/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

The Negotiator

Frederick Forsyth

1991, Glasnost has its enemies, the worlds oil is running out and ruthless mercenaries have kidnapped the US president's son. As the world teeters on the edge of catastrophe, the negotiator goes to work.

Frederick Forsyth

The Negotiator

Cast Of Characters

The Americans

JOHN J. CORMACK President of the United States

MICHAEL ODELL Vice President of the United States

JAMES DONALDSON Secretary of State

MORTON STANNARD Secretary of Defense

WILLIAM WALTERS Attorney General

HUBERT REED Secretary of the Treasury

BRAD JOHNSON National Security Adviser

DONALD EDMONDS Director, FBI

PHILIP KELLY Assistant Director, Criminal Investigations Division, FBI

KEVIN BROWN Deputy Assistant Director, CID, FBI

LEE ALEXANDER Director, CIA

DAVID WEINTRAUB Deputy Director (Operations), CIA

QUINN The negotiator

DUNCAN MCCREA Junior field agent, CIA

IRVING MOSS Discharged CIA agent

SAM SOMERVILLE Field agent, FBI

CYRUS V. MILLER Oil tycoon

MELVILLE SCANLON Shipping tycoon

PETER COBB Armaments industrialist

BEN SALKIND Armaments industrialist

LIONEL MOIR Armaments industrialist

CREIGHTON BURBANK Director, Secret Service

ROBERT EASTERHOUSE Free-lance security consultant and Saudi expert

ANDREW LAING Bank official, Saudi Arabian Investment Bank

SIMON American student at Balliol College, Oxford

PATRICK SEYMOUR Legal counselor and FBI agent, American embassy, London

LOU COLLINS Liaison officer, CIA, London

The British

MARGARET THATCHERPrime Minister

SIR HARRY MARRIOTT Home Secretary

SIR PETER IMBERT Commissioner, Metropolitan Police

NIGEL CRAMER Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations Department, Metropolitan Police

JULIAN HAYMAN Free-lance security company chairman

COMMANDER PETER WILLIAMS Investigation officer, Specialist Operations Department, Metropolitan Police

The Russians

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV General Secretary, Communist Party of the Soviet Union

GENERAL VLADIMIR KRYUCHKOV Chairman, KGB MAJOR

PAVEL KERKORIAN KGB rezident in Belgrade

GENERAL VADIM KIRPICHENKO Deputy Head, First Chief Directorate, KGB

IVAN KOZLOV Marshal of the U.S.S.R. MAJOR GENERAL

ZEMSKOV Chief planner, Soviet General Staff

ANDREI Field agent, KGB

The Europeans

KUYPER Belgian thug

BERTIE VAN EYCK Director, Walibi Theme Park, Belgium

DIETER LUTZ Hamburg journalist

HANS MORITZ Dortmund brewer

HORST LENZLINGER Oldenburg arms dealer

WERNER BERNHARDT Former Congo mercenary

PAPA DE GROOT Dutch provincial police chief

CHIEF INSPECTOR DYKSTRA Dutch provincial detective

Prologue

The dream came again, just before the rain. He did not hear the rain. In his sleep the dream possessed him.

There was the clearing again, in the forest in Sicily, high above Taormina. He emerged from the forest and walked slowly toward the center of the space, as agreed. The attaché case was in his right hand. In the middle of the clearing he stopped, placed the case on the ground, went back six paces, and dropped to his knees. As agreed. The case contained a billion lire.

It had taken six weeks to negotiate the child’s release, quick by most precedents. Sometimes these cases went on for months. For six weeks he had sat beside the expert from the carabinieri’s Rome office-another Sicilian but on the side of the angels-and had advised on tactics. The carabinieri officer did all the talking. Finally the release of the daughter of the Milan jeweler, snatched from the family’s summer home near Cefalù beach, had been arranged. A ransom of close to a million U.S. dollars, after a start-off demand for five times that sum, but finally the Mafia had agreed.

From the other side of the clearing a man emerged, unshaven, rough-looking, masked, with a Lupara shotgun slung over his shoulder. He held the ten-year-old girl by one hand. She was barefoot, frightened, pale, but she looked unharmed. Physically, at least. The pair walked toward him; he could see the bandit’s eyes staring at him through the mask, then flickering across the forest behind him.

The Mafioso stopped at the case, growled at the girl to stand still. She obeyed. But she stared across at her rescuer with huge dark eyes. Not long now, kid. Hang in there, baby.

The bandit flicked through the rolls of bills in the case until satisfied he had not been cheated. The tall man and the girl looked at each other. He winked; she gave a small flicker of a smile. The bandit closed the case and began to retreat, facing forward, to his side of the clearing. He had reached the trees when it happened.

It was not the carabinieri man from Rome; it was the local fool. There was a clatter of rifle fire; the bandit with the case stumbled and fell. Of course his friends were strung out through the pine trees behind him, in cover. They fired back. In a second the clearing was torn by chains of flying bullets. He screamed, “Down!” in Italian but she did not hear, or panicked and tried to run toward him. He came off his knees and hurled himself across the twenty feet between them.

He almost made it. He could see her there, just beyond his fingertips, inches beyond the hard right hand that would drag her down to safety in the long grass. He could see the fright in her huge eyes, the little white teeth in her screaming mouth… and then the bright crimson rose that bloomed on the front of her thin cotton dress. She went down then as if punched in the back and he recalled lying over her, covering her with his body until the firing stopped and the Mafiosi escaped through the forest. He remembered sitting there holding her, cradling the tiny limp body in his arms, weeping and shouting at the uncomprehending and too-late-apologetic local police: “No, no, sweet Jesus, not again…”

Chapter 1

November 1989

Winter had come early that year. Already by the end of the month the first forward scouts, borne on a bitter wind out of the northeastern steppes, were racing across the rooftops to probe Moscow ’s defenses.

The Soviet General Staff headquarters building stands at 19, Frunze Street, a gray stone edifice from the 1930s facing its much more modern eight-story high-rise annex across the street. At his window on the top floor of the old block the Soviet Chief of Staff stood, staring out at the icy flurries, and his mood was as bleak as the coming winter.

Marshal Ivan K. Kozlov was sixty-seven, two years older than the statutory retirement age, but in the Soviet Union, as everywhere else, those who made the rules never deemed they should apply to them. At the beginning of the year he had succeeded the veteran Marshal Akhromeyev, to the surprise of most in the military hierarchy. The two men were as unlike as chalk and cheese. Where Akhromeyev had been a small, stick-thin intellectual, Kozlov was a big, bluff, white-haired giant, a soldier’s soldier, son, grandson, and nephew of soldiers. Although only the third-ranking First Deputy Chief before his promotion, he had jumped the two men ahead of him, who had slipped quietly into retirement. No one had any doubts as to why he had gone to the top; from 1987 to 1989 he had quietly and expertly supervised the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exercise that had been achieved without any scandals, major defeats, or (most important of all) publicized loss of national face, even though the wolves of Allah had been snapping at the Russian heels all the way to the Salang Pass. The operation had brought him great credit in Moscow, bringing him to the personal attention of the General Secretary himself.

But while he had done his duty, and earned his marshal’s baton, he had also made himself a private vow: Never again would he lead his beloved Soviet Army in retreat-and despite the fulsome PR exercise, Afghanistan had been a defeat. It was the prospect of another looming defeat that caused the bleakness of his mood as he stared out through the double glass at the horizontal drifts of tiny ice particles that snapped periodically past the window.

The key to his mood lay in a report lying on his desk, a report he had commissioned himself from one of the brightest of his own protégés, a young major general whom he had brought to the General Staff with him from Kabul. Kaminsky was an academic, a deep thinker who was also a genius at organization, and the marshal had given him the second-top slot in the logistics field. Like all experienced combat men, Kozlov knew better than most that battles are not won by courage or sacrifice or even clever generals; they are won by having the right gear in the right place at the right time and plenty of it.

He still recalled with bitterness how, as an eighteen-year-old trooper, he had watched the superbly equipped German blitzkrieg roll through the defenses of the Motherland as the Red Army, bled white by Stalin’s purges of 1938 and equipped with antiques, had tried to stem the tide. His own father had died trying to hold an impossible position at Smolensk, fighting back with bolt-action rifles against Guderian’s growling panzer regiments. Next time, he swore, they would have the right equipment and plenty of it. He had devoted much of his military career to that concept and now he headed the five services of the U.S.S.R.: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Rocket Forces, and Air Defense of the Homeland. And they all faced possible future defeat because of a three-hundred-page report lying on his desk.

He had read it twice, through the night in his spartan apartment off Kutuzovsky Prospekt and again this morning in his office, where he had arrived at 7:00 A.M. and taken the phone off the hook. Now he turned from the window, strode back to his great desk at the head of the T-shaped conference table, and turned to the last few pages of the report again.

SUMMARY. The point therefore is not that the planet is forecast to run out of oil in the next twenty to thirty years; it is that the Soviet Union definitely will run out of oil in the next seven or eight. The key to this fact lies in the table of Proved Reserves earlier in the report and particularly in the column of figures called the R/P ratio. The Reserves-to-Production ratio is achieved by taking the annual production of an oil-producing nation and dividing that figure into the known reserves of that nation, usually expressed in billions of barrels.

Figures at the end of 1985-Western figures, I am afraid, because we still have to rely on Western information to find out just what is going on in Siberia, despite my intimate contacts with our oil industry-show that in that year we produced 4.4 billion barrels of crude, giving us fourteen years of extractable reserves-assuming production at the same figure over the period. But that is optimistic, since our production and therefore use-up of reserves has been forced to increase since that time. Today our reserves stand at between seven and eight years.

The reason for the increase in demand lies in two areas. One is the increase in industrial production, mainly in the area of consumer goods, demanded by the Politburo since the introduction of the new economic reforms; the other lies in the gas-guzzling inefficiency of those industries, not only the traditional ones but even the new ones. Our manufacturing industry overall is hugely energy-inefficient and in many areas the use of obsolete machinery has an add-on effect. For example, a Russian car weighs three times as much as its American equivalent-not, as published, because of our bitter winters, but because our steel plants cannot produce sufficiently fine-gauge sheet metal. Thus more oil-produced electrical energy is needed for the production of the car than in the West, and it uses more gasoline when it hits the road.

ALTERNATIVES. Nuclear reactors used to produce 11 percent of the U.S.S.R.’s electricity, and our planners had counted on nuclear plants producing 20 percent or more by the year 2000. Until Chernobyl. Unfortunately, 40 percent of our nuclear capacity was generated by plants using the same design as Chernobyl. Since then, most have been shut down for “modifications”-it is extremely unlikely they will in fact reopen-and others scheduled for construction have been decommissioned. As a result, our nuclear production in percentage terms, instead of being in double figures, is down to 7 and dropping.

We have the largest reserves of natural gas in the world, but the problem is that the gas is mainly located in the extremity of Siberia, and simply to get it out of the ground is not enough. We need, and do not have, a vast infrastructure of pipelines and grids to get it from Siberia to our cities, factories, and generating stations.

You may recall that in the early seventies, when oil prices after the Yom Kippur war were hiked sky-high, we offered to supply Western Europe with long-term natural gas by pipeline. This would have enabled us to afford the supply grid we needed through the front-end financing the Europeans were ready to put up. But because America would not be benefiting, the U.S.A. killed the initiative by threatening a wide range of commercial sanctions on anyone who cooperated with us, and the project died. Today, since the so-called “thaw,” such a scheme would probably be politically acceptable, but at the moment oil prices in the West are low and they have no need of our gas. By the time the global run-out of oil has hiked the Western price back to a level where they could use our gas, it will be far too late for the U.S.S.R.

Thus neither of the feasible alternatives will work in practice. Natural gas and nuclear energy will not come to our rescue. The overwhelming majority of our industries and those of our partners who rely on us for energy are indissolubly tied to oil-based fuels and feedstocks.

THE ALLIES. A brief aside to mention our allies in Central Europe, the states Western propagandists refer to as our “satellites.” Although their joint production-mainly from the small Romanian field at Ploesti -amounts to 168 million barrels a year, this is a drop in the ocean compared to their needs. The rest comes from us, and is one of the ties that holds them in our camp. To relieve the demands on us we have, it is true, sanctioned a few barter deals between them and the Middle East. But if they were ever to achieve total independence from us in oil, and thus dependence on the West, it would surely be a matter of time, and a short time, before East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and even Romania slipped into the grasp of the capitalist camp. Not to mention Cuba.

CONCLUSION

Marshal Kozlov looked up and checked the wall clock. Eleven o’clock. The ceremony out at the airport would be about to begin. He had chosen not to go. He had no intention of dancing attendance on Americans. He stretched, rose, and walked back to the window carrying the Kaminsky oil report with him. It was still classified Top Secret and Kozlov knew now he would have to continue to give it that designation. It was far too explosive to be bandied about the General Staff building.

In an earlier age any staff officer who had written as candidly as Kaminsky would have measured his career in microns, but Ivan Kozlov, though a diehard traditionalist in almost every area, had never penalized frankness. It was about the only thing he appreciated in the General Secretary; even though he could not abide the man’s newfangled ideas for giving television sets to the peasants and washing machines to housewives, he had to admit you could speak your mind to Mikhail Gorbachev without getting a one-way ticket to Yakutsk.

The report had come as a shock to him. He had known things in the economy were not working any better since the introduction of perestroika-the restructuring-than before, but as a soldier he had spent his life locked into the military hierarchy, and the military had always had first call on resources, materiel, and technology, enabling them to occupy the only area in Soviet life where quality control could be practiced. The fact that civilians’ hair dryers were lethal and their shoes leaked was not his problem. And now here was a crisis from which not even the military could be exempt. He knew the sting in the tail came in the report’s conclusion. Standing by the window he resumed reading.

CONCLUSION. The prospects that face us are only four and they are all extremely bleak.

1. We can continue our own oil production at present levels in the certainty that we are going to run out in eight years maximum, and then enter the global oil market as a buyer. We would do so at the worst possible moment, just as global oil prices start their remorseless and inevitable climb to impossible levels. To purchase under these conditions even part of our oil needs would use up our entire reserves of hard currency and Siberian gold and diamond earnings.

Nor could we ease our position with barter deals. Over 55 percent of the world’s oil lies in five Middle East countries whose domestic requirements are tiny in relation to their resources, and it is they who will soon rule the roost again. Unfortunately, apart from arms and some raw materials, our Soviet goods have no attraction for the Middle East, so we will not get barter deals for our oil needs. We will have to pay in cold hard cash, and we cannot.

Finally there is the strategic hazard of being dependent on any outside source for our oil, and even more so when one considers the character and historical behavior of the five Middle East states involved.

2. We could repair and update our existing oil production facilities to achieve a higher efficiency and thus lower our consumption without loss of benefit. Our production facilities are obsolete, in general disrepair, and our recovery potential from major reservoirs constantly damaged through excessive daily extraction. We would have to redesign all our extraction fields, refineries, and pipe infrastructure to spin out our oil for an extra decade. We would have to start now, and the resources needed would be astronomical.

3. We could put all our effort into correcting and updating our offshore oil-drilling technology. The Arctic is our most promising area for finding new oil, but the extraction problems are far more formidable even than those in Siberia. No wellhead-to-user pipe infrastructure exists at all and even the exploration program has slipped five years behind schedule. Again, the resources needed would be simply huge.

4. We could return to natural gas, of which, as stated, we have the largest reserves in the world, virtually limitless. But we would have to invest further massive resources in extraction, technology, skilled manpower, pipe infrastructure, and the conversion of hundreds of thousands of plants to gas usage.

Finally, the question must arise: Where would such resources as mentioned in Options 2, 3, and 4 come from? Given the necessity of using our foreign currency to import grain to feed our people, and the Politburo’s commitment to spending the rest for imported high technology, the resources would apparently have to be found internally. And given the Politburo’s further commitment to industrial modernization, their obvious temptation might be to look at the area of military appropriations.

I have the honor to remain, Comrade Marshal,

– Pyotr V. Kaminsky, Major General

Marshal Kozlov swore quietly, closed the dossier, and stared down at the street. The ice flurries had stopped but the wind was still bitter; he could see the tiny pedestrians eight floors down holding their shapkas tight on their heads, ear-muffs down, heads bent, as they hurried along Frunze Street.

It had been almost forty-five years since, as a twenty-two-year-old lieutenant of Motor/Rifles, he had stormed into Berlin under Chuikov and had climbed to the roof of Hitler’s chancellery to tear down the last swastika flag fluttering there. There was even a picture of him doing it in several history books. Since then he had fought his way up through the ranks, step by step, serving in Hungary during the 1956 revolt, on the Ussuri River border with China, on garrison duty in East Germany, then back to Far Eastern Command at Khabarovsk, High Command South at Baku, and thence to the General Staff. He had paid his dues: He had endured the freezing nights in far-off outposts of the empire; he had divorced one wife who refused to follow him, and buried another who died in the Far East. He had seen a daughter married to a mining engineer, not a soldier as he had hoped, and watched a son refuse to join him in the Army. He had spent those forty-five years watching the Soviet Army grow into what he deemed to be the finest fighting force on the planet, dedicated to the defense of the Rodina, the Motherland, and the destruction of her enemies.

Like many a traditionalist he believed that one day those weapons that the toiling masses had worked to provide him and his men would have to be used, and he was damned if any set of circumstances or of men would stultify his beloved Army while he was in charge. He was utterly loyal to the Party-he would not have been where he was had he not been-but if anyone, even the men who now led the Party, thought they could strike billions of rubles off the military budget, then he might have to restructure his loyalty to those men.

The more he thought about the concluding pages of the report in his hand, the more he thought that Kaminsky, smart though he was, had overlooked a possible fifth option. If the Soviet Union could take political control of a ready-made source of ample raw crude oil, a piece of territory presently outside her own borders… if she could import in exclusivity that crude oil at a price she could afford, i.e., dictate… and do so before her own oil ran out…

He laid the report on the conference table and crossed the room to the global map that covered half the wall opposite the windows. He studied it carefully as the minutes ticked away to noon. And always his eye fell on one piece of land. Finally he crossed to the desk, reconnected the intercom, and called his ADC.

“Ask Major General Zemskov to come and see me-now,” he said.

He sat in the high-backed chair behind his desk, picked up the TV remote control, and activated the set on its stand to the left of his desk. Channel One swam into focus, the promised live news broadcast from Vnukovo, the VIP airport outside Moscow.

United States Air Force One stood fully fueled and ready to roll. She was the new Boeing 747 that had superseded the old and time-expired 707’s earlier in the year, and she could get from Moscow back to Washington in one hop, which the old 707’s could never do. Men of the 89th Military Airlift Wing, which guards and maintains the President’s Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, stood around the aircraft just in case any overenthusiastic Russian tried to get close enough to attach something to it or have a peek inside. But the Russians were behaving like perfect gentlemen and had been throughout the three-day visit.

Some yards away from the tip of the airplane’s wing was a podium, dominated by a raised lectern in its center. At the lectern stood the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, bringing his valedictory address to a close. At his side, hatless, his iron-gray hair ruffled by the bitter breeze, sat his visitor, John J. Cormack, President of the United States of America. Ranged on either side of both were the twelve other members of the Politburo.

Drawn up in front of the podium was an honor guard of the Militia, the civil police from the Interior Ministry, the MVD; and another drawn from the Border Guards Directorate of the KGB. In an attempt to add the common touch, two hundred engineers, technicians, and members of the airport staff formed a crowd on the fourth side of the hollow square. But the focal point for the speaker was the battery of TV cameras, still photographers, and press placed between the two honor guards. For this was a momentous occasion.

Shortly after his inauguration the previous January, John Cormack, surprise winner of the preceding November’s election, had indicated he would like to meet the Soviet leader and would be prepared to fly to Moscow to do so. Mikhail Gorbachev had not been slow to agree and to his gratification had found over the previous three days that this tall, astringent, but basically humane American academic appeared to be a man-to borrow Mrs. Thatcher’s phrase-“with whom he could do business.”

So he had taken a gamble, against the advice of his security and ideology advisers. He had acceded to the President’s personal request that he, the American, be permitted to address the Soviet Union on live television without submitting his script for approval. Virtually no Soviet television is “live”; almost everything shown is carefully edited, prepared, vetted, and finally passed as fit for consumption.

Before agreeing to Cormack’s strange request, Mikhail Gorbachev had consulted with the State Television experts. They had been as surprised as he, but pointed out that, first, the American would be understood by only a tiny fraction of Soviet citizens until the translation came through (and that could be sanitized if he went too far) and, second, that the American’s speech could be held on an eight- or ten-second loop so that transmission (both sound and vision) would actually take place a few seconds after delivery; and if he really went too far, there could be a sudden breakdown in transmission. Finally it was agreed that if the General Secretary wished to effect such a breakdown, he had but to scratch his chin with a forefinger and the technicians would do the rest. This could not apply to the three American TV crews or the BBC from Britain, but that would not matter, as their material would never reach the Soviet people.

Ending his oration with an expression of good will toward the American people and his abiding hope for peace between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., Mikhail Gorbachev turned toward his guest. John Cormack rose. The Russian gestured to the lectern and the microphone and made way, seating himself to one side of the center spot. The President stepped behind the microphone. He had no notes in view. He just lifted his head, stared straight at the eye of the Soviet TV camera, and began to speak.

“Men, women, and children of the U.S.S.R., listen to me.”

In his office Marshal Kozlov jerked forward in his chair, staring intently at the screen. On the podium Mikhail Gorbachev’s eyebrows flickered once before he regained his composure. In a booth behind the Soviet camera a young man who could pass for a Harvard graduate put his hand over a microphone and muttered a question to a senior civil servant beside him, who shook his head. For John Cormack was not speaking in English at all; he was speaking in fluent Russian.

Although not a Russian speaker, he had before coming to the U.S.S.R. memorized in the privacy of his bedroom in the White House a five-hundred-word speech in Russian, rehearsing himself through tapes and speech-coaching until he could deliver the speech with total fluency and perfect accent while not understanding a word of the language. Even for a former Ivy League professor it was a remarkable feat.

“Fifty years ago this, your country, your beloved Motherland, was invaded in war. Your menfolk fought and died as soldiers or lived like wolves in their own forests. Your women and children dwelt in cellars and fed off scraps. Millions perished. Your land was devastated. Although this never happened to my country, I give you my word I can understand how much you must hate and fear war.

“For forty-five years we both, Russians and Americans, have built up walls between ourselves, convincing ourselves that the other would be the next aggressor. And we have built up mountains-mountains of steel, of guns, of tanks, of ships and planes and bombs. And the walls of lies have been built ever higher to justify the mountains of steel. There are those who say we need these weapons because one day they will be needed so that we can destroy each other.

Noh, ya skazhu: mi po-idyom drugim putyom.”

There was an almost audible gasp from the audience at Vnukovo. In saying “But I say, we will/must go another way,” President Cormack had borrowed a phrase from Lenin known to every schoolchild in the U.S.S.R. In Russian the word put means a road, path, way, or course to be followed. He then continued the play on words by reverting to the meaning of “road.”

“I refer to the road of gradual disarmament and of peace. We have only one planet to live on, and a beautiful planet. We can either live on it together or die on it together.”

The door of Marshal Kozlov’s office opened quietly and then closed. An officer in his early fifties, another Kozlov protégé and the ace of his planning staff, stood by the door and silently watched the screen in the corner. The American President was finishing.

“It will not be an easy road. There will be rocks and holes. But at its end lies peace with security for both of us. For if we each have enough weapons to defend ourselves, but not enough to attack each other, and if each one knows this and is allowed to verify it, then we could pass on to our children and grandchildren a world that is truly free of that awful fear that we have known these past fifty years. If you will walk down that road with me, then I on behalf of the people of America will walk it with you. And on this, Mikhail Sergeevich, I give you my hand.”

President Cormack turned to Secretary Gorbachev and held out his right hand. Although himself an expert at public relations, the Russian had no choice but to rise and extend his hand. Then, with a broad grin, he bear-hugged the American with his left arm.

The Russians are a people capable of great paranoia and xenophobia but also capable of great emotionalism. It was the airport workers who broke the silence first. There was an outbreak of ardent clapping, then the cheering started, and in a few seconds the fur shapkas started flying through the air as the civilians, normally drilled to perfection, went out of control. The Militiamen came next; gripping their rifles with their left hands in the at-ease position, they started waving their red-banded gray caps by the peak as they cheered.

The KGB troops glanced at their commander beside the podium: General Vladimir Kryuchkov, Chairman of the KGB. Uncertain what to do as the Politburo stood up, he, too, rose to clap with the rest. The Border Guards took this as a cue (wrongly, as it turned out) and followed the Militiamen in cheering. Somewhere across five time zones, 80 million Soviet men and women were doing something similar.

Chort voz’mi …” Marshal Kozlov reached for the remote control and snapped off the TV set.

“Our beloved General Secretary,” murmured Major General Zemskov smoothly. The marshal nodded grimly several times. First the dire forebodings of the Kaminsky report, and now this. He rose, came around his desk, and took the report off the table.

“You are to take this, and you are to read it,” he said. “It is classified Top Secret and it stays that way. There are only two copies in existence and I retain the other one. You are to pay particular attention to what Kaminsky says in his Conclusion.”

Zemskov nodded. He judged from the marshal’s grim demeanor that there was more to it than reading a report. He had been a mere colonel two years before, when, on a visit to a Command Post exercise in East Germany, Marshal Kozlov had noticed him.

The exercise had involved maneuvers between the GSFG, the Group of Soviet Forces Germany, on the one hand and the East Germans’ National People’s Army on the other. The Germans had been pretending to be the invading Americans, and in previous instances had mauled their Soviet brothers-in-arms. This time the Russians had run rings around them, and the planning had all been due to Zemskov. As soon as he arrived in the top job at Frunze Street, Marshal Kozlov had sent for the brilliant planner and attached him to his own staff. Now he led the younger man to the wall map.

“When you have finished, you will prepare what appears to be a Special Contingency Plan. In truth this SCP will be a minutely detailed plan, down to the last man, gun, and bullet, for the military invasion and occupation of a foreign country. It may take up to twelve months.”

Major General Zemskov raised his eyebrows.

“Surely not so long, Comrade Marshal. I have at my disposal-”

“You have at your disposal nothing but your own eyes, hands, and brain. You will consult no one else, confer with no one else. Every piece of information you need will be obtained by a subterfuge. You will work alone, without support. It will take months and there will be just one copy at the end.”

“I see. And the country…?”

The marshal tapped the map. “Here. One day this land must belong to us.”

The Pan-Global Building in Houston, capital city of the American oil industry and, some say, of the world’s oil business, was the headquarters of the Pan-Global Oil Corporation, the twenty-eighth-largest oil company in the United States and ninth-largest in Houston. With total assets of $3.25 billion, Pan-Global was topped only by Shell, Tenneco, Conoco, Enron, Coastal, Texas Eastern, Transco, and Pennzoil. But in one way it was different from all the others: It was still owned and controlled by its veteran founder. There were stockholders and board members, but the founder retained the control and no one could trammel his power within his own corporation.

Twelve hours after Marshal Kozlov had briefed his planning officer, and eight time zones to the west of Moscow, Cyrus V. Miller stood at the ceiling-to-floor plate-glass window of his penthouse office suite and stared toward the west. Four miles away, through the haze of a late November afternoon, the Transco Tower stared back. Cyrus Miller stood a while longer, then walked back across the deep-pile carpet to his desk and buried himself again in the report that lay on it.

Forty years earlier, when he had begun to prosper, Miller had learned that information was power. To know what was going on and, more important, what was going to happen gave a man more power than political office or even money. That was when he had initiated within his growing corporation a Research and Statistics Division, staffing it with the brightest and sharpest of the analysts from his country’s universities. With the coming of the computer age he had stacked his R and S Division with the latest data banks, in which was stored a vast compendium of information about the oil industry and other industries, commercial needs, national economic performance, market trends, scientific advances, and people-hundreds of thousands of people from every walk of life who might, by some conceivable chance, one day be useful to him.

The report before him came from Dixon, a young graduate of Texas State with a penetrating intellect, whom he had hired a decade earlier and who had grown with the company. For all that he paid him, Miller mused, the analyst was not seeking to reassure him with the document on his desk. But he appreciated that. He went back for the fifth time to Dixon ’s conclusion.

The bottom line is that the Free World is simply running out of oil. At the moment this remains unperceived by the broad mass of the American people, due to successive governments’ determination to maintain the fiction that the present “cheap oil” situation can continue in perpetuity.

The proof of the “running-out” claim lies in the table of global oil reserves enclosed earlier. Out of forty-one oil-producing nations today, only ten have known reserves beyond the thirty-year mark. Even this picture is optimistic. Those thirty years assume continued production at present levels. The fact is that consumption, and therefore extraction, is increasing in any event, and as the short-reserve producers will run out first, the extraction from the remainder will increase to make up the shortfall. Twenty years would be a safer period to assume run-out in all but ten producing nations.

There is simply no way that alternative energy sources can or will come to the rescue in time. For the next three decades it is going to be oil or economic death for the Free World.

The American position is heading fast for catastrophe. During the period when the controlling OPEC nations hiked the crude price from $2 a barrel to $40, the U.S. government sensibly gave every incentive to our oil industry to explore, discover, extract, and refine the maximum possible from domestic resources. Since the self-destruction of OPEC and the Saudi production hike of 1985, Washington has bathed in artificially cheap oil from the Middle East, leaving the domestic industry to wither on the vine. This shortsightedness is going to produce a terrible harvest.

The American response to cheap oil has been increased demand, higher crude and product imports, and shrinking domestic production, a total cutback in exploration, wholesale refinery closings, and an unemployment slump worse than 1932. Even if we started a crash program now, with massive investment, and large-scale federal incentives, it would take ten years to rebuild the pool of skills, mobilize the machinery, and execute the efforts needed to bring our now-total reliance on the Middle East back to manageable proportions. So far there is no indication that Washington intends to encourage any such resurgence in national American oil production.

There are three reasons for this-all of them wrong:

(a) New American oil would cost $20 a barrel to find, whereas Saudi/Kuwaiti oil costs 10-15 cents a barrel to produce and $16 a barrel for us to buy. It is assumed this will continue in perpetuity. It won’t.

(b) It is assumed the Arabs and especially the Saudis will go on buying astronomical quantities of U.S. arms, technology, goods, and services for their own social and defense infrastructure, and thus keep on recycling their petrodollars with us. They won’t. Their infrastructure is virtually complete, they cannot even think of anything else to spend the dollars on, and their recent (1986 and 1988) Tornado fighter deals with Britain have pushed us into second place as arms suppliers.

(c) It is assumed that the monarchs who rule the Mideastern kingdoms and sultanates are good and loyal allies who would never turn on us and hike the prices back up again, and who will stay in power forever. Their blatant blackmail of America from 1973 through 1985 shows where their hearts lie; and in an area as unstable as the Middle East any regime can fall from power before the end of the week.

Cyrus Miller glared at the paper. He did not like what he read but he knew it was true. As a domestic producer and refiner of crude oil he had suffered cruelly in the previous four years, and no amount of lobbying in Washington by the oil industry had persuaded Congress to grant oil leases on the Arctic National Wildlife Range in Alaska, the country’s most promising discovery prospect for new oil. He loathed Washington.

He glanced at his watch. Half past four. He pressed a switch on his desk console and across the room a teak panel glided silently sideways to reveal a 26-inch color TV screen. He selected the CNN news channel and caught the headline story of the day.

Air Force One hung over the touchdown area at Andrews Base outside Washington, seemingly suspended in the sky until its seeking wheels gently found the waiting tarmac and it was back on American soil. As it slowed and then turned to taxi back toward the airport buildings, the image was replaced by the face of the gabbling newscaster relating again the story of the presidential speech just before the departure from Moscow twelve hours earlier.

As if to prove the newscaster’s narration, the CNN production team, with ten minutes to wait until the Boeing came to rest, rescreened the speech President Cormack had made in Russian, with English-language subtitles, the shots of the roaring and cheering airport workers and Militiamen and the image of Mikhail Gorbachev embracing the American leader in an emotional bear hug. Cyrus Miller’s fog-gray eyes did not blink, hiding even in the privacy of his office his hatred for the New England patrician who had unexpectedly stormed into the lead and the presidency twelve months earlier and was now moving further toward detente with Russia than even Reagan had dared to do. As President Cormack appeared in the doorway of Air Force One and the strains of “Hail to the Chief” struck up, Miller contemptuously hit the off button.

“Commie-loving bastard,” he growled, and returned to Dixon ’s report.

In fact, the twenty-year deadline for oil run-out by all but ten of the world’s forty-one producers is irrelevant. The price hikes will start in ten years or less. A recent Harvard University report predicted a price in excess of $50 a barrel (in 1989 dollars) before 1999 as against $16 a barrel today. The report was suppressed, but erred on the side of optimism. The prospect of the effect on the American public of such prices is nightmarish. What will Americans do when told to pay $2 a gallon for gasoline? How will farmers react when told they cannot feed their hogs or harvest their grain or even heat their houses through the bitter winters? We are facing social revolution here.

Even if Washington should authorize a massive revitalization of the U.S. oil-producing effort, we still have only five years of reserves at existing consumption levels. Europe is in even worse shape; apart from tiny Norway (one of the ten countries with thirty-plus years of reserves, but based on very small offshore production) Europe has three years of reserves. The countries of the Pacific Basin rely entirely on imported oil and have huge hard-currency surpluses. The result? Mexico, Venezuela, and Libya apart, we shall all be looking to the same source of supply: the six producers of the Middle East.

Iran, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, and the Neutral Zone have oil, but two are bigger than the rest of the eight put together: Saudi Arabia and neighboring Kuwait -and Saudi will be the key to OPEC. Today, producing 1.3 billion barrels a year, and with over a hundred years (170 billion barrels a day) of reserves, Saudi Arabia will control the world’s oil price, and control America.

At predicted oil-price rises, America will by 1995 have an import bill of $450 million a day-all payable to Saudi Arabia and her adjunct Kuwait. Which means the Middle East suppliers will probably own the very U.S. industries whose needs they are supplying. America, despite her advancement, technology, living standard, and military might, will be economically, financially, strategically, and thus politically dependent on a small, backward, semi-nomadic, corrupt, and capricious nation that she cannot control.

Cyrus Miller closed the report, leaned back, and stared at the ceiling. If anyone had had the nerve to tell him to his face that he stemmed from the ultra-right in American political thought, he would have denied it with vehemence. Though a traditional Republican voter, he had never taken much interest in politics in his seventy-seven years except as they affected the oil industry. His political party, so far as he was concerned, was patriotism. Miller loved his adopted state of Texas and his country of birth with an intensity that sometimes seemed to choke him.

What he failed to realize was that it was an America much of his own devising, a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant America of traditional values and raw chauvinism. Not, he assured the Almighty during his several-times-daily prayers, that he had anything against Jews, Catholics, Hispanics, or nigras-did he not employ eight Spanish-speaking maids in the mansion at his ranch in the hill country outside Austin, not to mention several blacks in the gardens?-so long as they knew and kept their place.

He stared at the ceiling and tried to think of a name. The name of a man whom he had met about two years back at an oil convention in Dallas, a man who told him he lived and worked in Saudi Arabia. They’d had only a short conversation, but the man had impressed him. He could see him in his mind’s eye; at just under six feet a mite shorter than Miller, compact, taut like a tensed spring, quiet, watchful, thoughtful, a man with enormous experience of the Middle East. He had walked with a limp, leaning on a silver-topped cane, and he had something to do with computers. The more he thought, the more Miller remembered. They had discussed computers, the merits of his Honeywells, and the man had favored IBMs. After several minutes Miller called in another member of his research staff and dictated his recollections.

“Find out who he is,” he commanded.

It was already dark on the southern coast of Spain, the coast they call the Costa del Sol. Although well out of the tourist season, the whole coast from Málaga the hundred miles to Gibraltar was lit by a glittering chain of lights, which from the mountains behind the coast would have looked like a fiery snake twisting and turning its way through Torremolinos, Mijas, Fuengirola, Marbella, Estepona, Puerto Duquesa, and on to La Linea and the Rock. Headlights from cars and trucks flickered constantly on the Málaga-Cadiz highway running along the flatland between the hills and the beaches. In the mountains behind the coast near the western end, between Estepona and Puerto Duquesa, lies the winegrowing district of south Andalusia, producing not the sherries of Jerez to the west but a rich, strong red wine. The center of this area is the small town of Manilva, just five miles inland from the coast but already having a panoramic view of the sea to the south. Manilva is surrounded by a cluster of small villages, almost hamlets, where live the people who till the slopes and tend the vines.

In one of them, Alcántara del Rio, the men were coming home from the fields, tired and aching after a long day’s work. The grape harvest was long home, but the vines had to be pruned and set back before the coming winter and the work was hard on the back and shoulders. So, before going to their scattered homes, most of the men stopped by the village’s single cantina for a glass and a chance to talk.

Alcántara del Rio boasted little but peace and quiet. It had a small white-painted church presided over by an old priest as decrepit as his incumbency, serving out his time saying mass for the women and children while regretting that the male members of his flock on a Sunday morning preferred the bar. The children went to school in Manilva. Apart from four dozen whitewashed cottages, there was just the Bar Antonio, now thronged with vineyard workers. Some worked for cooperatives based miles away; others owned their plots, worked hard, and made a modest living depending on the crop and the price offered by the buyers in the cities.

The tall man came in last, nodded a greeting to the others, and took his habitual chair in the corner. He was taller by several inches than the others, rangy, in his mid-forties, with a craggy face and humorous eyes. Some of the peasants called him “Señor,” but Antonio, as he bustled over with a carafe of wine and a glass, was more familiar.

Muy bueno, amigo. ¿Va bien?”

Hola, Tonio,” said the big man easily. “Si, va bien.”

He turned as a burst of music came from the television set mounted above the bar. It was the evening news on TVE and the men fell silent to catch the day’s headlines. The newscaster came first, describing briefly the departure from Moscow of President Cormack de los Estados Unidos. The image switched to Vnukovo, and the U.S. President moved in front of the microphone and began to speak. The Spanish TV had no subtitles but a voice-over translation into Spanish instead. The men in the bar listened intently. As John Cormack finished and held out his hand to Gorbachev, the camera (it was the BBC crew, covering for all the European stations) panned over the cheering airport workers, then the Militiamen, then the KGB troops. The Spanish newscaster came back on the screen. Antonio turned to the tall man.

Es un buen hombre, Señor Cormack,” he said, smiling broadly and clapping the tall man on the back in congratulation, as if his customer had some part-ownership of the man from the White House.

Si.” The tall man nodded thoughtfully. “Es un buen hombre.”

Cyrus V. Miller had not been born to his present riches. He had come from poor farming stock in Colorado and, as a boy, had seen his father’s dirt farm bought out by a mining company and devastated by its machinery. Resolving that if one could not beat them one ought to join them, the youth had worked his way through the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, emerging in 1933 with a degree and the clothes he wore. During his studies he had become fascinated more by oil than by rocks and headed south for Texas. It was still the days of the wildcatters, when leases were unfettered by environmental impact statements and ecological worries.

In 1936 he had spotted a cheap lease relinquished by Texaco, and calculated they had been digging in the wrong place. He persuaded a tool pusher with his own rig to join him, and sweet-talked a bank into taking the farm-in rights against a loan. The oil field supply house took more rights for the rest of the equipment he needed, and three months later the well came in-big. He bought out the tool pusher, leased his own rigs, and acquired other leases. With the outbreak of war in 1941 they all went on stream with maximum production and he was rich. But he wanted more, and just as he had seen the coming war in 1939, he spotted something in 1944 that aroused his interest. A Britisher called Frank Whittle had invented an airplane engine with no propeller and potentially enormous power. He wondered what fuel it used.

In 1945 he discovered that Boeing/Lockheed had acquired the rights to Whittle’s jet engine, and its fuel was not high-octane gasoline at all, but a low-grade kerosene. Sinking most of his funds into a down-market low-technology refinery in California, he approached Boeing/Lockheed, who coincidentally were becoming tired of the condescending arrogance of the major oil companies in their quest for the new fuel. Miller offered them his refinery, and together they developed the new Aviation Turbine Fuel-AVTUR. Miller’s low-tech refinery was just the asset to produce AVTUR, and as the first samples came off the production line the Korean War started. With the Sabre jet fighters taking on the Chinese MiGs, the jet age had arrived. Pan-Global went into orbit and Miller returned to Texas.

He also married. Maybelle was tiny compared to her husband, but it was she who ruled his home and him through thirty years of marriage, and he doted on her. There were no children-she deemed she was too small and delicate to bear children-and he accepted this, happy to grant her any wish she could devise. When she died in 1980 he was totally inconsolable. Then he discovered God. He did not take to organized religion, just God. He began to talk to the Almighty and discovered that the Lord talked back to him, advising him personally on how best he might increase his wealth and serve Texas and the United States. It escaped his attention that the divine advice was always what he wished to hear, and that the Creator happily shared all his own chauvinism, prejudices, and bigotries. He continued as always to avoid the cartoonist’s stereotype of the Texan, preferring to remain a nonsmoker, modest drinker, chaste, conservative in dress and speech, eternally courteous, and one who abominated foul language.

His intercom buzzed softly.

“The man whose name you wanted, Mr. Miller? When you met him he worked for IBM in Saudi Arabia. IBM confirms it must be the same man. He quit them and is now a free-lance consultant. His name is Easterhouse-Colonel Robert Easterhouse.”

“Find him,” said Miller. “Send for him. No matter what it costs. Bring him to me.”

Chapter 2

November 1990

Marshal Kozlov sat impassively behind his desk and studied the four men who flanked the stem of the T-shaped conference table. All four were reading the Top Secret folders in front of them; all four were men he knew he could trust-had to trust, for his career, and maybe more, was on the line.

To his immediate left was the Deputy Chief of Staff (South), who worked with him here in Moscow but had overall charge of the southern quarter of the U.S.S.R. with its teeming Moslem republics and its borders with Romania, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Beyond him was the chief of High Command South at Baku, who had flown to Moscow believing he was coming for routine staff conferences. But there was nothing routine about this one. Before coming to Moscow seven years earlier as First Deputy, Kozlov himself had commanded at Baku, and the man who now sat reading Plan Suvorov owed his promotion to Kozlov’s influence.

Across from these two sat the other pair, also engrossed. Nearest to the marshal was a man whose loyalty and involvement would be paramount if Suvorov was ever to succeed: the Deputy Head of the GRU, the Soviet armed forces’ intelligence branch. Constantly at loggerheads with its bigger rival, the KGB, the GRU was responsible for all military intelligence at home and abroad, counterintelligence, and internal security within the armed forces. More important for Plan Suvorov, the GRU controlled the Special Forces, the Spetsnaz, whose involvement at the start of Suvorov-if it ever went ahead-would be crucial. It was the Spetsnaz who in the winter of 1979 had flown into Kabul airport, stormed the presidential palace, assassinated the Afghan president, and installed the Soviet puppet Babrak Karmal, who had promptly issued a back-dated appeal to Soviet forces to enter the country and quell the “disturbances.”

Kozlov had chosen the Deputy because the head of the GRU was an old KGB man foisted on the General Staff, and no one had any doubt that he constantly scuttled back to his pals in the KGB with any tidbit he could gather to the detriment of the High Command. The GRU man had driven across Moscow from the GRU building just north of the Central Airfield.

Beyond the GRU man sat another, who had come from his headquarters in the northern suburbs and whose men would be vital for Suvorov-the Deputy Commander of the Vozdyshna-Desantnye Voiska or Air Assault Force, the paratroopers of the VDV who would have to drop onto a dozen cities named in Suvorov and secure them for the following air bridge.

There was no need at this point to bring in the Air Defense of the Homeland, the Voiska PVO, since the U.S.S.R. was not about to be invaded; nor the Strategic Rockets Forces, since rockets would not be necessary. As for Motor/Rifles, Artillery, and Armor, the High Command South had enough for the job.

The GRU man finished the file and looked up. He seemed about to speak but the marshal raised a hand and they both sat silent until the other three had finished. The session had started three hours earlier, when all four had read a shortened version of Kaminsky’s original oil report. The grimness with which they had noted its conclusions and forecasts was underscored by the fact that in the intervening-twelve months several of those forecasts had come true.

There were already cutbacks in oil allocations; some maneuvers had had to be “rescheduled”-canceled- through lack of gasoline. The promised nuclear power plants had not reopened, the Siberian fields were still producing little more than usual, and the Arctic exploration was still a shambles for lack of technology, skilled manpower, and funds. Glasnost and perestroika and press conferences and exhortations from the Politburo were all very well, but making Russia efficient was going to take a lot more than that.

After a brief discussion of the oil report, Kozlov had handed out four files, one to each. This was Plan Suvorov, prepared over nine months since the previous November by Major General Zemskov. The marshal had sat on Suvorov for a further three months, until he estimated the situation south of their borders had reached a point likely to make his subordinate officers more susceptible to the boldness of the plan. Now they had finished and looked up expectantly. None wanted to be the first to speak.

“All right,” said Marshal Kozlov carefully. “Comments?”

“Well,” ventured the Deputy Chief of Staff, “it would certainly give us a source of crude oil sufficient to bring us well into the first half of the next century.”

“That is the end game,” said Kozlov. “What about feasibility?” He glanced at the man from High Command South.

“The invasion and the conquest-no problem,” said the four-star general from Baku. “The plan is brilliant from that point of view. Initial resistance could be crushed easily enough. How we’d rule the bastards after that… They’re crazies, of course… We’d have to use extremely harsh measures.”

“That could be arranged,” said Kozlov smoothly.

“We’d have to use ethnic Russian troops,” said the paratrooper. “We use them anyway, with Ukrainians. I think we all know we couldn’t trust our divisions from the Moslem republics to do the job.”

There was a growl of assent. The GRU man looked up.

“I sometimes wonder if we can any longer use the Moslem divisions for anything. Which is another reason I like Plan Suvorov. It would enable us to stop the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism seeping into our southern republics. Wipe out the source. My people in the South report that in the event of war we should probably not rely on our Moslem divisions to fight at all.”

The general from Baku did not even dispute it.

“Bloody wogs,” he growled. “They’re getting worse all the time. Instead of defending the south, I’m spending half my time quelling religious riots in Tashkent, Samarkand, and Ashkhabad. I’d love to hit the bloody Party of Allah right at home.”

“So,” summed up Marshal Kozlov, “we have three plusses. It’s feasible because of the long and exposed border and the chaos down there, it would get us our oil for half a century, and we could shaft the Fundamentalist preachers once and for all. Anything against…?”

“What about Western reaction?” asked the paratrooper general. “The Americans could trigger World War Three over this.”

“I don’t think so,” countered the GRU man, who had more experience of the West than any of them, having studied it for years. “American politicians are deeply subject to public opinion, and for most Americans today anything that happens to the Iranians can’t be bad enough. That’s how the broad masses of Americans see it.”

All four men knew the recent history of Iran well enough. After the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini and an interregnum of bitter political infighting in Teheran, the succession had passed to the bloodstained Islamic judge Khalkhali, last seen gloating over American bodies recovered from the desert after the abortive attempt to rescue the hostages of the U.S. embassy.

Khalkhali had sought to protect his fragile ascendancy by instigating another reign of terror inside Iran, using the dreaded Patrols of Blood, the Gasht-e-Sarallah. Finally, as the most violent of these Revolutionary Guards threatened to go out of his control, he exported them abroad to conduct a series of terrorist atrocities against American citizens and assets across the Middle East and Europe, a campaign that had occupied most of the previous six months.

By the time the five Soviet soldiers were meeting to consider the invasion and occupation of Iran, Khalkhali was hated by the population of Iran, who had finally had enough of Holy Terror, and by the West.

“I think,” resumed the GRU man, “that if we hanged Khalkhali, the American public would donate the rope. Washington might be outraged if we went in, but the congressmen and senators would hear the word from back home and advise the President to back off. And don’t forget we’re supposed to be buddy-buddies with the Yankees these days.”

There was a rumble of amusement from around the table, in which Kozlov joined.

“Then where’s the opposition going to come from?” he asked.

“I believe,” said the general of the GRU, “that it wouldn’t come from Washington, if we presented America with a fait accompli. But I think it will come from Novaya Ploshchad; the man from Stavropol will turn it down flat.”

Novaya Ploshchad, or New Square, is the Moscow home of the Central Committee building, and the mention of Stavropol was a not-too-flattering reference to the General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, who came from there.

The five soldiers nodded gloomily. The GRU man pressed his point.

“We all know that ever since that damned Cormack became the great Russian pop star at Vnukovo twelve months ago, teams from both Defense Ministries have been working out details for a big arms cutback treaty. Gorbachev flies to America in two weeks to try and clinch it, so he can liberate enough resources to develop our domestic oil industry. So long as he believes he can get our oil by that route, why should he shaft his beloved treaty with Cormack by giving us the green light to invade Iran?”

“And if he gets his treaty, will the Central Committee ratify it?” asked the general from Baku.

“He owns the Central Committee now,” said Kozlov. “These last two years, almost all the opposition has been pruned away.”

It was on that pessimistic but resigned note that the conference ended. The copies of Plan Suvorov were collected and locked in the marshal’s safe, and the generals returned to their postings, prepared to stay silent, to watch and to wait.

Two weeks later Cyrus Miller also found himself in conference, although with a single man, a friend and colleague of many years. He and Melville Scanlon went back to the Korean War, when the young Scanlon was a feisty entrepreneur out of Galveston with his meager assets sunk in a few small tankers.

Miller had had a contract to supply and deliver his new jet fuel to the U.S. Air Force, delivery to be effected to the dockside in Japan where the Navy tankers would take it over and run it to beleaguered South Korea. He gave Scanlon the contract and the man had done wonders, running his rust-buckets around through the Panama Canal, picking up the AVTUR in California, and shipping it across the Pacific. By using the same ships to bring in crude and feedstock from Texas before changing cargoes and heading for Japan, Scanlon had kept his ships in freight all the way and Miller had got ample feedstock to convert into AVTUR. Three tanker crews had gone down in the Pacific but no questions were asked, and both men had made a great deal of money before Miller was eventually obliged to license his know-how to the majors.

Scanlon had gone on to become a bulk petroleum commodity broker and shipper, buying and transporting consignments of crude all over the world, mainly out of the Persian Gulf to America. After 1981, Scanlon had taken a pasting when the Saudis insisted that all their cargoes out of the Gulf should be carried in Arab-flag ships, a policy they were really able to enforce only in the movement of participation crude-i.e., that bit which belonged to the producing country rather than the producing oil company.

But it had been precisely the participation crude that Scanlon had been carrying across to America for the Saudis, and he had been squeezed out, forced to sell or lease his tankers to the Saudis and Kuwaitis at unattractive prices. He had survived, but he had no love for Saudi Arabia. Still, he had some tankers left which plied the route from the Gulf to the United States, mainly carrying Aramco crude, which managed to escape the Arab-flag-only demand.

Miller was standing at his favorite window staring down at the sprawl of Houston beneath him. It gave him a godlike feeling to be so high above the rest of humanity. On the other side of the room Scanlon leaned back in his leather club chair and tapped the Dixon oil report, which he had just finished. Like Miller, he knew that Gulf crude had just hit $20 a barrel.

“I agree with you, old friend. There is no way the U.S. of A. should ever become dependent for its very life on these bastards. What the hell does Washington think it’s up to? They blind up there?”

“There’ll be no help from Washington, Mel,” said Miller calmly. “You want to change things in this life, you better do it yourself. We’ve all learned that the hard way.”

Mel Scanlon produced a handkerchief and mopped his brow. Despite the air conditioning in the office, he always had a tendency to sweat. Unlike Miller he favored the traditional Texan rig-Stetson hat, bolo tie, Navajo tie clasp and belt buckle, and high-heeled boots. The pity was he hardly had the figure of a cattleman, being short and portly; but behind his good-ole-boy image he concealed an astute brain.

“Don’t see how you can change the location of these vast reserves,” he huffed. “The Hasa oil fields are in Saudi Arabia, and that’s a fact.”

“No, not their geographic location. But the political control of them,” said Miller, “and therefore the ability to dictate the price of Saudi and thus world oil.”

Political control? You mean to another bunch of Ay-rabs?”

“No, to us,” said Miller. “To the United States of America. If we’re to survive, we have to control the price of world oil, pegging it at a price we can afford, and that means controlling the government in Riyadh. This nightmare of being at the beck and call of a bunch of goatherds has gone on long enough. It’s got to be changed and Washington won’t do it. But this might.”

He picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk, neatly bound between stiff paper covers that bore no label. Scanlon’s face puckered.

“Not another report, Cy,” he protested.

“Read it,” urged Miller. “Improve your mind.”

Scanlon sighed and flicked open the file. The title page read simply:

THE DESTRUCTION AND FALL OF THE HOUSE OF SA’UD

“Holy shit,” said Scanlon.

“No,” said Miller calmly. “Holy Terror. Read on.”

Islam: The religion of Islam was established through the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed around A.D. 622 and today encompasses between 800 million and 1 billion people. Unlike Christianity it has no consecrated priests; its religious leaders are laymen respected for their moral or intellectual qualities. The doctrines of Mohammed are laid down in the Koran.

Sects: Ninety percent of Moslems are of the Sunni (orthodox) branch. The most important minority is the Shi’ah (partisan) sect. The crucial difference is that the Sunnis follow the recorded statements of the Prophet, known as the Hadith (traditions), while the Shi’ites follow and accord divine infallibility to whoever is their current leader, or Imam. The strongholds of Shi’ism are Iran (93 percent) and Iraq (55 percent). Six percent of Saudi Arabians are Shi’ites, a persecuted, hate-filled minority whose leader is in hiding and who work mainly around the Hasa oil fields.

Fundamentalism: While Sunni fundamentalists do exist, the true home of fundamentalism is within the Shi’ah sect. This sect-within-a-sect predicates absolute adherence to the Koran as interpreted by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, who has not been replaced.

Hezb Allah: Within Iran, the true and ultimate fundamentalist creed is contained within the army of fanatics who style themselves the Party of God, or Hezb Allah. Elsewhere, fundamentalists operate under different names, but for the purposes of this report, Hezb Allah will do.

Aims and Creeds: The basic philosophy is that all of Islam should be brought back to, and eventually all the world brought to, the submission to the will of Allah interpreted by and demanded by Khomeini. On that road there are a number of prerequisites, three of which are of interest: All existing Moslem governments are illegitimate because they are not founded on unconditional submission to Allah-i.e., Khomeini; any coexistence between Hezb Allah and a secular Moslem government is inconceivable; it is the divine duty of Hezb Allah to punish with death all wrongdoers against Islam throughout the world, but especially heretics within Islam.

Methods: The Hezb Allah has long decreed that in accomplishing this last aim there shall be no mercy, no compassion, no pity, no restraint, and no flinching-even to the point of self-martyrdom. They call this Holy Terror.

Proposal: To inspire, rally, activate, organize, and assist the Shi’ah zealots to massacre the six hundred leading and controlling members of the House of Sa’ud, thus destroying the dynasty and with it the government in Riyadh, which would then be replaced by a princeling prepared to accept an ongoing American military occupation of the Hasa fields and peg the price of crude at a level “suggested” by the U.S.A.

“Who the hell wrote this?” asked Scanlon as he put down the report, of which he had read only the first half.

“A man I’ve been using as a consultant these past twelve months,” said Miller. “Do you want to meet him?”

“He’s here?”

“Outside. He arrived ten minutes ago.”

“Sure,” said Scanlon. “Let’s take a look at this maniac.”

“In a moment,” said Miller.

The Cormack family, long before Professor John Cormack left academe to enter politics as a congressman from the state of Connecticut, had always had a summer vacation home on the island of Nantucket. He had come there first as a young teacher with his new bride thirty years earlier, before Nantucket became fashionable like Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, and had been entranced by the clean-air simplicity of life there.

Lying due east of Martha’s Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast, Nantucket then had its traditional fishing village, its Indian burial ground, its bracing winds and golden beaches, a few vacation homes, and not much else. Land was available and the young couple had scrimped and saved to purchase a four-acre plot at Shawkemo, along the strand from Children’s Beach and on the edge of the near-landlocked lagoon called simply the Harbor. There John Cormack had built his frame house, clad in overlapping weathered-gray boards, with wooden shingles on the roof and rough-hewn furniture, hooked rugs, and patchwork quilts inside.

Later there was more money, and improvements were made and some extensions added. When he first came to the White House and said he wished to spend his vacations at Nantucket, a minor hurricane descended on the old home. Experts arrived from Washington, looked in horror at the lack of space, the lack of security, of communications… They came back and said yes, Mr. President, that would be fine; they would just have to build quarters for a hundred Secret Service men, fix a helicopter pad, several cottages for visitors, secretaries, and household staff-there was no way Myra Cormack could continue to make the beds herself-oh, and maybe a satellite dish or two for the communications people… President Cormack had called the whole thing off.

Then, that November, he had taken a gamble with the man from Moscow, inviting Mikhail Gorbachev up to Nantucket for a long weekend. And the Russian had loved it.

His KGB heavies had been as distraught as the Secret Service men, but both leaders were adamant. The two men, wrapped against the knifing wind off Nantucket Sound (the Russian had brought a sable fur shapka for the American), took long walks along the beaches while KGB and Secret Service men plodded after them, others hid in the sere grass and muttered into communicators, a helicopter clawed its way through the winds above them, and a Coast Guard cutter pitched and plunged offshore.

No one tried to kill anybody. The two men strolled into Nantucket town unannounced and the fishermen at Straight Wharf showed them their fresh-caught lobsters and scallops. Gorbachev admired the catch and twinkled and beamed, and then they had a beer together at a dockside bar and walked back to Shawkemo, looking side by side like a bulldog and a stork.

At night, after steamed lobsters in the frame house, the defense experts from each side joined them and the interpreters, and they worked out the last points of principle and drafted their communiqué.

On Tuesday the press was allowed in-there had always been a token force pooling pictures and words, for after all this was America, but on Tuesday the massed battalions arrived. At noon the two men emerged onto the wooden veranda and the President read the communiqué. It announced the firm intention to put before the Central Committee and the Senate a wide-ranging and radical agreement to cut back conventional forces across the board and across the world. There were still some verification problems to be ironed out, a job for the technicians, and the specific details of what types of weaponry and how much were to be decommissioned, mothballed, scrapped, or aborted would be announced later. President Cormack spoke of peace with honor, peace with security, and peace with good will. Secretary Gorbachev nodded vigorously as the translation came through. No one mentioned then, though the press did later and at great length, that with the U.S. budget deficit, the Soviet economic chaos, and a looming oil crisis, neither superpower could finally afford a continuing arms race.

