The Zalozhniy Quartet


David Somerset glided through the bustling arrivals terminal with a cool, predatory detachment. He stopped for a moment, seeming to scan the contents of a small newsagent stand, his gaze flicking quickly across the tide of people. His search for pursuers was an unconscious reflex, as natural to him as breathing.

Rosario watched the Englishman from his position further back down the line of departing passengers. Part of him marvelled at the man’s icy discipline; another recoiled at the knowledge that such a man could walk unseen through the daylight. If you didn’t know the man, didn’t know what he was capable of, nor the speed at which he would do it … he must look just like any ordinary businessman.

And we’re on the side of good, he realised. The thought left a sickly, fearful taste at the back of Rosario’s throat.

As he approached the passport control, Rosario fished around inside his leather satchel for his papers, hoping he was doing a good impression of an awed tourist, as opposed to a frightened ex-priest way out of his depth. Thankfully, there was no repeat of the Swiss border here – the official scanned his European passport without much interest and waved him through. The tall Italian began picking his way towards the exit and the taxi rank where he would be meeting Somerset, along with Katya and Patrick.

As he stepped out of the air conditioned terminal, he almost collided with a large woman in a pale blue hijab who was swatting angrily at a group of street urchins. The children must have been barred from entry to the airport itself, but apparently felt that anything outside the building was fair game. Pale, dirty hands thrust in the direction of anyone that mistakenly caught their eye. They chattered loudly in Arabic, though Rosario caught an occasional broken English or French phrase amidst the cacophony. He hurried away, hoping that the woman’s outburst would keep them distracted from him, an obvious target for their energetic begging.

He dodged the bulk of them, spotting Katya as she climbed into a dusty grey Mercedes at the far end of the taxi rank. As he moved toward her, an emaciated boy stepped into his path, arms held up in front of him. A whining torrent of words tumbled from him, too fast for Rosario to follow.

“Excuse me,” he stuttered in Arabic, and made to side-step around the boy.

The child must have caught his foreign accent, because his tone changed in a flash.

“You good Christian, yes? You good Christian?” he jabbered eagerly.

Rosario paused for a fraction of a second, confused. The boy took this as an affirmation and reached into the folds of his rags to retrieve a crumpled flyer. The boy pushed it into Rosario’s hand.

“You good Christian. See cathedral,” the boy said nodding, flashing a jumble of crooked, yellow teeth.

The hands were held out once again and Rosario, sensing that he would be rid of the child once the forced transaction was completed. He reached into his pocket to find a coin and handed it over. The boy loped away towards fresher targets.

Bemused, Rosario scanned the flyer as he resumed his walk towards the taxi rank. It was advertising the cathedral of St. Louis, a nineteenth century sandstone church dedicated to King Louis IX of France. Turning the flyer, he wondered if it might be a pleasant distraction to attend Mass – it had been a long time since he fell in with Katya and her rag-tag group. In all that time he’d had little time for even private prayer. He wondered if that was why he’d been feeling so out of his depth recently.

Rosario’s eyes scanned down the page. He stopped abruptly, the flyer falling from his numbed fingers.

“Something the matter?” Somerset asked, appearing at his elbow, eyes roving the crowd for any sign of trouble.

Rosario stayed silent for a long time. “No,” he said, though his voice was hollow.

Somerset cocked his head and looked at him closely, then shrugged and climbed into the car.

The journey to the hotel was quiet and tense. They’d opted for something a similar to their Bagdad accomdation: anonymous and cheap. Their rooms were inexpensively furnished, but airy enough to keep the worst of the heat at bay. Patrick slung his worn backpack down and flopped over the arm of a sofa.

“What’s the plan now, then?” he asked, his lilting timbre cutting through the glum mood.

“I need someone to follow up on the SIM card we found in that unlucky bastard’s shoe,” Somerset suggested. “But our main priority is Bridger Investments. They’re why we’re here. I want that diary back.”

“You’ll be wanting me to work some of my magic, I assume,” the Irishman replied.

Somerset inclined his head in acknowledgment. “If you would be so kind.”

“Bridger won’t change their arrangements too much,” Katya interjected. “They’ll be somewhere expensive, probably central. I’ll do some legwork, see if any of the hotel staff are willing to talk.”

A silence followed, each of the others knew that she was making another excuse, albeit a well-reasoned one, to be out, working the bars. Drinking. It was a problem, but the alcohol hadn’t made her sloppy. Not yet.

There was nothing they could say. Not yet.

Katya broke the silence herself. “What about you two?” She nodded at Somerset and Rosario.

Rosario cleared his throat. “Mr Somerset, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind helping me with a small personal matter? It shouldn’t take long.”

Somerset gave Rosario a curious stare, and then shrugged. “Of course.”

They sat in a café opposite St. Louis Cathedral. The air was thick with the rich aroma of nargile, a sickly sweet pungency with a layer of bitter tobacco beneath. The room thrummed with the low chatter of Arabic, interspersed by several foreign accents. There were a few tables of locals, but most of the clientele were tourists, soaking up the atmosphere of this historic part of the city. Outside, the wide courtyard was filled with slowly ambling crowds of visitors. Yet more fleet-footed urchins darted between them, begging where they could, or reaching dirty fingers into unguarded pockets whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“So what’s the problem?” Somerset asked. “I assume you didn’t just want me to come sightseeing with you.”

Rosario didn’t answer immediately, but took a deep swallow of his sour black coffee, then produced a carefully folded flyer from his pocket. He passed it to Somerset.

Somerset glanced down at the flyer, then out across the courtyard. "St. Louis Cathedral … " he said, confused. “What about it?”

“Turn it over, read the name on the back.”

“Brother Bernard Taure,” Somerset said. “Should I know him?”

Rosario looked strangely relieved, as though Somerset’s reading the name made it real. “No,” he said. “You won’t have heard of him. Sorry, I’m not being very clear.”

“You really aren’t.”

“I- well, he …” Rosario made a frustrated noise in his throat. “You’re aware that I was employed by the Catholic Church, the Vatican itself?”

Somerset nodded.

“Most people think that I was expelled because of something I did, or simply for being too proficient at the things I had to do. Well, that’s not the whole truth. What happened was that I found out about certain crimes committed by prominent members of the clergy – one in particular – and I did as any good Christian should and reported it.

“Apparently this was not something that was supposed to be given voice. Before that matter progressed any further, I was sent before a Prefect on a false charge. I was excommunicated within a week.”

Somerset frowned. “Let me guess, this particular gentleman … his name was Brother Bernard Taure, right?”

Rosario inclined his head in agreement. “It was, though it was Cardinal Bernard Taure back then. It seems his circumstances, like mine, have diminished somewhat.”

“What was the crime?” Somerset asked.

Rosario gave him a level stare. “The very worst kind. One which involves children.”

Somerset gave a disgusted snort. “Ah, one of those. Why didn’t you say? So, quick or messy?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do you want him to get rid of him? Personally, I’d suggest petrol and a blowtorch if you can stand the smell,” Somerset said stoically.

Rosario’s eyes widened in horror.

“Alright,” Somerset conceded, “it’ll put you off bacon sandwiches for a week or two. Chinese suicide more to your liking? Two rounds in the back of the skull, dump the body in a ditch?”

“No!” Rosario hissed, loudly enough to attract the attention of a nearby couple. Rosario lowered his voice and continued, "No, not without proof of his crimes. Without it, I will never clear my name; I will never be allowed to go back. To my home. To my church.

“I am just like all of you. I too have been cast out into ‘the cold’. And I will do whatever it takes to get back in.”

Somerset’s eyes narrowed and he spoke very softly, tilting his head closer to the priest so only he could hear.

“Don’t presume to know me, priest.” he said icily. “The person you have to look at every morning when you shave is you. That’s whose conscience you have to satisfy first and foremost. Everyone else can go to hell. Do I look like I give a damn what anyone in Whitehall thinks? I do what needs to be done and I sleep just fine at night.”

“No, it must be done properly, his crimes exposed.”

“And how’s that been working out? "

“Poorly,” Rosario admitted with a sigh.

“Well, that’s the understatement of the year. You know that this man committed his crimes, is still committing them?”

Rosario nodded emphatically.

“I have no proof though.”

“But you know the truth?”

Another nod.

“I’m no court of law; your word’s good enough for me. So again, quick? Or Messy?”

Rosario blanched.

“You barely know me, but you would kill a man on my word?”

“You saved our lives in Vienna. What more do I need to know?”

“But there are procedures, processes, he must be brought before a tribunal. There must be safeguards, evidence. What if I’m wrong?” he stuttered.

“Are you?”

Rosario thought hard for a moment.


“Like you said, you’re out in the cold. Out here, we do what others don’t have the guts to.”

“‘’Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.’” the former priest cautioned.

“And God helps those that help themselves, sayeth my granny. Every day you leave it to others, that man thinks he can act with impunity. You’re as guilty as him and the people who covered up for him.”

Rosario cast his eyes to the ground.

“I get it, you’re were a priest, but you’re not one now . No-one’s telling you not to use your balls any more. It’s time to end it,” Somerset growled, “on your own terms.”

Feeling chastised, Rosario left Somerset alone in the café and headed across the courtyard towards the cathedral. The heat of the Mediterranean sun was diffused by the warm sea breeze wafting in from the west side of the courtyard, bringing a faint scent of salt and car exhausts.

He allowed himself to be swept along by the current of gabbling tourists, cautiously steering his course towards the wide, dark doorway at the front of the cathedral, yawning like the mouth of huge stone beast.

A slight tug on his pocket snapped him back to focus and he spun, clutching a thin arm tightly in his strong grip. “Let me go!” the child shrieked at him in Arabic. Around them, several tourists turned to gawp, some tutting in disapproval, others reaching to check their own valuables.

He released the boy, who limped rapidly away favouring his left leg. It was clearly an old injury, probably an untreated fracture, given the speed at which he was moving on it. Rosario felt a pang of regret, remembering his own childhood, much of which had been on the streets of Naples. But for the generosity of strangers, he might never have lived as long as the child he had just put to flight.

Rosario ran to catch up with the boy before he disappeared into the crowd. “Here, stop,” he called in Arabic. The boy paused warily, fearing recrimination.

“I’m sorry,” Rosario said. “It was a misunderstanding. Take this.” He pressed a 500 pound coin into the dirty hand. The boy muttered something and made to limp away again. “I’ll give you another if you’ll tell me something about this place – like a guide.” Rosario gave him a reassuring smile and indicated the cathedral.

The boy’s face paled further. He shook his headed in sudden fervour. “This bad place!” he said urgently.

That caught Rosario off guard. “I don’t understand. Can you explain?” he asked carefully.

“This bad place,” the boy repeated. “Do bad things. The priests.”

Rosario felt a heavy, cold feeling settle deep in his chest. He fought to keep his breathing calm. “The priests … in there?” He pointed up at the cathedral. Its sandy stones were stark against the Mediterranean sky.

“Not there. They take them to other church. St Joseph’s.”

“Who?” Rosario asked gently. “Who do they take?”

“Other children, some friends.” The boy shrugged.

“What happened to them?”

Another shrug. “Sometimes bodies found. In the river. Or sea.”

Rosario tried to question him further but the boy had clammed up, looking around nervously. Rosario pressed another coin into his hand and let him go, then walked back to the café to find Somerset.

“Find anything?” the agent asked, his voice composed once more.

“Yes, I have a lead. St. Joseph’s. It’s a about a mile away, according to the guidebook. Near the river.” Rosario related what the child had told him, while Somerset listened absently.

“Patrick called. He’s pulled a number from the SIM card.”

“Have you tried it yet?” Rosario asked.

“Later. Let’s check this church.”

The two men walked together in a slow amble past the front of the small church, casually observing who was coming and going from the rough stone structure. A few civilians, likely locals, passed inside, but otherwise the building nestled sleepily in the late afternoon sun.

“Let’s take a stroll down to the river,” Somerset suggested.

“What for?” Rosario questioned.

“If the bodies show up in the river, the priests probably aren’t dragging them up the street. Let’s see if there are any pipes or utility tunnels.”

They looked down into the foetid muck at the river’s edge. Clouds of black flies boiled around the reeking garbage at the water’s edge. The mouths of several wide outlet pipes stood in a line along the concrete bank, a few feet above the dirty water.

“That’ll be how they get the bodies out,” Somerset said brightly. “Now, are we going in for a look?”

“I’ll go in first,” Rosario said, a little too quickly. “I’ll blend in better.”

“Okay, I’ll give that number a call then.”

Rosario disappeared through the wooden doors to the church as Somerset made his way to an sun-bleached payphone booth. He dialled the number Patrick had provided. The handset crackled tinnily as the call transferred through a series of relays, accompanied by pops and hisses. Just as Somerset was about to give up, the call connected.

“Red,” a voice on the end said.

There was something familiar about the voice. It had an English accent for one thing. The voice repeated and Somerset’s mind nudged at the naggingly familiar cadence. Daniel Chambers! An old contact from MI6. No way was this a coincidence.

“This is Dawlish,” Somerset replied.

There was a very long pause at the end of the crackling line. Then finally the voice spoke again. “This is awkward,” Daniel said. “Meet me in the Kit Kat club. Tomorrow. 10 pm.” The line went dead.

The Kit Kat club was in Beirut. That likely meant Daniel Chambers was also in Beirut. Along with the rest of whatever MI6 outfit was operating here. Well, well.

Rosario emerged a few minutes later, having performed a slow circuit of the church. He told Somerset that all he had seen was a grey-haired monk talking softly to a middle-aged Arabic man. Once the conversation had concluded, the man had left. It was hardly a damning piece of evidence, he admitted.

Somerset seemed unphased. “We’ll watch the place tonight. We have an engagement tomorrow night. Might need to do some prep.”

They took positions in a couple of the ubiquitous local cafés as dusk turned to night. Rosario murmured quietly into his radio mic as a pair of monks walked into the church.

“Isn’t it a ittle late for evensong?” Somerset answered.

“Evensong is Anglican,” Rosario replied absently. “But yes, it’s a little late for a mass.”

“I’ve got three more coming in from my side. Look like civilians to me.”

“Okay, two more here. Monks again.”

“Quite a party,” Somerset said dryly. “We going in then?”

Rosario hesitated, then steeled himself. “We should take a look,” he agreed.

They met in the shadows of the centuries-old churchyard and made their way quickly past the main doors and found a low wooden door to the vestry. They carefully slid the door open and stepped inside. Rosario scanned around in the gloom and spotted a monk’s cassock hanging from a hook. He pulled it on and stepped towards the adjoining door to the body of the church. Faint candlelight glowed around its rough edges.

Rosario gently pulled the door open and slipped through. He was a patch of shadow slipping through to the inky dark beneath a coarse stone arch. Low voices echoed down the nave from a huddle of figures wreathed in the soft, flickering light.

He could only make out snippets of their conversation, but dared not risk going any closer. He heard the words “going downstairs” and a growl of agreement. Then a voice rang out clearer than the rest.

“… had news. There’s going to be a guest tomorrow. We have to prepare hospitality in the convent. Madame Eisler will be arriving late. She must be made welcome.”

The voices lowered again. Rosario gambled on their being distracted enough not to notice him as he clamped down on his pounding heart and stole through the darkness towards the group.

“So we must cancel our meeting tonight and make preparations. Good night, brothers.”

Rosario froze, mid step. They each began turning towards the main doors. Their path would take them right through Rosario if he remained where he was.

Another voice came then, deep and dry as a desert well. “May the power of the blood grow strong in your veins.”

The sentence was uttered so matter-of-factly, the voice so thoroughly cold and mirthless, that there was no hint of banality. Rosario barely had time to register it as the fraction of a second’s pause gave him time to tuck himself into a pitch dark recess. He held his breath as the group filed out past his hiding spot.

Somerset stepped through the vestry door almost as soon as the main door closed.

“I thought they’d never leave,” he said. “Come on.” He started poking his head into the various nooks and alcoves along the aisle.

“What are you looking for?” Rosario asked.

“Oh, you know. Secret passages. Trap doors.”

They found the trapdoor less than a minute later, underneath a rug, just behind the altar. It groaned in protest as they hauled it open. The underside was coated with a square of undulating foam soundproofing material. The heavy ache in Rosario’s chest increased. He was finding it hard to breathe, getting close to hyperventilating. Everything he’d feared about Bernard Taure was coming to pass, and that meant his corruption had run deep within the Vatican.

They climbed down a short wooden ladder and made their way into a wide, richly furnished room. Its size was its most striking feature – a score of people could have fit inside, with room to spare. Its other defining feature was the long, cedar table that lay in the centre, with matching chairs neatly tucked underneath.

The walls were clad with dark wooden panels. A chaise-longe lay in one corner. A neatly made, four-poster bed sat against one wall, adjacent to the passage through which they had entered while, diagonally opposite it, a wide mirror took up almost half of the wall. Beyond the table towered a huge mahogany drinks cabinet. The air in the room smelt faintly metallic, combined with a sickly tang.

Somerset made straight for the cabinet and swung open its doors. He pursed his lips approvingly at the wide selection of spirits on display. He pulled a tumbler down from a shelf and poured himself a glass of malt whisky from an expensive looking bottle.

The British agent swirled the amber liquor around his glass and nodded towards a sturdy door in the wall ahead of him. “Want to see where this rabbit hole ends, or have you had enough?”

Rosario felt numb. This was worse than he had dared to imagine. He’d known it would be bad, when he’d spoken to the boy outside the cathedral. But this – a whole room dedicated to their secret practises. It was insidious beyond anything he had encountered in the course of even his unlikely career. Did he want to see where it ended? His mind screamed no, but he knew he must. He had no choice. His eyes alighted on a set of double doors, at the opposite end of the room. He whispered a silent prayer and tried the worn handle. They were locked.

Somerset drained the glass while Rosario examined the lock. The ex-priest produced a thin, hooked piece of metal and pushed it into the lock. A couple of seconds later, the lock clicked and the doors swung open, revealing a long, brick-lined passageway beyond. Somerset nodded encouragingly.

Looking down the passage, they could see three more sets of doors. The first was immediately to the left. A larger set were just visible at the far end of the passage. About half down on the right was a barred metal door, with a rusty padlock hanging off the bolt, while opposite it stood a final doorway.

They tried the nearest one first. A short passage took them into a small room, situated directly behind where the mirror hung in the first room. They were not surprised to find that they could see through the mirror from this side, affording themselves a clear view across the large chamber, the table, the four-poster bed and the chaise longe.

What stood out more was the set of expensive recording equipment pointed through the one-way glass. Somerset began to poke around the equipment, procuring a compact flash card and slotting it into one of the cameras. He pressed various buttons and watched for a few seconds. Then he closed the device down and pocketed the card. He face was set in a grim expression.

“What was it?” Rosario asked.

“You don’t want to know. Trust me.”

“I have to.”

“Then watch it later. First, let’s finish up here.”

They made their way along the brick-lined passage until they reached the padlocked door on the right. Rosario fiddled with the lock again until it spring open with a grinding snap. The hinges shrieked as the door swung open and an acrid stench gusted out. A rough-hewn passage way dwindled away into darkness. They made their way along until they found the entrance to a broad pipe.

Somerset knelt at the entrance and ran his finger along the broad curve of the aperture. “Blood,” he said matter-of-factly. “Looks like something was dragged through here.”

Rosario swallowed hard. “This leads to the river, I suppose.”

“Most likely,” Somerset agreed.

“Then this might help us get back in. Tomorrow.”

“We’ve already got an appointment tomorrow,” Somerset observed carefully.

“Then we’re going to be a tight schedule,” Rosario answered. He pushed past Somerset and lowered himself into the pipe. There was just enough room inside to stand, with his head ducked. He moved down the pipe for a couple of hundred metres until he smelt the river air through the bars of a metal grating. He tore a strip from the stolen cassock and tied it to the outside of the grating. This way he would be able to identify the right pipe if they chose to come back that way.

They made way back to the brick-lined passage in silence. Somerset let the tall man take the lead as he made for the double doors at the end. They swung open to reveal a wide stone room, with a series of dark hollows in the floor. An old wooden ladder lay on the floor to one side. Somerset leaned over one of the holes, and looked into a deep pit. The walls were bare stone and it had a faint reek of excrement.

A small sound of movement came from a pit further up the room. Rosario moved towards it and looked down. “There’s someone down here!” he exclaimed. The hairs on the back of Somerset’s neck prickled, but he fought the feeling down. This wasn’t like Odessa, he reminded himself.

“It’s a child,” Rosario shouted. “Get the ladder!”

Somerset hauled the ladder over and they lowered it into the pit. The boy took some coaxing to persuade him to come out, but Rosario did eventually convince him that they were here to help.

When the boy spoke, his voice was a hoarse whisper. “They took the others away. Sometimes they came back. Sometimes they didn’t. I think I was next. I think …” He paused as his thin body was wracked with silent sobs. “I think I was next.”

“Don’t worry. We’re getting you out of here right now,” Rosario assured him.

“They’ll notice he’s gone,” Somerset pointed out quietly.

Rosario glared furiously at him, then his face slumped. “I know. But I can’t just leave him here. I couldn’t live with myself if I did.”

Somerset shrugged with apparent nonchalance, but his face had a grim cast that Rosario had only seen once before – when they had stood together waiting for the four Zalozhniy to come to kill them.

“Before we go,” Somerset said. “Let’s find out what’s behind door number three.”

Rosario nodded. The child wept silently, but followed them. The door swung open to reveal what could only be described as a torture chamber.

Leather whips hung from one wall, along with lengths of chain. A worn bench with a series of straps lay in the centre. A piece of well-used machinery with a vaguely medicinal design stood to one side, its various pipes and tubes and were heavily stained with a red fluid. The air stank of sweat and musk and bile and suffering. They turned away in silence. Rosario quickly ushered the boy away from the grisly sight.

They emerged into the darkened street several minutes later, only after they’d removed as many traces of their presence in the basement as they could. Rosario took a deep draught of the cool night air and turned to the boy.

“We will let you go, if that is what you want?”

The boy nodded.

Rosario sighed. “Okay. Use this to get somewhere safe to sleep.” He pressed a handful of bills into the boy’s hand watching the lad’s eyes go wide at the amount. Rosario pulled his attention back. “Keep the money secret. And if you need help, here is a number you can contact me on.” He passed a piece of paper to the boy, praying the boy had the sense to use his new-found wealth wisely and not wind up with a knife in his gut.

They stood in awkward quiet as the youth vanished into the warren of buildings that stretched along the river bank to the sea. Somerset waited patiently for the Italian to break the silence. Finally, Rosario spoke. “Mr Somerset, I wonder if I could ask a further favour of you?”

“Of course,” the British agent replied.

“I need a gun.”

Diaries of the dead

Somerset’s knife throw had been good, the knife was embedded deep in the Neue Mensche’s chest, surely a hit in the heart. But the man barely flinched – he glanced down momentarily, and opened his jacket to reveal an old book in his inside pocket, the knife embedded into it and prevented from penetrating far.

Somerset was lying on the floor away from the others, down the aisle, where he had thrown himself before the explosion. Katya and Rosario were toe-to-toe with the Neue Mensche, suicidally, blocking his line of fire. Patrick knelt behind them trying to find a clear shot, also in the way, changing clips to his silver bullets. Somerset rolled to one side reaching for his pistol. He needed his silver bullets now, in the second or two between this superhuman killing the others and coming to finish the job on him.

The foul stench of burning hair and flesh hit his nostrils. Urgently he patted himself down, feeling for flames. Small sparks here and there had landed on him, and his trouser leg was smouldering. But no flesh or hair alight. Yet. He patted out his leg and scanned the corridor for the source of the stink.

Old papers, books and collected miscellany had been scattered over the floor. Many were smoking, some already flickering with flame. The incendiary grenade had splashed fire over a large part of the corridor of crates and boxes. The dry wood, paper and cardboard were rapidly igniting, eagerly welcoming the flames. Black smoke flowed upwards, ash floated idly. It was getting hotter by the second.

The ruined crate the diary had been in, contents vomited out, was ablaze. Exposed now at the bottom was a body. A white male. Murdered by the Neue Mensche just before they’d arrived and stuffed in the box, no doubt, to be cremated, skin immediately seared black by the blast. All bodies smelt the same when they burned thought, Somerset. Roasting pork.

The corpse’s right leg sprawled out at a relaxed angle, black shoe upright. The heel was knocked, to one side and Somerset could see something hidden in it. He instinctively leaned forwards and snatched a SIM card from the secret compartment, the small hairs on his hand searing off as he did so.

He was about to study it when a crate, its shelf weakened by fire, gave way, flaming paper and wood showered him from above.

