of
ordinary. Her  hair was pulled back  in a  ponytail,  slightly  longer  than
Tom's. It wasn't exactly greasy, but had that not-washed-today look. She was
also wearing just  a  bit too  much makeup, and there was a line around  her
chin where it stopped.
     I  sat back down,  but Tom  stayed  standing by  the  fire, not  really
knowing what to  say to me about his obnoxious girlfriend.  In the  kitchen,
cupboard doors were banged as she made her presence felt.
     She came back into  the living room with a candy bar and a can of Coke.
Pushing the coat onto the floor she plonked herself  on the sofa next to me,
pulled the  foil off  the  chocolate,  opened the can and started  attacking
both. The  noise of her drinking would have made a thirsty bricklayer proud.
Between gulps she pointed at the mantel. "Tom, pass me the cards."
     He did  as he was told. We both  watched  as she pulled out a  lipstick
from  her coat pocket and threw  it on her lips. Then, while she slurped and
munched, she kissed the remaining blank cards.
     She looked up, and stared at me for a few  moments, then turned to Tom.
"Pass me the rest."
     He  picked up a large envelope near the fire and  passed  it over,  red
with embarrassment.
     Pouring the white cards onto the floor she  started to reapply the  red
stuff and kiss away. The signing was obviously  done later, during a gentler
moment.
     We weren't going to get any more talking  done. It was  time  for me to
leave.
     "Thanks  for the  tea, Tom, I think I'll be off now. Nice to meet  you'
Janice
     She nodded, not bothering to look up.
     Tom looked nervously  at me, then at Janice's head. As I got to my feet
and picked up the bag, he blurted, "Tell you what, I'll  walk down with you,
I've got to collect the laundry anyway."
     We didn't speak as  we walked down the stairs. I knew what I  wanted to
say, but  what was  the point? Someone calling  your girlfriend an obnoxious
dog wouldn't exactly induce you to go away with him.
     As we walked back toward All Saints Road, he stammered,  "It's not her,
you  know, Juicy Lucy.  She gets a tenner  for  every two hundred. This week
it's Lucy, I think next week it's Gina again. I help her out." He rubbed his
chin. "I  have  to  shave  though, otherwise  I  leave stubble marks in  the
lipstick. "We have piles of dirty underwear in the bedroom. A guy drops them
off on a Thursday."
     I couldn't help  but laugh at the picture of him in  front of the fire,
kissing cards and packing underwear for the country's crotch sniffers.
     His head went back into cockerel  mode. "Yeah, well,  like I said, it's
only until the money comes in. They're really keen Activision,
     the Tomb  Raiderlot, all  the  big boys--I'm just about to  hit  it big
time, know what I mean?"
     "Yes I do, Tom." I knew exactly.
     I gave it one more try once we'd  turned the corner into All Saints and
Janice couldn't see us if she looked out. I stopped and faced him outside  a
window full of faucets, waste pipes, and assorted plumber's shit.
     "Tom,  think about this seriously. I'm not going  to do anything that's
not  kosher. I'm too old  for that sort of  stuff. All I want to  do is make
some money, the same  as you. I need you with me, but I must know by tonight
if you're up for it."
     He was looking at the sidewalk, shoulders slumped. "Yeah. But  you know
..  ."  The cold was starting to get to him. I didn't know whether he didn't
have  a coat because they hadn't  kissed enough cards or if he  was just too
stupid to remember to put one on.
     We got to Westbourne Park Road, a main drag. I wanted a taxi so I stood
on the corner. He stood next to me,  shifting from  one foot to the other. I
put  a  hand on  his  shoulder. "Listen, mate, go  and change some money and
think about it, and we'll meet up tonight, all right?"
     I started looking for cabs  as  he nodded at  the sidewalk again. "I'll
call you about sevenish and we'll have a drink, okay?"
     A  yellow light appeared in the gloom and  I stuck out my hand. The cab
stopped and the diesel engine chugged away, but not as fast as the meter.
     Tom  was still stooped,  hands  dug  deep in his pockets,  shivering. I
talked to the top of his  head. "Tom, this  is  a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Think hard about it."
     The top of his head moved in what I took to be another nod.
     I couldn't stand  his shivering  any more and unzipped my jacket.  "For
fuck's sake,  put  this  thing  on,  will  you?"  He protested feebly,  then
returned my grin as he took the coat. At least I could see his face now.
     "Once-in-a-lifetime, mate." I got into the taxi, asked for  Marble Arch
and turned to close the door and pull down the window.
     Tom was just finishing zipping up. "Hey, Nick, fuck it. Why not, I'm up
for it." The cockerel had returned.
     I didn't want to show  how pleased  I was.  "That's good. I'll call you
tonight with the details. We have to leave tomorrow. Is that okay? You got a
passport?"
     "No probs."
     "Excellent. Remember," I pointed to his wad, "there's plenty more where
that came from. One week, maybe two, who knows?"
     I put my thumb to my ear  and little finger to my mouth to mime a call.
"Tonight at seven."
     He did the same. "Nice one."
     "Tom, one last thing. You have a credit card?"
     "Er, yeah. Why's that?"
     "I haven't got mine. You  might have to pay for the  tickets, but don't
worry, I'll give you the cash before we go."
     I didn't give him time to think too much about that one.  As  the  taxi
pulled away I was feeling pretty pleased with  myself, and I had  a sneaking
suspicion that Tom wouldn't  be sharing his newfound  wealth  with Janice. I
knew I wouldn't if I was him.
     After giving  the cab driver a new  drop-off point, I  bought myself  a
blue ski jacket on Oxford Street, and went to  a drugstore for some bits and
pieces I'd need for the DLB (dead  letter box), so I could leave our details
with Liv. Before E4 spotted me at the apartment, I'd thought Liv wanting  to
use a DLB just to hand over some flight details was  a bit paranoid. But now
I knew  it  was  essential.  If E4 were  on to her, I didn't want  any  more
contact with her in the U.K. The  last thing I needed was for Lynn to have a
picture of that on his  desk. The shit would be so high I'd never be able to
dig myself out.
     I booked  the flights from  a  phone box, and  they held  them in Tom's
name. I'd get him  to  pay for  them with  his  credit  card  at the airport
tomorrow; now that Davidson was  history, I had no choice. No  one needed to
know that Nick Stone  was leaving the country. I wondered  if Tom  was still
being monitored, now that he was a known subversive, but decided I'd have to
take that risk. There wasn't time to do anything about it.
     With my new coat to keep me warm I decided I'd walk it to the DLB she'd
given me. It wasn't that far away.
     Fighting my way through the Saturday shopping  frenzy I eventually made
the 200 yards or so to Oxford Circus. The BBC studios in Portland Place were
in front of  me on the right. I  stayed on  the opposite sidewalk and headed
for the Langham Hilton.
     About hundred and fifty feet short of the hotel I walked under
     some scaffolding. Beneath it were two old-style  red  telephone booths.
In the windows of each  were maybe twenty calling cards, held in position by
fun tac.  The authorities would be around at some  point today to clean them
out, but they'd be restocked an hour later.
     I went into the left-hand booth and saw Susie Gee's card three quarters
of the way  up, facing  Oxford Circus. She looked very sultry, on all  fours
and kissing the air.  At  the same time as I peeled her off  the glass I got
out a large black marker pen and scored a line down the window.
     Folding Susie into my pocket I moved on toward  the hotel. It was a bit
premature to leave the DLB loaded sign, but I wasn't expecting any problems.
     With my bag in hand I walked through the hotel's revolving doors, which
had  been started for me  by a guy dressed in a green  three-quarter  length
tunic and something that looked like a cross between a turban and a beret on
his head. He looked a right nerd.
     The  interior  of  the  Langham  was  very  plush,  and  very  full  of
businessmen and wealthy-looking tourists.  It was Indian  the  med with  the
Chukka Bar to my left as I walked into the marble reception area.
     Liv's instructions  were perfect.  To the right  and up a few steps was
the reception desk,  and  ahead  of me  was a  restaurant-cum  tea  room. My
destination, however, was the basement.
     Down below  was every bit as plush as above. Temperature controlled and
soft-carpeted, it housed the  conference rooms and business center. Standing
on  an easel outside the George Room, a black felt board with white press-on
letters announced, "Management 2000 welcomes our conference guests." Passing
it and two wall phones that I would be coming back to, I headed for the rest
rooms.
     Opposite the rest room doors were more phones, a cloakroom and a  table
rigged up with tea, coffee, and  cookies. Sitting ready to serve was a black
guy and  a white woman talking in that shifty tone that you just know  means
they're dissing the  management. As soon as they saw me, they gave me  their
corporate smiles; I smiled back and headed for the men's room.
     Sitting down in  one of the stalls, I took out a little plastic pillbox
from my drugstore bag, the sort  that people use to hold  their day's supply
of vitamins, along with a pack of adhesive-backed Velcro
     patches. I stuck both a female and  a  male patch onto the pillbox just
in case she'd  fucked up on what side to use; it would be embarrassing if it
didn't stick.
     Inside the  pillbox  went  a  small  scrap of  paper  with my  message:
"Arriving 1515 12th." That was all that she needed to know.
     Putting the drugstore bag back in my pocket and  checking  that the two
little squares of Velcro were secure, I came out of the toilet, smiled again
at the two people in the cloakroom, turned right and went back to the  first
two telephones I'd passed.
     They were positioned quite low down the  wall, for  the  convenience of
users in wheelchairs. I put the bag between my legs and shuffled  a chair up
closer to the phone.  Liv had chosen well: not  too  busy, no video  cameras
about, and a reason to be there.
     As I sat down, I  got out a coin and Susie's card, picked up the phone,
and dialed, wondering if Janice  and Tom had done any lipstick cards for her
lately. I wanted the display to show money being used up; otherwise it would
look suspicious if anyone passed  and saw that I'd been  there a few minutes
and was  only  pretending to make  a call. It was  a small  detail, but they
count.
     I  used my right hand  to keep the  phone to my ear, waiting for Susie,
and  felt under the wooden veneer shelf below  it  with my  left. In the far
corner, there should be a large patch of Velcro that Liv had put there.
     As I  fumbled about, the doors to  the George Room opened behind me and
out surged a stream of Management 2000 delegates.
     As I listened to  the ringing tone, I watched the herd  move  to  their
grazing area by the cloakroom. A  young woman  in her  twenties  sat on  the
chair next to me and put a coin in the box.
     An aggressive Chinese woman answered me. "Hello?"
     I could hear my fellow caller tap out her number as I replied.
     "Susie?"
     "No, you wait."
     I  waited. The woman  next to me  started talking about  her child, who
needed  picking up from nursery school since she  was  going to be late. The
person  at the other end was  obviously annoyed. "That's not fair, Mum, it's
not  always  the same  excuse and yes, of course she remembers what her  own
mother looks like. Kirk is home early tonight. He'll pick her up."
     A man came from behind and placed his hand on her shoulder.
     She kissed it. His  Management  2000  badge said David.  Not  quite the
conference making her late home, then.
     The noise level doubled as people talked management over coffee.
     I  found what  I  was  looking for as I heard footsteps approaching the
receiver at the  other end: It was female Velcro,  the soft bit, just as Liv
had said.
     A very husky, middle-aged voice picked up the phone. "Hello, can I help
you, my love? Would you like me to run through the services?"
     I ummed and aahed  as  the woman named the price for spending  half  an
hour in France, Greece, and various other countries of the world with Susie.
To spin out the  call I asked where Susie was based, and then for directions
to the address near Paddington.
     "That's great," I said. "I'll think about it."
     I  put the  phone down, picked up the bag, moved the chair back,  stood
up, and headed back the way I'd come,  leaving  the woman telling her mother
it absolutely would be the last time she'd have to do this.
     I turned before going through the doors,  checked  the box couldn't  be
seen  from  that  level  and  went  upstairs. Sinbad  did his trick with the
revolving  doors and I was  back on the street. Turning right, I headed back
the way I'd come. Last light was soon; by four thirty it would be dark.
     All  I had to do now was call Tom at seven and tell him the timings for
tomorrow morning's  flight, then go and dump my leathers in the trash and my
weapon in London's biggest armory, the River Thames.

     Sunday, December 12.1333
     Tarn stood in  a  different line for  immigration. I'd told him  in the
nicest way that  he must  keep  away from me until  we  were in the arrivals
lounge--security and all that. He talked too much and too loudly to sit next
to in an  aircraft. We'd even checked in  separately.  He'd  agreed with his
usual, "No drama, mate. Gotcha."
     On the  subway to Heathrow, he'd told me that Janice was fine about him
going  away.  "I told  her  I  had some  work with my  old  friend  Nick  in
Scotland," he said. "I told her straight."
     That version  was about as straight as Elton John. Janice was  probably
severely pissed off that he was enjoying himself north of the border for two
weeks while she slaved away kissing cards for  Lucy. I wondered if he'd said
anything to her about the  money, but didn't ask. I didn't want him sounding
off about his plans for world domination in the world of IT.
     At least  he hadn't wanted to drown himself in free  alcohol on the way
over. It  seemed  he  didn't drink--a  by-product, maybe, of serving a  jail
sentence.  Just as well, because  there would be none of that until we  were
back in the U.K.
     He'd made  an effort  and smartened himself  up a bit for the  journey,
which was  good. I wanted him to resemble an  average citizen, not look like
food for  customs to pull  to one  side for a  slow  once-over. He was still
wearing  my jacket, but had swapped the flared jeans for a new, normal pair,
and he was also wearing a new
     red  sweatshirt.  However, he  still had the  same  canvas daps on, and
though he'd finished off by washing and combing his hair, he hadn't shaved.
     I  watched him slap his  jacket  as if he was doing some sort of dance.
This was the  third time since leaving  London that I'd  seen him think he'd
mislaid his passport.
     We  got through immigration and customs  and there was no  need to wait
for  suitcases. I'd told him  that  all he needed was  a bit  of soap  and a
toothbrush, and he could wash his underwear in the bath with him at night.
     The sliding doors opened to admit us separately into the arrivals hall.
Tom didn't know it, but  no one would be there to meet us yet. We weren't on
the flight that arrived  at  3:15,  as I'd  told Liv; we were on the 1:45. I
always liked  to be early in order to watch who  might be  waiting  for  me.
Walking into an arrivals  lounge to meet  people I didn't  know gave  me the
same  feeling as knocking on a strange door,  not knowing who or what was on
the other side.
     We met  up in the hall.  Tom  seemed  to be feeling  very macho  today,
eyeing the women as they moved around the terminal.
     "What now, mate? Where we going?"
     "We're a bit early for our pickup. Let's get a coffee."
     We followed the signs to the coffee shop.  The glass-and-steel terminal
building wasn't packed, but  busy enough for a  Sunday, more  with  tourists
than business traffic. I could see  a dull, gray sky beyond the glass walls,
with snow piled up at the roadside and ice hanging from parked vehicles.
     As  we  neared the cafe,  Tom bouncing along at my  shoulder  like some
younger brother, we passed  two  tall, blond  and beautiful women at a phone
booth. "Cor, check out the ass on that. I love these Nordic chicks."
     The  two of them  caught his drift  and laughed  to each other as  they
looked at us. I  just  walked on,  embarrassed. They would have had him  for
breakfast.
     Tom  seemed not to notice.  "Hey, Nick, do you know there's more people
up here who are on the Internet and have cell phones than anywhere else. You
know, per capita."
     "That's interesting, Tom." For once he had said something that was.
     He  liked that. "That's right, mate. Must be all that darkness up here.
Fuck all else to do, I s'pose."
     I looked at him and smiled,  even though the joke had been better first
time round.
     His face beamed and  his hamster cheeks nearly covered his eyes. "These
people are at  the cutting edge, know  what I mean?" He caught up  the  step
that separated us and whispered in my ear, his head jutting in time. "That's
why the photocopier know-how is here. I'm right, aren't

     I  was bored  but managed a reply.  "It's  probably the  long hours  of
darkness. There's nothing else to do but Xerox, I suppose. Coffee, Tom?"
     "Nah, tea. Herbal or fruit if they have it."
     We were soon  at a table, me with  coffee,  Tom with a pot of hot water
and  an  apple-flavored tea  bag  wrapped in  foil.  Opposite  was a bank of
screens,  obviously Internet  stations. It  was only a matter of time before
Tom saw  them, too,  and I would be sitting  alone, which wouldn't be a  bad
thing.
     His eyes lit up and sure enough he was getting to  his feet. "I'm gonna
have to go and check that out. You coming?"
     He did, taking his tea with him. I didn't.
     He  was  back  very  quickly, before  I'd  even  tasted my coffee. "You
haven't got  any coins,  have you,  mate?  I've  got no money, well, Finnish
money. Only dollars, know what I mean?"
     I fished out the change from the drinks as he grinned at his own joke.
     I decided  to have  a walk  around  to  see  if I could  spot  anything
threatening. I'd  shaken off E4,  but Val obviously had enemies, and while I
was working for him that made them my enemies, too.
     My  documents  always stayed with  me, but there  was  something else I
wanted from my duffel before I wandered off. Digging around for the  leather
zip-up  organizer, I dropped both our bags  at Tom's feet and headed for the
departures lounge upstairs. There  was nothing  out of the ordinary,  nobody
waffling into their lapels or facing into the crowd while pretending to read
a newspaper.
     I took a walk outside,  but not for  long, the cold biting into my face
and hands. I hadn't seen anything that looked as if it was  bad and intended
for me.
     Back inside Arrivals and in the warm, there were a couple of
     boys in suits with legal-size, clear plastic folders  showing the names
of people they were there to collect.
     Tom was still in Internet heaven. "Look at this, Nick. Fucking  cool or
what? Look, virtual Helsinki."
     I was looking at a screen that displayed everything  you needed to know
about Helsinki, from street maps to images of hotels and booking  facilities
for travel or  theater  tickets. There was  even  a  route  plan  where  you
actually walked down a road as if you were in a game. Still leaving the bags
with  him, I went and got  myself another coffee, sat at  the same table and
watched  and  waited,  thinking how lucky I'd been  not  to have had  a  kid
brother that I'd had to drag around with me when I was growing up.
     Fifteen minutes later  he was back with  the bags. He must have run out
of money. "I just e-mailed Janice  and told  her I definitely  can't  get in
touch for a while--up in the hills testing kit and all that."
     I put the organizer back in my bag and finished my coffee. "We might as
well make a move. They should be here by now."
     Our ride was easy to spot, smartly dressed in a gray suit and overcoat,
with  spiky light-brown hair and a red complexion, presenting himself to the
people  pushing their  trolleys through  the automatic doors of the  customs
hall.  He  was holding  up  a card with felt-tipped lettering  on: "Nick and
another."
     We went up and introduced  ourselves. As we  shook  hands he  virtually
stood to attention  and clicked his heels together, then he offered to  take
both our bags. Tom refused after I did.
     The short-term parking  lot  was opposite Arrivals.  An aircraft roared
overhead as we approached a silver Mere. Tom was impressed. "Nice one."
     We put the  bags into the  trunk and got in the back. Spike  turned the
engine on and the radio blared. I assumed the two presenters were running at
the mouth in Finnish, but Tom looked at me. "They're speaking Latin. They're
mad for it up here, mate. Dunno why, just are."
     Spike turned it off.
     I said, "How come you know so much about Finland?"
     The Mere started moving.
     "Got on the net last night and had a look, didn't I?"
     "Are you going to play the walking encyclopedia the whole week?"
     He looked at me, not knowing if it was an insult, then made up his mind
and smiled. "Nah, mate, just thought you'd like to know."
     He sat back into his seat. He was wrong, I wasn't joking.
     We followed  the road  signs. They were in Swedish as well  as Finnish,
the  Swedes having ruled  here  in the past as  well  as  the Russians.  The
pavement on the road was immaculately clear of snow and ice.
     The  airport was quite close to  Helsinki and we were soon on  the city
ring road.  On  both sides  of us were low-level industrial units and  large
piles  of cleared snow. I  had to smile as  I thought  of the U.K.,  where a
couple of snowflakes bring  the entire nation  to a halt; here they had snow
for months and the country didn't miss a beat.
     I saw a sign that  said,  "St. Petersburg  381km." Within three or four
hours  we could be out of one of  the wealthiest and most advanced places on
earth  and entering a city of chaos and anarchy. But I didn't have to worry;
we followed the exit and moved onto another highway, the E75, and started to
head away from the built up area, such as it was.
     The small floating ball compass that was stuck on the dashboard told me
we were generally heading north. Every vehicle on the highway had its lights
on; it was the law.
     We cruised comfortably along the highway, passing through pine forests,
snow, and impressive cuts  into massive  granite outcrops.  I looked over at
Tom, who was resting  his head on the seat, his eyes  closed and his Walkman
earphones in. I decided  to take  his  cue and sit back  and relax, though I
kept  my eyes  on  the road  signs. Lahti and Mikkeli  seemed to  be  likely
targets, and after just  under  an hour  it was quite  clear  where  we were
heading. We took the Lahti exit.
     The town  was dominated by two  very tall Eiffel Tower-like structures,
both painted red and  white,  their spires obscured by the  cloud cover, and
with  aircraft warning  lights flashing away  on  all  sides.  The place was
heaving  with both traffic and  people. It was a  winter sports town; a  ski
jump towered  over  the  houses,  and  as we  started  to  rumble  down  the
cobblestones of the main shopping area, I saw that even senior citizens were
using cross-country poles instead of walking sticks.
     The inhabitants of Lahti  were  obviously  in  love with  concrete  and
steel. Instead of traditional wooden dwellings with  maybe a reindeer or two
parked up outside, they went for new model Saabs,
     4x4s, and a blaze  of Christmas decorations. We turned left by the town
square  and passed a brightly  lit market, steam  rising above the  mass  of
canvas and nylon stall covers. Bundled up to stand in  the cold all day, the
traders looked more like astronauts.
     We slowed down almost immediately  at a  sign telling us we were at the
Alexi Hotel. Cutting left, over the sidewalk,  we stopped by a  garage  door
that  instantly started to open. A  group of mothers with running  strollers
walked around the back of the Mere before bumping back up onto the walkway.
     We drove quite fast  down a steep concrete ramp into a large, badly lit
underground parking area. Puddles of water covered the floor where  snow and
ice had melted off the vehicles  already here, and just about  every car had
skis strapped to its roof rack.
     We cruised about looking for a space. Tom was sitting up now, earphones
out and eyes  wide. "It's like  one of them  spy  films, Nick, know  what  I
mean?" His tone changed as he thought about what  he'd just said. "It's  all
right, isn't it? I mean, you know what's happening, don't yer?"
     I nodded, not really feeling too sure.
     Parking with the  nose pointing out in a vacant space, Spike turned off
the  engine  and swiveled  round  in  his seat. "Please, your  phones,  your
pagers, and your e-mail devices," he said in heavily  accented English. "You
must  leave them  here. No worry,  you  get them back." He smiled, showing a
not-so-good set of teeth.
     I explained that, as instructed, neither of us had brought any.
     He smiled again. "Good. Thank you, thank you."
     The trunk clicked open behind us as  Spike pulled  on the lever next to
his seat.  I  got out of  the car,  and Tom followed  just  as  a black  4x4
Mercedes, the old square shape, moved slowly  toward  us. The glare  of  its
headlights prevented me seeing who was inside.
     I looked at Spike, who didn't seem remotely concerned. The 4x4 stopped,
its engine running. It had  blacked-out rear windows and the only occupant I
could see was the driver.
     She looked very different from the last  time I'd seen her. Then, she'd
resembled  an  off-duty  Italian;   now   she  was  wearing  a  chunky  gray
Norwegian-style turtleneck which came right up  to her chin, decorated  with
weird and wonderful patterns.  A Tibetan  hat with earflaps covered most  of
the rest of her face, but I could just make out some wisps of blond hair.
     As the  front window slid down, I  was treated  to a very  pleasant but
businesslike smile.  "Get in the back  of the  vehicle quickly, please." She
added something in Finnish to Spike, and he shook his head back to her as we
climbed  into the rear seats with our bags.  The  vehicle was cold; she must
have been waiting for us without the engine running or the heater on.
     "Please sit well down in your seats and keep away from the windows."
     Tom looked at me for an explanation. I shrugged. "Later, mate."
     I  turned back to face  the windshield and  saw Liv watching me  in the
rearview mirror. She smiled. "Welcome to Finland."
     She then tilted her  head  to  look at Tom. "My  name is Liv.  I'm very
pleased to meet you."
     Tom nodded, looking almost shy. She  clearly had the same effect on him
as she did on me. He turned to glance at  his  reflection in the blacked-out
window, probably wishing he'd combed his hair.
     We drove  back out onto the road, turning left.  The lights burned even
brighter in the marketplace; it was getting quite dark.
     "We don't have a lot of time," Liv said. "Events have moved on from our
last conversation. You must carry out the task this Tuesday."
     Another of  their minor complications. I didn't believe her; I bet that
this had always been  the timing  Val wanted,  but instead of telling  me in
case it put me off, she'd just bullshit ted
     "I need to see the target," I said. "Two nights isn't a lot of time for
preparation. You'll have to tell me all you know tonight, and I'll recce the
place tomorrow."
     "Yes, of course.  I am also concerned that Tom  should have enough time
to break through the firewall so he can access the system."
     Tom sat up, like a well-behaved child trying to please an adult. "It'll
be okay. Just show me what you've got."
     "I will, Tom. Very soon."
     There was a long pause as Tom sank back into the seat.
     I looked at the road. "Where are we going now?"
     "It's not far, by the lakes."
     That wasn't  much of  a clue.  The whole country was  covered with  the
things.
     The black and yellow florescent sign of a town's silhouette with
     a  red  line through it  told me I was now out of  Lahti. We hit a good
quality single-lane  road,  lined  at first  with  houses,  their  Christmas
decorations glowing  in the  darkness, then giving  way  to trees  and  cuts
through  granite  once  again. Another  sign told me  that  Mikkeli  was now
sixty-six miles away. We must still be heading north.
     I kept my eyes on the  odometer as  we passed  a succession  of plastic
mailboxes  on posts, all neatly aligned by the roadside, the only sign that,
somewhere deep in these forests, lay habitation.
     The  cloud  cover and closeness  of the trees made darkness fall  on us
completely,  the reflection from the clean  white snow  almost  doubling the
effectiveness of the headlights.
     The  4x4 Mere soon warmed  up  and Tom had his  headphones on  and eyes
closed. I found myself  trying to think  of things to  say to Liv, but small
talk wasn't on her agenda.
     There  was far more  checking of  mirrors than  was required for normal
driving; she was carrying out anti surveillance That was why we'd met in the
parking lot  and  come  straight  out  before any connection could  be  made
between the two vehicles. If anybody had been following us from the airport,
they would naturally have assumed we were going into the hotel.
     I could see  her  face illuminated by  the dashboard as I sat up. "Liv?
Why all the fuss about telephones and pagers? And why the dead letter box?"
     "The old ways are the best." She  smiled. "A Sicilian once told me that
to be sure there's a future, you  must learn the lessons  of  the past.  For
centuries  his  organization   had  used   messengers  who   would  exchange
information person  to  person.  That  way  there  was control  of  anything
sensitive. But  then they started operating in America and they got lazy. In
the late fifties  they  started to  use  the telephone,  and  it  was  their
downfall. If information is important and you want to keep it safe, you must
communicate in person. That way you keep control."
     I started  to  see signs  for the  E75  and Mikkeli, then the  treeline
disappeared and the  highway came into view about 400 yards below me on  the
right. Lines of headlights moved in  both directions, but we stayed  on  the
old road and  the trees returned to  cut out the view. It would be easier to
see if anyone was behind us.
     Liv  continued. "As to the rest of your question, we take all necessary
precautions. Not only with our information, but with our
     people.  That's  the reason  why  all  contact  from  now  on  will  be
exclusively with me."
     I decided not to tell her what had happened after leaving the flat. She
and Val knew far too much about me already.
     Streetlights  sprang  up at  the  roadside  and  signs  told me we were
approaching a place called Heinola.
     Tom  sparked up, taking  off his headphones. A  low-toned, tinny  dance
beat filled the air. "Are we there yet?"
     Liv helped out. "Another thirty minutes, Tom."
     He became a bashful schoolboy again. "Oh ... thanks."
     Liv turned the heating down  a notch  and  pulled off her hat. Her hair
bounced around her shoulders.
     Tom was looking out  at the town and daydreaming as he  pulled a tissue
from  his  pocket and  blew  his nose,  then  examined  his  effort  in  the
streetlight, as if it held some sort of prophecy.
     We finished moving around the town, another anti surveillance maneuver,
and left on a much smaller road. The  houses and lights quickly dwindled and
trees and darkness soon took over, with just the occasional driveway leading
into the woods.
     Liv was still checking  behind us for lights, and Tom, having found the
meaning of life in his Kleenex, went back to listening to his music.
     Eventually we turned  onto  a blacktop road, tree lined and cleared  of
snow,  then carried on for another two to three  miles, down  a slight hill,
until the  trees gave way to a house that was suddenly illuminated by ground
lights as the vehicle approached. We must have passed a sensor.
     The place looked like something out  of a James Bond  film. Blofeld was
probably looking down on us from inside, stroking his cat.
     It was maybe sixty or seventy yards  long and looked just as if someone
had  taken  an  enormous slice out of an  apartment building and perched  it
twenty feet off the  ground on two massive concrete supports.  Val certainly
did things in style.
     The  driveway took us  under the house, where  glass panels sealed  the
area around  the pillars to make an internal  parking lot. Two  large  patio
type doors opened automatically as we approached, then closed behind us.
     It was surprisingly warm as I stepped out of the Mere. The lights
     shining  through  the windows and the reflection  of the  snow  made me
screw up my face until my eyes adjusted.
     Liv  hit a key chain and a brown door opened  in the  left-hand pillar.
Tom  and I grabbed our bags and followed her into a hot stairwell. I noticed
that light-brown walking boots had replaced the cowboy look.
     We  entered a vast,  high-ceilinged space, maybe  thirty yards long and
twenty  wide, and, just like the  London flat,  it  was clinically white and
sparsely  furnished. There was a  door to  my immediate right which led into
the kitchen,  through which I  could see  white veneer  cupboards and  steel
countertops.
     The  living area, where  we were  standing,  was  straight  out  of  an
Architectural Digest.  Two white  leather sofas  faced each  other across  a
glass-and-chrome  coffee  table,  and  that  was  it. No TV,  music  center,
magazines,  flowers, pictures  on the  wall, nothing.  White vertical blinds
stretched from floor to ceiling where I expected windows to be. The lighting
was low and supplied by wall lamps white of course.  There were no  fixtures
in the ceiling.
     Tom and I stood with our bags in our hands, taking it all in.
     "I'll  show  you  your  rooms." Liv was already walking  toward the far
right-hand  door. I wondered  if she  ever waited for  anyone, or  if Armani
insisted she always went in front.
     We followed into a hallway,  our shoes squeaking on the polished wooden
floor.
     My room was through the first door  on the  left. Again, it was a world
of white, with a low,  Japanese-style bed, shower, white marble tiling,  and
stacks of brand-new white towels.  There was no  wardrobe, just small canvas
storage spaces suspended from  a chrome rail. Surprisingly, because the view
must have been fantastic, there were no windows.
     Liv said, "No need. It's always too dark."
     I put my bag on the floor; there was nowhere else to put it.
     She turned away. "Tom, your room is next door."
     They disappeared,  but  I could  hear the mumble of  voices through the
wall as  I  took  my  jacket off  and listened to  the  constant  hum of the
heating. Her rubber-soled  boots soon came squeaking past and  she paused in
the doorway. "Would you like some coffee, Nick, and maybe something to  eat?
Then we must get to work. We don't have much time."
     "Yeah, thanks."
     She nodded and made her way back toward the living area.
     I repositioned my  bag in the corner of the room it seemed out of place
anywhere else as  Tom stuck his  head  round the  door. "Nice one, mate. She
worth price of admission or what? You coming for a snack?"
     A couple of minutes later, Tom and I sat facing each other on the white
leather. The sofa made creaking  sounds as we got comfortable, and the clink
of china came from the kitchen. It seemed I wouldn't get anything out of him
while Liv was about, which wasn't a bad  thing  really. At least it shut him
up. We sat and waited with only the low hum of the heating for company.
     She reappeared with  a  full coffepot, milk, and mugs on a  tray, and a
plate of  crackers and sliced cheese. Placing it on the glass table, she sat
down next  to Tom.  I wasn't sure whether he was wriggling with pleasure  or
embarrassment.
     "Let me explain the setup,"  she said. "I will be staying here with you
both. My room is over on the other side." She pointed to the opposite door.
     "The room  across from your bedrooms is where the laptop is,  for  you,
Tom,  to decrypt the firewall. I'll tell  you  more about that in a moment."
She turned  to me.  "Nick,  also  in there are  maps of  the house you'll be
visiting."
     She started to  pour. "By Tuesday morning you must have discovered  the
access  sequence,  entered  the house,  and  copied  the  files. If not,  my
instructions are that the deal is off."
     I sat  and listened, knowing that even if I had to make a pact with the
devil it would all be completed in  time. I wanted this money. I needed this
money.
     Liv  and I took a  sip of black coffee. Tom didn't touch his, obviously
not wanting  to  be a nuisance and ask for  anything herbal. We  lapsed back
into a strained silence.
     She sat and watched our discomfort, almost enjoying it. It made me feel
as if she knew more about Tom and me than we did about her.
     At length I said, "It will happen."
     Tom nodded. "No drama."
     "I'm sure  it will.  We  will  discuss  the  minor  details  of  money,
information exchange, and so  on later." She  stood  up.  "Come, bring  your
drinks. Let's start work."
     We followed her  down the hall. The room on the right was just as white
as the  rest of  the house,  and very large and  rectangular. There were two
pine desks and chairs. One  had an  aluminum  briefcase on it, the other,  a
small black sleek-looking IBM laptop a bit smaller  than  a sheet  of  Xerox
paper, together with the box it had  come in, with spare wires  draped  over
the top and a thin black nylon carry bag with a shoulder strap.
     Liv pointed  at the briefcase. "Tom,  that Think Pad is for you.  Nick,
come." She continued to the other desk.
     As she and Tom started to talk firewall  stuff, I undipped the case and
lifted the  lid. I found  several  marked  maps, all of different scales. It
looked  as  if  we  were  aiming  for  a  town  called  Lappeenranta,  about
seventy-five miles to the east of us and close to the Russian border.
     The largest  scale map showed that the whole area was a  massive system
of lakes, maybe more  than eighty  miles  square,  with  hundreds  of  small
islands and inlets dotted with villages and small towns. The target was just
over fifteen miles north of Lappeenranta, along a road  linking  some of the
islands to  an area called Kuhala. The  house  wasn't lakeside, but set back
about under a mile from the water and surrounded by forest.
     Liv left us to it, and I watched her  go. She  was unbelievably cool. I
realized that I was beginning to like her a lot.
     "Hey, Tom?" I turned to face him. He was hunched over the small screen,
his back to me.
     He turned in his chair and looked up. "What's the matter, mate?"
     "I think it would be better if you didn't mention anything to Liv about
the money. It's just that she may be getting less than us and will get a bit
pissed off. If she asks, just say you don't know, okay?"
     "Isn't this her place, then?"
     "I doubt  it. She's just working on the job, like us.  I think it would
be best if we kept our cards close to our chests, okay?"
     He turned back to  the desk.  "If you say so, mate. Whatever." The keys
started  to clink away once  more under his dancing  fingers. "Means jack to
me."
     I returned  to the material spread out in front of  me. Maps are useful
things, but they  only go so far. I needed to  get my ass on target and do a
proper recce.  I  listened to  Tom  messing about  behind me as  I  sat  and
memorized the maps.
     The best way I had learned to  do this was by visualizing the route I'd
take.  It was far  easier  than  trying to  remember  place names  and  road
numbers. I sat there, staring  at the blank wall, making my way from Heinola
to the target house, when I noticed a piece of plasterboard missing around a
double-pronged plug.
     I got on my knees and had a look, pulling back the edge of the board to
reveal lead sheeting behind, covered with a plastic, saran wrap-type lining.
I glanced  back at Tom. He  was  still hammering on the  keyboard like a man
possessed.
     I  pushed  the  plasterboard back in  place and walked around the room,
looking for any more holes. Then I realized  there weren't  any phone jacks.
Even in a  modern house that was taking minimalism a bit far. Was it to make
this place impossible  to  communicate with electronically? If so, Val  took
his work  very  seriously indeed, and  it unnerved me a bit. I  didn't  like
discovering things that I should know already.
     I walked across  to Tom's desk and stood over  him, looking at a screen
full  of numbers and letters.  Some of the vertical lines would change every
time he hit a key.
     "Do you understand what you've got there?"
     "No problem; it's all about algorithms and protocols, hardened proxies,
stuff like that.  What it boils  down to is  that I  need to find the access
sequence  among a  million  or so different  sets of characters.  That's the
firewall  between me and the rest of the system." He  pointed at the screen,
never letting  his  eyes  wander  from  it.  "This  is quite a sophisticated
crypto, as  it  has a learning program that detects unusual events, like  me
trying to hack in, and interprets them as an attack. If we were trying to do
this on site I wouldn't be able to do it in time. But this setup is perfect:
I have time to play."
     His  attention  was drawn away from talking to  me as he leaned forward
slightly and studied the screen. We were both silent for a few seconds as he
mumbled crypto stuff to himself, then he came back to planet earth. "Anyway,
once I've hacked  into it here, all I have to do is configure  the Think Pad
bring  it  with me and then  I can download all  the files  she  wants. Easy
life."
     I watched him as he  did his stuff.  He'd turned into the master of his
universe, hands gliding over the keys, quick, confident and in command. Even
his tone had changed as he explained what he was up to.
     "Tom, will you  be  able to get past this  thing?" The  screen  full of
moving numbers, letters, and symbols looked like total confusion to me.
     "No drama, mate. No drama."
     I looked over at the broken plasterboard. "One more question."
     His eyes still didn't leave the screen. "What's that?"
     I changed my mind. "I'm going for a coffee. You coming?"
     "Nah, mate, I'm gonna stay here. Things to do, know what I
     mean?"
     I left him to it. I wanted to know why the lead was there, and maybe he
could help, but why risk him stressing? The less he knew the better.

     I walked into the living area after having no luck finding a phone jack
in my bedroom. The light was still on, but the room was empty and the coffee
things  had been cleared away. There was only a thick  paperback book on the
glass table. I wandered around the room, checking for jacks, but didn't find
any. There were none in the kitchen, either.
     I couldn't see any  gaps in the wall covering  to check for lead,  so I
decided to go a different route. Walking over to the ceiling-to-floor blinds
I gave one of them a poke. It didn't move, and was extremely hard and heavy.
     There was  a  switch on the wall near by, and  you didn't need  to be a
brain  surgeon to work  out what it did. When I flicked it,  a motor whirred
above me in the ceiling. I watched as they began to open from the center. It
was  dark outside, but the living-room lights exposed a long narrow  balcony
beyond  triple-glazed  sliding doors. Virgin  snow lay  three feet  deep all
along it, resting against the glass. A little further out, the tops of a few
snow-covered  pine  trees  were also  visible,  but  beyond  that  was  inky
blackness.
     I  turned,  hearing bare feet moving toward me.  Liv was  six  or seven
steps  away, wearing  a  blue silk bathrobe which  finished just  above  her
knees, exposing each thigh in turn as she moved.
     Two more steps and she  reached past me and hit the switch. She smelled
as if she'd just stepped out of the shower.
     The  motor whirred and the blinds began to close again. She took a step
back. "Nick, the blinds must remain closed at all times
     when Tom is working on the computer." She waved a palm in the direction
of the sofa. "Shall we sit?"
     As she crossed  the  room,  I followed.  She  saw my eyes flick to  the
blinds and guessed what I was about to say. "Yes, Nick, before you ask, they
are  lined  with  lead.  The  whole  house is.  Valentin  doesn't  like  his
competitors  learning  what  he's  doing.  Millions  of  dollars  are  spent
accessing  information about rivals in this business.  He ensures that  it's
money wasted as far as spying on him is concerned.  Valentin knows the  true
value of information--not money, but power."
     "So that's why no phones?"
     The blinds finished closing as we sat facing each other on the sofa. As
she tucked her legs underneath her, the silk followed the  contours  of  her
body.
     "Please, Nick, will you tell Tom? House rule."
     "No problem. But will you do me a favor in return? It would make things
a  lot easier for us if you  didn't tell Tom anything about the Maliskia, or
about the deal  we have. He's a worrier and I want him to concentrate on the
job." The last thing I needed  was her telling him how much money was really
involved.
     "Of  course,"  she  smiled.  "I  never  have  a  problem  with  keeping
information to a minimum. On the  other hand, I also find it better to  tell
the truth about  important  matters. Maybe Tom  would be better  off knowing
about the  Maliskia, and  the  money, rather than possibly finding  out at a
later date? Lies can  be so confusing  and counterproductive;  but then, I'm
sure you don't need me to tell you that, do you?"
     I wasn't too sure if it was a  rhetorical question;  whatever, I wasn't
going to give her a full answer. I shrugged.
     She  leaned forward to pick up the book on the coffee table, and as she
settled back,  her silk bathrobe fell down  on  either  side of  her legs. I
tried  not  to  look, but  couldn't help  myself. Liv was  one  of  the most
beautiful, attractive, and intelligent women  I'd ever seen. It was a pity I
had champagne tastes  and a lemonade budget. I would never have what it took
to attract somebody like her, and, sadly, she didn't strike  me as  the sort
to dispense charity shags to the poor.
     She pulled the  gown together as  she caught my eye.  "Does this bother
you? You English are so strange; you're so repressed."
     "What  about you  lot?" I grinned. "You seem  to  be  so  reserved with
strangers, yet think nothing of sitting  naked with them in saunas, chatting
about the weather. Then you charge out and roll
     naked  in  the  snow, beating  yourselves  with birch  twigs.  So who's
playing with a full deck?"
     She smiled. "We're all prisoners of  our past,  and maybe we Finns more
than most."
     That one got me knitting my brow. It was a bit too deep for me.
     "I don't expect you to understand this,  Nick, but Nordic myth is  more
deeply  ingrained  in  our  psyche  than in  any of  the  other Scandinavian
cultures. Probably a  legacy  of all  those centuries of Swedish and Russian
domination." She  tapped the book. "A  collection of Finnish folklore.  See,
we're captivated."
     "I'm more of a Harry Potter man myself," I said. I didn't know what the
fuck she was talking about.
     It was her turn to  look  puzzled. She probably  thought  he wrote  spy
thrillers, or whatever crap I read.
     "Nick, I  need to  finalize some drop  off' she corrected herself "dead
letter box details with you for the information and money exchange. We shall
all go  to  Helsinki in  the morning, even  if  Tom  hasn't got  through the
firewall by then. It's important that he isn't kept in the dark."
     I  opened my mouth  to speak, but  she seemed to have  accessed my  own
firewall. I wasn't sure whether to  be flattered or alarmed by the fact that
she seemed to know exactly what I was thinking.
     "Nick, I've already told you there is nothing to be concerned about. No
one  is  looking for  you  there.  Otherwise it would  be  pointless  going,
wouldn't  it? We  all want  you to be successful, so why would we be  taking
such a risk?"
     That made sense, but it was less than a week since Carpenter had turned
Helsinki  into Dodge City, and  I didn't  want to find myself  next  door to
anyone who mistook me for one of his close personal friends.
     "Once you and Tom have left tomorrow night, you must never return here,
whatever happens.  That way this place remains secure.  In any event, no one
will be here, as I am leaving  soon after you. I will take anything you want
to leave  behind, and return it at the exchange. You are to make your way to
the DLB  on  Wednesday morning and leave details for a meeting  between just
the two of us.
     "The details  of the exchange  are totally your concern. Valentin wants
to give you control of the  arrangements, as a gesture  of good faith and to
give  you  confidence  that  nothing uncomfortable  will  occur  during  the
transaction. To help ensure this, you will still be in
     contact exclusively  with me." She  gave me the full benefit  of  those
wonderful eyes. "Do not worry, Nick, this business is not being conducted in
a way that jeopardizes any of us."
     I tried  not  to  laugh.  Maybe  she hadn't noticed how people like Val
conducted business. If he didn't have control of an apartment building  he'd
blow it up,  no matter who was still inside. I wasn't quite  ready to assume
he was my new best friend. In the meantime, I would pick the time and place,
and they would come to me. It made sense.
     I nodded. "What if I don't make the dead letter box?"
     "If you don't, Tom will. That  is why he needs to be  with us tomorrow.
If there's no message for me by Wednesday evening,  I'll know that something
is seriously wrong and the deal is  off. Sometimes you win, other times ..."
She shrugged.
     There  was  silence for a moment  or two. "How  did  you  come  to meet
Valentin?"
     "Like you, he asked me to work for him." She smiled, crossing her legs.
"And no, Nick, I'm not his mistress."
     She'd read my mind again. Three hundred years ago she  would  have been
burned at the stake.
     "The only thing he wants from  me is my doctorate in Russian  political
science. You see, Nick, this is where the money is for now. And the fact is,
I enjoy that money. I work hard and I'm well rewarded."
     She sat back, and when she spoke again  her voice  was low. "My parents
were  Swedish. They  are both dead  now. I was born here, in Finland. I am a
Finn.  There, that is all you need  to know  about me. But what  about  you,
Nick?  Why did you  become a  kidnapper? Did  you  not work for  the British
government?"
     I  coughed,  trying  unsuccessfully  to hide  my embarrassment. It made
sense that she would know: If she knew about  the connection between Tom and
me,  then there was  a whole lot more  she probably  knew,  too. So much for
being  a deniable  operator. I suddenly  wasn't enjoying this as  much as  I
thought  I  was going to. "Money," I said. "Just like you. Maybe  we're  the
same."
     She gave  me her most inscrutable Mr.  Spock look. "Of course.  That is
why you are here." Her face broke into a smile. "Are you married?"
     "Divorced."
     "What  happened,  Nick?  Did  she  not  like  to  live  with  lies  and
half-truths?"
     "I  think she just didn't like living with me." I paused. "I used to be
in the military and--"
     "Yes, Valentin knows about your military past, Nick. That is one of the
reasons you are here."
     What else  did he know? I didn't like the postman knowing what I looked
like,  let alone the head of  a major organized crime group. It made me feel
very uncomfortable.
     I said, "What about you? Are you married?"
     "I'm not  so sure it would be a good idea. And being a mother? It  does
not interest me. Do you have children?"
     "No."  I  made  light of it.  "I can just  about  manage to  look after
myself. It would be such a  responsibility. What would  I do  if they became
ill?"
     She gave me a  level  look. "I think we have both done the right thing,
Nick, don't you?"
     I tried to read her expression and failed again. I didn't  reply for  a
while, and when I did I answered one question with another. "Are you staying
with us all the time, Liv?"
     "I'll  come and go. But essentially I'm  here to  make sure  things run
smoothly." She adjusted herself on the sofa.  I got another glimpse of thigh
as  she  tapped the book  by  her side.  "There  is  a  story in here  about
Vainamoinen, the creator of the Universe. One  day  he has an encounter with
Joukahainen, a  much younger god.  The two meet riding on  a narrow path and
neither wants to give way. Joukahainen challenges Vainamoinen,  with all the
eagerness  of youth  and limitless  self-confidence. The battle is waged  by
chanting magical songs, and ends with Joukahainen  finding himself in a bog.
You see, Nick, he simply didn't know who he was dealing with."
     I took the point. Knowing who you're dealing with had always been a big
thing  with  me.  And right  now the message seemed  to be,  they did  and I
didn't.
     "What time are we leaving in the morning?"
     "Eight.  Will you tell Tom?" She yawned.  "Time for  bed, I think. Good
night, Nick."
     I watched her walk toward the door. "Night, Liv."
     She disappeared into the  other  half of  the house. I  couldn't help a
smile of regret when I realized  that her leaning across me  to flick a wall
switch was the closest we were ever  likely to get. Will of the gods and all
that.

     Monday, December 13,1999
     We headed south along the  highway toward Helsinki, all dressed exactly
the same as yesterday. Tom had headed straight for the back seat and crashed
out, which left me with the option of  joining him or sitting next to Liv in
the front. I knew what I wanted to  do, but I  felt I  should give  her some
space.
     It was  nearly 8:45, and after  thirty minutes of staring at headlights
it had  begun to get  light. It was going  to be a sunny day; there wasn't a
cloud in the sky, and  the  unfolding view of pine trees and glittering snow
was straight out of a ski brochure.
     I looked across at Tom, headphones on and eyes  closed. The scenery was
lost on  him. He was fast  asleep, his head bouncing gently in time with the
4x4's movement. He'd been up late at his screen.
     I'd got  him to bring all his  documents, even on this shopping trip. I
told him it was just in case we needed  to  leave  in a hurry--"Be prepared,
Tom, know what I mean?"
     He hadn't been too keen  on coming, because after working  much  of the
night,  he was  close  to  breaking the firewall.  But I agreed with Liv; he
needed to be aware of the game plan. We were both acting for our own selfish
reasons. If there was a problem  on target  and Tom was the only one to  get
away,  she had to  know there was  still a chance she could get the data  to
Val.  And I wanted him along because,  if  I broke a  leg, or wasn't able to
make the DLB to
     collect, my money for any other reason, I wanted Tom  to be able  to do
it for me.
     Another  forty minutes and we hit  Helsinki  city limits. Liv gave me a
guided tour as  we  came in, pointing out some landmarks and proudly telling
about how her tiny nation  had routed  the Red Army in the 1940  winter war.
All the while, Tom's head bounced about beside me.
     It was quite strange seeing the place during the day. I'd never come in
until last  light during the recces for  Val's lift; there was  no reason to
expose myself and  the team  to  CCTV  and the security  setup  for  the  EU
conference. No matter what the environment, it's  always better to recce  in
the dark, and in this place there was plenty of it.
     The  city  looked older  than  I'd  been  expecting;  the  airport  and
Intercontinental  were  both modern  buildings, and Tom's ranting  about how
cutting edge the place was had led me to expect a city full of buildings out
of Blade Runner.
     As we weaved toward the center, the heavy morning traffic jockeyed with
the streetcar to gain ground, but was generally well behaved.
     "I think it's time for Tom to pay attention now, Nick."
     I gave him a shake.
     "What? What?" His  eyes opened and he stretched as if he was coming out
of hibernation.
     I pointed at my mouth, indicating to him that he'd do well to  wipe the
dribble from his chin.
     "Cheers, mate." He looked outside at the traffic. "This Helsinki, then?
Looks just like the virtual tour."
     Liv smiled. "I think you will find the real thing a bit chillier."
     We  turned  a corner, passing a large illuminated sign telling  us that
this department store was  called Stockmann. She pointed at the large window
displays as  we  drove  past.  "We'll meet  in  the coffee shop on the sixth
floor. The station is just a couple of minutes' walk away."
     We  drove on a  couple of blocks before stopping. As I  got out, I felt
the bitter cold for the first time that day. With the garage being a sealed,
heated part of the house, the open air hadn't had a chance to get at us. She
looked  back at  me through the  rear  doors as I  put my hat and gloves on.
"I'll see you both in Stockmann in two hours. You'll need about half an hour
to check out the station."
     I  nodded and turned to Tom. "We'll use the rest of the time to get our
stuff."
     I closed the door of  the  4x4 and she drove off.  Our  breath hung  in
clouds in front of our faces and  every inch of  exposed skin prickled  with
the cold.  Tom  didn't  like it one  bit. "Arctic  or what, Nick? For fuck's
sake, can we get inside fast?"
     The station was in  front of us. It looked  like an East German prison,
very square and imposing,  faced with what looked like dirty brown concrete.
It  could have been used as  a backdrop for 1984. I checked the  clock tower
with Baby G and they agreed to the minute: 10:22.
     As we joined the rest of the  pedestrian traffic waiting obediently for
the little green man, Tom frowned and said, "Nick?"
     "What?"  I was  concentrating more  on  looking  for a gap between  the
streetcars  that I  could  dash through.  I had  no intention of freezing to
death, waiting for little green men.
     "Do you trust her you know, Liv? You sure everything's sweet?"
     Liv's advice  about  being truthful flashed through my head, thankfully
not powerfully enough for me to  take it. I tried never to trust anyone, and
after  what had  happened  in Washington, I certainly wasn't  going  to now.
There might not  be too much time  to do this job correctly, and I  might be
desperate for  the cash, but I wouldn't  be doing anything  until I'd put my
own and Tom's safety net in place today.
     The  lights  changed  and  we  started  walking.  "Don't  worry,  mate,
everything is fine. In fact, having a meeting point like this is one  of the
things  that  makes  me feel better  about her.  It  means these  people are
switched on and want the job done with no hassle. Don't worry about it."
     He shrugged. "Yeah, but  what can you do to  guarantee we ain't getting
screwed, know what I mean? Are  you  going to do what  she  wants? You know,
come back here and give her  the Think  Pad with  the download  and take the
money? Or are you gonna ask for more? I bet it's worth a fortune."
     Even if the thought had crossed my mind, I wasn't going to admit it  to
him. "No, mate, I  just want to  do  this  right. Just exchange  that little
machine of yours for the money and get back to the U.K. That way  everything
stays safe  and easy. Whichever way you look  at it, it's still good money."
All the time I had my smiley face on. I felt like I was trying  to encourage
a small child to eat his sprouts.
     I  was expecting more questions, but  he  just shrugged  his  shoulders
again. "Only asking, mate. If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for
me. Tell you what, she's tasty, ain't she?"
     I grinned. "Yes, she's very beautiful. Out of our league though,  son."
I somehow couldn't picture  Liv kissing Juicy Lucy cards in Netting Hill, or
spending her day sorting out my boiler.
     The main doors to the station  were heavy  and  wooden,  with  porthole
windows protected by  metal grills. We pushed through  and immediately  came
face to face  with Santa, who  was ringing his  bell and demanding money. We
sidestepped him.
     The  interior looked  more  like  a  well-kept  museum  than a  railway
station,  with clean, stone-paved floors,  thick  granite supporting pillars
and unbelievably high  ceilings. Little snowmen  hung from  chandeliers, and
the place echoed  with  public announcements, people  talking,  cell  phones
going off all over the place and, in one corner, a  performer who was having
a  crack at the Finnish version of "Good  King Wenceslas"  on his accordion.
The smell of cigarette smoke and fast food was strong and everywhere.
     A group  of  people  with Santa hats  on and sets  of skis  over  their
shoulders tried to squeeze past stressed-out businessmen in overcoats, furry
Cossack hats,  and cell  phones glued to their ears. The strange  thing  was
that  you couldn't  see  or  hear  a  single train--this  was a cold-weather
station and the platforms were outside.
     Tom rubbed his hands together. He  liked it in here.  "Christ, I almost
feel human again. What now then, Nick?"
     Father  Christmas carried on doing his stuff  as we stood  and got  our
bearings, and I thought "almost" was as close as Tom was ever going to get.
     Liv's DLB was very easy to find and, like the one at the Langham, sited
well.  We were standing with our backs to  the main entrance. In front of us
was a wide stairway and escalators that led down into the  metro. The  three
sides  of the stairway  surrounded  an  open  square  of  continuous  wooden
benches. The DLB was by a trash can on the left-hand side.
     Tom followed as I walked between  the DLB and  the large ticketing hall
to our left, heading for a newsstand. A  teenaged girl was sitting reading a
magazine, ears full of Walkman, mouth full of gum. She was wearing navy-blue
down snow pants under a matching jacket which was open to stop her sweating.
     I nodded at Tom just before we got level  with her. "There it is, mate.
See the girl in blue?"
     He nodded back and we carried on past.
     "Okay, if you put your hand underneath  the bench,  exactly where she's
sitting, you're going to feel a plastic  container  attached by  Velcro. All
you do is make  sure no  one's looking and pull it  off, go away and write a
note telling them where they can find you, and they'll come."
     "Isn't this all a bit James Bond, Nick? I don't like it."
     "It's just basic routine. You need to know what to do if it goes wrong.
You know, suppose I break a leg and can't  get back here? Then it'll be down
to you to hand over the goods and get us our money."
     "So long as there ain't no  funny business. You know, fucking her about
or anything? I don't want that, mate. I just want the money."
     We stopped by the wall next to the newsstand.
     "Tom, it's going to go like clockwork. You just need to know this stuff
in case I get injured, that's all. You're my insurance  policy,  and I'll be
yours."
     He liked that. The girl got up and walked toward us,  nodding  her head
in time to the music stuck in her ears.
     "Go on, see if there's anything there yet."
     "What, now?" He looked absolutely terrified. "While everyone's here?"
     "It's  never going to  be empty, Tom. It's a station, for fuck's  sake.
All you've got to  do  is take a stroll  over there, sit down, put your hand
under the bench  and have a feel around. While you're doing that I'll go and
change some money for you, all right?"
     I didn't  wait for his answer. I  wanted him to go through the motions.
If he had to get here on his own, he'd at least know what to do.
     I walked further  into the station. Signs in front of me pointed to the
platforms  and the long-term luggage lockers. I'd be checking that out  soon
enough.
     As  busy-looking people  passed through the  large wooden  doors, I saw
snow-covered  cars  standing at  each  platform. To my right were stores and
rest rooms, and, about fifty feet away,  the exit to the bus station. To the
left were more shops and the short-term luggage lockers, then another set of
doors the same distance away that led out to
     the taxis. Behind me were the metro stairs and a very nervous Tom.
     I  went left, to the  currency exchange, exchanged $500, then  wandered
back. As I neared the DLB I could see him sitting on the bench, looking very
pleased  with himself.  I sat  next  to him, squeezing into  the  small  gap
between him and a rather large woman peeling an orange.
     "Piece of cake, mate. Found it first time, look."
     He started to bend down.
     "No, no, not  now, Tom. Leave it where it is and I'll show  you  how to
tell Liv that you've put a message in there for her."
     I  stood up and he followed. The woman was delighted and spread herself
out  more. We went toward the platform doors  and turned right, passing  the
rest rooms.
     "Tom, go in there to write your message, okay?"
     He nodded, his eyes fixed on the  English edition computer magazines as
we  passed another  newsstand, with yet  more people  wrestling  with  their
luggage and skis.
     I  explained  where to leave his DLB-loaded  marker. "Just beyond  this
coffee shop, on the right, is a row of telephones. When the  time comes, get
yourself a marker pen from one of these shops and draw a line down the booth
of the right-hand one, okay?"
     It wasn't. "Why?"
     "So Liv doesn't have to sit down and feel under the bench every time to
check it. If the loaded sign the marker-pen line isn't there, she knows that
a message  isn't, either. Otherwise she'll  look  just  a bit  suspicious on
Wednesday, won't she, sitting in the same place every hour on the hour?"
     He nodded thoughtfully. "Tell you what, she could sit next to me  every
hour on the hour, know what I mean?"
     I  smiled. If the two  women  at  the  airport would  have had  him for
breakfast, Liv  would probably chew him  up and spit him out without looking
up from her newspaper.
     We were closing the  gap  toward the bus  station  doors when  they all
opened at once and a busload of people surged toward us, dragging their skis
and luggage behind them.
     Thirty  feet short of the doors was a bank of four phones fixed to  the
wall, divided by  polished-wood  booths. We stood  against  the nearest one,
letting  the bus party  pass  with a rumble of suitcase  wheels and  excited
conversation.
     "See here?" I said.
     "Yeah, you want me to mark..." He started to wave his finger.
     "Hey, Tom, in spy land nobody points." I pushed his hand down and tried
not to laugh. "But yes, that's right, mate, a mark. But a line, a nice thick
line. Make  sure you pretend to be on the phone and make sure they" I nodded
toward the flower shop opposite "don't see you."
     Tom's eyes followed mine. "I get it, but you'll tell  me what to say in
the letter, yeah?"
     "Of course. Now let's go and get cold."
     We  walked out  through  the  bus station,  a  large  square  concourse
littered with sheltered stops.
     Once onto the pavement we cut half right in the direction of Stockmann.
I  handed  Tom 2,000  Finnish marks  from  the  wad  I'd got from  the money
changer. It worked out at about six marks a dollar. He thought  he was rich;
his eyes shone  or maybe they were starting to be affected by the cold as we
walked along  cobblestoned streets. The  rumble of tires and metallic rhythm
of the streetcar wheels meant we had to speak louder than normal.
     "Tom, I want you to  give me  your passport and wallet for safekeeping.
I've  got an idea  for a little extra insurance, but listen, this is between
you  and me. It's not that I  don't trust her, but better  safe than  sorry,
eh?"
     "Nice one, Nick. Makes me feel better."
     He handed them over without questioning. It made  me feel suddenly more
responsible for him.
     "Besides, we want to travel light tomorrow night."
     You  could tell Stockmann was Finland's  top people's store by the line
of large black or dark-blue cars outside with their engines running, waiting
for their V.I.P passengers to come out and load up their Christmas shopping.
When we got closer, it was clear who the cars belonged to. Large men with no
necks and square heads were waiting beside them. It looked as though the hit
on Val last week, was making Mr. and Mrs. Mafia a bit nervous.
     A  group of  heavies came out just as we approached the main  entrance,
surrounding a  very young, beautiful blonde, who was wearing more fur than a
grizzly. For a moment I thought it was Liv.
     A limo  door opened for her, and the three-car convoy zoomed off up the
street.
     Tom  and I walked through large double doors  straight into the perfume
department. A little further on, in the luggage department, I  picked up two
small weekend bags,  one dark green and  one black,  from a display, and two
heavy car blankets.
     Tom had his big wad of money clasped firmly in his hand and was looking
happy. It was time to say my goodbyes.
     "I've  got things to do, Tom. Insurance." I tapped the side of  my nose
and winked. His big hamster cheeks beamed back. "I'll see you in the  coffee
shop in about forty-five  minutes. Just get yourself some good warm clothes,
the sort of stuff I told you about, all right?"
     "Yeah, yeah, no drama. Hey Nick, when  the going  gets tough, the tough
go shopping." He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together.
     I clapped his shoulder. "Remember,  get a decent coat and boots. And by
the way,  if Liv turns  up before  I get there, just tell her  I'm shopping,
too."
     I could  see he couldn't be bothered to ask why, he  just wanted to get
spending.
     "No drama. See yer."
     Back  in  the cold, I took out my new bags and bulked them out with the
blankets.  Then  I  headed  for  the  bus station again.  I  went  past  the
telephones into Europe's most expensive rest rooms. It  cost  me over a buck
to sit  down  in one of the stalls so I  could  get  out the  money from  my
organizer wallet what was left of the  twenty-five grand in $100 bills which
I'd  brought with me. I removed four grand and  then placed the wallet, plus
my own documents and  Davidson's, into  the  dark-green bag. You never  know
when even  a burned  ID can come in useful. Tom's documents and  $3,000 went
into the black bag, and I slipped the remaining grand into my pocket. I then
dumped both at the luggage lockers and  looked for a decent hiding place for
the two  tickets our own  little DLB  some-where that Tom  would  find  easy
enough to remember.
     I went  into one of the shops  and picked up a computer magazine with a
plastic sleeve  holding a free CD-Rom. I was in line at the checkout  when I
saw her.
     Liv was standing  by the doors to the trains. The man  she was with was
very  smartly dressed  in  a long camel-hair coat, shirt  and  tie. She  was
looking quite dolled up herself, in a black overcoat she hadn't been wearing
earlier. It must have been in the back of the Mere 4x4.
     I  ducked  out of the line  as  if I'd had  second  thoughts about  the
magazine, and went back to browsing the racks,  watching Liv and her man out
of the corner of  my eye.  They were in each  other's arms, their faces just
inches apart and talking  away. They were doing their  best to look like two
lovers saying  their goodbyes  but it wasn't quite working. There were times
when they cuddled, but they weren't talking to each other, they were talking
at each other. I'd done this enough times myself to know what was going on.
     They  held each other and  talked for a  little while longer,  then  he
pulled slightly away  from her. He  was in  his early  thirties, with  short
brown hair, and looked quite the young trendy businessman.
     She turned  away,  heading for  the bus station exit. There had been no
final kiss, no last touch or stroke of the hair.
     I  let  her  go  past  me,  then moved  quickly  to the platform doors,
spotting him on Platform 6 as he looked at his ticket and checked the buses.
It was now time to hurry back the other way and see what Liv was up to.
     Barging through the bus station doors I looked out onto the square. She
was walking away  from me,  putting her Tibetan hat on, heading  across  the
pedestrian crossing. I could see the 4x4 on the other side, parked in a line
of other vehicles on meters.
     Turning, I  ran back into the  station. The  destination board said the
Platform 6 train was leaving for St. Petersburg in two minutes.
     I walked  swiftly  back  to  the  newsstand and  bought  the  magazine,
together with a reel of Scotch tape. Taking off the plastic sleeve, I ripped
it into two strips and wrapped the tickets individually. Now all I had to do
was  find a place to hide  them that Tom would remember. It wasn't hard. The
long banks  of  luggage  lockers  by  the taxi  exit were  on  legs, with  a
four-inch gap between them and the floor. Pretending to clean  the slush off
my shoes, I taped Tom's under Number  10 and mine under Number 11. If things
went wrong, both of us had a ticket out of Finland.
     As I  made my way back to  Stockmann, Liv's meeting with the man in the
camel-hair coat mulled round in my head.
     I  took  the  elevator  to the sixth floor.  Once  I'd  passed the cold
weather gear a  sign told me  that on the  floor above was "cold storage for
furs."  I  passed  a restaurant,  a  juice bar, and  found Tom in Cafe Avec,
overlooking the shoppers below on  the fifth floor. His half-cup  of  herbal
whatever looked sad and cold on the table in
     front of him. The light-wood furniture had come straight out of an Ikea
warehouse  and the place was packed with  people snacking  on soup or little
fish  dishes. The noise  was deafening people  talking and cell phones going
off with a million and one different tunes.
     "Wotcha,  mate." He was all smiles,  pointing at his bags, then opening
one for me to look inside. I was pleased to see he'd bought himself a decent
pair of boots,  and the dark-blue, thick, woolen  check  lumberjack coat was
just the sort of thing I'd told him to get.
     "Great, Tom. Now listen."
     I  explained to him  where his  ticket was hidden. We'd pick them up on
Wednesday, but  if the  shit  hit the  fan tomorrow  night,  he should  head
straight for the station, grab his bag, and catch the first flight home.
     He started  to look a bit more cheerful. "I  just want  to get this job
done and get  back to London with some  cash. I don't  really like it  here.
Thought I  would, but I don't. It must be the cold. That's why  I  got these
for tomorrow." He bent down  and  brought out a set  of  silk leggings and a
top.
     I tried not to laugh. They  were the sort of  thing you  might buy  for
your very first ski trip, but never wear.
     He looked  rather  proud of  them. "What do  you think? Keep me warm or
what?  You should get some, Nick. The girl  behind the counter  said they're
great."
     I bet  she  did;  they  probably cost three times as  much as a  set of
proper  thermals.  "I've  got  some," I  lied.  "Actually,  there's one more
thing."
     He packed them proudly back into the bag. "What's that?"
     "I know  you said you're nearly there, but can you really break through
the firewall by tomorrow?"
     He looked at me as if I  was mad. "No problem.  But you will look after
me, won't you? You know, when we're in there ..."
     I could sense that his bravado was fading slightly as the witching hour
approached.  I  smiled,  nodded  and  then saw  him look anxiously  over  my
shoulder.
     "Liv's here."
     I  turned in my seat and  watched her looking out for  us  both, hat in
hand and the black coat still on.  She saw my raised hand and  came straight
over.
     She sat down. "Everything all right at the station?"
     I nodded.
     "Good. Here are the keys for your  car, Nick." She passed over two keys
on a Saab key chain. "There are maps inside the glove compartment to get you
there, and a detailed one of the area. None of the maps are marked. It  will
take you more than three hours to get there."
     "There'll probably be a list  of  things I'll need once  I've  seen the
house."
     "No problem, so long as it's  nothing exotic." Talking  of  which,  she
looked at her Carder watch.
     1 got the hint and started getting to my feet. "I think I  need  to get
going. I want to spend as much time as I can on target."
     She stood up.  "I'll show  you where  the car is, then  go back  to the
house with Tom."
     As we came out of Stockmann, Tom took out his new check coat and put it
over the one he was wearing. He looked the perfect tourist.
     We walked back toward  the station and  I could see the Mere 4x4  still
parked in the same position, with a shiny new blue Saab next to it.
     I said my goodbyes. Tom got in the front with her and they drove off.