Two thousand miles away in Houston, Cyrus V. Miller switched off the television and stared at Scanlon.

“That man is going to strip us naked,” he said with quiet venom. “That man is dangerous. That man is a traitor.”

He recovered himself and strode to the desk intercom.

“Louise, would you send in Colonel Easterhouse now, please.”

Someone once said: All men dream, but they are most dangerous who dream with their eyes open. Colonel Robert Easterhouse sat in the elegant reception room atop the Pan-Global Building and stared at the window and the panoramic view of Houston. But his pale-blue eyes saw the vaulted sky and ocher sands of the Nejd and he dreamed of controlling the income from the Hasa oil fields for the benefit of America and all mankind.

Born in 1945, he was three when his father accepted a teaching job at the American University in Beirut. The Lebanese capital had been a paradise in those days, elegant, cosmopolitan, rich, and safe. He had attended an Arab school for a while, had French and Arab playmates; by the time the family returned to Idaho he was thirteen and trilingual in English, French, and Arabic.

Back in America the youth had found his schoolmates shallow, frivolous, and stunningly ignorant, obsessed by rock ‘n’ roll and a young singer called Presley. They mocked his tales of swaying cedars, Crusader forts, and the plumes of the Druse campfires drifting through the Chouf mountain passes. So he was driven to books, and none more than The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by Lawrence of Arabia. At eighteen, forsaking college and the girls back home, he volunteered for the 82nd Airborne. He was still at boot camp when Kennedy died.

For ten years he had been a paratrooper, with three tours in Vietnam, coming out with the last forces in 1973. Men can acquire fast promotion when casualties are high and he was the 82nd’s youngest colonel when he was crippled, not in war but in a stupid accident. It had been a training drop in the desert; the DZ was supposed to be flat and sandy, the winds a breeze at five knots. As usual the brass had got it wrong. The wind was thirty-plus at ground level; the men were smashed into rocks and gullies. Three dead, twenty-seven injured.

The X-ray plates later showed the bones in Easterhouse’s left leg like a box of matches scattered on black velvet. He watched the embarrassing scuttle of the last U.S. forces out of the embassy in Saigon -Bunker’s bunker, as he knew it from the Tet offensive-on a hospital TV in 1975. While in the hospital he chanced on a book about computers and realized that these machines were the road to power: a way to correct the madnesses of the world and bring order and sanity to chaos and anarchy, if properly used.

Quitting the military, he went to college and majored in computer science, joined Honeywell for three years, and moved to IBM. It was 1981, the petrodollar power of the Saudis was at its peak, Aramco had hired IBM to construct for them foolproof computer systems to monitor production, flow, exportation, and above all royalty dues throughout their monopoly operation in Saudi Arabia. With fluent Arabic and a genius for computers, Easterhouse was a natural. He spent five years protecting Aramco’s interests in Saudi, coming to specialize in computer-monitored security systems against fraud and theft. In 1986, with the collapse of the OPEC cartel, the power shifted back to the consumers; and the Saudis felt exposed. They head-hunted the limping computer genius who spoke their language and knew their customs, paying him a fortune to go free-lance and work for them instead of IBM and Aramco.

He knew the country and its history like a native. Even as a boy he had thrilled to the written tales of the Founder, the dispossessed nomadic Sheikh Abdal Aziz al Sa’ud, sweeping out of the desert to storm the Musmak Fortress at Riyadh and begin his march to power. He had marveled at the astuteness of Abdal Aziz as he spent thirty years conquering the thirty-seven tribes of the interior, uniting the Nejd to the Hejaz to the Hadhramaut, marrying the daughters of his vanquished enemies and binding the tribes into a nation-or the semblance of one.

Then Easterhouse saw the reality, and admiration turned to disillusion, contempt, and loathing. His job with IBM had involved preventing and detecting computer fraud in systems devised by unworldly whiz kids from the States, monitoring the translation of operational oil production into accounting language and ultimately bank balances, creating foolproof systems that could also be integrated with the Saudi treasury setup. It was the profligacy and the dizzying corruption that turned his basically puritan spirit to a conviction that one day he would become the instrument that would sweep away the result of a freak accident of fate which had given such huge wealth and power to such a people; it would be he who would restore order and correct the mad imbalances of the Middle East, so that this God-given gift of oil would be used first for the service of the Free World and then for all the peoples of the world.

He could have used his skills to skim a vast fortune for himself from the oil revenues, as the princes did, but his morality forbade him. So to fulfill his dream he would need the support of powerful men, backup, funding. And then he had been summoned by Cyrus Miller to bring down the corrupt edifice and deliver it to America. Now, all he had to do was persuade these barbarian Texans that he was their man.

“Colonel Easterhouse?” He was interrupted by the honeyed tones of Louise. “Mr. Miller will see you now, sir.”

He rose, leaned on his cane for a few seconds till the pain eased, then followed her into Miller’s office. He greeted Miller respectfully and was introduced to Scanlon. Miller came straight to the point.

“Colonel, I would like my friend and colleague here to be convinced, as I am, of the feasibility of your concept. I respect his judgment and would like him to be involved with us.”

Scanlon appreciated the compliment. Easterhouse spotted that it was a lie. Miller did not respect Scanlon’s judgment, but they would both need Scanlon’s ships, covertly used to import the needed weaponry for the coup d’état.

“You read my report, sir?” Easterhouse asked Scanlon.

“That bit about the Hez-Boll-Ah guys, yes. Heavy stuff, lot of funny names. How do you think you can use them to bring down the monarchy? And more important, deliver the Hasa oil fields to America?”

“Mr. Scanlon, you cannot control the Hasa oil fields and direct their product to America unless you first control the government in Riyadh, hundreds of miles away. That government must be changed into a puppet regime, wholly, ruled by its American advisers. America cannot topple the House of Sa’ud openly-Arab reaction would be impossible. My plan is to provoke a small group of Shi’ah Fundamentalists, dedicated to Holy Terror, to carry out the act. The idea that Khomeinists have come to control the Saudi peninsula would send waves of panic throughout the entire Arab world. From Oman in the south, up through the Emirates to Kuwait, from Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel would come immediately overt or covert pleas to America to intervene to save them all from Holy Terror.

“Because I have been setting up a computerized Saudi internal security system for two years, I am aware that such a group of Holy Terror fanatics exists, headed by an Imam who regards the King, his group of brothers-the inner Mafia known as the Al-Fahd-and the entire family of three thousand princelings who make up the dynasty, with pathological loathing. The Imam has publicly denounced them all as the Whores of Islam, Defilers of the Holy Places of Mecca and Medina. He has had to go into hiding, but I can keep him safe until we need him by erasing all news of his whereabouts from the central computer. Also, I have a contact with him-a disenchanted member of the Mutawain, the ubiquitous and hated Religious Police.”

“But what’s the point in handing over Saudi Arabia to these yo-yos?” demanded Scanlon. “With Saudi’s pending income of three hundred million U.S. dollars a day-hell, they’d wreak absolute havoc.”

“Precisely. Which the Arab world itself could not tolerate. Every state in the area excepting Iran would appeal to America to intervene. Washington would be under massive pressure to fly the Rapid Deployment Force into its prepared base in Oman, on the Musandam Peninsula, and thence into Riyadh, the capital, and Dhahran and Bahrein, to secure the oil fields before they could be destroyed forever. Then we’d have to stay to prevent its ever happening again.”

“And this Imam guy,” asked Scanlon. “What happens to him?”

“He dies,” said Easterhouse calmly, “to be replaced by the one princeling of the House who was not present at the massacre, because he was abducted to my house in time to avoid it. I know him well-he’s Western educated, pro-American, weak, vacillating, and a drunk. But he will legitimize the other Arab appeals by one of his own, by radio from our embassy in Riyadh. As the sole surviving member of the dynasty, he can appeal for America to intervene to restore legitimacy. Then he’ll be our man forever.”

Scanlon thought it over. He reverted to type.

“What’s in it for us? I don’t mean the U.S.A. I mean us!”

Miller intervened. He knew Scanlon and how he would react.

“Mel, if this prince rules in Riyadh and is advised every waking moment of the day by the colonel here, we are looking at the breaking of the Aramco monopoly. We are looking at new contracts, shipping, importing, refining. And guess who’s at the head of the line?”

Scanlon nodded his assent. “When do you plan to schedule this… event?”

“You may know that the storming of the Musmak Fortress was in January 1902; the declaration of the new kingdom was in 1932,” said Easterhouse. “Fifteen months from now, in the spring of 1992, the King and his court will celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the first and the diamond jubilee of the kingdom. They are planning a vast billion-dollar jamboree before a world audience. The new covered stadium is being built. I am in charge of all its computer-governed security systems-gates, doors, windows, air conditioning. A week before the great night there will be a full dress rehearsal attended by the leading six hundred members of the House of Sa’ud, drawn from every corner of the world. That is when I will arrange for the Holy Terrorists to strike. The doors will be computer-locked with them inside; the five hundred soldiers of the Royal Guard will be issued defective ammunition, imported, along with the submachine carbines needed by the Hezb’Allah to do the job, in your ships.”

“And when it’s over?” asked Scanlon.

“When it’s over, Mr. Scanlon, there will be no House of Sa’ud left. Nor of the terrorists. The stadium will catch fire and the cameras will continue rolling until meltdown. Then the new ayatollah, the self-styled Living Imam, inheritor of the spirit and soul of Khomeini, will go on television and announce his plans to the world, which has just seen what happened in the stadium. That, I’m certain, will start the appeals to Washington.”

“Colonel,” said Cyrus Miller, “how much funding will you need?”

“To begin advance planning immediately, one million dollars. Later, two million for foreign purchases and hard-currency bribes. Inside Saudi Arabia -nothing. I can obtain a fund of local riyals amounting to several billion to cover all internal purchasing and palm-greasing.”

Miller nodded. The strange visionary was asking peanuts for what he intended to do.

“I will see that you get it, Colonel. Now, would you mind waiting outside for a little while? I’d like you to come and have dinner at my house when I’m done.”

As Colonel Easterhouse turned to go he paused in the doorway.

“There is, or might be, one problem. The only ungovernable factor I can perceive. President Cormack seems to be a man dedicated to peace and, from what I observed at Nantucket, now dedicated to a new treaty with the Kremlin. That treaty would probably not survive our takeover of the Saudi peninsula. Such a man might even refuse to send in the Rapid Deployment Force.”

When he had gone, Scanlon swore, drawing a frown from Miller.

“He could be right, you know, Cy. God, if only Odell were in the White House.”

Although personally chosen by Cormack as his running mate, Vice President Michael Odell was also a Texan, a businessman, a self-made millionaire, and much farther to the right than Cormack. Miller, possessed by unusual passion, turned and gripped Scanlon by the shoulders.

“Mel, I have prayed to the Lord over that man-many, many times. And I asked for a sign. And with this colonel and what he just said, He has given me that sign. Cormack has got to go.”

Just north of the gambling capital of Las Vegas in Nevada lies the huge sprawl of Nellis Air Force Range, where gambling is definitely not on the agenda. For the 11,274-acre base broods over the United States’ most secret weapons-testing range, the Tonopah Test Range, where any stray private aircraft penetrating its 3,012,770 acres of test-ground during a test is likely to be given one warning and then shot down.

It was here, on a bright crisp morning in December 1990, that two groups of men disembarked from a convoy of limousines to witness the first testing and demonstration of a revolutionary new weapon. The first group comprised the manufacturers of the multi-launch rocket vehicle, which was the base of the system, and they were accompanied by men from the two associated corporations who had built the rockets and the electronics/avionics programs incorporated in the weapon. Like most modern hardware, Despot, the ultimate tank-destroyer, was not a simple device but involved a net of complex systems that in this case had come from three separate corporations.

Peter Cobb was chief executive officer and major shareholder in Zodiac AFV, Inc., a company specializing in armored fighting vehicles-hence the initials in its name. For him personally, and for his company, which had developed Despot at their own expense over seven years, everything hung on the weapon’s being accepted and bought by the Pentagon. He had little doubt; Despot was years ahead of Boeing’s Pave Tiger system and the newer Tacit Rainbow. He knew it responded completely to an abiding concern of NATO planners-isolating the first wave of any Soviet tank attack across the central German plain from the second wave.

His colleagues were Lionel Moir of Pasadena Avionics in California, who had built the Kestrel and Goshawk components, and Ben Salkind of ECK Industries, Inc., in the Silicon Valley near Palo Alto, California. These men also had crucial personal as well as corporate stakes in the adoption of Despot by the Pentagon. ECK Industries had a slice of the prototype-stage B2 Stealth bomber for the Air Force, but this was an assured project.

The Pentagon team arrived two hours later, when everything was set up. There were twelve of them, including two generals, and they comprised the technical group whose recommendation would be vital to the Pentagon decision. When they were all seated under the awning in front of the battery of TV screens, the test began.

Moir started with a surprise. He invited the audience to swivel in their seats and survey the nearby desert. It was flat, empty. They were puzzled. Moir pressed a button on his console. Barely yards away the desert began to erupt. A great metal claw emerged, reached forward, and pulled. Out of the sand where it had buried itself, immune to hunting fighter planes and downward-looking radar, came the Despot. A great block of gray steel on wheels and tracks, windowless, independent, self-contained, proof against direct hit by all but a heavy artillery shell or large bomb, proof against nuclear, gas, and germ attack, it hauled itself out of its self-dug grave and went to work.

The four men inside started the engines that powered the systems, drew back the steel screens that covered the reinforced glass portholes, and pushed out their radar dish to warn them of incoming attack, and their sensor antennae to help them guide their missiles. The Pentagon team was impressed.

“We will assume,” said Cobb, “that the first wave of Soviet tanks has crossed the Elbe River into West Germany by several existing bridges and a variety of military bridges thrown up during the night. NATO forces are engaging the first wave. We have enough to cope. But the much bigger second wave of Russian tanks is emerging from their cover in the East German forests and heading for the Elbe. These will make the breakthrough and head for the French border. The Despots, deployed and buried in a north-south line through Germany, have their orders. Find, identify, and destroy.”

He pressed another button and a hatch opened at the top of the AFV. From it, on a ramp, emerged a pencil-slim rocket. Twenty inches in diameter, an eight-foot tube. It ignited its tiny rocket motor and soared away into the pale-blue sky where, being pale blue itself, it disappeared from view. The men returned to their screens, where a high-definition TV camera was tracking the Kestrel. At 150 feet its high-bypass turbofan jet engine ignited, the rocket died and dropped away, short stubby wings sprouted from its sides, and tail fins gave it guidance. The miniature rocket began to fly like an airplane, and still it climbed away down the range. Moir pointed to a large radar screen. The sweep arm circled the disk but no responding image glowed into light.

“The Kestrel is made entirely of Fiberglas,”intoned Moir proudly. “Its engine is made of ceramic derivatives, heat-resistant but nonreflective to radar. With a little ‘stealth’ technology thrown in, you will see it is totally invisible-to eye or machine. It has the radar signature of a strawberry finch. Less. A bird can be radar-detected by the flapping of its wings. Kestrel doesn’t flap, and this radar is far more sophisticated than anything the Soviets have got.”

In war the Kestrel, a deep-penetration vehicle, would penetrate two hundred to five hundred miles behind enemy lines. In this test it reached operating altitude at fifteen thousand feet, hauled in at one hundred miles downrange, and began to circle slowly, giving it ten hours of endurance at one hundred knots. It also began to look down electronically. Its range of sensors came into play. Like a hunting bird it scanned the terrain beneath, covering a circle of land seventy miles in diameter.

Its infrared scanners did the hunting; then it interrogated with millimeter-band radar.

“It is programmed to strike only if the target is emitting heat, is made of steel, and is moving,” said Moir. “Target must emit enough heat to be a tank, not a car, a truck, or a train. It won’t hit a bonfire, a heated house, or a parked vehicle, because they aren’t moving. It won’t hit angle-reflectors for the same reason, or brick, timber, or rubber, because they are not steel. Now look at the target area on this screen, gentlemen.”

They turned to the giant screen whose image was being piped to them from the TV camera a hundred miles away. A large area had been fitted out like a Hollywood set. There were artificial trees, wooden shacks, parked vans, trucks, and cars. There were rubber tanks, which now began to crawl, pulled by unseen wires. There were bonfires, gasoline-ignited, which blazed into flame. Then a single real tank began to move, radio-controlled. At fifteen thousand feet the Kestrel spotted it at once and reacted.

“Gentlemen, here is the new revolution, of which we are justly proud. In former systems the hunter threw itself downward on the target, destroying itself and all that expensive technology. Very cost-inefficient. Kestrel doesn’t do that; it calls up a Goshawk. Watch the Despot.”

The audience swiveled again, in time to catch the flicker of the rocket of the yard-long Goshawk missile that now obeyed the Kestrel’s call and headed for the target on command. Salkind took up the commentary.

“The Goshawk will scream up to one hundred thousand feet, keel over, and head back down. As it passes the Kestrel, the remotely piloted vehicle will pass on final target information to the Goshawk. Kestrel’s onboard computer will give the target’s position when the Goshawk hits zero feet, to the nearest eighteen inches. Goshawk will hit within that circle. It’s coming down now.”

Amid all the houses, shacks, trucks, vans, cars, bonfires, angle-reflectors dug into the sand of the target area; amid the decoy rubber tanks, the steel tank (an old Abrams Mark One) rumbled forward as to war. There was a sudden flicker and the Abrams seemed to have been punched by a massive fist. Almost in slow motion it flattened out, its sides burst outward, its gun jerked upward to point accusingly at the sky, and it burst into a fireball. Under the awning there was a collective letting-out of breath.

“How much ordnance do you have in the nose of that Goshawk?” asked one of the generals.

“None, General,” said Salkind. “Goshawk is like a smart rock. It’s coming down at close to ten thousand miles per hour. Apart from its receiver for getting information from Kestrel and its tiny radar for following instructions to the target for the last fifteen thousand feet, it has no technology. That’s why it’s so cheap. But the effect often kilograms of tungsten-tipped steel at that speed hitting a tank is like… well, like firing an air-gun pellet onto the back of a cockroach at point-blank range. That tank just stopped the equivalent of two Amtrak locomotives at a hundred miles per hour. It was just flattened.”

The test continued for another two hours. The manufacturers proved they could reprogram the Kestrel in flight; if they told it to go for steel structures with water on each side and land at each end, it would take out bridges. If they changed the hunting profile, it would strike at trains, barges, or moving columns of trucks. So long as they were moving. Stationary, except for bridges Kestrel did not know if an object was a steel truck or a small steel shed. But its sensors could penetrate rain, cloud, snow, hail, sleet, fog, and darkness.

The groups broke up in mid-afternoon, and the Pentagon committee prepared to board its limousines for Nellis and the flight to Washington.

One of the generals held out his hand to the manufacturers.

“As a tank man,” he said, “I have never seen anything so frightening in my life. It has my vote. It will worry Frunze Street sick. To be hunted by men is bad enough; to be hunted like that by a goddam robot-hell, what a nightmare!”

It was one of the civilians who had the last word.

“Gentlemen, it’s brilliant. The best RPV deep-strike tank-buster system in the world. But I have to say, if this new Nantucket Treaty goes through, it looks like we’ll never order it.”

Cobb, Moir, and Salkind realized as they shared a car back to Las Vegas that Nantucket was facing them, along with thousands of others in the military-industrial complex, with utter corporate and personal ruin.

* * *

On the eve of Christmas there was no work in Alcántara del Rio but much drinking was done and it went on until late. When Antonio finally closed his little bar it was past midnight. Some of his customers lived right there in the village; others drove or walked back to their scattered cottages spread across the hillsides around the villages. Which was why José Francisco, called Pablo, was lurching happily along the track past the house of the tall foreigner, feeling no pain save a slight bursting of the bladder. Finding he could go no farther without relief, he turned to the rubble wall of the yard in which was parked the battered SEAT Terra mini-jeep, unzipped his fly, and devoted himself to enjoyment of man’s second greatest single pleasure.

Above his head the tall man slept, and again he dreamed the awful dream that had brought him to these parts. He was drenched in sweat as he went through it all for the hundredth time. Still asleep, he opened his mouth and screamed, “No… o… o… o!”

Down below, Pablo leaped a foot clear in the air and fell back in the road, soaking his Sunday-best trousers. Then he was up and running, his urine sloshing down his legs, his zipper still undone, his organ receiving an unaccustomed breath of fresh air. If the big, rangy foreigner was going to get violent, then he, José Francisco Echevarría, by the grace of God, was not going to stick around. He was polite, all right, and spoke good Spanish, but there was something strange about that man.

In the middle of the following January a young freshman came cycling down St. Giles Street in the ancient British city of Oxford, bent upon meeting his new tutor and enjoying his first full day at Balliol College. He wore thick corduroy trousers and a down parka against the cold, but over it he had insisted on wearing the black academic gown of an undergraduate at Oxford University. It flapped in the wind. Later he would learn that most undergraduates did not wear them unless eating in hall, but as a newcomer he was very proud of it. He would have preferred to live in college, but his family had rented him a large house just off the Woodstock Road. He passed the Martyrs’ Memorial and entered Magdalen Street.

Behind him, unperceived, a plain sedan came to a halt. There were three men in it, two in the front and one in the back. The third man leaned forward.

“ Magdalen Street is restricted access. Not for cars. You’ll have to continue on foot.”

The man in the front passenger seat swore softly and slipped to the pavement. At a fast walk he glided through the crowd, intent on the cycling figure ahead of him. Directed by the man in the back, the car swerved right into Beaumont Street, then left into Gloucester Street and another left down George Street. It stopped, having reached the bottom end of Magdalen, just as the cyclist emerged. The freshman dismounted a few yards into Broad Street, across the junction, so the car did not move. The third man came out of Magdalen, flushed from the icy wind, glanced around, spotted the car, and rejoined them.

“Damn city,” he remarked. “All one-way streets and no-entry areas.”

The man in the back chuckled.

“That’s why the students use bicycles. Maybe we should.”

“Just keep watching,” said the driver without humor. The man beside him fell silent and adjusted the gun under his left arm.

The student had dismounted and was staring down at a cross made of cobblestones in the middle of Broad Street. He had learned from his guidebook that on this spot in 1555 two bishops, Latimer and Ridley, had been burned alive on the orders of Catholic Queen Mary. As the flames took hold, Bishop Latimer called across to his fellow martyr: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.”

He meant the candle of the Protestant faith, but what Bishop Ridley replied is not recorded, since he was burning brightly at the time. A year later, on the same spot in 1556, Archbishop Cranmer followed them to death. The flames from the pyre had scorched the door of Balliol College a few yards away. Later that door was taken down and rehung at the entrance to the Inner Quadrangle, where the scorch marks are plainly visible today.

“Hello,” said a voice by the student’s side and he glanced down. He was tall and gangly; she, short with dark bright eyes and plump as a partridge. “I’m Jenny. I think we’re sharing the same tutor.”

The twenty-one-year-old freshman, attending Oxford on a junior-year-abroad program after two years at Yale, grinned.

“Hi. I’m Simon.”

They walked across to the arched entrance to the college, the young man pushing his bicycle. He had been there the day before to meet the master, but that had been by car. Halfway through the arch they were confronted by the amiable but implacable figure of Tim Ward-Barber.

“New to the college, are we, sir?” he asked.

“Er, yes,” said Simon. “First day, I guess.”

“Very well then, let us learn the first rule of life here. Never, under any circumstances, drunk, drugged, or half-asleep, do we ever push, carry, or ride our bicycles through the arch into the quadrangle. Sir. Prop it against the wall with the others, if you please.”

In universities there are chancellors, principals, masters, wardens, deans, bursars, professors, readers, fellows, and others in a variety of pecking orders. But a college’s head porter is definitely Senior League. As a former NCO in the 16/5th Lancers, Tim had coped with a few squaddies in his time.

When Simon and Jenny came back he nodded benignly and told them: “You’re with Dr. Keen, I believe. Corner of the quadrangle, up the stairs to the top.”

When they reached the cluttered room at the top of the stairs of their tutor in medieval history and introduced themselves, Jenny called him “Professor” and Simon called him “Sir.” Dr. Keen beamed at them over his glasses.

“Now,” he said merrily, “there are two things and only two that I do not allow. One is wasting your time and mine; the other is calling me ‘sir.’ ‘Dr. Keen’ will do nicely. Then we’ll graduate to ‘Maurice.’ By the way, Jenny, I’m not a professor either. Professors have chairs, and as you see I do not; at least not one in good repair.”

He gestured happily at the collection of semi-collapsed upholstery and bade his students be comfortable. Simon sank his frame into a legless Queen Anne chair that left him three inches off the floor, and together they began to consider Jan Hus and the Hussite revolution in medieval Bohemia. Simon grinned. He knew he was going to enjoy Oxford.

It was purely coincidence that Cyrus Miller found himself a fortnight later sitting next to Peter Cobb at a fund-raising dinner in Austin, Texas. He loathed such dinners and normally avoided them; this one was for a local politician, and Miller knew the value of leaving markers around the political world, to be called in later when he needed a favor. He was prepared to ignore the man next to him, who was not in the oil business, until Cobb let slip the name of his corporation and therefore his visceral opposition to the Nantucket Treaty and the man behind it, John Cormack.

“That goddam treaty has got to be stopped,” said Cobb. “Somehow the Senate has got to be persuaded to refuse to ratify it.”

The news of the day had been that the treaty was in the last stages of drafting, would be signed by the respective ambassadors in Washington and Moscow in April, ratified by the Central Committee in Moscow in October after the summer recess, and put before the Senate before year’s end.

“Do you think the Senate will turn it down?” asked Miller carefully. The defense contractor looked gloomily into his fifth glass.

“Nope,” he said. “Fact is, arms cutbacks are always popular among the voters, and despite the odds, Cormack has the charisma and the popularity to push it through by his own personality. I can’t stand the guy, but that’s a fact.”

Miller admired the defeated man’s realism.

“Do you know the terms of the treaty yet?” he asked.

“Enough,” said Cobb. “They’re fixing to slice tens of billions off the defense appropriations. Both sides of the Iron Curtain. There’s talk of forty percent-bilateral, of course.”

“Are there many more who think like you?” asked Miller.

Cobb was too drunk to follow the line of the questioning. “Just about the whole defense industry,” he snarled. “We’re looking at wholesale closings and total personal and corporate losses here.”

“Mmmm. It’s too bad Michael Odell is not our President,” mused Miller. The man from Zodiac, Inc., gave a harsh laugh.

“Oh, what a dream. Yes, he’ll be opposed to cutbacks. But that won’t help us much. He’ll stay Veep and Cormack will stay President.”

“Will he now?” asked Miller quietly.

In the last week of the month, Cobb, Moir, and Salkind met Scanlon and Miller for a private dinner at Miller’s invitation in a suite of cloistered luxury at the Remington Hotel in Houston. Over brandy and coffee Miller guided their thoughts to the notion of John Cormack’s continued occupation of the Oval Office.

“He has to go,” Miller intoned. The others nodded agreement.

“I’ll have no truck with assassination,” said Salkind hurriedly. “In any case, remember Kennedy. The effect of his death was to push through Congress every piece of civil rights legislation he couldn’t get through himself. Totally counterproductive, if that was the point of the hit. And it was Johnson, of all people, who got it all into law.”

“I agree,” said Miller. “That course of action is inconceivable. But there must be a way of forcing his resignation.”

“Name one,” challenged Moir. “How the hell can anyone bring that about? The man’s fireproof. There are no scandals in back of him. The caucus assured themselves of that before they asked him to step in.”

“There must be something,” said Miller. “Some Achilles’ heel. We have the determination; we have the contacts; we have the financing. We need a planner.”

“What about your man, the colonel?” asked Scanlon.

Miller shook his head. “He would still regard any U.S. President as his Commander in Chief. No, another man… out there somewhere…”

What he was thinking of, and what he intended to hunt down, was a renegade, subtle, ruthless, intelligent, and loyal only to money.

Chapter 3

March 1991

Thirty miles west of Oklahoma City lies the federal penitentiary called El Reno, more officially known as a “federal corrections institution.” Less formally, it is one of the toughest prisons in America -in criminal slang, a hard pen. At dawn on a chill morning in the middle of March a small door opened in the frame of its forbidding main gate and a man emerged.

He was of medium height, overweight, prison-pale, broke, and very bitter. He stared about him, saw little (there was little to see), turned toward the city, and began to walk. Above his head, unseen eyes in the guard towers watched him with small interest, then looked away. Other eyes from a parked car watched him far more intently. The stretch limousine was parked a discreet distance from the main gate, far enough for its license plate to be out of vision. The man staring through the rear window of the car put down his binoculars and muttered, “He’s heading this way.”

Ten minutes later the fat man passed the car, glanced at it, and walked on. But he was a pro, and already his alarm antennae were activated. He was a hundred yards beyond the car when its engine purred into life and it drew up beside him. A young man got out, clean-cut, athletic, pleasant-looking.

“Mr. Moss?”

“Who wants to know?”

“My employer, sir. He wishes to offer you an interview.”

“No name, I suppose,” said the fat man.

The other smiled. “Not yet. But we do have a warm car, a private airplane, and mean you no harm. Let’s face it, Mr. Moss, do you have any place else to go?”

Moss thought. The car and the man did not smell of the Company-the CIA-or of the Bureau-the FBI-his sworn enemies. And no, he had no place else to go. He climbed into the backseat of the car, the young man got in beside him, and the limo headed not toward Oklahoma City but to Wiley Post Airport to the northwest.

In 1966, at the age of twenty-five, Irving Moss had been a junior provincial officer (a GS 12) with the CIA, fresh out of the States and working in Vietnam with the CIA-run Phoenix program. Those were the years when the Special Forces, the Green Berets, had been steadily handing over their hitherto rather successful hearts-and-minds program in the Mekong Delta to the South Vietnamese Army, who proceeded to handle the notion of actually persuading the peasants not to cooperate with the Viet Cong with considerably less skill and humanity. The Phoenix people had to liaise with the ARVN, while the Green Berets switched more and more to search-and-destroy missions, often bringing back Viet Cong prisoners or suspects for interrogation by the ARVN under the aegis of the Phoenix people. That was when Moss discovered both his secret taste and his true talent.

As a youth he had been puzzled and depressed by his own lack of sexuality, and recalled with unappeased bitterness the mockery he had suffered in his teenage years. He had also been bemused-the fifties were an age of relative innocence among teenagers-to observe that he could become immediately aroused by the sound of a human scream. For such a man the discreet and unquestioning jungles of Vietnam were an Aladdin’s cave of pleasure. Alone with his rear-echelon Vietnamese unit, he had been able to appoint himself the chief interrogator of suspects, aided by a couple of like-minded South Vietnamese corporals.

It had been, for him, a beautiful three years, which ended one day in 1969 when a tall, craggy young Green Beret sergeant had unexpectedly walked out of the jungle, his left arm dripping blood, sent back by his officer to get medication. The young warrior had gazed for a few seconds upon Moss’s work, turned without a word, and crashed a haymaker of a right-hand punch onto the bridge of his nose. The medics at Danang had done their best, but the bones of the septum were so shattered that Moss had to go to Japan for treatment. Even then, remedial surgery had left the bridge of his nose broadened and flattened, and the passages were so damaged that he still whistled and snuffled as he breathed, especially when excited.

He never saw the sergeant again, there had been no official report, and he had managed to cover his tracks and stay with the Agency. Until 1983. In that year, much promoted, he had been with the CIA buildup of the contra movement in Honduras, supervising a series of jungle camps along the border with Nicaragua from which the contras, many of them former servants of the ousted and unlovable dictator Somoza, had run sporadic missions across the border into the land they had once ruled. One day such a group had returned with a thirteen-year-old boy, not a Sandinista, just a peasant kid.

The interrogation had taken place in a clearing in the bush a quarter of a mile from the contra camp, but on the still tropical air the demented shrieks could be clearly heard in the camp. No one slept. In the small hours the sounds finally ceased. Moss walked back into the camp as if drugged, threw himself on his cot, and fell into a deep sleep. Two of the Nicaraguan section commanders quietly left camp, walked into the bush, and returned after twenty minutes to demand an interview with the commander. Colonel Rivas saw them in his tent, where he was writing up reports by the light of his hissing Petromax. The two guerrillas talked to him for several minutes.

“We can’t work with this one,” concluded the first. “We have talked to the boys. They agree, Coronel.”

Es malsano,” added the other. “Un animal.”

Colonel Rivas sighed. He had once been a member of Somoza’s death squads, had dragged a few trade unionists and malcontents from their beds in his time. He had seen a few executions, even taken part. But children… He reached for his radio. A mutiny or mass defection he did not need. Just after dawn an American military helicopter clattered into his camp and disgorged a stocky, dark man who happened to be the newly appointed CIA Deputy Chief of Latin American Section, on a familiarization tour of his new bailiwick. Rivas escorted the American into the bush and they, too, came back after a few minutes.

When Irving Moss awoke it was because someone was kicking the legs of his frame cot. He looked up Wearily to see a man in green fatigues looking down at him.

“Moss, you’re out,” said the man.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Moss. He was told.

“One of them,” he sneered.

“Yep, one of them. And you’re out. Out of Honduras and out of the Agency.” He showed Moss a piece of paper.

“This doesn’t come from Langley,” Moss protested.

“No,” said the man, “this comes from me. I come from Langley. Get your gear into that chopper.”

Thirty minutes later Agent David Weintraub watched the helicopter lift away into the morning sky. At Tegucigalpa, Moss was met by the Chief of Station, who was coldly formal and personally saw him on a flight to Miami and Washington. He never even went back to Langley. He was met at Washington National, given his papers, and told to get lost. For five years, much in demand, he worked for a variety of less and less palatable Middle Eastern and Central American dictators, and then organized drug-runs for Noriega of Panama. A mistake. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency put him on a Top Target list.

He was passing through London ’s Heathrow Airport in 1988 when the deceptively courteous guardians of British law stepped in front of him and wondered if they might have a quiet word. The word concerned a concealed handgun in his suitcase. Normal extradition procedures went through at record speed and he was landed back on U.S. soil three weeks later. At his trial he drew three years. As a first offender he might well have drawn a soft penitentiary. But while he was awaiting sentence two men had a discreet lunch at Washington ’s exclusive Metropolitan Club.

One was the stocky man called Weintraub, now risen to the post of Assistant Deputy Director (Operations) of the CIA. The other was Oliver “Buck” Revell, a big former Marine flier and Executive Assistant Director (Investigations) with the FBI. He had also been a football player in his youth, but had not played long enough to get his brain mashed. There were some at the Hoover Building who suggested it still worked quite well. Waiting until Revell had finished his steak, Weintraub showed him a file and some pictures. Revell closed the file and said simply, “I see.” Unaccountably, Moss served his time in El Reno, also housing some of the most vicious murderers, rapists, and extortionists currently under lock and key in America. When he came out he had a pathological loathing of the Agency, the Bureau, the British… and that was just for starters.

At Wiley Post Airport the limousine swept through the main gate on a nod and pulled up beside a waiting Learjet. Apart from its license plate number, which Moss at once memorized, it bore no logo. Within five minutes it was airborne, heading a whisker west of due south. Moss could tell the approximate direction from the morning sun. The direction, he knew, was toward Texas.

Just outside Austin is the beginning of what Texans call the hill country and it was here that the owner of Pan-Global had his country home, a twenty-thousand-acre spread in the foothills. The mansion faced southeast, with panoramic views across the great Texan plain toward faraway Galveston and the Gulf. Apart from a sufficiency of servants’ quarters, guest bungalows, swimming pool, and shooting range, the estate also contained its own landing strip, and it was here the Learjet landed shortly before noon.

Moss was conducted to a jacaranda-framed bungalow, given half an hour to bathe and shave, then led to the mansion and into a cool, leather-upholstered study. Two minutes later he was confronted by a tall, white-haired old man.

“Mr. Moss?” said the man. “Mr. Irving Moss?”

“Yes, sir,” said Moss. He smelt money, a lot of it.

“My name is Miller,” said the man. “Cyrus V. Miller.”

April

The meeting was in the Cabinet Room, down the hall and past the private secretary’s room from the Oval Office. Like most people, President John Cormack had been surprised by the comparative smallness of the Oval Office when he had first seen it. The Cabinet Room, with its great eight-sided table beneath Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, gave more room to spread papers and lean on elbows.

That morning John Cormack had invited his inner Cabinet of close and trusted friends and advisers to consider the final draft of the Nantucket Treaty. The details were worked out, the verification procedures checked through; the experts had given their grudging concurrence-or not, in the case of two senior generals who retired and three Pentagon staffers who had chosen to resign-but Cormack wanted last comments from his special team.

He was sixty years old, at the peak of his intellectual and political powers, unashamedly enjoying the popularity and authority of an office he had never expected to hold. When the crisis had enveloped the Republican party in the summer of ’88, the party caucus had looked around wildly for someone to step in and take over the candidacy. Their collective eye had fallen on this congressman from Connecticut, scion of a wealthy and patrician New England family who had chosen to leave his family wealth in a series of trust funds and become a professor at Cornell until turning to Connecticut politics in his late thirties.

On the liberal wing of his party, John Cormack had been a virtual unknown to the country at large. Intimates knew him as decisive, honest, and humane, and had assured the caucus he was clean as the driven snow. He was not known as a television personality-now an indispensable attribute of a candidate-but they picked him nevertheless. To the media he was a bore. And then in four months of barnstorming campaigning, the unknown had turned things around. Forsaking tradition, he looked into the camera’s eye and gave straight answers to every question, supposedly a recipe for disaster. He offended some, but mainly on the right, and they had nowhere else to go with their votes anyway. And he had pleased many more. A Protestant with an Ulster name, he had insisted as a condition of his coming that he pick his own Vice President, and had chosen Michael Odell, a confirmed Irish American and a Catholic from Texas.

They were quite unalike. Odell was much farther to the right than Cormack and had been governor of his state. Cormack just happened to like and trust the gum-chewing man from Waco. Somehow the ticket had worked; the voters went, by a narrow margin, for the man the press (wrongly) liked to compare with Woodrow Wilson, America ’s last professor-President, and the running mate who bluntly told Dan Rather:

“Ah don’t always agree with mah friend John Cormack but, hell, this is America and I’ll flatten any man who says he doesn’t have the right to speak his mind.”

And it worked. The combination of the arrow-straight New Englander, with his powerful and persuasive delivery, and the deceptively folksy Southwesterner took the vital black, Hispanic, and Irish votes and won. Since taking office Cormack had deliberately involved Odell in decision-making at the highest level. Now they sat opposite each other to discuss a treaty Cormack knew Odell disliked profoundly. Flanking the President were four other intimates: Jim Donaldson, Secretary of State; Bill Walters, the Attorney General; Hubert Reed of the Treasury; and Morton Stannard of Defense.

On either side of Odell were Brad Johnson, a brilliant black man from Missouri who had lectured in defense studies at Cornell and was now National Security Adviser, and Lee Alexander, Director of the CIA, who had replaced Judge William Webster a few months into Cormack’s incumbency. Alexander was there because, if the Soviets intended to breach the treaty terms, America would need rapid knowledge through her satellites and intelligence community with their in-place assets on the ground.

As the eight men read the final terms, none was in any doubt that this was one of the most controversial agreements the United States would ever sign. Already there was vigorous opposition on the right and from the defense-oriented industries. Back in 1988, under Reagan, the Pentagon had agreed to cut $33 billion in planned expenditures to produce a defense budget total of $299 billion. For the fiscal years 1990 through 1994, the services were told to cut planned expenditures by $37.1 billion, $41.3 billion, $45.3 billion, and $50.7 billion respectively. But that would only have limited spending growth. The Nantucket Treaty foresaw big decreases in defense expenditures, and if the growth cuts had caused problems, Nantucket was going to cause a furor.

The difference was, as Cormack stressed repeatedly, that the previous growth cuts had not been planned against actual cuts by the U.S.S.R. In Nantucket, Moscow had agreed to slash its own forces to an unheard-of degree. Moreover, Cormack knew the superpowers had little choice. Ever since he came to power he and Secretary of the Treasury Reed had wrestled with America ’s spiraling budget and trade deficits. They were heading out of control, threatening to shatter the prosperity not just of the United States but of the entire West. He had latched onto his own experts’ analyses that the U.S.S.R. was in the same position for different reasons, and put it to Mikhail Gorbachev straight: I need to cut back and you need to redivert. The Russian had taken care of the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries; Cormack had won over NATO-first the Germans, then the Italians, the smaller members, and finally the British. These, broadly, were the terms:

In land forces, the U.S.S.R. agreed to cut her standing army in East Germany-the potential invasion force westward across the central German plain-by half of her twenty-one combat divisions in all categories. They would be not disbanded but withdrawn back beyond the Polish-Soviet frontier and not brought west again. Over and above this, the U.S.S.R. would reduce the manpower of the entire Soviet Army by 40 percent.

“Comments?” asked the President. Stannard of Defense, who not unnaturally had the gravest reservations about the treaty-the press had already speculated about his resignation-looked up.

“For the Soviets this is the meat of the treaty, because their army is their senior service,” he said, quoting directly from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but not admitting it. “For the man in the street it looks fantastic; the West Germans already think so. But it’s not as good as it looks.

“For one thing, the U.S.S.R. cannot maintain one hundred and seventy-seven line divisions as at present without extensive use of her southern ethnic groups-I mean the Moslems-and we know they’d dearly love to disband the lot. For another, what really frightens our planners is not a rambling Soviet Army; it’s an army half that size but professionalized. A small professional army is much more use than a large oafish one, which is what they’ve got.”

“But if they’re back inside the U.S.S.R.,” countered Johnson, “they can’t invade West Germany. Lee, if they shifted them back via Poland into East Germany, would we fail to spot it?”

“Nope,” said the CIA chief with finality. “Apart from satellites, which can be fooled by covered trucks and trains, I believe we and the British have too many assets in Poland not to spot it. Hell, the East Germans don’t want to become a war zone either. They’d probably tell us themselves.”

“Okay, what do we give up?” asked Odell.

“Some troops, not a lot,” Johnson replied. “The Soviets withdraw ten divisions at fifteen thousand men each. We have three hundred and twenty-six thousand personnel in Western Europe. We cut to below three hundred thousand for the first time since 1945. At twenty-five thousand of us against a hundred and fifty thousand of them, it’s still good: six to one, and we were looking at four to one.”

“Yes,” objected Stannard, “but we also have to agree not to activate our two new heavy divisions, one armored and one mechanized infantry.”

“Cost savings, Hubert?” asked the President mildly. He tended to let others talk, listen carefully, make a few succinct and usually penetrating comments, and then decide. The Treasury Secretary supported Nantucket. It would make balancing his books a lot easier.

“Three-point-five billion the armored division, three-point-four billion the infantry,” he said. “But these are just start-up costs. After that, we save three hundred million dollars a year in running costs by not having them. And now that Despot is canceled, another seventeen billion dollars for the projected three hundred units of Despot.”

“But Despot is the best tank-busting system in the world,” protested Stannard. “Hell, we need it.”

“To kill tanks that have been withdrawn east of Brest-Litovsk?” asked Johnson. “If they halve their tanks in East Germany, we can cope with what we’ve got, the A-ten aircraft and the ground-based tank-buster units. Plus, we can build more static defenses with part of the savings. That’s allowed under the treaty.”

“The Europeans like it,” said Donaldson of State mildly. “They don’t have to reduce manpower, but they do see ten to eleven Soviet divisions disappearing in front of their eyes. It seems to me we win on the ground.”

“Let’s consider the sea battle,” suggested Cormack.

The Soviet Union had agreed to destroy, under supervision, half its submarine fleet; all its nuclear-powered subs in classes Hotel, Echo, and November, and all the diesel-electric Juliets, Foxtrots, Whiskeys, Romeos, and Zulus. But as Stannard was quick to point out, its old nuclear subs were already archaic and unsafe, constantly leaking neutrons and gamma rays, and the others scheduled to go were of old designs. After that the Russians could concentrate their resources and best men in the Sierra, Mike, and Akula classes, much better technically and therefore more dangerous.

Still, he conceded, 158 submarines were a lot of metal, and America ’s Anti-Submarine Warfare targets would be drastically reduced, simplifying the job of getting the convoys to Europe if the balloon ever did go up.

Finally, Moscow had agreed to scrap the first of its four Kiev-class aircraft carriers, and build no more-a minor concession, as they were already proving too expensive to support.

The United States was allowed to keep the newly commissioned carriers Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but would scrap the Midway and the Coral Sea (destined to go anyway, but delayed to be included in the treaty) plus the next-oldest, the Forrestal and the Saratoga, plus their air wings. These air wings, once deactivated, would take three to four years to bring back to combat readiness.

“The Russians will say they’ve eliminated eighteen percent of our ability to strike at the Motherland,” groused Stannard, “and all they’ve given up are a hundred and fifty-eight subs that were bitches to maintain anyway.”

But the Cabinet, seeing savings of a minimum $20 billion a year, half in personnel and half in hardware, approved the navy side of the treaty, Odell and Stannard opposing. The key came in the air. Cormack knew that for Gorbachev it was the clincher. On balance, America won out on land and water, since she did not intend to be the aggressor; she just wanted to make sure the U.S.S.R. could not be. But unlike Stannard and Odell, Cormack and Donaldson knew that many Soviet citizens genuinely believed the West would one day hurl itself at the Rodina, and that included their leaders.

Under Nantucket, the West would discontinue the American TFX fighter, or F-18, and the European multi-role combat fighter for Italy, West Germany, Spain, and Britain, a joint project; Moscow would stop further work on the MiG-37. She would also scrap the Blackjack, the Tupolev version of the American B-1 bomber, and 50 percent of her air-tanker assets, massively reducing the strategic air threat to the West.

“How do we know they won’t build the Backfire somewhere else?” asked Odell.

“We’ll have official inspectors stationed in the Tupolev factory,” Cormack pointed out. “They can hardly start up a new Tupolev factory somewhere else. Right, Lee?”

“Right, Mr. President,” said the Director of Central Intelligence. He paused. “Also, we have assets in the key staff at Tupolev.”

“Ah,” said Donaldson, impressed. “As a diplomat, I don’t want to know.” There were several grins. Donaldson was known to be very straitlaced.

The stinger for America in the air section of the Nantucket Treaty was that she had to abandon the B-2 Stealth bomber, an airplane of revolutionary potential, since it was constructed to pass unnoticed through any radar detection screen and deliver its nuclear bombs as and where it wished. It frightened the Russians very badly. For Mikhail Gorbachev it was the one concession from the States that would get Nantucket through ratification. It would also obviate the need to spend a minimum 300 billion rubles rebuilding from the ground up the Air Defense of the Homeland system, the vaunted Voiska PVO that was supposed to detect any impending attack on the Motherland. That was the money he wanted to divert to new factories, technology, and oil.

For America, Stealth was a $40 billion project, so cancellation would mean a big saving, but at the cost of fifty thousand defense-industry jobs.

“Maybe we should just go on as we are and bankrupt the bastards,” suggested Odell.

“Michael,” said Cormack gently, “then they’d have to go to war.”

After twelve hours the Cabinet approved Nantucket and the wearisome business started of trying to convince the Senate, industry, finance, the media, and the people that it was right. A hundred billion dollars had been cut from the Defense budget.

May

By the middle of May the five men who had dined at the Remington Hotel the previous January had constituted themselves the Alamo Group at Miller’s suggestion, in memory of those who in 1836 had fought for the independence of Texas at the Alamo against the Mexican forces of General Santa Anna. The project to topple the Kingdom of Sa’ud they had named Plan Bowie, after Colonel Jim Bowie, who had died at the Alamo. The destabilization of President Cormack by a paid-for whispering campaign through lobbies, the media, the people, and the Congress, bore the name Plan Crockett, after Davy Crockett, the pioneer and Indian fighter who also died there. Now they met to consider the report of Irving Moss to wound John Cormack to the point where he would be susceptible to calls for him to step down and depart. Plan Travis, for the man who had commanded at the Alamo.

“There are parts of this that make me squirm,” said Moir, tapping his copy.

“Me too,” said Salkind. “The last four pages. Do we have to go that far?”

“Gentlemen, friends,” rumbled Miller. “I fully appreciate your concern, your aversion even. I ask you only to consider the stakes. Not only we but all America stands in mortal peril. You have seen the terms proposed by the Judas in the White House to strip our land of its defenses and to propitiate the Antichrist in Moscow. That man must go before he destroys this our beloved country and brings us all to ruin. You especially, who now face bankruptcy. And I am assured by Mr. Moss here that, regarding the last few pages, it will never come to that. Cormack will go before that is necessary.”

Irving Moss sat in a white suit at the end of the table, silent. There were parts of his plan that he had not put in the report, things he could mention only in privacy to Miller. He breathed through his mouth to avoid the low whistling caused by his damaged nose.

Miller suddenly startled them all. “Friends, let us seek the guidance of Him who understands all things. Let us pray together.”

Ben Salkind shot a rapid glance at Peter Cobb, who raised his eyebrows. Melville Scanlon’s face was expressionless. Cyrus Miller placed both hands flat on the table, closed his eyes, and raised his face to the ceiling. He was not a man for bowing his head, even when addressing the Almighty. They were, after all, close confidants.

“Lord,” intoned the oil tycoon, “hear us, we pray You. Hear us true and loyal sons of this glorious land, which is of Your creation and which You have vouchsafed to our safekeeping. Guide our hands. Uphold our hearts. Teach us to have the courage to go through with the task that lies before us and which, we are sure, has Your blessing. Help us to save this, Your chosen country, and these, Your chosen people.”

He went on in this vein for several minutes, then was silent for several more. When he lowered his face and surveyed the five men with him, his eyes burned with the conviction of those who truly have no doubt.

“Gentlemen, He has spoken. He is with us in our endeavors. We must go forward, not back, for our country and our God.”

The other five had little choice but to nod their assent. An hour later Irving Moss talked privately with Miller in his study. There were, he made plain, two components that were vital but which he, Moss, could not arrange. One was a piece of high-complexity Soviet technology; the other was a secret source within the innermost councils of the White House. He explained why. Miller nodded thoughtfully.

“I will see to both,” he said. “You have your budget and the down payment on your fee. Proceed with the plan without delay.”

June

Colonel Easterhouse was received by Miller in the first week of June. He had been busy in Saudi Arabia but the summons was unequivocal, so he flew from Jiddah to New York via London and connected straight to Houston. A car met him on schedule, drove him to the private William P. Hobby Airport southeast of the city, and the Learjet brought him to the ranch, which he had not seen before. His progress report was optimistic and well received.

He was able to say that his go-between in the Religious Police had been enthusiastic when approached with the notion of a change of government in Riyadh, and had made contact with the fugitive Imam of the Shi’ah Fundamentalists when the man’s secret hiding place had been revealed to him by Easterhouse. The fact that the Imam had not been betrayed proved that the Religious Police zealot was trustworthy.

The Imam had heard out the proposal-made to him on a no-name basis, since he would never have accepted that a Christian like Easterhouse should become an instrument of Allah’s will-and was reported to be equally enthusiastic.

“The point is, Mr. Miller, the Hezb’Allah fanatics have so far not attempted to seize the obvious plum of Saudi Arabia, preferring to try to defeat and annex Iraq first, in which they have failed. The reason for their patience is that they feared, rightly, that seeking to topple the House of Sa’ud would provoke a fierce reaction from the hitherto vacillating U.S.A. They have always believed Saudi Arabia would fall to them at the right moment. The Imam appears to accept that next spring-the Diamond Jubilee jamboree is now definitely slated for April-will be Allah’s choice of the right moment.”

During the jamboree, huge delegations from all the thirty-seven major tribes of the country would converge on Riyadh to pay homage to the royal house. Among these would be the tribes from the Hasa region, the oil-field workers who were mainly of the Shi’ah sect. Hidden in their midst would be the two hundred chosen assassins of the Imam, unarmed until their submachine carbines and ammunition, covertly imported in one of Scanlon’s tankers, had been distributed among them.

Easterhouse was finally able to report that a senior Egyptian officer-the Egyptian Military Adviser Group played a crucial role at all technical levels of the Saudi Army-had agreed that if his country, with its teeming millions and shortage of money, was given access to Saudi oil after the coup, he would ensure the reissue of defective ammunition to the Royal Guard, who would then be helpless to defend their masters. Miller nodded thoughtfully.

“You have done well, Colonel,” he said, then changed the subject. “Tell me, what would Soviet reaction be to this American takeover of Saudi Arabia?”

“Extreme perturbation, I would imagine,” said the colonel.

“Enough to put an end to the Nantucket Treaty, of which we now know the full terms?” asked Miller.

“I would have thought so,” said Easterhouse.

“Which group inside the Soviet Union would have most reason to dislike the treaty and all its terms, and wish to see it destroyed?”

“The General Staff,” said the colonel without hesitation. “Their position in the U.S.S.R. is like that of our Joint Chiefs of Staff and the defense industry rolled into one. The treaty will cut their power, their prestige, their budget, and their numbers by forty percent. I can’t see them welcoming that.”

“Strange allies,” mused Miller. “Is there any way of getting in discreet contact?”

“I… have certain acquaintances,” said Easterhouse carefully.

“I want you to use them,” said Miller. “Just say there are powerful interests in the U.S. A. who view the Nantucket Treaty with as little favor as they, and believe it might be aborted from the American end, and would like to confer.”

The kingdom of Jordan is not particularly pro-Soviet, but King Hussein has long had to tread a delicate path to stay on his throne in Amman, and has occasionally bought Soviet weaponry, though his Hashemite Arab Legion is mainly Western-armed. Still, there exists a thirty-man Soviet Military Advisory Team in Amman, headed by the defense attaché at the Russian embassy. Easterhouse, once attending the desert testing of some Soviet hardware east of Aqaba on behalf of his Saudi patrons, had met the man. Passing through Amman on his way back, Easterhouse stopped over.

The defense attaché, Colonel Kutuzov, whom Easterhouse was convinced was from the GRU, was still in place and they had a private dinner. The American was stunned by the speed of the reaction. Two weeks later he was contacted in Riyadh to be told that certain gentlemen would be happy to meet his “friends” in circumstances of great discretion. A fat package of travel instructions was given to him, which he couriered unopened to Houston.

July

Of all the Communist countries, Yugoslavia is the most relaxed in the matter of tourism, so much so that entry visas may be acquired with little formality right on arrival at Belgrade airport. In mid-July five men flew into Belgrade on the same day but from different directions and on different flights. They came by scheduled airlines out of Amsterdam, Rome, Vienna, London, and Frankfurt. As all were American passport holders, none had needed visas for any of those cities either. All applied for and received visas at Belgrade for a week’s harmless tourism-one in the mid-morning, two in the lunch hour and two in the afternoon. All told the interviewing visa officers they had come to hunt boar and stag from the famous Karadjordjevo hunting lodge, a converted fortress on the Danube much favored by wealthy Westerners. Each of the five claimed, as he was issued his visa, that en route to the hunting lodge he would be spending one night at the super-luxury Hotel Petrovaradin at Novi Sad, eighty kilometers northwest of Belgrade. And each took a taxi to that hotel.

The visa officers’ shift changed in the lunch hour, so only one came under the eye of Officer Pavlic, who happened to be a covert asset in the pay of the Soviet KGB. Two hours after Pavlic checked off duty, a routine report from him arrived on the desk of the Soviet rezident in his office at the embassy in central Belgrade.

Pavel Kerkorian was not at his best; he had had a late night-not entirely in the course of duty but his wife was fat and constantly complaining, while he found some of these flaxen Bosnian girls irresistible-and a heavy lunch, definitely in the course of duty, with a hard-drinking member of the Yugoslav Central Committee whom he hoped to recruit. He almost put Pavlic’s report on one side. Americans were pouring into Yugoslavia nowadays-to check them all out would be impossible. But there was something about the name. Not the surname-that was common enough-but where had he seen the first name Cyrus before?

He found it again an hour later right in his office; a back number of Forbes magazine had carried an article on Cyrus V. Miller. By such flukes are destinies sometimes decided. It did not make sense, and the wiry Armenian KGB major liked things to make sense. Why would a man of nearly eighty, known to be pathologically anti-Communist, come hunting boar in Yugoslavia by scheduled airlines when he was rich enough to hunt anything he wanted in North America and travel by private jet? He summoned two of his staff, youngsters fresh in from Moscow, and hoped they wouldn’t make a mess of it. (As he had remarked to his CIA opposite number at a cocktail party recently, you just can’t get good help nowadays. The CIA man had agreed completely.)

Kerkorian’s young agents spoke Serbo-Croatian, but he still advised them to rely on their driver, a Yugoslav who knew his way around. They checked back that evening from a phone booth in the Petrovaradin Hotel, which made the major spit because the Yugoslavs certainly had it tapped. He told them to go somewhere else.

He was just about to go home when they checked in again, this time from a humble inn a few miles from Novi Sad. There was not one American, but five, they said. They might have met at the hotel, but seemed to know each other. Money had changed hands at the reception desk and they had copies of the first three pages of each American’s passport. The five were due to be picked up in the morning in a minibus and taken to some hunting lodge, said the gumshoes, and what should we do now?

“Stay there,” said Kerkorian. “Yes, all night. I want to know where they go and whom they see.”

Serve them right, he thought as he went home. These youngsters have it too easy nowadays. It was probably nothing, but it would give the sprogs a bit of experience.

At noon the next day they were back, tired, unshaven, but triumphant. What they had to say left Kerkorian stunned. A mini-van had duly arrived and taken the five Americans on board. The guide was in plain clothes but looked decidedly military-and Russian. Instead of heading for the hunting lodge, the bus had taken the five Americans back toward Belgrade, then ducked straight into Batajnica Air Base. They had not shown their passports at the main gate-the guide had produced five passes from his own inside pocket and got them through the barrier.

Kerkorian knew Batajnica; it was a big Yugoslav air base twenty kilometers northwest of Belgrade, definitely not on the sightseeing schedule of American tourists. Among other things it hosted a constant stream of Soviet military transports bringing in resupplies for the enormous Soviet Military Adviser Group in Yugoslavia. That meant there was a team of Russian engineers inside the base, and one of them worked for him. The man was in cargo control. Ten hours later Kerkorian sent a “blitz” report to Yazenevo, headquarters of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, the external espionage arm. It went directly to the desk of the Deputy Head of the FCD, General Vadim Kirpichenko, who made a number of inquiries internal to the U.S.S.R. and sent an expanded report right up to his chairman, General Kryuchkov.

