The Zalozhniy Quartet

Racing for the finish

Marriott Executive Suites, Central Riyadh

Rosario climbed down from the driver’s seat of a white Humvee in front of the elevator doors. The underground car park of the Suites, was coated in an expensive rubberised surface that suppressed echoes and engine noise. Bentley’s, Lamborghini’s and Mercs patiently waited under bright white lights, air-conditioning quietly purred in the background keeping the car park pleasantly cool and fresh, day and night.

Rosario’s heart felt good. Though he was conscious he shouldn’t get too comfortable with this sleek, modern luxury. But he was comfortable with himself at the moment. More than he expected to be. More than he should, maybe.
Somerset stood at the lift door in his cream linen suit, watching Rosario.

“Not the car I expected, but it’ll do,” he said.

Rosario smiled, swinging the keys in his hand, “There’s more stuff in the back. For you and the others. And me.” Somerset went round the back of the Humvee, scanning the aisles. The car park was deserted, as it always was.

Rosario continued. “Saleem knows the Al-Murah tribe. He said that Kadir Al-Murah died a couple of years back and his son, Harun, is now the head of the tribe. He’s a playboy though he spends a month a year in the tribal lands, the Rub’ al Khali.”

Somerset opened the boot door and quickly confirmed the contents of the big sports bags, one full of weaponry and explosives, the other two suits of body armour.

“How’d you know this Saleem guy again?” He remembered, but it would be interesting to see if Rosario’s story changed. Somerset pulled the bags out of the boot, and hefted them onto his shoulder, walking to the lift.

“Saleem Rashid was my CQC trainer. Ex internal security.” Rosario said. “He hinted that Harun likes spending his oil money on material things. Horses, houses that sort of things.”
Somerset smiled, “I bet he likes Aston Martin’s. Everyone does.”

Rosario “I bet he likes a bet too.”

A Forest Outside Stockholm – 1am

Two young women walked hand in hand towards the waiting SUV. One woman, Franzeska, looked about twenty with short hair. The other, Heike was a bit older, maybe thirty, with loose, long hair down to the backs of her knees. They beamed radiantly, bathed in an aura of moonlight or their own mysterious energy.

Two men waited at the SUV. One, Dietrich Kreiner, was medium height, about thirty, fair and slightly overweight. He wore unmarked, military-style fatigues. The second man in a tailored suit, sat at the wheel of the car.

They all spoke in German, with a hint of old-fashioned quality to their speech and manner. Franzeska had an upper-class accent and a regal bearing. Kreiner’s German accent had regional or foreign influences, hard to pinpoint.

Dietrich spoke eagerly “Tell me! You found it?…“

Franzeska answered, with authority “Oh yes! Oh yes, we certainly found it… Him. We found the signature of Astiru’s blood, the Albedo. It has been suppressed somehow, but there is no mistaking it.”

She pointed back into the deep forest. “There. On that slope, to the west of the stream.“

“This is marvellous news!” Dietrich said.

Heike smiled with genuine pleasure “Tomorrow, Destiny permitting, we will have the exact spot!”

The second man emerged from the SUV. He looked twenty or twenty-five, athletic and handsome with brown hair. Simon Thaler.

“Destiny favours the strong! The time for feasting draws near.” His eyes glitter with delight as he looks into the distance. He stopped.

“Your watch Dietrich!”

Thaler tossed a pair of binoculars at Dietrich who caught them and shrugged in mock dismay. They others waved farewell and departed. Kreiner walked back in the direction the women came from. He reached the base of a tree, stopped and looked up at it for a moment. Then he crouched and leapt almost vertically into the tree.

In the lurid green glow of night vision goggles, someone watches Dietrich’s black shape in the tree. Quickly it pans across trees and undergrowth, back to the SUV. The rear lights of the SUV bright in the night vision as it drives away, three heads inside visible to the observer.

The observer lowered the goggles silently. He was dressed in the uniform of a US marine; one leg heavily stained with long-dried blood.

Lounge, Marriott Executive Suite 3

“I think I’m in,” Somerset announced to the team at the end of the week. They stood and sat around the lounge of the Executive Apartment. Somerset wore the expensive grey suit of his cover, a VP of Aston Martin. He had spent the week ingratiating himself into the upper echelons of Riyadh society.