     The journey to the target seemed to be taking longer than she'd told me
to expect. Maybe it just felt that  way because there'd been nothing to look
at but  thousands  of trees and  lumps  of  granite. I needed  to adjust  my
boredom threshold.
     It  was  just  after three o'clock and it was  already  last light. The
reflection from the Saab's headlights twinkled in the snow piled high at the
roadside  as I stayed obediently in  the line of traffic, which all traveled
within  the speed limit. I hit the seek button on the radio a few times, but
there wasn't much to listen to. I hated Europop, and didn't have a clue what
was being said on any of the speaking stations.
     I used the time  to  think about Liv's  station RV,  but didn't come up
with any answers. I decided I just  had  to get on with it. "It" was simple:
I'd do the  job,  control the exchange with Liv, then get Tom and me back to
the U.K." leaving Val  to  do whatever  he wanted with  the stuff.  At least
after  tomorrow  night,  once  on the ground,  I  was in control  of my  own
destiny.
     After  taking  the  exit  for  Lappeenranta,  signs for Kuhala began to
appear. Pulling into the side of the road, I checked the smaller scale, more
detailed map. I had another eight miles to go until turning off the two-lane
road and onto what looked like a minor gravel one. Then I'd need to find the
private turning to the target building.
     I  pushed on, driving through dense  forest on  a paved firebreak. Tall
trees on either side of me cut down the headlights' capacity as if
     I was in a tunnel. Then I was suddenly out of it and rumbling across  a
wooden  bridge, my lights blazing  across  the white ice  of the frozen lake
beneath me. Twenty seconds later I was back inside the tunnel, with just the
occasional mailbox to let me know I wasn't the only person around.
     Passing  a yellow  triangle sign showing a  silhouetted elk, I knew I'd
well and truly hit  the countryside. Stopping at the intersection, I checked
the odometer and map. Five more miles and the third option right.
     I drove on, counting off the miles, crossing two  more bridges and only
a handful of mailboxes until I found the intersection I was looking for. The
tire noise  changed as I  hit the two-lane gravel road. Like the one leading
to Liv's, it was still iced over but had been snow plowed and sanded.
     With a few miles still  to  go, I wanted to make  sure I had  the right
track to target first time. It wouldn't be a good idea to cruise around with
headlights on and the engine revving  up and down the road. The map showed a
scattering of houses in the  area, and I was passing a mailbox every quarter
mile or so. I shifted down to first gear. There wasn't a light to be seen as
I checked off each track into the woods on the map.
     I found the target track, but kept going, looking for somewhere off the
road  to leave  the Saab  so it  looked parked rather  than abandoned. About
another 300 yards on I found a small cut in the woodline which  seemed to be
a firebreak. Once tucked in, I switched off the engine.
     It was freezer time again. Putting on the nylon padded gloves and black
woolen hat I'd bought myself at Stockmann, I got out  and hit the key chain.
The  four ways flashed as the central locking did its stuff, but  I couldn't
help that.
     Setting off down the gravel road,  I made  sure the hat didn't cover my
ears; I was on a recce, I needed them to  be able to work,  without fighting
to hear through half a lamb's coat.
     It was  bitterly cold after the snug warmth of the Saab, and there  was
no noise  or  light.  All I  could hear  was my own breathing  and the  snow
crunching an  inch  under  my feet before it  compressed onto the  hard  ice
beneath. My whole world was trees, snow, and a very cold nose and ears.
     Once at the top of the track, I stopped, looked, and listened.
     Nothing. It would take another fifteen minutes for my  eyes to adapt to
the lack of light.  Then, with any luck, I'd be able to see a little more of
the treeline than just a wall of black.
     I turned into the track and started slowly down  it. A lot  of vehicles
had obviously been up and down; there was no snow in the ruts on either side
of the  small  central  mound,  just  compacted ice. The trees  were hard up
against the edge of the track.
     Three feet in front  of me  was pitch-black, but  I knew it wouldn't be
like that for long once my night vision kicked in. I moved  like a tightrope
walker along the rut, to cut down  ground sign. The  last thing I wanted was
to slip and fall in the snow at the side of the track, leaving evidence that
even a five-year-old would pick up.
     After about five minutes I  began to see weak, intermittent light ahead
in the direction  of the  target.  The beams  flashed  up  into  the  sky or
straight at me,  disappeared  for  a  while, then bounced toward me again. I
knew exactly what they were: vehicle lights, and they were coming my way.
     I couldn't even hear the engine yet, so it would be impossible for them
to  see  me.  The lights  continued to  flash against the  trees. There  was
nothing I could do without leaving sign but dive out of the way.
     The rumble of the engine reached me and  brighter  beams of light swept
the  area around. I  faced the  drift  at  the  trackside, hopefully  aiming
between  two trees, rocked back to  try to get some  sort of momentum,  then
leaped. I managed to  clear the  first few feet of snow, rolling like a high
jumper, and landed like a bag of shit. The snow lay over solid granite and I
hit it hard, knocking the wind out of my lungs.
     I started to crawl like an animal, trying to burrow under the branches.
The vehicle was getting closer.
     Still facing away from the road,  I  dug myself in  and  waited  in the
freezing snow, listening as it closed in  on me. The transmission was in low
ratio, suggesting a 4x4.
     It finally drew  parallel with me, its wheels crunching into fresh snow
on the side of  the track as it was steered off line. Without hesitation, it
kept on going.
     I raised myself slowly onto my knees, keeping my right eye  closed:  At
least that way I would save 50 percent of what night vision I had. The smell
of diesel hung in the air. The driveway was about
     fifteen or twenty feet away from  me  and it  was a 4x4 for sure, but I
couldn't  make out what type or how many were inside. All I  could see was a
massive ball of white light in the front, and a red one  at the rear, moving
slowly along the tree tunnel, followed by a cloud of diesel fumes.
     I  watched and listened as  the light died. They must  have reached the
top of  the  track,  because  I  heard revving  and the  transmission ratios
change, then the noise disappeared completely.
     Crawling  on  my hands  and knees to avoid the branches,  I made my way
back to my impact site,  stood up, put one foot forward and launched  myself
over  the bank  again.  My  right  shin connected painfully with the central
mound,  and the combination of stones and hard ice did  its work  on  me big
time. I lay on my back in  one of the ruts, holding my shin, rocking, taking
the pain and thinking of the money.
     After a minute of feeling sorry  for  myself, I got up and checked that
the snow on  the side  of the track was  still  untouched. My dive  had been
Olympic, but the pain  had been worth it. I  was covered from head to toe in
snow,  like  a  bad skier.  Brushing as  much of it  off me  as  I  could, I
readjusted my hat and  carried on down the track, walking the tightrope with
a bit of a hobble now.
     After  about a  half a mile, my  night vision  fully  returned. I  also
started to hear the low, continuous rumble of what sounded like a generator.
     What had  been concerning me most all along was, How many bayonets? How
many  were  going  to fight if I was compromised and couldn't  run  away? If
there were, say,  four people in  the house, two of  them  might be Tom-type
characters who'd  played  Quake for  years but had never held a gun, but the
other  two could be hoods  who had,  and  who'd  go for  it.  They  were the
bayonets, male or female. The term went back to the First World War, when it
wasn't the whole of an enemy battalion of 1,200 that you had to worry about,
it  was  the 800 fighting men.  The  remaining  400 cooks and bottle-washers
didn't matter. I didn't know  how  many I'd be up against,  and Liv couldn't
tell me. It was quite worrying. Getting to the house to discover there was a
Hoods '% Us convention going on in the front room would not  make for a good
day out.
     The track went gently downhill and I got closer  to the noise. It began
to sound quite substantial; if they were running lots of
     machinery  they  would need  more  juice  than  the  trickle  the local
substation would give them. To check if they were on the electrical supply I
tried to look above me for power lines, but it was too dark to see anything.
     The track began to curve.  As I rounded  a gentle  right-hand bend  the
ground started to open up on either side of me. The treeline here  wasn't so
close to the track. I could  see two dim  lights directly  ahead,  maybe one
hundred yards away.
     Now that I  was in line with the house the  rumble of the generator was
louder still,  channeled toward me  by the trees.  Cupping  my hand round my
wrist, I pressed the backlight on Baby G. It was just after 4:45.
     Edging forward, still in the rut,  I kept looking for places to dive if
the  vehicle came  back or there was some other kind of drama-such as coming
across the  Maliskia on the same sort of outing. I was a bit pissed this was
the only approach route available to me, but any other would leave sign.
     Every five or six paces I stopped, looked, and listened.
     The  trees  stopped  about fifteen feet  from a fence that I  could now
clearly see in  front of me, leaving an empty area running left and right of
the track, about two or three feet deep in snow. A large set of double gates
was directly ahead. Keeping in the rut, I moved up close. It was made of the
same  material as the fencing:  diamond shaped  latticework  pressed out  of
quarter-inch  steel sheeting; the sort  you'd  see in the  windows of liquor
stores or the protected kiosks of twenty-four-hour shops.
     A large chain fed through both gates and was secured with a heavy steel
high-security  padlock--a pain in  the ass  to decode  and do up  again;  it
wasn't the type that just snapped into position.
     As I lay along the rut, I could feel the hardness of the ice beneath me
and knew the cold would start attacking me long  before the  Maliskia did. I
wasn't worried about them at the moment, or the  players in the house.  Fuck
'em. At such short notice there was no other way to recce this place.
     The fence looked  about forty-five feet high, and was made up  of maybe
three sections of latticework, bolted together and supported by spaced steel
poles  about a foot in diameter. The house was beyond the fence, about forty
yards  away. There were no Christmas decorations in this one,  just the  two
lights. One came from a
     stained-glass panel that I thought was the top half of a door, set back
on a deck. The other was coming from a window further to the left.
     I couldn't  see that much detail,  but the house seemed quite large and
old. It had a chateau-style tower on the far right-hand side, with a Russian
onion-shaped dome that I could just see silhouetted against the night sky. I
remembered  Liv on the way  to Helsinki  saying that the Russians controlled
Finland until Lenin gave it independence in 1920.
     The old clashed dramatically with the modern:  To the left of the house
were five satellite dishes, massive  things at least ten feet across and set
into  the ground, looking  like something an American would have had  in his
yard in the early eighties, the sort that picked up 500 channels telling him
what the weather was like in Mongolia but  still couldn't give him the local
news. This was a proper little  Microsoft HQ. I could clearly see their dark
mesh dishes looking upward, each in  a different direction or elevation, and
they all looked  as if the snow had been dug away from the base and  scraped
off the dish.
     As I lay there, chin on forearms, taking  in as  much information about
the target as I could,  I saw why the bases  were  dug  out: All of a sudden
there was a high-pitched  whine that drowned out the noise of the generator,
and one of the dishes started to swivel. Maybe they were trying to catch the
Japanese repeats of Friends. Or maybe they were up and running already?
     It seemed a strange location for a setup  like this. Maybe these people
were as illegal as  Val?  I started to wonder, but soon gave myself  a  good
mental slapping.  Who cared? I was here for Kelly, to get  this job done and
paid for before the dollar exchange rate took another tumble.
     Getting back to the real world, it  seemed  that  concealment was their
biggest weapon.  The  lattice  fence  was as high tech as  they got  on  the
security  front,  apart from  the sterile area between it  and the treeline.
That not only stopped anyone climbing a tree to get in, but  also meant they
could look  out of their windows in  the morning  while cleaning their teeth
and see at once if people like me had been lurking about.
     I  lay  in the  rut, working  out  how to  get  in based  on the little
information I had. The numbing cold ate through my clothes and the snow that
had found its way  down my  neck when  I fell started to  attack my back. My
toes were beginning to freeze and my nose was
     running. I couldn't make any noise by clearing it into the snow, so had
to be content with wiping it on my icy-cold glove.
     There was a sound behind me. I  cocked my  head so  my  right  ear  was
pointing back toward the track. The vehicle was  returning. No time to think
about it, I just got  up  and ran back  to the nearest of my dive points. To
clear the  bank and the trees, which were slightly off the track, before the
headlights rounded the bend, I had to throw myself about three feet  up  and
five feet over, just to get near the treeline's branches. I went for it, not
quite  making the five feet  and hitting rock again. It probably hurt, but I
wouldn't  feel it until later;  adrenalin was doing  its job,  fighting  the
pain.
     Plowing through the snow, trying to get under the branches once more, I
listened as the wagon got closer. The vehicle noise suddenly increased as it
rounded the bend.
     I  swiveled  round on my  hands and  knees, slowly lifting my head, and
tried to get  into a  position  from where I could see  the track.  I didn't
bother to wipe the snow off my face in case the movement was detected.
     A moment  later  the  4x4 passed,  its  headlights sweeping  across the
gates, the rear lights turning the snow behind them bright red.
     My face was stinging, but now wasn't the time to deal with it. I needed
to take in  anything from what the occupants of  the 4x4 were going to do to
what  the front and rear lights revealed to me about the surroundings.  Fuck
the night vision now.
     The vehicle stopped just short  of the gate and the red glow brightened
as the brakes engaged and the engine idled.
     Pulling  two  branches  apart  with  my hands,  I  saw  the  right-hand
passenger door open and the interior light come on. It was two up two people
aboard and a very padded body climbed out  and  started  to move toward  the
gates.
     The clatter of  the chain was momentarily louder than the engine noise.
It was  left  dangling  as both  gates  were  pushed  inward,  creaking  and
rattling, just enough to let the vehicle pass.
     The wagon inched forward, its headlights revealing that the snow beyond
the  gates  and inside the target was full of ground  sign,  feet and tires.
Just as  importantly, no  alarms or trips  appeared to have been  turned off
before entry.
     The  headlights splashed across the house, and  without the fence in my
way I had a clear view. The building was faced with
     faded red or brown painted wooden slats and closed shutters on  all the
windows.  The  dim light  on  the left that I'd noticed earlier was escaping
from a few missing slats in one of the shutters.
     The  chain rattled  again, but I  wasn't paying much  attention to  the
gate-closer any  longer. It was more important that I saw what was being lit
up, looking rather than thinking: My  brain would absorb all the information
and I'd work out later what I had seen.
     I kept my eyes  on the  4x4's headlights as they swung to the  right. A
covered deck ran along the right half of the house.
     The gate loser came back into view as the 4x4 rolled to a stop parallel
with the deck railings. I could hear the rustling  of a nylon jacket and the
crunch of snow  boots  as  the  brake  lights went off  and the  engine  and
headlights died. I heard a man's voice  as the passenger shouted something I
couldn't understand to the driver as he was pushing open his vehicle door.
     My nose was stinging and dripping but I  couldn't risk  missing a thing
as the  interior light came  on  and the driver barked a reply. The gate man
carried on  past the  4x4 and onto the  deck  as the driver leaned into  the
passenger foot well and lifted out some flat boxes and a small bag. The pair
moved together, stamping their feet on the wooden floor of the deck to clear
them of snow.
     The driver opened the front door of the house with a key. Light spilled
out and I caught a brief  glimpse of  a hallway that looked invitingly  warm
and bright before they disappeared into the house.
     I stayed still, smearing the contents  of my nose slowly into my gloves
before  wiping  them on a tree branch, visualizing my entry first getting to
the  house, then into it.  After that I'd have  to play it by ear. I  didn't
even know  which room the computers  were in.  So what was new?  I seemed to
have spent  my  life breaking  into  houses, offices,  and  homes, stealing,
bugging,  and  planting  stuff  to  incriminate people, all  with hardly any
information, no backup  if  it went wrong and no recognition for  a job well
done. The best I ever got was a "What took you so long?"
     I had  to assume that the fifteen-foot sterile area  from  treeline  to
fence ran  all round  the house; even if I  could fight my  way through  the
trees and cover up any  tracks,  there  simply  wasn't enough time to check.
Fuck it, it was too cold anyway.
     Moving forward to my splash point,  I dived out again, this time taking
the hit on my knees. I recovered on my back in the wheel rut
     for  a while,  just long enough for my shoulder to  start reminding  me
that I'd taken  a fall  on some  rocks  on  the way in. So adrenalin  wasn't
entirely effective as a means of pain relief. When I'd got my breath back, I
rolled over and got up, keeping my eyes on target for that last look about.
     There was one  more thing to be done. Going back to the gate, I took my
glove off and very  quickly touched the metal  lattice,  then leaned over to
the left and did the same to the fence. Only then did I turn round and start
hobbling  back up the driveway, waiting for my knees to warm up  so  I could
stop walking like an old man.
     Once I'd rounded the bend, I pushed my left nostril closed  and cleared
my right, then changed sides. It felt a lot better.
     Twenty  minutes later  I was scraping ice  off  the  Saab's windshield.
Moments after that I was  heading back toward Helsinki, the  heater blasting
away ready to bust on hot hot hot.
     The  driveway to the lead  house  came into sight after just under four
and  a half hours.  I'd stopped at an unmanned gas station  on the way, just
two  pumps  and a pay machine  between them. It was in the middle of nowhere
and the bright white light burning down from the canopy made it  look like a
UFO landing site. You just  placed  your cash or  credit card  in  the slot,
selected fuel  type and off  you went. I  wondered how quickly it would have
been trashed and robbed if  this was the  U.K. I took the  rest of the drive
slowly, thinking things through, compiling a mental checklist of all the kit
I'd need to make entry.
     Pulling up outside  the  big glass  shutters, gagging for a coffee  and
something to eat, I realized  I  didn't have a key. There was nothing to  do
but hit  the  horn. A few seconds later a  light came on and Liv appeared at
the door. Thunderbird 3's hangar door opened and I drove in. Before I'd even
switched  the engine off she  was making a  drinking sign. I nodded and gave
her  a thumbs up, and she went back upstairs. By  the time  I joined her she
was in the kitchen and I could smell coffee.
     "So, Nick,"  she called out as I closed the stairway door, "will you be
able to get in?"
     "No problem. Where's Tom?"
     "He's working." She came round the kitchen door, indicating
     the other  side of the  house with  a tilt of  her  head.  "He's broken
through  the firewall, as I  hoped." She said it without any excitement, and
noticed my  surprise. "You still have to get Tom  into the house, Nick. Sit,
I'll get the coffee."
     I did, taking off  my  jacket  and checking Baby G. It was just  before
midnight. I'd see Tom later; there  were more important things  to  be dealt
with first. I called out, "You'll need a pen and some paper."
     She came  back in  with the  coffee tray and  writing  materials, still
dressed in jeans and a sweater. She sat on the sofa opposite mine and poured
two mugs.
     I  picked one  up.  Black would do fine; what I needed  was an  instant
wakeup  after hours  of car heating. "I'll  run through  a list of equipment
with you," I said between sips. "I'm going to need quite a lot of stuff."
     She  picked  up  the  pen  and pad and  wrote as  I  dictated. She  was
surprised by my request for six-inch nails 150mm once she had converted them
plus a three-foot length of 2x4 wood, which became a one-meter length of 100
x 50mm.
     "Why do you need this, Nick? Aren't  lock picks and electronic gadgetry
more the sort of thing?"
     "Can you get me some?"
     She smiled and shook her head.
     "That's why I want  the electric toothbrush. Don't worry, I'll show you
what it's for tomorrow. I'll also need the weather forecast, by the way, for
a twenty-four-hour period starting at 9 A.M."
     I  liked not telling her what these  things were  for.  At last she was
entering my world, things I  knew about. There was one last item. "I'd  also
like a weapon a pistol, preferably silenced or suppressed."
     She looked genuinely taken aback. "Why?"
     I thought it was obvious.  "Better to  have it and not need it than the
other way round."
     "Have you any idea of the weapons laws in this country?"
     I  reminded her  what  my  Russian friends and  I had been doing to her
Russian friends only a week earlier at the Intercontinental.
     It  didn't work. "I'm sorry, Nick, I wouldn't  get you  one  even  if I
could.  I have  nothing to do with  that  sort of  thing. Besides, you  were
employed precisely because Valentin wanted finesse."
     The last time I'd gone on a job unarmed I'd ended up shot.
     After that I  promised myself I'd always carry,  even if  I  thought  I
didn't  need to.  I wanted to tell  her it wasn't just  finesse that got Val
into the trunk of the Volvo, but I could see by the look on her face that it
was  pointless.  It was strange,  ROC probably had  more  weapons  than  the
British Army. I thought  about asking if  her guy  from St. Petersburg could
get me  one, but decided against it: It's  always best to keep an ace or two
up your sleeve.
     She stood  up.  "I'm  going to bed now, Nick. Please,  help yourself to
food. I should be back by ten thirty tomorrow with your list."
     I was beginning  to feel hungry and headed for the kitchen. Digging out
cans of tuna and sweet corn from a cupboard, I emptied them into a  bowl and
went in  search  of  Tom as I  mixed it  up  with a fork and got  it down my
throat.
     He was sitting at the Think Pad his head in his hands.
     He didn't look up as I came in.
     "All right?"
     "Yeah, all right." There was a blocked-up nasal sound to his reply. All
was not well at Camp Tom.
     "Seriously, you okay?"
     I wanted  to sound surprised at finding him  so down, but I could guess
at the reason. Being so near the witching hour, reality was grabbing  him by
the throat.
     "I'm  really worried, Nick. You know, I...  I..." There was a  big sigh
from him, and I knew he was trying  to get out what he really wanted to say.
"I want to get home, Nick. I don't wanna do it, mate. No way am I going back
inside .. ."
     He  didn't want  to  go  back home;  he  just  wanted  reassurance that
everything would  be fine. I'd  seen it plenty of times, men on jobs  asking
for  one thing but really needing another,  especially  when they're scared.
It's not a  bad thing; fear is natural, and the secret is understanding that
it's normal. Only then can you do the abnormal.
     "Tom, I told you, this won't  get you put away. No way would I be doing
anything that would get me within a thousand  miles  of a  prison. I've done
some, too, you know."
     He looked up at me  with tears  in his  eyes. "I don't  wanna  go back,
Nick.  There  were  some hard  boys  in there, know what  I mean?" His mouth
quivered. "I couldn't hack it, mate."
     I knew then exactly what he was crying about. Tom might play at
     being Jack the  Lad,  but behind  bars he'd been fair game for the boys
locked up for a long stretch.
     I thought about my time in reform school and how much I'd hated it.  If
the  wing daddies weren't  fighting each other, they were keeping a  grip on
their little empires and  just generally  fucking up the lives  of those who
were within  reach. The  only  way I'd survived, being, like Tom, one of the
youngest, had been to act  mad. That way the older ones, being locked up and
confused about their sexuality, thought I  was just a weirdo and left  me to
it. Because, who knew, I might try and kill them if they touched me.
     I  didn't  see Tom being able to  act that weird  and get away with not
being  made someone's special friend. I nodded and  felt genuinely sorry for
him. "Don't worry, mate. All that's finished with, I guarantee it, Tom."
     He  sniffed  and  wiped  his   nose,  embarrassed  at  his  display  of
vulnerability.
     "Best bet is to go  take a shower and get some shut-eye. We have a busy
night tomorrow."
     I tapped  his shoulder playfully, leaving him to sort himself  out.  He
didn't need me there to embarrass him even  more by  seeing  him like  this.
Besides, he was coming with me tomorrow night whether he liked it or not. As
I headed back to my room I thought that, in  addition to  nails and lumps of
2x4, Liv had  better get Tom a brave  or stupid pill, depending on which way
you looked at it.
     I started to undress and listened as  Tom walked past my door, going in
the direction of the living area, probably in search of  a glass of water to
replace all the liquid leaking down his face.
     In the shower I checked out  the nice  knee, shin, and back bruises I'd
got from my snow jumping and went to bed. I was beat, but thoughts about the
job kept  me  awake, going over  making entry and  actions-on if there was a
fuckup.
     I must have been lying there for an hour, listening  to the hum of  the
air-conditioning, when Tom shuffled past once more  toward the living  area.
He would probably be like this all night now, but he'd live. If he was still
wobbly in the  morning I'd remind him  again about  how much money he'd soon
have in his pocket. More than  enough to get away from that scrubby flat and
Janice. I'd already
     decided that I would  give  him the full  $300,000. Why not? I wouldn't
have got this far without him.
     Another half-hour hummed by. I was still thinking about tomorrow night,
mentally checking  that  Liv's  shopping  list was complete, when I realized
that Torn hadn't come back.
     Yawning, I put on my jeans  and shirt and wandered off to have a coffee
with him, maybe talk him round a bit more.
     The lights were still on in the living area, but  there was no  sign of
Tom. I checked  the kitchen. He  must have gone back and I hadn't heard him.
As I turned,  I noticed that the door leading to Liv's side of the house was
open, and I knew that she'd closed it behind her.
     Crossing  the living  area, I started to saunter down  her hallway. The
door layout was  the same  as  our  side, so  she'd  be in  one  of  the two
bedrooms. It  wasn't hard to tell which.  There  was noise  coming  from the
first  door on the left.  I didn't know who was doing what  to whom, but the
grunts and moans were unmistakably theirs.
     I turned back up the hall,  leaving them  to  it, realizing, yet again,
that I didn't have a clue when it came to women.

     Tuesday. December 14,1999
     By the  time  I  got up Tom was  showered and dressed, hair still  wet,
sitting  on the  sofa  drinking  milk.  He  was  certainly cheerful  enough.
"Morning,  Nick. Coffee's  in the pot. Liv has gone to  get your stuff. Said
she'll be back about tenish."
     I went into the kitchen, poured some coffee and checked out the food. I
was dying to  ask him about last  night,  but decided to wait  and see if he
said anything first. I didn't want to sound like a dickhead, and things were
getting very weird. First Liv and her friend at the station, and now this. I
wondered if she'd been fucking Tom for years, but  immediately dismissed the
thought.  Once you'd had a taste of Liv, you  wouldn't decide to settle down
with Janice, and why bother to get me to do the job of recruiting him in the
first place?
     Fixing myself a plate of crackers, cheese, and  cherry jam, I dumped it
all on a tray and went and sat opposite him. I put on my concerned  face and
asked,  "How  do  you  feel  this morning,  mate?  Still  want  to quit?"  I
concentrated hard on spreading my jam
     "I'm  sorry  about last night,  Nick. I was just worried,  you know." I
nodded. "These things  happen to everyone at some time or other. Anyway, you
look a lot better this morning." I gave him a  grin. "There's nothing like a
good night's sleep."
     He avoided the  subject. "It is going to be okay, Nick, isn't it?"  "Of
course. I had a really good look at the house last night. It's
     just a big old mansion in the woods, trying to look like  Microsoft HQ.
No drama. Next stop, the bank--that's the beauty of it."
     I  got  back to my  cracker, relieved  that I didn't  have  to  deliver
another mammoth pep talk.
     He  grinned back. "Nice one,  mate. Nice one." His head  had gone  back
into jerky chicken mode.
     I  took a mouthful  of coffee. "Yep, it's  good we both got some sleep.
We'll certainly be beat tomorrow morning."
     He sipped his milk, trying to hide his face in his mug.
     I couldn't resist any longer. "I heard you, you know."
     He turned bright red. "What? What are you on about?"
     "Hey, listen, good luck, mate, but keep  the noise down in future, will
you? Some of us old fuckers can't take too much excitement."
     He laughed nervously, embarrassed, but at the same time rather proud. I
couldn't blame him.
     "What's the secret, Tom? I mean, no disrespect to Miss Nordic Myth, but
warm and wonderful she isn't. Have you met in a past life?"
     He shifted in his seat as  embarrassment took  over. "Nah,  mate. Never
met the girl before. But, you know, I was out here getting a drink  when she
came out. She saw I was worried, and we got talking and that.. . you know."
     I didn't, that was the problem. One minute  he's  asking me if I  trust
her, a minute later he's  making the earth move for her.  Well, probably the
other way round.  I gave myself another mental slap. Fuck it, I  didn't care
what was going on. I realized, with a shock, that I was jealous. I needed to
sort my shit  out,  concentrate on making money and leave anything else that
was going on well alone.
     I got up, leaned over and  tapped  him on the shoulder. "Just make sure
you've got those daps of yours for tonight."
     "Daps?"
     "Gym shoes, whatever  you call  them. Make sure they're clean and  dry.
Don't wear them today, just keep your new boots on, all right?"
     With that I picked up my mug and left.
     Freshly showered,  I  lay  on my bed  and  visualized once again making
entry on target. I always found it easy to run the film in my head, as if my
eyes were the camera lens and my ears the recording equipment  I listened to
what the  snow sounded like  as we walked to the deck, then the creak of the
wooden decking, working out how I would deal with it, attacking the  lock on
the door and then  moving Tom around the  house until we found what  we were
looking  for. I replayed  the footage  three or four times, from leaving the
car to returning  to it; then I started to  edit it with different versions:
What if Tom and I were on the deck and the  door opened?  What if there were
dogs in the compound? What if we were compromised in the house?
     I  played  the different versions  and stopped the film  at the  crisis
points, thought about  what I should do and then hit Replay, trying to  come
up with  answers.  It wouldn't  go  exactly to script, it never did. On  the
ground, every situation would be different.  But  the  film was  a  starting
point; it meant I had a plan. From there, if the shit  hit the fan, it would
be a  matter of  adapting the  plan in  the one or two seconds available, so
that I could react to whatever the  threat  was  instead  of  standing there
feeling sorry for myself.
     I'd  been in my  room for about two hours when there was a knock on the
door.
     "Nick?"
     Tom poked his head round the corner.
     "Liv's  back. You won't tell her you know, will you? It's  just that...
well, you know."
     I got off my bed and walked out with him, using my forefinger and thumb
to mime zipping up my lips.
     She was in the living room, dropping her hat  and black leather coat on
the sofa. There  was no  exchange of eye contact between them  and her whole
manner announced there was no time for small talk.
     "Good  morning," she said briskly. "It's  been confirmed:  They're  now
online."
     She  must  have  been  to meet her St. Petersburg  friend as  well this
morning.
     "Could you two give me assistance? There are quite a few bags."
     We followed her downstairs, where  the first thing she  passed me was a
sheet of  paper with the  weather forecast  printed out in Finnish. "It says
there  is a possibility of snow showers in the early  morning.  That is good
for you, no?"
     Tom was busy opening the rear door of the Mere.
     "What do they mean by early morning?"
     She shrugged her shoulders.  "I asked the same question. I'm afraid  no
one could tell me exactly. Anything between two and ten."
     I handed it back to her  and walked to the rear of the 4x4, not letting
Tom see my concern. This was bad. Snow is  good for hiding sign, but bad for
making it.  We had to get  in and out as quickly  as possible, otherwise the
only footprints left on  the ground at first light  would be our fresh ones,
not mixed  in  with the others I'd seen in the compound  last night. Unless,
that  was, the shower kept falling for long  enough to cover our tracks once
we had left. This wasn't good at all; you just don't take that sort  of risk
if a job  has to  remain covert. But a deadline  is a deadline, and I had no
choice but to go in regardless.
     I was  stressing and hoped that God  hadn't really been listening to me
in  Tom's apartment, just waiting to get  his own back by stopping the  snow
the moment we got into the house.
     Tom picked up a set of eighteen-inch  bolt  cutters from  the back seat
and held them out with a quizzical expression on his face.
     I  had lifted the tailgate and was holding an armful of bags and boxes.
"Just a bit of standby kit we  might need tonight, mate. Come on, let's give
her a hand."
     Tom followed me upstairs, the bolt cutters under  his arm and his fists
full of shopping-bag handles. He dumped it all next to the stuff I'd carried
up on the wooden floor outside  the kitchen and was soon  sniffing around in
the bags like a child on the hunt for sweets. Liv was close behind.
     It  was  time  to  put  the work  disk into  my hard drive again. "It's
pointless  you  two hanging  around," I said. "Give me a couple of  hours to
sort  myself  out here, and after that I'll  explain why I needed  all  this
stuff. Make sure those daps are clean, Tom. No mud that could  flake off, or
grit in the soles, okay?"
     He nodded.
     Liv looked at him, puzzled. "Daps?"
     "The canvas shoes I've been wearing." He  had already put his new boots
on.
     She nodded,  mouthing the new word to herself as she logged  it  in her
memory  bank  and left  in  the direction of her  room.  "I'll see you  both
later."
     Tom was looking at me as she disappeared down the hall and
     the door closed. I knew what  was going  on in his  head. "Don't worry,
mate, not a word."
     He smiled, relieved. "Thanks, 'cus, well, you know."" He waved to me as
he walked toward our side of the house.
     "Tom, is there anything you need me to do for you?"
     "No thanks,  mate," he said with a sudden twinkle.  "Liv's already done
it."
     He stopped, turned, and  tapped his  forehead  with  his index  finger.
"Nah, seriously, everything I need is up here. Do you want me to run through
it?"
     "No point. I'll just concentrate on  getting  us  in and out  of there.
What are you looking for, anyway?"
     He grinned. "I won't know until I see it."
     He  disappeared  and  I emptied  the shopping  bags and boxes  onto the
floor. I sorted the clothing first, as it  was the easiest to  check.  Shiny
nylon down jackets were  not  what we  needed at  a time like this; all  the
stuff I'd  asked Liv  for was made of wool and thick cotton. We  had to have
clothes that weren't going to rustle, and they had to be dark and completely
nonreflective  no shiny buttons or safety tape. I cut out any Velcro holding
pockets or flaps with my Leatherman:  Velcro makes quite a noise when pulled
apart,  and  I  couldn't afford for  that  to  happen  on  target.  Anything
dangling, like  draw cords  I also removed.  Once  in the house, I  couldn't
afford  for something to get caught and be dragged  onto the floor. All this
might sound over the top, but people have been  killed for less. I'd learned
by others' mistakes, and I'd never forget seeing a mate of mine hanging from
the top of  a fence in  Angola  by the nylon cord  in his combat  smock.  He
didn't have anything to  cut himself  free with and had  to  watch as guards
came, stopped to take aim just feet away, and put at least fifty rounds into
him.
     Liv had chosen some good woolen outer gloves for us, as well as a  pair
of  thin  cotton  contact gloves, so I could manipulate  the  door  lock  or
whatever without my  bare  hands freezing  onto  the metal. There was also a
pair of sneakers  for me to wear,  from which I  cut out the reflective heel
piece. I hadn't ordered any for Tom; he had his daps. We would put  them  on
just  before entering the  house. Heavy-soled boots make  noise and drag  in
snow, leaving sign. The outside world needs to stay out there.
     I found the bag of six-inch nails, some lengths of one-inch thick
     nylon webbing and a handful of  metal  washers. The length of wood  was
exactly  as specified.  I couldn't help laughing to myself at the thought of
Liv  in  a  hardware store.  She probably hadn't  even  known  these  places
existed.
     There was a neat little hacksaw in a cardboard and plastic  shrinkwrap.
I ripped it out of  its packaging and used it  to cut half a  dozen six-inch
lengths of wood.
     Liv  had  done her  work well; the washers went over the six-inch nails
and were  stopped by the nail head.  I slipped  two washers over each, since
they would be taking quite a strain.
     Fifteen minutes later, I  had six fist-sized lumps of wood, each with a
nail hammered through. The nail had then been bent into an acute angle about
halfway along with pliers, so the whole  thing  looked a bit like a docker's
hook. The exposed  metal  of  the  nail, apart from the bit at  the bend and
about half a centimeter either side of it, had then been covered with rubber
bands to eliminate noise  when they were used. Tom  and I would use one hook
in each hand and carry one each as a spare.
     The dark-green two-inch webbing was  meant for strapping skis to a roof
rack. I cut four six-foot lengths of it, knotting together the ends  of each
so that I ended up with  four loops. These I put to one side with the hooks,
away from the chaos around me. The climbing kit was ready.
     Liv  had  been right:  The old  ways sometimes  are  the best, and this
method took  a lot of beating. It was  a little gem  from  the files of MI9,
created during World War Two when they were asked to  think up new ideas and
design  equipment  so that POWs  could  escape from their  camps and  travel
through occupied Europe to safety. They came up with  silk maps,  sandwiched
between the thin  layers  of a playing  card and sent in Red Cross  parcels.
They  even  changed  the  design  of  R.A.F  uniforms to  make  them  easily
convertible into  civilian  clothes. This hook-and-loop device, easy to make
and easy to use,  was just  one of the many  ideas they'd come  up  with for
scaling  POW camp  fences. It had worked for  them; I hoped it  was going to
work for us.
     Next I  unwrapped  the Polaroid  camera and four  packs of film. Once a
film  was  inserted, I  took  a quick test shot  of my foot. The camera  was
working fine.  I stripped the other  three  films  of  their  wrapping. Each
cartridge of film contained its own battery power
     source,  but  batteries  tend to  get sluggish  in  cold weather, and I
couldn't  afford for  that to happen. To keep them warm I'd make sure I kept
them close to my body.
     Once we'd put on our sneakers and I'd made entry, I would take pictures
of  wherever we  were  on  target, camera noise and  flash  permitting. On a
covert operation, everything has to  be left exactly as you  find it. People
notice straightaway  when something  is not precisely where it should be. It
could  be something obvious, like a  folded rug that has suddenly  been laid
flat, but more  often it's something almost indefinable that compromises the
job; they just feel instinctively that something is  wrong. Maybe their  pen
isn't in the position they  always leave it,  even  by as little as  half an
inch;  or the morning sunlight isn't shining  through the blinds exactly how
it  normally  does,  lighting  up half  the  desk; or  some  dust  has  been
disturbed.   We  might   not  consciously  notice  these   things,  but  our
subconscious does; it takes in  every detail and tries to tell us. We aren't
always clever enough to understand, but we feel that something  isn't right.
A  switched-on  target  will  know  that  even  an out-of-place  paper  clip
constitutes a drama, and will take whatever action he feels is called for.
     The fact that people would be on target gave this job  a high chance of
compromise, but  I couldn't let it  affect the way I thought  about  what  I
needed to do, just the way I planned it. I'd been successful on similar jobs
in the past, so why should this one be any different?
     Thinking  about  making  entry reminded  me to  charge  up the electric
toothbrush. I went into my bathroom and plugged it into the outlet.
     Back in  the living  room, I picked up  the  set of Alien keys. A large
metal  ring held  about twenty of the things,  in order of size. I chose the
smallest one and eased it off the ring.
     The  room was beginning to look like Santa's  workshop,  with  sawdust,
ripped packaging, plastic  bags, clothes  tags, and me sitting in the middle
of it all.
     The Alien key  had a  right-angle bend about half an inch from the end.
With  the pliers and hammer  I straightened it out until the  angle was more
like  forty-five degrees  than ninety,  being careful  not to snap the  soft
steel.  Then, having ripped the metal file from its shrinkwrap, I started to
round off the end of the shorter section. It
     only took about  ten  minutes.  Going downstairs  to  the main door,  I
slipped it into the cylinder lock to check. It fitted perfectly.
     Back  in  Santa's workshop I opened the pack of Isopon and mixed  equal
amounts of resin  and hardener from  both tubes on a  piece  of cardboard. I
took it and the Alien key back to the bathroom. Not  many  minutes later the
key was fixed  firmly to the  oscillating steel shaft of the toothbrush, the
bit the brush head would normally fit onto. When I'd watched the door of the
target house being kicked closed, no keys had  been turned, it had just been
shut and left, which suggested that the  lock was a Yale-type cylinder. This
gadget should do the trick.
     Bringing back two white hand towels I sat on  the floor  and started to
file another Alien key the same way. What I had made with the toothbrush and
first Alien key  was  a makeshift Yale gun, a device that simulates a key by
manipulating the pins inside a lock. The oscillation of the toothbrush shaft
would move  the  Alien key tip up and down  strongly onto the pins. With any
luck it would displace them long enough for  the  lock to be opened. If not,
it  would be  down  to  the  old way.  Still using  the  Alien  key  on  the
toothbrush, but with no oscillation this time, I  would have to  push up one
pin at a time, then hold it there while I attacked the next one in line. For
this a  second Alien key was needed, and that  was  what  I was  busy filing
down. Once I had attacked the second pin I would simply move the other Alien
key along, so  that  it  held both  pins up, then  keep  on going  until, in
theory, I could open the door that was if it wasn't bolted on the inside, of
course. Which it probably would be if they had even one brain cell allocated
to security.
     It took me another hour to finish preparing the kit and packing it into
a medium-sized  dark-blue backpack. Everything was wrapped in my  nice white
towels, so as not to make any noise, or get smashed by the bolt cutters, the
handles of which were sticking out each side of the top flap.
     Tom wouldn't be needing a backpack. The only kit he'd have with him was
the Think Pad and cables in their carry bag.
     Liv emerged from her hallway. By now the jumper was off, and she was in
her tight jeans and a white T-shirt no bra. That would have been interesting
a  couple  of  nights  ago, but  now  I was  getting on  with  the job.  The
circumstances had changed.
     She surveyed the mess as coolly as ever. "Having fun?"
     I nodded. "Want to get Tom in to see what toys I've made for him?"
     She walked past me  to the main room and I got to my feet.  I was still
brushing off sawdust when they both reappeared.
     Tom laughed. "Tell you what, mate. Lego would have been easier!"
     I smiled  my yes-very-funny smile. "Tom, I'm going to  show you how  to
use this stuff." I pointed at the hooks and straps by the sofa.
     Tom watched Liv disappear into the kitchen.
     "There's your clothes,  mate. You're  going to need a bit more on  than
you bought yesterday."
     He picked up  the contact gloves and tried  them on. "Hey,  Nick,  I'll
wear my silk stuff underneath and be a bit kinky, eh?"
     I smiled.  As far  as I was concerned silk thermals were  about as much
use as paper lifejackets. Mr. Helly Hansen's stuff was the one for me.
     He pointed  down at the hooks and  straps. "Go on  then, what are  they
for?"
     When I explained, he looked  a bit taken aback. "We'll  be like fucking
Spiderman, or what?" His head jutted, but not as confidently as normal.
     "You  sure  you'll be  all  right  doing this,  Tom? Have  you  climbed
before?"
     "Sure I  have."  He  thought about that  for  a  second.  "Can I have a
practice?"
     " "Fraid not, mate. There isn't anywhere."
     He picked up  one of  the hooks and twanged a rubber band. "Is this the
only way, Nick? I mean "
     "Listen,  this  is  the  only thing you've  got  to  do  for  yourself.
Everything else I'll do for you." I broke into a whisper, as if we were in a
conspiracy that I  didn't want Liv to join. "Remember, we're in for a lot of
money here."
     He seemed to spark up a bit and I felt quite proud of my little speech.
     The  coffee arrived well,  for Liv and  me. The string of one of  Tom's
newly purchased herbal  tea bags was hanging  over the rim of the third mug.
We sat down, Tom at my side.
     "Okay," I said, "what I want  to do now  is  explain  exactly how we're
going to get into,  and out of, this place with your" I looked at Liv as she
pulled her feet up onto the sofa "box of tricks."
     There was no need to set out the various phases military style, as if I
was briefing  an orders group, running through all  the  actions-on for each
phase.  It  would be  counterproductive:  I didn't  want Tom to have so much
stuff floating around in his head that I ended up confusing him.  If  he got
muddled he might get even more scared. He didn't have to know why, just how.
     I unfolded the  map and pointed at the key locations with a  pen. "This
is where we're going  to park. Then we're going to walk down here." I ran my
pen down the marked track  as he took small, sharp sips of his tea. "Once we
get to the area of the house, we climb the fence using the hooks and straps.
Then I'll get us into the house and you can do your  stuff. After that, it's
out of there the same  way. I'll tell you exactly what to do  and when to do
it.  If you see or hear anything different,  or there's a  drama, stop doing
whatever it is you're up to and stay exactly where you are. I'll be there to
tell you what to do. Okay?"
     "Okay."
     "I want to leave  dead on nine, so you need to be ready fifteen minutes
before. If the weather's good, we'll be in Helsinki before first light. Then
we'll organize the exchange."
     This time they both nodded.
     "Okay, now  I'm going to get something to eat and  then crash out for a
couple of hours, and I suggest you do the same."
     I was going to treat him like an  ET  (escort  to target),  telling him
only what he needed to know,  and if there was a drama, all he had to do was
stand still, I would be there  to take action  and tell  him what to do. The
less the person you're looking after has to think about, the better.
     I  stood up  and nodded  a see-you-later  to them both as I went to the
kitchen for some of the cheese and cold cuts in the fridge. Tom left for his
room.
     As well as  not  telling Tom  too much  to save confusing him,  I  also
didn't want to scare him by  suggesting anything about dramas, let alone the
problems we  were  likely to have  with  the snow. Once people  get negative
thoughts into  their heads  their imaginations go into hyper drive  and they
start to  panic. Every  noise or shadow  becomes a major event, which  slows
down the job and also increases the chance of a compromise. Tom already knew
what to do if we got split up, without realizing it: get himself to Helsinki
train  station. He  had  enough money in that bag to charter a  private  jet
home.
     I started to pull the fridge to bits,  throwing all sorts onto a plate.
I'd  have loved to  have left right away and  be  on target  before it had a
chance to snow, but what was the point, we couldn't get in until people were
asleep. I knew better than to worry any more about the job; it only gets you
all keyed up, too keen to get on with it, then you hit the target before the
time is right and fuck up.
     I headed for my bedroom with the food, picking at it as I went. Liv had
gone. Once on my bed,  I started visualizing again exactly what I was  going
to do, with some more what-ifs, except that now in my film it had started to
snow.
     There was a knock on the door. I  looked at  Baby G. I  must have  been
asleep for three hours.
     The door  opened  and Tom appeared,  his long  hair  dangling over  his
shoulders. "Got a minute, mate?"
     "Sure, come in." As if I was going anywhere.
     He came and sat on the  bed, looking down  and  chewing his bottom lip.
"I'm  worried  about this  hook thing. Look, to tell  you the truth, I ain't
never done anything like that before, know what I mean? What  happens  if  I
can't do it? You know ... if I get it all wrong?"
     I sat up. His shoulders were  hunched and  his  hair covered his  face.
"Tom,  no drama. Don't worry about it; it's all in  the  legs." I stood  up.
"This is how easy it is."  Putting  my hands above my head, I bent  my knees
and slowly lowered myself  all my ass was level with the floor, then  lifted
up again. "Not exactly difficult, is it? Can you do that?"
     He nodded. "S'pose so."
     "Come on, let's see you, then."
     As he lowered himself toward the floor, knees cracking and creaking, he
looked and sounded very uncertain, but he managed to do it.
     I gave an encouraging  smile. "That's all you need  to do. If your legs
can do  that later on, we're  home free.  But remember, small  movements. No
more than a foot at a time, okay?"
     "Small movements. Gotcha." He didn't look convinced.
     "Just do what I do. Like I said, no drama."
     "You sure?"
     "Positive."
     He bit his lip again. "I don't want to mess things up ... you know, get
caught or whatever. You know, what we talked about last night."
     "You won't. Fucking hell, kids do this for fun. I used to do it when  I
was a kid, trying to skip school." The school I was talking about was reform
school,  and I only wished I'd known this little trick  at the time. I would
have been out of that shithole lickety-split.  "Tom,  relax. Have a bath, do
anything  you want. Try your clothes on. Just don't worry about it. The only
time to worry is when I look worried, okay?"
     He hesitated in the doorway. I waited for him to  speak, but he changed
his mind and turned to go.
     "And hey, Tom?"
     His body stayed facing out and he just turned his head. "Yep?"
     "Don't have anything to eat when you get up, mate. I'll explain later."
     He nodded, and left with  a  nervous laugh as he closed the door behind
him.
     I stretched out  on the bed and went back  to visualizing each phase of
the job. I  wasn't happy about the prospect of snow and I wasn't happy about
not  having a weapon. The  vegetable knife  I'd used  to cut the cheese with
wasn't much of a substitute.

     I got  up groggily just after eight and  took a shower. I  hadn't slept
since Tom's  visit,  but because I'd been trying so  hard I now  wanted  to.
Dragging  myself to  the  kitchen  for  a  coffee, I  found Liv  and  Tom in
bathrobes sitting on the sofa with mugs in  hand. They both  looked as tired
as I  felt, and  we exchanged only mumbled  greetings.  I still had one more
thing  to do  with the  kit before I  double-checked the lot, so I  took  my
coffee with me to my room and got dressed properly.
     At just before nine o'clock I took everything down to  the car. Tom was
on parade, showered, and dressed. Liv  didn't  follow  us down; she would be
emptying the house tonight and was probably already busy getting it sterile.
She'd take our bags with her, handing them back with the money in them.
     Tom and  I  faced each other as I checked him out, first his pockets to
make sure the  only stuff in them was the equipment he  needed:  daps, spare
hook, nylon  loop, and  money. He didn't need 100 marks  in change  rattling
around in his pockets, just the paper money in a plastic bag tucked into his
boot to get food and transportation  if  he was  in the shit. Most important
was  the Think  Pad and cables, jammed into the nylon carry bag hanging over
his shoulder but under his coat. I didn't want the  battery getting too cold
and slow  on target. I then had  to  make  sure that  none  of it fell  out,
especially his spare hook.
     I got  him  to jump  up and down.  There were no noises and  everything
stayed in place in his large, padded blue-check coat. Finally I made sure he
had his gloves and hat. "All right, mate?"
     "No drama." He sounded convincing.
     I put  the  backpack on  over my coat. We looked  like  Tweedledum  and
Tweedledee. "Okay, you check me now."
     "Why?"
     "Because I might have fucked up. Go on."
     He  checked me  over  from the front first, then I turned  so he  could
check the backpack was securely fastened. Everything was fine until I jumped
up and down.  There was a noise coming from the pocket my spare hook was in.
Tom looked almost embarrassed as he reached in and brought out the two nails
that had been raiding around.
     "These  things  happen,"  I  said.  "That's  why everyone  needs  to be
checked. Thanks, mate."
     He  was  very  pleased  with himself.  It's  amazing what  a  couple of
well-placed nails can  do to boost  someone's confidence  and make them feel
they're contributing to things.
     Tom and I  got into the  car and wheels turned just after nine o'clock.
Liv hadn't made an appearance to say goodbye.
     He was pretty  quiet for the first twenty minutes  or so. As I drove, I
talked him  through  each phase again, from stopping the  car  when  we  got
there, to entering the house and  finding what we  were  looking for,  to me
turning the  ignition back  on  once  I  had the Think  Pad securely  in  my
possession.  I  concentrated   on  being  relentlessly  positive,  not  even
beginning to suggest that things could go wrong.
     We got  to the drop-off  point  after  three and a half  hours, with me
stressing  every time I'd had to turn the wipers on to clear  the windshield
of shit thrown up by cars in front, thinking that the snowfall had started.
     Once in the firebreak near the target I killed  the lights, but I  left
th e engine running as I looked over at my passenger. "You all right, Tom?"
     When we'd done the  drive-past a couple of minutes  earlier I'd pointed
out the driveway we were going to go down. He took  a deep breath. "Ready to
roll, mate. Ready to rock 'n' roll." I could sense his apprehension.
     "Right  then,  let's do  it." I got out of  the  car,  closing the door
gently onto the first click,  just enough for the  interior light to go out.
Then I unzipped my fly.
     Tom was on the other side of the car doing the same, exactly as
     I'd told him. I  could only manage  a  little dribble as I checked  the
skies  for even the slightest sign of snow. I couldn't see  a  thing in  the
darkness, of course, but somehow it made me feel better.
     I got  the  backpack and my coat out of the car and rested them against
one of  the  wheels. It was bitterly  cold and the wind was getting up, each
gust biting at the flesh of my  face. At least we  should be out of it as we
moved  down  the  driveway, protected  by the  forest, and  the noise of the
swaying treetops  would help cover any sound we  made. The bad news was that
the same wind would be bringing the snow.
     I put my coat on and watched Tom do the same as the backpack went on my
back. So  far  so good. He even remembered to close his door slowly to  keep
the noise down.
     After  fully closing mine,  I pressed the key chain. The lights flashed
as I  walked round to Tom and  made sure he  watched me as I placed the  key
behind the front  wheel, covering it with  snow.  Getting back up, I went to
his  exposed ear  and whispered, "Remember, no flaps." I wanted  him to keep
his ears  exposed  two sets were better than one, and I still  wanted him to
think I needed his help, though I wasn't holding my breath on that one.
     He nodded as our vapor clouds billowed together in front of us.
     "We're going to have to keep quiet  now." I had to force myself to keep
my mouth against his ear. This boy  needed to do something about his earwax.
"Remember, if you want me, don't call, just  touch me, then whisper right in
my ear. Okay on that?"
     "Got it."
     "Do you remember what to do if a vehicle comes?"
     "Yeah, yeah, make  like Superman."  His shoulders heaved up and down as
he tried to suppress a nervous laugh.
     "Okay, mate, ready?"
     He nodded and I clapped him on  the shoulder. "Right, let's go then." I
felt like an old sweat in the First World War trying to coax a young bayonet
over the top.
     I set off slowly,  my ears  exposed to the night, with Tom two or three
paces behind. When  we  were about fifteen feet  down  the driveway  I had a
check of Baby G. It was just before a quarter to one;  hopefully Friends was
crap tonight and they'd gone to bed.
     We  were going down the  gentle  incline,  coming toward the bend  that
would take us into line of sight of the house, when I
     stopped, and  so did  Tom, just as he'd been told  to. If I stopped, he
stopped; if I then lay down, so must he.
     Moving back to him, I put  my mouth to  his ear. "Can you hear that?" I
backed my head away so he could listen.
     He nodded.
     "Generator. We're nearly there, mate. Need another piss?"
     He  shook  his  head  and  I  slapped  him  on  the  head  in  my  best
what-good-fun-this-is sort of way and started to walk on.
     Keeping in the left-hand tire rut, the compacted snow solid beneath our
feet, we  slowly rounded the  bend. All I could hear was the wind high above
us, whipping the tops of the pines;  the sound of Tom moving behind, and the
generator, its throbbing getting louder as we  closed in. I looked up at the
sky.  Fuck it,  it  didn't matter if it snowed now  or  not;  I  was totally
focused on doing the job. Even my nose and ears didn't feel  as cold as they
had last night. There was nothing I could do about the weather and nothing I
could do about the conditions  of the contract: It  was tonight  or nothing,
and I was desperate for the money.
     Once we were virtually in direct line of sight of the  house  I stopped
again, listened, had a good look around, then moved on another eight or nine
steps. My night vision had fully kicked in. I'd explained to Tom how to look
at things in  the dark just  above or below an object to ensure a good focus
and how to protect  his night  vision. It was a waste of time explaining why
he had to do these things, all he needed to know was how.
     From what I  could see at  this  distance there didn't appear to be any
lights on  in the  house, nor anything else to indicate that anybody  was up
and about. That didn't  mean, however,  that  I was just going to bowl up to
the gate. Every few steps I stopped, turned and checked on Tom, giving him a
thumbs-up and getting a nod back.  It was more for  his benefit than mine; I
just  wanted  to  make him feel  a bit  better, knowing  that  somebody  was
thinking about him.
     We were a few feet short of the gap between the treeline and fence when
I stopped again and listened. Tom did the same, one pace after mine. If they
had NVG  (night viewing goggles) and were keeping  watch, we  would find out
very  soon.  There  was  nothing I  could do  about it; this  was  our  only
approach.
     Tilting my head  so my  ear pointed toward the house, I tried to listen
just that little bit harder, my hearing trying to overcome the
     noise of the wind, while at the same time edging my eyes round in their
sockets toward  the house  to check for movement. I must have looked  like a
mime artist to Tom.
     There was a faint glimmer of light coming from the left-hand shutter on
the ground floor;  it  was far weaker than last night. I could only just see
it. Did that mean everyone was in bed, or crowded round the TV?
     I put my hand up in front of his face and signaled Tom to wait where he
was. Then my fingers did a little walking-sign motion.
     He  nodded  as  I moved off into the darkness, following the  wheel rut
toward the gate. I was exposed to the wind once I'd passed the  treeline. It
was now strong enough to push against my  coat, but not enough  to affect my
walking. Nothing much had  changed on the  other side of the fence, even the
4x4 was parked in the same position.
     On the recce  there hadn't been any electrical current running  through
the fence; I would have known when I'd touched it. If there was some tonight
I was just about to find out.  Biting off my right outer glove, I pulled the
touch glove down and quickly  felt the gate, not even  taking  a  breath  in
anticipation. Fuck it,  just get  on with it. If it  was wired up, the shock
wouldn't be any different because I'd hesitated. As I put the gloves back on
I checked  the padlocks. They hadn't been left undone, not that I'd expected
them to be. That would be too much like good luck.
     There was no way I could  cut the gate  chains or  fence, because  that
would  compromise the job. The bolt  cutters weighing a  ton  in my backpack
were only to get us out  of the  compound if  we  were compromised on target
without them we'd be running  around in there like rats in a barrel. Getting
out of a place had always been more important to me than getting in,

     I headed hack to Tom and out of the wind. He hadn't moved an inch since
I'd left him; head down, arms  by his side, a  vapor cloud rising above him.
Slowly easing  the backpack off my  shoulders, I knelt down in the wheel rut
and tugged on his sleeve.
     Tom lowered himself to join me.
     You only take out one bit of kit at a time from  a backpack,  then deal
with it, which means packing so  the first item you want is the last bit you
put in. Getting him to keep the backpack  upright by holding the bolt-cutter
handles sticking out on either side of the top, I undid the clips and lifted
the  flap. Then, moving some  of  the toweling that stopped  everything from
rattling around, I took out one webbing loop and a hook.
     Twisting two  turns of  the  strapping around the  nail  hook, where it
emerged  from  the  wood, I  handed  the device, now with a three-foot  loop
hanging from it, to Tom. He gripped  the wood  in his right hand, exactly as
he'd been shown, with the hook angled down and protruding  between his index
and middle fingers. Attaching another webbing loop in  exactly  the same way
to another hook, I handed it over, and he took that in his left hand. I then
assembled the other two devices in the same way, and re clipped and replaced
the backpack on my back, then took one in each hand.
     Looking around at both the target and the sky, I noticed no discernible
change in either. I just hoped it would stay that way.
     Taking a step closer to Tom, I whispered into his ear, "Ready?"
     I  got  a slow nod and a  couple  of short,  sharp breaths in return. I
started to move the last few feet toward the gate.
     My eyes were fixed on the  house, but my brain was already crossing the
fence: It was going to be our most vulnerable time. If things  went wrong in
the house,  fine,  I could  react. Up there  on the  fence, we'd  be fatally
exposed,  just  like  my  friend hanging  from  his  jacket  cord,  watching
helplessly as they walked up and shot him.
     I stopped, my nose six inches from the gate, and turned.
     Tom  was  two paces  behind,  head bent to the left, trying to keep the
wind out of his face.
     Turning back to the gate, I raised my right hand to just above shoulder
height, the hook  facing  the diamond-shaped  lattice, and gently  eased the
bent  nail  into a  gap. The rubber bands around the nail were to  eliminate
noise,  but I'd deliberately  left the bend itself exposed: When I heard and
felt metal  on metal, I'd know it  was  correctly in position. Otherwise, if
weight was applied with the hook badly  positioned, there  was a possibility
of the nail straightening under the strain. That was why we both had a spare
device.  If there was a drama and one  of these things started straightening
while we  climbed, the other loop  and hook would have  to hold  our  weight
while the broken one was replaced.
     The bend in the nail engaged  the fencing with the gentlest of scrapes,
the bottom of the strapping loop hanging about a foot above the wheel rut. I
inserted the left hook about six inches higher, and a shoulder width apart.
     It was pointless  at this stage worrying about being so exposed to view
from the house.  All we could do was just get on with it, hoping they didn't
see us. There was  no other way.  If I'd tried the  previous  night  to find
somewhere to cross on the  side or  rear of the building, I would have  left
tracks everywhere for someone  to spot this morning, and my boot prints sure
didn't look like reindeer hooves. Even if I'd been able to recce all the way
around, I would still face the problem of sign inside the compound. At least
the front of the house was crisscrossed by footprints and tire tracks.
     Gripping both chunks of wood so the hooks took my body weight, I placed
my right foot  in the right loop and, using my right leg  muscles to push my
body  upward and pulling up with my hands and  arms, I slowly rose above the
ground. As the loop began to take
     the  strain  I could  hear the  nylon creaking, stretching just  a  few
millimeters as the fibers sorted themselves out.
     The gate and chains rattled as the structure moved under my weight; I'd
expected this to  happen, but not so loudly. I  froze for  a few seconds and
watched the house.
     Satisfied that the right loop was supporting me, I lifted my left  into
the bottom of  the one about  six inches  higher. I was now a  foot off  the
ground, only about another forty-four to go.
     I  didn't bother  looking at Tom  again. From  now on  I was  going  to
concentrate  on  what I  was doing, knowing  that he would  be  watching  me
closely and that he knew what was required of him.
     I shifted my body weight again until all the pressure  was on  my  left
foot and hand; now it was this  loop's turn to  protest as it stretched that
few millimeters for the first time. Lifting out the right  hook, but keeping
my foot in the loop, I reached up and put  it back into the fence six inches
above the  level of  the  left  one, again  a shoulder width apart.  Tom was
right, it was like  Spiderman climbing a wall, only instead of suction  pads
my hands had hooks and my feet had loops of nylon strapping.
     I  repeated  the  process twice  more, trying to  control  my breathing
through my  nose as my  body demanded  more  oxygen  to  feed the muscles. I
checked below me. Tom was looking up, his head angled against the wind.
     I  wanted  first  to gain height  and clear the snow drifts in the gap,
then  traverse left over them and  continue climbing near a  support post. I
didn't want us to climb directly above the  wheel  rut,  not  only because a
vehicle or people might appear at  the  gate, but also because the higher we
climbed, the more noise the fence would make as our weight moved it about. I
was aiming for the first  of the steel  poles that the lattice sections were
fixed to. If  we climbed  with our hooks each side  of it, it would stop the
fence from buckling and lessen the noise.
     I now moved  vertically to  the left six inches  at a time. After three
more moves I was off the gate and onto the fence  proper, and halfway up the
first of  the three  sections that gave the fence  its  height. The  smooth,
unmarked snow was a couple of yards below me.  There was still a few feet to
go before I reached the support, but  I didn't want to get too far away from
Tom.
     Stopping, I looked down at him and nodded. It was his turn to
     play  now  and follow my route.  He took his time;  there was a  slight
grunt as he took the weight on his right leg, and I hoped he remembered what
I'd  said,  that it was all  in the leg muscles, even though that was a lie.
He'd need quite a  bit of upper-body strength as well, but I wasn't going to
tell him that. I didn't want to put him off before he'd even started.
     The  gate  moved  and the chains  raided far too  loudly  for  comfort.
Thankfully the  wind was  blowing from left  to  right, carrying some of our
noise away from the building.
     Tom hadn't quite got the hang of how to balance himself. As  he went to
insert  his left foot in the loop he started to swivel to the right, forcing
himself  round to the left so he  was flat against the fence once  again.  I
could hear clown music playing  in my head already. As  I looked down at him
under  my right  armpit, I  thought  of all the other times I'd had to climb
over obstacles or move  along roofs with people like Tom,  experts in  their
field but simply unused to anything that demanded more physical coordination
than boarding a bus or getting up from a chair. It nearly always ended up in
a gang fuck
     He looked so ridiculous that  I couldn't help smiling,  even though his
incompetence  was the last thing I needed right now. For a moment  I thought
I'd have  to go back  down to him, but he eventually got his left  foot into
the loop and  made his first ascent. Unfortunately he was so jittery that he
started  to swing  over  to the  left as he released the right hook from the
fence.
     Tom worked  hard at  it,  huffing and grunting as he  struggled to sort
himself out, then, strangely, he found the traverse a bit  easier. He  still
looked a bag of shit,  but he was making progress. I  kept my eyes on target
while he made his way toward me.
     Moving up  and across a few more times, my hooks were soon on each side
of the first support. The massive steel pole was maybe a foot in diameter. I
waited again for Tom, who was generating less noise now that  he'd traversed
onto the more rigid fence. The wind  burned  my exposed flesh  as  I  forced
myself to look around and check. The snot from my runny nose felt  as if  it
was freezing on my top lip.
     Ages later, Tom's head was less than a yard  below my boots. Beneath us
lay a deep drift of snow which extended back fifteen feet to the treeline.
     Now that we both had a hook on  each side of the support, the going was
good and firm. All we had to  do from here was climb vertically and get over
the top. Pulling  one hook away  at a time  I  checked the  nails. They were
standing up to the strain.
     Tom was going at  it  like  this  was  Everest, great  clouds  of vapor
billowing  round him  as he panted for breath,  his head moving up  and down
with  the  effort of sucking in more oxygen. He'd be sweating big time under
his clothes, as much from the pressure he was under as from the huge amounts
of physical energy he was needlessly exerting.
     I moved another six inches, then another, edging my way upward, wishing
we were going  a bit quicker. About two-thirds of the way up, I looked  down
again to check on Tom.
     He  hadn't  moved an inch since I'd  last done so, his body shape  flat
against the  fence, holding  on  for  dear life. I couldn't  tell  what  had
happened and there was no silent way of attracting  his attention. I  willed
him to look up at me.
     He'd completely frozen, a common occurrence when people climb or rappel
for  the  first  time.  It  certainly  has  nothing  to  do  with  lack   of
strength--even a  child has  enough muscle to climb--but some people's  legs
just give out on them. It's  a mental thing; they have the strength and know
the technique, but they lack the confidence.
     At last he looked up. I couldn't make out  his expression, but his head
was shaking  from side to side. From this distance there was no  way I could
reason  with him or offer assurance. Fuck  it, I'd have to  go down  to him.
Extracting  the  right hook, I began descending and traversing to  the left.
This was turning into a Ringling Brothers Circus act.
     Getting  level with him, I leaned across until my mouth was against his
left ear. The wind picked up more and I had to whisper louder than I wanted.
"What's the matter, mate?"  I moved my head round to present an ear for  his
reply, watching the house as I waited.
     "I can't do it, Nick.  I'm fucked." It came out somewhere between a sob
and a whimper. "I hate heights. I should have  told you. I was going to say,
but.. . you know."
     It was pointless showing  him how pissed off I was. That's just the way
some people are; it's no good shaking them or telling them to get a grip. If
he could, he would. I knew he wanted to get over the fence just as much as I
did.
     "Not a problem."
     Moving his head  away from  mine, he looked  at me, half nodding,  half
hoping I was going to call it a day.
     I got  my mouth  into his ear  again. "I'll stay  alongside you all the
time, just like I am now. Just watch what I do and follow, okay?"
     As I checked  the house I heard him  sniffing. I looked back; it wasn't
just snot; he was in tears.
     No point rushing him; not only did we have to get over, but we  had  to
do  it again once we'd done the job. If it started snowing now  this  really
would turn into Ringling Brothers' evening performance.
     My feet were in the wrong  position; his right foot was down, but  mine
was up. Moving to alter  that, I put on my best bedside  manner. "We'll just
take it  nice  and easy. Lots of people  are scared of heights. Me, I  don't
like spiders. That's  why I like coming this far north, there's  none of the
fuckers here. Too cold, know what I mean?"
     He gave a little nervous laugh.
     "Just keep looking at the top of the fence, Tom, and you'll be okay."
     He nodded and took a deep breath.
     "All right, I'll  go first. One step,  then  you follow, all right?"  I
slowly put my weight on the left strap, moved up one and waited for him.
     He shakily raised himself up level with me.
     We did the same again.
     I leaned  toward his ear. "What  did I tell you, no drama." While I was
close to him I quickly checked his hooks. They were fine.
     I decided to  let him have a rest,  let  him bask in his glory and gain
some confidence. "We'll rest here a minute, all right?"
     The wind  gusted around us, picking up ground snow in flurries. Tom was
staring  straight  ahead at  the fence  just inches  from  his  face. I  was
watching the house, both of us sniffing snot.
     When his breathing had calmed down I gave him a nod; he nodded back and
I started climbing again, and he kept pace, stride for stride.
     We reached the top of the second of the three sections. Tom was getting
the hang of it; a dozen or so  more pulls on each side  would take us to the
top. I leaned  across. "I'll get up  there first and help  you over the top,
okay?"
     I needed to traverse again. I wanted to cross away from the top
     of the pole so we didn't kick off any of the snow that had collected on
its top. Something like that would be too easy to notice in daylight.
     Tom was  getting worried again and started to slap my leg. I ignored it
at first, then he grasped  my trousers. I looked  down.  He was in a frenzy,
his free hand waving toward the track as his body swung from side to side.
     I looked down. A white-clad body was fighting its way through snow that
was nearly  waist deep in the gap on the  other side of the driveway. Behind
him were others, and yet  more  were emerging  from the  treeline and moving
directly onto the track. There must have been at least a dozen.
     I could tell by the position  and  swing of their arms  that they  were
carrying weapons.
     Shit, Mahskia.
     "Nick! Whatdowedo?"
     I'd already told him  a few hours ago what to  do if  we had a drama on
the fence: do what I did.
     "Jump. Fuck it jump!"