What Kerkorian had reported was that the five Americans had all been escorted straight from the minibus into an Antonov 42 jet transport which had just arrived with cargo from Odessa and at once headed back there. A later report from the Belgrade rezident announced that the Americans had returned the same way twenty-four hours later, spent a second night at the Petrovaradin Hotel, and then left Yugoslavia altogether, without hunting a single boar. Kerkorian was commended for his vigilance.

August

The heat hung over the Costa del Sol like a blanket. Down on the beaches the million tourists were turning themselves over and over like steaks on a griddle, oiling and basting courageously as they tried to acquire a deep mahogany tan in their two precious weeks and too often simply achieving lobster-red. The sky was such a pale blue it was almost white, and even the usual breeze off the sea had sagged to a zephyr.

To the west the great molar of the Rock of Gibraltar jutted into the heat haze, shimmering at its range of fifteen miles; the pale slopes of the concrete rain-catchment system built by the Royal Engineers to feed the underground cisterns stuck out like a leprous scar on the flank of the rock.

In the hills behind Casares beach the air was a mite cooler but not much; relief really came only at dawn and just before sunset, so the vineyard workers of Alcántara del Rio were rising at four in the morning to put in six hours before the sun drove them into the shade. After lunch they would snooze through the traditional Spanish siesta behind their thick, cool, lime-washed walls until five, then put in more labor till the light faded around eight.

Under the sun the grapes ripened and became fat. The harvest would not come yet, but it would be good this year. In his bar Antonio brought the carafe of wine to the foreigner as usual and beamed.

“¿Sera bien, la cosecha?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the tall man with a smile. “This year the harvest will be very good. We shall all be able to pay our bar bills.”

Antonio roared with laughter. Everyone knew the foreigner owned his own land outright and always paid cash on the spot.

Two weeks later Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev was in no mood to joke. Though often a genial man, with a reputation for a good sense of humor and a light touch with subordinates, he could also show a hair-trigger temper, as when preached at by Westerners over civil rights issues or when he felt badly let down by a subordinate. He sat at his desk on the seventh and top floor of the Central Committee Building in Novaya Ploshchad and stared angrily at the reports spread all over the table.

It’s a long narrow room, sixty feet by twenty, with the General Secretary’s desk at the end opposite the door. He sits with his back to the wall, all the windows onto the square being ranged to his left behind their net curtains and buff velour drapes. Running down the center of the room is the habitual conference table, of which the desk formed the head of the letter T.

Unlike many of his predecessors, he had preferred a light and airy decor; the table is of pale beech, like his desk, and surrounded by upright but comfortable chairs, eight on each side. It was on this table he had spread the reports collected by his friend and colleague, the Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, whose plea had brought him unwillingly back from his seaside holiday at Yalta in the Crimea. He would, he thought savagely, have preferred to be splashing in the sea with his granddaughter Aksaina than sitting in Moscow reading this sort of trash.

It had been more than six years since that freezing March day in 1985 when Chernenko had finally dropped off his perch and he had been raised with almost bewildering speed-even though he had schemed and prepared for it-into the top slot. Six years he had sought to take the country he loved by the scruff of the neck and hurl it into the last decade of the twentieth century in a state fit to face, match, and triumph on equal terms over the capitalist West.

Like all devoted Russians he was half admiring and wholly resentful of the West; of her prosperity, her financial power, her almost contemptuous self-assurance. Unlike most Russians he had for years not been prepared to accept that things could never change in his homeland, that corruption, laziness, bureaucracy, and lethargy were part of the system, always had been and always would be. Even as a young man he had known he had the energy and the dynamism to change things, given the chance. That had been his mainspring, his driving force, through all those years of study and party work in Stavropol, the conviction that one day he would get his chance.

For six years he had had the chance, and realized even he had underestimated the opposition and the inertia. The first years had been touch-and-go; he had walked a very fine tightrope indeed, almost come to grief a dozen times.

The cleansing of the Party had come first, cutting out the die-hards and the deadwood-well, almost all of them. Now he knew he ruled the Politburo and the Central Committee; knew his appointees controlled the scattered Party secretaryships throughout the republics of the Union, shared his conviction that the U.S.S.R. could really compete with the West only if she was economically strong. That was why most of his reforms dealt with economic and not moral matters.

As a dedicated Communist he already believed his country had moral superiority-there was for him no need to prove it. But he was not fool enough to deceive himself over the economic strengths of the two camps. Now with the oil crisis, of which he was perfectly well aware, he needed massive resources to pump into Siberia and the Arctic, and that meant cutting back somewhere else. Which led to Nantucket and his unavoidable head-to-head with his own military establishment.

The three pillars of power were the Party, the Army, and the KGB, and he knew no one could take on two at the same time. It was bad enough to be at loggerheads with his generals; to be back-stabbed by the KGB was intolerable. The reports on his table, culled by the Foreign Minister from the Western media and translated, he did not need, least of all when American public opinion might still cause the Senate to reject the Nantucket Treaty and insist on the building and deployment of the (for Russia) disastrous Stealth bomber.

Personally he had no particular sympathy with Jews who wanted to quit the Motherland that had given them everything. There was nothing un-Russian in Mikhail Gorbachev so far as turds and dissidents were concerned. But what angered him was that what had been done was deliberate, no accident, and he knew who was behind it. He still resented the vicious video tape attacking his wife’s London spending spree years before and circulated on the Moscow circuit. He knew who had been behind that too. The same people. The predecessor of the one who had been summoned and whom he now awaited.

There was a knock on the door to the right of the bookcase at the far end of the room. His private secretary popped his head in and simply nodded. Gorbachev raised a hand to indicate “wait a minute.”

He returned to his desk and sat down behind the spare, clear top with its three telephones and cream onyx pen set. Then he nodded. The secretary swung the door wide open.

“The Comrade Chairman, Comrade General Secretary,” the young man announced, then withdrew.

He was in full uniform-he would be, of course-and Gorbachev let him walk the full length of the room without salutation. Then he rose and gestured at the spread-out papers.

General Vladimir Kryuchkov, Chairman of the KGB, had been a close friend, protégé, and like-thinker of his own predecessor, the die-hard ultraconservative Viktor Chebrikov. The General Secretary had secured the ouster of Chebrikov in the great purge he had conducted in the fall of 1988, thus ridding himself of his last powerful opponent on the Politburo. But he had had no choice but to appoint the First Deputy Chairman, Kryuchkov, as successor. One ouster was enough; two would have been a massacre. There are limits, even in Moscow.

Kryuchkov glanced at the papers and raised an eyebrow. Bastard, thought Gorbachev.

“There was no need to beat the shit out of them on camera,” said Gorbachev, as usual coming to the nub without preamble. “Six Western TV camera units, eight radio reporters, and twenty newspaper and magazine hacks, half of them American. We got less coverage for the Olympics in ’80.”

Kryuchkov raised an eyebrow. “The Jews were conducting an illegal demonstration, my dear Mikhail Sergeevich. Personally, I was on vacation at the time. But my officers in the Second Chief Directorate acted properly, I believe. These people refused to disperse when commanded and my men used the usual methods.”

“It was on the street. That’s a Militia matter.”

“These people are subversives. They were spreading anti-Soviet propaganda. Look at the placards. That’s a KGB matter.”

“And the full turnout of foreign press?”

The KGB chief shrugged. “These weasels get everywhere.”

Yes, if they are rung up and tipped off, thought Gorbachev. He wondered whether this might be the issue over which he could secure the ouster of Kryuchkov, and dismissed it. It would take the full Politburo to fire the Chairman of the KGB, and never for beating up a bunch of Jews. Still, he was angry and prepared to speak his mind. He did so for five minutes. Kryuchkov’s mouth tightened in silence. He did not appreciate being ticked off by the younger but senior man. Gorbachev had come around the desk; the two men were of the same height, short and stocky. Gorbachev’s eye contact was, as usual, unflinching. That was when Kryuchkov made a mistake.

He had in his pocket a report from the KGB’s man in Belgrade, amplified with some stunning information gleaned by Kirpichenko at the First Chief Directorate. It was certainly important enough to bring to the General Secretary himself. Screw it, thought the bitter KGB chief; he can wait. And so the Belgrade report was suppressed.

September

Irving Moss had established himself in London, but before leaving Houston he had agreed on a personal code with Cyrus Miller. He knew that the monitors of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade constantly scanned the ether, intercepting billions of words in foreign telephone calls, and that banks of computers sifted them for nuggets of interest. Not to mention the British GCHQ people, the Russians, and just about anyone else nowadays who could rustle up a listening post. But the volume of commercial traffic is so vast that unless something sticks out as suspicious, it will probably pass. Moss’s code was based on lists of salad produce prices, passing between sunny Texas and gloomy London. He took down the list of prices off the telephone, cut out the words, retained the numbers, and according to the date of the calendar, deciphered them from a one-time pad of which only he and Cyrus Miller had copies.

That month he learned three things: that the piece of Soviet technology he needed was in the last stages of preparation and would be delivered within a fortnight; that the source he had asked for in the White House was in place, bought and paid for; and that he should now go ahead with Plan Travis on schedule. He burned the sheets and grinned. His fee was based on planning, activation, and success. Now he could claim the second installment.

October

There are eight weeks in the autumn term at Oxford University, and since scholars seek to abide by the precepts of logic, they are called First Week, Second Week, Third Week, and so on. A number of activities take place after the end of term-mainly athletic, theatrical, and debating events-in Ninth Week. And quite a few students appear before the start of term, either to prepare their studies, get settled in, or start training, in the period called Nought Week.

On October 2, the first day of Nought Week, there was a scattering of early birds in Vincent’s Club, a bar and haunt of undergraduate athletes, among them the tall thin student called Simon, preparing for his third and last term at Oxford under the year-abroad program. He was hailed by a cheerful voice from behind.

“Hallo, young Simon. Back early?”

It was Air Commodore John De’Ath, Bursar of Jesus College and senior treasurer of the Athletics Club, which included the cross-country team.

Simon grinned. “Yes, sir.”

“Going to get the fat of the summer vacation off, are we?” The retired Air Force officer smiled. He tapped the student’s nonexistent stomach. “Good man. You’re our main hope to knock seven bells out of Cambridge in December in London.”

Everyone knew that Oxford ’s great sporting rival was Cambridge University, the needle match in any sporting contest.

“I’m looking to start a series of morning runs and get back in shape, sir,” said Simon.

He did indeed begin a series of punishing early-morning runs, starting at five miles and pushing up to twelve as the week progressed. On the morning of Wednesday the 9thhe set off as usual by bicycle from his house off the Woodstock Road in the southern part of Summertown in north Oxford, and pedaled for the town center. He skirted the Martyrs’ Memorial and Saint Mary Magdalen Church, turned left into Broad Street, past the doors of his own college, Balliol, and on down Holywell and Longwall to join the High Street. A final left turn brought him to the railings outside Magdalen College.

Here he dismounted, chained his bike to the railing for safety, and began to run. Over Magdalen Bridge across the Cherwell and down St. Clement’s at the Plain. Now he was heading due east. At six-thirty in the morning the sun would soon rise ahead of him and he had a straight four-mile run to get clear of the last suburbs of Oxford.

He pounded through New Headington to cross the dual-carriageway Ring Road on the steel bridge leading to Shotover Hill. There were no other runners to join him. He was almost alone. At the end of Old Road he hit the incline of the hill and felt the pain of the long-distance runner. His sinewy legs drove him on up the hill and out into Shotover Plain. Here the paved road ran out and he was on the track, deeply potholed and with water from the overnight rain lying in the ruts. He swerved to the grass verge, delighting in the springy comfort of the grass underfoot, through the pain barrier, exulting in the freedom of the run.

Behind him the unmarked sedan emerged from the trees of the hill, ran out of pavement, and began to jolt through the potholes. The men inside knew the route and were sick of it. Five hundred yards of track, lined with gray boulders, to the reservoir, then back to blacktop road for the downhill glide to Wheatley village via the hamlet of Littleworth.

A hundred yards short of the reservoir the track narrowed and a giant ash tree overhung the lane. It was here the van was parked, drawn well onto the verge. It was a well-used green Ford Transit bearing on its side the logo BARLOW’S ORCHARD PRODUCE. Nothing unusual about it. In early October, Barlow vans were all over the county delivering the sweet apples of Oxfordshire to the greengrocers. Anyone looking at the back of the van-invisible to the men in the car, for the van was facing them-would have seen stacked apple crates. That same person would not have realized the crates were really two cunning paintings stuck to the inside of the twin windows.

The van had had a puncture, front offside tire. A man crouched beside it with a wrench, seeking to free the wheel which was raised on a jack. He bowed over his work. The youth called Simon was on the verge across the rutted track from the van and he kept running.

As he passed the front end of the van two things happened with bewildering speed. The rear doors flew open and two men, identical in black track suits and ski masks, leaped out, hurled themselves on the startled runner, and bore him to the ground. The man with the wrench turned and straightened up. Beneath his slouch hat he, too, was masked, and the wrench was not a wrench but a Czech Skorpion submachine gun. Without a pause he opened fire and raked the windshield of the sedan sixty feet away.

The man behind the wheel died instantly, hit in the face. The car swerved and stalled as he died. The man in the backseat reacted like a cat, opening his door, bailing out, rolling twice, and coming up in the “fire” position. He got off two shots with his short-nosed Smith & Wesson 9mm. The first was wide by a foot, the second ten feet short, for as he fired it the continuing burst from the Skorpion hit him in the chest. He never stood a chance.

The man in the passenger seat got free of the car a second after the man in the back. The passenger door was wide open and he was trying to fire through the open window at the machine gunner when three slugs punched straight through the fabric and hit him in the stomach, bowling him backwards. In five more seconds the gunman was back beside the driver of the van; the other two had hurled the student into the rear of the Transit and slammed the doors, the van had rolled off its jack, done a fast-reverse into the entrance of the reservoir, hauled a three-point turn, and was headed back down the lane toward Wheatley.

The Secret Service agent was dying, but he had a lot of courage. Inch by agonizing inch he pulled himself back to the open car door, scrabbled for the microphone beneath the dash, and croaked out his last message. He did not bother with call signs or codes or radio procedure; he was too far gone. By the time help came five minutes later, he was dead. What he said was: “Help… we need help here. Someone has just kidnapped Simon Cormack.”

Chapter 4

In the wake of the dying American Secret Service man’s radio call many things began to happen exceedingly fast and at a rising tempo. The snatch of the President’s only son had taken place at 7:05 A.M. The radio call was logged at 7:07. Although the caller was using a dedicated waveband, he was speaking in clear. It was fortunate no unauthorized person was listening to police frequencies at that hour. The call was heard in three places.

At the rented house off the Woodstock Road were the other ten men of the Secret Service team tasked to guard the President’s son during his year at Oxford. Eight were still abed, but two were up, including the night-watch officer, who was listening on the dedicated frequency.

The Director of the Secret Service, Creighton Burbank, had from the outset protested that the President’s son should not be studying abroad at all during the incumbency. He had been overruled by President Cormack, who saw no good reason to deprive his son of his longed-for chance to spend a year at Oxford. Swallowing his objections, Burbank had asked for a fifty-man team at Oxford.

Again, John Cormack had yielded to his son’s pleading-“Give me a break, Dad, I’ll look like an exhibit at a cattle show with fifty goons all around me”-and they had settled on a team of twelve. The American embassy in London had rented a large detached villa in north Oxford, collaborated for months with the British authorities, and engaged three thoroughly vetted British staff: a male gardener, a cook, and a woman for the cleaning and laundry. The aim had been to give Simon Cormack a chance at a perfectly normal enjoyment of his student days.

The team had always had a minimum of eight men on duty, four on weekend furlough. The duty men had made four pairs: three shifts to cover the twenty-four-hour day at the house, and two men to escort Simon everywhere when away from Woodstock Road. The men had threatened to resign if they were not allowed their weapons, and the British had a standing rule that no foreigners carried sidearms on British soil. A typical compromise was evolved: Out of the house, an armed British sergeant of the Special Branch would be in the car. Technically the Americans would be operating under his auspices and could have guns. It was a fiction, but the Special Branch men, being local to Oxfordshire, were useful guides, and relations had become very friendly. It was the British sergeant who had come out of the rear seat of the ambushed car and tried to use his two-inch Smith & Wesson before being gunned down on Shotover Plain.

Within seconds of receiving the dying man’s call at the Woodstock Road house, the rest of the team threw themselves into two other cars and raced toward Shotover Plain. The route of the run was clearly marked and they all knew it. The night-watch officer remained behind in the house with one other man, and he made two fast telephone calls. One was to Creighton Burbank in Washington, fast asleep at that hour of the morning, five hours behind London; the other was to the legal counselor at the U.S. embassy in London, caught shaving at his St. John’s Wood home.

The legal counselor at an American embassy is always the FBI representative, and in London that is an important post. The liaison between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries is constant. Patrick Seymour had taken over from Darrell Mills two years earlier, got on well with the British, and enjoyed the job. His immediate reaction was to go very pale and put in a scrambled call to Donald Edmonds, Director of the FBI, catching him fast asleep at his Chevy Chase residence.

The second listener to the radio call was a patrol car of the Thames Valley Police, the force covering the old counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire. Although the American team with their Special Branch escort were always in close on Simon Cormack, the TVP made a policy of having one of their cars no more than a mile away on a “first call” basis. The patrol car was tuned to the dedicated frequency, was cruising through Headington at the time, and covered the missing mile in fifty seconds. Some would later say the sergeant and driver in it should have passed the ambush site and tried to overtake the escaping van. Hindsight; with three bodies on the Shotover track, they stopped to see if they could render assistance and/or get some kind of a description. It was too late for either.

The third listening post was the Thames Valley Police headquarters in the village of Kidlington. Woman Police Constable Janet Wren was due to go off duty after the night shift at 7:30 and was yawning when the croaking voice with the American accent crackled into her headset. She was so stunned she thought for a fleeting second it might be a joke. Then she consulted a checklist and hit a series of keys on the computer to her left. At once her screen flashed up a series of instructions, which the badly frightened woman began to follow to the letter.

After lengthy collaboration a year earlier between the Thames Valley Police Authority, Scotland Yard, the British Home Office, the U.S. embassy, and the Secret Service, the joint protection operation around Simon Cormack had been tagged Operation Yankee Doodle. The routines had been computerized, as had the procedures to be followed in any of a variety of contingencies-such as the President’s son being in a bar brawl, a street fight, a road accident, a political demonstration, being taken ill, or wishing to spend time away from Oxford in another country. WPC Wren had activated the Kidnap code and the computer was answering back.

Within minutes the duty officer of the watch was by her side, pale with worry and starting a series of phone calls. One was to the Chief Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) who took it on himself to bring in his colleague, the Superintendent heading TVP’s Special Branch (SB). The man at Kidlington also called the Assistant Chief Constable (Operations), who was attacking two boiled eggs when the call came to his home. He listened intently and rapped out a series of orders and questions.

“Where, exactly?”

“Shotover Plain, sir,” said Kidlington. “Delta Bravo is at the scene. They’ve turned back a private car coming from Wheatley, two other runners, and a lady with a dog from the Oxford end. Both the Americans are dead; so is Sergeant Dunn.”

“Jesus,” breathed the ACC Ops. This was going to be the biggest flap of his career, and as head of Operations, the sharp end of police work, it was up to him to get it right. No near misses. Not acceptable. He went into overdrive.

“Get a minimum fifty uniformed men there fast. Posts, mallets, and ribbons. I want it sealed off-now. Every SOCO we’ve got. And roadblocks. That’s a two-ended track, isn’t it? Did they get away through the Oxford end?”

“Delta Bravo says not,” replied the man at headquarters. “We don’t know the time lapse between the attack and the American’s call. But if it was short, Delta Bravo was on the road at Headington and says no one passed them coming from Shotover. The tire tracks will tell us-it’s muddy there.”

“Concentrate the roadblocks north through south on the eastern side,” said the ACC. “Leave the Chief Constable to me. My car’s on its way?”

“Should be outside now,” said Kidlington.

It was. The ACC glanced through his sitting-room window and saw his car, normally due forty minutes later, pulling up. “Who’s already on their way?” he asked.

“CID, SB, SOCOs, and now uniformed,” said Kidlington.

“Get every detective off every case and put them on the knocker,” said the ACC. “I’ll go straight to Shotover.”

“Range of roadblocks?” queried the watch officer at headquarters. The ACC thought. Roadblocks are easier said than done. The Home Counties, all very historic and heavily populated, have a maze of country lanes, secondary roads, and tracks running between the towns, villages, and hamlets that make up the countryside. Cast the net too wide and the number of minor roads would multiply to hundreds; cast it too narrow and the distance the kidnappers had to cover to escape the net would shrink.

“Edge of Oxfordshire,” snapped the ACC. He hung up, then called his ultimate superior, the Chief Constable. In any British county force the day-to-day anti-crime policing goes to the ACC Ops. The Chief Constable may or may not have a background in police work, but his task concerns policy, morale, the public image, and liaison with London. The ACC glanced at his watch as he made the call: 7:31 A.M.

The Chief Constable of the Thames Valley lived in a handsome converted rectory in the village of Bletchingdon. He strode from his breakfast room to the study, wiping marmalade from his mouth, to take the call. When he heard the news he forgot about breakfast. There were going to be many disturbed mornings that ninth day of October.

“I see,” he said as the details so far sank in. “Yes, carry on. I’ll… call London.”

On his study desk were several telephones. One was a designated and very private line to the office of the Assistant Secretary of the F.4 Division in the Home Office, Britain ’s Interior Ministry, which rules the Metropolitan and County Police forces. At that hour the civil servant was not at his office, but the call was patched through to his home in Fulham, London. The bureaucrat let out an unwonted oath, made two phone calls, and headed straight for the big white building in Queen Anne’s Gate, running off Victoria Street, that housed his ministry.

One of his calls was to the duty officer at F.4 Division, requiring his desk to be cleared of all other matters and his entire staff to be brought in from their homes at once. He did not say why. He still did not know how many people were aware of the Shotover Plain massacre, but as a good civil servant he was not about to add to that number if he could help it.

The other call he could not help. It was to the Permanent Undersecretary, senior civil servant for the entire Home Office. Fortunately both men lived inside London, rather than miles away in the outer suburbs, and met at the ministry building at 7:51. Sir Harry Marriott, the Conservative government’s Home Secretary and their Minister, joined them at 8:04 and was briefed. His immediate reaction was to put in a call to 10 Downing Street and insist on speaking to Mrs. Thatcher herself.

The call was taken by her private secretary-there are innumerable “secretaries” in Whitehall, the seat of the British administration: Some are really Ministers; some, senior civil servants; some, personal aides; and a few do secretarial work. Charles Powell was in the second-last group. He knew that his Prime Minister, in her adjacent private study, had been working for an hour already, polishing off reams of paperwork before most of her colleagues were out of pajamas. It was her custom. Powell also knew that Sir Harry was one of her closest colleagues and intimates. He checked with her briefly and she took the call without delay.

“Prime Minister, I have to see you. Now. I have to come ’round without delay.”

Margaret Thatcher frowned. The hour and the tone were unusual.

“Then come, Harry,” she said.

“Three minutes,” said the voice on the phone. Sir Harry Marriott replaced the receiver. Down below, his car was waiting for the five-hundred-yard drive. It was 8:11 A.M.

The kidnappers were four in number. The gunman, who now sat in the passenger seat, stuffed the Skorpion down between his feet and pulled off his woolen ski mask. Beneath it he still wore a wig and a moustache. He pulled on a pair of heavy-framed spectacles with no glass in them. Beside him was the driver, the leader of the team; he, too, had a wig, and a false beard as well. Both disguises were temporary, because they had to drive several miles looking natural.

In the rear the other two subdued a violently fighting Simon Cormack. Not a problem. One of the men was huge and simply smothered the young American in a bear hug while the lean and wiry one applied an ether pad. The van bounced off the track from the reservoir and settled down as it found the blacktop lane toward Wheatley, and the sounds from the rear ceased as the U.S. President’s son slumped unconscious.

It was downhill through Littleworth, with its scattering of cottages, and then straight into Wheatley. They passed an electric milk van delivering the traditional breakfast pint of fresh milk, and a hundred yards later the van driver had a brief image of a newspaper delivery boy glancing at them. Out of Wheatley they joined the main A.40 highway into Oxford, turned back toward the city for five hundred yards, then turned right onto the B.4027 minor road through the villages of Forest Hill and Stanton St. John.

The van drove at normal speed through both villages, over the crossroads by New Inn Farm, and on toward Islip. But a mile after New Inn, just beyond Fox Covert, it pulled toward a farm gate on the left. The man beside the driver leaped out, used a key to undo the padlock on the gate-they had replaced the farmer’s padlock with their own ten hours earlier-and the van rolled into the track. Within ten yards it had reached the semi-ruined timber barn behind its stand of trees which the kidnappers had reconnoitered two weeks earlier. It was 7:16 A.M.

The daylight was brightening and the four men worked fast. The gunman hauled open the barn doors and drove out the big Volvo sedan that had been parked there only since midnight. The green van drove in and the driver descended, bringing with him the Skorpion and two woolen masks. He checked the front of the van to make sure nothing was left, then slammed the door. The other two men bailed out of the rear doors, hefted the form of Simon Cormack, and placed it in the Volvo’s capacious trunk, already fitted with ample air holes. All four men stripped off their oversized black track suits to reveal respectable business suits, shirts, and ties. They retained their wigs, moustaches, and glasses. The bundled clothing went into the trunk with Simon, the Skorpion on the floor of the Volvo’s backseat under a blanket.

The van driver and team leader took the wheel of the Volvo and waited. The lean man from the back placed the charges in the van and the giant closed the barn doors. Both got into the back of the Volvo, which now cruised to the gate leading to the road. The gunman closed it behind the car, recovered the padlock, and replaced the farmer’s rusted chain. It had been cut through but now hung realistically enough. The Volvo had left tracks in the mud, but that could not be helped. They were standard tires and would soon be changed. The gunman climbed in beside the driver, and the Volvo headed north. It was 7:22 A.M. The ACC Ops was just saying “Jesus.”

The kidnappers drove northwest straight through Islip village and cut into the arrow-straight A.421, taking a ninety-degree right turn toward Bicester. They drove through this pleasant market town in northeast Oxfordshire at a steady pace and along the A.421 toward the county town of Buckingham. Just outside Bicester a big police Range Rover loomed up behind them. One of the men in the back muttered a warning and reached down for the Skorpion. The driver snapped at him to sit still and continued at a legal speed. A hundred yards on, a sign said WELCOME TO BUCKINGHAMSHIRE. The county line. At the sign the Range Rover slowed, slewed across the road, and began unloading steel barriers. The Volvo kept motoring and soon disappeared. It was 8:05. In London, Sir Harry Marriott was picking up the phone to Downing Street.

The British Prime Minister happens to be an extremely humane person, much more so than her five immediate male predecessors. Although able to stay cooler than any of them under extreme pressure, she is far from immune to tears. Sir Harry would later tell his wife that when he broke the news her eyes filled; she covered her face with her hands and whispered, “Oh, dear God. Poor man.”

“Here we were,” Sir Harry would tell Debbie, “facing the biggest bloody crisis with the Yanks since Suez, and her first thought was for the father. Not the son, mind you-the father.”

Sir Harry had no children and had not been in office in January 1982, so, unlike the retired Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong, who would not have been surprised, he had not witnessed Margaret Thatcher’s anguish when her son Mark had gone missing on the Dakar Rally in the Algerian desert. Then, in the privacy of the night, she had cried from that pure and very special pain felt by a parent whose child is in danger. Mark Thatcher had been found alive by a patrol after six days.

When she raised her head she had recovered; she pressed a button on her intercom.

“Charlie, I want you to put through a personal call to President Cormack. From me. Tell the White House it is urgent and cannot wait. Yes, of course I know what time it is in Washington.”

“There is the American ambassador, via the Foreign Secretary,” ventured Sir Harry Marriott. “He could… perhaps…”

“No, I will do it myself,” insisted the Prime Minister. “You will please form the COBRA, Harry. Reports every hour on the hour, please.”

There is nothing particularly hot about the so-called hotline between Downing Street and the White House. It is in fact a dedicated telephone link, via satellite, but with unbreakable scramblers fitted at both ends to ensure privacy. A hotline link normally takes about five minutes to set up. Margaret Thatcher pushed her papers to one side, stared out of the bulletproof windows of her private office, and waited.

Shotover Plain was crawling, literally, with activity. The two men of the patrol car Delta Bravo knew enough to keep everyone else off the area and to walk extremely carefully even as they examined the three bodies for signs of life. When they saw none, they left the bodies alone. Investigations can all too easily be ruined at the outset because someone walked all over evidence that would have been treasures to the forensic people, or a big foot pushed a spent cartridge into the mud, wiping off any fingerprints it might still have contained.

The uniformed men had cordoned off the area, the whole track from Littleworth down the hill to the east along to the steel bridge crossing the Ring Road between Shotover and Oxford City. Within this area the SOCOs, scene-of-crime officers, looked for anything and everything. They found that the British SB sergeant had fired twice; a metal detector got one slug out of the mud in front of him-he had slumped forward on his knees, firing as he went down. They could not find the other slug. It might have hit one of the kidnappers, they would report. (It hadn’t, but they did not know that.)

There were the spent cases from the Skorpion, twenty-eight of them, all in the same pool; each was photographed where it lay, picked up with tweezers, and bagged for the lab boys. One American was still slumped behind the wheel of the car; the other lay where he had died beside the passenger door, his bloodied hands over the three holes in his belly, the hand mike swinging free. Everything was photographed from every angle before anything was moved. The bodies went to the Radcliffe Infirmary while a Home Office pathologist sped down from London.

The tracks in the mud were of special interest: the smear where Simon Cormack had crashed down with two men on top of him, the prints of the kidnappers’ shoes-they would turn out to be from ultracommon running shoes and untraceable-and the tire tracks from the getaway vehicle, quickly identified as some kind of van. And there was the jack, brand-new and purchasable from any of the Unipart chain of stores. Like the Skorpion 9mm cartridges, it would turn out to bear no prints.

There were thirty detectives seeking witnesses- wearisome but vital work that yielded some first descriptions. Two hundred yards east of the reservoir on the lane into Littleworth were two cottages. The lady in one, brewing up tea, had heard “some popping noises” down the lane about seven o’clock but had seen nothing. A man in Littleworth had seen a green van go by just after seven, heading toward Wheatley. The detectives would find the newspaper delivery boy and the milk-van driver just before nine, the boy at school, the milkman having breakfast.

He was the best witness. Medium-green, battered Ford Transit with the Barlow’s logo on the side. The marketing manager at Barlow confirmed they had had no vans in that area at that hour. All were accounted for. The police had their getaway vehicle; an all-points alert went out. No reason; just find it. No one connected it with a burning barn on the Islip road-yet.

Other detectives were around the house in Summer-town, knocking on doors in Woodstock Road and its vicinity. Had anyone seen parked cars, vans, other vehicles? Anyone seen observing the house down the street? They followed the route of Simon’s run right into the center of Oxford and out the other side. About twenty people reported they had seen the young runner being tailed by men in a car, but it always turned out to be the Secret Service car.

By nine o’clock the ACC Ops was getting the familiar feeling: There would be no rapid windup now, no lucky breaks, no quick catch. They were away, whoever they were. The Chief Constable, in full uniform, joined him at Shotover Plain and watched the teams at work.

“ London seems to want to take over,” said the Chief Constable.

The ACC grunted. It was a snub, but also the removal of a hellish responsibility. The inquiry into the past would be tough enough, but to fail in the future…

“ Whitehall seems to feel they may have quit our patch, don’t you see. The powers might want the Met. to be in charge. Any press?”

The ACC shook his head. “Not yet, sir. But it won’t stay quiet for long. Too big.”

He did not know that the lady walking her dog who had been shooed away from the scene by the men of Delta Bravo at 7:16 had seen two of the three bodies, had run home badly frightened, and told her husband. Or that he was a printer on the Oxford Mail. Although a technician, he thought he ought to mention it to the duty editor when he arrived.

The call from Downing Street was taken by the senior duty officer in the Communications Center of the White House, situated in the subground level of the West Wing, right next to the Situation Room. It was logged at 3:34 A.M. Washington time. Hearing who it was, the SDO bravely agreed to call the senior ranking Secret Service agent of the shift, at his post over in the Mansion.

The Secret Service man was patrolling the Center Hall at the time, quite close to the family quarters on the second floor. He responded when the phone at his desk opposite the First Family’s gilded elevator trilled discreetly.

“She wants what?” he whispered into the receiver. “Do those Brits know what time it is over here?”

He listened a while longer. He could not recall when last someone had awakened a President at that hour. Must have happened, he thought, in case of war, say. Maybe that was what this was about. He could be in for one bad time from Burbank if he got it wrong. On the other hand… the British Prime Minister herself…

“I’ll hang up now, call you back,” he told the Communications Room. London was told the President was being roused; they should hang on. They did.

The Secret Service guard, whose name was Lepinsky, went through the double doors into the West Sitting Hall and faced the door to the Cormacks’ bedroom on his left. He paused, took a deep breath, and knocked gently. No reply. He tried the handle. Unlocked. With, as he saw it, his career up for grabs, he entered. In the large double bed he could make out two sleeping forms, guessed the President would be nearer the window. He tiptoed around the bed, identified the maroon cotton pajama top, and shook the President’s shoulder.

“Mr. President, sir. Would you wake up, sir, please?”

John Cormack came awake, identified the man standing timorously over him, glanced at his wife, and did not put on the light.

“What time is it, Mr. Lepinsky?”

“Just after half past three, sir. I’m sorry about this… Er, Mr. President, the British Prime Minister is on the line. She says it cannot wait. I’m sorry about this, sir.”

John Cormack thought for a moment, then swung his legs out of the bed-gently, so as not to wake Myra. Lepinsky handed him a nearby robe. After nearly three years in power Cormack knew the British Prime Minister well enough. He had twice seen her in England -the second time on a two-hour stopover on his return from Vnukovo-and she had been twice to the States. They were both decisive people; they got on well. If it was she, it had to be important. He would catch up on sleep later.

“Return to the Center Hall, Mr. Lepinsky,” he whispered. “Don’t worry. You have done well. I’ll take the call in my study.”

The President’s study is sandwiched between the master bedroom and the Yellow Oval Room, which is under the central rotunda. Like the bedroom, its windows look out over the lawn toward Pennsylvania Avenue. He closed the communicating door, put on the light, blinked several times, seated himself at his desk, and lifted the phone. She was on the line in ten seconds.

“Has anyone else been in touch with you yet?”

Something seemed to punch him in the stomach.

“No… no one. Why?”

“I believe Mr. Edmonds and Mr. Burbank must know by now,” she said. “I’m sorry to have to be the first…”

Then she told him. He held the phone very tightly and stared at the curtains, not seeing them. His mouth went dry and he could not swallow. He heard the phrases: everything, but everything being done… Scotland Yard’s best teams… no escape… He said yes, and thank you, and put the phone down. It was like being punched hard in the chest. He thought of Myra, still asleep. He would have to tell her. It would hit her very hard.

“Oh, Simon,” he whispered. “Simon, my boy.”

He knew he could not handle this himself. He needed a friend who could step in while he looked after Myra. After several minutes he called the operator, kept his voice very steady.

“Get me Vice President Odell, please. Yes, now.”

In his residence at the Naval Observatory, Michael Odell was roused the same way, by a Secret Service man. The telephoned summons was unequivocal and unexplained. Please come straight to the Executive Mansion. Second floor. The study. Now, Michael, now, please.

Odell heard the phone go dead, replaced his own, scratched his head, and peeled the wrapper off a stick of spearmint gum. It helped him concentrate. He called for his car and went to the closet for his clothes. A widower, Odell slept alone, so there was no one to disturb. Ten minutes later, in slacks, shoes, and a sweater over his shirt, he was in the back of the stretch limousine, staring at the clipped back of the Navy driver’s head or the lights of nighttime Washington until the illuminated mass of the White House came into view. He avoided the South Portico and the South Entrance and entered the ground-floor corridor by the door at its western end. He told his driver to wait; he would not be long. He was wrong. The time was 4:07 A.M.

Crisis management at the top level in Britain falls to a hastily convened committee whose membership varies according to the nature of the crisis. But its place of meeting rarely changes. The chosen conference hall is almost always the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, a quiet air-conditioned chamber two floors below ground level, under the Cabinet Office adjacent to Downing Street. From the initials these committees are known as COBRA.

It had taken Sir Harry Marriott and his staff just over an hour to get the “bodies,” as he called his cast list, out of their homes, off their commuter trains, or from their scattered offices and into the Cabinet Office. He took the chair at 9:56 A.M.

The kidnapping was clearly a crime and a matter for the police, which came under the Home Office. But in this case there were many further ramifications. Apart from the Home Office, there was a Minister of State from the Foreign Office, which would try to maintain relationships with the State Department in Washington and thus the White House. Furthermore, if Simon Cormack had been spirited to Europe, their involvement would be vital at a political level. Answering to the Foreign Office was the Secret Intelligence Service, MI-6-“the Firm”-and their input would concern the possibility of foreign terrorist groups being involved. Their man had come across the river from Century House and would report back to the Chief.

Also coming under the Home Office, separate from the police, was the Security Service, MI-5, the counterintelligence arm with more than a passing interest in terrorism as it affected Britain internally. Their man had come from Curzon Street in Mayfair, where files on likely candidates were already being vetted by the score and a number of “sleepers” contacted to answer a particularly burning question: who?

There was a senior civil servant from the Defense Ministry, in charge of the Special Air Service regiment at Hereford. In the event that Simon Cormack and his abductors were located quickly and a siege situation developed, the SAS might well be needed for hostage recovery, one of their arcane specialties. No one needed to be told that already the troop on permanent half-hour standby-in this case, according to the rotation, Seven Troop, the free-fall men of B Squadron-had quietly moved up to Amber Alert, ten minutes, and their backup moved from two-hour standby to sixty minutes.

There was a man from the Ministry of Transport, controlling Britain ’s ports and airports. Liaising with the Coastguards and Customs, his department would operate a blanket port-watch, for a prime concern now was to keep Simon Cormack inside the country in case the kidnappers had other ideas. He had already spoken to the Department of Trade and Industry, who had made plain that to examine every single sealed and bonded freight container heading out of the country was quite literally impossible. Still, any privateairplane, yacht or cruiser, fishing smack, camper, or motor home heading out with a large crate on board, or someone on a stretcher or simply drugged and insensible, would find a Customs officer or Coastguard taking more than a passing interest.

The key man, however, sat at Sir Harry’s right: Nigel Cramer.

Unlike Britain ’s provincial county constabularies and police authorities, London ’s police force-the Metropolitan Police, known as “the Met.”-is headed not by a chief constable but by a commissioner and is the largest force in the country. The commissioner, in this case Sir Peter Imbert, is assisted in his task by four assistant commissioners, each in charge of one of the four departments. Second of these is Specialist Operations, or S.O.

S.O. Department has thirteen branches, One through Fourteen, excluding Five, which, for no known reason, does not exist. Among the thirteen are the Covert Squad, Serious Crimes Squad, Flying Squad, Fraud Squad, and Regional Crimes Squad. And the Special Branch (counterintelligence), the Criminal Intelligence Branch (S.O. 11), and the Anti-Terrorist Branch (S.O. 13).

The man designated by Sir Peter Imbert to represent the Met. on the COBRA committee was the Deputy Assistant Commissioner, S.O. Department, Nigel Cramer. Cramer would report in two directions: upward, to his Assistant Commissioner and the Commissioner himself; sideways, to the COBRA committee. Toward him would flow the input from the official investigating officer, the I.O., who in turn would be using all the branches and squads of the department, as appropriate.

It takes a political decision to superimpose the Met. on a provincial force, but the Prime Minister had already taken that decision, justified by the suspicion that Simon Cormack might well by now be out of the Thames Valley area; and Sir Harry Marriott had just informed the Chief Constable of that decision. Cramer’s men were already on the outskirts of Oxford.

There were two non-British invited to sit with the COBRA. One was Patrick Seymour, the FBI man at the American embassy; the other was Lou Collins, the London-based liaison officer of the CIA. Their inclusion was more than just courtesy; they were there so they could keep their own organizations aware of the level of effort being put in at London to solve the outrage, and maybe to contribute any nuggets their own people might unearth.

Sir Harry opened the meeting with a brief report of what was known so far. The abduction was just three hours old. At this point he felt it necessary to make two assumptions. One was that Simon Cormack had been driven away from Shotover Plain and was by now sequestered in a secret place; the second was that the perpetrators were terrorists of some kind who had not yet made any form of contact with the authorities.

The man from Secret Intelligence volunteered that his people were trying to contact a variety of penetration agents inside known European terrorist groups in an attempt to identify the group behind the snatch. It would take some days.

“These penetration agents lead very dangerous lives,” he added. “We can’t just ring them up and ask for Jimmy. Covert meetings will take place in various places over the next week to see if we can get a lead.”

The Security Service man added that his department was doing the same with home-grown groups who might be involved, or know something. He doubted that the perpetrators were local. Apart from the I.R.A. and the INLA-both Irish-the British Isles had its fair share of weirdos, but the level of ruthless professionalism shown at Shotover Plain seemed to exclude the usual noisy malcontents. Still, his own penetration agents would also be activated.

Nigel Cramer reported that the first clues were likely to come from forensic examination or a chance witness not yet interviewed.

“We know the van used,” he said. “A green-painted, far-from-new Ford Transit, bearing on both sides the familiar logo-in Oxfordshire-of the Barlow fruit company. It was seen heading east through Wheatley, away from the scene of the crime, about five minutes after the attack. And it was not a Barlow van-that is confirmed. The witness did not note the registration number. Obviously, a major search is on for anyone else who saw that van, its direction of travel, or the men in the front seat. Apparently there were two-just vague shadows behind the glass-but the milkman believes one had a beard.

“On forensics, we have a car jack, perfect tire prints from the van-the Thames Valley people established exactly where it stood-and a collection of spent brass casings, apparently from a submachine carbine. They are going to the Army experts at Fort Halstead. Ditto the slugs when they come out of the bodies of the two Secret Service men and Sergeant Dunn of the Oxford Special Branch. Fort Halstead will tell us exactly, but at first glance they look like Warsaw Pact ordnance. Almost every European terrorist group except the I.R.A. uses East Bloc weaponry.

“The forensic people at Oxford are good, but I’m still bringing every piece of evidence back to our own labs at Fulham. Thames Valley will continue to look for witnesses.

“So, gentlemen, we have four lines of enquiry. The getaway van, witnesses at or near the scene, the evidence they left behind, and-another for the Thames Valley people-a search for anyone seen observing the house off the Woodstock Road. Apparently”-he glanced at the two Americans-“Simon Cormack made the same run over the same ground each morning at the same hour for several days.”

At that point the phone rang. It was for Cramer. He took the call, asked several questions, listened for some minutes, then came back to the table.

“I’ve appointed Commander Peter Williams, head of S.O. 13, the Anti-Terrorist Branch, the official investigating officer. That was he. We think we have the van.”

The owner of Whitehill Farm, close to Fox Covert on the Islip road, had called the fire brigade at 8:10 after seeing smoke and flames rising from a near-derelict timber barn he owned. It was situated in a meadow close to the road but five hundred yards from his farmhouse and he seldom visited it. The Oxford Fire Brigade had responded, but too late to save the barn. The farmer had been standing helplessly by and had watched the flames consume the timber structure, bringing down first the roof and then the walls.

As the firemen were damping down the debris, they observed what appeared to be the gutted wreck of a van underneath the charred timbers. That was at 8:41. The farmer was adamant there had not been a vehicle stored in the barn. Fearing there might have been people-gypsies, tinkers, even campers-inside the van, the firemen stayed on to pull the timbers away. They peered inside the van when they could get near to it, but saw no evidence of bodies. But it was definitely the wreck of a Ford Transit.

On returning to the Brigade headquarters, a smart leading officer heard on the radio that the Thames Valley Police were looking for a Transit, believed to have participated in “an offense involving firearms” earlier that morning. He had rung Kidlington.

“I’m afraid it’s gutted,” said Cramer. “Tires probably burnt out, fingerprints erased. Still, engine block and chassis numbers will not be affected. My Vehicles Section people are on their way. If there’s anything-and I do mean anything-left, we’ll get it.”

Vehicles Section at Scotland Yard comes under the Serious Crimes Squad, part of S.O. Department.

The COBRA stayed in session, but some of its leading participants left to get on with other matters, handing over to subordinates who would report if there was a break. The chair was taken by a junior Minister from the Home Office.

In a perfect world, which it never is, Nigel Cramer would have preferred to keep the press out of things, for a while at least. By 11:00 A.M. Clive Empson of the Oxford Mail was at Kidlington asking about reports of a shooting and killing on Shotover Plain just about sunrise. Three things then surprised him. One was that he was soon taken to a detective chief superintendent, who asked him where he had got this report. He refused to say. The second was that there was an air of genuine fear among the junior officers at the Thames Valley Police headquarters. The third was that he was given no help at all. For a double shooting-the print technician’s wife had seen only two bodies-the police would normally be asking for press cooperation and issuing a statement, not to mention holding a press conference.

Driving back to Oxford, Empson mulled things over. A “natural causes” would go to the city morgue. But a shooting would mean the more sophisticated facilities of the Radcliffe Infirmary. By chance he was having a rather agreeable affair with a nurse at the Radcliffe; she was not in the “bodies” section, but she might know someone who was.

By the lunch hour he had been told there was a big flap going on at the Radcliffe. There were three bodies in the morgue; two were apparently American and one was a British policeman. There was a forensic pathologist all the way from London, and someone from the American embassy. That puzzled him.

Servicemen from nearby Upper Heyford base would bring uniformed USAF to the Infirmary; American tourists on a slab might bring someone from the embassy; but why would Kidlington not say so? He thought of Simon Cormack, widely known to be a student these past nine months, and went to Balliol College. Here he met a pretty Welsh student called Jenny.

She confirmed that Simon Cormack had not come to tutorials that day but took it lightly. He was probably knocking himself out with all that cross-country running. Running? “Yes, he’s the main hope to beat Cambridge in December. Goes for brutal training runs every morning. Usually on Shotover Plain.”

Clive Empson thought he had been kicked in the belly. Accustomed to the idea of spending his life covering affairs for the Oxford Mail, he suddenly saw the bright lights of Fleet Street, London, beckoning. He almost got it right, but he assumed Simon Cormack had been shot. That was the report he filed to a major London newspaper in the late afternoon. It had the effect of forcing the government to make a statement.

Washington insiders will sometimes, in complete privacy, admit to British friends that they would give their right arms for the British governmental system.

The British system is fairly simple. The Queen is the head of state and she stays in place. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is always the leader of the party that wins the general election. This has two advantages. The nation’s chief executive cannot be at loggerheads with a majority from the opposing political party in Parliament (which facilitates necessary, though not always popular, legislation) and the incoming Prime Minister after an election victory is almost always a skilled and experienced politician at the national level, and probably a former Cabinet Minister in a previous administration. The experience, the know-how, the awareness of how things happen and how to make them happen, are always there.

In London there is a third advantage. Behind the politicians stands an array of senior civil servants who probably served the previous administration, the one before that, and the one before that. With a hundred years of experience at the top between a dozen of them, these “mandarins” are of vital help to the new winners. They know what happened last time and why; they keep the records; they know where the land mines are situated.

In Washington the outgoing incumbent takes almost everything with him-the experience, the advisers, and the records-or, at any rate, those that some congenial colonel has not shredded. The incoming man starts cold, often with experience in government only at the state level, bringing his own team of advisers, who may come in “cold turkey,” just as he does, not quite sure which are the footballs and which the land mines. It accounts for quite a few Washington reputations soon walking around with a permanent limp.

Thus when a stunned Vice President Odell left the Mansion and crossed to the West Wing at 5:05 that October morning, he realized that he was not entirely certain what to do or whom to ask.

“I cannot handle this thing alone, Michael,” the President had told him. “I will try to carry on the duties of the President. I retain the Oval Office. But I cannot chair the Crisis Management Committee. I am too involved, in any case… Get him back for me, Michael. Get my son back for me.”

Odell was a much more emotional man than John Cormack. He had never seen his wry, dry, academic friend so distraught, nor ever thought to. He had embraced his President and sworn it would be done. Cormack had returned to the bedroom where the White House physician was administering sedation to a weeping First Lady.

Odell now sat in the center chair at the Cabinet Room table, ordered coffee, and started to make phone calls himself. The snatch had taken place in Britain; that was abroad; he would need the Secretary of State. He called Jim Donaldson and woke him up. He did not tell him why, just to come straight to the Cabinet Room. Donaldson protested. He would be there at nine.

“Jim, get your butt in here now. It’s an emergency. And don’t call the President to check. He can’t take your call, and he’s asked me to handle it.”

While he had been governor of Texas, Michael Odell had always considered foreign affairs a closed book. But he had been in Washington, and Vice President, long enough to have had numberless briefings on foreign affairs issues and to have learned a lot. Those who fell for the deliberately folksy image he liked to cultivate did Odell an injustice, often to their later regret. Michael Odell had not gained the trust and respect of a man like John Cormack because he was a fool. In fact, he was very smart indeed.

He called Bill Walters, the Attorney General, political chief of the FBI. Walters was up and dressed, having taken a call from Don Edmonds, Director of the Bureau. Walters knew already.

“I’m on my way, Michael,” he said. “I want Don Edmonds on hand as well. We’re going to need the Bureau’s expertise here. Also, Don’s man in London is keeping him posted on an hourly basis. We need up-to-date reports. Okay?”

“That’s great,” said Odell with relief. “Bring Edmonds.”

When the full group was present by 6:00 A.M., it also included Hubert Reed of Treasury (responsible for the Secret Service); Morton Stannard of Defense; Brad Johnson, the National Security Adviser; and Lee Alexander, Director of Central Intelligence. Waiting and available in addition to Don Edmonds were Creighton Burbank of the Secret Service, and the Deputy Director for Operations of the CIA.

Lee Alexander was aware that although he was DCI, he was a political appointee, not a career intelligence officer. The man who headed up the entire operational area of the Agency was the DDO, David Weintraub. He waited outside with the others.

Don Edmonds had also brought one of his top men. Under the Director of the FBI come three executive assistant directors, heading respectively Law Enforcement Services, Administration, and Investigations. Within Investigations were three divisions-Intelligence, International Liaison (from which came Patrick Seymour in London), and Criminal Investigations Division. The EAD for Investigations, Buck Revell, was away sick, so Edmonds had brought the assistant director in charge of the CID, Philip Kelly.

“We’d better have them all in,” suggested Brad Johnson. “As of now, they know more than we do.”

Everyone concurred. Later the experts would form the Crisis Management Group, meeting in the Situation Room downstairs, next to the Communications Center, for convenience and privacy. Later still, the Cabinet men would join them there, when the telephoto lenses on the press cameras began to peer through the windows of the Cabinet Room and across the Rose Garden.

First they heard from Creighton Burbank, an angry man who blamed the British squarely for the disaster. He gave them everything he had learned from his own team in Summertown, a report that covered everything up to the runner’s departure from Woodstock Road that morning, and what his men had later seen and learned at Shotover Plain.

“I’ve got two men dead,” he snapped, “two widows and three orphans to see. And all because those bastards can’t run a security operation. Iwish it to go on record, gentlemen, that my service repeatedly asked that Simon Cormack not spend a year abroad, and that we needed fifty men in there, not a dozen.”

“Okay, you were right,” said Odell placatingly.

Don Edmonds had just taken a long call from the FBI man in London, Patrick Seymour. He filled them in on everything else he had learned right up to the close of the first COBRA meeting under the Cabinet Office, which had just ended.

“Just what happens in a kidnap case?” asked Hubert Reed mildly.

Of all President Cormack’s senior advisers in the room, Reed was the one generally deemed to be least likely to cope with the tough political infighting habitually associated with power in Washington.

He was a short man whose air of diffidence, even defenselessness, was accentuated by owllike eyeglasses. He had inherited wealth, and had started on Wall Street as a pension-fund manager with a major brokerage house. A sound nose for investments had made him a leading financier by his early fifties, and he had in previous years managed the Cormack family trusts-which was how the two men met and became friends.

It was Reed’s genius for finance that had caused John Cormack to invite him to Washington, where, at Treasury, he had managed to hold America ’s spiraling budget deficit within some limits. So long as the matter at hand was finance, Hubert Reed was at home; only when he was made privy to some of the “hard” operations of the Drug Enforcement Agency or the Secret Service, both subagencies of the Treasury Department, did he become thoroughly uncomfortable.

Don Edmonds glanced at Philip Kelly for an answer to Reed’s question. Kelly was the crime expert in the room.

“Normally, unless the abductors and their hideout can be quickly established, you wait until they make contact and demand a ransom. After that, you try to negotiate the return of the victim. Investigations continue, of course, to try to locate the whereabouts of the criminals. If that fails, it’s down to negotiation.”

“In this case, by whom?” asked Stannard.

There was silence. America has some of the most sophisticated alarm systems in the world. Her scientists have developed infrared sensors that can detect body heat from several miles above the earth’s surface; there are noise sensors that can hear a mouse breathe at a mile; there are movement and light sensors to pick up a cigarette stub from inner space. But no system in the entire arsenal can match the CYA sensor system that operates in Washington. It had already been in action for two hours and now was headed for peak performance.

“We need a presence over there,” urged Walters. “We can’t just leave this entirely to the British. We have to be seen to be doing something, something positive, something to get that boy back.”

“Hell, yes,” exploded Odell. “We can say they lost the boy, even though the Secret Service insisted that the British police take a backseat.” Burbank glared at him. “We have the leverage. We can insist we participate in their investigation.”

“We can hardly send a Washington Police Department team in to take over from Scotland Yard on their real estate,” Attorney General Walters pointed out.

“Well, what about the negotiation, then?” asked Brad Johnson. There was still silence from the professionals. By his insistence, Johnson was blatantly infringing the rules of Cover Your Ass.

Odell spoke, to mask the hesitation of them all. “If it comes to negotiation,” he asked, “who is the best hostage-recovery negotiator in the world?”

“Out at Quantico,” ventured Kelly, “we have the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Group. They handle our kidnap negotiations here in America. They’re the best we have over here.”

“I said, who’s the best in the world?” repeated the Vice President.

“The most consistently successful hostage-recovery negotiator in the world,” remarked Weintraub quietly, “is a man called Quinn. I know him-knew him once, at any rate.”

Ten pairs of eyes swiveled toward the CIA man.

“Background him,” commanded Odell.

“He’s American,” said Weintraub. “After leaving the Army he joined an insurance company in Hartford. After two years they sent him to head their Paris operation, covering all their clients in Europe. He married, had a daughter. His French wife and child were killed in an expressway accident outside Orléans. He hit the bottle, Hartford fired him, he pulled himself back together, and he went to work for a firm of Lloyd’s underwriters in London, a firm specializing in personal security and, thus, hostage negotiation.

“So far as I recall, he spent ten years with them-1978 through ’88. Then he retired. Till then he had handled personally-or, where there was a language problem, advised on-over a dozen successful hostage recoveries all over Europe. As you know, Europe is the kidnap capital of the developed world. I believe he speaks three languages outside of English, and he knows Britain and Europe like the back of his hand.”

“Is he the man for us?” asked Odell. “Could he handle this for the U.S.?”

Weintraub shrugged. “You asked who was the best in the world, Mr. Vice President,” he pointed out. There were nods of relief around the table.

“Where is he now?” asked Odell.

“I believe he retired to the South of Spain, sir. We’ll have it all on file back at Langley.”

“Go get him, Mr. Weintraub,” said Odell. “Get him back here, this Mr. Quinn. No matter what it takes.”

At 7:00 P.M. that evening the first news hit the TV screens like an exploding bomb. On TVE a gabbling newscaster told a stunned Spanish public of the events of that morning outside the city of Oxford. The men around the bar at Antonio’s in Alcántara del Rio watched in silence. Antonio brought the tall man a complimentary glass of the house wine.

Mala cosa,” he said sympathetically. The tall man did not take his eyes from the screen.

No es mi asunto,” he said, puzzlingly. It is not my affair.

* * *

David Weintraub took off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 10:00 A.M. Washington time in a USAF VC20A, the military version of the Gulfstream Three. She crossed the Atlantic direct, cruising at 43,000 feet and making 483 mph, in seven and a half hours, with a helpful tail wind.

With six hours’ time difference, it was 11:30 P.M. when the DDO, CIA, landed at Rota, the U.S. Navy air base across the bay from Cádiz, Andalusia. He transferred at once to a waiting Navy SH2F Sea Sprite helicopter, which lifted away toward the east before he was even seated. The rendezvous was the wide, flat beach called Casares, and here the young staffer who had driven down from Madrid was waiting for him with a car from the Madrid Station. Sneed was a brash, bright young man fresh out of CIA training school at Camp Peary, Virginia, and seeking to impress the DDO. Weintraub sighed.

They drove carefully through Manilva, operative Sneed twice asking directions, and found Alcántara del Rio just after midnight. The whitewashed casita out of town was harder, but a helpful peasant pointed the way.

The limousine eased to a halt and Sneed killed the engine. They got out, surveyed the darkened cottage, and Sneed tried the door. It was on the latch. They walked straight into the wide, cool ground-floor sitting area. By the moonlight Weintraub could make out a man’s room: cowhide rugs over quarry tiles, easy chairs, an old refectory table of Spanish oak, a wall of books.

Sneed began poking about looking for a light switch. Weintraub noticed the three oil lamps and knew he was wasting his time. There would be a diesel generator out back to give electricity for cooking and bathing, probably shut off at sundown. Sneed was still clattering about. Weintraub took a step forward. He felt the needle tip of the knife just below the lobe of his right ear, and froze. The man had come down the tiled stair from the bedroom without a sound.

“Been a long time since Son Tay, Quinn,” said Weintraub in a low voice. The knife point moved away from his jugular.

“What’s that, sir?” asked Sneed cheerfully from the other end of the room. A shadow moved over the tiles, a match flared, and the oil lamp on the table gave a warm glow to the room. Sneed jumped a foot. Major Kerkorian in Belgrade would have loved him.