The Neue Mensche glared at Rosario, hand pressed to his cheek. Rosario’s body was flooded with adrenalin trying to react to his speed; he was inhumanly fast. Rosario could sense Katya beside him, crouched in her fighting stance. Not for the first time his hand felt empty without a gun, he let the temptation wash over him and fade. His silver cross had done more good than any guns in this fight.

Then the Neue Mensche was gone. A blur of movement up, and he was in the rafters, 10’ overhead and swinging effortlessly away. Patrick’s gun blasted two, three times, impacts always just where his target had been, swirling the smoke.

Katya sprinted forward, chasing, her eyes to the roof. She slipped, her knee twisting awkwardly. “Fuck!” She turned it into a forward roll, recovered her footing and ran on, eyes on the rafters. Rosario ran after her, close behind.

He had to run hard to keep up with her, she was careering along the aisles, recklessly. Her sprint was fast, but the Neue Mensche still outdistanced them easily. He jumped onto shelving and dropped into a far aisle, heading for an exit door.

Katya turned a corner down the same exit aisle and out of Rosario’s sight. In the seconds it took him to get there, he heard a crunch and thump. He swung round the corner, fearing the worst, and saw Katya sprawled on the floor, coughing and breathing hard.
At the far end of the aisle, the Neue Mensche smashed through the exit door, bursting into daylight.

“Feet went” she said.

“Come on, let’s see where he goes” said Rosario, offering her his hand.

Somerset rolled on the concrete floor, smothering the fires and pushing the burning papers off him. The smoke was thick now down to floor level, his eyes were watering, throat stinging. He stood up, handkerchief over his mouth.

“Patrick?” he called.

“Here, Somerset. Exit’s over this way I think,” he replied, hidden by the smoke.

Rosario and Katya ran out into the bright sunshine. The Neue Mensche was already at the end of the street, heading across the road into a square. Katya shaded her eyes, trying to track where he went. He was heading straight across the road towards the shops.

A van slammed into him from the right. The Neue Mensche was punched sideways, then dragged underneath, the front and back wheels crushing him. The truck rocked to a halt, the Neue Mensche’s body lying a few feet behind in the dust.

“Shit…” Katya said and started running towards the incident.

Two black suited men, ties and shades, exited the van. One headed purposefully back to the body, shaking a metal can. The other circled around the front and raised an H&K MP5, watching Katya’s approach. The first suit leant over the crushed body and sprayed the can into its face. It was incredibly still alive, it clutched its face in pain. Suit one reached into its jacket and took out the diary.

Katya crossed an invisible line, the second suit sprayed a 3-round burst into the dirt in front of her. Dust and gravel erupted, showering her. She skidded to a stop, but didn’t take cover. That was a message. Standing, frustrated, she studied the van. It was unmarked, but she could see the rear registration. She filed it away for later.

The two suits, watching Katya and Rosario, climbed back in the cab, it roared to life and drove off. A strong smell of garlic wafted over to Katya. She turned to Rosario,
“We need Patrick, we’ve got to follow that van.” she said.

“Mother of God, yes, let’s go.” he said, eyes widening at something behind her. She turned to see the Neue Mensche sitting up, face red, eyes angrily focused on them.

Somerset and Patrick were already at the cars when Rosario and Katya approached.

“Let’s go. Patrick, hack a drone and follow that van” Katya barked at him, pointing back at the direction the van had left, a minute ago. He frowned at her, and climbed into the back of the HiLux.

“Drive on, I’ll sort something out in the back here.” he said, fiddling with a bag.

“There’s probably plenty of drones up there,” she waved at the sky “hack one of-“ she stopped as a small quadcopter rose out of the back of the HiLux.

“I brought my own.” Patrick said. But the van proved elusive in the Baghdad traffic. Too long gone, too anonymous.

Back at their hotel, Patrick was focused intensely on his big laptop, hitting keys hard.
“OK then, I lost the van, but I’m in the Iraqi RSA now.” he said. Rosario looked questioningly at Somerset, who shrugged.

“The DVLA, DMV, the place that records registrations. The van is registered to our friends at Bridger Investments. And oops….” he said, typing more furiously.

“’Oops’, what?” growled Somerset.

“For a country without sprinklers or sufficient air-conditioning, they have good security on their databases. They know someone was in.”

“Bridger again” said Katya “Somerset, let’s check out their hotel, they might have gone there.”

Somerset drove slowly past the Sadeer Hotel, Katya watching from the passenger seat.

“Overwatch van outside.” he said.

“Two Overwatch coming out of the hotel.” she said.

They watched the two soldiers hustle across from the hotel, into the van, and drive off, fast.
Somerset pulled the car over. “Let’s have a look in the hotel, something’s happened.” he said.

The queue at Baghdad airport arrivals was long. Several planes had landed in a short window, and Passport control was not staffed to cope. Neither could the air-conditioning.
Security officers move slowly up and down the lines, eyeing everyone with suspicion. Guns slung low, but ready. Imperceptibly, they converged on a family group in one line. The father had a long Islamic beard, the wife wore a hijab holding a young boy bored, tired and troublesome.
“Please come with us” the nearest guard commanded them. They were startled out of their queue lethargy, looking around to check if he is speaking to them. Another guard was behind them. They were bustled off, scared and confused, through an anonymous door. In the next queue over a man with a badly scarred face watched the scene with mild interest. The passport desk in front of him is vacated, he picked up his large holdall and walked forward, opening a Georgian passport.

Rosario called the number for Nigel’s Viennese squat. How a squat had a working phone number was a mystery to Rosario. Not quite an eternal mystery, but close. The phone was answered as usual by the machine, while it was relaying its generic message, in halting German, Rosario spoke over it to the human listening.

“This is Rosario for Two-Point-Oh.” The answer machine voice cut off immediately.

Nigel Two-Point-Oh was the nickname everyone knew the young man by nowadays. Rosario didn’t think he’d actually gone so far as to change his name officially, but that was mostly due to his distrust of authority, rather than an urge to conform to conventional social standards.

“Hey, Rosario. Ciao and all that, man,” the voice on the phone drawled languidly.

“Hello, Nigel. You sound tired, my friend.”

“Hmm? Oh yeah. Coupla’ scrubs joined the collective yesterday, had to do the welcome party thing,” he said, drawing the last syllable out into a long sound.

“Err, good? Listen, I don’t have long, did you look at that diary for me?”

“Sure did. Now that’s was some fascinating cipher. Almost had me stumped. ‘Course, crypto’s not really my bag so we tried scanning it into the minimoog emulator and just, like, listening to it for a couple of hours. And you know what?”

“Dare I ask?”

“It sounded horrible! Real negative stuff. You’re into some bad shit these days, friend. I worry about you, y’know.”

Rosario couldn’t argue with that one. “Nigel, this is important, did you decode it?”

“Hey, of course. Conspiracy nonsense though. Someone with a mental short-circuit. But whatever tickles you, I guess. Shall I send it over? What format do you want?”

“Um, Word doc?” Rosario suggested.

“Err, right,” Nigel sounded slightly disappointed.

“Thanks for doing this for me, Nigel. Can I at least repay you for your time?”

“What with, money?” He sounded incredulous. “Nah, get me a drink some time. Y’know, all currency is just a shared hallucination fostered by the government anyway. Keeps us trapped in the debt cycle. You should give it up, man – embrace the reputation economy.”

“I’ll probably do that. Good bye, Nigel. Try to stay out of trouble.”

“Will do. You too, man.”

Rosario doubted it would be that easy.

The waiter brought Somerset’s club sandwich. He sat in the bar of the Sandeer Hotel, with a good view of the lobby. No-one suspicious had come or gone yet. No Overwatch goons, no Bridger Investment suits. He wanted to wait and watch a bit longer. Patience in stake-outs, you can only go in once.

He glanced at Katya on a stool at the bar, flirting with the barman. She had just finished her third vodka, maybe fourth.

Tacnet buzzed in his ear, and he saw Katya stiffen as she heard it too.

“Somerset, Rosario. Nigel has decrypted your fa-“ Rosario paused.

“Dawlish’s diary. What does it say?” Somerset completed.

“He was working for MI6 investigating a series of murders in West Germany -“

“6? Not 30 Commando?” Surprise in Somerset’s voice.

“No, MI6. There were several Soviet Bloc agents murdered, initially he suspected the CIA. But he found eyewitnesses, some in MI6. The descriptions matched two people, a Chilean National, Konrad Gottschalk and Ramiro Perez, an Argentinian national.”

“Konrad sounds German, an ex-Nazi?” Somerset said.

“I’ll come back to that. There were odd forensics at the murder scenes, reports of enhanced strength, resistance to pain. It was put down to PCP. Which was popular in the 80’s. He tried to trace the South Americans, but couldn’t find either of them. He felt the BND and the West German government were actively hampering his investigations.” Rosario paused, listening for Somerset’s reaction.

Somerset sat back in the seat. Katya was watching him curiously from across the bar. He broke eye contact, stared down at the table, his soda water and sandwich.

“What did he think was happening?” he asked quietly.

Rosario sighed. “I’ve only skimmed, but he hypothesised there were a secret death squads in the BND murdering Soviet agents with the CIA’s aid. Other agents were murdered to cover it up. Then there’s, hang-on, references to a couple of books, here they are, Paul Manning ‘Martin Bormann, Nazi in Exile’ and Ladislas Faragó, ‘Aftermath: The search for Martin Bormann.’ Both conspiracy theories about how Bormann escaped from Hitler’s bunker to South America.”

“The CIA repurposed the Nazi intelligence programme into what became the BND. Reinhard Gehlen was the ex-head of Eastern Front intelligence, and the CIA made him and his Gehlen Organisation into the BND. He’d had plenty of contact with surviving Nazi’s.” Somerset said thoughtfully.

“Organisation? Interesting…” said Katya.

Rosario continued. “And there’s an Odessa link, the SS escape network to South America. The theory’s that Bormann lead a network of international Gestapo agents from Argentina or Chile, or Bolivia, helping Germany rebuild and fight the Russians. Sorry, Soviets. There is evidence of a joint bank account between Peron and Bormann in the 50’s-“

“So the BND was infiltrated by South American Nazi’s continuing their ubermensche programme?” Katya interrupted.

“That’s what Dawslish thought. It makes sense, Philby Junior saw this happening, and gave whatever he had to the Soviets.” Rosario said.

“Maybe.” said Somerset “Is there conflict between the neue mensche and the zalozhniy? Nazis making neue mensche and Dorjiev making Zalozhniyes.”

“The neue mensche have been around longer than the Nazis.” said Katya. “I know this sounds odd, but I’m not sure Dorjiev is totally a bad guy.”

“Bridger Investments are clearly against the neue mensche, and given the London connection might be working with or for MI6” said Rosario. “Can you check Somerset?”

“Maybe. I can ask. Let’s not talk about this now.” he said. “Let’s see what Bridger are doing.”

He strode to the lifts, and got in pressing the third floor button, Katya just made it in before the doors closed.

The third floor corridor held only a cleaning lady and cart. Somerset walked confidently to her, “Hello. I forgot my camera, can you let me in my room please?” he said, smiling, pointing at one of the Bridger Investment rooms.

“You go to get flight.” she said confused, holding a towel.

“Yes, but I’m meeting my boss who’s flying in, and I need my camera. From my room.” Somerset’s accent was noticeably more British. Katya wondered what his father had been like. What had he done, or not done, to make Somerset like he was?

“You go to Beirut later?” the cleaner asked trying to understand. Somerset nodded and the cleaner nodded back happily. She fumbled for her master door card and let them in.

The room was empty and uncleaned. It was clear to their quick search that the occupants had left in a hurry. There was still a phone charger plugged into the wall and the TV had been left on. BBC Worldwide.

“So they’ve gone to Beirut. In a hurry.” Somerset said to Katya.

“Rudek was killed there.” she said, the memory of his body hanging, gutted, still twisted her stomach.

“We thought Sigrun had gone there to kill Rudek, but maybe she started there. That’s where we need to be. Now.”

On the plane to Beirut, Somerset flicked through the translation of his father’s diary on Patrick’s iPad. It seemed Rosario had summarised it accurately. Something stopped him. In the document was a picture of a diary page. A quote copied into the diary, written in his father’s perfect, cursive handwriting.

“What will the social order of the future be like? Comrade, I will tell you. There will be a class of overlords, after them the rank and file of the party members in hierarchical order, and then the great mass of anonymous followers, servants and workers in perpetuity, and beneath them again all the conquered foreign races, the modern slaves. And over and above all these will reign a new and exalted nobility of whom I cannot speak… but of all these plans the militant members will know nothing. The new man is living amongst us now! He is here. Isn’t that enough for you? I will tell you a secret. I have seen the new man. He is intrepid and cruel. I was afraid of him."

Conversations with Hitler, 1938_

History in flames

Rosario finished plastering the gauze pads to Somerset’s slashed chest. He’d been lucky – the wound had already sealed and would cause only a little discomfort, as long as he didn’t open it up again. But the fresh, clean dressing should keep it sealed.

“You and Patrick can keep eye on Al here,” the British agent instructed as he re-buttoned his borrowed shirt. “Katya and I will head down to the Al-Sadeer hotel, have a sniff around.”

They’d lost their tail in the chaotic Baghdad traffic, but their attempt to circle around and pick them up again had failed when a broken-down flatbed had blocked their path. By the time they’d rejoined the main road, their would-be pursuers had vanished.

“Stay safe,” Rosario told them as they left. He turned and looked at Mohammed Al-Kirkuk, who was sitting awkwardly in a cheap western-style armchair. Its worn fabric matched the rest of the room’s decor, rendered dusty and brittle by the fierce desert heat. The air conditioning whined ineffectively against the oven-hot air. At least what the room lacked in first-world comforts, it made up for in anonymity, Rosario thought. He listened jealously to the weak sound of the shower in the en suite and licked his dry lips.

Al-Kirkuk spoke suddenly. “I want to leave,” he said. His eyes had lost some of their glazed blankness since the other two agents had departed.

Rosario looked at him and weighed the options. “I don’t believe that is a good idea,” he said carefully.

“So, I am you’re prisoner then?” Al-Kirkuk demanded, defiance awakening in the wake of his recent trauma. Somerset’s absence probably helped too.

Rosario sighed heavily. He shook his head. “No, you are not my prisoner. If you wish to leave, I will not stop you.”

Al-Kirkuk looked surprised, but pulled himself to his feet.

“Where will you go?” Rosario asked. “Your house is not safe.”

“I- I will go to the police!” he answered uncertainly.

“With respect, I do not believe that would be wise. They could easily have been compromised by your pursuers.”

“I have have friends that will protect me.”

Rosario grimaced and rubbed ineffectually at the sweat on his forehead. “We could protect you,” he insisted. “Please believe me when I tell you we do not mean you harm.”

The man made for the door, but paused. "You, maybe not. Those others … " He let the statement hang in the air.

“Will you at least leave me a phone number?” Rosario asked.

Al-Kirkuk considered this, then he scrawled a number down on a piece of paper. Rosario heard the patter of the shower dwindle to silence while the Iraqi’s footsteps receded down the hallway.

“Err, where’s our guest?” Patrick asked as he emerged from the small bathroom.

“I let him go,” Rosario answered.

“Oh,” said Patrick. “Why?”

“He wanted to leave.”

Patrick shook his head regretfully. “Somerset is going to be sorely pissed off with you.”

Katya and Somerset left the car in narrow road around the corner from the Al-Sadeer hotel. Densely packed, brick houses the colour of desert sand stretched away behind them, faded awnings flapping lazily in the slight breeze. Unlike their own accommodation, the Al-Sadeer was inside the former green zone. Although the security restrictions had relaxed since the occupying forces had left, those enterprises that remained in their wake were still reasonably upmarket, mostly catering to business travelers.

The air inside the lobby was like a refrigerator compared to the street, with ornamental palms waving gently in the treated atmosphere. Somerset grabbed a Western newspaper and seated himself in a lounge chair while Katya walked up to the reception desk. She lowered her sunglasses and spoke rapidly with the receptionist. Somerset watched the uniformed woman consulting a screen behind the desk, then she shook her head apologetically. Katya walked away, but turned immediately towards the hotel bar and pulled up a seat of her own. Somerset caught himself repressing a derisory snort. Not so very long ago, she used to complain about his drinking on mission, he thought. That seemed a very long time ago now.

The afternoon blazed as the hours ticked past; small, besuited groups – mostly men – passed in and out of the hotel lobby, each transition ushering in a cough of hot air through the glass doors. As Somerset was getting started on the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a hiss of airbrakes burst from a large, armoured vehicle pulling up outside. The logo emblazoned on the vehicle’s front quarter read ‘Overwatch Security Ltd.’ Somerset’s hands tensed on the newspaper and he saw Katya’s attention shifting from her chilled vodka to the new arrivals outside.

Abruptly she stood and walked towards the lobby doors. Overwatch troops spilled out of the truck. They were armed and armoured, but in a low-key manner that bespoke their private security status. Katya stepped out into the desert sun, openly watching the big vehicle with the relaxed air of a curious onlooker.

Somerset carefully folded the newspaper and followed. He excused himself as he stepped in front of her and walked across the road. He turned down the narrow street where they’d parked, but kept walking as he reached their vehicle, nonchalantly panning round to check for movement behind the dark latticed windows which faced the street. There didn’t appear to be anyone watching the car, which meant very little: if they were good, they wouldn’t give themselves away. Regardless, Overwatch’s arrival could be mere coincidence, but there was no need to take any chances. He continued down the road, then tried the door of a dust-smeared Toyota Hilux. It clicked open. He climbed in and casually bent below the dashboard with a multitool in hand. A few seconds later, the big 4×4′s engine rumbled to life.

Katya, meanwhile, was watching the pack of Overwatch troopers as they assembled outside their transport in a loose order. She sashayed towards one of them, subtly emphasizing her movements with a hint of inebriation. She exhaled a very real gust of vodka-tinted air as she reached the nearest guard.

“Lend me a cigarette?” she said.

The man looked at her carefully, clearly weighing up the trouble he could get into for being distracted, against the opportunity to brighten his afternoon with some casual flirting. He had brown eyes under his dark eyebrows and close cropped hair. He looked like he had a mix of Hispanic and Slavic in him – features he shared with almost all the other troopers. Katya wondered what that implied.

He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of a pocket and handed it to her, flashing a quick smile.

“Thanks… should I call you ‘Sir’?” she asked playfully.

He suppressed a grin, a hint of red flowing into his tanned features. He tried to keep his eyes fixed on the hotel. “No, ma’am.”

She turned slightly aside to watch the hotel with him, like they were just two old friends standing together. “So, what’s going on? Am I allowed inside?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. We’re only checking up on something, we’re not interfering with the guests in any way. You can go back in whenever you like.”

She smoked the cigarette and walked back inside. Obviously this outfit wasn’t here for her or Somerset. But something was going on, and Overwatch had been on their radar since they’d first looked through Malcolm Lennart’s files. She reached the reception desk where one of the Overwatch troops was still talking to the receptionist. She read the name badge on his right shoulder: Captain Perez.

“So how many rooms are booked out?” Perez asked the receptionist.


“Okay, I’ll call later.”

He turned, finding Katya behind him. He made as if to stand aside, then paused. He looked at her, slight puzzlement on his face. His eyes widened in recognition. Adrenaline flooded through Katya’s blood stream .

“Can I speak to you, please?” Perez asked sharply.

Katya doubted she would talk her way out of this, but you could always try. “No,” she replied indignantly. “I am meeting a friend.” She stepped towards the reception desk.

She saw Perez reflected in the polished glass. As he reached forward to grab her and she burst into motion, darting sideways to avoid his outstretched hand, then sprinting away towards the back of the lobby.

She charged through a set of double doors, hearing the sound of orders being shouted breathlessly into a radio set. Heavy boots squealed on the polished marble floor as the doors swung shut behind her. She was running through a wide corridor, looking for fire exit signs. Instead she saw a bronze plaque with ‘Patio’ written in both English and Arabic and an arrow pointing left. The double doors crashed open. She took the turning at a run, hearing footsteps thudding behind her.

The corridor opened up into a wide room, with a set of sliding patio doors ahead of her. She reached them, sliently praying they would be unlocked.

The patio doors slid open smoothly, and she sprang though the gap into the painfully bright, sunlit patio dotted with old palm trees , while her pursuer still pounding down the hallway.

The wide patio was surrounded by a high wall to deter intruders. It would be difficult to haul herself up onto it, and far too slow. She sprinted towards the far corner, sliding across a marble tabletop. Behind her, the Overwatch guard clattered through a set of stacked chairs. As she reached the point where the walls met, she sprung from her left foot, pushed her right into the corner and pivoted on her toes, allowing her momentum to carry her upwards. As her body rose, she pulled up left leg up, braced her foot against the flat of the wall and sprang back, twisting neatly in the air. She had time to see the Overwatch guard lunging futilely at her passing shoe before she found her footing on top of the wall. She dropped into the dirty alleyway beyond and out of sight.

“Where the fuck is Al-Kirkuk?” Somerset demanded.

“He’s gone,” Rosario answered evenly.

“By that, I assume you mean you extracted all the intel we could possibly need, then buried the awkward prick in the desert so that he doesn’t blab about us to whoever catches him?”


Somerset’s jaw tightened and his pale eyes flashed dangerously. The atmosphere in the room grew suddenly chill, which might have been a pleasant respite from the ever present heat if hadn’t also carried a very real threat of violence.

Patrick broke the tension by turning cautiously away from his screen and mumbling, “Bridger Investments.”

“Who?” Somerset barked, eyes fixed on Rosario.

Patrick cleared his throat. “Bridger Investments. That’s who’s booked the rooms out at the Al-Sadeer.”

“What intel do we have on them?” Katya asked, stepping between Rosario and Somerset to lean over Patrick’s shoulder.

Patrick’s fingers flew across the keyboard as he scrolled through a few hundred lines of text. “Okay, looks like it’s a cut-out firm, or a straight up front. Not a great deal of info on it, but that’s basically the point. No way to tell who’s really behind them from this. Officially they’re in ‘financial services’. Looks like they show up anywhere there’s a recent history of open conflict. Got a lot of cash to throw around too.”

“I wonder who they’re working for?” Katya mused. “Patrick, can you and Somerset see if you can break into Overwatch comms. Sergei and I will see what we can do about following up the Gertrude Bell angle.”

She knew it would be a good idea to keep Somerset and Rosario separated for a while. Trust was growing between the two men, surprisingly fast, considering Somerset’s nature. But Rosario’s good intentions did not fit at all well with Somerset’s callous world view. They’d get past it, once Somerset had cooled off. And if they could pick up the trail again. Either way she needed them both on side if she was to get her hands on the Nigredo. A score of heavily armed Spetnaz would help too, but she could only play the cards she was dealt.

“Do we have any means of contacting Al-Kirkuk if we need to?” Katya asked as she and Rosario made their way downstairs to the car.

“He left a number.”

“Have you tried it?”

Rosario shook his head, then pulled out a phone and dialed the number on the scrap of paper. A few seconds later he lowered the handset shaking his head.

She swore under breath, but composed herself. “Nevermind. Let’s see whether we can track down whatever remains from the Museum of Iraq.”

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs still managed to appear as grey and drab any bureaucratic institute, despite being made of the same sandy brick as the rest of the city. Inside, it was wide and airy, with carpet panels and formica desks dotted between high cubical walls, like tiny, dismal islands. There were, inevitably, incomprehensible forms to fill out and glacial queues to navigate, but eventually Rosario and Katya found themselves seated in front of a heavy set man in a grey suit. They explained they were looking for important documents that were removed from the Museum of Iraq ahead of the occupation and the looting. They were inquiring about a diarym specifically one belonging to Gertrude Bell, the museum’s founder.

The official’s voice took on a conciliatory tone. “I am sorry, but the inventory was spread around many different secure storage sites. I don’t have a record of the particular item you are looking for.”

“Well may we go and look?” Rosario asked, feeling desperate, but keeping his voice casual and friendly.

The man made a dismissive rumbling sound at the back of his throat. “Mmmm, there are several different archives, each one with tens of thousands of items, much of not even indexed. It would be like searching for needle in haystack, even if I were to waste my time searching what few records we do have.”

Katya was surprised to see Rosario face break into a wide smile.

“My friend,” the Italian said. “We would not consider imposing on your valuable time.” He paused. “Not without some recompense.”

Rosario pulled a heavy wad of banknotes from his pocket and began peeling them off. The official actually licked his lips in anticipation. Katya stifled a grin.

“Here’s one thousand dollars,” he told the official. “There’s another thousand if you get us the location within the hour.”

They received the phone call less than 30 minutes later.

The team parked their two cars separately outside the archive and assembled outside. Rosario scanned the area for observers, while the others held a short conversation.