     Gripping  the wood  hard and lifting with  my arms so the hooks took my
body weight,  I kicked my feet  from the loops  and  let go with my hands. I
just hoped the snow was deep enough to cushion my thirty foot fall.
     I plummeted past Tom, who was  still  stuck  to the fence, and prepared
myself for the jump instructor's command when the wind is too strong and the
drop  zone, which should have  been a  nice empty field, has suddenly become
the beltway: accept the landing.
     I plunged into the  snow feet first and immediately started a parachute
roll to my right, but crumpled as my ribs banged hard against a  tree stump,
immediately followed by one of the handles of the bolt cutters giving me the
good  news  on the back of  my head. It was starburst time  in my  eyes  and
brain.  Pain spread  outward  from my  chest, the  snow  that  enveloped  me
muffling my involuntary cry.
     I knew I had to get up and run,  but I couldn't do a thing about it: My
legs wouldn't play. Eyes stinging with snow, I moaned to myself as  I fought
the pain and tried to work out how deep I was buried.
     Tom had  found the courage to jump. I heard the wind being  knocked out
of him as he landed  to my left, on  his back. I still couldn't see anything
from under the snow.
     He recovered, panting hard. "Nick, Nick!"
     The next thing I knew, he was towering over me,  brushing the snow from
my face. "Nick. Come on, mate, come on!"
     My head was still spinning, my coordination screwed. I was no
     good to  him and  knew it would be only seconds before we  were caught.
"Station, Tom! Go, go!"
     He made an attempt to pick me up  by my arms and drag me, but there was
no way that was going  to happen. It would have been  hard enough for him in
normal conditions, let  alone in deep snow. "Tom, the station. Go, just fuck
off!"
     His  breathing labored a second time as he  tried  to take me with him.
The pain  in my chest increased as he pulled my arms, only to be relieved as
he let me drop back down. At last he'd got the message.
     I opened my eyes to see him pulling the spare hook out of his coat. For
a  split  second  I couldn't work out  why, and then I heard grunting  right
behind me. The Maliskia had got to us.
     Tom  launched himself over  me.  There was the sound of a  thud, and  a
scream that was too low-pitched to be his.
     The next thing I knew,  Tom fell  beside me, sobbing. There  wasn't any
time for that shit, he had to go. I pushed him away from me with my hands.
     Not checking behind him, he left, stumbling over me on the way.
     I  wanted to  follow  but couldn't.  Rolling over  onto my stomach  and
pushing myself onto my hands and knees I started  to drag myself  up  out of
the hole. As I crested the  top  I saw Tom's victim, just ten  feet away and
trying to get to his  feet. He brought his  weapon up, blood oozing from the
thigh of his white cold-weather gear  and all  around the climbing hook that
was embedded in it.
     Diving  back down into the  snow, I heard the  unmistakable, low  level
dick-thud,  dick-thud, dick-thud of an  SD,  the  suppressed version  of the
Heckler & Koch MP5. The  click  was the sound of  the working parts  as they
ejected an empty case and  moved forward to pick another from  the magazine.
The thud was the gas escaping as the subsonic round left the barrel.
     I heard another click-thud, click-thud as two more rounds were fired. I
wasn 't his  target, but I  lay there not wanting to  move and risk  getting
hit. I wasn't even too sure if he knew I was there.
     The  firing  stopped and I heard short sharp breaths as the hooked body
took the pain.
     Then more arrived and I heard a shout.
     "Okay, buddy, it's okay."
     My pain suddenly disappeared,  to be replaced by an enormous feeling of
dread. Shit. They well Americans. What the fuck was I in here?
     The hooked  man answered haltingly between anguished gasps. "Help me to
the driveway, man. Ah, sweet Jesus ..."
     They were swarming all around me, and I knew it wouldn't be long before
they took me out.  I turned my head and,  as I opened my eyes and looked up,
two white-covered figures with black ski masks under their hoods were nearly
on top of me, their breath  clouds hanging in the cold  night air.  Hovering
over me, one pointed his weapon soundlessly at my head.
     It's okay, mate, I'm not going anywhere.
     The other  came forward, snow crunching beneath his boots,  keeping out
of  his  friend's line of  fire.  Vapor was the only  thing  coming from his
mouth. There still wasn't any communication between them.
     I heard gasps and labored breathing as Tom's  victim was helped back to
the driveway.  He was in a  bad  way,  but he'd live.  Other  bodies passed,
pushing hard through the waist-high snow,  heading  in the same direction as
Tom.
     Any thought of escape or trying to give them a hard time was laughable.
I  curled  up  and waited for the  inevitable subduing, closing my eyes  and
gritting my teeth to protect my tongue and jaw.
     The  breathing  was now directly overhead  and I could feel their boots
disturbing the snow  around me as I  waited for the first kick to open me up
for a search.
     It didn't happen.
     Instead, a cold snow-covered glove  pulled my hands from  my face and I
caught a glimpse  of a canister. I didn't know if it was CS, CR  liquid,  or
pepper, and it didn't really matter. Whichever it  was, and even if I closed
my eyes, it was going to fuck me over big time.
     The  moment I  felt the ice-cold liquid  make contact, my eyes  were on
fire. My nose filled  instantly with even more snot, and I  felt as if I was
choking.
     The flames spread  all over my face. I was  conscious of what was going
on, but was totally incapacitated. There  was nothing  I could do but let it
take its course.
     As I choked and gagged, a hand forced my face back into the snow. There
were no commands to me, or any communication between the bodies.
     Snorting and gasping like a suffocating pig,  I  struggled for  oxygen,
trying  to move my head  against the  hand  that was  still holding it down,
desperate to clear  the  snow pressing on my face so I could breathe, but he
wasn't letting that happen.
     A  kick aimed at the  side of my stomach got between my arms which were
wrapped protectively around it,  and I half coughed, half  vomited the mucus
that had built  up in my mouth and nose. As I rolled with the pain, Sprayman
pulled me onto my back, arched because of the backpack. My neck stretched as
my head  fell  backward. I was  still choking and  snot was running into  my
eyes.
     A gloved fist hit me  across the head and my jacket was unzipped. Hands
ran over my  body and squeezed my coat  pockets. They found the spare  hook,
the vegetable knife, the makeshift  Yale gun. Everything  was taken from me,
even  the Polaroid film.  One of them pressed his knee into my  stomach with
all his weight and vomit flew  from my mouth. The  taste and smell of strong
tea from the journey  filled the air around me as it spilt onto  the snow. I
tried lifting my head to cough up the last remaining bits in my throat, only
to be slapped down. There was nothing I could do but try to keep breathing.
     The  character kneeling on my  stomach was joined by the weapon-pointer
on my right-hand side, and his freezing,  fat  muzzle raked against my face,
pushing into the skin.  The two of them just knelt there, waiting. The  only
sounds were their heavy breathing and me snorting like a pig.
     They knew I  was fucked and were just maintaining me in  that position.
From what I  could make out  through watery,  painful  eyes, they looked far
more concerned with what was going on by the gate.
     I  knew I had  to recover from  the  impact  of the  fall and the spray
before  doing anything about  getting out of this shit.  I accepted I had no
control over myself physically, but I still had control of my mind. I had to
watch for  opportunities to escape, and  the  quicker  I tried to do it, the
better  chance I would have of succeeding. There is always confusion  in the
heat of things; organization only comes later.
     I  analyzed what I  had seen. They  were all in  winter-warfare whites;
they  even all had the same weapons and  were highly organized, and at least
two of  them spoke English with American accents.  This wasn't the Maliskia,
and this wasn't about commercial
     intelligence. I started  to feel  even worse about  my future prospects
and  was  pissed  big-time with  Liv and Val, who obviously  hadn't told  me
everything. I just hoped I'd be able to get my own back.
     I thought about Tom and hoped that if he was alive he'd make it back to
the  real  world  as  quickly as  he  could.  He had tried to save  me.  The
bull's-eye with the hook was probably more to do with  luck than  skill, but
at  least he'd had the balls to do it. Winning a fight isn't important, it's
being ballsy enough to get stuck in that is. I'd been wrong about him.
     As  I lay  passively  facing the  sky, I felt  something  wet and  cold
dissolve on my lips: the first heavy flakes of a snowfall.
     The  few  seconds of silence were broken  by the  crunch of snow coming
from the direction  of Tom's  escape  route. It must be the bodies returning
from pursuing Tom or collecting his  corpse. I tried to look, but  my vision
was too blurred for me  to  see  anything.  I was down in my hole  and  they
didn't walk  near enough for me  to see if  they had him. If so,  he must be
dead; I couldn't hear him, and I assumed he'd be in pain if  shot, or crying
if captured, thinking about returning to jail.
     There was the crash of the chain as the gate was forced open, but still
no sound from the two with me. Their silence  made the  situation  feel even
scarier than it was already.
     Tom  and I were probably  a sideshow they hadn't been  expecting.  They
must have had  their hands covering their  mouths, trying not to scream with
laughter,  watching our attempt to climb  the  fence, just biding their time
for when we were at our most vulnerable. Whatever we were trying to get hold
of, so were they. That scared me  very much. It seemed the race wasn't  only
against the Maliskia.
     Things were happening at the house. The  front door was being battered.
Then I  heard screaming cutting through the wind, men's voices that couldn't
be from one of the teams. These were the voices that went with high-pitched,
big-time commotion.
     My two new friends were  still  looking  around, and whatever they were
waiting for, they got it. Muzzleman tapped Sprayman on the shoulder and they
both stood up. It was  obviously time  to go. As soon as  the pressure on my
stomach was released I was thrown over onto my front, face down in  the snow
while the left-hand strap on  my  backpack was  cut,  accompanied  by  their
labored breathing. My
     right arm  was dragged  behind  me as it was pulled away  from my body.
Gritting my  teeth, I  took  the pain it generated in my  chest.  Then I was
kicked over onto my back again, and I  brought my knees up  instinctively to
protect myself.
     I  didn't want eye contact, not that much of it could  be done in  this
darkness, but I wouldn't want them to construe any look I might give them as
defiance and get them sparked up, or as a sign that I wasn't as injured as I
was trying to pretend.
     Through  semi closed angled eyes I could only see one of them, swinging
his weapon on its chest sling until it was across his back. Nightmare sounds
were  still coming from the house as he knelt down, gripping my  throat with
one  wet, cold, gloved hand, putting another round the back of my  neck, and
started to pull  me to  my feet. I wasn't  going to resist at this stage and
jeopardize any chance of escape.
     As my  body  emerged from the snow  hole, the wind  started hitting the
tears and mucus on my face. My snot started to feel like freezing jello.
     I  was marched, with hands  still in place around  my throat, following
tracks that had already been made in the snow. Not leaving signs didn't seem
to be a high priority for these boys.
     We went through the  now open  gate. I could feel the  wind forcing the
falling snow against my face and hear the crunching footsteps of my escorts.
Looking toward the house, I felt like I'd dived into a swimming pool and was
moving  up  toward  the surface,  the  shimmering  shapes  and sounds slowly
becoming more distinct.
     I made out  more white shapes through the snow falling in front of  me,
in the lights that  were now  blazing on both floors.  There were ransacking
noises, furniture being thrown about and  glass breaking, but the  screaming
had stopped. Still not  a murmur from the  team. The only reason the injured
guy  and  his  helper had spoken was  probably  because they hadn't realized
where I'd landed.
     I  was dragged past the 4x4 and bounced onto  the wooden deck, my shins
banging painfully against the  steps, no doubt adding to the bruises I'd got
last night. They  carried  on along  the deck  with  me, the  sound of their
footsteps echoing along the boards.
     A battering ram had been abandoned on the threshold,  a long steel pole
with two rectangular handles on either side. The top  hinge of  the door had
been pushed in and the bottom one was
     holding the  door  at a  45-degree  angle inward, the  glass  from  its
windows in shards on the  floor. These guys  hadn't bothered  with  electric
toothbrushes.
     We crunched over the broken glass  and  entered  the house. The  warmth
enveloped me,  but there wasn't time to  enjoy it. A  few paces inside I was
forced  face down  onto the wooden  floor of the  hallway.  To my right were
three other people, tied up and face to the floor, two of them in just boxer
shorts and T-shirts. Maybe this was the reason there was no  voice  contact.
They didn't want these three to  know  who they  were.  The  three  captives
looked about Tom's age, with long blond hair. One of them had his done up in
a ponytail, another was crying and his hair was sticking to his wet  cheeks.
Shit,  and I'd  been worrying  how  many  bayonets  would be on target. They
looked  at me with the same question in their eyes as I had in my head:  Who
the fuck are you?
     I  looked away.  They weren't  important  to  me.  Working out  how  to
separate myself from these Americans was.
     As  I  turned  my head  a boot tapped me on  the side  of the face  and
motioned for  me  to look  down. I  rested my chin on the floor and my hands
were forced in front of me, where they could be seen. They'd taken prisoners
before.
     I counted a few seconds, then lifted my eyes and  tried to look around,
trying to gather as much information as possible to help me escape. I saw no
scenes of frenzy; everybody seemed to know what they were doing. There was a
lot  of  efficient movement by bodies in white, some  with their hoods down,
exposing their black ski masks. There are many different reasons for wearing
uniform, but  mainly,  in situations  like  this,  it's  for  identification
purposes.
     The atmosphere seemed to be that of an efficient open-plan office. They
were  all armed, everybody had  the same type of weapon, all suppressed. The
pistol that each of them carried was very unusual. It had been a  long  time
since I'd seen a P7, but if I remembered correctly,  it fired 7.62mm rounds.
There were seven barrels, each about six inches long, and contained within a
disposable,  Bakelite-type plastic unit. The unit was sealed  and watertight
and  clipped into a  pistol  grip. The rounds  were fired conventionally  by
pulling the trigger,  but instead of a firing pin, an electrical current was
sent to one of the barrels each time the trigger was  pulled, via terminals,
which married up when the barrels and grip were
     clipped  together.  The power source was a battery in the pistol  grip.
Once all seven rounds had been fired,  you  simply removed  the barrel unit,
threw it away and put on another one.
     The P7 was originally designed to be fired at divers at close range and
underwater, to penetrate their  diving sets and, of course, their  bodies. I
didn't know if they were any good at longer range; all I knew was that  they
were silent and extremely powerful. Because of  their  size, they were being
carried by these guys in  shoulder holsters over  their  whites,  along with
thick  black nylon belt kit that held their HK mags. I couldn't remember who
made P7s, or if it  was the weapon's  real name. Not that it really mattered
to me at  the moment. What  did matter  was that these people were uniformed
and efficient, and they hadn't been sent here because the  computers on site
weren't Y2K compliant.
     They had to be from  a  security  organization CIA, maybe,  or  NSA  it
didn't matter which. It  was highly unusual for them to be carrying out such
an operation  within a  friendly nation's territory. That  sort of thing was
normally left to dickheads like me, so that everything could be denied if it
went wrong. The reason they were on the ground must be that they desperately
wanted something  that  belonged to them, and whatever it was, it must be so
sensitive that they didn't want, or trust, anyone else to go and get it. Had
I  been trying to steal American secrets? I hoped not. That was  spying, and
with no  help  from  Her Majesty's  Government I'd be  lucky if I got out of
prison in time to see Kelly's grandchildren.
     I realized what  had been causing the dull glow from the left hand side
of  the  house. Through an open door I could see  it  hadn't been room light
escaping from the broken  shutter but the glare from banks of TV screens.  I
made out CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, and some Japanese program, all with anchormen
and women talking business. Running captions displayed financial information
across the bottom of the screen. So it wasn't Friends after all. I felt even
more depressed. This was just like the weather, getting worse every minute.
     In among the TVs were banks  of computer monitors, most  of them turned
off, but  some  with streams of numbers  running vertically down the screen,
just like I'd seen Tom messing about with. The computers and VDUs were being
unplugged, while  more white  clad figures  fiddled with other machines  and
keyboards in the
     room.  I saw  one hand  sticking out from  its whites and  working some
keys. It was immaculately manicured, feminine and wore a wedding band.
     The rest  of the horizontal  surfaces were  in shit state, covered with
candy wrappers, pizza  boxes, cans, and large  half-empty plastic bottles of
Coke. It  looked  like a  dorm room,  but with a  couple  of  truckloads  of
cutting-edge technology  thrown in. I  realized what they'd been carrying in
last night from the 4x4: It must have been pizza time.
     My  little  recce was cut short when  I saw pairs of black boots coming
toward me, snow still in the stitching and laces. They were Danner boots, an
American brand. I knew the make well, as I had a pair high leg, with leather
outer and GoreTex inner. The U.S. military wore them, too.
     The Tom lookalikes on  the  floor behind me  were moving about or being
moved. The one who'd been crying  suddenly  sounded  muffled, as  if  he was
resisting something. I risked turning my head to see what was happening, but
I was too late. A hood got  pulled over my head, smearing the snot even more
over my top lip, mouth, and chin. It was pointless resisting; I just let him
do it  as quickly  as  possible. I'd learned that the best thing  to do  was
concentrate on breathing through these things and let your ears do the work.
     The drawstrings were pulled at the bottom and I was in a world of total
darkness.  Not even  the faintest glimmer  of light could penetrate. My face
started to sweat up rapidly as the hood moved against my mouth and  then out
again as I breathed and tried to recover completely from the spray.
     I  heard boots on both sides of my head, followed by heavy breathing as
my  hands were forced together  in front of me and a plasticuff was applied.
The short, sharp  sound of  ratcheting was  accompanied by  the pain of  the
plastic tightening around my wrists.
     There  was  more  movement next to me and the  rustling of clothes. The
pizza boys were getting dressed.  That  was  a good sign;  they wanted  them
alive, and  I hoped me, too. Between  the sounds  of  muffled sobs  and zips
being done up  I  could  hear, "Danke  .. . hhtos .. . spasseeba ..  . thank
you." Obviously these boys didn't know  the nationality of  the men in white
and were hedging their bets wildly, sounding off like Brussels translators.
     The floorboards flexed under the pressure of bodies walking
     past,  heading toward the door. Trailing  cables  and plugs dragged and
clattered across the floor just past my head. Some  plugs hit  the steel ram
in the doorway and sent out a dull ring. I presumed the computers were being
lugged out. By the  sounds  of it, everything  was being piled up outside on
the deck.
     The roar of engines filled my hood as vehicles drove into the compound.
The temperature  inside the  house had started to drop as  the wind whistled
through the main door.  To my left, I could just make out the  low mumble of
voices exchanging short sentences on the deck as the vehicles approached.
     They stopped and  emergency brakes were pulled up on lock. Engines were
left running, just like a heli on  an operational sortie it never shuts down
in case it doesn't start up again. Doors opened and closed and  there was  a
flurry  of boot steps around the  deck. I  could hear the creak  and echo of
what sounded  like the door of an empty van; it was confirmed when I heard a
sliding door lock into  the  open position. This area was beginning to sound
like a super store's loading bay.
     I tried moving my arms, as if to get comfortable, but in fact to see if
we were being guarded.  My answer came very quickly when a boot made contact
with my ribs, the same side as my fall. I stopped moving and concentrated on
the inside of my snot-lined hood as I took the pain.
     I lay there waiting for the agony to subside. The sobbing and snuffling
next  to  me got  louder. The culprit  was given  the  same sort  of  booted
persuasion to shut him up, but it just made him worse. The boy was panicking
big time, and  he  made me think of Tom. I was still hoping  that he  wasn't
dead and had got away, or was he, like this boy, hyperventilating in a hood,
stuck in one of those vehicles?
     The  floorboards still gave and  plugs clattered and rattled out toward
the deck. Others loaded the stuff into the  wagons; I could hear their boots
on the vans' metal floors.
     The  floorboards bent even  more as  the  three  lying next  to me were
hauled  to their feet, amidst muffled groans  and cries. The sobbing one was
dragged  past me and taken outside;  the others followed. As the last of the
three bodies passed,  I heard a scream from the first one echo inside a van.
I tried to convince myself  they  wouldn't go to all this  trouble  if  they
didn't want us alive.
     As I listened to the second being manhandled after his friend,
     boots came for me,  the creaking leather stopping just millimeters from
my ear. Two pairs  of large aggressive  hands grabbed each side of me, under
my armpits and on the arms, dragging me upright. I let my boots trail on the
floor. I wanted to appear weak and slow, I wanted them to think I wasn't any
sort of threat, somebody not worth  worrying about, just a gray man in a bad
way.
     The two guys were grunting under the strain as we crossed the threshold
onto the  deck, my  toes banged over  the door  ram and  back down  onto the
wooden  floor.  At  the  same  time  my hands and neck were blitzed  by  the
freezing cold, then it moved onto my face as the  hood,  made  wet  with  my
condensed breath, started to get cold inside.
     Stumbling  between  my escorts  down  the steps from  the deck,  I  was
dragged straight ahead, then all of a sudden they  stopped at the command of
a gloved clap  and turned right, jerking  me round with them.  Perhaps  they
were going to separate me from the others? Would that be good or bad?
     Within five seconds of  being dragged in  a new direction I knew I  was
indeed going into a different wagon. It  wasn't  a cold metal box;  it  felt
like the backseat area of a 4x4.  There was a climb up to get into it and it
was carpeted and very warm. I was short-term pleased.
     The door  opposite was opened and hands reached over, gripping  my coat
and  pulling  me  in,  with  grunts to match  the effort.  My  shins scraped
painfully  over the  door sill, and I was  finally pushed down into the foot
well I could feel one of the rear heating vents against my neck, blowing out
hot air from under the seat; it was wonderful. Even through the hood I could
smell the newness of the interior, and for some reason it made me feel a bit
happier about my predicament.
     The  vehicle rocked as somebody  jumped  into  the rear  seat above me,
their heels digging into me one by one, followed by a muzzle jabbed into the
side of my face, smearing mucus back toward my  ear. Nothing was said, but I
got the idea: keep still. I was powerless to act  anyway,  so the best thing
to do was just lie there and take advantage of the heat.
     Our rear  doors were kept open and the  loading-bay  activity was still
audible.  A few  feet  away  I heard the  telltale  creak  of a  van  door's
retaining arm pushed back under pressure and then slammed shut.
     There was a double tap  on the side of the  vehicle to  let the  driver
know  it was secure, but  no one moved  yet. We  must  be  waiting to go  in
convoy. A few seconds  later  another  sliding door was shut  and  there was
silence.
     There was still no  talking from these people. Either they were working
by hand signals or they knew exactly what to do.
     The  vehicle's suspension went  into  overtime as more bodies piled in.
All the doors closed, and it felt as  if there were at least three people on
the back seat. Boots were all over the place, a  couple of  pairs digging in
their  heels to keep me  down.  Another  kicked my legs out of the way so he
could rest his feet properly on the floor. I wasn't going to argue.
     We  seemed to be the first vehicle to move out of the compound, in  low
gear to handle the wheel  ruts and ice, with the windshield wipers  slapping
side to side to counter the snow.
     One of the people in  the front was pressing switches on the dashboard.
There was a burst of music, some terrible Europop. It was turned off, and  I
heard them laugh quietly. No  matter who they were and  what side they  were
working for, at the end of the day they'd just done a job  and so far it had
been successful. They were releasing a little bit of tension.
     I  couldn't tell whether we'd  reached  the bend, because it was a long
sweeping curve and I wouldn't feel it at this  slow speed. But I soon sensed
we were driving uphill; it wouldn't be far to go now before we hit the road.
I was in deep, frozen shit and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

     We  moved  on for a few mare minutes and stopped. There  was a clunk as
the driver disengaged  low gear and  shifted into  high, then set off  again
with a sharp left  turn. We had to be on  the gravel road, and the left turn
meant that at least we wouldn't  be  driving past the Saab: that was further
up  on the right, toward the dead end.  Did they already know where  it was?
Had they been here the  night before, watching me carry out the recce,  then
followed me back to it? It made me worry about  Tom again. Maybe they hadn't
bothered to chase  him too hard because they knew where he was  heading.  It
wasn't  whether  he was  dead  or alive  that  worried me,  it  was just not
knowing.
     We began to accelerate gently. The  front passenger seat back moved and
creaked under what must have been a very large body pushing against my face.
He was probably trying to get into a comfortable position with belt kit on.
     The snow was now melting off the clothing of the  three in the back and
dripping down  my neck. It  wasn't the worst  thing that had happened to  me
tonight, but it pretty much fitted in with the way my luck  was going. There
wasn't a lot  I could do about it  at the moment, apart from prepare for the
ride by  not tensing my body  up  and  trying to relax as  much as the three
pairs of Banner boots would allow.
     The front passenger suddenly bounced around in his seat with a shout of
"What the fuck?"
     The accent was unmistakably American. "Jesus! Russians!"
     A split second later  the  driver hit the brakes. There was  a crash of
metal and glass behind us and the heavy-caliber sound of automatic fire.
     The clear-cut,  no-messing New England  accent and the  sound  of rapid
fire got me stressing big time. It got worse as  our wagon came to  a quick,
sliding stop, turning sideways on the snow. The doors burst open.
     "Cover them, cover them!"
     The suspension bounced as everyone leaped down from the wagon, using me
as a  springboard. I suddenly felt very  vulnerable, hooded and plasticuffed
here in the foot well--a vehicle is the natural focus of fire. But I  didn't
care what was  going  on  and  who wanted what from  whom.  It  was time  to
disappear.
     Wind whistled through the open  doors and the engine was still running.
The heavy automatic fire was  only about fifty yards away. A series of long,
uncontrolled bursts echoed off the trees. This was my opportunity.
     Pulling up my plasticuffed hands, I tried to tug the mask  off my face,
but the drawstring got stuck  on my chin. My fingers were grappling with  it
when I heard hysterical shouting further down the road. The one advantage of
working  with Sergei and  his gang was that I had  learned to recognize some
Russian. I might not know what it meant, but I knew where it came from. This
had to be the Maliskia.
     If  I  could get  the hood off,  my plan was to crawl into the driver's
seat,  then  just  go for it. As I  was struggling  with the string  I got a
little reminder to keep my  head  down. Safety glass cracked as a round came
through the  rear windshield  and hit  the headrest above  me. At almost the
same instant two rounds from the same burst ricocheted off a slab of granite
at  the  roadside and shrieked up into the air. There were more shouts, this
time from American voices.
     "Move!"
     "Come on, let's do it! Let's do it!"
     My 4x4 wasn't going anywhere, but other engines  revved, doors slammed,
and tires spun uselessly in the snow.
     At  last I got  the mask off. Pulling myself up, I couldn't feel any of
my pain, and had just begun to move toward the  gap between the seats when I
realized it wasn't an  option. About  fifteen feet away, at the side  of the
driveway behind  a mound of granite, a white-clad figure was pointing  an SD
at  my center mass. I knew,  because I could see the red splash of his laser
sight  on my  jacket.  The  black-covered  head  screamed  at  me  above the
nightmare that was  happening down the road: "Freeze!  Freeze!  Down,  down,
down!"
     Change of plan. With the laser on me, the  only problem he had was  not
missing. There were more  screams and shouts mixed  with  the  heavy Russian
fire. I got down  as flat as possible in the  rear foot well if I could have
crawled under the carpet I would have.
     I was feeling even more exposed now I'd seen what  was happening behind
me. Headlights shone  in all  directions, illuminating the  snowfall  as the
Americans tried to make their escape around the van that was directly behind
our  4x4.  It was off to the  side  of the driveway,  its  left wing wrapped
around a tree; the driver  must still  have been in his seat as I could hear
and see the wheels spinning in a frenzied attempt to get back on the gravel.
     The  shadows  thrown  by  the  headlights caused even more confusion as
bodies  moved within  the treeline. I saw  the  muzzle flash  of the Russian
fire, but coming from way behind the convoy now. They were moving back.
     My cover must have seen movement in  the treeline nearer us. He brought
his  weapon  up  and started  to  fire,  putting  down  a  series  of rapid,
well-aimed three-round bursts. It sounded pathetic compared with the heavier
caliber opposing fire; these  weapons were not designed to  be used  at long
range. Even sixty feet was a long way for an SD.
     "Stoppage!"
     The boy needed to change mags. I  watched as he gripped his outer glove
in  his teeth, keeping his eyes  on me. The moment the glove was off I saw a
white silk touch glove  in the headlights. The  empty magazine went down the
front of  his white smock and,  producing a  new mag  from  his belt kit  he
slapped it  into place. He then hit the  release  catch, which told me these
guys were the newer version of  the SD--even more indication that these were
official. It was all very slick; I wasn't going to escape just yet. He had a
bolstered  P7 and his weapons drills were so good that even with  him  under
fire there was no way  I'd have time to do anything. I kept my head down and
lay still.
     Vehicles screamed past  me with skidding wheels, the tree-loving one in
the lead, glass smashed and holes in the body work revving
     far too fast, trying to gain  speed. Our vehicle group must  have  been
giving covering fire while they moved out of the danger area.
     The New England voice  was back in earshot. "Move on, move on. Come on,
let's go, let's go, let's go!"
     The guy covering me got up, still pointing his weapon at me as he moved
forward. He jumped into the wagon, ramming his heels down into  my back  and
the  weapon into my neck. The barrel  was very hot and I could smell cordite
and the  oily odor of  WD40.  He'd probably  smothered  it  in the stuff  to
protect it from the weather and it was now burning off the weapon.
     The last thing I  had a  chance to see was him getting hold of the hood
then pulling it back down over my head.
     All the others were now  jumping back in, making  the vehicle rock with
their weight. I felt the  gearshift being engaged and we started to move off
faster than we should, the tires slithering and sliding as we turned back on
line to move up the driveway.
     The doors were slammed shut and  I was hit by a rush of air from above.
The  electric  sunroof  was  opening;  a  moment  later  I  heard dick-thud,
dick-thud, dick-thud and a yell of,  "Get some, get some, get some!" as  New
England fired  through the open aperture. I couldn't hear any reply from the
Russians.
     One  of the others turned  and  opened  fire  through the  rear window,
adding more holes to the safety glass.
     Click-thud, dick-thud, dick-thud.
     Empty cases hit  the side window with a  metallic ping-ping-ping,  then
fell and bounced off my head.
     Freezing cold air  blasted  through the roof, then the motor whined and
the rush of air stopped.
     "Anybody down?"
     "I didn't  see anyone." That came  from the rear. "If there is, they'll
be in the wagons. No one was left."
     I got a heavy slap around the head. "Fuckin' Russians! Who do you think
you are, man?"
     The front passenger was, without doubt, the commander. His WASPy accent
sounded as if he should have been standing on a soapbox fighting an election
for the Democrats in  Massachusetts,  not trying to sort out a gang fuck  in
Finland,  but thankfully he  seemed to be  sorting it out rather well. I was
still alive.
     There was a short pause, maybe while he marshaled his
     thoughts,  then, "Bravo Alpha." He had to  be  on the net, listening to
his earpiece. "Situation?"
     There was silence  from  the others. Well-trained operators know better
than to talk when somebody's on the net.
     The Wasp let out a cry. "Shit! They  have Bravo's vehicle." He got back
on the net, "Roger that, did you total the kit?"
     There was five seconds of silence before he replied in a low, depressed
voice.   "Roger  that,   Bravo."  He   addressed   the  vehicle  crew.  "The
sons-of-bitches have some of the hardware. Shit!"
     There was no reply from the  crew as  the Wasp composed himself  before
getting back on the net.
     "Charlie, Alpha--situation?"
     He checked through all his call signs. There seemed to be four of them:
Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. How many people at  each call sign I didn't
know, but there had seemed to be  loads  of them at the house. It seemed the
whole thing had been a gang fuck for everyone. Me getting caught; Tom, well,
I didn't know;  the  Americans and  Maliskia each only getting part  of  the
hardware they  wanted; as for the three Tom lookalikes from the  house, they
must be more pissed than all of us put together.
     The radio traffic had  been in clear  speech, which indicated they were
using  secure and  probably  satellite com ms  not like my  Motorolas at the
Intercontinental.  As they transmit, these radios skip up and  down  through
dozens of different frequencies in a sequence that only radios with the same
encryption fill, fluctuating  at  the  same rate  and  frequency,  can hear.
Everybody else just gets an earful of mush.
     He  must have got a message  from Echo. "Okay,  roger that, Echo. Roger
that." He turned toward the bodies in the back. "Bobby has gotten hit in the
leg. But everything's fine;  it's cool." There was a sigh of relief from the
back.
     I felt the  fabric press against my face as he turned. "Is that asshole
still breathing?"
     My cover answered, "Oh yeah." He gave me another dig with  his heel and
a muttered insult in Texan drawl.
     I  moaned in deep Russian acknowledgment.  The commander's ass swiveled
again and my head moved with it. He got back on the net. "All stations, this
is Alpha. We're still going  as planned. My group will take the extra paxes.
Acknowledge."
     I imagined him listening in to the other call signs on his earpiece.
     "Bravo."
     "Charlie, roger that."
     "Delta, roger."
     "Echo, roger dee."
     It seemed that I was the extra "paxes." Whatever happened to me now, it
would be down to the Wasp.
     We  drove  in silence  for another twenty  minutes, still on  the paved
road. By my estimation  we  hadn't gone far; we couldn't have been traveling
that fast because of the heavy snow.
     The Wasp got back on the net. "Papa One, Alpha."
     There was a pause while he listened.
     "Any news yet  on Super  Six?" More  silence,  then, "Roger that,  I'll
wait."
     "Papa  One and Super  Six" didn't sound  like ground  call signs. Where
possible these  are always short and sharp. It stops confusion when the shit
hits the fan or com ms are bad, factors which normally go hand in hand.
     Ten minutes  later  the  Wasp  was  back on  the  net. "Alpha." He  was
obviously acknowledging somebody.
     There was silence, then, "Roger that, Super Six call signs are no go. A
no go."
     After  a  pause  of  two  seconds, he  announced,  "All  stations,  all
stations. Okay, here's the deal. Go to the road  plan; the extra paxes still
goes with me. Acknowledge."
     Nothing  more came from him as he got the acknowledgment from the other
call signs. At  least these guys were  having a shit day  too. The Super Six
call  signs must have been helicopters or  fixed wing aircraft that couldn't
fly  in these conditions.  In better weather we would have been flown out of
here by  people  who worked for their Firm. Nine out of ten times these  are
civilian  pilots  with  background jobs  as  commercial fliers, so they have
solid  cover stories. They'd fly in on NVGs,  maybe  pick  us all up, or  at
least the kit, injured, and prisoners, and scream back out of the country to
a U.S. base.  Or  maybe, if they  were  helis, they'd  land  on  an American
warship in the Baltic, where the computer equipment  and its operators would
be  sorted  out and moved on to  whoever was  so anxious to have them.  If I
didn't sort my shit out soon and escape I'd land up
     with them  in one of the Americans' "reception centers." I'd been shown
them  in  the past; the rooms  ranged from  cold  and wet 3x9 foot cells  to
virtually self-contained suites, depending  on what was judged the best  way
to get information out  of  "paxes" like me. No matter how you looked at it,
they were interrogation centers, and it was  up  to  the  interrogators CIA,
NSA,  whoever they were whether you got processed the  easy way or the  hard
way.
     Fuck the pizza boys; I didn't care what happened to them. But now being
one of the Maliskia,  I'd be checking  straight  into  my  personal 3x9 with
corner en suite. There was nothing I could do about that for the time being.
I  could only  hope I'd have a chance to escape before they  found out who I
really was.

     We  drove  quite  slowly  for  about another  twenty  minutes.  It  was
physically painful  lying  crammed  in  the foot well but  that  was nothing
compared with how depressed I felt about what the future held.
     "Papa One, Alpha--at blue one."
     The Wasp was back on the net. Papa One must be the operating base.  The
Wasp was counting  down to it, sending a report line so  that Papa One  knew
the group's location.
     A minute or so later we turned a sharp right.
     "Papa One, Alpha--blue two."
     I could hear the material on the driver's arms rustling as he worked at
the wheel, and the tire noise told me we were still on pavement and snow.
     There was a sharp right turn and my head was squeezed against the door.
Then we were bumping over  what felt like  a speed bump,  and  drove another
ninety feet or so before the vehicle came to a halt.
     The  Wasp got out,  leaving  his door open. As the  rear doors  opened,
other vehicles passed and stopped  all around me. The screech of tires  on a
dry surface told  me we were under cover, and judging by the  echoes made by
the vehicles we were somewhere large and cavernous.
     The three on top of me started  to exit.  Elsewhere, engines were still
running  as other  doors were  pushed or slid open. People clambered out and
walked  around, but  there was no voice noise, only  movement. Then came the
echoing clatter of steel roller garage doors being pulled down manually with
chains.
     Whatever kind of building  we were  inside, they didn't  waste money on
heating. Maybe it was an  aircraft hangar, which would make sense if we were
going to  have a pickup with a fixed wing or chopper. Then  again,  maybe it
was just an old warehouse. I couldn't see a single glint of light through my
mask.
     The  air  was becoming heavy with vehicle fumes.  As soon  as the three
pairs of feet had used me as a platform to get out of  the wagon, a  pair of
hands  gripped  my  ankles  and  started to  pull  me out, feet first. I was
dragged over the door sill and had to put my arms out to protect myself as I
dropped the two feet or so onto the ground. The dry surface was concrete.
     There  was lots of movement around me, and the  same sort of  sound  as
there had been  in the house, the  shuffling and dragging of electric plugs.
The equipment was being moved out of the vans.
     I  heard  the telltale clunk of  metal on metal as working  parts  were
brought  back and  weapons unloaded, along with the clicking  of the ejected
rounds being pressed back into magazines.
     I was  turned over onto  my back and my feet were released and left  to
drop to the floor. I gave a very  Russian  moan.  Two pairs of  boots walked
round to my head. They  pulled me up by the armpits and started marching me.
My feet dragged  along the concrete, toes catching on bumps and potholes and
now and again colliding with a lump of brick or other hard debris.
     It might have seemed  to the  two  either side of me that  I was  doing
nothing, but at brain ell level I was really quite  busy, trying to take  in
all the sensory information around me. They dragged me past a wagon and even
through the hood I caught  the aroma  of coffee,  probably them  opening the
flasks they'd had waiting for them at the end of the job.
     We passed some subdued sounds  of pain  and short,  sharp breathing. It
sounded like a woman. There were men around her.
     "Okay, let's get another line up."
     It seemed that Bobby  in call sign Echo  was a woman. They were getting
fluids into her and treating her GSW (gunshot wound).
     We  kept  moving,  my  feet dragging  through bits of wood,  cans,  and
newspapers,  theirs  occasionally  crunching down  on plastic drinks cups. I
heard  the rip of  Velcro,  then  was dragged sideways through a heavy door.
They steered me round to the right as the door swung back.
     The  pizza boys were  already here:  The  sound of crying,  moans,  and
groans filled what felt like a smaller  area than before. The echoes made it
sound like we were in a medieval torture chamber, and even in the sanitizing
cold this place stank of decay and neglect.
     A  couple more paces  and we  stopped,  and I  realized the others were
being kicked; that was why they were screaming. I heard boots making contact
with bodies and the grunts of the kickers.
     I  was pushed down to the ground and given a good kicking  as well. The
moans and sobs seemed to come from my  right, and  were now somehow  muffled
one by one. We weren't all in one big room; I guessed we were being put into
closets or storage spaces.
     The moment my head banged against  the toilet bowl, I knew where I was.
A bathroom.
     Another  scream  and  a  grunt echoed  as  the  boys  were  subdued and
persuaded into their new accommodation. I didn't know what was worse,  their
noise  or the fact that  the  kickers were doing  all  this without a  word,
making best use of the echoes to scare the shit out of everyone.
     Guided by their kicks I crawled into the far-right corner of the stall,
coming to rest on what felt  like  years of  debris.  The  paper I  felt was
crispy and brittle, like very thin nacho chips. Still getting kicked, I felt
a hard brick wall against my back and the base of the toilet bowl against my
stomach. I kept  my head down and knees up in  protection, gritting my teeth
and  waiting for the worst. Instead my hands were gripped and pulled up into
the  air,  the  plastic  now tighter  against my  wrists  because  they were
swelling  up. I  felt a knife  go  into  the  handcuffs and  they were  cut.
Shackling my left arm over the waste  pipe at the  rear of the  toilet bowl,
they grabbed hold of the other  arm and shoved it underneath so I had a hand
on either  side. It was pointless resisting; they had total control over me.
There was nothing I could do yet, apart from save my energy.
     They gripped my wrists together. I tensed up my forearm muscles, trying
to bulk them  out as  much as  possible. The plasticuffs came on and I heard
the ratcheting and felt the pressure  as they were tightened.  I  moaned  as
soon as it seemed the right thing to do. I wanted to appear as petrified and
broken as the pizza boys. They left, slamming the door behind them.
     I  tried resting my head against the  pipe, but it was unbearably cold.
If there was any water inside it must be frozen solid.
     I lay there amongst  the rubble  and  trash, trying to get comfortable,
but feeling very aware of the cold floor through my clothing.
     There was  a  loud, prolonged  creak as the heavy main  door  into  the
hangar  area swung closed. Then there was silence, even from the pizza boys.
Certainly  no  sounds  of  dripping plumbing;  it was  too cold for that.  I
couldn't hear any of the vehicles, either. Nothing but pitch-black silence.
     A  couple of seconds later,  as if the pizza  boys had all been holding
their  breath waiting for  the bogeymen to go  away, the  moaning and hooded
sobs  began once more;  after a few moments of that, the boys muttered a few
words to  each  other in Finnish, trying  to give  each  other a boost. They
sounded severely scared.
     I shifted my position in an attempt to get some pressure off my wrists,
trying to find out  if  that  extra  millimeter or two of muscle flexing had
given me any chance of moving my wrists in the handcuffs.
     As  I  stretched my legs, I  connected with what sounded  like an empty
can. The noise as it rattled and scraped over the concrete  gave spark to an
idea.
     I waggled my head past the waste pipe, so that it was resting on top of
my hands. Then, feeling with my teeth through  the  hood, I  got  hold of my
right outer  glove.  That  came off  easily enough  and I let it drop to the
ground, leaving the touch glove still on my hand.
     I reached forward with my head, positioning the bottom of the hood over
my  fingers, and got to  work.  I  now knew the  hoods were done  up  with a
drawstring and ties round the bottom,  and it  wasn't  long before it lay on
the ground.
     It seemed a total waste of effort. The stall was in complete  darkness,
and now that I  had the hood off, my  head was getting cold. My nose started
to run almost immediately.
     Leaning as far forward  as  I could to free up  my  hands, I started to
feel around on the ground. My  fingers sifted through old paper cups and all
sorts of garbage until I found what I wanted.
     I readjusted  my body around the pan to make myself comfortable while I
pulled off my other outer glove with my teeth.  Then, with both touch gloves
still  on, I squeezed the thin  metal of  the soda can between my thumbs and
forefingers  until  the sides touched in the middle.  I then started to bend
the two parts  backward and forward. After only six or  seven goes the  thin
metal cracked, and soon
     the two halves were apart. I felt for the ring-pull end and dropped the
other one next to my gloves and hood.
     Feeling gently around  the  broken edge, I looked for a place  where  I
could  start to peel  the  side  down like  an  orange.  The  sensation  had
virtually  gone  in  my  swollen hands, but the  touch glove  caught  on the
aluminum and I  found what I wanted and started to pick and tear. My fingers
slipped  a couple  of times,  cutting me on the razor-sharp metal, but there
wasn't time to worry about that; besides,  I  couldn't feel the  pain and it
was nothing to what would be inflicted on me if I didn't get away from here.
     Once  I'd  pared the metal down to  under an inch from the  tab end,  I
tried moving  my  wrists apart as much as possible. It didn't work that well
because plasticuffs  are designed not to stretch, but there was  just enough
play to  do  what I wanted. Cupping the can in my  right hand with the sharp
edge upward, I bent it toward my wrist,  trying to reach the plastic. If I'd
left more  tin sticking out it would have  gone further, but the  edge would
have buckled  under the pressure.  That was also why I used the tab end: The
thicker rim gave the cutting edge more strength.
     I knew that establishing a cut into  the  cuffs  was going to take  the
most time, but once I'd got into that nice smooth plastic I could go for it.
It must have taken just a minute or two for the  jagged tin to finally bite;
then, when I was about three-quarters of the way through, I heard the  loud,
echoing  creak  of  the swing  door opening. Light and  engine noise spilled
through a gap of about two inches under the stall door.
     There was the sound  of  boots  on trash  heading in my  direction. The
light got stronger and I started to  stress  big time, dropping the  can and
scrabbling  for  the hood, and, once it was on, trying to  find my gloves. I
didn't manage  it, but just as I was gritting  my teeth  for the  inevitable
confrontation the footsteps went past.
     There was a flurry of  muffled pleas in English from the  boys as their
doors were kicked open  and they got dragged out and subdued. They must have
heard the  Americans during the  contact, too, as there was  no multilingual
begging now.
     Doors banged  and soon I could hear their feet dragging past me. Within
moments, the door swung shut and silence was restored.
     I felt around for the can end, not bothering to  take  the hood off.  I
couldn't have seen anything anyway. I started to work with more of a
     frenzy; I had to assume that they'd be coming for me next, and soon.
     After two or three minutes of frantic sawing, the plastic finally gave.
     Pulling the hood off, I  felt around for the gloves  and put them in my
pocket, keeping just the touch gloves on.
     Next I  located  the  other  can  end. Getting  slowly to  my feet  and
enjoying  being vertical, I felt around the stall . I found the door handle,
opened it and walked  very slowly and carefully out  into  what I could feel
was a narrow corridor  with  painted brick  walls. A faint  glimmer of light
under the  swing door trickled  into the  corridor about ten feet  up  on my
left.  Picking my feet  up and putting them down with infinite care, my left
hand supporting me on the wall, I made my way toward the light.
     As I got closer I began to hear a vehicle engine revving, then starting
to move off.
     Once  at  the  door  I  couldn't find  a  keyhole to  look through, so,
clearing the debris on the ground, I got down on my knees. Chains rattled as
the  roller shutter  was  pulled  open.  I wondered  if  the pizza boys were
leaving town.
     Lying flat on the floor on my right side,  I managed to get  my eyeball
close to the bottom of the door. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled  out  the
bottom half of the can, the one I hadn't worked on. Using the  light to find
a  place  in the metal where I could start peeling this time, I got  to work
and put my eye back against the gap.
     I'd  been  right, it was some sort of hangar or factory space.  It  was
mostly  in  darkness,  but  lit  in  places by  twelve-inch-long  florescent
lighting units, the sort that campers use.  These had either been perched on
the hoods of wagons or were  being carried around.  The pools of almost blue
light and shadow made the place look like the set of the Twilight Zone.
     Several vehicles  were parked  in a  row on the far left,  about  forty
yards away, sedans, wagons, MPVs, and SUVs,  some  of which  had  roof racks
piled with skis.
     My thumb  slipped and ran along the  ripped can.  I still couldn't feel
it, but at least some sensation was  returning to my hands. Pins and needles
had started to work  their  way around my fingers while I carried on peeling
the metal back.
     I  looked  straight ahead  to  the exit,  my  only way out, then at the
people who would try and stop me. They were mostly by the two
     remaining vans, parked haphazardly in the middle of the hangar.
     A  group  of maybe  five or six bodies  were hurriedly unloading  their
weapons  and taking off  their white  uniforms  and bundling  them into what
looked like Lacon  boxes  aluminim  airfreight  containers.  They were  in a
hurry, but not rushing. No one was talking; everyone seemed to know what was
required.
     When  one of the  bodies did a  half turn so that it was in  profile, I
realized that Bobby wasn't the only woman on this job.
     As they continued to throw off  their kit, I  could now  see where  the
sound  of Velcro had come from: She was  ripping apart  the side straps from
sets of body armor before stacking them in the boxes.
     Another group of maybe  eight  were out of their whites  and  unpacking
civilian  clothes from  duffel bags. Others  were combing their hair  in the
side mirrors, trying to make themselves look like normal citizens.
     I caught a glimpse of the 4x4 I'd been  transported in; its back window
safety glass was pockmarked with holes where the rounds had  passed through.
Beyond it were the shapes of the other vehicles used  on the job, which were
now probably going to be abandoned. Strike marks from automatic weapons were
not the best kind of modification to be sporting at stoplights.
     I couldn't see any evidence of the computer kit. I assumed they'd moved
it straight  on,  along with  the pizza boys and probably Bobby and the  guy
with  the hook hanging  from his  thigh. They'd be in need of proper  trauma
care. Since  the weather had  put a stop to  a quick exfiltration, the  next
destination would be a  secure area like  the U.S. embassy. From  there, the
equipment  would  probably be  moved by diplomatic bag back to the  U.S. Dip
bags are basically  mail sacks  or containers that by mutual agreement other
governments  cannot  have access to, which  means they can contain  anything
from sensitive documents to weapons, ammunition, and dead  bodies.  I'd even
heard a story of the  intelligence service bringing back the turret of a new
Russian armored personnel carrier in what must have been a party-sized one.
     The pizza boys would  be stuck in  the embassy  or a safe house until a
heli could get in  sometime tomorrow and  airlift them  out of the  country,
unless there  was  a U.S. warship in dock.  If I didn't get  a grip of  this
situation, I knew I'd soon be following them.
     Everyone was now out of  their whites  and in jeans,  down jackets, and
hats. The woman was still organizing the loading of the Lacons.
     Loud metallic echoes filled the hangar as the boxes were moved into the
vans.
     One man seemed  to be running the whole show. I couldn't  see  his face
from this distance, but he was the tallest of the  group, maybe six foot two
or three, and  a head above everyone else. He  gathered  everyone around him
and seemed to  be giving them a  brief.  They were certainly doing a  lot of
nodding, but his  voice wasn't loud enough for  me to understand what he was
saying.
     While he finished the briefing, the doors of the two vans slammed, both
engines revved and they started to leave. Their headlights swept across  the
group as they turned toward the shutter.
     I felt around  the rim of  the half can in my hands as the  chains went
into  action. I  wasn't doing  particularly well  with  it because I  hadn't
really been concentrating.
     I watched the  Wasp team  disperse as they moved off toward the line of
vehicles like aircrew to  their fighters, lights  swinging  in their  hands.
They were  probably going to  split up and do their own  thing, probably  in
exactly the same way as they'd come into the country in the first place.
     They would now be sterile of anything implicating them in the job. They
would have cover documents and a perfect cover story and would certainly  no
longer  be armed.  All  they had to do was  wander back to their chalets and
hotels as if they'd had a good night out, which I supposed they had. None of
them was dead.
     More engines revved, doors slammed, and headlights came on. I could see
the  fumes  rising  from exhausts. It looked a bit  like  the starting  grid
before a Grand Prix.
     The people from the embassy would  probably take care of the  abandoned
vehicles. Their priority was  to get  away from  here now that the equipment
and pizza boys were safely  on their  way. Their  only problem was that they
had a little bonus me.
     It  looked  like  the Wasp  and  another  woman  were  taking  on  that
responsibility. The vehicles were now leaving, but they were  still on their
feet, the woman with a set of jumper cables dragging along the  floor as she
moved  out of  the  way of the holiday makers. They were leaving nothing  to
chance.
     Red brake  lights  lined up as they took it  in turn to  exit and  hang
left. Snow was still falling. I could see it clearly now as full beams shone
out into the darkness.
     Soon there was just one car left stationary, its engine running and its
lights blazing.  The Wasp was sitting sideways in the driver's seat with his
feet on the concrete,  the glow of  a cigarette intensifying as he sucked on
it. The interior  light  was on and I could make  out thick curly hair on  a
very large head.
     The  jumper  cables  were  thrown  into  the  rear seat  and the  woman
disappeared into the darkness.
     At  last I'd finished  the  other half of the can.  The blood  from  my
fingers felt cold  as it  was soaked  up  by  my touch gloves. It was a good
sign. Feeling had returned to my hands.
     It was quiet for a few  moments, with just the engine ticking over, and
then chains started rattling, and the shutter closed. The woman emerged from
the  shadows  once again and bent toward the  glowing cigarette.  I couldn't
make out any of her features because her hair covered her face.
     They talked for a moment, then he turned back into the car to  stub his
cigarette in the ashtray. He was clearly  too professional even to leave DNA
evidence  on the floor. By then  she  was round the back,  pulling open  the
trunk.
     The Wasp started walking in my direction, his  long legs silhouetted by
the vehicle's headlamps. There was a flicker of bright white light, then the
florescent unit in his left hand burst into life. I could see that he'd just
finished pulling his ski mask back on. I watched his right hand go under his
coat and come  out  again holding a multi barreled P7,  which  went into his
coat pocket.
     My body banged into shock. He was coming to kill me. I made myself calm
down. Of course he wasn't coming to kill me. Why would they have gone to the
trouble of bringing  me here? And  why the hood to hide his identity? He was
taking precautions in case I'd pulled my hood off.
     The car edged forward with the trunk open as he got within about thirty
feet of the door, the light still swaying in his  left hand.  It was time to
get in  gear, otherwise  I'd soon be given a dose of the medicine I'd forced
Val to take last week.
     I  got to  my feet and moved  to the  right of the door,  away from the
toilets, stressing at the prospect of  taking on a guy of his size. All that
stuff about  the bigger  they are,  the harder they  fall, it's a  myth. The
bigger they are, the harder they hit you back.
     I wasn't sure how long the hallway was, but I soon found out. I'd
     only taken four steps when I banged into  the end wall. Turning back, I
faced the  door, fumbling  in my  pocket  for the other half-can,  breathing
deeply to oxygenate myself in preparation.
     The door swung open with  a metallic screech of its hinges, momentarily
flooding the area with bright white  light. I could hear  the car whining in
reverse. He  had turned  right,  his massive back to  me  now as he took the
first few steps toward my toilet stall.
     I moved  quickly  as the door closed;  not exactly running,  because  I
didn't want  to trip,  but  taking  long, fast  steps to get some  speed and
momentum, with my right arm raised. With the main door closed and car engine
running, there was no way she was going to hear this.
     He did, though, and  when I was still  a couple of feet away he started
to turn.
     I focused on the  shape of his head as I leaped  up and at him. Landing
with my  left foot forward,  I swung my whole body to the left, my right arm
crooked  and the palm held open.  Sometimes a really firm, heavy slap to the
face can be more effective than a punch, and that's absolutely guaranteed if
you're wielding a sawed off soda can with razor-sharp edges.
     It hit his head hard. I didn't  care  where  the can connected, just so
long as it did. There  was a loud groan. I  didn't feel  the can digging in,
just  the pressure of my arm being stopped  mid swing as the rest of my body
carried on swiveling.
     The light danced  as the florescent unit in  his  hand clattered to the
concrete, and he started to follow it. I swung to the right with my left arm
slightly bent, still focusing on his head. I hit  the mark; I could feel the
softness of  his cheek under the  left half of  the can, then felt it scrape
around the contour of his jaw  as he fell. He moaned again, this time louder
and with more anguish. By now he was on his knees.
     As I brought my right  hand down hard  onto the  top  of his  head, the
metal edges dug deep, then hit  bone, stripping  back the skin as he fell. I
gouged a thick furrow from his scalp; the can held for a couple more  inches
and then broke free.
     He  slumped to the ground, hands  scrabbling to protect his head. For a
few more frenzied seconds I continued  to slash  at his hands and head, then
his  hands   fell  away   and   he  lay  very  still.  He  wasn't   feigning
unconsciousness: he wouldn't have risked dropping
     his  hands  and exposing  himself to  further attack. He had  gone into
shock, but he was still breathing; He wasn't dead. He was never going to get
a job modeling for Gillette, but he'd live. There had been no other way out.
If you're going to stop somebody, you have to do it as quickly and violently
as you can.
     The florescent unit threw a pool of light across the floor and onto his
ski mask. The wool still looked remarkably intact, as it does when a sweater
rips and the tear seems to knit itself together, unless you look at it close
up. Blood was seeping through the material.
     Dropping the cans, I rolled him over onto his back and, putting my knee
into  his face just  to  make things worse, I pulled out  the P7  and a cell
phone that was also in there. That went into my pocket.
     My breathing  was now  very  fast and shallow and just  slightly louder
than the engine ticking over  immediately beyond the swing door. I could see
the red  glow  from the  tail lights  under the door gap, and  my  nose  was
filling with exhaust fumes.
     Getting to my feet, I got hold of the top of his ski mask and pulled it
off. At last I saw the extent of the damage. He had some severe gouges where
the can had gone right through his cheeks  and flaps of skin hung across his
mouth. In places I could  see  bone through  the blood-soaked, hairy mess of
his skull.
     I pulled the mask over my head,  trying to cut down  on  the chances of
being recognized later. It was wet and warm. I checked  his body for a radio
as he  whined weakly to himself. There was nothing; he'd have  been planning
to be sterile like the rest of them. He'd had to hang onto the P7 to sort me
out.
     I turned toward the door. It was the woman's turn next.
     Pushing through, I moved into a  cloud of  red  fumes and brake lights.
The vehicle was  no  more than three feet away,  engine  idling, trunk still
open  and waiting for me.  I moved  straight to  the  left hand side  as the
passenger door banged shut behind me. Bringing the pistol up into the aim, I
pointed  it  at  the woman's face, the muzzle a foot from the  glass. If she
opened the door, she couldn't knock the pistol out of line quickly enough to
do anything  about it; if she tried to drive  forward, she would  die  first
round.
     She stared wide-eyed at the barrel from under her multicolored ski hat.
In the glow from  the instrument panel I  could see her trying to make sense
of what her eyes were telling her. It wouldn't take her
     long; my blood-soaked touch gloves and the Wasp's mask would soon  give
her a clue.
     With  my left hand I motioned for her  to get out. I was supposed to be
Russian; I wasn't going to open my mouth unless I had to.
     She kept staring,  transfixed. She was  bluffing; she'd drop me at  the
first opportunity.
     Moving further  back as  the door  inched open, I decided  to  put on a
heavy Slavic accent. Well, what I thought sounded like one. "Gun, gun!"
     She stared  up  at me with frightened eyes and  said  in  a little-girl
voice, "Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me."
     Then she  opened her  legs to show me a P7  nestled between  her jeaned
thighs. They were  definitely  traveling sterile,  otherwise they would have
had conventional weapons for this phase.
     I motioned for her to drop it in the foot well  She moved her hand very
slowly downward to comply.
     The  moment  she'd  dropped  it  I  moved  in,  grabbing  her  by   her
shoulder-length, dark-brown hair and heaving her out of the car and onto all
fours. With the P7 jammed into her neck I felt for a cell phone. It seemed I
had the  only one. Moving back three paces, I pointed at the far wall, where
the car had originally been parked, and she got up and  started  walking.  I
didn't  care what she did  now that she was disarmed. All their radios would
have been stashed, I had the cell  phone and there was no one  left that she
could turn to for help.
     I got into the warm car, a Ford, threw it into first gear and  screamed
toward the closed  shutter. She was  probably in  the hallway by now to find
out what had happened to her friend the Wasp.
     Stopping alongside the four vans and  the shot-out 4x4,1 got out with a
P7 in hand and splashed through the small puddles made  by melting snow from
the vehicles, ready to shoot  out some tires. You  don't just go up and fire
straight at rubber: There's too high a chance of the round ricocheting back.
You use the engine block to protect you, lean round the door and then do it.
     The  P7's signature  thud was nothing to the high-pitched  dmgggg  that
echoed round the hangar as the round hit metal. Then there was a hiss as air
escaped under pressure.
     I  took a look behind  me; there was nothing happening from the hallway
yet.
     Once  all vehicles were taken care of,  I jumped back into the driver's
seat and  aimed for the garage doors,  though this time in  reverse, so  the
headlights were pointed at the swing  door. If she came for me,  I wanted to
see.
     I  braked, threw the gearbox into neutral and leaped  out. The ice-cold
metal chains burned my hands even through  the touch gloves as I pulled down
in a frenzy  to open the shutters. Raising them just enough  to get  the car
out, I clambered  back  in and  reversed out into the snowfall, pointing the
vehicle in the direction everyone else had gone.
     I  left the hangar behind, not knowing  whether  to feel sorry  for the
Wasp, relieved at  still being alive, or angry with Val  and Liv.  I checked
the fuel tank; it was nearly full, as I would  have expected. The cell phone
went  out  the  window and  buried itself in  the snow. No  way  was such  a
fantastic tracking device going to stay with me.
     The  snow was falling  heavily.  I  didn't have a clue where I was, but
that didn't really matter as long as I got away. Pulling at the mask, I felt
the Wasp's blood smear across my face. It  finally came  off, and I threw it
into the foot well along with the other P7.
     Hitting the in  tenor light, I took a look in the mirror. There was  so
much red  stuff on me I looked like a beet. There  was  no way I could drive
after first light or in a builtup area looking like this.
     The steering wheel, too, was smeared with blood from the touch  gloves.
I'd have to sort myself out. After maybe an hour I pulled  off the road, and
had a quick wash in the freezing snow. Then, with a cleaned-up body and car,
and the blood-soaked gear buried in a snow drift, I drove through the night,
looking for signs that would steer me to Helsinki.
     The more I thought about it, the more severely pissed I became. Whether
Liv and  Val knew about the Americans wanting to join in  the  fun, I wasn't
sure, but I intended to find out.