“Tiring journey,” said Weintraub. “Mind if I sit?”

Quinn was in a cotton wraparound from the waist down, like a sarong from the Orient. Bare to the waist, lean, work-hardened. Sneed’s mouth fell open at the scars.

“I’m out of it, David,” said Quinn. He seated himself at the refectory table, at the opposite end from the DDO. “I’m retired.”

He pushed a tumbler and the earthenware pitcher of red wine toward Weintraub, who poured a glass, drank, and nodded with appreciation. A rough red wine. It would never see the tables of the rich. A peasant’s and a soldier’s wine.

“Please, Quinn.”

Sneed was amazed. DDOs did not say “please.” They gave orders.

“I’m not coming,” said Quinn. Sneed came into the light glow, his jacket hanging free. He allowed it to swing to show the butt of the piece he carried in a hip holster. Quinn did not even look at him. He stared at Weintraub.

“Who is this asshole?” he inquired mildly.

“Sneed,” said Weintraub firmly, “go check the tires.”

Sneed went outside. Weintraub sighed.

“Quinn, the business at Taormina. The little girl. We know. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Can’t you understand? I’m out. It’s over. No more. You’ve wasted your journey. Get someone else.”

“There is no one else. The Brits have people, good people. Washington says we need an American. In-house, we don’t have anyone to match you when it comes to Europe.”

“ Washington wants to protect its ass,” snapped Quinn. “They always do. They need a fall guy in case it goes wrong.”

“Yeah, maybe,” admitted Weintraub. “But one last time, Quinn. Not for Washington, not for the Establishment, not even for the boy. For the parents. They need the best. I told the committee you’re it.”

Quinn stared around the room, studying his few but treasured possessions as if he might not see them again.

“I have a price,” he said at last.

“Name it,” said the DDO simply.

“Bring my grapes in. Bring in the harvest.”

They walked outside ten minutes later, Quinn hefting a gunnysack, dressed in dark trousers, sneakers on bare feet, a shirt. Sneed held open the car door. Quinn took the front passenger seat; Weintraub, the wheel.

“You stay here,” he said to Sneed. “Bring in his grapes.”

“Do what?” Sneed gasped.

“You heard. Go down to the village in the morning, rent some labor, and bring in the man’s grape harvest. I’ll tell Madrid Head of Station it’s okay.”

He used a hand communicator to summon the Sea Sprite, which was hovering over Casares beach when they arrived. They climbed aboard and wheeled away through the velvety darkness toward Rota and Washington.

Chapter 5

David Weintraub was away from Washington for just twenty hours. On the eight-hour flight from Rota to Andrews, he gained six hours in time zones, landing at the Maryland headquarters of the 89th Military Airlift Wing at 4:00 A.M. In the intervening period two governments, in Washington and London, had been virtually under siege.

There are few more awesome sights than the combined forces of the world’s media when they have completely lost any last vestige of restraint. The appetite is insatiable; the methodology, brutal.

Airplanes bound out of the United States for London, or any British airport, were choked from the flight-deck doors to the toilets, as every American news outlet worth the name sent a team to the British capital. On arrival they went berserk; there were minute-by-minute deadlines to meet and nothing to say. London had agreed with the White House to stick with the original terse statement. Of course it was nowhere near enough.

Reporters and TV teams staked out the detached house off the Woodstock Road as if its doors might open to reveal the missing youth. The doors remained firmly closed as the Secret Service team, on orders from Creighton Burbank, packed every last item and prepared to leave.

The Oxford city coroner, using his powers under Section Twenty of the Coroners Amendment Act, released the bodies of the two dead Secret Service agents as soon as the Home Office pathologist had finished with them. Technically they were released to Ambassador Aloysius Fairweather on behalf of next of kin; in fact they were escorted by a senior member of the embassy staff to the USAF base at nearby Upper Heyford, where an honor guard saw the caskets aboard a transport for Andrews Air Force Base, accompanied by the other ten agents, who had nearly been mobbed for statements when they left the house in Summertown.

They returned to the States, to be met by Creighton Burbank and to begin the long inquiry into what had gone wrong. There was nothing left for them to do in England.

Even when the Oxford house had been closed down, a small and forlorn group of reporters waited outside it lest something, anything, happen there. Others pursued, throughout the university city, anyone who had ever known Simon Cormack-tutors, fellow students, college staff, barmen, athletes. Two other American students at Oxford, albeit at different colleges, had to go into hiding. The mother of one, traced in America, was kind enough to say she was bringing her boy home at once to the safety of downtown Miami. It made a paragraph and got her a spot on a local quiz show.

The body of Sergeant Dunn was released to his family, and the Thames Valley Police prepared for a funeral with full honors.

All the forensic evidence was brought east to London. The military hardware went to the Royal Armoured Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead, outside Sevenoaks in Kent, where the ammunition from the Skorpion was quickly identified, underlining the chance of European terrorists’ being involved. This was not made public.

The other evidence went to the Metropolitan Police laboratory in Fulham, London. That meant blades of crumpled grass with blood smears on them, pieces of mud, casts of tire tracks, the jack, footprints, the slugs taken from the three dead bodies, and the fragments of glass from the shattered windshield of the shadowing car. Before nightfall of the first day, Shotover Plain looked as if it had been vacuum-cleaned.

The car itself went on a flatbed truck to the Vehicles Section of the Serious Crimes Squad, but of much more interest was the Ford Transit van recovered from the torched barn. Experts crawled all over the charred timbers of the barn until they emerged as black as the soot. The farmer’s rusted and severed chain was removed from the gate as if it were made of eggshell, but the only outcome was a report that it had been sheared by a standard bolt-cutter. A bigger clue was the track of the sedan that had driven out of the field after the switch-over.

The gutted Transit van came to London in a crate and was slowly taken to pieces. Its license plates were false but the criminals had taken pains; the plates would have belonged to a van of that year of manufacture.

The van had been worked on-serviced and tuned by a skilled mechanic; that at least they could tell. Someone had tried to abrade the chassis and engine numbers, using a tungsten-carbide angle-grinder, obtainable from tool stores anywhere and slotted into a power drill. Not good enough. These numbers are die-stamped into the metal, so spectroscopic examination brought out the numbers from the deeper imprint inside the metal.

The central vehicle computer at Swansea came up with the original registration number and the last known owner. The computer said he lived in Nottingham. The address was visited; he had moved. No forwarding address. An all-points went out for the man-very quietly.

Nigel Cramer reported to the COBRA committee every hour on the hour and his listeners reported back to their various departments. Langley authorized Lou Collins, their man in London, to admit they, too, were raising all and any penetration agents they might have inside the European terrorist groups. There were quite a few. Counterintelligence and antiterrorist services in each of the countries hosting such groups were also offering any help they could. The hunt was becoming very heavy indeed, but there was no big break-yet.

And the abductors had not been in contact. From the time of the first news break, phone lines had been jammed; to Kidlington, to Scotland Yard, the American embassy in Grosvenor Square, any government office. Extra telephone staff had to be drafted. One had to say that for them-the British public was really trying to help. Every call was checked out; almost all other criminal investigations went on the back burner. Among the thousands of calls came the freaks, the weirdos, the hoaxers, the optimists, the hopeful, the helpful, and the simply certifiable.

The first filter was the line of switchboard operators; then the thousands of police constables who listened carefully and agreed the cigar-shaped object in the sky might be very important and would be drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister herself. The final cull came from the senior police officers who interviewed the real “possibles.” These included two more early morning drivers who had seen the green van between Wheatley and Stanton St. John. But it all ran out at the barn.

Nigel Cramer had cracked a few cases in his time; he had come up from beat constable, switched to detective work, and been in it thirty years. He knew that criminals left tracks; every time you touch something, you leave a tiny trace behind. A good copper could find that trace, especially with modern technology, if he looked hard enough. It just took time, which was what he did not have. He had known some high-pressure cases, but nothing like this.

He also knew that despite all the technology in the world the successful detective was usually the lucky detective. There was almost always one break in a case that was due to luck-good luck for the detective, bad for the criminal. If it went the other way, the criminal could still get away. Still, you could make your own luck, and he told his scattered teams to overlook nothing, absolutely nothing, however crazy or futile it might seem. But after twenty-four hours he began to think, like his Thames Valley colleague, that this was not going to be a quickie. They had got away clean, and to find them would be just plain slog.

And there was the other factor-the hostage. That he was the President’s son was a political matter, not a police one. The gardener’s boy was still a human life. Hunting men with a sack of stolen money, or a murder behind them, you just went for the target. In a hostage case the chase had to be very quiet. Spook the kidnappers badly enough, and despite their investment of time and money in the crime, they could still cut and run, leaving a dead hostage behind them. This he reported to a somber committee just before midnight, London time. An hour later in Spain, David Weintraub was taking a glass of wine with Quinn. Cramer, the British cop, knew nothing of this. Yet.

Scotland Yard will admit in private that it has better relations with Britain ’s press than sometimes appears. On small matters they often irritate each other, but when the issue is really serious the editors and proprietors, in the face of a serious plea, usually accede and use restraint. Serious means where human life or national security is in jeopardy. That is why some kidnap cases have been handled with no publicity at all, even though the editors have known most of the details.

In this case, because of a sharp-nosed young reporter in Oxford, the fox was already out and running; there was little the British press could do to exercise restraint. But Sir Peter Imbert, the Commissioner, personally met eight proprietors, twenty editors, and the chiefs of the two television networks and twelve radio stations. He argued that whatever the foreign press might print or say, there was a good chance the kidnappers, holed up somewhere in Britain, would be listening to British radio, watching British TV, and reading British newspapers. He asked for no crazy stories to the effect that the police were closing in on them and that a storming of their fortress was imminent. That was exactly the sort of story to panic them into killing their hostage and fleeing. He got his agreement.

* * *

It was the small hours of the morning in London. Far to the south a VC20A was gliding over the darkened Azores, destination Washington.

In fact the kidnappers were holed up. Passing through Buckingham the previous morning, the Volvo had intersected the M.1 motorway east of Milton Keynes and turned south toward London, joining at that hour the great torrent of steel rolling toward the capital, becoming lost among the juggernaut trucks and the commuters heading south from their Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire homes. North of London the Volvo had pulled onto the M.25, the great orbital motorway that rings the capital at a range of about twenty-five miles from the city center. From the M.25 the arterial routes linking the provinces to London spread out like the spokes of a wheel.

The Volvo had eventually taken one of these spokes and, before 10:00 A.M., slid into the garage of a detached house on a tree-lined avenue a mile from the center of a small town not forty miles in a direct line from Scotland Yard. The house was well chosen; not so isolated as to excite interest in its purchase, not too close to prying neighbors. Two miles before the Volvo reached it, the team leader ordered the other three to slide down and crouch out of sight below window level. The two in the back, one on top of the other, pulled a blanket over themselves. Anyone watching would have seen a single man in a business suit and a beard driving through his gate and into his garage.

The garage opened with an automatic garage-door opener operated from the car and closed the same way. Only when it was closed did the leader allow his henchmen to surface and climb out. The garage was joined to the house, reached through a communicating door.

All four men changed back to their black track suits and black woolen ski masks before they opened the trunk. Simon Cormack was groggy, with unfocused vision, and he screwed his eyes tight against the flashlight that blinded him. Before he could adjust, a hood of black serge was thrown over his head. He saw nothing of his abductors.

He was led through the door into the house and down the stairs to the basement. It had been prepared; clean, white, concrete floor, recessed ceiling light behind shatterproof glass, a steel-frame bed screwed to the floor, toilet bucket with plastic lid. There was a peephole in the door; the shutter was on the outside, as were two steel bolts.

The men were not brutal; they just hefted the youth onto the bed and the giant held him still while one of the others slipped a steel handcuff around one ankle, not tight enough to cause gangrene but so as to ensure that no foot would ever slip through it. The other cuff was locked tight. Through it went a ten-foot steel chain, which was then padlocked to itself. The other end of the chain was already padlocked around one leg of the bed. Then they left him. They never said a word to him and never would.

He waited half an hour before he dared take the hood off. He did not know if they were still there, though he had heard a door close and the rasp of sliding bolts. His hands were free, but he took the hood off very slowly. There were no blows, no shouts. At last it was off. He blinked against the light, then adjusted and stared around. His memory was hazy. He recalled running on soft springy grass, a green van, a man changing a tire; two black-clad figures coming at him, a searing roar of gunfire, the impact, the feeling of weight on top of him, and grass in his mouth.

He remembered the open van doors, trying to shout, flailing limbs, the mattresses inside the van, the big man holding him down, something sweet and aromatic across his mouth, and then nothing. Until now. Until this. Then it hit him. With the realization came the fear. And the loneliness, the utter isolation.

He tried to be brave, but tears of fear welled up and trickled down.

“Oh, Dad,” he whispered. “Dad, I’m sorry. Help me.”

If Whitehall was having problems from the tidal wave of telephone calls and press inquiries, the pressure on the White House was trebled. The first statement on the affair out of London had been issued at 7:00 P.M.London time and the White House had been warned an hour before that it would have to come. But that was only 2:00 P.M. Washington time, and the American media reaction had been frenzied.

Craig Lipton; the White House press secretary, had spent an hour in the Cabinet Room with the committee, being briefed on what to say. The trouble was, there was so little. The fact of the abduction could be confirmed, along with the death of two accompanying Secret Service men. Plus the fact that the President’s son was a fine athlete, specializing in cross-country running, and had been on a training run at the time.

It would not help, of course. There is no hindsight as brilliantly perceptive as that of an outraged journalist. Creighton Burbank, while agreeing he would not actually criticize the President nor blame Simon himself, made plain he was not having his Secret Service crucified for falling down on protection when he had specifically asked for more men. A compromise was worked out that would fool no one.

Jim Donaldson pointed out that, as Secretary of State, he still had to maintain relations with London and in any case angry friction between the two capitals would not help and might do real harm; he insisted Lipton stress that a British police sergeant had been murdered as well. This was agreed, though the White House press corps eventually took little notice.

Lipton faced a baying press just after 4:00 P.M. and made his statement. He was on live TV and radio. The moment he finished, the uproar started. He pleaded he could answer no further questions. A victim in the Roman Coliseum might as well have told the lions he was really only a very thin Christian. The uproar increased. Many questions were drowned out but some came through to 100 million Americans, sowing the seeds. Did the White House blame the British? Er, well, no… Why not? Were they not in charge of security over there? Well, yes, but… Did the White House blame the Secret Service then? Not exactly… Why were there only two men guarding the son of the President? What was he doing running almost alone in an isolated area? Was it true Creighton Burbank had offered his resignation? Had the kidnappers communicated yet? To that one he could gratefully answer no, but he was already being goaded into exceeding his brief. That was the point. Reporters can smell a spokesman-on-the-run like a Limburger cheese.

Lipton finally retreated behind the scene, bathed in sweat and determined to go back to Grand Rapids. The glamour of work in the White House was wearing off fast. The newscasters and editorial writers would say what they wanted, regardless of his answers to questions. By nightfall the press tone was becoming markedly hostile to Britain.

Up at the British embassy on Massachusetts Avenue the press attaché, who had also heard of CYA, made a statement. While expressing his country’s dismay and shock at what had happened, he slipped in two points. That the Thames Valley Police had taken a very low-profile role specifically at American request, and that Sergeant Dunn was the only one who had got off two shots at the abductors, giving his life in doing so. It was not what was wanted, but it made a paragraph. It also made a watching Creighton Burbank snarl with anger. Both men knew that the low-profile request, indeed insistence, had come from Simon Cormack via his father, but could not say so.

The Crisis Management Group, the professionals, met through the day in the basement Situation Room, monitoring the information flow out of COBRA in London and reporting upstairs as and when necessary. The National Security Agency had stepped up its monitoring of all telephone communications into and out of Britain in case the kidnappers made a call via satellite. The FBI’s behavioral scientists at Quantico had come up with a list of psycho-portraits of previous kidnappers and a menu of things the Cormack kidnappers might or might not do, along with lists of do’s and don’ts for the Anglo-American authorities. Quantico firmly expected to be called in and flown to London en masse, and were perplexed at the delay, although none of them had ever operated in Europe.

In the Cabinet Room the committee was living on nerves, coffee, and antacid tablets. This was the first major crisis of the incumbency and the middle-aged politicians were learning the hard way the first rule of crisis management: It is going to cost a lot of sleep, so get what you can while you can. Having risen at 4:00 A.M., the Cabinet members were still awake at midnight.

At that hour the VC20A was over the Atlantic, well west of the Azores, three and a half hours short of landfall and four hours short of touchdown. In the spacious rear compartment the two veterans, Weintraub and Quinn, were catching some sleep. Also sleeping, farther back, was the three-man crew who had flown the jet to Spain; the “slip” crew brought her home.

The men in the Cabinet Room browsed over the dossier on the man called Quinn, gouged out of the files at Langley, with additions from the Pentagon. Born on a farm in Delaware, it said; lost his mother at age ten; now aged forty-six. Joined the infantry at age eighteen in 1963, transferred two years later to the Special Forces and went to Vietnam four months after. Spent five years there.

“He never seems to use his first name,” complained Hubert Reed. “Says here even his intimates call him Quinn. Just Quinn. Odd.”

“He is odd,” observed Bill Walters, who had read further along. “It also says here he hates violence.”

“Nothing odd about that,” replied Jim Donaldson. “I hate violence.”

Unlike his predecessor at State, George Shultz, who had occasionally been known to give vent to a four-letter word, Jim Donaldson was a man of unrelieved primness, a characteristic that had often made him the unappreciative butt of Michael Odell’s leg-pulling jokes.

Thin and angular, even taller than John Cormack, he resembled a flamingo en route to a funeral, and was never seen without his three-piece charcoal-gray suit, gold-fob watch chain, and stiff white collar. Odell deliberately made mention of bodily functions whenever he wished to twit the astringent New Hampshire lawyer, and at each mention Donaldson’s narrow nose would wrinkle in distaste. His attitude to violence was similar to his distaste for crudeness.

“Yes,” rejoined Walters, “but you haven’t read page eighteen.”

Donaldson did so, as did Michael Odell. The Vice President whistled.

“He did that?” he queried. “They should have given the guy the Congressional Medal.”

“You need witnesses for the Congressional Medal,” Walters pointed out. “As you see, only two men survived that encounter on the Mekong, and Quinn brought the other one forty miles on his back. Then the man died of wounds at Danang USMC Military Hospital.”

“Still,” said Hubert Reed cheerfully, “he managed a Silver Star, two Bronze, and five Purple Hearts.” As if getting wounded was fun if they gave you more ribbons.

“With the campaign medals, that guy must have four rows,” mused Odell. “It doesn’t say how he and Weintraub met.”

It didn’t. Weintraub was now fifty-four, eight years older than Quinn. He had joined the CIA at age twenty-four, just out of college in 1961, gone through his training at the Farm-the nickname for Camp Peary on the York River in Virginia-and gone to Vietnam as a GS-12 provincial officer in 1965, about the time the young Green Beret called Quinn arrived from Fort Bragg.

Through 1961 and 1962 ten A-teams of the U.S. Special Forces had been deployed in Darlac Province, building strategic and fortified villages with the peasants, using the “oil-spot” theory developed by the British in beating the Communist guerrillas in Malaya: to deny the terrorists local support, supplies, food, safe-houses, information, and money. The Americans called it the hearts-and-minds policy. Under the Special Forces guidance, it was working.

In 1963, Lyndon Johnson came to power. The Army argued that Special Forces should be returned from CIA control to theirs. They won. It marked the end of hearts-and-minds, though it took another two years to collapse. Weintraub and Quinn met in those two years. The CIA man was concerned with gathering information on the Viet Cong, which he did by skill and cunning, abhorring the methods of men like Irving Moss (whom he did not encounter, since they were in different parts of Vietnam), even though he knew such methods were sometimes used in the Phoenix program, of which he was a part.

The Special Forces were increasingly taken away from their village program to be sent on search-and-destroy missions in the deepest jungle. The two men met in a bar over a beer; Quinn was twenty-one and had been out there a year; Weintraub was twenty-nine and also had a year in ’ Nam behind him. They found common cause in a shared belief that the Army High Command was not going to win that kind of war just by throwing ordnance at it. Weintraub found he very much liked the fearless young soldier. Self-educated he might be; he had a first-rate brain and had taught himself fluent Vietnamese, a rarity among the military. They stayed in touch. The last time Weintraub had seen Quinn was during the run up to Son Tay.

“Says here the guy was at Son Tay,” said Michael Odell. “Son of a gun.”

“With a record like that, I wonder why he never made officer,” said Morton Stannard. “The Pentagon has some people with the same kind of decorations out of ’ Nam, but they got themselves commissioned at the first opportunity.”

David Weintraub could have told them, but he was still sixty minutes short of touchdown. After taking back control of the Special Forces, the orthodox military-who hated S.F. because they could not understand it-slowly ran down the S.F. role over the six years to 1970, handing over more and more of the hearts-and-minds program, as well as the search-and-destroy missions, to the South Vietnamese ARVN-with dire results.

Still, the Green Berets kept going, trying to bring the fight to the Viet Cong through stealth and guile rather than mass bombing and defoliation, which simply fed the VC with recruits. There were projects like Omega, Sigma, Delta, and Blackjack. Quinn was in Delta, commanded by “Charging Charlie” Beckwith who would later, in 1977, set up the Delta Force at Fort Bragg and plead with Quinn to return from Paris to the Army.

The trouble with Quinn was that he thought orders were requests. Sometimes he did not agree with them. And he preferred to operate alone. Neither behavior constituted a good recommendation for a commission. He made corporal after six months, sergeant after ten. Then back to private, then sergeant, then private… His career was like a yo-yo.

“I figure we have the answer to your question, Morton,” said Odell, “right here. The business after Son Tay.” He chuckled. “The guy busted a general’s jaw.”

The 5th Special Forces Group finally pulled out of Vietnam on December 31, 1970, three years before the full-scale military withdrawal that included Colonel Easterhouse, and five years before the embarrassing evacuation, via the embassy roof, of the last Americans in the country. Son Tay was in November 1970.

Reports had come in of a number of American prisoners of war being located at the Son Tay prison, twenty-four miles from Hanoi. It was decided the Special Forces should go in and bring them out. It was an operation of complexity and daring. The fifty-eight volunteers came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, via Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, for jungle training. All save one: they needed a fluent Vietnamese speaker. Weintraub, who was in the affair on the intelligence side, said he knew one. Quinn joined the rest of the group in Thailand, and they flew in together.

The operation was commanded by Colonel Arthur “Bull” Simons, but the spearhead group that went right into the prison compound came under Captain Dick Meadows. Quinn was with them. He established from a stunned North Vietnamese guard within seconds of landing that the Americans had been moved-two weeks earlier. The S.F. soldiers came out intact, with a few flesh wounds.

Back at base, Quinn berated Weintraub for the lousy intelligence. The CIA man protested that the spooks knew the Americans had been taken away, and had told the commanding general so. Quinn walked into the officers’ club, strode up to the bar, and broke the general’s jaw. It was hushed up, of course. A good defense lawyer can make such a mess of a career over a thing like that. Quinn was busted to private-again-and flew home with the rest. He resigned a week later and went into insurance.

“The man’s a rebel,” said the Secretary of State with distaste as he closed the file. “He’s a loner, a maverick, and a violent one at that. I think we may have made a mistake here.”

“He also has an unmatched record of hostage negotiation,” pointed out the Attorney General. “It says he can use skill and subtlety when dealing with kidnappers. Fourteen successful recoveries in Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, and Italy. Either done by him, or with him advising.”

“All we want,” said Odell, “is for him to get Simon Cormack back home in one piece. It doesn’t matter to me if he punches generals or screws sheep.”

“Please,” begged Donaldson. “By the way, I’ve forgotten. Why did he quit?”

“He retired,” said Brad Johnson. “Something about a little girl being killed in Sicily three years back. Took his severance pay, cashed in his life insurance policies, and bought himself a spread in the South of Spain.”

An aide from the Communications Center put his head around the door. It was 4:00 A.M., twenty-four hours since they had all been roused.

“The DDO and his companion have just landed at Andrews,” he said.

“Get them in here without delay,” ordered Odell, “and get the DCI, the Director of the FBI, and Mr. Kelly up here as well, by the time they arrive.”

Quinn still wore the clothes in which he had left Spain. Because of the cold he had pulled on a sweater from his gunnysack. His near-black trousers, part of his only suit, were adequate for attending mass in Alcántara del Rio, for in the villages of Andalusia, people still wear black for mass. But they were badly rumpled. The sweater had seen better days and he wore three days of stubble.

Despite their lack of sleep, the committee members looked in better shape. Relays of fresh laundry, pressed shirts, and suits had been ferried in from their distant homes; washroom facilities were right next door. Weintraub had not stopped the car between Andrews and the White House; Quinn looked like a reject from the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

Weintraub walked in first, stood aside for Quinn, and closed the door. The Washington officials stared at Quinn in silence.

The tall man walked without a word to the chair at the end of the table, sat down without invitation, and said, “I’m Quinn.”

Vice President Odell cleared his throat.

“Mr. Quinn, we have asked you here because we are considering asking you to take on the task of negotiating the safe return of Simon Cormack.”

Quinn nodded. He assumed he had not been brought this distance to discuss football.

“You have an update on the situation in London?” he asked.

It was a relief to the committee to have a practical matter brought up so early. Brad Johnson pushed a teletype printout down the table to Quinn, who studied it in silence.

“Coffee, Mr. Quinn?” asked Hubert Reed. Treasury Secretaries did not normally serve coffee, but he rose and went to the urn that now stood on a table against the wall. A lot of coffee had been drunk.

“Black,” said Quinn, reading. “They haven’t been in touch yet?”

There was no need to ask who “they” were.

“No,” said Odell. “Total silence. Of course there have been hundreds of hoax calls. Some in Britain. We’ve logged seventeen hundred in Washington alone. The crazies are having a field day.”

Quinn went on reading. On the flight, Weintraub had given him the entire background. He was just coming up to date with developments since. There were precious few.

“Mr. Quinn, would you have any idea who might have done this?” asked Donaldson.

Quinn looked up.

“Gentlemen, there are four kinds of kidnapper. Only four. The best from our point of view would be amateurs. They plan badly. If they succeed in the snatch, they leave traces. They can usually be located. They have little nerve, which can be dangerous. Usually the hostage-recovery teams move in, outwit them, and get the hostage back unharmed. But these weren’t amateurs.”

There was no argument. He had their attention.

“Worst of all are the maniacs-people like the Manson gang. Unapproachable, illogical. They want nothing material; they kill for fun. The good news is, these people don’t smell like maniacs. The preparations were meticulous, the training precise.”

“And the other two kinds?” asked Bill Walters.

“Of the other two, the worse are the fanatics, political or religious. Their demands are sometimes impossible to meet-literally. They seek glory, publicity-that above all. They have a Cause. Some will die for it; all will kill for it. We may think their Cause is lunatic. They don’t. And they are not stupid-just filled with hate for the Establishment and therefore their victim, who comes from it. They kill as a gesture, not in self-defense.”

“Who is the fourth type?” asked Morton Stannard.

“The professional criminal,” said Quinn without hesitation. “They want money-that’s the easy part. They have made a big investment, now locked up in the hostage. They won’t easily destroy that investment.”

“And these people?” asked Odell.

“Whoever they are, they suffer from one great disadvantage, which may work out to be good or bad for us. The guerrillas of Central and South America, the Mafia in Sicily, the Camorra in Calabria, the mountain men of Sardinia, or the Hezb’Allah in South Beirut -all operate within a safe, native environment. They don’t have to kill because they are not in a hurry. They can hold out forever. These people are holed up in Britain of all places; a very hostile environment-for them. So the strain is on them already. They will want to make their deal quickly and get away, which is good. But they may be spooked by the fear of imminent discovery, and cut and run. Leaving a body behind them, which is bad.”

“Would you negotiate with them?” asked Reed.

“If possible. If they get in touch, someone has to.”

“It sticks in my craw to pay money to scum like these,” said Philip Kelly of the FBI’s Criminal Investigations Division. People come to the Bureau from a variety of backgrounds; Kelly’s route was via the New York Police Department.

“Do professional criminals show more mercy than fanatics?” asked Brad Johnson.

“No kidnappers show mercy,” said Quinn shortly. “It’s the filthiest crime in the book. Just hope for greed.”

Michael Odell looked around at his colleagues. There was a series of slow nods.

“Mr. Quinn, will you attempt to negotiate this boy’s release?”

“Assuming the abductors get in touch, yes. There are conditions.”

“Of course. Name them.”

“I don’t work for the U.S. government. I have its cooperation in all things, but I work for the parents. Just them.”

“Agreed.”

“I operate out of London, not here. It’s too far away. I have no profile at all, no publicity, nothing. I get my own apartment, the phone lines I need. And I get primacy in the negotiation process-that needs clearing with London. I don’t need a feud with Scotland Yard.”

Odell glanced at the Secretary of State.

“I think we can prevail on the British government to concede that,” said Donaldson. “They have primacy in the criminal investigation, which will continue in parallel with any direct negotiation. Anything else?”

“I operate my own way, make my own decisions how to handle these people. There may have to be money exchanged. It’s made available. My job is to get the boy returned. That’s all. After he’s free you can hunt them down to the ends of the earth.”

“Oh, we will,” said Kelly with quiet menace.

“Money is not the problem,” said Hubert Reed. “You may understand there is no financial limit to what we’ll pay.”

Quinn kept silent, though he realized that telling the kidnappers that would be the worst route to go.

“I want no crowding, no bird-dogging, no private initiatives. And before I leave, I want to see President Cormack. In private.”

“This is the President of the United States you’re talking about,” said Lee Alexander of the CIA.

“He’s also the father of the hostage,” said Quinn. “There are things I need to know about Simon Cormack that only he can tell me.”

“He’s terribly distressed,” said Odell. “Can’t you spare him that?”

“My experience is that fathers often want to talk to someone, even a stranger. Maybe especially a stranger. Trust me.”

Even as he said it, Quinn knew there was no hope of that. Odell sighed.

“I’ll see what I can do. Jim, would you clear it with London? Tell them Quinn is coming. Tell them this is what we want. Someone has to get him some fresh clothes. Mr. Quinn, would you care to use the washroom down the hall to freshen up? I’ll call the President. What’s the fastest way to London?”

“The Concorde out of Dulles in three hours,” said Weintraub without hesitation.

“Hold space on it,” said Odell, and rose. They all did.

Nigel Cramer had news for the COBRA committee under Whitehall at 10:00 A.M. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Center in Swansea had come up with a lead. A man with the same name as the missing former owner of the Transit van had purchased and registered another van, a Sherpa, a month earlier. There was now an address, in Leicester. Commander Williams, the head of S.O. 13 and the official investigating officer, was on his way there by police helicopter. If the man no longer owned it, he must have sold it to somebody. It had never been reported stolen.

After the conference Sir Harry Marriott took Cramer to one side.

“ Washington wants to handle the negotiations, if there are any,” he said. “They’re sending their own man over.”

“Home Secretary, I must insist that the Met. has primacy in all areas,” said Cramer. “I want to use two men from Criminal Intelligence Branch as negotiators. This is not American territory.”

“I’m sorry,” said Sir Harry. “I have to overrule you on this one. I’ve cleared it with Downing Street. If they want it that way, the view is we have to let them have it.”

Cramer was affronted, but he had made his protest. The loss of his primacy in negotiation simply made him more determined than ever to end the abduction by finding the kidnappers through police detective work.

“May I ask who their man is, Home Secretary?”

“Apparently he’s called Quinn.”

“Quinn?”

“Yes. Have you heard of him?”

“Certainly, Home Secretary. He used to work for a firm in Lloyd’s. I thought he’d retired.”

“Well, Washington tells us he’s back. Is he any good?”

“Extremely good. Excellent record in five countries, including Ireland years ago. I met him on that one. The victim was a British citizen, a businessman snatched by some renegade I.R.A. men.”

Privately, Cramer was relieved. He had feared some behavioral theorist who would be amazed to find that the British drove on the left.

“Splendid,” said Sir Harry. “Then I think we should concede the point with good grace. Our complete cooperation, all right?”

The Home Secretary, who had also heard of CYA-though he would have pronounced and spelled the last word “arse”-was not displeased by Washington ’s demand. After all, if anything went wrong…

Quinn was shown into the private study on the second floor of the Executive Mansion an hour after leaving the Cabinet Room. Odell had led him personally, not via the holly and box hedges of the Rose Garden, but through the basement corridor that emerged to a set of stairs giving onto the Mansion’s ground-floor corridor. Long Tom cameras were now ranged on the garden from half a mile away.

President Cormack was fully dressed in a dark suit, but he looked pale and tired, the lines of strain showing around his mouth, smudges of insomnia beneath his eyes. He shook hands and nodded at the Vice President, who withdrew.

Gesturing Quinn to a chair, he took his own seat behind his desk. A defense mechanism, creating a barrier, not wanting to unbend. He was about to speak when Quinn got in first.

“How is Mrs. Cormack?”

Not “the First Lady.” Just Mrs. Cormack, his wife. He was startled.

“Oh, she’s sleeping. It has been a terrible shock. She’s under sedation.” He paused. “You have been through this before, Mr. Quinn.”

“Many times, sir.”

“Well, as you see, behind the pomp and the circumstance is just a man, a very worried man.”

“Yes, sir. I know. Tell me about Simon, please.”

“Simon? What about him?”

“What he is like. How he will react to… to this. Why did you have him so late in life?”

There was no one in the White House who would have dared ask that. John Cormack looked across the desk. He was tall himself, but this man matched him at six feet two inches. Neat gray suit, striped tie, white shirt-all borrowed, though he did not know that. Clean-shaven, deeply suntanned. A craggy face, calm gray eyes, an impression of strength and patience.

“So late? Well, I don’t know. I married when I was thirty; Myra was twenty-one. I was a young professor then. We thought we would start a family in two or three years. But it didn’t happen. We waited. The doctors said there was no reason… Then, after ten years of marriage, Simon came. I was forty by then, Myra thirty-one. There was only ever the one child… just Simon.”

“You love him very much, don’t you?”

President Cormack stared at Quinn in surprise. The question was so unexpected. He knew Odell was completely estranged from his own two grown-up offspring, but it had never occurred to him how much he loved his only son. He rose, came around the desk, and seated himself on the edge of an upright chair, much closer to Quinn.

“Mr. Quinn, he is the sun and the moon to me-to us both. Get him back for us.”

“Tell me about his childhood, when he was very young.”

The President jumped up.

“I have a picture,” he said triumphantly. He walked to a cabinet and returned with a framed snapshot. It showed a sturdy toddler of four or five, in swim trunks on a beach, holding a pail and shovel. A proud father was crouched behind him, grinning.

“That was taken at Nantucket in ’75. I had just been elected congressman from New Haven.”

“Tell me about Nantucket,” said Quinn gently.

President Cormack talked for an hour. It seemed to help him. When Quinn rose to leave, Cormack scribbled a number on a pad and handed it to Quinn.

“This is my private number. Very few people have it. It will reach me directly, night or day.” He held out his hand. “Good luck, Mr. Quinn. God go with you.” He was trying to control himself. Quinn nodded and left quickly. He had seen it before, the effect, the dreadful effect.

While Quinn was still in the washroom, Philip Kelly had driven back to the J. Edgar Hoover Building, where he knew his Deputy Assistant Director, CID, would be waiting for him. He and Kevin Brown had a lot in common, which was why he had pressed for Brown’s appointment.

When he entered his office his deputy was there, reading Quinn’s file. Kelly nodded toward it as he took his seat.

“So, that’s our hotshot. What do you think?”

“He was brave enough in combat,” conceded Brown. “Otherwise a smartass. About the only thing I like about the guy is his name.”

“Well,” said Kelly, “they’ve put him in there over the Bureau’s head. Don Edmonds didn’t object. Maybe he figures if it all turns out badly… Still and all, the sleazeballs who did this thing have contravened at least three U.S. statutes. The Bureau still has jurisdiction, even though it happened on British territory. And I don’t want this yo-yo operating out on his own with no supervision, no matter who says so.”

“Right,” agreed Brown.

“The Bureau’s man in London, Patrick Seymour-do you know him?”

“Know of him,” grunted Brown. “Hear he’s very pally with the Brits. Maybe too much so.”

Kevin Brown had come out of the Boston police force, an Irishman like Kelly, whose admiration for Britain and the British could be written on the back of a postage stamp with room left over. Not that he was soft on the I.R.A.; he had pulled in two arms dealers trading with the I.R.A., who would have gone to jail but for the courts.

He was an old-style law-enforcement officer who had no truck with criminals of any ilk. He also remembered as a small boy in the slums of Boston listening wide-eyed to his grandmother’s tales of people dying with mouths green from grass-eating during the famine of 1848, and of the hangings and the shootings of 1916. He thought of Ireland, a place he had never visited, as a land of mists and gentle green hills, enlivened by the fiddle and the chaunter, where poets like Yeats and O’Faolain wandered and composed. He knew Dublin was full of friendly bars where peaceable folk sat over a stout in front of peat fires, immersed in the works of Joyce and O’Casey.

He had been told that Dublin had the worst teenage drug problem in Europe but knew it was just London ’s propaganda. He had heard Irish Prime Ministers on American soil pleading for no more money to be sent to the I.R.A. Well, people were entitled to their views. And he had his. Being a crime-buster did not require him to like the people he saw as the timeless persecutors of the land of his forefathers. Across the desk, Kelly came to a decision.

“ Seymour is close to Buck Revell, but Revell’s away sick. The Director has put me in charge of this from the Bureau’s point of view. And I don’t want this Quinn getting out of hand. I want you to get together a good team and take the midday flight and get over there. You’ll be behind the Concorde by a few hours, but no matter. Base yourself at the embassy-I’ll tell Seymour you’re in charge, just for the emergency.”

Brown rose, pleased.

“One more thing, Kevin. I want one special agent in close on Quinn. All the time, day and night. If that guy burps, we want to know.”

“I know just the one,” said Brown grimly. “A good operative, tenacious and clever. Also personable. Agent Sam Somerville. I’ll do the briefing myself. Now.”

Out at Langley, David Weintraub was wondering when he would ever sleep again. During his absence the work had piled up in a mountain. Much of it had to do with the files on all the known terrorist groups in Europe-latest updates, penetration agents inside the groups, known locations of the leading members, possible incursions into Britain over the previous forty days… the list of headings alone was almost endless. So it was the Chief of the European Section who briefed Duncan McCrea.

“You’ll meet Lou Collins from our embassy,” he said, “but he’ll be keeping us posted from outside the inner circle. We have to have somebody close in on this man Quinn. We need to identify those abductors and I wouldn’t be displeased if we could do it before the Brits. And especially before the Bureau. Okay, the British are pals, but I’d like this one for the Agency. If the abductors are foreigners, that gives us an edge; we have better files on foreigners than the Bureau, maybe than the Brits. If Quinn gets any smell, any instinct about them, and lets anything slip, you pass it on to us.”

Operative McCrea was awestruck. A GS-12 with ten years in the Agency since recruitment abroad-his father had been a businessman in Central America-he had had two foreign postings but never London. The responsibility was enormous, but matched by the opportunity.

“You can rely on m-m-me, sir.”

Quinn had insisted that no one known to the media accompany him to Dulles International Airport. He had left the White House in a plain compact car, driven by his escort, an officer of the Secret Service in plain clothes. Quinn had ducked into the backseat, down near the floor, as they passed the knot of press grouped at Alexander Hamilton Place at the extreme east end of the White House complex and farthest away from the West Wing. The press glanced at the car, saw nothing of importance, and took no notice.

At Dulles, Quinn checked in with his escort, who refused to leave him until he actually walked onto the Concorde and who raised eyebrows by flashing his White House ID card to get past passport control. He did at least serve one purpose; Quinn went to the duty-free shop and bought a number of items: toiletries, shirts, ties, underwear, socks, shoes, a raincoat, a valise, and a small tape recorder with a dozen batteries and spools. When the time came to pay he jerked a thumb at the Secret Service man.

“My friend here will pay by credit card,” he said.

The limpet detached himself at the door of the Concorde. The British stewardess showed Quinn to his seat near the front, giving him no more attention than anyone else. He settled into his aisle seat. A few moments later someone took the aisle seat across the way. He glanced across. Blond, short shining hair, about thirty-five, a good, strong face. The heels were a smidgen too flat, the suit a mite too severe for the figure beneath.

The Concorde swung into line, paused, trembled, and then hurled herself down the runway. The bird-of-prey nose lifted, the claws of the rear wheels lost contact, the ground below tilted forty-five degrees, and Washington dropped quickly away.

There was something else. Two tiny holes in her lapel, the sort of holes that might be made by a safety pin. The sort of safety pin that might hold an ID card. He leaned across.

“Which department are you from?”

She looked startled. “I beg your pardon?”

“The Bureau. Which department in the Bureau are you from?”

She had the grace to blush. She bit her lip and thought it over. Well, it had to come sooner or later.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Quinn. My name’s Somerville. Agent Sam Somerville. I’ve been told…”

“It’s all right, Miss Sam Somerville. I know what you’ve been told.”

The no-smoking lights flicked off. The addicts in the rear lit up. A stewardess approached, dispensing glasses of champagne. The businessman in the window seat to Quinn’s left took the last one. She turned to go. Quinn stopped her, apologized, took her silver salver, whipped away the doily that covered it, and held up the tray. In the reflection he surveyed the rows behind him. It took seven seconds. Then he thanked the puzzled stewardess and gave her back the tray.

“When the seat-belt lights go off, you’d better tell that young sprig from Langley in Row Twenty-one to get his butt up here,” he said to Agent Somerville. Five minutes later she returned with the young man from the rear. He was flushed and apologetic, pushing back his floppy blond hair and managing a boy-next-door grin.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Quinn. I didn’t mean to intrude. It’s just that they told me…”

“Yes, I know. Take a seat.” Quinn gestured to a vacant seat one row forward. “Someone as badly troubled by cigarette smoke stands out, sitting back there.”

“Oh.” The young man was subdued, did as he was told.

Quinn glanced out. The Concorde wheeled over the New England coast, preparing to go supersonic. Not yet out of America and the promises were being broken already. It was 10:15 Eastern Daylight time and 3:15 P.M.in London, and three hours to Heathrow.

Chapter 6

Simon Cormack spent the first twenty-four hours of his captivity in total isolation. Experts would know this was part of the softening-up process, a long opportunity for the hostage to dwell upon his isolation and his helplessness. Also a chance for hunger and tiredness to set in. A hostage full of pep, prepared to argue and complain, or even plan some kind of escape, simply makes problems for his abductors. A victim reduced to hopelessness and pathetic gratitude for small mercies is much easier to handle.

At 10:00 A.M. of the second day, about the time Quinn strode into the Cabinet Room in Washington, Simon was in a fitful doze when he heard the click of the peephole in the cellar door. Looking at it, he could make out a single eye watching him; his bed was exactly opposite the door and even when his ten-foot chain was fully extended he could never be out of view from the peephole.

After several seconds he heard the rasp of two bolts being drawn back. The door opened three inches and a black-gloved hand came around the edge. It gripped a white card with a message written with a marker pen in block capitals:

YOU HEAR THREE KNOCKS YOU PUT ON THE HOOD.

UNDERSTAND? ACKNOWLEDGE.

He waited for several seconds, unsure what to do. The card waggled impatiently.

“Yes,” he said, “I understand. Three knocks on that door and I put on the hood.”

The card was withdrawn and replaced by another. The second card said:

TWO KNOCKS YOU CAN TAKE THE HOOD OFF AGAIN.

ANY TRICKS-YOU DIE.

“I understand that,” he called toward the door. The card was withdrawn. The door closed. After several seconds there were three loud knocks. Obediently the youth reached for the thick black cowl hood, which lay on the end of his bed. He pulled it over his head and even down to his shoulders, placed his hands on his knees, and waited, trembling. Through the thickness of the material he heard nothing, just sensed that someone in soft shoes had entered the cellar.

In fact the kidnapper who came in was still dressed in black from head to foot, complete with ski mask, only his eyes visible, despite Simon Cormack’s inability to see a thing. These were the leader’s instructions. The man placed something near the bed and withdrew. Under his hood Simon heard the door close, the rasp of bolts, then two clear knocks. Slowly he pulled off the hood. On the floor lay a plastic tray. It bore a plastic plate, knife, fork, and tumbler. On the plate were sausages, baked beans, bacon, and a hunk of bread. The tumbler held water.

He was ravenous, having eaten nothing since the dinner of the night before his run, and without thinking called “Thank you” at the door. As he said it he could have kicked himself. He should not be thanking these bastards. He did not realize in his innocence that the Stockholm syndrome was beginning to take effect: that strange empathy that builds up from a victim to his persecutors, so that the victim turns his rage against the authorities who allowed it all to happen, rather than against the abductors.

He ate every last scrap of food, drank the water slowly and with deep satisfaction, and fell asleep. An hour later the signals were repeated, the process was reversed, and the tray disappeared. Simon used the bucket for the fourth time, then lay back on the bed and thought of home, and what they might be doing for him.

As he lay there Commander Williams returned from Leicester to London and reported to Deputy A.C. Cramer at the latter’s office in New Scotland Yard. Conveniently, the Yard, headquarters of the Met., is only four hundred yards from the Cabinet Office.

The former owner of the Ford Transit had been in Leicester police station under guard, a frightened and, as it turned out, innocent man. He protested that his Transit van had been neither stolen nor sold; it had been written off in a crash two months earlier. As he was moving to a new home at the time, he had forgotten to inform the Licensing Center at Swansea.

Step by step Commander Williams had checked out the story. The man, a jobbing builder, had been picking up two marble fireplaces from a dealer in south London. Swerving around a corner near the demolition site from which the fireplaces had been stripped, he had an argument with a steam shovel. The steam shovel won. The Transit van, then still its original blue, had to be written off completely. Although visible damage had been small, and mainly concentrated in the radiator area, the chassis had been twisted out of alignment.

He had returned to Nottingham alone. His insurance company had examined the Transit in the yard of a local recovery firm, pronounced it unmendable, but declined to pay him because his coverage was not comprehensive and he was at fault for hitting the steam shovel. Much aggrieved, he had accepted £20 for the wreck, by telephone from the recovery firm, and had never returned to London.

“Someone put it back on the road,” said Williams.

“Good,” said Cramer. “That means they’re ‘bent.’ It checks. The lab boys said someone had worked on the chassis with a welder. Also the green paint had been laid over the maker’s blue cellulose finish. A rough spray job. Find out who did it and whom they sold it to.”

“I’m going down to Balham,” said Williams. “The crash-recovery firm is based there.”

Cramer went back to his work. He had a mountain of it, coming in from a dozen different teams. The forensic reports were almost all in and were brilliant as far as they went. The trouble was, that was not far enough. The slugs taken from the bodies matched the bullet cases from the Skorpion, not surprisingly. No further witnesses had come forward from the Oxford area. The abductors had left no fingerprints, or any other traces except car tire tracks. The van tracks were useless-they had the van, albeit fire-gutted. No one had seen anyone near the barn. The sedan tire tracks leading from the barn had been identified by make and model, but would fit half a million sedans.

A dozen county forces were quietly checking with real estate agents for a property leased over the past six months with enough space and privacy to suit the kidnappers. The Met. was doing the same inside London, in case the criminals were holed up right in the capital itself. That meant thousands of house rentals to be checked out. Cash deals were top of the list, and there were still hundreds of those. Already a dozen discreet little love nests, two rented by national celebrities, had come to light.

Underworld informants, the “grasses,” were being leaned on to see if they had heard whispers of a team of known villains, preparing a big one, or of “slags” and “faces” (slang for known criminals) suddenly disappearing from their haunts. The underworld was being turned over in a big way but had come up with nothing so far.

Cramer had a pile of reports of “sightings” of Simon Cormack which ranged from the plausible through the possible to the lunatic, and they were all being checked out. There was another pile of transcripts of phoned-in messages from people claiming to be holding the U.S. President’s son. Again, some were crazy, and some sounded promising. Each of the latter callers had been treated seriously and begged to stay in touch. But Cramer had a gut feeling that the real kidnappers were still maintaining silence, allowing the authorities to sweat. It would be the skillful thing to do.

A special room in the basement was already set aside and a skilled team of men from the Criminal Intelligence Branch, the negotiators used in British kidnappings, sat waiting for the big one, meanwhile talking patiently and calmly to the hoaxers. Several of the latter had already been caught and would be charged in due course.

Nigel Cramer walked to the window and looked down. The sidewalk on Victoria Street was awash with reporters- he had to avoid them every time he left for Whitehall by driving straight through, sealed into his car with windows firmly closed. And still they howled through the glass for a tidbit of information. The Met.’s press office was being driven crazy.

He checked his watch and sighed. If the kidnappers held on a few more hours, the American, Quinn, would presumably take over. He did not like having been overruled on that one. He had read the Quinn file, loaned to him by Lou Collins of the CIA, and he had had two hours with the Chief Executive Officer of the Lloyd’s underwriting firm that had employed Quinn and his strange but effective talents for ten years. What he had learned left him with mixed feelings. The man was good, but unorthodox. No police force likes to work with a maverick, however talented. He would not be going out to Heathrow to meet Quinn, he decided. He would see him later and introduce him to the two chief inspectors who would sit at his side and advise him throughout the negotiation-if there ever was one. It was time to go back to Whitehall and brief the COBRA-on precious little. No, this was definitely not going to be a “quickie.”

The Concorde had picked up a jetstream at 60,000 feet and rode into London fifteen minutes ahead of schedule at 6:00 P.M. Quinn hefted his small valise and headed down the tunnel toward the arrivals area with Somerville and McCrea in tow. A few yards into the tunnel two quiet gray men in gray suits waited patiently. One stepped forward.

“Mr. Quinn?” he said quietly. Quinn nodded. The man did not flash an identity card, American-style; he just assumed that his manner and bearing would indicate he represented the authorities. “We were expecting you, sir. If you would just care to come with me… My colleague will carry your case.”

Without waiting for objections he glided down the tunnel, turned away from the stream of passengers at the entrance to the main corridor and soon into a small office that bore simply a number on the door. The bigger man, with ex-NCO stamped all over him, nodded amiably at Quinn and took his valise. In the office the quiet man flipped quickly through Quinn’s passport, and those of “your assistants,” produced a stamp from his side pocket, stamped all three, and said, “Welcome to London, Mr. Quinn.”

They left the office by another door, down some steps to a waiting car. But if Quinn thought he was going straight into London, he was wrong. They drove to the VIP suite. Quinn stepped inside and stared bleakly about him. Low-profile, he had said. No-profile. There were representatives from the American embassy, the British Home Office, Scotland Yard, the Foreign Office, the CIA, the FBI, and, for all he knew, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. It took twenty minutes.

The motorcade into London was worse. He rode up front in an American limousine half a block long with a pennant on the nose. Two motorcycle outriders cleared a path through the early evening traffic. Behind came Lou Collins, giving a ride-and a briefing-to his CIA colleague Duncan McCrea. Two cars back was Patrick Seymour, doing the same for Sam Somerville. The British in their Rovers, Jaguars, and Granadas tagged along.

They swept along the M.4 motorway toward London, pulled onto the North Circular, and down the Finchley Road. Just after Lords roundabout, the lead car swerved into Regent’s Park, followed the Outer Circle for a while, and swept into a formal entrance, past two security guards who saluted.

Quinn had spent the drive gazing out at the lights of a city he knew as well as any in the world, better than most, and maintained silence until at last even the self-important Minister/counselor lapsed into quiet. As the cars headed toward the illuminated portico of a palatial mansion, Quinn spoke. Snapped, really. He leaned forward-it was a long way-and barked into the driver’s ear.

Stop the car.”

The driver, an American Marine, was so surprised he did exactly that, fast. The car behind was not so smart. There was a tinkling of glass from taillights and headlights. Farther down the line the Home Office driver, to avoid a collision, drove into the rhododendron bushes. The cavalcade made like a concertina and stopped. Quinn stepped out and stared at the mansion. A man was standing on the top step of the portico.

“Where are we?” asked Quinn. He knew perfectly well. The diplomat scuttled out of the rear seat behind him. They had warned him about Quinn. He had not believed them. Other figures from down the column were moving up to join them.

“Winfield House, Mr. Quinn. That’s Ambassador Fairweather waiting to greet you. It’s all set up: You have a suite of rooms-it’s all been arranged.”

“Unarrange it,” said Quinn. He opened the trunk of the limousine, grabbed his valise, and started to walk down the driveway.

“Where are you going, Mr. Quinn?” wailed the diplomat.

“Back to Spain,” called Quinn.

Lou Collins was in front of him. He had spoken with David Weintraub on the enciphered link while the Concorde was airborne.

“He’s a strange bastard,” the DDO had said, “but give him what he wants.”

“We have an apartment,” Collins said quietly. “Very private, very discreet. We sometimes use it for first debriefing Soviet bloc defectors. Other times for visiting guys from Langley. The DDO stays there.”

“Address,” said Quinn. Collins gave it to him. A back street in Kensington. Quinn nodded his thanks and kept walking. On the Outer Circle a taxi was cruising by. Quinn hailed it, gave instructions, and disappeared.

It took fifteen minutes to sort out the tangle in the driveway. Eventually Lou Collins took McCrea and Somerville in his own car and drove them to Kensington.

Quinn paid off the cab and surveyed the apartment block. They were going to bug him anyway; at least with a Company flat the hardware would be installed, saving a lot of lame excuses and redecorating. The number he needed was on the third floor. When he rang the bell it was answered by a burly, low-level Company man. The caretaker.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m in,” said Quinn, walking past him. “You’re out.” He walked through the apartment, checking the sitting room, the master bedroom, and the two smaller ones. The caretaker was frantically on the phone; they patched him through to Lou Collins in his car, and the man subsided. Grumpily he packed his things. Collins and the two bird dogs arrived three minutes after Quinn, who had selected the principal bedroom as his own. Patrick Seymour followed Collins. Quinn surveyed the four of them.

“These two have to live with me?” he asked, nodding at Special Agent Somerville and GS-12 McCrea.

“Look, be reasonable, Quinn,” said Collins. “This is the President’s son we’re trying to recover. Everyone wants to know what’s going on. They just won’t be satisfied with less. The powers-that-be just aren’t going to let you live here like a monk, telling them nothing.”

Quinn thought it over.

“All right. What can you two do apart from snooping?”

“We could be useful, Mr. Quinn,” said McCrea pleadingly. “Go and fetch things-help out.”

With his floppy hair, constant shy smile, and air of diffidence, he seemed much younger than his thirty-four years, more like a college kid than a CIA operative. Sam Somerville took up the theme.

“I’m a good cook,” she said. “Now that you’ve deep-sixed the Residence and all its staff, you’re going to have to have someone who can cook. Being where we are, it would be a spook anyway.”

For the first time since they had met him, Quinn grinned. Somervillethought it transformed his otherwise enigmatic face.

“All right,” he said to Collins and Seymour. “You’re going to bug every room and phone call anyway. You two take the remaining bedrooms.”

The young agents went down the hall.

“But that’s it,” he told Collins and Seymour. “No more guests. I need to speak to the British police. Who’s in charge?”

“Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cramer. Nigel Cramer. Number two man in Specialist Operations Department. Know him?”

“Rings a bell,” said Quinn.

At that moment a bell did ring-the telephone. Collins took it, listened, and covered the mouthpiece.

“This is Cramer,” he said. “At Winfield House. He went there to liaise with you, just heard the news. Wants to come here. Okay?”

Quinn nodded. Collins spoke to Cramer and asked him to come ’round. He arrived in an unmarked police car twenty minutes later.

“Mr. Quinn? Nigel Cramer. We met once, briefly.”

He stepped into the apartment warily. He had not known about its existence as a Company safe-house, but he did now. He also knew the CIA would vacate it when this affair was over and take another one.

Quinn recalled Cramer when he saw the face.

“ Ireland, years back. The Don Tidey affair. You were head of Anti-Terrorist Branch then.”

“S.O. 13, yes. You’ve a good memory, Mr. Quinn. I think we need to talk.”

Quinn led Cramer into the sitting room, sat him down, took a chair opposite, and gestured around the room with his hand to indicate it was certainly bugged. Lou Collins might be a nice guy, but no spook is ever that nice. The British policeman nodded gravely. He realized he was effectively on American territory, in the heart of his own capital city, but what he had to say would be fully reported by him to the COBRA.

“Let me, as you say in America, level with you, Mr. Quinn. The Metropolitan Police have been granted full primacy in the investigation into this crime. Your government has agreed to that. So far we have not had a big break, but it’s early days and we are working flat-out.”

Quinn nodded. He had worked in bugged rooms before, many times, and spoken on tapped phone lines. It was always an effort to keep conversation normal. He realized Cramer was speaking for the record, hence the pedantry.

“We asked for primacy in the negotiation process and were overruled at Washington ’s request. I have to accept that. I don’t have to like it. I have also been instructed to give you every cooperation the Met. and the entire range of our government’s departments can offer. And that you will get. You have my word on it.”

“I’m very grateful for that, Mr. Cramer,” said Quinn. He knew it sounded terribly stilted, but somewhere the spools were turning.

“What exactly is it you want?”

“Background first. The last update I read was in Washington…” Quinn checked his watch-8:00 P.M. in London. “Over seven hours ago. Have the kidnappers made contact yet?”

“So far as we are aware, no,” said Cramer. “There have been calls, of course. Some obvious hoaxes, some not so obvious, a dozen really plausible. To the last, we asked for some element of proof they were really holding Simon Cormack-”

“How?” asked Quinn.

“A question to be answered. Something from his nine months at Oxford that it would be hard to discover. No one called back with a right answer.”

“Forty-eight hours is not unusual waiting time for the first contact,” said Quinn.

“Agreed,” said Cramer. “They may communicate by mail, with a letter or a tape recording, in which case the package may be on its way. Or by phone. If it’s the former, we’ll bring them ’round here, though I will want our forensic people to have first crack at the paper, envelope, wrappings, and letter for any prints, saliva, or other traces. Fair, I think? You have no laboratory facilities here.”

“Perfectly fair,” said Quinn.

“But if the first contact is by phone, how do you want to handle it, Mr. Quinn?”

Quinn spelled out his requirements. A public announcement on the News at Ten program, requiring anyone holding Simon Cormack to contact the American embassy and only the embassy on any of a series of given numbers. A line of switchboard operators in the embassy basement to filter out the obvious phonies and patch the serious possibilities through to him at the apartment.