“Patrick and I caught some Overwatch chatter while you were out,” Somerset said. “They’re running surveillance on a British outfit at the Al-Sadeer hotel.”

“Must be the Bridger Investments lot,” Patrick chimed in.

Katya nodded, processing the information. Just one more loose end that would need to be tied before this long, long journey reached its end. “Good work,” she said. “We’ll look into that once we’ve got the diary.”

The archive lived up to its reputation. It was a sprawling, crumbling maze of shelves. Sagging towers of boxes and crates that were filled haphazardly with brittle yellow documents. Patrick pried the lid off one container and found that it held a jumbled mixture of documents and museum artifacts, tax returns and what appeared to be the personal effects of political prisoner. At the bottom was a jar containing a set of severed hands, pickled in formaldehyde.

“Hey, Somerset, give me a hand over here- oh wait, these’ll do,” the Irishman joked, barely containing the merriment on his youthful face.

“Grow up,” Somerset muttered, but even as he spoke, he turned away to conceal a smirk.

They wandered the stacks, searching fruitlessly for a sign of where the diary might be kept. Rosario kept one eye on the entrance for any sign of other intruders.

Patrick spotted a short stretch of chain link fencing down in the far recesses of the archive building. “Over here,” he called.

They found a small section of the facility that had been separated off from the rest by a padlocked gate. Patrick hunched over the lock for moment with a set of fine tools, then it clicked open. He led them through into a small area, lined with narrow shelves and boxes. Their eyes were drawn to a fresh bloodstain on the floor.

Somerset drew his gun, signalling to the others to stay back. He examined a large crate lying at an angle near the bloodstain. It was made of rough plywood, easily six feet in length and almost as wide, with dark Arabic stencils marking the outside. His eye was immediately drawn to the thin nylon line running from the lid to the outside edge. A dark, cylindrical metal object was fastened there.

“Grenade,” Somerset hissed over his shoulder. “Someone left a surprise for whoever opened this up.”

“But that blood’s fresh,” Patrick said, his voice suddenly wavering in fear. “They might still be here!” Abruptly, the young agent turned and started towards the gate in obvious alarm.

As he ran, he scanned frantically about the room, looking for the potential ambusher. His head turned towards the ceiling and he gasped in horror. Up high, hanging incongruously from the rafters, was a man in a pale suit.

Katya’s eyes were drawn upwards by Patrick’s startled gaze. The man released his grip on the crossbeam and he plummeted directly into the midst of the surprised agents. Katya heard Patrick gasp “Neue Mensch”, before chaos erupted in the quiet archive.

The man in the pale suit grabbed Somerset even as he thudded down into the concrete floor, using the speed of his descent to smash the British agent to the floor. With frightening speed, the intruder scooped Somerset up and hurled him through the air as though he weighed no more than a small child.

Somerset’s body crashed into the packed shelves, scattering boxes, document folders and spilling their contents across the floor. He landed heavily on the large crate. To his horror, he heard the unmistakable clink of the grenade’s pin as it sprang from the body of the explosive; a noise which marked the beginning of a now unstoppable chain of combustive reactions, originating somewhere under his backside.

On instinct, Somerset hurled himself forwards, palms smacking against the shelf supports and propelling him forward in a burst of momentum. He kicked out with his feet, springing into a graceless dive. As he flew, he tucked his legs up under him, all the while screaming a warning to the others. Then a wave of heat washed over him, leaving a choking stench of burnt hair in its wake. He rolled across the hard floor in a tangle of limbs.

Katya and Rosario had watched in horror as the unknown assailant hurled Somerset right into the booby-trapped box. Even before they heard his warning cry they were throwing themselves away from the anticipated explosion. Serious injury was inevitable in such a confined space, but as they each hit the floor they saw the grenade burst into a bright flare of light and heat. The grenade had been an incendiary: designed to burn, not blast.

Katya rolled back to her feet, slipping her combat knife from its sheath. Neue Mensch. Ordinary bullets weren’t much use against these things, she knew. Did they still have their meagre supply of silver ones? No time to wonder. The pale suit stood before her. She twisted, weight forward, centre of gravity pivoting over her right knee as she completed her lunge. The man stepped back casually but with a serpent’s speed. The knife cut through the air in front of him. He threw his head back and laughed.

A blur of motion at her left. Somerset leaping back to his feet, a line of grey metal clasped in his hand. His arm flew out. The knife spun end over end to bury itself in the centre of the man’s chest. He looked down at it quizzically, but without apparent concern.

Rosario got to his feet, shielding his eyes from the sudden heat of the flames now spreading up the shelves. Boxes and tinder-dry crates were bursting alight with surprising speed. He saw the man lunging at Katya, but she was in her fighting stance, gauging his movement and twisting out of his reach. At least for now.

Rosario quickly pull his rosary from around his neck. Silver was what they feared, at least that’s what the other agents had told him. And he might have the only source of the precious metal in the whole building: a tiny silver crucifix. He whirled the rosary beads around the knuckles of his right hand so that the attached crucifix lay on the outside of his clenched fist. He darted forward, feinting right as the man saw him and lashed out. Rosario jabbed with his left hand. The man effortlessly blocked him, but the tall Italian twisted smoothly to deliver a powerful right hook, smashing the crucifix into the man’s face.

To everyone’s surprise the man in pale suit recoiled sharply, springing backwards to collide with a set of shelves. Pain wracked his snarling features. Rosario could make out the pitifully small shape of a cross burned in crimson on the man’s left cheek.

To the side, lit the by the flames dancing across the archive shelves, Patrick slowly raised his pistol.

Travellers in an Antique Land


The piercing ring of his burner mobile woke Somerset. His arm sprawled out across the pillow, hand fumbling over the bedside table to get to it. He could hear Elizabetta moving about in the kitchen, making tea, probably wearing his pyjama top again; her side of the bed felt prematurely cool. His fingers found the phone and peered at the number through blurry eyes. Instinct kicked in and he wished she’d had already left. He saw the envelope with her money in it, still on her bedside table where she’d left it last night, and he groaned inwardly; she was getting too casual around him, which meant he was getting too comfortable around her. That old conflict surfaced again – was it just an infatuation, or did he actually love her? And if he did, could he let his guard down, let her in a bit closer?

Assuming she’d want to. She’d seemed a bit cold last night, more business-like. Maybe that was a reaction to him, maybe she was miffed he hadn’t been around, booking fewer appointments than she was used to. Still, at least he hadn’t had to listen to too much of her gossip last night, so not all bad.

Katya’s number. He sat up slowly, scowling.

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing your own thing?” he asked.

“No, not really. Listen, I’ve been talking to Patrick. I think it is Patrick,” she said quickly.

Cynicism clouded his face and voice.

“Sure. Of course it’s him.”

“He knew things only Patrick would know. Probably. And even if it’s a trap, it’s a well-baited trap. He’s hacked a Lisky computer and found lots of stuff. About a Nigredo and the Zalozhniy. I want to go to Iraq. To the Museum of Antiquities to get this Nigredo. I need your help.”

Needs me to risk myself for her plans, he thought.

“My help for what? A clean kill, or do you want to send Joe Lisky a message?”

“No, listen. I want the Nigredo. We need it.” Meaning she needed it.

“Sounds thin,” he muttered.

“I want the Nigredo, Somerset. It’s important.”

Rosario’s hacker was trying to decrypt his fathers’ notebook, but he’d not made much progress so far. Three slow days in Zurich followed by a night in the country made hanging around for another week unappealing. And he had to find a new broker to replace Rudek if he wanted work again. His reputation was going to make that difficult. Patrick was suspect, and Katya was becoming increasingly unreliable. So lots of reasons to stay here and knuckle down to some hard work.

Then again…

“Nigredo?” he asked. “Why do I get the feeling I’m not getting to walk away from this mess?”

“I think it’s important.”

“You don’t know what the Nigredo does. You don’t even know what the Albedo does,” he challenged.

“No, I don’t,” she said.

“You just want them for leverage.”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“You moved the Albedo, behind our backs. Only you know where it is. If you die it’s lost forever.”

“So, don’t let me die.”

“It’s tempting to let that happen just to get shot of this sorry mess." He paused, but the silence from her end was unreadable. He flopped back on the pillow, closing his eyes.

“If Dorjiev was going to be there, I might be tempted,” he continued. Close his account with Sergei, for one thing.

Katya paused again on the other end.

“I don’t know, he might be," she answered. "We’re not that close any more. Can you see if Coit can help Patrick out of Vienna?”

“Assuming it is Patrick?”

“Assuming it is.”

“And if it is?”


Somerset thought carefully for a moment., listening to Elizabetta clattering the kettle around, the clink of mugs.

The sounds of domesticity.

“Let me find out if this really is Patrick, and then decide what I want to do about it.”


But he’d already hung up.


36 hours later, their taxi bounced along the scarred tarmac from Baghdad airport to the city. Katya slept off several hours of complimentary airline drinks in the front seat, behind shades and a headscarf. In the back, Rosario watched the desert slide by, the bleached sands achingly bright behind his sunglasses, inadequate to the Iraqi summer. He could feel his armpits and back beginning to swelter despite the clacking air-conditioning and his linen suit and shirt.

“There is a story of a canal in Sadr City that turned to blood. A sign from God apparently.” he said, to no-one in particular. The Iraqi driver nodded enthusiastically at them in the rear-view mirror, grinning a mouthful of yellowed and blackened teeth.

Somerset, next to him, nodded, without moving his gaze from the desert on his side of the car. “I heard. Chemicals leak, or abattoir wash-off, so they say.” He stared out his side of the car. He wore a light-coloured linen suit against the heat, a crisp white business shirt underneath.

A dusty mile passed, the drivers’ good luck charms jangling on the rear view mirror, casting little dancing lights around the interior.

“I knew guys who were here,“ Somerset spoke quietly “Before and after the war. They came back with crazy stories. They said the people believed Saddam had a stone in his arm that allowed him to control huge scorpions. Prevented him being killed. Or some such shit,” he shrugged. “Didn’t work, in the end.”

“Maybe,” suggested Rosario, “the lack of the stone meant it really was a double they hanged.”

“Interesting conspiracy theory,” Somerset conceded grudgingly.

Rosario smiled. “There are many ancient stories here. Who knows which are true? Fifteen thousand years of history and myth buried in the sands. Babylon lies over there, somewhere,” he pointed out at the horizon, a blinding blur of sand and sky. “The Ekimmu or Edimmu lived there. They could possess the bodies of living people, make them do evil, who —”

Katya came to life, yammering harshly at the driver in loud Arabic. They argued back and forth briefly, the driver releasing the wheel to gesticulate, leaving the car to swerve violently over the road before he clamped his hands back down and sped up.

“I need a pistol. We’re stopping at a weapons market he knows.” she said, sinking back into her seat again.

“Can’t argue with the lady’s logic,” said Somerset, distractedly.

“Evil comes too easily,” Rosario sighed. "It is acts of good that require some effort.”

Somerset strode into the Palestine Hotel, Katya half a step behind him. The lobby bar to the left was humming with shabby Westerners swapping drinks and stories, but the main lobby was almost empty. A thin man on crutches stood in the centre.


He looked pale and tired, leaning lopsidedly on the left crutch. Somerset checked their perimeters and vantage points; it all seemed about normal for a journalist’s hotel in a war zone.

Patrick watched him circle the lobby.

Circuit complete, Somerset approached him

“Where the hell have you been Patrick?” he asked.

“Thank you for your assistance getting myself out of Vienna.”

“Where have you been?” Somerset asked again, harder.

“I don’t really know. I can remember the petrol station, looking under the car, seeing the bomb. Then, then I woke up in a crappy hospital with no windows. The Lisky Bratva had me. They threatened me with a table full of knives and DIY tools to tell them where the Albedo was.”

“Did you?” Somerset asked. Katya stood nearby, listening intently.

“I told them the Albedo was in a Swedish forest, but I was fuzzy about where. Then they left me alone, and I managed to escape, and hack their system. I know about the Neue Mensch and Zalozhniy. Like they hate fire. And there was stuff about us.”

“Me?" Somerset asked. Patrick nodded. “Katya?” He nodded again. "What about a man called Dawlish?” The Ulsterman shook his head.

“A bit about you Somerset, some stuff about Sergei. I don’t remember anything on a Dawlish. They know a lot about you Katya. A lot. But it was mostly about Gertrude Bell. They were really interested in her.”

“I’ve heard of her before.” said Katya.

Somerset kept his eyes firmly on Patrick. "Gertrude Bell was TE Lawrence’s and Philby Senior’s handler in Iraq,” he said. Katya raised an eyebrow. Philby again.

“Agency history,” Somerset explained.

“There was all this historical stuff about the ziggurat of Ur and Leonard Woolley and iron from meteors,” said Patrick. “Listen, you need me. It’s all up here.” he tapped his temple, an elbow pressed to hold the crutch in place.

“Sounds far too convenient,” Somerset growled.

“Sounds good enough to me,” countered Katya. “Let’s go look at old stuff in glass cabinets.”

They spent a fruitless hour wandering the wide halls of the Museum of Antiquities. Rosario kept disappearing off when he spied an interesting lump of stone or broken pottery. Somerset noted the frequent empty spaces, information signs lacking exhibits. There was probably some parallel between that and the trail of discarded identities they lived, if he wanted to make it.

They arrived back at the entrance having walked one hallway.

“Let’s go find a bar. This is pointless,” Katya said.

“The Ur and Sumerian section is down there,” suggested Rosario.

Somerset’s sixth sense nudged him to full alert. Something… not normal… had just happened. He scanned their surroundings trying to bump it up into his consciousness. An Iraqi man climbed the stairs. A couple walked out of the hall, studying a leaflet. Lift doors closing on an empty lift.

It came to him. That man had just pressed a button in the lift, but got out before the doors shut. He was using the stairs. New brown suit, red faced, flustered, middle aged.

“Him,” Somerset said, nodding at the man. Without waiting he set off up the stairs following him, purpose in his stride.

“Stay here – with him,” Katya ordered Rosario, pointing at Patrick and his crutches, and ran after Somerset.

As he reached the second floor, Somerset spotted a fire escape door closing at the end of the corridor. Standard evasion tactics. He thinks he’s being followed. Somerset slipped out onto the metal escape stairs, spotting the man re-entering on the 3rd floor.

Sloppy. Amateur.

On the quiet 3rd floor corridor, Somerset and Katya watched from the fire escape door. The man walked through a “Staff only” door confidently, and was gone from their sight.

Both instinctively took out pistols. Somerset also produced a suppressor and screwed it on, whispering.

“Where did you —” she started but he held up a finger to silence her.

“Stealthily through the door. Me first. Then I’ll cover you.”

They padded quietly to the door, guns held hidden, eyes down the corridor. Somerset slowly turned the handle and pushed the door open enough to slip in. Katya followed a beat later as he pressed his back to the wall immediately inside.

It was an archive room, filled with rows of large filing cabinets. The man stood midway down an aisle, a drawer partially open in front of him, flicking through a file on top.

His eyes widened.

“Who are you? Where is your ID?” Somerset swung his arm around to expose the pistol in his hand, pointed at the floor. The man swore in Arabic, threw the papers at Somerset’s face and ducked away down the row of cabinets. Somerset put a round in the door frame directly in front of him, trying to panic him into stopping, but he carried on running. The Englishman ducked under the open drawer, while Katya turned and sprinted around to the next aisle. The man was entering it when he saw her appear at the other end. He stopped and turned back, right into Somerset’s waiting fist. He dropped to the floor, poleaxed.

Somerset slid the heavy watch off his knuckles and back around his wrist. “Always works a treat,” he said, stretching his fingers to clear the pain.

Katya crouched down to him. “At least he’s not dead," she admonished. She began fishing for the man’s wallet.

“I don’t kill everyone I meet, you know,” he replied cheerfully. She raised an eyebrow at him as she pulled an expensive leather wallet from the man’s jacket pocket.

“Well, I’ve managed to avoid killing you. So far.” he smiled.

“Mohammed Al-Kirkuk, researcher here,” she said, pulling a MasterCard from his wallet and comparing it to his ID; she simply ignored Somerset’s quip.

“Jackpot. Wasn’t that the name Rosario had?” he said. She nodded.

Somerset lifted and propped him up against a cabinet. “Go see what he was reading, I’ll question him.”

In the other aisle Katya gathered the thrown papers from the floor. They were all old documents, the paper yellowing and fragile. They seemed to be financial transactions and letters organising the founding of the museum. Signed by Gertrude Bell. She checked the date. 1920.

Somerset slapped the man and he came-to, enough to hold up a hand.

“Stop!” Al-Kirkuk said. He looked at Somerset. “You’re working for them?”

“Assume that we are. What were you looking for?” Somerset asked.

Al-Kirkuk looked around the room. “Not here, come to my apartment, it’s safer."

“If you think you’ll be safer there…” Somerset left the implication hanging as he jammed the muzzle of his pistol against the man’s groin.

The door opened and a young woman entered, stopping in surprise at the scene, “Are you OK Mohammed?” she asked in Arabic.

“He’s feeling ill, we’re helping him down,” replied Somerset, finding one smile in his face that didn’t automatically send shivers down the spine. Katya shut the cabinet drawer. The woman held the door open, uncertainly, and Somerset helped Al-Kirkuk out.

“Thanks awfully,” he said, still smiling, as they left.

Across town, in Mohammed’s small, stuffy apartment, Rosario made tea for them all in the kitchen. Katya carefully moved part of Kirkuk’s extensive collection of books to sit down, while Somerset loomed over him. Mohammed sat on his sofa, looking small and worried.

“Well, a Westerner, American I think, contacted me to find information about British agents in the 20th Century, like St. John Philby," Al-Kirkuk explained. "I assumed they were CIA. A few weeks ago I found a reference in the index to a book in the collection, a diary of Gertrude Bell. It was a special one, she wrote many diaries of course, but this one was her private, personal diary for Major Doughty-Wiley.”

“Who’s he?” Somerset frowned.

“He was the love of her life. Well, he was married, so it was very awkward, for the time. Tragic. He died in 1915, at Gallipoli.”

“Alright – so this diary…”

“Well, yes. The last reference I could find was in 1967, just before the Mukhabarat coup.”

“Who’s Mukhabarat?” asked Patrick.

“It was the Iraqi Secret Service. Saddam ran it when he seized power in ’68,” Somerset said. “So what happened to the diary?”

“I think it went to the State Research Directorate. The State Archives. In the coup or just after.”

“Where it’s still—“ A hard rap on the door interrupted Somerset’s interrogation. Al-Kirkuk jumped.

Somerset frowned. “Expecting anyone?” Al-Kirkuk shook his head.

“Get behind the sofa.” Somerset barked, moving quickly to the side of the apartment’s door.

There was a bang, and a hole appeared in the door. A picture shattered near Somerset. He dropped into a crouch and drew his pistol. Katya moved to cover the door, pistol out. Patrick let his crutches fall away, and found a pistol under his shirt. He moved painfully, but easily enough.

“I’ll stay in here, I think,” Rosario called from the kitchen.

Somerset pushed the barrel of his pistol through the bullet hole, and squeezed off a shot at random. Nothing. The light filtering in through the ventilated door went black, as it crashed and shuddered in its frame. Wood splintered, but it held. Somerset stood and took two steps back, enough to get him out of arc of the door’s swing. Two seconds later, it burst open, splintered wood and dust flying, revealing two bulky men, guns pointed inwards.

In the kitchen, Rosario counted 7 or 8 overlapping gunshots erupt in the other room, all in a matter of five, maybe six seconds. Different reports, meaning multiple guns. He pressed in behind the fridge. There were thumps, things hitting the floor. Heavy things. Then silence. He counted to three and cautiously peered into the main room.

It stank of cordite; sunlight flooded in from the open doorway illuminating thick smoke that was quickly dissipating from the accompanying breeze. Bloodstains and clumps of hair covered the carpet and slid down the front wall. Patrick stood by the sofa, pistol covering the doorway. Katya propped herself up on the floor, holding her shoulder, in pain. Somerset was bent over one bulky corpse, working a large knife out of its chest; the Englishman had a large slash across his chest, a thin red welt on the pink skin underneath, oozing blood. Another body lay at the door, face and one eye destroyed; it must be his brains splattered on the wall, Rosario thought, detached. Al-Kirkuk sat shivering, but uninjured, behind the sofa. He looked wide-eyed at Rosario.

“Take deep breaths. You’re alive. Focus on that. We will protect you,” Rosario said soothingly. He wasn’t sure he felt all that soothed.

A moment later, Somerset returned from KIrkuk’s bedroom, buttoning up one of the man’s dark, striped shirts. He looked at Katya rifling the bodies as he tucked it into his linen trousers.

“Well?” he asked.

They had car keys, hotel door passes and Iraqi ID’s. Even in Baghdad a gunfight attracted attention, and Al-Kirkuk was still quivering in mute shock.

“Let’s go and put Al somewhere safe, then investigate who wanted him dead.” instructed Katya.

On the busy roads back to their hotel Somerset picked up on unwanted attention.

“Police ahead, and we have more friends on our 6. Westerners this time.”

“Can you lose them?" said Katya looking back.

Somerset said nothing, flexing his knuckles over the steering wheel.

Dealing with Dorjiev

Katya sat alone in the underground drinking den in one of the drug-damaged areas of Zurich.She was dressed scruffily, mixing in with the scruffy area. A handful of hunched drinkers sat over at the shabby bar. Hushed conversations took place in the ill-lit corners.

A cigarette lazily streamed smoke from between her tight, nervous fingers. In front of her on the table was the vodka bottle she’d worked her way through. From the stools at the bar, the night regulars surreptitiously eyed her, quietly assessing their chances with the fresh meat, but the barman warned them off. She’d threatened him in his native French and identified his fading regimental tattoo. He didn’t know what she was, but she wasn’t easy fun.

The phone, on the wall behind her, hung heavy in her thoughts. If it rang she would answer, but she wasn’t going to deal. Just listen to what he had to offer. But what if it didn’t ring? She ran both implications around and around her skull, took a shot of vodka, and started the cycle again.

It rang and she answered it before it rang again.

“Kaatya” Dorjiev said in his thick Romanian accent. “You are starting to see sense?”

She cleared her throat. “It depends on your offer, Dorjiev. You’ve hurt me, but I’m impressed with your capabilities, and Thaler’s. If you could find a way to give me, or teach me those powers, I could offer you the thing you want."

She could hear his smile. “Katya, if you think I’ve seriously hurt you, you have less vision than I had hoped. I won’t share all my secrets of course – not at first, but I could give you either of those things you speak of. And there are other powers you are unaware of. Powers beyond the Earth that can be channelled in incredible ways.”

Her stomach dropped, her mouth full of dust. He was luring her in, she could see the trap, but she also believed him. She had to assert her authority. "I think you’ve tried to hurt me. And you know what we can do to your Zalozhniy.” she said. “You want the Albedo from me, what will you give me for it?”

Dorjiev didn’t pause. “There are three things I want from you. The Albedo, discretion and loyalty. You have proven that you are resourceful and ruthless – both qualities I respect. You made a false Albedo and sold it to that fool Werner. Of course, horrible things would happen to you if you attempted to cross me. Nothing will happen until I have the real Albedo in my hands. The second condition is that you must bring this to me in secret. Lastly, you must work for me.

“Only then will I reveal the secrets of the choice you will then have to make. Secrets beyond anything you have imagined. Only then will I grow your strength, according to your choice.”

“Discretion is easy. There are several people who’d kill me if they knew I was having this conversation, but loyalty…” Katya said.

“If you are only prepared to fulfil the first condition – to bring me the Albedo, tell me now, and we can perhaps come to a slightly lesser arrangement and we will part on good terms. Otherwise, you must know that my Zalozhniy will hunt you to the far corners of the Earth. And when they catch you, I will get the Albedo from you anyway. But this way I get a useful friend, which I prefer. I think you would find me a very valuable friend.”

Katya smiled, she was making some very strange friends recently. “What guarantee do I have that you’ll honour this deal? You’re asking me to take this all on trust, and I want to believe you and also I want to help Russia. I’ll give you discretion and secrecy for sure, but the Albedo on a promise of something tomorrow? How do I believe you?"

Dorjiev snapped at her. “You have already cheated the Lisky Bratva! And you’ve earned one hundred thousand Euros out of your treachery of empty promises and crude forgery! I’ll need more than that before I share anything of substance. I don’t even know if you’re telling the truth when you say you know where the Albedo is. I am not one of your greedy fools. And I know it will be mine in time. It’s just a matter of when and on what terms.”