     Wednesday, December 15.1999
     I set an  the flam next to  a red  star  in the corner  of the station,
facing the row of telephone  booths that displayed the  DLB loaded sign. The
black marker  strike  down  the  side of  the  right-hand booth  was clearly
visible from the bus station doors  immediately to my right. I had a copy of
the International Herald  Tribune, an  empty  coffee cup  and,  in  my right
pocket, a P7 with a full seven-round unit. Detached  from its pistol grip in
my left-hand pocket was the other unit, containing three remaining rounds.
     As  soon as the shops opened  that morning I'd bought a complete set of
clothes  to  replace  the cold,  wet  ones I  was wearing.  I was now  in  a
dark-beige ski jacket, gloves, and a blue fleece pointed  hat. I didn't care
if I looked dorky; it  covered up my head and  most of my face. My pulled-up
jacket collar did the rest.
     Pain  lanced  across  my  left shoulder as I adjusted  my position. The
bruising  probably looked horrendous. There was nothing I could do  about it
but moan to myself and be thankful I hadn't fallen on anything sharp.
     I'd dumped  the car off at a suburban railway station just after  eight
o'clock that morning and took  the  train into the  city. The snow was still
falling, so the vehicle would be covered  by now and the plates  would be un
checkable On arrival at Helsinki I'd pulled off the left-luggage ticket from
under locker number eleven and collected my bag, cash, passports, and credit
cards. I also checked
     for Tom's, ticket under number ten. It was still wrapped in its plastic
and taped under the locker.
     I'd been thinking  about  him  a lot. If the Americans  or the Maliskia
hadn't killed him last night, the  weather would have.  Tom had skills,  but
playing at Grizzly Adams wasn't one of them.
     I felt pissed, but not too sure if  that was for him or me. It was then
that I wrote him  off. There has to  be  a stage  when that happens, so your
mind can be free to concentrate on more important things, and I wasn't short
of those.
     I left his  bag ticket where it was. It would be an emergency supply of
money  and a new passport, once  I'd  tampered  with  it, in case what I was
about to do went to rat shit.
     Despite my best efforts, I found I couldn't help feeling sorry  for Tom
as I sat and watched a constant flow of travelers moving through  the doors.
It was my lies  and promises that had got him where he was now, face down in
the snow or  bundled up  somewhere  in an American body bag. The thing  that
made me  feel even guiltier was that  I knew I was  just as pissed about not
making any money as I was about his death.
     Cutting  away from  that,  I  buried my  hands  deeper into my pockets,
wrapping  them round the P7 barrels. I was getting even more annoyed because
I'd dumped  the bag and  blanket that could now be keeping my ass  warm  and
comfortable, and because I knew that Tom's death would become yet another of
those niggling  little glitches  that would  surface  in  the  hours  before
daybreak while I tried to sleep.
     The station was packed. Santa  Claus  had  already done  two  circuits,
collecting  money  for  neglected  reindeer  or  whatever.  People had  been
dragging  in  the snowfall  on  their  footwear  and, thanks  to  the  large
Victorian-style  radiators,  puddles  had  formed  around  the door area and
gradually spread further into the station.
     I looked  at  Baby G. It was 2:17  and  I'd  been here over four  hours
already.  I was dying for another coffee, but needed to  keep  an eye on the
doors; besides,  once I  drank I would inevitably  need the bathroom at some
stage, and I couldn't afford to miss Liv when and if she arrived.
     It was going  to be a  long food- and coffee-free day, and maybe night.
From the point of  view  of third-party awareness, it's not too  bad hanging
around a railway station; you can get away with it for quite a long time.
     I  adjusted  my  numb,  cold ass  again,  deciding  not to  waste  time
speculating about  what the fuck  had happened at the  Microsoft  house. The
facts  were, I had made no money, Tom was dead and I could be  in a world of
shit with  the Americans  and  a  universe  of  shit  with the  Firm.  If my
involvement  was discovered, I'd  end up helping to  prop up  an  arch in  a
concrete  pillar somewhere  along  the  new Eurotunnel  high-speed link. I'd
never  been too worried about dying, but to be killed by my own people would
be a bit depressing.
     The longer I'd thought about what had happened on the drive last night,
the more I'd boiled over with hostility toward Liv and Val. I had to come up
with a  plan that still  got me what I needed and not waste time and  energy
trying to  work out how to get even. Apart from anything else, that wouldn't
pay any clinic  bills. Plan  B was taking  shape  in my head. The Maliskia's
money  would  pay for Kelly when I lifted  Val and offered him  to  them for
cash. My life had been up for grabs for years, and for a lot less money.
     I had no idea how I was  going to do it yet; I'd have to hit the ground
running. But  the first phase would be to let Liv  think I had the Think Pad
with the downloaded information on it, and, because of last  night's fuckup,
I'd only deal with Val now, and only in Finland. Who knows? If Val turned up
with the money, I could just take that and save myself the hassle.
     But that wasn't the message I'd left in the plastic  box I'd placed  in
the DLB. It was empty,  just there so that when she came to get it there was
something to unload, so as not to arouse suspicion.  Everything needed to be
as it should be. As she left the  station I would  grab  her and tell her in
person, so she made no mistake about what I wanted.
     I'd been sitting there for another twenty minutes when a large group of
schoolkids on an excursion tried to get through the bus station doors all at
once, juggling  bags, skis, and Big Macs as they tried  to  walk, talk,  and
listen to Walkmans at the same time.
     Less than thirty seconds later I saw Liv come through and walk straight
past the loaded sign  without even  turning  her head. But I knew she  would
have seen it. Her long  black coat, Tibetan hat, and light-brown  boots were
easy to  spot among the crowd as  she  moved through the hall, brushing snow
from a shoulder with one hand and carrying two large paper Stockmann bags in
the other.
     She carried on past the kiosks and rest rooms, maneuvering
     through the schoolkids, who were now waiting  for one of their teachers
to  sort his  shit out with the tickets.  I kept my eye on the peak of Liv's
hat.
     I  had a good check to make  sure she hadn't  been followed in, just in
case she'd brought any protection with her, or worse, in case the Wasp had a
few of the party faithful on her tail.
     The  hat disappeared  as she  turned left into  the ticketing and metro
hallway. There was no rush, I knew where she was heading.
     Once  on my feet  and  past  the school trip I spotted  her again, just
about  to  sit on top  of the  DLB, next to some more kids.  The street  pre
former  was in  his normal spot, knocking out some old Finn favorite  on his
accordion. The noise mixed nicely with the ruckus  from a group of drunks on
the other  side of  the benches. They  were having  an argument  with  Santa
Claus, much to the amusement of those passing.
     Liv sat down as Santa poked the chest of one of the drunks. Staff began
to step  in to separate them. I watched Liv  bend  down  and pretend to mess
around with her bags. Her hand moved to pick up the DLB. The empty container
was pulled from the Velcro and dropped into one of the bags; it wouldn't get
read here.
     I  waited for her  to  leave, positioning myself in a  corner  so  that
whatever door she decided to  head for I wouldn't be in her line of sight. A
few minutes passed before  she stood up, looking  toward the  ticketing area
and  smiling  broadly. Her arms  went out as the  man  from  St.  Petersburg
emerged, smiling, from  the crowd. They embraced  and kissed,  then sat down
together, talking in that smiley, hand-in-hand,  nice-to-see-you way,  their
noses  only inches apart.  He was  dressed in the same long camel-hair coat,
this time with a dark maroon turtleneck sticking out of  the  top.  Today he
also carried a light-brown leather briefcase.
     Making sure I wasn't in line  of sight of the platform doors, I checked
the departures  and  arrivals board  high on the  wall.  The  St. Petersburg
train, going  on to Moscow, was  leaving from Platform 8 at 3:34  just  over
half an hour's time.
     They talked  for  another  ten  minutes and  then  both stood up. Liv's
contact picked  up her bags in one hand, his  briefcase in another, and they
walked toward the platform doors.
     Alarm bells started  to ring in my head. Why had he picked up her bags?
My heart started to pound even harder when they both
     went  through the doors  and out  onto the snow-covered platform. Shit,
was she going with him?  Maybe the courier had just given her the news about
what had happened at Microsoft HQ and Liv was bailing out while she could.
     I counted to ten and pushed my way out into the cold. Platform 8 was to
the right of me as I headed toward the luggage lockers. The snow was falling
gently and there wasn't  a breath of wind. I walked with my head down, hands
in pockets. Glancing sideways across the tracks, I saw they were heading for
the  cars  about  midway  along  the  train.  I  walked  slowly  toward  the
left-luggage room, watching until they got on board. Then, checking my watch
as if I'd just remembered something, I turned  on my heels. There were about
seventeen minutes to go before they left  for St. Petersburg, and  it looked
like I'd have to go with them.
     I went past two of the Russian train staff, standing in the guard's van
at the rear  of the train, their high-peaked, Nazi-officer-style caps pushed
onto the backs of their heads as they glumly took a swig of whatever  was in
their bottle.
     I climbed  aboard  and entered a clean, though  very old  car,  with  a
corridor facing the platform and compartments all the way along to my right.
I  moved  along  the  warm  walkway  and  sat  down  on  one  of  the  hard,
fabric-covered  seats   in   the  first  empty  compartment.   The   strong,
almost-scented cigarette smell probably never left these trains.
     What  now? I  had  money but no visa. How  was  I  going to  cross into
Russia? Hiding in the rest rooms only works in Agatha Christie movies. Maybe
a bribe could get me in. I'd play the dickhead tourist who hadn't got a clue
about  needing  a passport, let alone a visa, and  offer to be very generous
with my dollars if they would just  be so kind as to stamp me in or whatever
they  could  do for  me. After  all, only  a lunatic would want to get  into
Russia illegally.
     I sat and watched snow-covered Nazi  hats strolling along the platforms
below the  windows. My carotid pulse was throbbing on both sides of  my neck
and there was  a pain running up the center of my chest as I heard  whistles
being blown and the heavy car doors slamming closed.
     I checked Baby  G--three  minutes  to go. It  wasn't  dealing with  the
guards and  immigration  people  that was getting me  stressed;  it was  the
possibility of losing Liv, my only quick and certain link to Val.
     My compartment door was pulled open and an old woman in a
     long  fur  came  in,  carrying  a small  overnight  bag.  She  muttered
something and I gave  a grunt in reply. Looking  up,  I caught a glimpse  of
black leather moving on the platform. Now what was happening? Liv carried on
past with her bags, head down against the snow.
     I felt huge relief as I jumped  up and moved  along the corridor, but I
couldn't get out yet in case the courier was watching her  and  wondered why
someone else had decided to jump train.
     She disappeared into  the station and I leaped  onto  the platform, not
checking  to see if  he was looking, and  headed for the doors  she had just
passed  through.  I  spotted her hat above  the  crowd, heading for the  bus
station exit. She  must know by now that there was no message in the box.  I
fell in behind, waiting for my chance to grip her. I  was about twenty paces
behind as  she  pushed her  way through the bus station doors.  Once through
them myself, I looked out into the  snowfall. All I could see were buses and
lines of  people trying  to get on them; Liv must have turned off as soon as
she hit the sidewalk.
     I was moving down the steps  when there was a  shout  behind me. "Nick!
Nick!"
     I stopped, spun round, and looked back up toward the doors.
     "Liv! How lovely to see you."
     She  was standing by one  of the pillars, left  of the doors,  smiling,
arms outstretched, getting ready to greet another of  her long-lost friends.
I switched  on and played the game, walking into her  arms, letting her kiss
me on both cheeks. She smelled great, but what I could see of her hair under
her hat wasn't as well groomed as usual and was knotted at the ends.
     "I thought I would wait  for you. I knew you would be around somewhere,
otherwise why leave an empty container?"
     Still  embracing, I  looked at her with my wonderful-to  see-you smile.
"Tom is dead," I said.
     The look on her face  told me she knew how I felt. She pulled back  and
smiled. "Come, walk with  me. You have a right to be angry,  but all is  not
lost, Nick." She invited me with her  gloved  hand to carry her  bags.  As I
bent down I saw the boyfriend's light-brown briefcase.
     Still smiling at her, I gripped her arm and more or less pulled
     her down the stairs. Once on the  sidewalk  I turned  right, toward the
front of the station and the town center. "What the fuck's going  on? We got
hit by an American team last  night. I was lifted. Then the fucking Russians
hit them!"
     She nodded as I ranted  away  at her, doing her normal trick of knowing
everything but giving very little away.
     I said, "You already know that, don't you?"
     "Of course. Valentin always finds out everything."
     "You and Val have been fucking me  over big time. Enough.  I  want  him
here tomorrow, with the  money. Then I'll give him what he wants. I have the
Think Pad and it's downloaded with what you want." I wished I'd taken Tom up
on his offer back at  the lead house to  let him tell me exactly what he was
doing.
     She hadn't even been listening. "Are you sure Tom is dead?"
     "If he's out in this shit..." I held my hand out.
     She looked exactly the  same as she  had done in the hotel, calm and in
control, almost as if she was in another place and I wasn't talking to her.
     I increased my grip on her arm and guided her down the road, not caring
what passers-by might think.
     "Listen, I have the download. But I'll only deal with Val now, not you.
There will be no more fuckups."
     "Yes, Nick, I  heard  you the first time.  Now  tell  me, this  is very
important. Valentin will not do a thing  unless he has all  the details. Did
the Americans take all of the hardware with them from the house?"
     "Yes."
     "Did the Americans capture any of the occupants from the house?"
     "Yes. I saw three."
     "Did the Maliskia  then manage to take any of the hardware or occupants
from the Americans?"
     She  was  like  a doctor  working  through a  list  of symptoms with  a
patient.
     "Not the occupants.  They  got one  of  the wagons  that contained some
hardware, for sure."
     She nodded slowly. We  joined  a small crowd at a crossing, waiting for
the green man to illuminate, even though there was no traffic to stop us all
crossing.
     I whispered into her ear. "This is bullshit, Liv. I want Val here, with
the money, then I'll  hand everything over and fuck off and leave all of you
to it."
     My rhetoric was having no effect on her whatsoever. We crossed the main
drag  to the  sound  of the  warbling signal, heading  for the  cobblestoned
pedestrian shopping area.
     "That, Nick, will not happen. He will  not  come, for the simple reason
that you haven't anything  to trade, have you?" She spoke very evenly. "Now,
please answer my questions. This is very important.  For everyone, including
you."
     Fuck  her, I wasn't  waiting for  any more questions.  Besides, she was
right again. "Why did the Americans hit the house? Whatever we were going in
for belongs to them, doesn't it? It's not commercial, it's state."
     She treated me to her best Mr. Spock look as I dragged her along. "Turn
right here."
     I  turned  the  corner.  We  were  on  one  of  the  shopping  streets.
Streetcars, cars, and trucks splashed through the slush.
     "The Americans were NSA, Nick."
     Oh  fuck.  My heart sank to  hear my  suspicion  confirmed and the pain
returned to my chest. I wanted money, but not that badly. This was a big boy
fuckup. Those people were the real government of America. "Are you sure?"
     She nodded.  "They also hit my house last night about  two  hours after
you left."
     "How did you get away?"
     She  flicked at the ends of her hair. "By having a  very  cold and long
night out on the lake."
     "How did they know to hit you?"
     "They  must  have  been guided  to the house, but I don't know how. Now
please, you are just wasting time and we don't have a lot of it."
     I didn't even notice a van passing and giving my jeans and her coat the
good news with some slush.  I  was busy feeling more  depressed than  pissed
now. The NSA. I really was in the shit.
     She gave me more directions. "Cross here."
     We  waited like sheep again  until a little green man told us to cross.
Jaywalking must carry the death penalty in this country. Moving on green, it
was safe to talk again.
     "Tell  me, did you or Tom  use e-mail, telephone, fax, or anything like
that while you were at the house?"
     "Of course not, no."
     And then I remembered what had happened at the airport. "Wait. Tom did.
Tom "
     She turned her head sharply. "What? What did Tom do?"
     "He used e-mail. He sent an e-mail to someone in the U.K."
     The calm,  controlled  look drained  from her face.  She  stood  still,
pushing me  away as people skipped around what looked  like a  domestic spat
just about to erupt.
     "I told you both not to do that!"
     I pulled her back toward me, as  if I was in  command, leading her down
the street. She  composed herself, and finally, very calmly, she said,  "So,
it was Tom who brought the Americans here." She pointed to  the  right, down
another cobblestoned street. "Valentin wants me  to show you something, then
I am to make  you an  offer that your pocket and conscience will not let you
refuse. Come. This way."
     As  we  turned I decided  to keep quiet about the  fact  that it wasn't
necessarily Tom's fault. E4  might have followed me from the  moment I  left
her apartment in  London, or kept tabs on us via Tom's credit card. But fuck
it; I couldn't do anything about that now.
     We'd ended up by the harbor. A fish  and vegetable market  had been set
up  on the dock,  steam billowing from  under plastic awnings that protected
the traders and their merchandise from the snow.
     "Over there, Nick."
     My eyes followed hers, hitting  on what looked like the world's largest
Victorian conservatory a couple of hundred yards away from the market.
     "Let's  go and  get out  of the cold, Nick.  I think it's time you knew
what's really going on."

     The  teahouse  was  hot  and  filled  with  the  aroma  of  coffee  and
cigarettes. We bought  food and  drinks from  the counter and  headed  for a
vacant table in a corner.
     With our coats over a spare seat and  her hat now removed, it  was even
more obvious that Liv had had a bad night.  We  must both have looked pretty
rough compared with  the  American tourists who were  beginning  to fill the
place, fresh off  the cruise liner I could see down in the harbor. The sharp
hiss of  the cappuccino machine  punctuated their conversations,  which  for
some  reason were louder  than everybody else's. The  Finns seemed to  speak
very quietly.
     Our table was by a grand piano and partly screened by potted palms. The
less conspicuous the better.  Liv leaned forward and took a  sip of tea from
her  glass while I shoved a salmon  sandwich down  my throat. She watched me
for  a  while,  then asked,  "Nick,  what do  you  know  of  the U.K./U.S.A.
agreement?"
     A camera flash  bounced around as  the  tourists  posed with  their tea
glasses and big wedges of chocolate cake. I took a swig of  tea.  I knew the
bones of it. Set up by Britain and America  in  the late  1940s, since  when
Canada, Australia, and New Zealand had  also become  part  of the  club, the
agreement basically  covered  the pooling of intelligence on mutual enemies.
Beyond that, however, the member  countries also used their resources to spy
on  each  other: In particular,  the U.K. spied on American  citizens in the
U.S.A." and  the Americans spied on British citizens  in the U.K."  and then
they
     traded. Technically  it wasn't illegal, just a very neat way of getting
round strict civil liberties legislation.
     Liv's eyes  followed  three  elderly  Americans  in  multicolored  down
jackets as they  squeezed  past  our  table, loaded down with  tea trays and
elegant paper shopping bags full of Finnish crafts. They didn't seem able to
make a decision about where to sit.
     Liv looked  back at me. "Nick, the  three  men in the house last  night
were  Finns.  They were engaged in accessing  a  technology  called Echelon,
which is at the very heart of the agreement."
     "You mean you were trying to get Tom and me to access state secrets for
the Russian mafia?"
     She looked calmly around  the other tables and took another sip of tea.
She shook  her head.  "It's not  like that  at  all,  Nick. I didn't explain
everything to you before, for reasons that I'm sure you will understand, but
Valentin  wants commercial information, that's  all.  Believe  me, Nick, you
were not stealing secrets, state or military. Quite the contrary:  You  were
helping to stop others from doing precisely that."
     "So how come the NSA were involved?"
     "They simply  wanted  their toy back.  I promise  you,  Valentin has no
interest in the West's military secrets. He can get those whenever he wants;
it's not exactly difficult, as I'll demonstrate to you shortly." She glanced
at the Americans to make sure they weren't listening, then back at me. "What
do you know of Echelon?"
     I knew it was some kind of electronic eavesdropping system run by GCHQ,
intercepting transmissions and then sifting them for information, a bit like
an Internet search engine. However, I shrugged as if I  knew nothing at all,
I was more interested in hearing what she knew.
     Liv sounded as  if she was reading  from  the Echelon  sales  brochure.
"It's  a global  network  of  computers,  run by  all  five  nations  of the
U.K./U.S.A.  agreement. Every  second  of  every  day, Echelon automatically
sifts through millions of intercepted faxes, e-mails, and cell  phone calls,
searching for preprogrammed key words or numbers.
     "As  a security  precaution in our  organization,  we used to spell out
certain words over the phone, but now even that  has been overtaken by voice
recognition. The fact is, Nick, any message sent electronically, anywhere in
the world, is routinely intercepted and analyzed by Echelon.
     "The processors  in the network  are known as the Echelon dictionaries.
An Echelon station, and there are at least a dozen of them around the world,
contains  not  only its parent nation's specific dictionary, but  also lists
for each of the other four countries in the U.K./U.S.A. system. What Echelon
does  is to  connect  all  these  dictionaries  together and allow  all  the
individual listening stations to function as one integrated system.
     "For years Echelon has helped the West shape international treaties and
negotiations in  their favor,  to  know anything from the  health  status of
Boris  Yeltsin  to the  bottom-line  position  of  trading partners.  That's
serious information to  get  hold of, Nick. Why do you think we are  careful
not to use any form  of electronic communication? We know that we are tagged
by Echelon. Who isn't? Princess Diana's calls  were monitored because of her
work against land mines Charities  like Amnesty International and  Christian
Aid are  listened to because they have access to details about controversial
regimes. From the moment Tom started working at Menwith Hill, every  fax and
e-mail  he sent,  as well as phone calls,  would have  been intercepted  and
checked.
     "Those  Finns had designed a system to  hack into Echelon and piggyback
off  it.  The firewall that Tom  breached was  their protection  around that
system, to stop  them being detected and traced. They were online last night
for the very first time."
     "Trying to do what? Hack into NSA headquarters or something?"
     She shook  her head  slowly, as if in  disbelief at their  naivete. "We
knew from our  sources that  their sole  objective was  to pick up sensitive
market information that they could then profit  from. All they wanted was to
make a few  million dollars here and there; they  didn't understand the true
potential of what they had created."
     "But  what has all  this got to do  with me?" I  asked. "What  is Val's
offer?"
     She leaned  even  closer,  as if we were  exchanging  words of love. We
might as well have been, the way she spoke with such passion.
     "Nick, it's  very  important  to  me  that  you  understand  Valentin's
motives. Of course he wants  to make money out  of this, but more than that,
he wants the  East  eventually to be an equal trading partner with the West,
and that is never going to happen as long as
     ambitious men  like him  do not  have access to  commercial information
that only Echelon can provide."
     "Ambitious?"  I laughed. "I can think  of plenty of other words I'd use
before that one to describe ROC."
     She shook her head. "Think of America a hundred and fifty years ago and
you have Russia now. Men like Vanderbilt  didn't always stay within the  law
to achieve their aims. But they created wealth, a powerful middle class, and
that,  in  time,  creates  political stability.  That is how  you  must  see
Valentin;  he's  not  a  Dillinger,  he's  a  Rockefeller."  "Okay,  Val  is
businessman of the year. Why didn't he just strike a deal with the Finns?"
     "It doesn't  work  like that.  It would have alerted them to  what they
had, and then they'd have  sold it  to  the highest bidder.  Valentin didn't
want to  take that chance. He was happy for  them to make access and  try to
play the markets while he found out  where they were, and got to them before
the Maliskia."
     "And the Americans?"
     "If  you  had been  successful last night in  downloading  the program,
Valentin would  have told the Americans where the house was. They would then
have  gone in and closed it down without  knowing that he also had access to
Echelon. Remember what I said in London, that nobody must know..."
     Very  clever, I thought.  Val would  have  carried  on  logging  on  to
Echelon, and the West would have slept soundly in its bed.
     "But the Americans did know."
     "Yes, but  our security was  watertight. The  only  way they could have
found out was through Tom."
     Before we got sidetracked into conjecture about who was to blame, there
were plenty of other questions I wanted the answers to. "Liv, why Finland?"
     She  answered  with   evident   pride.   "We   are  one  of  the   most
technologically minded nations on  earth. This country  probably won't  even
have  currency  by the next generation, everything will be  electronic.  The
government is even  thinking of doing away with passports and having our IDs
embedded on the SIM cards in our cell phones. We are at the  cutting edge of
what is possible,  as  these young men demonstrated. They had  the skills to
hack  into Echelon, even if they lacked  the street sense  to know what they
could really
     do with it." She waited as I took a sip of tea. The sandwiches had long
gone. "Any more questions?"
     I shook my head. There were many, but they could wait. If she was ready
to explain the new proposal to me, I was ready to listen.
     "Nick, I have been authorized by Valentin to tell you that the offer of
money still stands, but your task has changed."
     "Of course it has. Tom is dead and the NSA have Echelon back."
     Her eyes  locked  on  to mine as she  shook her  head. "Wrong,  Nick. I
didn't  want to tell you this until the information was  confirmed, but  our
sources believe the Maliskia have Tom. Unfortunately, we  believe they  also
have  the Think  Pad This  is very  disturbing as it still  has the firewall
access sequence that--"
     I fought to  keep my  composure. "Tom's alive?  Fucking hell, Liv. I've
been sitting here drinking the man was dead."
     Her daughter-of-Spock face never changed. "The Maliskia think he's with
the Finns.  They  naturally  assumed  .. ." She waved her  hands  across the
table. "Remember, they also want access to Echelon."
     "So you want me to get Tom back."
     "Before I tell you the objective, Nick, I must explain a complication."
     A complication? This wasn't complicated enough?
     She bent  down  and lifted her boyfriend's briefcase onto the table. It
was dark outside now and Christmas lights twinkled in the marketplace.
     Liv opened the case. Inside was a laptop, which she fired up.
     I  watched as she  reached into her coat and  brought  out a dark  blue
floppy  disk in  a  clear plastic case. As she inserted the disk I heard the
Microsoft sound.
     "Here,  read  this. You need  to appreciate the situation completely so
you can understand the gravity of the task. I could just tell  you all this,
but I think you might want confirmation."
     She  handed the briefcase  over to me, the floppy  still loading as the
laptop did its stuff before displaying it on the screen.
     The disk icon came up on the desktop and I double clicked it. Adjusting
the  screen and  ensuring that  only I could see its contents, I  started to
read  as the group from outside came in  and greeted their friends, and lost
no  time  in  showing  them  their  purchases of Russian-style fur  hats and
reindeer-meat salamis.
     There  were two files on the disk. One  was untitled, the  other  said,
"Read Me First." I opened it.
     I was  presented  with  a Web  page from the London Sunday Times, dated
July 25 and displaying an article entitled, russian hackers

     Liv stood up. "More tea? Food?"
     I nodded and got back  to the screen as she went to the counter. By now
the tourists were a group of six and making enough talk for twelve.
     "American officials believe Russia may have stolen some of the nation's
most  sensitive  military secrets,"  the article began,  "including  weapons
guidance  systems  and naval intelligence codes,  in  a concerted  espionage
offensive that investigators have called operation Moonlight Maze."
     The theft was  so  sophisticated  and  well coordinated  that  security
experts believed America might be  losing  the  world's first cyberwar." The
hits against American military computer systems were even defeating the fire
walls that  were supposed to defend the  Pentagon from  cyber attack. During
one illegal infiltration, a technician tracking a computer intruder  watched
a secret document be hijacked and sent to an Internet server in Moscow.
     Experts  were  talking of  a "digital  Pearl  Harbor," where  an  enemy
exploited the  West's reliance on computer technology  to  steal  secrets or
spread  chaos  as  effectively as any attack using missiles  and bombs. With
just a  few taps on a computer laptop it seemed anyone could totally fuck up
any advanced  nation. Gas, water, and electricity  utilities  could  be shut
down   by  infiltrating  their   control  computers.   Civil  and   military
telecommunications  systems  could be jammed. The police could be  paralyzed
and civil chaos would take over. Fuck it, these days, who needed armies?
     Even top-secret military installations whose expertise was intelligence
security had  been breached. At the  Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
(Spawar), a unit in San Diego, California, which specialized in safeguarding
naval  intelligence codes,  an  engineer  was alerted to the problem when  a
computer print job took an unusually long time. Monitoring tools showed that
the file had been  removed  from  the printing queue and  transmitted to  an
Internet server in  Moscow before being  sent back to  San Diego. It was not
clear precisely what information  was  contained in the stolen document, but
beyond  its  role in naval  intelligence,  Spawar was  also responsible  for
providing  electronic  security systems  for  the Marine  Corps  and federal
agencies.   It   was  suspected  that  several  other  intrusions  had  gone
undetected.
     The piece went on to say that President Clinton had called for an extra
$600 million dollars to combat the problem of Moonlight Maze, but that still
might not be enough, as China, Libya, and  Iraq were developing  information
warfare  capabilities, and,  according to one White House official,  so were
certain  well-funded terrorist  groups.  It didn't take  much imagination to
think  of the damage Osama Bin Laden  and  his friends could  do if they got
their hands on it. As for the  massive Russian probing, that could very well
be the Maliskia.
     I double clicked  the  next file. What  came up on screen confirmed the
story of the hit against Spawar in San  Diego  could very well be  true. The
Sunday Times might not know what was in the file,  but  I did now. The Naval
Intelligence crest  in front of me headed a  list of maybe  fifty code words
that corresponded to radio frequencies.
     Liv sat down with more tea and sandwiches.
     "Have you read both?"
     I nodded, and  as I closed the files and  ejected the disk,  Liv leaned
over  and held out her hand. "Nick, you can help stop this from happening if
you want to."
     I passed  the  disk over  and started  to shut  down the laptop as  she
continued. "The Russian  government  aren't  the only  people who  buy  this
information from the Maliskia. So can anyone with a big enough checkbook."
     Obviously Val's was big enough, otherwise I wouldn't have been  reading
the code lists.
     "As I said before, Nick,  if they  get Echelon capability and start  to
exploit it, even without  selling  the information  to others, just think of
the consequences. They are already on the way to achieving the capability to
close  down the U.K.  or  U.S.  with  their Moonlight Maze operations;  with
Echelon they will have  complete  and unrestricted access to any information
worldwide--state, military,  commercial. .  You  can  stop it,  Nick, if you
want." She paused and looked me straight in the eye.
     I handed the briefcase back to her across the table. She was
     right. If this was  the truth, it  was  an offer my conscience couldn't
let me refuse. The idea of these machines listening to everything we did and
said was very Big  Brother, but  shit, I'd  rather have  just the  agreement
countries accessing it than everybody and their brother with enough cash. As
for the leak of military information, that had to  be stopped. I didn't give
a  shit  about  people  finding out about the  latest surface-to-air-missile
technical details or whatever. It was people's lives, including my own, that
mattered.  I had been part of enough fuckups  where friends had died because
of insecure information. If I  could stop it and  come away with  a suitcase
full of money, it seemed to touch every base.
     "So what exactly do you want me to do?"
     She heard the acceptance in my voice. "You must  destroy the Maliskia's
Moonlight Maze capabilities and any advance  they've made with Echelon. That
means, destroy the complete installation --computers, software, everything.
     "This time, however,  you'll be completely on your own. Valentin cannot
be seen  to be attacking the  Maliskia. Any conflict  would cause disharmony
and distract him from his aim. So if you encounter a  problem, I'm afraid he
or I will not be able to help you."
     I might be the most cynical man  in the U.K. about the  U.K." but I was
not a traitor. And if all she was saying was true, I was sure that Val would
be happy to open his checkbook a little wider, especially if I was having to
go in singlehanded. I sat back and held up three fingers.
     There wasn't a flicker in her face. "Dollars?"
     Since she'd even asked the question, the answer was obvious. "Sterling.
The same arrangements as for the exchange."
     She nodded. "Three million. You will be paid."
     It worried me slightly that she'd agreed so easily.
     "What guarantees do I have?"
     "You don't. And there's no money up front But Valentin is well aware of
the lengths you went to to track him down before, and that no doubt you'd do
the same again."
     "Correct."  I  didn't  need to  explain about never making a threat you
cannot keep. She knew.
     "As  I've said a number of times, Nick, he likes you. You will get your
money."
     "So tell me, where is the installation?"
     She pointed behind me,  out toward the harbor  and  the sea. "It's that
way. Estonia."
     I  frowned. The  only  thing I knew  about Estonia was that it had been
part of the old USSR." and  now  wanted  to be part of  NATO,  the E.U."  JC
Penny's  loyalty scheme, you  name it anything to detach  it from Russia for
good.
     "The population is  still thirty percent Russian.  The Maliskia find it
easier to operate from there."
     She lifted the  cup  to  her lips and screwed  up her face. The tea was
cold.
     There was one rather important point she seemed to have overlooked. "If
the Maliskia have Tom," I said, "I take it he'll be at this installation. Do
you want me  to bring him back  here after I've lifted him  or just take him
back to London?"
     She stared at me as if I was an idiot. "Nick, I thought you understood,
Tom must be considered part of their capability."
     She kept her gaze fixed on me for several moments while waiting for the
penny to drop. It finally did. She saw it in my face. "I don't wish to state
the obvious,  Nick, but why else do  you  think Valentin would pay you three
million? Tom must die."
     I was almost lost for words. "But why? I mean, why don't I just get him
out at the same time?"
     "That's  not an  option,  Nick. Tom will very  quickly  be coerced into
helping them with Echelon. As we both know, he can  breach the firewall.  We
know they have at least some  of the software.  We know  they  have Tom, and
probably also the Think Pad As soon as it all  links up, what's in his head,
what's  in his  pocket,  what's in the van  .. ."  She  shuddered.  "If  the
Maliskia  get  access  to  Echelon  and  add  it  to  their  Moonlight  Maze
capabilities,  they will have all the ingredients for  catastrophe.  It will
affect  not only Valentin's vision for the  East, but bring the West  to its
knees.
     "Look, Tom  has the Think Pad He has the ability to use it. The risk is
too great. What if you are killed  or taken  before finishing the task? Even
if you did rescue him he would still be in the country, and the  possibility
of capture by  them is a risk Valentin is not willing  to take. It is simply
better that Valentin sacrifices  Tom and  the opportunity to access  Echelon
himself  than risk the Maliskia having it. No  one, Nick, can afford for the
Maliskia to have Echelon."
     I was still finding this hard to accept.  "But  why not  just  tell the
Americans? Val was going to tell them about the Finns' house."
     "Unthinkable.  What if they  take Tom and  he explains exactly what has
been going on? Nick, I  don't think even you would want that, would you? Tom
would go back to prison for life and you'd be in the adjoining cell."
     Bending down  and placing the briefcase  in her  bag  once  again,  she
seemed to  be rounding up.  "I'm sorry,  Nick, but I have many  things to do
now, as you can appreciate. We'll meet tomorrow at Stockmann, eleven a.m. in
the cafe. That is the soonest that I'll be able to get more information. One
thing  is  certain, after that you  must  leave  as soon  as you can. If the
Maliskia have got Tom to cooperate, every hour counts."
     I looked at  her and nodded. "This new information, is it coming  in on
the 6:30 a.m. train from St. Petersburg?"
     She  didn't bat an eyelid. "Yes, of course.  Nick, I want  to apologize
once more for what  has  happened. It was just that if  you'd known  exactly
what was going on "
     "I wouldn't have done the job in the first place?"
     "Precisely.  I must  go now."  She  busied  herself in  standing up and
fastening her coat. "I think I need about fifteen minutes."
     I nodded. I'd get another tea while she got clear of the area, then I'd
go and find out exactly where Estonia was and how the fuck to get there.

     Thursday, December 12 1933
     Ten minutes before she was due to arrive, I  settled into a corner seat
at the Cafe Avec in  Stockmann.  On my  way over I'd stopped at  an Internet
cafe and checked out the Moonlight Maze story on  the Sunday Times Web site.
It was genuine.
     The "Avec" seemed to  refer to the fact that you could have your coffee
with a shot of anything from the  bar, from Jack Daniels to local cloudberry
liqueurs. The locals were knocking them back like there was no tomorrow.
     Placing two coffees and two  Danishes on the table, I put a saucer over
the top of Liv's cup to keep it hot.
     The cafe  was just as packed as when I'd been there with Tom. I'd spent
a lot of time thinking  about him last  night,  lying  in my cheap and, more
importantly,  anonymous  hotel  room.  The  sad fact  was that  stopping the
Maliskia from combining  Echelon with their Moonlight  Maze operations,  and
getting the money for  doing it, was more important than Tom's  life. Then I
pictured  him  leaping to my defence after  we'd come off the fence. Killing
him was not going to be easy.
     I  had  even considered going to the consulate  and calling Lynn  on  a
secure line,  but  then I realized I  was losing sight of the aim, which was
money. If Lynn knew, that would be the end of  it. All I would get was a pat
on the head if  I was lucky. This way I got  to pocket 3 million, plus I did
democracy a good  turn. It was bullshit, of course. The trouble was, it even
sounded like bullshit.
     After my  tea stop with  Liv yesterday  I'd  gone  straight down to the
harbor to check out the ferries to Estonia. Its  capital, Tallinn, seemed to
be  the destination for  an array  of roll-on, roll-off  ferries, high-speed
catamarans, and hydrofoils. The faster craft made the  fifty-mile journey in
only an hour and a half, but the girl at the ticket office told me there was
too  much ice floating in the Baltic and too much  wind for them to make the
crossing  in  the next  few days.  The  only  ones  that  could  handle  the
conditions were the old-fashioned  ferries, and they usually  took over four
hours, and because of the heavy seas they would  now take even longer. Story
of my life.
     I took a sip of coffee as I  sat looking at the long words in a Finnish
newspaper  and scanning  the  escalator.  I was going  to  use  the Davidson
passport  to go into Estonia, but had booked the ferry ticket in the name of
Davies.  Giving  the  name  slightly  corrupted always  adds  nicely  to the
confusion. If stopped for it, I'd just say  it was the mistake of the people
who did  the ticketing. After all, English was their second language, and my
cockney accent could be quite hard to understand when I tore the  ass out of
it. The method wasn't foolproof, but it might just muddy the waters a bit. I
was  sure the  Firm  would still  be looking for Davidson  now  that  he was
connected with Liv and Tom. I didn't care how much they  might  have  worked
out, as long as there wasn't a  picture of me  to go with it, and thankfully
the one in Davidson's passport wasn't  much of a likeness. The  mustache and
rectangular glasses,  plus makeup  to change the size of my  nose  and  chin
slightly,  worked quite  well. If  put on  the  spot, I'd  say that  I  used
contacts to read now and liked my new clean-shaven look.
     I'd learned makeup from the BBC. Plastic noses and eyebrow sets are not
what it's  all  about. As I  dunked a corner of the Danish into my coffee, I
couldn't help a smile as I remembered spending  four hours making  myself up
as a  woman for  the final session of the  two-week course; I'd thought  the
shade of lip gloss  I'd chosen particularly suited me.  It had been a  laugh
spending  the day  shopping  with  my teacher  "girlfriend" Peter,  who  was
dressed up in quite a fetching blue number, especially when it came to going
into women's rest  rooms. I didn't like having to shave and wax my  legs and
hands, though. They itched for weeks afterward.
     An insistent  electronic burst of the  William Tell Overture  came from
somewhere behind my left shoulder, followed by a brief
     moment  of silence, then  a  burst  of  Finnish  from an elderly  lady.
Everybody in  this country  had  a  cell  phone--I'd  even  seen small  kids
wandering around holding  their parents'  hands and talking into a  dangling
mike--but no one settled for the standard ring. You couldn't go five minutes
in  Helsinki without  hearing The Flight  of  the Bumble  Bee,  snatches  of
Sibelius, or the James Bond theme.
     I sat, dunked, and waited. I  had  the passports  tucked  uncomfortably
under my foot inside my right boot, and I had $1,500  in hundreds, twenties,
and tens in my left.
     As for  Mr. Stone, he was well and truly stuffed away in the bag at the
railway station. The P7  and  extra barrel were still with me and would only
go into the railway bag  at the  very last minute. There was no way I  could
take the weapon with me to Estonia. I had no idea how heavy the security was
on the ferry journeys
     Liv's head appeared first as the  escalator brought her  up toward  me.
She was  looking around casually, not specifically looking for me.  The rest
of her body came into  view, wearing the black,  belted three-quarter-length
leather coat  over  her normal  jeans and Timberland-type boots.  She had  a
large black leather bag over her shoulder and a magazine in her right hand.
     She spotted me and headed for the table, kissing me on both cheeks. Her
hair was back on top  form and she smelled  of  citrus.  An English-language
copy of Vogue  landed on the table between  us, and we bluffed away with the
how-are-you? smiles as she settled into her seat.
     I put her cup in front of her and removed  the saucer. She lifted it to
her  lips.  Either  it  was cold  or tasted  past its best, because it  went
straight back down on the table.
     "The Maliskia are located near Narva."
     I returned  her smile as  if enjoying the story. "Narva?" It could have
been on the moon for all I knew.
     "You'll need a Regio one-in-two-hundred-thousand map."
     "Of which country?"
     She  smiled.  "Estonia, northeast."  She  put her hand  on  the  Vogue.
"You'll also need what is inside here."
     I nodded.
     Her hand was still on the magazine. "It's from  this location that they
have been running  Moonlight Maze; and now that they have  Tom and the Think
Pad it's where they will also be attempting to
     access Echelon. They  move location every few weeks to avoid detection,
and after what's happened  here they will be moving  again very soon. You'll
need to act quickly."
     I nodded again and her  hands came together  on the table as she leaned
forward. "Also inside is an  address.  You'll meet people  there  who should
help you get explosives and whatever else you need. The best way to Narva is
by train. Hiring a car is more  trouble than it's worth. And Nick" she fixed
her eyes on mine "these people in Narva, do  not trust them. They're totally
unreliable, the  way they  conduct their drugs  trade is disrupting business
for all of us. But they're the  closest Valentin can offer you to support on
the ground."
     I gave her a smile that let her know I wasn't born yesterday.
     "Also remember, do not  mention Valentin at all when dealing with them.
There must be no connection between him and any of this. None whatsoever. If
they make a connection, the deal  will be off, because they will simply kill
you."
     Her hands  went  back  together. "Also  in there is  a" she  hesitated,
trying to find  the  right word,  but didn't come up with one that satisfied
her. In the end  she shrugged  "letter from  a friend, the same one that has
the contacts in  Narva.  It  will  ensure you get what  you need  from these
people, but  only use it  if you  need  to, Nick.  It was  obtained at great
personal expense to Valentin and shouldn't be abused."
     I asked the obvious. "What's in it?"
     "Well, it's a bit like an insurance policy." She smiled rather bleakly.
"A Chechen insurance policy. I told you before, he likes you."
     I didn't need to ask any more about it. I'd see it for myself soon. For
now  there were more important matters. I  needed the answer to the  bayonet
question again. "How many people are there on site?"
     She  shook her head. "We don't have  that  information, but it will  be
more than last time. This  is their most  important asset, which is why it's
in Estonia the geography is the best defense system there is."
     Something  else  needed  answering.  "How   will  you  know  I've  been
successful?"
     "You're worried that Valentin  will not  pay without  proof?  Don't. He
will know  within hours how isnoconcernof yours.  You  will get your  money,
Nick."
     I leaned closer. "How do you know Tom?"
     "I  don't,  Valentin does. When Tom  was caught at Menwith Hill  it was
Valentin  he was  working  for. You  British never discovered that, however,
because your threats to  him could never compare with  the one Valentin  was
capable of delivering."
     "Which was?"
     Her expression invited me to use my imagination.
     In my mind's eye I saw Tom, curled up in the back of the car after he'd
had the facts of life explained to him by the interrogation team.
     "Was Tom trying to access Echelon for Valentin at Menwith Hill?"
     She nodded. "When he was caught, he told British Intelligence only what
they thought they needed to know, then told the courts what they told him to
say. It was all very simple, really. Well, for everyone except Tom."
     "And how did you know of my connection with Tom?"
     "Valentin has access to many secrets. After your encounter in Helsinki,
he wanted to know a little more about you. It was easy enough to order  that
information from the Maliskia, thanks to Moonlight Maze. Even more incentive
to get in there and destroy that capability, don't you think?"
     Fucking right. I didn't like the sound of any of it.
     Liv patted the magazine with her hand. "Read it. Then  all we know, you
will know. I must go now. There are so many other things to do."
     I bet one of them  was to  report back to Val's go-between and tell him
that I was on my way to Narva.
     Liv and  I smiled  at each other like parting  friends, kissed  on  the
cheek, and did the farewell routine as she replaced her bag on her shoulder.
"I'll check the station every day, Nick, starting Sunday."
     I touched her sleeve. "One last question."
     She turned to face me.
     "You don't  seem  too  concerned about Tom. I  mean,  I thought you two
were, you know, close."
     She sat  down again  slowly. For  a  second or two  she toyed  with her
coffee cup,  and then she looked  up.  "Meaning  I had  sex with  him?"  She
smiled. "Tom is not someone I'd seek a relationship with. I had sex with him
because he was weakening and very unsure about
     what was expected of him. Sleeping with him  was .. . was" she searched
for a good expression, then shrugged "insurance. I had to keep him committed
to  the  task. He's the only one who could do  this  sort of thing. He is  a
genius with  this technology.  He had to  go with you.  That is also why you
must carry out your new  task  as quickly  as you can. His capabilities must
not be available to the Maliskia."
     She stood and turned with a small wave of the hand, and I slouched down
in my chair,  wishing  I'd had  that  information  a few  days ago. My  eyes
followed her as she headed for the escalator and slowly disappeared.
     I  took  a  small white envelope from inside the magazine Liv had  left
behind. It looked as if it  was made for a small greeting card; it certainly
didn't look as if there was much inside.
     I stayed  put  for  a while, not bothering to touch it,  and drank  her
lukewarm  coffee.  After about  ten minutes I piled  the  cups, saucers, and
plates onto the tray.
     Walking  away from  the  escalators, I  made my way  through  the  warm
clothing department and into the rest rooms. Safely in a stall, I opened the
envelope. Inside were three scraps  of  paper of  various sizes and quality.
The first was a Post-it, on which was an address in Narva  by the look of it
I was after a guy called Konstantin plus a long and lat fix. The Post-it was
stuck to half a ripped sheet of cheap and very  thin Xerox paper, with about
ten  lines of Cyrillic  script  written in pen. This had to  be  the Chechen
insurance policy, because the third item was a  sheet  of wax paper on which
was a penciled cross and, toward the bottom left-hand corner of the sheet, a
little circle. All I had to  do was line up  the  longs and the  lats on the
right map and bingo, the circle would be  around the  location where Tom and
the Maliskia were supposed to be.
     I listened to  the shuffle of feet outside, water splashing into sinks,
hand-driers humming, and  the  odd  grunt or  fart, and  started to laugh to
myself  as I folded up the bits and pieces of paper  and tucked them into my
socks, out of  the way.  I felt like Harry Palmer in  one  of those  Michael
Caine films from the sixties. It was ridiculous. I had more  stuff around my
feet than in my pockets.
     I  flushed  the  toilet and  opened  the door.  An  overweight Japanese
tourist was waiting patiently, his sides bulging with video and camera bags.
Leaving him to fight his way into the stall, I
     headed  to the condom  machine  by the urinals.  It  was decision time.
Dropping in some coins, I considered the banana- or strawberry flavored ones
and  those  shaped  like  medieval  maces,  but  in the  end  went  for  the
old-standard clear ones. All very missionary. Then, with the packet of three
in my pocket, I was out of Stockmann with any luck forever.
     Checking for surveillance by doing  a complete circuit of the store and
taking a few turns that meant I'd doubled back on myself, I felt confident I
wasn't being followed and headed for the  same bookstore where I'd bought my
guidebook to Estonia. I soon found the map that Liv had specified.
     Back at the hotel,  it was time  to study  it in detail.  Tallinn,  the
capital, was in  the west, on the Baltic coast. It faced Finland, which  was
fifty  miles across the  sea.  Narva  was  miles away, in  the  northeastern
corner, right next to Russia  and just ten miles inland. There  was one main
road that went from Tallinn to Narva, linking together  other, smaller towns
on  the 130  miles between the two. I  could also see the  black line of the
railway that  Liv  had  told me  to take, roughly paralleling the main road,
sometimes near the road but mostly a few miles south of it.
     Narva  was  bisected  by a river, and  the border  with  Russia was  an
imaginary line  running  down  the  middle of it. There  were  two  crossing
points, a rail bridge and a road bridge. On the  Russian side, the main road
and train  line kept going east,  with a sign on the edge of the map saying,
"Peterburi 138km." In other words, Narva was  closer  to St. Petersburg than
it was to Tallinn.
     I  took out  the sheet  of  wax  paper  and placed the  cross  over the
corresponding longs and lats, then looked at the circle. It  ringed  a small
cluster  of buildings a couple of  miles south of  a small town called Tudu,
which  was about  twenty-two  miles southwestish  of  Narva. Basically,  the
target was in the  middle of nowhere, the perfect place  for the Maliskia to
run their operations. That  was where those Finns should have gone to do the
job; maybe they didn't because there weren't any to-go pizzas to be had.
     There were still a few hours before the five-thirty ferry, so I got out
the guidebook and read about this northeastern corner of Estonia. It sounded
a  nightmare. During  Iron  Curtain  days Narva had been  one  of  the  most
polluted towns in Europe. Two huge power stations  produced enough kilowatts
to keep the massive
     wheels  of  the  USSR.  industrial  base  turning,  while  pumping  out
uncountable  tons  of  sulfur dioxide, magnesium this and aluminum that into
the atmosphere. There was a huge lake nearby,  and I made  a mental note not
to eat any fish when I got there.
     According to the  guidebook, 90 percent of  the  population in the area
were Russian speaking, and, in the eyes of  the Estonian government, Russian
citizens.  They  took  the line that  if  you couldn't  speak Estonian,  you
couldn't get  Estonian citizenship.  The upshot was  a  big gang of Russians
right on the border with Russia, holding  old Russian passports,  who had to
stay in Estonia, a country that didn't acknowledge them.
     Five trains a day left  Tallinn heading east.  Some went straight on to
St. Petersburg and Moscow, and some just stopped at Narva, about a five-hour
journey. No problem at  all; I'd  get the ferry tonight, check into a hotel,
sort my shit  out and  get the train  in the morning. That would be the easy
bit.
     I had  the  Narva contact  name  and  address  in my head;  an hour  of
repeating it while  reading had  sorted that out. I ripped the cross off the
wax paper, rolled  it in the Post-it and ate it. Everything else on this job
was like some spy  film, so why not go whole hog?  I kept the guidebook  and
map  because I  was  going to  be  a tourist. If asked, I was  exploring the
region's  immensely  rich  culture.  Well,  that  was what  it  said  in the
guidebook. I couldn't wait.
     As the  final preparation for the journey, I went into the bathroom and
ran a sink of warm water. Then, unwrapping the complimentary sliver of soap,
I proceeded with a little task I never looked forward to.