“I’ve got myself an invite to the races at the Equestrian club tomorrow night, into the VIP box. Harun Al-Mura and his entourage are going to be there. It’s our best chance so far to get to him. So let’s be ready. Katya what’s my best angle with him?”

She looked up from the chair by the window. She’d spent a lot of time out of the apartment, ingratiating herself into the society’s lower echelons. Servants always had the best gossip.

“Well, he’s got House of Saud blood, his maternal grandfather was at the Feast in ’31. He’s not popular. At least with the wider tribe. He’s been described to me as weak, venal, corrupt. He’s probably aware of his popularity problem and wants to do something to restore his rep, like honouring his father’s oaths.”

“What were the oaths?” Rosario asked.

“Don’t know.” Katya shrugged. “Katun mentioned he had sworn some, but not what.”

“OK. Patrick?” Somerset asked.

“I’ve made cigarette packet bombs for us all” he said, standing up. “Plus tacnet as usual, and for Rosario…”

“He’s made silver bullets for all of us, and silver plated knives.” Rosario indicated the knives on the coffee table. Two were modern lean combat knives, two were curved janbiya’s. All had brilliantly silver blades.

“Also there’s garlic spray and anti-coagulant.” Rosario nodded “I think we’re all set.”

A FOREST OUTSIDE STOCKHOLM – 2AM

Dietrich hid, motionless in a pine tree. He heard something. Listening closely he picks out a quiet scraping sound some three hundred yards away. He peered into the darkness, sensing the body heat of sleeping birds and a foraging deer. He saw only trees and a low hill where the sound was coming from.

Whisper quiet, he dropped from one branch to another and landed on the forest floor, pulling a pistol from his pocket. He moved quickly and silently.

He approached the top of the low hill, the sound now a distinct metallic scraping. Looking over the top of the hill and down the slope, he saw a spade, unattended in a shallow hole.

A twig cracked behind him. He whirled around, but a burst of automatic gunfire knocked him to the ground. A figure in a US Marine uniform faced him, holding a smoking assault rifle. It fired another burst into him. Kreiner rolled and tried to get his feet. A pistol appeared at his temple, point blank range and discharged. He collapsed in a fountain of blood.

The American Zalozhniy returned to the hole. His skin was pale and waxy in the moonlight. There was a distinct cut in his uniform at the stained upper thigh. He picked up the spade and mechanically returned to work.

Riyadh Equestrian Club, 8pm

The lush green grass racecourse was surrounded by palm trees and car-parks of luxury cars. Tall lights flooded both with sharp, white light. Small groups of keffiyeh’d men stood around the barriers talking, smoking and watching the occasional races. Up on the VIP balcony of the main building, Rosario studied the form of the parading horses for the next race through binoculars. He scratched quick notes on his race card with a pencil.

Next to him, Somerset sipped mango juice and leaned casually against the balcony rail, near a group of Arab men. He fiddled with an inside jacket pocket of his suit, checking the photo on the phone. Confirmed. Harun Al-Murah was in the group of men, laughing loudly. Harun had four or five friends or family and at least three bodyguards. Somerset watched the latter out of the corner of his eye. They weren’t distracted by the racing, and stood in balanced stances. Well-trained bodyguards.

Somerset turned back to Rosario “What do you reckon?” he asked quietly.

Rosario frowned, lowered the binoculars and squinted at his card. “Well, Harun’s horse is the favourite, at 2 to 1, but probably because the bookies know his sycophants will have to bet on it. Instead I think either of these two are potential winners.” He pointed at the next two horses on the card. “Maybe Lucky Day, 3.5 to 1”

Somerset pointed at the third horse, Queen of the Desert, “No, that’s the one.” Then he slapped Rosario on the back, and loudly boomed out.

“You have to cut your own path in this world, my friend, not follow the crowd! Queen of the Desert is the one for sure! Go put the money on it!” Rosario pulled out a bundle of euro’s and headed off to the betting window.