She’d hit a nerve. “You are not the Lisky Bratva. And money is not important to me nor to you I think.” she said. “We need to build trust between us, to get to an end goal that is in both our interests. Let’s find something else, to build trust between us and prepare the ground for a final deal, whatever it ends up. I’ll help you as long as it doesn’t go against the GRU and their interests in Russia. You have my promise.”

There was a long silence before he spoke again, quieter. “Understand this – your allegiance and assistance is almost as valuable to me as the Albedo itself. I need you to help me with something else. It is not in my interest to alienate you. If you are dedicated and faithful, both of us will gain a very useful asset.

“The bond between master and student is a profound spiritual bond of blood and spirit. It takes a step of faith and courage. You must ask yourself – are you ready to take that step? That is your choice. There is no negotiation on that. However, you have my promise that I will not cheat you.”

Katya rested her forehead on the sticky wall. She could feel the graded layers of years of ripped and fading band posters. She is an agent. It is her job to go into dangerous situations, risk herself to gain something valuable, something not easily available. But this felt different. Her identity was at risk. She would not come out of this still Katya.

Dorjiev sounded thoughtful. “There is another part… The Albedo is the White. The other part is the Black. The White has power, but it is untamed and unfocussed. In combination they have enormous power – power we could enjoy together. That can be our shared goal. The Organisation is looking for it. I want you to find it first and bring it to me.”

“OK, I can find it. What is it and what is the Organisation? Simon Thaler?” Katya said.

“It is the Nigredo. There is a sacred bloodline running through history, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, but always there. They are the Immortals, the Great Ones that walk among us. Through history they have been called Hyperboreans, Atlanteans, Titans, Jötunn, Jinn, Lamashtu, Lilitu, Vrilya, Ubermensch, Neuemensch, Ascended Masters … Gods. They came from black stones that fell from the heavens in ancient days. They made their homes in lost Irem and Shambhala. The Sumerians knew them, and the Babylonians. Blavatsky communed with Them. The British encountered them in Iraq. Hitler and Himmler sought to strengthen Germany with their blood.

“Simon Thaler is one of these beings, but barely a child. There are many more in the shadows, manipulating world events in order to turn ordinary mortals ever more into their cattle. And their numbers are swelling. But the power of the Divine Blood takes time. Thaler received the Blood Sacrament seventy years ago. There are others, far older, far less human and far more terrible still.”

Katya could hear fear or respect in his voice.

“The Albedo and Nigredo together would vastly accelerate this process. They would also give us great power over the Arabian Peninsula and thus, the world. But… I ramble on… I can teach you more, so much more, when you come to my side.”

She was trying to process all the information. It fitted with what she had seen, but it could not be true. Even if it was partly true though.
“That sounds like conspiracy insanity.” she started, “But I have seen things, things I can’t explain-”

He cut her off “Of course you have, but why should I trust you to bring me the Nigredo if you won’t give me the Albedo that you say you already have? Perhaps you intend to betray me and keep them both for yourself!” his voice rose.

“I have got the Albedo, the White, I will find the Nigredo, but I don’t know what they are or are capable of. So with your knowledge and my ‘edo’s we can do great things, together.”

There was silence at the other end. Her breath sounded loud in the earpiece.
He spoke again, quieter. “So. I propose that we make a bond of blood. We will become sister and brother in blood. An intimate bond that will make it impossible for us to hide from one another, a chain of blood…” he suggested.

Not again, she thought, Dorjiev in my head, in my dreams. But I know how to break it off. Or Rosario does. “I’ve sworn blood oaths before when I was a child. I will swear this with you, as a sign of my commitment. Given what you did to me with my blood before you understand that it’s a brave step I’m doing. Let’s get done whatever needs to get done.”

“Perhaps you are not as prepared for this as I hoped. But, no matter. Meet me at the Riesenrad – the big Ferris wheel in Bellevue Platz. Meet me there at 23:00. Come alone, unarmed, no tricks.”

Click. The handset went dead in her hands.

She had put on and taken off three outfits, strapped on and removed her knife and pistol, and dialled half of Rosario’s number, stopped, and realised she was truly frightened.
She wasn’t entirely sure what she was agreeing to. She knew that none of her training would help. Nor any of her friends. She was completely alone. Risking herself and her friends for the big goal.

She scribbled a quick note and tucked it into the minibar, in an empty vodka miniature. She slid the knife into the sole of her boot. Just in case. Her pistol stayed on the bed.

She opened the hotel door, then shut it. She had to tell Yasha something. If she never came back, he’d understand, it was their job. But he had to know what she gambled her life for. His training got her to this point, she didn’t want him to think she’d wasted it.

She fired up the laptop, connected into one of his secure message boxes and typed out a short message to him.

“Yasha, I’m going into trouble, but I’ve found something that might help the GRU, but it’s very risky. I’ll be in touch soon. Also watch out for the BND, they are angry with me and may try to cause trouble for me. Stay away from my covers and contacts.”

Since she was online she quickly Googled Nigredo.

“In alchemy, nigredo, or blackness, means putrefaction or decomposition. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter.
In analytical psychology, the term became a metaphor ’for the dark night of the soul, when an individual confronts the shadow within”

Hell, she was confronting her shadow all right. An indicator on the taskbar told her there was a message for her. On her secure connection. She wasn’t expecting anything. Maybe more problems at Snovi?
The header said “Patrick.”
She stared at it a long time before clicking.
“Katya, listen – I realise you don’t know what’s going on and whether you can trust me. But it is me and you can trust me. You’re one of the only people I feel I can trust. I escaped from them. It’s what I’m good at. They had me the basement of a building in Salzberg. They were going to torture me and I got out. I’m in Vienna now, but I don’t have many resources or contacts here.

There’s something really important you need to know. I hacked their computer. There was stuff on Zalozhniy and people they refer to as ‘Neue Mensch’ (like Thaler?) and loads of other weird shit. They’ve been investigating the Philbys for decades. It’s mind-blowing. Goes back to at least 1914. Something Lawrence, Woolley and Bell found at Carchemish, then Lawrence handed his files over to Philby and Philby went back. What we’re calling the ‘Albedo’ is the blood of something he found there, something incredibly old and powerful.

But he did something with that blood that affects world politics. He told Kim before he died. It seems bizarre and I don’t know what to think, but these people seem to think they’ve made a breakthrough. They’re trying to activate it now, by getting the ‘Albedo’ from us (they seem to know a lot about you!), and something else they call the ‘Nigredo’ that Philby recovered from Ur with Woolley in 1922. They’re looking for it right now, in Iraq. Still working my way through all this. They’ll be looking for me of course. I can’t do this on my own.”

The message had been sent 2 hours ago. The information aligned with what Dorjiev had told her. It was a trap. It couldn’t be anything else. It couldn’t be Patrick. Or he was compromised. She glanced at the clock, calculating how much time she had before she had to leave. No time. She hit the keys rapidly.

“Patrick. Back when we were holed up at on the Serbian border, Sergei told us the name of his children, do you remember their names?”

She started to close the laptop, when a reply pinged.

“Children? He had children? I only know Anisya? It’s me Katya!”

It was Patrick. Probably. Certainly wasn’t Sergei.

“You need help getting out of Vienna?” she typed.

“I have no identity documentation, legit or otherwise. I could probably manage, but it would take time. So yeah. Please. Anything you could do to help…”

She was taking all sorts of risks tonight. Living dangerously. Not that the last few months had been safe.
“Leave it with me. I’ll get something to you probably through Somerset. I’ll be in touch. Anything you can find about their plans or if you can disrupt their actions all helps.”

She closed it and left the room and hotel for her date with Dorjiev and destiny. Or death.

The Ferris wheel loomed garishly above the southern city. The night was warm, moonlight highlighted the world in silver. Her cab weaved its way through late evening traffic. Out of the back window she watched the silver car that had been outside her hotel, cross lanes to follow them down a side road.
“Drop me down here please” she ordered the driver. He complained, but gave up when she handed him a note and waved off the change.

On the pavement she headed straight into a bar. It was busy, merry Swiss spilling outside to smoke and mix. She worked her way in, identified the backdoor and pushed her way through the chatting crowd. At an overloaded coat hook she took off her coat, made a play of trying to hang it, and moved on with a nice black leather jacket and a beret folded away inside.

The warm fug of alcohol wafted. She thought about stopping for a drink. Just one, to perfect her cover. A bit of extra courage. It might be her last.

No, she forced herself to keep walking. If she had one drink, if she stopped now, she would never do it. She needed to get this over with, and then she could have a drink. Or ten.

At the backdoor she changed coats, slipped the beret on, and tucked her hair underneath, and fell in with a rowdy group, heading home after a good night. The silver car never reappeared.

Bellevue Platz was dominated by excited shouts and the fluorescent spinning lights of the wheel. It grew larger in her sight and conscious as she strode across the park.

At the entrance to the wide space beneath the wheel, she could see three figures standing there. At the ramp that gave entrance to the cabins as they rotated past. Dorjiev was in the middle, looking straight at her despite the dark and civilians milling around. On his left was a large, muscled thug, the one on his was right smaller, lean. Weaselly.

“Good evening Dr. Dorjiev. Were you afraid to come on your own?” she put a lot more confidence in her voice than she felt.

“Good evening Katya. I was afraid that you might be. One has to be cautious in this business. I trust you were careful to ensure you were not followed?”
She nodded, and he smiled. Fatherly.

He indicated the next descending carriage. “Shall we go in?"

“Let’s get this over and done with.” There was a slight pause as the small wooden cabin rocked to a stop. She entered tense, ready for trouble.

Dorjiev stepped in after her, and the lean man followed him. The big guy stood at the doorway eye-fucking anyone who thought about trying to join them. When the cabin rocked and slowly moved forward, he entered and the door closed. The two henchmen watched Katya intently. Dorjiev opened the briefcase he was carrying on the seat.

“What’s the plan here Dorjiev?” Katya asked, uncertain. Surely it’s a cut-your-palm/shake-hands arrangement? she thought.

“We are doing like I said. We make a pact. A pact of blood.” From the briefcase he produced two large gauge syringes. He handed one to the smaller man. Then, without filching or hesitating he inserted it into a vein on the inside of his own elbow and began to withdraw blood.

The smaller man leaned towards Katya “It won’t hurt a bit” he whispered with enjoyment. He waved impatiently at her right arm, covered by the leather jacket. She slipped the jacket off and looked around for somewhere to put it. The cabin was rising high above the Platz. In the distance glowed the office blocks of Zurich.

“I can’t keep calling your Dr. Dorjiev. What should I call you?" she put the jacket carefully on the bench without looking at him.

“Ah. We are friends now yes? You can call me ‘D’.” He smiled, his teeth yellowed and oddly small.

She extended her arm to weasel man, looking hard at him, not her arm. She asked "So, D, what does the other half, the Nigredo, look like?”

Dorjiev looked up and spoke to her directly while casually filling the syringe with his blood. Weasel Man stuck the needle of the other syringe sharply into her arm and began to slowly extract her blood.

“Most people are under the mistaken belief that the Holy Grail was a cup. But this was a later invention. It was one of the Black Stones that fell from the sky that I told you of. Otto Rahn found it beneath Montségur before the war. The Nigredo is another. A dark meteoric rock.”

She risked a look at her arm. The needle was deep in her artery, her stomach dropped. Her blood was quickly filling the large syringe. A trickle ran from the puncture wound and dripped onto the floor.
“Careful with my blood – it was hard to find. So, the Albedo causes hallucinations, is that how we tell the Nigredo from other black rocks?"

Dorjiev nodded, concentrating on his syringe that was nearly full. It looked a lot of blood.

“It is said that, when they are touched, the Black Stones bleed. In any case, I think you’ll know it. But part of you task is to identify it. The Organisation seems to made some sort of breakthrough a few months ago. They believe Philby shared key information with another of the British spies and agitators that he associated with in the Middle East. They are searching in the National Museum of Iraq. I want you to find it first and bring it to me.”

He extracted his full syringe, holding it up to examine it. Katya glanced at the needle being pulled out of her arm, just as the cabin circled over the highest point and started descending. Her legs forgot to hold her up, she jerked, and barely remained standing. The syringe Weasel man was holding had a pint of her blood, thick and red.

Weasel handed it to Dorjiev who looked at it like a wine connoisseur, and handed his to Weasel. Katya could not have moved if she wanted to. Weasel jabbed Dorjiev’s syringe into her arm, and started pushing his dirty, corrupt blood into her veins.

She was committed now. Her arm tingled and she glanced at Dorjiev to see if he was feeling the same. His eyes were rolling back in their sockets, pleasure evident as he mainlined her blood. She waited to see if she got that hit, but felt only nausea. All too quickly both syringes were empty. Dorjiev withdrew his, a look of disappointment that it was over.

He gathered himself. “They will try to stop you of course. I am the only one who can truly protect you from Them.”

“How can you protect me?" she asked.

“My true patronage will begin when and only when you prove your loyalty. However, there are some things I can tell you. "
He rolled his shirtsleeve down, and put his cufflinks back on while talking. He was chatty, relaxed.

“They are powerful, inhumanly powerful. The blood that courses through their veins is not of this earth. This is their strength and their ability to restore themselves from injury. And other properties too. But they are alive, they are still flesh and blood. They have a pulse and a beating heart. They are still partly human. For the first few centuries at least. And they have some vulnerabilities. They are repelled by wild roses for some reason. And garlic. Silver is a poison to them and blood-thinners make them weak. If you can destroy the heart or brain or decapitate them – the younger ones at least – they will die before they can restore themselves. They are somewhat vulnerable to fire too. Do you have the talisman that Kim Philby gave to Shevlenko? That would protect you. It blocks the rays of the Black Sun. And if you’re ever in real trouble, smash it on the ground.”

Katya had the necklace in her hotel room. “I’m sure the talisman is around. These ancient bad guys – they’re in Iraq? Anyway we’re blood partners now. I’ll get this Nigredo, then we can complete our deal.” She wanted out of there. “I don’t feel different."

“You will… There is a sacred pact between us now. Just tell me when you are ready to complete the deal. I will be waiting. And watching…”

Dorjiev wrapped the syringes in medical waste bags and packed it away in the briefcase, just as the ferris cabin reached the end of its journey.

“Nice timing.” Katya said. It was over, she was alive. “I’ll be in touch, the usual phone number? And you’ll be in Vienna or Odessa?"

“I was only in Vienna for your sake. Odessa or Romania. I still have some assets in Romania.” he said.

She was light-headed, just wanted out. “Really, you’re were there for me? Nice. Sorry about Romania. But let’s not argue about that again. I’ll speak to you soon. If you hear anything about the Organisation let me know. One last question. What do the BND know – why do they want in on this party?”

He angered visibly. “Avoid the BND at all costs. Do not speak to them. Do not trust anything they say.”
“Good luck” With that he left with his men.

Katya exited, false smile in place. She walked away from the crowds, the innocents, and threw up everything she had ever eaten into a public bin, then sat on the damp earth, resting against it. Parents steered their children away.

What the hell had she done? She studied the small red hole in her elbow crease. The hole in her defences.

She found a late night off-license, and back in her hotel bedroom, she drowned her conscience and conscious in cheap vodka.

She woke with a jump in the middle of the night, on the floor. Her clothes soaked with sweat stuck to her skin, her nerves itching. Somerset, Sergei and Yasha were in the room talking at her. Patrick was calling on the phone. Streams of blood ran down the walls.

Alone, she cried herself to sleep.

Never according to plan

“Good evening Katya.” The voice on the phone was at once sinister, cold and mocking.

“Good evening, Dorjiev,” Katya replied, suppressing a sigh. She’d half expected this. “How are you?” she asked sarcastically.

“I am well,” he replied.

“Are we seeing you this evening?”

“Why?” he asked. “What are you doing?” She was unnerved to hear wry amusement in that dry voice.

“Just drop the act, Dorjiev.”

He let out a rasping chuckle. “I did have a call from Herr Werner this evening. A most interesting call. Tell me, Katya, what happened to our deal?”

“You tried to kill us.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have come to that,” he chided.

“Besides,” she said. “I thought Werner was acting on your behalf.”

“I doubt that. What were his terms?”


He tutted absently, as though disappointed. “Our deal still stands, of course. If you give up the Albedo willingly, I will grant you such knowledge and power…” His voice trailed off.

He had such power, she thought, yet was still human. Still his power was attractive, to be able to do such things for good, for Russia, for Katya. But he was out for himself, probably impossible to trust. Probably. She wanted him on her side, at least as much as possible. “Okay. Our deal is still on.”

“And Werner?”

“I’ll tell him the deal is off,” she answered, hanging up the phone. She shook her head, then checked her watch. Half past eleven – in five minutes she would phone Paul Drescher. That would give him just enough time to reach the rendezvous at the appointed hour. She gazed down the rough tarmac road towards the dark shape of the scrap yard.

David Somerset idly watched the dancers writhing on the podiums below, down in the main hall of the Pfefferminz Nilpferd. He listened to the distinctive sound of silencers being tightened onto pistol barrels and cocked an eyebrow at Stefan Werner.

“Frightened I might change my mind, Herr Werner? " he asked. Werner tried his best to give him a steely gaze, but his eyes started to water as he concentrated on them. Somerset’s smile was thin, but obvious.

“What’s wrong, Stefan? Struggling to remember you’re a mob boss? Aren’t I frightened enough for you?”

The Austrian’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly as he cast around for some response, knowing he was losing face in front of his men. Somerset cut him off before he could conjure up a suitable retort.

“Tell me, Stefan, have you ever seen one of Dorjiev’s pets up close? I imagine you know about them; does Big Joe use the threat of them to keep his lieutenants in line? And how many of them has the doctor lost since we crossed his path? Four? Five? There’s the one I incinerated, and the three we wiped out in the graveyard, just for starters. That’s quite a loss. I expect the good doctor isn’t very happy about that. What did he say when you spoke to him?

“And then there was the idiot who tried to strangle me at the Romanian border; was he one? I don’t think so, personally, just one of Joe’s specialists, then?

“Do you honestly think that if I wanted to walk away, these idiots are going to stop me? These little men, who have never done anything but slap your whores around?”

Somerset turned to look at the surrounding goons with obvious contempt.

“You haven’t brought bodyguards, Herr Werner,” he told him, “you’ve brought me guns.”

“I could shoot you in the blink of an eye! You’re just a man!” Werner countered lamely.

Somerset laughed. “And where would that get you?” Werner had no answer; Somerset waved casually towards the exit.

“Now, how about we behave like gentlemen and go make this deal?”

Werner wavered for a moment, then ordered his men to search the British agent before stumping down the stairs in an cloud of defeat.

Katya concluded her short conversation with Drescher just as the scrapyard gates materialised out of the darkness. She slipped the phone into her pocket and looked around, checking that she was alone. She was not. A grey vehicle was partially concealed under a small clump of trees a few yards away. She could guess the model from the shape – an Audi – but couldn’t make out any occupants. In the dark, she doubted she could be seen herself, but the handover location was clearly compromised.

She thumbed her radio set. “Rosario, you in position?”

“Yes,” he replied immediately. “I’m parked to the north. Near the top of the hill. I will come down to meet you.”

“Anything to report?” she asked, trying not to let her voice betray the annoyance she felt.

The Italian did not notice. “No, it’s quiet.”

Except for the fact the Lisky Bratva are already here, she thought. Damned civilians.

There was nothing she could do now but hope. And keep her head down. She slipped through the chain-link gate and stalked silently betweens the lines of derelict train carriages. She unslung the bag containing the fake Albedo – nothing more than a thermos she’d bought in a dusty thrift store, and a cheap rosary – and tucked it under a heap of rotting seats.

A shape flitted between two pools of shadow some distance away. Hairs raised on the back of her neck. She was definitely not alone. The question was: were these Werner’s men, or Dorjiev’s, or Paul’s?

A stripped out train carriage was propped at a slight angle against two mounds of decaying metal refuse. The highest point was some twenty feet above the ink-dark floor of the scrapyard, so she clambered carefully up inside the empty train, aiming for the roof. She heard engines approaching as she reached the top. She could just make out the two vehicles pulling up outside the compound. Car doors clicked shut somewhere out of sight. The liquid dark of the scrapyard felt as though it could be teeming with human hunters. Or inhuman ones. She suppressed a shiver.

Five silent minutes passed, then she heard more engine noise and saw lights in the distance. Two SUVs drove slowly through the gate and braked to a halt, engines idling. She checked her watch again. Almost midnight. She knew she had to make a move, but was terrified of breaking cover, of standing in full sight of the unknown forces. She crept along the top of her carriage to get a better look at the SUVs.

Midnight ticked by as she watched the cars. The lights were on inside and she could see Paul Drescher talking on a mobile phone. ‘Now or never,’ she told herself. She scrambled down the train carriage and walked straight towards the illuminated SUVs, careful not to mask her approach or her identity. To her dismay, the vehicles abruptly started into motion, turned, and drove away.

Katya just stood there, momentarily stunned, wanting to scream at them to stop. Then, realising she was out in the open and completely exposed, she ducked back into the shadowed alleys between the derelict carriages. Her heart pounded. This was not good. Somerset would be arriving soon, with Stefan Werner, and there was going to be no firefight to cover their escape. She would have to make the deal, or they would shoot Somerset. Her only hope lay in the fake Albedo. Suddenly she wished she’d just brought the real one: to get rid of the evil thing and get away would be good enough, even if she never got to the truth behind it.

More car engines were growling in the distance. She slipped back towards her vantage point. Werner’s cars did not approach with the same cautious stealth as Werner’s, but roared through the gates in a cloud of dust. Car doors banged and Katya saw Somerset being led out of the lead vehicle at gunpoint. Then he was forced to kneel in the pool of light cast by the vehicles’ headlights. As always, Somerset looked unconcerned, a sardonic smile just about to break across his neutral features.

“Katya Lavrova!” One man stood in front of the rest, pistol hanging loosely from his left hand. “We have your friend. Bring me the Albedo!”

Katya saw Somerset’s say something and the man gave him an irritated, uncertain glance. Once again, she made her way down from her perch and walked towards the new arrivals. There was nothing else for it now. As she went, she radioed Rosario.

“What’s your position?” she asked.

“Just outside the perimeter. I’m staying out of sight. I’ll come if you need me.”

“No, hold there for now. Get the distraction ready.” For all the good it will do, she almost added.

“I’m all set.”

Katya stepped out in front of the Stefan Werner’s convoy. As soon as she appeared in the circle of headlights, the guards aimed their pistols at her. She held her hands out to show she was unarmed. Well, not openly brandishing a weapon at least.

“You want the Albedo?” she asked.

“Yes, where is it?” Stefan Werner replied.

“You’re in luck. My other deal fell through.” She trusted Somerset would have time to process the implications of what she was saying. “Where’s the money?”

“We have your friend, David Somerset.” Werner indicated where Somerset knelt a few paces away. Again, she saw Somerset say something to Werner, his face a mask of anger.

“Why do I care?” Katya asked. “If he’s here with you, he came looking for the money too. He’s made his choice.”

Werner paused, unable to make a decision. He could never quite get the leverage he expected with these people. Worst of all, his constant effort to figure out the angle they were playing was starting to give him a migraine. He could feel the burn starting just above his left eye. God damn spies, he thought angrily. Get the deal done and let someone else deal with them properly, he decided at last. He turned to one of the flanking guards. “You, get the money,” he instructed.

The guard returned with a briefcase. Katya retrieved the fake Albedo from its hiding space. They stood staring at each other in the headlight beams.

Katya walked forward and placed the thermos on the dirt floor, then took a couple of paces back. “Throw me the case,” she called to the guard.

To her relief, he complied and she caught the case without breaking eye contact with Werner. She popped the catches open and risked a very quick look inside. She felt more relief as she identified several neat stacks of bank notes inside.

The guard moved toward the thermos as she snapped the case closed. The remaining men were taking no chances and still had their guns pointed at her.

“I want proof it’s authentic,” Werner called suddenly.

“What?” she asked, incredulous. “Want me to dig up Shevlenko and ask him? How the hell can I prove it?”

Werner’s pained expression returned, “I want to know it’s real,” he repeated stubbornly.

Katya shrugged. “Open it up, have a look.”

Werner’s eyes narrowed, then he turned to toward Somerset with a cunning look. “You go and open it,” he said.

Somerset did a good impression of looking disconcerted and waited for the surrounding gunmen to brandish their weapons in support of Werner’s command. Then he got to his feet, walked to the thermos and opened it.

He hadn’t really known what had happened to Sergei when he’d opened the Albedo, so long ago back in the vault. The Bulgarian had been carted away in an ambulance afterwards, though there seemed to be no permanent effects on him. He’d mentioned having a vision, and the next thing he knew he was waking up in the hospital bed. Somerset hadn’t given the mater a lot of thought, but he assumed that they were dealing with a hallucinogenic chemical of some kind.