     I  followed  the  herd  out  of  the terminal waiting room  and  up the
boarding ramp onto a massive drive-on, drive-off ferry. When I  saw that  we
all had to pass through a  metal  detector I felt relieved I'd left  the  P7
with  my  other stuff in  the  station's luggage lockers.  I  was using Nick
Davidson's passport. The woman who  swiped it at passport control was one of
the few immigration officers who'd ever looked at the picture.
     Few of my fellow foot  passengers  appeared anything like as prosperous
as the Finns I was used  to seeing. I guessed  they were Estonians. They all
seemed to be  wearing  fake-fur Cossack-style hats  and  a  lot of  leather.
Several  were in old and shabby full-length quilted coats. They  were toting
enormous plastic shopping bags, all stuffed to the brim with everything from
blankets  to  huge cartons of rice. In each case, the whole  extended family
seemed to have come along for  the ride,  kids, wives,  grannies,  everybody
going hubbahubba to each other in Estonian.
     My plan had been to keep out of the way and curl up somewhere quiet and
crash out, but once on board I realized there was no chance of that. The air
was filled with  the hinging and whirring of video games and one-armed jacks
overlaid  with kids screaming up and down the hallways, their parents in hot
pursuit.
     Sometimes, walking  sideways to get out of  the  way of kids and people
with their big  bundles  of whatever coming from the other direction,  I saw
where  the  main  crowd  was headed--toward the  bars  and  snack  bar. If I
couldn't sleep I might as well eat.
     The crowd thinned as the hallway opened up into a large bar  area. Like
the hallways, all the walls were covered with mahogany effect veneer, giving
it  a  dark, depressing feel. This area  seemed  to be full of  well-dressed
Finns, who had  driven  their cars aboard before us. They were laughing  and
joking noisily among  themselves,  throwing drinks down their  throats  like
condemned  men. I guessed they were booze cruisers, going over to Tallinn to
stock up on duty free.
     These guys  didn't have  shopping bags and reeked of disposable income.
Their ski jackets were  top-of-the-range  labels, and their thick  overcoats
were  wool,  probably  cashmere. Underneath, they  all  sported  big  chunky
sweaters with crew or  turtle necks. The only thing they  had in common with
the Estonians  was  a love of  tobacco. There  was already a  layer of smoke
covering the  ceiling, waiting its  turn to be sucked out  by the overworked
heating system.
     The currency desk  was just  the other end of the  bar. I lined  up and
changed  $100 U.S. into whatever the  local money was called. I  didn't even
bother looking at exchange rates to see if I was being  ripped off. What was
I going to do, take my business elsewhere?
     Eventually, fighting  my way to the snack bar, I picked up  a tray  and
joined the line. I wasn't particularly bothered about the wait; it was going
to be a long journey, and it wasn't as if I was itching to get back and join
the lushes in the bar.
     Twenty  minutes  later  I was sitting  with  a family  at a bolted-down
plastic table. The father, who looked over fifty-five but was probably under
forty, still had his wool hat on. His wife looked about ten years older than
him. There were four kids, each attacking a large plate of pale, undercooked
fries. Mine looked  the  same,  plus  I had a  couple  of scary-looking  red
sausages.
     The  sound  of  laughter   echoed  from   the  bar,  along  with  piped
muzak--badly performed cover versions of Michael Jackson and George Michael.
Thankfully the ship's safety briefing, which started then carried on forever
in about five languages, cut wannabe George off in his prime.
     As I tucked into my fries and franks, the husband  pulled out a pack of
cigarettes  and he and his wife lit up. They  smoked contentedly in my face,
flicking the ash onto  their empty plates, finally stubbing out their  butts
so they sizzled in the ketchup. I decided it was time for a walk. Their kids
could finish off my food.
     We  were  now  in open sea  and the boat rocked  from side to  side and
plunged up  and down. Children were having great fun  in  the hallways being
thrown  from wall to wall, and their parents were telling them off much more
quietly. In fact, many of them  looked  paler than the fries I'd left  on my
plate.
     I passed the newsstand. The only thing they had  in English was another
guidebook to Estonia; I decided to go back to the bar and read my own.
     The Finns, undeterred by  the heavy seas, were swigging back Koff beer,
or at least trying to. The swell meant there was as much liquid on the floor
as there was going down their throats.
     The only seat  was at the end of a  semicircular booth, where six Finns
in their late  thirties three men and  three  women all expensively dressed,
were smoking Camels and  downing  vodka. I gave  them a fuck-off smile  as I
settled down on the red, leather-look plastic and opened the guidebook.
     Estonia, I was  told, sandwiched between Latvia  and  Russia, was about
the  size  of  Switzerland  and only  two  or  three  hours' drive  from St.
Petersburg. It had a population  of 1.5 million, the size of Geneva, and  if
that was the best  they could  find  to say about  it, it  must be a  pretty
mind-numbing place.
     Estonians seemed to  have suffered all the rigors  of life  as a former
Soviet  republic. They'd  had food coupons,  breadlines, fuel shortages, and
inflation higher than the World Trade Center. All in all it sounded a pretty
grim  place,  a bit  like a giant  Baltic version of a  South London housing
project.
     The pictures of the old  city center of Tallinn showed  medieval walls,
turrets, and  needle-pointed  towers.  I couldn't  wait to see  the  "gabled
roots" which the guide extolled. When  I read  on I  discovered that most of
the country's investment  had  been in this one  tiny area,  and that almost
everywhere else they hadn't had gas or water since the Russians  left in the
early  nineties. But then again, tourists wouldn't go  that far out of town,
would they?
     I sat there with my  eyes  closed, deeply bored. There was no way I was
going to socialize  with the Finns.  I had work to do on the other side, and
besides, from what  I saw  I  doubted I could keep  up with  their drinking,
especially the women.
     I  sank as low as  I could  in the  seat to  avoid the rising cigarette
smoke, which was now a solid fog above me. The ferry was slewing
     about big time, and now  and  again the propellers roared as if  they'd
come right out of the water,  accompanied by a collective amusement park cry
of "Whooooa!" from the crowd in the  bar. There was nothing but darkness  to
be  seen from the  window,  but I  knew there  was  plenty of ice out  there
somewhere.
     I  crossed my arms over my chest, let my chin drop  and tried to sleep.
Not that it  was going to happen,  but whenever there's a lull, it  pays  to
recharge the batteries.
     An announcement over the  PA system sort of woke me up, though I wasn't
too sure  if I'd been sleeping. I guessed it was  telling us  what fantastic
bargains were to be had in the ferry's duty-free shops, but then I heard the
word  Tallinn.   The  system  carried  on  with  its  multilingual  address,
eventually coming to  English. It  seemed we had about thirty minutes before
docking.
     I packed the book in  the  backpack, along with  my  new woolen hat and
washing kit, and wandered down the corridor. People were walking like drunks
due to the swell, and now  and again I had to put my hand up on the  wall to
stop myself falling. Following  signs to the rest rooms, I slid aside a dark
wood-veneered door and walked down a flight of stairs.
     A  couple  of  guys were  chatting in the men's  room, zipping  up  and
lighting cigarettes as they left. There was as much alcohol on  the floor as
there was  on the  ground in the bar;  the only  difference was it  had been
through people's kidneys first. The room was boiling  hot,  making the smell
even worse.
     I trod carefully toward the urinals. Each one had a pool of dark yellow
fluid  slowly seeping past the piled-up cigarette butts blocking its path. I
found one that wasn't so full it would splash back on me,  got  my left hand
up  against the bulkhead  to steady myself  and  unzipped, listening to  the
relentless throb of the engines.
     The toilet door was pushed open and another couple of guys came  in. By
the look of their GoreTex jackets they were Finns. I was sorting myself out,
trying to  zip up  with one hand  while using the  other to stop me  falling
over. The boy in black headed for the vacant toilet stall behind me, and the
other lurked by the  row of sinks to my  left. His green jacket reflected on
the stainless-steel pipes that ran from  the water dispenser for the urinals
above my
     head. I couldn't see  what  he was  actually  doing  because the pipe's
shape distorted him like a fairground  mirror, but whatever it was,  it just
looked wrong. At the  same time I heard the rustle of GoreTex  and saw black
in the reflection, too.
     I turned just in time to see an arm  raised, ready  to do my back  some
serious damage with some kind of knife.
     Never let them come to you.
     I  screamed, hoping to  disorient him, while  charging the two or three
steps toward  him, focusing on his  arm. I didn't care  about the  other guy
yet. This one was the main threat.
     Grabbing  his raised  wrist  with  my right hand, I  kept moving.  That
turned his  body to his left, his  natural momentum helping me. My left hand
then helped to  spin him so he had his  back to me, at the same time pushing
him toward  the stall. We  stumbled into one  of them, the  thin chip  board
walls  rattling as  we grappled in the  confined space. He  went down on his
knees by  the  toilet. There was no seat; it  had  probably been ripped  off
years ago and taken home.
     Still gripping his right wrist, I leaped over his back and forced  both
my  knees straight down onto the back of his head. There was no time to fuck
about: There  were two of these guys to deal with. Bone crunched on ceramic.
I  heard  teeth cracking  and  his  jaw grind under my weight, mixed with an
almost childlike, muffled screaming.
     I saw him  drop the knife. My right  hand scrabbled around on the floor
in search, and closed around  it. Only it wasn't a knife, but an auto jet an
American one. I recognized the make and I knew what it did.
     Gripping  the automatic  syringe in  my right hand, I had  four fingers
clasped around the cylinder, which was about the size of a thick marker pen,
and my thumb on the injection button, ready to attack the splashing feet and
green rustling GoreTex behind.
     Too late;  the boy was right on  top of me.  He also  had an auto jet I
could  feel  the  needle  penetrate and then  its  contents emptying into my
buttock; it was like a golf ball was growing under my skin.
     I  threw myself backward,  crashing  as hard as  I could into his body,
pushing him toward the urinals.  The swell made us both stagger as the ferry
tilted.
     Once we'd  banged  against the  white ceramic, his fists started to hit
the side of my  face from behind me as I kept him pinned in position. He was
even  biting  into my skull,  but  I couldn't really feel the  outcome.  The
Autojet  was having its own effect on me: rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, vision
beginning  to go hazy. I  was  sure it  was  mainly scopolamine,  mixed with
morphine. When  it's  injected  into  a  body,  the  effect  produced  is  a
tranquilized state known as  twilight sleep;  this combination of  drugs was
formerly used  in  obstetrics,  but was now  considered  far  too dangerous,
except when, like the British and American intelligence services, you're not
too concerned  about the  patient's bill of rights. I'd done  a few  targets
with  this stuff, making  it easier to  drag them off  to a 3x9.  I'd  never
thought  I  would  get  the  good  news myself,  but  at  least now  I could
personally endorse the product.
     Everything was going into slow motion. Even his shouting against my ear
was blurred as he bucked and twisted, trying to free himself from between me
and a urinal.
     Ramming the Autojet against the leg that was kicking out on my right, I
depressed the button with my thumb. Automatically the needle sprang forward,
punctured  his jeans and skin, dispensing its juice. Now we  were  equal; it
was just a case of who dropped first.
     "Mother fuck!" Unmistakably American.
     I couldn't get up  enough strength to do  anything but pin  him  there,
using  my legs  to push  my  back against him. He dropped the Autojet, but I
kept pushing him back against the urinal, my feet slipping on  the wet floor
as the ship bounced around, hoping that he would be  the first to lose total
control so I could get away. His ass was in the urinal now, and its contents
were getting slopped over both of us as I fought to hold him there.
     He was  still trying to punch  sideways at my face, and might have been
doing serious damage for  all  I knew. The drugs  had  kicked in good style,
depressing my central nervous system.
     I bent my head  down to avoid his punches as he jerked  about as if  he
was having a fit. In front of  me, in the stall, a blurred, black figure was
slumped on the floor.
     The  toilet  door  must have opened.  Not that  I  heard  it--just  the
incomprehensible shouting as my legs started to  lose the ability to hold me
up in the swell.
     I took a  deep breath and must have  sounded like  a drunk as I  looked
round at the newcomers. "Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off!"
     Even the American joined in: "Fuck yooou!"
     Their hazy, shadowy figures disappeared.
     The  American's legs were wobbling as much as  mine  now.  My  head was
still trying to bury itself into my chest as  he made wild grabs at my face,
hoping to get at  my  eyes. He wasn't shouting any more  but giving off loud
moans, as if he'd lost the ability to form words  correctly,  and pulling on
my ears and hair with whatever strength he had left.
     I could hear his breathing above me. I threw my  hands in the direction
of the sound. He released his grip on my head and slapped them down. My legs
couldn't hold him in position any more, and I fell, first to  my knees, then
face down into the liquid swirling  around the  floor. Feeling it slurp into
my mouth, I knew I was on the way out. But as the American fell to his knees
to my right, splashing more liquid over my face and snorting like a wart hog
I knew I wasn't the only one. He sat  back on his heels, resting against the
urinal,  fumbling  to  get  his  jacket  zip undone.  I  couldn't  let  that
happen--he  could have had a weapon--so taking  a deep breath that  took  in
more swill off the floor, I started to crawl up him.
     His hands tried pushing me off as  he  growled down at me. At least his
hands weren't going for his pockets any more, just my face.
     I managed to get my hands around his throat, shaking his head from side
to side. He made a whining noise, like a two-year-old refusing food. If only
I  could press  one of my  thumbs  into the base of his throat, at the point
just above where the two collarbones met and just below  his Adam's apple, I
could drop him--as long as  his body was still  capable of  registering what
was going on.
     I got  my hand down the top of his jacket, probing inside with my thumb
until I found the bone  and then the soft spot, then I pushed in with all my
strength.
     At once he began to come down with me as I sank slowly to the floor. He
didn't like it at all. A quick,  hard jab with two straight fingers or a key
into this soft  point can drop someone  to  the ground as quickly as if he's
been given an electric shock.
     He hit the floor,  his  legs still under him, bucking to free them like
some frantic  insect as I lay on top of him.  He was  choking now. Wheezing,
gurgling noises issued from his nose and mouth.
     Trying to keep focus, and some sort  of coordination, I ran a hand over
his jacket pockets. Nothing.  I tried  to  unzip the jacket,  but my fingers
couldn't grip the tab. As I pulled down they just fell away.
     Still on top of  him, watching his hair soak up the spilled contents of
the urinal, I started feeling around his waist, wanting to find a weapon. My
hands couldn't register  if he was carrying or not; they refused to send any
type of message to my brain.
     I lay there  knowing that I must get up, sure that he  was thinking the
same.
     The other boy behind  me in the stall started moaning and coughing, his
boots  scuffing the floor as he tried  to move.  With  any luck he was  more
worried about his dental plan for the next few years than anything else.
     Dragging myself to my feet, I staggered on the spot above the American,
then my  knees buckled and I collapsed on his head.  Blood spurted from  his
nose as  I pulled myself up on a urinal. He curled up  on the soaking floor,
still trying to reach out and grab my leg.
     I had to get out of there and hide up for the next twenty minutes or so
until I could get off the ferry.  I wasn't going to black out: They wouldn't
have wanted  to carry a deadweight. The  drugs would just make me  like  the
Finns in the bar and make it easier to drag me to their car.
     Stumbling  up the  stairs, I seemed to  trip on almost every one. After
about six attempts at  pulling the  door open I was back in a  hallway.  The
smell of smoke, the shouts of children, and  the  jingle of video games were
all magnified  in my  spinning, dazed head. I was  zigging while the rest of
the world zagged.
     I had  to  find  myself a little spot where I could sit down and be  no
problem  to anybody. That wasn't easy; I'd been fighting and rolling  around
in  piss,  and  must  have  looked  in  a  terrible state.  Maybe  I'd feign
seasickness.
     Staggering into a seating area, I made my way into the corner, slumping
against the back of a  seat  before  falling into it. The Estonian whose big
bag had had to be whipped away before I fell on it shook his head knowingly,
as if this sort of thing  happened to him  every day. Flicking his cigarette
ash onto the floor, he carried on  chatting to his neighbor before they both
inched away. I must have stunk of piss.
     Trying to hum a tune, anything to look like a seasick drunk,  I decided
to take my backpack off. I must  have looked  stupid sitting with  it on  my
back. Slumped forward and with the coordination of
     jello, I made a complete mess of it. After fighting with the straps for
a while I just quit and collapsed.
     Announcements were being made  on  the PA. My head  was swimming.  Were
they talking about me? Were they appealing for witnesses?
     The man  next to  me stood  up  and  so  did his  friend. They  started
gathering together their bits and pieces. We must have arrived.
     There was a sudden migration of people,  all going  in one direction. I
just had to try  and  keep aware of what  was going on. I moved  off  behind
them, stumbling  among the crowd. Everybody  seemed to be giving  me  a wide
berth. I didn't know where I was going, and I didn't care,  as long as I got
off the ferry.
     My mind was in control but my body wasn't obeying orders. I bumped into
a Finn and apologized  in slurred English. He looked down at my wet  clothes
and glared aggressively. All I  was focused on was staying with the herd and
keeping the backpack on my back. I just wanted to get off the ferry and find
somewhere to hide while  all the shit in my body did what it had  to  do and
then left me alone.
     Following people  with  strollers and plastic  bags, I lurched  down  a
covered  gateway and joined the line for immigration. The woman said nothing
as she checked my passport. I swayed and smiled  as she eyed me, probably in
disgust, and stamped one of the pages. Picking it up at the second attempt I
staggered  on through to  the arrivals hall, focusing really  hard on making
sure it went back into my inside jacket pocket.
     Outside,  the cold  wind  buffeted my jacket  as  I staggered across  a
snow-covered parking lot. The whole area was brightly lit; most of  the cars
had a layer of snow, and a few were having  ice scraped off them as  bulging
plastic bags were forced inside and exhaust fumes filled the air.
     I  could see  the top half of the ferry behind me, beyond the terminal,
and could hear the metallic rumbling of cars and trucks leaving the ship. In
front of me was darkness,  then, in what seemed the far  distance, some very
blurred lighting. That was where I needed to go. I needed to find a hotel.
     Reeling against a line of vehicles, I got to the end of the parking lot
and hit dark, snow-covered waste ground.
     There were a number of well-worn tracks heading in the direction of the
lights in the distance. Way over to my right, a convoy of
     headlamps trailing back  to  the  ferry were  heading the  same  way. I
started  following  a  track and immediately fell  down, not really  feeling
anything.
     Carrying on as best I could, I was soon in darkness and walking through
trees. To my left was a  large vacant  warehouse. Stopping to rest against a
tree, I fixed my eyes on the lights ahead and could hear the faint noises of
cars and music in the distance. Things were looking up. I pushed myself  off
the tree trunk and staggered on.
     I didn't even see where the boys came from.
     All  I felt was two lots of arms grabbing me and dragging me toward the
decaying building. I couldn't see their faces in the darkness, just the glow
from a cigarette stuck  in one  of their mouths. My feet were dragging along
the ground  as my  attackers  crunched their way  through the  lumpy snow. I
tried to resist but put up the fight of a five-year-old.
     Fuck, next stop a 3x9.
     They  threw  me  against  a  doorway  which  had been  filled  in  with
cinderblocks. I managed to turn so I hit it with my back, but it knocked the
wind out of me as I slid down onto my ass.
     The kicks started to rain  in. All I could do  was curl up and take it.
At  least I  was aware  enough to know  that I'd be  too  slow to  escape or
retaliate. I'd have to wait until they'd finished the softening-up  process,
then  see what I could  do. No way was I  going to let these fuckers take me
away if I could help it.
     My hands were  up around my head  to  protect it, knees up by my chest.
Each  time a boot  connected  my whole  body  jerked.  The  drugging was  an
advantage  as I  couldn't  feel the  pain, at least for now. Tomorrow I'd be
suffering.
     Maybe I could get hold of one  of their weapons? At this range, even in
my condition, I couldn't miss,  so long as I could manipulate the thing once
I'd got it. You never know until you try, and I'd rather go down trying than
not try at all.
     The attack stopped as suddenly as it had started.
     The next thing  I  felt was  the backpack being pulled off my back, and
even if I'd wanted them to, my arms couldn't have resisted being pulled back
as the straps dragged down them.
     I was  pulled over, exposing my  front, and one of them leaned over  me
and started to unzip my jacket. His own was open; now was the time to react.
     Lunging forward, I pushed my hands  deep inside his coat. But there was
no weapon; he didn't even have one in his hand.
     Hands,  elbows, I didn't know what they were, hammered into me, pushing
me back against the wall, and there was nothing I could do to help myself. I
was back at square one.
     They both  started  laughing. Then it was a  few  more kicks  and  some
cursing  in Russian or Estonian. That quickly stopped as they pulled my arms
out of the way and finished undoing my jacket.
     I  was  lying  in  slush and could  feel the  freezing  wetness soaking
through my  jeans as  if the  piss wasn't enough. The jacket was pulled open
and I felt their hands  going  in,  pulling up  my sweatshirt  and  sweater,
feeling around my stomach, going into the pockets. These were strange places
to be searching for  a weapon, and  it took  a while for it to dawn on me. I
wasn't being weapons cleared, I was being mugged.
     From that moment on I relaxed. Fuck it, let them get on with it. I'd be
as passive as I could. There  was no need to mess  with these  people. I had
more  important things to do than  fight muggers. Besides, in my condition I
would lose.
     They  were pretty slick  for street thieves, checking around my stomach
for  a  tourist's  money  belt, with fast whispers between  them in whatever
language as they did their  work. The cigarette still burned in front of  my
face as they  hovered over me. Finally,  ripping Baby  G from my wrist, they
were off, their footsteps crunching in the snow.
     I  lay  there  for several minutes,  feeling relieved they hadn't  been
American.
     A truck  stopped on the other side of  the building, its engine idling.
There was a loud hiss of air brakes and the engine revved as it drove on. In
the  silence I heard  more music. Then  I just lay there, totally out of it,
wishing I was in that bar or wherever it was coming from.
     The most important thing now was  to not  let myself fall  asleep. If I
succumbed I might go down with hypothermia, just like drunks or junkies when
they collapse in the streets.
     I tried  to  get to my feet, but  couldn't  move.  Then I  felt  myself
drifting away. The urge to sleep was just too strong.

     Friday. December 17, 199B
     I came round very  slowly. I  became aware of the wind blowing past the
doorway and  felt  some of it push its way into my face. My vision was still
blurred and I was feeling groggy. It  was like being  hungover, only several
times worse. My head still didn't feel completely linked with my body.
     Curled up  among  the beer cans and  rubble  I was  numb with cold  and
shivering, but  that  was  a good  sign. At least I was aware  of it;  I was
starting to switch on.
     Coughing and spluttering, I attempted to sort myself out, trying to zip
up  my jacket  with  shaking hands  to  trap  some  warmth.  I could  hear a
high-revving vehicle moving in the distance--I wasn't too sure how far away,
but it didn't  seem far. I  listened for the music;  that had gone now. Once
the  vehicle moved on there was  no  more noise apart from the wind  and  me
coughing up shit from the back  of my throat. The zip only got halfway as my
numbed fingers kept  losing  their grip on the small tab. I gave up and just
held the top half together.
     Attempting  to get  my head into  real-life  mode, I  checked inside my
jacket. I knew it was pointless; they'd taken  everything, both the Davidson
passport and the money I'd changed. It wasn't worth worrying about the loss;
it wouldn't bring them back. Knowing if the contents of my socks  were still
intact was  more important; feeling around with numb  fingers I pressed down
inside my boots and
     made contact with the dollars.  Even more surprisingly, I still  had my
Leatherman on my belt. Maybe they weren't  as slick as I'd thought, or maybe
it had no resale value unless it came with its case.
     Once onto my hands and knees, I slowly hauled myself to my  feet, using
the cinder-blocked doorway for support. I wanted to get moving, find a hotel
and  get warm;  I could  still  get that train in the  morning. But then, it
could already be morning, I didn't have a clue.
     I had  a shivering spasm. Slivers of ice had formed on my  jeans as the
piss on them had frozen. Feeling  in my jacket pockets  for my gloves  was a
stupid  idea: they'd taken those too. I needed to  get moving  and  generate
some heat.
     Freezing air blasted my face as I walked out. The wind was blowing  big
time, straight off the Baltic. Jumping  up and down on the spot, my hands in
my pockets, I tried to wake myself up  in the darkness but lost my  balance.
As I breathed in sharply the subzero air clawed at the back of my throat and
nose. I resumed my aerobics, but it was more of a shuffle than a jump.
     The loss  of my hat and  gloves made me bury my head into the collar of
my jacket and  my hands firmly  in  the pockets.  I started to pick  my  way
through small piles of snow, which I soon found had gathered round lumps  of
concrete and twisted steel. I took my time;  the last thing I wanted now was
to twist an ankle, and the way my luck was going that was quite likely.
     Eventually my hands got warm  enough to manipulate the zip, and with my
jacket done up completely I began to feel the benefit. A car slowly trundled
along the road about sixty to seventy  yards to my left. Ahead of  me, maybe
300 yards away, was the cloudy blue-and white  glow of a gas station. I bent
down,  taking my time so as not to lose my balance  again, and undid my boot
to extract a $20 bill.
     After  checking that the rest of the money was  secure, I staggered and
slid toward the  blue  glow beyond the trees.  My condition  was improving a
little,  but I knew I must still look loaded;  it was  certainly  how I felt
like  the guy who  believes he's  in  control when in fact he's slurring his
words and failing to notice that matchstick he just tripped up  on. Not that
I really gave a shit  what the people in the gas station  would think of me;
all  I hoped was that  they  served hot drinks  and food,  and that somebody
could give me directions to a hotel.
     I stumbled on, slipping and sliding on the ice, all the time keeping an
eye open for my new friends, or others who might be following  the fucked-up
foreigner for a few more dollars.
     Putting my hand out to rest against a tree for a while, it dawned on me
that  it was going to be  very difficult,  maybe impossible, to check into a
hotel. In a country like this they'd insist on passport details and possibly
even visas. The  Russians might have gone, but  their bureaucracy would have
stayed behind. I could hardly say I'd left my passport in the car. What car?
There was also something else; I wouldn't know until it was too late whether
the police made spot checks or the hotels had to report anything suspicious,
such as a man covered  in piss,  with no  passport,  trying  to  pay in U.S.
dollars. It depressed me, but I couldn't take that chance.
     Lurching off again toward the gas station, I was getting  nearer to the
road. There was  virtually no traffic or noise  from anywhere, just the  odd
set  of  headlights   and  the  rumble  of  tires  over  what  sounded  like
cobblestones  and   slush  in  the  distance.   Intermittent  street  lights
illuminated snow  swirling from the ground, making it look as if it was just
hanging there.
     There were about thirty yards  of snow and ice  left to cover  before I
hit the road beside the gas station; I didn't know what to expect when I got
inside,  but it  looked  very much  the  same as a  run  of-the-mill Western
European  one.  In fact, it  looked almost too new and shiny  to  be in  the
middle of such a rundown area.
     I stumbled across  to the road; it was indeed made of cobblestones, but
not  like  the ones in Finland.  These were old, crumbling or missing,  with
potholes filled with ice every few yards.
     Standing under the bright blue-lit  canopy, I banged my boots to  clear
the snow and tried to make myself look respectable, miming as if I'd lost my
glasses when I checked that it  was  in  fact a $20 bill. I wasn't  going to
risk a $50 or  $100; I could get fucked over again if  seen with that amount
of money round here.
     The wind hit the pumps with  a  high-pitched wail as I went through the
door. I entered a new world, warm and  clean, with plenty of goods  laid out
in  exactly  the way they  would be  in a convenience store anywhere else in
Europe.  I  wondered  if  I  was  hallucinating.  They  seemed to be selling
everything from motor oil to cookies and bread, but especially rows and rows
of beer and a pile of crates with  more liter bottles of  the  stuff next to
the spirits. The only thing missing and which  I'd been hoping for,  was the
smell of coffee. There was no sign of hot drinks at all.
     Two  guys in their late teens  looked up from behind  the counter, then
went back to studying their magazines,  probably feeling ridiculous in their
red-and-white striped  vests  and caps.  They  didn't look  too bright  this
morning as they smoked and picked their  noses, but  then, I wasn't  exactly
looking like Tom Cruise.
     I wobbled around the shelves,  picking up a  handful of chocolate bars,
then some shrink-wrapped cold cuts from the chilled compartment. I might not
have been  at my most alert, but I  still knew it was important  to get some
food in me.
     They both stared at me as I dumped my goods on the counter, and it took
me a  while to realize that I was swaying on my feet. Resting two fingers on
the counter to steady myself, I gave them a big smile. "Speak English?"
     The one with the zits saw my $20. "American?"
     "No, no. Australian."  I always said I was from Australia, New Zealand,
or Ireland;  they're neutral, easygoing  and  well  known as travelers. Tell
people you're  a  Brit or an  American and somebody somewhere is bound to be
pissed with you about whatever country you've bombed recently.
     He looked at me, trying to work that one out.
     " Crocodik Dundee f I mimed strangling a croc. "G'day mate!"
     He smiled and nodded.
     Handing him the bill, I pointed at my stuff. "Can I pay you with this?"
     He  studied  a folder  probably  the exchange rates.  Behind him, Camel
cigarette cartons were neatly arranged around a special-offer Camel clock. I
tried to focus my eyes on the hands and managed to make out that it was just
after three  thirty. No  wonder I was  freezing;  I must have spent hours in
that doorway.  At  least my nose was starting  to warm  up a bit in  here; I
could  feel  it starting to tingle,  a good  sign that the Autojet's effects
were wearing off.
     He exchanged  the bill  without a second thought.  Everybody likes hard
currency.  My cold fingers fumbled with the large amount of paper  and coins
he gave me  as change; in the end,  I just cupped one  hand and  scooped the
money into it with  the other. As he handed  me my  shopping  bag  I  asked,
"Where is the train station?"
     "Huh?"
     It was time to play Thomas the Tank Engine. I pulled the steam whistle.
"Oooo! I Chug chug chug!"
     They liked that and  started running at the mouth in what I guessed was
Estonian.  My friend with zits pointed to the right,  where the road bent to
the left before disappearing.
     I put  my hand up in a big Australian thank-you gesture, walked out and
turned right as they had directed. Right away the cold wind  hit me; my nose
and lungs felt as if I was inhaling tiny fragments of broken glass.
     The pavement taking me toward the  bend was covered with ice  the color
of  mud. This was  so  different from  Finland,  where sidewalks  were  kept
scrupulously clear. Here the stuff  had  just been trodden down,  turned  to
slush,  then  frozen.  Empty cans and other lumps of litter sticking out  at
crazy angles made me lift my feet high to make sure I didn't trip.
     As I followed  the  road,  looking  for  signs  to the station, I threw
chunks  of  very hard chocolate  down  my throat. I  must  have  looked like
someone walking home with take-out after a good night.
     After fifteen minutes of  swaying  down a dark  deserted street, I came
across railway tracks and followed  them.  Just a quarter of an hour later I
was going through heavy glass  doors into the dimly lit station. It  smelled
of fried food and  vomit, and like any other railway station in the world it
offered a full range of drunks, addicts, and homeless people.
     The interior was concrete with stone slab floors. It  must have  looked
great on the drawing board in the  seventies, which was when it was probably
built, but now it was badly  lit, neglected and falling apart, complete with
fading posters and peeling paint.
     At least  the place was warm. I  made my way  along the main concourse,
looking for a place to curl up and hide.  I felt as if that was all I'd been
trying  to do since getting on the ferry. All the  good sites  were  already
booked, but I eventually found an alcove and dropped down onto my ass.
     The smell of urine and decaying cabbage was overpowering. No wonder the
space  was vacant;  somebody obviously  ran  a  stall there specializing  in
rancid vegetables, then  had a piss against the wall every evening before he
went home.
     I pulled the food from my  pocket. I really didn't want  any  more, but
made myself eat the remaining two chocolate bars and the
     meat, then rolled  over onto my  right-hand side, bringing  my knees up
into a foetal position, with my face resting on my hands among the un  swept
dirt and cigarette butts. I was past caring; I just wanted to sleep.
     A couple of bums immediately started solving  the world's problems with
loud, slurred voices. I opened  one eye to check on them, just as a bag lady
wandered  over to join their  debate. They all had grimy  old faces, cut and
bruised where they'd been either beaten up or had got so drunk they'd fallen
over  and  damaged  themselves.  All  three were  now  lying  on the  floor,
surrounded by a rampart of  bulging plastic shopping bags tied together with
string. Each had  a can in  their  hand that  no doubt  contained the  local
equivalent of Colt 45.
     Another drunk shuffled over to my alcove, maybe attracted by my earlier
banquet. He started jumping up and down on the spot, grunting and waving his
arms. The best  way to  deal with these situations  is to appear just as mad
and  drunk  as  them--and  more.  I   sat  up  and  hollered,   "Hubba-hubba
hubba-hubba!" not bothering to try to make my eyes look scary; they probably
already did. Picking up a can, I yelled at it for a few  seconds, then threw
it at  him, growling like a wounded  animal. He shuffled away, muttering and
moaning. That was the  only  productive lesson I  learned in reform  school,
apart from the fact that I never wanted to go back.
     I  lay down again and fell  into a  semi daze with what seemed like ten
minutes'  sleep  here and five minutes there, waking every time  there was a
noise or movement. I didn't fancy being mugged a second time.
     I was jolted awake by a hard kick in the ribs. My head was still aching
badly, but  at least  my  eyes were focusing a lot better. I saw a frenzy of
men in black, looking just  like an American  police SWAT  team, with  black
combat pants tucked into their  boots, black baseball caps, and nylon bomber
jackets  festooned with  badges and logos.  In  their belt  kit they carried
canisters, which were almost certainly full of mace.  They were shouting and
screaming,   hitting   vagrants   indiscriminately   with   black  foot-long
nightsticks.  For the  homeless population of  Tallinn,  this was  obviously
their wake-up call.  It was certainly similar to some morning  calls I'd had
in basic training.
     Taking the hint,  I started to  pull myself up  onto  my feet. My whole
body  hurt. I must have  looked  like a ninety-year-old as I shambled out of
the  station with the rest of them, hoping it  wouldn't take too long before
my muscles warmed up and relieved some of the pain.
     The  cold early morning air gripped my  face and lungs.  It  was  still
pitch-black, but I could hear a lot more movement than  when I'd arrived. To
my right I  could see the  main drag, with intermittent traffic.  A solitary
streetlight was glimmering, but so  weakly it needn't have bothered.  Parked
in a row were five black, very clean and large 4x4s, possibly Land Cruisers.
Each vehicle carried a white triangular logo, the same as the largest one on
the back  of the team's bomber jackets.  There was still plenty of screaming
and  arguing  going  on, and I saw my three debating-society  friends  being
thrown  bodily into one of the wagons.  Maybe that  was where the  cut faces
came from.
     I  moved out of the way, round  to the other side of the station. There
was life of sorts going on here. I hadn't noticed  it on the way in, but the
building obviously doubled  as a bus station.  There was a large  open  area
with  shelters  and  fleets of dilapidated buses, covered  in mud. Plumes of
early  morning exhaust fumes rose  from the rear of some of them.  People at
the back of the lines were shouting at the ones  in front,  probably telling
them to  board before they froze to  death. Bags were being placed into  the
luggage  holds, along with wooden  crates  and cardboard boxes tied up  with
string. Most  of the passengers seemed to be old  women in  heavy overcoats,
with knitted hats and huge felt boots with zips up the front.
     The  only  proper  light  came from the  railway  station and  the  bus
headlights reflecting  off the icy ground. A streetcar appeared from nowhere
and moved across the foreground.
     The  station had windows missing  in the offices  above platform level,
and it was covered by  decades of grime.  It wasn't just this building,  the
whole place looked  in  deep decay.  The main street  was badly potholed and
entire areas  of blacktop had broken up like ice  floes to create  different
levels for vehicles to negotiate.
     The  men  in black  had finished their task.  Some of the street people
wandered across  the  road in  a  group, maybe  heading for the next  refuge
point, others  started  to beg by the buses.  When they stood  next  to  the
passengers it was hard to tell who looked worse off.
     Everybody seemed to  be  holding shopping bags, not just the  homeless,
but the  people boarding the buses as well. Not a single one was laughing or
smiling. I felt sorry for them--freed from Communism, but not from poverty.
     I waited while the black teams climbed into their wagons and moved off,
then I wandered back into the station. The place didn't smell any better now
it was cleared, but at least it was warm. I  thought I'd better clean myself
up. I eventually  found a rest room, though I didn't know if it was for  men
or women. It was just a set of stalls and a couple of sinks. A solitary bulb
flickered in the ceiling and the place absolutely  stank of  piss, shit, and
vomit. Once at the sinks I found  out where  all these smells seemed to come
from.
     Deciding to skip  the wash, I inspected  myself  in the mirror. My face
wasn't cut or bruised, but my hair was sticking out at all angles. I wet  my
hands under  the tap and ran my fingers through it,  then got out  of  there
quickly before I was sick myself.
     Wandering  around the station, I tried to find  out  train times. There
was plenty of information, all in Estonian or Russian. The ticket office was
closed, but a handwritten notice on a piece of cardboard taped to the inside
of the glass  screen explained that  there was something happening at  0700,
which I took to be the opening time. I couldn't see  if there was a clock in
the office as it was cut from view by a faded yellow curtain.
     Sheets  of  paper stuck  to  the glass also carried various destination
names,  in lettering I recognized, as  well as Cyrillic. I saw Narva and the
numbers 707.  It  seemed  there was  just seven minutes between  the  office
opening and my train leaving.
     My next priority was to get a coffee and find out the time. Nothing was
open  in  the station,  but  with any  luck there was some kind  of facility
outside  for  the  bus  passengers.  Where there are people,  there will  be
traders.
     I found a row of aluminum kiosks, with no unity or theme to what any of
them sold;  each of  them just  sold stuff, everything from  coffee to  hair
bands, but mostly cigarettes and alcohol.
     I  couldn't   remember  what  the  currency   was--things   were  still
blurry--but I managed to get a paper cup of coffee for a small coin that was
probably worth two cents. From the same kiosk I also treated myself to a new
watch, a bright orange thing with the Lion King  grinning out  at me from  a
face that lit up  at  the press of a but ton.  His paws rested on a  digital
display, which the old woman running the kiosk corrected to 0615.
     I stood  in between two kiosks  with  my coffee and  watched the  trams
deliver and pickup  passengers. Apart  from those yelling at each  other  in
line, there was very little talk from anybody.  These were depressed people,
and the whole ambience  of the place reflected their state of mind. Even the
coffee was horrible.
     I started  to  notice  people huddled  here and there in  small groups,
passing bottles among themselves.  One group of young men in a  bus shelter,
wearing old coats over shiny shell-suit pants, were drinking from half-liter
bottles of beer and smoking.
     In a strange way the place reminded me of Africa;  everything, even the
plastic toys and combs in the kiosk window  displays, was faded and  warped.
It  looked as if the West  had dumped  its trash  and it had  washed up with
these people.  As in Africa, they had stuff buses, trains, TVs, even cans of
Coke but nothing really worked  together. Basically it felt as if  the whole
country  was Made in Chad. When I was operating there, the republic  used to
be the byword for things that looked okay but fell apart in ten minutes.
     I thought  some more about  the ferry attack. The  guys in the  toilets
must have been NSA, but the only way I could have been spotted  was  by them
checking the ticketing, then taking and checking out this guy called Davies.
Once my passport had been swiped  they'd  cracked it: Davidson was on board.
The two who'd attacked me would be out  of commission, but would others soon
be on my trail?
     I bought another coffee to get  more heat inside me, as well as another
bar of  chocolate  and a bottle of twenty-four aspirin to clear my head  and
help with the  body pain, then I wandered around the kiosks looking for maps
as I washed down the first four tabs  with crap coffee. I found a Narva town
map,  but not one for the northeast of the country. Glancing at Lion King as
I paid for it, I realized I had to get a move on.
     On the way to the ticket office I brushed the worst of the dirt from my
jeans. My body heat was drying  them  out slowly, so  I hoped I didn't smell
too much. For all I knew they might have a rule about not selling tickets to
hobos.
     I was first in a line of three when the grubby bit of curtain got moved
away from the little window to reveal an iron grill behind
     thick glass, with a small wooden  scoop at  the bottom  where money and
tickets were exchanged. A woman in her midfifties glowered at me from behind
the fortifications. She  was wearing a sweater and, of course, a woolen hat.
She was also probably resting her feet on a bulging shopping bag.
     I smiled. "Narva, Narva?"
     "Narva."
     "Yes. How much?" I rubbed my fingers together.
     She got out  a little  receipt  book  and wrote  "Narva" and "707."  It
appeared the cost  was 707 hertigrats, or whatever the money was called, not
that it left at 7:07.
     I handed her a 1000 note. $20 U.S. was going a long way here. She moved
away from  the  glass, rummaged  around,  came back  and  dropped my  change
through the scoop. With  it was a  slip of paper as thin as tissue. I picked
it up, guessing it must be some kind of receipt. "Narva--ticket?"
     She babbled at me gloomily. It was pointless, I didn't have a clue what
she was on about. I didn't ask about the platform. I'd find it.
     Tallinn  station  seemed to be  the origin  for all lines.  This wasn't
Grand Central Station,  though;  the platforms outside the hall were  lumpy,
broken pavement, with ice where the water had puddled and frozen. In places,
exposed concrete had crumbled and rusting reinforcement rods protruded.  The
trains were old Russian  monsters with a big Cyclops light; they  all seemed
to be blue, but it was hard to be sure under all the dirt and grime. Hanging
on the front of each locomotive was a wooden destination board, and that was
all the help you got.
     I walked up and  down looking for  the word Narva, brushing past  other
passengers. I  found  the train,  but needed to confirm  it with  one  of my
shopping-bag friends.
     "Narva, Narva?"
     The  old man looked at me as  if  I was an alien,  muttering  something
without taking the  cigarette  out of his mouth, so the light  from  the tip
bounced up  and down. He then just  walked away. At least  I got a nod as he
pointed at the train.
     I carried on along the platform, looking for an empty car, to the sound
everywhere  of  the early  morning coughing up  of phlegm people holding one
nostril and snot ting out on the ground,  then putting  the cigarettes  back
between their lips.
     There didn't seem to be any completely empty cars, so I boarded anyway,
taking the first free  row of seats I could find. The car floor was  nothing
more  than welded steel  plates, and the seats were also made of steel, with
two small, thinly padded  vinyl sections, one for your back and one for your
ass. There were  a couple of forty-watt lightbulbs  in the ceiling and  that
was our lot. All very basic, all  very  functional,  yet surprisingly  clean
compared to the mayhem in the station outside. And at least it was warm.

     The wheels rattled  rhythmically over the rails as I  gazed out  at the
darkness. I couldn't  see any  of the landscape,  just  lights  from what  I
supposed  were factories  and  from windows  of  row upon row of  prisonlike
apartment buildings.
     I was sitting by the sliding  door at the  front end, next to a window,
with, thankfully, a heater directly under my seat. According  to  the travel
guide I'd be here for at least the next  five hours, which was good news for
my jeans.  There were a dozen  other passengers spread about the car, all of
them male, most with shopping bags, and either deep in thought  or doing the
nodding dog.
     The door slid back with a crash and a woman in her mid-forties came in,
wearing  a man's gray overcoat that was far too big for her. Draped over her
arm  were a dozen copies of a tabloid. She started jabbering and was clearly
asking me  something. I waved my  hand politely  to  say  no thanks  but she
became  very  animated. When I waved my hand  again and shook my head with a
nice Australian smile,  she reached into her coat and out came the same sort
of book of receipts that Mrs. Glum had used in the ticket office. I realized
she  was  the  ticket  collector,  who  was  obviously  running  a newspaper
concession on the side. Like me, she  was  taking the  money where she could
find it.
     I fished out my slip of paper. She inspected it,  grunted, gave it back
and swayed with the momentum of the train on to the next passenger, no doubt
telling him that  the village  idiot was on board. Given what I was about to
try, she wasn't far wrong.
     We began  to slow, and finally  stopped. Through  the darkness  I could
just see a factory, complete with a series of enormous chimneys. The station
didn't have a platform; the factory  workers had  to disembark directly onto
the tracks.  Outside,  people  seemed  to wander all over  the  place,  even
between cars.
     The train set off again, stopping every ten minutes  or so to  disgorge
another group of workers. After each halt the old diesel engine would strain
to get up speed again, belching smoke which quickly merged with the junk the
factory chimneys  were pumping out.  The  railway system made Britain's look
positively  space age by comparison, but at  least  these  ran on time, were
warm,  clean,  and affordable. I thought of inviting  a few  Estonian  train
managers to the U.K. to show our guys how it should be done.
     The train snaked, shuddered,  and shook its way through  the industrial
wasteland.  After  half an  hour the lights  started  to die  out and I  was
looking into darkness again.  I decided  to follow the lead of the one other
passenger left in the car and get some sleep.
     It was shortly after  nine thirty and first light had just passed.  The
sky, in  keeping with everything else, was a gloomy gray.  Through the grime
on  the window  I  saw snow-heavy  trees  lining the track on  each side,  a
barrier  against  snowdrifts.  Beyond  them  lay  either  vast stretches  of
absolutely flat open ground, covered  in virgin white snow, or thick  forest
that stretched on forever. The electricity and telephone lines following the
track were just like the trees, sagging with the weight of the snow and huge
icicles that hung from them.
     The train was still moving very slowly between  stations, maybe because
of the weather, maybe because the track was in need of repair.
     An hour later, after  another couple  of stops, the chocolate  and meat
started to  take effect. I hadn't  seen any  signs for toilets and I  wasn't
even sure there were any. If not, I'd just  have to have a quick dump in the
hall and explain it was an old Australian custom.
     I walked the length of two cars, bouncing  from side  to side,  until I
eventually found one. It was just like the rest of the train, very basic but
clean, warm, and it worked.
     Ripping  hard sheets from  the roll I threw them into the bowl until it
was more or less blocked. As I pulled down my now dry jeans
     and sat on the bare ceramic bowl, I had a quick sniff of the denim. Not
that  bad, considering;  I could  always  blame it on a  tomcat. Bruises had
developed on both thighs now; they'd soon turn black, complementing the ones
I already had.
     As the chocolate and meat mix started to force  its way out I fought to
keep control, wanting to catch  the insurance policy, wrapped in two condoms
and inserted up my ass with the aid of some Helsinki hotel soap.
     This was something  else I'd learned  in reform school. It was the best
way to make sure my fifteen pence weekly allowance wasn't stolen. Saran wrap
hadn't been as good as these condoms, though.
     It was a bit of a  smelly affair retrieving it, but once I'd untied the
knot  in  the  first  condom, pulled  out  the  one  inside  and  washed  my
hands--there was even soap and water in these toilets--everything was  clean
and  fragrant again. I was still  enthusing  about Estonian railways when it
was suddenly  like being back on the King's  Lynn-to  London line: the flush
didn't work.
     I stayed a while and treated myself to a wash. Back in the carriage, it
was  time to study  my Narva  town map, working  out exactly where I'd  find
Konstantin. According to Lion King  there was about  an hour to go before we
arrived. I  sat  there feeling rather  pleased the  chocolate had worked and
that I wouldn't have to waste time in Narva waiting for nature to call.
     I dry-swallowed another four  aspirin and looked out of the window.  No
wonder people had been getting off before entering this part of the country.
This  must  be the start  of the  great industrial northeast the Soviets had
created during  their  reign.  Gone  were  the trees and open  spaces of the
wilderness; instead the view consisted entirely  of slag heaps, with massive
conveyor belts, and factories that churned out smoke from every corner.
     We trundled past forbidding blocks of apartments, with  TV aerials hung
from every window and sometimes enormous, outdated  satellite dishes.  There
were no yards or play areas, just two or  three cars  up on concrete blocks.
Even the snow was gray.
     The  scenery didn't  change  much as the  stops  became more  frequent,
except that  every spare  inch of ground  along the track  was covered  with
little  vegetable patches. Even the  spaces  under  electricity  towers were
turned  into makeshift greenhouses using  a patchwork of  plastic  sheeting.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any
     more  depressing, the  train shunted past three cars parked at the side
of the  road, nose to tail. They  were riddled  with bullet holes and burned
out. There was  no snow  or ice on them and shattered glass lay all over the
place. It looked  as if they'd only just been hosed down  and  flash lighted
For  all  I knew there might still be bodies inside. A couple of kids walked
past and didn't give them a second look.
     The train stopped with  a rumble and a loud squeal of brakes. We seemed
to be in a rail yard. Fuel tankers and freight cars appeared on either side,
all covered with Russian script  and caked in oil and ice.  I was back in  a
scene from a Harry  Palmer film  again,  only Michael Caine would have had a
suit and trench coat on instead of piss-stained jeans. The train just seemed
to have  driven into the yard and stopped, and  that  was it.  Going  by the
number of doors opening, it was time to get off. Welcome to Narva.
     I looked out of the  window and saw people jumping down onto the tracks
with their shopping bags. The only other remaining  passenger  in my car was
leaving.  I did  the  same,  traipsing through  the  snow  across a  massive
shunting yard, following  the others  toward an old stone  house.  I guessed
that it hadn't been built until after 1944,  because I'd  read that when the
Russians "liberated" Estonia from the Germans they flattened the whole town,
then rebuilt it from scratch.
     I went through gray-painted, metal double doors into the ticket office.
The room  was only  about twenty  by thirty feet,  with  a  few old plastic,
classroom-style  chairs around the sides. The  walls  were covered with  the
same thick shiny  gray  paint  as the  doors, onto  which  graffiti had been
scratched. I thought the floor was plain pitted concrete until I noticed the
two remaining tiles refusing to leave home.
     The ticket office  was closed. A  large wooden  board  was fixed to the
wall near  the sales window,  with plastic sliders upon which, in  Cyrillic,
were the names of various destinations. I looked for anything that resembled
the word  Tallinn.  It seemed that the  first  train back  was at 8:22  each
morning,  but  even  if they'd spoken English,  there was no  one around  to
confirm it.
     I stepped round the obligatory puddle of vomit and came out of the main
entrance.  Over to my  left was  what  I took to be a bus station. The buses
were of  1960s  or 1970s  vintage,  all battered and some even hand painted.
People were fighting to get aboard,
     exactly as they'd done in the capital; the driver  was shouting at them
and they shouted at each  other. Even the  snow was  exactly the same  as in
Tallinn: dirty, downtrodden, and viciously icy.
     Digging  my  hands  deep  into  my pockets  I  cut directly across  the
potholed road, following the map in  my head along  Puskini, which seemed to
be the main street. It wouldn't be far to Konstantin's address.
     Puskini was lined on either side  by high buildings.  On the left, what
looked like a power station  loomed  behind them and, bizarrely, electricity
towers were  set into the  street and pavements, so pedestrians  had to pick
their way round  them.  Russians seemed to  have sited all their  industrial
units as near as possible  to the stations that powered them; then, if  they
had any space left, they'd squeezed  in  accommodation for  the workers, and
fuck the people who had to live there. I'd seen enough to tell me this was a
miserable, run-down place. The newest buildings looked as if they dated from
the 1970s, and even they were falling apart.
     I headed  up the street, keeping to the right. It was  quiet apart from
the  occasional tractor  and  one or two  Russian-plated articulated lorries
surging past.  The roads and sidewalks were jet black with grease and grime,
with a good coating of slush from passing vehicles.
     Christmas hadn't arrived in  Narva yet.  I wondered if  it  ever would.
There were no street decorations, lights, or anything remotely festive, even
in  the windows. I walked past  drab storefronts which advertised everything
from second-hand washing machines to Arnold Schwarzenegger videos.
     Further  along, I came  to a small food store.  It was an old building,
but  had the  brightest  lighting I'd yet  seen spilling out  onto the  iced
pavement. I  couldn't resist it, especially as I hadn't had anything to  eat
since my chocolate and meat combo, from which I'd long since parted company.
     An old man was lying on top of a cardboard  box to one side of the main
entrance, sheltered by the shop's canopy. His head was wrapped in  rags, his
hands  covered with strips of  canvas. The  skin on  his face  was dark with
ingrained dirt  and he could have grown vegetables  in his beard. Beside him
was  a  wooden tomato  crate  turned upside  down, displaying  a  rusty  old
screwdriver  and  a pair  of pliers that were clearly up for sale. He didn't
bother looking up at
     me as I passed.  I must have looked as though I was all right for rusty
tools.
     The  store was laid out to  exactly the same  template as a  small town
corner  store  in the  U.K. It  even had  some  of the same  brands  Colgate
toothpaste, Kellogg's  Cornflakes, and  Gillette shaving  cream but not much
else apart from  crates of beer  and a large cooler that  had nothing  in it
except rows  of different sausages,  including the risky red  ones  I hadn't
eaten on  the  ferry,  strung  out in lines to make  the  display look  more
generous.
     I picked up a family-sized bag of chips, two packs of sliced, processed
cheese, and four cake-type  rolls. I didn't bother with a  drink as I  hoped
I'd soon  be  getting a hot one at Konstantin's. Besides,  there wasn't much
choice apart from beer  and half-bottles of vodka. I couldn't be hassled  to
get toiler tries or a toothbrush to replace  the stuff that had been stolen.
All that sort of  thing I'd grab  if I needed it, but I didn't plan to be in
the country  that long; and in any  case, no one I'd seen  so  far seemed to
give much of a shit about personal hygiene.
     As I  paid for my  goods I helped myself to  two shopping bags, putting
one pack of cheese and a couple of rolls into one, the  rest into the other.
Passing the old guy on the way out, I put the smaller bag down beside him. I
hadn't bought him any chips because I  didn't  think his  gums  could tackle
them. I knew what it felt like to spend hours outside in the cold.
     With hands back  in my  jacket pockets, the  bag dangling from my right
wrist  and banging  rhythmically against my thigh,  I moved on. I skirted an
electric pole that was half in the street  and half over the wall of a small
factory, and  more rows of miserable apartments came into view, identical to
the ones I'd seen from the train. There  were  no names on  the blocks, just
stenciled numbers. At last I'd found one thing that my childhood project had
over  this  place:  at  least  every building there  had  been  named  after
locations in  Chaucer's Canterbury  Tales. The rest of it, though,  was much
the  same rotting wooden window  frames  and  cracks in the panes taped over
with packing  tape. I remembered why I'd promised myself at the  age of nine
that I'd get out of shit holes like this as soon as I could.
     It  was only  about one  thirty in the afternoon, but  already the town
could have done with some streetlights on. Unfortunately, there just weren't
that many around to help out.
     Things started to liven up after another hundred yards or so. I came to
a  giant  parking lot, full  of buses  and  cars.  People  who  seemed to be
carrying everything from shopping bags  to  suitcases were shouting at  each
other,  trying to  be heard over the noise of  air  brakes and  engines.  It
looked like news footage of refugees moving through a checkpoint. The closer
I got, the more it started to look like somewhere Han Solo might go to get a
spare  part  for his  spacecraft.  There  were  some strange looking  people
around.
     I realized I was at the border crossing point, the road bridge into, or
out of, Russia. Harry Palmer would have been a regular here.
     The parking lot was clogged with new Audis, old BMWs, and Ladas  of all
sorts, shapes, and ages. It was the  Ford  Sierras that looked strangely out
of  place.  There  were  fleets  of the  things.  I now knew where  all  the
second-hand ones went when they weren't snapped up by cab drivers.
     Money changers plied their  trade  along  the edges of the parking lot,
and kiosks sold all other types of kit as fast as Chad could manufacture it.
I  walked over to a green-painted garden shed  with a small  sliding window,
dodging  the  arctic  trucks  that  thundered past  as  they  cleared border
control. If you didn't get out of the way, tough.
     Camel, Marlboro, and a million different  Russian brands were  taped to
the glass, together with  as many different styles  of lighters. An old  guy
who looked like a gypsy, dark-skinned with thick gray  curly hair, showed me
his  list of  exchange rates.  It seemed I could get about  12 EEK, whatever
they were, to the  U.S. dollar. I didn't know if that was good or  not, just
that  Duracell batteries were taped up at just  a couple of  EEKs  each,  so
either it was the bargain of the century or they were duds. I didn't want to
show that I had money, so I went and sat on a garbage can behind the  kiosk,
got a warm $100 dollar  bill  out  of my sock and  replaced the boot  pretty
quickly.
     Once  he'd carried  out about five  different  checks to  make  sure it
wasn't counterfeit, including smelling it, the old guy was very happy indeed
with his hard  currency,  and  so was I with my new EEK  wedge.  I left  the
refugee camp behind  and headed  further up Puskini, toward a traffic circle
which, according to the map in my head, led to the road I wanted.
     The only buildings that looked at all inviting were near the traffic
     circle. Flashing neon signs  told  me these were "komfort baars." Music
blared from loudspeakers rigged  up outside. Originally, I supposed,  they'd
been  ordinary bars  or shops, but  their  windows were painted  out now. It
didn't need much imagination to work out what was on offer the other side of
the emulsion, but for the benefit of anyone in doubt, there were pictures of
women and  Cyrillic stenciling, no  doubt defining exactly what was meant by
"komfort." The best picture of all was on a blue window,  showing the Statue
of Liberty with  Marilyn Monroe's face, pulling up her robe to reveal an ace
of spades between her legs. Underneath,  in English, it read, "America. Fuck
it  here." I wasn't  too  sure what  it  all meant, but the Russians who had
parked  all  the  trucks along  the road obviously didn't have  any  trouble
reading the menu.
     I'd just stopped by the traffic  circle to check which  road  I  wanted
next  when two white  Suzuki Vitaras with flashing red-and  blue  light bars
screeched to a halt outside Marilyn's.
     Three guys piled out of each, dressed exactly the same as the SWAT team
at Tallinn station, but with a different logo. Theirs was  also  sewn on the
back of their  bomber  jackets. I  couldn't  make out the wording  from this
distance, just that it  was all in red and  in the sort of  typeface used on
surf wear Pulling out smaller billy clubs than the lot at the station,  they
piled into the bar.
     I  stepped into a  doorway  to  watch, taking one of  the rolls from my
shopping bag. Pulling the bread apart, I threw in a few slices of cheese and
a handful of chips and watched as a very tired-looking green Lada police car
turned up and  parked near the Vitaras. Two fur-hatted figures inside didn't
get out. I stamped my feet to keep them warm.
     The  Vitaras  were  showroom  clean  and had  a  phone  number and logo
emblazoned  on the side  and what looked like the letters "DTTS." The police
car was falling to pieces and looked as if the insignia on the side had been
hand-painted.
     For  the  next few minutes nothing much happened.  A stream of vehicles
negotiated  the  traffic  circle  and I  ate my  roll, along with a few more
chips.  A few  of the  passing  cars were quite new--Audis, VWs, and  even a
Mere--but  not many.  The popularity  battle was  really  between rusted-out
Sierras and Ladas.
     I was still putting the finishing touches to my second cheese roll when
the black teams emerged from the bar, dragging out three
     guys  between  the  six of  them.  All three were  in suits, with blood
pouring down their faces onto  their  white shirts, while  their smart shoes
got scraped along the ice. They were thrown into the back of the Vitaras and
then given the good news with billy clubs. The  doors were closed and one of
the  team,  noticing the police car,  just  waved  them away.  None  of  the
passers-by even bothered to glance at what was going on; it was hard to tell
whether they were too scared or just couldn't be bothered.
     The police headlights came  back on and off they  drove,  exhaust  pipe
rattling, toward the border-crossing parking lot.
     The Vitaras  and their crews also left,  and I  finished the  roll as I
crossed the traffic circle and turned right, toward  the river. The  address
that  Liv had given me was on this road, which was  known  simply  as  Viru.
Still wondering what the three guys had done to  cause Marilyn such offence,
I started attacking the last roll and the remaining cheese and chips. Like I
didn't have my own stuff to worry about.

     Viru  wasn't  any  more  uplifting  than the  rest of town, just  gray,
miserable blocks of  housing, more black  snow and  more un cared-for roads.
Then, bizarrely,  just up ahead was a burned-out bumper car, its metal frame
and long conducting rod charred and  twisted. God only  knows how it had got
there.
     The only thing moving was a  posse of five or six dogs, creating a haze
of steam above their bodies as they skulked around, sniffing at stuff on the
ground  then  pissing on it. I didn't even feel bad as  I dropped my plastic
bag, along with the chips and cheese wrappers. When in Rome .. .
     Now and again a patched-up Sierra  clattered  past on the cobblestones,
its occupants  looking  at  me  as  if  I  was mad  to be  walking  in  this
neighborhood. They were probably right, if  the sulfur  fumes I was inhaling
were anything to go by. There was obviously another environmentally friendly
factory near by.
     Slipping my hands deeper into my  pockets and  my head deeper inside my
collar, I tried to adopt the same miserable  body language as everyone else.
Thinking about what I'd seen at the "komfort baar," I decided not to  tangle
with private-enterprise security if I could help it. The State police looked
a softer option.
     Viru  started to bend to the right, and straight ahead I could  see the
icy riverbank, five or six hundred yards away. That was Russia.
     As I  neared the bend I  could see into the gorge, with the river Narva
about 200 yards below. Following it  around,  the  road bridge was about 400
yards away. Cars were lining up to leave Estonia, with
     foot traffic moving in both  directions,  carrying suitcases,  shopping
bags, and all sorts. The  checkpoint on the Russian side had barriers across
the road and guards checking papers.
     If  the numbering on the map was  correct, Number 18 Viru would soon be
on my right, a little past the bend and facing the river.
     It wasn't an apartment building as  I'd been expecting, but a large old
house that was  now a baar. At least, that was what the sign said,  in white
but  unlit  neon lettering above  a  rotten  wooden  door.  Big  patches  of
rendering were missing from the front of the building, exposing the red clay
brick underneath. It was three stories  high, and looked really out of place
among the uniform concrete blocks surrounding it on three sides. Most of the
upper  windows  were covered  by  internal wooden shutters;  there  were  no
curtains to be seen. There was another neon sign, also not illuminated, of a
man leaning over a pool table  with a cigarette in his  mouth and a glass of
beer on the side.
     According to the  sign next to  it saying "8-22,"  it  should have been
open. Trying the door handle, I found that it wasn't.
     Four cars  were parked outside. There was a  brand-new, shiny red Audi,
and two Jeep  Cherokees  that had seen better days, both dark blue and  with
Russian plates. The fourth vehicle, however, was  in the worst  state of any
I'd seen in  Estonia, apart from the bumper car. It was a red Lada that  had
been hand-painted and had to belong to a teenager. There were domestic music
speakers  clamped  on the  back shelf, from which wires hung like spaghetti.
Very cool, especially the pile of old newspapers on the back seat.
     I  looked through the grime-covered ground-floor windows. There were no
lights on and no sounds. Walking round to the other side,  facing the river,
I could see a light shining on the  third floor,  just a single bulb. It was
like finding life on Mars.
     Back at the wooden door I hit the  intercom button near the  baar sign.
The building  might be in as shit  state as  Tom's,  but the intercom was in
better condition. There was no way of telling if it was working, though,  so
I tried again, this time for longer.  There was static and crackling, and  a
gruff male  voice,  half aggressive,  half bored, quizzed  me. I didn't know
what  the  fuck  he  was  on  about.  I  said,  "Konstantin.  I  want to see
Konstantin."
     I heard the Russian or Estonian equivalent of, "Eh, what?" then
     there was more gabbing from him and voices shouting  in the background.
When he came back to me it was with something that obviously  translated as,
"Fuck off, big nose." The static ceased; I'd been given the brushoff.
     I buzzed again, working  on the theory  that if he got pissed enough he
might come down to  the door  to fill me in. At least then I had a chance of
making  some progress. There was more shouting, which I didn't understand; I
got the gist but carried on regardless.
     "Konstantin? Konstantin?"
     The machine went dead once again. I wasn't sure whether there was going
to be some action now or not, so I stayed where I was.
     After about two  minutes there was the sound of  bolts being  thrown on
the other  side of  the door. I moved out of the way as  it was pushed open.
Behind it was an iron grill door, still closed, and behind that was a guy of
maybe seventeen or eighteen, who looked like the style fairy had crept up on
him and waved her LA-street gang wand. I bet he owned the Lada.
     "Do you speak English?"
     "Yo! You want Konstantin?"
     "Yeah, Konstantin. Is he here?"
     He gave a big smile. "Yes, he sure is, for that's  me, man. You are the
England guy, right?"
     I nodded and  smiled, holding  back laughter as he tried to  match  his
speech with his dress sense. It just didn't work,  especially with a Russian
accent.
     He beamed  as he  looked me up and down. "Okay, smart guy, come on in."
He was  right, I didn't look as if I'd come  straight from the dry-cleaners.
Or maybe he'd been expecting a man in a bowler hat.
     The grill was secured from the inside  with two lever locks. As soon as
I'd walked in, both the  door  and  the grill were locked behind  me and the
keys taken out.
     He held up his hands. "Hey, call me Vorsim." He wiggled his fingers, or
rather, the ones that hadn't  gone missing, in the air. "Everyone does. It's
Russian for eight."
     He gave me another  quick once-over as we both smiled  at the joke he'd
probably cracked a thousand times. "Hey, follow me, England guy."
     I followed Eight up a narrow wooden staircase to the first floor.
     The banisters  and handrails  were  bare wood,  and  the  exposed steps
sagged  with age. There was no light apart from the dull glow coming through
the ground-floor windows. I could only just see where my feet were going.
     It was an old, once-grand house. I couldn't see  any evidence of a bar,
but  at least it was  warm and  dry--almost too dry. It had that dusty smell
places get when the windows  are never opened and the heating  is on all the
time.
     Our footsteps  echoed round the stairwell. Eight was about three  steps
above  me, wearing  a pair of  the  most  blindingly yellow and  purple Nike
sneakers I'd ever seen,  beneath a pair of  baggy,  blue hip-hop-style jeans
that were stone washed--the  kind with big horrible streaks of  white--and a
black leather  bomber jacket with the  L.A.  Raiders pirate logo stitched on
the back.
     We hit  a landing and turned for the next flight which would take us up
to the second floor.  Weak light  filtered through the slatted shutters. All
the doors leading off it were paneled, with faded flowers painted on ceramic
door knobs; it must have been a splendid place when it was first built.
     We passed the second and carried on up to the third  floor, then walked
along a larger landing. He opened one of the doors  toward the  river. "Your
name is Nick, right?"
     "Yeah, that's right." I  didn't return the eye contact as I walked past
him into the room. I was too busy checking what I was walking into.
     There was just one bulb in the center of the room, producing the dingy,
yellowy light I'd seen from outside. The very large room was in semidarkness
and  was boiling  hot. The only job the lighting did  was  expose a layer of
cigarette smoke that clung to the high ceiling. There was a glow from the TV
to  my left, its volume set at low, with a body in front of it.  Directly in
front of  me, about forty-five  feet  away, was a  single  sash window,  its
shutters open in the hope of letting in a little natural light. The shutters
on each side  were  still  firmly closed.  There  were  no  carpets or  wall
hangings, just empty space.
     To my right, near a  large marble  fireplace, three men  were seated on
fancy chairs around what looked like an antique table with ornate legs. They
were  playing  cards  and  smoking. Beside them,  and  to  the  right of the
fireplace, was another door.
     The three  heads at the table turned and stared as they sucked on their
cigarettes. I nodded without any reaction from them at all, then one of  the
guys said something and the other two guffawed and went back to their game.
     The door  closed behind me. I looked at Eight, who was  bobbing  up and
down with excitement. "Well, man" arms moving around like a rapper "you hang
here, Vorsim won't be long. Things to do." And with that he placed the grill
keys on the table and disappeared through the door near the fireplace.
     I looked over at the guy by the TV. The color picture  was a bit snowy,
perhaps because it was perched on a chair with a coat hanger for an antenna.
He  sat  on  a  chair opposite,  his  nose nearly  touching the screen,  too
engrossed to bother looking  round at me. His area was giving out more light
than  the bulb in the ceiling; it was a mystery how the other guys could see
their cards.
     No one offered me anywhere to sit, so I went over to the window to have
a look outside. The floorboards creaked  with every step I  took.  The  card
school,  now  behind me, just got  back to mumbling  to each other  as  they
played.
     It was easy  to see what went on  here. Two sets  of electronic display
pharmaceutical scales sat under  the table at this  end of the room. Next to
them  were  stacked  maybe  ten  to  twelve  large  Tupperware  boxes,  some
containing  white  stuff  that  definitely  wasn't  flour,   others  holding
dark-colored pills that similarly weren't M&Ms.
     Directly  beneath  the window  was  Viru,  dirty  snow and ice covering
overflowing  dustbins. At the corner  of the  building three scabby cats lay
perfectly  still  in the snow, gathered around a  drain, waiting  for  their
black furry dinner to serve itself up.
     Over the lip of the gorge the river on both banks was iced up,  but the
center third was carrying big chunks of ice and trash  sluggishly from right
to  left, toward  the Baltic about eight miles downstream. Further  upstream
the bridge was still jammed with cars and people.
     I turned back to  the  room.  It might be sweltering in here, but I was
desperate for a hot brew. The only drink I could see was a bottle of Johnnie
Walker on the  table, which was being emptied by the  card players. They all
had  black leather jackets  draped over  the backs of their  chairs.  They'd
obviously watched too many gangster
     movies" because they were all dressed in black pants and black crewneck
sweaters, with enough gold  dripping  off  their wrists and fingers to clear
Estonia's national  debt. It looked like a  scene  from Good Fellas Packs of
Camels and Marlboros lay on the table in front of them, gold lighters placed
neatly  on top. I made sure they couldn't see my Lion King watch.  I  didn't
want them to start by shitting me, as there might be a time when they had to
take me seriously. A smiling Disney character on my wrist wouldn't help.
     I  turned to the TV watcher as  he  clicked at his lighter and  lit up,
holding the  cigarette between his  thumb  and index  finger,  then  leaning
forward, elbows on knees, to get his nose back into some low-budget American
soap.  What was really  strange was that the dialogue was still in  English;
only after the actors had delivered their lines did the Russian dubbing take
place. There was absolutely no emotion in the translation; a woman with more
makeup than  Boy George gushed,  "But Fortman, I  love  you," then a Russian
voice translated it as if she was buying a pound of cabbage. I suddenly knew
where Eight got his English and dress code from.
     The  door opened and in he came.  "Yo, Nikolai!" The  bomber jacket was
now off to reveal a red sweatshirt with Bart Simpson karate kicking  another
kid  with  fistfuls  of  dollars. Printed  underneath  was  "Just take  it."
Dangling from Eight's neck was a thick gold chain that any  rapper  would be
proud of.
     He came and stood by the window with me. "Nick,  I've been told to help
you.  Because, hey, guess  what, crazy guy, I'm the only one here who speaks
English."  He  shuffled from sneaker to sneaker as he clapped his hands. The
Good Fellas looked at him as  if he was a basket case, and got back to their
game.
     "Vorsim, I need a car."
     "Car? Whoa, could be a problem, my man."
     I  half expected  to  hear his response  followed by  some bad  Russian
dubbing.  He turned to the Good  Fellas  spoke some very fast  stuff and did
some mock begging. The oldest one, maybe  in his  early fifties, didn't look
up from his hand but replied really aggressively. He must have been drinking
liquid nasty instead  of Johnnie  Walker. I caught  his drift, though: "Tell
the Brit to fuck off ski I wondered if I should produce the insurance policy
but decided not to. Better to save it until it really mattered.
     Another one of the three sparked up with an idea, pointing first
     at Eight, then at  me, and  made  out  he was hitting  something with a
hammer. The other two really liked that one. Even the TV addict joined in as
they all had  a good laugh.  It  was Merlin's laugh: King Arthur used to get
frustrated when  he made  a  kingly decision and  his  wizard just  laughed,
because Merlin  knew the future and the king didn't. I felt the same sort of
thing was happening here. Liv was right: Don't trust them an inch.
     Eight's  shoulders slumped. He  walked back  over to me. "I'll  have to
give you my car."
     "Is it one  of the ones outside?" I'd already guessed, but was hoping I
was wrong.
     "Yes. But hey, man, I need it for bitches. Will I get it back soon? How
long do you need it for? A couple of hours?"
     I shrugged. "Maybe a couple of days." Before he could react I added, "I
also want to see you later tonight. Will you be here?"
     "Cool, I'm always here. I live here, my man."
     He pointed up at the loft. Rather him than me.
     "OK, I'll be back later. Will your friends be here?"
     "Oh sure, Nikolai, they'll hang  for a while. Business to do, people to
see."
     I put my forefinger and thumb together and shook my hand. "Keys?"
     "Keys? Oh sure,  sure.  I'll have  to come with you, my  man.  Show you
something cool." He ran through to the other  room. The Good  Fellas ignored
me  completely  as I waited, concentrating instead  on throwing  more liquid
nasty down their throats.
     Eight reappeared,  pulling on his bomber jacket and zipping it up as he
took the keys off the table. We went downstairs and out into the cold.
     After locking the door and grill behind us, it turned out that the cool
thing he wanted to show me was that I'd have to hit the starter motor with a
hammer  before  it would  turn over. He said he  liked it  busted like  this
because no one could steal it.
     While  he was busying himself showing me what to  do, it was  pointless
talking  about licenses or  whatever if  I got stopped. I just wanted to get
away from here and do my job. I didn't have time to fuck about. The Maliskia
knew the NSA were out and about and would be moving location any day now.
     But Eight wanted to remove his speakers and music first. I
     looked at the  cassettes as he piled them on the  passenger seat. There
was an array of American rap bands I'd never heard of, all following Eight's
lead in the gold-chain department, plus some really hip Russian artistes who
looked as though they were on the way to a reunion of the Liberace fan club.
It was the white tuxedos that really gave them class.
     I was  waiting for him to disconnect the speakers when a 5 Series  BMW,
with a  hint  of  silver beneath  the dirt, cruised down  the  road from the
direction  I had  walked.  I  noticed the  plates  first  because they  were
British, and it was right-hand drive, then I looked at the driver.
     The subconscious never forgets, especially when it comes to trouble.
     Carpenter.  I  couldn't believe it. As if  he hadn't fucked up  my life
enough these past couple of weeks.
     He was slowing down  as a van approached from  the opposite  direction,
but it wasn't to let  him pass; he was heading over to where we were, and if
he saw me I bet I wouldn't be  getting the Russian for, "Hello, nice to meet
you."
     I jumped into the back of the car with Eight and made as if to help him
pull out the speakers, my knees badly creasing up his newspapers.
     The  BMW pulled  into  the  parking lot, its tires crunching louder and
louder  on the ice  the  closer it  got. I suddenly found the speakers  very
interesting  indeed,  and made  sure my ass faced very definitely toward the
BMW. I was feeling extremely vulnerable,  but not  as much  as I would if he
saw me.
     The engine shut down and the driver's door opened.
     Eight  was the  other side  of  me and  glanced  over  my  shoulder  as
Carpenter's door slammed, then turned back to his beloved speakers.
     After hearing the wooden door close, I was still pulling out some  very
risky wiring as I asked, "Who's the English guy?"
     "He's not England, you crazy guy!" He tutted into the air.
     "So why has he got an England car?"
     I'd obviously  said something very funny. "Because he can, my man! Some
England  guy isn't  going to St. Petersburgjust  to get his car  back;  that
would be crazy, man."
     "Oh, I see."
     In  this part of  the world  it obviously didn't  matter  if  you drove
around  with a hot car's plates on display. After  all, if you had the money
to have a BMW stolen to order, why  not flaunt it?  I could see the dealer's
sticker  in the rear  window;  it  was  a  firm in  Hanover, Germany,  which
probably  meant that some British  grunt  had been saving up for ages to buy
his tax-free bargain, only to get it lifted  so it could rumble around Narva
in the snow.
     The first speaker came free. I had no idea how he was  going to wire it
up again; it looked like a telephone junction box in there. The chain around
his neck  made a  curiously tinny noise  as  he moved around. The  rap bands
probably  had the  real thing, but I was sure  his  bitches  never knew  the
difference.
     "Who is he, then?"
     "Oh, just one of the guys. Business, you know."
     He must do a lot of business here to have his own set of house keys.
     "Don't  say anything about me  to  anyone, Vorsim," I said. "Especially
guys like him. I don't want people to know I'm here, okay?"
     "Oh sure, my man." The  way he said it was too blase for my liking, but
I didn't want to push the point.
     Once  the speakers were  out  I virtually threw the  cassettes  at him,
wanting to get away before Carpenter reappeared. The hood was still open and
I gave the starter motor a crack with thS hammer.
     Eight  stood  by  the  door holding an armful of  cassettes,  with  the
speakers on the doorstep. "Be careful with the bitch machine, Nikolai."
     Before he'd  even turned to unlock the  door I had  the hood down,  the
engine in gear and was away, heading back the way I'd come.
     My head  was churning over about Carpenter. What if he was still  there
when I came back  to  see Eight after I'd  done the recce?  Or if he arrived
while I was  in the  house? I had fucked up in my attempt  to get out of the
way so quickly. I should have told Eight I wanted to meet elsewhere.
     I had to  control a rage  that was brewing inside me as I thought about
Carpenter's drugged-up, fucked-up work  that night. It  had not only cost me
money, but nearly got me killed.
     Should I even go back and see Eight again? I had no choice: I
     was going to  need help obtaining explosives or whatever else I needed.
I  drove  past the "komfort  baars" thinking of my professional options  and
what I would unprofessionally really like to do about him. Fuck it; I pulled
into the border-crossing parking lot. It took about a minute to work out how
to secure the Lada, as the driver's door lock was busted.
     With the starter  motor persuader in my pocket I turned  and  began  to
walk back to the house. As  the saying so rightly goes, there's not much you
can't sort out with a two-pound ball hammer.