Somerset leaned against the rail, back to the horses. Several of Harun’s entourage were giving him narrow eyed looks and Harun was frowning at him. He smiled and nodded at Harun.

Somerset turned back, sipping the mango juice. You better bloody win Queen, he thought.

Al Murah’s horse took an early, flashy lead, but Queen of the Desert paced her and in the last straight pulled ahead finishing half a length in front.

Rosario returned, beaming, from the teller’s window. “Twelve thousand euros!” he said, eyes flashing.

“Congratulations. You picked a winner, and not the obvious choice.” said Harun Al-Murah. He had come over to speak to Somerset, a bodyguard stood nearby.

“Ah, I just have a nose for winners, like my cars.” Somerset said.

Harun smiled politely about to depart, but Somerset’s hook caught him. “You race cars too?” he asked, intrigued.

“Not really, I work for Aston Martin’s R&D Division. We’re testing a new supercar. I believe you’re a connoisseur of supercars?”

“Yes, yes, very much. You must come by to my house tomorrow and see my collection. And tell me more about this new car from Aston of course.”

“You couldn’t stop me.” said Somerset.

Al-Murah Mansion, 10am

The next morning a black RangeRover arrived at the Suites to collect them as Harun promised. Somerset and Katya sat in the back.

“Don’t drink while we’re there, even if it’s offered. And don’t smoke.” Somerset growled to Katya, sotto voce, his eyes on the driver in the front.

“I know what I’m doing.” she snapped back. The drinks she’d already had should keep her going.

Harun’s mansion, on the outskirts of the city, was large, modern and surrounded by wide, well-tended gardens. As the RangeRover rolled along the curving drive, Somerset wondered where Patrick and Rosario were. They had left earlier to sneak in to the mansion grounds, to be on standby, if needed.

Harun met them at the entrance to his large, underground carpark, in the shade.
“Welcome my new friends!” The day was warming up, and servants carried trays of drinks and snacks moved towards the three of them from the inner darkness.

“You have a lovely house and gardens,” Somerset said, “but before you show me your cars, there is one thing I need to talk to you about.”

Harun’s smile dropped from his face, Somerset continued quietly.

“I was asked by Her Magjesty’s Government to make contact with you, about things related to your fathers’ oaths. There are elements in MI6 that are keen to retrieve some items from Philby Senior’s grave. We would like your assistance to avoid embarrassment to your government, my government and your family, for the oaths your father swore.” Harun’s face had dropped and he gazed off into the distance, away from Somerset.

“What proof do you have of this?” he asked, sipping his drink.

Somerset paused, looked at Katya, who shrugged. He continued “We are aware of what was left in St. John’s grave in Beirut. The being made of blood in the box.”
Harun turned to stare at him. “You have been too long in the sun, Mr Somerset.”

“I am just trying to pass on a message to help you. It may strengthen …”

“I do not know what you are talking about. St. John Philby is a historical name to me. He died before I was born. ”

Somerset could tell he was genuinely mystified, and annoyed.
“Many apologies. There is much history in these lands and many myths. Sometimes something starts as fact then over years becomes myth, perhaps an unbelievable myth. But my government colleagues are very sure that St. John’s body, which should have been buried in Beirut, was removed possibly by your father and hidden. And they are sure there was something important with it.”

Harun took a drink. “My father did take me into the desert when I was a young boy. There was a cave, in the deep desert. He called it ‘the other Kaaba.’ The Bedouins called our journey the Hajj Shaitan, though they didn’t let him hear that. Maybe this cave is one of those myths you talk about. The thing that is with the body, it is valuable?”

Somerset shook his head. “I don’t think so, not financially.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Yes, very dangerous.”

“Then please remove it.”

Harun ordered an assistant to fetch a map of the Empty Quarter.

The map was spread on the RangeRover’s warm bonnet. Harun pointed to a blank area in the middle.

“It was somewhere around here. In the deepest desert.”

Somerset checked the scale, 200km south-east of Al-Kharj, into the middle of nowhere. No features, no roads, no nothing.

“How would you recommend getting there?” he asked.

“Camel is traditional. But 4×4 is better. Not by Aston Martin.”

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