Somerset twisted the lid off the thermos, looked inside, replaced the lid and looked at Werner. A puzzled expression crossed his face, he looked wildly about the scrapyard, then pitched forward to sprawl headlong in the dirt, the thermos rolling away from his limp fingers. It wasn’t going to earn him a lead role in the West End, but it would do.

Katya feared he’d over done the performance, but Werner seemed to buy it. The Austrian ordered one of his guards to grab the fallen thermos and turned towards his car. Katya braced herself to sprint away if he decided to turn on her, but at that moment a new set of engines roared towards them. She could see little beyond the fresh pairs of blinding headlights, so she span and bolted for the shadowed recess of the train carriages.

As she ran, she thumbed her radio. “Roasrio, start the distractions! I’m coming to meet you.”

She heard a pistol firing behind her, then a sudden, magnesium flare lit the sky. A flurry of gun shots sounded all at once, cracks and bangs tearing at the night air. She chanced a look behind her as she ran. Two cars had arrived. Figures were silhouetted in stark motion as they ran for cover and rolled into firing positions. Somerset had completely vanished. Somewhere above the scrambling troops, a human shape leapt an impossible distance between two heaps of scrap. Another Zalozhniy. Which meant Dorjiev had arrived. She swore and increased her speed.

The air suddenly blazed with a fresh wave of explosions and light as Rosario’s fireworks distraction ignited, turning the scrapyard into a maelstrom of sensory assault. She wasn’t sure whether they were having any effect on the combatants behind her, but it didn’t much matter. She had the money and she was on her way out.

Somerset was on his feet the second the he’d heard the warning shout from Werner’s guards. As he lunged forward, he reached inside his jacket and extracted the flashbang from where he’d taped it just inside the lining of his jacket, a place the hurried pat-down had failed to find. As he pulled it free, he yanked the pin and out with a practiced thumb movement and let it fall. The blinding flash threw his sprinting shadow against a wall of corroded scrap. Then he reached a narrow passage and melted easily into the darkness. He turned through a sharp bend, a wicked metal barb tearing his shirt as he careened through the maze of detritus. It was impossible to orientate himself properly in his wild flight, but he hoped he was making for roughly where he’d hidden the pistol and the motorbike.

More light bloomed in the air above him, percussive blasts temporarily drowning out the staccato cracking of the small arms battle. In the light of one flash, he found himself between a piece of heavy machinery and an office cabin, blessedly near to his hidden cache. He slowed his pace and peered cautiously between the ranks of scrap.

The gunfire halted abruptly. He could see at least one dark, human shape slumped in the open area lit by the vehicle headlights. Somerset carefully reached into the metal pipe and retrieved his pistol. One down. He stepped cautiously to his right, making for his tarpaulin-covered bike. Then he froze. He could hear someone speaking. He was too far away to make out the words, but the voice sound like cold iron.

Then there was a voice he recognised, high pitched, but where it had once been clipped and self-assured it was now wavering with fear. Pleading. It belonged to Stefan Werner and he was begging for his life.

As Somerset tugged firmly on the plastic sheet, the begging turned to a long, high shriek of terror that suddenly fell silent.

Time froze. Somerset watched the tarpaulin slide away from the motorbike with impossible slowness, though his mind raced ahead, seemingly to operate a thousand times faster than the impossible temporal effect going on around him. This was the second time he’d experienced this. The first time was when he’d watched what he now knew to be a Zalozhniy – Lili Blaise – killing a man with a single throat-crushing hand. He wavered. They were right here in the scrapyard. A Zaloznhiy, which meant Dorjiev too. He tried to will his hand towards his pistol, anger driving the instinct to kill the doctor.

And then time reasserted itself in an elastic snap of returning motion and he dismissed the thought. He’d had no choice in the graveyard, but spontaneous heroics were exactly the sort of thing that got you killed. Just ask Sergei.

Remember your cock-up at the petrol station, he chided himself.

Somerset leapt on the motorbike and gunned the 660cc engine. He thought he heard a shout from somewhere behind him, but he was already streaking through the chain-link gates before a shot could be fired.

Katya heard the sound of the motorbike dwindling into the distance as she stalked along the outer edge of the Schrottplatz. A human figure rose out of the darkness in front of her and, as she flung her pistol up in defense, it spoke in rapid whisper.

“Katya, it’s me!”

“Rosario!” She exhaled a long list of Russian expletives. “Where’s the car? We’ve got a Zalozhniy here. And Dorjiev.”

“It’s up the hill. Not far.”

She looked at the open expanse of hillside ahead of here. Not a great distance to cover, but completely exposed. She heard a sound like heavy boots landing on a metallic surface, somewhere not far over her right shoulder. “Run!” she hissed.

The two sprinted up the hill, feet pounding through the long meadow grass. Another metallic thump came from behind. She grabbed Rosario as his foot caught in a pothole, invisible in the darkness.

As they crested the hill, Rosario looked back, horrified to see a liquid shadow sliding across the hillside with inhuman speed. He shoved Katya towards the old estate car. It was parked on the thin gravel track that skirted the line of trees that crowned the hilltop. He slung himself into the driving seat as she vaulted across the bonnet and tore open the passenger door. The engine shuddered to life as he twisted the key. He missed the clutch in his panic, the gearbox belching a painful metallic protest. For a heart-stopping second, Katya thought they’d stalled, then the engine bit and the car leapt forwards, fishtailing wildly and spitting torn grass and dirt into the air behind them.

They sped down the hill into the night.

Six hours later, Rosario watched the burning wreckage of the Jaguar as it tumbled down the steep side of quarry. He could still make out the body of the male and female passenger as flames charred them beyond all recognition. He muttered a prayer, though whether it was for himself or them, he did not know.

“Cheer up,” Somerset said, appearing at his shoulder. “That could have been us down there. Although we probably wouldn’t have had the benefit of being dead before hand.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” the Italian answered quietly.

They’d met up in the outskirts of Vienna after carefully checking they had not been followed. But the confusion at the scrapyard had done its work well and they were confident they had no tail.

They found Somerset waiting in an empty car park.

“We need to get out of Austria,” he decided. “Personally, I’m going back to Switzerland. You’re welcome to meet me there, or go your own way. I wasn’t kidding when I told Werner I was ready to get out of this.”

Rosario shrugged. He only knew that his information was pointing towards Baghdad, but the leads were tenuous at best. Certainly they could afford to wait for the heat to die down before showing their faces at an airport.

As they’d wormed their way through the city suburbs, Katya had turned on the radio, horrified to hear her current alias named, and one reasonably accurate description of Somerset being distributed across the airwaves. According to the announcer, they were being sought in connection with a new development in the Shevlenko case.

“That must be Drescher’s doing,” she said grimly.

“Touch petty on his part,” muttered Somerset. She glanced at him incredulously, remembering how far he had goaded the German.

When she inspected the briefcase, she found to her disappointment that it was at least 100,000 Euros short of what they’d asked for.

“Cheap bastards,” she scowled. “But it will cover us, for whatever we do next.”

“Not in style though,” cracked Rosario and Somerset in unison.

“Your pal Drescher has done a number on us. We’ll have Interpol out for our blood,” Somerset observed. “We’ll need to do something to get them off our trail.”

“You have an idea?” Katya asked.

“Yeah. I’m going to get the Jag’. Then we’re paying a trip to the morgue.”

Which was how they’d acquired two bodies, one male, one female, of roughly the same age as Katya and Somerset. Rosario had blanched as they’d loaded the corpses into the Jaguar’s boot, then again after they’d driven them far out of the city to the quarry. Somerset lobbed an old, forged passport of his and one of Katya’s many foreign driving licenses into the boot, then casually fired his pistol into each of the cadaver’s heads. Katya doused the car in petrol.

“There, now it looks like a good old fashioned mafia hit,” Somerset said with an disquieting air of satisfaction. Rosario couldn’t help thinking about the families of the deceased and how they might never find out where their loved-ones’ bodies had disappeared to, even once the morgue’s corrupted database had been reconstructed.

They left the burning car behind and split up, arranging to meet at restaurant in Zurich, once they’d all crossed the border safely.

Rosario was the last to reach the Swiss capital, a day later. He’d been stopped at the border for several hours of questioning after his ID was flagged in connection with a pair of suspected felons. But in the end they’d released him and he’d flung his passport in a public bin as soon as he reached Zurich.

The three sat down to dinner zur Haue on the Limmatquai, each one breathing a silent sigh of relief in the cramped, cosy, environment. They’d finally escaped from the clutches of the Lisky Bratva and had even gone some way to settling the score. The money would go a long way to helping with whatever they planned next.

Katya’s phone chimed. She fished it out, seeing she had a new message. Her eyes narrowed as she read the name of the sender: Patrick O’Neil.

I’ve discharged myself. Hope you are well.

She showed it to the others, then replied.

I thought you were taking a trip abroad?

His response came immediately.

I need help. Stuck in Vienna without anything.

“It’s a trap,” Rosario warned, but she waved him away.

Can you get out?

Maybe, but I need help.

“Rosario’s right,” Somerset warned. “He’s compromised, we can’t trust him.”

“I know. But even Dorjiev’s people must know that. What’s their angle?”

She typed again.

Go back to Ireland, Patrick. You’re better off without us.

His reply was short.

Fuck you.

She was losing patience now.

How’s Stockholm?

When his reply came, they left the restaurant without even ordering food. Katya left her phone lying on the white tablecloth, the final message still showing.

How’s Zurich?
The Boneyard

Neon street signs reflected from the scuffed panels of the old black sportscar as it cruised lazily along the Vienna backstreet. Glowing letters hung from sagging buildings, promising “Girls”, “Dancers” and “XXX”. This grim atmosphere of this small section of the Austrian city seemed in stark contrast to the rest, feeding off the tidy urban sprawl like a biting insect on pale skin. The car slowed and stopped. The driver stepped out and quickly scanned the road in both directions. He turned towards a large building opposite, ignoring the scattered business men and swaggering night-time revelers. It had once been a stately townhouse, but now the old masonry was blackened by decades of neglect. Shuttered windows and faded peelings left by old posters gave it a scarred, malevolent look. An alley ran down one side where a low entrance, lit by the red outline of an impossibly proportioned female figure, descended from the street level into the building’s bowels.

The two bouncers parted and stepped aside as the man approached. One thumbed a button on a radio ear piece. “Mr Werner is up on the balcony,” the other told the man as he strode past. He made no acknowledgement.

A low, throbbing bass rhythm enveloped him as he walked inside. Smells hung thick in the air, stale sweat tinged with sticky alcohol, the yellow musk of old cigarettes, and a faintly floral, chemical perfume. Pale bodies twirled and writhed under the too-dim lighting, bare skin flashing above a thin crowd of male onlookers. He could see an array of balding scalps and greasy hair bobbing in appreciation, shouts and whistles rising over the background din whenever a dancing girl made some evocative flourish.

A few feet to his left, a spiral staircase led upwards, barred by a faded, red rope. The man unhooked it and let himself through, quickly ascending to the balcony above. Stefan Werner leaned on the rail, watching the main floor below. A thin line of smoke trailed from his cigarette curled upwards into gloom. He turned towards the man as he approached from the staircase and spoke with an expansive, theatrical gesture. “Mr Somerset, glad you could join us.”

David Somerset inclined his head and joined Werner at the balcony.

“Not having second thoughts, I hope?” Werner asked. He made a short motion to someone beyond Somerset, in the darkness behind the stairway.

Somerset heard the sounds of pistols being drawn. Heavy footsteps advanced towards him, out of the darkness. He turned to Werner and grinned.

“Not at all,” he replied. “I want the money. Then I’m getting out. Out of this city. Out of all this shit.”

“You’ll get the money once we have the Albedo,” Werner replied. “And Katya Lavrova.”

Somerset heard the goading in Werner’s voice. He shrugged. “The Russian woman crossed me,” he said flatly. “Do what you will. Then give me my money.”

36 hours earlier:

Rosario Marchoni tucked his shoulder and rolled as the pavement rose up to meet him, sliding several feet to collide painfully with a parked car. A pair of heavily muscled men loomed over him.

“Get out of here, arschloch. If we see you again, you’re dead.” One aimed a kick at Rosario’s stomach, but he curled and took the blow on his legs. They left the beating at that and returned to the stripclub’s doorway. Rosario Marchoni, former priest, pulled himself to his feet, brushed at some of the scuffs on his trousers, then limped down the street toward the waiting black Jaguar.

“So much for Plan A,” Somerset muttered darkly as Rosario climbed into the back seat.

The Italian smiled sheepishly. “I think our cover is safe for the time being,” he said. “I didn’t convince them I’m a Russian playboy, but I don’t think they’ll pursue us any further.” He turned to Katya. “I lost your sunglasses though. Sorry.”

She flashed him an amused expression then tossed him a pack of plasters. “It was worth a try. Now get that cut on your face cleaned up.”

“I’ll need to get some ice on it,” he answered, daubing at the gash and wincing. “Shall we go?”

“Not yet,” Somerset said thoughtfully. “Let’s try a more direct approach.” He produced a pen and scribbled something on a piece of paper, then opened the car door and stepped out. He walked down the alley to the two bouncers and addressed the larger of the two. “I’ve got a message for your boss. Tell Werner that I’m one of the people his Lisky Bratva betters and Dorjiev have been looking for. If he wants a chance of improving his pay grade, he’ll call me on this number.” He flicked the folded piece of paper at the other doorman, then turned and walked away.

He returned to the car and climbed inside. “We’re done here,” he said. He started the engine and pulled the sports car out into the Vienna traffic.

“You really think Werner’ll call?” Katya asked.

“I do,” he answered. “I name-dropped Dorjiev. That’ll put the fear of god in them. Now we just need to decide what to do when he calls. What’s our play?”

“One of these days, we really ought to decide that before we threaten people,” Katya suggested quietly.

Somerset laughed.

“I’ve been meaning to look at those files you brought from Dragovir,” Rosario suggested. “Maybe they will give us a new lead.”

“Okay,” said Somerset. “That’s a good idea. In the meantime, our funds are tight and I don’t like not having proper resources behind us. We should do something about that.”

“Werner’s organisation must have a plenty of cash flowing through it,” Rosario said. “The club is probably just the front end too. There’ll be drugs, weapons and who knows what else. A lot of money.”

“We might be able to convince Drescher to help,” Katya urged.

“No chance,” Somerset answered immediately. “I don’t trust any of those slippery BND fucks. And neither should you.”

“I don’t,” Katya spat. “But they have something I need.”

Somerset swung the steering wheel hard and stamped on the brake pedal, bringing the car to a sharp halt, to the noisy protest of several other road users. He turned to glare at Katya. “What?” he snarled. “What is so damned important that you’re still keeping secrets from us, even after all this?”

“I- No, it’s none of your business,” she said, her tone hardening as she spoke.

“First Shevlenko, then the Albedo. Now this. Sooner or later, you’re going to get us killed! Or I’m going to walk,” he added darkly.

“Then go!” she countered, indicating the door. They stared at each other, considering their options.

Rosario spoke quickly, before either one made a decision they’d regret. “Both sides want this … Albedo, yes?” The two agents nodded, without looking at him. “What is it? What makes it so important? Is it valuable?”

“That’s one of the many questions I have on a list called ‘How the hell did I get into this mess?’,” Somerset responded sourly.

“Well, can you sell it?”

“I don’t think so,” Katya sighed. “But that gives me an idea. Somerset and I are the only ones who have actually seen it. We could make a forgery and sell it to either one of them.”

“I’ll go one better,” Somerset said, a look of cunning creasing his normally impassive features. “Sell it to both parties. Have them both come to collect at the same time. With a bit of luck, they’ll kill each other and we’ll pick off the remainder and get the money. At the very least we’ll be out of harm’s way.”

“I’d prefer it if more people did not have to die,” Rosario said quietly.

“You have a better plan?” Somerset asked.

“No,” Rosario admitted.

“Then it sounds like we all have some homework to do,” said Somerset. “I’ll find a quiet place for a hand-off. Katya, can you make us a ringer?”

She nodded. She was more worried about how she was going to snare Drescher than she was about buying an old thermos flask and a set of rosary beads.

“Then it’s a plan. Rosario, that’s your hotel over there.” Somerset pointed out the driver’s window to the building opposite.

Rosario spent the evening investigating the Dragovir files. He emptied the contents of the stolen briefcase onto his hotel bed and began leafing through the documents. He struggled with the complicated medical terminology at first, but it was clear that whatever had been going on at the Dragovir lab had been unlike any experiment he’d ever heard of, and it involved human subjects. Dr Dorjiev had led the bulk of the experiments, but another name feature prominently as well: Dr Balloch. A little more research revealed that the man was a noted Romanian biochemist.

The majority of Dorjiev and Balloch’s work had been concentrated on a substance called ‘Red Mercury’. Rosario had heard the name somwhere before, though it was widely believed to have been a hoax. Not for Dorjiev it seemed. The crazed scientist had seemingly been using it to enhance combat units. From what Rosario had seen in the graveyard two days earlier, it had worked. It seemed some of these units had subsequently been based in secret bases in Croatia, Romania, Brazil and Argentina. Did that mean there were more of those things out there? Rosario silently prayed they did not.

Among the document folders, Rosario found printed black and white photographs of ancient clay fragments, some covered in a distinctive, ancient script. Rosario immediately recognised it as Summerian. It was thousands of years old. Something was niggling at the back of Rosario’s mind. A legend. A fairytale of a lost city. The names came to him in a rush: Irem of the Pillars; Ubar; the Atlantis of the Sands.

Rosario rubbed his tired, battered face. It couldn’t be, could it? Could he discount any possibility after seeing what he had seen in the ruins of the airport terminal?

He decided to call it a night and get some sleep. He piled the papers and photographs together and stacked them back in the briefcase. As he pushed them inside, a loosened part of the case’s lining caught his eye. He hooked a thumbnail around it and peeled it back to reveal a tiny, hidden compartment containing a memory card. Suddenly excited, he pocketed the card, took the lift down to the lobby and asked to use the hotel’s business lounge. He attempted to access the contents of the memory card from one of the hotel’s aging computers but soon discovered that its contents were encrypted. He scratched his head, then fetched a drink from the bar, wondering what to do. Then he remembered Nigel, a young, self-styled hacktivist whom he’d encountered a few years earlier. When he’d last spoken to Nigel, the youth had been living in a grubby tenement block, surrounded by coils of network cables and partially deconstructed electronics. Rosario sent him a message and was gratified to receive a response in a matter of seconds, and, after a few more messages, an address.

Nigel had given up the tenement for a squat, where he was living alongside a crowd of fellow coders, hackers and techno-artists. Rosario left the memory stick with Nigel and his fellow squatters. He escaped the building just as the resulting discussion on crypto-standards turned to indecipherable bickering and the smell of marijuana.

Somerset, meanwhile, had been scouring through a set of local maps, looking for a suitable place to conduct an exchange. And an ambush. He needed something far enough away from built up areas to loosen trigger fingers, and with enough cover for both parties to be confidant of their positions. His finger alighted on a wide compound out to the north west of the city. It had a single train line leading to it and two small roads, each probably little more than a dirt track. North of the compound was a line of trees, which might make for good cover for a more distant observer. The area was called Kierlinger, but the compound itself was marked as Schrottplatz – a junkyard.

Just then, his phone rang. He grinned.

“Who is this?” came an irritated voice with an Austrian accent.

“I’m someone who can make you very popular with your superiors, Stefan.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I can get you something that Dr Dorjiev wants very much indeed,” Somerset answered.

There was a long silence from the other end of the phone. “We must meet,” Werner said finally. “You come to the club at midday tomorrow.”

He hung up before Somerset could answer.

Katya poured herself a second glass of vodka from her hotel minibar and dialled Paul Drescher’s number.

“Katya, what can I do for you?”

“Paul, things have changed. Someone has the Albedo here. In Vienna. Someone I didn’t know about. They want to deal.”

“Sounds like you’re playing both sides.”

“No. I still just want the folder. They want 250,000 euros.”

“Our deal was: the folder for the Albedo.”

“I know, but things have changed. The deal still stands, but with a little extra for this person.”

“I’m not happy with this, Katya. It doesn’t add up.”

“It’s out of my hands, Paul,” she replied. “What do you want me to do?”

“Come here tomorrow and we’ll discuss it in person. I’m available at twelve.”

“Fine.” She hung up, swore, and stared at the blank hotel room in silence for several minutes, thoughts whirling in her head.

Her phone rang, making her start. “Hello?” she said cautiously.

“Hi Kalina, it’s Anna. I hope you’re OK to talk?” Katya mentally shifted into Kalina, Czech, owner of Snovi.

“Yes, I can talk. How’s our business?”

“Well, we have a problem. One of our best girls was cut up, tortured really, two days ago. The police are everywhere, all over us. And Mia’s gone missing. I’m really not sure what to do?”

So the Lisky Bratva were hurting her through her businesses, like she had hurt them.

“Go to ground Anna, shut up shop for two weeks. Just act like it’s a police crackdown. There are some people after me, and they’re obviously going for you to get to me.”

“But we’ll lose business if we shut up shop, we’ll lose girls.”

“Then we’ll buy more.” Katya said coldly.

The team met the following morning for breakfast. Somerset told them about the Kierlinger Schrottplatz, reasoning that on a Sunday they were unlikely to encounter any site workers.

“Did Werner call?” Rosario asked around a mouthful of rye bread and salami.

Somerset nodded and set his coffee cup down. “Of course. I doubt he believed we’ll deal straight, but the lure is big enough to get his attention. I’m meeting him later on this morning.”

“You shouldn’t go,” Katya said. “His people will take you and hope to torture the information out of you.”

“It’s a risk,” Somerset admitted. “But they’ll know I wouldn’t go unprepared for that eventuality. They aren’t quite that stupid.”

“Even so, you should not go alone,” said Rosario. “Perhaps all three of us should be there.”

“I must meet Paul later,” Katya said quickly. She was unhappy with how the phone conversation had gone. She needed to make sure Drescher bought into the story, or at least enough so to bring the folder with him.

“You’re welcome to tag along,” Somerset said to Rosario, but watching Katya carefully all the while. “You seem to be able to handle yourself in a scrap.”

“I would hope further violence can be avoided,” Rosario replied, but was glad he had earned the British agent’s trust.

“Yeah, well, that’ll be on them, I’m afraid. The two of us won’t be starting anything – not in their back yard.”

“Perhaps they will be reasonable. But just to be sure…” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t suppose you still have any of those grenades?”

Somerset gave him a curious look. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

Just before noon, Somerset and Rosario returned to the red light district. In daylight, the Viennese street was transformed into stark lines of neatly swept pavements and occasional tourist traffic. The bawdy signs still hung from the grim-faced buildings, but dull and lifeless. The pair parked the car and walked along the alley. As they approach the strip club doorway, two bouncers – the same pair from the previous day – emerged to meet them. The big men looked twitchy, unsure what to expect.

“Where’s Werner?” Somerset asked, blunt and forceful.

“He’s inside,” the larger of the two replied. “We must search you before you go in.”

“If you’re looking for weapons, I can assure you we’re armed,” Somerset replied casually.

“No weapons inside. You leave them here.”

Somerset snorted in derision. “Not a chance. You tell your boss you screwed up and the deal is off.” He turned away and made to walk back to the car. Rosario leaned himself against the side of the building, watching calmly.

“Wait, please,” the bouncer called gruffly. He produced a radio and began a rapid conversation. Somerset paused, half turned toward the car.

The conversation ended and the bouncer addressed Somerset again. “Herr Werner will come outside to talk. But at all times you will keep your hands where we can see them.”

“You probably say that to all your customers,” Somerset quipped. The man gave no response.

A few seconds later, the club door opened and a man emerged. He was followed by four other men, all sporting the same heavy set look and inconspicuously dark clothing as the pair on the door. Their leader wore an expensive leather jacket, a richly dyed shirt, suit trousers and dark leather shoes. He was young, Rosario noted; younger than would be expected for someone of relative importance to the Lisky Bratva. Clearly he did not lack for ambition, which was probably why he had taken the bait. Rosario remained in position, casually leaning against the wall, so that the focus of the discussion stayed on Somerset. The Brit was standing confidently in centre the alley, his body language making it clear he was the one calling the shots.

“You still have not told me your name,” said the man in the leather jacket. His voice was high and crisp, the Austrian accent light but noticeable.

“I’m David Somerset,” replied Somerset. “And you knew that, of course. You are Stefan Werner.”

The man inclined his head in agreement. “So you want to deal? What is it that you think I want?”

“You want the Albedo.”

At the mention of the mysterious object, one of the flanking bodyguards turned away and began dialing a phone. Rosario watched him carefully. Could he be sure that Werner was in charge here? Would he be overruled by other Lisky Bratva forces within Werner’s own organisation? The risk factors were scaling out of control. His skin pricked as tension washed over him, but he stayed in place.