     I  would  have to luck  it  nut and  wait for him to  leave  the house,
setting  myself a  cut-off of two  o'clock  the  following  morning. I still
needed time to get on with the recce; lifting Carpenter and keeping him tied
up somewhere until  the job was finished wasn't an option. There was no time
for that.
     Now I'd got  my bearings in this part of town  I cut between  apartment
buildings and  saw some of  the  worst conditions yet, sheds  burned  out to
match the cars and buildings that should have fallen  down years  ago. There
was still an hour and a half to go before last light at about  three thirty,
but the overcast sky was making everything darker than it should have been.
     Following the  ice  tracks  in  the snow, I  turned corners and  walked
around car  wrecks and  rusty  strollers until  the  house  came into  view.
Carpenter's BMW was no more than ninety feet  away. The other three vehicles
were  also still there, all with a thin layer of  ice forming on the windows
and top surfaces. One or two people were walking around, but just from block
to block, some accompanied by little dogs with knitted coats on.
     It was dark and cold enough for me not to be noticed as I  stood inside
what was left of one  of the  sheds,  leaning against  the wall with my head
down, my hands in  my jacket  pockets, the right one grasping the hammer.  I
felt no apprehension,  no emotion  at all  about what was coming.  Some kill
because  they have a  good reason. Others, like Carpenter, because they just
like it. For me it wasn't that deep. I did it only when I had to.
     Flexing my toes  in my boots to keep the circulation going, I  tried to
think of other options, but still couldn't come up with any. There were more
important  things at stake than this maniac's  life; I thought  back to  the
sobs from the  man in  the elevator in Helsinki  as he held his dying  wife.
Carpenter could fuck everything up if he discovered  I was here. I was still
pissed with myself for not switching on with Eight and asking for  a  change
of  meeting  place;  because of that fuckup I'd  got  myself into a position
where I could end up dead myself if I messed this up.
     One or two more dull yellow lights came on in the apartments. The noise
of a TV hung in the air as a car rattled along the road, then I heard a baby
screaming.  I  continued  with my trigger  on  the  door,  listening to  the
occasional bang of  pots and pans from behind steamed-up kitchen windows and
their  sagging,  dirty net  curtains.  Somewhere in  the  neighborhood, dogs
barked at each other, probably just out of boredom.
     No sign of movement or light came from the house. Lion King said it was
3:12.
     Still  I  watched  and waited,  feeling the cold attacking my  ears and
nose, wishing I'd made the effort and bought a replacement hat and gloves. I
got another four aspirin down me as my body started reminding me that it had
taken  a good kicking the night before. I spent  long minutes trying  to get
enough saliva in my mouth to swallow them.
     Another check of  Lion  King 3:58.1 hadn't even been here an hour  yet,
but it felt like six.  I always hated  the waiting. Another  thirty  minutes
crawled by, then there  was movement at the door, a  dull, yellowish glow at
the grill.
     Slowly I took  my hands from my  pockets. Taking  a  firm hold  of  the
hammerhead in my right hand,  I laid  the handle  along  my forearm, on  the
outside of my jacket.
     Two men were standing there smoking, waiting to  come  out  once they'd
opened the grill. In the glow from the cigarettes and the hall  light, their
breath vapor was indistinguishable from the smoke as it  rose above  them. I
couldn't make out if either  of them was Carpenter. I hoped not.  Taking  on
two  with a hammer would not  make for a good  night out, and  Carpenter was
bound to be armed.
     They continued  to talk as the grill squeaked open and one of them came
out onto the ice. The grill was then closed, leaving one
     of  them  on  each side. Maybe  it  was  going  to be okay. Whoever was
leaving had  a quick laugh  with his friend, who now  looked like a prisoner
behind  bars.  Then, as he  walked away, he pushed the  wooden  door closed,
rubbing his  hands together against the cold. From this distance  I couldn't
hear the bolts being thrown.
     I  could make  out  the shape of a  baseball  cap as he  moved  to  the
vehicles. I still couldn't tell if it was Carpenter.
     The man moved toward the 5 Series that was parked side-on to me, facing
the house, then there was a jangle of keys.
     I  still  couldn't identify him.  I would have to  get  closer. He'd be
there a while, scraping the ice from the windshield.
     My legs were  feeling rubbery after standing still so long. Stretching,
I moved out of the darkness, trying to pump a bit of blood around.
     There were only about sixty feet separating us, but as he neared the BM
I still couldn't be sure it was him.
     The car door opened and the  interior light shone across his back as he
leaned  in and started up the engine. Exhaust  fumes  filled  the air as  he
shoved one leg inside and  hit  the  gas.  Then he turned the headlights on.
They shone  brightly away  from both of us, but  silhouetted  his profile. I
recognized Carpenter at once.
     I took one last  look around me to make sure the  area  was clear. From
this moment  on  I'd be concentrating solely on the target, who was now  ten
meters away, hopefully with the engine noise hiding my movement.
     He  was focusing on  the windshield, his back to me still  as he leaned
over to clear the ice.
     My eyes never left his head as it moved back and forth in  a  cloud  of
breath.
     He must have heard me, and started to  turn. I was no more than fifteen
feet away but too far to react quickly. I just had  to keep walking, but now
veering slightly left, as if I was heading for the road. I got my head down,
not wanting to look at him as  I approached the  rear of the  car,  my hands
under my armpits, concealing my weapon. I had to assume that he was checking
out the dickhead who thought he could saunter around in this weather without
a hat and gloves.
     The focus of  my whole world was on this man, waiting to hear the noise
of  the  scraper again. I was nearly  past him, just  approaching  the  BM's
trunk, when it finally began again.
     Scrape scrape scrape.
     It was time to look up and find his head once again as it bobbed up and
down in time with the noise.
     Scrape, scrape, scrape.
     Supporting the hammerhead in my left hand I ran my hand down the handle
and gripped it hard.
     At that moment he looked up again, toward the road.
     I, too, saw the  four white DTTS Vitaras  screech to a halt outside  an
apartment buildings on the other side of  the  road. I  had no choice but to
keep walking past him as black-clad bodies  jumped out  of the  vehicles and
ran into the building,  leaving the drivers standing outside, nightsticks in
hand.
     I got to  the road and turned left toward the traffic circle,  not once
looking behind me. I could hear screams and  the sound of smashing  glass as
the DTTS team did whatever they did in apartment buildings in an afternoon.
     I was cursing to myself, but at the same time feeling lucky they hadn't
turned up a  few seconds later. What concerned me now was that  he  could be
there when I returned to the house for any kit I might need.
     I took the first opportunity to turn left again, off  the road and back
into the apartment building as the BM drove past me, heading for the traffic
circle.
     I drove cut of town, heading west and following signs along the Tallinn
road to  a  place  called  Kohtla-Jarve, about  twenty  miles away. The road
didn't  hold  any  surprises  for me.  The  car  bumped all over the  place,
slithering over the different levels of pavement under  the ice and slush. I
couldn't complain; I was just happy to have got the thing started again.
     I went  through a couple  of  small towns, trying to avoid the  bus and
truck drivers  who wanted me to join their death  race. This was supposed to
be  a  two-lane road, but  it  didn't work out  like that; everyone took the
center  of  the  road because that was  where  there  was less  ice and more
pavement.  Seeing  signs for  Voka, I made a  mental note of the  time since
leaving Narva. I'd be wanting that road later.
     The wipers were slapping away ineffectually against the shit that
     was being sprayed up by trucks and dumped on us smaller vehicles. I had
to  keep  stopping, using  the  newspaper from  the  back seat to  wipe  the
windows. At one stage, I even had  to piss over  the windshield to clear the
icy grime, trying to  avoid the splash as the  wipers did their stuff before
it froze once again.
     Kohtla-Jarve, it appeared,  was the home  of  the giant, brooding  slag
heaps and long  conveyor belts I'd seen from the  train. Bright  white light
spilled  from factories on either  side  of the  road  as I  dueled  with my
trucker  friends. They eventually dwindled with the industry, and soon there
was  complete  darkness, apart  from kamikaze trucks and  bus lights on full
beam, mixed with cars with only one light trying to overtake the lot of us.
     I  followed  the road  west for  about another twelve miles then turned
left,  heading south  for a place called Pussi.  I was in no  mood for gags,
otherwise I might have passed the time composing a limerick or two.
     In the  Lada's headlights I could see that the road was single lane and
hadn't been used or cleared for quite a while. There were just two tire rutt
worn into the snow. It was going be like riding on rails.
     It  was another twelve  miles further south to the target. There had to
be a  quicker way of doing it than driving a right-angled box, west and then
south, but  I didn't know  how accurate the maps were. Besides, I wanted  to
stay on the main  roads  as long as  possible, and then I could at least  be
sure of getting there.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself, considering
I had no map; one of the muggers in Tallinn was probably wiping his ass with
it right now.
     The  headlights reached  about five  to  thirty feet either side of me,
exposing banks of snow and the occasional ice-laden tree waiting to spark up
in the spring.
     I drove through Pussi, which looked like a small farming community. The
buildings were rundown shacks made of bare, unpainted wood and surrounded by
wrecked cars. The roofs were bowed in with age or bad construction. Most had
two lengths of wood, with strips going  across to form a ladder, permanently
attached as a means of getting the  snow off. Bythelookofitthe timbers would
have collapsed without them.
     I  reckoned  this was the place  for  Eight,  without a  doubt.  A hand
painted Lada would be the ultimate passion wagon in this neck of the woods.
     They had electricity,  because there was the occasional  glint of light
coming through the curtains of very small windows, and a dull bulb shone  in
the back of a barn. But there obviously wasn't running water because I  kept
seeing the sort  of communal  hand pump that Glint Eastwood used to strike a
match  on to light his panatela. These ones,  however,  were  wrapped  up in
tarpaulin and bits of rag to stop them freezing. The chimneys were going for
it big time. They must have been chopping logs all summer.
     There were no warning signs that I  was about to  bump over the railway
track  from Tallinn,  and after that  I  didn't see  a  single sign of human
activity.  The road got steadily worse. The Lada slid all over the place and
didn't enjoy the potholes one bit now  that my own personal snow railway had
come  to  an  end.  I  checked  the  odometer,  counting  down  to the  only
intersection, which, if I remembered correctly, was a couple of miles away.
     Once  there, I at last got help: a small  sign told me it was right  to
Tudu. I turned left, now knowing that the target would be the first building
on the left after one more mile.
     Just after  one  mile a high concrete  wall appeared  in my headlights,
about thirty feet in on the left-hand side. I drove slowly for another forty
yards or so, encountering a pair of large metal gates the same height as the
wall.  I  drove past them, and  the wall continued  for about another  forty
yards before it turned at a right angle into the darkness.
     The  second  building, just a bit further on and maybe thirty  yards in
length, resembled  a  large hangar. It  was  slightly closer to the road and
wasn't fenced  or walled in.  I  waited until I'd  rounded a  bend  and  was
physically  out of the line of  sight  of the target, then  I threw the Lada
into a little driveway on my left, stopping after a three-foot slide. It was
probably an entrance  to  a field or something, but it wasn't  as  if people
were going to be working on the land for a few more months.
     I closed the  door quietly  onto its first click, then the  second, and
used  the wipers  to  secure  a sheet  of  newspaper  over the windshield. I
started to walk back down the road, trying to keep warm by moving as fast as
I  could, and  sucking  to the  ice  that  had formed on  the  road to  keep
footprints to a minimum.
     I didn't have a clue what I was going to do yet.

     After two  hours of straining my eyes  to see the road through a dirty,
smeared windshield, it was taking a while for my night vision to kick in.
     A bird screeched in the  distance, but there were no other sounds apart
from  my own breathing and the crunch of my boots on the ice. I  found I had
to step quite gingerly. So much for warming up.
     By  the  time I'd reached  the target the rods in my  eyes had realized
there was  no ambient light and they had  to  get to work. Not that  I could
miss  the first building, just off the road to  my right. The gap of fifteen
feet or so in  between  them was  knee-deep with  snow,  covering the fallen
brickwork that  had spilled out across the verge. It was, or had been, quite
a substantial building, though most  of  the masonry had collapsed, exposing
what I supposed was the  steel frame; I could  see  right through  it to the
field beyond. It was one story, lower than  the concrete wall further along,
but very wide and with a low-angled  pitched roof covered with a thick layer
of snow. A very tall chimney, resembling a ship's funnel,  soared out of the
roof on the right-hand side and disappeared into the darkness.
     Continuing  toward the concrete wall,  I crossed the thirty feet  or so
between the hangar and the target compound. As I approached, I began to make
out the dark shape of a normal-sized door set in the concrete wall. I'd have
loved to have gone and  tried  it, but I couldn't risk leaving tracks in the
deep snow.
     As I walked on toward the gates the front wall towered above me.
     There  was no light pushing  skyward from the compound, and no noise. I
tried looking for  CCTV cameras or intruder devices, but it was too dark and
the wall was too high and  far away. If there were any, I'd soon find out. A
depressing thought hit me: I hoped  they hadn't  changed location already. I
moved  the forty yards or so it took to  reach the point  where the compound
driveway joined the road.
     Turning  right,  I  started  to  walk to the gates.  It  was  pointless
skulking about,  I  just  had to get on with it. The depression  didn't lift
when I  failed to see  light  spilling out  from  under the gates  as  I got
closer.
     As I  slowly closed in on them, keeping within the right-hand tire rut,
I  began to see that  the wall was constructed  of enormous concrete blocks,
maybe twenty-five yards long and at least  three to fifteen feet high. There
must have been a fair thickness for them to rest on top of each  other  like
that; they looked as if they should be laid flat, end to end, to construct a
runway. I still couldn't see anything that even resembled CCTV or alarms.
     The two  large gates  were as high as  the wall itself. I  was right up
against them now and still couldn't hear  anything  on  the other  side. The
gates  were made of steel plate  with a  thick coating  of dark, anti  oxide
paint  which  was  smooth to  the touch, without  a trace  of  blistering or
flaking. I could also see white chalk  markings, the sort scored on to guide
the  welder. I gently pushed against  them both, but they  didn't move,  and
there were  no locks or chains I could see  holding  them in position.  They
were newly made, but judging by  the exposed  reinforcement rods jutting out
of the crumbling concrete, the wall wasn't.
     Set into the  right  gate was  a smaller,  pedestrian  door. It had two
locks, one a third of the way up from the bottom and another a third  of the
way down from the top. I gently pulled the  door handle, which of course was
also locked.
     The gap between gate  and  ground  was four  to six inches.  Lying down
slowly  on my side, and using the length of  the  tire  rut to avoid  making
prints  in  the snow either side of me, I pressed my eye against  the gap. I
could  feel the frozen ground under my  body as it made contact, but that no
longer mattered; there was light on the other side.
     I  became aware, too, of  the gentle hum  of  machinery. I couldn't  be
sure, but it was probably a generator.
     I  made out the  shapes  of two buildings about sixty  yards  away. The
smaller one on the left  had  two lights shining  from ground floor windows;
their  patterned curtains were drawn, but light still spilled  onto the snow
in front of  the building.  The  noise  must be a genny; there wasn't enough
wattage in this country to penetrate curtains. The building was too far away
for me  to notice anything else about it; it was just a dark shape on a dark
background.
     I  studied the  larger  building to the right. There was a dark area in
the middle front of the building, its rectangular shape, with a semicircular
top, suggesting  a  large  access.  Maybe  this  was where  they kept  their
vehicles. But where were the satellite dishes? Were they around the back? Or
was I doing a recce on the local beet boiling factory? And  where would they
have locked up Tom?
     What now?  I had the  same problem as at Microsoft HQ: too  much virgin
snow and not enough time. It would have been great to have been able to do a
full 360 of this place, but tough, I  couldn't. I even wondered about trying
to  climb up the outside of the hangar  funnel to get a better look  around,
but even if there was a climbing rail attached to it, I was likely  to leave
sign on the  roof  or on  the rungs, and anyway,  what would I  see  at that
distance?
     I lay there and reminded myself that when you are short of the two most
important  commodities,  time  and knowledge, sometimes the  only answer  on
target is P for Plenty of explosives.
     I stayed where I was,  visualizing how to defeat the wall and get in on
target, going through a mental checklist of the kit I'd  be needing. Some of
the stuff would have to come from Eight, because  it would be impossible for
me to  access it on my own in the time  available. If Eight couldn't get it,
plan B would have to  be to tie a suicide bandanna round my head and bang on
the gates making really rude threats. I  might as well; anything else  but P
for Plenty of  explosives would be futile, given the time scale. The rest of
the kit  I would get  myself to make sure  it  was  exactly  right; I  hated
depending on other people, but when  in Chad ... The  cold was getting to me
and  I  was starting to freeze. I had seen all I  was going to  see tonight.
Being careful not to disturb the snow on either side of the tire ruts, I got
up,  checking  with my hands  that  I hadn't dropped anything.  It was  just
habit, but a good one. Then  I slowly checked the snow on either side of the
rut  as I  moved  back to the road, getting ready to play repair man. If any
sign
     did need covering up I would have to collect snow from the  area around
the car and carry it over. Detail counts: There would be no point in picking
up snow from near the repair and just creating more sign.
     I  had warmed  up quite  a bit  by  the  time  I got back to the  Lada.
Unfortunately, the first thing  I had to do after lifting the hood was  take
off my  jacket and ram  it down onto the starter motor. I  didn't want Tom's
new friends to hear me when I battered it with the hammer.
     Ripping the newspaper from behind the windshield wipers I got into  the
driver's seat quicker than last time, now knowing how to play the door lock.
The engine fired third  time.  Keeping the revs low I drove away, not  going
past the target this time, but taking  a few lefts instead  to try  and  box
round and  get back on the main road to Narva. I got lost a couple of times,
but eventually found it and rejoined the death race.

     I parked once  more  in the border-crossing  parking lot.  It was 9:24,
according  to  Lion King. There was no way I  was going to drive straight to
Eight's place; I wanted to check out the area  first, just in case Carpenter
had returned. If so, I would have to spend the night hanging around, waiting
for him to leave again.
     I  locked the car and  headed back  to the baar, hands in pockets, head
down. Approaching from the direction of the burned-out shed, I could see the
BM  hadn't returned,  and only  two of the other vehicles were  still there,
both now covered in thick ice.
     It was one of the Cherokee jeeps that was missing. What  did that mean?
Fuck it, I had no time to mess about. When would be  the right time to enter
the house? I'd just take my chances and go  for it. All  I wanted was to get
the kit together and make some money as soon as possible.
     I pressed  the intercom button and waited, but got no answer. I pressed
it again. A crackling  male voice answered, not the same  one as before, but
just as rough. I knew the routine  now and even a  little Russian.  "Vorsim.
Vorsim."
     The  static stopped, but I knew  to wait,  even  moving  out of the way
after a  minute or  two for the main door  to open.  Soon bolts  were  being
pulled on the inside.
     The door swung open and there stood Eight, still in his red sweatshirt.
As he unlocked the grill, he peered anxiously out into the parking lot.
     "My wheels?"
     I  walked in  and  waited as  he locked up  behind,  still  frantically
scanning the parking lot.
     "The car's fine. Is the guy with the BMW coming back?"
     He shrugged his shoulders as I started to climb the stairs behind him.
     "You'll need a pen and paper, Vorsim."
     "But what about my wheels?"
     I still hadn't answered when  we  entered the third-floor room. With no
natural light the TV room was  much darker, but  it still smelled  the same,
heavy with cigarette smoke. No one was here. Nothing had  changed apart from
the fact that next to  the plastic coated playing cards  on the table, there
was  now a  lamp, dimly glinting on the  Johnnie  Walker bottle,  which  was
three-quarters  empty. Three  ashtrays were full and spilling  butts  on the
once  highly polished table. The TV was  still on, throwing bursts of  light
around the  other  side  of the room. Through a  snow lens I  could see Kirk
Douglas playing a cowboy with the volume down  low; I  could  just hear  the
dialogue.
     "Yo, Nick. The table."
     He pointed at several  cheap  pens and sheets of lined  paper scattered
amongst the crap. Some had tally marks on.
     I sat down  and  started to write a  list,  wondering if the marks were
card-game scores or a record of today's deals.
     Eight pulled up a chair opposite  me. "Come  on, you play. Where's  the
car, man?"
     "Down the road."
     He searched my face. "It's okay?"
     "Yeah, yeah.  Just let me finish this." I wanted this kit organized and
to get the fuck out of there as quickly as I could. "Where is everybody?"
     He  moved  his  arms  around  like  a  break  dancer on  fast  forward.
"Business. You know, my man, business."
     I finished writing and pushed the sheet of paper over to him. He looked
at it and  didn't  appear fazed. I  was expecting lots  of  sucking  through
teeth, but the only question I got was, "Eight kilos?"
     "Yeah, eight  kilos."  They certainly  weren't  the sort  of  kilos  he
normally dealt with.
     "Eight kilos of what, Nikolai?" His shoulders went up and his face went
down. It was obvious he didn't understand anything I'd
     written apart from 8kg. He'd learned to speak English from the TV,  but
he  couldn't read it. Maybe he should have  spent more  time watching Sesame
Street and a bit less watching NYPD Blue.
     "Shall I just say what  I need and you write it down?" I didn't want to
embarrass him, and besides, anything to speed this up.
     He smiled now there was a way out. "Telling me would be cool, yeah."
     Halfway  through dictating  the  list I had to explain what a detonator
was. A few minutes later, when he'd stopped holding the pen in his fist like
a child and his tongue was  back in  his mouth,  he looked very pleased with
himself.
     "Okay. Cool." He jumped  out  of his  seat, studying  his handiwork and
feeling very important. "Wait here, Nikolai, my man." He disappeared through
the door near the fireplace.
     A few seconds later I heard a much older voice roaring with laughter. I
wasn't sure if that was good or bad. I didn't try to see who  it  was; if it
was the older voice who decided whether  I could have it, then spying on him
while he made that decision wasn't  going  to change  anything,  apart  from
pissing him off and making my life more difficult than it already was.
     The  sound  of  footsteps  echoed from  the  stairwell,  accompanied by
volleys of quick, aggressive talking, slowly getting louder  as  people came
up  the  stairs.  I told myself  not  to worry,  even  though  my  heartbeat
quickened as I listened for Carpenter.
     As the voices got louder I  still  couldn't work out whether they  were
angry or that was just the way they talked.
     The door burst open  and I  watched as the Good Fellas came  in  one by
one, ready to grip Johnnie Walker and use him over someone's head.
     There was no Carpenter.  It was the same four card players, taking  off
their leather jackets and  hats. The old one, shopping bag in hand, kept  on
his silver-gray fur Cossack-style number.
     I stayed put, my heart beating even  quicker with relief as  I crumbled
up the first list and put it in my pocket.
     They crossed the room toward me without any acknowledgment, except from
the fur-hatted older  one, who shouted and waved the back  of his hand at me
to get  the fuck  out of his  chair and away  from  the  table. I got up and
moved; no skin off my nose, I was there for other things, not to get macho.
     From  the window I watched the traffic lining up at the  checkpoint. It
looked even more like  a  movie  scene now that floodlights were soaking the
area in a brilliant white  glow. The same couldn't be said for the  lighting
this side of the river.
     All four  now  sat at the  table, pouring the last of the  whiskey  and
lighting  up.  There  was  a  lot  of talk  from them, which drowned out the
low-volume gunfight Kirk was winning on the opposite side  of the room.  The
old guy pulled packets of sausage and dark  rye bread from the  shopping bag
and  threw them  onto  the  table, while  the others tore  open the  plastic
protection around the sliced meat and ripped off lumps of bread.
     I watched, feeling a bit hungry myself, but I didn't imagine I'd  be on
the guest list.
     It became obvious, as  heads nodded  in my direction, mixed  with quick
glances,  that  I  was  the  subject  of conversation. One of the  boys said
something and they all looked  over.  There was a little joke said and a few
snickers. Then it all got serious again as they got back to eating.
     I kept pretending to look out of the window and be unaware of  what was
going on behind me.
     A chair scraped on the bare wooden floor and shoes echoed on the boards
as one of them came  toward me. I turned and  smiled  at  the old guy in his
hat, watching as the TV shone on him in the gloom when he passed the screen.
He was facing me, but talking back to the others, looking very serious. This
wasn't another leg pulling. An index finger started pointing at me as he got
closer, as  if to reinforce whatever he  was  jabbering off about. I  looked
down in submission and slightly turned back toward the window.
     From  less than a foot away  he began  to poke me in the back, shouting
very  close to my head. I turned and looked at him, confused and frightened,
then looked down,  just  like  Tom would have. I smelled garlic and alcohol,
and as  he continued  to rant  and poke, flecks of  sausage hit my face. His
face,  creased and leathered  and showing a day's  stubble,  was now no more
than a few inches away as the  fur from his hat brushed against my forehead.
He bellowed at me again.
     I wasn't going to react by moving or wiping away his shit from my face;
it might antagonize him even more. I  just stood and let him get on with it,
just like I'd done at school when teachers went ballistic.
     I was never scared;  I  knew  they  would finish  or get bored  with it
quickly, so fuck 'em, let them get on with their fun  so I could skip school
straight afterward. It was one of the attitudes that had fucked up my life.
     I moved my  left hand  to the  window  and supported myself,  as  I was
getting the four-finger poke now, my body jerking back with each jab.
     Glancing  across,  I  could  see the  other  three at  the table, their
cigarettes glowing in the semidarkness, enjoying the cabaret.
     The shouting and bad breath continued.
     Sounding as frightened  as I could I stammered, "I am here for Eight...
er ... Vv-vorsim."
     He mocked  me.  "V-v-v-orsim."  Turning  toward  the  table,  he  mimed
injecting his arm, laughing along with the other three.
     He turned back and gave me one last shove against the window. I took it
and  then steadied myself as he  headed back for more garlic sausage. He was
obviously talking  about me  as he pretended to take a  line from  his index
finger, to the accompaniment of further  laughter.  Let  them think it;  the
drama was over. Now where the fuck was Eight?
     I looked out  of  the window  again, slowly wiping all  the shit off my
face as the floorboards echoed toward me once more. He  was coming back  for
seconds.
     He got right up on me again and gave me  a push with both hands. He was
fucking with me; he was having some fun, maybe taking out  some frustration.
The others laughed as I rode the pushes and tried to lean against the window
frame, still showing no resistance, looking forlornly at the floor to appear
even less of a threat.
     He got more serious with each push and I began to get pissed. After one
particularly hard one I stumbled backward toward the television. He followed
me, the  pushes now punctuated  with the  odd slap round the head. I kept my
face down, not wanting him to see  in my eyes what I was really thinking. He
kept  repeating the same  word over and  over, then  he  started  gesturing,
rubbing  fingers  and  pointing  at my  boots.  Did  he  want  my  money and
Timberlands? Money I could understand, but boots?
     This  was getting out of control. If I was right he would be  getting a
lot  more than  he  bargained for if my boots  came off. I couldn't let that
happen.
     I held my hands up in submission. "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
     He did, and waited for his cash.
     I slowly  reached into the inside pocket of the  jacket and  pulled out
the insurance policy, still inside  its protection.  He looked at the condom
and then at me, his eyes narrowing.
     Untying the knot at the end, I probed inside with two fingers.
     He barked a question at me, then, shouting something  at the others, he
grabbed the condom and roughly  fished  inside.  Opening the  thin paper and
partly  tearing  it in  the process, he turned to the table and waved  it at
them, as if sharing the lucky prediction in a fortune cookie.
     Bending down into the  light given off by Kirk on  his horse, he pushed
the note in  front of the  screen.  His  laughter subsided as  he started to
read. Then it stopped completely.  Whatever the  bit of paper said,  it  was
doing the business.
     He walked over to the  others, looking extremely pissed as he muttered,
"Ignaty. Ignaty."
     I hadn't a clue  what that meant and I didn't really care. They all had
a read,  and it  had the same effect  on everyone. They  slowly turned their
heads and stared at me across the room. I brought my hands together in front
of me, not wanting to appear  a threat. It was good  the policy  had worked,
but it  meant I might have to put up with their  loss  of face.  Some people
have the fuck-it  factor when this sort of thing happens,  and regardless of
the  possible fallout  they'll still retaliate because their pride  has been
hurt.  I  couldn't  afford to fuel that  by appearing at all cocky; I  still
wasn't out of the woods. Walking over to the table, my face full of respect,
I put out my  left hand,  making sure  that  Lion  King wasn't  exposed.  It
wouldn't exactly help me maintain my new standing. I nodded  at the sheet of
paper. "Please."
     He may  not  have  understood the word, but he knew  what it meant.  He
handed it back, hating every second of it, and I folded it carefully and put
it in my pocket. Now wasn't the time to start putting it back into a condom.
"Thank you." I gave a  little bow of the head  and, with my heart pumping as
hard as if it was forcing crude oil through my arteries, I turned my back to
them and walked to the TV.
     Sitting  as  casually as  I  could  in the  chair facing the screen,  I
watched Kirk still taming the Wild West, leaning forward to hear
     what was happening  out there in the  desert. My pulse was  louder than
the TV.
     I could tell that once I was out of earshot there was going to be  some
very  loud  shouting, but  for now there was just low, disgruntled murmuring
behind me.  Where  the fuck was Eight? Not wanting  to  turn or  look in any
other direction than the screen, I sat like  a  child who thinks he can't be
seen at bedtime if he just concentrates hard and doesn't move.
     They carried  on mumbling  as glasses were banged with the neck of  the
whiskey bottle to drown their anger. My eyes were on the screen  and my ears
were on them.
     Five minutes later, just as Kirk was about to save the girl, Eight came
back into the room. I didn't understand what he was saying as he fought with
the zip on his leatherette  jacket, but by the look of it, we were  leaving.
Muttering a silent prayer of thanks, I got to my feet and  tried not to show
my relief.
     As Eight went to the door and I passed the table, they got a respectful
bow from me before I followed him downstairs at the speed of sound.

     Eight was a happy camper the moment he caught sight of his beloved Lada
in the noisy parking lot.
     "Where do we go now, Vorsim?"
     "An apartment." He already had the Lada's hood open.
     I heard  two  metallic  bangs as the starter motor got a reminder as to
what it did for a living.
     The  Lada eventually fired up and he drove us  both out  of the parking
lot and turned right, toward the traffic circle. The "komfort baars" all had
enormous doormen standing under their flashing neon to control the evening's
trade. Turning left this time at the traffic circle, away from the river, we
drove past even more establishments and parked trucks.
     The baars' lights slowly  disappeared and the darkness took over again.
Now apartment and industrial buildings lined the road, in between electrical
towers and shells of crumbling masonry.
     Fighting with two trucks that were trying to overtake  each other, both
throwing up waves of ice and  snow, we turned left without  indicating, then
left again down a narrow street, with apartments to the left and a tall wall
to the right.
     Eight threw  the Lada into the side  of the  road and jumped out. "Wait
here, my man."
     Skirting the inevitable tower leg, he headed  for the main door of  one
of the buildings. He stopped and  checked the stenciling, gave me the thumbs
up, then turned back toward the Lada to lock up. I got out and waited.
     The  loud,  constant noise of machinery came from behind the  wall as I
entered a very cold, dimly lit hallway, so narrow I could easily have put my
arms  out and touched  both walls. It stank  of  boiled cabbage.  Tiles were
missing  from the  floor and  the  walls were painted  blue,  apart from the
places where big  chunks  of plaster had fallen to  the  ground.  Nobody had
bothered to sweep them up. The apartment doors,  which  were one-piece sheet
metal with  three locks  and  a spy hole, looked  so low  that you'd have to
stoop when entering.
     We waited for  the  elevator by rows of wooden mailboxes.  Most of  the
doors had been ripped from their hinges and  the others were just left open.
I'd have felt more comfortable walking into a South American jail.
     The  wall  by the  elevator  was covered  with a mass  of  hand painted
instructions,  all in  Russian.  It gave  me something to  look  at while we
listened to the motor groaning inside the shaft.
     The machinery  stopped  with a loud shudder and  the  doors opened.  We
entered an aluminum box, its paneling dented everywhere it was  possible for
boots to have connected. It reeked  of urine.  Eight hit the button  for the
fourth floor and we lurched upward, the elevator stopping suddenly every few
feet, then starting again, as if it had forgotten where to go. Eventually we
reached the  fourth  floor and the doors opened into semidarkness. I let him
step  out ahead  of me.  Turning  left, Eight stumbled, and as  I followed I
found out why: a young kid was curled up on the floor.
     As  the  doors slammed  shut again, cutting  out even  more of the  dim
light, I  bent down  to examine his small body, bulked  out by two  or three
badly knitted  sweaters. By his  head  lay two empty  chip bags, and  thick,
dried  snot  hung from  his nostrils to his mouth.  He  was breathing and he
wasn't bleeding, but even in  the feeble light from  the ceiling bulb it was
obvious that he was  in shit state.  Zits covered the area  around his mouth
and saliva dribbled from his lips. He was about  the same  age as  Kelly;  I
suddenly thought of her and felt a surge of emotion. As long as I was around
she would never be exposed to this kind of shit. As long as I was around ...
I could see the expression on Dr. Hughes' face.
     Eight looked  down  at the boy  with  total disinterest. He  kicked the
bags, turned away, and carried on walking. I dragged the local glue head out
of the way of the elevator and followed.
     We turned left along a hall, Eight singing some Russian rap song
     and pulling a  string of keys from his jacket. Reaching the door  right
at the end, he  messed about, trying to work out which  key went where until
finally it opened, then groping for the light switch.
     The room we entered definitely wasn't  the source of the boiled cabbage
stench.  I could smell the heavy odor of  wooden crates and gun oil; I would
have  known  that  smell  anywhere. Proust's  friend's childhood might  have
rushed back to him when he caught a whiff of madeleine cakes;  this one took
me straight back to  the age of  sixteen and the very first day I joined the
army as a boy soldier in '76. Cakes would have been better.
     The inevitable single bulb  lit up a very  small hall, no  more than  a
couple of feet square. There were  two doors leading off; Eight went through
the  one  on the left  and I followed,  closing the front door behind me and
throwing all the locks. Only one of the four  bulbs  worked  in  the ceiling
cluster that any 1960s family would have been  proud of. The  small room was
stacked  with wooden  crates,  waxed  cardboard  boxes,  and loose explosive
ordnance,  all  stenciled with Cyrillic  script. The whole  lot  looked very
Chad--Chad that was dangerously past its use-by date.
     Nearest to  me was a stack  of brown wooden crates  with  rope handles.
Lifting  the lid off the top one, I recognized the dull  green bedpan shapes
at  once. Eight,  grinning from ear  to ear, made the noise of an explosion,
his hands flying everywhere. He  seemed to know  they  were land  mines too.
"See, my man, I get what you want. Guarantee of satisfaction, yes?"
     I  just  nodded as  I looked around some  more. Piles of other  kit lay
wrapped in brown military wax paper. Elsewhere, damp cardboard boxes stacked
on  top  of  each  other  had collapsed,  spilling their  contents  onto the
floorboards. Lying  in  a corner  were half  a  dozen  electric  detonators,
aluminum  tubes  about  the  size of  a  quarter-smoked cigarette  with  two
eighteen-inch silver wire leads coming out of one end. The silver leads were
loose, not twisted together, which was frightening stuff: it meant they were
ready to act as antennae for any stray extraneous electricity--a radio wave,
say,  or  energy from a mobile phone--to set  them  off and probably all the
rest of  the shit in  there, too. This place was a nightmare. It  seemed the
Russians hadn't been too  fussed about  where this kind of stuff ended up in
the early nineties.
     Picking up the detonators one by one, I twisted the leads
     together to  close the circuit, then checked out the rest  of  the kit,
ripping open cardboard boxes. Eight did the same, either to make me think he
knew what he was doing or just out of curiosity. I gripped his arm and shook
my head, not wanting him to play with anything. It would be nice  to get out
of here with all my bits and without him losing any more fingers.
     He looked hurt,  so  once I'd  finished  sorting  the dets  out and had
stored them  in an  empty  ammo  box,  I pulled out the  policy  to give him
something  to do. "What does this say, Vorsim?" I presumed he could read his
own language.
     As he moved  under the light,  I spotted  some dark-green det cord.  It
wasn't in its handy 200-yard reel as  I would have liked; there seemed to be
two yards here, another ten  yards there, but then I  saw a partly used reel
with maybe eighty or ninety yards left, which would certainly do the trick.
     I put the reel of det cord  to  one side  and  went to  check the other
rooms.  That was  easy  enough because each  was about the size of  a  broom
closet; there  was a tiny kitchen-cum-bathroom cum-toilet  arrangement and a
bedroom that was even smaller. What I was looking for was plastic explosive,
but there wasn't any. The only PE around here was in the antitank mines, and
there were certainly enough of those to give me P for Plenty.
     I returned to the main room and lifted one of them  from  the open box.
These were either TM 40s or 46s, I could never remember which was which; all
I knew was  that one was made of metal and the other  of plastic. These ones
were metal,  about a foot in diameter and  weighed  around twenty pounds, of
which over twelve pounds was  PE.  They were shaped like old-fashioned brass
bed warmers,  the sort that  hang on  stone fireplaces, alongside  the horse
brasses, in country inns. Instead of the long broomstick, these things had a
swiveling carry handle, like on the side of a mess tin.
     It was going to be a pain in the ass to get the PE out of these things,
but what was I expecting?
     Placing the  mine  on the bare floorboards, I tried to unscrew the cap,
which was in the center of the top. Before laying  it, all you had to do was
replace  the  cap with a detonation  device--normally a fuse  and  detonator
combination--then stand well back and wait for a tank.
     When it eventually started to move, shifting the years of grime
     that had formed a seal, I knew at once that it was really old ordnance.
The  smell  of marzipan hit  my nostrils.  The greenish explosive had become
obsolete in  recent  years.  It  still  worked,  it  did  the  job,  but the
nitroglycerine fucked  up not  only  armor,  but also  the  head and skin of
anyone  preparing  it. You were guaranteed a fearsome headache if you worked
with it in  a confined space  and extreme pain if you got it on a cut. I was
taking enough aspirin already without having to deal with that.
     Eight sparked up. "Hey, Nikolai, this paper is really cool."
     "What does it say?"
     "First  of  all, his name  is Ignaty.  Then it  says, you are  his man.
Whatever you need must be yours. He protects  you, my man." He looked at me.
"It gets heavy.  It says, "If you do not  help my friend,  I will kill  your
wife; and then, after you  have  been crying for two weeks, I will kill your
children.  Two weeks after  that,  I  will  kill you." That's heavy shit, my
man."
     "Who is Ignaty?"
     He gave a shrug. "He's your guy, am I right?"
     No he wasn't,  he was Val's.  The card players had certainly recognized
the name, that was for sure. I took the policy from Eight's hands and put it
back in my jacket pocket. Now I knew what Liv meant about Tom  receiving the
kind of  threat that made the Brits look a bit weak by comparison. No wonder
he'd kept his mouth shut and just done his time.
     Between us we  carried several boxes  down to the car, passing the  kid
still  lying where  I'd left him. On the last trip down, Eight locked up the
apartment and we stood by the Lada  with the hum and groan of the factory in
the background. He was going to walk from there as he wanted to go and see a
friend.
     I said goodbye, feeling more than a bit  sorry for him. Like everything
else in this place, he, too, was just fucked over.
     "Thanks a lot, mate, and I'll bring the car back in about two days."
     I  shook his cold  hand and then  grabbed the door handle as he  walked
away.
     He  called  after me.  "Yo,  Nikolai. Hey  ..." There  was  suddenly  a
less-confident  tone in  his  voice. "Can  I ... can  I come to England with
you?"
     I didn't look back, just wanting to get on my way. "Why?"
     "I can work for you. My English is cool."
     I could  hear him  getting closer. "Let me go with you, man. Everything
will be cool. I want to go to England and then I will go to America."
     "Tell you what, I'll be back soon and we'll talk about it, okay?"
     "When?"
     "Like I said, two days."
     He  shook  my  hand again with all the fingers he had left. "Cool. I'll
see you soon, Nikolai. It'll be cool. I will sell  my car,  and .. . and get
new clothes."
     He virtually skipped back up the road, waving at me, thinking about his
new life as I gave the starter  motor  some  encouragement, fired it up, and
did  a three-point turn  to back out  onto the street, passing Eight on  the
way.
     I'd  only driven  a  hundred  yards when  I stopped  and put the car in
reverse. Fuck it, I couldn't do this.
     As I drew alongside and  wound down the window he greeted me with a big
smile. "What's up, my man?"
     "I'm sorry, Vorsim, I can't take you" I corrected myself "will not take
you to England."
     His shoulders and face slumped. "Why not, man.  Why not? You just said,
man ..."
     I  felt  an asshole. "They won't let you in.  You're Russian. You  need
visas  and  all that  stuff. And even if they  do, you won't be able to stay
with me. I don't have a house and I haven't got any work I can give you. I'm
really sorry, but I can't  and I won't do it. That's it, mate. I'll drop the
car off in two days."
     And that was it. I wound the window up and  headed back into the center
of town, so I knew where I was and could pick up the main Narva-Tallinn drag
again.
     I could have lied to him, but I remembered as  a kid all the trips that
my  parents were going to take me  on,  all the  presents  I was going to be
given,  all the promises of nice vacations and all the rest of the shit that
had  never happened. It was just said to keep me quiet. I  couldn't have let
Eight get  all psyched up, burning  bridges, and  all  for nothing. Liv  was
right: Sometimes it's better to fuck people off with the truth.
     I found my bearings in town and headed west. My destination was a hotel
room where I could prepare all the shit I had in the trunk.
     I was still feeling quite sorry for Eight; not for dumping him, because
I knew it was the right thing to do, but because of what the future held for
him. Absolute jack shit.
     A gas station  appeared, exactly the  same as the one in  Tallinn, very
blue,  and as  clean,  bright, and out of  place  as  an alien spacecraft. I
pulled in and filled up. Parking off to one side of the building, I went  to
pay just  as the two staff had started to think  they had their first runner
of the night.
     I was the only customer they had.  There was  a small section in  their
shop that actually  sold car parts; the rest of the space was given  over to
beer, chocolate, and sausages. I picked up five blue  nylon tow ropes--their
entire stock--and  all  eight  rolls of  black  insulation tape  on display,
together with a  cheap multi tool  set that would probably break  the second
time  it  was  used. Finally,  I  picked up a  flashlight  and two  sets  of
batteries, and two of the  small  rectangular ones with terminals on  top. I
couldn't think of anything else I needed just now, apart from some chocolate
and meat and a couple of cans of orange soda.
     The guy who took my money had more zits on his head than brain cells in
it. He was trying to work out the change, even though the  register had told
him.  Eventually  he handed  me  my shopping  bags; I  wanted some more  and
pointed. "More? More?" It took a few seconds of miming and a couple of small
coins, but I came out with half a dozen spares.
     It was sausage  and chocolate time. I  sat in the car  with  the engine
running, stuffing my face as I looked out at the main drag. Beyond  it was a
massive poster site showing me the wonders of  Fuji film, covering the whole
side of  a building as the trucks screamed past.  I didn't blame them; I was
in a hurry to get out of town, too.
     Feeling sick after  eating everything I'd bought, I rejoined the mayhem
on the road. My destination was Voka,  a coastal  town to the north, between
Narva and Kohtla-Jarve, where I was going to prepare for the attack tomorrow
afternoon. I had chosen Voka for no other reason than that I liked the name,
and  that, since it was on the coast,  there was probably a better chance of
finding a room.
     Voka turned out to  be just  what I was expecting,  a small  beach town
with one main drag. Maybe it had been  a bit of a hot spot during the Soviet
era, but  from what I could see  of  it in my headlights  and the occasional
functioning streetlight,  it was  now  very  tired and  flaky,  the Estonian
equivalent   of  those  Victorian  places  in  Britain  that  reached  their
expiration date in the seventies  when everyone started getting on planes to
Spain.  When the Russians had  packed their bags a  few years  earlier, this
place, too, must have rolled over and died. There was no one about; everyone
was probably at home watching the end of another Kirk Douglas movie.
     I drove slowly along the coast road with the Baltic on  my left and the
car rocking with the wind off the sea.  There weren't many lights on  in the
apartments to my right, just the glow now and then of a

     Eventually  I  found a  hotel  with a sea view. At first glance it  had
looked  more like a four-story  apartment building,  until I saw the  small,
flickering neon sign to the left of its double glass  doors. As I locked the
Lada, waves crashed onto whatever sort of beach was  behind me, and the wind
buffeted my jacket and hair.
     The fluorescent lights  in the  hallway nearly  blinded me. It was like
walking into  a  television  studio,  and almost as hot. A  TV  blared  away
somewhere in Russian. I was starting to catch the intonation quite well.
     The  sound came from  in front of me. I  walked along the hall  until I
found its source. At the bottom of a flight of stairs, a sliding
     window  was set  chest high into the wall. Behind  it sat an old woman,
glued to the screen of an old black-and-white TV.
     There  was plenty of  time  to study her while  trying  to  attract her
attention.  She  wore  thick  woolen tights  and slippers,  a  chunky  black
cardigan, a gaudy flowery dress, and crocheted woolen hat. While she watched
the TV,  she spooned lumpy soup  out of what looked like a large salad bowl.
The  TV had  a coat hanger for an antenna that seemed  to  be the law around
here. It reminded me of the times I  had to  dance  around the room with  an
indoor antenna in my hand so my stepdad could follow the horse racing.
     She  finally  noticed me, but didn't  bother with a greeting or  asking
what I wanted. Nodding politely and smiling,  I pointed at a sheet  of paper
taped to the window, which I presumed was the rate.
     "Can I have a room, please?" I asked in my  favorite Australian accent.
I was getting rather fond of my Crocodile  Dundee impression. It was  wasted
on her.
     There was a clatter of footsteps from the wooden staircase and a couple
appeared, both dressed in long overcoats. He  was a small, skinny guy in his
late forties, slightly balding on top, but with the rest of his hair greased
back in  the  style that  Eastern Europeans,  for some reason,  think  looks
marvelous, and a big droopy mustache. They walked past without  giving me or
the old woman a second  glance. The woman, I  noticed,  was  at least twenty
years younger  than  Baldy, and considerably less smelly. He had a body odor
that no deodorant could tame.
     The old woman handed me a towel  the size of a tea  cloth  and a set of
what had once been white sheets. Muttering something, she held one finger in
the air, then two. I guessed she meant number of nights. I showed her one.
     She nodded,  writing  down some numbers  which I took to  be the price.
EEK150 for the night about $10. A bargain.  I couldn't wait to see the room.
I gave her  the money and she put the key, attached to  a six-inch length of
2x4, on top of the sheets and got back to  her soup and TV. I didn't get  to
learn the Estonian for "have a nice day."
     I  walked up  the  stairs  and  found  Room 4. It  was bigger than  I'd
expected, but every  bit as  drab.  There was  a  dark  veneered  chip board
wardrobe,  three brown  furry  nylon blankets  on  the stained, multicolored
mattress, and a pair of old, saliva-stained pillows. I was surprised to find
a small fridge in the corner. When I checked I
     found  it wasn't plugged in, but it was still probably  worth  an extra
sur from the Estonian Tourist Board. Next to it, sitting on a brown veneered
table, was a seventies-style TV, also  unplugged.  The carpet was made up of
two different colors  of hard-wearing  office-type stuff, in dark  brown and
what might once have been  cream. The wallpaper was bubbling in places, with
brown damp stains rounding off  the decor. But the piece de resistance was a
cushioned corner unit and coffee table, set off by a large, triangular thick
glass ashtray.  The  beige nylon seating  was heavily soiled  and the coffee
table had  cigarette burns all around the edge. The room was cold and it was
obviously up to the guest to put the heaters on.
     To  the right  of the main door  was  the bathroom.  I'd check that out
later. First, I bent over one of  the two electric heaters.  It was a small,
square three-bar thing on the door side of the bed. Plugging it in,  I threw
the switch and  the elements  started to heat up, filling  the air with  the
acrid smell of burning dust.
     The second heater, nearer the window, was a more elaborate,  decorative
model, with two long bars and, above that, a black plastic log effect with a
red  background.  I  hadn't seen one since  I was at my  auntie's house, age
seven. I plugged it in, too, and watched as its red bulb lit  up beneath the
plastic and a disc started  to spin  above it  to provide a flame effect. It
was almost better than the TV.
     I went into the bathroom. Its walls and floor were tiled, mostly brown,
but others, blues and reds, had replaced some of the broken ones in the days
when  broken  ones  were  replaced.  The management's  policy had  evidently
changed in recent years.
     There was another two-bar electric heater on the wall above  the  bath,
as well  as an ancient, oval-shaped gas  water heater  with  a visible pilot
light  and a long steel tap which swiveled so you could fill either the bath
or the sink. I was expecting  the  worst, but when I  turned the tap  on the
pilot  light  became  a  raging flame,  with  sound effects to match. I  was
jealous. I  wanted one in my house. The water  was  instantly hot, which was
good news; I'd be needing a  lot  of that  soon. Turning it off, I went back
into the bedroom, where the heaters were starting to do their stuff. Pulling
the curtain aside, I had a look out to sea. I couldn't see  a  thing, except
snow swirling in the light spilling from the window.
     I  closed the curtains and went  down to unload the  car, starting with
two mines in a box and the my purchases from the gas station.
     The old woman never looked up once  as I came and went,  either because
she  knew better than to enquire into a customer's business,  or because she
was genuinely gripped by the dubbed version of the sixties Batman TV series.
     Once back in the room I started running the bath, slowing the flow to a
steamy trickle.  I used a screwdriver from the multi tool set to help remove
the two mine  caps and could  smell the green PE  the moment  the first came
off.
     Holding each mine in turn under the tap until it filled with hot water,
I then  lowered them into  the bath, still letting the  water run so that it
would  eventually  cover them. Then I  went down  to  the car and  collected
another two. They were heavy and I didn't want the drama of dropping one. It
took three trips in all to get everything upstairs. On the final trip I took
another newspaper from the back seat and covered the windshield.
     I kept  unscrewing mine caps  until all six  were  in  the bath in  two
layers, representing a total of over  seventy pounds of PE. Molten explosive
would have been injected into the dull green casings at the factory and left
to set to  an almost  plastic state; I'd  have to wait for the hot water  to
soften it again before I could scrape it out.
     Back in  the bedroom I turned on the  television  in time to see Batman
and  Robin  tied together  in  a  giant coffee  cup,  an  animated  American
voice-over telling me I'd have to wait until next week for the next exciting
instalment, followed  by  the Russian  translation which  said  they  really
couldn't give a fuck what happened.
     I  got hold of the reel of  det  cord,  which looked just like a  green
clothesline,  except that  instead of  string inside  the  plastic covering,
there was  high explosive.  This stuff  would have the job of initiating the
two charges I was going  to construct with the PE once I'd got it out of the
mines.  I cut off  about the first  foot of cord with  my Leatherman; it was
probable  that  the  explosive  core  had  been  affected  by  the  climatic
conditions and/or age, but if so, the contamination  normally wouldn't  have
penetrated further than six inches. The reel then went to the window side of
the bed; only prepared kit would  go this side from now on.  That way things
wouldn't get confusing as I became more tired.
     Without  any  announcement, Charlie's  Angels suddenly  burst  onto the
screen. I hoped it was the series with Cheryl Ladd. Farrah Fawcett never did
it for me when I was a kid. As the monotone
     Russian translation started up I went back into the bathroom. The water
level still  had a way to go as the steaming water trickled out of the water
heater.
     Time  to check the  batteries.  They were normal rectangular 9volt ones
with press-stud tops for the positive and  negative terminals, the sort that
are used  in smoke detectors  or  toys. One of them would be  the initiation
device, providing  the  electrical  charge that  would run along the  firing
cable, which I still  had to  obtain. It would then initiate the  detonator,
which would fire up the det cord, and, in turn, the charges.  All this could
only happen if the power from the battery was strong enough to  overcome the
resistance from the firing cable and  det. You attach  the firing cable to a
flashlight bulb; if it lights up when you transmit power along the length of
firing cable, you've got enough juice to make the thing go bang.
     It  was getting warm enough  to take my jacket  off  now.  I  took  the
insurance policy out of  the inside pocket;  it was looking a bit  the worse
for wear, so I folded it neatly, fished around for the condom, and  stuck it
into the small key pocket on the front right-hand side of my jeans.
     Next, I pulled the plug off the bedside  lamp and ripped the  other end
of the cord out of  the lamp base, ending up with  about five feet of firing
cable--not enough.  I needed to be close to the explosion, but five feet was
suicidally close. The fridge cord gave me another five.
     The bath ought to have been almost full by now. I went and checked just
as  Charlie's Angels,  dressed  up  as  old  women  but  still looking  very
glamorous  and without a hair out of place, were about  to infiltrate an old
folks' home on some secret mission.
     All the mines were covered with  hot water, so I turned off the faucet.
I  couldn't  see  a toilet brush anywhere,  but  there was a rubber plunger.
Using its handle to prod the  PE in one of the mines, I found  it  was still
too hard.
     Footsteps  in the hall signaled  that the  hotel  had some new  guests.
There was a female giggle and lusty Russian male talk as they passed, then I
heard the  door next  to mine  bang shut. Stretched out  on the bed watching
Charlie's Angels free the world of evil, I connected the two lengths of flex
and taped them up.
     Ten  feet  of  firing  cable was  still not enough.  The trouble was, I
wouldn't know how much I needed until I was on target, and I'd
     have to err on the side of safety. I wished I had about a hundred yards
of the stuff, but where would I find some  at  this time  of night? Tomorrow
would be too late; I wouldn't have enough time to mess around  looking for a
hardware store. I had to make more of my own, so it was bye-bye, Cheryl. Due
to the positioning of the wall outlet, the  power  line for the TV was quite
long; in total I ended up with about eighteen feet of cable.
     With the  TV now off  I could  hear the  romance developing next  door.
There  were  plenty  of oohs and aahs, a bit  of giggling and a few slaps on
bare flesh. I didn't need the dubbing.
     I joined the  last  section of wire  together using  the Western  Union
pigtail method. Chinese laborers used it to repair downed telegraph lines in
the  Wild  West; it's basically a  reef  knot  with  the  tail ends  twisted
together. It  not only guarantees conductivity, but makes  it  unlikely  the
connection will get pulled apart.
     The three lengths were all of different thicknesses and metals, but  as
long  as they  conducted  electricity  that  was  all I was worried about. I
wrapped the copper wires at one end around the flashlight bulb  and taped it
in place. Now  all I had to do  was complete the  circuit with the two steel
wires  at the  other end of  the cable on the  battery terminals  and  bang,
perfect, the bulb glowed.
     I repeated the process with the other battery, and both worked for now.
If  they both  failed on  target and I didn't  get detonation,  I'd  have to
switch to plan B and put on the bandanna.
     Untaping  the wire  from  the  bulb, I  twisted  the two  copper  wires
together, then the  two steel wires at the other end, and earthed it against
the back  of the fridge. That would take away  any electricity  still in the
cable; the last thing I wanted  was to connect the wires to a  detonator and
have the thing explode immediately. That wouldn't be a good day out.
     The coil  of firing cable joined the det cord on the window side of the
bed and  I placed the  two  batteries on top  of  the TV. You never keep the
initiation  device  with the detonators or  the rest of  the equipment;  the
fuckup factor is never far  away, and I wasn't taking any chances. The  only
time  all  the  equipment  should  come together is when  you  are going  to
detonate the  charges, a lesson one or two Provisional IRA boys learned  the
hard way back in the eighties.
     The foreplay was over next door and they were getting down to
     the heavy stuff. Either she was really enjoying it or she was going for
an Oscar as  the bed tried  to  bang itself  through the  wall  and into  my
bathroom.
     When I checked the mines,  the water in the bath was rippling  with the
vibrations coming through the wall. There was still a while to  go  before I
could start digging out the PE; to use the time productively, I took a sheet
of toilet paper with me, put my jacket back on and walked out into the hall.
The  shag fest reached a rousing crescendo as I  placed a small strip of the
toilet paper by the bottom hinge  and closed the door on it, checking  there
was  just  enough  paper  to be seen.  Silence fell next  door  as I left my
neighbors  to  their cigarettes  and Charlie's Angels  and  headed  for  the
stairs.
     The old woman was still glued to her TV. Frozen air clawed at  my lungs
as I peeled the newspaper  off the Lada's windshield. The engine turned over
sluggishly after I'd zapped the starter motor, but eventually it sparked up.
I knew how it felt.