Cramer looked up at Collins and Seymour, who nodded. They would set up the embassy first-filter multiline switchboard within the next hour and a half, in time for the newscast. Quinn went on.

“Your Telecom people can trace every call as it comes into the embassy, maybe make a few arrests of hoaxers stupid enough not to use a public phone booth or who stay on the line too long. I don’t think the real kidnappers will be that dumb.”

“Agreed,” said Cramer. “So far, they’re smarter than that.”

“The patch-through must be without a cutoff, and just to one of the phones in this flat. There are three, right?”

Collins nodded. One was a direct line to his office, which was in the embassy building anyway.

“Use that one,” said Quinn. “When I’ve established contact with the real kidnappers, assuming I do, I want to give them a new number, a designated line that reaches me and only me.”

“I’ll get you a flash line within ninety minutes,” said Cramer, “a number that has never been used before. We’ll have to tap it, of course, but you won’t hear a sound on the line. Finally, I’d like to have two detective chief inspectors living in here with you, Mr. Quinn. They’re good and experienced. One man can’t stay awake twenty-four hours a day.”

“I’m sorry, no,” said Quinn.

“They could be of great help,” Cramer persisted. “If the kidnappers are British, there will be the question of regional accents, slang words, hints of strain or desperation in the voice at the other end, tiny traces only another Britisher could spot. They wouldn’t say anything, just listen.”

“They can listen at the exchange,” said Quinn. “You will be recording everything anyway. Run it past the speech experts, add your own comments on how lousily I’m doing, and come knock on the door here with the results. But I work alone.”

Cramer’s mouth tightened slightly. But he had his orders. He rose to leave. Quinn rose too.

“Let me see you to your car,” he said. They all knew what that meant-the stairs were not bugged. At the door Quinn jerked his head at Seymour and Collins to stay behind. Reluctantly they did so. On the stairs he murmured in Cramer’s ear.

“I know you don’t like it this way. I’m not very happy about it myself. Try to trust me. I’m not about to lose this boy if I can help it. You’ll hear every damn syllable on the phone. My own people will even hear me on the can. It’s like a Radio Shack in there.”

“All right, Mr. Quinn. You’ll get everything I can offer you. That’s a promise.”

“One last thing…” They had reached the pavement; the police car waited. “Don’t spook them. If they phone, or stay on the line a mite too long, no squad cars roaring up to the phone booth…”

“We do know that, Mr. Quinn. But we’ll have to have plainclothes men heading for the source of the phone call. They’ll be very discreet, just about invisible. But if we just spot the car number… get a physical description… that could shorten the whole thing to a couple of days.”

“Don’t get seen,” warned Quinn. “The man in the phone booth will be under horrendous pressure. Neither of us wants contact to cease. That would probably mean they’ve cut and run for the tall timber, leaving a body behind them.”

Cramer nodded, shook hands, and climbed into his car.

Thirty minutes later the engineers arrived, none in Telecom uniform, all offering Telecom identification cards. Quinn nodded amiably, knowing they came from MI-5, the Security Service, and they set to work. They were good and they were fast. Most of the work was being done in the Kensington exchange, anyway.

One of the engineers, with the base off the sitting-room telephone, raised an eyebrow a fraction. Quinn pretended not to notice. Trying to insert a bug, the man had found one in there already. Orders are orders; he slotted his own in beside the American one, establishing a new and miniature Anglo-American relationship. By 9:30 P.M. Quinn had his flash line, the ultraprivate line to which he would pass the real kidnapper if he ever spoke to the man. The second line was patched through permanently to the embassy switchboard, for incoming “possibles.” The third was left for outgoing calls.

More work was going on in the basement at the embassy in Grosvenor Square. Ten lines already existed and they were all taken over. Ten young women, some American, some British, sat and waited.

The third operation was in the Kensington exchange, where the police set up an office to monitor incoming calls heading for Quinn’s flash line. As Kensington was one of the new electronic exchanges, tracing would be fast, eight to ten seconds. On their way out of the exchange, the flash-line calls would have two more taps, one to the MI-5 communications center in Cork Street, Mayfair, the other to the U.S. embassy basement which, after the isolation of the kidnappers, would change from a switchboard to a listening post.

Thirty seconds after the British group left, Lou Collins’s American engineer arrived to remove all the newly installed British bugs and tune their own. Thus, when Quinn spoke other than on the telephone, only his fellow Americans would be listening. “Nice try,” remarked Seymour to his MI-5 colleague a week later over a drink in Brooks’s Club.

At 10:00 P.M. ITN newscaster Sandy Gall stared into the camera as the booming chimes of the Big Ben theme died away, and made the announcement to the kidnappers. The numbers to call stayed on the screen throughout the update on the Simon Cormack kidnapping, which had little to say but said it anyway.

In the sitting room of a quiet house forty miles from London, four silent and tense men watched the broadcast. The leader rapidly translated into French for two of them. In fact one was Belgian, the other Corsican. The fourth needed no translation. His spoken English was good but heavily accented with the Afrikaner tones of his native South Africa.

The two from Europe spoke no English at all, and the leader had forbidden all of them to stray from the house until the affair was over. He alone left and returned, always out of the attached garage, always in the Volvo sedan, which now had new tires and license plates-the original and legitimate plates. He never left without his wig, beard, moustache, and tinted glasses. During his absences the others were instructed to stay out of sight, not even appearing at the windows and certainly not answering the door.

As the newscast changed to the Middle East situation, one of the Europeans asked a question. The leader shook his head.

Demain,” he replied, “tomorrow morning.”

More than two hundred calls came to the embassy basement that night. Each was handled carefully and courteously, but only seven were passed through to Quinn, He took each with a cheerful friendliness, addressing the caller as “friend” or “pal,” explaining that regretfully “his people” simply had to go through the tiresome formality of establishing that the caller really had Simon Cormack, and carefully asking them to get the answer to a simple question and call him back. No one called back. In a break between 3:00 A.M. and sunrise he catnapped for four hours.

Through the night, Sam Somerville and Duncan McCrea stayed with him. Sam commented on his laid-back performance on the phone.

“It hasn’t even begun yet,” he said quietly. But the strain had. The two younger people were feeling it already.

Just after midnight, having caught the noon plane from Washington, Kevin Brown and a picked team of eight FBI agents flew into Heathrow. Forewarned, an exasperated Patrick Seymour was there to greet them. He gave the senior officer an update on the situation to 11:00 P.M., when he had left for the airport. That included the installation of Quinn in his chosen aerie as opposed to Winfield House, and the telephone-intercept situation.

“Knew he was a smartass,” growled Brown when told of the tangle in the Winfield House driveway. “We’ve got to sit on this bastard or he’ll be into every kind of trick. Let’s get to the embassy. We’ll sleep on cots right there in the basement. If that yo-yo farts, I want to hear it, loud and clear.”

Inwardly, Seymour groaned. He had heard of Kevin Brown and could have done without the visit. Now, he thought, it was going to be worse than he had feared. When they reached the embassy at 1:30 A.M., the 106th phony call was coming in.

Other people were getting little sleep that night. Two of them were Commander Williams of S.O. 13 and a man called Sidney Sykes. They spent the hours of darkness confronting each other in the interview room of Wandsworth police station in south London. A second officer present was the head of the Vehicles Section of the Serious Crimes Squad, whose men had traced Sykes.

As far as a small-time crook like Sykes was concerned, the two men across the plain table were very heavy pressure indeed and by the end of the first hour he was a badly frightened man. After that things got worse.

The Vehicles Section, following a description given by the jobbing builder in Leicester, had traced the recovery firm that had removed the wrecked Transit from its lethal embrace with the steam shovel. Once it was established that the vehicle had a twisted chassis and was a write-off, the recovery company offered it back to its owner. As the charge for bringing it on a flat-bed to Leicester was greater than its value, he had declined. The recovery team had sold it to Sykes as scrap, for he ran a car-wrecking yard in Wandsworth. The Vehicles Section rummage crews had spent the day turning over that yard.

They found a barrel three-quarters full of dirty black sump oil, whose murky depths had yielded twenty-four car license plates, twelve perfectly matched pairs, all made up in the Sykes yard and all as genuine as a three-pound note. A recess beneath the floorboards of Sykes’s shabby office had given up a wad of thirty vehicle registration documents, all pertaining to cars and vans that had ceased to exist except on paper.

Sykes’s racket was to acquire crash vehicles written off by their insurers, tell the owner that he, Sykes, would inform Swansea the vehicle had ceased to exist except as a mass of scrap, and then inform Swansea of exactly the opposite-that he had bought the vehicle from its previous owner. The Swansea computer would then log that “fact.” If the car really was a write-off, Sykes was simply buying the legitimate paperwork, which could then be applied to a working vehicle of similar make and type, the working vehicle having been stolen from some parking lot by one of Sykes’s light-fingered associates. With new plates to match the registration document of the write-off, the stolen car could then be resold. The final touch was to abrade the original chassis and engine block numbers, etch in new ones, and smear on enough grease and dirt to fool the ordinary customer. Of course this would not fool the police, but as all such deals were in cash, Sykes could later deny he had ever seen the offending car, let alone sold it.

A variation on the racket was to take a van like the Transit, in good shape apart from its twisted chassis, cut out the distorted section, bridge the gap with a length of girder, and put it back on the road. Illegal and dangerous, but such cars and vans could probably run for several thousand more miles before falling apart.

Confronted by the statements of the Leicester builder, the recovery firm that had sold him the Transit as scrap for £20, and the imprints of the old, real chassis and engine numbers; and informed what deed the truck had been used for, Sykes realized he was in very deep trouble indeed, and came clean.

The man who had bought the Transit, he recalled after racking his memory, had been wandering around the yard one day six weeks back, and on being questioned had said he was looking for a low-priced van. By chance, Sykes had just finished recycling the chassis of the blue Transit and spraying it green. It had left his yard within the hour for £300 cash. He had never seen the man again. The fifteen £20 notes were long gone.

“Description?” asked Commander Williams.

“I’m trying, I’m trying,” pleaded Sykes.

“Do that,” said Williams. “It will make the rest of your life so much easier.”

Medium height, medium build. Late forties. Rough face and manner. Not a posh voice, and not a Londoner by birth. Ginger hair-could have been a wig, but a good one. Anyway, he wore a hat, despite the heat of late August. Moustache, darker than the hair-could have been a stick-on, but a good one. And tinted glasses. Not sunglasses, just blue-tinted, with horn frames.

The three men spent two more hours with the police artist. Commander Williams brought the picture back to Scotland Yard just before the breakfast hour and showed it to Nigel Cramer. He took it to the COBRA committee at nine that morning. The trouble was, the picture could have been anyone. And there the trail ran out.

“We know the van was worked on by another and better mechanic after Sykes,” Cramer told the committee. “And a sign painter created the Barlow fruit company logo on each side. It must have been stored somewhere, a garage with welding facilities. But if we issue a public appeal, the kidnappers will see it and could lose their nerve, cut and run, and leave Simon Cormack dead.”

It was agreed to issue the description to every police station in the country, but not to bring in the press and the public.

Andrew “Andy” Laing spent the night poring over the records of bank transactions, becoming more and more puzzled, until just before dawn his bemusement gave way to the growing certainty that he was right and there was no other explanation.

Andy Laing was the head of the Credit and Marketing team in the Jiddah branch of the Saudi Arabian Investment Bank, an institution established by the Saudi government to handle most of the astronomical sums of money that washed around those parts.

Although Saudi-owned and with a mainly Saudi board of directors, the SAIB was principally staffed by foreign contract officers, and the biggest single contributor of staff was New York’s Rockman-Queens Bank, from which Laing had been seconded.

He was young, keen, conscientious, and ambitious, eager to make a good career in banking and enjoying his term in Saudi Arabia. The pay was better than in New York, he had an attractive apartment, several girlfriends among the large expatriate community in Jiddah, was not worried by the no-liquor restrictions, and got on with his colleagues.

Although the Riyadh branch was the head office of SAIB, the busiest branch was in Jiddah, the business and commercial capital of Saudi Arabia. Normally, Laing would have left the crenellated white building-looking more like a Foreign Legion fort than a bank-and walked up the street to the Hyatt Regency for a drink before six o’clock the previous evening. But he had two more files to close, and rather than leave them till the next morning, he stayed on for an extra hour.

So he was still at his desk when the old Arab messenger wheeled ’round the cart stacked with printout sheets torn from the bank’s computer, leaving the appropriate sheets in each executive’s office for attention the next day. These sheets bore the records of the day’s transactions undertaken by the bank’s several departments. Patiently the old man placed a sheaf of printouts on Laing’s desk, bobbed his head, and withdrew. Laing called a cheerful “Shukran” after him-he prided himself on being courteous to the Saudi menial staff-and went on working.

When he had finished he glanced at the papers by his side and uttered a sound of annoyance. He had been given the wrong papers. The ones beside him were the in-and-out records of deposits and withdrawals from all the major accounts lodged with the bank. These were the business of the Operations manager, not Credit and Marketing. He took them and strolled down the corridor to the empty office of the Ops manager, Mr. Amin, his colleague from Pakistan.

As he did so he glanced at the sheets and something caught his attention. He stopped, turned back, and began to go through the records page by page. On each the same pattern emerged. He switched on his computer and asked it to go back into the records of two client accounts. Always the same pattern.

By the small hours of the morning he was certain there could be no doubt. What he was looking at had to be a major fraud. The coincidences were just too bizarre. He replaced the printouts on the desk of Mr. Amin and resolved to fly to Riyadh at the first opportunity for a personal interview with his fellow American, the general manager, Steve Pyle.

As Laing was going home through the darkened streets of Jiddah, eight time zones to the west the White House committee was listening to Dr. Nicholas Armitage, an experienced psychiatrist who had just come across to the West Wing from the Executive Mansion.

“Gentlemen, so far I have to tell you that the shock has affected the First Lady to a greater degree than the President. She is still taking medication under the supervision of her physician. The President has, no doubt, the tougher temperament, though I’m afraid the strain is already beginning to become noticeable, and the telltale signs of post-abduction parental trauma are beginning to show in him too.”

“What signs, Doctor?” asked Odell without ceremony. The psychiatrist-who did not like to be interrupted, and never was when he lectured students-cleared his throat.

“You have to understand that in these cases the mother acceptably has the release of tears, even hysteria. The male parent often suffers in a greater way, experiencing, apart from the normal anxiety for the abducted child, a profound sense of guilt, of self-blame, of conviction that he was responsible in some way, should have done more, should have taken more precautions, should have been more careful.”

“That’s not logical,” protested Morton Stannard.

“We’re not talking about logic here,” said the doctor. “We’re talking about the symptoms of trauma, made worse by the fact the President was-is-extremely close to his son, loves him very deeply indeed. Add to that the feeling of helplessness, the inability to do anything. So far, of course, with no contact from the kidnappers, he does not even know if the boy is alive or dead. It’s still early, of course, but it won’t get better.”

“These kidnappings can go on for weeks,” said Jim Donaldson. “This man is our Chief Executive. What changes can we expect?”

“The strain will be eased slightly when and if the first contact is made and proof obtained that Simon is still alive,” said Dr. Armitage. “But the relief will not last long. As time drags on, the deterioration will deepen. There will be stress at a very high level, leading to irritability. There will be insomnia-that can be helped with medication. Finally there will be listlessness in matters concerning the father’s profession-”

“In this case running the damn country,” said Odell.

“… and lack of concentration, loss of memory in matters of government. In a word, gentlemen, half or more of the President’s mind until further notice will be devoted to thinking about his son, and a further part to concern for his wife. In some cases, even after the successful release of a child kidnap victim, it has been the parents who needed months, even years, of post-trauma therapy.”

“In other words,” said Attorney General Bill Walters, “we have half a President, maybe less.”

“Oh, come now,” Treasury Secretary Reed interjected. “This country has had Presidents on the operating table, wholly incapacitated in the hospital, before now. We must just take over, run things as he would wish, disturb our friend as little as possible.”

His optimism evoked little matching response. Brad Johnson rose.

“Why the hell won’t those bastards get in touch?” he asked. “It’s been nearly forty-eight hours.”

“At least we have our negotiator set up and waiting for their first call,” said Reed.

“And we have a strong presence in London,” added Walters. “Mr. Brown and his team from the Bureau arrived two hours ago.”

“What the hell are the British police doing?” muttered Stannard. “Why can’t they find those bastards?”

“We have to remember it’s been only forty-eight hours-not even,” observed Secretary of State Donaldson. “ Britain ’s not as big as the U.S., but with fifty-four million people there are a lot of places to hide. You recall how long the Symbionese Liberation Army kept Patty Hearst, with the whole FBI hunting them? Months.”

“Let’s face it, gentlemen,” drawled Odell, “the problem is, there’s nothing more we can do.”

That was the problem; there was nothing anybody could do.

The boy they were talking about was getting through his second night of captivity. Though he did not know it, there was someone on duty in the corridor outside his cell throughout the night. The cellar of the suburban house might be made of poured concrete, but if he decided to scream and shout, the abductors were quite prepared to subdue him and gag him. He made no such mistake. Resolving to quell his fear and behave with as much dignity as possible, he did two dozen push-ups and toe-touching calisthenics, while a skeptical eye watched through the peephole. He had no wristwatch-he had been running without one on-and was losing track of time. The light burned constantly but at what he judged to be around midnight-he was two hours off-he curled up on the bed, drew the thin blanket over his head to shut out most of the light, and slept. As he did so, the last dozen of the hoax calls were coming in at his country’s embassy forty miles away in Grosvenor Square.

Kevin Brown and his eight-strong team did not feel like sleep. Jet-lagged from the flight across the Atlantic, their body clocks were still on Washington time, five hours earlier than London.

Brown insisted that Seymour and Collins show him around the basement telephone exchange and listening post at the embassy, where in an office at the end of the complex, American engineers-the British had not been given access-had set up wall speakers to bring in the sounds recorded by the various bugs in the Kensington apartment.

“There are two taps in the sitting room,” explained Collins reluctantly. He saw no reason why he should explain Company techniques to the man from the Bureau, but he had his orders, and the Kensington apartment was “burned” from an operational point of view anyway.

“If a senior officer from Langley was using the place as a base, they would of course be deactivated. But if we were debriefing a Soviet there, we find invisible bugs less inhibiting than having a tape recorder turning away on the table. The sitting room would be the main debriefing area. But there are two more in the master bedroom-Quinn’s sleeping in there, but not at the moment, as you will hear-and others in the remaining two bedrooms and the kitchen.

“Out of respect for Miss Somerville and our own man McCrea, we have deactivated the two smaller bedrooms. But if Quinn went into one of them to talk confidentially, we could reactivate them by switching here and here.”

Collins indicated two switches on the master console.

Brown asked, “In any case, if he talked to either of them out of range of any speakers, we would expect them to report back to us, right?”

Collins and Seymour nodded.

“That’s what they’re there for,” added Seymour.

“Then we have three telephones in there,” Collins went on. “One is the new flash line. Quinn will use that only when he is convinced he is talking to the genuine abductors, and for no other purpose at all. All conversations on that line will be intercepted in the Kensington exchange by the British and piped through on this speaker here. Second, he has a direct patch-through from this room, which he is using now to talk to one of the callers we believe to be a hoaxer, but maybe not. That connection also passes through the Kensington exchange. And there is the third line, an ordinary outgoing and incoming line, also on intercept but probably not to be used unless he wants to call out.”

“You mean the British are listening to all this as well?” asked Brown dourly.

“Only the phone lines,” said Seymour. “We have to have their cooperation on telephones-they own the exchanges. Besides, they could have a good input on voice patterns, speech defects, regional accents. And of course the call-tracing has got to be done by them, right out of the Kensington exchange. We don’t have an untappable line from the apartment to this basement.”

Collins coughed.

“Yes, we do,” he said, “but it only works for the room bugs. We have two apartments in that building. All the stuff on all the room bugs is fed on internal wires down to our second and smaller apartment in the basement. I have a man down there now. In the basement the speech is scrambled, transmitted on ultrashort-wave radio up here, received, descrambled, and piped down here.”

“You radio it for just a mile?” asked Brown.

“Sir, my Agency gets on very well with the British. But no secret service in the world will ever pipe classified information through the land lines running under a city they do not control.”

Brown enjoyed that. “So the Brits can hear the phone conversations but not the room talk.”

He was wrong, actually. Once MI-5 knew of the Kensington apartment, that the two Metropolitan chief inspectors were not being allowed to live in, and that their own bugs had been removed, they calculated there must be a second American apartment in there to relay Soviet debriefings to CIA Control somewhere else. Within an hour the apartment-building records had pinpointed the small bed-sitter in the basement. By midnight a team of plumbers had found the connecter wires running through the central heating system, and did an intercept from a ground-floor apartment, whose tenant was courteously urged to take a brief vacation and thus assist Her Majesty. By sunrise everyone was listening to everyone.

Collins’s ELINT-electronic intelligence-man at the console lifted the headset off his ears.

“Quinn’s just finished with the caller,” he said. “Now they’ll talk among themselves. You want to hear, sir?”

“Sure,” said Brown.

The engineer threw the conversation in the sitting room in Kensington from headset to wall mike. Quinn’s voice came through the speaker.

“… would be fine. Thanks, Sam. Milk and sugar.”

“Do you think he’ll call back, Mr. Quinn?” That was McCrea.

“Nope. Plausible, but he didn’t smell right.” Quinn.

The men in the embassy basement turned to go. Cots had been set up in a number of nearby offices. Brown intended to stay on the job at all times. He designated two of his eight men to take the night watch. It was 2:30 A.M.

The same conversations, on the phone and in the sitting room, had been heard and logged in the MI-5 communications center in Cork Street. In the Kensington telephone exchange the police heard only the telephone call, traced it within eight seconds to a phone booth in nearby Paddington, and dispatched a plainclothes officer from Paddington Green police station, two hundred yards from the booth. He arrested an old man with a history of mental illness.

At 9:00 A.M. on the third day, one of the women in Grosvenor Square took another call. The voice was English, rough, curt.

“Put me through to the negotiator.”

The girl went pale. No one had used that word before. She kept her voice honeyed.

“Putting you through, sir.”

Quinn had the receiver in his hand at half a ring. The girl’s voice was a rapid whisper.

“Someone asking for the negotiator. Just that.”

Half a second later the connection was made. Quinn’s deep, reassuring voice came through the speakers.

“Hi there, pal. You wanted to speak to me?”

“You want Simon Cormack back, it’s going to cost you. A lot. Now listen to me-”

“No, friend, you listen to me. I’ve had a dozen hoax calls already today. You can understand how many crazies there are in this world, right? So do me a favor-just a simple question…”

In Kensington the tracers got a “lock” in eight seconds, Hitchin, Hertfordshire… a public booth in… the railway station. Cramer got it at the Yard ten seconds later; Hitchin police station was slower to get in gear. Their man set off in a car thirty seconds later, was dropped two corners from the station a minute thereafter, and came ambling around the corner toward the booths 141 seconds after the call began. Too late. The man had spent thirty seconds on the line and was by then three streets away, lost in the morning throng.

McCrea stared at Quinn in amazement.

“You hung up on him,” he said.

“Had to,” said Quinn laconically. “By the time I had finished we were out of time.”

“If you’d kept him on the line,” said Sam Somerville, “the police might have caught him.”

“If he’s the man, I want to give him confidence, not a bad fright-yet,” said Quinn, and lapsed into silence. He seemed completely relaxed; his two companions were strung out with tension, staring at the phone as if it might ring again. Quinn knew the man could not possibly get back to another phone booth for a couple of hours. He had learned long ago in combat: If you cannot do anything but wait, relax.

In Grosvenor Square, Kevin Brown had been awakened by one of his men and hustled into the listening post in time to hear the end of Quinn’s conversation.

“… is the name of that book? You answer me that and call me right back. I’ll be waiting, pal. Bye now.”

Collins and Seymour joined him, and all three listened to the playback.

Then they switched to wall speaker and heard Sam Somerville make her point.

“Right,” growled Brown.

They heard Quinn’s reply.

“Asshole,” said Brown. “Another couple of minutes and they could have caught that bastard.”

“They get one,” pointed out Seymour. “The others still have the boy.”

“So get the one and persuade him to reveal the hideout,” said Brown. He smacked one beefy fist into the palm of his other hand.

“They probably have a deadline. It’s something we use if a member of one of our networks gets taken. If he doesn’t show back at the hideout in, say, ninety minutes, allowing for traffic, the others know he’s been taken. They waste the kid and vaporize.”

“Look, sir, these men have nothing to lose,” added Seymour, to Brown’s irritation. “Even if they walk in and hand Simon back, they’re going to do life anyway. They killed two Secret Service men and a British cop.”

“That Quinn just better know what he’s doing,” said Brown as he walked out.

There were three loud knocks on the door of Simon Cormack’s cellar prison at 10:15. He pulled on his hood. When he took it off, a card was propped against the wall by the door.

WHEN YOU WERE A KID ON HOLIDAY AT NANTUCKET,

YOUR AUNT EMILY USED TO READ TO YOU FROM HER

FAVOURITE BOOK. WHICH BOOK WAS IT?

He stared at the card. A wave of relief swept over him. Someone was in contact. Someone had spoken to his father in Washington. Someone was out there trying to get him back. He tried to fight back the tears, but they kept welling up into his eyes. Someone was watching through the peephole. He snuffled; he had no handkerchief. He thought back to Aunt Emily, his father’s elder sister, prim in her high-necked cotton dresses, taking him for walks along the beach, sitting him on a tussock and reading about little animals who talked and acted like humans. He sniffed again and shouted the answer at the peephole. It closed. The door opened a fraction; a black-gloved hand came around the corner and withdrew the card.

* * *

The man with the gruff voice came through again at 1:30 P.M. The patch-through from the embassy was immediate. The call was traced in eleven seconds-to a booth in a shopping mall at Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. By the time a plainclothes officer from the Milton Keynes force reached the booth and looked around, the caller had been gone for ninety seconds. On the line he had wasted no time.

“The book,” he rasped. “Called The Wind in the Willows.”

“Okay, friend, you’re the man I’ve been waiting to speak to. Now take this number, get off the line, and call me from a fresh booth. It’s a line that reaches me, and me only. Three-seven-oh; zero-zero-four-zero. Please stay in touch. Bye now.”

Again he replaced the receiver. This time he raised his head and addressed the wall.

“Collins, you can tell Washington we have our man. Simon is alive. They want to talk. You can dismantle the telephone exchange in the embassy.”

They heard it all right. They all heard it. Collins used his encoded flash line to Weintraub in Langley, and he told Odell, who told the President. Within minutes the switchboard operators in Grosvenor Square were being sent away. There was one last call, a plaintive, whining voice.

“We are the Proletarian Liberation Army. We are holding Simon Cormack. Unless America destroys all her nuclear weapons-”

The switchboard girl’s voice was like running molasses.

“Honeychild,” she said, “go screw yourself.”

“You did it again,” said McCrea. “You hung up on him.”

“He has a point,” said Sam. “These people can be unbalanced. Couldn’t that kind of treatment annoy him to the point of hurting Simon Cormack?”

“Possible,” said Quinn. “But I hope I’m right, and I think I am. Doesn’t sound like political terrorists. I’m praying he’s just a professional killer.”

They were aghast.

“What’s so good about a professional killer?” asked Sam.

“Not a lot,” admitted Quinn, who seemed strangely relieved. “But a professional only works for money. And so far he doesn’t have any.”

Chapter 7

The kidnapper did not call back until six that evening. In the interim Sam Somerville and Duncan McCrea stared at the flash-line telephone almost without cease, praying that whoever he was, the man would call back and not sever communication.

Quinn alone seemed to have the ability to relax. He lay on the sitting-room sofa, stretched out with his shoes off, reading a book. The Anabasis by Xenophon, Sam reported quietly from the phone in her room. He had brought it from Spain.

“Never heard of it,” grumbled Brown in the basement of the embassy.

“It’s about military tactics,” volunteered Seymour helpfully, “by a Greek general.”

Brown grunted. He knew they were members of NATO but that was about it.

The British police were far busier. Two telephone booths, one in Hitchin, a small and pretty provincial town at the northern tip of Hertfordshire, the other in the great new-town sprawl of Milton Keynes, were visited by quiet men from Scotland Yard and dusted for fingerprints. There were dozens, but though they did not know it, none belonged to the kidnapper, who had worn flesh-colored surgical gloves.

Discreet inquiries were made in the vicinity of both booths to discover if any witness might have seen the booths being used at the specific moments that the calls were made. No one had noticed, not to a matter of seconds. Both booths were in banks of three or four, all in constant use. Besides, both places had been crowded at the time. Cramer grunted.

“He’s using the daily rush hours. Morning and lunch.”

The tapes of the caller’s voice were taken to a professor of philology, an expert in speech patterns and the origins of accents, but Quinn had done most of the talking and the academic shook his head.

“He’s using several layers of paper tissue or a thin cloth over the mouthpiece of the phone,” he said. “Crude, but fairly effective. It won’t fool the speech-pattern oscillators, but I, like the machines, need more material to discern patterns.”

Commander Williams promised to bring him more material when the man phoned again. During the day, six houses went quietly under surveillance. One was in London, the other five in the Home Counties. All were rented properties, all six-month leases. By nightfall two had been cleared: a French bank official in one, married with two children, working quite legitimately for the London branch of the Société Générale; and in the other, a German professor doing research work at the British Museum.

By the end of the week the other four would also be cleared, but the property market was producing more “possibles” in a constant stream. They would all be checked out.

“If the criminals have actually bought a property,” Cramer told the COBRA committee, “or borrowed one from a bona fide homeowner, I’m afraid it becomes impossible. In the latter case there would be no trace at all; in the former the volume of house purchases in the Southeast in any one year would simply swamp our resources for months on end.”

Privately Nigel Cramer favored Quinn’s argument (which he had heard on tape) that the caller sounded more like a professional criminal than a political terrorist. Still, the run-through of both kinds of lawbreaker went on and would do so until the end of the case. Even if the abductors were underworld criminals, they might have acquired their Czech machine pistol from a terrorist group. The two worlds sometimes met and did business.

If the British police were overwhelmed with work, the problem for the American team in the basement of the embassy was idleness. Kevin Brown paced the long room like a caged lion. Four of his men were on their cots, the other four watching the light that would flash on when the single dedicated phone in the Kensington apartment, whose number the kidnapper now had, was used. The light flashed at two minutes after six.

To everyone’s amazement, Quinn let it ring four times. Then he answered, getting in the first words.

“Hi, there. Glad you called.”

“Like I said, you want Simon Cormack back alive, it’s going to cost you.” Same voice, deep, gruff, throaty, and muffled by paper tissues.

“Okay, let’s talk,” said Quinn in a friendly tone. “My name’s Quinn. Just Quinn. Can you give me a name?”

“Get stuffed.”

“Come on, not the real one. We’re not fools, either of us. Any name. Just so I can say ‘Hi there, Smith, or Jones-’ ”

“Zack,”said the voice.

“Z-A-C-K? You got it. Listen, Zack, you’ve got to keep these calls to twenty seconds, right? I’m not a magician. The spooks are listening and tracing. Call me back in a couple of hours and we’ll talk again. Okay?”

“Yeah,” said Zack, and put the phone down.

The Kensington exchange wizards had got their “lock” in seven seconds. Another public phone booth, in the town center of Great Dunmow, county of Essex, nine miles west of the M.11 motorway from London to Cambridge. Like the other two towns, north of London. A small town with a small police station. The plainclothes officer reached the bank of three booths eighty seconds after the phone was hung up. Too late. At that hour, with the shops closing and the pubs open, there was a swirl of people but no one looking furtive, or wearing a ginger wig, moustache, and tinted glasses. Zack had chosen the third daily rush hour, early evening, dusk but not yet dark, for in the dark, phone booths are illuminated inside.

In the embassy basement Kevin Brown exploded.

“Who the hell’s side does Quinn think he’s on?” he asked. “He’s treating that bastard like the flavor of the month.”

His four agents nodded in unison.

In Kensington, Sam Somerville and Duncan McCrea asked much the same question. Quinn just lay back on the couch, shrugged, and returned to his book. Unlike the newcomers, he knew he had two things to do: try to get into the mind of the man on the other end of the line, and try to gain his confidence.

He suspected already that Zack was no fool. So far, at any rate, he had made few mistakes, or he would have been caught by now. So he must know his calls would be monitored and traced. Quinn had told him nothing he did not know already. Volunteering the advice that would keep Zack safe and at large would teach Zack nothing he wouldn’t be doing anyway, without instruction.

Quinn was just bridge-building, repugnant though the task was, laying down the first bricks in a relationship with a killer that, he hoped, would cause the man almost involuntarily to believe that Quinn and he shared a common goal-an exchange-and that the authorities were really the bad guys.

From his years in England, Quinn knew that to British ears the American accent can appear the friendliest tone in the world. Something about the drawl. More amiable than the clipped British voice. He had accentuated his drawl a mite beyond its usual level. It was vital not to give Zack the impression he was putting him down or making a mockery of him in any way. Also vital to let nothing slip as to how much he loathed the man who was crucifying a father and a mother three thousand miles away. He was so persuasive he fooled Kevin Brown.

But not Cramer.

“I wish he’d keep the bastard talking a while longer,” said Commander Williams. “One of our country colleagues might get a look at him, or his car.”

Cramer shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said. “Our problem is, these detective constables in the smaller county stations are not trained agents when it comes to shadowing people. Quinn will try to extend the speaking periods later and hope Zack doesn’t notice.”

Zack did not call that evening; not until the following morning.

Andy Laing took the day off and flew by an internal Saudia commuter flight to Riyadh, where he sought and was given a meeting with the general manager, Steve Pyle.

The office block of SAIB in the Saudi capital was a far cry from the Foreign Legion fort building in Jiddah. The bank had really spent some money here, constructing a tower of buff-colored marble, sandstone, and polished granite. Laing crossed the vast central atrium at ground-floor level, the only sound the clack of his heels on the marble and the splash of the cooling fountains.

Even in mid-October it was fiercely hot outside, but the atrium was like a garden in spring. After a thirty-minute wait he was shown into the office of the general manager on the top floor, a suite so lush that even the president of Rockman-Queens, on a stopover visit six months earlier, had found it more luxurious than his own New York penthouse quarters.

Steve Pyle was a big, bluff executive who prided himself on his paternal handling of his younger staff of all nationalities. His slightly flushed complexion indicated that though the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might be “dry” down at street level, his own cocktail cabinet lacked for nothing.

He greeted Laing with geniality but some surprise.

“Mr. Al-Haroun didn’t warn me you were coming, Andy,” he said. “I’d have had a car meet you at the airport.”

Mr. Al-Haroun was the manager at Jiddah, Laing’s Saudi boss.

“I didn’t tell him, sir. I just took a day’s leave. I think we have a problem down there and I wanted to bring it to your attention.”

“Andy, Andy, my name’s Steve, right? Glad you came. So what’s the problem?”

Laing had not brought the printouts with him; if anyone at Jiddah was involved in the scam, taking them would have given the game away. But he had copious notes. He spent an hour explaining to Pyle what he had found.

“It can’t be coincidence, Steve,” he argued. “There is no way these figures can be explained except as major bank fraud.”

Steve Pyle’s geniality had dropped away as Laing explained his predicament. They had been sitting in the deep club chairs of Spanish leather that were grouped around the low beaten-brass coffee table. Pyle rose and walked to the smoked-glass wall, which gave a spectacular view over the desert for many miles around. Finally he turned and walked back to the table. His broad smile was back, his hand outstretched.

“Andy, you are a very observant young man. Very bright. And loyal. I appreciate that. I appreciate your coming to me with this… problem.” He escorted Laing to the door. “Now I want you to leave this with me. Think nothing more about it. I’ll handle this one personally. Believe me, you’re going to go a long way.”

Andy Laing left the bank building and headed back to Jiddah aglow with self-righteousness. He had done the proper thing. The GM would put a stop to the swindle.

When he had left, Steve Pyle drummed his fingers on his desk top for several minutes, then made a single phone call.

Zack’s fourth call, and second on the flash line, was at quarter to nine in the morning. It was traced to Royston, on the northern border of Hertfordshire, where that county abuts Cambridge. The police officer who got there two minutes later was ninety seconds adrift. And there were no fingerprints.

“Quinn, let’s keep it short. I want five million dollars, and fast. Small denominations, used bills.”

“Jeez, Zack, that’s a hell of a lot. You know how much that weighs?”

A pause. Zack was bemused by the unexpectedness of the reference to the money’s weight.

“That’s it, Quinn. Don’t argue. Any tricks and we can always send you a couple of fingers to straighten you out.”

In Kensington, McCrea gagged and skittered away to the bathroom. He hit a coffee table on the way.

“Who’s with you?” snarled Zack.

“A spook,” said Quinn. “You know the way it is. These assholes are not going to leave me alone, now are they?”

“I meant what I said.”

“Come on, Zack, there’s no need for that. We’re both pros. Right? Let’s keep it like that, eh? We do what we have to do, nothing more or less. Now time’s up. Get off the line.”

“Just get the money, Quinn.”

“I have to deal with the father on this one. Call me back in twenty-four hours. By the way, how is the kid?”

“Fine. So far.” Zack cut the call and left the booth. He had been on-line for thirty-one seconds. Quinn replaced the receiver. McCrea came back into the room.

“If you ever do that again,” said Quinn softly, “I will have you both out of here instantly, and screw the Agency and the Bureau.”

McCrea was so apologetic he looked ready to cry.

In the basement of the embassy Brown looked at Collins.

“Your man fouled up,” he said. “What was that bang on the line anyway?”

Without waiting for an answer he picked up the direct line from the basement to the apartment. Sam Somerville took it and explained about the threat of severed fingers, and McCrea’s knee hitting the coffee table.

When she put the phone down, Quinn asked, “Who was that?”

“Mr. Brown,” she said formally. “Mr. Kevin Brown.”

“Who’s he?” asked Quinn. Sam glanced nervously at the walls.

“The Deputy Assistant Director of the C.I. Division at the Bureau,” she said formally, knowing Brown was listening.

Quinn made a gesture of exasperation. Sam shrugged.

There was a conference at noon, in the apartment. The feeling was that Zack would not phone back until the next morning, allowing the Americans to think over his demand.

Kevin Brown came, with Collins and Seymour. So did Nigel Cramer, who brought Commander Williams. Quinn had met all but Brown and Williams.

“You can tell Zack that Washington agrees,” said Brown. “It came through twenty minutes ago. I hate it myself, but it’s been agreed. Five million dollars.”

“But I don’t agree,” said Quinn.

Brown stared at him as if unable to believe his ears.

“Oh, you don’t agree, Quinn. You don’t agree. The government of the U.S.A. agrees, but Mr. Quinn doesn’t agree. May we ask why?”

“Because it is highly dangerous to agree to a kidnapper’s first demand,” said Quinn quietly. “Do that, and he thinks he should have asked for more. A man who thinks that, thinks he has been fooled in some way. If he’s a psychopath, that makes him angry. He has no one on whom to vent that anger but the hostage.”

“You think Zack is a psychopath?” asked Seymour.

“Maybe. Maybe not,” said Quinn. “But one of his sidekicks may be. Even if Zack’s the one in charge-and he may not be-psychos can go out of control.”

“Then what do you advise?” asked Collins. Brown snorted.

“It’s still early days,” said Quinn. “Simon Cormack’s best chance of surviving unhurt lies in the kidnappers’ believing two things: that they have finally screwed out of the family the absolute maximum they can pay; and that they will see that money only if they produce Simon alive and unharmed. They won’t come to those conclusions in a few seconds. On top of that, the police may yet get a break and find them.”

“I agree with Mr. Quinn,” said Cramer. “It may take a couple of weeks. It sounds harsh, but it’s better than a rushed and botched case resulting in an error of judgment and a dead boy.”

“Any more time you can give me I’d appreciate,” said Commander Williams.

“So what do I tell Washington?” demanded Brown.

“You tell them,” said Quinn calmly, “that they asked me to negotiate Simon’s return, and I am trying to do that. If they want to pull me off the case, that’s fine. They just have to tell the President that.”

Collins coughed. Seymour stared at the floor. The meeting ended.

When Zack phoned again, Quinn was apologetic.

“Look, I tried to get through to President Cormack personally. No way. The man’s under sedation much of the time. I mean, he’s going through hell-”

“So cut it short and get me the money,” snapped Zack.

“I tried, I swear to God. Look, five million is over the top. He doesn’t have that kind of cash-it’s all tied up in blind trust funds that will take weeks to unlock. The word is, I can get you nine hundred thousand dollars, and I can get it fast-”

“Naff off,” snarled the voice on the phone. “You Yanks can get it from somewhere else. I can wait.”

“Yeah, sure, I know,” said Quinn earnestly. “You’re safe. The fuzz are getting nowhere, that’s for sure-so far. If you could just come down a bit… The boy all right?”

“Yeah.”

Quinn could tell Zack was thinking.

“I have to ask this, Zack. Those bastards in back of me are leaning real hard. Ask the boy what his pet dog’s name was-the one he had from a toddler up through the age of ten. Just so we know he’s okay. Won’t cost you anything. Helps me a lot.”

“Four million,” snapped Zack. “And that’s bloody it.”

The phone cut off. The call had come from St. Neots, a town in the south of Cambridge, just east of the county line with Bedfordshire. No one was spotted leaving the booth, one of a row outside the main post office.

“What are you doing?” asked Sam curiously.

“Putting the pressure on,” said Quinn, and would explain no more.

What Quinn had realized days before was that in this case he had one good ace not always available to negotiators. Bandits in the mountains of Sardinia or Central America could hold out for months or years if they wished. No army sweep, no police patrol would ever find them in those hills riddled with caves and undergrowth. Their only real hazard might be from helicopters, but that was it.

In the densely populated southeast corner of England, Zack and his men were in law-abiding-that is, hostile-territory. The longer they hid, the greater by the law of averages the chance of their being identified and located. So the pressure on them would be to settle and clear out. The trick would be to get them to think they had won, had got the best deal they could, and had no need to kill the hostage as they fled.

Quinn was counting on the rest of Zack’s team-the police knew from the ambush site that there were at least four in the gang-being confined to the hideout. They would get impatient, claustrophobic, eventually urging their leader to settle up and be done with it, precisely the same argument Quinn would be using. Assailed from both sides, Zack would be tempted to take what he could get and seek escape. But that would not happen until the pressure on the kidnappers had built up a lot more.

Quinn had deliberately sown two seeds in Zack’s mind: that Quinn was the good guy, trying to do his best for a fast deal and being obstructed by the Establishment-he recalled the face of Kevin Brown and wondered if that was wholly a lie-and that Zack was quite safe… so far. Meaning the opposite. The more Zack’s sleep was disturbed by nightmares of a police breakthrough, the better.

The professor of linguistics had now decided that Zack was almost certainly in his mid-forties to early fifties, and probably the leader of the gang. There was no hesitation to indicate he would have to consult someone else before agreeing to terms. He was born of working-class people, did not have a very good formal education, and almost certainly stemmed from the Birmingham area. But his native accent had been muted over the years by long periods away from Birmingham, possibly abroad.

A psychiatrist tried to build up a portrait of the man. He was certainly under strain, and it was growing as the conversations were prolonged. His animosity toward Quinn was decreasing with the passage of time. He was accustomed to violence-there had been no hesitation or qualm in his voice when he mentioned the severing of Simon Cormack’s fingers. On the other hand he was logical and shrewd, wary but not afraid. A dangerous man but not crazy. Not a psycho and not “political.”

These reports went to Nigel Cramer, who reported all to the COBRA committee. Copies went at once to Washington, straight to the White House committee. Other copies came to the Kensington apartment. Quinn read them, and when he was finished, so did Sam.

“What I don’t understand,” she said as she put down the last page, “is why they picked Simon Cormack. The President comes from a wealthy family, but there must be other rich kids walking around England.”

Quinn, who had worked that one out while sitting watching a TV screen in a bar in Spain, glanced at her but said nothing. She waited for an answer but got none. That annoyed her. It also intrigued her. She found as the days passed that she was becoming very intrigued by Quinn.

On the seventh day after the kidnap and the fourth since Zack had made his first call, the CIA and the British SIS took their penetration agents throughout the network of European terrorist organizations off the job. There had been no news of the procurement of a Skorpion machine pistol from these sources, and the view had faded that political terrorists were involved. Among groups investigated had been the I.R.A. and the INLA, both Irish, and in both of which the CIA and SIS each had sleepers whose identity they were not going to reveal to each other; the German Red Army Faction, successor to Baader-Meinhof; the Italian Red Brigades; the French Action Directe; the Spanish/Basque ETA; and the Belgian CCC. There were smaller and even weirder groups, but these had been thought too small to have mounted the Cormack operation.

The next day Zack was back. The call came from a bank of booths in a service station on the M.11 motorway just south of Cambridge and was locked and identified in eight seconds, but it took seven minutes to get a plainclothes officer there. In the swirling mass of cars and people passing through, it was a false hope that Zack would still be there.

“The dog,” he said curtly. “Its name was Mister Spot.”

“Thanks, Zack,”said Quinn. “Just keep the kid okay and we’ll conclude our business sooner than you know. And I have news: Mr. Cormack’s financial people can raise one-point-two million dollars after all, spot cash and fast. Go for it, Zack.”

“Get stuffed,” barked the voice on the phone. But he was in a hurry; time was running out. He dropped his demand to $3 million. And the phone went dead.

“Why don’t you settle for it, Quinn?” asked Sam. She was sitting on the edge of her chair; Quinn had stood up, ready to go to the bathroom. He always washed, bathed, dressed, used the bathroom, and ate just after a call from Zack. He knew there would be no further contact for a while.

“It’s not a question just of money,” said Quinn as he headed out of the room. “Zack’s not ready yet. He’d start raising the demand again, thinking he was being cheated. I want him undermined a bit more yet; I want more pressure on him.”

“What about the pressure on Simon Cormack?” Sam called down the corridor. Quinn paused and came back to the door.

“Yeah,” he said soberly, “and on his mother and father. I haven’t forgotten. But in these cases the criminals have to believe, truly believe, that the show is over. Otherwise they get angry and hurt the hostage. I’ve seen it before. It really is better slow and easy than rushing around like the cavalry. If you can’t crack it in forty-eight hours with a quick arrest, it comes to a war of attrition, the kidnapper’s nerve against the negotiator’s. If he gets nothing, he gets mad; if he gets too much too quickly, he reckons he blew it and his pals will tell him the same. So he gets mad. And that’s bad for the hostage.”

His words were heard on tape a few minutes later by Nigel Cramer, who nodded in agreement. In two cases he had been involved in, the same experience had been gone through. In one the hostage was recovered alive and well; in the other he had been liquidated by an angry and resentful psychopath.

The words were heard live in the basement beneath the American embassy.

“Crap,” said Brown. “He has a deal, for God’s sake. He should get the boy back now. Then I want to go after those sleazeballs myself.”

“If they get away, leave it to the Met.,” advised Seymour. “They’ll find ’em.”

“Yeah, and a British court will give them life in a soft pen. You know what life means over here? Fourteen years with time off. Bullshit. You hear this, mister: No one, but no one, does this to the son of my President and gets away with it. One day this is going to become a Bureau matter, the way it should have been from the start. And I’m going to handle it- Boston rules.”

Nigel Cramer came around to the apartment personally that night. His news was no news. Four hundred people had been quietly interviewed, nearly five hundred “sightings” checked out, one hundred and sixty more houses and apartments discreetly surveyed. No breakthrough.

Birmingham CID had gone back into their records for fifty years looking for criminals with a known record of violence who might have left the city long ago. Eight possibles had come up and all had been investigated and cleared; either dead, in prison, or identifiably somewhere else.

Among one of Scotland Yard’s resources, little known to the public, is the voice bank. With modern technology, human voices can be broken down to a series of peaks and lows, representing the way a speaker inhales, exhales, uses tone and pitch, forms his words, and delivers them. The trace-pattern on the oscillograph is like a fingerprint; it can be matched and, if there is a sample on file, identified.

Often unknown to themselves, many criminals have tapes of their voices in the voice bank: obscene callers, anonymous informants, and others who have been arrested and taped in the interview room. Zack’s voice simply did not show up.

The forensic leads had also fizzled out. The spent cartridge cases, lead slugs, footprints, and tire tracks lay dormant in the police laboratories and refused to give up any more secrets.

“In a radius of fifty miles outside London, including the capital, there are eight million dwelling units,” said Cramer. “Plus dry drains, warehouses, vaults, crypts, tunnels, catacombs, and abandoned buildings. We once had a murderer and rapist called the Black Panther, who practically lived in a series of abandoned mines under a national park. He took his victims down there. We got him-eventually. Sorry, Mr. Quinn. We just go on looking.”

By the eighth day the strain in the Kensington apartment was telling. It affected the younger people more; if Quinn was experiencing it, he showed little trace. He lay on his bed a lot, between calls and briefings, staring at the ceiling, trying to get inside the mind of Zack and thence to work out how to handle the next call. When should he go for a final step? How to arrange the exchange?

McCrea remained good-natured but was becoming tired. He had developed an almost doglike devotion to Quinn, always prepared to run an errand, make coffee, or do his share of chores around the flat.

On the ninth day Sam asked permission to go out shopping. Grudgingly Kevin Brown called up from Grosvenor Square and gave it. She left the apartment, her first time outside for almost a fortnight, took a cab to Knightsbridge, and spent a glorious four hours wandering through Harvey Nichols and Harrods. In Harrods she treated herself to an extravagant and handsome crocodile-skin handbag.

When she got back, both men admired it very much. She also had a present for each of them: a rolled-gold pen for McCrea and a cashmere sweater for Quinn. The young CIA operative was touchingly grateful; Quinn put on the sweater and cracked one of his rare but dazzling smiles. It was the only lighthearted moment the three of them spent in that Kensington apartment.

In Washington the same day, the crisis management committee listened grimly to Dr. Armitage. The President had made no public appearances since the kidnapping, which a sympathetic populace understood, but his behavior behind the scenes had the committee members very concerned.

“I am becoming increasingly worried about the President’s health,” Dr. Armitage told the Vice President, National Security Adviser, four Cabinet Secretaries, and the Directors of the FBI and the CIA. “There have been periods of stress in government before, and always will be. But this is personal and much deeper. The human mind, let alone the body, is not equipped to tolerate these levels of anxiety for very long.”

“How is he physically?” asked Bill Walters, the Attorney General.

“Extremely tired, needing medication to sleep at night if he sleeps at all. Aging visibly.”

“And mentally?” asked Morton Stannard.

“You have seen him trying to handle the normal affairs of state,” Armitage reminded them. They all nodded soberly. “To be blunt, he is losing his grip. His concentration is ebbing; his memory is often faulty.”

Stannard nodded sympathetically but his eyes were hooded. A decade younger than Donaldson of State or Reed of Treasury, the Defense Secretary was a former international banker from New York, a cosmopolitan operator who had developed tastes for fine food, vintage wines, and French Impressionist art. During a stint with the World Bank he had established a reputation as a smooth and efficient negotiator, a hard man to convince-as Third World countries seeking overblown credits with small chance of repayment had discovered when they went away empty-handed.

He had made his mark at the Pentagon over the previous two years as a stickler for efficiency, committed to the notion that the American taxpayer should get a dollar’s worth of defense for his tax dollar. He had made his enemies there, among the military brass and the lobbyists. But then came the Nantucket Treaty, which had changed a few allegiances across the Potomac. Stannard found himself siding with the defense contractors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in opposing the sweeping cuts.

While Michael Odell had fought against Nantucket on gut feeling, Stannard’s priorities were also concerned with the brokerage of power, and his opposition to the treaty had not been wholly on philosophical grounds. Still, when he had lost his case in the Cabinet, not a flicker of expression had crossed his face; and none did now as he listened to the account of his President’s deterioration.

Not so Hubert Reed. “Poor man. God, poor man,” he murmured.

“The added problem,” concluded the psychiatrist, “is that he is not a demonstrative, emotional man. Not on the outside. Inside… of course, we all are. All normal people, anyway. But he bottles things up, won’t scream or shout. The First Lady is different-she does not have the strains of office; she’s more willing to accept medication. Even so, I think her condition is as bad, if not worse. This is her only child. And that’s an added pressure on the President.”

He left eight very worried men behind him when he returned to the Executive Mansion.

It was curiosity more than anything else that caused Andy Laing to stay on in his office two nights later, in the Jiddah branch of the Saudi Arabian Investment Bank, and consult his computer. What it showed stunned him.

The scam was still going on. There had been four further transactions since he had spoken to the general manager, who could have stopped it with a phone call. The rogue account was bloated with money, all diverted from Saudi public funds. Laing knew that peculation was no stranger to office-holding in Saudi Arabia, but these sums were huge, enough to finance a major commercial operation, or any other kind of operation.

He realized with a start of horror that Steve Pyle, a man he had respected, had to be involved. It would not be the first time a bank official had gone on the take. But it was still a shock. And to think he had gone with his findings straight to the culprit. He spent the rest of the night back at his apartment, bent over his portable typewriter. By chance his own hiring had taken place not in New York but in London, where he had been working for another American bank when the Rockman-Queens hired him.

London was also the base for European and Mideast operations of Rockman-Queens, the bank’s biggest office outside New York, and it housed the chief Internal Accountant for Overseas Operations. Laing knew his duty; it was to this officer that he mailed his report, enclosing four printout sheets from the computer as evidence of his claim.

If he had been a bit smarter he would have sent the package by the ordinary mails. But they were slow and not always reliable. He dropped his package in the bank’s courier bag, which normally would have gone direct from Jiddah to London. Normally. But since Laing’s visit to Riyadh a week earlier, the general manager had caused all Jiddah inclusions in the bag to pass via Riyadh. The next day Steve Pyle flicked through the outgoing mail, abstracted the Laing report, sent the rest on its way, and read what Laing had to say very carefully. When he had finished, he picked up the phone and dialed a local number.

“Colonel Easterhouse, we have a problem here. I think we should meet.”

On both sides of the Atlantic the media had said everything there was to say, then said it again and again, but still the words poured out. Experts of every kind, from professors of psychiatry to mediums, had offered their analyses and their advice to the authorities. Psychics had communed with the spirit world-on camera-and received a variety of messages, all contradictory. Offers to pay the ransom, whatever it was, had poured in from private individuals and wealthy foundations. The TV preachers had worked themselves into frenzies; vigils were mounted on church and cathedral steps.

The self-seekers had had a field day. Several hundred had offered themselves in place of Simon Cormack, secure in the knowledge that the transposition would never take place. On the tenth day after Zack’s first call to Quinn in Kensington, a new note crept into some of the broadcasts being beamed to the American people.

A Texas-based evangelist, whose coffers had received a large and unexpected donation from an oil corporation, claimed he had had a vision of divine inspiration. The outrage against Simon Cormack, and thus against his father the President, and thus against the United States, had been perpetrated by the Communists. There was no doubt of it. The message from the divine was picked up by national news networks and used briefly. The first shots of Plan Crockett had been fired, the first seeds sown.

Divested of her tailored working suit, which she had not worn since the first night in the apartment, Special Agent Sam Somerville was a strikingly attractive woman. Twice in her career she had used her beauty to help close a case. On one occasion she had several times dated a senior official of the Pentagon, finally pretending to pass out from drink in his apartment. Fooled by her unconsciousness, the man had made a highly compromising phone call, which had proved he was fixing defense contracts on behalf of preferred manufacturers and taking a kickback from the profits that resulted.

On another case she had accepted a dinner date from a Mafia boss and while in his limousine secreted a bug deep in the upholstery. What the Bureau heard from the device gave them enough to arraign the man on several federal charges.

Kevin Brown had been well aware of this when he chose her as the Bureau’s agent to bird-dog the negotiator the White House insisted on sending to London. He hoped Quinn would be as impressed as several other men had been and, thus weakened, would confide to Sam Somerville any inner thoughts or intentions that the microphones could not pick up.

What he had not counted on was the reverse occurring. On the eleventh evening in the Kensington apartment, the two met in the narrow corridor leading from the bathroom to the sitting room. There was hardly room to pass. On an impulse Sam Somerville reached up, put her arms ’round Quinn’s neck, and kissed him. She had wanted to do that for a week. She was not disappointed or rebuffed, but somewhat surprised at the longing in the kiss that he returned.

The embrace lasted for several minutes, while McCrea, unaware, toiled over a frying pan in the kitchen beyond the sitting room. Quinn’s hard brown hand stroked her gleaming blond hair. She felt waves of strain and exhaustion draining out of her.

“How much longer, Quinn?” she whispered.

“Not long,” he murmured. “A few more days if all goes well-maybe a week.”

When they returned to the sitting room and McCrea summoned them to eat, he did not notice a thing.

Colonel Easterhouse limped across the deep carpet of Steve Pyle’s office and stared out of the window, the Laing report on the coffee table behind him. Pyle watched him with a worried expression.

“I fear that young man could do our country’s interests here enormous harm,” said Easterhouse softly. “Inadvertent, of course. I’m sure he’s a conscientious young man. Nevertheless…”

Privately he was more worried than he gave out. His plan to arrange the massacre and destruction of the House of Sa’ud from the top down was in mid-stage and sensitive to disruption.

The Shi’ah fundamentalist Imam was in hiding, safe from the security police, since the entire file in the central security computer had been erased, wiping out all record of the man’s known contacts, friends, supporters, and possible locations. The zealot from the Mutawain Religious Police kept up the contact. Among the Shi’ah, recruitment was progressing, the eager volunteers being told only that they were being prepared for an act of lasting glory in the service of the Imam and thus of Allah.

The new arena was being completed on schedule. Its huge doors, its windows, side exits, and ventilation system were all controlled by a central computer, programmed with a system of Easterhouse’s devising. Plans for desert maneuvers to draw most of the regular Saudi Army away from the capital on the night of the dress rehearsal were well advanced. An Egyptian major general and two Palestinian military armorers were in his pay and prepared to substitute defective ammunition for the ordinary issue to the Royal Guard on the night in question.

His American Piccolo machine pistols, with their magazines and ammunition, were due by ship early in the new year, and arrangements were in place for their storage and preparation before issue to the Shi’ah. As he had promised Cyrus Miller, he needed U.S. dollars only for external purchases. Internal accounts could be settled in riyals.