“That is correct. You have it here?” Werner asked.

Somerset chuckled. “No, of course not. And it’s not even in my possession. Here’s the deal: Katya Lavrova is selling it to a third party. I know the time and I know the location of the handover. I will reveal this information to you for 250,000 euros.”

It was Werner’s turn to laugh, high and sharp, and slightly too loud. “You would betray your associate, would you?” he said, disbelieving.

“Like I said, she’s selling the Albedo herself. She’s cutting me out of the deal. That is not acceptable.”

“So you say. But I will not pay 250,000 for a location and your word.” Werner’s bouncers and bodyguards tensed. Hands crept towards jacket pockets. Rosario stayed in place, though his heart thundered as adrenaline flooded his body. The situation was about to turn ugly.

“Okay. I thought you wanted to play with the big boys. I guess I was wrong.” Somerset turned away and took a step towards the car.

He had pushed Werner too far. Anger flashed across the Austrian’s face and, without needing a signal, the bodyguards started forward, drawing pistols.

Somerset had gambled on bravado and lost, but Rosario had read the group’s reaction even before they moved. It was an instinct that had saved him many times in the past and it served him once again. He pushed himself away from the wall to stand between Werner’s team and David Somerset, arms held high, a grenade held tightly in his right fist, palm toward the group. The pin hung from his left. He spoke for the first time, loud and clear. “Gentlemen, please. We are in broad daylight in a public space. Let us not do anything we regret.”

The armed thugs began to back off, warily. Rosario knew he and Somerset only had a few seconds to make their escape before someone might chance a longer distance shot, from somewhere outside the grenade’s blast radius. Rosario backed away down the alley toward the car, speaking slowly and confidently all the while. “You have heard Mr Somerset’s terms. Accept the offer or leave it.”

Somerset called out, “250,000 for the Albedo. Call me when you decide.”

Then they were climbing into the car and accelerating up the street.

“That’s two I owe you, priest.” Somerset said at last. He had one eye on the rear view mirror even as he sped through the light traffic.

“Ex-priest,” Rosario corrected quietly. “And maybe we should do something about this?” Rosario gestured at the live grenade still clasped in his right hand. He was turning pale as his adrenaline rush faded.

Katya watched the huge gate to the BND compound slide closed behind her and wondered whether she’d be allowed back out. She was dreading the meeting with Paul Drescher, but had to look cool and professional, even as she gambled her last few cards away. Yet it was necessary. She and the rest of the rag-tag team had no better chance elsewhere, and no time to come up with a different plan. She marshalled herself and walked conifdently towards the safe house complex.

She let herself into Drescher’s office without knocking. He looked up from where he was browsing through a sheaf of thick papers.

“Do come in, Katya,” he said. There was no obvious sarcasm in his voice.

“Hello, Paul,” she said, seating herself in a chair.

“So, you say you have lost control of the Albedo?”

“That is correct,” she answered. “It seems you can’t trust anyone in this business.”

“Just so. And why would I trust you now? You have changed the terms of our arrangement. It would be in my interest to cancel the deal.”

“No, please, Paul. Don’t do that,” she said, allowing desperation to seep into her voice. “I am changing nothing. This is just a bump in the road. My end of the bargain is still good. You know I am not motivated by money! If that is the problem, then when all this is over, I will see it repaid. With interest!”

“And yet you have not told me who has the Albedo now.”

“I can’t,” she replied. It sounded weak, but she had known he would reach this point eventually. “It could compromise the exchange, and then I would have no chip to bargain with.”

“Is this anything to do with your missing colleague?” Paul asked.

Katya was taken off guard. “No. Which colleague?”

“I am looking at some photo’s from airport CCTV. It looks like Patrick O’Neil in the middle to me.” He spoke thoughtfully, inspecting the picture in his hands.

Katya’s stomach tightened. “Middle of what?”

“He’s being escorted by a man and a woman. To one of the Scandinavian airlines I believe. Is this a problem?”

Patrick might be the one person who could have found out where she moved the Albedo. He might have tracked her. Electronically or somehow. But she locked her emotions down.
“No, it’s not a problem. This has nothing to do with Patrick. His knowledge is out of date.” As he will tragically find out, she hoped. “Give me the folder, and I’ll tell you where the transfer of the money for the Albedo is.”

Paul Drescher did not look convinced. He sat for a while and thought. “If we go ahead with the deal, you must be there to make the handover. I will accept no excuses. If you are being honest, this will be of no concern to you. If you are lying, I will know when we reach the site. And our relationship will be at an end.”

Katya knew that the last place on earth she should be was at the Schrottplatz. Somerset was drawing out the Lisky Bratva and Drescher would rouse all his available assets. A firefight seemed inevitable. Not an ideal place to be caught in the middle of.

“Fine," she snapped. “The handover is tomorrow at midnight. I will call ahead with the exact location, but it will be outside the city. Be there, with the money and the folder.”

How she would get out of this alive with the folder was tomorrow’s problem. The sense that she was at a dead end was growing. Somerset was suspicious, Drescher was angry and suspicious, and knew too much about her. She was going to get caught out soon. But hopefully not today.

To her relief, she was ushered out of the compound without question.

Somerset slowed the car while he explained to Rosario how to unscrewed the grenade’s detonator and make it safe. Rosario dropped the defunct explosive into the Jaguar’s glove compartment and breathed a sigh of relief.

“What now?” he asked.

“We wait for them to call,” Somerset replied.

“You think they will?”

Somerset nodded. “Most likely.” The British agent scrutinised the rear-view mirror again. “Looks like we’ve got a tail. Hold on to something while I lose them.”

“Somerset, wait. I have a better idea. We can use this.”


“They don’t think you’re serious about Katya, but they will be asking themselves why you would try to make the deal if you were not…”

“…so we feed them something that will convince them,” Somerset completed.

“Indeed. I think this may be a good time for us to part company anyway. I will be in contact with a location where we can collect some additional supplies before the handover. Kevlar and things. No weapons though, I’m afraid.”

Up ahead, Somerset spotted a pair of joggers turning off the pavement into the wide expanse of a public park. “That looks like a good place for a shouting match,” he said.

They pulled up at a park gate and jumped out of the car. Knowing they were being watched, Somerset called out to Rosario as he strode away from the vehicle. “Fine go join her then! You’ll end up just as dead.”

“I will not give up on a partner that easily!” he yelled back. “I can see why they pushed you out. You’re a liability.”

“Oh and you’re so much better? Walk away, little man. I don’t need your help.”

Rosario turned and squared up to the Englishman. “At least I’m not a fucking coward!” He grabbed at Somerset’s shirt and hissed quietly, “Quick – hit me.”

Mercifully, Somerset simply shoved the tall Italian down to the tarmac, rather than damaging his bruised face even further. Then he strode back to the Jaguar and screeched away, tyres fighting to keep their grip on the road. Rosario straightened his rumpled collar and walked away across the park, ignoring the staring pedestrians. He wanted to look for the Lisky Bratva watcher, but he knew he could not afford to give away the fact he knew they were there. He would just have to trust they had seen the argument and were considering the implications. There was little else he could do to prepare for upcoming handover but collect a car and some other supplies from an old contact he had in the suburbs. He looked around for a bus stop.

Somerset drove to the city centre where he parked the car and took a seat outside a café. He was still being followed, but he didn’t believe they’d attack him in such a public space. Vienna was a no-go area for most Mafia activities, which presumably included murders in broad daylight. He sat there, unmolested, for an hour before his phone rang.


“Mr Somerset, I have considered your proposal.”


“I believe we can meet your terms – 250,000 thousand upon acquisition of the Albedo.”

“No deal, Werner, I’m not giving you the opportunity to wriggle out once you’ve got the hands on the prize.”

“I could level the same concern at you,” Werner said evenly.

“But I’m the one holding the cards, so if you want it you’ll just have to trust me.”

“Not all the cards: you need the money. Fine then, we compromise. You come with us to the deal, then you leave with your money. "

“Done,” Somerset answered immediately, knowing he could not afford to hesitate – which would have betrayed the weakness of his position. He could always back out of the deal and vanish, once he’d had a chance to think things through. “The deal is at midnight tonight. I will come to your ‘office’ at 11:30.” Somerset hung up and exhaled a long breath. He had some thinking to do, but if he was going to take a chance on this increasingly risky scheme, he needed to make sure that he had the best possible chance of escape afterwards.

He drove back to his hotel and, leaving the Jaguar in a parking bay, quickly ducked through the lobby and out the back, dog-trotting through a service door into an alleyway. From there he made a sharp left turn, crossed a main road and hailed a passing taxi. He was confident that his quick actions had lost the tailing goons. He directed the taxi out to an address Rosario had texted to him earlier, finding a small lock-up garage in a quiet suburban backstreet.

The lockup wasn’t quite like any supplies caches he’d encountered in the past. For one thing, it actually looked like someone used it. Fresh wood chippings coated the floor beneath a well polished lathe. But for the fact he found a metal cabinet filled with light kevlar vests, he’d have believed he was in someone’s workshop and that the owner was about to walk in and offer him a mug of tea. He shook his head and strapped a vest on before returning to the waiting cab. He took the taxi company’s number down as he was dropped off back in the city centre. From here, he looked around for a motorbike parking area. He spotted a model whose security features he was familiar with, lifted a helmet hanging off a nearby Vesper, and hot-wired the sleek sports bike.

Twenty minutes later, when the sun sinking towards a distant horizon, he braked the stolen motorbike outside the Schrottplatz. He’d taken a big gamble by not scouting the site in person earlier. But he’d been gambling on a great many things lately; what difference did one more make? Assuming this plan worked out, they’d have the initiative back on their side, whenever and wherever the mystery took them next. The future weighed on him, a grey fog on his own horizon, unknown paths and unknown destinations. But he had to concentrate on the here and now, otherwise he’d end up dead, without ever really knowing what he’d been fighting for, or against, or why.

He turned down the roughly tarmacked road and rode between a set of high, chain-linked gates. He had expected a simple scrap metal yard, but this one featured more than mere piles of rusted wastes. The place was strewn with disused train carriages, in various states of disassembly. Vast heaps of discarded seats and flooring we stacked here and there amidst heavy machinery. Massive wheel trucks were arranged in rows, some stacked three high, waiting to be broken apart for salvage. The whole site sprawled across a couple of acres and in the dark would be a nightmare of blind alleys and hidden recesses. As a spot for an ambush went, it was good. Not perfect, Somerset thought: he would have preferred better sniper cover, though he could see the line of trees might afford some angle of fire on anyone standing completely exposed. But, for a snap decision, he was pretty pleased.

He pushed the bike between two derelict carriages and pulled a piece of tarpaulin over the top. Then, trying to imagine where the Lisky Bratva squad would likely deploy themselves that evening, he tucked his pistol inside the mouth of an old metal pipe. Then he turned and walked back towards the main road, calling the number of the taxi firm as he did. He had a few hours to kill before he would collect the Jaguar and meet Werner. He felt like having a stiff drink or three, but knew he would need every ounce of cunning and skill that evening. He supposed he should sleep, but knew he would not. Well, he reasoned, if he had to do something, it might as well be following up on Carpenter’s lead. As he stepped into the taxi, he gave the driver Frau Lintzer’s address.

Safe at the safehouse

The sergeant lead Somerset, Katya and Rosario through the main entrance of the BND safehouse, explaining the rules in a monotone. Armed guards walked beside and behind them. Their buzz at surviving was fast eroding.

“After you have signed in, you will be shown to your apartments. There are some important rules for your safety. Mobile phones and internet access are strictly forbidden. This is a safe house. For everyone’s benefit, there is no smoking inside the building. If you wish to partake, use the courtyard at the back of the main building. Turn here.”

Katya studied the house. It was a extensive two-storey building in the centre of spacious well-maintained grounds. Clearly it had been purpose built for protection and privacy, there were small windows facing the outside and all the passages had security doors. It was a way back from the external wall.

In a reception office they filled in a bland form, on BND headed paper, while the sergeant droned on. “Your possessions will be returned to you when you leave. You may request permission to leave the building temporarily. You must sign out and sign in when doing so. Permission may be withheld for your own safety or for operational reasons.”

Guards escorted them to their apartments separately. Katya’s guard was young and blue-eyed. “Weber” on his name tag. While he showed her round the apartment she maintained eye-contact with him, then smiled a dirty smile. He reddened and left quickly, half-way though a sentence.

She had enough time to freshen up before Weber came cautiously back to bring her to interrogation.

Katya BND Debriefing

After the interview, Katya had the communal area to herself. She had found a single bottle of red hidden away, and was working her way through it when Somerset arrived.

She considered what he might have agreed to do. He was probably too rebellious, too independent to be bribed to work for the BND she thought. Probably.

“Hi. Did they keep you in there long? Any problems?" she asked him.

Somerset took the bottle from her, wiped the top where she’d been drinking from it, and found a couple of plastic glasses in a cupboard before answering. He poured himself a drink.

“No, no problems. Your friend seems as desperate as the Lisky to get his hands on that old Thermos. Any ideas yet what it might be?”

Katya shook her head, and poured herself a glass.
“They do seem keen, and I’m sort of glad it’s all over. it’s been tough these last few months."

Somerset lifted his glass but didn’t drink. Visible to Katya, he scratched his ear with his thumb, then rubbed his eyelid. We’re bugged and watched.

“Have you had a chance to explore the facilities at this little holiday camp? Pool? Tennis courts?” he said brightly.

“No, I’ve not, maybe we should explore if we’re going to be here a while, might as well get comfortable.” She meant Somerset to hear we should not stay here a while.

“That sounds like a good idea – I could do with stretching out some of these tired old muscles And I know a couple of good restaurants in the Museumquartier from my old station days, assuming they haven’t closed. Perhaps your friend could use his influence to get us a table at the Glacis Beisl? Their bachforelle is particularly good, with a bottle of chilled Reisling, or a Veltliner from Wachau.

“Anyway, it would be nice to walk around without being shot at for once.”

Katya rolled the words around her head. Was there a hidden meaning? She could see no pattern in the food or wine. The Museumquartier? They had discussed a clock museum, is that what he meant? She constructed a phrase to test.

“I have missed decent food. Have you seen Rosario? I feel like I ought to buy him dinner after he fixed my blood. I’ll ask Paul about a table, but you mean only if we get the time, of course?”

He nodded, absently. She was expecting him to be angry about her moving the albedo. Betraying his trust. But he was controlled, limited in what he said. Maybe this was the perfect time to have that argument, when he couldn’t really let loose.

She took a big drink, “Do you remember the conversation at the graveyard, about the Thermos? Sorry about that, but I’ll take you there when I’m back to strength."

“I remember; but I don’t think they’d grudge us a few hours to unwind first. I’m just glad it’s all over. Apart from anything else, I’d quite like to get rid of these charity shop clothes; I don’t want the Swiss border guards turning me away because they think I’m a vagrant when I try to go home.”

“None of us really have homes Somerset, didn’t you tell me that while Nate recovered?”

“Hm. I might be mellowing, but it’s probably just exhaustion. Shall we go find the gym? I seem to remember you like running. And you’ll have to introduce me properly to Rosario, incidentally, so dinner on you it seems!”

Somerset drained his glass, stood up and walked to the door, turned and gave Katya a look. She picked up the half-empty bottle and followed. What did he want? She couldn’t decide.

“I think we lost our trainers. We need to stop leaving stuff behind." she said.

“I never become too attached to anything that can be replaced. That doesn’t leave much, but it’s usually worth fighting for. I’m sure they’ll have something we can borrow for the afternoon. They seem quite efficient.”

“Obviously, Sergei and Patrick are replaceable to you then. You weren’t too attached to them.” She swigged from the bottle. That should provoke a reaction she thought.

He turned to her, “I did say anything, not anyone. But it’s always a risk – there’s never many of us who make it to old age. I’d still like to hurt some people for what happened.”

He wants to find Dorjiev. She does too. “You always want to hurt people, but it’s over. Let’s have dinner, then you can go back home to Switzerland."

“Only people who deserve it. Sergei didn’t deserve to die like that. And what about you? Where’s home for you now?”

That was a good question. She could give the albedo to Paul, go back to Brestin with that folder. It wasn’t everything, but it was enough to go back. Some FSB people would get exiled. The balance would shift. But that was still a fraction of what Dorjiev’s power could do. If she could bring that to the GRU, the scales would be dashed to pieces. There would be no balance of power. They, she, would be in power again. So would Russia.

“Home? Haven’t had one for a long time, and not sure who’ll have me now." she said.

“Maybe it’s time to settle down on your own terms then? Or find a worthwhile cause and go out in a blaze of glory?”

She didn’t answer that.

Rosario had appeared a little while later from his debrief, as Somerset was cooling down after his workout. Katya had wandered off without exercising. Somerset had energy to spare and could feel muscles getting twitchy, as he always did when cooped up.
A long time ago he had seen a lonely tiger at London Zoo pace his cage. Back and forth in his confines. Somerset consciously controlled his urge to pace in confinement. But he felt it just like that tiger.

Rosario seemed happy enough to Somerset’s eyes. Katya seemed to trust him, but what did that actually mean?
Katya popped back in as Somerset returned the free weights back to the stand.
“We can’t leave, we need permission first. You both need to go to Paul’s office and ask him nicely to leave. In the meantime I’m going to find a friend.” she disappeared again.
Somerset’s anger flared. Permission?
“I’ll go first while you freshen up.” Rosario said watching Somerset’s muscles tense.

After his shower, Somerset found Katya and Rosario in the communal area. It was early evening, the smell of cooking was in the air.

“They’re doing the paperwork so we can leave.” Rosario said. “I’ve said I’m leaving with Katya.”
Katya raised a glass of clear liquid to Somerset. “Your turn” she said.
“You found more alcohol?” he said.
“Gefreiter Weber kindly brought me some.” she smiled.

He shook his head and left for Paul’s office, temper rising.
He passed the front door of the other apartment, the curtains closed, but he got a sense of occupation. Someone was in there.

The meeting was not going well. Paul sat calmly at his desk, Somerset stood at the door. A large brown suited man was crammed behind the other desk in the office, moving pieces of paper around, while keeping tense ready for action.

“I just want to leave.” Somerset reiterated forcefully.
Paul slid a form across the desk. “And you can, but there is paperwork that needs to happen. It shouldn’t take more than a day or so. Just complete the form and..”

Somerset snatched the form up from the desk, and tore it in half.
“You are not upholding your end of the bargain.” he snarled.

Katya and Rosario stood in the corridor outside Paul’s office, enjoying the show.

“You and your friends will be free to go tomorrow morning I’m sure.” Paul leant back in his chair, out of Somerset’s reach. “Your friends will be expecting you then.”

“Friends are deadweight!” The brown suited man stood, they glared at each other for a second, then Somerset span and marched to the entrance hall and down the drive towards the front gate. Katya and Rosario followed.

The guard in front of the gate tensed as he saw Somerset crunch over the gravel, his hand went to his holster. The gate was 8’ high, 4" wide bars of reinforced metal. Beyond the streetlights were just warming up, but the street was empty of traffic.

“Let me out – I am leaving.” Somerset bellowed as he approached.

“Sir, you do not have permission to leave.” The guard was trying to exert authority, control the situation. He glanced at the guard booth beside the gate for reassurance.

Somerset sized it all up. The control panel for the gate would be in the booth. The windows were silvered, Somerset couldn’t tell if the guard in there had his weapon drawn. Still.

“Somerset! Don’t. Let’s sleep on it and see if we get permission tomorrow.” Katya called to his back
“A good nights’ sleep will do you good.” Rosario added.

“And if we don’t get permission. If there’s another paperwork delay tomorrow too?” Somerset growled.

“Then you can kill them tomorrow.” Katya said. The guard’s eyes flicked to her, widened, then back to Somerset, his hand tightening on the holster.

Just before lunch the next day, two large, suited men bang on each apartment door.
“You have been granted permission to leave.” they shout.

Somerset is set, he left his apartment ready to leave immediately, but he waited for the others. Rosario wandered back from the courtyard.
“Lovely day, did you sleep well Somerset?” he said.

Katya’s apartment door opened, but out came Gefreiter Weber, his uniform slightly dishevelled. He saw Somerset and double-timed away, reddening. Katya walked out, ready to leave.
“I was gathering some intel.” she said to Somerset’s questioning look.

To their surprise, their belongings are returned and the gate opened. They walk onto the street in the August sunshine. The safehouse shuts its doors behind them.


Inside the airport terminal, the ebb and flow of passengers was like waves of a human tide. Coaches disgorged milling crowds of gaudy tourists while economically dressed business travellers picked efficient paths through the turmoil to reach check-in desks and security scanners. Rosario watched as one family paused beside a glass barrier separating the ground floor mezzanine from the terminal’s train station below. The mother was reading something from her smartphone while the father swatted at the small boy darting between their over-sized suitcases. A little girl in a floppy yellow hat stared down through the glass in open mouthed wonder. The sight of so much normality was jarring after the events of the past few days.

Rosario Marchoni’s gaze returned to Katya as she answered the public phone.

“Hello again, Katya,” said Dr Dorjiev.

Her face paled at the sound of his voice, her blood sank away. Every instinct in her body told Katya to run, to drop the handset, sprint for the nearest exit and go back to Yasha. To put this nightmare behind her.

She swallowed and forced herself to focus. If she ran, she wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Dorjiev. What do you want?” She answered with more confidence than she felt.

“You have caused me great harm, Katya Lavrova,” he said in feigned disappointment. “You have hampered my research. You have caused my friends and I considerable discomfort.”

“How unfortunate for you.” She allowed anger to override her fear and pull her mind back from its frightened, animal state. Dorjiev wouldn’t have gone to the effort of calling her simply to gloat. He wanted something. She had the power.

“You didn’t think that would remain unpunished, I hope?”

“By my reckoning you started all this,” she said, dismissively. “Anyway, thank you for calling, but I’ve got places to be. Goodbye.”

“Wait, Katya,” Dorjiev said quickly. “We could come to an arrangement.”

“I’m listening.”

“I could give you a chance to live.”

“Everyone dies sooner or later.”

“In your case it will be very, very soon.”

Katya sighed impatiently. The evil mastermind theatrics were getting old, fast. “What do you want?”

“You know what I want, Katya Lavrova.”

“Say the words,” she said, confident.

“I want what you took from the vault in Zurich.” There was annoyance in that icy voice now.

“And what would you give me in return?” she asked, nervous but excited.

“I could give you the power to achieve whatever you desire. Give me the Albedo.”

“You have interesting abilities,” she said cautiously. “Supposing we came to an arrangement, how could I trust you to hold your end of the deal?”

She continued before he could interject. “First, let me explain your position: if I die, you’ll never see this Albedo of yours again.”

A silent second ticked by. “I don’t believe you,” he said. “Prove it.”

“You will hear it is buried in a Swedish forest. It is not. I am the only person on the planet who knows where it is. If I die you will never find it.” she said it calmly.

Rosario was standing nearby, could overhear, but wouldn’t understand.

Somerset, Patrick or Sergei would feel betrayed if they had heard. But Sergei was dead, and Patrick had probably cracked under torture. Part of her hurt at the mention of Patrick – the young man’s life dismissed so casually. Sergei was a hollow ache in her mind. But there was nothing she could do for them now. She had tried her best and failed. If she survived, she would even the score.

“Interesting.” he said. The calculating edge was back in his voice now. “But I may not be able to save you even now. Events … are already in motion.”

“I’ve survived your attempts so far.”

There was a long pause at the other end of the phone. “Okay. I will give you a chance. Run. Now. Leave that idiot priest and run.” The line clicked and went dead.

Katya returned the handset to its cradle. Rosario gave her a questioning look.

“That was Dorjiev. They know we’re here. I think they’ll be arriving very soon.”

“Do we have time to get to Carrol’s locker?”

Katya looked around. The luggage lockers were barely a hundred yards away, at the far end of the mezzanine, beyond the escalators to the train platform. Even now a fresh wave of passengers were just bobbing into view, ascending from the lower level. A pair of armed police meandered in a bored arc across the terminal floor. There was no hint of anything being amiss. This place was packed with security and eye-witnesses; even someone like Dorjiev would think twice before acting here.

“Yes, but I-” Katya stopped mid-sentence as a primitive instinct sounded alarm bells deep in her subconscious. The background hubbub was turning to gasps, then cries of alarm. A low roar reverberated from the station below, accompanied by a steady gust of warm wind blowing upwards through the terminal. Katya started for the terminal doors, but a massive concussion crushed the air from her lungs and she was falling, the polished floor of the terminal tilting at a crazy angle. Sound washed over her in torment of screaming metal and smashing masonry.