     I cruised slowly  around  town  looking  for the materials  I needed to
construct the explosive charges, attacking  another four aspirin to sort out
the headache that I'd developed after playing with the mines.
     Spotting a row of dumpsters behind a small parade of shops, I pulled in
and sifted through the old bits of cardboard packaging, tins and rags. There
was  nothing that would do  for me, apart from a partly broken wooden pallet
resting against the wall.  Three sections, each about a yard long, were soon
in the  back of the car while a dog, cooped up  in one of the shops,  barked
its head off in frustration at not being  able to get at me. One section was
going to help me  get over the wall, the other two were  going to  prop  the
charges in place on target.
     Lights were off and curtains were drawn as I left the area in search of
more  stuff, driving through  the  heavy mist that rolled  in from the  sea.
After ten minutes of  patrolling  the  ghost town I  saw a building that was
worth a closer look. Trash was piled up outside it, but it was the structure
itself that made me curious.
     It  turned out to be an air-raid shelter,  built in  the days when they
were expecting Uncle Sam's hairy-assed B-52 bombers to come and dump on them
big time.  There was a  concrete  stairwell down to below ground level and a
thick metal door,  which was padlocked. The stairwell was full of wind-blown
litter  and heavier stuff that  had been fly-tipped, and it was in among all
this that I found some expanded styrofoam packaging. I selected two  pieces,
each just
     under a yard square. The corners were higher than the middle, which was
contoured to fit the shape of whatever it had been made to protect; here and
there holes had been punched  to  save material and give the structure a bit
more  strength. I  now had  the frames for  the charges.  It  reminded me of
having to make  claymore antipersonnel mines out of ice-cream cartons before
going into Iraq during the Gulf War.
     The  last item  I needed was a brick, and in a place like this I didn't
have to look far for one.
     Back  at the hDtel, the  old woman had deserted her post and the TV was
running what looked like a Russian talk  show,  with the host and his guests
talking at each other very  glumly. It looked as  though they were trying to
decide which one of them should commit suicide first.
     I walked up the stairs with my finds in my arms, feeling pleased that I
had everything I needed for the attack and could now sit tight.
     The  old  woman had just  come  out of the  door next to  mine and  was
heading  along the  hall  away from me with rumpled  sheets in her arms. The
room was probably rented  by  the hour, and  she  was cleaning up after  the
latest event.
     With  the faint sound of the talk  show in  the distance, I checked the
telltale. It hadn't moved. I opened the door and  waited for the heat to hit
me.
     As  I took the first step inside, I  knew straight away  that something
wasn't right.  The plastic log-effect fire  wasn't dancing round  the walls,
but it had been when I left.
     I  dropped the stuff I was carrying.  The brick hit  the  carpet  as  I
started to step back into the hall. And that was the last  thing I did for a
while, apart from trying to get off the bedroom floor, only to get a blow to
the kidneys  that put me back  down.  It was  grit-theteethandcurl-up  time.
There was no  time to  draw  breath.  I was roughly turned over and a weapon
muzzle was pushed  hard into my face. I felt my jacket being pulled  up as a
hand frisked me.
     Once I had curled up again  and played nearly dead, I risked opening my
eyes. The oldest of the Good Fellas towered above me, wearing his silver fur
hat and black leather coat.
     I could also see another pair of legs belonging to someone else,
     also in black. The two  men  stood on either side of me now, whispering
aggressively to each other with lots of  arm movement  and pointing  at  the
dickhead on the floor.
     I made the  most of this time while they waffled, trying  to take  long
deep breaths but finding  I couldn't. It was  too  painful. I had to  get by
with short, sharp gasps, trying to minimize the pain in my stomach.
     Then I looked up and saw Carpenter. Our eyes locked and he  spat at me.
I wasn't scared, I  was just depressed that this should be happening to  me,
so much so that I couldn't even  be bothered to wipe the mucus from my face.
I just lay there not really caring. How had Carpenter even known I was here?
Fuck it, who cared?  I'd  been dropped by  two very  pissed-off people and I
didn't know if I was ever going to leave the room alive.
     They pulled  me up by my armpits, one man  on each side, and propped me
up on the end  of the bed. Pushing my hands into my armpits, I tried to bend
forward and get my head down  onto my thighs to  protect myself,  to be  the
damaged gray man that was no threat to anybody.
     It wasn't going to happen. I took a blow  on the right side of my face,
which took me straight down onto  the bed. I didn't  need to pretend; it had
done me some damage.
     Expecting more, I curled  up on my  side. Starbursts did their best  to
black me out as pain scorched through  my body. I could feel myself starting
to lose it, and I really couldn't let that happen.  I worked hard to keep my
eyes open.  I  was  a bag  of shit, but  I knew that  I  had to  pull myself
together or I'd be dead.
     The two  of them were  still talking, arguing I couldn't tell which  in
the  background  somewhere. I just  lay there taking  short,  sharp breaths,
keeping my eyes open and coughing blood onto the furry blanket.
     My  jaw  joint  was grinding  on itself.  I probed with  my  tongue and
discovered one of my  side teeth moving as a numb, swollen feeling developed
on the right  side of my  face. I felt as if I'd just  had a session with  a
psychopathic dentist.
     With my head  on  the  bed, I  was  level and in a direct line with the
coffee table. My fuzzy vision locked on to the large glass ashtray.
     I switched my attention to Carpenter and the  old guy. They didn't even
stop their waffle as a couple of people passed our door,
     heading toward the end of  the  hall. The older guy had a pistol in his
hand; Carpenter had his  weapon  in a shoulder holster, which I could see as
he put his hands  on his hips and pulled back on  his  unzipped jacket. They
were both pointing at me. Carpenter seemed to be explaining who I was, or at
least what I had done.
     I could also see now  what the  older  guy had hit  me with. His  hands
could have done the job just as well, judging by the  size of them, but he'd
opted  for  a  leather  strop that looked  like a big  dildo, and  which was
probably filled with ball bearings.
     The two of them  were a  couple of  yards to one  side  of  me, and the
ashtray was  one  yard to the other. Both men were still more interested  in
their argument than in me,  but would no doubt come to  a decision very soon
as to  how to kill me  probably slowly if Carpenter  had anything to do with
it.
     I had to act, but I also knew that first I had to take a few seconds to
sort  myself out. I was still fazed; I'd have to break my actions down  into
stages in my head or I was going to fuck up and get killed.
     I squinted at  the heavy lump of glass on  the table that might save my
life and, taking a deep breath,  I sprang off the bed. Keeping my head down,
I charged at  the two black shapes in front of  me. All I needed  was to get
them  off balance  to give  me just  a  few seconds. Holding  out my arms, I
bulldozed into the two lots of black leather and,  not waiting  to see  what
happened to them, I swung my head round and looked for the ashtray. A wheezy
gasp came from behind me as they made contact with the wall.
     Eyes still fixed on the glass shape on the table, my body pivoted as my
legs started to move toward it. Muffled shouts came from behind. That didn't
matter,  the ashtray did. If  they were fast enough to recover, or I was too
slow to react, I would never know about it.
     Slapping down my palm, as if swatting a fly, I gripped the ashtray.  My
body  was  still facing the table with  the two guys behind me.  Swinging my
head round, I focused on the old guy's now hatless head. My body turned as I
took the three paces toward him, brandishing the fistful of glass in the air
like a knife.
     I closed in,  ignoring Carpenter as he came toward  me from  the right.
The one I wanted was the old guy, the one with the pistol in his hand.
     His face didn't register  surprise  or  fear, just anger,  as he pushed
himself off the wall and raised his weapon.
     My eyes were fixed on his face as I swung the ashtray downward,  making
contact above his  cheekbone.  His skin folded over just below his eye, then
split open. He fell with  a scream, his body banging against my  legs on the
way down. Stage three was complete.
     I heard, rather than saw, the black shape from the right, almost on top
of me.
     I didn't have a stage four. It was open  house  now. Not even bothering
to turn  and look  at Carpenter, I just lashed out wildly.  The  thick glass
hammered against his skull twice on his way down, both times with such force
that my arm jarred to a halt as I made contact.
     I jumped onto his chest and continued to rain blows onto the top of his
head. Somewhere  in the back of  my  mind I knew I'd lost it, but  I  didn't
care. I was just remembering the way this fucker had kept firing rounds into
the woman  in  the elevator,  and the bastards who'd ruined Kelly's life  by
hosing down her family in Washington.
     Three  times there  was  a  crunching, cracking sound as his skull gave
way.
     I  raised  my hand,  ready to hit again, but stopped  myself.  I'd done
enough. Thick, almost brown blood oozed from his  head wounds. He  had  lost
function in his eyes and  had a vacant  stare, wide  open and  dull,  pupils
fully  dilated. The blood  spread onto  the carpet, which  soaked it up like
blotting paper.
     Still  sitting  astride  him I rested  both hands  on  his  chest,  not
enjoying the fact that  I'd  lost control. To survive, you sometimes have to
get really revved up, but losing it completely, I didn't like that.
     I turned to check  the old guy. The strop and the  handgun were on  the
floor, and  so  was he, curled  up, holding his hat against  his face like a
dressing and moaning to himself. His legs flailed weakly on the carpet.
     Slowly hauling myself  to my feet, I kicked away both weapons. The  gun
looked like a  .38 special revolver,  the short-barreled sort used by  1930s
American gangsters.
     Pulling  his  jacket off his  shoulders and  midway  down  his arms,  I
dragged  him over the top of Carpenter  and  into  the bathroom, leaving his
bloodstained fur hat behind. It was obvious now why he always wore  it: only
a few wisps of hair covered his head.
     He was still moaning and probably feeling quite sorry for  himself, but
he was alive and that meant he was a threat. My jaw was
     aching as I jolted up and down with  the effort of dragging him, but at
least  my heart rate was starting to calm. There was no other option, he had
to die. I wasn't happy about it, but I couldn't  leave him here alive when I
set off for the Maliskia compound tomorrow. He could compromise everything I
was here for.
     I let go of him and he slumped  onto the tiled bathroom floor. I turned
on the hot water and the water hearter surged into action.
     The extent of the  injury to his face was  now clear to me.  A two inch
furrow was gouged  in his cheek, wide enough to put a couple of fingers  in.
Beneath the mess of torn flesh gleamed an area of exposed white cheekbone.
     A check of his wallet as he lay and groaned to himself revealed all the
normal stuff.  Only the money  was  of interest, both Russian  and Estonian;
once that was tucked into my jeans I went back into the bedroom.
     Stepping  back over Carpenter,  I  picked up the  .38 special from  the
floor and one of the furry blankets.
     I pulled back  the  hammer  so the weapon  was cocked.  When  I came to
squeeze the trigger I didn't want the hammer moving  all the way back before
coming forward to fire the round; it might get caught in the blanket.
     I walked back into  the bathroom and, not even looking at  his  face in
case his eyes  were  on  me, I unceremoniously  jammed the  muzzle into  the
blanket and onto his head, quickly wrapped the furry nylon around the weapon
and fired.
     There was a dull thud and then a crack as the round exited his head and
shattered the tile  beneath it. I  let the blanket fall and cover  his face,
and listened. There  was no apparent reaction to  the round from outside the
room; this was the sort  of  place where you didn't ask too many  questions,
even if there was a gang fuck going on next door. The only things  my senses
picked up were the noise of the water heater and the smell of burned nylon.
     I  turned  the water off and the  water heater died as I moved into the
bedroom.  I dug  out Carpenter's wallet and tucked his money into  my jeans,
too. His weapon was still in its shoulder holster, but only just. I realized
how lucky I had been. Another fraction of a  second and it could have been a
totally different story. The pistol  was a Makharov, a Russian copy of James
Bond's Walther PPK, and only good as a close-up, personal protection weapon,
perfect for when
     someone got in  a huff with you in  a komfort  baar. At longer range it
would be more lethal to throw the  thing at them. No wonder its nickname  in
certain quarters was "the disco gun." I decided to keep this one. The pistol
grip on  these Russian versions was bulky, making  it awkward to get  a firm
hold first time  when drawing down with small  hands like mine, but  it  was
more use than the .38 special.
     Carpenter's blood was thickening on the carpet,  which couldn't  absorb
the amount leaking out of him. Pulling another blanket off the  bed,  I trod
it down around his head to  try and stop it seeping through the floorboards.
I ended up grabbing his head and wrapping it in the blanket.
     I opened the main door into the hall, checked  left and right, then had
a  look  at the intact telltale. Why had  it failed me, why was it  still in
place? I could see the  answer at once: It was stuck to  the door frame. The
sponge-strip draft  protector must have been  put there soon after the stuff
was invented; it was now brown and gooey with age. Lesson learned. Don't mix
telltales with old draft protectors.
     Switching the fire back on, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

     I  used  the toilet-plunger handle again  to  prevent burning my hands,
wedging  it into a mine cap and fishing it out,  then turning it upside down
to drain.
     I carried it like that into the bedroom, slipping on the  old man's hat
on the way. The blood hadn't  soaked in as much as it had into the carpet or
blanket,   which  probably  meant  the  fur  was   real  and  was  resisting
penetration.
     Laying  the mine on the coffee table, I crossed the  room  to open  the
window, letting  in the cold sea  air big time. Waves  were  breaking on the
other side of the road.
     The explosive, which had been more or less  rigid plastic, was now soft
enough to extract and manipulate.  I  began  to  scoop,  having  first put a
shopping  bag  over each  hand to  prevent the  nitro from entering my blood
stream via  cuts  on  my  hands or  straightforward  absorption. It wouldn't
kill--hospitals  use nitroglycerine  on  heart-attack victims--but it  would
give me a massive fuck-off headache.
     By the time I'd finished the room stank of marzipan, and in front of me
on the table was ten pounds of what looked  like green, lumpy plasticine. It
had hardened a little as it cooled, but I knew that once I played with it in
my hands a bit it would become quite pliable again. The remaining two pounds
or so of PE were stubbornly sticking  to the sides of the mine and  were too
difficult to get out, so I just left it.
     With the bags rustling on my hands I worked away at it as if
     kneading dough, trying to  keep my head turned so the fumes  didn't get
to me so quickly. Even so,  it  made me feel dizzy and nauseous, though that
might also have something to do with the way  Carpenter and the old guy  had
greeted me at the door.
     Once I'd got it  all nice  and malleable in  three equal-sized balls, I
pulled off the rubber part of the  plunger and used the  handle as a rolling
pin to flatten them out. The smell of marzipan reminded me of being a kid at
Christmas,  skipping the icing sugar and going straight for the yellow stuff
underneath.
     As I kept quiet, the room  adjacent to my bedroom was about to become a
love nest. There was  the rattle of a key,  the door  opened  and closed and
then I heard voices, but this  wasn't fun sex talk, this was heavy,  serious
stuff.
     I kept  rolling as the hooker ran through  her  repertoire of moans and
sighs,  though not  giggly  ones, like before;  this sounded more like grand
opera. The sounds  of  male  grunting  and rhythmic  humping started  almost
straight away; poor girl, she probably hadn't  even had time to put down her
order of fries.
     When the dough was about a quarter of an inch thick and the diameter of
a medium-sized pizza, I used the ice scraper to  cut strips about two inches
wide, getting six  per  base. That  done,  I  stepped over the head  in  the
blood-soaked  blanket, went into the bathroom, and pulled the plug to refill
the bath with more hot water.
     The old man's  eyes were  fixed  open in an astonished stare. I ignored
him as I turned on  the tap and  tested  the water, as if for a baby's bath,
wishing I could stay in here because the water heater noise drowned out  the
duet next door, but there were five more mines to be dealt with. Leaving the
bath  still  running,  I  went back  to  the bedroom with  another piece  of
dripping Soviet war machinery hanging off the plunger.
     It was now so  cold in the room  that my  nose  was beginning to  drip.
Wiping it carefully on  my jacket sleeve  to make  sure  I got  none of  the
marzipan  on my exposed  skin, I sat  back down with more PEin-a-can and set
about digging out the contents.
     Plastic  explosive  is  nothing  more  than  a  substance  which,  when
detonated, undergoes almost instantaneous  decomposition. Until that moment,
most  forms of the compound are harmless and waterproof.  You can even  burn
some types of PE and it won't explode; it'll just help you make a pot of tea
very quickly. When detonated,
     however, it delivers a shattering blow known as brisance, and  that  is
why it can be used to cut through materials as strong as steel.
     I still had  another four mines to empty  and was gagging for that tea,
but I  didn't think they did  room service  here;  not  the kind  I  wanted,
anyway.  I just  got on with  it,  gouging  out the PE, rolling  and cutting
two-inch-wide strips, serenaded by the bear next door, who sounded as though
he was heading for his  final grunt. I hoped he might follow it with a spell
of hibernation.
     An hour or so later,  with all of the  PE now in strips,  I opened  the
knife blade of the Leatherman  and rested it over the hot bar of the heater.
I then laid the first piece  of foam  on  the bed, base down.  Carpenter was
pissing me off, as I had to keep stepping over him, so I pulled at his feet,
his head making a dull thud as it hit the thin carpet as it moved out of the
blanket, and  dragged him closer  to the  door. Once there, I rearranged the
sodden  blanket once more  around  his head and wiped my hands on his  black
crew neck.
     Using the towel  as an oven glove, I lifted the hot Leatherman from the
heater  and  quickly sliced  off  all the little  lumps, bumps,  and  molded
corners from the  upper  side of the foam.  What I was left with  was a yard
square, one side naturally  flat, the other cut more or  less  level. Next I
used the hot  blade to mark out a  two-inch wide channel all the  way round,
following  the line of the square and  about three inches in from the  edge.
The smell of burning Styrofoam was even more overpowering than the marzipan.
     Holding the  blade at an angle, I  started  cutting an inverted Vin the
channel,  ending up  with  what  looked  like a  trench all  around the foam
square, with  four very  long bars of Toblerone lying in the  bottom of  it,
peaks upward. The strips of explosive would be laid along the sides  of  the
Toblerone, and when the frame charge was complete, it would be the flat side
that would ultimately be placed against the target.
     You can't drop a bridge by just dangling big sticks of dynamite against
it.  To  cut  through  whatever you're trying to destroy concrete, brick, or
steel with  the least amount  of PE and maximum effect, you have  to channel
the brisance by using  the Munroe Effect. Because of the thirty-degree angle
made  by the  peak  of  the Toblerone facing the target, the majority of the
detonation  force would surge toward the  imaginary chocolate bar's base and
beyond. Had the Toblerone been made of copper, the brisance would be
     able to penetrate  many inches  of steel, because  the detonation would
melt the copper and take most of the  molten flow  forward with it,  cutting
through the target.  I  didn't  have  copper, just  styrofoam, but there was
enough force in the PE alone to do the job required of it.
     My  nitro  headache  was really pounding  now.  I  downed  another four
aspirin; only four more left.
     As I went back to my cutting, the sound of an argument between  two men
filtered through from the hall. They were soon joined by a woman, who seemed
to be charming them down.
     The  door  opposite  mine opened  and closed and there  was silence.  I
waited for the customary sound  effects to  start in  the room opposite, but
all I got was  more argument, the woman now chipping in her two EEKs' worth.
When  I'd  finished cutting  the  Toblerone  shape all  the  way  round  the
styrofoam, the base  of the triangle  was just over an inch and a half  from
the base of the foam. This  was the "stand-off," which would give the Munroe
Effect space to gather enough force to cut through the target's brickwork.
     Now all  I  had to do was  lay  the  explosive along  each side  of the
Toblerone and over its  peak,  making sure the strips  were molded  together
seamlessly to make one big charge. Protecting my hands with the plastic bags
once more, I  started placing,  pressing and  pinching,  as  if shaping  and
joining pastry. The three-way argument was still going on opposite; I didn't
mind, it was nice to have neighbors who were talking instead of grunting and
throwing the bed around.
     Once the Toblerone was covered by two layers of PE, I got some det cord
and cut off  two lengths, one about  three feet long, the  other about five.
Putting two knots  into one end of each length, I pressed  these into the PE
that  lay over the Toblerone, on two opposite  sides  of the square. To keep
the knots in place, two off cuts of PE were pressed down on top so the knots
were well and truly molded into the charge.
     The reason for having two  sites for the det cord was that I needed the
detonation to come from two directions simultaneously so the charge was more
efficient.  To  make  sure that happened, I tightly  taped  together, over a
distance of about six inches, the two different lengths of det cord so that,
from the binding to the
     charge, they were both of equal length.  Trailing from the site  of the
binding was the two-foot surplus from the longer piece; that bit was  called
the det tail. As the shock wave traveled along the det  tail and reached the
binding, it would also detonate the second, shorter  length of det cord. The
two shock waves would  then travel down toward  the charge at the same speed
and  distance,  therefore  reaching  the Toblerones  on two  opposing  sides
simultaneously.  The Munroe  Effect would direct the force of the detonation
toward  the base of the Toblerone, gathering energy as  it traveled the inch
and a bit through the foam before impacting  the target. All  being well,  I
should be left with  a gaping hole about a  yard square  in  the wall of the
target house.
     I was still in the  process of taping over the  Toblerone to keep it in
the foam  when two male voices, drunk  and laughing, came up  the stairs and
passed my door, going into the room on the other side of the bathroom.
     I still  had another charge  to make,  so I  put  the knife back on the
heater as  my two new neighbors laughed, joked, and turned the TV on loudly.
At least it drowned out the three still entertaining themselves opposite.
     It took me thirty minutes  to  complete  the second charge, done to the
accompaniment of  an  American  comedy, dubbed, of  course.  I preferred the
jokes in Russian.
     To  make  them  easier to  carry,  I  sandwiched  both  sets of charges
together so the Toblerone peaks were facing each other, storing the attached
det cord in between. I  wrapped one of the tow  ropes  around to keep it all
together, then slid two of the pallet sections, taken from behind the shops,
under the rope. I'd also secured the reel of unused  det cord to the pack by
running the rope through  its center while wrapping it round. Everything I'd
be needing on target  was  now together, and the whole thing  looked  like a
badly packed Boy Scout's knapsack.
     There were one or two other little jobs to do before I could get out of
here.  Gathering  together the remaining blue nylon  tow  ropes, I tied them
together  until  there was one  rope about thirty yards  long, adding  extra
knots so that there was one every yard. One end was then tied onto the rope,
which had been wrapped around the charges.
     Next I picked up the third length of pallet wood. It was MI9 time
     again as I cut a groove all  round one  end, about three inches in from
the top, around which I secured  the free end  of the  rope  attached to the
charges. Holding the brick against the un roped end of the wood, so that its
longest edge was parallel  to the plank's, I  wrapped the towel  around both
and secured it with yards  of  insulating tape.  All the  equipment was  now
prepared.
     The Lion King told me it was  3:28, in theory too early to leave, but I
didn't know who  else knew that Carpenter and the old man had come to visit.
The threesome started  arguing yet again, this  time probably about payment,
as I took the charges, draped in a blanket, down to the car.

     Saturday. December 18,1999
     In the pitch-dark  of the afternoon I drove west toward Tallinn  on the
main drag, turned left to Pussi and headed once again over the railway track
and toward the target, passing the sad shacks where people were holed up for
the winter.
     In  the twelve hours since leaving the hotel I'd been  cruising around,
stopping only a couple  of times  to  fill up with gas. Anything to keep the
heater going.
     On  my way out I'd  paid the old woman for another two  nights, so with
any luck there should be no need for her to come and check the room.
     Tented  stalls  were dotted  along the  roads  like  miniature  service
stations, the  steam  that poured  from their  vents making them  look  like
refugee-camp field  kitchens. When I stopped to buy coffee and pastries,  it
actually  helped  to  have a swollen mouth with visible  bruising, because I
could  get  away with  just  mumbling and pointing. The problem came when  I
tried to eat and drink; my tooth was killing me and these places didn't sell
Ibuprofen. My last four aspirins had gone hours ago.
     I'd kept Carpenter's weapon on me, and the .38 special was in the glove
compartment. Neither of them had spare rounds.
     Now, sliding slowly along the single-lane road, my headlights picked up
the  concrete  wall  of  the target  on  my  left.  Nothing appeared to have
changed; there were still no lights or movement
     and  the  gates  were still  closed. Parking in the  same  driveway  as
before,  I turned off the engine  and sat for a while in the rapidly cooling
car, running through the plan one  last time.  It  didn't take long, because
there wasn't really much of a plan.
     Forcing  myself out into the cold, now wearing the old guy's gloves and
bloodstained fur hat, I covered the  driver's side  of  the windshield  with
newspaper before taking the charges out of the trunk.  The tow rope  wrapped
around  them  made a handy  shoulder  strap. Finally I hid the key under the
rear  right  wheel.  If I got  caught  by the  Maliskia, then at  least they
wouldn't have my keys if I managed to escape.  What was more, I  could  tell
Tom if I linked up with  him, and he would also have  a means of escape if I
didn't make it to the car.
     I  wasn't going to kill him. I owed him  that much after what he'd done
by the fence at the Finns' house. What was more,  I didn't want his death on
my  conscience, as well as Kelly's  illness. At first I'd put my  change  of
heart down to the fact that I  wasn't thinking of saving Tom's skin  as much
as my own.  He would be  the only one  who could back up my story to Lynn if
this  whole  thing  went  completely  to  rat shit.  And  why  shouldn't it?
Everything else  had so far. But then, much  as  I hated the idea, I had  to
admit  to  myself that I'd come to like  the chubby-cheeked fucker. He might
not be the sort of guy  I was used to  associating with,  and  we  certainly
wouldn't  be seeing each other for coffee mornings, but he was all right and
he needed a break as much  as I did. I'd been  toying with the idea since  I
lay in  my  cheap  hotel room  in  Helsinki.  That  was why I'd brought  his
passport with me, just in case I decided.
     It was as cold as ever, but as I walked along the road I tied up my new
fur  hat earflaps so I could  listen. Drawing level with the  hangar and its
funnel, I still couldn't hear any noise from inside the compound. I  reached
the driveway leading to the  large steel-plate  gates, turned and took a few
paces toward  them.  Then  I stopped  and  listened. Now that I knew it  was
there,  I  could just make out the generator churning  away in the distance.
Apart from that I could hear nothing.
     I tested the gates, but they  weren't open. I tried the small  door set
into the larger right-hand one,  but again they were still  locked. I wasn't
expecting it to be that  easy, but I'd have felt like a real dickhead if I'd
gone  to all the trouble of climbing over the wall when  all I had to do was
stroll in through the front gate.
     Lying down in the  right-hand tire  rut, with the charges behind  me, I
pressed my eye  to  the  gap beneath.  Nothing that  side of  the  gate  had
changed; there were still two lights  on  the ground  floor and  the  larger
building to the right was just as dark. I wasn't sure if what  I was looking
at was good or bad; not that it mattered that much, I was still going to get
among it and destroy the place, and hopefully find Tom.
     Once  on  my  feet again,  with  the Boy Scout knapsack reshouldered, I
started back in  the direction of the car, but about seventy or eighty yards
past  the hangar  I stepped left off the road and into the high snow. My aim
was to  walk out into the fields, turn left and approach the hangar from the
rear. I couldn't prevent  leaving a trail in the snow, but at  least I could
try to keep most of it out of sight of the road.
     The snow had a thin layer of ice  on top and varied in depth from  calf
to  thigh  height. As I pressed my foot down on the not-so deep stuff, there
was initial  resistance,  then my  weight  pushed through  it. In the deeper
drifts I felt like an icebreaker in the Baltic.
     I labored on, my jeans soaking and my legs starting to freeze. At least
there wasn't much cloud and my night vision was adjusting to the starlight.
     The rear of the hangar loomed in front of me and I climbed inside.  The
floor  was concrete  and  the  steel structure  supported what  looked  like
corrugated  asbestos. Moving  slowly and  carefully  toward the wall  of the
compound, after about twenty paces I began to make out the dark shape of the
doorway.  When I reached the edge of the hangar, I stood still and listened.
Not a sound, just the gentle moan of the wind.
     Wading across the eight or nine feet of snow between the two buildings,
I  realized  as  soon  as  I  reached  the  door  that  I was  going  to  be
disappointed. The metal was a lot older than the front gates and was flaking
with rust. The door itself was solid, with no hinges  or locks this side  of
it. I pushed, but there wasn't a hint of movement.
     Turning right, I followed the wall and waded fifteen yards further away
from the road. Hopefully  I  was now  facing  the  gable  end  of the larger
building on the other side of the concrete.
     Placing  the charges on the snow, I unraveled the rope attached  to the
plank with the brick at the end. With just two or three feet of
     slack,  I started swinging it around me like  a hammer thrower, finally
letting go with upward momentum to make the plank clear the wall.
     I'd never make the Olympics. The whole lot  fell  back down in front of
me. I was just sorting out  the  rope for  another  try when  vehicle lights
raked the wall of the compound.
     I  dropped to  my  knees,  ready to  bury myself  in the  snow.  Then I
realized that on my knees I was buried in it.
     The lights got stronger, disappearing for  half a second as the vehicle
dipped in the road, only to light up the sky before settling  down again. As
it got  closer  the inside  of the hangar was lit up and moving shadows were
cast by the steel supports.
     The ponderous chug of  a  big diesel told me that a tractor was heading
in my direction. I felt good about that: if the Maliskia were coming for me,
I doubted they'd be riding a John Deere.
     The  noise  got  louder  and the  light even stronger until the tractor
burst into view in  the gap between  the  compound wall and  the  hangar. It
looked like  some  old  relic  from  a  Soviet  collective,  with  far  more
silhouettes  in  the cab than the thing was  designed for. Maybe  the  local
karaoke fanatics were  heading down to the Hammer and Sickle for a few pints
of vodka.
     The lights and noise gradually faded and I got on with my task. It took
me two more tries, but I eventually got the plank to sail over the wall, the
charge  end firmly anchored  in  my  hands. The  rope  jerked  as  the plank
finished its  flight, probably ending  up dangling about three or  four feet
over the target side. Gently, I started pulling it back, waiting for the bit
of resistance that  would tell me that the point where  the rope was wrapped
around the plank had  connected  with the far top edge of  the wall. The way
this thing  worked  was that the  counterweight of the brick made the top of
the plank anchor itself against an  angled wall. It's one of the reasons why
prisons have a large oval shape made of smooth metal on top of their  walls,
so  that contraptions like this don't have anything  to  bite  into. MI9 had
done it again.
     Maintaining  the tension  in the rope,  and half expecting the plank to
come plummeting back  down onto  my head at any second, I slowly let it take
my whole body weight. The cheap nylon rope  stretched and protested but held
secure.  With my  feet against  the wall,  and  using the pitted sections as
toeholds and knots I'd placed along the rope, I started to climb.
     It  didn't take long to reach  the top,  and I scrambled up  and rested
along its three-foot width. The large  building blocked most of  my view  of
the target beyond; all I  could see was the light from the windows, where it
hit  the  snow.  The  generator  now  provided  a  constant  rumble  in  the
foreground.
     Snow and ice cascaded from the wall as I  swiveled round on my stomach,
turning to face the way I'd come. With my legs now  dangling down the target
side, I began to pull the charges carefully up the wall. It wasn't the noise
I was worried about, I didn't want to damage them.
     When  I'd  finally got the  charges up on top with me, I swiveled round
again  and lowered  them  gently down  the target side. It was now simply  a
question  of moving the plank to  the other  edge  in  order to  reverse the
climbing process.
     Keeping the tension in the rope, I slowly lowered myself over, twisting
my right foot round the rope as my hips got to the  edge of the wall. Then I
let the rope take my weight and climbed down as quickly as I could.
     I  piled snow  on top of the charges  so the weight of the plank didn't
pull it down the other side, taking  everything with it. It was important to
keep the rope in place while I went  off  and did a quick recce; for now, it
was my only escape route.
     The  hum of  the generator was louder at ground level, more than enough
to drown the crunch  of my feet on virgin snow and ice as I moved toward the
rusty side door.  I took  the flashlight  from my pocket and switched it on.
Just a tiny pinprick of light emerged; I'd taped over most of the reflector,
leaving just a small hole.
     There  was work to be  done on the door. It's all well and good getting
on to a target, but it's just as  important getting away. If I didn't have a
better escape  route organized than just climbing up  a rope, I'd be in deep
shit if I was compromised. Working with the flashlight in  my mouth, I could
see that the  door was secured by a large bolt, maybe two  feet long, set in
the  middle,  covered in rust, and looking  as if  it hadn't been opened for
years.  I began to work on the lever with  both hands, gently  lifting it up
and down as I pulled it back  and forth, making a little progress with  each
movement until the  thing  finally  gave.  Pulling the door  toward me about
three or four inches to confirm that it would open, I then pushed it
     back into  position. Job done, I stopped and listened: no noise but the
generator.
     There was  no point in risking the rope being spotted now that I had an
alternative escape route, so I untied it and let it go.
     Shouldering  the  charges,  I  crunched along  the  front of the larger
building, trying to keep as close to it as possible to minimize sign. Now  I
could see that it was built of chalk-colored bricks that were way past their
prime.  If the target house was built of the same stuff, it wasn't going  to
be difficult to make entry.
     The generator noise increased as I reached the large opening. A mass of
tire tracks led in  the  same  direction. Going  inside,  I moved off to the
right  so  I  wasn't silhouetted in  the entrance, and stood  still  in  the
darkness,  listening to the  genny noise to my  far left. It felt  warmer in
here, but I knew it wasn't really, it was just more sheltered.
     Taking the flashlight out of my pocket, I pulled off the tape but  kept
two  fingers  over the lens to control its  brightness. A quick shine around
the cavernous interior revealed three vehicles: a Mercedes box van, with its
nose pointing out, and  two sedans haphazardly parked  at different  angles,
pointing in. The floor  was concrete, covered  in  several  years' supply of
frozen mud, lumps of wood and old crates.
     The  flashlight was too weak to reach the generator itself,  but thirty
paces took me right up to it. The machinery was standing on a new section of
concrete floor, about two feet above ground level to keep it well out of the
shit. Beyond it was the fuel tank, a large, heavy plastic cylinder supported
on cinder blocks. Seeing it gave me an idea for later on.
     Jutting from the front of  the generator was a power cable a good three
inches thick; it ran through  the gable wall, where three or four bricks had
been knocked out to accommodate it, and toward the target house.
     I  dumped  my  kit  at  the  back of  the  generator,  turned  off  the
flashlight, and went back to the large opening and out into the compound.
     Following the many footprints that had  been made between this building
and the target about fifteen yards away, I made my way toward the main door.
Directly ahead I saw  the triangle of darkness that stretched  from directly
below  the ground-floor  windowsill to about three  feet out into the  snow,
where the light hit the ground.
     I checked my weapon was properly placed in my jacket pocket so that, if
needed, I could bite off my glove and draw down with ease.
     Checking before passing the six-foot gap  between the two buildings  to
my right, I could see where the generator  cable came out  of the  barn wall
and went into the target's. I also saw  plenty of footprints from the path I
was on, branching off  between the two buildings and toward the  rear of the
target. People must be in and out of here all the time.
     Bending  down,  I edged  my way  under the first  window,  as close  as
possible to the wall.  The  glass above  me  was protected by steel bars.  A
television was on. The voices were English, and  it  didn't take  me long to
work out the channel was MTV. This got weirder by the minute.
     With my back to the wall, I looked and listened. The light above me was
shining through yellow floral curtains, though the material was too thick to
see through. I couldn't hear any talking, just Ricky Martin singing. Putting
my ear to the wall I listened again. I  didn't have to try hard. Bursting in
with the chorus  was  a heavy Eastern European accent trying to give Ricky a
hand.

     ThE target building seemed to consist of a  concrete  frame filled with
red clay brickwork with  air  holes and serrated sides. Whoever  had put  it
together had never heard of a plumb line, and too many bad winters had taken
their toll  on the bricks; they looked as crumbly as the one I'd tied to the
plank.
     With  Ricky Martin reaching  the end  of his song, I moved up  the  two
concrete steps to the main door.  It was the same arrangement as the baar in
Narva, except the other  way  round, with the steel grill on the outside and
the wooden door set  back about six inches further into the frame. I  needed
to find out if it was locked. It wasn't my chosen point of entry, but if the
charges  didn't work and the  door  happened to be open, at least  I'd  have
options. More to  the point, if  I fucked up inside,  I had an  extra escape
route.
     The grill wasn't locked. I moved it gently backward an inch and it made
no  noise, so I pulled it toward me a couple of  inches, returned it an inch
and  pulled another two,  controlling  the  quiet  squeaks as  it  gradually
opened. Eventually the grill  was open enough to squeeze my arm past and try
the door. There were no  sounds apart from MTV and the generator as I pushed
the door handle down gently and gave a small push. It was locked.
     I stood and listened,  hoping to hear Tom's voice. Something was  being
fried, and the smell was wafting under the door. From upstairs came a shout,
muffled by the sound of the TV, but it wasn't Tom's voice.
     Then I realized the shouting wasn't shouting, it was meant to be
     singing.  My friend the Ricky Martin impressionist was on his way  back
downstairs.
     Moving  out of  the doorway,  I pulled my glove off with  my teeth  and
gripped my weapon. If he came  out, I'd be stepping over  his dead  body and
going  straight in with  so much  speed, aggression, and  surprise that  I'd
scare even myself.
     His  voice got louder as he reached the ground floor. A chorus of other
voices  bellowed from  the  rear of  the  building,  maybe in  Russian,  but
definitely telling him to shut the fuck up.
     He had reached the  hallway and was only  feet  from the door, shouting
back, along with at least two other voices from the TV room. It was  banter,
nothing more.
     The  singer  went back into the room and  the  MTV  show died down to a
slightly quieter level as the door was closed.
     I moved back to the front  door and listened. Nothing now but the sound
of more  music being  played. Replacing my weapon, I slowly closed the grill
the same way as I'd opened it.
     Moving back down the steps, I followed the tracks toward the far end of
the target, ducking  under the  left-hand window and into its dark triangle.
Even with my ear to the wet, cold  wall, I could hear no  sound from inside.
The  windows were  steamed  up  behind  the steel bars; maybe  this was  the
kitchen?
     I  reached the  corner of the  building and cleared it.  There were  no
windows this side, but plenty of footprints in the snow leading to the rear.
What could easily  be  seen,  however,  even  in  this light,  was  a  large
satellite  dish,  slightly jutting out  to the  left  of  the  building  and
pointing upward  at  about forty-five degrees. I felt  as  if I was having a
Microsoft  HQ flashback, and  hoped the  NSA didn't arrive  to complete  the
story. At the same  time I  was pleased  I'd seen it. The dish  was my  only
confirmation that this really was the target.
     I counted the paces as I moved toward it, in preparation for laying the
charges. Seventeen one-yard steps took me to the rear of the building.
     I cleared  the corner and the generator gained  a decibel or two. Light
was shining through curtains from both of the  upstairs windows, just enough
to cast a  dim glow over  the  satellite dish's two friends.  All three were
about the same size as those at Microsoft HQ, but made of solid plastic, not
mesh. They pointed skyward in  different  directions.  They weren't  static,
dug-in dishes, but on stands, with
     ice-covered sandbags over the legs to  keep them  in position. Like the
Finnish  ones,  they, too,  were clear of  snow and ice, and  the whole area
around them was trampled down. Beyond them, maybe forty yards away, was  the
dark shape of the rear compound wall.
     I  turned  the corner and realized that hidden in the shadow of the top
windows' dark triangles were two  more  windows on the ground floor, without
light. All four mirrored the ones on the front of the target.
     To get under the first  window took five paces, making it twenty two in
total so far.  I crouched by three thick, snow-covered satellite feeds which
came out  of the snow and disappeared into  a hole in the brickwork directly
beneath  the  first  ground-floor  window.  The gap around the  cabling  was
roughly refilled with concrete.
     The downstairs windows on this side were also barred. I  could now  see
chinks of light around the  edges  of  the  frame I was  crouching  beneath.
Lifting  my eyes to  the sill for a  closer  look, I saw  that the glass was
boarded over from the inside.
     I  heard a  humming noise coming from the  other  side of  the  boards,
high-pitched and  electrical, unlike  the throbbing  diesel further along in
the other building. No human voices, but I knew they were there somewhere. I
never thought I'd find myself longing to hear Tom asking for a cup of herbal
tea "My body's a temple, know what I mean, Nick?" but it didn't happen.
     Stepping over  the  cables,  it took me another nine slow  and  careful
paces to  the next window to  add to the  twenty-two. I'd soon know how much
det cord I'd need to take off the reel.
     This  window was  also boarded  up, but there  was  a little more light
spilling out. Two  sheets of quarter-inch  plywood,  which should have  been
flush against the glass, were not, leaving a half-inch gap on the right-hand
side.
     Doing  a Houdini,  I  adjusted  my head  to try and get  a good viewing
angle, pressing it  right  up against the iron bars,  the  hat working  as a
perfect  insulator  for  my head.  I got a glimpse of  very bright lighting,
under which I could see a bank of about five or six gray plastic PC monitors
facing away from  me, their rear vents black with  burned dust. Judging from
what I could see, this rear half of the building was one big room.
     As I  adjusted my  head  in an another attempt to  see more, everything
inside went dark. A body blocked my view. I watched as he
     leaned  forward on  his arms, his head  moving from side to  side as he
studied the different screens  in front of  him, no more than  two feet away
from me. He must have been about mid-thirties  with short dark-blond hair on
top of  a very square head, and he was wearing a  patterned crewneck sweater
that any geek's mother would have been proud  of. He started to smile,  then
nodded  to himself as he  turned toward the gap. He  was no more than a foot
away  now  as  he answered a quick  aggressive Russian voice  behind him. He
looked down at something, and  whatever  it was he was happy about it. Maybe
Tom  had come up  with the goods for them  and  they had  Echelon. If so, it
wouldn't be for long.
     He picked up a sheet  of  printed  paper  and waved  it at whoever  was
behind him, then  he moved out of  my line of vision, back into the room. It
was probably the  Christmas lunch  menu  from  the Space  and  Naval Warfare
Systems Command  in San Diego. They seemed to  know everything else that was
happening there.
     At least I knew where the kit that had to be destroyed was all I needed
to  find  now  was Tom. I  waited for further movement for  another  fifteen
minutes with my eye  to  the gap, but nothing  happened. I  was getting very
cold and my toes were numb. Lion King told me it was only 5:49; it was going
to get a whole lot colder yet.
     I moved to the next corner of the target, toward  the generator. It was
another five  paces,  which made thirty-six in total. I was happy; there was
more than enough det cord.
     I turned right and walked down the small gap between the two buildings,
stepping  over the generator  cable  lying in the  snow.  Just  as with  the
satellite cables, a hole had been punched through the target's brickwork and
the gap refilled with handfuls of concrete.
     I made my way back to the generator building and started to prepare the
kit. The first  thing I  checked was  that I still had  the batteries  in my
inside  pocket:  In dems,  it's the ultimate  sin  to  lose  control  of the
initiation device, on a  par  with  leaving  your weapon more than an  arm's
length  away from you. I'd been keeping them  close to  my body to stop them
getting sluggish in the cold; they needed to work first time.
     I didn't  need light for unrolling the  det cord because I knew  what I
was doing, but the generator noise would drown out any human movement coming
into the  building, so I  had  to keep my eyes on the entrance  while  I was
working. Placing the reel between
     my feet, I held the  loose  end in  my right hand and stretched out  my
arm, pushing the det cord into my armpit with my left. I did that thirty-six
times, plus an extra five to cover what I needed to do on the wall this side
of  the  target. I added two more for  luck, cutting  it  with my  blackened
Leatherman.  I then laid it on the floor, next to the  charges. This was now
called the  main line, and  would be used to send the shock wave to all  the
charges at once via their det tails.
     The next thing I  had to sort out was the little brain wave I'd had for
the  fuel tank.  What I had  in mind was the most spectacular explosion this
side  of Hollywood.  When  the  fuel  tank  blew it  wouldn't  be  the  most
productive bang in the world, but the effect would be phenomenal.
     I climbed the ladder of the tank with the det cord  in my  hand, slowly
un  feeding  it  from  the reel. When I  lifted  the  flap on the  tank, the
flashlight  beam hit  on  the  surface  of  shiny  liquid that filled  about
three-quarters of the cylinder. After tying a double  knot on the end of the
cord, I pulled  the gas-station  shopping bag from my jacket. In  it was the
spare four-pound ball of PE that any dems man worth his  salt always carries
to plug up any holes or damage to a  charge. The smell wasn't too bad out in
the open as I ripped off about half and played with it to warm it up.
     Once  it  was pliable enough,  I  squashed  it around the  double knot,
ensuring  it had worked its way  into the gaps of  the  ties, and finally  I
taped the whole thing up to keep the PE in place.
     I lowered  the ball  of PE into  the  tank by its  string of  det cord,
stopping when it was dangling about two  or three inches from the surface of
the  fuel.  It  only  takes a  split  second for fuel to vaporize  after  an
explosion, but when that detonates, the effect  is volcanic. If I  fucked up
this job, it would certainly give  the appearance that I'd  given it my best
shot. How  could Val  doubt my word when the fireball would  probably be big
enough for him to see it in Moscow?
     I taped the det cord  onto the side of the fuel tank, then climbed back
down the ladder,  carefully unreeling the rest of the cord as I moved toward
the hole in the wall. I wanted to  cut  a long  enough  length so that, once
laid out, it would reach the target house. Nine extra  arm's lengths  seemed
to put me on the safe side. I made the cut, then started  to push the end of
the det cord through the hole in the wall.
     Just then, light came bouncing down the gap from the front of
     the buildings.  I couldn't hear anything above the generator. I quickly
pulled the det cord back in  and froze. The only things moving were my eyes;
they  flicked from the hole  to the entrance, waiting for  any movement from
either direction.
     A shiny  wet pair  of  waders and a pair  of normal outdoor  boots were
illuminated  by  the beam of  light as it searched for the  generator cable.
What worried me was the AK wader-man had hanging down by his side, its large
foresight at the end of the barrel level with his knees.
     Once  over it, they carried on toward the rear and moved out  of sight.
There wasn't any  talking,  or if there  was, I couldn't  hear it  above the
generator. I didn't even hear their feet in the snow.
     They must  have been doing  something  with the dishes. I waited; there
was nothing else I could do. No way was I going out there again until I knew
they were safely tucked up back in the house.
     I lay on the  frozen mud and waited for  their  return,  my eyes  still
moving  between  the  gaps  in  the  brickwork.  The cold soon penetrated my
clothing, numbing my skin. The six or seven minutes it took before I saw the
flashlight flickering about on the snow again didn't pass quickly enough.
     Craning my neck to get a better view, I  watched their silhouettes fade
as  they reached the corner  of  the building.  I waited  a few more  frozen
minutes in case  they'd forgotten something or realized they'd fucked up and
had to come back to redo it.
     While I waited the lightbulb  went off  again. When I eventually got to
my  feet,  I went  across to  the vehicles  and  let  down their  tires. The
fireball  ought to sort out the vehicles and guarantee they couldn't be used
in a follow-up, but it didn't hurt to play safe.
     I grinned  stupidly to myself as the air hissed out  and  the tire rims
settled  on the frozen mud. Watching the hole  in the wall for flashlight, I
was eight years old again, crouching by my stepfather's car.
     Moving back  to the kit, I pushed the  det cord through the hole in the
wall once more, then  cut several eight-inch strips of packing tape from the
roll and stuck them around  both  forearms. Finally I shouldered the pack of
charges, gripped the coiled-up main line in  my left hand and moved back out
into the cold.

     I headed for  the  gap between the two buildings.  Ahead  of me the dim
light from the house still spilt onto the snow.
     I  cleared  the gap and moved toward the rear.  Stepping over the genny
cable, I checked  the det cord was still in the hole, ready for  when I came
back for it later, then continued down to the corner.  The elevations of the
dishes had changed dramatically.
     I wanted  to make one last check for Tom through the gap in the boards.
Maybe I'd be in luck; there's a first time for everything.
     Angling my head, I peered through, but couldn't see any movement.
     Stepping over  the  satellite-dish cables, I made  my  way to  the  far
corner, then turned and counted three  paces toward the front of the target.
I crouched down at  that point and  placed the charges and  reel of det cord
onto the  snow. The computer room was on the other side of this wall. It was
going  to  be gloves  on,  gloves  off  for  the next  twenty  minutes as  I
positioned the charges.
     Undoing the  tow rope that kept the charges  together, I  placed one of
the foam squares against the  bricks, the base of the  Toblerones facing the
target, so the det tail dangled in front of me. Then, ramming the end of one
of the wooden pallet slats into the snow  at an angle, I used it to keep the
Styrofoam square in position against the wall.
     When I  checked the charge with the aid of the flashlight, I discovered
a tiny break where aPE joint had come apart. This didn't mean to say  the PE
wouldn't initiate, since the gap  was less than a  sixteenth of an inch, but
why take that chance?
     Manipulating  a small lump  of PE  between my gloved hands until it was
pliable, I  broke off a piece and plugged the space. After a final check,  I
killed the flashlight and moved over to  the nearest dish. I lifted  one  of
its ice-hard  sandbags  and placed  it halfway along the  wall, using it  to
weigh down the free end of the main line. I then began the process of laying
out its forty-three arm's lengths back  toward the charge. The weight of the
sandbag enabled me to pull the cord gently to ensure there weren't any kinks
or twists, so the shock wave had a free run to the det tails.
     Once  I reached  the propped-up charge  it was gloves-off  time  again.
Peeling one of  the strips of tape  from my forearm, I began to bind the det
tail  to the main line,  taping  the  two  sections  together as  tightly as
possible. I did it strictly by the book, binding the main line one foot down
the det tail in case some of the explosive had  fallen from the exposed end.
The binding was four inches, to guarantee enough contact between the two for
the shock wave to transfer across from  the main line to the det tail. Then,
of course, it would journey on down to the charge.
     As I peeled off another strip of tape it dawned on me  that whenever  I
was working on  dems, I always used feet and inches rather  that  meters and
kilos. That was the way I'd been taught, one  of the main reasons being that
it made life a lot easier when working with Americans, who weren't  too keen
on the metric system.
     There was a sudden  burst of loud  music from an upstairs window around
the back, stopping  as abruptly as it had  started. I instinctively  ducked,
and through the rear windows  I could hear various voices shouting. At least
another three different voices could be heard shouting back and laughing.
     It brought me back to real life. The act of tactically  placing charges
always seems to detach you from reality. Maybe it's because there's  so much
concentration involved, because there are no second chances.  That's why you
normally make sure that whoever is doing the technical stuff can just get on
with it and concentrate. It wasn't a luxury I had tonight.
     I swiped another sandbag from the base of the dish and placed it on top
of the main line, on the dish side of the det tail. I didn't want to pull on
it  and disrupt  the  charge I'd already set  up  as I picked up the  second
charge. I  began to unreel the main line over the satellite cable toward the
gap between the two buildings.
     Someone  was   fucking  with  the  volume  as  Aerosmith's  theme  song
"Armageddon" got  louder  and  then suddenly died  above me, prompting  more
shouts from the computer room. Just as I reached the next  corner, the heavy
Eastern  European  voices above bellowed out yet again  and the music blared
out at full volume.
     I knelt  between the  two buildings  and rigged up the second charge on
the other side of the  target house so that it was exactly facing the first.
Once it  was  propped and checked, I began  taping its det tail  to the main
line. The music hit full blast  again  for two seconds, then subsided. There
were more shouts from downstairs. The boys in the computer room were getting
ever so slightly pissed.  I reckoned there was  a  minimum of five people in
the building.
     I gave the  charge a final check; it was looking  good. Demolitions can
appear to  be  a dark art,  but actually all  you need to understand  is how
explosives work and then learn the hundreds  of  rules  for using  them. I'd
broken many of them today, but what the hell, I hadn't had a lot of choice.
     I went  over to the generator cable hole and  gently pulled out the det
cord that ran into the fuel tank, taping it to the main line in the same way
as I'd done with the other two.
     Aerosmith were still doing  their best  to annoy the computer room.  It
was a good game, and I hoped it would keep the boys occupied for a moment or
two longer.  I thought  about Tom and hoped he wasn't  standing too close to
either of the walls.
     Gloves back on, I pulled the main line  for  the last few arm's lengths
toward the  front  of the  building. Now  I just had to attach  the electric
detonator,  which was  already fixed to the  firing cable,  then unreel  the
cable round the  corner and get down below the  MTV window before the  shit,
and everything else in the building, hit the fan.
     I was a bit worried about the amount  of extraneous  electricity flying
about  and its possible effect  on  the firing cable. Once I'd untwisted the
two leads that were to go on the battery, they'd be potential antennae, just
like the dels in the Narva flat. The manuals would say I was either supposed
to be half  a mile  away when the shit went  up  or  very well  protected. I
didn't  think  hiding round the corner with  a few clay  bricks as cover was
quite what they had in mind.
     The main line stopped about  six  or seven paces short of the corner of
the target. Great, at least the firing cable would be long enough for  me to
be well under the window.
     As I gently pulled at the press studs holding the zip flap of my jacket
to extract the firing cable, the volume  of the  music changed again. It was
escaping outside. Then I heard the noise of the grill swinging open  and the
front door slamming shut.
     There was no time to think, just do. Biting off my  gloves, I jammed my
hand into  my jacket  pocket  for the Makharov,  right thumb taking off  the
safety as I moved toward the corner, taking deep breaths.
     I couldn't hear him them yet, but whichever it  was,  I had to take the
fight to them.
     Three more paces until the corner.
     There was flashlight  ahead.  I stopped, pushing my thumb  down  on the
safety catch to ensure it was off.
     One more second and a body appeared, heading toward  me. He was looking
down at where  his flashlight beam hit  the  snow. It glinted off his weapon
barrel.
     I couldn't give him  time to think. I jumped onto him, wrapping my left
arm around his  neck  and pushing the Makharov into  his stomach, digging it
into him hard. My legs  wrapped around his waist, and as we fell  together I
pulled the  trigger, hoping that our two bodies sandwiching the weapon would
suppress its report. No chance. The job had just gone noisy.
     Jumping  to  my feet, I  sprinted  round  to the  front  of the  house,
focusing solely  on the next corner, heading for the other  end  of the main
line, leaving a screaming Russian writhing in the snow.
     I racked back the weapon's top slide to eject whatever was in there and
feed  in another round, just in case we'd been  so  close that  it  had been
prevented from sliding back correctly when I'd fired and hadn't reloaded.
     I  had  the same feeling  in my  stomach as I  used to  have as a  kid,
running scared. As I neared the main entrance, I scrambled  frantically with
my left hand for the firing cable and det in my inside pocket.
     The door opened, MTV  still  blasting, and a body, too small to be Tom,
emerged. The grill was already open.
     "Gory? Gory?"
     I raised my weapon and fired on the move. I couldn't miss.
     There was a scream  and one round  hit  the grill with  a  high pitched
metallic ricochet.
     I carried straight on past, turned the corner and made a  headlong dive
toward the sandbag, dropping my weapon and desperately fishing for the  main
line  coming  from under the sandbag. I didn't look up  to see if anyone was
coming for me. I didn't have time.
     The wounded man's  screams echoed around the compound. I tried to  calm
myself and slow my frenzied movements. I held the det onto the main line and
wrapped  a strip of  tape around both not as tightly as I  would have liked,
but fuck it.
     I pulled out the battery and yanked the twisted end leads of the firing
cable apart with my teeth. Then,  falling  to the floor, I squeezed  my legs
together, opened my jaw  and buried my head in the snow as I pushed  the two
leads onto the terminals.
     Less than a single heartbeat later the detonator exploded and initiated
the  main line. The shock wave  of the explosion traveled along it,  met the
first det  tail and then the  one leading to the fuel tank. Then  the second
det tail got the good news.
     The  two  wall  charges  exploded  virtually  simultaneously,  and  the
resultant shock  waves met  in the middle of the room at a combined speed of
52,000 feet per second.

     My whole world shuddered, trembled, quaked. It  was like being inside a
massive bell that had just been given an almighty bang.
     The air was sucked from my lungs as hot air blasted over me. Around the
compound snow,  and  ice  shot upward a foot  or so from the ground. My ears
rang. Brick dust,  snow,  and shattered glass cascaded around  me. Then  the
shock wave rebounded off the thick  concrete  perimeter walls  and came back
for more.
     Crawling forward to the corner of the target, I watched, mesmerized, as
an  enormous fireball whooshed from the  entrance of  the generator building
and leaped high into the  sky. Thick  black smoke  mixed with  bright orange
flames  that  burned  like an oil-rig flare.  The entire area was  bathed in
light and I could feel the heat scorching my face.
     Chunks of  brick,  glass,  and all kinds of other  stuff that  had been
blown sky high started clattering around me. Scrambling to my knees, I threw
my  arms over my  head to  protect  myself.  You're supposed to look  up  to
prepare for the stuff coming toward you, but fuck that, I just kept close to
the wall  and  took my  chances.  I wouldn't  be able to see  it anyway. The
sandstorm of  red brick  dust had  arrived, blanketing the compound; it  was
just a matter of hanging in there and waiting for the last of the fallout to
rain down. I began coughing like a lifelong smoker.
     I cleared each nostril in turn, then tried to equalize  the pressure in
my ears. A sharp, stinging pain seared across my buttocks. My ass  must have
taken some of the shock wave as it passed over me. At
     least it wasn't  my face  or balls. I checked for blood, but my fingers
came back just wet with water from the snow-soaked jeans.
     It  was time to get to my  feet and  start moving  back for  my weapon,
which was still in the snow somewhere. I felt around  on my hands and knees,
my ass in agony, as if I'd just been whipped.  I  found the Makharov by  the
sandbag and, checking chamber with my  finger to the heavy rumbling sound of
burning fuel, I stumbled toward the main door.
     There was a secondary  explosion in the  generator building, probably a
vehicle fuel tank in the path of the firestorm. For the next few moments the
flames burned higher and more intensely.
     The guy in the  gap  wasn't screaming any more, but he was still alive,
coiled up and holding  his stomach. I went over to where he lay trembling in
the snow. I picked up his AK and threw it  toward the  main gate, out of his
reach. I certainly wouldn't be needing it myself inside the house.
     When the two shock  waves from the  opposing explosions  had  met, they
would have wiped out everything in  the computer room. The  force would then
have  taken  the line  of  least resistance  to  escape the confines  of the
building: the windows and  doors.  Surging along the hallways, it would have
destroyed everything in its path. The MTV man wasn't looking good. Some bits
of him were draped on the grill like strips of meat hanging in a smokehouse.
The rest would have been scattered out  in the snow.  When humans  burn they
smell like scorched pork, but when they're blown apart like this, it's as if
you've walked into a butcher's shop a week after a power outage.
     The flashlight wasn't  much good in the hallway;  it just reflected off
the wall  of dust  like a car's headlights in dense fog. I blundered around,
stumbling over bricks and other debris, trying to find the  gap to the right
that would lead to the MTV room.
     I  found  the door,  or rather  the place where it had been. As I moved
through, my  feet collided  with  sticks of furniture, then what was left of
the television  set and a  whole lot more bricks.  I was still coughing shit
out  of  my  lungs, and was the only one  doing so.  I could  hear no  other
movement, no sounds of distress.
     Tripping over a large bundle on the  floor, I switched on my flashlight
and knelt down to check it. The body was on its side and smouldering, facing
away from me. Rolling him toward me, I shone
     the light into his dust-covered  face. It wasn't  Tom. Whoever this man
in his early twenties had been, he wasn't any more. The skin was pulled back
from his head like a partly peeled orange and the blood he'd lost was mixing
with the dust to look like wet, red cement.
     I continued across the room, kicking out  and  feeling like a blind man
as I searched for more bodies. There were two, but neither of them was  Tom.
I wasn't going to call out, in case someone  decided to reply with something
other than a voice.
     I  tried to get  into the  room opposite  the  kitchen but the door was
jammed. Leaving it to go upstairs, I decided to check the easy places first.
I didn't bother with the computer room: Even if there were any bodies there,
they wouldn't be recognizable.  In  other circumstances I might have taken a
moment  or two  to be quietly  proud; I was shit at most things, but in high
school Demolitions I'd got a distinction.
     I headed up  the stairs, my left hand on the wall, having  to  feel for
every step  as I  made my  way  to  the top. I cleared  my  nostrils  again,
spitting the dust out of my throat as I equalized my nose again to clear the
ringing in my ears.
     As I reached the  top  landing I  heard a short, faint  cry; I couldn't
tell  where it came from. I went left first, since it was nearer. Feeling my
way to  the  door, I pushed, but it wouldn't budge  more  than four  or five
inches. Pushing even harder, I managed to get my foot round and made contact
with the  body on the  other  side  that was stopping  it going  further.  I
squeezed  through  and  checked. It  was  just  another  poor  fucker in his
twenties who wanted his mother.
     I stumbled into a chair, moved round it  and heard someone else moaning
at my feet. Kneeling down, I got in there with the flashlight and turned the
body over.
     It was Tom,  red brick dust  over his  face and head,  red snot running
from his  nose, but alive.  I'd thought  this would be a cause to celebrate,
but now I wasn't too sure. He didn't look good.
     He was whimpering  away  in  a world of his  own,  reminding  me of the
glue-sniffing kid in Narva. I checked him  over to make sure he had  all his
limbs. "You're okay, mate," I said. "You're all right. Come on." He wouldn't
have a  clue  what I  was saying or who was  saying it, but it made me  feel
better.
     I brushed the crap from his face so at least he could open his
     eyes at some  stage,  then I reached under his armpits and dragged  him
out onto the landing, stopping twice to snort muck from my nose.
     Still  gripping him, I  went down the stairs backward. His feet bounced
from step to step. He was out of it,  still bound up in his own little world
of  pain  and confusion,  aware  that  he  was  being  moved, but not really
conscious enough to help.
     We  got clear  of the brick dust and into the fresh air. Dumping him on
the ground, I cleared my nose again and gasped clean air into my lungs.
     "Tom. Wake up, mate. Tom, Tom ..."
     I grabbed a  handful of  snow and rubbed it over his face. Beginning to
recover, he coughed and spluttered but still couldn't speak.
     The flames  coming from the generator building were licking hungrily at
the barn  door and dancing  on the  snow, illuminating us quite clearly. Tom
was wearing the same sweatshirt as when I  last saw him, but he had no shoes
or coat.
     "Wait here, mate. Don't move, all right?"
     As if.
     I headed back into the dust-filled MTV room.  The  cries  upstairs were
getting louder. I wanted to get away from here before they sorted themselves
out and the police or DTTS arrived.
     I found the first body again, still smouldering. He hadn't been wearing
a  coat, but it was his  footwear I was after.  They weren't exactly walking
boots, more  like basketball  sneakers, but they'd do.  Kicking and fumbling
around, I also came across an AK and a coat among the shredded furniture.
     Tom  was lying spreadeagled  on his  back, exactly  as I'd left him.  I
shook the  dust  out of what turned out to be a parka and put it around him.
The white sneakers were about two sizes too big, but what the fuck, he  only
had to make it as far as the car.
     As I began to  pull  them onto his  feet he  finally made  a  noise. He
lifted a hand to wipe the shit from his face and saw me.
     "Tom, it's Nick ..." I  shook his head. He would have been  deafened by
the explosion  and I couldn't tell  whether his hearing  had come back  yet.
"It's me Nick. Get up, Tom. We have to get going."
     "Nick? Shit. What the fuck are you doing here? What the fuck happened?"
     I finished tying his laces and slapped his feet. "Get up now, come on."
     "What? What?"
     I helped him up  and  into the parka. It was like dressing an exhausted
child. "Tom .. ."
     He still couldn't hear.
     "Tom ... Tom ..."
     "Huh ... ?" He was trying to get an arm into a sleeve.
     "I'll be back in a minute, okay?"
     I didn't  wait for a nod. Leaving him to it, I went back to retrieve my
gloves. I found them just feet away from the first man I'd shot, who was now
clearly dead.
     Tom had sat down  again in the snow. I got him upright,  zipped  up his
parka,  then helped him  move  slowly  to  the small  gate  leading  to  the
abandoned hangar.
     "We've got to get a move on, Tom. Come on, let's go. There's a car just
round the corner."
     Turning left onto the road, I checked for vehicle lights. I  lengthened
my  stride, keeping a tight grip on Tom, holding him as if  we were a couple
out for the night, arm in arm.
     Trying to keep upright on the ice as I urged  him  on, I looked  behind
me. The glow from the generator building was still visible,  but the sky was
no  longer filled with flames. In the  small amount of ambient light I could
see Tom's face. He was in a bad way; his hair was  sticking up all over  the
place, still covered in dust and blood, and he looked  like the victim of  a
cartoon explosion.
     "Tom?" I looked into his eyes for signs of acknowledgment but got none.
"We're going to the car. It's not far. Try to keep up with me, okay?"
     I wasn't  too sure  what his answer was. Something between "maybe"  and
"what?"
     His hearing had recovered a bit by  the time we got to where I'd parked
the car, but he still didn't  know what day  it was. I collapsed on my hands
and knees,  gulping in cold air. Fuck the teeth, my ass hurt even more  now.
But what hurt most of all was realizing that the car was gone.
     My head spun.  Maybe I had the  wrong  place?  No, there were  the tire
marks. There,  too, were some other  tire  marks;  and besides my footprints
there was a mass of others. The new tire marks were very
     wide  and  deep,  probably from  a  tractor.  The fuckers;  the karaoke
fanatics must have had the car away, along with my two spare weapons.
     "Shit, the car's been swiped." I wasn't too sure if I was informing Tom
or trying to get my own head around it.
     Tom was confused. "You said "
     "I know what I said, but the  car's gone." I paused. "Don't worry, it's
not a drama."
     It was.
     Chances  were they hadn't even had to break into  it,  just hitch it up
and slide the locked  wheels across the  ice.  Mr.  and Mrs. Fuckup had been
well  and  truly  at  home   from  the  moment  I  first  stepped  into  the
Intercontinental Hotel.
     For a second I wished I hadn't let the tires down on all three vehicles
in  the genny building, then I  remembered that by now they'd  all be toast.
The  best thing I could hope  for  in this  neck of  the woods  was  another
tractor, but if I lifted one I'd be  making people aware that we were on the
ground. In  any case, we didn't have the time to search. There  was only one
option right now, and that was to walk it.
     I got up off the ground. "Tom, change of plan."
     Well,  there would be once I'd worked one out. But first we  had to get
further away from the area, and  quickly. At  least the stars were now fully
out and it was easier to see and be seen.
     Slowly coming  to  his senses, he  stood  there, arms crossed and hands
tucked  under  his  armpits,  coughing  up brick  dust  and  waiting  for my
decision.
     "Follow me."
     I started to  move down the road, putting distance  between  us and the
target. Tom trailed slowly behind. We'd gone about 400 yards as I sorted out
a plan, then stopped and checked for Polaris, the North Star.
     Tom was starting to spark up a bit more now that he was generating some
warmth. He  closed up to me as I gazed  skyward. "It was a fucking nightmare
in there," he muttered, "but I knew Liv would get you to come "
     I cut in, hoping to shut  him up. "That's right,  Tom. Liv's your fairy
godmother."
     I didn't tell him what she had planned for midnight.
     His  hood  was down  and  I  could  see  steam  coming  off  his  thick
red-bricked hair now  that he had worked  up a sweat. I pulled  his  hood up
over  his head to retain some  of the body heat  and checked the North  Star
again.
     "Nick, what happened to ... you know... ? Fucking nightmare or what?"
     "What?" I had a load of questions  for him as well, but now  wasn't the
time or place.
     "You know, the fence, the house. What was all that about?"
     It just wasn't important right now. "Tom." I kept looking skyward, even
though I'd finished up there.
     "What?"
     I gave him the thousand-yard stare. "Shut-the-fuck-up."
     "Oh."
     I'd got the reply I wanted.
     I confirmed the plan in my head for the last time before I actioned it.
We'd  head  north and  cross country until we hit  the  railway line. If  we
turned left along it,  we'd be  facing west, toward Tallinn. Then  we  would
follow the tracks to a station and catch a train, maybe the first one out of
Narva. I wasn't sure, but  I thought it left there at about eightish in  the
morning, so we'd need to be at a station about an hour after that. Only once
we'd reached Tallinn would I start to worry about how to get us  both out of
the country.
     According to the Lion King, we had the best part of  fourteen hours  in
which  to cover what I guessed would be about  twelve miles not a problem so
long as we got a move on.
     Tom  was still facing  me,  trying  to work out why I was gazing at the
heavens. I got in there before he had a  chance to  ask. "We'll  have to get
back to Tallinn by train now."
     "Where's that then, mate? Aren't we going to Helsinki?"
     I looked down, but I couldn't see his face. He had moved the wire  sewn
into the  rim  of his hood  so the fur  closed off his face, making him look
like Liam Gallagher after a big night out.
     "We are," I said, "but we've got to go to Tallinn first."
     From behind the fur came a muffled, "Why's that?"
     "It's the easiest way. We've got to move up to the railway track, get a
train to Tallinn, then catch a ferry to Helsinki."
     I didn't even know if he was aware what country he was in. I got
     right up close so he could see me smiling, trying to  make it sound not
too much of a big deal.
     His mind was obviously on  other things as  his voice  came out  of the
darkness. "Are they all dead? You know, that lot back there?"
     "I think so. Most of them, anyway."
     "Shit,  you killed  them? Won't we get in trouble? You know, the law ..
."
     I couldn't be bothered to explain, so I just shrugged. "It was the only
way I could get you out of the shit."
     His shoulders  began to heave and I suddenly realized  he was laughing.
"How did you know when to set the bomb off? I mean, I could have been killed
if I hadn't been upstairs." It was nervous laughter.
     I  looked up, searching for the North Star again so he couldn't see  my
face. "You've no idea the trouble I went to,  mate. Anyway, we'll talk about
that later. We have to get a move on now."
     "How far, do you reckon?"
     His parka hood was looking skyward, too, but he didn't have a clue what
he was looking for. He started to shiver.
     "Not far, Tom.  Just a  couple of hours.  If we  play  our cards right,
we'll be on a nice warm train soon."
     Why  tell  him the truth now? I hadn't bothered  to  so far. "You ready
then?"
     He was coughing up the last of the brick dust like a TH patient.
     "Yeah, Is'poseso."
     I started down the road and he followed on behind.  After just a couple
of hundred yards we hit a treeline, about fifteen yards off  the road on our
left. I headed for it, leaving ridiculous amounts  of tracks  in  snow which
was up to my knees and sometimes waist high. It didn't bother me. Why  worry
about things you can't change?
     I waited for Tom  to  catch up. The pace wasn't going to be anything to
write home about. You have to move at the  speed of the slowest; that's just
how  it is if  you want to keep together. I wondered  about improvising snow
shoes by tying tree branches to our feet, but quickly decided against; these
things  look good on paper but  in the dark  it's  just a pain in the ass to
prepare and wastes time.
     I looked up.  Wispy clouds were  starting to appear and scud across the
stars.
     Tom caught up and I allowed him a minute's rest before we
     moved  on. I  wanted to get out into the  open  fields before  starting
cross country, following  Polaris. That way we'd  give the  compound  a wide
berth as we had to head north, back toward it.
     At the  end of the treeline, visibility  was about fifty to sixty yards
in  the starlight. The landscape was white, fading to  black. In  the middle
distance to my half left I could see the dim glow of the target area.
     I felt the cold bite into my face as I looked up at  the sky once more.
Tom shuffled up next to me, knees buried in snow, standing so close that his
breath merged  with mine, losing itself in  the wind. His hood was off again
as he tried to cool  down. I  put it  back  up and  slapped him on the head.
"Don't do that, you'll lose all the heat you've just generated."
     He pulled the fur around his face once more.
     I tried to find a reference point on the ground north of us, but it was
too dark.  The next best thing  was to  pick a star  on  the  horizon  below
Polaris  and go for that--it was easier  than constantly checking skyward. I
got one, not as bright as some, but good enough.
     "Ready?"
     The hood moved and the material rustled as a head nodded about in there
somewhere.
     We headed north. The only positive thing I could think  of was that the
pain  in my  ass had now disappeared. Either that or it was even colder than
I'd realized.