That was not the story he had told Steve Pyle. The general manager of SAIB had heard of Easterhouse and his enviable influence with the royal family, and had been flattered to be asked to dinner two months earlier. When he had seen Easterhouse’s beautifully forged CIA identification he had been massively impressed. To think that this man was no free-lance, but really worked for his own government and only he, Steve Pyle, knew it.

“There are rumors of a plan afoot to topple the royal house,” Easterhouse had told him gravely. “We found out about it, and informed King Fahd. His Majesty has agreed to a joint effort between his security forces and the Company to unmask the culprits.”

Pyle had ceased eating, his mouth open in amazement. And yet it was all perfectly feasible.

“As you know, money buys everything in this country, including information. That’s what we need, and the regular Security Police funds cannot be diverted in case there are conspirators among the police. You know Prince Abdullah?”

Pyle had nodded. The King’s cousin, Minister of Public Works.

“He is the King’s appointed liaison with me,” said the colonel. “The Prince has agreed that the fresh funds we both need to penetrate the conspiracy shall come from his own budget. Needless to say, Washington at the highest level is desperately eager that nothing should happen to this most friendly of governments.”

And thus the bank, in the form of a single and rather gullible officer, had agreed to participate in the creation of the fund. What Easterhouse had actually done was to hack into the Ministry of Public Works’ accounting computer, which he had set up, with four fresh instructions.

One was to alert his own computer terminal every time the Ministry issued a draft in settlement of an invoice from a contractor. The sum of these invoices on a monthly basis was huge; in the Jiddah area the Ministry was funding roads, schools, hospitals, deep-water ports, sports stadiums, bridges, overpasses, housing developments, and apartment blocks.

The second instruction was to add 10 percent to every settlement, but transfer that 10 percent into his own numbered account in the Jiddah branch of the SAIB. The third and fourth instructions were protective: If the Ministry ever asked for the total in its account at the SAIB, its own computer would give the total plus 10 percent. Finally, if questioned directly, it would deny all knowledge and erase its memory. So far the sum in Easterhouse’s account was 4 billion riyals.

What Laing had noticed was the weird fact that every time the SAIB, on instructions from the Ministry, made a credit transfer to a contractor, a matching transfer of precisely 10 percent of that sum went from the Ministry’s account to a numbered account in the same bank.

Easterhouse’s swindle was just a variation of the Fourth Cash Register scam, and could only be uncovered by the full annual Ministry audit the following spring. (The fraud is based on the tale of the American bar owner who, though his bar was always full, became convinced his take was 25 percent less than it ought to be. He hired the best private detective, who took the room above the bar, bored a hole in the floor, and spent a week on his belly watching the bar below. Finally he reported: I’m sorry to have to say this, but your bar staff are honest people. Every dollar and dime that crosses that bar goes into one of your four cash registers. “What do you mean, four?” asked the bar owner. “I only installed three.”)

“One does not wish any harm to this young man,” said Easterhouse, “but if he is going to do this sort of thing, if he refuses to stay quiet, would it not be wise to transfer him back to London?”

“Not so easy. Why would he go without protest?” asked Pyle.

“Surely,” said Easterhouse, “he believes this package to have reached London. If London summons him-or that is what you tell him-he will go like a lamb. All you have to tell London is that you wish him reassigned. Grounds: He is unsuitable here, has been rude to the staff and damaged the morale of his colleagues. His evidence is right here in your hands. If he makes the same allegations in London, he will merely prove your point.”

Pyle was delighted. It covered every contingency.

Quinn knew enough to know there was probably not one bug but two in his bedroom. It took him an hour to find the first, another to trace the second. The big brass table lamp had a one-millimeter hole drilled in its base. There was no need for such a hole; the cord entered at the side of the base. The hole was right underneath. He chewed for several minutes on a stick of gum-one of several given him by Vice President Odell for the transatlantic crossing-and shoved the wad firmly into the aperture.

In the basement of the embassy the duty ELINT man at the console turned around after several minutes and called over an FBI man. Soon afterward, Brown and Collins were in the listening post.

“One of the bedroom bugs just went out,” said the engineer. “The one in the base of the table lamp. Showing defective.”

“Mechanical fault?” asked Collins. Despite the makers’ claims, technology had a habit of fouling up at regular intervals.

“Could be,” said the ELINT man. “No way of knowing. It seems to be alive. But its sound-level reception is batting zero.”

“Could he have discovered it?” asked Brown. “Shoved something in it? He’s a tricky son of a bitch.”

“Could be,” said the engineer. “Want we should go down there?”

“No,” said Collins. “He never talks in the bedroom anyway. Just lies on his back and thinks. Anyway, we have the other, the one in the wall outlet.”

That night, the twelfth since Zack’s first call, Sam came to Quinn’s room, at the opposite end of the apartment from where McCrea slept. The door uttered a click as it opened.

“What was that?” asked one of the FBI men sitting through the night watch beside the engineer. The technician shrugged.

“Quinn’s bedroom. Door catch, window. Maybe he’s going to the can. Needs some fresh air. No voices, see?”

Quinn was lying on his bed, silent in the near darkness, the street-lamps of Kensington giving a low light to the room. He was quite immobile, staring up at the ceiling, naked but for the sarong wrapped around his waist. When he heard the door click he turned his head. Sam stood in the entrance without a word. She, too, knew about the bugs. She knew her own room was not tapped, but it was right next to McCrea’s.

Quinn swung his legs to the floor, knotted his sarong, and raised one finger to his lips in a gesture to keep silent. He left the bed without a sound, took his tape recorder from the bedside table, switched it on, and placed it by an electrical outlet in the baseboard six feet from the head of the bed.

Still without a sound he took the big club chair from the corner, upended it, and placed it over the tape recorder and against the wall, using pillows to stuff into the cracks where the arms of the club chair did not reach the wall.

The chair formed four sides of a hollow box, the other two sides being the floor and the wall. Inside the box was the tape recorder.

“We can talk now,” he murmured.

“Don’t want to,” whispered Sam and held out her arms.

Quinn swept her up and carried her to the bed. She sat up for a second and slipped out of her silk nightgown. Quinn lay down beside her. Ten minutes later they became lovers.

In the embassy basement the engineer and two FBI men listened idly to the sound coming from the baseboard outlet two miles away.

“He’s gone,” said the engineer. The three listened to the steady, rhythmic breathing of a man fast asleep, recorded the previous night when Quinn had left the tape recorder on his pillow. Brown and Seymour wandered into the listening post. Nothing was expected that night; Zack had phoned during the six o’clock evening rush hour- Bedford railway station, no sighting possible.

“I do not understand,” said Patrick Seymour, “how that man can sleep like that with the level of stress he’s under. Me, I’ve been catnapping for two weeks and wonder if I’ll ever sleep again. He must have piano wire for nerves.”

The engineer yawned and nodded. Normally his work for the Company in Britain and Europe did not require much night work, certainly not back-to-back like this, night after night.

“Yeah, well, I wish to hell I was doing what he’s doing.”

Brown turned without a word and returned to the office that had been converted into his quarters. He had been nearly fourteen days in this damn city, becoming more and more convinced the British police were getting nowhere and Quinn was just playing footsie with a rat who ought not to be counted among the human race. Well, Quinn and his British pals might be prepared to sit on their collective butts till hell froze over; he had run out of patience. He resolved to get his team around him in the morning and see if a little old-fashioned detective work could produce a lead. It would not be the first time a mighty police force had overlooked some tiny detail.

Chapter 8

Quinn and Sam spent almost three hours in each other’s arms, alternately making love and talking in low whispers. She did most of the talking, of herself and her career in the Bureau. She also warned Quinn of the abrasive Kevin Brown, who had chosen her for this mission and had established himself in London with a team of eight to “keep an eye on things.”

She had fallen into a deep and dreamless sleep, the first time in a fortnight she had slept so well, when Quinn nudged her awake.

“It’s only a three-hour tape,” he whispered. “It’s going to run out in fifteen minutes.”

She kissed him again, slipped into her nightgown, and tiptoed back to her room. Quinn eased the armchair away from the wall, grunted a few times for the benefit of the wall microphone, switched off the tape recorder, rolled onto the bed, and genuinely went to sleep. The sounds recorded in Grosvenor Square were of a sleeping man shifting position, rolling over, and resuming his slumbers. The engineer and two FBI men glanced at the console, then back to their cards.

Zack called at half past nine. He seemed more brusque and hostile than on the previous day-a man whose nerves were beginning to fray, a man on whom the pressure was mounting and who had decided to exert some pressure of his own.

“All right, you bastard, now listen. No more sweet talk. I’ve had enough. I’ll settle for your bloody two million dollars but that’s the lot. You ask for one more thing and I’ll send you a couple of fingers. I’ll take a hammer and chisel to the little prick’s right hand-see if Washington likes you after that.”

“Zack, cool it,” pleaded Quinn earnestly. “You’ve got it. You win. Last night I told them over there to screw it up to two million dollars or I’m out. Jesus, you think you’re tired? I don’t even sleep at all, in case you call.”

Zack seemed pacified by the thought that there was someone with nerves more ragged than his own.

“One more thing,” he growled. “Not money. Not in cash. You bastards would try to bug the suitcase. Diamonds. This is how…”

He talked for ten more seconds, then hung up. Quinn took no notes. He did not need to. It was all on tape. The call had been traced to one of a bank of three public booths in Saffron Waiden, a market town in western Essex, just off the M.11 motorway from London to Cambridge. It took three minutes for a plainclothes policeman to wander past the booths, but all were empty. The caller had been swallowed in the crowds.

At the time, Andy Laing was having lunch in the executive canteen of the Jiddah branch of the SAIB. His companion was his friend and colleague the Pakistani operations manager, Mr. Amin.

“I am being very puzzled, my friend,” said the young Pakistani. “What is going on?”

“I don’t know,” said Laing. “You tell me.”

“You know the daily mail bag from here to London? I had an urgent letter for London, with some documents included. I need a quick reply. When will I get it? I ask myself. Why has it not come? I asked the mailroom why there is no reply. They tell me something very strange.”

Laing put down his knife and fork.

“What is that, old pal?”

“They tell me all is delayed. All packages from here for London are being diverted to the Riyadh office for a day before they go forward.”

Laing lost his appetite. There was a feeling in the pit of his stomach and it was not hunger.

“How long did they say this has been going on?”

“Since one week, I do believe.”

Laing left the canteen for his office. There was a message on his desk from the branch manager, Mr. Al-Haroun. Mr. Pyle would like to see him in Riyadh without delay.

He made the mid-afternoon Saudia commuter flight. On the journey he could have kicked himself. Hindsight is all very well, but if only he had sent his London package by regular mail… He had addressed it to the chief accountant personally, and a letter so addressed, in his distinctive handwriting, would stand out a mile when the letters were spread across Steve Pyle’s desk. He was shown into Steve Pyle’s office just after the bank closed its doors for public business.

Nigel Cramer came around to see Quinn during the lunch hour, London time.

“You’ve closed your exchange at two million dollars,” he said. Quinn nodded.

“My congratulations,” said Cramer. “Thirteen days is fast for this sort of thing. By the way, my tame shrink has listened to this morning’s call. He takes the view the man is serious, under a lot of pressure to get out.”

“He’ll have to take a few more days,” said Quinn. “We all will. You heard him ask for diamonds instead of cash. They’ll take time to put together. Any leads on their hideout?”

Cramer shook his head.

“I’m afraid not. Every last conceivable property rental has been checked out. Either they’re not in residential quarters at all, or they’ve bought the damn thing. Or borrowed it.”

“No chance of checking outright purchases?” asked Quinn.

“I’m afraid not. The volume of properties being bought and sold in southeast England is enormous. There are thousands and thousands owned by foreigners, foreign corporations, or companies whose nominees-lawyers, banks, et cetera-acted for them in the sale. Like this place, for example.”

He got in a dig at Lou Collins and the CIA, who were listening.

“By the way, I talked with one of our men in the Hatton Garden district. He spoke to a contact in diamond trading. Whoever he is, your man knows his diamonds. Or one of his colleagues does. What he asked for is easily purchasable and easily disposable. And light. About a kilogram, perhaps a bit more. Have you thought about the exchange?”

“Of course,” said Quinn. “I’d like to handle it myself. But I want no concealed bugs-they’ll probably think of that. I don’t think they’ll bring Simon to the rendezvous, so he could still die if there were any tricks.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Quinn. We’d obviously like to try and grab them, but I take your point. There’ll be no tricks from us, no heroics.”

“Thank you,” said Quinn. He shook hands with the Scotland Yard man, who left to report progress to the one o’clock COBRA committee.

Kevin Brown had spent the morning secluded in his office beneath the embassy. When the stores opened he had sent out two of his men to buy him a list of items he needed: a very large-scale map of the area north of London, extending fifty miles in all directions; a matching sheet of clear plastic; map pins; wax pencils in different colors. He assembled his team of detectives and spread the plastic across the map.

“Okay, let’s just look at these phone booths the rat has been using. Chuck, read them out one by one.”

Chuck Moxon studied his list. “First call, Hitchin, county of Hertfordshire.”

“Okay, we have Hitchin right… here.” A pin was stuck in Hitchin.

Zack had made eight calls in thirteen days; the ninth was about to come in. One by one, pins were stuck in the site of each call. Just before ten o’clock one of the two FBI men in the listening post stuck his head around the door.

“He just called again. Threatening to cut off Simon’s fingers with a chisel.”

“Hot damn,” swore Brown. “That fool Quinn’s going to blow it away. I knew he would. Where’d the call come from?”

“Place called Saffron Waiden,”said the young man.

When the nine pins were in place, Brown joined up the perimeter of the area they bounded. It was a jagged shape, involving pieces of five counties. Then he took a ruler and joined the extremities to their opposites on the other side of the pattern. In the approximate center a web of crisscross lines appeared. To the southeast the extremity was Great Dunmow, Essex; to the north was St. Neots, Cambridgeshire; and to the west, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

“The densest area of the crossed lines lies right here,” Brown pointed out with his fingertip, “just east of Biggleswade, county of Bedfordshire. No calls from that area at all. Why?”

“Too close to base?” ventured one of the men.

“Could be, boy, could be. Look, I want you to take these two country towns, Biggleswade and Sandy, the two closest to the geographic center of the web. Get up there and visit all the realtors who have offices in those towns. Make like you are prospective clients, looking to rent a secluded house to write a book or something. Listen to what they say-maybe some place that’ll be free soon, maybe some place they could have let you have three months back but it went to someone else. You got it?”

They all nodded.

“Should we let Mr. Seymour know we’re on our way?” asked Moxon. “I mean, maybe Scotland Yard has been in that area.”

“You leave Mr. Seymour to me,” said Brown reassuringly. “We get along just fine. And the bobbies may have been up there and they may just have overlooked something. Maybe so, maybe not. Let’s just check it out.”

Steve Pyle greeted Laing with an attempt at his usual geniality.

“I… ah… called you up here, Andy, because I just got a request from London that you go visit with them. Seems this could be the start of a career move for you.”

“Sure,” said Laing. “Would this request from London have anything to do with the package and report I sent them, which never arrived because it was intercepted right here in this office?”

Pyle dropped all semblance of bonhomie.

“All right. You’re smart, maybe too smart. But you’ve been dabbling in things that don’t concern you. I tried to warn you off, but no, you had to go playing private detective. Okay, now I’ll level with you. I’m transferring you back to London. You don’t fit in down here, Laing. I’m not happy with your work. You’re going back. That’s it. You have seven days to put your desk in order. Your ticket’s been booked. Seven days from now.”

Had he been older, more mature, Andy Laing would probably have played his cards more coolly. But he was angry that a man of Pyle’s eminence in the bank could be ripping off client money for his own enrichment. And he had the naïveté of the young and eager, the conviction that Right would triumph. He turned at the door.

“Seven days? Time enough for you to fix things with London? No way. I’m going back all right, but I’m going back tomorrow.”

He was in time for the last flight of the night back to Jiddah. When he got there he went straight to the bank. He kept his passport in the top drawer of his desk, along with any other valuable papers-burglaries of European-owned apartments in Jiddah are not unheard-of, and the bank was safer. At least, it was supposed to be. The passport was missing.

* * *

That night there was a stand-up row among the four kidnappers.

“Keep your bloody voices down,” hissed Zack on several occasions. “Baissez les voix, merde.”

He knew his men were running to the limit of their patience. It was always a risk, using this kind of human material. After the screaming adrenaline of the snatch outside Oxford, they had been penned up day and night in a single house, drinking beer from cans he had bought at a supermarket, keeping out of sight all the time, hearing callers at the door ring and ring before finally going away without an answer. The nervous strain had been bad, and these were not men with the mental resources to immerse themselves in books or thought. The Corsican listened to his French-language pop programs all day, interspersed with news flashes. The South African whistled tunelessly for hours on end, and always the same tune, “Marie Marais.” The Belgian watched the television, of which he could not understand a word. He liked the cartoons best.

The argument was over Zack’s decision to close with the negotiator called Quinn and have done with the whole thing at $2 million ransom.

The Corsican objected, and because they both spoke French, the Belgian tended to agree with him. The South African was fed up, wanted to get home, and agreed with Zack. The main argument from the Corsican was that they could hold out forever. Zack knew this was not true, but he was aware he could have a very dangerous situation on his hands if he told them they were beginning to show cracks, and could not take more than another six days of numbing boredom and inactivity.

So he appeased them, placated them, told them they had done brilliantly and would all be very rich men in just a few more days. The thought of all that money calmed them down and they subsided. Zack was relieved it had ended without blows. Unlike the three men in the house, his problem was not boredom but stress. Every time he drove the big Volvo along the crowded motorways he knew that one random police check, one brush with another car, one moment of inattention, would have a blue-capped officer leaning in his window, wondering why he wore a wig and false moustache. His disguise would pass in a crowded street, but not at six inches’ range.

Every time he went into one of those phone booths, he had a mental image of something going wrong, of a faster-than-usual trace, of a plainclothes policeman being only a few yards away, taking the alarm on his personal radio and walking up to the phone booth. Zack carried a gun, and knew he would use it to get away. If he did, he would have to abandon the Volvo, always parked a few hundred yards away, and escape on foot. Some idiot member of the public might even try to tackle him. It was getting to the point that whenever he saw a policeman sauntering along the crowded streets he chose for his phone calls, his stomach turned over.

“Go give the kid his supper,” he told the South African.

Simon Cormack had been fifteen days in his underground cell, and thirteen since he had answered the question about Aunt Emily and known that his father was trying to get him out. He realized now what solitary confinement must be like and wondered how people could survive months, even years of it. At least in the prisons he had heard of, inmates in solitary had writing materials, books, sometimes television, something to occupy the mind. He had nothing. But he was a tough boy and he determined not to go to pieces.

He exercised regularly, forcing himself to overcome the prisoner’s lethargy, doing his push-ups ten times a day, jogging in place a dozen times. He still wore his same running shoes, socks, shorts, and T-shirt, and was aware he must smell awful. He used the toilet bucket carefully, so as not to soil the floor, and was grateful it was removed every second day.

The food was boring, mainly fried or cold, but it was enough. He had no razor, of course, so he sported a straggly beard and moustache. His hair had grown; he tried to comb it with his fingers. He had asked for, and eventually been given, a plastic bucket of cold water and a sponge. He never realized how grateful a man could be for the chance to wash. He had stripped naked, running his shorts halfway up the ankle-chain to keep them dry, and sponged himself from head to foot, scouring his skin with the sponge to try to keep clean. After it he felt transformed. But he tried no escape maneuvers. The chain was impossible to break; the door solid and bolted from the outside.

Between exercises he tried to keep his mind occupied in a number of ways: reciting every poem he could remember, pretending to dictate his autobiography to an invisible stenographer so that he could go over everything that had ever happened to him in his twenty-one years. And he thought of home, of New Haven and Nantucket and Yale and the White House. He thought of his mom and dad and how they were; he hoped they weren’t worried about him, but expected they were. If only he could tell them he was all right, in good shape, considering…

There were three loud knocks on the cellar door. He reached for his black hood and put it on. Supper time-or was it breakfast…?

That same evening, but after Simon Cormack had fallen asleep, and Sam Somerville lay in Quinn’s arms while the tape recorder breathed into the wall outlet, five time zones farther west, the White House committee met in the late evening. Apart from the usual Cabinet members and department heads, Philip Kelly of the FBI and David Weintraub of the CIA also attended.

They heard the tapes of Zack on the phone to Quinn, the rasping tones of the British criminal and the reassuring drawl of the American trying to appease him, as they had done almost every day for two weeks.

When Zack had finished, Hubert Reed was pale with shock.

“My God,” he said, “cold chisel and hammer. The man’s an animal.”

“We know that,” said Odell. “But at least now we have an agreed ransom. Two million dollars. In diamonds. Any objections?”

“Of course not,” said Jim Donaldson. “This country will pay that easily, for the President’s son. I’m just surprised it’s taken two weeks.”

“Actually, that’s pretty fast, or so I’m told,” said Bill Walters. Don Edmonds of the FBI nodded his agreement.

“We want to rehear the rest, the tapes from the apartment?” asked the Vice President.

No one needed to.

“Mr. Edmonds, what about what Mr. Cramer, the Scotland Yard man, told Quinn? Any comments from your people?”

Edmonds cast a sidelong glance at Philip Kelly, but answered for the Bureau.

“Our people at Quantico agree with their British colleagues,” he said. “This Zack is at the end of his tether, wants to close it down, make an exchange. The strain in his voice is coming through, hence the threats most probably. They also agree with the analysts over there on another thing. Which is that Quinn appears to have established some kind of wary empathy with this animal Zack. It seems his efforts-which are what has taken two weeks”-he glanced at Jim Donaldson as he spoke-“to portray himself as the guy trying to help Zack, and all the rest of us here and there as the bad guys making problems, has worked. Zack has an element of trust for Quinn, but for no one else. That may prove crucial at the safe-handover process. At least, that’s what the voice analysts and behavioral psychologists are saying.”

“Lord, what a job, having to sweet-talk scum like that,” observed Jim Donaldson with distaste.

David Weintraub, who had been staring at the ceiling, cast an eye toward the Secretary of State. To keep these amateurs in their high office, he might have said but did not, he and his people sometimes had to deal with creatures just as nasty as Zack.

“Okay, gentlemen,” said Odell, “we go with the deal. At last the ball is back with us in America, so let’s make it fast. Personally I think this Quinn has done a pretty good job. If he can get the boy back safe and sound, we owe him. Now, diamonds. Where do we get them?”

“ New York,” said Weintraub, “diamond center of the country.”

“Morton, you’re from New York. Have you got any discreet contacts you could tap into fast?” Odell asked the ex-banker.

“Certainly,” Stannard said. “When I was with Rockman-Queens we had a number of clients who were high in the diamond trade. Very discreet-they have to be. You want me to handle it? How about the money?”

“The President has insisted he will personally pay the ransom, won’t have it any other way,” said Odell. “But I don’t see why he should be troubled by these details. Hubert, could the Treasury make a personal loan until the President can liquidate trust funds?”

“No problem,” said Hubert Reed. “You’ll have your money, Morton.”

The committee rose. Odell had to see the President over at the Executive Mansion.

“Fast as you can, Morton,” he said. “We want to be talking here in two to three days. Tops.”

In fact, it would take another seven.

It was not until morning that Andy Laing could secure an interview with Mr. Al-Haroun, the branch manager. But he did not waste the night.

Mr. Al-Haroun, when confronted, was as gently apologetic as only a well-bred Arab can be when confronted by an angry Occidental. The matter gave him enormous regret, no doubt an unhappy situation whose solution lay in the lap of the all-merciful Allah; nothing would give him greater pleasure than to return to Mr. Laing his passport, which he had taken into nightly safekeeping only at the specific request of Mr. Pyle. He went to his safe and, with slim brown fingers, withdrew the blue United States passport and handed it back.

Laing was mollified, thanked him with the more formal and gracious “Ashkurak,” and withdrew. Only when he had returned to his own office did it occur to him to flick through the passport’s pages.

In Saudi Arabia, foreigners not only need an entry visa, but an exit visa as well. His own, formerly valid without limit of time, had been canceled. The stamp of the Jiddah Immigration Control office was perfectly genuine. No doubt, he mused bitterly, Mr. Al-Haroun had a friend in that bureau. It was, after all, the local way of doing things.

Aware there was no going back, Andy Laing determined to scrap it out. He recalled something the Operations manager had once told him.

“Amin, my friend, did you not mention once that you had a relative in the Immigration Service here?” he asked him. Amin saw no trap in the question.

“Yes, indeed. A cousin.”

“In which office is he based?”

“Ah, not here, my friend. He is in Dhahran.”

Dhahran was not near Jiddah, on the Red Sea, but right across the country in the extreme east, on the Persian Gulf. In the late morning Andy Laing made a phone call to Mr. Zulfiqar Amin at his desk in Dhahran.

“This is Mr. Steven Pyle, General Manager of the Saudi Arabian Investment Bank,” he said. “I have one of my officers conducting business in Dhahran at this moment. He will need to fly on urgent matters to Bahrein tonight. Unfortunately he tells me his exit visa is time-expired. You know how long these things can take through normal channels… I was wondering, in view of your cousin being in such high esteem with us… You will find Mr. Laing a most generous man…”

Using the lunch hour, Andy Laing returned to his apartment, packed his bags, and caught the 3:00 P.M. Saudia airline flight to Dhahran. Mr. Zulfiqar Amin was expecting him. The reissue of an exit visa took two hours and a thousand riyals.

Mr. Al-Haroun noticed the absence of the Credit and Marketing Manager around the time he took off for Dhahran. He checked the Jiddah airport, but only the international departures office. No trace of a Mr. Laing. Puzzled, he called Riyadh. Pyle asked if a block could be put on Laing’s boarding any flight at all, even internal.

“I’m afraid, dear colleague, that cannot be arranged,” said Mr. Al-Haroun, who hated to disappoint. “But I can ask my friend if he has left by any internal flight.”

Laing was traced into Dhahran just at the moment he crossed the frontier on the causeway to the neighboring Emirate of Bahrein. From there he easily caught a British Airways flight on a stopover from Mauritius to London.

Unaware that Laing had obtained a new exit visa, Pyle waited till the following morning, then asked his bank staff in the Dhahran office to check around the city and find out what Laing was doing there. It took them three days and they came up with nothing.

Three days after the Secretary of Defense was charged by the Washington committee with obtaining the package of diamonds demanded by Zack, he reported back that the task was taking longer than foreseen. The money had been made available; that was not the problem.

“Look,” he told his colleagues, “I know nothing about diamonds. But my contacts in the trade-I am using three, all very discreet and understanding men-tell me the number of stones involved is very substantial.

“This kidnapper has asked for uncut, rough melees-mixtures-of one fifth of a carat to half a carat, and of medium quality. Such stones, I am told, are worth between two hundred and fifty and three hundred dollars a carat. To be on the safe side they are calculating the base price of two-fifty. We are talking here about some eight thousand carats.”

“And what’s the problem?” asked Odell.

“Time,” said Morton Stannard. “At a fifth of a carat per stone, that would be forty thousand stones. At half a carat, sixteen thousand stones. With a mixture of different weights, let’s say twenty-five thousand stones. It’s a lot to put together this fast. Three men are buying furiously, and trying not to make waves.”

“What’s the bottom line?” asked Brad Johnson. “When can they be ready for shipment?”

“Another day, maybe two,” said the Defense Secretary.

“Stay on top of it, Morton,” Odell ordered. “We have the deal. We can’t keep this boy and his father waiting much longer.”

“The moment they’re in a bag, weighed and authenticated, you’ll have them,” said Stannard.

The following morning Kevin Brown took a private call in the embassy from one of his men.

“We may have hit pay dirt, Chief,” said the agent tersely.

“No more on an open line, boy. Get your ass in here fast. Tell me to my face.”

The agent was in London by noon. What he had to say was more than interesting.

East of the towns of Biggleswade and Sandy, both of which lie on the A.1 highway from London to the north, the county of Bedfordshire butts up against Cambridgeshire. The area is intersected only by minor B-class roads and country lanes, contains no large towns, and is largely given over to agriculture. The county border area contains only a few villages, with old English names like Potton, Tadlow, Wrestlingworth, and Gamlingay.

Between two of these villages, off the beaten path, lay an old farmhouse, partly ruined by fire but with one wing still furnished and habitable, in a shallow valley and approached by a single track.

Two months earlier, the agent had discovered, the place had been rented by a small group of supposed “rustic freaks,” who claimed they wanted to return to nature, live simply, and create artifacts in pottery and basket-weaving.

“The thing is,” said the agent, “they had the money for the rental in cash. They don’t seem to sell much pottery, but they can run two off-road Jeeps, which are parked undercover in the barns. And they mix with no one.”

“What’s the name of this place?” asked Brown.

“Green Meadow Farm.”

“Okay, we have enough time if we don’t hang around. Let’s go take a look at Green Meadow Farm.”

There were two hours of daylight left when Kevin Brown and the agent parked their car at the entrance to a farm lane and made the rest on foot. Guided by the agent, the pair approached with extreme caution, using the trees for cover, until they emerged from the tree line above the valley. From there they crawled the last ten yards to the edge of a rise and looked down into the valley. The farmhouse lay below them, its fire-gutted wing black in the autumn afternoon, a low gleam as from an oil lamp coming from one window of the other wing.

As they watched, a burly man came out of the farmhouse and crossed to one of the three barns. He spent ten minutes there, then returned to the house. Brown scanned the complex of farm buildings with powerful binoculars. Down the track to their left came a powerful Japanese off-road four-wheel-drive. It parked in front of the farm and a man climbed out. He gazed carefully around him, scanning the rim of the valley for movement. There was none.

“Damn,” said Brown. “Ginger hair, eyeglasses.”

The driver went into the farmhouse and emerged a few seconds later with the burly man. This time they had a big Rottweiler with them. The pair went to the same barn, spent ten minutes, and returned. The burly man drove the Jeep into another barn and closed the doors.

“Rustic pottery, my ass,” said Brown. “There’s something or someone in that damn barn. Five will get you ten it’s a young man.”

They wriggled back into the line of trees. Dusk was descending.

“Take the blanket from the trunk,” said Brown. “And stay here. Stake it out all night. I’ll be back with the team before sunup-if there ever is any sun in this damn country.”

Across the valley, stretched out along a branch in a giant oak, a man in camouflage uniform lay motionless. He, too, had powerful binoculars, with which he had noted the movements among the trees on the opposite side from his own position. As Kevin Brown and his agent slithered off the rim of the high ground and into the woodland, he drew a small radio from his pocket and spoke quietly and urgently for several seconds. It was October 28, nineteen days since Simon Cormack had been kidnapped and seventeen since Zack’s first call to the Kensington apartment.

Zack called again that evening, burying himself in the hurrying crowds in the center of Luton.

“What the hell’s going on, Quinn? It’s been three bloody days.”

“Hey, take it easy, Zack. It’s the diamonds. You caught us by surprise, ole buddy. That kind of package takes a while to put together. I laid it on them over there in Washington -I mean, but hard. They’re working on it as fast as they can, but hell, Zack, twenty-five thousand stones, all good, all untraceable-that takes a bit-”

“Yeah, well, just tell them they got two more days and then they get their boy back in a bag. Just tell ’em.”

He hung up. The experts would later say his nerves were badly shot. He was reaching the point where he might be tempted to hurt the boy out of frustration or because he thought he was being tricked in some way.

Kevin Brown and his team were good and they were armed. They came in four pairs, from the only four directions from which the farm could be assailed. Two skirted the track, darting from cover to cover. The other three pairs came from the trees and down the sloping fields in complete silence. It was that hour just before dawn when the light is at its trickiest, when the spirits of the quarry are at their lowest, the hour of the hunter.

The surprise was total. Chuck Moxon and his partner took the suspect barn. Moxon snipped off the padlock; his partner went in on the roll, coming to his feet on the dusty floor inside the barn with his sidearm drawn. Apart from a petrol generator, something that looked like a kiln, and a bench with an array of chemistry glassware, there was no one there.

The six men, plus Brown, who took the farmhouse, fared better. Two pairs went in through windows, taking the glass and the frames as they went, came to their feet without a pause, and headed straight upstairs to the bedrooms.

Brown and the remaining pair went through the front door. The lock shattered with a single blow of the sledgehammer and they were in.

By the embers of the fire in the grate of the long kitchen, the burly man had been asleep in a chair. It was his job to keep watch through the night, but boredom and tiredness had taken over. At the crash from the front door he came out of his chair and reached for a.12-bore shotgun that lay on the pine table. He almost made it. The shout of “Freeze!” from the door and the sight of the big crew-cut man crouched over a Colt.45 aimed straight at his chest caused the burly one to stop. He spat and slowly raised both hands.

Upstairs the red-haired man was in bed with the only woman in the group. They both awoke as the windows and doors crashed in downstairs. The woman screamed. The man went for the bedroom door and met the first FBI man on the landing. The fighting was too close for firearms; the two men went down together in the darkness and wrestled until another American could discern which was which and hit the redhead hard with the butt of his Colt.

The fourth member of the farmhouse group was led blinking out of his bedroom a few seconds later, a thin, scrawny young man with lank hair. The FBI team all had flashlights in their belts. It took two more minutes to examine all the other bedrooms and establish that four people was the limit. Kevin Brown had them all brought to the kitchen, where lamps were lit. He surveyed them with loathing.

“Okay, where’s the kid?” he asked. One of his men looked out the window.

“Chief, we have company.”

About fifty men were descending into the valley and toward the farmhouse on all sides, all in kneeboots, all in blue, a dozen with Alsatians straining at the leash. In an outhouse the Rottweiler roared his rage at the intrusion. A white Range Rover with blue markings jolted up the track to stop ten yards from the broken door. A middle-aged man in blue, aglitter with silver buttons and insignia, descended, a braided peaked cap on his head. He walked into the lobby without a word, entered the kitchen, and gazed at the four prisoners.

“Okay, we hand it over to you now,” said Brown. “He’s here somewhere. And those sleazeballs know where,”

“Exactly,” asked the man in blue, “who are you?”

“Yes, of course.” Kevin Brown produced his Bureau identification. The Englishman looked at it carefully and handed it back.

“See here,” said Brown, “what we’ve done-”

“What you’ve done, Mr. Brown,” said the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire with icy rage, “is to blow away the biggest drug bust this county was ever likely to have and now, I fear, never will have. These people are low-level minders and a chemist. The big fish and their consignment were expected any day. Now, would you please return to London?”

At that hour Steve Pyle was with Mr. Al-Haroun in the latter’s office in Jiddah, having flown to the coast following a disturbing phone call.

“What exactly did he take?” he asked for the fourth time. Mr. Al-Haroun shrugged. These Americans were even worse than the Europeans, always in a hurry.

“Alas, I am not an expert in these machines,” he said, “but my night watchman here reports…”

He turned to the Saudi night watchman, and rattled off a stream of Arabic. The man replied, holding out his arms to signify the extent of something.

“He says that the night I returned Mr. Laing his passport, duly altered, the young man spent most of the night in the computer room, and left before dawn with a large amount of computer printout. He returned for work at the normal hour without it.”

Steve Pyle went back to Riyadh a very worried man. Helping his government and his country was one thing, but in an internal accounting inquiry, that would not show up. He asked for an urgent meeting with Colonel Easterhouse.

The Arabist listened to him calmly and nodded several times.

“You think he has reached London?” he asked.

“I don’t know how he could have done it, but where the hell else could he be?”

“Mmmm. Could I have access to your central computer for a while?”

It took the colonel four hours at the console of the master computer in Riyadh. The job was not difficult, since he had all the access codes. By the time he had finished, all the computerized records had been erased and a new record created.

Nigel Cramer got a first telephone report from Bedford in mid-morning, long before the written record arrived. When he called Patrick Seymour at the embassy he was incandescent with anger. Brown and his team were still on the road south.

“Patrick, we’ve always had a damn good relationship, but this is outrageous. Who the hell does he think he is? Where the hell does he think he is?”

Seymour was in an impossible position. He had spent three years building on the excellent cooperation between the Bureau and the Yard which he had inherited from his predecessor, Darrell Mills. He had attended courses in England and arranged visits by senior Metropolitan officers to the Hoover Building to form those one-on-one relationships that in a crisis can cut through miles of red tape.

“What exactly was going on at the farm?” he asked. Cramer calmed down and told him. The Yard had had a tip months before that a big drug ring was setting up a new and major operation in England. After patient investigation the farm had been identified as the base. Covert Squad men from his own S.O. Department had mounted surveillance week after week, in liaison with the Bedford police. The man they wanted was a New Zealand-born heroin czar, sought in a dozen countries but slippery as an eel. The good news was, he was expected to show up with a large coke consignment for processing, cutting, and distributing; the bad news was, he would now not come near the place.

“I’m sorry, Patrick, but I’m going to have to ask the Home Secretary to have Washington send for him.”

“Well, if you must, you must,” said Seymour. As he put the phone down he thought: You go right ahead.

Cramer also had another task, even more urgent. That was to stop the story appearing in any publication, or on radio or TV. That morning he had to call on a lot of good will from the proprietors and editors of the media.

The Washington committee got Seymour ’s report at their first-7:00 A.M.-meeting of the day.

“Look, he got a first-class lead and he followed it up,” protested Philip Kelly. Don Edmonds shot him a warning glance.

“He should have cooperated with Scotland Yard,” said the Secretary of State. “What we don’t need is to foul relations with the British authorities at this point. What the hell am I to say to Sir Harry Marriott when he asks for Brown’s ouster?”

“Look,” said Treasury Secretary Reed, “why not propose a compromise? Brown was overzealous and we’re sorry. But we believe Quinn and the British will secure Simon Cormack’s release momentarily. When that happens, we need a strong group to escort the boy home. Brown and his team should be given a few days’ extension to accomplish that. Say, end of the week?”

Jim Donaldson nodded.

“Yes, Sir Harry might accept that. By the way, how is the President?”

“Bucking up,” said Odell. “Almost optimistic. I told him an hour ago Quinn had secured further proof Simon was alive and apparently well-the sixth time Quinn’s got the kidnappers to prove that. How about the diamonds, Morton?”

“Ready by sundown,” said Stannard.

“Get a fast bird standing by and ready,” said Vice President Odell. Stannard nodded and made a note.

* * *

Andy Laing finally got his interview with the internal accountant just after lunch that day. The man was a fellow-American and had been on a tour of European branches for the previous three days.

He listened soberly and with growing dismay to what the young bank officer from Jiddah had to say, and scanned the computer printouts across his desk with a practiced eye. When he had finished he leaned back in his chair, puffed out his cheeks, and exhaled noisily.

“Dear God, these are very serious accusations indeed. And yes, they appear to be substantiated. Where are you staying in London?”

“I still have an apartment in Chelsea,” said Laing. “I’ve been there since I arrived. Luckily my tenants moved out two weeks back.”

The accountant noted its address and phone number.

“I’m going to have to consult with the general manager here, maybe the president in New York. Before we face Steve Pyle with this. Stay close to the phone for a couple of days.”

What neither of them knew was that the morning pouch from Riyadh contained a confidential letter from Steve Pyle to the London-based general manager for Overseas Operations.

The British press was as good as its word, but Radio Luxembourg is based in Paris and for French listeners the story of a first-class row between their Anglo-Saxon neighbors to the west is too good to miss.

Where the tip-off really came from could never be later established, except that it was a phone-in and anonymous. But the London office checked it out and confirmed that the sheer secrecy of the Bedford police gave credence to the story. It was a thin day and they ran it on the four o’clock news.

Hardly anybody in England heard it, but the Corsican did. He whistled in amazement and went to find Zack. The Englishman listened carefully, asked several supplementary questions in French, and went pale with anger.

Quinn knew already, and that was a saving grace because he had time to prepare an answer in the event Zack called. He did, just after 7:00 P.M.and in a towering rage.

“You lying bastard. You said there’d be no cowboy antics from the police or anyone else. You bloody lied to me-”

Quinn protested that he did not know what Zack was talking about-it would have been too phony to know all the details without a reminder. Zack told him in three angry sentences.

“But that was nothing to do with you,” Quinn shouted back. “The Frogs got it wrong, as usual. It was a DEA drug-bust that went wrong. You know these Rambos from the Drug Enforcement Agency-they did it. They weren’t looking for you-they were looking for cocaine. I had a Scotland Yard man here an hour ago and he was puking about it. For chrissake, Zack, you know the media. If you believe them, Simon’s been sighted eight hundred different places and you’ve been caught fifty times.”

It was plausible. Quinn counted on Zack’s having spent three weeks reading miles of inaccurate nonsense in the tabloid papers and having a healthy contempt for the press. In a booth in Linslade bus depot, he calmed down. His phone time was running out.

“Better not be true, Quinn. Just better not,” he said, and hung up.

Sam Somerville and Duncan McCrea were pale with fear by the time the call ended.

“Where are those damn diamonds?” asked Sam.

There was worse to come. Like most countries, Britain has a range of breakfast-hour radio programs, a mix of mindless chitchat from the show host, pop music, news flashes, and phone-in trivia. The news is up-to-the-minute snippets torn from the wire service printers, hastily rewritten by junior subeditors, and thrust under the disc jockey’s nose. The pace of the programs is such that the careful checking and rechecking practiced by the investigative reporters of the Sunday “heavies” just does not take place.

When an American voice rang the busy news desk of City Radio’s Good Morning show, the call was taken by a girl trainee who later tearfully admitted she had not thought to query the claim that the speaker was the press counselor from the U.S. embassy with a genuine news bulletin. It went on the air in the excited tones of the D.J. seventy seconds later.

Nigel Cramer did not hear it but his teenage daughter did.

“Dad,” she called from the kitchen, “you going to catch them today?”

“Catch who?” said her father, pulling on his coat in the hall. His official car was at the curb.

“The kidnappers-you know.”

“I doubt it. Why do you ask?”

“Says so on the radio.”

Something hit Cramer hard in the stomach. He turned back from the door and into the kitchen. His daughter was buttering toast.

“What, exactly, did it say on the radio?” he asked in a very tight voice. She told him. That an exchange of the ransom for Simon Cormack would be set up within the day, and that the authorities were confident all the kidnappers would be caught in the process. Cramer ran out to his car, took the handset from the dashboard, and began to make a series of frantic calls as the car rolled.

It was too late. Zack had not heard the program, but the South African had.

Chapter 9

The call from Zack was later than usual-10:20 A.M. If he had been angry the previous day over the matter of the raid on the Bedfordshire farm, he was by now almost hysterical with rage.

Nigel Cramer had had time to warn Quinn, speaking from his car as it sped toward Scotland Yard. When Quinn put down the phone, it was the first time Sam had seen him appear visibly shaken. He paced the apartment in silence; the other two sat and watched in fear. They had heard the gist of Cramer’s call and sensed that it was all going to fail, somehow, somewhere.

Just waiting for the flash line to ring, not even knowing whether the kidnappers would have heard the radio show at all, or how they would react if they had, made Sam nauseous from stress. When the phone finally rang, Quinn answered it with his usual calm good humor. Zack did not even bother with preambles.

“Right, this time you’ve bloody blown it, you Yankee bastard. You take me for some kind of fool, do you? Well, you’re the fool, mate. ’Cos you’re going to look a right fool when you bury Simon Cormack’s body.”

Quinn’s shock and amazement were convincingly feigned.

“Zack, what the hell are you talking about? What’s gone wrong?”

“Don’t give me that,” screamed the kidnapper, his gruff voice rising. “If you didn’t hear the news, then ask your police mates about it. And don’t pretend it was a lie-it came from your own sodding embassy.”

Quinn persuaded Zack to tell him what he had heard, even though he knew. The telling caused Zack to calm down slightly; and his time was running out.

“Zack, it’s a lie, a phony. Any exchange would be just you and me, pal. Alone and unarmed. No direction-finder devices, no tricks, no police, no soldiers. Your terms, your place, your time. That’s the only way I’d have it.”

“Yeah, well, it’s too late. Your people want a body, that’s what they’re going to get.”

He was about to hang up. For the last time. Quinn knew if that happened it would be over. Days, weeks later, someone somewhere would enter a house or a flat, a cleaner, a caretaker, a real estate agent, and there he’d be. The President’s only son, shot through the head, or strangled, half decomposed…

“Zack, please, stay there just a few more seconds.”

Sweat was running off Quinn’s face, the first time he had ever shown the massive strain inside himself these past twenty days. He knew just how close it was to disaster.

In the Kensington exchange a group of Telecom engineers and police officers stared at the monitors and listened to the rage coming down the line; at Cork Street, beneath the pavements of smart Mayfair, four men from MI-5 were rooted in their chairs, motionless as the anger poured out of the speaker into the room and the tape deck wound silently around and around.

Below the U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square there were two ELINT engineers and three FBI agents, plus Lou Collins of the CIA and FBI representative Patrick Seymour. The news of the morning broadcast had brought them all to this place, anticipating something like what they were now hearing-which did not make it any better.

The fact that all the nation’s radio stations, including City Radio, had spent two hours denouncing the hoax call of the breakfast hour was irrelevant. They all knew that; leaks can be repudiated for the rest of time-it changes nothing. As Hitler said, the big lie is the one they believe.

“Please, Zack, let me get on to President Cormack personally. Just twenty-four hours more. After all this time, don’t throw it away now. The President’s got the authority to tell these assholes to get out of here and leave it to you and me. Just the two of us-we’re the only ones who can be trusted to get it right. All I ask, after twenty days, is just one more. Twenty-four hours, Zack, give me just that.”

There was a pause on the line. Somewhere along the streets of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, a young detective constable was moving casually toward the bank of phone booths.

“This time tomorrow,” said Zack finally, and put the phone down. He quit the booth and had just turned the corner when the plainclothes policeman emerged from an alley and glanced at the bank of phone booths. All were empty. He had missed spotting Zack by eight seconds.

Quinn replaced the phone, walked to the long couch, lay on his back with his hands clasped behind his head, and stared at the ceiling.

“Mr. Quinn,” said McCrea hesitantly. Despite repeated assurances that he could drop the “Mister,” the shy young CIA man insisted on treating Quinn like his grade-school teacher.

“Shut up,” said Quinn clearly. The crestfallen McCrea, who had been about to ask if Quinn wanted coffee, went to the kitchen and made it anyway. The third, the “ordinary,” telephone rang. It was Cramer.

“Well, we all heard that,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“Beat,” said Quinn. “Any news on the source of the broadcast?”

“Not yet,” said Cramer. “The girl subeditor who took the call is still at Holborn police station. She swears it was an American voice, but what would she know? She swears the man made it sound convincingly official, knew what to say. You want a transcript of the broadcast?”

“Bit late now,” said Quinn.

“What are you going to do?” asked Cramer.

“Pray a bit. I’ll think of something.”

“Good luck. I have to go ’round to Whitehall now. I’ll stay in touch.”

The embassy came next. Seymour. Congratulations on the way Quinn had handled it… If there’s anything we can do… That’s the trouble, thought Quinn. Someone is doing too damn much. But he did not say it.

He was halfway through his coffee when he swung his legs off the couch and picked up the phone to the embassy. It was answered at once in the basement. Seymour again.

“I want a patch-through on a secure line to Vice President Odell,” he said, “and I want it now.”

“Er, look, Quinn, Washington is being alerted about what just happened here. They’ll have the tapes themselves momentarily. I figure we should let them hear what happened and discuss-”

“I speak with Michael Odell inside ten minutes, or I raise him on the open line,” said Quinn carefully.

Seymour thought it over. The open line was insecure. NSA would pick up the call with their satellites; the British GCHQ would get it. So would the Russians…

“I’ll get to him and ask him to take your call,” said Seymour.

Ten minutes later Michael Odell came on the line. It was 6:15 A.M. in Washington; he was still at his residence at the Naval Observatory. But he had been awakened half an hour earlier.

“Quinn, what the hell’s going on over there? I just heard some horse shit about a hoax call to a radio show-”

“Mr. Vice President,” said Quinn levelly, “have you a mirror nearby?”

There was a stunned pause.

“Yes, I guess so.”

“If you look in it, you will see the nose on your face, right?”

“Look, what is this? Yeah, okay, I can see the nose on my face.”

“As surely as what you are looking at, Simon Cormack is going to be murdered in twenty-four hours…”

He let the words sink in to the shocked man sitting on the edge of his bed in Washington.

“… unless…”

“Okay, Quinn, lay it on the line.”

“Unless I have that package of diamonds, market value two million dollars, here in my hands by sunrise, London time, tomorrow. This call has been taped, for the record. Good day, Mr. Vice President.”

He put the phone down. At the other end, for several minutes the Vice President of the United States of America used language that would have lost him the votes of the Moral Majority, had those good citizens had the opportunity to hear him. When he was done, he called the telephone operator.

“Get me Morton Stannard,” he said. “At his home, wherever. Just get him!”

Andy Laing was surprised to be summoned back to the bank so quickly. The appointment was for 11:00 A.M. and he was there ten minutes early. When he was shown up, it was not to the office of the internal accountant, but to that of the general manager. The accountant was by the GM’s side. The senior officer gestured Laing to a seat opposite his desk without a word. The man then rose, walked to the window, stared out for a while over the pinnacles of the City, turned and spoke. His tone was grave and frosty.

“Yesterday, Mr. Laing, you came to see my colleague here, having quit Saudi Arabia by whatever means you were able, and made serious allegations concerning the integrity of Mr. Steven Pyle.”

Laing was worried. Mr. Laing? Where was “Andy”? They always first-named each other in the bank, part of the family atmosphere New York insisted on.

“And I brought a mass of computer printout to back up what I had found,” he said carefully, but his stomach was churning. Something was wrong. The general manager waved dismissively at the mention of Laing’s evidence.

“Yesterday I also received a long letter from Steve Pyle. Today I had a lengthy phone call. It is perfectly clear to me, and to the internal accountant here, that you are a rogue, Laing, and an embezzler.”

Laing could not believe his ears. He shot a glance for support at the accountant. The man stared at the ceiling.

“I have the story,” said the GM. “The full story. The real story.”

In case Laing was unfamiliar with it, he told the young man what he now knew to be true. Laing had been embezzling money from a client’s account, the Ministry of Public Works. Not a large amount in Saudi terms, but enough; one percent of every invoice paid out to contractors by the Ministry. Mr. Amin had unfortunately missed spotting the figures but Mr. Al-Haroun had seen the flaws and alerted Mr. Pyle.

The general manager at Riyadh, in an excess of loyalty, had tried to protect Laing’s career by only insisting that every riyal be returned to the Ministry’s account, something that had now been done.

Laing’s response to this extraordinary solidarity from a colleague, and in outrage at losing his money, had been to spend the night in the Jiddah Branch falsifying the records to “prove” that a much larger sum had been embezzled with the cooperation of Steve Pyle himself.

“But the tape I brought back-” protested Laing.

“Forgeries, of course. We have the real records here. This morning I ordered our central computer here to hack into the Riyadh computer and do a check. The real records now lie there, on my desk. They show quite clearly what happened. The one percent you stole has been replaced. No other money is missing. The bank’s reputation in Saudi Arabia has been saved, thank God-or, rather, thank Steve Pyle.”

“But it’s not true,” protested Laing, too shrilly. “The skim Pyle and his unknown associate were perpetrating was ten percent of the Ministry accounts.”

The GM looked stonily at Laing and then at the evidence fresh in from Riyadh.

“Al,” he asked, “do you see any record of ten percent being skimmed?”

The accountant shook his head.

“That would be preposterous in any case,” he said. “With such sums washing around, one percent might be hidden in a big Ministry in those parts. But never ten percent. The annual audit, due in April, would have uncovered the swindle. Then where would you have been? In a filthy Saudi jail cell forever. We do assume, do we not, that the Saudi Government will still be there next April?”

The GM gave a wintry smile. That was too obvious.

“No. I’m afraid,” concluded the accountant, “that it’s an open-and-shut case. Steve Pyle has not only done us all a favor, he has done you one, Mr. Laing. He’s saved you from a long prison term.”

“Which I believe you probably deserve,” said the GM. “We can’t inflict that in any case. And we don’t relish the scandal. We supply contract officers to many Third World banks, and a scandal we do not need. But you, Mr. Laing, no longer constitute one of those bank officers. Your dismissal letter is in front of you. There will, of course, be no severance pay, and a reference is out of the question. Now please go.”

Laing knew it was a sentence: never to work in banking ever again, anywhere in the world. Sixty seconds later he was on the pavement of Lombard Street.

In Washington, Morton Stannard had listened to the rage of Zack as the spools unwound on the conference table in the Situation Room.

The news out of London that an exchange was imminent, whether true or false, had galvanized a resurgence of press frenzy in Washington. Since before dawn the White House had been deluged with calls for information and once again the press secretary was at his wits’ end.

When the tape finally ran out the eight members present were silent with shock.

“The diamonds,” growled Odell. “You keep promising and promising. Where the hell are they?”

“They’re ready,” said Stannard promptly. “I apologize for my over-optimism earlier. I know nothing of such matters-I thought arranging such a consignment would take less time. But they are ready-just under twenty-five thousand mixed stones, all authentic and valued at just over two million dollars.”

“Where are they?” asked Hubert Reed.

“In the safe of the head of the Pentagon office in New York, the office that handles our East Coast systems-purchasing. For obvious reasons, it’s a very secure safe.”

“What about shipment to London?” asked Brad Johnson. “I suggest we use one of our air bases in England. We don’t need problems with the press at Heathrow, or anything like that.”

“I am meeting in one hour with a senior Air Force expert,” said Stannard. “He will advise how best to get the package there.”

“We will need a Company car to meet them on arrival and get them to Quinn at the apartment,” said Odell. “Lee, you arrange that. It’s your apartment, after all.”

“No problem,” said Lee Alexander of the CIA.

“I’ll have Lou Collins pick them up himself at the air base on touchdown.”

“By dawn tomorrow, London time,” said the Vice President. “In London, in Kensington, by dawn. We know the details of the exchange yet?”

“No,” said the Director of the FBI. “No doubt Quinn will work out the details in conjunction with our people.”

The U. S. Air Force proposed the use of a single-seat jet fighter to make the Atlantic crossing, an F-15 Eagle.

“It has the range if we fit it with FAST packs,” the Air Force general told Morton Stannard at the Pentagon. “We must have the package delivered to the Air National Guard base at Trenton, New Jersey, no later than two P.M.”

The pilot selected for the mission was an experienced lieutenant colonel with more than seven thousand flying hours on the F-15. Through the late morning the Eagle at Trenton was serviced as seldom before in her existence, and the FAST packs were fitted to each of the port and starboard air-intake trunks. These packs, despite their name, would not increase the Eagle’s speed; the acronym stands for “fuel and sensor tactical,” and they are really long-range extra fuel tanks.

Stripped down, the Eagle carries 23,000 pounds of fuel, giving her a ferry range of 2,878 miles; the extra 5,000 pounds in each FAST pack boost that to 3,450 miles.

In the navigation room Colonel Bowers studied his flight plan over a sandwich lunch. From Trenton to the USAF base at Upper Heyford outside the city of Oxford was 3,063 miles. The meteorology men told him the wind strengths at his chosen altitude of 50,000 feet, and he worked out that he would make it in 5.4 hours flying at Mach.95 and would still have 4,300 pounds of fuel remaining.

At 2:00 P.M. a big KC-135 tanker lifted off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington and headed for a midair rendezvous at 45,000 feet over the eastern seaboard with the Eagle.

At Trenton there was one last holdup. Colonel Bowers was in his flying suit by three o’clock, and ready to go, when the long black limousine from the Pentagon’s New York bureau came through the main gate. A civilian official, accompanied by an Air Force general, handed over a plain flat attaché case and a slip of paper with the number of the combination lock.

Hardly had he done so when another unmarked limousine entered the base. There was a flustered conference on the tarmac between two groups of officials. Eventually the attaché case and the slip of paper were retrieved from Colonel Bowers and taken to the rear seat of one of the cars.

The attaché case was opened and its contents, a flat pack of black velvet, ten inches by twelve inches and three inches thick, was transferred to a new attaché case. This was the one that was handed to the impatient colonel.

Interceptor fighters are not accustomed to hauling freight, but a storage space had been prepared right beneath the pilot’s seat, and it was here the attaché case was slotted. The colonel lifted off at 3:31 P.M.

He climbed rapidly to 45,000 feet, called up his tanker, and topped off his fuel tanks to begin the run for England with a full load. After fueling he nosed up to 50,000 feet, turned to his compass course for Upper Hey ford, and boosted power to settle at Mach.95, just below the shudder zone that marks the sound barrier. He caught his expected westerly tailwind over Nantucket.

Three hours after the Eagle rose from the tarmac at Trenton, a scheduled airlines jumbo jet had taken off from Kennedy for London Heathrow. In the business class section was a tall and clean-cut young man who had caught the flight after connecting from Houston. He worked for a major oil corporation there called Pan-Global and felt he was privileged to be entrusted by his employer, the proprietor himself, with such a discreet mission.

Not that he had the faintest idea of the contents of the envelope he carried within the breast pocket of the jacket he declined to hand over to the stewardess. Nor did he wish to know. He only knew it must contain documents of great corporate sensitivity, since it could not be mailed or faxed or sent by commercial courier pouch.

His instructions were clear; he had repeated them many times. He was to go to a certain address on a certain day-the following day-at a certain hour. He was not to ring the bell, just drop the envelope through the letter slot, then return to Heathrow Airport and Houston. Tiring but simple. Cocktails were being served, before dinner; he did not drink alcohol, so he gazed out the window.

The sky had long turned inky black above the heaving winter wastes of the North Atlantic, but above the cloud layer the stars were hard and bright. The young man staring out of the porthole could not know that far ahead of him another jet plane was howling through the darkness towards England. Neither he nor Colonel Bowers would ever know of the other’s existence, nor that each was racing towards the British capital on different missions; and neither would ever know exactly what it was he carried.

The colonel got there first. He touched down at Upper Heyford right on schedule at 1:55 A.M. local time, disturbing the sleep of the villagers beneath him as he made his final turn into the approach lights. The tower told him which way to taxi and he finally stopped in a bright ring of lights inside a hangar whose doors closed the moment he shut down his engines. When he opened the canopy the base commander approached with a civilian. It was the civilian who spoke.

“Colonel Bowers?”

“That’s me, sir.”

“You have a package for me?”

“I have an attaché case. Right under my seat.”