Time stopped. Light glinted from a shower of tiny glass fragments floating in the air before her. The mezzanine floor was frozen in odd ripples. Scores of people all across the terminal, were trapped in unlikely poses, running, falling or clutching at each other. Katya’s mind raced even as everything around her hung in mute stillness. She’d felt this before, back in Odessa! But it had been not been as strong as this.

The wave of sound returned abruptly as the flow of time reasserted itself. She saw the mezzanine collapsing beneath her as she fell, sliding downward into a boiling whirlwind of dust and smoke and dancing flames.

Brian Coit had pulled into the Schwechat Airport drop-off zone twenty minutes earlier. He sat watching the people moving in and out of the departure hall, contemplating his position. Lavrova did not trust him, that was painfully clear. She had done as little as humanly possible to put him in touch with Dawlish and now she’d deliberately tried to lose him after crossing the border into Austria. If it wasn’t for that priest, he’d be sitting around a hotel room on the other side of the city, waiting for a serious arse-kicking from Carpenter.

Nevertheless, he could understand the Russian’s actions. She was up to her pretty neck in some serious shit, hunted by the nastiest bastards this side of the Crimea, and totally isolated to boot. All things considered, she was holding it together surprisingly well.

And that left the priest, Marchoni. Brian just couldn’t figure out how he fit in to the equation.

Brian’s musings were interrupted by the arrival of a large, dark SUV further up the drop-off zone. Black paint and tinted windows. It had arrived at a speed that implied urgency and yet no-one had climbed out. Brian titled his mirror to give himself an easy view of the car and settled back in his seat, watching.

The only thing his intel on Rosario Marchoni had revealed was that the man had once been a part of the Vatican, high up too, for someone of his age. He had been kicked out for reasons unknown. Brian could take a cynical guess, of course, but that wouldn’t explain how he knew Katya Lavrova. Nor why, since Rosario was one of Katya’s few remaining confidantes, Brian had found a note tucked inside his jacket pocket betraying the pair’s intended destination: the left luggage locker at Schwechat Airport. She could have put the priest up to it, he supposed. The note may have been a ruse to keep him distracted while they made their escape. He couldn’t quite see the logic, though.

As if to reassure him, another SUV joined the first, coming to a sharp halt only a few car lengths away. There was definitely an operation of some sort going on at the terminal. Katya and Rosario must be here; Brian didn’t believe in coincidences.

Then the airport exploded.

He felt, rather than heard, the blast, the suspension of his large sedan rocking as shockwaves washed through the tarmac. Fire and security alarms began a banshee wail and he could see white smoke drifting languidly from doors and vents.

Brian allowed one dark eyebrow to ascend gently towards his hairline. This wasn’t quite what he had expected. A stream of panicked civilians began stumbling out through the revolving terminal door, coughing and gasping. Brian started his engine, watching the dark SUVs closely. They remained stationary. To get inside – which he now had little inclination to do – he would have to walk out in full view of the mafia hit-squad. He decided to wait.

Rosario could see almost nothing through the dust and smoke. His head rang and he struggled to process the thundering assault on his ears. Everything seemed to be twenty decibels too loud – howling alarms, groaning metal, bangs, cracks and crashes burst around him. Then there were the sobs and screams of the dying. His leg was partly trapped. He felt something tear when he pulled it free of the rubble. Warm liquid seeped down his right shin.

The dust was beginning to clear now – he could make out something a few feet ahead of him. Katya! She’d hit her head on the way down and was groggily pulling herself out from the debris, blood matting her blonde hair; but she was alive. He scooped his old, leather satchel from the floor and slung it back over his shoulder.

Other walking wounded were picking themselves up, calling for help. Rosario wanted to start searching for other survivors, those trapped in the rubble. There was no chance of finding their locker now. Thick curtains of dust fell again as something collapsed. He choked as he inhaled the filthy air, but he was beginning to make a little more sense out of his surroundings. Parts of a train carriage were scattered across what had once been the platform area, before most of the floor above had fallen into it. There was a fire somewhere on the other side where broken train carriages had twisted themselves into inconceivable angles. He could just see two carriages propped against the far wall. The cost of life in a crash like this would be catastrophic. He felt sick at the thought that someone could cause so much harm deliberately, and for what? To get to Katya?

No, this was all wrong. He had tagged along for what he thought were the right reasons – reasons that he now saw as little more than vanity. He must end his association with Katya and go back to helping ordinary people. That was his way. He’d left all the heroics behind him, for a good reason.

The sound of screeching metal began again. Rosario turned his eyes to the twisted carriages. One was shifting from its precarious perch, although, by some illusion it appeared to be moving upward as it toppled. No, he realised, it really was shifting upward. Something was pushing up from beneath the wrecked carriage. Or someone.

It was humanoid. That was the closest descriptor for something so clearly not human. A terrible aura hung about it like radiating heat and its eyes glowed a malevolent red. It – no, it was a she, not that this fact made the laws of physics any less violated – held the whole carriage above its head for one impossible second before flinging it to the floor behind, another crash boomed in the ruined station.

Terror trapped Rosario’s heart in a vice. This was a Zalozhniy. Folklore and ancient superstition made manifest. But this was no mere vengeful spirit. She had been made. She had focus. She looked across the carnage of the terminal building, searching for something. A large assault rifle was slung on her back, somehow incongruous behind the supernatural glow.

What clothes remained on her decaying body were tattered beneath an armoured vest. Rosario could see a great rent in the front, across where her heart should be.

The Zalozhniy’s red eyes alighted on Rosario.

He turned and fled as fast as his injured leg could carry him, forgetting all thoughts of anything but escape. Up ahead he could see Katya already scrambling up toward the terminal exit, skidding in the loose debris. He caught her up with her and clutched at her arm.

“Zalozhniy!” he gasped.

She nodded and pushed forward, pulling him along with her. Their speed increased as they helped each other upwards. At the top of the slope of rubble, a crowd had gathered, forming a human chain. The pair allowed themselves to be hauled up, then skirted around the crowd and back into the main terminal, building to a run.

The Zalozhniy reached the top in one easy bound. It landed in the crowd to a chorus of fresh screams and tore through it with a sickening speed, hurling people from its path. They would never be able to out run it.

Katya spotted a doorway and pulled Rosario inside. It was a Hertz office, abandoned in the pandemonium. She hurried through and pushed out the opposite door, praying that they could break line of sight with the monster for long enough to lose it. As they stumbled away from the booth, they heard the door being ripped from its hinges.

They fled through the terminal, pushing past stumbling survivors and tripping over discarded suitcases. Rosario spotted a dazed security guard, looking vaguely at his walkie-talkie.

“Terrorists!” Rosario yelled at the man. “They’re killing everyone. Please help!” He gestured back to the nightmare form of the Zalozhniy as sprang from the Hertz office. His voice had given the guard direction and he pulled his pistol out, taking a step towards the creature.

They continue their limping flight through the smoke and chaos. Rosario looked back as a single shot rang out. He immediately wished he hadn’t. He saw the helpless guard held high in the Zalozhniy’s grip, feet dangling in the air. It slashed him with one hand and a torrent of blood splattered onto the ground. Then it flung him aside with a force that would have splintered bones. Rosario felt sick with guilt. His lie had sent the man to his death.

The exit was just ahead now, clogged with fleeing civilians. Katya led them to a straight to one of the huge glass panes and smashed it with the butt of her pistol. They tumbled out onto the concrete floor of the drop-off zone, looking desperately for a means of escape.

To their surprise, a car shot out of a parking space and pulled up beside them, tires squealing. The passenger door popped open and they could see Brian Coit leaning from the driver’s seat.

“Get in!” he yelled. “You’ve got company.”

They climbed quickly inside and Brian threw the sedan into gear, accelerating hard, away from the terminal building. The two dark SUVs – along with a third he hadn’t spotted – were already giving chase. A tattered figure sprinted behind them, moving with unnatural speed.

Katya clambered through to the back seat and aimed her pistol at the nearest SUV. Brian sent the sedan streaking out across the parking area, putting a huddle of evacuees between them and their pursuers. Then they flew down the exit ramp toward the main highway.

Katya began taking a steady series of shots from the rear window, while Rosario pulled a dressing from the leather satchel and bandaged his injured leg. “It seems I owe you another debt of gratitude, Mr Coit,” he said as he wrapped the wound.

“You can thank me when we’ve- shit!” The steering wheel bucked in his grip as one of the sedan’s rear tires exploded. The British agent called back to Katya in the back seat, “Shoot for the passenger windows. The front is probably armoured.”

Katya continued firing, but her aim was thrown as Brian slung the big car right and left, weaving through slowing traffic. Red and blue flashing lights were now visible up ahead, the line of departing traffic pulled sharply aside to let the emergency vehicles rush past.

“What the fuck is that?” Brian asked suddenly. He was looking in the rear view mirror as he dodged between the lines of traffic. They were almost to the main highway.

Rosario turned in his seat to see. What he saw chilled his blood again. There were two of the ragged humanoids now. They were easily keeping pace with the fleeing vehicles, leaping between the slow moving traffic and racing SUVs.

“Something very, very bad,” Rosario replied. “Can we get away?”

“Somehow I don’t fancy the alternative,” Coit replied drily.

The sedan’s rear window exploded into fragments and showered down onto Katya. A big chunk of Brian’s headrest was shredded as a small calibre bullet grazed his scalp. The car fishtailed as Brian momentarily lost his grip on the wheel. Then he pulled the big car back under control and slipped through a narrow gap in the traffic to join the main highway.

Katya was ducking low on the back seat, slipping a fresh magazine into her pistol, when her hand shot to her ear piece. Somerset’s voice crackled through her tactical ear bud. “-tya, are you there? Katya? Can you hear me?”

“Somerset! I hear you. We’re in trouble.”

“Uhuh, I can see the smoke from here. Where are you?”

Katya raised her head fractionally to read a road sign as it flashed past. “Autobahn A4, driving toward Vienna.”

“Good, then I’m only five minutes behind you. Black Jag’. What’s the plan?”

“At the moment? We drive. Then think of something.”

“Think faster.” She heard a powerful engine roar as he clicked off.

The landscape was transforming rapidly from leafy suburbia to tangled city streets as Brian weaved big sedan through the dense traffic. He was keeping both the vehicles and their unnatural pursuers just out of range, but he knew it couldn’t last. He made a snap decision and gunned the car down onto an exit slip road, then slung it hard left across a busy junction. He saw a public carpark up ahead and slid the car sideways as he made the tight turn into the shadowed entrance. Rosario’s knuckles were white where his hands gripped the dashboard in front of him.

Brian did not decelerate as they powered through the carpark to smash through the exit barrier and bounce on to the road on the far side. Katya peered out the shattered rear window.

“I think we’ve lost them,” she said.

“Not entirely, look.” Rosario pointed up at two dark shapes bounding along across the rooftops, sometimes runnings, sometimes clawing across the side of buildings with insectile speed, effortlessly keeping pace with the fleeing car. A third humanoid figure loped into view, joining the chase.

“They don’t give up easily, do they?” Brian observed.

“No, they don’t,” Katya answered grimly. “What now?”

The rumble from the shredded rear tyre had grown louder over the course of the past few reckless turns. It wouldn’t last much longer, then they’d be driving on the rim. The chance of the sedan maintaining sufficient speed for long enough to escape their inhuman hunters was dwindling fast.

“I have an idea,” said Rosario. “But it’s a long shot.”

“Anything will do right now,” Brian said. His jaw tensed as he flung the sedan into yet another tight corner.

Rosario quickly explained that the Zalozhniy fed on the cessation of life. Some force derived from the act of killing empowered them, making them faster and stronger – strong enough to lift a train carriage. He reasoned that of they went to a place of death, it may have a weakening effect. “It’s just a theory, of course,” he finished lamely.

Coit gave him a brief sceptical look, then shrugged. “Worth a shot. Got anywhere in mind?”

“A graveyard?” Katya suggested.

They agreed and she relayed the plan to Somerset. He gave her a series of directions that would take them to a large cemetery on the edge of the city.

Moments later, they skidded to a halt in the parking area on the grounds of large cemetery. Marble headstones and small tombs stretched away in acres of orderly lines. It was currently deserted – quiet and peaceful in the afternoon sun. They tumbled out of the ruined sedan, turning to look for their three hunters. They had been right behind them until they reached the cemetery gate. Now they were nowhere to be seen.

“What are they up to now?” Brian wondered. No one answered. Rosario was rapidly applying a gauze pad to Katya’s bloody scalp when they heard the sound of a heavy vehicle speeding up the gravel drive. A man stepped out almost before the car had come to a complete stop in the loose stones. He nodded at Katya, then looked at Rosario and Brian.

“Your new friends, I presume?” the stranger asked.

The younger man made to say something, but Katya interrupted. “No time to proper introductions,” she said. “They’ll be here any second. Brian, Rosario, this is David Somerset, or Mr. Dawlish, if you prefer.”

Somerset strode round to the back of car and pulled out a small wooden crate, adorned with Cyrillic script in an obviously military font. Next he produced a large rifle, with a telescopic sight. He scanned around, eyes alighting on a low roofed mausoleum some thirty yards away.

“We can hole up on top of that. Should give us a good field of fire wherever they come from. You counted three?”

Katya nodded.

Somerset looked at Rosario, who stood holding nothing but his old satchel while the others checked their pistols and inserted fresh magazines.

“Do you have a gun?” Somerset asked.

“I’m afraid not,” the ex-priest replied.

“Know how to use one?”

“Regrettably, yes.”

Somerset gave the man a curious look as he tossed him the old Browning Hi-Power. Then they began scrambling up onto the top of the mausoleum’s stone roof. Silent seconds ticked by as they surveyed the cemetery. There was over one hundred yards between them and the cemetery wall. To cross the distance would leave even something as fast as a Zalozhniy badly exposed.

The hair on Somerset’s neck tingled as he heard a small scrape, as of a boot on stone. He whirled around, calling a warning at the same time as he brought the big rifle up at his hip. The female Zalozhniy was right on top of them, stood on the far end of the mausoleum roof, its burning eyes radiating inhuman malice. He fired on instinct and the heavy round hit the thing’s scarred body armour hard on the left side of its chest. At this close range, the shot would have smashed a normal person’s ribs, or at least put them on the floor. The Zalozhniy hardly seemed to notice. It crouched low gathering itself to pounce.

Brian Coit stepped towards it, pistol raised. Rosario called out, “The heart, shoot for the heart!”

Brian adjusted his aim fractionally even as the monster’s leaped forward. The pistol bucked once, twice, three times in his hand, hour upon hour of training pulling the gun back to aim after each shot, sending bullets directly into the centre of beast’s chest, through the rent in its armour. It dropped like a stone. The body slumped and slid over the edge of the rooftop. Brain gave a satisfied nod and began reloading the pistol.

“So, you know how to kill these things?” Somerset asked.

“Yes, you have to recreate the original death,” Rosario explained. “She was shot in the heart, before she was … turned … so that’s where her weakness lay.”

“And the others?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Before Somerset could reply, Katya called out a warning. “Here they come!”

The two remaining Zalozhniy had scaled the wall on the other side cemetery and were advancing rapidly, darting between the headstones. Somerset dropped to a crouch, raising the rifle to his shoulder and placing one eye to the sight. The figure in his crosshairs was moving at an incredible speed, but there was still some distance between it and the mausoleum. It was travelling in a relatively straight line towards them, apparently unconcerned about snipers, or trusting that its former companion would keep the four on top of mausoleum busy while it closed the gap.

Through the scope, Somerset could see that the creature had once suffered some terrible head wound. A large flap of scalp hung across one cheek, dark gore visible beneath its lank hair. Had it been shot in the head, he wondered?

Even as he considered this, he brought the rifle up, gauged the lead, allowed a slow breath to hiss from the corner of his lips and squeezed the trigger.

Somerset’s view was momentarily obscured as the rifle kicked his shoulder, but the others could see the sprinting humanoid suddenly stumble, then crash into a stone tomb in a tangle of grey limbs, unmoving.

“Two down, one to go,” Somerset said cheerfully.

The remaining Zalozhniy ducked down behind a wide headstone and raised its own weapon. Automatic fire swept the top of the mausoleum, shattering a decorative statue beside Brian. He and Katya fired several shots in reply but the range was too great. The shots only kicked dirt from the grassy rows and nicked the edge of headstone. The Zalozhniy swept along the line of graves, before darting forwards and firing again. Bullets stitched a line along the top of mausoleum and Rosario stumbled backwards to land heavily on the roof.

Somerset’s rifle banged again and he peered back down the scope. “Where the hell do we shoot this one?” he yelled.

“I can’t see any wounds in it!” Katya replied.

A statue beside Somerset exploded as the creature fired again, then raced to a new firing position. Sharp fragments of stone ripped into the Englishman’s cheek, but he barely noticed as he resumed his aim. He fired again. The Zalozhniy was closing the distance to the mausoleum with alarming pace, unhindered by the rounds now tearing into the the marble headstones around it.

Brian reached down to the crate that Somerset had brought and pulled out a grenade. He pulled the pin, called a warning and threw it down amongst the graves.

The boom of the explosion washed over them, dirt and smoke filling the air for the second time that day, but the monster had already moved to a new position and fired again. Somerset staggered as a bullet thumped into his armoured vest.

Rosario had crawled back to the edge of the rooftop, trying to catch a glimpse of the Zalozhniy for long enough to figure out its weakness. He watched it dash across another line of gravestones, closing the distance to less than twenty yards. It would be on top of them soon. Then he saw the creature’s face.

Beneath the smears of dirt, the lips were bluish, in contrast to skin of the cheeks which had a curiously pinkish vitality to them. It was as though the man had suffocated somehow, but not by drowning. Carbon monoxide poisoning? Or cyanide!

He threw himself away from the edge of the roof skidding through a growing puddle of spent bullet casings. He tore open his leather satchel, spilling out the assorted drugs and medical supplies. Most of its contents were the legacy of an old, dead Bulgarian poisoner. He’d had no time to conduct a proper inventory, but there was just a chance, a small chance that Sergei Dobrev had been mad enough to keep something as deadly as Hydrogen Cyanide close to hand. He flicked through the assorted pill bottles until his hand alighted on a small brown ampule with ‘Prussic Acid’ marked in cramped handwriting. That would do.

The three agents poured down fire on the approaching creature as it sprinted through the cemetery. The hail of bullets left cracks and pockmarks in headstones. They tore grisly chunks from its dried flesh, but still it came on. Rosario’s hands shook as broke the seal off the ampule and began to fill a syringe.

Somerset sank round after round into the beast, then suddenly it was right beneath him, preparing to spring. He dropped the rifle and drew a large combat knife from his belt, anticipating the Zalozhniy’s move before it leaped. The thing landed right beside him on the roof and, as its feet touched the granite rooftop, he sunk the long blade deep into its belly. It made no sign that it had even felt the knife enter its body. It raised a clawed hand, ready to swipe down and tear out the Englishman’s jugular.

Rosario moved with the speed of a striking snake, the syringe gripped between the knuckles of his fore- and middle-fingers, with the base of the plunger set against his palm. He lunged forward under the Zalozhniy’s raised arm and slammed the point of the hypodermic needle straight into its throat. As the slashing blow descended, he rolled backwards across the roof top just out of reach.

Somerset scrambled away as the monster took a step forward and drew the knife from its abdomen. Already its movements seemed uneven, as though invisible chords were tightening inside it. It raised the blade, stepping toward Brian. His gun was already raised and he placed a series of shots directly into its ragged skull. Katya shot it through the torn remains of its armour vest. It struck out once, even as its muscles seized, cutting through Brian’s shirt to draw a long line of blood. Then it fell to its knees and toppled sideways.

The silence that followed was eerie in contrast to the clamour of the previous few minutes. Cordite smoke hung thick in the still afternoon air. The graveyard had acquired the look of a war zone, with bullet holes, smashed stone and empty shell casings littering the battlefield.

“You know, you’re a very strange priest,” Katya said quietly, breaking the spell.

“Ex-priest,” he murmured and began scooping up the contents of his satchel.

“Time we made ourselves scarce,” said Somerset. They helped each other down from the mausoleum roof and climbed into the Jaguar.

As the car turned on to the main road, Brian turned to Somerset and said, “The roses must be blooming in Pimlico."

“Yes, but I prefer the daffodils by the Serpentine,” chanted Somerset, sounding bored. “So you’ve been looking for me, I gather?”

“Look, I’m not exactly here by choice, pal,” Brian replied, anger rising in his voice. “Your friend in Vauxhall sent me. Though he somehow neglected to mention that I’d be getting torn apart by undead Spetsnaz or whatever those fucking things were!” He fingered the weeping slash in his chest gingerly.

“Okay, just take it easy. I’ll come quietly. I couldn’t risk contact before. Seems like the situation has changed though. Where to?”

“We need to debrief. We can’t take these two though,” Brian said, indicating Katya and Rosario.

“We have a safehouse arranged,” Katya replied haughtily. “I will get directions.” She dialled a number in her phone. She held a short conversation in German, hung up and gave Somerset an address.

The drove in silence then, north across the city. Rosario wondered if he should feel elated by their victory. They had killed those responsible for the disaster at the airport, creatures who had no place on God’s earth. But at the same time he knew these were not the ones who had masterminded the plan. They were still out there. The fight had to go on.

Somerset pulled the Jaguar up outside the address Katya had given. It was a typical suburban neighbourhood. Typical, that was, apart from the high fence and security booth. It was a gated community more akin to something you would find in affluent parts of third world cities. Katya nodded to Somerset, then she and Rosario climbed out. The big black car pulled away quickly and disappeared around a corner.

The two walked towards the security booth and a uniformed guard stepped out to meet them. “We’ve been expecting you, please come this way,” he said in German.

They followed him through the gates and onto the lawn of a modern house. Four more uniformed men stepped out from the building. They had weapons drawn but not raised.

“What is this?” Katya asked angrily.

“Please remove any weapons you have and place them on the ground in front of you,” ordered their escort.

Katya swore, then drew her pistol and dropped it to the neatly mown grass. Then her shoulders slumped in resignation and she pulled the ceramic knife from under her shirt and placed it next to the gun.

The speaker turned to Rosario and looked at him expectantly. The ex-priest shrugged. He dropped his bag onto the grass. This seemed to satisfy them.

“Miss Lavrova, please come this way.” They were led away into the house.

Into the Sunset

Presidential Suite. Hotel Gioconda, Odessa

Three suited, older men are sat around a dark wooden conference table. In front of each is a pad, hotel pen, and glass. Bottles of sparkling and still mineral water stand unopened in the centre. They make friendly banter. The door to the side room opens, and they all stand.
A similarly suited, aged man enters and takes his seat at the head of the table, waving them to sit as he does.

One of the other men addresses him.

“Josef, they have attacked us here in our own home, as well as destroying Dragovir. Our joint research facility. It is a great setback. An act of war! Our backers are angry. These renegades have done great harm to our assets and our honour! They must be stopped!”

“Patience Nikita…” responds Josef.

A third man speaks up. “They killed two of our specialists!”

“We have more operatives, Veniamin, do not worry,” responds the leader, Josef.

Nikita speaks again, clearly frustrated. “With respect Josef, why is it taking so long?”

“Our backers are angry. Don’t you think we need to ask them for more support?”, Veni adds.

“I don’t need you to tell me how the Organisation feels about this, Veni”, scolds Joseph.

Nikita interjects, “We didn’t have problems like this in the old days… before we got involved with Them!”

A woman’s voice is heard, seemingly from nowhere. The voice sounds youthful, the accent perhaps Austrian, but old-fashioned somehow.

“Your old ways are dead, Nikita Akhroyekov. Perhaps you would like to join them along with your ancestors?”

Every man in the room freezes momentarily, becoming tense and silent. Even Josef Lisky, who is unsurprised by the voice, flinches visibly. A strikingly beautiful young woman steps out from an alcove behind Josef. She is slim with blonde hair in an extremely long ponytail, extending almost to the ground. She wears an elegantly simple navy dress.

“And it is foolish to make suppositions about Our feelings.” She looks at Veni.

“Mistress Orsic…” greets Josef.

“But we are observing developments with interest. So far, it is just another Mafiya organisation eliminating its enemies. We will decide if and when we need to step in. Is the fate of the sacred blood of the Ascended Masters too precious to be entrusted to the Lisky Bratva? We shall see. "

The woman stands, watching and listening, her face expressing little, her blue eyes, cold and indifferent, as Josef address the others.

“We killed one of the enemy agents. The others are trapped. Two of them are helpless. The other hides in the shadows like a rat. They are in a corner. They cannot move. If they stay still they will die. And if they run they will die. Our specialists are tightening the noose as we speak. They are completely invisible. And our enemies cannot stop Dorjiev’s Zalozhniy.”