     The ground beneath the snow was plowed, so both of us kept slipping and
falling on the angled, frozen furrows. The best way  forward seemed to be to
keep my feet low and push through the snow. I became the icebreaker and  Tom
followed in my wake; anything to speed him up.
     Clouds  drifted across  the  sky  more  frequently now, intermit  tendy
blotting out my guide on the horizon. Polaris, too, was in and out of  cloud
cover.
     Tom lagged  about ten yards behind, hands in pockets, head down.  There
was  nothing to  do but  keep pushing north  as the  clouds moved faster and
gained in mass.
     After about  an hour the wind began to pick up, attacking my  face  and
tugging at my coat. It was time to put down the furry earflaps. Each time we
lost  direction, all  I could do was keep  heading in  what I thought was  a
straight  line, only to find  that we  were way  off course when  the  cloud
cleared. I felt  like a pilot flying without instruments. Our trail  through
the snow must have been one long zigzag.
     My major concern  was that the wind and cloud would bring snow. If that
happened,  we'd  lose  our  means  of  navigation  altogether,  and  without
protection, catching the train would be the least of my worries.
     With a bad feeling that  we were  going to be in  even deeper shit very
soon, I stopped when I found a natural dip and used my back
     to  push  a groove in the  snow to get us out  of the wind. I scraped a
channel  in the lip  to act  as  my  north marker before Polaris disappeared
again.
     Tom reached me as I  dug myself in with my gloved hands. I expected him
to follow my  example, but when I turned he was having a piss, the steam and
liquid  disappearing almost immediately  in  the  wind.  He should have been
retaining his warm body fluids at all costs, but I was too late. I went back
to preparing  our makeshift shelter.  Stress hormones are released  in  cold
weather, filling out the bladder more quickly. That's why  we always seem to
urinate more when  it's cold. The problem is that you  lose body heat  and a
serious thirst develops. Unless hot fluids are taken on board it's a vicious
circle from there on out, with dehydration  helping to bring down the body's
core temperature. If  your core temperature falls  below  83.8 degrees F you
will die.
     Tom  was done,  and putting his hands back in his pockets he turned and
collapsed ass first into the dip.
     The wind hit the lip, sounding like one of  the gods blowing across the
neck of a bottle, and blasting the snow onto our  backs and shoulders. Tom's
fur rim turned to me as I slid into the dip beside him.
     I knew what he was going to ask.
     "Not long  now, mate," I preempted. "It's a bit further than I thought,
but we'll have a rest here.  When you  start  to get cold, tell me and we'll
get moving again, okay?"
     The  hood moved, which  I took to be a  nod. He brought his knees up to
his chest and lowered his head to meet them.
     I bit off  my gloves and held  them between my teeth while I fumbled to
tie the earflaps under my chin, then I unzipped his parka a  bit so he could
ventilate, yet still retain his  body heat.  Finally, standing  up  into the
wind, I undid my pants and tucked everything back in, and pushed the bottoms
of my heavy wet jeans into my boots. It was a cold and uncomfortable process
in wet, clingy  clothes,  but it was worth it. I would have lost  heat doing
it, but sorting my shit out always made me feel better.
     As I was about to lie down again in the dip, I saw Tom tucking his hand
into his  sleeve  and  lifting some  snow  to his  mouth. I put out  a hand.
"That's off the menu, mate."
     I wasn't going to waste energy explaining why. Not only does it use
     up  crucial body heat through  melting it  in your mouth, it also cools
the body from the inside, chilling the vital organs. Nevertheless, water was
going to  be a problem. I put my gloves back  on and scooped up a handful of
snow, but only  passed it over when I'd I  worked it into a compressed ball.
"Suck on that. Don't eat it, okay?"
     I looked at the sky. The cloud cover was now more or less total.
     Tom soon lost interest in the ice ball, hunching once more into a fetal
position, knees up  by his chest, hands deep in his  pockets and head  down.
His body was starting to shake, and I had to agree with  him; I'd had better
days out.
     Now that we'd cleared  the danger area and were resting for a while, it
seemed the right time to ask him a few questions. I hoped it would help take
his mind off the shit we were in. I also needed some answers.
     "Why didn't you tell me you knew  Valentin?  I know you were trying  to
access Echelon at Menwith Hill for him."
     I couldn't see his reaction, but there was  movement  in the hood. "I'm
sorry, mate,"  he mumbled. "She's got me by the  balls. I'm sorry,  I really
wanted to, it's just that... you know..."
     His hood dropped down as if his neck muscles had lost control.
     "You mean threats? Some kind of threat to you or your family?"
     His shoulders jerked up and down as he fought to contain the sobs.
     "Mum .. . Dad .. . and I've got a sister with kids, know what I mean? I
wanted to tell you, Nick, honest I did, but .. . well,  you know. Listen, it
ain't Valentin doing this shit, mate. It's her; she's freelancing.  He don't
know a thing about it; she's just using his  name, letting  you think you're
working for him."
     He didn't  need to say any more. Things were suddenly making more sense
to me than they had in  a long time. That was why she'd been able to say yes
straight away to the three million. That was why she'd insisted there was to
be no contact with anyone  apart from  her. It even explained why she didn't
want me to have a  weapon: She probably thought that if I found out what was
happening I'd use it against her.
     "How did you get sucked back into all this?"
     I waited for him to try to compose himself.
     "Liv. Well, not  her to begin with, but this guy Ignaty he came and saw
me in London. The day before you did."
     Where  had  I  heard  that  name before? Then I  realized. He  was  the
underwriter; it  had been his name on  the piece of paper in Narva. So maybe
Liv wasn't the only one of Val's people to be going freelance.
     Now Tom  had started babbling  it was  important not to ask the sort of
questions that might suddenly make him realize he was saying too much.
     I just said gently, "What happened then, mate?"
     "He said Liv  had a  job for me and that I'd be  going to Finland. That
someone would come and persuade me and all that stuff. I shat myself when  I
found out it was  Echelon again,  but  I had no choice,  mate. My sister and
what have you  .. . Nick, you gotta help me. Please, she'll kill everyone if
I don't sort this shit out. Please help me. Please."
     He wept into his hood.
     "Tom..."
     He didn't register. Maybe his sobs were too loud for him to hear me.
     "Tom. She wanted you dead. She will think you're dead if I tell her."
     His hood came up. "You were going to  kill me? Oh fuck, Nick.  Don't...
please don't..."
     "I'm not going to kill you."
     He  wasn't  listening.  "I'm  so sorry, Nick.  She  made  me  ask those
questions. You  know, in the train station. She wanted  to  know if you were
gonna stitch her up or what. I had to do it. She knows everybody's addresses
and everything.  The guy  showed me pictures  of  my sister's  kids. Honest,
Nick, I wanted to  tell you what was happening but..." His hood dropped back
down as a new spasm took hold of him.
     I felt like a priest in a confession box. "Tom, listen. Really, I'm not
going to kill you. It was me who got you out of there, remember?"
     There was a small nod from within the hood.
     "I'll make sure that you and your family are looked  after, Tom, but we
have to get back to the U.K. first. You'll have to talk with some people and
tell them exactly what's been happening, at Menwith and here, okay?"
     I sensed an opportunity for everything to work out whichever
     way  this went. I  wasn't exactly sure how,  but  there had to be a way
that Tom could get a new  life and I could get  my money. And if  the  money
didn't materialize, at least I could  still work for the Firm. I could  come
up  with enough bullshit to make it sound as if I'd known all along what was
happening, but couldn't tell  anyone because of the security risk of someone
printing off the information I'd told them in Russia.
     Liv need never know that Tom  was alive, and I could  still pick up  my
money and then  go  to Lynn. I knew it was flimsy as plans go, but  it was a
start--assuming she didn't shaft me.
     What was more important was getting out of Estonia. After that, I'd sit
down with Tom, get the full story and sort my shit out.
     "Why didn't she just tell  me that it  was you  coming with me,  rather
than  getting me to  try  and talk  you  into it? You  were  already coming,
right?" His babbling before hadn't exactly explained it clearly.
     "Fuck knows. You'll have to  ask  her. That's why I shat  myself when I
saw you. I thought your lot had heard about  it.  She's weird, mate. Did she
talk as if it was all coming from Valentin?"
     "Of course."
     "Well it isn't, she's  talking about herself. It's  all her  own plans,
mate, I'm telling you. If Valentin  knew he'd cut her in half, know  what  I
mean?"
     Well, not quite  in  half, but  I  bet  he'd have  her  watching  a few
squirming eels before he'd finished with her.
     For all  that, there was a part  of me that admired what she was doing.
Maybe the man from St. Petersburg was her feed in Val's set up,  leaking her
information to set this whole thing up? What was in it for her? What was her
goal in all this? Maybe Tom was right, it was everything that she had talked
about?  Question  after  question  leaped into my  head, but the  snowflakes
hitting my face  made me  remember that there were more pressing  matters to
attend to.
     We had no shelter, no heat and now  no navigation. The cold was getting
to me as the  sweat  on my back began  to cool rapidly now that  we had been
stationary for a while.  Tom  shivered badly where he sat curled  up on  the
snow beside me. Both  of us had inherited  a layer of snow. We had  to move,
but in which  direction? The marker  would only be good for a hundred meters
or so; after that, and  with out Polaris, we'd get disoriented and spend the
rest of the night walking round in circles.
     I looked at Tom and felt him shivering in almost uncontrollable bursts.
His brain was probably telling him  he must  start  moving, but his body was
begging him to stay where he was and rest.
     I lifted the cuff of various layers of clothing and had a quick look at
the  Lion King. Just  under twelve hours  to go until  we should RV with the
train. Even if I knew which direction to take, trying to cover that distance
in these conditions without navigation aids would be madness. Visibility had
worsened; it was down to about fifteen feet.  In  any other circumstances we
should have been digging in for  the night  and riding out the storm, but we
didn't  have the luxury of time.  Quite  apart from making  it to a train, I
didn't know what sort of follow-up the Maliskia would  go for, and  I didn't
want  to find out. Trying to think  of a positive, I finally dredged one up;
at least the snow would cover our trail.
     Tom mumbled under his hood. "I'm really cold, Nick."
     "We'll get going in a minute, mate."
     I was  still racking  my brain for some sort of navigation  aid. It had
been  years since  I'd  had  to use or  even remember  any  survival skills.
Scrolling through the pages of crap in my head, I tried hard to call up what
I'd  learned  all  those  years  ago.  I'd  never  been  one  for  all  that
hundred-and-one-uses-for-a-shoelace stuff; I'd just got on  with it and only
did the snow-hole and trapped-rabbit routine when I had to.
     I put my  arms around him. He wasn't  too sure what was going on and  I
felt his body stiffen.
     "It's a snow thing," I said. "We've got to keep warm."
     He leaned in toward me, shivering big-time.
     "Nick, I'm really  really  sorry, mate. If I'd told  you the  truth  we
wouldn't be in this shit, know what I mean?"
     I nodded, feeling slightly uncomfortable. It  wasn't all his fault. I'd
have tried to drag his granny over that fence if it would have given me half
a chance of pocketing 1.7 million.
     "I'll tell you  the  best thing I've  found  to get  over all this cold
stuff," I said, trying to sound as relaxed about it as possible.
     From under the hood came a muffled, "What's that, then?"
     "Dream, mate.  Just think to yourself that this  will all be over soon.
This time tomorrow you're going to be in a hot bath with a
     huge  mug of coffee and a Big Mac with extra fries. This  time tomorrow
you'll be laughing about all this shit."
     He kicked his heels into the snow.  "That's if these poxy trainers stay
on."
     "Don't moan," I said. "They're better than those fucking stupid daps of
yours."
     He started to laugh, but it turned into a cough.
     I looked up and saw  nothing but blankets of white tumbling down  at us
out of the blackness.  If I'd had access  to a genie at that moment, the one
thing I'd have wished for was a compass.
     Jesus, a compass. A compass  can be made from any iron metal. It should
have been  so simple, but it seemed to take me for ever  to work it out: Tom
had a faceful of the stuff in the rim of his parka hood.
     Could I use  it?  And if  so, then what? It was like trying to remember
the ingredients of a  particularly  complicated cake I'd  been shown  how to
bake twenty years ago.
     I tried  hard to visualize  the process, closing my  eyes  and thinking
back  to all those times when I'd  got so bored making shelters,  traps, and
snares with bits of string and picture wire.
     Tom had other ideas. "Let's go, Nick, I'm cold. Come on, you said .. ."
He was clinging to me like a baby monkey on its mother's back.  It was good,
I needed him to warm me just as much as he needed me for reassurance.
     "In a minute, mate. In a minute."
     Something had to  be in  the memory  banks  somewhere. We never  forget
anything; it can all be brought  back to the surface if  you press the right
button.
     It happened. The trigger was remembering  being given a silk escape map
in the Gulf, with a needle pinned in it.
     "Tom, are you still wearing those silk thermals?"
     He shook his head. My heart sank.
     "Nah, just the top. I wish I did have the bottoms, I'm freezing. Can we
go now? You said to tell you, Nick, and I'm telling you."
     "Hang on a minute, mate, I've just had a great idea."
     I unwrapped my arm from him. As I moved, I was forcibly reminded of the
awful  discomfort  of  my  wet  clothing. My jeans clung  to my legs  and my
T-shirt was cold and clammy.
     I removed my glove, holding it in my mouth while I pulled out
     the Leatherman. Opening the pliers, I put the glove back  on before the
skin of my hand was exposed for too long.
     "Look at me for a sec, would you, mate?"
     The parka hood came up and the snow that had collected on it fell  onto
his shoulders.
     Feeling around the frozen ring of  fur with my  gloved  hand, I located
the  wire,  then  trapped it in the jaws of the pliers  and squeezed until I
felt it give. Teasing apart  the material at the  site of the cut, I exposed
the metal, gripped one end  of the cut with the  pliers and pulled, grasping
the exposed wire in my hand. I made another cut and  put  the two-inch strip
inside my glove for safe keeping.
     I thought Tom might  have been interested, but he was concentrating one
hundred percent on feeling cold and miserable.
     Bending down some more, I peered into the darkness  behind his hood. "I
need some of that silk, Tom."
     He shrugged. "I don't have to take it off, do I?"
     "Just  unzip your coat  a bit more  so I can get a hand in. I'll  be as
quick as I can."
     His hands  slowly  came out of  his pockets and fumbled for the zip. In
the  end I shoved  both of my gloves between my  teeth so I  could help him;
then, having battled with  numb fingers to open the blade of the Leatherman,
I felt under his shirt.
     He sat  there like  a tailor's dummy as  I pulled  at  his clothing.  I
didn't  have  enough feeling in  my  hands to be  gentle  about  it, and  he
flinched as my  freezing fingers gripped the silk and came into contact with
his skin.
     My  nose  was streaming  as  I grabbed a handful of the  undershirt and
started cutting, pulling so hard that  I nearly lifted Tom off the ground. I
wanted  to make sure  the  material ripped,  so  there  were  loose  threads
dangling.
     The knife jerked as it made its final cut. Tom yelped as the tip of the
blade flicked into his  chest. He  sat there with an exposed finger over his
little cut, the snow settling on his hand.
     I said, "For fuck's sake, Tom, keep the heat in."
     He pulled his clothing together, shoving his hands back in his pockets,
and dropping his head. "Sorry."
     "I tell you what," I zipped him up once more, "I'm going to be a couple
of minutes  doing diis. Why don't you  do some exercises  to  get  some heat
going?"
     "I'm all right. How much longer do you reckon to the train, Nick?"
     I dodged the question. "Come on, move about, it'll warm you up."
     He started to  move  as if he  was snuggling under a comforter, but the
only thing covering him was snow.
     "No, Tom, you've got to  get up and get your  body  moving. Come on, we
haven't got that far to go, but we won't make it if you start seizing up." I
shook him. "Tom, get up."
     He hauled  himself to his  feet reluctantly as  I brushed the snow from
his shoulders. His fur rim was now a white ring of snow framing his face.
     "Come on, with me."
     Hands  in pockets,  we  started to play aerobics  with his  back to the
wind,  squatting down and  standing  up again,  elbows  out,  flapping  like
demented chickens.
     I kept my head down,  protecting it from the wind as I  got him to keep
in time with me. "Good stuff, Tom,  now keep going, I won't be long."  I got
back on my knees and into cover.
     It was gloves-off time again as I lay them in the snow. I crouched over
to protect myself from  the  snowstorm; my  hands were so numb that I had to
pull threads from the silk with my teeth.  Once I'd  teased out a decent bit
about  five  inches  long  I  put  it between my  lips  and  fished out  the
needle-sized  length of wire from my glove. Tying the loose end of  the silk
shakily around  the  middle  of the  metal,  I finally managed a knot on the
fourth attempt.
     Richard Simmons next to me grunted and groaned,  but was sounding a bit
happier. "It's working, Nick. I'm  getting warmer, mate!" He beamed, blowing
out the snot from his nose.
     I muttered encouragement through gritted teeth as I held the thread and
wire,  shaking the snow off my gloves and quickly  putting  them back on. My
hands were now so wet they stuck to the inners.
     After trying to  get some blood circulating by clapping  them  together
for a while, it was gloves-off time yet again.  As I bit on the free end  of
silk thread with my  teeth, it seemed to take forever to grasp the  dangling
wire in  one hand and  the  square  of silk  in  the  other. At last I began
stroking the wire along the silk, repeating the motion over and over, always
in  the  same direction. After about  twenty strokes I  stopped, making sure
there were no kinks in the thread that would affect the balance of the metal
once I let go.
     I fished in  my pocket for the flashlight, switched it on and put it in
my mouth. Still crouching over it to make  sure the wind wouldn't affect the
thread and needle, I  let go and watched it spin.  The short length of  wire
eventually steadied,  just moving slightly  from  side  to side. I  knew the
direction  of the North Star from  my  snow marker,  which was  now  quickly
disappearing in the storm, so all I had to do was identify which end  of the
wire,  magnetized  by  the  silk, was  pointing  north.  I  could  tell  the
difference between the ends from the way the Leatherman had cut them.
     The huffing and puffing went on behind me as I shivered and worked  out
what I was going to do next. Getting through this weather tonight was  going
to be  a  nightmare,  but we  absolutely  had to  be  at that rail  track by
morning. In theory, moving  cross country  in these  conditions was  a  huge
blunder,  but fuck the rules, it  was too  cold for them now.  I didn't care
about leaving sign; I needed roads to make distance, and besides, if Tom, or
I, for that matter, started going down with hypothermia, we were more likely
to find some  form of  shelter near a road. My new  thought was  to  go west
until we hit one, then hang a right  and head north for the train track. One
of the few things  I knew about this country  was that its main highway, and
the one  and only train  track,  ran east to west  between Tallinn  and  St.
Petersburg.  The  roads on  either side  were bound to make  their way to it
eventually, like streams toward a river.
     Nobody was going  to see the flashlight in  this weather so I turned it
on again  and looked down as I let the metal drop and  had another  check to
make sure it still worked. As the compass needle oriented itself, I realized
that the wind was doing its bit to help. It seemed to be prevailing from the
west, so  as long as  I kept  it  in my face I would be  heading the  way  I
wanted.
     I was ready to go, gloves back  on, the silk  in my pocket, the compass
thread  and  needle wrapped  round  my  finger.  I  turned  to Tom, who  was
squatting up and down with a vengeance, his arms swinging wildly.
     "Okay, mate, we're off."
     "Not long now, Nick, eh?"
     "No, not long. A couple of hours, tops."
     ii
     The gale had become a blizzard, bringing close to white-cut conditions.
I  was having to stop every  ten or  so paces, rubbing the needle again with
the silk to reactivate the magnetic effect before getting another navigation
fix.  In  this  visibility  there  was no  way  I could keep  us moving in a
straight line. We were vaguely zigzagging west, still hoping to hit a road.
     We'd been going for about forty minutes. The wind was still head on and
its stinging cold made my eyes  stream  with tears. I had nothing to protect
my face  with; all I  could do  was bury  my  head into  my coat for  a  few
moments'  respite.  Freezing  flakes blasted their way into every gap  in my
clothes.
     I still  led  the  way,  breaking  the trail, then stopping, though  no
longer turning, to allow Tom to catch up. When I heard him move up behind me
I'd go  on a few  more steps. This time I  did  stop, turning my back to the
wind, and I could just make him out coming toward me in the storm. I'd  been
so concerned about navigating that I hadn't  noticed how much he was slowing
down. I  crouched over  on my knees to protect the  silk and magnetized  the
wire while I waited.
     He finally got level with me as I was trying to stop the wind affecting
the compass, which was  dangling  from my mouth. His hands were  buried into
his pockets  and his head was down. I  grabbed hold of  his parka and pulled
him  down next to me, positioning him  so  he  could give  the  compass some
shelter, too.
     I wrapped up the compass but this time didn't get to my feet, instead I
just stayed where I was and shivered with Tom, both of us
     bent over in the snow. The snow that had built up on the outside of his
hood had frozen, and my hat probably looked  the same, matching the front of
our coats.
     "You okay, mate?"
     It was a dumb question, but I couldn't think of anything else to say.
     He coughed  and shivered. "Yeah, but  my legs are really  cold, Nick. I
can't feel  my  feet. We're  gonna be okay,  aren't we? I mean, you know all
about this outdoors stuff, don't you?"
     I nodded. "It's a fucker, Tom, but just dig deep, mate. It's  not going
to kill us." I was lying.  "Remember what I said? Dream, that's all you have
to do. Dream,  and this  time tomorrow--you know the rest,  don't you?"  His
iced-up fur moved in what I took to be agreement  as I added, "We'll be on a
road soon and the going will get much easier."
     "Will we get a car when we get to the road?"
     I didn't answer. A  nice warm vehicle would be heaven, but who would be
mad enough to be out here on a night like this?
     I struck out into the snow and he reluctantly followed.
     we  had a  result  about twenty  minutes  later.  I  couldn't  see  any
pavement, but I could make out the shape of tire ruts under the newly fallen
snow, and the fact  that  the snow suddenly  wasn't  as deep as  it had been
everywhere else. It was only  a single-lane road, but that didn't matter. It
could be enough to save our lives.
     I started to jump up and down on the spot to make sure I was right. Tom
took a long time to catch up,  and when he arrived I could see his condition
had worsened.
     "Time to sort yourself  out, Tom. New phase,  just jump up and down and
get  the  body going."  I  tried to turn it  into a  bit  of  a game and  he
half-heartedly joined in.
     It wasn't that long ago that he'd been crying. Now it was sarcasm. "Not
long to go now, I s'pose?"
     "No, not long at all."
     We  started to make  distance, huddling  together  at intersections  to
protect  the compass. Whether a road ran northeast,  northwest,  or even due
west, we took it. Anything to get us in the general direction of Tallinn and
the train track.
     After about  three hours Tom had slowed down dramatically. I was having
to stop more and more and wait for  him to close up on me. The fight through
the snow and the extreme cold had definitely got to him and he couldn't stop
shivering.
     He  pleaded with me. "I've had it,  Nick. Everything's  spinning around
me, mate. Please, we have to stop."
     The wind whipped the snow against our faces.
     "Tom, we must keep going.  You understand that, don't you? We're fucked
if we don't."
     The only reaction from him  was  a moan. I pulled his  hood apart so he
could see me.
     "Tom, look at me!" I pulled his chin up. "We must go on.  You must help
me  by  keeping  going,  okay?"  I  moved  his  chin  again,  trying to  get
eye-to-eye. But  it was too  dark, and every time  the wind got into my eyes
they started to water.
     It was pointless trying to get  any sense out of him.  We were  wasting
time and losing  what  little heat we had by just  standing still. There was
nothing I could do to help him here and  now. Our best bet was to get to the
train track and make the final push to a station. I wasn't too sure how many
miles we still had to cover,  but the most important thing was to get there.
I'd  know when  he'd finally had enough, and that  would be the time to stop
and take some action.
     I grasped his arm and pulled him along. "You've got to dig deep, Tom."
     We moved on, me with my head down and Tom past caring. It wasn't a good
sign.  When the body  starts  to go into hypothermia, the central thermostat
responds by  ordering heat to be drawn  from the  extremities into the core.
This is when  your hands and feet start  to stiffen. As the core temperature
drops, the body also  draws heat from the head, circulation  slows down  and
you  don't get the oxygen or  sugar your brain needs.  The real danger comes
from the fact that you don't realize it's happening; one of the first things
hypothermia does is take away your will to help yourself. You stop shivering
and you stop worrying. In  fact,  you are dying, and you couldn't care less.
Your   pulse   will   get   irregular,   drowsiness   will   give   way   to
semiconsciousness, which will eventually become  unconsciousness.  Your only
hope is to add heat from an external source--a fire, a hot drink, or another
body.
     Another hour passed. Soon I had to push Tom from behind. He took  a few
steps forward, stopped, and  complained  bitterly.  I  grabbed  his arm  and
dragged  him.  At least  the extra effort  warmed me up a  bit. The cold was
taking its toll on me, too.
     We  moved on, painfully slowly. When I  stopped to check direction, Tom
couldn't help me any more; he  just stood on the spot, swaying,  as I turned
my back to the wind, trying to create shelter for the compass.
     "You okay, mate?" I shouted behind me. "Not far now."
     There was no  reply, and  when  I'd finished and  turned  for him  he'd
collapsed in  the  snow. I  got  him  to his feet and dragged him on. He had
almost no strength left now, but  we  had to crack on. Surely there couldn't
be that far to go?
     He  mumbled to  himself  as I  pulled  him  along. Suddenly  he stopped
resisting and ran forward with a burst of manic energy.
     "Tom, slow down."
     He did, but only to stagger a few yards off to the side of the road and
lie down. I  couldn't run  to  him; my legs couldn't carry me  that fast any
more.
     When I got to him I saw that the sneaker on his right foot was missing.
His feet were so numb that he hadn't noticed.
     Shit, it  had been  there  minutes ago. As  I'd dragged him  along  and
protected my face from the wind, his  sneakers had been the  only things I'd
seen.
     I turned back down the road and retraced his quickly disappearing sign.
I found the shoe  and trudged back to him, but getting it back onto his foot
was not  far  short of impossible, my  numb  fingers trying to tie the laces
which were frozen with ice. I  touched my little finger to  my thumb to make
the old Indian sign that means "I'm all right." If you can't do that, you're
in trouble.
     "You've got to get up, Tom. Come on, it's not that far." He didn't have
a clue what I was saying.
     I helped  him to  his feet and dragged him on. Now  and again  he would
shout out and summon  up another  burst of energy fuck knows from where.  It
didn't  last for long before he slowed down or fell back into the snow  with
exhaustion and despair. His voice had become a whine as he begged to be left
where he was, pleading with me to let him sleep. He was in the latter stages
of  hypothermia  and  I  should be doing something about  it. But  what, and
where?
     I pushed him on. "Tom, remember mate, DREAM!" I doubted he understood a
word  I was saying. I felt sorry for him, but  we couldn't rest  now. If  we
stopped for even a few minutes we might not restart.
     It was  about  fifteen minutes later that we stumbled onto the railroad
line, and only by chance did I notice it.  We'd reached a crossing and I had
tripped over one of the tracks. Tom wasn't the only one losing his core heat
and spiraling down through the spectrum of hypothermia.
     I tried to summon some  enthusiasm to celebrate, but  I couldn't manage
any. Instead I shook him. "We're here, Tom. We're here."
     No  reaction whatsoever. It  was obvious  that what  I said  would make
little  difference to him now anyway. Even if he showed any awareness,  what
was there  to  get excited about? We were  still  in the shit--wet, freezing
cold, with no shelter, and I didn't know how or  where we  were going to get
on the train, even if it turned up.
     He  collapsed on the crossing next to me.  I bent down and got my hands
under his armpits, heaving him up again  and nearly collapsing myself in the
process.
     He  couldn't  control his  mouth or  teeth and  began  to make  strange
snorting noises.
     "We have to keep going just a bit further," I shouted into his ear. "We
have to find a station."
     I didn't know any more whether it was him or myself I was talking to.
     I turned him left, toward Tallinn.
     We  Staggered West.  over the snow-covered  gravel at the side  of  the
track.  At least the trees on either side  gave us some protection from  the
howling wind. It was thirty minutes? an hour? since we'd got onto the track.
I didn't know; I'd given up clock-watching long ago.
     Tom started to go crazy, screaming at the trees, crying, apologizing to
them, only to fall down again and try to cuddle up in the snow. Each time, I
had to pick him up and push on, and each time it got a little bit harder.
     We  came  across a row of small  sheds,  visible only  because  of  the
flatness of the snow on top of their angled roofs. We still couldn't
     see further than about fifteen feet and  I  didn't notice them until we
were right on top of them.
     I  fumbled  excitedly for  the  flashlight,  leaving Tom on  his knees,
shouting at the trees that were coming to get him.
     It  seemed  to  take  for  ever to press  the switch.  Soon  my fingers
wouldn't be able to perform even a simple task like that.
     I shone  the light around and saw  that the sheds were made of wood and
built in the form of a terrace, the door of each facing onto the track. Most
were clamped shut with old  rusty  padlocks,  but one  was  unlocked.  After
kicking the snow away, I pulled it open and turned round for Tom.
     He was curled up in the snow on the track and pleading to be allowed to
sleep. If he did there would be no waking up.
     As I gathered him in my arms, he  lashed out with his final reserves of
strength.  He  was having  a fit.  It was pointless  struggling  with him; I
simply didn't have the  energy. I let  him drop to the ground and,  gripping
his hood with both hands, pulled him along like a sleigh, stumbling backward
and falling over with the effort.
     I didn't talk to him any more; I didn't have the strength.
     The door was so low that I  had to bend down  to get in,  and the  roof
wasn't much  higher,  but the instant I was out of the  wind I began to feel
warmer.  The shed was about eight-feet square, and  the  floor was cluttered
with bits  of  wood  and  brick,  old  tools  and  a rusted  shovel  with  a
half-broken shaft, crap from over the years lying on a frozen mud floor.
     Tom just lay where I dropped him. As I put the flashlight down  to give
me some light I could see him curled up in a ball, his hands exposed, wrists
bent  as  if  he had suddenly  developed severe arthritis. His  short, sharp
breaths mixed  with mine and  looked like  steam in the flashlight beam. Not
long now and he would be  history  unless I got a grip on myself  and sorted
him out.
     If only this was a hunter's cabin, not a rail  worker's shed.  It's the
custom in extremely cold climates to  leave kindling in huts so that someone
in trouble can rewarm themselves quickly. It's also  the custom to  leave  a
box of matches with the ends  sticking out so that frozen, numb fingers  can
grasp them.
     I got my  gloves off and started to fantasize about warm train cars and
hot mugs of coffee. I dragged over a lump of wood that looked  as if it used
to be part of the paneling. I then played about with my
     Leatherman with  shaking  hands, trying to  pull out the blade. Once my
soaking  gloves were back on I started to scrape at the edge  of the wood. I
wanted to get to the dry stuff underneath.
     Tom filled the room  with his screams  and  cries.  It was as if he was
speaking in tongues.
     I yelled just as loudly, "Shut  the fuck up!" but wherever  he  was, it
was a place where he couldn't hear me.
     Once I'd cut away the damp stuff and exposed the dry wood I  started to
scrape thin shavings onto the shovel face. This was the under. My hands hurt
as I tried to keep a firm grip.
     Tom's body had started jerking around in the corner of the hut. We both
needed  to get this fire burning  soon, but I couldn't rush what I was doing
or I'd fuck up completely.
     Next task was  to  cut kindling,  a stage up from under, so that larger
bits  of  wood  could  then be  placed  in  the fire and stand  a  chance of
catching. I picked up any sticks of wood I could find,  and also pulled  off
some of the  roof lining and tore it into strips. It would burn well because
it  was partly coated with tar.  Then, with  the  rest  of the small bits of
wood, I started  to  make fire sticks, cutting very thinly into the  side of
the wood  and pushing out the shavings until each  piece looked as if it had
grown feathers.
     Tom was no longer thrashing around on the floor. Mumbling  incoherently
to himself, he was kicking  out, as if fending off an imaginary attacker. It
was pointless talking to him. I needed to concentrate on building  the fire.
Survival training might not be my strong suit, but I knew about fire. It had
been my job to make up  the one in  the front  room every morning  before my
stepdad  got out  of  bed, otherwise it  was slapping  time. Usually  it was
slapping time anyway.
     Once  I'd  prepared about five fire sticks I  stacked them  around  the
under like tepee poles.  Then I got out my pistol, taking  off  the magazine
and pulling the top slide to eject the round in the chamber.
     Using  the pliers of the  Leatherman, I eventually pulled the heads off
the  three rounds and poured  the dark  grain propellant onto  the under. My
hands were shaking as I poured,  trying my  best to get it over the wood and
not the mud. I left the third round half full of propellant.
     Tom's frenzied movements had dislodged his hood. Placing the
     round carefully on the ground so I wouldn't lose its contents, I got up
and crawled over to him, my  muscles protesting  now that they'd had a rest.
My cold, wet clothes clung miserably to me as I moved.
     I got hold of his hood and tried to pull it back on. He lashed out with
his arms,  shrieking stuff I couldn't understand, his hands  flailing around
and knocking my hat off. I collapsed on top of him, trying to control him as
I got his hood back up and my iced hat back on.
     "It's  all right, mate," I  soothed. "Not long  now. Remember to dream.
Just dream." But  I  was  wasting time  here.  It  was  heat he  needed, not
bullshit.
     Crawling back to the  shovel,  I dug  inside my  glove for  the compass
silk,  held  it in  my  teeth and cut some off  with my Leatherman scissors.
Then, using the screwdriver, I rammed  the cut silk into the half-empty case
as wadding on top of the propellant.
     I  loaded the  round into  the  weapon, pointed  it at the ground,  and
fired. The signature was a dull oomph.
     There  was no reaction from Tom as I  knelt on the  ground to pick up a
glowing, smouldering bit of silk. Once it was in my fingers I waved it about
gently to  fan the glow, then  put it into the under. The propellant flared,
lighting up the whole hut. I must have looked like a witch making spells.
     Once the under had caught, I started inserting more little bits through
the  fire  sticks into the flame.  It wasn't yet giving  out much heat; that
wouldn't happen until the under  was hot enough to ignite the fire sticks. I
got in close and blew gently.
     The  fire sticks  started  to  crackle and hiss as they  released their
moisture and smoke. I could smell  burning wood. I fussed around the  flames
on my hands and knees, carefully placing wood for the best effect as the hut
filled with smoke and my eyes started to water.
     The  flames  were now higher and threw dancing  shadows on the walls of
the hut. I could feel the heat on my face.
     I had to get more wood before all my  good work  was  undone.  I looked
around and gathered up  as much as possible from  what was to hand. Once I'd
established the  fire, I'd be able  to venture outside into the howling wind
for more.
     I kicked the door open slightly to get rid of the smoke. It let some of
the  wind and snow whistle  in, but it had to  be done. I'd block up most of
the gap as soon as I could.
     Tom was much quieter.  I  crawled over to  him, coughing smoke  from my
lungs. I wanted  to  see  if there was any wood under him  or in the corner.
There  was; only a few twigs, but it all helped.  I couldn't make a big fire
as  the hut was too small, and besides, we wouldn't need it; the walls  were
so close that the heat would bounce straight back on us anyway.
     I checked the flames and started to feed on some more  wood.  "Not long
now, mate. We'll be getting our kit off in a minute because we're so hot."
     My next priority would  be a hot  drink, to  get  some heat directly to
Tom's core.  Placing the  rest of the wood near the fire to dry  it  out,  I
turned and  looked  at his face. "Tom, I'm just  going to see  if I can find
something to heat snow in for a "
     He was lying too still. There was something very  odd about the way his
legs had now curled up to his chest.
     "Tom?"
     I  crawled back  to him, pulling him  over and getting the hood off his
face. Illuminated by the flames it told me all I needed to know. Tilting his
head  toward  the fire, I pulled open his eyelids. There  was no reaction to
the light. Both pupils stayed as fully dilated as a dead fish's. It wouldn't
be long now before they clouded up.
     I could hear the fire  sucks now collapsing on each other, with glowing
embers as well as flame. It was a wonderful sight, but  it  was  too fucking
late.
     I  tried  his carotid pulse.  Nothing. But that could  be  just my numb
fingers. I listened  for breathing and even tried  his heart.  Nothing.  His
mouth was still open from when he had taken, or fought for, his last breath.
I gently closed his jaw.
     It was time to think about me. Pulling off my wet clothes, I wrung them
out one by one before putting them back on.
     I sat and  fed the flames  some more,  knowing  there were still things
that I should  do to him. I should try to resuscitate and reheat him until I
was so exhausted I couldn't carry on, in the million-to-one  chance he could
be revived. But for what? I knew he was dead.
     Maybe if we'd  dug in  for the night once the  weather had closed in he
would still  be  alive.  We would  have  been in a  desperate state  in  the
morning, but maybe he would  have survived. Maybe if I  hadn't pushed him so
hard to get here, or had realized what condition he
     was in and had stopped earlier. All these questions, and the only thing
I was certain of was that I had killed him. I had fucked up.
     I  looked  at  his limp body, its  mouth  reopened, his long  hair  wet
against his cheeks, the  ice crystals on his peach fuzz now melting down his
face. I'd try and remember a gabby but  happy Tom, but I knew this image was
the  one that would stay with me. It was  going straight to  the top  of the
list of  my sweaty, guilty,  wake-upintheearly-hours nightmares. When I  was
put  into  the  counseling program  the Firm sets up for operators  now  and
again,  I'd  told  the shrinks I didn't  have  them.  I was talking shit, of
course. Maybe  it  was a  good  thing  I was  going  to be part  of  Kelly's
treatment now. I started to realize I might need it just as much as she.
     Dragging him  to the doorway, I sat  him up against the gap, leaving  a
space of a  foot or so above him for the smoke to escape. I covered his face
with his parka.
     Feeling  was already starting to come back to my extremities and I knew
I was going to be okay. All I had to do was find a station.
     I turned  back to the flames and watched the steam rise from  my drying
clothes. There  would be no sleep for  me  tonight. I had to  keep  the fire
going.


     Wednesday, January 5,2DDD
     I was nursing a hot frothy Starbucks in the church doorway opposite the
Langham Hilton,  the only place I could keep a trigger on the hotel and also
keep out of the drizzle.
     It was breakfast time, and the  sidewalks were packed  with over coated
wage  slaves  throwing Danish pastries and  coffee down  their  throats, and
shoppers out early for the  after Christmas sales. Judging by the frenzy, it
was  clear the  Y2K  bug hadn't brought the world to its knees after all. It
had been the last thing on my mind as I'd seen  in the new century aboard an
Estonian fishing boat, along with twenty  six cold and seasick illegals from
Somalia. Slipping away from  a seaside village under cover of darkness, we'd
battled across  the Baltic  in  huge seas, heading  for a peninsula east  of
Helsinki. Lion  King told me  it was midnight as we approached  the  Finnish
coastline, where we were suddenly  treated  to  one of the finest  fireworks
displays I'd  ever seen. The  whole place seemed  to light up as  towns  all
along  the shore celebrated  the new millennium. I  wondered  if it  held in
store any new beginnings for me. Christ, I hoped so.
     It was eighteen days since I'd left the hut and set off again into  the
blizzard.  Tom  had stayed behind,  parka  draped  over  his  face, his body
sterile of any item that could ID him. They probably wouldn't
     find  him before  the spring.  I  only hoped they'd  give him a  decent
burial. If  things worked out well here in London, maybe I'd go back and see
to it all myself.
     At first light, and without Tom, I was  able to make distance at my own
pace, even in the driving snow, and  it was only a couple of  hours before I
hit a station about five or six miles away.
     A  train arrived heading west, toward Tallinn, but  I let it go without
me.
     The  one after that was  heading  east,  toward  Russia, and I  climbed
aboard. Without  a passport it could take weeks to  get out of Estonia on my
own, but with Eight helping  me, maybe it would  be a different  story. That
was why I jumped  off at Narva, and that was how I'd ended up on the fishing
boat with my new Somalian friends. It had cost me all the dollars in my boot
and had  meant spending several uncomfortable days and nights hiding in  the
apartment with  the  land mines while Eight got  things arranged, but it had
been worth it.
     Eight wasn't too  happy about  his  car becoming  history, but he still
seemed thrilled to help me, even though he must  have been aware of what had
happened to Carpenter and the old guy in Voka, and put two and two together.
I wondered if he gave a shit.
     Eight didn't ask me again about  helping him to  escape to England, but
as I stood  on the jetty waiting  to board the fishing boat, I turned to him
and  handed over Tom's passport. From the  expression on  his  face  and the
tears in his eyes, you'd have thought I'd given him the three million.
     I knew I was taking a big risk, but I felt I owed him that much. I just
hoped he did a good job of doctoring Tom's picture, or that the day he tried
to  use it, immigration wasn't checking their computer  screens too closely.
Otherwise poor Eight would find  himself  being lifted by  a team of heavies
and whisked off to a 3x9 sooner than he could say "Crazy boy."
     I'd told myself then that the passport was part of what  I owed him for
his help, along  with  a new  car.  But now,  standing in London  with a hot
coffee in my hands and time to think, I knew  it was more  to do with trying
to  get over  my guilt  about Tom. I  had pushed  him  beyond his limits  in
outrageous conditions and I'd killed him. Giving  Eight the possibility of a
new  life was an attempt to square my  conscience and make things right: The
job was done, now cut away.
     At first I thought it had  worked and that things were all right. But I
knew  they weren't, not with Tom, not with Kelly. She was much the same; the
New Year had passed her by, too. I'd phoned the clinic twice in the two days
since I'd  got back. I'd lied both times, telling them I  was  overseas  but
would be back soon.  I was desperate to see her, but I just couldn't face it
yet. I knew I wasn't going to be able to look her in  the eye. Hughes picked
up the  phone the second time and told me that her plans for Kelly's therapy
sessions, which included me, would have to stay on hold until I got  back. I
still felt confused about  it. I knew it had to be done, and I wanted to  do
it, but.. .
     To  add to the confusion, I'd  also had a call from Lynn. He  wanted to
see me this afternoon. There seemed to have been a change of heart since our
last meeting. He said he had a month's work for me. I'd been tempted to tell
him where he could shove his 290 pounds a day, because if all went well with
Liv this morning, I'd never have to  depend on the Firm again. But there was
no guarantee that she was going to appear, and though  a month's  pay wasn't
much, at least I would be working instead of thinking.
     The exchange  was  going to be  simple. I'd  opened a bank  account  in
Luxembourg  by telephone  as soon as  I returned to the U.K. The message I'd
left  Liv  in the Helsinki DLB was  that she'd be required to move the money
electronically  using  a  Fed-wire  reference,  which  would  guarantee  the
transfer within hours. When we met in the hotel in a few minutes'  time, she
would  call her bank with  the transfer instructions I  would  give her, and
then we'd both just sit and wait until it happened.  I would call Luxembourg
each hour giving  my password and would  be told when  the  money  had  been
deposited. In my own mind I'd set  a  cut-off  time  of 4 pm.  If she hadn't
turned  up by then,  I had  to  assume  she  never would.  Then it  would be
decision time about her,  and how to go about contacting Val to explain what
Mr. and Mrs. Liv's little girl had been getting up to.
     As  my parting  shot when I was  sure the  money had  gone through, I'd
toyed  with the idea  of revealing that I'd saved Tom's life  and that  he'd
told me the whole story, just  for the satisfaction of letting  her know she
hadn't  outsmarted me. After all,  I intended  having nothing further  to do
with  ROC. All I wanted was the money, and then they  could carry on blowing
up buildings  and  ripping peo  pie's guts out for all  I cared.  Deep down,
however, I knew that telling  her would achieve nothing except to put  me in
the shit. She hadn't  got as far as  she had without damaging a  few bodies,
and I didn't want to be the next one on the list.
     Twenty minutes before the RV time, a taxi pulled up at the hotel's main
entrance.
     As I watched, Sinbad stepped forward and opened the cab door, and I saw
the  back of  Liv's  head  as she  got out and went inside. We had  the taxi
between  us,  but I could  see she had  decided on the jeans today, together
with her long leather coat, collar up against the cold.
     I let her go in  and  watched for  any surveillance or another  vehicle
pulling up shortly afterward. Neither happened.  I  waited, elated.  She was
here. She wouldn't have come all the way to London just to announce that she
was screwing me over.
     The  three million was  now  so  close  I could  almost smell it. I had
earned this  money. No, after a lifetime of shoveling shit  for  peanuts,  I
deserved it. I'd been working hard  to  control my excitement as I  stood in
the doorway, but now I reckoned it  wouldn't hurt  to let  myself enjoy  the
moment.  I ran through my game plan one more time.  As soon  as the transfer
was confirmed and Liv and I  had said  our goodbyes, I'd call the clinic and
tell them  that Kelly's new treatment could start  straight  away.  It still
worried me a bit,  but I'd just  have to  get on with it. Who knows, I might
even sort myself out.
     Hughes had  said  there was no telling how long the therapy would go on
for,  so  I'd been  thinking it might be a  good investment to  buy a little
apartment near  by and sell it afterward. I could also start  throwing a few
builders  at my house in  Norfolk and get it sorted for when Kelly was ready
to come home.
     Less than ten minutes to go now. She  still had to unload the DLB under
the  telephone,  which held  the keycard for  the suite I'd booked. I'd also
left instructions to place the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door handle once
she entered. I waited and watched. There was  nothing to  see, apart  from a
woman getting splashed by a passing bus.
     I could almost feel the three million between  my fingers  as I counted
it in my mind. For about a millisecond I thought about
     giving Tom's share to some kind  of charity. For a millisecond. Because
then  I saw Kelly  again, sitting  like a frozen  statue  in  the clinic and
staring into space. Fuck it, she needed all the charity she could get.
     With just two  minutes to go, I  dodged the traffic  and approached the
hotel. Sinbad wasn't there to help  me as I pushed past the  revolving doors
and into the warmth of the foyer. The marble reception area was teeming with
businessmen  and tourists. I walked around them, past the Chukka Bar and the
reception desk, then took the stairs.
     I climbed  to the  third  floor, opening my leather jacket and checking
the  position of  the USP, tucked center front of my jeans. I'd gone back to
Norfolk  last night specifically to pick up a weapon,  and had found  myself
mopping up the worst of  the flooding that had come  through the hole in the
roof. Still, it wouldn't be long now before that  useless  tarp was replaced
by solid Welsh slate.
     Outside the door of Room 3161 stopped and listened. Nothing.
     I pushed my own keycard into the lock and opened the door.
     She was at the far end of the living room, her back  to me, looking out
of the windows that overlooked  the main entrance. The door closed behind me
with a gentle click.
     "Hello, Liv, it's really good to "
     I went to open my coat to draw down, but knew  it was useless. The over
coated body that had  moved out  from behind  the cabinet housing the TV and
minibar already had his pistol on me.  The other  body that sprang from  the
bathroom to my left was no more than four feet away, his weapon at my head.
     I released my  grip  on the  leather  and let my  arms drop to my sides
instead of raising them. There could still be a chance to draw.
     Liv turned toward me, only it wasn't her.
     She spoke in a soft accent which I couldn't identify. "Step forward and
keep your hands high in the air, please."
     I did as I was told. The  bathrooom man moved behind  me and started to
run  his hands over my  back and legs. It was  pointless  trying to bullshit
them. As  he removed my USP I couldn't exactly claim I was  just  delivering
room service.
     She said nothing as I was pushed from behind toward the  sofa.  Cabinet
man stayed where he was, to my right. The other one was somewhere behind me.
     The woman pushed past and headed for the door to the hallway. Her blond
hair was dyed; I could see her brown eyebrows.
     As she opened it I could see another over coated man  outside. She left
and  he  came in.  He'd been there to  block the exit if anything went wrong
during the lift. It wouldn't have been hard for him  to stop  me. He more or
less matched the dimensions of the door.
     Nothing  was  said as  I sat  and  waited. But for  what?  I remembered
Sergei's face in the 4x4 as he told me about the  Viking's revenge. My heart
was starting to pound big time.
     Where  the fuck  was Liv? Had she been lifted  too? Were these guys the
Maliskia? The three square  heads didn't speak  or  move. A feeling of dread
came over me. Were they NSA? Was I really in Big Boy shit?
     The  pulses in my  neck kicked up a gear and, not for the first time on
this job, I could feel them pumping against  my collar. The human  door, who
was  still  standing by the  real one, must have  seen it and recognized the
feeling,  because he gave me a  knowing smile.  I did my  best to return it.
Fuck 'em. I wasn't going to let them see how much I was panicking inside.
     Long minutes that felt like  eternity passed, then  there was  a knock.
The  human  door  looked through the peephole,  immediately  reached for the
handle, then stepped reverentially aside.
     "Hello, Nick," Val said as he entered. With him was Liv's train station
contact. They both wore dark-gray suits. "May I introduce Ignaty?"
     Ignaty  smiled and  bowed his head  slightly toward me. "Hello, Nick, I
never  managed to meet you  personally at  the station,  but knowing so much
about you, I feel as if we are old friends."
     I  nodded back, not  wanting to say a word yet as my mind was too  busy
working out what  the  fuck  was  going  on.  I  was  scared, confused,  and
beginning to realize that I was in serious trouble. My best bet  was to shut
up and play stupid. That wouldn't be hard.
     Val sat on  the sofa opposite, while Ignaty stayed on his feet and fell
in behind. The Chechen looked  into my eyes  for just a bit too long for  my
liking, and then he placed a large white  envelope on  the coffee table that
lay between us. "That," he pointed, "is for you."
     I reached for it, more confused than ever, and pulled open the flap. He
settled himself into  the sofa  and adjusted his suit pants  before crossing
his legs. Inside was a  sheaf of documents in Cyrillic. I stared at them for
a long time, not knowing what the fuck they were.
     "They are deeds for two apartment blocks in St.  Petersburg,"  he said.
"Their combined worth exceeds three million sterling. I thought you'd prefer
an appreciating asset to cash."
     My mental calculator was working overtime.  I was a few weeks in credit
with  the clinic,  but the bills would soon be  racking up again. The  three
weeks that I'd been away would  already have cost me  12,000, pounds and I'd
soon be running on empty. One month with  the Firm at 290 pounds a day would
earn me precisely 8,700 pounds penceI might as well chance my luck.
     "I'd rather have the cash. That was the arrangement."
     He shook his head  slowly, as if he was about to tell a child  the trip
to Disneyland was canceled. "But,  Nick, there was  no  arrangement. Liv has
been deceiving us both in pursuit of her own  greed." His eyes suddenly went
twenty degrees colder, demonstrating with a single glance why he was the top
man  to  be  afraid  of in  his  line of  work. "Thankfully some are not  as
disloyal." He waved his hand behind him.
     Ignaty looked smug.
     I stared at them, as if I didn't have a clue what he meant.
     "It is  quite complicated,  Nick, and you really don't need to know the
details. Suffice to say, not only did she betray the trust that I had placed
in  her,  she  has now made  it virtually impossible for me  to  access  the
Echelon dictionaries  for a very long  time. The only reason you  are  still
alive is that you thought you were acting on my instructions."
     The smile returned. "Come, work for  me in Russia and you can then take
advantage of your  new property  portfolio. The rents  are extremely high in
that part of the city. This is a fantastic  opportunity for you, Nick. There
might even be time for  us to  get together so that I can explain this whole
sorry affair."
     I shook my  head. "I have things  that keep  me here." I hesitated.  "I
really could do with the money instead."
     He pointed to the envelope still in my hand as if I hadn't even spoken.
"In there are the details of a contact, here in the United Kingdom, when you
wish to come to Russia."
     He stood up, and everyone moved with him.
     I had to ask. "How did you know I was here?"
     Val stopped just as the human door was about to open the real one. "Liv
told me, of course. She told me everything." He paused. "Before Ignaty .. ."
He shrugged. His smile hadn't disappeared. He waited to see my reaction.
     I  bluffed it and looked even more confused, but in my mind's eye I saw
her belly slit open and the eels writhing all around her.
     "It shocks you?"
     I shook my head.
     "I didn't think so. You see, I cannot be seen to exhibit such a lack of
judgment  about the people close to me. I must show strength. You could help
me do that when you come to Russia, Nick. Think about it, won't you?"
     I nodded, just wanting him to leave.
     "She did mention your apology for the deaths of my nephews."
     I nodded. "Yes, I'm sorry."
     "Don't  be. I never really cared for my sister's family. I hope  to see
you in St. Petersburg soon, Nick."
     As he turned to leave, I said, "Can I ask one more thing?"
     He stopped.
     "There's a body. My friend. It's still in Estonia and ..."
     "Of course, of course.  We are not barbarians." Val waved a hand at the
envelope. "The contact. Give him the details."
     I lay on the sots  far  the next fifteen  minutes, trying  hard  not to
think  about how long it must have  taken Liv to  die. It certainly took the
edge off my enthusiasm for the St. Petersburg property market.
     I  needed the money, but I  wasn't too  sure about anything  now, apart
from the fact that the meeting with Lynn wouldn't be the best moment to fuck
the Firm off.
     I gave Val and his boys another five  before walking downstairs and out
of the hotel. Then I went into one of the phone booths under the scaffolding
and fed in a fistful of coins as I picked up the receiver.
     "Hello, East Anglian Properties. How may I help you?"
     "James Main?"
     "Speaking."
     "Nick Stone here. Slight  change of plan, James. I want you to sell the
house as soon as you can, for anything you can get."
     "But all the offers so far have been well  below  your purchase  price.
You'd do  much  better  if you got the  roof  finished and the interior work
done, then put it on the market in the spring. It would be a--"
     "Right away, James."
     "But I was driving past the place only a couple of days ago and there's
still a tarp over the roof. Really, nobody's going to offer anything like--"
     "James?"
     "Yes?"
     "Which bit of right away don't you understand, for fuck's sake?"
     I only had to put a twenty-pence piece in  for the second  call. It was
to a London number.
     "Still abroad,  I'm afraid," I said when I  was finally put  through to
Hughes. "Looks like I'm going to have to stay  here for another month.  What
effect would that have on Kelly?"
     "Well, she won't get any worse, let's put it that way. She'll stay more
or less exactly as she is until you can start the sessions with her."
     Exactly as she is.
     I  closed my eyes and tried  so hard  to  see  her  looking  at  me and
smiling, but the  only image  that came to  me was of her on that chair, her
head strangely  tilted, and  sitting  so still  it  was as if she'd  stopped
breathing, or had been frozen to death in an invisible blizzard.
     I had  hours to kill before seeing Lynn and so  I ended up  walking all
the way to Vauxhall Cross. As I walked, I thought  about the two other phone
calls I might have to make very soon. One was to her grandparents, to  break
the news that they might have to sell their  house as well, though there was
more  chance  of being struck by  lightning. They'd nodded and agreed so far
that  Chelsea  was the best  place  for  Kelly,  but I  bet  they'd suddenly
discover how wonderful the  public hospital was when I told them they'd have
to start shouldering some of the cost.
     The other would  be to the friend who'd put me  onto the freelance  job
against Val.  I'd ask him if he had more work going, and this time somewhere
warm, like the Bahamas.
     The same  Asian guy  ushered me into Lynn's office. Nothing had changed
apart from the fact that Lynn  had a different  shirt on and  wasn't writing
this time. I stood in front of his desk. Once  again, there was no coffee on
offer, so I knew I was in for another short meeting.
     "It's my last few weeks in post, and quite  frankly  the last  person I
wanted to see was  you." He sat and stared at  me,  with an  expression that
said I was 100  percent responsible for his early retirement.  I  felt sorry
for the mushrooms.
     I knew to just keep my mouth shut and listen.
     "Moonlight Maze," he said. "Do you know anything about it?"
     "No." I felt the sharp pain  in my chest once again. He knew what I had
been doing. He knew and was letting  me drop myself in  the  shit. I  had to
play along. "Well, not really. Only what I  read in the  papers a couple  of
weeks ago."
     "That's about to change. Your job  is to assist  an NSA officer and his
team while in the  U.K. They will be  here for about a month, trying to stop
this darned ROC infiltration into Menwith."
     I nodded, as if I assumed it would be a boring BGcumescortcumtour-guide
job,  which  these things normally are.  But  I still had the feeling he was
playing games with me. "Why me, Mr. Lynn? You said before Christmas that--"
     "It has been deemed that  the cost of your training and retainer is not
being effectively utilized. Now get out."
     I didn't know how he did it, but the door behind me  was opened by  the
Asian guy right on cue. "Please, sir, follow me."
     I did and we went up two  flights  in the elevator to the briefing area
and into a sparsely furnished, unoccupied  office. There were no windows and
all I could hear was the noise of the forced air ducts.
     "If you wait here, sir, the officer will be with you shortly."
     The door was closed behind me. I sat against the desk  and  stressed. I
was being set up.
     As  it opened again,  I stood up and turned to face  the person walking
in. My chest pain returned with a vengeance. I had fucked up big time.
     "Nick Stone, right?"
     The Wasp was smiling at me  as  he  held out his  hand. His face looked
like  I'd gone  at  him with a pastry  cutter. The  bright-red, scabby scars
around his face were held together with black sutures, along with patches of
his  scalp, where his hair had  been shaved before the wounds were  treated.
His hands were in shit state, too, but they were all healing nicely.
     "There isn't much time, Nick. Me and the team are  going to need  a lot
of help here." He saw me looking at his scars and dropped the smile.
     "Hey,  I know. Not good. If I ever find the sonofabitch  that did this,
I'm gonna be pulling the ring back on one big can of kick ass ..."


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