He stretched stiffly, climbed out, and clambered down the steel ladder to the hangar floor. Helluva way to see England, he thought. The civilian went up the ladder and retrieved the attaché case. He held out his hand for the combination code. Ten minutes later Lou Collins was back in his Company limousine, heading toward London. He reached the Kensington apartment at ten minutes after four. The lights still burned; no one had slept. Quinn was in the sitting room drinking coffee.

Collins laid the attaché case on the low table, consulted the slip of paper, and tumbled the rollers. From the case he took the flat, near-square, velvet-wrapped package and handed it to Quinn.

“In your hands, by dawn,” he said. Quinn hefted the pack in his hands. Just over a kilogram-about three pounds.

“You want to open it?” asked Collins.

“No need,” said Quinn. “If they are glass, or paste, or any part of them are, or any one of them, someone will probably blow away Simon Cormack’s life.”

“They wouldn’t do that,” said Collins. “No, they’re genuine all right. Do you think he’ll call?”

“Just pray he does,” said Quinn.

“And the exchange?”

“We’ll have to arrange it today.”

“How are you going to handle it, Quinn?”

“My way.”

He went off to his room to take a bath and dress. For quite a lot of people the last day of October was going to be a very rough day indeed.

The young man from Houston landed at 6:45 A.M. London time and, with only a small suitcase of toiletries, moved quickly through customs and into the concourse of Number Three Building. He checked his watch and knew he had three hours to wait. Time to use the washroom, freshen up, have breakfast, and take a cab to the center of London ’s West End.

At 9:55 he presented himself at the door of the tall and impressive apartment house a block back from Great Cumberland Place in the Marble Arch district. He was five minutes early. He had been told to be exact. From across the street a man in a parked car watched him, but he did not know that. He strolled up and down for five minutes, then, on the dot of ten, dropped the fat envelope through the letter slot of the apartment house. There was no hall porter to pick it up. It lay there on the mat inside the door. Satisfied that he had done as he had been instructed, the young American walked back down to Bayswater Road and soon hailed a cab for Heathrow.

Hardly was he around the corner than the man in the parked car climbed out, crossed the road, and let himself into the apartment house. He lived there-had done for several weeks. His sojourn in the car was simply to assure himself that the messenger responded to the given description and had not been followed.

The man picked up the fallen envelope, took the lift to the eighth floor, let himself into his apartment, and slit open the envelope. He was satisfied as he read, and his breath came in snuffles, whistling through the distorted nasal passages as he breathed. Irving Moss now had what he believed would be his final instructions.

* * *

In the Kensington apartment the morning ticked away in silence. The tension was almost tangible. In the telephone exchange, in Cork Street, in Grosvenor Square, the listeners sat hunched over their machines waiting for Quinn to say something or McCrea or Sam Somerville to open their mouths. There was silence on the speakers. Quinn had made it plain that if Zack did not call, it was over. The careful search for an abandoned house and a body would have to begin.

And Zack did not call.

At half past ten Irving Moss left his Marble Arch flat, took his rental car from its parking bay, and drove to Paddington Station. His beard, grown in Houston during the planning stages, had changed the shape of his face. His Canadian passport was beautifully forged and had brought him effortlessly into the Republic of Ireland and thence on the ferry to England. His driving license, also Canadian, had caused no problems in the renting of a compact car on long-term lease. He had lived quietly and unobtrusively for weeks behind Marble Arch, one of more than a million foreigners in the British capital.

He was a skilled enough agent to be able to drop into almost any city and disappear from view. London, in any case, he knew. He knew how things worked in London, where to go to obtain what he wanted or needed, had contacts with the underworld, was smart enough and experienced enough not to make mistakes of the kind that draw a visitor to the attention of the authorities.

His letter from Houston had been an update, filling in a range of details that it had not been possible to fit into coded messages to and from Houston in the form of price lists of market produce. There were also further instructions in the letter, but most interesting of all was the situation report from within the West Wing of the White House, notably the state of deterioration that President John Cormack had suffered these past three weeks.

Finally there was the ticket for the left-luggage office at Paddington Station, something that could only cross the Atlantic by hand. How it had got from London to Houston he did not know or want to know. He did not need to know. He knew how it had come back to London, to him, and now it was in his hand. At 11:00 A.M. he used it.

The British Rail staffer thought nothing of it. In the course of a day hundreds of packages, grips, and suitcases were consigned to his office for safekeeping, and hundreds more withdrawn. Only after being unclaimed for three months would a package be taken off the shelves and opened, for disposal if it could not be identified. The ticket presented that morning by the silent man in the medium-gray gabardine raincoat was just another ticket. He ranged along his shelves, found the numbered item, a small fiber suitcase, and handed it over. It was prepaid anyway. He would not remember the transaction by nightfall.

Moss took the case back to his apartment, forced the cheap locks, and examined the contents. They were all there, as he had been told they would be. He checked his watch. He had three hours before he need set off.

There was a house set in a quiet road on the outskirts of a commuter town not forty miles from the center of London. At a certain time he would drive past that house, as he did every second day, and the position of his driver’s window-fully up, half lowered, or fully down-would convey to the watcher the thing he needed to know. This day, for the first time, the window would be in the fully down position. He slotted one of his locally acquired S &M videotapes-ultra hard core, but he knew where to go for his supplies-into his television and settled back to enjoy himself.

When Andy Laing left the bank he was almost in a state of shock. Few men go through the experience of seeing an entire career, worked on and nurtured through years of effort, scattered in small and irrecoverable pieces at their feet. The first reaction is incomprehension; the second, indecision.

Laing wandered aimlessly through the narrow streets and hidden courtyards that hide between the roaring traffic of the City of London, the capital’s most ancient square mile and center of the country’s commercial and banking world. He passed the walls of monasteries that once echoed to the chants of the Grey friars, the Whitefriars, and the Blackfriars, past guildhalls where merchants had convened to discuss the business of the world when Henry VIII was executing his wives down the road at the Tower, past delicate little churches designed by Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666.

The men who scurried past him, and the increasingly large number of attractive young women, were thinking of commodity prices, buying long or short, or a flicker of movement in the money markets that might be a trend or just a flicker. They used computers instead of quill pens, but the outcome of their labors was still what it had been for centuries: trade, the buying and selling of things that other people made. It was a world that had captured Andy Laing’s imagination ten years before, when he was just finishing school, and it was a world he would never enter again.

He had a light lunch in a small sandwich bar off the street called Crutched Friars, where monks once hobbled with one leg bound behind them to cause pain for the greater glory of God, and he made up his mind what he would do.

He finished his coffee and took the underground back to his studio apartment in Beaufort Street, Chelsea, where he had prudently stored photocopies of the evidence he had brought out of Jiddah. When a man has nothing more to lose, he can become very dangerous. Laing decided to write it all down, from start to finish, to include copies of his printouts, which he knew to be genuine, and to send a copy to every member of the bank’s board of directors in New York. The membership of the board was public knowledge; their business addresses would be in the American Who’s Who.

He saw no reason why he should suffer in silence. Let Steve Pyle do some worrying for a change, he thought. So he sent the general manager in Riyadh a personal letter telling him what he was going to do.

Zack finally rang at 1:20 P.M., the height of the lunchtime rush hour, while Laing was finishing his coffee, and Moss was entranced by a new child-abuse movie fresh in from Amsterdam. Zack was in one of a bank of four public booths set into the rear wall of Dunstable post office-as always, north of London.

Quinn had been dressed and ready since sunup, and that day there really was a sun to see, shining brightly out of a blue sky with only a hint of cool in the air. Whether he was feeling the cold neither McCrea nor Sam had thought to ask, but he had put on jeans, his new cashmere sweater over his shirt, and a zip-up leather jacket.

“Quinn, this is the last call-”

“Zack, old buddy, I am staring at a fruit bowl, a big bowl, and you know what? It’s full to the damn brim with diamonds, glittering and gleaming away like they were alive. Let’s deal, Zack. Let’s deal now.”

The mental image he had drawn stopped Zack in his tracks.

“Right,” said the voice on the phone. “These are the instructions-”

“No, Zack. We do this my way or it all gets blown to kingdom come…”

In the Kensington exchange, in Cork Street and Grosvenor Square, there was stunned silence among the listeners. Either Quinn knew just what he was doing or he was going to provoke the kidnapper into putting down the phone. Quinn’s voice went on without a pause.

“I may be a bastard, Zack, but I’m the only bastard in this whole damn mess you can trust and you’re going to have to trust me. Got a pencil?”

“Yeah. Now listen, Quinn-”

“You listen, buddy. I want you to move to another booth and call me in forty seconds on this number. Three-seven-oh; one-two-oh-four. Now GO!”

The last word was a shout. Sam Somerville and Duncan McCrea would later tell the inquiry that they were as stunned as those listening on the line. Quinn slammed down the phone, grabbed the attaché case-the diamonds were still inside it, not in a fruit bowl-and ran out the sitting-room door. He turned as he went and roared, “Stay there!”

The surprise, the shout, the authority in his command, kept them pinned in their chairs for a vital five seconds. When they reached the apartment’s front door they heard the key turn in the lock on the far side. Apparently it had been placed there in the predawn.

Quinn avoided the elevator and hit the stairs about the time McCrea’s first shout came through the door, followed by a hefty kick at the lock. Among the listeners there was already a nascent chaos that would soon grow to pandemonium.

“What the hell’s he doing?” whispered one policeman to another at the Kensington exchange, to be met by a shrug. Quinn was racing down the three flights of stairs to the lobby level. The inquiry would show that the American at the listening post in the basement apartment did not move because it was not his job to move. His job was to keep the stream of voices from inside the apartment above him recorded, encoded, radioed to Grosvenor Square for decoding and digestion by the listeners in the basement. So he stayed where he was.

Quinn crossed the lobby fifteen seconds after slamming down the phone. The British porter in his booth looked up, nodded, and went back to his copy of the Daily Mirror. Quinn pushed open the street door, which opened outward, closed it behind him, dropped a wooden wedge-which he had carved in the privacy of the toilet-under the sill and gave it a hard kick. Then he ran across the road, dodging the traffic.

“What do they mean, he’s gone?” shouted Kevin Brown in the listening post at Grosvenor Square. He had been sitting there all morning, waiting, as they all were, British and Americans alike, for Zack’s latest and maybe last call. At first the sounds coming from Kensington had been merely confusing; they heard the phone cut off, heard Quinn shout “Stay there!” at someone, dien a series of bangs, confused shouts and cries from McCrea and Somerville, then a series of regular bangs, as if someone was kicking a door.

Sam Somerville had come back into the room, shouting at the bugs: “He’s gone! Quinn’s gone!” Brown’s question could be heard in the listening post but not by Somerville. Frantically Brown scrambled for the phone that would connect him with his special agent in Kensington.

“Agent Somerville,” he boomed when he heard her on the line, “get after him.”

At that moment McCrea’s fifth kick broke the lock on the apartment door. He raced for the stairs, followed by Sam. Both were in bedroom slippers.

The greengrocer’s shop and delicatessen across the street from the apartment, whose number Quinn had obtained from the London telephone directory in the sitting-room cabinet, was called Bradshaw, after the man who had started it, but was now owned by an Indian gentleman called Mr. Patel. Quinn had watched him from across the street, tending his exterior fruit display or disappearing inside to attend to a customer.

Quinn hit the opposite pavement thirty-three seconds after ending his call from Zack. He dodged two pedestrians and came through the doorway into the food shop like a tornado. The telephone was on the cash desk, next to the register, behind which stood Mr. Patel.

“Those kids are stealing your oranges,” said Quinn without ceremony. At that moment the phone rang. Torn between a telephone call and stolen oranges, Mr. Patel reacted like a good Gujarati and ran outside. Quinn picked up the receiver.

The Kensington exchange had reacted fast, and the inquiry would show they had done their best. But they lost several of the forty seconds through sheer surprise, then had a technical problem. Their lock was on the flash line in the apartment. Whenever a call came into that number, their electronic exchange could run back up the line to establish the source of the call. The number it came from would then be revealed by the computer to be such-and-such a booth in a certain place. Between six and ten seconds.

They already had a lock on the number Zack had used first, but when he changed booths, even though the kiosks were side by side in Dunstable, they lost him. Worse, he was now ringing another London number into which they were not tapped. The only saving grace was that the number Quinn had dictated on the line to Zack was still on the Kensington exchange. Still, the tracers had to start at the beginning, their call-finder mechanism racing frantically through the twenty thousand numbers on the exchange. They tapped into Mr. Patel’s phone fifty-eight seconds after Quinn had dictated the number, then got a lock on the second number in Dunstable.

“Take this number, Zack,”said Quinn without preamble.

“What the hell’s going on?” snarled Zack.

“Nine-three-five; three-two-one-five,” said Quinn remorselessly. “Got it?”

There was a pause as Zack scribbled.

“Now we’ll do it ourselves, Zack. I’ve walked out on the lot of them. Just you and me; the diamonds against the boy. No tricks-my word on it. Call me on that number in sixty minutes, and ninety minutes if there’s no reply first time. It’s not on trace.”

He put the phone down. In the exchange the listeners heard the words “… minutes, and ninety minutes if there’s no reply first time. It’s not on trace.”

“Bastard’s given him another number,” said the engineer in Kensington to the two Metropolitan officers with him. One of them was already on the phone to the Yard.

Quinn came out of the shop to see Duncan McCrea across the road trying to push his way through the jammed street door. Sam was behind him, waving and gesticulating. The porter joined them, scratching his thinning hair. Two cars went down the street on the opposite side; on Quinn’s side a motorcyclist was approaching. Quinn stepped into the road, right in the man’s path, his arms raised, attaché case swinging from his left hand. The motorcyclist braked, swerved, skidded, and slithered to a stop.

“ ’Ere, wot on erf…”

Quinn gave him a disarming smile as he ducked around the handlebars. The short, hard kidney punch completed the job. As the youth in the crash helmet doubled over, Quinn hoisted him off his machine, swung his own right leg over it, engaged gear, and gunned the engine. He went off down the street just as McCrea’s flailing hand missed his jacket by six inches.

McCrea stood in the street, dejected. Sam joined him. They looked at each other, then ran back into the apartment building. The fastest way to talk to Grosvenor Square was to get back to the third floor.

“Right, that’s it,” said Brown five minutes later, after listening to both McCrea and Somerville on the line from Kensington. “We find that bastard. That’s the job.”

Another phone rang. It was Nigel Cramer from Scotland Yard.

“Your negotiator has done a bunk,” he said flatly. “Can you tell me how? I’ve tried the apartment-the usual number is engaged.”

Brown told him in thirty seconds. Cramer grunted. He still resented the Green Meadow Farm affair, and always would, but events had now overtaken his desire to see Brown and the FBI team off his patch.

“Did your people get the number of that motorcycle?” he asked. “I can put out an all-points on it.”

“Better than that,” said Brown with satisfaction. “That attaché case he’s carrying. It contains a direction finder.”

“It what?”

“Built in, undetectable, state-of-the-art,” said Brown. “We had it fitted out in the States, changed it for the case provided by the Pentagon just before takeoff last night.”

“I see,” said Cramer thoughtfully. “And the receiver?”

“Right here,” said Brown. “Came in on the morning commercial flight at dawn. One of my boys went out to Heathrow to pick it up. Range two miles, so we have to move. I mean right now.”

“This time, Mr. Brown, will you please stay in touch with the Met.’s squad cars? You do not make arrests in this City. I do. Your car has radio?”

“Sure.”

“Stay on open line, please. We’ll patch in on you and join you if you tell us where you are.”

“No problem. You have my word on it.”

The embassy limousine swept out of Grosvenor Square sixty seconds later. Chuck Moxon drove; his colleague beside him operated the D/F receiver, a small box like a miniature television set, save that on the screen in place of a picture was a single glowing dot. When the antenna now clipped to the metal rim above the passenger door heard the blip emitted from the D/F transmitter in Quinn’s attaché case, a line would race out from the glowing dot to the perimeter of the screen. The car’s driver would have to maneuver so that the line on the screen pointed dead ahead of his car’s nose. He would then be following the direction finder. The device in the attaché case would be activated by remote control from inside the limousine.

They drove fast down Park Lane, through Knightsbridge, and into Kensington.

“Activate,” said Brown. The operator depressed a switch. The screen did not respond.

“Keep activating every thirty seconds until we get lock-on,” said Brown. “Chuck, start to sweep around Kensington.”

Moxon took the Cromwell Road, then headed south down Gloucester Road toward Old Brompton Road. The antenna got a lock.

“He’s behind us, heading north,” said Moxon’s colleague. “Range, about a mile and a quarter.”

Thirty seconds later Moxon was back across the Cromwell Road, heading north up Exhibition Road toward Hyde Park.

“Dead ahead, running north,” said the operator.

“Tell the boys in blue we have him,” said Brown. Moxon informed the embassy by radio, and halfway up Edgware Road a Metropolitan Police Rover closed up behind them.

In the back with Brown were Collins and Seymour.

“Should have known,” said Collins regretfully. “Should have spotted the time gap.”

“What time gap?” asked Seymour.

“You recall that snarl-up in the Winfield House driveway three weeks back? Quinn set off fifteen minutes before me but arrived in Kensington three minutes ahead. I can’t beat a London cabbie in rush-hour traffic. He paused somewhere, made some preparations.”

“He couldn’t have planned this three weeks ago,” objected Seymour. “He didn’t know how things would pan out.”

“Didn’t have to,” said Collins. “You’ve read his file. Been in combat long enough to know about fallback positions in case things go wrong.”

“He’s pulled a right into St. John’s Wood,” said the operator.

At Lord’s roundabout the police car came alongside, its window down.

“He’s heading north up there,” said Moxon, pointing up the Finchley Road. The two cars were joined by another squad car and headed north through Swiss Cottage, Hendon, and Mill Hill. The range decreased to three hundred yards and they scanned the traffic ahead for a tall man wearing no crash helmet, on a small motorcycle.

They went through Mill Hill Circus just a hundred yards behind the bleeper and up the slope to Five Ways Corner. Then they realized Quinn must have changed vehicles again. They passed two motorcyclists who emitted no bleep, and two powerful motorbikes overtook them, but the D/F finder they sought was still proceeding steadily ahead of them. When the bleep turned around Five Ways Corner onto the A.1 to Hertfordshire, they saw that their target was now an open-topped Volkswagen Golf GTi whose driver wore a thick fur hat to cover his head and ears.

The first thing Cyprian Fothergill recalled about the events of that day was that as he headed toward his charming little cottage in the countryside behind Borehamwood he was suddenly overtaken by a huge black car that swerved violently in front of him, forcing him to scream to a stop in a lay-by. Within seconds three big men, he would later tell his open-mouthed friends at the club, had leaped out, surrounded his car, and were pointing enormous guns at him. Then a police car pulled in behind, then another one, and four lovely bobbies got out and told the Americans-well, they must have been Americans, and huge, they were-to put their guns away or be disarmed.

The next thing he knew-by this time he would have the undivided attention of the entire bar-one of the Americans tore his fur hat off and screamed “Okay, craphead, where is he?” while one of the bobbies reached into the open backseat and pulled out an attaché case that he had to spend an hour telling them he had never seen before.

The big gray-haired American, who seemed to be in charge of his party from the black car, grabbed the case from the bobby’s hands, flicked the locks, and looked inside. It was empty. After all that, it was empty. Such a terrifying fuss over an empty case… Anyway, the Americans were swearing like troopers, using language that he, Cyprian, had never heard before and hoped never to hear again. Then in stepped the British sergeant, who was quite out of this world…

At 2:25 P.M. Sergeant Kidd returned to his patrol car to answer the insistent calls coming through for him on the radio.

“Tango Alpha,” he began.

“Tango Alpha, this is Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cramer. Who’s that?”

“Sergeant Kidd, sir. F Division.”

“What have you got, Sergeant?”

Kidd glanced across at the cornered Volkswagen, its terrified inhabitant, the three FBI men examining the empty attaché case, two more Yankees standing back and staring hopefully at the sky, and three of his colleagues trying to take statements.

“Bit of a mess, sir.”

“Sergeant Kidd, listen carefully. Have you captured a very tall American who has just stolen two million dollars?”

“No, sir,” said Kidd. “We’ve captured a very gay hairdresser who’s just wet his pants.”

“What do you mean… disappeared?” The cry, shout, or yell, in a variety of tones and accents, was within an hour echoing around a Kensington apartment, Scotland Yard, Whitehall, the Home Office, Downing Street, Grosvenor Square, and the West Wing of the White House. “He can’t just disappear.”

But he had.

Chapter 10

Quinn had dropped the attaché case into the open back of the Golf only thirty seconds after swerving around the corner of the street containing the apartment house. When he had opened the case as Lou Collins presented it to him before dawn, he had not seen any direction-finding device, but did not expect to. Whoever had worked on the case in the laboratory would have been smarter than to leave any traces of the implant visible. Quinn had gambled on there being something inside the case to lead police and troops to whatever rendezvous he established with Zack.

Waiting at a traffic light, he had flicked open the locks, stuffed the package of diamonds inside his zipped leather jacket, and looked around. The Golf was standing next to him. The driver, muffled in his fur hat, had not noticed a thing.

Half a mile later Quinn abandoned the motorcycle; without the legally obligatory crash helmet, he was likely to attract the attention of a policeman. Outside the Brompton Oratory he hailed a cab, directed it to Marylebone, and paid it off in George Street, completing his journey on foot.

His pockets contained all he had been able to abstract from the apartment without attracting attention: his U. S. passport and driver’s license-though these would soon be useless when the alert went out-a wad of British money from Sam’s purse, his multibladed penknife, and a pair of pliers from the fuse cupboard. A chemist’s shop in Marylebone High Street had yielded a pair of plain-glass spectacles with heavy horn rims; and a men’s outfitters, a tweed hat and Burberry.

He made a number of further purchases at a confectioner’s, a hardware shop, and a luggage store. He checked his watch: fifty-five minutes from the time he had replaced the phone in Mr. Patel’s fruit store. He turned into Blandford Street and found the call box he sought on the corner of Chiltern Street, one of a bank of two. He took the second, whose number he had memorized three weeks earlier and dictated to Zack an hour before. It rang right on time.

Zack was wary, uncomprehending, and angry. “All right, you bastard, what the hell are you up to?”

In a few short sentences Quinn explained what he had done. Zack listened in silence.

“Are you leveling?” he asked. “ ’Cos if you ain’t, that kid is still going to end up in a body bag.”

“Look, Zack, I frankly don’t give a shit whether they capture you or not. I have one concern and one only: to get that kid back to his family alive and well. And I have inside my jacket two million dollars’ worth of raw diamonds I figure interest you. Now, I’ve thrown the bloodhounds off because they wouldn’t stop interfering, trying to be smart. So, do you want to set up an exchange or not?”

“Time’s up,” said Zack. “I’m moving.”

“This happens to be a public phone in Marylebone,” said Quinn, “but you’re right not to trust it. Call me, same number, this evening with the details. I’ll come, alone, unarmed, with the stones, wherever. Because I’m on the lam, make it after dark. Say, eight o’clock.”

“All right,” growled Zack. “Be there.”

It was the moment Sergeant Kidd took his car’s radio mike to talk to Nigel Cramer. Minutes later every police station in the metropolitan area was receiving a description of a man and instructions for every beat officer to keep an eye open, to spot but not approach, to radio back to the police station, and tail the suspect but not intervene. There was no name appended to the all-points, nor a reason why the man was wanted.

Leaving the phone booth, Quinn walked back into Blandford Street and down to Blackwood’s Hotel. It was one of those old established inns tucked away into the side streets of London that have somehow avoided being bought and sanitized by the big chains, an ivy-covered twenty-room place with paneling and bay windows and a fire blazing in the brick hearth of a reception area furnished in rugs over uneven boards. Quinn approached the pleasant-looking girl behind the desk.

“Hi, there,” he said, with his widest grin.

She looked up and smiled back. Tall, stooping, tweed hat, Burberry, and calfskin grip-an all-American tourist.

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you?”

“Well, now, I hope so, miss. Yes, I surely do. You see, I just flew in from the States and I took your British Airways-my all-time favorite airline-and you know what they did? They lost my luggage. Yes, ma’am, sent it all the way to Frankfurt by mistake.”

Her face puckered with concern.

“Now, see here, they’re going to get it back for me, twenty-four hours tops. Only my problem is, all my package-tour details were in my small suitcase, and would you believe it, I cannot for the life of me recall where I am checked in. Spent an hour with that lady from the airline going over names of hotels in London -you know how many there are?-but no way can I recall it, not till my suitcase reaches me. So the bottom line is, I took a cab into town and the driver said this was a real nice place… er… would you by any chance have a room I could take for the night? By the way, I’m Harry Russell.”

She was quite entranced. The tall man looked so bereft at the loss of his luggage, his inability to recall where he was supposed to be staying. She watched a lot of movies and thought he looked a bit like that gentleman who was always asking people to make his day, but he talked like the man with the funny bird-feather in his hat from Dallas. It never occurred to her not to believe him, or even to ask for identification. Blackwood’s did not normally take guests with neither luggage nor reservation, but losing one’s luggage, and forgetting one’s hotel, and because of a British airline… She scanned the vacancy sheet; most of their guests were regulars up from the provinces, and a few permanent residents.

“There’s just the one, Mr. Russell-a small one at the back, I’m afraid…”

“That will suit me just fine, young lady. Oh, I can pay cash-changed me some dollars right in the airport.”

“Tomorrow morning, Mr. Russell.” She reached for an old brass key. “Up the stairs, on the second floor.”

Quinn went up the stairs with their uneven treads, found Number Eleven, and let himself in. Small, clean, and comfortable. More than adequate. He stripped to his shorts, set the alarm clock he had bought in the hardware store for 6:00 P.M., and slept.

“Well, what on earth did he do it for?” asked the Home Secretary, Sir Harry Marriott. He had just heard the full story from Nigel Cramer in his office atop the Home Office building. He had had ten minutes on the telephone with Downing Street, and the lady resident there was not very pleased.

“I suspect he did not feel he could trust someone,” said Cramer delicately.

“Not us, I hope,” said the Minister. “We’ve done everything we can.”

“No, not us,” said Cramer. “He was moving close to an exchange with this man Zack. In a kidnap case, that is always the most dangerous phase. It has to be handled with extreme delicacy. After those two leaks of privy information on radio programs, one French and one British, he seems to feel he’d prefer to handle it himself. We can’t allow that, of course. We have to find him, Home Secretary.”

Cramer still smarted from having the primacy in the handling of the negotiation process removed from his control at all, and being confined to the investigation.

“Can’t think how he escaped in the first place,” complained the Home Secretary.

“If I’d had two of my men inside that apartment, he wouldn’t have done,” Cramer reminded him.

“Yes, well, that’s water over the dam. Find the man, but quietly, discreetly.”

The Home Secretary’s private views were that if this Quinn fellow could recover Simon Cormack alone, well and good. Britain could ship them both home to America as quickly as possible. But if the Americans were going to make a mess of it, let it be their mess, not his.

At the same hour, Irving Moss received a telephone call from Houston. He jotted down the list of produce prices on offer from the vegetable gardens of Texas, put down the phone, and decoded the message. Then he whistled in amazement. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that only a slight change would need to be made to his own plans.

After the fiasco on the road outside Mill Hill, Kevin Brown had descended on the Kensington apartment in high temper. Patrick Seymour and Lou Collins came with him. Together the three senior men debriefed their two junior colleagues for several hours.

Sam Somerville and Duncan McCrea explained at length what had happened that morning, how it had happened, and why they had not foreseen it. McCrea, as ever, was disarmingly apologetic.

“If he has reestablished phone contact with Zack, he’s totally out of control,” said Brown. “If they’re using a phone-booth-to-phone-booth system, there’s no way the British can get a tap on it. We don’t know what they’re up to.”

“Maybe they’re arranging to exchange Simon Cormack for the diamonds,” said Seymour.

Brown growled.

“When this thing’s over, I’m going to have that smartass.”

“If he returns with Simon Cormack,” Collins pointed out, “we’re all going to be happy to carry his bags to the airport.”

It was agreed that Somerville and McCrea would stay on at the apartment in case Quinn called in. The three phone lines would remain open to take his call, and tapped. The senior men returned to the embassy, Seymour to liaise with Scotland Yard on progress on what had now become two searches instead of one, the others to wait and listen.

Quinn woke at six, washed and shaved with the new toiletries he had bought in the High Street the previous day, had a light supper, and chanced the two-hundred-yard walk back to the phone booth in Chiltern Street at ten to eight. There was an old lady in it, but she left at five to eight. Quinn stood in the booth facing away from the street pretending to consult the telephone directories until the machine rang at two minutes after eight.

“Quinn?”

“Yeah.”

“You may be on the level about having quit them, or maybe not. If it’s a trick, you’ll pay for it.”

“No trick. Tell me where and when to show up.”

“Ten tomorrow morning. I’ll call you on this number at nine and tell you where. You’ll have just enough time to get there by ten. My men will have had the place staked out since dawn. If the fuzz shows up, or the SAS; if there’s any movement around the place at all, we’ll spot it and pull out. Simon Cormack will die a phone call later. You’ll never see us; we’ll see you, or anyone else that shows up. If you’re trying to trick me, tell your pals that. They might get one of us, or two, but it’ll be too late for the boy.”

“You got it, Zack. I come alone. No tricks.”

“No electronic devices, no direction finders, no microphones. We’ll check you out. If you’re wired up, the boy gets it.”

“Just what I said, no tricks. Just me and the diamonds.”

“Be there in that phone box at nine.”

There was a click and the line buzzed. Quinn left the booth and walked back to his hotel. He watched television for a while, then emptied his grip and worked for two hours on his purchases of that afternoon. It was two in the morning when he was satisfied.

He showered again to get rid of the telltale smell, set the clock, then lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling, quite immobile, thinking. He never slept much before combat; that was why he had caught three hours’ rest during the afternoon. He catnapped just before dawn and rose when the alarm went off at seven.

The charming receptionist was on duty when he approached the desk at half past eight. He was dressed in his heavy-rimmed eyeglasses and tweed hat, and the Burberry was buttoned to the throat. He explained he had to go to Heathrow to collect his luggage, and he would like to settle up and check out.

At quarter to nine he sauntered up the street to the phone booth. There could be no old ladies this time. He stood in it for fifteen minutes, until it rang on the dot of nine. Zack’s voice was husky with his own tension.

“ Jamaica Road, Rotherhithe,” he said.

Quinn did not know the area, but he knew of it. The old docks, partly converted to smart new houses and flats for the Yuppies who worked in the City, but with areas still near-derelict, abandoned wharves and warehouses.

“Go on.”

Zack gave the directions. Off Jamaica Road down a street leading to the Thames.

“It’s a single-story steel warehouse, open at both ends. The name Babbidge still written over the doors. Pay off the cab at the top of the street. Walk down alone. Go in the south entrance. Walk to the center of the floor and wait. Anyone follows, we don’t show.”

The phone went dead. Quinn left the booth and dropped his empty calfskin grip into a trash can. He looked around for a cab. Nothing, the morning rush hour. He caught one ten minutes later in Marylebone High Street and was dropped at Marble Arch underground station. At that hour a cab would be ages getting through the twisting streets of the old City and across the Thames to Rotherhithe.

He took the underground due east to the Bank, then the Northern Line under the Thames to London Bridge. It was a main-line railway station; there were cabs waiting in front. He was in Jamaica Road fifty-five minutes after Zack had hung up.

The street he had been told to walk down was narrow, dirty, and empty. To one side, derelict tea warehouses, ripe for development, fronted the river. To the other, abandoned factories and steel sheds. He knew he was being watched from somewhere. He walked along the center of the street. The steel hangar with the faded painted name of Babbidge above one door was at the end. He turned inside.

Two hundred feet long, eighty wide. Rusted chains hung from roof girders; the floor was concrete, fouled by the windswept detritus of years of abandonment. The door he had entered by would take a pedestrian but not a vehicle; the one at the far end was wide enough and high enough to take a truck. He walked to the middle of the floor and stopped. He took off the phony eyeglasses and tweed hat and stuffed them in his pocket. He would not need them again. Either he walked out of here with a deal for Simon Cormack, or he would need a police escort anyway.

He waited an hour, quite immobile. At eleven o’clock the big Volvo appeared at the far end of the hangar and drove slowly toward him, coming to a stop with its engine running forty feet away. There were two men in the front, both masked so that only their eyes showed through the slits.

He sensed more than heard the scuffle of running shoes on concrete behind him and threw a casual glance over his shoulder. A third man stood there; black track suit without insignia, ski mask covering the head. He was alert, poised on the balls of his feet, with the submachine carbine held easily, at the port but ready for use if need be.

The passenger door of the Volvo opened and a man got out. Medium height, medium build.

He called: “Quinn?”

Zack’s voice. Unmistakable.

“You got the diamonds?”

“Right here.”

“Hand them over.”

“You got the kid, Zack?”

“Don’t be a fool. Trade him for a sack of glass pebbles? We examine the stones first. Takes time. One piece of glass, one piece of paste-you’ve blown it. If they’re okay, then you get the boy.”

“That’s what I figured. Won’t work.”

“Don’t play games with me, Quinn.”

“No games, Zack. I have to see the kid. You could get pieces of glass-you won’t, but you want to be sure. I could get a corpse.”

“You won’t.”

“I need to be sure. That’s why I have to go with you.”

Behind the mask Zack stared at Quinn in disbelief. He gave a grating laugh.

“See that man behind you? One word and he blows you away. Then we take the stones anyway.”

“You could try,” admitted Quinn. “Ever seen one of these?”

He opened his raincoat all the way down, took something that hung free from near his waist and held it up.

Zack studied Quinn and the assembly strapped to his chest over his shirt, and swore softly but violently.

From below his sternum to his waist, Quinn’s front was occupied by the flat wooden box of what had once contained liqueur chocolates. The bonbons were gone, along with the box’s lid. The tray of the box formed a flat container strapped with surgical tape across his chest.

In the center was the velour package of diamonds, framed on each side by a half-pound block of tacky beige substance. Jammed into one of the blocks was a bright-green electrical wire, the other end of which ran to one of the spring-controlled jaws of the wooden clothespin Quinn held aloft in his left hand. It went through a tiny hole bored in the wood, to emerge inside the jaws of the peg.

Also in the chocolate box was a PP3 nine-volt battery, wired to another bright green cord. In one direction the green cord linked both blocks of beige substance to the battery; in the other direction the wire ran to the opposite jaw of the clothespin. The jaws of the pin were held apart by a stub of pencil. Quinn flexed the fingers of his hand; the stub of pencil fell to the floor.

“Phony,” said Zack without conviction. “That’s not real.”

With his right hand Quinn twisted off a blob of the light-brown substance, rolled it into a ball, and tossed it across the floor to Zack. The criminal stooped, picked it up, and sniffed. The odor of marzipan filled his nostrils.

“Semtex,” he said.

“That’s Czech,” said Quinn. “I prefer RDX.”

Zack knew enough to know all explosive gelatins both look and smell like the harmless confection marzipan. There the difference ends. If his man opened fire now they would all die. There was enough plastic explosive in that box to clear the floor of the warehouse clean, lift off the roof, and scatter the diamonds on the other side of the Thames.

“Knew you were a bastard,” said Zack. “What do you want?”

“I pick up the pencil, put it back, climb into the trunk of the car, and you drive me to see the boy. No one followed me. No one will. I can’t recognize you, now or ever. You’re safe enough. When I see the kid alive, I dismantle this and give you the stones. You check them through; when you’re satisfied, you leave. The kid and I stay imprisoned. Twenty-four hours later you make an anonymous phone call. The fuzz comes to release us. It’s clean, it’s simple, and you get away.”

Zack seemed undecided. It was not his plan, but he’d been outmaneuvered and he knew it. He reached into the side pocket of his track suit and pulled out a flat black box.

“Keep your hand up and those jaws open. I’m going to check you out for wiretaps.”

He approached and ran the circuit detector over Quinn’s body from head to foot. Any live electrical circuit, of the kind contained in an emitting direction finder or wiretap, would have caused the detector to give out a shrill whoop. The battery in the bomb Quinn wore was dormant. The original briefcase would have triggered the detector.

“All right,” said Zack. He stood back, a yard away. Quinn could smell the man’s sweat. “You’re clean. Put that pencil back, and climb in the trunk.”

Quinn did as he was bid. The last light he saw was before the large rectangular lid of the trunk came down on him. Air holes had already been punched in the floor to accommodate Simon Cormack three weeks earlier. It was stuffy but bearable and, despite his length, large enough, provided he remained crouched in fetal position-which meant he nearly gagged from the smell of almonds.

Though he could not see it, the car swung in a U-turn, and the gunman ran forward and climbed into the backseat. All three men removed their masks and track-suit tops, revealing shirts, ties, and jackets. The track-suit tops went into the back, on top of the Skorpion machine pistol. When they were ready, the car glided out of the warehouse, Zack himself now back behind the wheel, and headed toward their hideaway.

It took an hour and a half to reach the attached garage of the house forty miles out of London. Zack drove always at the proper speed, his companions upright and silent in their seats. For both these men it had been their first time out of the house in three weeks.

When the garage door was closed, all three men pulled on their track suits and masks, and one went into the house to warn the fourth. Only when they were ready did Zack open the trunk of the Volvo. Quinn was stiff, and blinked in the electric light of the garage. He had removed the pencil from the jaws of the clothespin and held it in his teeth.

“All right, all right,” said Zack. “No need for that. We’re going to show you the kid. But when you go through the house you wear this.”

He held up a cowled hood. Quinn nodded. Zack pulled it over Quinn’s head. There was a chance they would try to rush him, but it would take only a fraction of a second to release his grip on the open clothespin. They led him, left hand aloft, through into the house, down a short passage and then some cellar steps. He heard three loud knocks on a door of some kind, then a pause. He heard a door creak open and he was pushed into a room. He stood there alone, hearing the rasp of bolts.

“You can take the hood off,” said Zack’s voice. He was speaking through the peephole in the cellar door. Quinn used his right hand to remove his hood. He was in a bare cellar: concrete floor, concrete walls, perhaps a wine cellar converted to a new purpose. On a steel-frame bed against the far wall sat a lanky figure, his head and shoulders covered by another black hood. There were two knocks on the door. As if on command the figure on the bed tugged off his hood.

Simon Cormack stared in amazement at the tall man near the door, his raincoat half open, holding up a clothespin in his left hand. Quinn looked back at the President’s son.

“Hi there, Simon. You okay, kid?” A voice from home.

“Who are you?” he whispered.

“Well, the negotiator. We’ve been worried about you. You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m… fine.”

There were three knocks on the door. The young man pulled on his hood. The door opened. Zack stood there. Masked. Armed.

“Well, there he is. Now, the diamonds.”

“Sure,” said Quinn. “You kept your deal. I keep mine.”

He replaced the pencil in the jaws of the clothespin, and let it hang from its wires to his waist. He slipped off the raincoat and ripped the wooden box from his chest. From the center he took the flat velour package of gems and held them out. Zack took them and passed them to a man in the passage behind him. His gun was still on Quinn.

“I’ll take the bomb, too,” he said. “You’re not blowing your way out of here with it.”

Quinn folded the wires and clothespin into the space left in the open box, pulled the wires out of the beige substance. The wires had no detonators attached to the ends of them. Quinn twisted a piece of the substance off one of the blocks and tasted it.

“Never could develop a taste for marzipan,” he said. “Too sweet for me.”

Zack stared at the assembly of household items lying in the box in his free hand.

“Marzipan?”

“The best that Marylebone High Street can offer.”

“I should bloody kill you, Quinn.”

“You could, but I hope you won’t. No need, Zack. You got what you want. Like I said, pros kill when they have to. Examine the diamonds in peace, make your escape, let the kid and me stay here till you phone the police.”

Zack closed the door and bolted it behind him. He spoke through the peephole.

“I’ll say this for you, Yank. You got balls.”

Then the peephole closed. Quinn turned to the figure on the bed and pulled off his hood for him. He sat down beside the boy.

“Now, I’d better bring you up to date a bit. A few more hours, if all goes well, and we should be out of here and heading for home. By the way, your mom and dad send their love.”

He ruffled the young man’s tangled hair. Simon Cormack’s eyes filled with tears and he began to cry uncontrollably. He tried to wipe them away on the sleeve of his plaid shirt, but it was no good. Quinn wrapped one arm around the thin shoulders and remembered a day long ago in the jungles along the Mekong; the first time he was ever in combat, and how he survived while others died, and how afterward the sheer relief caused the tears to come and he could not stop them.

When Simon stopped and began to bombard him with questions about home, Quinn had a chance to have a look at the youth. Bearded, moustached, dirty, but otherwise in good shape. They’d fed him and had the decency to give him fresh clothes: the plaid shirt, blue jeans, and a broad leather belt with an embossed brass buckle to hold them up-camping-shop gear but adequate against the chill of November.

There seemed to be some kind of a row going on upstairs. Quinn could vaguely hear raised voices, principal among them Zack’s. The sounds were too indistinct for him to hear the words, but the tone was clear enough. The man was angry. Quinn’s brow furrowed; he had not checked the stones himself-he had not the skill to tell real diamonds from good forgeries-but now prayed no one had been foolish enough to insert a proportion of paste among the gems.

In fact that was not the reason for the dispute. After several minutes it calmed down. In an upstairs bedroom-the kidnappers tended to avoid the downstairs rooms during daylight hours, despite the thick net curtains that screened them-the South African was seated at a table brought up there for the purpose. The table was covered by a bed sheet, the slit velvet packet lay empty on the bed, and all four men gazed in awe at a small mountain of uncut diamonds.

Using a spatula, the South African began to divide the pile into smaller ones, then smaller again, until he had separated the mountain into twenty-five small hillocks. He gestured to Zack to choose one mound. Zack shrugged, picked one in the middle-approximately a thousand stones out of the twenty-five thousand on the table.

Without a word the South African began to scoop up the other twenty-four piles and tip them one by one into a stout canvas bag with a drawstring at the top. When the selected pile alone remained, he switched on a powerful reading lamp above the table, took a jeweler’s loupe from his pocket, a pair of tweezers in his right hand, and held up the first stone to the light.

After several seconds he grunted and nodded, dropping the diamond into the open-topped canvas bag. It would take six hours to examine all thousand stones.

The kidnappers had chosen well. Top quality diamonds, even small ones, are normally “sourced” with a certificate when released to the trade by the Central Selling Organization, which dominates the world diamond trade, handling over 85 percent of stones passing from the mines to the trade. Even the U.S.S.R. with its Siberian extractions is smart enough not to break this lucrative cartel. Large stones of lesser quality are also usually sold with a certificate of provenance.

But in picking melees of medium quality gems between a fifth- and a half-carat, the kidnappers had gone for an area of the trade that is almost uncontrollable. These stones are the bread and butter of the manufacturing and retailing jewelers around the world, changing hands in packages of several hundred at a time without certification. Any manufacturing jeweler would honestly be able to take over a consignment of several hundred stones, especially if he was offered a 10 or 15 percent discount off the market price. Transferred into the settings around larger stones, they would simply disappear into the trade.

If they were genuine. Uncut diamonds do not glitter and gleam like the cut and polished article that appears at the end of the process. They look like dull pieces of glass, with a milky, opaque surface. But they cannot be confused with glass by an examiner of moderate skill and experience.

Real diamonds have a quite distinctive, soapy texture to the surface and are immune from water. If a piece of glass is dipped in water, the drops of liquid stay on the surface for several seconds; with a diamond they run off instantly, leaving the gem dry as a bone.

Moreover, under a magnifying loupe, diamonds have a perceivable triangular crystallography on the surface. The South African was looking for this patterning, to ensure they had not been foisted off with sand-blasted bottle glass or the other principal substitute, cubic zirconia.

As this scrutiny was going on, Senator Bennett R. Hapgood rose to his feet on the podium erected for the purpose in the sweeping grounds of the open-air Hancock Center in the heart of Austin and surveyed the crowd with satisfaction.

Straight ahead of him he could see the dome of the Texas State Capitol, second largest in the nation after the Capitol in Washington, gleaming in the late morning sun. The crowd might have been larger, considering the massive paid-for publicity that had presaged this important launch, but the media-local, state, and national-were well in attendance and this pleased him.

He raised his hands in a boxer’s victory salute to acknowledge the roar of applause from the cheerleaders that began as soon as the encomium that announced him had ended. As the chants of the high-kicking girls continued and the crowd felt obliged to join in, he shook his head in well-simulated disbelief at such honor and held his hands high, palms outward, in a gesture to indicate there was no need to afford an insignificant junior senator from Oklahoma such an ovation.

When the cheering died down he took the microphone and began his speech. He used no notes; he had rehearsed his words many times since receiving the invitation to inaugurate and become president of the new movement that would soon sweep America.

“My friends, my fellow Americans, everywhere.”

Though his present audience was overwhelmingly composed of Texans, he was aiming through the lens of the television camera at a much larger audience.

“We may come from different parts of this great nation of ours. We may have different backgrounds, inhabit different walks of life, possess different hopes, fears, and aspirations. But one thing we share, wherever we may be, whatever we may do-we are all, men, women, and children, patriots of this great land…”

The statement was undeniable and the cheering testified to that.

“This above all we share: We want our nation to be strong…” More cheering. “… and proud…” Ecstasy.

He talked for an hour. The evening newscasts across the United States would use between thirty seconds and one minute, according to taste. When he had finished and sat down, the breeze scarcely ruffling his snow-white, blow-dried, and spray-fixed hair above the cattleman’s suntan, the Citizens for a Strong America movement was well and truly launched.

Dedicated, in broad terms, to the regeneration of national pride and honor through strength-the notion that it had never perceivably degenerated was overlooked-the CSA would specifically oppose the Nantucket Treaty root and branch, and demand its repudiation in Congress.

The enemy to pride and honor through strength had been clearly and incontrovertibly identified; it was Communism, meaning socialism, which ran from Medicaid through welfare checks to tax increases. Those fellow travelers of Communism who sought to dupe the American people into arms control at lower levels were not identified, but implied. The campaign would be conducted at every level-regional offices, media-oriented information kits, lobbying at the national and constituency levels, and public appearances by true patriots who would speak against the treaty and its progenitor-an oblique reference to the stricken man in the White House.

By the time the crowd was invited to sample the barbecues scattered around the periphery of the park, and made available by the generosity of a local philanthropist and patriot, Plan Crockett, the second campaign to destabilize John Cormack to the point of resignation, was on the road.

Quinn and the President’s son spent a fitful night in the cellar. The boy took the bed, at Quinn’s insistence, but could not sleep. Quinn sat on the floor, his back against the hard wall, and would have dozed but for the questions from Simon.

“Mr. Quinn?”

“It’s Quinn. Just Quinn.”

“Did you see my dad? Personally?”

“Sure. He told me about Aunt Emily… and Mr. Spot.”

“How was he?”

“Fine. Worried of course. It was just after the kidnap.”

“Did you see Mom?”

“No, she was with the White House doctor. Worried but okay.”

“Do they know I’m okay?”

“As of two days ago, I told them you were still alive. Try and get some sleep.”

“Okay… When do you figure we’ll get out of here?”

“Depends. In the morning, I hope, they’ll quit and run. If they make a phone call twelve hours later, the British police should be here minutes afterward. It depends on Zack.”

“Zack? He’s the leader?”

“Yep.”

At two in the morning the overstrung youth finally ran out of questions and dozed. Quinn stayed awake, straining to identify the muffled sounds from upstairs. It was almost 4:00 A.M. when the three loud knocks came at the door.

Simon swung his legs off the bed and whispered, “The hoods.” Both men pulled oft the cowled hoods to prevent their seeing the abductors. When they were blindfolded, Zack entered the cellar with two men behind him. Each carried a pair of handcuffs. He nodded toward the two captives. They were turned around and their wrists cuffed behind their backs.

What they did not know was that the examination of the diamonds had finished before midnight, to the complete satisfaction of Zack and his accomplices. The four men had spent the night scouring their living quarters from top to bottom. Every surface that might have had a fingerprint was wiped; every trace they could think of, expunged. They did not bother to dismantle the cellar of its bolted-down bed or the length of chain that had tethered Simon to it for over three weeks. Their concern was not that others might come here one day and identify the place as having been the kidnappers’ hideout; rather, that those examiners would never discover who the kidnappers had been.

Simon Cormack was detached from his ankle chain and both men were led upstairs, through the house, and into the garage. The Volvo awaited. Its trunk was stuffed with the carryalls of the kidnappers and had no room left. Quinn was forced into the backseat and down to the floor, then covered with a blanket. He was uncomfortable but optimistic.

If the kidnappers had intended to kill them both, the cellar would have been the place. He had proposed they be left in the cellar, to be liberated later by the police following a phone call from abroad. That was evidently not to be. He guessed, rightly, that the kidnappers did not want their hideout discovered, at least not yet. So he lay hunched on the floor of the car and breathed as best he could through the thick hood.

He felt the depression of the seat cushions above him as Simon Cormack was made to lie along the backseat. He, too, was covered by a blanket. The two smallest men climbed in the back, sitting on the edge of the seat with the slim body of Simon behind their backs, their feet on Quinn. The giant climbed into the passenger seat; Zack took the wheel.

At his command all four took off their masks and track-suit tops and threw them through the windows onto the garage floor. Zack started the engine and operated the door-opener. He backed out into the driveway, closed the garage door, reversed into the street, and drove off. No one saw the car. It was still dark, with another two and a half hours to dawn.

The car ran steadily for about two hours. Quinn had no idea where he was or where he was going. Eventually (it would later be established it must have been within a few minutes of six-thirty), the car slowed to a halt. No one had spoken during the drive. They all sat bolt upright in their seats, in business suits and ties, and remained silent. When they stopped, Quinn heard the rear near-side door open and the two sets of feet on his body were removed. Someone dragged him out of the car by the feet. He felt wet grass under his cuffed hands, knew he was on the grassy edge of a road somewhere. He scrambled to his knees, then his feet, and stood up. He heard two men reentering the rear of the car and the slamming of the door.

“Zack,”he called. “What about the boy?”

Zack was standing on the road by the driver’s open door, looking at him across the roof of the car.

“Ten miles up the road,” he said, “by the roadside, same as you.”

There was the purr of a powerful engine and the crunch of gravel under wheels. Then the car was gone. Quinn felt the chill of a November morning on his shirt-sleeved torso. The moment the car was gone, he got to work.

Hard labor in the vineyards had kept him in shape. His hips were narrow, like those of a man fifteen years his junior, and his arms were long. When the handcuffs went on he had braced the sinews of his wrists to secure the maximum space when he relaxed. Tugging the cuffs down over his hands as far as they would go, he worked his cuffed wrists down his back and around his behind. Then he sat in the grass, brought his wrists up under his knees, kicked off his shoes, and worked his legs through his locked arms, one after the other. With his wrists now in front of him he tore off the hood.

The road was long, narrow, straight, and utterly deserted in the predawn half-light. He sucked in lungsful of the cool fresh air and looked around for human habitation. There was none. He pulled on his shoes, rose, and began to jog along the road in the direction the car had taken.

After two miles he came to a garage on the left, a small affair with old-style hand-operated pumps and a little office. Three kicks brought the door down and he found the telephone on a shelf behind the pump attendant’s chair. He lifted the receiver two-handed, leaned his ear against it to make sure he had a dial tone, laid it down, dialed 01 for London, and then the flash line in the Kensington apartment.

In London the chaos took three seconds to get into full gear. A British engineer in the Kensington exchange came jolting out of his chair and began to search for a lock on the transmitting number. He got it in nine seconds.

In the basement of the U.S. embassy the duty ELINT man gave a yell as his warning light blazed red in his face and the sound of a phone ringing came into his headset. Kevin Brown, Patrick Seymour, and Lou Collins ran into the listening post from the cots where they had been dozing.

“Throw sound onto the wall speaker,” snapped Seymour.

In the apartment Sam Somerville had been dozing on the couch, once so favored by Quinn because it was right next to the flash phone. McCrea was asleep in one of the armchairs. It was their second night like this.

When the phone rang, Sam jolted awake but for two seconds did not register which phone was ringing. The pulsing red bulb on the flash line told her. She picked it up at the third ring.

“Yes?”

“Sam?”

There was no mistaking the deep voice at the other end.

“Oh, Quinn!” she said. “Are you all right?”

“Screw Quinn. What about the boy?” fumed Brown, unheard beneath the embassy.

“Fine. I’ve been released. Simon’s due for release about now, maybe already. But farther up the road.”

“Quinn, where are you?”

“I don’t know. In a beat-up garage on a long stretch of road-the number on this phone is unreadable.”

“Bletchley number,” said the engineer in the Kensington exchange. “Here we are… got it. Seven-four-five-oh-one.”

His colleague was already talking to Nigel Cramer, who had spent the night at Scotland Yard.

“Where the hell is it?” he hissed.

“Hang about… here, Tubbs Cross Garage, on the A.421 between Fenny Stratford and Buckingham.”

At the same time Quinn saw an invoice pad belonging to the garage. It bore the address of the garage also, and he relayed it to Sam. Seconds later the line was dead. Sam and Duncan McCrea raced down to the street, where Lou Collins had left a CIA car should the listeners in the apartment need transport. Then they were off, McCrea driving and Sam map-reading.

From Scotland Yard, Nigel Cramer and six officers set off in two patrol cars, their sirens howling up Whitehall and down the Mall to pick up Park Lane and the road north out of London. Two big limousines sped out of Grosvenor Square at the same time, bearing Kevin Brown, Lou Collins, Patrick Seymour, and six of Brown’s Washington-based FBI men.

The A.421 between Fenny Stratford and the county town of Buckingham twelve miles farther west is a long, almost straight road devoid of towns or villages, running through largely flat agricultural country studded by the occasional clump of trees. Quinn jogged steadily west, the direction taken by the car. The first light of day began to filter through gray clouds above, giving visibility that rose steadily to three hundred yards. That was when he saw the thin figure jogging toward him in the gloom, and heard the roar of engines coming up fast behind him. He turned his head: a British police car, one of two, two black American limousines just ahead of them, and an unmarked Company car behind them. The leading car saw him and started to slow; due to the narrowness of the road the ones behind slowed as well.

No one in the cars had seen the tottering figure farther down the road. Simon Cormack had also worked his wrists around to the front of his body, and had covered five miles to Quinn’s four and a half. But he had made no phone call. Weakened by his captivity, dazed by his release, he was running slowly, rolling from side to side. The lead car from the embassy was beside Quinn.

“Where’s the boy?” roared Brown from the front seat.

Nigel Cramer leaped from the red-and-white squad car and shouted the same question. Quinn stopped, sucked air into his lungs, and nodded forward along the road.

“There,” he gasped.

That was when they saw him. Already out from their cars and on the road, the group of Americans and the British police officers began to run toward the figure two hundred yards away. Behind Quinn the car of McCrea and Sam Somervilleswerved to a stop.

Quinn had stopped; there was nothing more he could do. He felt Sam run up behind him and grab his arm. She said something but he could never later recall what it was.

Simon Cormack, seeing his rescuers approaching him, slowed until he was hardly jogging at all. Just under a hundred yards separated him from the police officers of two nations when he died.

The witnesses would say later that the searingly brilliant white flash seemed to last for several seconds. The scientists would tell them it actually lasted for three milliseconds, but the human retina retains such a flash for some seconds afterward. The fireball that came with the flash lasted for half a second and enveloped the whole stumbling figure.

Four of the watchers, experienced men, not easy to shock, later had to undergo therapy. They described how the figure of the youth was picked up and hurled twenty yards toward them, like a rag doll, first flying, then bouncing and rolling in a twisted assembly of disjointed limbs. They all felt the blast wave.

Most would agree, with hindsight, that everything seemed to happen in slow motion, during and after the murder. Recollections came in bits and pieces, and the patient interrogators would listen, and note down the bits and pieces until they had a sequence, usually overlapping in parts.

There was Nigel Cramer, rock-still, pale as a sheet, repeating “Oh, God, oh, my God” over and over again. A Mormon FBI man dropped to his knees at the roadside and began to pray. Sam Somerville screamed once, buried her face in Quinn’s back, and began to cry. There was Duncan McCrea, behind both of them, on his knees, head down over a ditch, hands deep in the water supporting his weight, retching up his guts.

Quinn, they would say, was standing still, having been overtaken by the main group but able to see what had happened up the road, shaking his head in disbelief and murmuring, “No… no… no.”

It was a gray-haired British sergeant who was the first to break the spell of immobility and shock, moving forward toward the tangled body sixty yards away. He was followed by several FBI men, among them Kevin Brown, pale and shaking, then Nigel Cramer and three more men from the Yard. They looked at the body in silence. Then background and training took over.

“Clear the area, please,” said Nigel Cramer. It was in a tone no one was prepared to argue. “Tread very carefully.”

They all walked back toward the cars.

“Sergeant, get on to the Yard. I want the CEO up here, by chopper, within the hour. Photographs, forensics, the best team Fulham have got. You”-to the men in the second car-“get up and down the road. Block it off. Raise the local boys-I want barriers beyond the garage that way and up to Buckingham that way. No one enters this stretch of road until further notice except those I authorize.”

The officers designated to take the stretch of road beyond the body had to walk, crossing into the fields for a while to avoid treading on fragments, then running up the road to head off approaching cars. The second squad car went east toward Tubbs Cross Garage to block the road in the other direction. The first squad car was used for its radio.

Within sixty minutes police out of Buckingham to the west and Bletchley to the east would seal the road completely with steel barriers. A screen of local officers would fan out across the fields to fend off the curious seeking to approach cross-country. At least this time there would be no press for a while. They could put the road closing down to a burst water main-enough to deter the local small-town reporters.

Within fifty minutes the first Metropolitan Police helicopter swung in across the fields, guided by the radio of the squad car, to deposit on the road behind the cars a small, birdlike man called Dr. Barnard, the Chief Explosives Officer of the Met., a man who, thanks to the bomb outrages of the I.R.A. in mainland Britain, had examined more explosion scenes than he would have wished. He brought with him, apart from his “bag of tricks,” as he liked to call it, an awesome reputation.

They said of Dr. Barnard that from fragments so minuscule as almost to deceive a magnifying glass, he could reconstitute a bomb to the point of identifying the factory that had made its components and the man who had assembled it. He listened to “Nigel Cramer for several minutes, nodded, and gave his own orders to the dozen men who had clambered out of the second and third helicopters-the team from the Fulham forensic laboratories.

Impassively they set about their work, and the machinery of post-crime science rolled into action.

Long before any of this, Kevin Brown had returned from looking at the corpse of Simon Cormack to the point where Quinn still stood. He was gray with shock and rage.