“With respect Joe, that isn’t what I heard,” interrupts Veni

“They got lucky. It was an unfortunate coincidence. We have others. Another one has arrived in Debrecen from Crimea. And the American Zalozhniy has arrived. That makes three. And the place is crawling with our men. But more to the point – Dr Dorjiev has arrived. And he knows where they are. They scattered like frightened animals, and now they cower in the dark. That will make finding them take a little longer. It takes patience to catch a frightened bird. But two of them are virtually in our hands already. I expect an update very shortly. "

“And if some of them escape the net?” asks Veni.

“We have a freelancer on the case. Our Torpedo. He is completely deniable and 100% reliable…”

Brian changed gears hard, syncro-mesh crunching painfully as it struggled to shift. From the passenger seat of the Škoda, Rosario watched Debrecen fly by. It was mid-afternoon and traffic was light.

“We need to get to Dawlish. I can help him,” Brian said to Katya sat in the back.

“Som… Dawlish is running deep. I thought he was dead until yesterday. And he’s already said he doesn’t know you.” Katya’s voice sounded firmer than yesterday, Rosario thought. He could see the bloody holes in her arm where she’d ripped the cannulas out during the fire-bombing. Her pistol was still in her hand.

“Just let me talk to him, tell him Old Nick sent me.” Brian said.

“Great tradecraft,” Katya said under her breath, reaching down to take out her phone.

Brian had heard and his frustration erupted, “You’re complaining about me? What the hell are you still doing in Debrecen? You’ve got all sorts of trouble after you and you stay still for three days?! You’re unprofessional and ought to be dead.”

Rosario sat in silence, weighing up the situation. This was not really his fight. He was intruding, perhaps. HIs self-interested, animal side warned him to back away. Maybe he could rebuild the shelter and start again, it said. He could get back to helping those couldn’t help themselves.

He wondered mildly whether, if he were to ask the two agents, they would stop and let him out of the car. They might put a bullet in his head right there on the roadside as a precaution. It was unfair to give them that dilemma, he knew, and it would make him accountable for their actions. Besides, he thought, placating the frightened part of himself, the Lisky Bratva knew his name now. They had burned the shelter and had killed many of his friends and cohorts simply because they were in the way. He squashed down hard on the sudden rage that threatened to boil out of him. It would be of no use at that moment. He had to trust that he would find a means to bring about justice, one way or another.

No, if he simply tried to pick up the pieces and move on, the Lisky Bratva would find him and ask questions he didn’t know the answers to. Then they would discard him. That would be tantamount to throwing his life away. Staying with the Katya and Coit, he could be useful. And he could make a stand.

Katya held her phone up between the front seats, tinny ringing from the loudspeaker.
“Somerset” she said.
They all waited, it rang 4 times then was answered.

“Sorry, the person you are trying to reach is not available. Please leav-”
Katya hung up.

“I didn’t leave Debrecen because one of my team is stuck here, seriously injured.” she said.

Brian shook his head. “Look, I’ve done some prep, I can get Dawlish and maybe you both across the border. But you need to decide what you’re doing about your injured mate, because you can’t stay here, and they will find him soon. Can you afford to let them take him?”

Rosario watched Katya wrestle inwardly with those facts, trying to get to a decision she could live with. He could see her working through the options, drawing blanks, leading herself to that inescapable conclusion. The one that would destroy another part of her humanity. Brian had practically spelled it out for her. Rosario realised he had to act.

He had a couple of spare emergency identities, this would burn one, but this Patrick, whoever he was and whatever bad things he had done, was in bigger need than him.

“I have a passport, with medical insurance," Rosario said, breaking the silence. "That could get him back to Ireland and out of Debrecen.”

Agi’s bolt-hole was small, grimy and hidden, which made it absolutely perfect for a decent night’s sleep. The lights flickered occasionally. She’d pointed at the sofa when they’d first arrived and told him he could sleep there for the night.

“The guy who usually lives here is piggybacking the upstairs flat’s supply,” she explained. “It’s a bit unreliable, but it’s free and I can just about boil a kettle. Tea?” He nodded, happy to take whatever she had. The Chinese meal they’d shared had left him thirsty and a hot cup of anything would do wonders.

“The internet works sometimes, too,” she called from the kitchen. She’d shed the oversized jacket, wandering around in the same black jeans and combat boots, but another baggy t-shirt, some anti-Russian slogan and a caricature of Putin as Hitler, rolling in a Panzer over a map of Crimea; he didn’t ask. He stripped off to the waist, discarding his own t-shirt, kicking off his boots, flexing his toes in the hiking socks. He scanned himself again, making sure that there were still only scrapes and contusions. He thought of Katya and her bizarre, itching scabs.

Agi walked in with two mis-matched mugs, steam rising from both, frowning at the map of scars, old and new, that stretched across his torso.

“Don’t need the internet,” he said, leaning back into the sofa. “Too easy to trace, plus when you go low-tech, it confuses them.” He sipped on the strong, black tea she’d made. Coffee would have been better. Whisky would have been best. He closed his eyes, felt the sofa shift as she sat down.


“So what?” He turned to look at her.

He could see her tattoos clearly now, bright, colourful and floral. They looked Japanese in design, like yakuza markings, covering both arms. He wondered how extensive they were, under the t-shirt. He remembered a little ryokan near Sengaku-ji, the young wife of the owner and the delicate crane she had tattooed across her back. Natsumi, she was called, telling him it meant summer child as he’d traced the ink with his fingertips, and later his lips.

“Did you find it?” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Yeah. Looks like a rough place,” he muttered.

“But did you see any evidence of what they do? Something I can publish?”

He sniffed, took a long sip on the tea.

“It’s well guarded, regular patrols. They’ve gone out of their way to make it look rundown, but some of the buildings have been patched up.” He stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles.

“But yeah, they’re up to something.” She shuffled closer to him, her journalistic instincts firing like a well-tuned V8.

“So can we get evidence?” she asked eagerly.

“Maybe. Personally, I’d rather burn the place to the ground with every last Lisky bastard in it.” She pulled away a fraction, caught off-guard by the cold fire in his voice.

“But I’d need the rest of my team for that and I don’t know which of them is still alive or even if I can trust them anymore.” He closed his eyes again, took another sip of his tea.

“You’re alone,” she whispered.

“Always have been,” he said. “Less complicated that way.”

Her phone buzzed in her jeans pocket, insistent. She muttered an expletive and pulled it out as she stomped into the kitchen, pushing the door closed behind her. Somerset frowned and padded after her. She was talking in Hungarian, softly enough that he had trouble making out the words. Someone was missing and Agi was asking the caller if they’d looked in various places.

The hairs on the back of Somerset’s neck went up. Shit.

A moment later she came back into the living room; he’d already pulled his t-shirt back on.

“Tomas hasn’t been seen all day,” she said.

“Does he know about this place?”

She nodded.

“Then we’re not safe here,” he told her, his tone flat. She bit her thumbnail as he dragged on his boots.

“Come on,” he told her, “we need to leave.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know somewhere else, if you don’t mind sleeping under a bridge.”

He shouldered his rucksack and tossed the leather jacket at her.

“I’m sure we can do better than that.”

Debrecen. A large, burning building surrounded by fire engines and police cars. Police are setting up cordons and diverting crowds. Two ambulances pull away, blue lights flashing.

A man with a long trench coat and a scarred face emerges from an alleyway, walking past distracted firemen and police to the still-burning skeleton of the homeless shelter. There are spots of blood on the ground, still fresh. He glances down, at a scattering of bullet casings on the ground. He picks one up with a gloved hand, sniffs it silently and drops it into a ziplock bag and pockets it. He continues to the alleyway opposite and reaches a parked car. He opens the boot and drops the cartridge into the side pocket of a sports bag sitting on a sheet that’s covering some other items. He reaches up to close the boot and stops. Then he lifts one side of the sheet, revealing a box of grenades and a well-polished STG-940 assault rifle and numerous boxes of ammunition.

Brian watched the busy road from behind the motel curtain. He had seen several possible mafiya cars, but they had zoomed past without stopping.
They had parked up at a roadside inn, Fogadó, in Hortobágyi. They had paid cash for two rooms for the night, but crowded into one and planned to head out after a couple of hours rest, before evening.

Katya had hit a wall of exhaustion and forced them to stop, against his wishes, but she was his only, tenuous, link to Dawlish at the moment. He’d gently probed Rosario about her issues while they’d raided the lobby vending machine for chocolate bars. They’d left Katya inspecting the rooms’ minibar.

Agents in the field too long became over paranoid, superstitious; he’d seen it before.
Rosario said she was probably tired because they’d replaced all her blood.

“She was in the hospital too?” he asked.

“No, I did it in the homeless shelter. It was an experiment to see if would break the curse on her.” Rosario said, casually, pressing the buttons for another Túró Rudi bar.

Brian stared at Rosario. if that was true, then they were both cracked in the head he thought.

“I ought to stock up on these before we leave Hungary.” Rosario said, waving the bar.

Igor arrived early for his shift at Debrecen hospital. He wanted to do a good job for the agent. He received a nice, secret bonus every year for being on call for this sort of thing, and he had come to depend on it. The Russian agent kept visiting, and it stressed him out. Was she checking up on him or the patient?

She had called out of the blue three days ago, using the right code words, and ordered him to watch over Legs and call her if anything happened.
The patient wasn’t really called Legs, of course, the doctors had called him Janos Kovacs because no-one knew what his real name was. Igor had decided to call him Legs because his legs were badly injured.

Igor pushed through the double doors to Ward 7 and saw someone else lying in Legs’ bed. He stepped back out and confirmed he was in Ward 7. He was. Legs had gone.

“Excuse Matron.” He knew Matron Arta was not one for familiarity with the cleaning staff. “Where’s the patient who was in bed 12?” His stomach was sinking.

“Bed 12? He passed away, I’m afraid. His operation was brought forward, but there were some complications in surgery. Have you emptied all the bed pans yet?”
“Ah, no, I will do them now, I promise Matron.”

The morgue was in the basement, he went straight there even though it creeped him out. Igor shivered, how could anyone work with dead bodies? He didn’t recognise the duty technician at the desk.

“I’ve come to see if a wedding ring was left on a body, the family are asking” he said.

The technician frowned. “Really? I’ve heard nothing.” He flicked through papers in front of him, searching. Igor tried to think of what to say.
“Uh, yes?” was all he managed.
There was a pause, then technician shrugged, “OK, let’s go take a look. Which body was it again?”

The body on the tray he pulled out first was not that of Legs. Nor the second. None of the bodies in the morgue were Legs.

Igor squeezed himself into the cleaning cupboard back outside Ward 7, cramped but private, and dialled the agents’ number. This was exactly the sort of thing he was supposed to watch for, and he didn’t think she would be happy about it.

He was right. She questioned him whether it was actually Legs who was in surgery. He hadn’t thought about that and couldn’t answer.

Legs’ medical notes were still on the nurses’ station. Avoiding Matron, Igor slid them into his overall and sat in the corridor to read them. At least the notes still existed.

Igor had been around hospitals enough to be able to decipher doctors’ handwriting and some medical terminology.

Kovacs had been admitted with 3rd degree burns and impact injuries consistent with an explosion. Severe trauma to the legs and torso. The first emergency operation had gone well, and the second had been scheduled, then brought forward.
The surgeon was Vadas. The final entry was that the patient had suffered from uncontrolled bleeding on the operating table, and died from hypovolemic shock, despite best efforts, blah blah. Time of death 10:07pm.

Igor found Vadas in his office. Igor as his question as carefully as he could, if Vadas was sure he had operated on the right patient, but the surgeon became angry and stormed down to the morgue dragging Igor behind.

The morgue tech gave Igor an odd look, and pulled out the body tray again. Vadas studied the face of the body that wasn’t Legs, and turned on Igor.

“This is 100% the person I operated on. The person I was supposed to operate on. Kovacs Janos. Do not go around making wild accusations like that again. To anyone.”

Before Igor called the scary Russian again, he checked the computer system to see who had rescheduled the surgery. The name on the records was, Grosschmit. A visiting consultant from a German sounding hospital. According to the computer he arrived 2 days ago, and was currently doing rounds on Ward 9. Igor climbed the fire exit stairs to Ward 9, to avoid Matron, he was getting very late for his shift.
On Ward 9 he found Dr Tarr just finishing rounds.

“Hello Dr Tarr, I was looking for a Dr Grosschmit?”

“So am I. He’s not come in today, or rung in, just disappeared. Damned consultants. Damned Austrians.”

“The Lisky Bratva have taken Patrick,” Katya said, hanging up on Igor’s call.
She angrily swept the empty mini-bottles into the metal bin. They clanged and chinked loudly.

Rosario put a hand on her shoulder, “I’m sorry, Katya, you did all that you could.”

“So, you’re clear now. Call Dawlish and let’s get across the border.” Brian said, leaning back in the chair.

Katya snatched the motel phone from the bedside table. She hit buttons rapidly, the thrust the handset at Brian. He took it reluctantly, it was ringing. Katya stormed out, grabbing cigarettes and her mobile as she went.

Somerset’s phone cut to voicemail again. Brian put it back.

“What can Patrick tell them?” he asked Rosario.

“I’m not entirely sure, Katya and I talked about many things, but she always was evasive about what they got from the Zurich bank and where it was now. I think that’s what Patrick knows.”

“And the Lisky Bratva want it”

“Quite badly it seems.”

“And Dawlish knows where it is too.”

Katya bashed open the motel door, phone still to her ear.

“Priest, give me a name for your cover. Something you can…”

He responded surprisingly fast, interrupting her. “Try the Reverend Heinrich Jurgend.” She gave him a curious look.

She pointed at Brian, lit cigarette between her fingers.

“Do you want documents for the border?”

“No, I have documents. Who are you talking to? I have cover identities for you!”

Something was wrong; Katya knew better than this.

So something was wrong.

Somerset quickly dismantled the handset, dumping the battery down a drain, the phone into a waste-bin and the snapped SIM card tossed into the gutter. Agi’s frown hinted at intent curiosity.

“Moscow rules,” he explained. She shrugged.

“It means maximum discipline,” he said. “Assume nothing. Treat everywhere as enemy territory.”

He stopped short, staring across the road.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Tell me about the bridge,” he ordered.

“It’s an old railway bridge,” she said, puzzled. “Old workshops under the arches.”

“Any of these workshops big enough to hold a van?”

She followed his gaze to a grimy white VW Transporter parked outside a bistro.

“Yes,” she said.

“Good.” He jogged across the road and, a few seconds later, was in the driver’s seat, jimmying the ignition into life. She sprinted across after him.

“Better than sleeping rough,” he told her.

The bridge was pretty much as she described it; wooden doors, greying beneath the peeling green paint, leading into something that had been a workshop a decade before. She pushed the doors closed as he killed the engine, dropping the latch and slipping a padlock over it.

He peered into the back of the van; about thirty crates of beer bottles, all of them empty. He was getting to work unloading them when she called him over to a dark corner of the workshop; he found her pulling out an old, blue and white striped, horse-hair mattress. He laughed, despite himself, earning another puzzled look from her.

The crates unloaded, he dropped the mattress in the back of the van, covering it with a slightly less grubby tarp he’d found. One of the crates hadn’t been empty, either, and they sat on the tailgate drinking the warm Borsodi and enjoying its hoppy flavour.

“Something’s troubling you,” she told him.

“Yeah,” he muttered around another swig.

“Your friends?”

He nodded.

“Something’s wrong. Katya shouldn’t be calling me all the time. And this person, claiming to be my friend…” His voice tailed off.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s complicated,” he shook his head. “But he’s asking for a dead man. And that’s not good.” She waited for him to elaborate, but he sat in silence.

“They’re being herded into a trap,” he announced, arriving at a decision.

“How do you know?”

“Moscow rules again. My gut is my operational antenna.”

“What can you do?” she asked.

“Go after them.” He drained the beer bottle. “Haul their backsides out of the fire.” She stared at the floor.

“Come with me,” he said. It was her turn to shake her head.

“Debrecen is my home. I can’t leave.”

“They’ll find you, sooner or later. You must know that.” She stared ahead into the middle distance. He put her arm around her, letting her head settle on his shoulder.

Brian angrily dropped Rosario and Katya near a border crossing to Austria. He was going to cross somewhere else, anywhere other than with them.

Katya sat down on a bench beside the road, about 300m back from the border itself. The border was busy, people milling, cars queuing. Paul had said her contact would have a green backpack and red water bottle.

She was thinking clearer than she had for days. Dr Dorjiev’s presence had vacated the back of her mind. There was a gap where he had been, but no malevolence. And she was formulating some interesting ideas for him and her, for when they next met.

She spotted Paul’s agent studying a map by the pedestrian crossing and scanned around for his support team. It might be a trap, either here or when they tried to use the papers. Still.

“Rosario would you get the package?” she asked.

“Uh, sure”

He walked off down the hill. He agreed so openly and innocently, she was still being surprised when he returned with the package from the contact.

“Want me to open it?” he said, holding the package out.

“You need to be a lot less trusting, it could get you killed.” she said.

The package contained passports, visas and an envelope with an address in Vienna. A safe house. Just 50 miles away, across one border. Katya sorted and handed Rosario the documents in Reverend Heinrichs’ name, and checked over her own. Katy Meadows, American student. They looked pretty convincing to her professional eye. The holograms were spot on.

But she had to get her gun, and knife, into Austria. She couldn’t give them up. She looked at Rosario’s coat pocket, flapping open. They’d never search a priest.

“Why don’t you go first?” she said.

He turned to head to the passport control. She sighed and instead buried the pistol in the lining of her own coat. Too trusting by far.

They flew through the border checks, the identity papers proved reliable. On the far side they boarded the first of several clean public buses, heading for Vienna.

Somerset strode, spade swinging, around the graveyard, increasingly frustrated. He was searching for a grave._ J. Abadi, 1876-1924_. He had circled the medieval wooden church twice, but hadn’t found it. The grass around the graves was well maintained, the hedges neat. The headstones were worn with age, lichen covered, but he could read the names clearly. None read Abadi.

The number station that had he decoded the name and village from for the grave was known as the Tyrolean Lady. It was an old Cold War service, running for decades, sending the location of weapons dumps behind the Iron Curtain, in case of emergencies. The Curtain was gone, but the dumps remained. Except it seemed, this one.

Five more minutes and then he would to give it up as a bad job. But he badly needed a gun. Somewhere nearby, under J. Abadi’s gravestone, was a stash of weapons and equipment. He climbed on the rim of a large, family mausoleum, trying to spot what he had missed.

And then he saw it. J. Abadi’s name was engraved on the lintel of the mausoleum, above stone double doors. The largest thing in the graveyard. Typical.

Ten minutes later he had chipped the mortar out, and forced open the stone doors with the spade. They were stiff, but they moved, although the spade wasn’t going to be much use for anything again.

Peeking out of the mausoleum, covered in dust and cobwebs, was the front of a black Jaguar XJ6, Series 3. Somerset barked a laugh. That would do for starters.

It had an old, Soviet Hungarian number plate, but that was easily fixable.

Bending down he could see the top of the car was millimetres under the marble ceiling, the door handles inches from the mausoleum walls. There was no way to get in it. How the hell had they even got it in there? He squatted in front of it.

Experimentally, he pulled the bumper, and the car easily rolled out onto the grass and graves, into the sunlight. On the backseat he could see a Browning HP, two spare mags and a box of grenades.

Next time he was back, he had to find the logistics officer responsible for this insanity and buy him a bottle of whisky. No, sod that, a crate of whisky.

He popped the boot and felt inside the lip with his fingertips. There was a little bump, barely noticeable, but when he squeezed it, there was and audible click and the carpet lining jumped. Peeling it back, a section of the metal work had sprung up, big enough to take the crate of grenades. Pushed back in place, it was almost impossible to see, flush with the rest of the bodywork. He smoothed the carpet back in place.

From the driver’s seat, he found a similar release and popped the Browning into a hollow slot in the dashboard.

Make that two crates of whisky, he chuckled.

An hour later he was across the Austrian border, the Jag running well, under stolen number plates. Once through the frontier, he’d retrieved the Browning and rested it in his lap.

He was driving hard and the 70’s era Jag drank petrol. At the next service station he filled up, and dialled Katya from a payphone. He needed to know where she was, how she was, whether she had been compromised yet. If she or Patrick were captured he had to secure himself and the albedo.

She answered on the second ring. He could hear engine sounds in the background, like she was on a bus or train.

“Katya, Somerset. Where are you? he said.

“I’m across the border, where are you?”

“Across too. You heading for a night at the opera?”

She paused. “Yes, sort of, in the vicinity.” Why did she pause? What was she hiding?

“Slow down, I’ll see you there.”

“OK, will do.” she said. She was lying, he was sure. Something was wrong, and he was far behind.

He slammed the handset down, ran to the car, and accelerated as fast as the big Jag could go down the autobahn, towards Vienna airport.

Katya pressed the red button on her handset, and looked thoughtfully at it.

“Something’s wrong. He wants us to slow down,” she said quietly to Rosario, sprawled on the seat beside her. They had commandeered the back row of the coach, and had dozed as the it stuttered and struggled toward Vienna. It was slowing again as it approached a suburban stop.

“So, we’re not going to slow down?” he asked.

“Definitely not. Not sure what’s happened, but it’s time to get to the airport. If we change here, there’s a direct bus.”

Her phone rang again, “Katya, Brian.” he said.

“You across the border?”

“Yes, where are you now? Is Somerset with you?”

“We’re meeting up in Vienna shortly.”

“I’ll be there.” He hung up.

Somerset’s black Jag powered down the two-lane autobahn, sixteen miles to go to the airport turnoff, twenty-six to Vienna itself.

A pair of headlights approached fast from behind, far faster than the Jag could go. Somerset pulled to one side and a dark Mitsubishi Evo overtook, slowing as it came alongside. At the wheel was a scar-faced man, in his forties and well-tanned.

Scarface suddenly yanked the steering to one side, crunching the Evo into Somerset’s wing in an attempt to force him through the barrier and down the perilous slope on the other side. The two cars barged into each other several times before separating.

“I don’t have time for this!” snarled Somerset to himself.

He pushed the accelerator into the floor, the Jag built up speed, but the Evo easily kept pace and pulled alongside, then edged in front.

Somerset swung the Jag across, forcing the Evo onto the central reservation, the gravel and grass sapping its speed, peppering the traffic behind them. The steering was heavy and, one handed, he fished the Browning from his lap. It smelt of gun-oil, and hadn’t been fired in thirty years.

The Evo slipped back, trying to get onto the tarmac. It slowed, turned, and started to swing round to the Jags’ passenger side. Somerset hit a button on the dash and the rear passenger window sank down. The steering bucked while Somerset aimed out the back window. He was relying on gut feel to keep the Jag on the road.

The pistol fired, the Evo’s front drivers’ tyre disintegrated. It swerved, disappearing behind, headlights careering across the autobahn.

The pistol hadn’t been fired in thirty years, but Somerset knew how to strip, clean and service a Browning in record time, even in a graveyard in the Hungarian countryside.

He accelerated hard, watching in the rear view mirror. The Evo’s headlights shrank away into the night, but then straightened, and started chasing again.

He spoke rapid German into the radio.

The Evo was catching up, even on three wheels. So Somerset turned off his lights, drove blind for several long seconds, and swung sharply down an off ramp and round a corner into the blackness away from the autobahn, leaving the Evo far behind.

Rosario and Katya hustled through the cavernous, curved departure hall at Schwechat, Vienna’s airport. It was early in the morning, but stressed families and travellers pulling cases were already mingling, trying to find the right queue.

Rosario spotted a suitcase sign and they follow the trail, away from the check-in desks, down a spacious tiled corridor. A two-storey glass wall on their left streamed in the dawn light.
Katya watched with pleasure the first dawn she had seen in a week without Dorjiev. She had survived a night without a nightmare visit from him, no cold heart forced into her. The transfusion had set her free.
Ahead she could see the ranks of left luggage lockers, one containing Donald Carrol’s secrets.

A phone rang, echoing along the corridor.

There was bank of three payphones by them. One was ringing.

“That’s odd, who’d ring a public phone? Wrong number maybe.” Rosario suggested.

Katya’s stomach knotted instantly. Somerset? Brian? They were the only people who should know where they might be. Someone must be watching them through the glass wall.

Don’t answer it, keep walking.

Get to the locker.

Don’t answer it.

But she couldn’t walk past it.

She picked it up, looking out into the dawn, past Rosario, knowing who was on the other end of the call.

“Hello again Katya,” said Dr Dorjiev.


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