“You bastard,” he grated. Both tall men, they were eyeball to eyeball. “This is your fault. One way or another you caused this, and I’m going to make you pay for it.”

The punch, when it came, surprised the two younger FBI men by Brown’s side, who took his arms and tried to calm him down. Quinn may have seen the punch coming. Whatever, he made no attempt to dodge it. Still with his hands cuffed in front of him, he took it full on the jaw. It was enough to knock him backwards; then his head caught the edge of the roof of the car behind him, and he went down unconscious.

“Put him in the car,” growled Brown when he had recovered his self-control.

There was no way Cramer could hold the American group. Seymour and Collins had diplomatic immunity; he let them all depart back to London in their two cars fifteen minutes later, warning them that he would want Quinn, for whom there was no diplomatic status, available for the taking of lengthy statements in London. Seymour gave his word Quinn would be available. When they had gone, Cramer used the phone in the garage to put through a call to Sir Harry Marriott at his home and give him the news; the phone was more secure than a police radio band.

The politician was shocked to his core. But he was still a politician.

“Mr. Cramer, were we, in the form of the British authorities, in any way involved in all this?”

“No, Home Secretary. From the time Quinn ran out of that apartment, this was wholly his affair. He handled it the way he wanted to, without involving us or his own people. He chose to play a lone hand, and it has failed.”

“I see,” said the Home Secretary. “I shall have to inform the Prime Minister at once. Of all aspects.” He meant that the British authorities had had no hand in the affair at all. “Keep the media out of it at all costs for the moment. At worst we will have to say that Simon Cormack has been found murdered. But not yet. And, of course, keep me in touch on every development, no matter how small.”

This time the news reached Washington from its own sources in London. Patrick Seymour telephoned Vice President Odell personally, on a secure line. Thinking he was taking a call from the FBI liaison man in London to announce Simon Cormack’s release, Michael Odell did not mind the hour-5:00 A.M. in Washington. When he heard what Seymour had to tell him, he went white.

“But how? Why? In God’s name, why?”

“We don’t know, sir,” said the voice from London. “The boy had been released safe and sound. He was running toward us, ninety yards away, when it happened. We don’t even know what ‘it’ was. But he’s dead, Mr. Vice President.”

The committee was convened within the hour. Every member felt ill with shock when told the news. The question was, who should tell the President. As chairman of the committee, the man saddled with the task of “Get my son back for me” twenty-four days earlier, it fell to Michael Odell. With a heavy heart he walked from the West Wing to the White House living quarters.

President Cormack did not need to be awakened. He had slept little these past three and a half weeks, often waking of his own accord in the predawn darkness, and walking through to his personal study to attempt to concentrate on papers of state. Hearing the Vice President was downstairs and wished to see him, President Cormack went into the Yellow Oval Room and said he would greet Odell there.

The Yellow Oval Room, on the second floor, is a spacious reception room between the study and the Treaty Room. Beyond its windows, looking over the South Lawn, is the Truman Balcony. Both are at the geometric center of the White House, beneath the cupola and right above the South Portico.

Odel entered. President Cormack was in the center of the room, facing him. Odell was silent. He could not bring himself to say it. The air of expectancy on the President’s face drained away.

“Well, Michael?” he said dully.

“He… Simon… has been found. I’m afraid he is dead.”

President Cormack did not move, not a muscle. His voice when it came was flat; clear but emotionless.

“Leave me, please.”

Odell turned and left, moving into the Center Hall. He closed the door and turned toward the stairs. From behind him he heard a single cry, like that of a wounded animal in mortal pain. He shuddered and walked on.

Secret Service agent Lepinsky was at the end of the hall, by a desk against the wall, a raised phone in his hand.

“It’s the British Prime Minister, Mr. Vice President,” he said.

“I’ll take it. Hello, this is Michael Odell. Yes, Prime Minister, I’ve just told him. No, ma’am, he’s not taking any calls right now. Any calls.”

There was a pause on the line.

“I understand,” she said quietly. Then: “Do you have a pencil and paper?”

Odell gestured to Lepinsky, who produced his duty notebook. Odell scribbled what he was asked.

President Cormack got the slip of paper at the hour most Washingtonians, unaware of what had happened, were drinking their first cup of coffee. He was still in a silk robe, in his office, staring dully at the gray morning beyond the windows. His wife slept on; she would wake and hear it later. He nodded as the servant left and flicked open the folded sheet from Lepinsky’s notebook.

It said just: Second Samuel XVIII 33.

After several minutes he rose and walked to the shelf where he kept some personal books, among them the family Bible, bearing the signatures of his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather. He found the verse toward the end of the Second Book of Samuel.

“And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Chapter 11

Dr. Barnard declined to use the services of the hundred young police constables offered by the Thames Valley Police in the search for clues on the road and the verges. He took the view that mass searches were fine for discovering the hidden body of a murdered child, or even a murder weapon like a knife, gun, or bludgeon.

But for this work, skill, patience, and extreme delicacy were needed. He used only his trained specialists from Fulham.

They taped off an area one hundred yards in diameter ’round the scene of the explosion; it turned out to be overkill. All the evidence was eventually found inside a circle of thirty yards’ diameter. Literally on hands and knees, his men crawled over every inch of the designated area with plastic bags and tweezers.

Every tiny fragment of fiber, denim, and leather was picked up and dropped in the bags. Some had hair, tissue, or other matter attached to them. Smeared grass stems were included. Ultrafine-tuned metal detectors covered every square centimeter of the road, the ditches, and the surrounding fields, yielding inevitably a collection of nails, tin cans, rusty screws, nuts, bolts, and a corroded plowshare.

The sorting and separation would come later. Eight big plastic garbage cans were filled with clear plastic bags and flown to London. The oval area from where Simon Cormack had been standing when he died to the point where he stopped rolling, at the heart of the larger circle, was treated with special care. It was four hours before the body could be removed.

First it was photographed from every conceivable angle, in long-shot, mid-shot, and extreme close-up. Only when every part of the grass verge around the body had been scoured, and only the piece of turf actually under the body remained to be examined, would Dr. Barnard allow human feet to walk on the ground to approach the body.

Then a body bag was laid beside the corpse, and what remained of Simon Cormack was gently lifted from where it lay and placed on the spread-out plastic. The bag was folded over him and zipped up, then placed on a stretcher, into a pannier beneath a helicopter, and flown to the post-mortem laboratory.

The death had taken place in the countryside of Buckinghamshire, one of the three counties comprising the Thames Valley Police area. So it was that in death Simon Cormack returned to Oxford, to the Radcliffe Infirmary, whose facilities are a match even for Guy’s Hospital, London.

From Guy’s came a friend and colleague of Dr. Barnard, a man who had worked with the Chief Explosives Officer of the Metropolitan on many cases and had formed a close professional relationship with him. Indeed, they were often regarded as a team, though they followed different disciplines. Dr. Ian Macdonald was a senior consultant pathologist at the great London hospital and also a retained Home Office pathologist, and was usually asked for by Scotland Yard if he was available. It was he who received the body of Simon Cormack at the Radcliffe.

Throughout the day, as the men crawled over the grass by the side of the A.421, continuous consultation took place between London and Washington regarding the release of the news to the media and the world. It was agreed that the statement should come from the White House, with immediate confirmation in London. The statement would simply say that an exchange had been arranged in conditions of total secrecy, as demanded by the kidnappers, an unspecified ransom had been paid, and that they had broken their word. The British authorities, responding to an anonymous phone call, had gone to a roadside in Buckinghamshire and there found Simon Cormack dead.

Needless to say, the condolences of the British monarch, government, and people to the President and to the American people were without limit of sincerity or depth, and a search of unparalleled vigor was now in progress to identify, find, and arrest the culprits.

Sir Harry Marriott was adamant that the phrase referring to the arrangement of the exchange should include an extra seven words: “between the American authorities and the kidnappers.” The White House, albeit reluctantly, agreed to this.

“The media are going to have our hides,” growled Odell.

“Well, you wanted Quinn,” said Philip Kelly.

“Actually, you wanted Quinn,” snapped Odell at Lee Alexander and David Weintraub, who sat with them in the Situation Room. “By the way, where is he now?”

“Being detained,” said Weintraub. “The British refused to allow him to be lodged on sovereign U.S. territory inside the embassy. Their MI-5 people have lent us a country house in Surrey. He’s there.”

“Well, he has a hell of a lot of explaining to do,” said Hubert Reed. “The diamonds are gone, the kidnappers are gone, and that poor boy is dead. How exactly did he die?”

“The Brits are trying to find that out,” said Brad Johnson. “Kevin Brown says it was almost as if he was hit by a bazooka, right in front of them, but they saw nothing like a bazooka. Or he stepped on a land mine of some sort.”

“On a roadside in the middle of nowhere?” asked Stannard.

“As I told you, the post-mortem will indicate what happened.”

“When the British have finished interviewing him, we have to have him back over here,” said Kelly. “We need to talk to him.”

“The Deputy Assistant Director of your Division is doing that already,” said Weintraub.

“If he refuses to come, can we force him to return?” asked Bill Walters.

“Yes, Mr. Attorney General, we can,” said Kelly. “Kevin Brown believes he may have been involved in some way. We don’t know how… yet. But if we issued a material-witness warrant, I believe the British would put him on the plane.”

“We’ll give it another twenty-four hours, see what the British come up with,” said Odell finally.

The Washington statement was issued at 5:00 P.M.local time and rocked the United States as little had done since the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The media went into a furor, not helped by Press Secretary Craig Lipton’s refusal to answer the two hundred supplementary questions they had to ask. Who had arranged the ransom, how much was it, in what form, how had it been handed over, by whom, why had no attempt been made to arrest the kidnappers at the handover, was the package or packet of ransom money bugged, had the kidnappers been tracked too clumsily and killed the boy as they fled, what level of negligence had been shown by the authorities, did the White House blame Scotland Yard, if not why not, why did the U.S. not leave it to Scotland Yard in the first place, had any descriptions of the kidnappers been obtained, were the British police closing in on them…? The questions went on and on. Craig Lipton definitely decided to resign before he was lynched.

The time in London was five hours later than Washington’s but the reaction was similar: Late TV shows were interrupted by news flashes that left the nation stunned. The switchboards at Scotland Yard, the Home Office, Downing Street, and the American embassy were jammed. Teams of journalists just about to go home around 10:00 P.M. were told to work through the night as fresh editions were prepared for issue as late as 5:00 A.M. By dawn they were staking out the Radcliffe Infirmary, Grosvenor Square, Downing Street, and Scotland Yard. In chartered helicopters they hovered over the empty stretch of road between Fenny Stratford and Buckingham to photograph, at first light, the bare tarmac and the last few barriers and police cars parked there.

Few slept. Impelled by a personal plea for haste from Sir Harry Marriott himself, Dr. Barnard and his team worked through the night. The forensic scientist had finally quit the road as night fell, certain it had nothing more to yield. Ten hours of scouring had left the thirty-yard circle cleaner than any piece of ground in England. What that ground had yielded now reposed in a series of gray plastic drums along the wall of his laboratory. For him and his team it was the night of the microscopes.

Nigel Cramer spent the night in a plain, bare room in a Tudor grange, screened from the nearest road by a belt of trees, in the heart of Surrey. Despite its elegant exterior aspect, the old house was well equipped for interrogation. The British Security Service used its ancient cellars as a training school for such delicate matters.

Brown, Collins, and Seymour were present, at their own insistence. Cramer did not object-his brief from Sir Harry Marriott was to cooperate with the Americans wherever and whenever possible. Any information Quinn had would go to both governments anyway. A relay of tapes filled themselves in the machines on the table beside them.

Quinn had a long and livid bruise on the side of his jaw, a lump and a Band-Aid on the back of his head. He was still in his shirt, now filthy, and slacks. Shoes had been removed, along with belt and tie. He was unshaven and looked exhausted. But he answered the questions calmly and clearly.

Cramer started at the beginning: Why had he quit the flat in Kensington? Quinn explained. Brown glowered at him.

“Did you have any reason, Mr. Quinn, to believe that a person or persons unknown might have attempted to interfere in the ransom exchange, to the effect of endangering the safety of Simon Cormack?” Nigel Cramer was phrasing it by the book.

“Instinct,” said Quinn.

“Just instinct, Mr. Quinn?”

“May I ask you a question, Mr. Cramer?”

“I don’t promise to answer it.”

“The attaché case with the diamonds in it. It was bugged, wasn’t it?”

He got his answer from the four faces in the room.

“If I had shown up at any exchange with that case,” said Quinn, “they’d have spotted it and killed the boy.”

“They did that anyway, smartass,” Brown grunted.

“Yes, they did,” said Quinn grimly. “I admit I did not think they would do that.”

Cramer took him back to the moment he left the flat. He told them about Marylebone, the night at the hotel, the terms Zack had laid down for the rendezvous, and how he had just made the deadline. For Cramer the meat was in the head-to-head in the abandoned factory. Quinn gave him the car, a Volvo sedan, and its registration number; both men surmised, rightly, that the plates would have been changed for that meeting, then changed back again. Ditto the road-tax disc stuck in the windshield. These men had shown they were careful.

He could describe the men only as he had seen them, masked, in shapeless track suits. One he had not seen at all, the fourth, who had stayed at the hideout ready to kill Simon Cormack at a phone call or a no-show by his colleagues by a certain time. He described the physiques of the two men he had seen upright, Zack and the gunman. Medium height, medium build. Sorry.

He identified the Skorpion submachine gun, and of course the Babbidge warehouse. Cramer left the room to make a phone call. A second team of forensic men from Fulham visited the warehouse before dawn and spent the morning there. It yielded nothing but a small ball of marzipan and a set of perfect tire tracks in the dust. These would eventually identify the abandoned Volvo, but not for two weeks.

The house used by the kidnappers was of particular interest. A gravel drive-Quinn had heard the crunching of the gravel-about ten yards from front gate to garage doors; automatic door-opening system, attached garage; a house with a concrete cellar beneath it-the real estate agents could help there. But direction from London-nothing. Quinn had been in the trunk the first time, and masked on the floor of the backseat the second. Driving time, one and a half hours the first time, two hours the second. If they drove by an indirect route, that could be anywhere; right in the heart of London or up to fifty miles in any direction.

“There’s nothing we can charge him with, Home Secretary,” Cramer reported to the Minister early next morning. “We can’t even detain him any longer. And frankly, I don’t think we should. I don’t believe he was criminally involved in the death.”

“Well, he seems to have made a complete balls of it,” said Sir Harry. The pressure from Downing Street for some new lead was becoming intense.

“So it would seem,” said the police officer. “But if those criminals were determined to kill the boy, and it seems with hindsight that they were, they could have done it any time, before or after receiving the diamonds, in the cellar, on the road, or on some lonely Yorkshire moorland. And Quinn with him. The mystery is why they let Quinn live, and why they first released the boy and then killed him. It’s almost as if they were looking to make themselves the most hated and hunted men on earth.”

“Very well,” sighed the Home Secretary. “We have no further interest in Mr. Quinn. Are the Americans still holding him?”

“Technically, he’s their voluntary guest,” said Cramer carefully.

“Well, they can let him go back to Spain when they wish.”

While they were talking, Sam Somerville was pleading with Kevin Brown. Collins and Seymour were present, in the manor’s elegant drawing room.

“What the hell do you want to see him for?” asked Brown. “He failed. He’s a busted flush.”

“Look,” she said, “in those three weeks I got closer to him than anybody. If he’s holding out at all, on anything, maybe I could get it out of him, sir.”

Brown seemed undecided.

“Couldn’t do any harm,” said Seymour.

Brown nodded. “He’s downstairs. Thirty minutes.”

That afternoon Sam Somerville took the regular flight from Heathrow to Washington, landing just after dark.

When Sam Somerville took off from Heathrow, Dr. Barnard was sitting in his laboratory at Fulham staring at a small collection of pieces of debris spread on a crisp white sheet of paper across a tabletop. He was very tired. Since the urgent call to his small London house just after dawn the previous day, he had not stopped working. Much of that work was a strain on the eyes, peering through magnifying glasses and into microscopes. But if he rubbed his eyes that late afternoon, it was more from surprise than exhaustion.

He now knew what had happened, how it had happened, and what had been the effect. Stains on fabric and leather had yielded to chemical analysis to reveal the exact chemical components of the explosive; the extent of burn- and impact-deterioration had shown him how much was used, where it had been placed, and how it had been triggered. There were some pieces missing, of course. Some would never appear, vaporized, lost forever, having ceased to exist. Others would emerge from the ruin of the body itself, and he had been in constant contact with Ian Macdonald, who was still at work in Oxford. The yield from Oxford would arrive shortly. But he knew what he was looking at, though to the untrained eye it was just a pile of minuscule fragments.

Some of them made up the remnants of a tiny battery, source identified. Others were tiny pieces of polyvinyl-chloride insulated plastic covering, source identified. Strands of copper wire, source identified. And a mess of twisted brass bonded with what had once been a small but efficient pulse-receiver. No detonator. He was 100 percent sure, but he wanted to be 200 percent. He might have to go back to the road and start again. One of his assistants poked his head around the door.

“Dr. Macdonald on the line from the Radcliffe.”

The pathologist had also been working since the previous afternoon, at a task many would find horribly gruesome but which to him was more full of detective fascination than any other he could imagine. He lived for his profession, so much so that instead of limiting himself to examining the remains of bomb-blast victims, he attended the courses and lectures available only to a very few on bomb-making and disarming offered at Fort Halstead. He wished to know not simply that he was looking for something, but what it was and what it looked like.

He had begun by studying the photographs for two hours before he even touched the cadaver itself. Then he carefully removed the clothes, not relying on an assistant but doing it himself. The running shoes came first, then the ankle socks. The rest was snipped off, using fine scissors. Each item was bagged and sent direct to Barnard in London. The yield from the clothes had reached Fulham by sunrise.

When the body was naked, it was X-rayed from top to toe. Macdonald studied the prints for an hour and identified forty nonhuman particles. Then he swabbed the body down with a sticky powder, which removed a dozen infinitely small particles stuck to the skin. Some were crumbs of grass and mud; some were not. A second police car took this grim harvest to Dr. Barnard in Fulham.

He did an external autopsy, dictating into a recorder in his measured Scottish lilt. He only began to cut just before dawn. The first task was to excise from the cadaver all the “relevant tissue.” This happened to be all of the middle section of the body, which had lost almost everything from and including the bottom two ribs down to the top of the pelvis. Within the excised matter were the small particles that remained of eight inches of lower spine, which had come straight through the body and the ventral wall to lodge in the front of the jeans.

The autopsy-establishment of cause of death-was no problem. It was massive explosive injury to spine and abdomen. The full post-mortem needed more. Dr. Macdonald had the excised matter X-rayed again, in much finer grain. There were things in there, all right, some so small they would defy tweezers. The excised flesh and bone was finally “digested” in a brew of enzymes to create a thick soup of dissolved human tissue, bone included. It was the centrifuge that yielded the last cull, a final ounce of bits of metal.

When this ounce was available for examination Dr. Macdonald selected the largest piece, the one he had spotted in the second X-ray, deeply impacted into a piece of bone and buried inside the young man’s spleen. He studied it for a while, whistled, and rang Fulham.

Barnard came on the line. “Ian, glad you called. Anything else for me?”

“Aye. There’s something here you have got to see. If I’m right, it’s something I’ve never seen before. I think I know what it is, but I can hardly believe it.”

“Use a squad car. Send it now,” said Barnard grimly.

Two hours later the men were speaking again. It was Barnard who called this time.

“If you were thinking what I believe you were thinking, you were right,” he said. Barnard had his 200 percent.

“It couldn’t come from anywhere else?” asked Macdonald.

“Nope. There’s no way one of these gets into anybody’s hands but the manufacturer’s.”

“Bloody hell,” said the pathologist quietly.

“Mum’s the word, matey,” said Barnard. “Ours but to do or die, right? I’m having my report with the Home Secretary in the morning. Can you do the same?”

Macdonald glanced at his watch. Thirty-six hours since he had been roused. Another twelve to go.

“Sleep no more. Barnard does murder sleep,” he parodied Macbeth. “All right, on his desk by breakfast.”

That evening he released the body, or both parts of it, to the coroner’s officer. In the morning the Oxford coroner would open and adjourn the inquest, enabling him to release the body to the next of kin, in this case Ambassador Fairweather in person, representing President John Cormack.

As the two British scientists wrote their reports through the night, Sam Somerville was received, at her own request, by the committee in the Situation Room beneath the West Wing. She had appealed right up to the Director of the Bureau, and after she had telephoned Vice President Odell, he had agreed to bring her along.

When she entered the room they were all already seated. Only David Weintraub was missing, away in Tokyo talking to his opposite number there. She felt intimidated; these men were the most powerful in the land, men you only saw on television or in the press. She took a deep breath, held her head up, and walked forward to the end of the table. Vice President Odell gestured to a chair.

“Sit down, young lady.”

“We understand you wanted to ask us to let Mr. Quinn go free,” said Attorney General Bill Walters. “May we ask why?”

Sam took a deep breath. “Gentlemen, I know some may suspect Mr. Quinn was in some way involved in the death of Simon Cormack. I ask you to believe me. I have been in close contact with him in that apartment for three weeks and I’m convinced he genuinely tried to secure that young man’s release safe and unharmed.”

“Then why did he run?” asked Philip Kelly. He did not appreciate having his junior agents brought to the committee to speak for themselves.

“Because there were two freak news leaks in the forty-eight hours before he went. Because he had spent three weeks trying to gain that animal’s trust and he had done it. Because he was convinced Zack was about to scuttle and run, if he couldn’t get to him alone and unarmed, without a shadow from either the British or American authorities.”

No one failed to grasp that by “American authorities” she meant Kevin Brown. Kelly scowled.

“There remains a suspicion he could have been involved in some way,” he said. “We don’t know how, but it needs to be checked out.”

“He couldn’t, sir,” said Sam. “If he had proposed himself as the negotiator, maybe. But the choice to ask him was made right here. He told me he didn’t even want to come. And from the moment Mr. Weintraub saw him in Spain he has been in someone’s company twenty-four hours a day. Every word he spoke to the kidnappers, you listened to.”

“Except those missing forty-eight hours before he showed up on a roadside,” said Morton Stannard.

“But why should he make a deal with the kidnappers during that time?” she asked. “Except for the return of Simon Cormack.”

“Because two million dollars is a lot of money to a poor man,” suggested Hubert Reed.

“But if he had wanted to disappear with the diamonds,” she persisted, “we’d still be looking for him now.”

“Well,” said Odell unexpectedly, “he did go to the kidnappers alone and unarmed-except for some goddam marzipan. If he didn’t know them already, that takes grit.”

“And yet Mr. Brown’s suspicions may not be entirely unfounded,” said Jim Donaldson. “He could have made his contact, struck a deal. They kill the boy, leave Quinn alive, take the stones. Later they meet up and split the booty.”

“Why should they?” asked Sam, bolder now, with the Vice President apparently on her side. “They had the diamonds. They could have killed him too. Even if they didn’t, why should they split with him? Would you trust them?”

None of them would trust such men an inch. There was silence as they thought it over.

“If he’s allowed to go, what has he in mind? Back to his vineyard in Spain?” asked Reed.

“No, sir. He wants to go after them. He wants to hunt them down.”

“Hey, hold on, Agent Somerville,” said Kelly indignantly. “That’s Bureau work. Gentlemen, we have no need of discretion to protect the life of Simon Cormack anymore. He’s been murdered, and that murder is indictable under our laws, just like that murder on the cruise ship, the Achille Lauro. We’re putting teams into Britain and Europe with the cooperation of all the national police authorities. We want them and we’re going to get them. Mr. Brown controls the operations out of London.”

Sam Somerville played her last card.

“But, gentlemen, if Quinn was not involved, he got closer than anyone to them, saw them, spoke to them. If he was involved, then he will know where to go. That could be our best lead.”

“You mean, let him run and tail him?” asked Walters.

“No, sir. I mean let me go with him.”

“Young lady”-Michael Odell leaned forward to see her better-“do you know what you’re saying? This man has killed before-okay, in combat. If he’s involved, you could end up very dead.”

“I know that, Mr. Vice President. That’s the point. I believe he’s innocent and I’m prepared to take the risk.”

“Mmmmm. All right. Stay in town, Miss Somerville. We’ll let you know. We need to discuss this-in private,” said Odell.

Home Secretary Marriott spent a disturbed morning reading the reports of Drs. Barnard and Macdonald. Then he took them both to Downing Street. He was back in the Home Office by lunchtime. Nigel Cramer was waiting for him.

“You’ve seen these?” asked Sir Harry.

“I’ve read copies, Home Secretary.”

“This is appalling, utterly dismaying. If this ever gets out… Do you know where Ambassador Fairweather is?”

“Yes. He’s at Oxford. The coroner released the body to him an hour ago. I believe Air Force One is standing by at Upper Heyford to fly the casket back to the States. The Ambassador will see it depart, then return to London.”

“Mmm. I’ll have to ask the Foreign Office to set up an interview. I want no copies of this to anybody. Ghastly business. Any news on the manhunt?”

“Not a lot, sir. Quinn made plain that none of the other two kidnappers he saw uttered a word. It could be they were foreigners. We’re concentrating the hunt for the Volvo at major ports and airports connecting to Europe. I fear they may have slipped away. Of course, the hunt for the house goes on. No further need for discretion-I’m having a public appeal issued this evening, if you agree. A detached house with an attached garage, a cellar, and a Volvo of that color-someone must have seen something.”

“Yes, by all means. Keep me posted,” said the Home Secretary.

That evening in Washington, a very tense Sam Somerville was summoned from her apartment in Alexandria to the Hoover Building. She was shown to the office of Philip Kelly, her ultimate departmental boss, to hear the White House decision.

“All right, Agent Somerville, you’ve got it. The powers-that-be say you get to return to England and release Mr. Quinn. But this time, you stay with him, right with him, all the time. And you let Mr. Brown know what he’s doing and where he’s going.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

She was just in time to catch the overnight red-eye for Heathrow. There was a slight delay in the departure of her scheduled plane out of Dulles International. A few miles away, at Andrews, Air Force One was landing with the casket of Simon Cormack. At that hour, right across America, all airports ceased traffic for two minutes’ silence.

She landed at Heathrow at dawn. It was the dawn of the fourth day since the murder.

Irving Moss was awakened early that morning by the sound of the ringing phone. It could only be one source-the only one that had his number here. He checked his watch: 4:00 A.M., 10:00 the previous evening in Houston. He took down the lengthy list of produce prices, all in U.S. dollars and cents, eradicated the zeros or “nulls”-which indicated a space in the message-and according to the day of the month set the lines of figures against prepared lines of letters. When he had finished decoding, he sucked in his cheeks. Something extra, something not foreseen, something else he would have to take care of. Without delay.

Aloysius Fairweather, Jr., United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, had received the message conveyed by the British Foreign Office the previous evening on his return from the Upper Hey ford U.S. Air Force Base. It had been a bad, sad day: receiving permission from Oxford’s coroner to take charge of the body of his President’s son, collecting the casket from the local morticians, who had done their best with little chance of success, and dispatching the tragic cargo back to Washington on Air Force One.

He had been in this post almost three years, the appointee of the new administration, and he knew he had done well, even though he had to succeed the incomparable Charles Price of the Reagan years. But these past four weeks had been a nightmare no ambassador should have to live through.

The Foreign Office request puzzled him, for it was not to see the Foreign Secretary, with whom he normally dealt, but the Home Secretary, Sir Harry Marriott. He knew Sir Harry, as he knew most of the British Ministers, well enough to drop titles in private and revert to first names. But to be called to the Home Office itself, and at the breakfast hour, was unusual, and the Foreign Office message had lacked explanation. His long black Cadillac swept into Victoria Street at five to nine.

“My dear Al.” Marriott was all charm, albeit backed by the gravity the circumstances demanded. “I hope I don’t need to tell you the level of shock that the last few days have brought to this entire country.”

Fairweather nodded. He had no doubt the reaction of the British government and people was totally genuine. For days the queue to sign the condolence book in the embassy lobby had stretched twice around Grosvenor Square. Near the top of the first page was the simple inscription “Elizabeth R,” followed by the entire Cabinet, the two archbishops, the leaders of all the other churches, and thousands of names of the high and the obscure. Sir Harry pushed two manila-bound reports across the desk at him.

“I wanted you to see these first, in private, and I suggest now. There may be matters we should discuss before you leave.”

Dr. Macdonald’s report was the shorter; Fairweather took it first. Simon Cormack had died of massive explosive damage to spine and abdomen, caused by a detonation of small but concentrated effect near the base of his back. At the time he died he was carrying the bomb on his person. There was more, but it was technical jargon about his physique, state of health, last known meal, and so on.

Dr. Barnard had more to say. The bomb Simon Cormack had been carrying on his person was concealed in the broad leather belt he wore around his waist and which had been given him by his abductors to hold up the denim jeans they had also provided him.

The belt had been three inches wide and made of two strips of cowhide sewn together along their edges. At the front it was secured by a heavy and ornate brass buckle, four inches long and slightly wider than the belt itself, decorated at its front by the embossed image of a longhorn steer’s head. It was the sort of belt sold widely in shops specializing in Western or camping equipment. Although appearing solid, the buckle had in fact been hollow.

The explosive had been a two-ounce wafer of Semtex, composed of 45 percent penta tetro ether nitrate (or PETN), 45 percent RDX, and 10 percent plasticizer. The wafer had been three inches long and one-and-a-half inches wide, and had been inserted between the two strands of leather precisely against the young man’s backbone.

Buried within the plastic explosive had been a miniature detonator, or mini-del, later extracted from within a fragment of vertebra that had itself been buried in the spleen. It was distorted but still recognizable-and identifiable.

From the explosive and detonator, a wire ran around the belt to the side, where it connected with a lithium battery similar to and no larger than the sort used to power digital watches. This had been inside a hollow, sculpted within the thickness of the double leather. The same wire then ran on to the pulse-receiver hidden inside the buckle. From the receiver a further wire, the aerial, ran right around the belt, between the layers of leather.

The pulse receiver would have been no larger than a small matchbox, probably receiving, on something like 72.15 megahertz, a signal sent from a small transmitter. This was not, of course, found at the scene, but it was probably a flat plastic box pack, smaller than a crush-proof cigarette pack, with a single flush button depressed by the ball of the thumb to effect detonation. Range: something over three hundred yards.

Al Fairweather was visibly shaken. “God, Harry, this is… satanic.”

“And complex technology,” agreed the Home Secretary. “The sting is in the tail. Read the summary.”

“But why?” asked the ambassador when he looked up at last. “In God’s name, why, Harry? And how did they do it?”

“As to how, there’s only one explanation. Those animals pretended to let Simon Cormack go free. They must have driven on awhile, circled back, and approached the stretch of road from the direction of the fields on foot. Probably hidden in one of those clumps of trees standing two hundred yards away from the road across the fields. That would be within range. We have men scouring the woods now for possible footprints.

“As to why, I don’t know, Al. We none of us know. But the scientists are adamant. They have not got it wrong. For the moment I would suggest that report remain extremely confidential. Until we know more. We are trying to find out. I’m sure your own people will want to try also, before anything goes public.”

Fairweather rose, taking his copies of the reports.

“I’m not sending these by courier,” he said. “I’m flying home with them this afternoon.”

The Home Secretary escorted him down to the ground level.

“You do realize what this could do if it gets out?” he asked.

“No need to underline it,” said Fairweather. “There’d be riots. I have to take this to Jim Donaldson and maybe Michael Odell. They’ll have to tell the President. God, what a thing.”

Sam Somerville’s rental car had been where she left it in the short-stay parking lot at Heathrow. She drove straight to the manor house in Surrey. Kevin Brown read the letter she brought and glowered.

“You’re making a mistake, Agent Somerville,” he said. “Director Edmonds is making a mistake. That man down there knows more than he lets on-always has, always will. Letting him run sticks in my craw. He should be on a flight Stateside-in handcuffs.”

But the signature on the letter was clear. Brown sent Moxon down to the cellars to bring Quinn up. He was still in cuffs; they had to remove those. And unwashed, unshaven, and hungry. The FBI team began to clear out and hand the building back to their hosts. At the door Brown turned to Quinn.

“I don’t want to see you again, Quinn. Except behind a row of steel bars. And I think one day I will.”

On the drive back to London, Quinn was silent as Sam told him the outcome of her trip to Washington and the decision of the White House to let him have his head so long as she went with him.

“Quinn, just be careful. Those men have to be animals. What they did to that boy was savage.”

“It was worse,” said Quinn. “It was illogical. That’s what I can’t get over. It doesn’t make sense. They had it all. They were away clean and clear. Why come back to kill him?”

“Because they were sadists,” said Sam. “You know these people-you’ve dealt with their type for years. They have no mercy, no pity. They relish inflicting pain. They intended to kill him from the start.”

“Then why not in the cellar? Why not me too? Why not with a gun, knife, or rope? Why at all?”

“We’ll never know. Unless they can be found. And they’ve got the whole world to disappear into. Where do you want to go?”

“The apartment,” said Quinn. “I have my things there.”

“Me too,” said Sam. “I went to Washington with only the clothes on my back.”

She was driving north up Warwick Road.

“You’ve gone too far,” said Quinn, who knew London like a cabdriver. “Take a right at Cromwell Road, the next intersection.”

The lights were red. Across in front of them cruised a long black Cadillac bearing the fluttering pennant of the Stars and Stripes. Ambassador Fairweather was in the back, studying a report, heading for the airport. He looked up, glanced at the pair of them without recognition, and went on his way.

Duncan McCrea was still in residence, as if overlooked in the mayhem of the past few days. He greeted Quinn like a Labrador puppy reunited with his master.

Earlier that day, he reported, Lou Collins had sent in the cleaners. These were not men who wielded feather dusters. They had cleaned out the bugs and wiretaps. The apartment was “burned” as far as the Company was concerned and they had no further use for it. McCrea had been told to stay on, pack, tidy up, and return the keys to the landlord when he left the next morning. He was about to pack Sam’s and Quinn’s clothes when they arrived.

“Well, Duncan, it’s here or a hotel. Mind if we stay one last night?”

“Oh, of course, no problem. Be the Agency’s guest. I’m awfully sorry, but in the morning we have to vacate.”

“The morning will do fine,” said Quinn. He was tempted to ruffle the younger man’s hair in a paternal gesture. McCrea’s smile was infectious. “I need a bath, shave, food, and about ten hours’ sleep.”

McCrea went out to Mr. Patel’s across the road and came back with two large grocery bags. He made steak, fries, and salad, with two bottles of red wine. Quinn was touched to note he had picked a Spanish Rioja-not from Andalusia, but the nearest he could get.

Sam saw no need for further secrecy over her affair with Quinn. She came to his room as soon as he turned in, and if young McCrea heard them making love, so what? After the second time she fell asleep, on her front, her face against his chest. He placed one hand on the nape of her neck and she murmured at the touch.

But despite his tiredness he could not sleep. He lay on his back, as on so many previous nights, and stared at the ceiling and thought. There was something about those men in the warehouse, something he had missed. It came to him in the small hours. The man behind him, holding the Skorpion with practiced casualness, not the careful tension of one unused to handguns; balanced, relaxed, self-confident, knowing he could bring the machine pistol to aim, and fire in a fraction of a second. His stance, his poise-Quinn had seen it before.

“He was a soldier,” he said quietly into the darkness. Sam murmured “Mmmmm” but went on sleeping. Something else, something as he passed the door of the Volvo to climb into the trunk. It eluded him and he fell asleep at last.

In the morning Sam rose first and went back to her own room to dress. Duncan McCrea may have seen her leave Quinn’s room but he made no mention. He was more concerned that his guests should have a good breakfast.

“Last night… I forgot eggs,” he called, and scampered off down the stairs to get some from an early dairy around the corner.

Sam brought Quinn his breakfast in bed. He was lost in thought. She had become accustomed to his reveries, and left him. Lou Collins’s cleaners had certainly not done any proper cleaning, she thought. The rooms were dusty after four weeks without attention.

Quinn was not concerned with the dust. He was watching a spider in the top far corner of his room. Laboriously the little creature laced up the last two strands of an otherwise perfect web, checked to see that every strand was in place, then scuttled to the center and sat there waiting. It was that last movement by the spider that recalled to Quinn the tiny detail that had eluded him last night.

The White House committee had the full reports of Drs. Barnard and Macdonald in front of them. It was the former they were studying. One by one they finished the summary and sat back.

“Goddam bastards,” said Michael Odell with feeling. He spoke for all of them. Ambassador Fairweather sat at the end of the table.

“Is there any possibility,” Secretary of State Donaldson asked, “that the British scientists could have gotten it wrong? About the origins?”

“They say no,” answered the ambassador. “They’ve invited us to send anyone we like over to double-check, but they’re good. I’m afraid they’ve got it right.”

As Sir Harry Marriott had said, the sting was in the tail, the summary. Every single component, Dr. Barnard had said with the full concurrence of his military colleagues at Fort Halstead-the copper wires, their plastic covering, the Semtex, the pulse-receiver, the battery, the brass, and the leather stitching-was of Soviet manufacture.

He conceded it was possible for such items, though manufactured in the Soviet Union, to fall into the hands of others outside the U.S.S.R. But the clincher was the mini-del. No larger than a paper clip, these miniature detonators are used, and only used, within the Soviet space program at Baikonur. They are employed to give infinitesimal steering changes to the Salyut and Soyuz vehicles as they maneuver to dock in space.

“But it doesn’t make sense,” protested Donaldson. “Why should they?”

“A whole lot in this mess doesn’t make sense,” said Odell. “If this is true, I don’t see how Quinn could have known about it. It looks like they duped him all along, duped all of us.”

“The question is, what do we do about it?” asked Reed of Treasury.

“The funeral’s tomorrow,” said Odell. “We’ll get that over with first. Then we’ll decide how we handle our Russian friends.”

Over four weeks Michael Odell had found that the authority of acting-President was sitting more and more lightly on him. The men around this table had come to accept his leadership also, more and more, he realized, as if he were the President.

“How is the President,” asked Walters, “since… the news?”

“According to the doctor, bad,” said Odell. “Very bad. If the kidnapping was bad enough, the death of his son, and done that way, has been like a bullet in his gut.”

At the word bullet each man around the table thought the same thought. No one dared say it.

Julian Hayman was the same age as Quinn and they had known each other when Quinn lived in London and worked for the underwriting firm affiliated with Lloyd’s, specializing in protection and hostage release. Their worlds had overlapped, for Hayman, a former major in the SAS, ran a company dedicated to the provision of anticrime alarm systems and personal protection, including bodyguards. His clientele was exclusive, wealthy, and careful. They were people who had reason to be suspicious, or they would not have paid so highly for Hayman’s services.

The office in Victoria, to which Quinn guided Sam in the middle of the morning after leaving the flat and saying a final goodbye to Duncan McCrea, was as well-protected as it was discreet.

Quinn told Sam to sit in the window of a café down the street and wait for him.

“Why can’t I come with you?” she asked.

“Because he wouldn’t receive you. He may not even see me. But I hope he will-we go back a long way. Strangers he doesn’t like, unless they are paying heavily, and we aren’t. When it comes to women from the FBI, he’d be like shy game.”

Quinn announced himself through the door phone, aware he was being scanned by the overhead video camera. When the door clicked he walked right through to the back, past two secretaries who did not even look up. Julian Hayman was in his office at the far end of the ground floor. The room was as elegant as its occupant. It had no windows; neither did Hayman.

“Well, well, well,” he drawled. “Long time, soldier.” He held out a languid hand. “What brings you to my humble shop?”

“Information,” said Quinn. He told Hayman what he wanted.

“In earlier times, dear boy, no problem. But things change, don’t you see? Fact is, the word’s out on you, Quinn. Persona non grata, they’re saying at the club. Not the flavor of the month exactly, especially with your own people. Sorry, old boy, you’re bad news. Can’t help.”

Quinn lifted the phone off the desk and hit several buttons. It began to ring at the other end.

“What are you doing?” asked Hayman. The drawl had gone.

“No one saw me come in here, but half Fleet Street’s going to see me leave,” said Quinn.

Daily Mail,” said a voice on the phone. Hayman reached forward and killed the call. Many of his best-paying clients were American corporations in Europe, the sort to whom he would prefer to avoid making laborious explanations.

“You’re a bastard, Quinn,” he said thinly. “Always were. All right, a couple of hours in the files, but I lock you in. Nothing is to be missing.”

“Would I do that to you?” asked Quinn amiably. Hayman led him downstairs to the basement archive.

Partly in the course of his business, partly out of a personal interest, Julian Hayman had amassed over the years a remarkably comprehensive archive of criminals of every kind. Murderers, bank robbers, gangsters, swindlers, dope peddlers, arms traffickers, terrorists, kidnappers, shifty bankers, accountants, lawyers, politicians, and policemen; dead, alive, in jail, or simply missing-if they had appeared in print, and often if they had not, he had them filed. The archive ran right under the building.

“Any particular section?” asked Hayman as he switched on the lights. The file cabinets ran in all directions, and these were only the cards and the photographs. The main data was on computer.

“Mercenaries,” said Quinn.

“As in Congo?” asked Hayman.

“As in Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, Biafra, Rhodesia.”

“From here to here,” said Hayman, gesturing to ten yards of chin-high steel filing cabinets. “The table’s at the end.”

It took Quinn four hours, but no one disturbed him. The photograph showed four men, all white. They were grouped around the front end of a Jeep, on a thin and dusty road edged by the bush vegetation of what looked like Africa. Several black soldiers could be discerned behind them. They were all in camouflage combat uniform and calf boots. Three had bush hats. All carried Belgian FLN automatic rifles. Their camouflage was of the leopard-spot type favored by Europeans rather than the streaked variety used by the British and Americans.

Quinn took the photo to the table, put it under the spot lamp, and found a powerful magnifying glass in the drawer. Under its gaze, the design on the hand of one of the men showed up more clearly, despite the sepia tint of the old photo. A spider’s web motif, on the back of the left hand, the spider crouching at the center of the web.

He went on through the files but found nothing else of interest. Nothing that rang a bell. He pressed the buzzer to be let out.

In his office Julian Hayman held out his hand for the photograph.

“Who?” said Quinn. Hayman studied the rear of the picture. Like every other card entry and photo in his collection, it bore a seven-figure number on the back. He tapped the number into the console of his desk-top computer. The full file flashed up on the screen.

“Hmm, you have picked some charmers, old boy.” He read off the screen. “Picture almost certainly taken in Maniema Province, eastern Congo, now Zaire, some time in the winter of 1964. The man on the left is Jacques Schramme, Black Jack Schramme, the Belgian mercenary.”

He warmed to his narration. It was his specialty.

“Schramme was one of the first. He fought against the United Nations troops in the attempted Katangan secession of 1960 to ’62. When they lost he had to quit and took refuge in neighboring Angola, which was then Portuguese and ultra-right wing. Returned on invitation in the autumn of 1964 to help put down the Simba revolt. Reconstituted his old Leopard Group and set about pacifying Maniema Province. That’s him all right. Any more?”

“The others,” said Quinn.

“Mmmm. The one on the extreme right is another Belgian, Commandant Wauthier. At the time he commanded a contingent of Katangan levies and about twenty white mercenaries at Watsa. Must have been on a visit. You interested in Belgians?”

“Maybe.” Quinn thought back to the Volvo in the warehouse. He was passing the open door, caught the odor of cigarette smoke. Not Marlboro, not Dunhill. More like French Gauloises. Or Bastos, the Belgian brand. Zack did not smoke; he had smelt his breath.

“The one without the hat in the middle is Roger Lagaillarde, also Belgian. Killed in a Simba ambush on the Punia road. No doubt about that.”

“And the big one?” said Quinn. “The giant?”

“Yes, he is big,” agreed Hayman. “Must be six feet six at least. Built like a barn door. Early twenties, by the look of him. Pity he’s turned his head away. With the shadow of his bush hat you can’t see much of his face. Probably why there’s no name for him. Just a nickname. Big Paul. That’s all it says.”

He flicked off the screen. Quinn had been doodling on a pad. He pushed his drawing across to Hayman.

“Ever seen that before?”

Hayman looked at the design of the spider’s web, the spider at its center. He shrugged.

“A tattoo? Worn by young hooligans, punks, football thugs. Quite common.”

“Think back,” said Quinn. “Belgium, say thirty years ago.”

“Ah, wait a minute. What the hell did they call it? Araignée-that was it. Can’t recall the Flemish word for spider, just the French.”

He tapped at his keys for several seconds.

“Black web, red spider at the center, worn on the back of the left hand?”

Quinn tried to recall. He was passing the open passenger door of the Volvo, on his way to climb into the trunk. Zack behind him. The man in the driver’s seat had leaned across to watch him through the hood slits. A big man, almost touched the roof in the sitting position. Leaning sideways, left hand supporting his weight. And in order to smoke he had removed his left glove.

“Yeah,” said Quinn. “That’s it.”

“Insignificant bunch,” said Hayman dismissively, reading from his screen. “Extreme right-wing organization formed in Belgium in the late fifties, early sixties. Opposed to decolonization of Belgium’s only colony, the Congo. Anti-black, of course, anti-Semitic-what else is new? Recruited young tearaways and hooligans, street thugs and riffraff. Specialized in throwing rocks through Jewish shop windows, heckling leftist speakers, beat up a couple of Liberal members of Parliament. Died out eventually. Of course, the dissolution of the colonial empires threw up all sorts of these groups.”

“Flemish movement or Walloon?” asked Quinn. He was referring to the two cultural groups within Belgium: the Flemings, mainly in the northern half near Holland, who speak Flemish, and the Walloons from the south, nearer France, who speak French. Belgium is a two-language country.

“Both, really,” said Hayman after consulting his screen. “But it says here it started and was always strongest in the city of Antwerp. So, Flemish, I suppose.”

Quinn left him and returned to the café. Any other woman would have been spitting angry at being kept waiting for four and a half hours. Fortunately for Quinn, Sam was a trained agent, and had been through her apprenticeship in stakeout duties, than which nothing is more boring. She was nursing her fifth cup of awful coffee.

“When do you check your car in?” he asked.

“Due tonight. I could extend it.”

“Can you hand it back at the airport?”

“Sure. Why?”

“We’re flying to Brussels.”

She looked unhappy.

“Please, Quinn, do we have to fly? I do it if I really have to, but if I can avoid it I chicken out, and I’ve had too much flying lately.”

“Okay,” he said. “Check the car in London. We’ll take the train and the hovercraft. We’ll have to rent a Belgian car anyway. Might as well be Ostende. And we’ll need money. I have no credit cards.”

“You what?” She had never heard anyone say that.

“I don’t need them in Alcántara del Rio.”

“Okay, we’ll go to the bank. I’ll use a check and hope I have enough in the account back home.”

On the way to the bank she turned on the radio. The music was somber. It was four on a London afternoon and getting dark. Far away across the Atlantic, the Cormack family was burying their son.

Chapter 12

They laid him down on Prospect Hill, the cemetery on the island of Nantucket, and the chill November wind keened out of the north across the Sound.

The service was in the small Episcopalian church on Fair Street, far too small to hold all who wanted to attend. The First Family was in the front two rows of pews, with the Cabinet behind them and a variety of other dignitaries in the rear. At the family’s request it was a small and private service-foreign ambassadors and delegates were asked to attend a memorial service in Washington to be held later.

The President had asked for privacy from the media, but a number had turned up anyway. The islanders-there were no vacationers on the island in that season-took his wish very literally. Even the Secret Service men, not known for their exquisite manners, were surprised to be upstaged by the grim and silent Nantucketers, who quietly lifted several cameramen physically out of the way and left two of them protesting the ruin of their exposed film rolls.

The casket was brought to the church from the island’s only funeral parlor on Union Street, where it had rested during the time between its arrival by military C-130-the small airfield could not take the Boeing 747-and the start of the service.

Halfway through the ceremony the first rains came, glittering on the gray slate roof of the church, washing down the stained-glass windows and the pink and gray stone blocks of the building.

When it was over, the casket was placed in a hearse, which proceeded at walking pace the half mile to the Hill; out of Fair Street, over the bumpy cobblestones of Main Street, and up New Mill Street to Cato Lane. The mourners walked in the rain, headed by the President, whose eyes were fixed on the flag-draped coffin a few feet in front of him. His younger brother supported a weeping Myra Cormack.

The way was flanked by the people of Nantucket, bareheaded and silent. There were the tradesmen who had sold the family fish, meat, eggs, and vegetables; restaurateurs who had served them in the scores of good eating houses around the island. There were the walnut faces of the old fishermen who had once taught the tow-haired youngster from New Haven to swim and dive and fish, or taken him scalloping off the Sankaty Light.

The caretaker and the gardener stood weeping on the corner of Fair Street and Main, to take a last look at the boy who had learned to run on those hard, tide-washed beaches from Coatue up to Great Point and back to Siasconset Beach. But bomb victims are not for the eyes of the living and the casket was sealed.

At Prospect Hill they turned into the Protestant half of the cemetery, past hundred-year-old graves of men who had hunted whales in small open boats and carved scrimshaw by oil lamps through the long winter nights. They came to the new section where the grave had been prepared.

The people filed in behind and filled the ground, row on row, and in that high open place the wind tore across the Sound and through the town to tug at hair and scarves. No shop was open that day, no garage, no bar. No planes landed, no ferries docked. The islanders had locked out the world to mourn one of their own, even by adoption. The minister began to intone the old words, his voice carried away on the wind.

High above, a single gyrfalcon, drifting down from the Arctic like a snowflake on the blast, looked down, saw every detail with his incredible eyes, and his single lost-soul scream was pulled away down the wind.

The rain, which had held off since the church service, resumed again, coming in flurries and squalls. The locked sails of the Old Mill creaked down the road. The men from Washington shivered and huddled into their heavy coats. The President stood immobile and stared down at what was left of his son, immune to the cold and the rain.

A yard from him stood the First Lady, her face streaked with rain and tears. When the preacher reached “the Resurrection and the Life,” she seemed to sway as if she might fall.

By her side a Secret Service man, open-coated to reach the handgun beneath his left armpit, crew-cut and built like a linebacker, overlooked protocol and training to wrap his right arm around her shoulders. She leaned against him and wept into his soaked jacket.

John Cormack stood alone, isolated in his pain, unable to reach out, an island.

A photographer, smarter than the rest, took a ladder from a backyard a quarter of a mile away and climbed the old wooden windmill on the corner of South Prospect Street and South Mill Street. Before anyone saw him using a telephoto lens, and by the light of a single wintry shaft that penetrated the clouds, he took one picture over the heads of the crowd of the group by the side of the grave.

It was a picture that would flash around America and the world. It showed the face of John Cormack as none had ever seen it: the face of an old man, a man aged beyond his years, sick, tired, drained. A man who could take no more; a man ready to go.

At the entrance to the cemetery the Cormacks stood later as the mourners passed by. None could find words to say. The President nodded as if he understood, and shook hands formally.

After the few from the immediate family came his closest friends and colleagues, headed by the Vice President and the six members of the Cabinet who formed the core of the committee seeking to handle the crisis for him. With four of them-Odell, Reed, Donaldson, and Walters-he went back a long time.

Michael Odell paused for a moment in an attempt to find something to say, shook his head, and turned away. The rain pattered on his bowed head, plastering the thick gray hair to his scalp.

Jim Donaldson’s precise diplomacy was equally disarmed by his emotions; he, too, could only stare in mute sympathy at his friend, shake his limp, dry hand, and pass on.

Bill Walters, the Attorney General, hid what he felt behind formality. He murmured, “Mr. President, my condolences. I’m sorry, sir.”

Morton Stannard, the banker from New York translated to the Pentagon, was the oldest man there. He had attended many funerals, of friends and colleagues, but nothing like this. He was going to say something conventional, but could only blurt out: “God, I’m so sorry, John.”

Brad Johnson, the black academic and National Security Adviser, just shook his head as if in bewilderment.

Hubert Reed of the Treasury surprised those standing close to the Cormacks. He was not a demonstrative man, too shy for overt demonstrations of affection, a bachelor who had never felt the need for wife or children. But he stared up at John Cormack through streaked glasses, held out his hand, and then reached up spontaneously to embrace his old friend with both arms. As if surprised at his own impulsiveness, he then turned and hurried away to join the others climbing into their waiting cars for the airfield.

The rain eased again and two strong men began to shovel wet earth into the hole. It was over.

Quinn checked the ferry times out of Dover for Ostende and found they had missed the last of the day. They spent the night at a quiet hotel and took the train from Charing Cross in the morning.

The crossing was uneventful and by the late morning Quinn had rented a blue medium-sized Ford from a local rental agency and they were heading for the ancient Flemish port that had been trading on the Scheide since before Columbus sailed.

Belgium is interlaced by a very modern system of high-class motorways; distances are short and times even shorter. Quinn chose the E.5 east out of Ostende, cut south of Bruges and Ghent, then northeast down the E.3 and straight into the heart of Antwerp in time for a late lunch.

Europe was unknown territory for Sam; Quinn seemed to know his way around. She had heard him speak rapid and fluent French several times during the few hours they had been in the country. What she had not realized was that each time Quinn had asked if the Fleming would mind if he spoke French before he launched into it. The Flemish usually speak some French, but like to be asked first. Just to establish that they are not Walloons.

They parked the car, took lodgings in a small hotel on the Italie Lei, and walked around the corner to one of the many restaurants flanking both sides of the De Keyser Lei for lunch.

“What exactly are you looking for?” asked Sam as they ate.

“A man,” said Quinn.

“What kind of a man?”

“I’ll know when I see him.”

After lunch Quinn consulted a taxi driver in French and they took off. He paused at an art shop, made two purchases, bought a street map from a curbside kiosk, and had another conference with the driver. Sam heard the words Falcon Rui and then Schipperstraat. The driver gave her a bit of a leer as Quinn paid off the taxi.

The Falcon Rui turned out to be a run-down street fronted by several low-budget clothing shops, among others. In one, Quinn bought a seaman’s sweater, canvas jeans, and rough boots. He stuffed these into a canvas bag and they set off toward Schipperstraat. Above the roofs she could see the beaks of great cranes, indicating they were close to the docks.

Quinn turned off the Falcon Rui into a maze of narrow, mean streets that seemed to make up a zone of old and seedy houses between the Falcon Rui and the River Scheide. They passed several rough-looking men who appeared to be merchant seamen. There was an illuminated plate-glass window to Sam’s left. She glanced in. A hefty young woman, bursting out of a skimpy pair of briefs and a bra, lounged in an armchair.

“Jesus, Quinn, this is the red light district,” she protested.

“I know,” he said. “That’s what I asked the cabdriver for.”

He was still walking, glancing left and right at the signs above the shops. Apart from the bars and the illuminated windows where the whores sat and beckoned, there were few shops. But he found three of the sort he wanted, all within the space of two hundred yards.

“Tattooists?” she queried.

“Docks,” he said simply. “Docks mean sailors; sailors mean tattoos. They also mean bars and girls and the thugs who live off girls. We’ll come back tonight.”

Senator Bennett Hapgood rose at his appointed time on the floor of the Senate and strode to the podium. The day after the funeral of Simon Cormack both houses of Congress had once again put on the record their shock and revulsion at what had happened on a lonely roadside far away in England the previous week.

Speaker after speaker had called for action to trace the culprits and bring them to justice, American justice, no matter what the cost. The President pro tem of the Senate hammered with his gavel.

“The junior senator from Oklahoma has the floor,” he intoned.

Bennett Hapgood was not known as a heavyweight within the Senate. The session might have been thinly attended but for the matter under discussion. It was not thought the junior senator from Oklahoma would have much more to add. But he did. He uttered the habitual words of condolence to the President, revulsion at what had happened, and eagerness to see the guilty brought to justice. Then he paused and considered what he was about to say.

He knew it was a gamble, one hell of a gamble. He had been told what he had been told, but he had no proof of it. If he was wrong, his fellow senators would put him down as just another hayseed who used serious words with no serious intent. But he knew he had to go on or lose the support of his new and very impressive financial backer.

“But maybe we do not have to look too far to find out who were the culprits of this fiendish act.”

The low buzz in the chamber died away. Those in the aisles, about to depart, stopped and turned.

“I would like to ask one thing: Is it not true that the bomb which killed that young man, the only son of our President, was designed, made, and assembled wholly within the Soviet Union, and provably so? Did that device not come from Russia?”

His natural demagoguery might have carried him further. But the scene disintegrated in confusion and uproar. The media carried his question to the nation within ten minutes. For two hours the administration fenced and hedged. Then it had to concede the contents of the summary of Dr. Barnard’s report.

By nightfall the bleak and black rage against someone unknown, which had run like a growling current through the people of Nantucket the previous day, had found a target. Spontaneous crowds stormed and wrecked the offices of the Soviet airline Aeroflot at 630 Fifth Avenue in New York, before the police could throw a cordon ’round the building. Its panic-stricken staff ran upstairs seeking shelter from the mob, only to be rebuffed by the office workers on the floors above them. They escaped, along with the others in the building, through the help of the Fire Department when the Aeroflot floors were set afire and the whole building evacuated.

The NYPD got reinforcements to the Soviet Mission to the United Nations at 136 East 67thStreet just in time. A surging mob of New Yorkers tried to force their way into the cordoned-off street; fortunately for the Russians the blue-uniformed lines held. The New York police found themselves wrestling with a crowd intent on doing something with which many of the policemen privately sympathized.

It was the same in Washington. The capital’s police were forewarned and sealed off both the Soviet embassy and the consulate on Phelps Place just in time. Frenzied telephone appeals from the Soviet ambassador to the State Department were met with an assurance that the British report was still under examination and might prove to be false.

“We wish to see that report,” insisted Ambassador Yermakov. “It is a lie. I will be categorical. It is a lie.”

The agencies Tass and Novosti, along with every Soviet embassy in the world, issued a late-night flat denial of the findings of the Barnard report, accusing London and Washington of a vicious and deliberate calumny.

“How the hell did it get out?” demanded Michael Odell. “How the hell did that man Hapgood get to hear of it?”

There was no answer. Any major organization, let alone a government, cannot function without a host of secretaries, stenographers, clerks, messengers, any one of whom can leak a confidential document.

“One thing is certain,” mused Stannard of Defense. “After this, the Nantucket Treaty is dead as a dodo. We have to review our defense appropriations now on the basis that there will be no reductions, no limits at all.”